Home / Commentary / America: The Beautiful Dialogue

America: The Beautiful Dialogue

Share this story!
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

SPO_070212_flagWhen I combine thoughts of patriotism and religion I think of Neanderthals. I think of the trajectory of human evolution. And I ponder the turf wars that rise and fall like erect and flaccid phalluses over the course of recorded history.

Pay attention to the fanaticism surrounding the F.I.F.A. World Cup.  It seems to me that soccer fans are an indirect link to the passions that have served the human condition well… and not so well. That is to say, we’re all about ball-possession, defense and attack. We’re all about eliminating those aspects of our team-shape that make us vulnerable.  We’re all about mitigating loss, shame, guilt and regret… which leads me to my focus on the United States of America.

The U.S.A. has feasted on the mythos of the underdog for two centuries now. During the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, our ability to hang on by the thin thread of Jonathan Edwards’ spider web served future generations well. From New England to Philadelphia, we had pamphlets, or words.  We had authenticity and a yearning for God-knows-what.  We had no clear idea.  At the dawn of the 20th century, however, our idea became more codified and the meta-narrative shifted under the tectonic pressures of the Industrial Revolution.  As of the dropping of “the Bomb” on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, for example, the United States ironically surrendered the speech with which we could speak truth to power. Instead, we became the hegemonic empire or corporate conglomerate that both Thomas Jefferson and Pocahontas had deplored. Historic personages like these, I claim, had a foreboding about the tentacles of commercialization about to lay its suckers on the American psyche.  They had a hallucinatory hunch or a cosmic clue, but didn’t have enough “religion” to define freedom as something more (or less) that getting a good bargain.

My point here is that Christianity, in conversation with Judaism, once had a pivotal role to play in offering healthy cultural critique. The corporate witness to Jesus of Nazareth, in fact, had been intended for such social engagements, and NOT for the Conquistador-dynamic of latter-day centuries.  Prior to the Roman Emperor Constantine’s degree and Europe’s religious wars—and even prior to Martin Luther’s 95 theses being nailed to a Wittenberg door–the ground zero of Christendom was never the Christendom. It was, rather, the dialogue.  And this communicative exchange began, you see, with the professing Christians in the minority and therefore speaking from the margins of the power structures of the day.  Flash forward to 2014 and the contrast couldn’t be more stark.

Today, we have religious rhetoric, which is not interested on engaging in public discussion about Paul Tillich’s Ultimate Concern and about the audacious claim of a Palestinian Jew to be the Incarnation of God… Today we have propaganda and power-struggles that make the 2010 film The Book of Eli look more incisive than it needs to be.  The United States of America may someday cease to exist… There. I said it. Is that a heretical statement? Not from the point of view of the Apocalypse. Not from the point of view of Denzel Washington’s character in the movie. And when it comes to the Gary Oldman persona, with his interest in the manipulative formulae of the Bible’s verbiage, this is precisely the problem! Are we talking Mussolini? Or Mahatma Gandhi?

Whether one is Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or even a protege of HBO’s The Game of Thrones… adherence to a religious storyline matters. Affiliation with a particular religious community matters… And yet, it matters only to the extent that we see ourselves as penultimate expressions of the alleged truth we offer in the public arena.

Let your claims be known. It’s the American Way.

Let your unique articulations of faith find a dissimilar partner in dialogue who is willing to listen and to respond. It’s the American Way.

Democracy, at its best, thrives in this forum where no one pontificates. No one goes on a witch-hunt. No one threatens with excommunication. And no one promotes an exclusivist theocracy as the hoped-for outcome of their politics. No. Not one.

But what’s the agenda that gains more traction that it deserves? It’s the bumpersticker-sloganeering… It’s the Karl Rove Inhibit-the-Vote Calculus of the previous three election cycles. It’s the Koch Brothers unprecedented dump of resources down the chute of the Supreme Court ruling on Citizen’s United…

Yikes!   Dare I say this: I love this continent upon which generations of races and mixed races have descended.  I love the soil, the rivers, the creeks, the meadows and the muck… I love it from sea to shining sea… I love it from the fracking fields of North Dakota to the polluted Gulf of Mexico. I love it from the homeless shelters of Harlem to the shopping sprees of the Kardashians.  But “We, the People” need a severe chastening when we assume that this homeland is currently the Utopia to which every human life on the face of the earth aspires. And perhaps we even need this chastening when we assume (without a doubt the world) that we know the way to this Utopia.

Am I patriotic? Am a profound lover of this country’s ambitions to fight for justice?  Am I an ambassador of the masses, yearning to be free? As Sarah Palin would say, You betcha! But what I am NOT is a pawn in the schemes of oligarchies and phony olive-branches.  I am NOT a conciliatory cog in the wheel of financial enterprises that promote profit over a penchant for authentic other-centered love. Give me this love, or give me even a splinter of a wooden raft that’s afloat on this love, and I’m Hunk Finn on the Mississippi. I’m George Washington on the Delaware. I’m even Harriet Tubman on the shores of the Shenandoah. Let me be a naive spy for that Unveiling of this World that only shows up now in Hebraic jots and tittles.

