I Pledge Allegiance

Loyalty. Allegiance. Fidelity. Unwavering support.

We pledge it as children. We salute, sing and honor it with our anthems. We drape ourselves in it with our patriotic attire. We adorn our homes paying homage with patriotic decor.

Our loyalty comes in many forms. Loyalty to our families. Loyalty to our cultures. Loyalty to our companies, our teams, or our regions. Many of us are raised with a deep sense of fidelity to our religions, denominations, synagogues, mosques, temples or churches. We wear our rabid allegiance to our schools, colleges or universities in colors and logos.

Loyalty, by its very nature, is tested. It is easy to be loyal to a team that never loses. It doesn’t strain our sensibilities to support a school that consistently demonstrates academic integrity and excellence. It isn’t difficult to proudly wear a family name that has a legacy of leadership, service, and character.

But what about when our side goes astray? How do we remain loyal to a company that has mistreated people, a team that cheats, or an institution that has proven to be corrupt? Do we feel pressured to remain a “team player”? Would we want an abused spouse or child to remain in their situation purely out of a sense of loyalty?

The bigger question is where is our loyalty tethered? Is it to religions, political parties, institutions or organizations, or is it to the principles and values we believe they stand for?

In our highly polarized society, our loyalty is being pushed to the limit. We are being cajoled and coerced to take sides. To choose red or blue. Black or white. Conservative or liberal. And whatever side we choose, we are expected to be “team players”. To be loyal. To wear the colors. To chant the tag lines. To rile the opposition. To support our team.

Many of our leaders and opinion-driven media outlets try to divide us, using fear, hate, and falsehoods to demonize segments of our society, and to strengthen our loyalty. They are drawing lines and asking you to choose. Us vs. them. Good vs. evil. Dark vs. light.

But if we pledge our loyalty within these frameworks, we often have to give up our loyalty to greater principles. We forsake unity, in the name of uniformity. And there is a lot of darkness in uniformity.

If the church I’m apart of begins to consistently treat people in a way that is inconsistent with the gospel, I face a dilemma. Is my loyalty really to the church, or the principles it was built on? If leaders within my political party (thankfully I don’t subscribe to one) begin to treat citizens in a way that opposes our core American values, do I continue to support those leaders? Or is my allegiance to the core values that the party was supposed to adhere to?

We’re a nation built on loyalty, but that loyalty is girded by the principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all our citizens. That loyalty is founded on the right to question our leaders, and to work for a more perfect union, acknowledging that this grand experiment is still a work in progress. When leaders call for the silencing of citizens who question them, they are stealing the rights of us all. When leaders try to paint those who disagree with them as disloyal, or those who have different opinions as “hating” our country, they are not operating within a democracy, but forging an autocracy.

E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one” is the creed of our nation. Unity from diversity. Diverse voices, ideas, cultures and beliefs work laboriously together to make America greater. To make America One. It is a difficult process, with strife, disagreement and compromise, but it is what makes us great. Uniformity drowns out creativity. Uniformity silences debate. Uniformity stifles the ideas that are forged from multiple perspectives coming together.

Our national heritage is one of many stars, and many stripes. It is a kaleidoscope of colors, cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. Our loyalty must be to the principles that all of these are equal. As citizens, we should wear the flag proudly, but also call out injustice whenever and wherever it rises, whether on our soil or abroad. We need to stand against injustice whether in our political party or the other. Uniformity comes from a small-minded loyalty, to parties, churches, schools, or institutions. Unity, that beautiful expression of “out of many, one” comes from a greater loyalty, one that rises to our core principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all.

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Is Justice Blind? Injustice is not.

Major headlines of the past few days call into question whether the scales of justice are really balanced. Citizens without elitist means or connections are left wondering if justice only serves the rich and powerful. Or if justice only serves those of a specific political party or race. We see overwhelming corruption and injustice, and we’re left wondering if justice is truly blind. In this hyper polarized era, we are pushed and pulled further towards the ends of the continuum.

Corruption and injustice are not blind. Partisan politics are.

When a person continually blames one side of the political spectrum, and sugarcoats or overlooks the failings of the other side, they have become not only blind, but part of the problem.

Political parties are not more or less to blame. They are not more or less corrupt. They are equally corrupt, and both skirt the scales of justice in countless ways.

The capacity for blindness knows no race, age, gender, or political spectrum, but it does slowly and surely steal our ability to both see and hear other with respect, understanding and empathy. It divides us, and squelches our own voices. When someone is so unabashedly partisan, or xenophobic, or sexist, or racist, they have lost the ability to speak with any authority beyond their own group of like-minded brethren. People from other groups will have great difficulty accepting or appreciating the talents, faith stories, or life wisdom that they have to offer, as these all may appear to be deeply tainted by the foundational blindness.

Rather than believing any one segment of society is truly to blame for all of our woes, perhaps we should call out injustice wherever it is found. Their party or ours. Their church or ours. Their race or ours.

