Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Have a Dream, 50th Anniversary

August 28, 2013 is the fifty-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Junior’s seminal 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream.”

Below I offer brief commentary on a few paragraphs from the front half of the speech with the corresponding paragraphs of the back half. This arrangement also highlights what I believe to be the center section(s) where often the most poignant imagery of Christ obtains.

So, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary and to remind us all of the best of what American can and should be, I offer this suggested outline and related commentary, with a link to the entire speech.

I Have a Dream
Delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963

Suggested outline, summary

A — The Greatest Demonstration for Freedom
 B — The Emancipation Proclamation

  C — An Exile in His Own Land
   D — Honoring This Sacred Obligation

    E — Stand on the Warm Threshold which leads into the Palace of Justice
     F — Our Struggle on the High Plane of Dignity and Discipline
    E’ — Justice Rolls Down like Waters and Righteousness like a Mighty Stream
     F’ — Veterans of Creative Suffering. … Unearned Suffering is Redemptive

  C’ — Let Us not Wallow in the Valley of Despair
   D’ — I Have a Dream

 B’ — We Will Be Free One Day
A’ — Let Freedom Ring

Below I compare, for example, the frontside A with the backside A’. Much more could be said about each paragraph, each sentence, each phrase which Reverend King so beautifully and effectively spoke that warm Summer day fifty years ago.

Beginning and ending A Structures 
A — The Greatest Demonstration for Freedom
A’ — Let Freedom Ring

Notice he begins this seminal speech [A] by introducing the event as the “greatest demonstration for freedom” while he ends the speech [A’] with the clarion call to “let freedom ring” citing the words of the most beautiful and poignant Negro Spiritual. (One of the most beautiful examples of a concluding A’ structure, Salvation Song, we have run across.)

Beginning and ending B Structures 
B — The Emancipation Proclamation
B’ — We Will Be Free One Day

He then moves into [B] the thrust of the promise of what he and the throngs were there that day to secure, a renewal and fresh start of a modern day ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ -- where he speaks of it being a “light of hope.” The fulfillment of the promise of true freedom is mirrored in his words near the end of the speech [B’], that with this “stone of hope” they know “that we will be free one day.”

Beginning and ending C Structures 
C — An Exile in His Own Land
C’ — Let Us not Wallow in the Valley of Despair

He next describes the problems of living in a world [C], where “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” create “a lonely island of poverty” and the Negro is still “languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” King returns to this general theme near the end of the speech [C’] where he tells the gathered crowd to go back to “the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” It can be overcome. He then challenges, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair” (even though there be segregation, discrimination, poverty, and exile).

Beginning and ending D Structures 
D — Honoring This Sacred Obligation
D’ — I Have a Dream

Next he describes [D] the “promissory note” which “the architects of our republic wrote [in] the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He declares that “we’ve come to cash this check – a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” He returns to this [D’] when he beautifully and memorably describes his Dream, “rooted in the American Dream.” That “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-¬evident: that all men are created equal.’” That, this land “will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Beginning and ending E Structures 
E — Stand on the Warm Threshold which leads into the Palace of Justice
E’ — Justice Rolls Down like Waters and Righteousness like a Mighty Stream

Then, he gets into what is perhaps the most challenging and poignant section of this speech [the center E and F sections], where such a chiastic organization in the scriptures usually bespeaks of how we are to emulate our Savior Jesus Christ (especially as he was our Exemplar as the Suffering Servant). In our studies we have found that the front E structure often has verbiage where paths or passages or some boundary is crossed to get from the E to the center F structure.

