The Flag of the World

*Image result for miami dolphins take a knee

In light of the recent and growing controversy over pro athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, G. K. Chesterton’s essay entitled “The Flag of the World” is worth revisiting.

True patriots, GKC says, aren’t those who turn a blind eye to a problem. Rather, they love their world enough to seek its improvement. They are like a woman who stands ready to defend her man before enemies but, at home, is “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.” Genuine love is like that: it says the hard thing not in spite of loyalty but because of loyalty.

One thing that has struck me about these athletes who #takeaknee is that most of them have managed to do so respectfully. Imagine the difference in their message if they were to turn their backs on the flag or spit on the playing field at the end of the anthem. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’ve seen helmets removed, a humble demeanor, and in some cases hands over hearts while kneeling. It suggests to me that these men do not hate our country but love it. Their desire to see our faults acknowledged and addressed doesn’t appear to be motivated by wholesale hatred but genuine care.

I could be wrong in my evaluation. However, it appears that these men, in taking a knee, aren’t concerned with demolition but construction. They want to remodel, to build, to improve the American experience. To quote GKC again, they’re storming the castle in order to make it a better home:

For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

Chesterton’s perspective is worth pondering. True patriotism loves a thing enough to think it’s worth improving.


* “The Flag of the World” can be found in GKC’s book Orthodoxy.

* For Tony Dungy’s behind-the-scenes interview with Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins (pictured above), click here.

* UPDATE: Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to protest, didn’t begin by kneeling during the anthem but by sitting on the bench. After discussing the matter with Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in order to show respect. See Boyer’s initial open letter to Kaepernick here, and the article recounting their personal meeting here.

Beware, Beowulf

O flower of warriors, beware of that trap,
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.

(Beowulf, trans. by Seamus Heaney, lines 1758-1768)

The valiant warrior Beowulf is admonished to beware. A trap has been set, though not by the beast Grendel or his grim mother. The trap is within—inside the heart of every person in the prime of life. Arrogant shortsightedness has bested many a great man, and Beowulf is urged to choose otherwise.

Of course this is a lesson for us all. There’s a funeral in everyone’s future. A final heartbeat. A last breath. We will all be swept away, whether through illness or tragedy or the inexorable decline of aging. Don’t think of this as a morbid meditation but an ennobling one. To ignore death and what follows is not only foolish but perilous.

The way around the trap is to live today with an eternal eye and a humble heart. Christ the King has conquered sin and death. A far green country awaits. He bids us come, all who believe that what he offers is better than anything to be gained in this world. “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part.”

Or, as another poet once said, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

The Alchemist

Before yesterday, I had never read “The Alchemist” nor even heard of it. I’m glad my ignorance has been undone. Patricia St. John has crafted something truly beautiful. Outside of biblical poetry and perhaps a few hymns, I can’t name another poem that has stirred my wonder more over the grace of God in Christ.

My Master an elixir hath that turns
All base and worthless substances to gold.
From rubble stones He fashions palaces
Most beautiful and stately to behold.
He garners with a craftsman’s skilful care
All that we break and weeping cast away.
His eyes see uncut opals in the rock
And shapely vessels in our trampled clay.
The sum of life’s lost opportunities,
The broken friendships, and the wasted years,
These are His raw materials;
His hands rest on fragments, weld them with His tears.

A patient Alchemist! He bides His time,
Broods while the south winds breathe, the North winds blow,
And weary self, at enmity with self,
Works out its own destruction, bitter slow.
Our gallant highways petered out in mire,
Our airy castles crumbled into dust,
Leaving us stripped of all save fierce desire,
He comes, with feet deliberate and slow,
Who counts a contrite heart His sacrifice.
(No other bidders rise to stake their claims,
He only on our ruins sets a price.)
And stooping very low engraves with care
His name, indelible, upon our dust;
And from the ashes of our self-despair
Kindles a flame of hope and humble trust.
He seeks no second site on which to build,
But on the old foundation, stone by stone,
Cementing sad experience with grace,
Fashions a stronger temple of His own.

(From Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story [Shoals, IN: Kingsley Press, 1993], 267.)

What Do You Do in the Day of Trouble?

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“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Rembrandt, 1633

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. –Psalm 27:4-5

King David spoke of “the day of trouble.” He should know. His neighbors weren’t the sort who drop by to borrow sugar. No, their intent was a bit more malicious. Philistia and Co. wouldn’t have been happier than to see David’s head impaled on a stick. What did David do when threatened? What do you do in your own day of trouble?

MANY THINGS

Many things are worthless in the day of trouble. But that usually doesn’t stop us from doing them anyway. I’m speaking of fretting, pacing, jittering, sighing. Of biting nails and wringing hands. Of tumbling the problem around and around in our heads like shoes thunking in a dryer. Or, when weary of all that, of distracting ourselves with media and malls and munchies and a million other bromides. Just make it go away!

SOME THINGS

But not everything is worthless in the day of trouble. Some things are good, if they are done in faith. A brisk walk might help you, or hitting the gym, or running the trails at a nearby park. Sleep can put things in perspective too. You don’t need a psychology degree to discern that a lack of sleep frays your emotions. Trust God, and go to bed. Seeking counsel from godly friends also can be helpful.

For King David, add to these good things the drawing up of battle plans, mustering the army, and taking up the sword. You too may choose to pursue justice through means and authorities appropriate to our new covenant era. Whether the day of trouble is mild or severe, some things are good to do.

ONE THING

Yet, despite these good things, Jesus tells us that only “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). King David says the same thing. In the day of trouble—and on every other day—our fundamental need is to be close to the Lord, gazing at his beauty and communing with him. No other thing, including those things that are good and necessary, rivals our need for this one thing.

In our day, gazing at God has everything to do with the gospel. The temple was but a shadow; Jesus is the substance. Were David to make his same request after the cross and resurrection, he would no longer ask to enjoy God’s presence in a place but in a person. We behold the beauty of the Lord in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Ask God for the one thing. Ask him, for he loves to give good gifts. Then seek after the one thing by faith, with your Bible open and the word filling your mind. Redirect your gaze from your problem to the Lord. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face.

In beholding the beauty of the Lord, you will find yourself in the safest place you can ever be. You will find that you have power to do every other good thing you may need to do. You will find yourself persevering in the day of trouble. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

A World of Languages

The 23 languages represented in this infographic include 4.1 billion of the world’s population. Among the remaining 3.1 billion people in the world, there are 7,079 other known languages.

Click here for the article, which includes a high resolution graphic that can be magnified.