Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”

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Looking out over the landscape of America this 4th of July, I am reminded of that great song that we used to sing in elementary school. With hands across our hearts, we looked to the flag, pledging our allegiance. Then, after a short pause, we would turn to the front of the classroom, to our teacher Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a Tuskegee Airman and former POW whose plane had been shot down over France – and he would lead us in song:

My country ’tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died!

Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!

From every mountain side,

Let freedom ring! 

I remember the great pride swelling our chests and the great feelings pounding in our hearts as we sang each word and stanza, eyes aglow in wondrous amazement. The music would crescendo, higher and broader and brighter, until we were almost shouting from the very soles of our feet to the tips of our tongues. We chorused forth a roaring, “Let freedom ring” . . . “Let freedom ring” . . . “Let freedom ring!”

A scuffling of feet and a soft commotion would follow our heart-felt singing as our bodies rushed with the adrenalin of sweet relief for so joyously singing. We were also filled with joy, in a smug, self-congratulatory manner, at how we had outdone each other in shouting those words – a kind of sacred commandment, an immediate demand for freedom from the very air of our stuffy classroom.

We sang that song as children, seeking to break the stiff silences of defeat, feelings we’d had or had heard of; to set free the caged birds within us that were yearning for an eagle’s flight, to lift us beyond the monotony of our regimented routines. We sang that song – and we were always glad to sing it – for we felt that its words and melody transported us to higher clefts of glee where we could “taste” – if not in permanent, eternal pauses, then certainly in fleeting flashes – the feelings of pure freedom, rebounding us upward from the mortal coils of our terrestrial toils.

When we sang that song, we caught glorious visions of truth speaking, of worlds turning, of eyes gleaming, of life changing, of chains breaking, of brighter suns rising, of hope shining and transcending, of the school day happily ending and long hot summer days finally beginning!

When we sang that song, we always sang it not only for what we were then but for what we would all one day become!  We were proud to sing that song, every one of us, proud to be called Americans! We sang it, and loved singing it, and I still love hearing and singing it today.

My country ’tis of thee . . . sweet land of liberty . . . of thee I sing.”

And the glorious promise as that first stanza ends . . . “From every mountain side let freedom ring.”


2 responses to ““My Country ‘Tis of Thee””

  1. Antoine Geffrard, M.D. Avatar
    Antoine Geffrard, M.D.

    Dear Pastor,
    How I love the acuity of your mind. I’m truly grateful to be a member of your congregation, where each Sunday I can have my mind sharpened and heart tested for soundness in the service of GOD.
    Yes…”My Country Tis of Thee…” is truly uplifting. A glorious anthem of patriotism and acknowledgement of GOD’s dominion over all things, particularly liberty. The song, in its 4th stanza, asks for a future of freedom under GOD’s protection – our true King. Marvelous words! …yet I look at how, rather than growing closer to GOD, our country may be moving away from relationship with GOD. Our leadership has enjoyed a period of relative silence from those of us who carry GODs WORD into the world. There seems to be a gathering darkness.
    Morality has blended into civil liberty issues, politics into humanitarian issues. It takes a studied and prayerful Christian to navigate these waters of confusion, and Americans are less and less of either. Over 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christian in faith, but far less are Christian by practice. Martin Luther King once identified two types of atheism. On one hand, there were those who, after contemplation, decided that there was no GOD. They spoke and conducted themselves thereafter accordingly. Then, there were those who spoke of their belief in GOD, yet lived their lives as if there was no GOD. He seems to find the latter type to be most malignant, because it allows for delusion and the rooting of mythologies about who GOD is.
    The truth, as you know, is that our GOD is loving and merciful, and we can do nothing to earn HIS love, but HIS love is willful, not emotional. HIS love is so strong and so complete, that HE may allow for a complete collapse of our system of things, just to demonstrate how important HIS preferences are for how HIS people should live. Are we living in accordance with HIS will? While we sing uplifting songs of patriotism and devotion to GOD our King, are we drifting away from the practice of love for the least of those among us? Has HIS church stood fast against this growing tide…even against popular sentiment? I wonder very much.
    We rely on the contemporary spokesmen of our faith to help clarify what it means to be a Christian in these times. Are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton examples of such men? I’m not familiar enough with their actual work to say. For example, I haven’t heard much clarity from them, or anyone, about the responsibility of Christians to defend the civil rights of gay or lesbian people in this country, but that homosexual BEHAVIOR is a sin. Its not a special sin, its a sin – just like stealing, adultery, selfishness, murder, and many other thoughts and behaviors common to us all. I haven’t heard of or seen a Christian perspective regarding the Black communities breakdown of morality in our community, the hyper-violence in our community, or the growing moral bankruptcy of our country. Singing of our ideals is uplifting, perhaps even hypnotic. But who is standing with GOD in our community, and in our country? Who stands firmly, on fire, for the LORD? Luke warm compromise and political correctness based on the tides of public opinion will never serve GOD will it?
    Despite our singing, our prayers, and our weeping, the iniquities of our hearts, practiced by our mouths and hands CAN separate us from GOD, and put us in danger of being handed over to our sins…as a people and as a country, yes?

    1. cfstewart Avatar

      Dr. Geffrard:

      Beautifully stated. Needed is not the self-congratulative vainglory of judgment and condemnation on those who are still God’s children, but effective witness and conviction, the power to live out our claims of love and truth amid the contradictions and invectives of a society and world that is often full of itself and not enough of God. Thank you for your comments. As always, they inspire us to deeper thought and awareness of the marrow of our abiding concerns.

      God bless you

      Pastor C

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