Firestorm Over Glaring Rockets

If you’re a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, or if you feel your brand of patriotism is the only authorized brand, or if you have close ties to the military, or if you’re otherwise annoyed by people who take unpopular opinions, you might want to skip this section.

What follows is based on Facebook commentary from 2011 on renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner.”  At first, I was just blowing off steam, but the steam blew too high and in too many directions.  It all started with what I thought was an innocent, entertaining Facebook status update, after hearing Demi Lovato sing the national anthem at the World Series:

[Brian Casey] thinks the national anthem is a stupid song and isn’t sure why he gets upset when would-be singers butcher it at the World Series.

This slam was primarily against the performance by this then-to-me-unknown “artist.”  In mentioning the sideline issue of my feeling about the song as a piece of musical literature—admittedly brashly, carelessly put—I touched off a near-firestorm of response from people I know, or sort of know, or used to know.  Most kind of agreed, or at least knew where I was coming from.  Note the following responses from three different people:

“It’s the American Idol mentality.  They have to make the song their own.  NOPE!!  Just sing it.”

“Well, she did butcher it!!!”

“Stupid a cappella!”

I did also got a few “Like” clicks, as well.  But a few were upset, and this hostile quip actually came someone I had considered a friend:

You think our National Anthem is a stupid song? Sometimes you are an idiot, really.

My reply:

Gee.  You must be having a day—sorry to have ticked you off, but yeah, I do think it’s a stupid song.  It senselessly glorifies war and is vocally untenable; my opinion is that “America, the Beautiful” would have made a better national anthem.

That reply was a tactical mistake and led to diversion into commentary on musical aspects of the Banner.  To back up a step … my intent in the first rebuttal had been to give two reasons why I think it’s a bad national anthem:  1) it’s hard for most people to sing, and 2) it “senselessly glorifies war.”  Here’s my FB friend’s reply to that:

Go to your nearest Veterans Hospital the next time they have a music presentation, request the National Anthem be sung.  Then when finished stand up and say it’s a stupid song because it glorifies war and then see what happens to you.  You’ll see how America feels about it I’m sure…

So I’ll find out how “America” feels?  Really?  Here’s my next reply, after expressing regret that all this was rather public on Facebook:

What veterans in a veterans’ hospital might think of my statement or the national anthem is merely their opinion (not America’s as a whole).  Mine, too, was merely an opinion.  I don’t have to like the song, and you don’t have to like the fact that I don’t like it.  But neither do you have the right to call a brother an idiot.

My reply amounted to a rebuke, and its bold statement stems from my belief that Christian relationship transcends all others.  In other words, no matter what the friend thought of my opinion, and no matter how wrong I might have been, he was in the wrong for calling me an idiot.  This relates to my view on Christians and government, Christians and military, Christians and sports, Christians and entertainment, Christians and work … Christians and just about anything:  essentially, in whatever sphere you’re thinking and operating, the Christian element or aspect must supersede all others.  If a (perceived) conflict arises between philosophies, it’s no trouble for me to ditch the other one in favor of what I see as the Christian one.  This is not to say that I enact these priorities perfectly.  Far from it.  But my human inability to be consistent does not change the reality.  On some level, no matter how much one might disagree with my particulars, any Christian worth his salt will have to agree here.

Aside, but obviously related, if you think about it:  are you aware that there are believers out there who question the Lutheran notion of sola scriptura (only scripture)?  For centuries the Roman Catholic institution asserted its traditions and practices as superior to the Bible.  Some examples:  prayer to “saints” and to Mary, the immaculate conception (which refers to the supposed sinlessness of Mary herself), indulgences, the authority of popes, and infant baptism.  If one finds human tradition to be on equal footing with scripture, lots of problems come into play; it’s a whole different ballgame!

Again, from a FB post of mine:

I choose non-military and non-politically-involved ways to be a decent citizen and even to love our country and believe I have every logical and biblical right to do so.  It wasn’t my intent to get into the nexus of war and Christianity on Facebook, but I guess I could! … Let’s put this junk aside, OK?

My interlocutor:

Ok but ALOT of people have died and maimed for their country and this song is a rally point for them….  Peace brother!

