Wave the Flag
By Marvin Payne
On the 4th of July I walked by an American flag up the street that flapped out and brushed right across me. (The street did not flap out and brush right across me. The flag did.) On every holiday with patriotic resonance (4th of July, Veteran’s Day, National Sunday Comics Awareness Day ((in Alpine, even during Dental Hygienists Appreciation Week – we’re very patriotic – also we have a candy factory))) the scouts put flags in little PVC-pipe holders that they installed in every yard. The flags are about head-height, just right for brushing across pedestrians. I thought, when brushed across, “This flag is waving.” And it hit me that the last fifty-eight times I heard the phrase “flag waving” it was used as an epithet, which, I have just learned because I looked it up, is not necessarily negative, so I’ll write instead “negative epithet.” (I include this because many readers, not having looked up “epithet,” will think I’m repeating myself redundantly.) Flag waving has been scoffed at by many as an easy substitute for more substantial expressions of support for American ideals. In my observation, however, scoffings at flag waving are usually not accompanied by more substantial expressions of support for American ideals, but hey.
There are, of course, dangers in an excess of nationalism. Some people still say, “My country, right or wrong.” Because this is so obviously silly, the following baby has gone out with the bathwater, which baby is “My country, right.” We can wave the flag to celebrate whatever is right about My Country. What’s wrong about My Country ought not to be represented by the flag, anyway. It’s a little like the priesthood – as soon as something wrong is done in the name of the priesthood, the priesthood goes away. Maybe as soon as something is done wrong in the name of America, America somehow goes away, at least the things about America that its flag represents.
Lincoln (this would be the president, not the car. My son, a starving musician, went into Larry H. Miller ((famous car dealer, Utah Jazz owner, supporter of the arts, and future significant donor to ScriptureScouts.com – don’t tell him, we want it to be a surprise)) and said he wanted to buy a Lincoln Town Car. They ((not Larry but his guys)) looked at this skinny kid and said, “No. You want to buy this Hyundai.”
“No, I want to buy a Lincoln Town Car.”
“No, you want to buy this VW beetle.”
Whereupon my son slammed his skinny hand on the desk, stood up, and said “I want to buy a Lincoln Town Car!” and walked out. Shortly thereafter he found a company that cheerfully sells gently-used Lincoln Town Cars to skinny musicians for pretty cheap because the kind of people who buy Lincoln Town Cars only want brand-new ones, and the kind of people who buy Hyundais think they don’t deserve Lincoln Town Cars because they must be quite expensive, so they don’t even know that this tiny used-Lincoln lot is making a killing supplying starving skinny musicians with Lincoln Town Cars cheap.)) But I digress.) had the right idea when he told somebody during the Civil War that what matters is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side.
[Elaborate disclaimer for non-American readers who may not even know to which Civil War I am referring, like people in Australia, where I served my mission, who don’t even have the 4th of July, just a 3rd and then a couple of 5ths (Australians, please don’t feel like this is a criticism–most Americans don’t even actually “have” Christmas. Besides, you have Guy Fawkes Day, which pretty much makes up, noise-wise, for not having a 4th of July): The ideals that compel me to salute the American Flag are ideals worthy of anybody’s salute. Salute the same ideals in the Union Jack, the Maple Leaf, the Lone Star of Chile (or, um, Texas–can flags be copyrighted?), in the Celestial Globe of Brazil (descriptive phrase courtesy of CIA.org), or in the Jageddy Sideways Thing of Qatar. But whatever your flag, let your heart be true to the red, white, and blue of America! Or, um, France, or, well, Cuba, or, oh what the heck, Russia, Yugoslavia, and the Netherlands, all of whom are even basically red-white-and bluer than us (spelled ” U.S.”). [[Disclaimer to the Disclaimer: If you’re reading this in some Islamic country that hates Americans or anything American, well, get over it.]] ]
(P.S. to the above Disclaimer: Did you know that you can pledge allegiance to the flag of Texas? If you want to? It’s a lot shorter than the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. Which would have helped me some in the eighth grade. To wit, the following journal entry:
“Eighth grade was Mrs. Mendenhall, a sweet, funny little lady who was the easiest ((I mean famous for easy)) teacher I ever had. But it was all a deception to turn me into a right-wing radical. Really, some good values got instilled – just bad rhetoric. Quite apart from the rhetoric, every morning we all recited, from memory, the Pledge of Allegiance, The Preamble to the Constitution, The American’s Creed ((which, I take it back, was more bad rhetoric)), The Gettysburg Address, all the states and their capitals, and all the presidents in order. Then we had lunch.”
