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!