Swelling with Pride

Patriotic Flowers Garden flag from Flymeflag.com, Green Bay, WI

In July my ward swells to double its size. The church building is situated near the entrance to the Uintah National Forest in Utah which is a mecca for 4th of July and Pioneer Day campers, vacationers and reunion groups. The deacons have the distribution of the sacrament down to a science. On those “standing room only” days there is always enough bread, and the boys carry two trays of water each. They move through the throngs with grace and reverence. I think it’s a combo of years of practice and some “loaves and fishes” mojo thrown in.

July also brings a proliferation of patriotic songs to our meetings. I love “America the Beautiful” written by (a Wellesley College professor and sister alum) Katharine Lee Bates, after a train ride across America and a trip up to Pike’s Peak in Colorado in 1893.

Another favorite, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” was written in 1831 – in thirty minutes! – by Samuel Francis Smith, a student at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Its first performance was for a children’s 4th of July celebration at Park Street Church in Boston. It was published in 1832 and became enormously popular, inspiring verses for various causes including these by A.G. Duncan in 1843 for the Abolitionist Movement:

Let wailing swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees the black man’s wrong;
Let every tongue awake;
Let bond and free partake;
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

Trump of glad jubilee!
Echo o’er land and sea freedom for all.
Let the glad tidings fly,
And every tribe reply,
“Glory to God on high,” at Slavery’s fall.

Then, of course, there’s “The Star Spangled Banner” with its soaring notes, rousing sentiments, and the expectation based on United States Code, 36 U.S.C. § 301  that all present will stand, face the flag and put their hand over their hearts. Does this apply to citizens of other countries? And can British members substitute the words for “God Save the Queen” when the melody of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” fills the air?

In my own heart of hearts, I’m uncomfortable singing or standing in Sacrament Meeting for any patriotic song if it isn’t addressed to or primarily about God. (I’ll sing the verses that are.) I’m happy to belt these songs out with gusto in any other meeting (or at ball games), but for me this particular “keeping mum-ness” is a reminder of Whose meeting it is, and that that devotion needs to be deeper than my civic, cultural or national pride.

It’s my own private foreswearing (well, as private as sitting while everyone around me is standing) toward a good end, kind of like the no coffee thing. Some of you may have experienced funny looks for eschewing coffee in the larger world. I sometimes get the stink eye from brother and sister saints who assume I’m a lousy citizen or a rocker-of-the-boat. Now that I’m getting some years on me, maybe they think I’ve just got arthritis in my knees.

I quite like the song by Ida Romney Alldredge called “They, the Builders of the Nation.” In my area during the summer descendants of pioneers surround me. (Actually, I’m married to one – a distant cousin of Sister Alldredge as it turns out – so no matter where I am, I can hug a child of the Utah Pioneers.) It highlights the sacrifices of those “blessed, honored pioneers” who settled the West and sank deep Gospel roots in the Rockies.

Having lived in Chicago and Boston for most of my life, when I hear the word “pioneer” I think of those folks who are the first members of the church in their families who also make sacrifices for building up the Kingdom of God on earth. These are sacrifices like foregoing tradition, promising to live chaste lives or paying tithing when they earn next to nothing (or they earn a lot and their colleagues think they’re nuts), not joining a gang or standing as witnesses to God in countries where that could cost them not just their social standing but in some cases their lives. Utah has no monopoly on pioneers.

July is a month of celebration and contemplation on the meaning of sacrifice, devotion, pioneering and freedom. It makes me want to stand up and sing!

About Linda

(Prose Board) splits her time between the mountains of Utah and the prairies of Illinois, generally confounding the postal service. She compiles inspiring collections of LDS women talking about topics dear to (or prickly in) LDS women's hearts (visiting teaching, Relief Society, motherhood, etc.) through Cedar Fort Publishing. Her latest is "Muffins & Miracles: Church Service in the Real World." She also writes for children ("Come with Me on Halloween"), illustrates, writes poetry, plays with fabric and can be bribed with dark chocolate.

13 thoughts on “Swelling with Pride

  1. I can relate — to a degree. I am one of the organists in my ward, and we purposely didn’t sing the national anthem in church last week or the week before, but it was because it wasn’t the actual 4th of July, and to use church time to sing that song unless it was the actual day seemed weird to me. However, we DID sing “America the Beautiful” last week. I LOVE the idea of imploring God, as a congregation, to help us preserve the hard-fought freedom and beauty of our country, while at the same time acknowledging His hand in those freedoms. It’s such a major theme of the Book of Mormon — the Promised Land and how to preserve it… We also sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which isn’t actually a patriotic song, although we associate it as such.

    Generally, the only hymn we stand to sing in our ward is the national anthem — with the occasional impromptu standing hymn because people need to stretch and wake up. :o)

    But I DO love me some patriotic songs!

