Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Patti Ritter: Pausing to reflect on the nation's pledge

As a student in Carroll County Public Schools during the 1960s and '70s, I grew accustomed to regularly saying the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation's flag. In the following decades, I've said the pledge far less often and, I must confess, with far too little regard for its meaning.

That realization finally struck me a few weeks ago, as I said the pledge during a worship service on Memorial Day weekend. I stood up, faced the flag, placed my right hand over my heart and recited the words I learned as a child. After I sat down, it dawned on me that something was wrong.

Problem was, I had only recited the words to the pledge.

Even though I'm not called upon often to say them, the words are so familiar that they tumble out routinely. I don't remember when, if ever, I stopped to truly think about them.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ... It's a grand old flag, as the song goes, and seeing the U.S. flag is often quite moving. I do treat the flag with respect, as a symbol of our nation, and I do want to be a good citizen. But a promise to be true to the country and its colors should really come with a more definite action plan.

and to the Republic for which it stands ... Having rushed right by this clause for half a century, I needed to look up the definition of republic. It refers, in essence, to a nation where supreme power rests with citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected representatives responsible to them. Our elected officials don't always do their jobs the way we want, but the beauty of the system is that we get to vote them out as well as in.

one nation .... This is a single country, although an amalgam of states, regions, faiths, races and creeds. America can draw strength from its diversity, provided we unite together for the common good.

under God ... A later addition to the original pledge, this phrase may be considered politically incorrect or even offensive in some quarters, but I believe an enduring relationship with the Lord should be encouraged.

indivisible ... There seem to be so many fault lines in our country - from partisan bickering to racism to economic inequalities - that we, as a people, may come across as quite divided. Nonetheless, especially as we've seen during times of crisis, we can pull together for one another and embrace our shared place as Americans.

with liberty and justice for all ... We haven't achieved this part of the pledge, but it's certainly a worthy goal and a commitment to keep in the forefront of any national agenda.

When said thoughtfully, the pledge is a calling to reflect on our citizenship and express our patriotism.

That should go way beyond surrounding ourselves with patriotic signs and trappings. Those are everywhere: from banners and buntings to red, white and blue T-shirts, napkins, jewelry, beach towels, place mats, desserts, car decals and on and on. Merchandise doesn't make someone a patriot.

That takes involvement, resolve and devotion, not to mention discernment. For as much as I love the United States, I don't think we should have blind loyalty to our country. To do so could result in turning a blind eye to wrongs and to opportunities for charting a better course.

As citizens, we have responsibilities as well as rights: to take part in the democratic process, however flawed it may be; to support our troops, even if we don't agree with their commander in chief; to advocate for governmental improvements at the local, state and national level; to live within our laws, while also being open to changing them as needed; to stay informed; to make our voices heard in measured, but meaningful, ways; and, yes, to pray for our country's well-being and direction.

Flag Day, June 14, should be a time to honor the stars and stripes and also consider what each of us can do to lift up the nation to which we pledge allegiance.