July 4, 2010

Fourth of July 2010

Happy Birthday USA.

Whenever I hear the National Anthem I get an image in my mind of Francis Scott Key, essentially a prisoner on a British frigate during the bombardment of Ft. McHenry while the British were attacking Baltimore during the War of 1812. Key was on board HMS Tonnant negotiating the release of some American prisoners of war. Although ‘officially’ he was guest of the commanding officers, Key and the Prisoner Exchange Agent, Col. John Skinner, were not allowed to return to their own boat because of the imminent attack.

Watching the bombardment and wondering at the outcome, Key was inspired to write the lines we know so well. We hear them at the beginning of every sporting event, but I wonder how often we stop and think about the origin and meaning.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

History shows that America won the War of 1812—fought over trading rights and against the ‘pressing’ of Americans into service in the British Navy (essentially a form of kidnapping and forced service). The victory solidified feelings of national pride and at the same time resulted in good relations with Britain. The song itself wasn’t accepted as the National Anthem until 1931!

Probably Francis Scott Key did not think of Psalm 37 at all, but verses 12-15 certainly could have applied to his situation: “The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to kill those who walk uprightly; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.”

There are 3 other verses to the Anthem. The middle two are rarely heard* (they are heavy with an undercurrent of anti-British sentiment), but sometimes the last verse is sung. It is a reminder that indeed “In God is our trust”.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

This Fourth of July may we indeed remember Who we must to look to for guidance. The “Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation” is the same “LORD who laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming.” It is easy to become prideful and forget that we, as a people of God, are charged to act responsibly in this “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Have a safe and happy celebration. Next week we will walk with Naomi who learns that God waits until we are ready to ‘let go and let God’.

*On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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