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A Song for Lent – Day 11 – Is ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ All About Me?

To Read: Click on song title to watch a video 

Anthem

from Chess

No man, no madness
Though their sad power may prevail
Can possess, conquer, my country’s heart
They rise to fail

She is eternal
Long before nations’ lines were drawn
When no flags flew, when no armies stood
My land was born

And you ask me why I love her
Through wars, death and despair
She is the constant, we who don’t care

And you wonder will I leave her – but how?
I cross over borders but I’m still there now

How can I leave her? Where would I start?
Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart
My land’s only borders lie around my heart

From the Scriptures:

I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, as I carry you captive among the nations, into countries you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you; their kings shall shudder because of you. When I brandish my sword before them, they shall tremble at every moment for their lives, each one of them, on the day of your downfall. 11 For thus says the Lord God: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come against you. 12 I will cause your hordes to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most terrible among the nations. They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt, and all its hordes shall perish.

Ezekiel 32.9-12

 

To Reflect: (Pride)

The reflections this week are about some of the classic ‘deadly sins’ of the faith.

How we can fall into them and, I hope, ways to avoid them.

Pride in your roots and your nation, when done well and in purity, is a wonderful thing to behold. It drives us to be the best we can be for the sake of both our fellow citizens and offers our nation as an beacon of light to the world showing what it means to share a common humanity.

But when our sense of belonging turns to the exclusion and belittlement of others it is invidious, destructive, and has, and may yet do again, led to World Wars.

In the musical Chess, Anatoly Sergievsky defects from his country for the love of Florence and reminds everyone that moving countries doesn’t mean you have left ‘home’.ChessLater he returns to his wife Svetlana (see below) and the meaning of the song changes as Florence sings the reprise.

‘Chess’ was written as a commentary on the Cold War and speaks of the dangers of being ‘too’ proud of our heritage to the exclusion of others. Of course it is not just an unquestioning nationalism that is examined; the USA chess grand master, Freddy Trumper (!), is enthralled by media ratings and the pay he receives from his promoters (One Night in Bangkok).

How do we find a balance between a healthy appreciation and understanding of our roots and reject a slavish pride in our nation that ends up in a high stakes games over who has the biggest button for the initiation of a thermo-nuclear Armageddon?

In my life, I freely admit to being a bit of a mongrel when it comes to nationhood, I have not one but four anthems. I sing each of them – God Save the Queen, Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika, The Star Spangled Banner, and Flower of Scotland – loud, long, flat and each time with tears in my eyes.

This has caused me a few awkward moments, not the least of which being an encounter between 30 men at Murrayfield this Saturday past! However it has also meant #TakingAKnee because #BlackLivesMatter at Wembley and Twickenham when the NFL comes to England and becoming a ‘person of Interest’ of the Bureau for State Security before Apartheid in South Africa was finally condemned to the rubbish tip of history.

When National sympathies mean ‘my country right or wrong’ then pride has taken one step too far and people die. History may well judge #MakeAmericaGreatAgain as the moment not only of a nation’s worst pride, but its greatest hubris because of which the whole world will suffer.

There are, of course, echoes of this unhealthy national pride all across the Northern Hemisphere. Can I whisper the word Brexit?

How do we avoid this? How we have done it in the past, my Country right or wrong, will not work anymore. Do a quick survey of National Anthems and you will discover just how many nations claim that the God who made everyone is their own national treasure; God Bless America, Nkosi Sikelele, Fratelli d’Italia, La Marsellaise, all claim that God is on the side of their nation! Heaven alone knows who God supports during the Olympics…

Occasionally when I am in London for a meeting of, or associated with, General Synod, I like to stand on Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament and try to identify the many languages of the tourists passing by. I know a few European and African languages but always end up being defeated and humbled by the fact that so many people, from so many nations, travel thousands of miles to admire our seat of government.

For people to want to come to your own nation is never an insult, only a compliment. It means that they recognise that the place you call home has got being human right.

Done well, nationalism leads to thankfulness and an open hand.

Done poorly, National Pride ends up warping, poisoning, and destroying the world.

For proof ask those nations who have known the pain of having set the whole world at war.

The last words are perhaps best said by Lady Liberty.

Give me your tired,

your poor,Lady Liberty

Your huddled masses

yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse

of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless,

tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp

beside the golden door!

To Pray:

O God, the giver of life,
we pray for the Church throughout the world:
sanctify its life; renew its worship;
empower its witness; restore its unity.
Remove from your people all pride
and every prejudice that dulls their will for unity.
Strengthen the work of all those who strive to seek
that common obedience that will bind us together.
Heal the divisions which separate your children from one another,
that they may keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Prayer from the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, Switzerland,

 

To Do:

1) Listen to someone else’s National Anthem (Preferably in a language unknown to you) and read the words in your own language as you listen.

2) Be patriotic by supporting your nation’s efforts to aid refugees and offer International Development Aid.

Encore: Click on song title to watch a video

I Know Him So Well is the heart-breaking duet at the end of Chess when Florence lets Anatoly go and ‘gives’ him back to his wife Svetlana. The sub-plots in the story continue behind them and the Musical ends with heartbreak, as does all good opera.

The song reminds us that what is best for us (and those we love) is to sometimes let go of our pride and give in to your heart.

 

Acknowledgements:

Prayers are from ‘Prayers Encircling the World’ and are copyright © SPCK: 1998.

Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

These Reflections, ‘A Song for Lent – 40 Days in the West End’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2018

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