  2. Awesome post. As a Canadian, I have sometimes felt like the hymnbook was overly American-centric. There were pioneers in Canada too, but we don’t tend to make as big a deal out of them. Based on your beautiful post, maybe we should!

    Just one “noticing” about one of your questions, though — your phrase “can British members substitute the words for “God Save the Queen” when the melody of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” fills the air?” is deliciously ironic to me… in fact, it is Americans who sing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” to the tune of “God Save The King”, as the British song is the original (first published in 1774, although there are clues the melody is even older; while the American song was not written until 1831). :)

  3. i am the ward music coordinator and just went through this whole process. i wanted to take advantage of the two sundays that straddled the fourth by singing patriotic hymns on both sundays, but also wanted to steer clear of the national anthem. i felt a little bad, because i know that some people really like to sing it at this time of year, but i hate the whole awkwardness of standing and it feels so hit-you-over-the-head nationalistic. so, i went with america the beautiful, my country ’tis of thee, battle hymn of the republic, and god of our fathers, whose almighty hand. some are more america-centric than others and some aren’t obviously patriotic, but all talk about freedoms and relying on god for protection and direction in those freedoms.

    on a slightly related note, i feel kind of bad when i’m choosing hymns and refuse to pick ones that are clearly on topic, but i just really don’t like. our ward will never sing the sunshine hymns while i’m at the helm (absent a STRONG spiritual prompting to the contrary) and there are a few other popular hymns that i just can’t bring myself to do. is that really selfish of me?

  4. I wonder if some of the Utah/Idaho general bias about converts would be alleviated if the word “pioneer” was used in place of the word “convert”?
    Just wondering.

  5. I was in Alberta on Canada Day this year, visiting my husband’s family. We stood and sang “Oh Canada” (which the YW had pasted into every hymn book in the stake). Even though I am not Canadian, I sang this beautiful anthem with pride, knowing that my children are half-Canadian. (And I even know the first verse by heart!) My Danish hymn book has songs special to the Danes– both Christmas and national. I love to sing those as well…

  6. relax a little. Not a statement of standards and policy. Yes, I have songs I don’t care for either and may even quietly sing (including that sunshine thing) but to call attention to myself by sitting while everyone else stands? as was said lets remember the purpose of sacrament meeting. Pride is the word that comes to mind and not in a good way.

  7. I love New England family history research, the rest not as much, but I’m the Ward consultant so I teach whatever ward members need. We all have favorite hymns but only one person gets to choose them so I’d hope that person would choose for all, not just their own likes. I’d also assume that any song in the hymnal is approved for use in any meeting unless otherwise stated, and the Articles of Faith confirm our loyalty to our countries and their laws. I like to stand for the national anthem in Sacrament Meeting even though I have MS and it can be hard to do. We, nor the world, would have our church if it were not for the conditions that allowed the church to be restored and maintained here. Others nations have the same choices to sing or not to sing related songs and a I hope they do sing them showing their appreciation for that which has been given them.

  8. Perfectly said, Marlene. Thank you. 100# agree.
    I was in Canada on Canada Day a couple of years ago when the Canadian national anthem was played. Not one person in the audience had their hand over their heart. Is that uniquely American? It’s something I love to see and do.

  9. I can’t stand “If I Could Hie To Kolob” and I wish they’d play “In Our Lovely Deseret” more often.

  10. Music is such a subjective thing. I love our National Anthem and haven’t heard it sung in our Sacrament meeting in years. I got to pick the music out the Sunday before the 4th. I picked out all patriotic songs and chose “The Star Spangled Banner” as the intermediate song. There were people who cried when that song was sung and it touched many people. I was very glad our ward sang it.

  11. I LOVE the patriotic songs. I am not fond of the direction our country seems to be heading right now but I feel so grateful for the founding of it, that it was a place we could get the gospel restored and the church grown in preparation for the 2nd coming of Christ. I don’t have any problem standing when we sing these songs as a reminder of the great freedoms and blessings God has bestowed upon us. I used to gloss over the Fourth of July–probably b/c it is at the beginning of the month and I never thought about decorating our house until the end of June and by then it seemed sort of silly to drag everything out for just a couple of days, but the past few years have been different. I have made a point of decorating early in June and I even bought a red, white and blue quilt for my bed. I LOVE the daily reminder it all gives me. Another thing we do is watched “A More Perfect Union” (about the crafting of the Constitution) every July. It all makes me feel so grateful!

  12. The Swedish LDS hymnal includes several specific Swedish songs sung only during the summer. These songs talk about the beauty of the earth during summer, especially meaningful coming from a people who endure long, cold, dark winters and only get to enjoy summer for a few short months.

    Anyhow, it is possible that other LDS hymnals in other languages contain country specific songs.

Comments are closed.