I was at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday for the Royals-Athletics game and heard a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem before the game and then, in the seventh inning, an equally beautiful version of "God Bless America" by a male singer.
It got me to thinking about the ways in which we sometimes confuse religion and patriotism. Our politicians do it all the time, claiming that God has a special mission of the United States, that God is on our side in various ways and so forth. I've heard everyone from Ronald Reagan to Al Gore do this.
But I noticed at least a hint of this confusion at the ballyard Sunday when lots of people took off their hats and placed them over their hearts at the singing of "God Bless America." Well, that's the appropriate response for our National Anthem, but it's not required of a hymn that is, in effect, an intercessory prayer. Oh, there's nothing wrong with removing one's hat and placing a hand over one's heart, but in some ways that confuses a patriotic gesture with a religious gesture.
This is a pretty good day to be thinking about all of that because it's the 150th anniversary of the birth of Katharine Lee Bates, a Wellesley College English teacher best known for penning "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies," also known as "America the Beautiful," a lovely patriotic hymn that is also a prayer.
Bates was born in Falmouth, Mass., which I visited in June, though at the time I didn't know she was from there. I might have checked to see how Falmouth remembers her.
Well, my point in celebrating Bates today is simply to remind us to draw a distinction between religion and patriotism. One of the hymns that helps me remember to do that is "A Song of Peace," sung to the tune of "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius. The second verse, penned by Lloyd Stone, says this, "My country's skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine; But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine: O, hear my song, Thou God of all the nations, a Song of peace for their land and for mine."
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WHEN TO GIVE HATE COVERAGE?
A Chicago Tribune reporter asks a good question: Are journalists required to cover the fringes of religion, such as Fred Phelps and his band of hateful goons? I have struggled with that very question. Most recently here on the blog I answered yes, though usually my answer has been no. Do you agree with my answer in that case? By the way, I was glad to see the Trib reporter quote my friend Rabbi Michael Zedek, a wise man who understands this stuff.