As we cleaned out Mom’s house to get it ready for sale, it was absolutely amazing to find family heirlooms of all shapes and sizes that we had never seen before. All sorts of things, some of value, some of sentiment – some that, well, probably didn’t need to be kept for that long… I’ve taken over the summer to ask our sons if there is anything in our house that neither of them would want under any circumstance, so we could “lighten the load,” as it were, before time to have them have to go through all of our stuff. It’s interesting that there was almost the exact same reaction for both boys, and the same words: “First of all – why are you talking about this now? And Second – don’t worry about it – we know how to order a dumpster, or hold an auction.” It’s nice to know that our cherished possessions, lovingly saved over all these years, will be carefully and gently dealt with when the time comes…
But back to Mom’s house. Among the items that seemed to appear out of boxes and bins and drawers and other places was an American flag. It caught my eye, not because our family doesn’t have three or four flags already, but because it appeared to be pretty old. It was a 48-star flag, and seemed to be closer in age to the 1912 version when the 48th star was added, than the 1960, or 1959 versions, when the 49th or 50th star came to rest in the blue field of Old Glory. Even though it was in Mom and Dad’s stuff, it “felt” like it probably had belonged first to Grannie, or Grandad. The colors had been aged and a bit muted, probably due to it being hung out in celebration at holidays or other purposes. Grandad had been in the Navy during World War 1, and Dad had been in the Navy in World War 2, and then in the Air Force for years, including the Vietnam War. In my imagination, this felt like a flag that hung in a window, and waited for the sailor or airman to come home. With no carbon dating, or written history, I declared it to be Grandad’s flag – not a casket flag – it wasn’t that big, but a flag that was used by our family to offer our loyalty to our nation and our heritage.
There is a proper way to fold a flag. Being a boy scout, learning how to fold a flag that had been flying or draped was an important, and we considered an honored task. When my great-grandfather, who served in the Spanish-American War, died, my brother Tim and I were given the work of folding the flag that draped his casket. I remember that act even 50 years later. Therefore, I felt kind of bad to see Grandad’s flag not folded properly. It was folded, kind of like the way you would fold a tablecloth – not lacking respect, but just not the right way. I managed to claim the flag and brought it home with me.
Usually two people fold the flag, but being by myself, I used the bed, and folded the Banner recalling precisely how it was to appear – first narrowed by folding lengthwise, and then starting at the stripes, creating a triangle of tight, crisp folds over and over again, until all that remained to be seen were the blue stars (the saying was, “Get the Red out.”) If done properly, there was the white tab remaining, that held the grommets that would be clipped on to the flagpole rope. Sure enough, I had done it correctly, and tucked the white tab into the blue triangle, and it was now properly folded.
It now rests on a shelf in my office.
Please know – the flag is not a holy object. Those items, like a cross or a Bible, are meant to call our minds and hearts to the presence and worship of God. The flag instead is an object to be revered – respected, admired, held in high regard. The flag on my shelf carries not only the nation’s history, but my family’s history as well, even if the exact recounting has now been lost to the ages. I guess I just love patriotic things, and I find the invitation to be part of something much larger and greater than I could ever be to be a request I never want to turn down, or ignore.
I would hope you would find such invitations for your own life. I would never demand that you even recognize a flag, although I would reserve the opinion that you are missing out on a significant part of life. However, I would always encourage finding your place within a greater community, a greater system, that expands your identity from just being you, to being “us.” Our life together holds an intentional focus and direction, and allows us to discover what is truly significant in the living of each day. I do wish that for you today.
Word of the day: lamprophony. Pronounced lam-PROF-a-ney, the word comes from the Greek lampros, meaning “clear or distinct,” like turning on or lighting the lamp to better see clearly, and phonos, “sound.” Clear or distinct sound. That “sounds” fine, doesn’t it? The trouble is the word in practice is almost always rude. More than clarity, it’s also means loudness. Someone acting with lamprophony is usually answering another person who didn’t quite hear what the first person said. The rude response, instead of just repeating oneself, is to speak loudly and very slowly, as though the person listening has either a hearing problem, or the inability to understand plain English. Like I said – it’s rude, and usually revokes the response, “Well you don’t have to be rude!” If you were the slapping kind of person, you’d probably wind up for the hit. Particularly boorish English speaking only tourists will go to a foreign country, and ask for something in English, and when the listener says, “Que?” “Quel cosa?” “Vad?” “shenme?” “Ini?” or a thousand other ways to say “what?” The tourist then repeats him or herself by speaking the same non-understandable English, now very slowly and very loudly, which does an excellent job of offending, and creating cultural discord. Congrats – at that point, you have engaged fully in lamprophony. Maybe the next words to learn are, “I’m sorry for being so rude!”
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.