“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Or is it something else?
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a wonderfully catchy tune that many have sung on the Fourth and even in church, because it talks about God’s truth marching forward, right? Just like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” isn’t it?
The writer, Julia Ward Howe, was a Unitarian, poet, and active supporter of abolition, women’s rights, prison reform, and education. Her public support of these issues was opposed by her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, and put a strain on their marriage for years. He wanted her to keep her work domestic. When she published a book of poetry anonymously (but discovered a short time afterward), Samuel felt betrayed.
In November 1861, Samuel and Julia were visiting Union encampments close to Washington, D.C. as part of a presidential commission. Some of the men began singing, and one of their songs was “John Brown’s Body,” a song in praise of the violent abolitionist John Brown.
“John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
But his soul goes marching on.
“He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord,
His soul goes marching on.”
Reverend James Freeman Clarke was touring with the Howes and remarked that while the tune was great, the lyric could be stronger. He suggested Julia write new words to it, and she replied that she had had a similar idea. Continue reading The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Margaret Biser, who has led historical tours at a Southern house and plantation for years. She writes about the questions she received, such as whether the slaves appreciated the good treatment they received or whether being a house slave instead of a field hand was a cushy life.
Why did her guests continue to ask questions ignorant or opposed to the history she presented? Inaccurate education for many. Apathy for some.
“In many other cases, however, justifications of slavery seemed primarily like an attempt by white Americans to avoid feelings of guilt for the past. After all, for many people, beliefs about one’s ancestors reflect one’s beliefs about oneself. We don’t want our ancestors to have done bad things because we don’t want to think of ourselves as being bad people. These slavery apologists were less invested in defending slavery per se than in defending slaveowners, and they weren’t defending slaveowners so much as themselves.”
This is how I understand the KKK began. You could call it a failure of believers to reach poor white members in neighboring small towns with the full gospel, but however you want to think about, people who felt rejected by their community turned their bitterness against blacks, an easy target. And some carry on that legacy today, both directly as members of the Klan and indirectly when they argue that #BlackLivesMatter is not as strong as #AllLivesMatter, missing the point that black lives are the ones still longing for respect.
“Addressing racism,” Biser writes, “isn’t just about correcting erroneous beliefs — it’s about making people see the humanity in others.” But with dehumanization active all around us today, we should wake up to the fact that we won’t learn this lesson without the gospel fully applied. Some of us haven’t learned it even with the gospel.
Nowhere did this spiritualizing of the material become more evident to Flannery O’Connor than in the civic boosterism of the 1950s. An editorial in Henry Luce’s Life magazine angered her because it charged that the nation’s novelists, in their existentialist angst, were failing to celebrate their prosperous and optimistic country. Luce’s editorialists thus summoned American writers to exhibit “the joy of life” and “the redemptive quality of spiritual purpose.” Where was such joyful purpose to be found? For Luce and his barkers, it lay in the nation’s remarkable decade of success: its unprecedented wealth, its world-dominating military power, its virtual achievement of a classless society, at least in comparison with other nations. For Flannery O’Connor, joy and purpose found in such places are gossamer and ephemeral things indeed.
This is not to say that O’Connor was an ingrate concerning her American freedoms. She was critical of her country because she loved it. She regarded the threat of Soviet communism as serious, for instance, even constructing a bomb shelter on her Georgia property. The family of refugees from post-war Poland whom she and her mother welcomed as workers on their dairy farm became the occasion for one of her best stories, “The Displaced Person.” O’Connor also refused, in 1956, to sell her work to Czech and Polish publishers, lest they use it for anti-American propaganda, as they had done with Jack London’s fiction. O’Connor also admired Reinhold Niebuhr for his principled opposition to Stalin’s desire to remake the whole of humanity into homo Sovieticus. For all the limits of American self-congratulation, it was infinitely preferable to the mind-body-soul destroying politics of the Gulag Archipelago.
From Ralph C. Wood’s “Flannery O’Connor: Stamped But Not Cancelled” (via Prufrock)
Thomas J. Craughwell writes, “If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian.”
When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, lobsters were so common all you had to do was stroll down to the nearest tidal pool and pluck them out by the bushel. But the Pilgrims wanted meat, not fish — not even fish as succulent as lobster. Very quickly familiarity bred contempt: The better class of colonists scorned the crustacean as suitable only for the poor. In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of a boatload of new colonists from England. Their arrival was a thrilling event, yet Bradford confessed that he and his fellow Plymouth residents were humiliated that they had nothing better to offer the newcomers than lobster.
Also on The American Spectator, Jay D. Homnick riffs on Georgia’s prayer for rain. “Pray today, give thanks tomorrow. Remember also that prayer is not only a means to an end, as Maimonides explains, it must catalyze each of us into reflecting upon our priorities,” he writes.
“God said, I am tired of kings, / I suffer them no more;” Emerson has an interesting poem here, Boston Hymn.
Gaius writes about the Pilgrims early attempts to live communally. This appears to be within the first seven years of their landing in America. According to what I’m reading, the pilgrims’ voyage was funding by London investors who required they work for them for seven years doing whatever profitable work they could find. At the end of those years, the survivors would receive a small share of the profits, but everything belonged to “the common fund” or that of the investors. Even the clothes they wore were owned technically by the men in London. Perhaps that’s why the colony started with a communal attitude.
Now, a little holiday advice: If you start feeling like this little guy, throw out your inhibitions and do something different. Take that walk. Eat that brussel sprout. Whatever you don’t normally do, do it. (Cute warning alert)
As a precursor to tomorrow’s national holiday, let me repeat the lesser verses of “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates (1859–1929):
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Those stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.