Here [E] King speaks of “the sunlit path of racial justice.” And that his people “stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice.” (For those of you who have been in the Temple, this is where we might think of the imagery of coming into the presence of the Lord through the veil.) This is the “hallowed spot” (King’s words) where followers of Christ encounter or begin to see how Christ’s suffering was for them. Following this, King warns [E’] that “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Beginning and ending F Structures 
F — Our Struggle on the High Plane of Dignity and Discipline
F’ — Veterans of Creative Suffering. … Unearned Suffering is Redemptive

At the very center of the speech [F], he pointedly challenges those gathered – and indeed all of us – to follow Jesus as, and whenever, we ourselves suffer (for whatever reason). “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” In the most heart-felt, loving fashion, King challenges us all [F’] to be “veterans of creative suffering.” And to, “Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

(This, in my opinion, is one of the keenest insights into the general state of the world where inequities too often abound. Not just here in America, where we have had to overcome racial inequities and discrimination, but across the world, where injustice of all kinds continues to exist. King challenges those who suffer to do so creatively and knowing that it is redemptive. Much more could be said about the trials and tribulations found in this world. Of course, King’s Dream is that all of this trouble will be made right and whole. We can extend this not only to America, but to the whole world.)

The other major theme common to a center F structure is the coming together of two things, two people, two principles, etc. This is where supposed ‘separateness’ is revealed to truly be, in fact, ‘connected.’ Where two is, in fact, one; where disconnected or disparate feelings, conditions, situations, or relationships are made ‘whole.’ King most insightfully says, “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

When we all become aware -- deep within -- that we all are, indeed, brothers and sisters of a loving Heavenly Father, Martin Luther King, Junior’s Dream will come to pass for everyone, everywhere. This is – should be -- our shared dream.


See full text at:

*Note: My good friend Jared Demke (1957-2006) and I worked on many such parallel and/or chiastic outlines over the years, several of which are presented on the website above.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Heart of The Book of Mormon

Scott Vanatter, July 21, 2013


Picture with me, in your mind’s eye, that you are present at the crowning event -- the heart -- of The Book of Mormon. The Lord Jesus Christ descends out of heaven and stands before you -- in all his majesty, grandeur, and glory – yet somewhat paradoxically, with a sweet inner humility. And you are drawn to Him.

The darkness has dispersed. As the new day begins to dawn, you gravitate toward the Temple. You finally recognize the voice of Heavenly Father introducing his Beloved Son. This is the moment that has been prophesied for so many years. This is the moment you have eagerly awaited.

You can see him with your natural eyes. But, in a special way, you now see him as never before with your spiritual eyes – the eyes of your understanding. You see him as he is. You not only see his face, you see and understand his heart better than ever before.  And yours swells as wide as eternity.

You can feel his love for everyone there, for everyone everywhere, and for you.  You yearn that someday soon everyone you know will see as you see, know as you know, and love Him as you love Him. Everyone. Your faith is being made perfect; but you do not lay it aside. It is now more powerful than ever before, and is the moving cause of all your thoughts, desires, and actions.

Yes, the darkness is now gone. You were shocked at how palpably exquisite, how perfectly dark it was across the land. But now in its place, is a light which lightens every part of your soul. Though it is new to you, it is so very familiar. The light of his countenance enlightens your eyes, both physical and spiritual. And warms your heart. You know this is the Christ. You are now one of his special witnesses.


And it is about to become that much more real, that much more intimate.

The Book of Mormon records that there were with you that first day of the Lord’s visit to the Land Bountiful, two thousand five hundred souls. The prophet was careful to record that the 2,500 consisted of men, women and children. Ah, the children.

It is still early in the morning when Jesus gently commands, “14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth…”

I estimate that it may have taken about seven hours for all 2,500 to personally encounter the Savior -- to become and stand forever as one of His special witnesses. Memorialized on plates of gold, and in the words of a book (as is reported in Isaiah 29), and also written on the fleshy tablets of our hearts -- and seared into every corner of our minds. We will never forget those loving eyes for as long as we live. And, ultimately, we will live forever!

Without being directed in how to do so, naturally and without commotion the gathered crowd nearest to Him quietly dissolves into something of a line so that everyone would be able to personally greet the Savior of the whole world – one-by-one as he said. There is no pushing, no shoving. No worry that anyone would miss out. Those of us who wait for hours somehow know that we needed just an extra bit of time to prepare to meet our loving and beloved Lord.

