God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great. His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion. There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.
You are radiant with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game. The valiant lie plundered, they sleep their last sleep; not one of the warriors can lift his hands. At your rebuke, God of Jacob, both horse and chariot lie still. It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet — when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared. He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth.
– Psalm 76
This past Sunday, our worship service was a blend of two things. It was the final Sunday of a series of sermons on the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 (an excellent series, by the way), but it was also recognizing the Fourth of July coming at mid-week. A violin soloist played The Battle Hymn of the Republic as a prelude. Then the middle hymn of the usual three hymns was America the Beautiful, a hymn written by Katherine Lee Bates.
My wife and I were in full voice during the first verse. I remembered my old days in the boy scouts where I took 35mm slides and set them to the music of that hymn. I could close my eyes and see each photograph. Since I had taken the photographs, I could also reminisce each outing, literally from sea to shining sea.
The first verse is as follows:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Nearing halfway through the second verse, my wife started faltering. Her once beautiful soprano voice gets weak these days. She has problems with her sinuses, her thyroid, her parathyroid, and her heart. The first three seem to gang up to make her throat area constricted and sometimes she loses the ability to sing. Sometimes she can barely croak while talking. The heart issues make it difficult to breathe.
But this time it was different. I heard her voice crack, like she was trying to keep from crying. I then heard her sniffle. It could have been sinuses, but the impact of the second verse hit me as well. My eyes started to moisten. The second verse is as follows:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
The Scripture above ends with Asaph admonishing the people to make vows to God and keep them. I wrote a few days ago about Jesus telling us to not make vows, but if compelled to do so, keep them. I started thinking of our Christian founding fathers. How many of them made vows that America would learn from the Bible’s accounts of Israel and their mistakes?
But now we hide “In God We Trust” on the edges of coins or in small print so as not to offend the non-believers. We have failed the vows of our forefathers. We cannot ask God to mend our every flaw when we first do not admit the flaw, and secondly, we ignore God at every turn with no self-control.
I knew that my wife was crying.
She did not do much better with the third verse not trying to sing at all. The third verse is as follows:
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
She recovered to weakly sing the final verse. The fourth verse is as follows:
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Might I say something about legal immigrants to the United States, or maybe it’s just her family. I doubt it, though. For those, like me, that were born here, we can easily take citizenship for granted. It is our birthright. But just like adoptive or foster parents who chose to be parents of the child or children, people who came here as legal immigrants chose this country. There is something special about their citizenship.
My father-in-law took his family from a war-torn Indonesia as the rebellion there was winding down. When their ocean liner docked in Holland, they were placed in a tent city. The refugees from Indonesia were not allowed into the country until someone vouched for them. Luckily, my father-in-law’s sister did so for his family. You see, the Netherlands understood that allowing people into the country that might want to do the country harm was a bad thing. Here, my wife’s family had to create ‘credentials’ to enter the country that they were citizens of.
And with the unofficial caste system still in place in the Netherlands in the mid 50s, my father-in-law started the paperwork to emigrate from Holland and immigrate the USA, the land where dreams can come true. Could we even say, the Promised Land? No, I doubt I would go that far. But my father-in-law had a chance to work as an accountant in the USA. Since his father had been a poor farmer in Holland, he was only able to find a job as a milk truck driver in Holland, although he had an Accounting degree from one of the leading universities in the Netherlands. He had two strikes against him: the unofficial caste system and he still was not a fully trusted refugee. For those who do not read my blog a lot, he had been a Dutch Army officer in Indonesia for a while. It took them a year to get everything straight which included all six children (last three born in the USA) getting their shots.
They were not sponsored. Within the last few days before their visas ran out and facing a return to Holland, they got a sponsor in El Paso, Texas. They had spent all this time in New York City, experiencing so many things for the first time: people speaking English, television, elevators, and many different types of people. Upon arriving in El Paso, my wife’s English was not up to speed, so she was placed in the first grade, for the third year in a row. She took first grade in Indonesia, a year early, then in Holland, because that was her grade for that age, and then in the USA. Her language skills are excellent. Now, she does not speak with an accent at all, but she was a little girl at the time.
Like any legal immigrant, she took extra classes. She had to speak English, although other ethnic groups had translators. She had to take history classes and government classes to pass her citizenship test. She had to put in extra effort to become a citizen. She was not given citizenship as a birthright.
Upon graduation from high school, her family was too poor to send her to college. Her brother was working part-time in order to go to school. She would be too much of a burden. She joined the Air Force at the height of the Vietnam War. She became a medic, but she specialized as a surgical technician. She was asked to go to Vietnam, but she opted to stay in Biloxi, MS, patching up troops that arrived daily from Vietnam, one of three military hospitals in the US so designated.
She had earned her citizenship. She immigrated legally. She passed all the tests and was sworn in as a citizen. And she served this country during wartime.
Then she reads lines in a hymn that is rarely sung past the first verse. She was once the pilgrim seeking a land with a future like those mentioned in the second verse, but we have forgotten the God that helped us form the country. She was a hero, serving with liberating strife, as in the third verse, but we have let our refined gold veneer become tarnished. We have turned a blind eye to far too much sin in our country. Do we trust God anymore? The number who do not believe in Him is growing, and so many who claim to believe are apathetic toward God. Oddly, apathy toward God was part of the sermon.
We talked about it as I drove to our favorite Chinese restaurant for lunch. She keeps things inside, maybe too much. But this time she talked and poured out her soul. In over forty years of marriage, I don’t think I had anticipated what she would say any more than on this occasion. I wrote this post, but it is really from her.
To make America great again, repent. Bow down before the God of the Universe. Only God has the power to mend our broken lives. And may God mend our every flaw and confirm our soul, in self-control, our liberty in law.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.