As we approach this Independence Day, my thoughts are on the internal threats to our nation and the need to restore unity. Whatever problems we face, "we the people" are much stronger than a mob of individuals pointing fingers, insisting on our own way, and fighting over ideologies. We also know better than that and we've always been more effective in solving our problems by pulling together than by pulling apart!
So, for those of us who believe we are called to pray for our nation - for one another - now would be a very good time! There are many fine prayers for such an occasion, but the one that has been on my mind this week is best known as the hymn, America the Beautiful. Every word is packed with the kind of spirit we need to restore our unity of purpose. But the words that are ringing in my ears are these:
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
In order to face one another and to work effectively with those with whom we differ, we need the humility to admit that none of us has yet achieved the perfection we seek. Whether or not we ever actually achieve it, we'll come closer if we pursue it in the company of our fellow Americans. That requires that we face the truth that flaws exist - racism, wealth inequality, poverty, suppression of rights, limited access to affordable healthcare, just to name a few. Let us humbly ask God to mend our flaws.
We also need divine help in gaining self-control so that our impulses and anxieties will not drive us apart. Many of our problems are truly frightening. No wonder we are so anxious and so prone to knee jerk reactions. We can't listen to one another or really seek understanding in that condition. Let us ask God to calm us down.
And, we need to respect the boundaries that make it possible to live and work together. Some of those boundaries must be imposed from without, but the most important ones must be established within us. Jesus taught us that all the Law is summed up in one commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself." When that law is at work, we are most inclined to do the right thing in relation to our brothers and sisters at home and abroad. So, let us ask God to write that law in our hearts so that we all might be truly free.
It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am a longtime Judy Collins fan. In 1993, she and the Harlem Boys Choir led a host of people on the National Mall in singing America the Beautiful. It is one of the most moving performances of this prayer/hymn I know. Maybe you'll enjoy watching the video and singing along.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!
The Very Reverend Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church