03 January 2006

"Battle Hymn of the Republic"—a dream

I interrupt my regularly-scheduled rhythm of posts to record a strange dream.

Most of my dreams are like travelogues, often involving one or another of my grandparents, none of whom are still alive. This time my dream started with me reading a U.S. Department of Agriculture document that was incomprehensible. It was some kind of report to Congress, and it seemed to be in English, but it was so misspelled and poorly organized that I couldn't make any sense of it.

Then I heard someone say, "But they're going to get away with it again." I understood the message: the arrogance of the government was so high that they could do whatever they wanted, and nobody would effectively object. Somehow my dream then morphed into the words of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Wikipedia has the whole hymn; the specific verses that came to me were:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.


Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.


In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.


This is a song that I probably sang in grade school in Chicago, but haven't even heard for decades, at least not without satiric purpose and adjusted lyrics. It is a song that doesn't exactly match my normal beliefs and practices.

In the territory between dreaming and awakening, I also was led to meditate on the Pledge of Allegiance, with which schoolchildren in the USA (at least in my memory) began each day, hands on our hearts:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to The
Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty
and justice for all.

Finally awake, I lay there a long time, marveling that I had been able to remember these long-disused texts and wondering why they'd come to me. Gradually, I was impressed with a sense of the awesomeness of national ideals, the poison of cynicism, and the moral bankruptcy that threatens our country.

I may be very unwilling to raise these patriotic texts to the level of Scripture, or to endorse the nationalist mythologies attached to them or the coercive uses to which they're put, but that doesn't negate the idealism in them. We cannot force our understanding of "One Nation under God" on the children of atheists, and do not want to, but if we forget that we actually are under God, and not above God or beyond God's reach, we may someday be unpleasantly surprised. That dream tells me that God cares about how we stockpile the grapes of wrath, and may not hold back forever from trampling them down.

It's hard to know how that might manifest itself. Abraham Lincoln said, in his Second Inaugural Address, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Now that we (specifically, our President) are invoking the name of God in connection with the river of blood in Iraq, can we continue indefinitely in denial that we will reap what we sow? When I came into my office this morning, one of the first things that my computer greeted me with was this heartbreaking article in the Washington Post: "A Life, Wasted."Meditating on his soldier son's death in Iraq, Paul Schroeder asks: "Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain?" When parent of fallen soldiers, who could be expected to have all the incentive in the world to believe in their children's heroic deaths, can ask such questions, an awesome judgment is perhaps already in the air.

I believe that the ideal of liberty and justice for all is alive in many who work within our government as well as many who oppose it, at home and internationally. How can we recognize each other across the lines that usually divide us, and how can we together refuse further cooperation with the forces of moral bankruptcy?

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