There I stood at the United Center here in Chicago last night, awaiting the start of the Blackhawks game against the Dallas Stars.
At these games, shortly before the national anthem is sung by a strong tenor, three United States servicemen or women are led onto the ice. Last night, there was a veteran of World War II in a wheelchair, and two young men in uniform. Cheers erupt wildly from the stands as they are introduced to the crowd, deservedly so. These are people who protect our nation from harm. Then the opening chords of the introduction to the anthem are played by the organist and the anthem begins. Several years ago, in May of 1985, before a particularly tense playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers, a new "tradition" was born in Chicago. Blackhawks fans clapped and cheered during the entire anthem, a tradition that continues to this day. The fervor in the arena is palpable throughout the singing of the anthem. I must admit that I have been caught up in that fervor.
As I stood there last night, several thoughts came to me. The first is one that has has gnawed at me for years. Why is the national anthem played or sung before sporting events that have nothing to do with any type of national pride or history? Why, for instance, are servicemen and service women paraded out before the crowds; what does any of this have to do with the fact that we are about to watch a hockey game? The other thought, of course, was the one about which I blogged yesterday. At a time when many of our country's leaders, including the president, are working for their own gain and neglecting the poor and disenfranchised, are turning their backs on those who seek a better life within our borders (many of whom are fleeing unimaginable horror in their lands of birth), are inciting fear, racism, and bigotry; why should I join my voice and sing an anthem that seems to celebrate the downward spiral this country is inexorably caught in?
So, last night, I stood there and I did not sing. I clapped quietly. Amid the cacophony that assaulted my ears, I thought about the good that people here in the United States still do, despite the direction our country is being taken. I thought about my family's struggle with chronic illness and the little kindnesses we extend to one another. I thought about the fact that I can worship freely at my parish, Old Saint Patrick's. I thought about the efforts many of my colleagues here at WLP have done to assist the refugee family from Afghanistan that we are trying to help resettle here.
I came to the conclusion that I cannot let this president and those who follow him define who we are as a country. In my own small worlds of influence and just sheer day-to-day living, it is my responsibility to define who we are as a country.
I hope, some day, to begin singing the anthem again.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.