Imagine further on that day, that you are one of the last of those who humbly but with full purpose of heart approach the Savior. See yourself among loved ones -- and with your beloved angel ancestors and descendants in attendance by your side just beyond the veil. Slowly your part of the gathered crowd moves nearer to where the Savior is waiting for you.

Now, your group is getting nearer to him. You can see him much more closely now. There are only twenty or so persons before you. Now, there are only two or three people between you and the Savior. Now, there is no one between you and Him. It seems your physical surroundings have disappeared around you. The soft sounds of the birds and the gentle breeze, and the almost imperceptible breathings in and out of the crowd fade into a peaceful, barely perceptible, rhythmic silence -- a still, small ambient background hum. Previously, when there was darkness and silence in the land, the silence was empty. Now, this new silence is the polar opposite of that lonely silence. Now it is filled with the experiential moment of just you and Him. What you see and what you hear for the next few moments will suffice till that day when you can -- with your loved ones -- read the round of eternity and stand in his presence in One Eternal Now (as Joseph Smith describes it) and partake of this fullness to your heart’s content. This new silence is filled with all the beautiful anticipation and focus of meeting the One who you now seem to recognize as your true Friend. You seem to remember being with Him for time immemorial, living and learning in his presence prior to our coming to earth. You had learned so much, yet you knew – truly knew -- only so much. Now, with a lifetime of experience filled with the joyous heights and the lonely, painful depths – you bring your whole soul’s experience to the One who gave his whole soul – for you. For me. For the whole world.


Now, you are standing in front of him. After a life of prayer and service and worship, you now come unto him – and with no need of deception or shame. You are repentant. You meet the One who made forgiveness both theoretically possible in everyone’s life and individually effectual in your own. More than ever before, you now know you are forgiven. You are clean. You are whole. You are at One with the Holy One of Israel.

As you draw near to him, he softly calls your name. So naturally does your name fall from his lips, you are surprised that you are not surprised at his naming your poor name.

Now, you begin to kneel. But he reaches out his arm, and takes you into his close embrace. Heart to heart, you are encircled about in His love. In an instant you see and know not only that he has totally forgiven you – even in your halting repentance – but that he completely loves you. You know that he knows your sorrows, and yearnings for the Divine. He knows your efforts, he knows your strivings, he knows you.

The veil of forgetfulness is now so very thin. You now see clearly things that are just between Him and you. Things you previously stumbled to find utterance when you could barely formulate a prayer. You had forgotten some of these prayers, some of these strivings. Now, the whole span of your existence and your relationship with Him stretches out in both directions, forever.

Now, you realize it is time that you humbly follow his gentle command, to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet -- and in his side. Yes, you are aware that they stand as a temporary symbol of the suffering he must have bore on your behalf . . . but now you see that in these tokens, they also more perfectly reflect the transference of your pains and sorrows and infirmities through him and into the abyss. Yes! He has overcome Death and Hell and Pain and Sorrow. He has vanquished them all. They have no power over you – not that they ever really did. As you withdraw your hand from his side, he wipes away the tears you now realize are rolling down your cheek.


As you walk on to an area off to the side with your group of family and friends, you turn your head to glance back at him as you make way for others to follow in your footsteps. Time indeed stood still while you heard him call you by name, while you looked into his eyes, while He embraced you as dear friends, while you felt the warmth of his embrace and the warmth of the Love of Christ. Your love is now pure, your love is now overflowing, your love now yearns to reach out even as he reached out. To do His will, to be his disciple, to take upon you His Name, his power, his desire, his purpose, and even the Divine Nature of the Father – which Christ so perfectly reflects.

