Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:8 (NIV)
Here’s a little trivia for you: The now almost requisite playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events dates to 1918 at the first game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. The series almost didn’t happen that year because so many Americans were across the Atlantic fighting in World War I. Fred Thomas, the Red Sox’ Third Baseman, and furloughed U.S. sailor got up during the seventh inning stretch and sang a moving rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. At that point, it wasn’t even the national anthem (that happened in 1931). It was so moving that it became a seventh-inning-stretch staple. During WWII, technology allowed for the anthem to be played by recording and it was moved from the seventh inning stretch to before the ball game. Other sports followed.
Obviously, the anthem has been a point of tension in recent years. It’s just interesting to me to realize that there were many decades of professional baseball when that the tradition didn’t exist. I find it fascinating how traditions can become so important to us as human beings, whether those traditions are religious, civic, social or familial. Messing with traditions can create major disruption in any human system.
I thought about the national anthem as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 124. The lyrics of this Hebrew pilgrim’s song read like a community anthem reminding the traveler of God’s blessing on their nation and deliverance from many enemies. The lyrics basically read like a national anthem for the Hebrew nation, and thinking of it being a tradition for Hebrew pilgrims to sing it while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem makes me think that it’s not that much different than the Star-Spangled Banner before every ballgame, or singing God Bless America at the ball game on Sunday.
When the songwriter of Psalm 124 penned “the flood would have engulfed us” the imagery was that of a dry river bed that fills up suddenly during seasonal rains and creates devastating flash floods. It’s a metaphor for the warfare and pillaging attacks that happened seasonally, just like the rains.
The song is structured for the first stanza to be sung by an individual leader, describing what would have happened had God not been with them. The second stanza is sung by all the people, praising God for deliverance from their nation’s enemies.
I find myself meditating on traditions in the quiet this morning. Wendy and I even talked about the season of Lent which our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is in the midst of celebrating. Lent is a tradition of followers of Jesus that goes back as early as 325 AD. There is nothing written in the Great Story in regard to it and there’s no requirement to celebrate it in any way. It’s simply a tradition that annually connects followers to Jesus’ story. That’s the way I’ve personally always approached Lent and every human tradition for that matter.
I’ve observed along my life journey that traditions can be a great way to remind a group of human beings about any number of things we find important from gratitude, to sacrifice, to history, and to matters of Spirit. I’ve also observed that when traditions themselves become sacred to the human beings within the system, then the meaning of the tradition can often be lost. The reason behind the tradition sometimes loses focus or potency as the tradition itself becomes the focus of the human system that holds it. I have experienced that the breaking of certain traditions has been a spiritually healthy thing for me personally. I have also found that rediscovering lost traditions, that may have needed to go away for a time, can be equally as healthy to my spiritual journey.
3 thoughts on “Of Traditions”
I put a brief comment about “The Star Spangled Banner” on your daily blog.
I said: “Patriotism aside, TSSB is an awful song.”
Why, you might ask?
Well, I am glad I asked the question.
1. It’s a classic case of plagiarism, as the melody is completely lifted from a British drinking song. Key needs to credit the source. 2. It’s origin is BRITISH!!! The very people we were fighting during the War of 1812. 3. It has one of the lengthiest run-on sentences in all the music I have ever sung. (And I have sung a lot…) The first sentence is comprised of FOUR lines of lyrics. 4. The syntax is really tortured, which makes the lyrics difficult to memorize for MANY Americans. (Honestly, try to speak the sentence aloud at a normal rate without taking a breath!!! And try to track the sense of what the author is saying.) 5. The vocal range is two octaves, making the song almost impossible to sing well by the vast majority of Americans. 6. Some argue—with some measure of legitimacy—that the song is racist. Or at least pro-slavery. Check out the third stanza’s lyrics. These words were penned by Key in direct response to Britain’s offer of freedom to slaves and indentured servants (“hirelings”) who would flee their masters and join the British army in the fight against America. Here’s the passage. Bold emphasis mine:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
7. We have so many other options. In my mind, better options. Better lyrics. Better vocal ranges. With American-penned lyrics and American-composed notes.
Of course, if I were to simply express the opinion that TSSB is an awful song, there’s a good portion of my fellow citizens who would hoist me by my own petard. (“Hoist with his own petard” is a phrase from a speech in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet that has become proverbial. The phrase’s meaning is literally that a bomb-maker is blown up (“hoist” off the ground) by his own bomb (a “petard” is a small explosive device), and indicates an ironic reversal, or poetic justice.)
And those petard hoisters, I would contend, need to do a bit of research. And approach the matter objectively—or, as you point out, without being slavishly (sarcasm intended) devoted to the tradition of singing this awful song at sporting events.
I grant you, I come at this issue with primarily a singer’s perspective. I take that responsibility seriously, so I actually study pieces I am asked to perform.
In today’s America, I suspect most people look at the matter with a cursory glance and do not attempt to dig more deeply. Critical thinking is a dying activity…
P.S. – my last two words about this awful song: 1. Roseanne 2. Barr
Kevin McQuade 641.204.2688 Sent from Mail for Windows 10
Patriotism aside, “The Star Spangled Banner” is an awful song.
National Anthems, in general, are somewhat grandiose. I think a sea shanty or something everyone wants to sing together at the pub would be a good national anthem.