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Vertrees: Patriotism, religion should bind us, not divide us

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: September 19, 2013 9:51AM



We who are lucky to be born in the land of the free seem to be heck-bent on turning inspiring rituals into bits of rote that neither lift our minds or gladden our hearts. Like our national anthem and public prayers.

We seem to like conspicuous consumption, a phrase created by a guy smarter than anybody in Elnora, Hobart, or even Yogi Berra.

The great national anthem has become part of our pre-ballgame entertainment. When I take a peek on television, my aging eyes tell me that many of the fans want to hear “Play Ball.” Let the game begin. Once I saw a fellow trying to hold his hat and manage a drippy hamburger, trying to look patriotic while the singer wrestles with the song.

There is suspense, wondering what note-games the big-name singer will play with the tune — you know, vocal virtuosity. The real, stirring fun, though, is waiting to see if the singer can hit that high note without sounding flat. It reminds us that Francis Scott Key had a sense of humor along with his patriotism and musical talent. That high note is a test.

I think that even a song with such power means more when we hear it less often and in certain contexts. Maybe I am, besides being old, a bit cranky, but reducing this song to the rote level is a shame. Yes, I can hit the high note if the weather is just right.

The fuss over prayers at government functions is not inspiring. It will go on, sadly, until our world ends or the Cubs win something big, whichever comes first. Maybe longer.

A flood of legalism and gusts of pure hot air are cluttering our thinking about this issue, and most of it misses the point. Do we really want people in judicial robes to decide if it is OK to offer prayers before meetings? What kind of prayer?

What does freedom of religion mean? Do we all have it or just, well you know, US?

Indiana and almost half of the states are asking the high court folks to allow prayer that endorses a specific religion. Whose? I am not good at theology and I have more questions than answers, but I swear (well, affirm sounds better) that I read in the Great Book that if we pray in solitude, in silence, we will be heard. This ongoing controversy is good for the legal folks, but I think it blurs the quest for an easy-to-understand meaning of religious freedom.

This great debate is a puzzlement. What are we trying to prove? We who are Christians should remember the lovely line in a hymn that says “And they will know we are Christians by our love.” Historically, Christians have not shown unconditional love to “the others” and we yearn to be heard above those others.

Maybe I ponder these big thoughts too much. Maybe my understanding does not stretch far enough to grasp it all. But gee whiz, I am awfully old and still looking for answers.

But this much I know: Patriotism and religion should bind us, not divide us, or become just rote instead of stirring, happy or solemn rituals.

That is a high note we all can hit if we lift our voices in unison.



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