Injustice isn’t blind, but it is widely spread throughout our society, when we are blind to it.

Better Than This.

“We’re better than this!” – Rep. Elijah Cummings; 2.27.2019

Fiery passion is wonderful when used to inspire or protect others. The same dynamics can be used to further divide people into partisan tribes.

But we can be better than this. For our sake, and the sake of our children’s future, we must be. We have to learn how to respectfully be united without being uniform. We have friends and family, people we love and admire, who disagree sharply on some of the most heated topics of the day. But are we shouting so loud that we can’t hear?

Is our loyalty to “team” more important than our fidelity to truth or principle? Are you more aligned to the ideologies of a particular party than you are to ideals of our nation? Do you view everyone who sees differently than you as inherently wrong, and thereby labeled as belonging to a specific side of the political spectrum?

While there is truth in the sentiment that “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”, there is room for reasonable people to disagree with us without being demonized. There is room to listen, and acknowledge not only someone’s right to have a different opinion, but the deeper truth, that our staunch defense of certain “truths” has morphed over time. Is it not true that some issues that many of us ardently adhered to just a few years ago, we now see in a different, more nuanced light? Haven’t we grown to learn that the more we understand, we begin to realize that the less we truly know? With that enlightenment, aren’t we able to more sympathetically hear our neighbors with pause and consideration, with an open heart that doesn’t require uniformity over unity?

A Holiday of the Heart

A Holiday of the Heart

I was barely sixteen, and had never really been in love before, so my context of Valentines Day had been confined to the giving and receiving of cards and treats in classrooms. Working one of my first jobs, as a clerk in the neighborhood pharmacy, I noticed the undulating waves of last-minute purchases of boxed Fannie May chocolates, drug-store roses, and awkwardly worded Hallmark cards professing love to the lucky recipients.

“Perhaps the saddest day of the year” one of my co-workers quipped. “So many people won’t be receiving cards or flowers”.

It was one of those watershed coming-of-age moments that leaves an indelible mark on an impressionable soul. I had always equated February 14th with love, romance, and joy, even if I wasn’t quite sure what romance meant.

But I did know love.

I knew the love of my single mother, who despite being in the midst of her tumultuous bout with cancer, while raising five strong-willed children on her teacher’s salary, loved audaciously. She told us of her love constantly, through words, hugs, kisses, and her relentless sacrifice to care for us.

So the thought of Valentines Day being a day of sadness had never occurred to me. Mom had made sure we had cards and candy to give out, and found a way of surprising us with her own little gifts or gestures of affection. A Spider-Man Board game one year, or a jigsaw puzzle the next. She had a way of reminding us that we mattered. We were her pride and joy, and we were loved.

So as another Valentines Day has come upon us, what a great opportunity we have to remind those around us they are loved. The people who cross our paths at home, or work, or in our community, matter to us. We see them. We recognize that they compose a unique set of blessings for us, and we can take a moment to express our gratitude for their presence in our journey.

To my friends, family, colleagues, and community, whether our paths currently meet, or crossed before, thank you for the kindness you show me everyday. I love you all. You matter to me, and I’m blessed because of you.

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face”. – Victor Hugo

Heroes Unmasked

I get it. Heroes are still human. Fallible. They fall from the pedestal from time to time. But to me, the real superpower of my heroes has been the ideals they stood for. Sure, their accomplishments grab our attention. Their charisma opens doors, and draws increasing numbers of followers. Their persuasive powers expands their platform.

But I was always drawn to the purity of their cause. The integrity of their purpose. That injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. That truth, equality, and liberty were ideals to be protected and cherished for all races, genders, ethnicities and religions. Right was right, and wrong was wrong, regardless of political affiliation.

Yet many of my former heroes have been unmasked. It isn’t their humanity in question, but their integrity. In a world that has swiftly grown more and more divided, they are taking sides. In a world where extremist views and voices are emboldened, these heroes are conditionally silent. When the distress signals of injustice flare in the sky, they selectively choose to remain in their caves or look the other way if the call to arms isn’t from their chosen side.

Their capes no longer represent the defense of ideals that should be applied to all of us, but instead they have specific labels and colors, mostly blue or red, for the segments of the population they identify with. These fallen heroes have traded ideals for ideologies.

Sure they still fight for truth, justice, and liberty, but now it is conditional. No longer do they protect principles and populations. Now they specialize in protecting parties and storylines. They share your thirst for justice, unless it calls into account someone from their team. If your freedom is threatened, they’ll come to your aid, as long as you wear their team colors.

Disillusionment sets in when we see our heroes unmasked. We struggle to believe they can be so myopic. So partisan. So conditional. Perhaps they’ve lost their way for a time, and will eventually see the fallacy of choosing ideologies over ideals. Perhaps they’ve grown tired or protecting our national values, and have chosen an easier, narrower path. Hopefully, as the number of distress signals continues to rise, and our nation is further divided, a new crop of heroes will answer the call.