The United States, as far as I can discern, doesn’t fulfill the attributes of the Holy Nation. God doesn’t favor it over and above any other nation…  What God may do, however, is allow individuals to mysteriously contravene the Hegelian Dialectic of World Spirit in places which encourage space and time for this contravention to take place. May it be here.

Or may it be elsewhere.

My hopeful sense is that it will be in a place where the poetry of America The Beautiful will long be bantered about and/or whispered about … in good faith.  Note, if you please, how (in all three versions) the poet prods the present-day patriots to acknowledge flaws, to be refined and, most of all, to need grace:

Original poem (1893)

America. A Poem for July 4.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the enameled plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

Till souls wax fair as earth and air

And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern, impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought

By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale

Of liberating strife,

When once or twice, for man’s avail,

Men lavished precious life!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

Till selfish gain no longer stain,

The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

Till nobler men keep once again Thy whiter jubilee!

1904 version

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassioned stress

A thoroughfare for freedom beat

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for glorious tale

Of liberating strife,

When valiantly for man’s avail

Men lavish precious life.

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,

And ev’ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriotdream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

1913 version

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America!

God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet

Whose stern impassioned stress

A thoroughfare of freedom beat

Across the wilderness!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife.

Who more than self their country loved

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness

And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!

God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

 

Join us at 10 a.m., July 5 at Indaba Coffee for our next Coffee Talk for a discussion on Religion & Patriotism. Kinder-Pyle is a panelist.

Scott Kinder-Pyle

About Scott Kinder-Pyle

Charles Scott Kinder-Pyle goes by Scott, and loiters amid the millennial generations along the Spokane River, where he teaches, as an adjunct professor, in the philosophy departments of Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Recently he’s accepted a part-time position as Coordinator of New Church Plants for the Northwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples)... and now enters the fun-loving fray as Interim Pastor at Origin.
Here’s a little more biographical background on Pastor Scott.
In 1988, he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). His work has taken him through Washington state, to Ohio, Pennsylvania (where he grew up) and back to Washington. For 16 of those years, Scott has enjoyed the creativity and adventure of starting newly forming congregations who reach out to those who feel alienated from the more formal institutions of Christianity.
In 2008, he received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary and penned a dissertation, ‘Pastor as Struggling Poet: Exploring An Alternative Mode of Missional Church Leadership.’
Then, from 2011 through 2013, Scott studied with various poets and eventually received a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry and poetics from Eastern Washington University Center for Writers.
He’s been married to Sheryl, whom he met at Princeton, for nearly 30 years; they have two affectionate children (Ian and Philip), and two wondrous dogs (Pearl and Caesar).

View All Posts

Check Also

‘Running the homeless out of the city is running Jesus out of the city’

I started to think about all those people we had just talked about at Coffee Talk – the people sleeping under downtown bridges or in doorways of businesses closed for the night or in their cars.

4 comments

  1. Well said, Scott. I would have mentioned the evil of American exceptionalism, and how it is sed by people who think they are better than others to silence dischssion, and presented some of the data that show how we are far from being the best, or even adequate. I would have pointed to the well confirmed data that shows an inverse correlation between income disparity and the level of humane welfare of a society. Then I would have called on our need to follow our teachers, like Jesus, and our prophets, like Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah.

  2. So much to say, so much to say! I mean who can’t respond to an article that starts off with: “…wars that rise and fall like erect and flaccid phalluses over the course of recorded history.”???

    Great addition to the upcoming conversation Kyle but man oh man it’s loaded with fruit like a late summer blackberry briar patch from which I pick and pluck and bleed.

    I think in the end, I find myself unable to climb too high on that box of soap because of my need of bathing, I so do require. As Chesterton so eloquently and briefly said, the trouble is I…or Paul, the triple A worthy stone throwing pharisee said: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1).

    I wish I could truly say as you do: “I am NOT is a pawn in the schemes of oligarchies and phony olive-branches.  I am NOT a conciliatory cog in the wheel of financial enterprises that promote profit over a penchant for authentic other-centered love.” But, the deeper I pray, read and work…the more time I realize I need in the confessional.

    I do think my ancestors, some who actually rode over on the Mayflower, did have an “audacity, clarity and yearning” from God that helped form some amazing historical documents that rival anything our more ‘enlightened era” has come near to produce. The minds and hearts that formulated those navigational charts were not perfect, nor are ours, but I am proud to be among the linage of such noble men and women, who in their imperfections pointed to brighter stars.

    • I mean ‘Scott” duh…

      • Scott Kinder-Pyle

        Of course, I take your point… and duh! I’m trying to be contrite and confess my complicity in the matrix of imperialism. However, to see in the original dreams for America anything other than a prolepsis or an anticipation of the Reign of God … is to see Immanuel Kant’s kingdom of ends in which we are reduced to autonomous individuals who make their own disparate decisions without discussion. I hope, believe me, I hope for Discussion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *