Words I Can’t Say

There are two ideas about schools that people love to repeat with a sad shake of their head, and neither one of them has much basis in reality…

  1. Schools don’t do the Pledge of Allegiance anymore.
  2. God has been taken out of schools.

These are pretend problems invented by people who want to distract us from the real problems. But let’s talk about them…

Oregon, like nearly every state in the country, has laws requiring that public schools give students the opportunity to recite the Pledge. We recite it weekly in accordance with law, and at school assemblies in accordance with tradition.

And do you really think that God left schools just because we obey the constitutional separation of church and state? You think God’s bitter because we’re rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s? It was his idea; I’m pretty sure he’s cool with it. No student or teacher is stopped from praying. We don’t sponsor prayer, but we both allow and accommodate for it. Kids wear and carry religious symbols, books, etc as they choose. Open and respectful interfaith conversations happen all the time. I have very good reason to believe God approves.

So here’s the thing. We also have the right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I had never exercised that right before, although I’ve always been grateful to know I have it. I’ve read enough about the world’s dictatorships to know that forced loyalty is no loyalty at all. So I’ve always freely, willingly, and sincerely recited the Pledge to an imperfect country that I believed was riding that long moral arc towards justice.

The last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance was Monday, November 7, 2016. I have no idea when the next time will be.

After so many months of feeling the earth shake and my foundation cracking, desperately trying to stop a force much bigger than myself, the ground finally fell out from under me on November 8th. Since then, I’ve asked so many questions that I never before imagined asking. Way more questions than answers; little certainty about anything. But there was one thing I already knew for sure that very night–I can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance right now. It would be dishonest.

I feel deep loyalty to the country that I was born into. I feel even more loyal to the US that I lived in, say, two years ago, than to the US I was born into; it got better with time. But I feel no such loyalty to the country I’m living in now.

I can’t call it an indivisible nation, when we voted for an agenda of division. I can’t claim liberty and justice for all, when we voted to severely limit “liberty,” “justice,” and “all.” I can’t lift my voice in ascribing values to a nation, when the nation rejected those values. I can’t pledge allegiance to a country I don’t even recognize. My word and my honor mean more to me than that.

It’s been five months, and I really miss saying those words. I miss believing them. I didn’t even know how much the Pledge meant to me until it was gone. I’m painfully wishing for a day when I can recite its words in good conscience again, about a country that’s at least trying to realize the ideals it proclaims. But until I’m living in a place that resembles the US I know and love, I’ll continue exercising my right not to pledge false allegiance.

I also believe that you can’t take something away, without somehow filling that space. I lost my faith in many things on November 8th. I have serious concerns about the systems and institutions and “democratic” processes that allowed this to happen. I have serious concerns about human nature. (Trust me, I hate it when I get existential more than you do.) I’m having a hard time trusting anyone or anything.

So I had to ask myself what I do have faith and trust in…. I still have faith in God. I still trust God.

I understand why people object to the “under God” line in the Pledge. It definitely implies some mixing of church and state. I also think God himself might object to the arguably vain usage of his name to separate ourselves from the Communists during the Cold War. But all of that aside… it might be the only phrase from the Pledge that I currently believe to be true. I still believe we are under God’s watchful eye and care.

So that was part of my November 8th decision. When others are reciting the Pledge, I take that moment to say a quick, silent prayer. I pray for the country. I pray that we can make it through the storm and someday be better for it. Mostly, I pray for the people suffering right now. I pray for those being threatened. Those whose lives are falling apart. And more than anything else, because they’re right there in the room with me, I pray for my kids and their families.

(I can personally guarantee that there will always be prayer in school, because I’ll never stop praying for my kids.)

So I show my love for country by refusing to pledge any allegiance to this dark shadow of America. And I resist by praying instead. We live in a day when believing in science is an act of rebellion. Maybe prayer can be a rebellious act too.

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