Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

“AMERICA!–MEND THY EVERY FLAW!”

    “America the Beautiful” should be the national anthem: Katherine Bates’ words, published in 1910 (and originally titled, “Pikes Peak”), are truly patriotic in the best sense of the word–an expression of love for country and the joy it brings to its inhabitants.

  

Plaque commemorating the song, "America t...

Plaque commemorating the song, “America the Beautiful” atop Pikes Peak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Star Spangled Banner is eminently unsingable and often referred to as the “firecracker song,” which it really isn’t, considering that we brandish fireworks on the Fourth of July, strangely, to the strains of the 1812 Overture.

    Truth being stranger than fiction, said Overture was written by a Russian with no intention of commemorating any even in American history, but to celebrate an anniversary of Russia’s defeat of Napoleon. Tchaikovsky himself had little enthusiasm for it, deeming it “loud and noisy.” What made his efforts palatable was a handsome commission.

    Some 85 years later, in 1974–something well remembered by Bostonians–Arthur Fiedler and a local businessman deigned to restore crowds to the city Pops concerts and chose the Overture. With booming cannon, church bells a-ringing, fireworks and a sing-along, it worked its magic–the first use of that music for a celebration of the Fourth that became an annual event. How sad that in recent years viewership has declined and 2013 will be the first time since its inception not to be telecast nationally.

    Our real national anthem is a war song of sorts–a battle hymn for a particular battle, and I am hardly alone in my wish to change it. More than a quarter of Americans want Bruce Springstein to write a new one, and that’s not counting those who would prefer even Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, or rapper Jay Z to do so.

    America the Beautiful is kinder and gentler, and a more singable, hymn. It’s also more realistic and calls us not only to pride in nation but to self-responsibility: “America…! God mend thine ev’ry flaw; confirm thy soul in self-control…” Therein is a patriotism I can warm up to, and one that is advisable when we are tempted to tell everyone else on the planet how to live, and making excessive claims to so-called American “exceptionalism.”

    Extremes of nationalism are not patriotism; they are distortions of it that flatter themselves with words such as “super-patriotism,” but tend rather toward chauvinism and jingoism. Among their uglier recent manifestations are attempts to deny Muslim mosques in various parts of the country; that absurd American Berlin Wall that we have, and will extend, on our southern border; and the burden we want to put on immigrants who are already here; and the latest–the Supremes’ evisceration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

     Along with true patriotism are those things embodied by democracy and its freedom of expressions (however crackpot they may be), including civil discourse–albeit we are hard pressed to cite recent examples of it. Indeed, we are amid, not civil discourse, but a great civil war of words (with apologies to A. Lincoln). These are violent times in word and deed–and there will be blood, whether on the floor of Congress, in letters to editors or -Ed and Op-Ed pages, TV news or at your friendly neighbor block party.

    Facebook is hardly a sanctuary, where “Friends” are alternately confrontational and belligerent whilst others, unnerved by the warring, extend pacification and love towards all, and others quote the Buddha and offer mantras. God bless us all, but nothing seems to sweeten the national conversation.

    To reference the Bible is to make our day worse, where the word “fool” shows up a lot and Jesus himself calls his critics a bunch of snakes and sons of hell given to greed and self-indulgence, as well as “unclean” within and without. Is that how I should respond to the Tea Party? St. Paul called the Galatian Christians liars and suggested that those who still practiced circumcision should just go all the way and totally emasculate themselves.

    To its credit, the Good Book also has a softer side–advising us to avoid unwholesome talk; to be quick to listen and slow to speak and to rid ourselves of anger, rage and malice and do all we can to create peace and mutual encouragement. Wonderful advice, and precisely what mediators today advocate to restore civil discourse: they call it “anger management,” “respectful listening,” “negotiability,” and “peace-making.”

    In other words, we’re not, after all, beyond better relations with our social and religious opponents–we’ve simply forgotten, or ignore, how to do so, or are just plain no good at it anymore. As one Msgr. Charles Pope went on to say in a paper on scriptural teachings regarding civility: the better biblical formula seems to be “clarity with charity, truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness,” and a call to heed the old adage to “say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”

    But it’s a challenge. On this Fourth of July, and amid our mutual hatefulness, keep in mind the truer patriotism as espoused by the great Norman Thomas: “Don’t burn the flag; wash it.”

4 Responses to ““AMERICA!–MEND THY EVERY FLAW!””

  1. Excellent article! Reminds me of “America, Love It and Change It” rather than the more jingoistic “Love or Leave.” Katherine Bates who wrote “America the Beautiful” also worked for labor reform in the 1920s. Yes!

  2. It’s my favorite patriotic song too – though I’m also fond of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (Maybe we should adopt that, and if it makes some states want to secede again, let them!)

  3. Here, here, John. I’ll never forget singing the words, “Thine Alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears,” at All Souls UU Church in NYC, on the day following the World Trade Center attack. The song will always stir something deep within me.

    • Yes Marcia that was a futuristic reference in the song borrowed from the World Expo of that decade. It’s a beautiful meaningful song. Both that blog post & a variant of it as a newspaper column for the 4th were distilled from my sermon the Sunday prior at First Church Boston.

      Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE DROID


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