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I Sit And Look Out: We don’t have to wear beliefs on our sleeves

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We seem happy to walk around advertising the clothing we wear, showing the names and the logos of the makers. I confess that in at least some instances - two winter jackets and sneakers - I am doing the same thing, although I really feel that I should be getting paid for the advertising. And I do try to avoid buying such items, if at all possible. I resent being a walking advertisement. These thoughts surfaced again beginning last fall when my wife, Elaine, and I and two friends (one from Bayside, the other from New Jersey) spent two weeks on what used to be called a "motor tour" of New England. This was about a month before the election. I began to notice that a number of cars had decals, in the form of ribbons, with the mottos, "Support our Troops" and "God Bless the USA." Both were usually on the trunks of the vehicles.Since then, I have noticed what seem to be a growing number of such items on cars on the roads of Queens.Now, let me be clear that as something of a civil libertarian, I believe that you can plaster your property with whatever you please, as long as it is legal and does not impact negatively on the health or well-being of your fellow citizens. I will not get into aesthetics.But I wonder about these decals on the cars in Queens.Is there anyone in Queens, or indeed elsewhere in this country, who does not support our troops, wherever they may be or whatever they may be doing and in spite of what one may think about the situation in Iraq, for example? Don't all of us - unless Osama bin Laden is hiding out somewhere along Queens Boulevard - want only the best for the men and women in uniform? As a veteran, I know I do.But, of course, there is that seemingly overwhelming need of Americans to advertise, whatever the item may be. Apparently that goes to the need to display supposed symbols of patriotism. I have noticed, however, in at least one instance, that part of the price of the symbol is donated to the USO, a worthy cause.The other item about God disturbs me more. I don't know what is being taught about World War I in schools these days, but I remember learning that in that horrible conflict, German soldiers wore belts with the motto (translated) God Is With Us. As far as I know, the Nazis did not use that in World War II. I don't know how God felt about being pre-empted by the German military forces.The fact that Germany lost the war is no indication, I assume, of the deity choosing sides. I get a bit itchy about invoking God in the name of an election or military campaign. Yes, I would hope that America will be blessed, with justice and regard for people, here and elsewhere and that we will be a nation that cares about the poor and the needy. That may be why I have always liked "America the Beautiful" as a hymn about our country. Not only is the music singable for most people, but the words about freedom and self-control and law have always seemed to me to be what I believe this country should be about. I really think we cannot assume that we are the only people on the face of this earth who deserve blessing.There is a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln that is germane. I have seen it in many forms, but the one quoted here is reputed to have been made to a deputation of Southerners during the Civil War. Lincoln said: "We trust, sir, that God is on our side. It is more important to know that we are on God's side."I am not a very religious person, although I do attend religious services. But all of this display of patriotism (Samuel Johnson called patriotism "the last refuge of a scoundrel," but I won't go that far - maybe) and public invocation of a deity, reminds me of what was said in what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, 6, 5-24.)I will quote from the King James version of the Bible, which was published in 1611, when Shakespeare was still alive and when the English language may have been at the zenith of its power and glory:"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward."But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."There follows the very short and very famous prayer, which has been recited countless times in many languages in the last two millennia.I hope that all of us, whether we display ribbons or not, will support our troops, especially when they return and need help and understanding, and that we will work to see that our country is a place of compassion and rectitude for all people.I will continue to notice those ribbon decals on the cars in Queens and wonder about them. But when I do, I will remember those words in Matthew and realize again that it is not necessary to wear your patriotism, or your religion, on your sleeve - or on the trunk of your car.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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