‘You going to your council meeting?” Michael Rosenthal was on his knees planting marigolds in front of his shrubs.
“Oh, hi Michael. I didn’t see you there.” Pastor Walter Mitty zipped up his jacket as he stepped from his front porch onto the sidewalk.
“Cold for this time of year.” He walked over to his neighbor. “Kind of like the reception my proposal is going to get tonight.”
“Really? What’s up?”
“I’m going to propose that we remove the American flag from the sanctuary.”
“Didn’t you try that last year?” Michael asked.
“Two years ago,” Pastor Walt corrected. “And … you’re right, it didn’t fly then and it probably won’t fly now.”
“So. . .?”
“So, why try again?” For a moment, Mitty watched two squirrels chasing each other around a tree trunk.
“I can’t help it Michael. I went to that lecture at the library the other night”you know, the one by this guy who traveled around the world in six months. He said that everywhere he went, people were angry at the United States. I mean, I see that flag standing right up there near the altar and I get embarrassed. It’s like we’re saying that we are God’s chosen people.”
Michael’s smile showed that he had caught his neighbor’s attempt at humor. “Well, good luck, partner.”
“Thanks, Michael. I’ll need it.”
The council meeting proceeded without incident until the group got to new business. “What does ‘flag’ mean here?” questioned Hilda Hossenbrenner.
Mitty took a deep breath. “Hilda, I’m proposing that we take the flag out of the worship area and put it here in the social hall.”
Hilda shook her head several times, but to Mitty’s surprise she kept her cool. “You made the same proposal a couple years ago,” she said. “And we said no. So what has changed?”
“I guess, nothing much,” Pastor Walt admitted. “Maybe that’s the point. I’m as ashamed of our government as much now as I was back then, and I just don’t want to keep on having that flag up in front near the cross as if we’re saying that we condone what they’re doing.”
“Well, Pastor, you know where I stand,” Hilda replied as she controlled her temper. “To me your bringing this up again shows how young you are.” Mitty’s puzzled look made Hilda continue.
“What I mean is that all you think of when it comes to the flag is Vietnam. You’re not old enough to remember what we went through during the Depression and World War II. Those were days when we were proud to be Americans, and the flag was a symbol for us of our mission to be a great country.”
Debbie Anderson spoke up before Mitty could formulate an answer. “I’m for keeping the flag where it is, too,” she said.
“Attendance is down this year. Giving is down. The way I see it, when you’re paddling your canoe through a rapids, it’s hard enough staying afloat without making extra waves.”
“But doesn’t the principle of the thing matter?” pleaded Mitty. “I know moving the flag might ruffle a few feathers, but this whole secrecy thing that is coming out during the Senate Hearings to confirm Michael Hayden bothers me. Leaders should not be allowed to keep secrets.”
“I’ll drink a Point Beer to that,” interrupted Ash, and the whole council burst into laughter. Mitty couldn’t repress a sheepish smile.
The joke had been on him, but the fact that Ash had felt free enough to make a joke at his pastor’s expense revealed that there was a foundation of trust and respect in the room.
“I agree with Hilda and Debbie,” began Sharissa Hawkins when the laughter had died down. Pastor Walt saw Hilda’s jaw drop in disbelief.
The only bumper sticker Hilda had on the back of her ’98 Taurus was a yellow ribbon with the words “God bless our troops.” The only sticker Sharissa had on the back of her Prius proclaimed “Hillary in ?08.”
“The flag should stay,” continued Sharissa, “but not for the same reasons that Hilda and Debbie have mentioned. The way I see it, God put religion and the free press here partly for the purpose of keeping government honest. The role of the press is to keep government from getting away with anything, and the job of religion is to hold government accountable to a higher standard. I like the idea of the flag being close to the altar. It’s sort of a symbol of our country having to answer to God one day.”
Mitty had always thought of Sharissa as an angry firebrand. As having kind of a chip on her shoulder. It had never bothered him much, because they shared the same political views.
“Sharissa, I never thought of it that way,” was all he could say. Seeming to have reached a consensus, the council considered the matter settled and moved on to other business.
Michael was sweeping the sidewalk when Mitty got home. “So, how did it go?”
“The flag is going to stay where it is.”
“I’m not sure.” Pastor Walt paused. The squirrels were no longer chasing each other.
“What I do know is that a young woman gave me a chance to look at things from a different point of view, and for some reason I had sense enough to shut up and listen.”