Land that I Love
Gathering Clouds over Moosehead Lake and Mount Kineo
Although written during WW1 and revised in 1938 when WW11 was on the horizon and a great testing for America lay ahead, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” has always been my favorite patriotic song and musical prayer for America. As a kid, I remember sitting in front of our floor model radio and listening to Kate Smith’s clear, contralto voice give a heart felt rendering of what became her signature song:
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea/Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free/
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair/As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”
“God bless America/Land that I love/Stand beside her and guide her/Through the night with a light from above.”
“From the mountains to the prairies/To the oceans white with foam/God bless America, my home sweet home/God bless America, my home sweet home.”
In those difficult days of war and sacrifice, God was and had always been a welcomed part of our Nation’s spoken narrative. At our beginnings, many of our founding fathers were Theists, if not Christians, who recognized God as a player in the blessings bestowed on America. Our Declaration of Independence mentions God four times. Although some of our recent leaders have expressed that God is an important part of America’s collective mindset, our country is less oriented toward God today than it was in the past. In that context, President Ronald Regan’s thoughts deserve consideration: ” Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” and ” If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under.”
Somehow, our understanding of “separation of Church and State” has morphed into elevating the role of the state and locking God out of authority. Human reasoning and our search for origins and purpose have narrowed our thinking and diverted us away from the possibilities of God. He has become more of an ironic symbol than a reality. “In God we trust” is imprinted on our highly trusted money. Congress opens with prayer but public prayer is illegal in schools. We pledge allegiance to a nation “under God” but have no concept of what that means. The slogan “For God and Country” is used by many sincere, good intentioned, and patriotic people. It has been adopted as a moto by families, organizations, universities, and even reportedly by political or military campaigns. According to some sources, the US Navy Seals confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden with the signal “For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”
However, whether stated or inferred, phrases that invoke God have inherent problems and are open for abuse. They may convey a false sense of moral credence. They can be used to justify an idea or imply a lofty motivation to a goal which may or may not be good. They equate two unequals…the infallible with the fallible, the omniscient with the limited, the pure and holy with the flawed, the absolute with the relative.
There is a disparity between patriotism and loyalty to God although in certain contexts they might be inclusive. Seeking God’s blessing for our nation is quite distinct from claiming that our national purposes are God’s purposes. Nations have national priorities not God’s. Generally, if they seek God, it is for His blessing on what they want to do, not an inquiry into what He would want them to do! They pursue national interests and needs and borders and protection and hopefully the common good of its people. But the historical truth is that the forces for change within a nation are politics and power and greed.
Ultimate power, authority, and blessing come from God, not national leaders or even “the people.” God instructed Israel in a principle that guaranteed His good blessings. It is as definite and reliable and true for us today as are the laws that govern our universe. The Lord explained it to wise, rich, powerful, praying King Solomon while answering his prayer: “… I have heard your prayer …When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:12-15)
May it be so- that if or when the clouds gather and God doesn’t seem to be in the land- that we will be teachable, will have learned the lessons of history, and will seek God’s wisdom so that He will continue to bless America, the land that I love!