Thursday, July 3, 2008

a song about God and love of country


by James Weldon Johnson

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring.

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise,

High as the list'ning skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chast'ning rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet,

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who has by Thy might,

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,

Shadowed beneath thy hand,

May we forever stand,

True to our God,

True to our native land.

There's a huge stir in the media over a woman singing this song at the start of government meeting. Read the words over carefully. Do you like them? Do you agree with them? Why is everyone so upset -- are they a bunch of liberals who don't want to hear God at a government meeting? Isn't it interesting how the labels placed on things affect how people perceive them. Suppose that instead of labeling this "the black national anthem" it had been labeled an Christian hymn (which of course is what it is). How would a simple change in labeling affect who got upset and why they got upset. Does every meeting of your city council begin with the national anthem?


Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

An interesting post, Sue. Labels -- words -- trigger connections in each of us based on our experiences and our predispositions. It is inescapeable. I know that the song is characterized as a Christian hymn but the words are vague enough that it could just as well be a Deist hymn or even a Jewish hymn or Muslim hymn. I would characterize it more as a generic hymn of faith.

My questions to the singer would be: "Why did you choose this particular song?" "Was it meant to convey a particular message?"

Motivations are sometimes more important than interpretations.

For some interesting background click here.

Sue said...

Chris, I couldn't get the link to work.

Sue said...

some additional information:
James Weldon Johnson composed the lyrics of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," originally written for a celebration of Lincoln's birthday in 1900 at Stanton School, a school for African American students in Jacksonville, Florida, where Johnson was principal . By the 1920s, copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" could be found in black Christian churches across the country, often pasted into the hymnals.

In the 1970s was often sung immediately after "The Star Spangled Banner" at public events and performances across the United States where the event had a significant African-American population.

Ninety years later the song was entered into the Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn following the success of a 1990 rendition by singer Melba Moore and a bevy of other recording artists – by a Republican controlled congress under a Republican president George H. W. Bush.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...


Try this one.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. I think we need to call the ACLU -- tax money ought not to be spent to take time out from civic duties for a song that mentions God four times. Some tax payers are atheists, and shouldn't have to support this crap.

Pat Jenkins said...

sue who or what do you think God LOVES more, mankind or the planet?

Sue said...

Pat, it is my policy never to trust any human being who claims to know what the supreme, everlasting, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, boundless, incomprehensible G-d does. As finite beings we are incapable of comprehending the ways of the infinite.

E. R. Dunhill said...

If I might interject, I think the question may be based on a faulty premise. I believe scripture describes that the Creator cares for people and for the world He created for them. While I don’t take the Creation narrative literally, I do think it makes a number of important points. With respect to your question, the fact that God repeatedly observes that what He has made is “good” or “pleasing” suggests that He takes pride in His work and that He cares about it. Later in Psalms, and much later in Christ’s teachings, we see that the Creator maintains minute and intimate knowledge of every living thing. Into this creation, He has inserted people and given them the charge to take care of it.
This relationship reminds me of a story about my uncle and my cousin. My uncle is (among other things) an accomplished carpenter. When he retired, the company he worked for gave him a gorgeous and expensive lock-back knife. He happens to be a fairly rugged fellow, and didn’t see himself carrying around a fancy knife that he would almost certainly destroy. So, he gave the knife to my cousin. A witless teenager, my cousin and his friends threw the knife at a dart board, speared soda cans with it, used it to cut wire, and ultimately broke its lock. It was useless, not to mention badly banged-up at this point.
When my uncle found out about this he was rather angry. (In fact, 15 years later, it’s still a sore subject if it comes up) Clearly he didn’t care more about the knife than about his own flesh and blood. However, the knife was a beautiful, irreplaceable thing that he gave with the understanding that it would be used and cared for with due respect.
Likewise, humans have a responsibility to be good stewards of Creation. Treating it carelessly, particularly when this carelessness harms other people, is shirking a spiritual responsibility. So, who or what God cares for more is beside the point. He values both His people and His work, and expects us to do the same thing.

Pat Jenkins said...

yes again erd, and sue as well, i would agree that we are to use the "world" responsibly. but i ask the question because the enviromental movement (the political orginization erd so we understand oursleves) has chosen a "love", which is why i bring up the question. you see i would have no problem with the worry we hear from the green groups if they were concerned we were running out of oil (really pick any resource) and that would mean problems for humans. because now we couldn't get to work or heat our homes. or their alarm with global warming becuase it would hurt our "lives". but their fret isn't over you and me it is over a "dying" planet. so they have pitted the enviroment against mankind. so again i ask my question in that context....

E. R. Dunhill said...

How many environmentalists do you count among your friends? What major works of environmental thought or literature have you read, or what environmental publications do you read at least sporadically?

Sue said...

Pat, I know that there are some "environmentalists" out there taht sound like they care more about "nature" than about humans, but I think they are only deluded. I think the environmentalism that erd and I embrace is one based on the protection of humans and human societies. Please see my newest post here of an essay I wrote 10 years ago above the anthropocentric (human centered) nature of environmentalism.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd what the heck does that have to do with anything?

