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The Anthem Question

We need to listen to our national anthem when we sing it.

By Guest Editorial  |  September 14, 2021

by Erasmus

How many of us have stopped to think about the fact that when we sing our national anthem, we end the song with a question?

"O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

I may be wrong, but I believe that we are the only country that does that. We don't just sing about our country; we conclude our singing by taking our collective pulse.

And why not? Considering the life cycles of past human governments and the particular fragility of the remarkable experiment we call the United States of America, I think that it is entirely appropriate that we do a periodic check-up every time we gather to sing our anthem. This miracle of a government, chosen by our own people, with built-in guarantees of freedom, which has since been attempted all over the world with varying degrees of success-it has accomplished more good in the world and saved world civilization from falling to tyranny more than any other government the planet has ever seen. And, all of this has transpired in spite of our many sins and shortcomings and failings over the years.

But we are compelled to ask-is it, still, the land of the free? Is it, still, the home of the brave? It seems that we have deemed it worth asking ourselves that question, and often.

The words to this song were written 207 years ago on this day, September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Our country was only thirty-eight years old and its Constitution was but twenty-six, and it was still struggling to stand on its own.

The ones from whom we had declared our independence had come back with a vengeance to strike our fledgling republic a fatal blow. They burned the Capitol, they burned the Treasury, and they burned our President's White House to the ground. All of our people's sacrifices, all of our hopes and dreams-of a better life, a better government, a new way of living in a community of people who could choose their own leaders-all of it was on the line, a hair's breadth from being extinguished. The tree of freedom was in danger of being chopped down before it could ever truly bear fruit.

In the face of this threat, our country's people-some still crippled by the wounds and scars incurred just a few years earlier-once again laid down their lives and fortunes to defend our nation and their loved ones. The men risked their lives in battle after battle, with some struggling to just stay alive in between the battles.

The women sacrificed no less-many risked their lives as well, and they added to their already hard work all the work that had previously been done by the men. In addition to protecting and keeping their families alive and working their farms, they turned their homes into hospitals and refugee camps for the wounded and those displaced and in need.

One particular woman was called upon for special service: Mary Young Pickersgill, a 29-year-old widow. She and six other women- her daughter, three of her nieces, a 13-year-old indentured servant, and her mother-worked 10-hour days for six weeks to make a garrison flag that measured 30 by 42 feet, using 300 yards of wool bunting. They had also made a storm flag that measured 17 by 25 feet, which flew during the battle for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, but it was the huge garrison flag that was raised victoriously in the morning after the battle which gave Francis Scott Key the hope and inspiration to write the song that has since been sung by millions.

Some may question why this song is still so important to so many. I think the answer is that the song inspired by the survival of that flag-our national anthem-is our inheritance, a precious treasure plucked from the fire, our testimony that we also survived, as a free nation, as a free people.

We all know that this was not the last challenge to our survival as a country. We have been challenged over and over again, sometimes by our enemies, sometimes by our own national sins. And yet we still stand.

For now.

We look around and we see that the perils we face today are greater than ever before-from within and without. The very idea of America, the core values that have defined us, these are under attack like never before.

So, perhaps it is time to remember that our national anthem has not one, but four verses.

The first verse, the one with which we are so familiar and the one we sing together, ends in a question, and it asks us if we are still free-and brave (for one cannot be true, for long, without the other).

The second verse expresses our heartfelt desire that we will be able to continue to be free.

The third verse looks at our present state and declares that at least for now, we are still free.

But it is the fourth verse that lays out the conditions for us to continue to be free in the future. It is a verse full of confidence and hope, but it is also a recognition of the only grounds we have for that assurance.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto-'In God is our trust,'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Living in this country is a great privilege. It is not something to be taken for granted

More than anything, it is not to elevated above our God, who has blessed us with this precious privilege. As the James Ward song says, "God knows what nations do. He knows who we pledge allegiance to." He stands above all nations-both as judge and as the source of all goodness and grace and mercy-and His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

If this nation is to survive and continue to be blessed and be a source of light and salt and help and hope to the world, then we must first recognize and praise the power that has made and preserved us as a nation. And then, God must truly be our trust, the One in whom we place all of our faith, as our nation's motto so clearly states.

It is not enough that it is written on our money. It must also be written on our hearts, spoken and believed in our prayers, and lived out in our lives.

So let us thank God for our freedom, and let all who are free stand up for that freedom and not falter. Let us praise the God who made our nation and preserved it. Let all of our causes be just.

And may our trust not be simply in our power or weapons or money or resources or fame, but rather in the God who loves us, who saves us, who gives us true freedom.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

- Psalms 33:12