((People ask me these days if the amount of memorization required of an actor is daunting. After Mrs. Mendenhall, no.)) )
I sort of like pledging allegiance to the flag. (That would be the U.S. flag, no offense to citizens of other countries or Texas.) But I do worry a little about an overdevotion to an object. I mean, one concern over the proposed Flag Desecration Amendment is: If I get my Old Navy T-shirt ripped, should I burn it? I mean, that’s how you “retire” a flag. (Uh, oh, that’s also how you desecrate a flag. Hmmm…) What are the rules for Old Navy T-shirts? (My five-year-old son John asked me, “If a flag touches the ground, do you have to burn it?” I said no. I similarly corrected my son Joe, who announced, when he was five years old and we were hiking around through the Alpine cemetery, which has lots of unmarked graves in it, “If you step on a grave, the dead person can’t be resurrected.”) Maybe the key is to remember that we’re really pledging allegiance to something that can’t be contained in a 34X58 (this works in inches or feet – or meters if you’re not American) piece of fabric. This is a song I wrote for an Alpine kid’s Eagle court of honor.
I pledge allegiance to the sage and the columbine,
to the ancient twisted pine against the sky.
I pledge allegiance to the colors in the wind,
the colors in our skin, and the hopes that rise
in the soul of America.
I pledge allegiance to the Maker of the land,
the Shaper of the sand on the canyon rim.
I pledge allegiance to the rivers deep with dreams,
the silver singing streams. They sing for Him
the song of America.
I pledge allegiance to the death of honest men
whose breath flows on again through the autumn field.
I pledge allegiance in these wild and wasteful years
to the child who breaks in tears and humbly kneels
in the soil of America.
We are on holy ground. We are the children of the dream.
We are the ones who can make it all come true.
We are on holy ground, and the Lord of all we see
has chosen me, and He’s chosen you.
He’s calling me, and He’s calling you.
He’s watching me,
and He’s watching you.
Stop here and reflect for a moment, because what follows is a rather mood-breaking, but useful, commercial moment.
(This song is available on the new CD “Front Porch Hymns and Humns,” available at www.marvinpayne.com. If there are sufficient orders from your country, I will record a version with the name of your country in place of ” America,” but your country has to be at least as beautiful as mine is and stand for all the same things as mine does. Also it has to have the same stress pattern, like, well, “Slo venia,” or “Ant arctica,” or “The Vatican” – “United Arab Emirates,” for example, would be harder.)
No matter the Cinco de Mayos and Guy Fawkeses and Bougainvillea Festivals you have in your countries (if you’re in any of those countries), it’s still kind of sad that you don’t have the 4th of July. Because on the 4th of July is when our ward rock-n-roll band plays. It’s an honored tradition in our ward. We started this year. It’s drums, lots of guitars (the former Stake President plays one of them, a Stratocaster – his son plays bass), screaming keyboards, really way good girl singers (I mean, they’re “good girl” singers, too, but mainly they’re good “girl singers”) and one guy singer, blues harmonica (that’s me), and echoes of the bishop singing, “Stand By Me.” Opening for us was the deacons’ band and then the teachers’ band. (It was kind of funny, the headliners rolled into rehearsals fresh from retiree flower gardening and chemotherapy and getting our bifocal prescriptions increased, and the front act bands all rode to rehearsals on their bikes. I guess our girl singers could have come on bikes, but it would have been their kids’ bikes.)
I remember a 4th of July when I was maybe eight years old and really upset because that was the day we had to leave for New Mexico to tow a jeep to my big brother who was on a mission to the Navajos (he got to wear hiking boots and khakis and parkas, but he didn’t have a lot of success converting people, because every time he sketched out the three degrees of glory on the hogan floor, the Navajos would say, “Oh yes, we have that!” and point to the Gold Kingdom, the Silver Kingdom, and the Turquoise Kingdom. Old truths die hard). I was upset because I was going to miss fireworks in the front yard! Cones that emit showers of sparks! But that night, somewhere in western Arizona, the sun began to set behind towers of thundercloud and then the lightning erupted into a dance that would severely embarrass today’s promoters of the Stadium of Fire.
The sky was waving flags of light. There weren’t very many of us on that lonely stretch of Route 66, but I don’t think anybody scoffed. I think any of us might have thought that waving our own little flag of lesser light would make us feel part of something infinitely bigger and better than ourselves.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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