Songs for the Day

Looking for songs for the day?
Feeling put off by the word “patriot” or “patriotism” like there’s no place for you in these words?
Try these songs, and these versions.

This first one is one I’ve often thought about on the 4th of July. I know that several folks have covered this song, but you can’t beat Little Steven’s original. Apologies for the language. But it’s a pretty good sermon:

Then, there’s “America the Beautiful,” which is my favorite traditional patriotic song. Below is what I wrote about it two years ago in a Colorado blog:

“In the summer of 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, a teacher at Wellesley College, set out on an adventure across America. She and other teacher friends were invited to spend the summer teaching at Colorado College in Colorado Springs…the city I’m writing you from tonight.

But before coming here, they stopped in Chicago to see the World’s Fair, and took in the best of human ingenuity of the time. Then, they headed south through Kansas’ amber waves of grain.

Among other friends, she was accompanied by another woman named Katharine, who many believe may have been her longtime lover.

Bates herself describes one of the events of that summer in Colorado Springs:

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

One story goes that Bates lingered longer on the mountain than her companions and –even there, at that high elevation– began to write down verses. By the time she left the town later that summer, she had all of the verses of a hymn you have heard countless times.

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.

As you might imagine, I am thinking of all of this today, because earlier we took our own sojourn to the top of Pike’s Peak.

Dennise says she remembers visiting here at a kid, but she clearly didn’t remember the road; which, turns out, is as daunting, or more so, than the Trail Ridge Road. (And I’ve already written about how *that* went…)

Frankly, I was a bit surprised by the road too. I’d always been told what an easy drive up it is. And, I guess in some sense that’s true. But, much of the top third of the drive is gravel (nobody mentioned that to me!) and there are few directional or speed limit signs.

Which, of course, means the speed limit is slow.

We made it all the way up, To my mind, this means we have no good reason to avoid the Trail Ridge Road next year.

It was amazing.

I totally get that folks have varied relationships with this song. It is a hymn, that is sure. It was first published in a Congregationalist newspaper. And the nationalistic tone can sometimes be troubling.

But I sure like it more than “God Bless America.”

To me, “America the Beautiful” was redeemed by two events. One was when Ray Charles recorded it, which gave us, by a factor of ten, the best recording of it, ever.

The second event was after September 11th, when along with millions I saw Dan Rather on David Letterman, and both of them teared up a little. But none more than when Rather cited the fourth verse of the hymn:

“O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!”

There was something about the memory of the twin towers, the connection of urban America with rural America, that really spoke to me. For about a year I learned my own little acoustic version of the song and played it at every show.

I still like it far more than “God Bless America.” There is something about the driving, bombastic nature of that song that simply doesn’t do anything for me.

But “America the Beautiful?”

There’s such richness to the imagery…

Amber waves of grain…
Fruited plains…
Purple mountains majesty…
Alabaster cities…

The poetry is lush. And, the truth is, the theology is better too. Check out the chorus of verse two, in case you’ve never heard it:

“America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!”

There’s something about this song that, while it *is* asking for God’s favor on the nation, is not *assuming* we deserve it. It’s a song that assumes whether or not we have God’s favor depends upon us.

It’s a song that’s not so much saying that America is “great,” but that America is “beautiful.” I like to meditate on how being “beautiful” might even be more important than being “great.”

Perhaps the beauty comes from the country’s incredible nature landscape. Perhaps the beauty also comes through, dare I say, *humility?*

Yes, let’s ask God to mend our many flaws. Let’s remember our self control. And, above all, on a day when we hear the current Attorney General probably *will* launch an inquiry into torture, lets remember we’re a country based on law…and that nobody is above that law. Ever.

In every generation, we have that chance to become beautiful again.”

So, that’s what I posted a couple of years ago.

And this morning, Andrew McKnight turned me on to this great version by Martin Sexton.

Isn’t that fantastic.

Finally, there’s my favorite hymn of all time: “This is My Song.”

Thanks to Susanne Johnson for posting this incredible version by the Indigo Girls.

I often play this song as an intro to “The Birches of Moscow” when I play live. In fact, I was thinking of this song, when I wrote “Birches.”

To me, it’s such a great hymn and great to think about people in every country singing it to each other.

The original song did not include the third verse that we find in the UM Hymnal. That was an unfortunate later addition. But there was a third verse that goes like this:

May truth and freedom come to every nation
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong.
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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