Me:

Thanks for the peace wish.  I feel a little better.  I would ask you now simply to remember that my comment was about the song and the immature … okay, disrespectful performance of it.  Although I do not value military service or sacrifice for country since those are not values I find in scripture, no disrespect for those who lost life was ever intended.  Any anthem can, and probably will, become a rallying point, as you say, but that says more about the rallyers and their desire to rally than about the content of the song.  I maintain that it was a bad idea to make that song the national anthem!

The expression “rally point” set me off a bit, logically.  It’s not as though the fact—and I do, by the way, take military veterans’ identifying in solidarity with the national anthem as a fact—has anything to do with whether or not military service is inherently justifiable, or whether such activity is approved for the Christian.  How military veterans feel is simply how they feel, and how I feel is how I feel.  The  existence of differing feelings doesn’t make some of them correct and the others incorrect.  My summary would be this:  whatever “rallying” occurs in the hearts of military veterans gives a nod to human bandwagon mentality, i.e., to the group of rallyers who wanted to rally, and to their affiliative feelings in said rallies, and to their philosophies and values–rather than to the relative logic or illogic of military service.

Now, by way of contrasting the 1st stanza and this one:  I find the performance butchery of our national anthem annoying, but I find the “butcher-y” thoughts of the third stanza (previously essentially unknown to me) of the song absolutely grotesque and repulsive:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.

Allow me to paraphrase and perhaps to sermonize:  The whole third stanza says “You Brits got what was coming to you, and your blood washed your filthy footsteps since we beat you.”  How can one praise God, as in the next words of the song, for His supposedly deciding to raise a human nation up above another human nation through war over a supposedly just cause (a thought from the fourth stanza … and we must ask, just in whose eyes?).   “Conquer we must” (also from the fourth stanza)?  How far away from “Manifest Destiny” (and massacres and genocides in our land and others across the globe) is that?

Now, to soften things just a tad … I did backpedal a bit w/regard to the first, familiar stanza, while continuing to flow, not so sanguinely, in my general vein (artery?):

To call attention to watching over ramparts (whatever they are) to see gallantly streaming colors, I suppose, is fine.  And there’s probably more to the general solidarity—suggested by the perennial, steady waving of the flag—than I have realized.  I have never been inspired by the suggestion that glaring, red rockets and bombs are the events that define my country, and those lines distract me from what I now see is more the point of the first stanza—the query as to whether the flag is *still* waving over our land.  The “flag was still there” line is pretty unifying, but I wonder whether most people can even hear that line apart from the preceding warlike imagery, which is especially divisive in the current era.  Another Facebook person:

Move to North Korea for a while….  maybe when you get back, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of what YOUR soldiers in YOUR country have done for YOU……

My reply:

I don’t want to move to North Korea, or Libya, or Croatia, so I won’t.  I might like New Zealand or Switzerland or something else (having had the blessing of traveling abroad just a bit does expand one’s horizons, just as it makes one appreciate this country), but staying in the U.S.  is OK by me.  It’s a messed-up country, but it’s my country, and most of what it offers is better than what I know about most other countries.

As I said earlier, I choose other ways to be a good citizen … but will never, as God gives me breath, pledge allegiance to a country over allegiance to God.  Those with personal ties to the military will naturally have heartstrings that get tugged by positive, or negative, thoughts and suggestions about the military.  Others without such ties may be influenced to have similar feelings.  From a secular perspective, this is all fine and good.  But these are preferences and choices and opinions, not absolutes.  Everyone has a right to an opinion, for now, and all of our opinions will ultimately be enlightened, in the next life.

I concluded by pointing out different ways I choose to love my country—including two American concert themes that fall, and appreciating travel experiences and sights in 48 states.

It’s not only the national anthem that deserves censure.  The much-loved “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” whose very title ought to give one pause, is by far more outrageous than the National Anthem.[1]

The intensity of my criticism of these songs pales in the light of the face of God, to be seen after this world’s beauties and its terrors pass away.  God’s will and His desires must continue to be the driving force for every believer.  Our responsibility is to be faithful to Him and His Kingship, as we have light and grace.


[1] One incisive analysis of the “Battle Hymn” may be found here:  http://thejesusquestion.org/2012/07/09/the-battle-hymn-of-the-republic-its-origin-and-meaning/.

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