Though your feet are on solid ground, sacred ground, you almost feel like you are floating, gliding just above the earth. Soon the sounds of a beautiful earth return to your ears . . . One day in the future you will encounter another pain or sorrow. But not today. Not now. Everything is in perspective, everything is in its proper frame, everything is right, you now know that He will make things right – sooner or later. Somehow, without words, you know that you and your loved ones will be made perfect and live forever in His presence. After all, as Paul, his most bold apostle, and as Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration have said, “They without us cannot be made perfect, and we without them cannot be made perfect.” In other words, none of those who the Father hath given Jesus will be lost. We will not cease in our eternal labors to recover and rescue the lost and the unconnected till they are found and at one. Till they willingly and without compulsion discover the joys of a close embrace, their own At-One-ment with him. [1]


On its face The Book of Mormon is the intimate story of an epic journey of a family trekking across an ocean to a new land, a new world, a land of promise. It is the story of the clash of brothers, a clash of cousins, cultures, and civilizations -- inter-tribal disagreements, grudges, and warfare from generation to generation – even as we can see in the Middle East to this very day.

The story is personality and hero and prophet driven -- a continuing clash of faithful leaders against unbelieving sophists, lawyers, challengers -- against wicked kings, against the evil of all kinds and in all places. Sometimes wickedness where there should have been righteousness. Yet, the title page of the book declares that it was written not only to convince the world that Jesus is the Christ, but also to comfort those who have messed up that they are not “cast off forever.”


Now, as great and marvelous a work and a wonder as was the translation of The Book of Mormon, and as key as it is to understanding the Restoration in these latter days, it is not so much the context of The Book of Mormon – as important as that is – it is the internal spiritual message of the text itself which has the real power do a marvelous work in our lives.

As it says on the title page, that the book was written “to the convincing of [of the whole world] that Jesus is the Christ” – and in the very last chapter, that by applying Moroni’s promise, one can know not only the truth of The Book of Mormon, but “the truth of all things,” and especially, quote, “ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost. [2]


So, I reckon that the Savior descended out of heaven early in the morning that first day. After he declares himself to be the Son of God, and after they had all gone forth one-by-one, Jesus preached about baptism. Concluding this initial important sermon, he summarized, “37 . . . I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

Then he immediately repeated himself. “38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

Again the children. This presages what will happen later that afternoon. [3]

“1 . . . Jesus . . . looked round about again on the multitude . . . he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand. 2 I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. 3 Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again. 4 But now I go unto the Father . . . .”  

Again, you don’t want this day to end. But you have had enough and to overflowing. You dare not ask him to tarry longer. You don’t want to be that demanding. He has been so generous.

“5 . . . when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”

So, you did indeed “ask” him to tarry, just not in words. Kind of like the silent prayers you offer every now and then. Even if you do not form the words in your mind or even your lips. You are, in effect, praying always.


So, in response to your yearning for him to stay, he says, “6 . . . Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.” [4]


Then, “11 . . . he commanded that their little children should be brought.”

Remember, he has twice asked you to become as a little child. Innocent, believing, submissive, joyful, happy. Remember, in the most fortunate of circumstances, little children are somewhat oblivious to the harshness of the world. Little children are usually protected from the evils of the world. They love everyone, they can find happiness in the most simple of things. A ball, a leaf, a cat or dog, a smile, a hug. They see and explore the world through eyes un-tinged by cynicism, or skepticism. They believe. So joyous are they at life in general, often in traveling from here to there, they’d skip along, happy and content! Can we translate this innocent joyous believing approach to life into our adult lives? Yes. With God inspiring us.

So, these parents who had been so counseled, “12 . . . brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him.”


“14 . . . when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of . . . wickedness . . . 15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.

“16 And after this manner do they bear record: ‘The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and [further] no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”

Now, this was still not the end of the day, or the end of your inconceivable joy. Or his.

Because “18 . . . when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.  19 And . . . Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise. 20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full. 21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it,”


Why did he weep? For joy! The simple answer is that he is much more connected emotionally to the children than we are, if not infinitely more so.

Another simple answer: It is for you he wept! Jesus also wept at the raising of his dear friend, Lazarus. When he wept for Lazarus, he wept not so much only for Lazarus sake, but I suspect for the scintillating, thunderstruck moment that some will have when they realize Christ’s power is enough to raise the dead physically, and the cold heartless hearts that only beat with hate or disdain or indifference, or scorn to a spiritual heights. [5]


So, after praying for all of them, now “he took [each of them], one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.” This must have taken another hour or two. The record reports that it is not evening yet.

