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Patriotic Songs - Monday Musing, July 6, 2020

Dear Church,


Patriotic Songs. It is hard not to think about patriotic songs following the fourth of July holiday weekend. Although our celebrations may have been a little bit different this year, fireworks and patriotic pride are the hallmarks of the holiday.


There are many inspirational songs that make us stand a bit taller and warm our hearts with patriotic pride. Such as The Star-Spangled Banner, This Land Is Your Land, America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and God Bless the U.S.A. to name a few. Did you hear (or sing) your favorite patriotic song this weekend?

Our hearts may swell when we hear a favorite tune, but have we considered the impact others feel when they hear lyrics that: glorifies war, boasts a land that has been taken from indigenous people, praises success when financial opportunities are not available to everyone, and elevates a way of life that is not obtainable because of institutional racism? Is it patriotic to overlook how others are oppressed in our country? Shouldn’t the best patriotic song do more than be inspirational, shouldn’t it be aspirational as well?


An inspirational and aspirational song that comes to my mind is Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, which is not so much a song as a hymn – a call to action that honors African Americans’ long, painful struggle for freedom and affirms their rightful place in our national identity. The song was written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson, who had been tasked with delivering an address to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday the following year. He began prepping for it, but as he writes in his autobiography, “I wanted something else also.” He took his words to his younger brother, a classically trained composer named J. Rosamond Johnson, and Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing was born.


Out of the pain of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and others, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing is an inspirational and aspirational call to patriotism, calling on us all to disrupt a system that is killing people, smothering communities, and disregarding basic needs in a global pandemic. Through our tears, no more should we be silent, demanding that generations of injustice cease NOW.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing

’Til earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the list’ning skies

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

Let us march on ’til victory is won


Stony the road we trod

Bitter the chastening rod

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died

Yet with a steady beat

Have not our weary feet