The Flags on My Freezer Door

On the fridge at home, in between pictures of our boys and artistic expressions done by the said three and four year old hangs a flag. Some over the past few weeks who have graced us with their presence have looked at that flag somewhat quizzically, because although it is a familiar looking flag it holds no national bearing in our quaint little semi-suburban home. My wife is a British citizen, and the boys and I, American. So why, some ask, do we have the flag representing the nation of Afghanistan hanging from our freezer door?

            At 32 years old, I realized late in this still early life of mine how ignorant I was of the bubble I lived within. Born a white American, raised under western Judeo-Christian values, and having spent my entire life living in the suburbs, it was very easy to conform to the culture that I found myself in, completely unaware of anything different. Now I’m not saying I should feel guilt for any of this as some have made me feel in the past, nor do I think that where I was born and how I was raised is a burden I must carry for my entire life.

            However, because my knowledge of history and geography rarely snuck out of a private school text book, and because my understanding of current events was conveyed to me through the smoke-screen of confirmation bias and media propaganda, I found myself unconcerned or more often than not, too opinionated about things I knew nothing about. I was distracted by the consumerism, individualism, and egoism that have plagued my imprudent culture for far too long.

I pleaded with Santa Claus, Christmas morning, to grant me the experience of peeking my head into the living room to a child-sized battery-powered jeep. I prayed for shoes that filled with air when you pushed on the tongue, and come holidays I would muster up the strength to eek out a ‘thank you’ for the tenth pair of black socks I received. I had no understanding of what it must be like for the kid who went to sleep hungry after working all day in a factory to make my cheap socks. I was taught at an early age, unintentionally or not, that America was the greatest, smartest, and friendliest nation in the world. We were the good guys, no exceptions. I was told to accept those who are different than me, as an American, but never to deny my superior knowledge and worldview no matter where I fell on the political and philosophical spectrum. My social training was based on this formula: Money plus power equals success divided only by compassion and multiplied by self-interest {Money + Power = Success ÷ Compassion × Self-interest}. The pinnacle of life: own a home that houses two cars, a boat, 2.5 kids, a materially satisfied wife, cable TV, and a nice IRA. Conform, conform, confirmed.

            And yet today I find myself in a different place, though not yet content, I’m learning to be thankful. Thankful my mom led me to the teachings of Jesus. Thankful my father showed me what music was. Thankful they both showed me what love was, and now that I’m a parent myself, thankful they stayed faithful even as hard as it was. I’m thankful for the opportunity to travel, to meet new people. I’m thankful for teachers. Teachers outside the classroom, who may never know who they are. I’m thankful for the teachers in the classroom who broke the rules and taught outside of the textbook. Who made us read hard books, and taught us to question everything including what they themselves were teaching. I’m thankful for the men and women who have and continue to pour into my life challenging me to live out my ideals, not to give up on them, but rather to pursue them and to see reality and idealism collide into a beautiful life. It is because of these people I discovered the bubble, and though it is a long and at times painful process, I enjoy watching it pop.

            I don’t often quote Bob Marley, but some of his lyrics have been sticking with me lately. In “Redemption Song” Bob sings the words “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” Now the reality is, I never emancipated myself from anything. It was through the people who taught me, who led me to scripture, who helped me through the lies and gave me the hand of truth that pulled me to my feet. We need each other; we’re not meant to be alone. But what I think Bob Marley was saying was similar to an analogy I’ve discovered.

            You see we’re all born with glasses. As we grow these glasses may change shape and size but we always wear them. It’s through these lenses that we see the world. Often times I have discovered that instead of looking at our glasses, we forget that they’re on. And yet, we still see all other pairs resting upon the noses of our brothers and sisters and we begin to replace the word “glasses” with the word “veil”. “If only they could see the world through our eyes”, we say, “then they would be enlightened.” And yet we forget that the lenses of their glasses have been molded and forged through birthplace, tradition, teaching, upbringing, experiences, and circumstances. I’m not saying that all lenses are correct for the eyes of the one wearing them, on the contrary what I am saying is – What if we were to take our own glasses off from time to time and ask the simple question, “Is this the right prescription?” Perhaps when we begin to exchange the prescription of judgment with the prescription of understanding, then we begin to discover that most our differing views make us stronger not weaker, bind us together not pull us apart, and create opportunities to humbly pursue objective truth as a community.

I want to live this way more and more everyday. I want to raise my boys, and Lord willing one day girls, in the same vein as the people who have showed me freedom. I want my family to understand the world from our neighbors next door, to our neighbors in the Middle East. I want to create a culture in our home where we learn about the world, engage with the world, get to know people from all walks of life, and learn to love them. Learning is key. I want our family to share justice, mercy, and freedom with everyone we meet, and yet continue to take off our glasses and ask if the prescription is right.

So what does this have to do with the flag on my freezer? There are many ways my wife and I hope to create this culture in our home, this one is very simple. Every month we, as a family, pick one country and learn as much as we can. We eat food from that country, we read news about that country, we pray for that country, we try to meet people who were born in that country, and we ask how we can be involved with that country. Now I know my boys are young and what they retain from Afghanistan September, I can’t be sure of. I know that I’m naïve and still have some bubbles to pop. I know that this “quest” we’re on will change and morph, it may be uneventful one month, life giving the next. All I know is my boys now know Afghanistan exists. They can’t speak Pashto or Dari (nor can they pronounce it) but they know there are people there just like you and me. Kids just like them. They don’t know the politics, they don’t understand the religion, and they don’t yet understand how the Afghan people affect their little lives eight thousand miles away, and yet one of the first things my four year old asks when he wakes in the morning is, “have they stopped fighting in Afghanistan?” It’s one of the big things we pray for at night before bed. I’ve been stumbling over my words trying to explain it, but I think a simple “no” would suffice, and a hope that my boy and I, along with others would take off our lenses and ask the question once again, “Is this the right prescription?”

I write this to explain to those who enter our home why we bare the flags of other nations in our house, to others I write to plead with you to humbly look at your worldview and question it, and for others I write to say thank you. I think I’m also writing this as a way to look at my own pair of glasses again and to challenge myself to question and live up to the ideals that fill my head and heart.


Paul Keim