Tag Archives: Patriotism

Hymn #340: The Star-Spangled Banner

If you’re like me you haven’t thought too much about the national anthem of the United States of America. It’s moving and majestic and a little bit hard to sing those high notes, but once it’s been sung we move on quickly to our football game/parade/fireworks show/insert your favorite activity here. Which is kind of a shame, because this is a) a beautiful piece of poetry and b) a solid lesson on fighting the good fight.

The first verse–we rarely hear more than that–contains a long, convoluted sentence that boils down to the question, “Is the flag still flying this morning?” It sounds foolish; why does that even matter? But if you look at the rest of that verse and the next, you realize those “rockets” and “bombs bursting in air” are not fireworks but actual weapons. The song places us in the midst of a war, specifically at dawn the morning after a “perilous fight.”

I’ve never fought in a war (thank goodness) but I have faced some perilous fights. Sometimes I’ve asked myself afterward, “Am I still okay? Is my flag still flying?”

One of the scriptures referenced in the hymnbook for “The Star-Spangled Banner” talks about Captain Moroni and his title of liberty:

And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. (Alma 46:23)

I think (if we’re willing to set patriotism aside for a moment) the “star-spangled banner” could stand for anyone’s personal flag, or title of liberty if you prefer. It represents who they are and what they value, their commitments and causes. Even the sight of one’s country’s flag can stir up thoughts of God, freedom, a desire for peace, and love of family.

But for Moroni, it was not sufficient to simply raise a flag. The next verse reads:

And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land. (Alma 46:13)

He prepared himself to defend the things he held dear and “prayed mightily” for God to bless the people with freedom and righteousness. In chapter 48, he has the people fortify their cities in order to protect their homes, families, and liberties. But he does not just fortify cities; “Moroni…had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:7).

He taught the people that they needed to trust the Lord and keep His commandments in order to prosper. They needed to have faith, humility, gratitude, and a willingness to work. When their enemies tried to take away their freedom to worship and live in peace, they needed to be prepared to flee or fight, whichever was more prudent.

It was the actions of the people that would preserve their lives and liberty, not sufficient strongholds and certainly not a fancy flag.

Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”

There are people who stand for righteousness in the midst of chaos and war all over the world–whether a literally bloody battle or a less obvious attack on values and principles. They pray for heaven to rescue them and praise their Creator for all He has done.

Their motto is, “We will trust in God.”

It takes courage to choose to fight against the oppressors. To speak out where the truth is unwelcome. To defend those who need our strength. To teach others that there is a better way. To remember that we are children of God in a world that tells us we are worthless. To risk our lives to do what is right.

It takes courage to keep faith and endure to the end.

But no matter what the world throws at us, in the morning after each battle against Satan’s hosts, our personal flag of liberty, truth, and righteousness will still fly in the morning.

Wherever we stand for right can be the land of the free because we are willing to be brave.

pikes peak

Hymn #338: America the Beautiful

pikes peak

 

Katherine Lee Bates, this hymn’s author, began writing the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” from the top of Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs, CO.  She was on a train trip across the country, and incorporated many of the sights she’d seen into her poem. She saw “amber waves of grain” as she crossed the Great Plains, “alabaster cities” in Chicago, and “spacious skies,” well, everywhere. But it was standing atop Pikes Peak, looking down at central Colorado from 14,115 feet up, that she was stuck with inspiration.

You’re free to believe what you like about America, but it’s difficult to argue that it is beautiful. We see the “purple mountain majesties” as in the photo above, which was taken not far from where I lived growing up. I’ve looked up at Pikes Peak from the plains, and I’ve looked down at the plains from atop the summit, and there’s not a better word to describe either view than “beautiful.” When I moved to Nashville a few months ago from Oregon, I drove across much of the country, and while there were certainly places I traveled through that I wouldn’t care to live in given the choice (looking at you, Nebraska), I didn’t find anywhere that I passed through that didn’t contain at least some beauty.

This is not, of course, to say that America has any special claim on being beautiful that other nations don’t. There’s beauty everywhere. This is a wonderful world we live in, and despite the horrible things going on in it, there’s still an awful lot of beauty scattered in it, too. Were it not for the perfect fit of the meter for the lyrics “America! America!”, we could just as easily be singing about Japan, Germany, Togo, or anywhere else.

That beauty is a gift given to us from God. He created the world and all things therein, and He did it for our benefit. We are here to be tested and to prove our worth to Him, but that doesn’t mean we have to do that in a bland, featureless world. He created rivers, mountains, forests, oceans, and everything in between. We can find beauty in the grand features of the world, and we can see it in the small things, like the little creek that trickles through my backyard.

So yes, we recognize the worth and beauty of America, and we sing its praises. But we also sing the praises and invoke the blessings of its Creator in this hymn. While singing about those fruited plains, we ask that “God shed his grace” on them. When we sing about the wonderful blessing of freedom in America, we also ask that “God mend [our] ev’ry flaw, [and] confirm [our] soul in self-control.” And when we sing about the alabaster cities “undimmed by human tears,” we also ask God to “crown [their] good with brotherhood.”