So, Jesus wept prior to praying for all the children, then after blessing each of them one-by-one over the period of another hour or so, “22 . . . he wept again;”

Why does he weep now? Perhaps because he knew he was helping us see the value of not so much all children, but each individual child. [6]


So, we come back to the literal account of the wonderful scene. He has wept twice over the children, once for all of them, a second time for each of them. He then turns to us, the parents of these children and says, “23 . . . Behold your little ones.”

24 And [. . . we] looked . . . saw the heavens open, and [we] saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled [our] little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

Who were these angels? Perhaps it was ancestors; perhaps it was descendents. Perhaps it was you.

Who knows but what there are angels descending and encircling our loved ones in celestial fire at the key times in their lives, but we don’t see them. [7]


So, as Nephi says, if we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we might see ourselves as one of these children. If so, then it is for you that he prayed for in words too sacred to record. It is you he blessed. It is you he wept for -- for joy.


As you may know, the stake president invited the youth to read The Book of Mormon this Summer. Today he extends the same invitation to the rest of the stake. By the way, I’m with many of you, I’m in 1 Nephi - -a truly wonderful portion of the book. A good place to start!

I invite us all to dive in, catch the wave of its being spread throughout the world, read ponder and pray about its eternally-challenging contents. There is nothing quite like it, in that it was a single author (Mormon) editing his people's records for future generations' use. For our use. For my use. For your use.


As you may also know, the Broadway play titled, The Book of Mormon, started this month in Washington DC. The stake president has offered the simple suggestion that when our friends, neighbors, or co-workers mention the play, or ask us about it, we simply say something like, “Would you like to read it?” And hand them one while you ask. This would require we have one on hand, just in case.

So, I took a book to work, and wouldn’t you know it, in a company meeting on Monday six days ago the topic of the play came up. One person said they saw the play and didn’t care at all for the tacky, crude humor. They said it was not about the book itself, but about two young na├»ve, well-meaning Mormon missionaries. I said, “I’m a Mormon, and I served a mission when I was young.” We wrapped up this part of our conversation by her saying that she was a Hindu and didn’t appreciate it that the authors of the play took such cheap shots at a religion that happened to be a bit different. That she would not have appreciated it if Hinduism had been targeted. As it was, she did not recommend the play to the group or to me.

So, at the end of the business day, I asked her, “Well, you’ve seen the play, would you like to read the book?” She said sure, that she grew up in Rochester, New York and had been to the Hill Cumorah pageant many times, but never received a copy of the book. I do not anticipate that she will start the lessons, much less join the church anytime soon. Perhaps someday. Perhaps sooner, rather than later. I guess I’ll have to bring another copy of the book to work.


From experience and from intuition and inspiration, I promise that you will find new, even hidden treasures in the book when you read it again. And I am confident you will see old and familiar treasures with new eyes. After all, since you last read it, you have experienced life in ways which have connected you that much more dearly to our Savior.


The older I get, the more I glory and joy in The Book of Mormon. I love its heroes, I love its visions, its prophecies, its structure, its sermons, its message.

Because of The Book of Mormon, I love our Savior that much more. Paraphrasing Nephi, I do love my Jesus, my exemplar and friend that much more because of The Book of Mormon.

It is in His name that I pray to share this inner witness and the tangible evidence of it – The Book of Mormon -- in all its sweeping grandeur, and its personal insights and intimate messages for me and for you and our friends. I pray I adhere that much more closely to my Savior as he is revealed in these sacred pages, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

# # #


#1 This is his heart’s desire and joy. This is now our heart’s labor which is a joy as sweet as any we’ve known. It becomes delicious unto us. It is no burden to be like him. It is our pleasure and self-imposed motivation now to share and love and be like Him.

Yes, for the few seconds you were with him personally, time seemed to slow down, time seemed to stand still. You hoped those few seconds would never end. In an important way, they never will. They are with you for all time and throughout all eternity.

