“We must acknowledge that there is diversity in the oneness promised to us in the pledge of allegiance.”

Countries create symbols to express beliefs and values. These beliefs and values change over time. It is crucial to re-examine symbols and take note of how the meanings change. In many cases the symbols move from the meaning of freedom and become symbols to express hatred. Therefore, as a society we have to constantly examine the symbols that are meant to point to who we are as people.

I wrote in my book The Way of Tenderness, that as a society we must learn to see, to stop and look. A society that does not examined itself is an unenlightened one. We cannot be an enlightened society without facing ourselves (p.81). When Gabby Douglas, along with her gymnastic team won gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, she stood without placing her hand over her heart during the raising of the U.S. flag. She was publicly shamed for not pledging allegiance to the country.

The Pledge of Allegiance goes like this, “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.” In some states a student can opt out of saying the pledge for reason of conscience. For many today, elementary school is usually the last time that the pledge of allegiance is a regular part of the school day. And in many schools in our country this ritual has been abolished. Many of the athletes have been out of school for years. They are usually home-schooled and their daily ritual is training as an athlete.

I believe Gabby Douglas’ action was misunderstood. More importantly she was used as a black young woman to point out to people of African descent, even if born in this country that you must show that you “want” to belong to a country you already belong to. She was used to point out that black people of the African Diaspora must continue to cow down, drop your eyes, and bow to the master. Douglas did not take the posture of submission that was expected of black people. The attack upon her was tied to the times of slavery when a slave had to pretend to be lower than “thou” in order to stay alive. No, they did not lynch Douglas for her actions, sell her family to another plantation, but she was “whipped” for not behaving as someone who was bought and sold. Her sponsors did not save her. Were they a part of the attackers saying, “We have spent money and time on you. We made you Gabby Douglas and you must show us that you are with us and not with “them,” the other black people who don’t have what we have given you. Gabby might as well have thrown her fist up in solidarity for Black Power or today Black Lives Matter.

What meaning does the U.S. flag have today? When we pledge allegiance what are we doing? When is the pledge deliverable? A pledge is a promise. A promise indicates that the deliverables are in the future. We (who?) promise to be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We (who?) promise that everyone will have a spiritual or religious experience of oneness by living in this country [as long as you believe in God].

Whose God? Have we changed the meaning of the flag and the allegiance into a symbol of coercion and an opportunity to harm others? Stop and notice the gut reaction. What is that feeling similar to? The confederate flag, which was originally called the Stars and Bars flag, once represented a battle flag (among many in the South) for the Virginia Army of the Potomac, eventually became a symbol of terrorism and hate for the nation.

The swastika, a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle, is found in many ancient spiritual cultures of the Egyptians, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, Persians, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The word swastika comes from the ancient Sanskrit word svastika, which means literally “all is well” or “good fortune” and “well-being. In Hinduism, the right-hand (clockwise) swastika is a symbol of the sun and the god Vishnu, while the left-hand (counterclockwise) swastika represents Kali and magic. The Buddhist swastika is almost always clockwise, while the swastika adopted by the Nazis (many of whom had occult interests) is counterclockwise. (source: http://www.religionfacts.com/swastika/buddhism). Thousands of years ago this ancient symbol emerged to unite people in wellness and later it was re-designed to express hatred.

How do we re-examine symbols throughout their usage? How do we keep track when a symbol such as a flag becomes a chance to cause harm to someone? First, we can acknowledge that our collective liberation requires that as a collective body, we remove all symbols of hatred despite their origins. We ask, is the U.S. flag in need of a re-design to reflect a collective ownership and a varied expression of how we have changed as a nation? Between 1777 and 1960 the flag was changed 27 times in response to how the country changes (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/Dynamic-US-flag-200-years-of-change.htm). Can we have a varied ritual of showing how we belong to each other beyond one’s right hand on the heart? Can we stand still eyes gazed up, down or closed? Can we hold hands or bow to each other? Can we raise our fist? Can we do what is in our hearts? We must acknowledge that there is diversity in the oneness promised to us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Of course, this is a simplified brief articulation of a much wider conversation. Yet, it is an effort to begin exploring what is true for us and what no longer serves us.