It’s a song about how terrific America is, yes, but it’s not a song that lends itself to be followed with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as much as you might think. It’s a song about humility and awe for the creator of the nation. It’s a song that pleads for self-improvement and the ability to feel gratitude for all the blessings we’ve been given as citizens of that nation. And so that’s why we sing it in our sacrament meetings, not so much to express our love for our nation (although I’m sure we do love it!) as to express our love for He who made such a nation, and indeed, such a world, possible.

It’s a wonderful world, if we care to look at it, filled with beauty from sea to shining sea.

Image credit: “Sunset over Pike’s Peak,” flickr user Jim Lawrence.

union jack

Hymn #341: God Save the King

union jack

With American Independence Day coming up, we’re considering the hymns on patriotism here at the Beesley Project. And we’re starting off with the one hymn of the bunch that isn’t expressly American-themed: “God Save the King.” I’ve always thought it was interesting that a church as globally-minded as the LDS Church doesn’t include any other national anthems in its English edition (no “O Canada”?), although the hymnal does indicate that, with priesthood approval, local national anthems may be sung in church meetings.

But why include them at all, and even more to the point, why include the U.S. national anthem, two generically patriotic American songs, and the anthem of the United Kingdom? What doctrine can we hope to learn from a song extolling the virtues of the British Isles? Let’s listen to the first verse and see what we can find out. You know the tune, even if you don’t think you do; it’s the same as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

God save our gracious king!
Long live our noble king!
God save the king!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to rule over us;
God save the king!

This is a change from our normal approach to the hymns. We nearly always sing praise to the Lord (with one notable exception), but here, we praise the king (or queen, as is currently the case). We sing of his grace, his nobility, and we wish for his reign to continue. Normally, we reserve that sort of praise for God in the hymns. Shouldn’t we be expressing our hopes that God can continue to rule over us and that we can become subject to His will?

Well, yes, of course, but I think that in a way, we’re already doing that. You see, while we sing our praises to the king, our prayers are directed toward our God. We pray that our God will protect the king as he protects us. It might be different if “Rule, Britannia!” were in the hymnal, a song that expressly glorifies the nation and not its God. The second verse makes even clearer the relationship between the king and God, as well as their hierarchy:

Thy choices gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign!
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the king!

God pours His blessings on the rulers of nations and supports them. We sing our praises to Him for so doing. In fact, we see hints in this verse that while our rulers currently reign over us, they may not always do so if they fall out of line with His teachings. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught that while nations will have their rulers, anyone who raises up a king against the Lord–which is to say, raises up a king that defies His laws–shall perish, for “the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king.” We will be His people, and He will be our God.

This hymn makes that relationship clear. We have our own appointed leader. He or she is one of our own that we have chosen to lead us, but though he or she may be our king or queen, he or she is not our King. There is One who rules over us, and it is His blessings we invoke on those we choose as our leaders here on earth. And as those blessings are bestowed, and as our leaders do their best to lead us in righteousness, we may ever have cause to shout, “God save the king!”

Image credit: “Union Jack,” flickr user blu-news.org.

Hymn #60: Battle Hymn of the Republic

When Julia Ward Howe penned new words to the popular Union soldier song, “John Brown’s Body”, she drew an overt parallel between the Abolitionist movement and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It was a bold move. It paid off, though, as Battle Hymn of the Republic is now among the most beloved patriotic songs in the United States.

But this hymn is not about freeing slaves from bondage.  Or perhaps it is, just not only in the way the Union soldiers of 1861 were thinking.

Let’s look at the third verse, which speaks of Jesus’ birth “in the beauty of the lilies”. Lilies are Easter flowers, though, so when we sing of a Christ who was “born across the sea…with a glory in his bosom,” we probably aren’t referring to the Baby Jesus. Instead we are singing of the Resurrected Lord, reborn when He rose from the tomb on the third day. It is this rebirth that “transfigures you and me”.

That same resurrected Jesus appeared alongside God the Father to Joseph Smith nearly two thousand years later (but, interestingly enough, only a few decades before Sister Howe wrote these verses). It was then that the Lord, as the second verse says, “sounded forth the trumpet that will never call retreat”.  The fullness of the gospel would never again be taken from the earth. Restored light and truth freed mankind from the darkness of the Apostasy.

When the Book of Mormon was translated, we learned more about the connection between the Atonement and our freedom:

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2:26-27)

The Savior suffered so we could be free from the bonds of sin, and He rose again so we could be free from the bonds of death. Heavenly Father then gave us freedom to choose for ourselves whether to follow Him or not. We, as Latter-Day Saints, know these truths; not everyone does. Therein lies our obligation to “live to make men free.”

Let us bring men to an awareness of the source of their freedom to choose. Let us teach them the law, so they can know the consequences of their choices. Let us show them how to repent and come unto Christ that they may be free from sin. Let us invite them to take the necessary steps that lead to eternal freedom. Let us perform those same ordinances by proxy for the dead so that they too may be free. Let us live our lives in such a way that we lead others to Christ and help them become truly free.

The glory of the Second Coming of the Lord has been foretold. Until that day comes, “Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant my feet!” for His truth is marching on.