Father Mark, Reflections

What’s in a Flag?

Yesterday was Flag Day, the anniversary of the adoption of our first flag of the colonies by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. 

Flags represent as symbols what a community of people value, their ideals and identity.  I remember first hearing in the 1960’s the term “flag wavers” used in a denigrating tone.  As much as a flag can be a symbol that people who hold the same values gather around,  a flag can also be seen or used as a divisive element by others.  The values which the flag represents must be continually reassessed as our lives in our efforts to live up to these ideals else we fall away from them and chaos results.

One of the problems with flags and the ideals that symbolize what the flag represents, is that we’re not very good at living up to those ideals.  I am not always aware of how I do not live up to the values represented in our flag and the Constitution which underlies it.  The fault is not with the flag nor is with the Constitution.  The fault is with me.

I don’t care what flag you want to talk about. No one can live up to its ideals.  It doesn’t mean the ideals are necessarily flawed.  But it does mean that I need to do a self-examination about how I might adjust my life to honor them. 

To make it more personal, I believe everyone reading this has at least one relative or friend who has died or suffered while defending the ideals which we feebly try to uphold.   Transferring the focus from the flag to my uncle who died and my father and brothers who risked their lives to uphold these ideals puts “flesh” on the flag for me.  When I see their faces on the flag, then the flag changes from an object or an “it,” to people who were and are very much alive–all the way back to our Founders and Framers.  None of them were perfect. None of us are. That doesn’t mean the ideals for which the flag represents are false. It just means we’re not true.

One of the ideals our flag represents is in being able to be free enough to seek God as individuals. Not every flag represents this. One of our flag’s ideals is understood as the human need to seek the Divine. The unencumbered liberty to seek Divine Inspiration enables us to fulfill the Great Commandment of “loving God with our whole, heart, mind, soul and strength” which in turn enables me to live more fully into the ideals that the flag represents and to respect those who, like me, live under it. I ask myself: “How can I love those faces known and unknown which I see on the flag—how can I love them back?”

I can love them in my heart, mind and soul because our hearts, minds and souls are no longer limited by this world because the Divine lives within us. We also have the freedom to love them in this world.   Vicariously, by passing on the same love to others we know—the true ideal—they might benefit from all the gifts that God showers on us and share in the ideals of the flag, which we cannot perfectly live up to.  Loving others as directed by God, allowed by the First Amendment, makes it a darn sight easier than in other countries where they are not. We allow others the same Liberty as we have under the flag and serve them as Christ serves us.  

In this way, we have freedom of religion which manifests itself by serving others and living the “Golden Rule” of allowing others the same Liberty. The love of God serves those in the state while not encroaching on their Liberty. Loving like this takes a lot of practice–a lifetime of it.

If you have ever read any works on spiritual development such as Kohlberg, Westerhoff and Fowler, we realize that the First Amendment of the flag we live under encourages us to grow into the full spiritual beings that we are and were created to become. We can live fully in both worlds: Jesus’ Kingdom not of this world, and the world under the flag in which we live.

To Liberty: the Liberty we have in Christ and the Liberty granted to us under the flag. May we be faithful in both.

Fr. Mark