In Times of Dire Distress


“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” The United States Flag Code

Maybe I am the only one wondering “What can I do?” as I watch and read the news. I have a lot of excuses. I can’t go to the protests tonight because my son has a concert. I don’t coordinate the church service and announcements so I can’t control what will and won’t be said. I’m on sabbatical so I won’t be a part of the conversations that I hope will happen between colleagues at meetings next week. But I hope I am not the only one wondering what can be, needs to be, ought to be done.

The videos are chilling – Eric Garner’s life is being choked out of him until he goes limp on the sidewalk and Tamir Rice being gunned down, the police squad door barely opening as the officer drives by. The images of protests and protesters being tear gasses and throwing canisters back at police armed in riot gear remind me of the summer I spent in Korea, marching in protests against US military presence. That was the summer I learned about wearing damp handkerchiefs near my eyes to help with the sting of tear gas and how to wet the wick of a homemade Molotov cocktail before lighting and lobbing. A few years later in a hotel room in Indiana after a job interview I watched protests and riots take over Los Angeles. Living with, wrestling with injustice day in and day out is a bit like a kettle of water just about to hit boiling. At some point, the water boils, the steam is released.

I have changed my profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook to a black and white depiction of the US flag hanging upside down. I chose that image after a friend posted a similar image with the flag code explaining the symbolism.

I became a US citizen in January 2010 after decades of wrestling with the idea of belonging. I immigrated the US in 1971. I was eight months old. I grew up identifying myself as a Korean American even though the American part continues to be questioned most often by white people. It isn’t enought to say I am from Libertyville or Chicago. How could that be when I don’t look “American” is the unspoken, underlying question. I finally decided to act upon the privilege to apply for citizenship and took the oath, pledging allegiance to the flag.

So as people marched in protest, I watched and read. And the image popped up on my Facebook feed. I changed my profile picture because as an American who at some level has chosen allegiance I wanted to show other Americans and Christians who know the power of symbolism that I am utterly disappointed and disgusted by a justice system picks and choses to define and apply justice. I changed my profile picture because the flag is something we see on a daily basis – in front of fast food restaurants and sometimes in our churches, but I don’t often think about the code governing its display. I changed the picture because if your world doesn’t feel like it has been or is turning upside down maybe you aren’t watching carefully enough.

We are in a time of dire distress. The lives of our black brothers and sisters remain in extreme danger.


  1. Angela Ament Haws December 4, 2014

    I agree it is a sad and scary time. It seems too much at times. I’m trying to remember to take some time away from the news and media to listen to some Christmas songs or spend some quiet time. You are such a caring person that it can affect you more deeply than some, so take care of yourself. Great thoughts here. I do disagree w/ one thing though;Nobody should ever doubt you are an American! I can think of nobody that is more American than you in the way you embody the ideal of freedom of speech and trying to help your fellow man to make the world a better place. Peace my friend <3

    • Kathy Khang January 2, 2015

      Angie, thank you for reading and your kind words. Much love!

  2. Thank you for your witness, Kathy. I so value your voice.

  3. Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate this connection that, whether by birth or chosen, allegiance doesn’t equate blind acceptance of everything. I hadn’t thought much on that, and it’s an interesting connection. Grateful for your heart-felt words.

    • Kathy Khang January 2, 2015

      Thank you, Sarah. The journey to citizenship was a long one, and recent events alongside a life in liminality continues to push me in unexpexted ways.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *