Monday, July 04, 2005

Yesterday at church one of the "hymns" was America the Beautiful.

I didn't sing the words.

I didn't sing the words not because I do not want God to bless our country but because I couldn't look past them.

The second verse speaks of the brave pilgrims with the western expansion. Yes, those folks were brave, but much of their actions decimated a people who rightfully owned the land upon which they were settling. Their actions had repercussions that echo across the centuries today, a haunting melody. Native American tribes are dying off and few have ever enjoyed the wealth that America holds. Instead their lives have been of betrayal, poverty, and anguish. Hardly something to praise in a paean to God.

The third verse speaks of "heroes proved in liberating strife." We do have such a bloody history, eh? But the heroes I think of were heroes lead by Lincoln. The reference that comes to mind was the end of slavery. The writer also asked God to bless America's gold, but so much of that wealth was built on the backs of people stolen from their homes, abused, and viewed as sub human. That treatment, the slavery, also echoes down the centuries. It was not that long ago that African Americans were being lynched, dragged behind vehicles, and not allowed a voice in their government. They are still oft profiled by police and government and represent a disproportionate amount of Americans behind bars. As much as we might prefer to not admit this, we as a country still have not shed the darkness of slavery.

Yes, I pray for our country. Yes, I am thankful for those patriots who hundreds of years ago chose self government and fought for freedom. I just couldn't sing words that glossed over our history. I believe that the evils we've committed should never be forgotten and should illuminate the choices we are making today. This song does not do that. I couldn't sing it.

Perhaps I am being too serious about one song, one moment in church. But this Fourth of July, I would prefer to ponder on the words of Lincoln's second inaugural address, particularly the third paragraph:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

I find his closing remarks in the fourth paragraph a charge that we should still seek:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Happy Fourth of July...

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