#2 The Book of Mormon has power to transform the lives of adults who sincerely read it for the first time. It has power to infuse in youth with the spirit and power and yearning for truth – the diamond truth that Jesus loves everyone. It has power to educate and ennoble even the most skeptical of learned professors of academia. It has power to touch the hearts of little children as they read or listen to Book of Mormon stories that their teachers tell them. That their parents tell them. That their older brothers and sisters tell them when they read aloud to their toddler siblings.

#3 He continues to teach into the afternoon principles and doctrine similar to that of the Sermon on the Mount. Late in the afternoon he is about to conclude for the day. Quote:

#4 He asks that you bring those among you who were “sick or . . . afflicted in any manner.” “Bring them hither,” he said, “and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” And they did bring them, and he did heal them. “…and as many as could come . . . did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.”

#5 Hearts can and will change. I submit to you that he weeps for all good reasons including and especially those who repent and turn to the good, the holy, the light-filled, the connected.

Lazarus can be seen as a stand in for you and for me. More than likely he has wept for you, not only symbolically via Lazarus, but literally, in the heavens for you too. Not because he fears you will falter, or will not make it, or will suffer, but that he knows and loves you and weeps at the anticipatory joy at your overcoming all, and being with him where he is in the eternities.

When he weeps for the children, he can be seen as weeping for you. In this case, he wept probably not because of wickedness per se which he previously mentioned, but that these children, all children, would ultimately be redeemed and live forever in eternal happiness in spite of wickedness in the world. Perhaps he wept because as he knows that he has overcome the world, he knows that these children will too – with him — overcome the world. And be with him in one of the mansions he would prepare for them. Perhaps he wept because he knows that none of those which the Father has given him would be lost. In Palestine He asked the Father that they all be with him in the eternities.

#6 Perhaps he wept now, because He so wants us to see each child as precious as He does, and I seem to get the feeling that he is weeping because we are beginning to see anew how precious each child of God is. Each one. Every one. Individually. Not just collectively.

#7 The record states, “25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself.

< By the way, just before the day turns to night, Jesus institutes the sacrament. >

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner -- and our county, and us.

The Star Spangled Banner
Fourth of July (2013)

This is the story about the Star Spangled Banner. And a little bit about our country, and a little bit about you.

Some historians claim that the most important political act in American History was neither the daring signing or publishing of the Declaration of Independence, nor was it the brilliant design or ratification of the U.S. Constitution. But that it was when George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, purposely chose to step down from power. Evidently this was the first time in world history that the leader of a great nation voluntarily left office of his own accord. Prior to Washington, if a leader or king did not die of natural causes they were either overthrown or assassinated. By the way, this was not the first time Washington gave up power. After he won the Revolutionary War, rather than take over as the conquering hero/general, he turned back his military commission to the civilian leaders who initially asked him to lead our ragtag rebel forces.

In 1799 just over two years after he stepped down as president, he died at his beloved Mt. Vernon. Adams serves one term, Jefferson serves two terms, then James Madison – the Father of the Constitution -- is elected. In the middle of his two terms, America fights what has been called the Second War of American Independence -- the War of 1812. Really we had been warring with Brittan on and off since 1793.

By the way, it was in the middle of that war, that seven year old Joseph Smith has his leg operation. Six years later, he asks his questions and has what we now known as the First Vision. The country was just barely strong enough to guarantee freedom of religion, freedom of worship. Congress shall not establish a religion, “nor prohibit the free exercise” of it.

Both countries wanted to end the war. Negotiations were taking place. However, both sides continued to fight -- fiercely. In fact, in August of 1814, British troops were marching on Washington, DC. President Madison moves the Federal government en masse in a train of wagons to Leesburg, Virginia. They take the main copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and the story goes that Dolley Madison would not depart till they took down the large iconic painting by Gilbert Stuart of George Washington.

The British burn the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the U.S. Treasury. One of the servants in the White House said that the president and First Lady left in such a hurry, that they left dinner on the table. He also reports that prior to burning the White House, British soldiers ate the Madison’s dinner and drank their wine. The British generals then turn their army and navy toward the north to attack Baltimore and cities on up the Eastern Seaboard.

