Only In America

From Julia Ward Howe, back to Jesus, and then forward to the Eucharist:

In the first moments of consciousness, Julia Ward Howe’s creativity penned what we now call “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Published in The Atlantic Monthly and sung to the tune of John Brown’s body, the song went viral, as we would say today, changing the war’s narrative from secession rights into a crusade for freedom.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Howe claimed that the song came to her on the border of consciousness, linking the Christ of long ago to the future of the war and the freedom of the slaves.

No one who preaches the Gospel can extol war. It is ever a curse and a sorrowful affliction. Yet consider the strength that Union soldiers took from this song, the consolation that Union families found in it. On June 8, 1968, as the train bearing the body of Senator Robert Kennedy rolled through Baltimore on its way to the capitol, the crowd along the tracks broke into the hymn’s refrain. I remember the song on the night of Sept. 11, in New York City. It wasn’t sung against someone; it was sung for those who had suffered a terrible injustice.

As America observes Memorial Day Weekend, the church celebrates Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The feast exists to foster devotion to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Paradoxically, pondering the humanity of our Savior is one way to see the extraordinary divine gift, which is the Eucharist.

The church professes that Christ was always “true God and true man” but that declaration doesn’t address the nature of his consciousness, his creativity. We have no interior access to the mind of Jesus, no way to watch how his divine and human natures interacted with one another. We do know that Christ possessed faith, which suggests that his incarnation represented some emptying of his divine consciousness. So our Lord would have come to that supper, the night before he died, a true man, one who had even reason for fear for his future, knowing that death was nigh.

That night Jesus did something similar to Julia Ward Howe. Seeking solace and strength in the past, he immersed himself in the faith of his people, reciting the promises made to Israel. And with radical hope for the future, the Son of Man gave himself over to the God of Israel, calling him “Father.”

When the church prays in that same voice and measure, expressing the very same surrender to the Father, we believe that Christ is truly present among us, in the mystery of his Body and his Blood, a sacramental splice between the ancient past and the, yet distant, future. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the church stands with the Son, giving herself completely into the hands of the Father.

Americanism lives. Sloppiness beats scholasticism again.

The Colonies’ Secession was Smart, the South’s Was Dumb

Maybe it is poor form at the national holiday to bring it up, but has anyone noticed the resemblance between 1776 and 1861? Sure, you can say that the Civil War involved more than preserving the union. Many Americans think the fight between North and South was to abolish slavery and preserve the union. But 1776 saw a similar dynamic – a group of slaveholders asserting their independence from a sovereign nation. So what am I missing?

One important difference could be intelligence. I remember being struck by the stupidity of southerners about twenty years ago during Independence Day festivities. (Mind you, I’m bi-regional so I can get away with speaking about my people this way.) I was surfing cable television on a Sunday evening – back when we had cable (and stupid enough to pay for television) and when Sabbatarian convictions were not where they should have been – and I came across the Independence Day worship service where Charles Stanley’s congregation in Atlanta was waxing patriotic by singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Not only did this manifest a dumb reading of history since this particular hymn was written for a war fought almost a century after the Revolutionary War. It was also stupid because these residents of greater Atlanta were singing a song that the North had concocted to whoop up support for – among other military matters – General Sherman’s raid on central Georgia. To borrow Fosdick’s line, what incredible folly!

Now I see, thanks to one of our southern correspondents, that southern Protestants are still very patriotic and still lacking intelligence about which hymns go with which American wars. Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News writes the following:

Every summer on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July, a vast array of churches breaks out the red, white and blue bunting and patriotic songs like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with salutes to the military and civil servants.

He goes on to report on the activities of various local congregations.

More Than Conquerors Faith Church will have its “Freedom Celebration” on Sunday at 10 a.m. with patriotic music and a procession of flags.

Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church will have its “Can America Still Trust in God?” worship service with patriotic music at 10:30 a.m. Lunch follows on the church picnic grounds.

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church will have patriotic music by Bobby Horton, Bill Bugg and others starting at 5 p.m., followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. . . .

It’s the most dramatic Fourth of July celebration ever for the church, said the Rev. Barry Vaughn, the rector.

“It will be the most patriotic thing we’ve done and people seem to be pretty excited about it,” Vaughn said. . . .

Briarwood Presbyterian Church will have its “Christianity in America” service on Sunday at 6 p.m., with patriotic music and a salute to the armed forces.

It will feature a musical tribute to America by the Alabama Philharmonic Orchestra, and arrangement of armed forces songs.

“It’s a tribute to those who served,” said the Rev. Clay Campbell, minister of music and worship pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. “They enjoy putting on their uniforms and coming and being recognized.”

Campbell said that in the past, some have raised concerns that patriotic worship services are idolatrous and constitute worshipping the state.

“We’re not worshipping America,” he said. “We’re giving thanks to God for the blessing he’s placed on America.”

That may not be the way that some see it if Dinesh D’Souza is going to be your guest preacher tomorrow.

Dinesh D’Souza, author of “What’s So Great About Christianity,” will speak in the “Celebrate America” patriotic service at Valleydale Church on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

D’Souza, a native of India who came to America at age 16 and became well-known as a political commentator and author of best-selling books on social issues, will talk about his love for his adopted country.

“Patriotism is entirely appropriate on this day,” D’Souza said in a phone interview. “The Christian foundation of America is that the root ideas of America are based on Christian influence and assumptions. You hear people talk about did Thomas Jefferson go to church regularly or did Ben Franklin believe in the Trinity. I don’t care if Jefferson believed in miracles. He sat down and asked where do rights come from. He could think of only one source, the Creator. That’s in the Declaration of Independence.”

Of course, there is an easy way for southerners to be smart about all this – it is the spirituality of the church option of psalm singing. Especially when Sunday coincides with July 4th, Psalm 146 is fitting:

1 Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.

4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,

6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.