July 5, 2009

The Alabaster City

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd 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 heroes prov'd
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 ev'ry gain divine.
[original lines: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,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

(America The Beautiful, 1893, Katherine Lee Bates)


When I saw the complete lyrics of the this old American song above, the 2nd-4th verses, it was actually a revelation.

So many of our political issues and cultural issues lately seem to pit two sides against one another, where

the side calling itself "patriotic" works directly against much of what makes us American -- The Bill of Rights.


the side calling itself "Christian" works directly against and in contradiction to the teachings of Christ.

Perhaps those who find themselves in such political debates should stop sparring.

Instead, I suggest we simply quote the Bill of Rights in full sentences at times. For instance, in a debate on "gun control," it's helpful to quote the full text of the 2nd amendment.

You might say, "But what does 'well-regulated' mean in the 2nd Amendment where it says: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed'?"

Even more radical, of course, would be to quote Christ himself when in a debate or discussion with people who speak of "Christian" values but are too often arguing against the teachings of Christ. We cannot afford as a nation to allow such noble and necessary ideals as those of Christ to be repainted into cover for a political philosophy which contradicts the teachings of Christ, even if this misdirection has been perpetrated for a decade or two.

I suggest that those who are peace advocates study some of the most powerful roots of their beliefs -- the teachings of Christ.

"But I -- I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you." (Matthew)

In a debate with the militarists who now dominate America, one might ask simple questions like:
"How would Jesus have us respond to the 9/11 attack?"

It isn't necessary to appear to win the argument at that moment. There are bigger issues at play. You don't need to "win" an argument instantly, nor even refute an obvious, convoluted rationale. Truth has a way of making it's own progress. When Reagan went to Berlin in 1987 and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," the truth behind what Reagan was saying did *not* result in the wall coming down quickly. A year later, the wall still stood. But....the ground it stood on was changing. Reagan's words may have only added increased awareness. But of many pieces are such great movements composed.

It's surprising and uplifting to actually read the words that established America. Even more so for the words that established Christianity.

The best cure for many of the modern ills of America, is...America itself.


  1. Could not agree more. Nobody annoys me more than the soi-disant Christians who then go on to quote the Old Testament at length. If Jesus were among us today, he'd be in jail. He might even be in Gitmo.

    Having sung this song in concert several times (as a chorus member), I'm particularly fond of the "pilgrim feet" verse. "God mend thine every flaw" is SOOO Calvinist! And so true, sigh. "Confirm they soul in self-control / Thy liberty in law." Everyone should be required to memorize all the verses; right now only singers do...

  2. Let's try this again - the last time, Blogger dumped my comment.

    I wholly agree with you. Nothing annoys me more than self-professed "Christians" who go on and on about the Old Testament prohibitions. Jesus, after all, suggested that the one without sin should cast the first stone. In fact, if Jesus were among us today, he'd probably be in jail - or in Gitmo. Clearly a suspicious character.

  3. Now, the song. Yes, the later verses are much superior to the first verse, the only one that everybody knows. I know some of the later verses because I've sung them in concert with my community chorus. I particularly like the "pilgrim feet" verse, the last 3 lines are quintessentially New England Calvinist! It's too bad that nobody but singers ever learns them; everybody should memorize the whole thing.

  4. "if Jesus were among us today, he'd probably be in jail - or in Gitmo. Clearly a suspicious character."


    Yes, the 2-4 verses moved me. Imagine a patriot laying down his life for that Alabaster City.