Symbols & Idols

I was thinking about making this one of my podcast episodes but honestly, those are somewhat “off the cuff” and more freeform in how I do those and I felt like this one needed to be a bit more calculated in my approach. We happen to live in a time when there are countless things an individual could pick to write on or share an opinion about…natural disasters, talk of nuclear war, healthcare, immigration reform, the new iPhones…just to mention a few. Despite all of those important issues, I’d like to share my thoughts on the current reactions over professional athletes’ peaceful protest during the national anthem of The United States of America.

Just over a year ago I wrote this post talking about this very topic and here we are still. Not “again” but “still.” The issue of racism has clearly not gone away. The issue of injustice in our society has clearly not gone away. The issue of oppression, especially of minorities, has clearly not gone away. This is not “again” but “still.” Recent words from The President of the United States in the past few days on this protest have not helped. Saying that an NFL owner should fire any players that knelt during the playing of the national anthem and calling their mothers “bitches” was perhaps less than helpful, presidential, mature, etc. He has since gone on to suggest fans stop going to NFL games “until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country.”

One of the things I am finding especially fascinating about all of this is the collision between one of our prized idols and most important symbols. I believe that professional (youth?) sports in general, football specifically, and the NFL especially, are quite possibly the most prominent idol(s) of our country. We worship their products, players, and places. We rearrange our schedules and finances to make them a significant part of our lives. Do I think sports are bad? No! I grew up playing baseball, basketball, and soccer. I really enjoyed the experience I had and the things I learned from participating in those events. Did my life revolve around them? No. Should they be objects of our worship? Absolutely not! Do I think they are a focus of our worship as a country? Yes, without question.

An idol is a false god. What we do with our time and our money are acts of worship. What happens when an idol and symbols clash? Will individuals choose to live out their patriotism by refusing to support the NFL?

The “Stars and Stripes” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are important symbols of our country. When most of us look at our flag or hear/sing those words, we think about things like freedom, sacrifice, liberty, and those brave individuals who made, and currently make, those things possible in The United States of America. Sometimes we forget that the symbol of a thing is not actually the thing itself. The symbol itself is not freedom, freedom is freedom. The fact that we can choose to sing the song or not is freedom. That one can choose to kneel or stand is freedom. How we choose to live our freedom and ensure the freedom of others is how we best honor those who made such freedom possible. Honoring a symbol is not the same as honoring the thing the symbol stands for. Like I mentioned in my previous post, “wearing a cross around one’s neck does not necessarily make one a follower of Christ.” Likewise, standing or kneeling does not necessarily make an individual more or less patriotic but perhaps it does mean s/he is free.