Standing With Kneelers

Standing with Kneelers

Another football season is upon us. Thank God. Thank America.

I stand for the National Anthem. Even at sports bars, if the sound is turned up, I’m that guy who feels compelled to slide off my stool and remove my ballcap while the Star Spangled Banner plays. I’m, admittedly, obnoxious that way. For the dozens of other people around me who don’t partake in this symbolic ceremony, I have no judgment. This, though not hidden, is a private act: a moment of reflection. I know that, for those in fields and stadiums and parks and for other hoppy-fruity patriots in other bars, the moments that precede kickoff—including humming or mouthing along to this sonorous anthem—are as important to me as touchdown dances, chest bumps, and the high drama of red zone defensive stands.

Prayer, the most personal and intimate of human acts, while knowing that there are others doing so at the same time—even in the privacy of their own home, even quietly kneeling at their bedside—is amplified to a loving God capable of knowing and hearing all at once. Like prayer for those who believe in its power and in God, the secularized collection of reflections to the tune of the anthem before a football game highlights the very personal within a diverse public congregation of other individuals.

Whether in the stands or on a barstool or in the privacy of our own homes, we are free to reflect on whatever we please. Amidst the overwhelming distractions, my own thoughts race from tunes to singers, from blessings to wishes, from patriots to free-riders, from winners to losers, from standers to kneelers. The truth is, I am constantly distracted, even as I should be concentrating. I try to imagine the thoughts running through the minds of the modern super humans on the field.

I probably am doing it wrong, differently than it was intended; it’s 2018, after all, and distraction is symptomatic of these times.

Jesus himself told us that there was no single way to pray, “…do not be like the hypocrites…do not keep babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words…,”(Matthew 6) , even as he then prescribed the most oft-recited words of thanks-and-praise to a hallowed Father’s name in the last two millennia. If we are confused by this mixed messaging, it’s by design. His words, as much as his divinity, are points for reflection: distraction, perhaps. His very divinity, in our American conception, is big enough to take on other names and other prophets and fluid, timeless combinations of alphas, omegas, x chromosomes and y chromosomes.

We needn’t pray during the anthem. We needn’t babble. We needn’t even stand.

We needn’t reflect upon the sacrifices that veterans have made for our nation.
We needn’t reflect upon the sacrifices that first responders have made to keep our cities safe.
We needn’t reflect upon the systemic inequities that persist in our justice system.
We aren’t required to reflect on anything, but the beauty of the musical backdrop provided by a flag-draped field—the beauty of overdetermined symbology—is that we may; it’s that we are given a moment of respite, alongside similarly free neighbors, to reflect on—if nothing more—reflection itself.

Will my mother’s chemo buy us more time with her? Will my nephew survive his latest deployment? Will my best friends’ kids grow up in a less racist, less homophobic world than the one we did?

Do I need another beer before kickoff? Nuts?

If God has granted us free will, lifting us from prostration to space traveling bipeds, far be it from a junta of oligarchs to tell us how to reflect or the contortions of our bodies when doing so, and what to think about during the two-and-a-half minutes that precede three hours of play.

But if we do—like kids in aluminum pews— want to look around and consume the distractions about us—and see others expressing their free will to hum instead of singing or to kneel instead of standing, we are free to inquire of those others’ hearts. And when we hear, “I’m reflecting upon the injustices I see in this world around me,” and we respond, “I’m reflecting on the great promise of America,” we are both affected. We carry our most intimate reflections into a public space. We ask—verging upon demand—that the thousands who inhabit the same space acknowledge the intimacy. We are compelled to slide off our stools and move nearer our neighbors; to reach out with those around us and make their reflections our own. If we are doing it at all, we respect those whose distractions—and postures—present differently.

If there exists any uniform—any fan-garb— we all don, it’s our distracted reflection. As minutemen on Breed’s Hill must have passed time while melting cookware to make bullets, as Francis Scott Key clearly reflected from Fort McHenry, as suffragists must have thought while marching against patriarchal rule, as bus boycotters must have wondered on long walks home, as occupiers must have hungered along speeding freeways and on bustling public sidewalks, as mourners at the Pulse Memorials dwell on our many steps along blood-stained  floors toward equality and pride, so too are the many postures accompanying reflections on fields and stands valuable to the broader discourse of history. And if those public displays of personal reflection heighten the tenor of discourse, then we are all the better for it. Just like first downs and sacks and touchdowns, we should cheer for the bravery in prayer, in quiet reflection, and the sense of community that arises from our freedom to reflect—distractedly, standing or kneeling or prostrate, in bars or sports fields or bedsides—together.

Another football season is upon us. Thank God. Thank America. 

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