Next week Tuesday I take my Naturalization Test and hopefully pass. The process has gone a lot faster than expected, but it has raised up a few more moments of angst for me. I don’t see it as a negative thing – this wrestling with identity and a sense of belonging. I do not want to take for granted the place and privilege I have; I do, however, want to understand it.
Question #52: What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance?
Acceptable answers: the United States or the flag.
I’m actually studying because I am afraid of failing this test. It’s only going to be 10 questions, and I need to answer 6 correctly. 60%. Some of the questions are easy but will require some restraint on my part. I don’t think I will get any extra credit for snarkiness. For example: what is the economic system in the United States? Answer: capitalist or market economy. Snarky answer: broken.
But I am learning a few things while I wrestle through the emotional process of becoming a citizen of the country I grew up in. Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge, and it was published in 1892 for children to say on the anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of America. The quotes are mine.
Since 1892 there have been two changes to the pledge. The original pledge was to “my flag”, and Congress added the phrase “under God” in 1954.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
I have always felt strange pledging allegiance to the flag. It’s not like I’m bowing before a god, but it certainly does feel different than say singing the national anthem. I’m not sure what it is…I’m still trying to put my finger on it.
I remember learning it in school, and thinking the phrase was “I pledge of allegiance”. I remember getting confused with hand placement – right hand over the heart for the pledge. Right hand held up with thumb and pinky down for the Girl Scout promise. Sorry. I was 5. What I don’t remember is how the teacher explained the pledge and why we say it.
Have any of you read James Clavell’s The Children’s Story? It’s a quick read – a tale of a teacher and her classroom and how education can become re-education. The teacher is trying to explain the pledge and the exchange between students and teacher is what I resonate with the most. Why do we say what we say if we don’t believe all of it or understand it fully?
Jeff and I have a disagreement about the pledge. He does not want our kids to be taught it. Emma already learned last year, but has since forgotten about it. He says we don’t pledge allegiance to the flag. I say, isn’t pledging allegiance to your country saying “I’m not going to commit treason and I will be a loyal citizen?” I see nothing wrong with that.
Where I draw the line is putting it in church. Why on earth would we put our flag in church? We aren’t in church because of our allegiance to our country, but our allegiance to God. I can’t stomach mixing patriotism with Christianity. Our Christianity should make us appropriately submissive to our government, but that’s as far as it goes for me.
When I was in Jamaica this past March, we went into the high schools and visited classrooms where the Jamaican students told us about their country/school. We then got a turn to share about America and our schools. In their school, prayer is foundational. They pray together every morning and asked if it was the same in America. I said no, but we do a few “moments of silence” where we can chose to pray or not. Instead in the morning, we say a pledge of allegiance to the American flag. A student raised his hand said, “Isn’t that, like, worshiping an idol?” I was taken back … yes, I guess it is.