In preparation for the onslaught, the U.S. commander of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry commissions a local seamstress, along with three relatives and two Black assistant, to sew two flags -- one which will be so large (30’x42’) that the British would have “no difficulty seeing it at a distance.”

So. The stage is set.

Prisoners of war were taken on both sides. As the British attacked Washington DC, they captured a beloved local Doctor, William Beanes. His friend Francis Scott Key, a 35-year old lawyer and amateur poet, approached the British with the approval of President Madison under a flag of truce to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. They held their negotiations on a British ship which was preparing for the Battle of Baltimore. At first the British heard that Dr. Beanes was harboring British soldiers who turned to our side. They were not disposed to release him. But when they heard that the doctor cared for wounded soldiers on both sides, without regard to defecting, they agreed.

Because Key had heard much of the preparations for the Baltimore attack, they were held captive till the battle was over.

On September 13, at 7:00 a.m., the British fleet of 19 ships attacked the fort and the Battle of Baltimore had begun. Bombardment of the fort lasted till 1:00 a.m. of September 14. Some smaller gunboats attempted to slip past the fort, but were turned away by gunners – the city’s last line of defense. During the rainy night Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly. But once the shelling stopped, he could not tell whether the flag still flew or whether the 5,000 British soldiers had taken the fort. He would not know till dawn. Darkness obscured whether it was the British or American flag which flew.

By morning’s first light the smaller storm flag was lowered and the larger main garrison flag had been raised. But Key did not know it. Till “dawn’s early light.”

The next day, while still onboard ship, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. After being released in Baltimore on the evening of September 16, he finished the poem -- which he originally entitled, “The Defense of Fort McHenry” -- at the Indian Queen Hotel where he was staying. Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicolson. Nicholson took the poem to a local printer. It was printed in Baltimore in just a couple days. Within a month the poem was printed in newspapers up and down the whole Eastern Coast.


Now, let’s briefly review the several verses. Poets use imagery and symbolism in the words they use.

In the first verse Key talks of light. Dawn’s early light -- twilight’s last gleaming – and the red glare of rockets and bombs bursting in air.

He then poses the question as to whether he would see the American flag still flying the next morning. Or, whether the British flag was flying. At dawn he would be able to tell.

    The Defense of Fort McHenry
    September 15-16, 1814, by Francis Scott Key

    O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
    O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
    O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

In the second verse Key uses the imagery of sight. Seeing, that is, the flag (and all it represents). At first, dimly seen – then through mists – then it is half concealed, half disclosed. The, it catches the gleam of the mornings first beam – then IN FULL GLORY the flag reflects the light of the sun’s streaming brightness.

He then sees -- and declares -- that indeed, it IS “the star-spangled banner” which waves, and yearns, even prays, “Oh, long may it wave…”

    On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
    In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
    'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave! . . .

In the last verse he changes the focus from what he would see, what he did see the next morning, to what WE should do. And what we should be. It is not enough to triumph in war, but to do so only when our cause is just, and when we praise the Power that made and preserves us as a nation.

Note that the “free men” in the first verse are not those of us at home, but are those in the military service who “stand between” their “loved homes, and the war’s desolation.” We stand in our homes; it is our soldiers and others who defend us and our “loved homes” -- and our loved ones.

    O thus be it ever when free-men 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!


Exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, on July 4, 1826. Later that day, Adams’ last words were, “Jefferson lives.” In fact Jefferson had died earlier that day.

It is my hope and prayer that the spirit of Jefferson and Adams and Washington and all the Founders lives in our hearts…

  •  On July 27, 1889, the Navy formally made "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.
  •  In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star Spangled Banner" be played at military and other appropriate occasions.
  •  Two years later, in 1918, the song was first played at a baseball game; in the World Series, the band started an impromptu performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the seventh-inning stretch.
  •  The players and spectators stood at attention, took off their hats, and sang, giving rise to a tradition that is repeated at almost every professional baseball game in United States today, though it is now performed prior to the first pitch.
  •  On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a cartoon in his Believe it or Not!, saying, "Believe it or Not, America has no national anthem."
  •  In 1931, John Philip Sousa published his opinion in favor, stating that "it is the spirit of the music that inspires" as much as it is Key's "soul stirring" words. By Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was adopted as the national anthem of the United States on March 3rd, 1931.

