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Not just another day: Why Flag Day represents goodness

Paul McCullough
Courtesy of Paul McCullough

I believe there is something in the human spirit that pulls us towards goodness. Some may call this the imago Dei, the image of God in all of us. This goodness is sometimes seen on smaller scales of individual acts of kindness; other times, it is visible as collective communities of people working together toward a common good. Nevertheless, if we look long and hard, it is always there, weaving its way through our broken world.

For all our flaws and wrongdoings today and historically, the American people, I believe, have this goodness as well. I notice that goodness in the members of our U.S. Military who serve sacrificially and valiantly for the sake of others every day. I saw countless examples of heroic goodness during my 20 years of service in the United States Army, and I still see it today as a Senior Manager for American Bible Society, where I work with chaplains throughout the world who are ministering to those who serve our country.

We are a broken and beautiful nation. Like a married couple that has fought through the good, the bad, and the ugly, our nation has also battled its way forward. And like the wedding ring that represents a commitment to goodness and sacrifice, so too does the American flag represent commitments to goodness, freedom, and sacrifice today.

Today is Flag Day, a day to mark the 246th anniversary of 13 colonies of the United States establishing a symbol of their pursuit of unity and freedom. In the midst of the American Revolution, unity was necessary. And out of the ashes of those battles came a commitment to a young nation that would grow and mature—one step, one act, one generation, at a time. By 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution regarding this new unifying symbol, stating “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Today, the 13 stripes remain for the original colonies; however, our nation has grown and matured into 50 stars. We have still not reached perfect unity or liberty, but millions of us in those 50 states are still pursuing goodness, freedom, and sacrifice. And perhaps no other group expresses these commitments more visibly than our nation’s Veterans. The stars and stripes have come to represent the extraordinary courage and sacrifice of those who have answered the call to arms, often experiencing horrors that civilians could never imagine. On June 14, Americans wave their flags proudly to honor these men and women and to commemorate our nation’s history and independence. For me as an Army veteran, this show of solidarity is always deeply moving. And I have to note that June 14 is an extra special day to me as it is also when we celebrate the birthday of the U.S. Army, which has its roots in the Continental Army.

I am proud to serve under the flag that represents so much. Indeed, for Service members and Veterans, the flag represents the willing sacrifice thousands have made to defend our nation, and the lives of our brothers and sisters who never came home. This is true goodness.

As a Veteran, when I see our flag waving, I’m reminded of the intersection of faith and our long history as a nation. For over 240 years, countless men and women have sought to reflect God well as they have served our country. We want to be like God—to love others well, to protect others valiantly, to fight for good, and to seek healing where we are broken. I am humbled to realize that I am not the first to have this calling—nor will I be the last. All of us seek a better tomorrow for ourselves and our families, but even more, for our fellow Americans.

At American Bible Society, we have been committed to this better tomorrow for our military in an intentional way since 1817, when ABS recognized the need for contextualized materials for those serving our country and shared Bible portions with the crew of the USS John Adams. This legacy continues through our Armed Services Ministry today, where I am privileged to serve.

Christians who are currently serving in the Military are in desperate need of faith-based resources that will fuel them for the days, weeks, and years to come. A new initiative called Operation 500 aims at creating a broader awareness of the importance of faith within the military community. Its goal is to engage 500,000 veterans and service members in a 75-day Scripture challenge—helping build networks of people who find strength and resilience in God’s Word.

The Word of God, after all, is what stirs the goodness inside of us to pour out. I still remember a number of years back when I was in the Army and was responsible for $150 million in humanitarian assistance that would go to help displaced Iraqi and Syrian civilians. The American flag I was serving under wasn’t just for us—it was for the goodness, freedom, and sacrifice of all those in need.

Flag Day isn’t just another day. It’s an annual opportunity to see the goodness of God in others and to call it out. And it’s an opportunity to thank all those who serve under the stars and stripes for the sake of you and me.

Paul V. McCullough served for 20 years in the U.S. Army, retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, and now serves as a Senior Field Manager for American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry. Paul conducts military base visits to serve and equip chaplains and service members with resources to help them grow in their faith.

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