My daughter, Beth, and grandson, Sam, are the "chalk artists" in our family and this morning they went to work drawing flags, and other patriotic symbols and slogans on our driveway. It pleases me that they have an excitement and an appreciation for the 4th of July, especially in light of the protests and strife that has recently been seen throughout our land. As I think about our country; the beauty of what it stands for and the struggles that we still face, I can't help but believe that the writer of the song, "America the Beautiful" had it right...
This is a beautiful hymn, which begins with the wonderful words:
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
These are beautiful words indeed. But, at this time, these are not the words that catch my attention. Rather, I am especially drawn to the words found in the refrain. In the 1st verse, the words of the refrain are:
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
and crown the good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
These words remind us of the many wonderful ways that God has blessed our nation. Through men and women who have given their lives, God has given us a land where we are free to: worship, speak, assemble, vote, and pursue happiness. America is truly a marvelous land and we should ever be thankful. But, these are not the only words, for in verse three the refrain lifts up an additional plea:
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.
In this refrain we find the acknowledgement that America is not (and probably never will be) a perfect nation. We have our moments of embarrassment and we have our sins to confess. Historically, as a nation we have found the strength to "right wrongs" and, over time, to perfect justice. I personally believe that we still have the courage and strength to "set our path straight" when we have strayed from our ideals. So for me, the 4th of July is an invitation to a two-fold prayer: "Thank you Lord for our wonderful nation, and help us Lord to make it better every day.
I admit that I personally do not like it when people kneel during our National Anthem. I think it shows disrespect and overlooks the sacrifices that so many have made to insure our freedom. So I do have a simple proposal: I would recommend that at athletic events (and other appropriate occasions) we stand for the National Anthem and salute our flag as an expression of our thanksgiving for all that is right about our country. But then, when the National Anthem is over, we be invited to kneel (or at least join in a moment of silence) that we might pray that God would "mend our every flaw." We do have some, but I am convinced that as He has done in the past, God can heal our land and show us a new and better way.
America is indeed a beautiful and wonderful place. I pray that we will never forget it. And I pray that we will never cease to pray for our leaders and representatives, that each and every day God will make us better. In short, I pray that America the Beautiful will not simply be a song we sing but rather a prayer that pray each and every day.
I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July.
God bless America!
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.