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Why “This Land is Your Land” Should Be Our National Anthem

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The Star-Spangled Banner is a fine song for remembering the war of 1812 and giving some attention to our flag, but it doesn’t really embody the values that have made America great. It’s hard to sing and uses language that most people find obscure. (What are ramparts anyway?)

By contrast Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land is memorable, easy to sing, and easy to understand. It also expresses ideals that have made America a light to the world: inclusiveness, equality, and liberty. Take a look at the lyrics. I’ve left out two controversial verses Guthrie wrote but which are not often performed. To learn more about the song, see the Wikipedia article.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

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How Great is Our God?

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O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.   —Psalm 34:3

The idea of magnifying God always seemed a little odd to me. We don’t typically talk of magnifying except in the sense of making something appear larger or nearer. How can God be made to appear bigger than he is? Is he not infinite? Or how can he be made to appear nearer? Is he not everywhere present? What can it mean to magnify the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God?

Then I recall the language of lovers. Lovers extol what they love. Ask a lover about something he loves—it need not be a person but a hobby or vocation—and prepare to hear his love magnified as if it were the only thing in the universe. For in a sense it is; it fills his own universe. Those who love God cannot help praising him. Everything that happens in their lives will be found to connect in some way to the God they love.

They will speak of the glory of Your kingdom
and will declare Your might,
informing all people of Your mighty acts
and of the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. (Psalm 145:11-12)

But there is more.

We live in a world that belittles God. Our culture for the most part considers God as unimportant and regards people of faith—especially those whose faith impels them to public action—as dangerous lunatics. God is okay as long as he is the private delusion of a few fanatics. He is tolerable as long as he doesn’t matter in any meaningful way to the life and business of the world. Let God have his little corner in religion. Let him make his rules and have his “kingdom,” but let’s not have any nonsense about absolute truth or a universal moral law. Looking at God through the lens of our culture is like peering into the wrong end of a telescope. God seems small and distant, parochial and insignificant. His acts aren’t mighty; they’re puny. He is weak and stupid, perhaps even evil.

Consider what Christians credit God with: he created everything that exists; made a way through the Red Sea so the Israelites passed through on dry ground; he sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s offering; he shut the mouths of lions; he raised Jesus from the dead. But these things are all in the past. What has he done lately? What do we credit him with today? He gave me a parking place near the door so I wouldn’t get rained on; he reduced the severity of the flu I had; he provided a grocery gift card anonymously when I really needed it. While these acts reflect a personal care seldom found in the old stories, they don’t seem to magnify God. They make him out to be a kind of doting nanny, more concerned with our comfort than with our character. Perhaps the culture is only reflecting back the smallness in the testimony about God that Christians have given. Sometimes in our zeal for his omnipotence, we Christians even credit him with evil—at least with what the world regards as evil.

God intends that his children be like him, that they exhibit his character. In doing so, they reflect his good character and bring credit to his name. This is why Jesus told his followers, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The world unacquainted with God knows him by the deeds of his sons and daughters. It is by our good works that we show the world how merciful and loving is our God, how forgiving and patient, how terrifying and awesome. If our deeds are evil, we discredit God. One does not have to look far to see how much discredit Christians have brought to God. In the world we are known for bigotry and intolerance, hatred, ignorance, and ineffectiveness. So let us turn back from condemnation and from evil deeds that discredit God, and let us do good: bring health and healing to those who are sick, bring life and hope to the discouraged and depressed, love and accept the outcasts, set people free from systems that confine them. Let us magnify the Lord and exalt his name together.

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Original Intent

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My Facebook friends will not be surprised that I have been reading The Federalist Papers. I’ve been posting favorite quotes, mostly from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote so many quotable passages. I had never read them before, and I find the experience quite surprising and interesting.

One surprise was to learn that Hamilton opposed keeping a standing army, what today we would call a professional military. He considered it a danger to individual freedom for the government to have professional soldiers at its command. He reasoned that since soldiers are everywhere admired and respected, they would gain increasing influence in politics and eventually carry out a coup, overthrowing the duly elected government. Indeed, we have seen this scenario play out in fledgling democracies across the world. As long as the citizens of a country were armed, there was therefore no need to keep a professional military.

Of course, in Hamilton’s day citizens had access to the same arms as professional soldiers. Despite having guns, many armies still fought at close quarters with swords. Guns had to be reloaded through the muzzle after every shot. Volunteer artillery groups acquired their own cannons. Can you imagine a volunteer group of citizens today purchasing a long-range bomber or a nuclear submarine?

The nature of warfare has changed so much that it is no longer reasonable to expect that a well-armed citizenry could act as a sufficient deterrent against invasion from without or a military coup from within. Modern armies have access to weapons with far greater destructive capability than those available to citizens. The causes which impelled the constitutional framers to insist on limiting the government’s authority to control private ownership of arms no longer exist.

Since the Second Amendment can no longer serve its original intent, it should be repealed by amending the Constitution. However, it would be political suicide for any politician to take up such a position, even if the aim was to place gun ownership on a more sane Constitutional footing.

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