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The ugly truth about Betsy Ross

The Life Less Traveled

July 04, 2012
Betsy Ross has ruined a perfectly good Fourth of July. Here I was, all ready to grill some burgers, set off fireworks and enjoy a parade when I stumbled onto the ugly truth about this flag-sewing charlatan. She's a fraud — a red, white and blue phony! What George Washington saw in her, I'll never know.

My problems all started with me trying to be 1.) a good dad and 2.) a patriot. Well, believe me, I've learned my lesson. You'll never catch me trying to do either of those two things again.

Here's what happened. I thought it would be nice to sit down with my daughter and read about some historical heroes in preparation for Independence Day. I know it sounds corny, but I always want my holidays to be meaningful. I'm not against a free day off work, but I want my kids growing up knowing why we get to sit around and play with gunpowder.

So, I started with Betsy Ross. I thought my daughter would think she was cool, being a girl and all, and, honestly, I didn't really know much about Betsy except for the story about how she sewed one of the first American flags and presented it to George Washington. There's a famous painting that shows it and everything.

But the more I uncovered online, the more I realized that her story is full of holes. The Betsy Ross legend didn't really come into American culture until about a hundred years after the fact, and there's no historical evidence to corroborate the details. The flag story was introduced by her grandchildren long after she was gone. According to historians, the whole thing is probably totally made up!

At least that's what I read on the Internet, and I know they never make things up there.

I was crushed. If a guy can't even believe in the inspirational story of sweet, apple pie Betsy Ross, who can you believe in these days?

The answer, apparently, is no one. But that doesn't stop us from trying. We all want someone to believe in. I want the story about Betsy Ross to be true. I want George Washington to have chopped down a cherry tree and then come clean in a display of integrity. I want heroes!

We all do. It's hardwired into our DNA. It's why the Greeks and Romans created an entire pantheon of gods. It's why ancient caveman paintings depict Neanderthals wearing red, flowing capes. It's why we have sports teams, politicians and pop stars, for crying out loud.

OK, so maybe I made up the part about the Neanderthals wearing capes. But you get the point. Hero worship is nothing new, but that doesn't mean it's a great idea. We've all been disappointed by people, and we've all been a disappointment to others. It doesn't matter if it's a favorite athlete caught in a scandal or a close friend who's betrayed our trust, we all hate it when people let us down.

Maybe that's why the Bible cautions us about putting our faith in men in the first place. It says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save." Sounds like good advice.

There's only one hero who never lets us down, only one who can live up to the pressure of being perfect. Deep down inside something tells us that somewhere out there is someone who is everything we want to be, and we're made to worship Him. That kind of hero worship seems about right.

In the meantime, I guess it's OK to appreciate the noble attributes of people we admire, just as long we don't expect too much. Somewhere along the way, they're going to let us down. That's just what people do.

Even people like Betsy Ross.

Betsy, for what's it worth, I apologize. Next Fourth of July, I promise to cut you some slack. I'm only disappointed in you because you failed to live up to my unrealistic expectations. I won't let it happen again.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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