Half-Staff or Upside Down?

May 12, 2023 | WEEKLY WORD

Photo: The US flag at BPC this past week.

An e-mail will usually come to Michelle Jones in the church office, saying, “The governor of New Hampshire requests that all US flags be put at half-staff in memory of. . .” This past week, the request came through to put the flag at half-staff in memory of the victims of the horrific shooting in Allen, Texas. Eight people were shot dead, and seven were injured by a gunman at an outlet mall on Saturday, May 6. Some of the victims were children. This horrific event was one of more than 200 mass shootings (more than one person killed in a shooting) in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. According to the Archive, at the time of this writing, there have been 15,294 gun violence deaths (including suicides) in the United States in 2023.

This past week, when the request e-mail came from the governor to place the flag in front of our sanctuary at half-staff in memory of the victims in Texas, I ruefully remarked, “If we are putting it at half-staff because of a mass shooting, why don’t we just leave it there all the time?” Please understand: I would prefer that we never have to lower the flag to half-mast, but with so many tragic events occurring constantly, it sometimes seems that it would be easier just to leave the flag there.  

When I was in Scouts years ago, we learned about the proper placement and protocols for the US flag, including when to fly it at half-mast. There was one thing that I learned about way back then that I’ve never actually seen, though. If you are in dire distress or danger, it is appropriate to fly the flag upside down with the idea that someone will see it and come to your aid. You only fly the flag upside down if you are in trouble. 

So here’s my question: if we live in a land plagued by violence (where the public is regularly under threat of being shot), if we are in trouble, is it appropriate to fly the flag at half-staff, or should it actually be flown upside down? Please understand: I would prefer that we never have to do either.

Look, I know that people are very passionate about guns – both pro and anti – and that people are very passionate about the flag, too. I also know that few people, if any, will be swayed by a little church newsletter article by the pastor. And I do not intend for my thoughts to “solve” the problem of gun violence (though I wish they could). All I want to say is we are in trouble, and we could pray to God to save us from said trouble, but if we are not taking some steps to actually do something about it when it is in our power to do so, how much do we really believe God will do? As we read in the New Testament, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17) Or, to quote one of my favorite lines from The Simpsons: “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFWUcAy7CsY)

So, who is willing to actually try something – to put faith and work together to actually do something? 

If we are seeking the peace and wholeness of our community and world — what will we do? What will God do through us?

See you in church. . .

Grace and Peace,


Prepare for Worship

This Week: “The Art of Persuasion (Common Ground is Holy Ground)”

  • Read 1 Peter 3:13-22
  • Read Acts 17:21-32
  • Read or sing Hymn # 760 – “Bring Many Names