E. R. Dunhill said...

The questions are relevant to why and how you've constructed your beliefs about environmentalism. If you don't personally know and talk with environmentalists, or understand what they've written or said, then what you believe you know about them is at best conjecture and at worst fiction. You mention "the political organization". Since there is no political organization called "environmentalists", who are you actually talking about?
The Izaak Walton League of America, the National Parks Conservation Association, Environmental Defense, various national and regional land trusts, and many other environmental groups are politically active, and regard improving environmental quality as a service to people.
Ultimately, the questions I've asked lead to the question, When so many environmentalists claim to be working for the good of people why do you believe otherwise?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

"When so many environmentalists claim to be working for the good of people why do you believe otherwise?"

ERD: I don't know about PJ but I might respond to that question:

"How many politicians do you know that claim to be working for the good of the people?" ;)

E. R. Dunhill said...

The difference:
An environmentalist successfully campaigns for clean water and his friends, neighbors, and children enjoy a cleaner drinking water source, more productive fisheries, and safer, more enjoyable places to play.
A politician successfully campaigns for office and secures for himself or herself a six-figure job that he or she will immediately use as leverage for a better elected office.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: The problem: Al Gore and the like who have blurred the lines. You can also include organizations who have blurred the lines: Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, etc. that are run by lawyers and other elitists who draw six-figure incomes from donations by duped do-gooders who succumb to their fleecing.

Have you considered the cost of some of the politically motivated "fixes" for the environment that contribute to a higher cost of living which hurts the poor? You can talk about internalizing externalities all that you want -- in the end, most (and this is certainly a generalization) environmental problems are "fixed" at the expense of those who can least afford it and to the benefit of those whose pockets are already full.

On politicians: There are some good ones who actually run for office (at least originally) because they believe in public service. They want to help people. They want to "fix" what's broken in Washington and in various state capitals and in city governments. They want to provide a better life for the poor, the needy, the outcasts. Too bad that many of them also fall to the call of greed and power which also motivates many in the "environmental" movement.

Yeah, I guess you hit a sore spot....

E. R. Dunhill said...

I don’t dispute that there are specific environmental groups that put nonhuman species or nature ahead of people. If you dig enough, you can find literature that pushes this idea. And, I’ve known a few, though I haven’t seen or heard from any of them in years. What I do disagree with is the assertion that this is a hallmark of environmentalism, that these groups constitute a majority, or that the fact that someone believes this somehow negates the work of those who believe otherwise. I asked PJ about his direct knowledge of environmentalism and environmentalists to make a point: There is an enormous amount of baseless conjecture and rumor circulating about people and organizations that fall under the broad environmental umbrella. Just as you mentioned that there are well-meaning people who are duped by a minority opinion of extreme environmental views, there are people who are duped by anti-environmental views.
If people want to get angry at certain deep-ecologists who believe that kelp and people have equal worth, by all means, get angry at them. I don’t particularly like being associated with such people, anymore than I like it when people make blanket insults about Christians because they saw something sensational about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints on 20/20. The truth is that most environmentalists, like most Christians, are perfectly reasonable people. Rather than telling these people what they believe and why they do the things they do, why not ask them? Beyond this, if conservation is a good idea in and of itself, why work against it just because someone else has a different reason for doing it? If several community groups get together to clean up a local park, we all still enjoy a clean park, even if some of the people picking trash believe that birds are better than people, right? Isn’t the result more important than stereotypes about the people making it happen?
As for my joke about politicians, there are certainly honest politicians who have the public good in mind. Both of them are welcome to ignore my remark.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: I once contributed to a number of environmental organizations. I was, and still am, a "practical" environmentalist. It probably comes from being so tied to the land -- both growing up and through my careers since.

It is probably the fact that most of the environmental organizations that I once supported have become politicized and in some cases radicalized, that causes me to become angry about the so-called environmental movement. When someone calls themself an environmentalist -- they should be aware that they carry the perception of being a wacko extremist with many people -- people who are sensitive to environmental issues like clean air, clean water, roadside litter, healthy food, etc.

My first comment to Sue's post had to do with the connotations associated with labels. I think it is certainly clear that labels mean different things to different people.

As to those 2 honest politicians -- it sounds like you've lived there too long!

E. R. Dunhill said...

I agree that the word is loaded. I also feel that much of its collateral meaning has nothing at all to do with environmentalism. Instead, the word has become a meaningless divider between "us" and "them". I'd like to get people thinking about the outcomes that environmentlism produces. I don't especially care* if someone else wants clean air because they think lichens have fundamental rights or because they rent-out cabins and kayaks and want to make more money by improving the view and the river. I'll get my hands dirty with both of them to make it happen. I'm also willing to work with them to educate, change building codes, vote bad officials out of office, and any other ethical things we can do to solve problems. I'm not alone in this thinking.

E. R. Dunhill said...

*Actually, I care a great deal about why people believe what they believe and do what they do. You get the point, though.

Pat Jenkins said...

well erd if we have people who are seeking the betterment of mankind then they are not necessarily environmentalists. they are looking to save humans first, using the environment. on the other hand we have a group of people who attack mankind for using the environment. these "environmentalists" are the ones i am angered with!!!.. and please keep this DEFINITIVE statement of mine in mind when we have any further discussions!!!