Sitting down for the national anthem & other prophetic actions

During these slow days before the NFL and college football regular seasons get rolling, sports news has been filled with Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. It’s not because he’s been putting up stellar preseason numbers like Marcus Mariota. He’s not. It’s because he’s refusing to stand during the singing of the national anthem. He says he won’t until we deal with racial injustice in our country.

His action — or non-action, as the case may be — has drawn the ire of his former coach and fellow players.

Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, has taken a public stand against Kaepernick’s actions, referring to the American flag as “sacred” and saying in an ESPN interview, “It’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting the flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.”

He continues, saying, “I disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree. Not that he wants to speak out about a very important issue. No, he can speak out about a very important issue. But there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.”

Brees basically affirms Kaepernick’s right to take a stand (by staying seated) on an issue and also affirms that he believes the issue is highlighting is an important one (racial injustice), but he rejects Kaepernick’s method of doing so. In other words, do your nice little protest in a way that doesn’t step on my toes or the toes of those I care about.

That’s one response. Here’s another.

“Honestly, we have a lot more important things that we’re working on right here in our building,” says Saints head coach Sean Payton.

So, you’ve got one guy who represents those who are offended by an action of protest. And you’ve got one guy who is unwilling to give either the action or the issue being protested the time of day. How typically American. How typically human.

While I can’t speak for the faith behind Kaepernick’s actions, what he’s doing resembles what we see among the biblical prophets: A willingness to suffer the indignation of his peers by drawing attention to injustice through an unsettlingly awkward action that requires the asking of tough and generally avoided questions.

Where Kaepernick is sitting down to make a point, the prophet Ezekiel laid down.

In Ezekiel 4, the prophet lays down beside a miniature toy-sized replica of Jerusalem, “laying” siege to it. It was an interesting demonstration for a few days. But Ezekiel kept it up for 390 days, laying on his left side that whole time, symbolizing the siege the city would undergo because of its sins against God (idolatry) and against the poor (injustice), twin transgressions that are often tied together. After that, Ezekiel spent an additional 40 days laying on his right side.

And how did he eat during that time? He ate cheap grains cooked over dung — and not just any dung, we’re talking human poo.

When we think God has called us to a life of self-improvement, it’s time to crack open the prophets, just to the right of the middle of our Bibles. Ezekiel isn’t alone in being derided by his peers because of the life God has called him to. This is a common experience of God’s people.

This is what Jeremiah says to God: “You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).

Job complains, “I am a joke to my friends, the one who called on God and he answered him; the just and blameless man is a joke” (Job 12:4).

The psalmist says, “The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from your law” (Psalm 119:51).

Not all of those are considered prophets, and yet each one lived in a way that was contrary to the world around them — because of God. Their lives and their actions spoke an awkward word that undermined the hypocrisy and collusion with injustice and iniquity their contemporaries had grown comfortable with.

This is prophetic action. Pairing uncomfortable deeds with uncomfortable words draws attention to the words that are so easily dismissed.

What I like about Kaepernick’s sit-down is the conversation it has caused. All of the #BlackLivesMatter speeches and demonstrations haven’t garnered near the conversation his simple sit-down has stirred up.

Does he have to be a perfect man to do this? No, though keeping to the moral high ground certainly helps keep the message the main thing. Does he have to have a perfect solution to racial injustice in America? No, though now that he has a pulpit, Kaepernick ought to consider how to use it to best effect.

Many Americans are disturbed by Kaepernick’s flip-the-bird approach. But those who think he ought to stand up for the flag might want to get working on some solutions to our racial injustice problem. If we don’t want our country to be disrespected, we might want to deal with the injustices that plague us, including the disrespecting of African-Americans.

Wouldn’t it be great if Colin Kaepernick would stand up and sing our national anthem before a 49ers game with gusto and zeal because the American melting pot is truly working as we believe it ought to and every nationality and ethnicity has found a home and open hearts within our borders?

And where else should our prophetic hearts be disturbed, causing us to sit down, lay down, stand up, or throw up until God’s justice rises like the dawn?