America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise

Today I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those imposters who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern the sheep from the goats. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale.  And as I watched, I asked how this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.

It was not always that way.  We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together.  Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”

We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us.   We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life.  We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.

The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks.  My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation.  In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community.  Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise?  What caused the demise of the democracy?  Simply this.  When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter.  But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.

Picture of Crosswicks

So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart.  And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations.  It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people.  Let me talk about three of them:

  1. Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together.  I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game.  The whole community came together to watch the teams compete.  There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community.  I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization.  But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
  2. Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun.  Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved.  We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races.  We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges.  As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group.  You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength.  I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
  3. Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library.  In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas.  It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion.  All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills.  In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.

These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks.  I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn.  Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together.  Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!