What I'm Writing
As a human being I’d rather pledge allegiance to God as I know God to be. As a
Christian, I don’t pledge my allegiance to a flag, I pledge my allegiance to Jesus the
Christ. (And yeah, I fail a lot!) As for the “indivisible” part, I have no problem with
that—it’s just that I feel indivisible with all the Earth’s people, along with all the
Earth’s animals, its landforms, waterways, “and to every beast of the earth and to
every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that
has the breath of life,” so to speak.
In any case, the range of the national anthem makes it far too difficult for any normal
person to sing (what were they thinking?), and if it is sung, then it should definitely
be followed by “Play ball!”
The thing is, I’ve recently discovered that I am more patriotic than I had presumed. I
do like the appellation for the National Parks System, “America’s Best Idea.” And,
unlike when the national anthem is sung, I do still get chills and tear-up when
“America the Beautiful” is sung—and it’s even sing-able. As for baseball, something
about it evokes images of immigrants making their way in this new country, of
immigrant kids playing it on the streets of the Lower East Side, and of my first generation
dad watching it on TV. Maybe it’s like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It’s
But as the recent administration has increasingly been spending time in the White
House, I’ve discovered that there are other things I’m patriotic about—like the
Constitution and the rule of law, and the system of checks and balances. I’m patriotic
about presidents who understand those things—maybe even because he or she
studied them in twelfth grade or even eighth grade and paid attention—you know at
least took it for pass/fail and passed. Even so, expecting a future leader to get an A in
American History or American Government kind of seems like one of those good ideas.
I’m patriotic about our country’s ideals—because they are ideals and many of us
keep striving to meet them the way I strive to be a little more like Christ, even
though people keep telling me that Jesus didn’t really mean give all your goods to
the poor and that he only meant to welcome the stranger if that stranger wasn’t
Muslim or possibly black.
I’m patriotic about those ideals. I believe in what the Statue of Liberty stands for.
Recently, I got to see her in all her green glory up close from the river, and with how
we’ve been treating “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe
free,” my heart was tearing at me. Then, then, I wanted to put my hand over my
A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of my son, I took the sky tram to Roosevelt
Island. Walking under the cherry blossoms to the southern tip, I stood silently
reading beneath the words carved in granite at Four Freedom’s Park. Then, then I
wanted to put my hand over my heart. I’d arrived a bit late in the day, just as the
island’s Cherry Blossom Festival was ending. I guess I’m patriotic about cherry
When my daughter was in eighth grade, with the full support of her public, not
charter, middle-school principal, I took her on a three-week tour of Connecticut and
Massachusetts—an American history tour. We visited what seemed like
everything—from Mystic Seaport, CT, where we helped out on a schooner, to John
Adams’ house in Quincy. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston, read gravestones,
and ate at an oyster house frequented by Ben Franklin. At Mystic Seaport we saw
where they built the replica of the slave ship, the Amistad; and in Boston, we went
onboard that replica and descended to where enslaved people would have been
We followed the path of Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and Billy Dawes, and I sat for
an hour in a pew in the Old North Church, imagining lanterns and considering that
night. We walked the 5.5-mile Battle Road Trail from the North Bridge in Concord to
Lexington, the path of the opening battle of the American Revolution.
We toured Plymouth Plantation and carried tin lanterns into a dark graveyard one
night as a tour guide searched for ghosts. We learned that it was the Wampanoag
who made it possible for the pilgrims to make it through that first long winter and
that it was they who shared their food with the new immigrants that first
Thanksgiving, not the other way around.
We drank fresh-pressed cider at a mill, watched a blacksmith, and played early
children’s games at Old Sturbridge Village. We toured a fabric mill where docents
turned on the sound so we could hear how deafening it was for the children and
immigrants who worked there, and we visited the houses where the girls lived.
We learned about Louisa May Alcott’s father and his experiment with socialism at
Fruitlands, where we also sipped the best pumpkin soup ever. We stood in the room
where we imagined Louisa writing Little Women. We visited the homes of Mark
Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saw that they lived
just across a lawn from each other, and learned of the salons in Mark Twain’s parlor
where intellectuals shared ideas. We walked around Walden Pond. We rode bikes on
Cape Cod and, after a waiter explained how, we ate lobster in Rockport, Maine. And
we did more.
Each night, I had my daughter—who has the lovely Irish-immigrant name Molly—
write in her journal to which she added picture postcards and later photographs
once we’d returned. I wanted Molly to understand our country, its history, what it
stands for, or until recently stood for.
Did I mention that I’m also patriotic about Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies and
that I tear up at the end of both White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life? I simply
don’t believe for a minute that that’s corny. I repudiate the concentration of income
or power or making of decisions in the hands of a few rich oligarchs. I repudiate the
erosion of the EPA and women’s rights. I repudiate the undermining of truth and the
respect for a free press. I repudiate domination by any one cultural group—be that
of white men, the banks, the oil magnates, the military, or the 1%. I repudiate the
undermining of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. I
repudiate the undermining of our system of justice and the separation of
government service and private gain.
I repudiate the sale of more military weapons to other countries, and applaud the
selling of democratic ideals to other countries—something we can only do if we
return to a form of government that represents those ideas here at home. An
oligarchy is not a democracy.
Patriotism 101 June 6, 2017
I have often half-jokingly said that my two ways of being patriotic are baseball and the National Parks System. I’m not one to put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance or because we’re directed to sing the national anthem. How can I pledge allegiance to one country and its people without wanting to stand up for all people everywhere?
Dignity. I believe I understand the unmet goals and noblest ideals of this country. I
try to pass these on to others. And right now, I resist this administration because I
refuse to normalize the shredding of our Constitution, our rule of law, our goals,
ideals, our history, our aspirations, our experiment in democracy, our welcome to
the immigrant and refugee, our respect for people of all faiths and all cultural and
ethnic backgrounds. I refuse to say that these things for which this country stands
are not worth remembering and consistently, against all odds, working for. I study, I
remember, and therefore I resist.