Ode. Adams and Liberty.

Robert Treat Paine -- named Thomas Paine at birth -- had his name changed to that of his father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (NOTE: The original Thomas Paine had fallen out of favor with the public later in his life.) Robert Treat Paine wrote a song: Adams and Liberty. It was perhaps the most popular political song of its era, and was even republished in Great Britain. It was one of many songs sung to the tune of the English song To Anacreon in Heaven. A later, now more famous, The Star-Spangled Banner.

This poem/song is, in its own right, quite a commentary on the promise and character of the new nation. (Try singing it to yourself in the melody mentioned above.)


Robert Treat Paine (1773-1811)
Written for, and sung at the fourth Anniversary of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society, 1798.

1   YE sons of Columbia, who bravely have fought, 
        For those rights, which unstained from your Sires had descended,
    May you long taste the blessings your valour has brought,
        And your sons reap the soil which their fathers defended.
                        'Mid the regin of mild Peace,
                        May your nation increase,
    With the glory of Rome, and the wisdom of Greece;
        And ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

2   In a clime, whose rich vales feed the marts of the world, 
        Whose shores are unshaken by Europe's commotion,
    The trident of Commerce should never be hurled,
        To incense the legitimate powers of the ocean.
                        But should pirates invade,
                        Though in thunder arrayed,
    Let your cannon declare the free charter of trade.
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

3   The fame of our arms, of our laws the mild sway, 
        Had justly ennobled our nation in story,
    'Till the dark clouds of faction obscured our young day,
        And enveloped the sun of American glory.
                        But let traitors be told,
                        Who their country have sold,
    And bartered their God for his image in gold,
                        That ne'er will the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

4   While France her huge limbs bathes recumbent in blood, 
        And Society's base threats with wide dissolution;
    May Peace like the dove, who returned from the flood,
        Find an ark of abode in our mild constitution
                        But though Peace is our aim,
                        Yet the boon we disclaim,
    If bought by our Sov'reignty, Justice or Fame.
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

5   'Tis the fire of the flint, each American warms; 
        Let Rome's haughty victors beware of collision,
    Let them bring all the vassals of Europe in arms,
        We're a world by ourselves, and disdain a division.
                        While with patriot pride,
                        To our laws we're allied,
    No foe can subdue us, no faction divide.
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

6   Our mountains are crowned with imperial oak; 
        Whose roots, like our liberties, ages have nourished;
    But lone e'er our nation submits to the yoke,
        Not a tree shall be left on the field where it flourished.
                        Should invasion impend,
                        Every grove would descend,
    From the hill-tops, they shaded, our shores to defend.
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

7   Let our patriots destroy Anarch's pestilent worm; 
        Lest our Liberty's growth should be checked by corrosion;
    Then let clouds thicken round us; we heed not the storm;
        Our realm fears no shock, but the earth's own explosion.
                        Foes assail us in vain,
                        Though their fleets bridge the main,
    For our altars and laws with our lives we'll maintain.
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

8   Should the Tempest of War overshadow our land, 
        Its bolts could ne'er rend Freedom's temple asunder;
    For, unmoved, at its portal, would Washington stand,
        And repulse, with his Breast, the assaults of the thunder!
                        His sword, from the sleep
                        Of its scabbard would leap,
    And conduct, with its point, ev'ry flash to the deep!
                        For ne'er shall the sons of Colmbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

9   Let Fame to the world sound America's voice; 
        No intrigues can her sons from their government sever;
    Her pride is her Adams; Her laws are his choice,
        And shall flourish, till Liberty slumbers for ever.
                        Then unite heart and hand,
                        Like Leonidas' band,
    And swear to the God of the ocean and land;
        That ne'er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves,
        While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.