We’ve lost a fair number of heroes in the past few years. Our values and ideals are under assault from some of the very places expected to uphold them most. As Dr. King reminded us, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. May idealists everywhere reject disillusionment, and continue to cherish the principles our nation was founded upon, finding ways to answer distress calls without furthering the divide.

Ballot Box Longings

I abhor partisan politics

I won’t vote blue

I won’t vote red

I’ll choose a mix of candidates,

For a diverse nation.

I prefer principles

Over parties.

I long for leaders

With integrity

And character

Who haven’t sold their soul

To corporations

Or lobbyists

But who heartily represent

Their constituents

And their consciences.

I long for citizens

Who love liberty

For all

Who welcome the oppressed

Who protect the rights

And dignity

Of all races

Genders

And ethnicities.

I long for women and men

Who think critically

Who discuss respectfully

And who rise above

Mindless, partisan division.

People that recognize

Poisonous platforms

And renounce toxic behaviors

Regardless of which party

Or which race

Or which demographic

They originate from.

I long for countrymen

That pledge allegiance

To a flag

And live by its creed

Instead or wrapping themselves

In the stars and stripes

While denying its freedoms

Or using Ole Glory

As a backdrop

Of false patriotism

While spewing hateful rhetoric

Or denying people the right

To kneel before a flag

That has failed them.

I long for a people

Who if they worship

And pray

Do so for all citizens

Without furling the flag

Around their church

Mosque, or synagogue

And any particular party

Constricting the voice

Or soul of their faith

From reaching others

Untarnished.

Micro American-omics

American values have long been a bedrock of our national persona. Similar to our iconic symbols, the Stars and Stripes, the Statue of Liberty, or the national anthem; there were certain principles that we all held dear. We believed in the integrity of our national institutions. We believed that our votes were all weighed equally. We believed that we could disagree with our leaders, or other citizens, within an environment of civility and safety. We held our principles dear.

Like many citizens, I am disheartened by the current state of affairs in our nation. But this isn’t about left or right; blue or red. This is about our national principles. The ones we claim to cherish.

It seems principles are no longer our bottom line. They are no longer our bedrock. Instead, our American values are now micro-selected on a case by case basis. Violations of our principles are first scrutinized to determine if the offense is red or blue; right or left. Parties now trump principles. We’re practicing micro American-omics.

Take this past week for example. In a normal society, 14 IED devices being sent to various citizens would alarm an entire nation. A society would be galvanized to find the perpetrator, and to secure the safety of our citizens. But instead, we’ve become a society that first checks to see if party, ethnic, or race lines are involved. What is the race or religion of the bomber? What party or ethnicity were the targets? Our outrage, or our silence, is often determined only after we’ve first decided how it fits our current narrative. Principles give way to partisan lines.

Instead of patriotism around national values, a divisive groupthink is further entrenched.

For the record, I do not consider myself blue or red, left or right, Democrat or Republican. I vote on both sides of the aisle, although I do have many concerns about our current president and his administration. But my hope is that citizens would look beyond parties, and focus more on the principles they hold dear and the character of the candidates.

Social media has the power to bring us together, but also to pull us apart. I find it harder and harder to read the posts of people who decry political violence, but only when it fits their narrative. Rather than employing critical thinking skills, citizens quickly dismiss stories that call the tactics of their leaders into question, labeling them as “fake news”, regardless of any amount of science or facts. It simply doesn’t fit with their pre-conceived story. The other side isn’t only viewed as ideologically wrong, but as morally corrupt, intellectually inept, and incapable of grasping the truth.

I’ve posted my own share of concerns, as I’ve found myself continually shocked by the seemingly bottomless lowering of our national discourse, especially where our nation’s leader is concerned. I falsely assumed my words might make a difference. That others would pause and consider the reflections, or at least engage in thoughtful discourse. But sadly, most are either turned off to the political noise, or they are already entrenched in their narratives, and only interested in trolling the comments of others.

Even some of the people I respect and admire the most, have fallen prey to entrenched partisan thinking. Their praise, criticisms, and outrage are selectively applied, only when it suits their pre-determined partisan affiliations. Principles only matter when it fits their narrative.

While I respect that we all share different convictions about multiple topics, we can all agree that the encouragement of violence against our political rivals has no place in our national discourse. If you condemn threats against political rivals, I hope you publicly condemn both the actions of the bomber, as well as the presidents’ own threatening comments; with a similar vigor, regardless of your party affiliation. Calls for violence are despicable, whether they come from the left or the right. And when the violent rhetoric is only selectively condemned, depending on which party it originates from, or benefits, then it appears that it is no longer truly a principle we stand on, but a partisan talking point. And I’d like to believe that you and I want to be above that partisan divide. We want to be, whenever and wherever possible, voices that heal. Voices that unify. We might not unify people around similar topics or issues, but we can do so around principles of mutual respect, and decency. Those principles are macro, not micro. They transcend partisan talking points, and should always be the bedrock of our national heritage.