Today was a momentous day in American history...one that the media and all of the political pundits have been hyping since November 4. An African-American man was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. As I watched the inauguration as it was streamed on the Internet while at work today, it caused me to pause and reflect on this country that we live in.
Each morning, one of the local Christian radio stations invites an elementary school classroom to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" and they broadcast it on the air. As you can imagine, the voices are loud...and seemingling proud, as they children share these words with the listeners. At times, it's difficult to know exactly what all of the words are as they struggle with the correct pronunciations and tend to run some of the words together.
The combination of the kids reciting the pledge and the plethora of "red, white and blue" that were so prevalent today made me think about those words that I memorized as a young child and have recited myself so many times over the past 40 plus years. I'm not certain that as I learned the words to this short series of words that I ever really took the time to think about what they really mean.
"I Pledge allegiance" - do we really understand what those three words mean? No word is wasted in that short introduction. I am proclaiming that "I" as an individual am taking an action. It's not up to the next guy...or the guy down the street...or the gal in front of me at the latte stand. "I" am the one stating "my" involvement. Webster defines "pledge" as a "binding promise or agreement to do". I wonder how many of us really take that word literally as we numbly go through motions of reciting the pledge. The "obligation, devotion and loyalty" that we are promising are all too often simply an empty promise.
"to the flag, of the United States of America" - the flag...the symbol of this country that we live in. Some people take the word "flag" here too literally. I don't believe that the pledge is referring to the red, white and blue rectangular piece of fabric. We are pledge our allegiance to a symbol that represents our country. We are a group of people within the boundaries of North America that share something in common.
"and to the republic, for which it stands" - This "republican" form of government that we live in is a unique form of government, but certainly not invented by Americans. Rome was a republic...until the Caesars took control. There are countries that call themselves "Republics" that fall far short of the definition. In this country, we are a republic because we vote for those people that lead us. Today was a celebration of that process as a new president was sworn into office to lead us for the next four years. The flag that we stare at as we make the pledge represents this great country that we live in. A country that could never have elected a black man president fifty years ago because of the deep seeds of racism that permeated our society.
"One nation under God, indivisible" - There are times when it seems that we are so different as a country that to use the phrase "one nation" seems a stretch of the truth. But that's what we are, and always have been. This country was created by uniting a group of thirteen colonies made up of peoples of different nationalities and cultures. While predominantly Christian, the people were not all of the same church. But they were alike enough to put their difference behind them and unite together in a common cause...freedom. While the phrase "under God" was added to the pledge about 55 years ago, the history of this nation definitely demonstrates that God has always held a central position for the people. Our history is also full of examples that even with all of the differences that we find across the continent that we call home, we will not allow anyone, or anything, divide this country. Whether it is a difference in belief related to slavery, or attacks by enemies who live outside our nation's boundaries, the country has not allowed itself to be broken apart.
"with liberty" - simply said, liberty is freedom. It is the foundation of why we are a country...why we fought against England in the Revolutionary War and the single word that defines us as a country. Sometimes, we forget that freedom has boundaries...that freedom doesn't mean that we can exercise our freedom at the expense of someone else's. It is a word that elicits strong emotions when someone threatens to take it away from us in any form...whether it's our freedom to own a firearm or freedom to talk on our cell phone while driving our car. We don't easily part with the "freedoms" that we have.
"and justice for all." - I've learned a lot about justice over the past five years...and in some cases injustice. But the pledge is a reminder to me that the goal is that everyone in our country is to be afforded justice, regardless of who we are and what we've done. Unfortunately, emotions tend to get in the way of that lofty goal at times. It seems that some "violations" become "causes" and those causes can steam-roll the justice that our pledge proclaims...for all.
In the future, as I place my hand over my heart and recite the pledge, I hope that I take the time to reflect on the words instead of simply blindly speaking them. I hope that others around me do the same...and that as a country, we move back toward the lofty goals that this simple pledge proclaims.