Our flag has spent a lot of time at half mast the last several months, years. So much time, in fact, I can't always tell if it's meant to be there to symbolize a new loss or tragedy, or if we've just left it there as the new normal.
I don't know that I believe we live in more tragic times than in the past. Perhaps we're more aware of it all from the media. Our tragedies are different than those past, but we've always had tragedy in our midst. Well, not always, but almost.
Whose job is it to decide when our nation's flag should be lowered as an acknowledgement of tragedy? Who gets to decide what is "enough tragedy" to lower the flag. How many people have to die? What other countries do we show solidarity to, and for how big a tragedy? How long does the flag stay low? How do we decide we've "recovered," nationally, and can raise the flag high again? **
It's a rhetorical question. I know there are regional and local variations, and there really must be someone who gets to decide. I'm sure there are protocols and flow charts.
Flags, I know don't solve problems. They aren't even a particularly personal way of showing support or solidarity. But they've become a visible and public demonstration, and certainly aren't without meaning, either.
I wonder, if we each had our own flag to raise and lower, in demonstration of support and empathy, how would we each choose to do so? Maybe it isn't even an American flag, maybe a family flag, a Stefanie flag.
I suppose what I'm getting at is that it seems that we could easily find endless good reasons to always fly at half mast. There's more than enough tragedy out there to go around. I don't say that with a sense of depression, but simply out of truth. Life on earth is a bit like our half mast flag- simultaneously symbolic of greatness and tragedy. To fly high seems to discount the true and great hurt inside and around us. To lower our flag to the ground undervalues and dishonors the great hopes of freedom, love of neighbor, and fullness of life we strive for and get some real glimpses and tastes of in this country, world.
Whether our flag is flying high or lowered, I'm reminded that I'm not only a citizen of this country. I'm a citizen in God's kingdom. While He mourns and weeps better than any of us over the tragedy of this earth, He's able to fly his own flag of victory high, knowing that goodness and truth, beauty and honor, justice and peace, love of neighbor and life everlasting will win, have won, are winning. His flag flies high not out of nationalistic pride or the limits of his empathy, but out of power, love, and ultimate victory.
** I always feel a little awkward about showing pride in our American Flag, or really national pride at all. Maybe it's the post-WWII German in me who is has a healthy fear of nationalism. I love many parts of our country, but intense nationalism scares me a lot.