What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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Independence Day


Something about patriotism causes it to intensify as its object is weakened. We remember Washington freezing at Valley Forge, and then the bold, perhaps even reckless crossing of the Delaware, more warmly than we remember the steady, calculated siege at Yorktown. The infant Republic is somehow more lovely when she appears very nearly snuffed out, than she is years later, with the thrill of victory gathering.

Or again, why do we remember the great rescues of Christendom, the relief of Vienna by the Poles, the astonishing endurance of the Knights of Malta on their own September 11th, more readily than the sure victories?

Why are even Northern men stirred by the perseverance of Lee's army before Appomattox Courthouse, and even Southern men by the magnanimity of Grant at its end?

I think it is because patriotism partakes of the tragic character of life. The patriot is that rare romantic who will love even pitiful remnants of broken nations. The patriot is indeed moved by his country's victory, but not as much as he is moved by her subjugation.

If Christ can weep over Jerusalem in the knowledge that defeat and ruin were near, surely we, in these dark days, can allow our eyes well up at the lonely and harried symbol Old Glory, waving still over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Comments (17)

May God bless President Barack Obama and the United States of America!

You know, Paul, your post made me put a new interpretation on something that has always bugged me a little: The fact that we consistently hear only the first verse of our national anthem. Now, no doubt the true explanation is the simplest--that human beings are lazy souls and tend to sing only one verse of anything, even if it ends in the middle of the story. We still don't know at the end of the first verse if the star-spangled banner yet waves o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! C'mon, you can't stop there! It's like singing only the first verse of "A Mighty Fortress," where the words "On earth is not his equal" refer to Satan! But perhaps unintentionally, the practice of singing only the first verse of the national anthem has kicked off a particular feeling that one gets when hearing it--the feeling of the fragility of freedom. So when we hear the song we wonder: Does that banner yet wave?

Superb, Mr. Cella, as always.

My eyes well up every Fourth of July these past few years, too, but for different reasons. What did it to me yesterday was a futile YouTube search for a dignified, reverent, traditional performance of "America the Beautiful" (that wasn't the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). I always come away from the Fourth of July wondering if there even exists something called "the American people", if Americans really want to be a people, if Americans know how to be a people. I weep for the country we no longer have, for the country I wish I had, and for the give-a-damn we should all have but mostly don't.

That's a bit too gloomy, I know. The reality is brighter than that. But a common, public celebration of American identity just seems impossible today on any scale larger than a very small town. Maybe the problem is that I won't do a rock-n-roll Fourth of July. In America 2009, if you don't do a rock-n-roll Fourth of July, you just don't do the Fourth of July.

Jeff, I shall ask my eldest daughter to search Imeem, Rhapsody, and Last.fm for a dignified, reverent, traditional performance of "America the Beautiful." She would be able to find one if anyone would. :-)

And a happy 4th to all the Culbreaths!

Thank you, Lydia, and a happy 4th to all the McGrews as well! I'm sure your daughter will find something worthy ... can't wait to see it.

We're still hunkered down sick at home. I spent half the day in bed. Our dearest friends are throwing a big party in the foothills - baseball, square dancing, the works - but we're still too sick to go out. Maybe Jonathan will play America the Beautiful on the piano tonight while the rest of us try to sing along.

I rustled up a couple of suggestions at Imeem and sent them to you via the "share" function. But you're right this far: I think the Mormons have the best choral version I've heard out there yet. :-) Odd, that. I didn't bother sending you that one.

Get well soon!!!

May God bless President Barack Obama and the United States of America!

At the same time? That’s quite an oxymoron.
I doubt God is interested in demonstrating His omnipotence through enforcing such contradiction in terms.

Thinking about it again, God may bless both the USA and Mr. Obama without belying His own laws of logic by removing the man from the office.

How about: May God lead alleged-President Obama to so piss-off the CIA bureaucrats that they ensure that the documentation about his birth and life and citizenship and academic history just happens to come to light.

Lydia, & Jeff, too - Mark Steyn has posted a terrific piece about "America the Beautiful," telling the improbable story of how the words & the music of our unofficial national anthem found each other. Not to be missed.

Oh, and there's an (admittedly dated) arrangement, beautifully & respectfully sung, by the greatest singer ever born in America - i.e., Leontyne Price - available on YouTube:


I'm sorry, but "America the Beautiful" is a disgustingly sappy (and boring) song.

Oh, Ilion - that's just troll-bait, pure & simple.

America the Beautiful is easily among the top ten patriotic songs ever written.

Admittedly, it's not as *aggressive* as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," or "Rule, Britannia," let alone *Le Marseilleaise*.

But sappy? boring?

No way.

Yeah, Ilion, my response to that comment is unfit for public consumption. Next time pray keep an opinion like that to yourself.

Steve, great pick. It isn't fully choral (as per Jeff's original prescription), but beautiful. And I had just been saying myself that I think one may get a better effect for "America the Beautiful" with a soloist than with a choir all the way through.

To my mind the part that has the most genius is this couplet from the last verse:

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.

Jay Budziszewski says this:

My first conservative experience was in second grade, when I learned America the Beautiful. Verses one and two were merely baffling: I could not picture waves of grain, I could not believe that mountains were purple, and I could not form an association between liberty and pilgrim's feet. But the third verse broke me like glass and made me an idolater. O beautiful for patriot's dream, that sees beyond the years, we warbled; thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. Somehow the song called forth in my childish heart an answering music that I had never heard in church. I seemed to hear the whine of gulls and the murmur of the sea before a white throne; I was afflicted with a sense of the Fall and a longing for the City whose light is the Glory of God. But I misidentified the City. The song sent me questing for Columbia, not the New Jerusalem. I was told to seek in the ideal futurity of my nation what cannot be made by hands.

I've thought of that every time I've sung it since then, and what Jay says is a tribute to the power of the poetry. But I don't think it needs to lead to idolatry. In fact, I often think of Augustine and the City of God and also of Hebrews 11: "They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city."

Oh, I love me those beautiful pilgrim's feet. "Stern, impassioned stress"! Now that's poetry.

I don't troll.

But I do express opinions ... always carefully considered ... which others frequently do not wish to entertain.

"America the Beautiful" is sappy and boring and disgustingly so. The lyrics are sappy sentimental pap (*), and the tune is vapid and whiney.

(*) I said "sappy sentimental pap." I didn't say "corny," as the current VP recently described a feeling of mild patriotism he allegedly experienced during a naturalization ceremony for some US military personnel.

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