My Election Year Vision for America

American-Flag-close-focus[1]I rarely make it through “America the Beautiful” without leaking tears.  Singing it in worship on the Sunday of Memorial Day was no different.  It is a sung prayer thanking God for this country and asking for help to the United States the country God wants it to be.

When I sang, “America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!” my eyes grew moist.  Tears streamed from my eyes as I sang the last verse.

America the Beautiful
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!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern, impassioned stress
a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness!
America!  America!  God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!

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
’til all success be nobleness and every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!
America!  America!  God shed Her* grace on thee
and crown thy good with [sisterhood] from sea to shining sea!
Katherine Lee Bates, 1893

Like Bates, I long for a land where pain and sorrow are no more, where there is no more hunger, poverty, or violence.  For cities where we dwell in peace and common purpose, cities undimmed by human tears.

images[1]As I drove up the California coast a few days later, Memorial Day still echoed in my mind along with prayers for those in the shadow of gunfire and violence, and fear for the divisions between U.S. citizens in the face of a Presidential election.  The Pew Research Center had just published a poll showing that Republicans and Democrats are more divided on issues than they have been in 25 years.

I dropped a new CD in the player and started singing along.  I didn’t remember hearing, until that day, one of the songs on the CD:  “Just Americans” by Randy and the Minstrels.  Randy Sparks wrote it following 9/11.  Like Bates, Sparks longs for the U.S. to be a country of peace, beauty and justice, and in this instance, a country that honors its diversity.

“Just Americans” touched something deep inside me that day and I wept as I drove up the California Coast.  Without returning to the horror of 9/11, I wish we could live the vision of America about which Sparks sings.

Mount Angeles Trail in Olympic National Park

Mount Angeles Trail in Olympic National Park

I wonder if each of us, no matter our political difference and the strength of our opinions about various economic solutions can, even in this election year, hold onto the truths in the words Katherine Lee Bates and Randy Sparks wrote.  Can we remember that, in spite of our differences, we are all just Americans, longing, working, and praying for a land of peace, beauty, and goodness that stretches from sea to shining sea?  I hope so.  Our country and the world depend upon our doing so.

Just Americans                                                            
On the tenth of September we were black and we were white,
we were brown, we were yellow, we were left and we were right.
We were folks from the country, we were city dwellers too,
and we often took for granted we were red, white and blue.

We were rich and we were poor, we were up and we were down.
We were those who lived on the other side of town.
In a moment of forever–it was not so long ago–
we were recreated equal and in my heart I know:
On September the eleventh we became Just Americans.
Other names were rendered obsolete.
All I know about my neighbors is that they are Just Americans,
shoulder to shoulder now the circle is complete

We have learned how it feels to be Just Americans
without words that spell out ‘us’ and ‘them.’
And there’s more to this feeling for our fellow Americans
than hate for those we condemn.
We wear yarmulkes and turbans and, occasionally, a crown.
We wear straw hats and ball caps. And when the team’s in town
we show signs of disrespect for those who’ve lost or won–
but we know it’s just a game, that the war was all in fun

On September the eleventh we became Just Americans.
Other names were rendered obsolete….
Let it be remembered that we are Just Americans….
I pray this day will never end.
Randy Sparks and the Minstrels

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