J. D. Pendry
Out here in Wild Wonderful, we’re proud of our status of having our country’s highest number per-capita of veterans and service members. It adds a little more meaning to celebrations such as Independence Day when so many have actively participated in preserving the founding ideals of our country. If you want to rile up a West Virginian, you can usually do it by berating our flag, our country or our military personnel. The deeper you get into the countryside where the hills grow steeper, the valleys deeper and where most work back-breaking jobs as coal miners, that sentiment grows stronger. I always found it odd frankly, that those who have it the toughest are the first to step up when our country calls.
Other things tend to rile simple folks, such as the well talked about decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag as unconstitutional because it states “One nation under God.” It causes us to ponder such things as, “Is San Francisco really in the United States?”
I don’t know how familiar ya’ll are with Baptist preachers, but candor is not a lost value for them. Especially not for my preacher. We had quite a patriotic service today. Such as I have come to expect since coming home to Wild Wonderful. We sang America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and had some thoughts about what the founding fathers really had in mind when they wrote freedom of religion into the First Amendment of the constitution. Pastor Joel laid some solid Baptist logic on us today, and I’ve been trying to digest it since. Pastor Joel is not a pulpit thumping, fire and brimstone tossing kind of preacher. He’s learned, and he doesn’t just doesn’t spout rhetoric and expect you to accept it without question. Instead, he gives you a thought and then travels with you down several paths of discussion that causes you to take a little introspective look at yourself then hopefully select the right one on which to travel. He would’ve been a good Drill Sergeant.
Pastor Joel pointed out a couple of things today. His sermon was titled “One Nation Under God?” – note the question mark. The first thing he asked us to consider was the freedom of religion that’s provided for in our constitution. He asked us to think about how it came to be there. The founding fathers of our country, if you recall grammar school history, wanted freedom to worship as they saw fit and not have their religion dictated to them, example “The Church of England”. Now, is it unreasonable then to conclude that the freedom of religion provided for in our constitution is there to protect the church from the state and not the other way around? Do you think that maybe somewhere along the line we got that backwards? Gives you something to ponder doesn’t it? For example, the murderers who attacked the World Trade Center did it in the name of a religion. Now I’m going to type this very slowly so that you can absorb it. A STATE sponsored religion, in other words, the religion dictated by the state, which allowed them no other religion choice. When you look at it that way, it’s easier to accept the preacher’s reasoning.
We had graduation at Saint Albans High School recently, as tends to happen in high schools this time of year. There was an issue about saying a prayer at graduation. In the past, if it was a student lead prayer and the senior class voted to include it in their graduation then it was OK. Well, this year a student – a self-proclaimed atheist – filed suit to have the prayer stopped. Enter the ACLU, and a ruling from a local judge that the prayer could not take place. Some folks were riled about it – many were actually. During the graduation, an announcement was made at the point where the already printed program called for the prayer informing the students and the audience of the court order saying there could be no prayer. Did you know that the Supreme Court starts its session with the statement “God Save This Court?” - just a little trivia for you. In response to the announcement, more than half the graduating class quietly stood and recited The Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t school sanctioned or led so it didn’t violate anyone’s interpretation of the law. It was kind of an in your face prayer – neat. The atheist student, by the way, did not attend the graduation ceremony.
OK, back to the preacher’s message. He talked about how the country seemed outraged at the court’s decision and then he restated his question, Are we “One Nation Under God?” It was his way of asking us if we were walking the talk. We proclaim that we are, but does our actions support our proclamation. Our actions as individuals and as a nation?
Not too far from here, is the town of Jefferson. It’s about a one-mile strip of US route 60 and its industry is porno shops and strip clubs. Not that I’ve ever visited such a place – well maybe a few times when I was a directionless young man. When the preacher asked us that question, the thought that popped into my mind was that you could walk into any one of those joints in Jefferson, and the first drunk you encountered would want to fight with you if you advocated removing “Under God” from the pledge. He’d probably fight harder if you suggested a little life style change for him. Therein lies the preacher’s point. Just because we state that we are, does it make it so? And that applies to much more than one statement. As I said earlier, candor is not a lost value for Baptist preachers. The finger in the chest is usually not very subtle – kind of like how a good NCO delivers an on-the-spot critique.
As we approach the day that celebrates the freest country ever known to mankind, let’s look at ourselves. Are we walking the talk? Does the level of commitment to our country and its ideals end with the little flags flying from our car’s antennas? Does the day just represent another opportunity to party and have a sale at the department store? When you’re watching the fireworks, contemplate these words, “bombs bursting in air—rocket’s red glare.” We did not come by our country easily and keeping our cherished way of life is becoming more difficult. We’re obligated to defend it and the ideals that have made it, without challenge, the greatest country ever. We’re also obligated to live up to our proclamations because if we don’t, as the preacher implied, are arguments for keeping them are weak.
Happy Independence Day everyone!