He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays

Just to cleanse the spiritual palate, brethren, I invoke Brother Tull to share with us a musical interlude.

This song has been running through my head a good bit lately. (Seeing “all the bishops” — or at least, all the Anglican clergy — lined up and harmonizing at Jason’s ordination the other day was but one instance in which it has come to mind.) You may find that interesting, in connection with my outrage at the tawdry way Rick Perry is trying to wind God up and make him toddle across the room, beating a toy drum that says “Perry for President.”

Perry’s message, considered most charitably, is after all that God has a place in the public square. He’s not supposed to be kept in a steepled ghetto. God is for every day, not an hour on Sunday.

I agree with that with all my heart and soul. God, properly considered, is for every day, every moment. (For that matter, it’s not for us to say what God’s for; it’s up to us to figure out what WE’RE intended for.) That’s one reason I like this song.

But I would submit that that includes the moments in which you try to exploit God to your own ends. You don’t wind him up then, either. Rather, you endeavor to alter yourself to fit His expectations.

This is a tough thing to talk about because we’re not supposed to judge, either — are we? So people get away with some really horrific stuff, because who are we to say? If another man testifies that this is how he experiences God, who are we to condemn?

And so people get away with all sorts of stuff, and if we protest, we are painted as being one of those who wants to keep God in a box.

And there are such people. Good, well-meaning people, quite often — although they are confused. They confuse the First Amendment with Jefferson’s views (when he wasn’t involved with it), and then go the further step of assuming that a ban on establishment of religion by Congress implies that we individual citizens (and that includes officeholders) are not supposed to talk about religion in the public sphere.

They are wrong. And their wrongness is all the more wrong because they create a space in which someone like Perry can construct a lie about a “war on religion.” And everything just gets worse. They are wrong, and he is wrong, and I suppose I’m wrong, too, for judging both.

But I feel better when I listen to the music. Don’t think you have to turn up your speakers when it starts out so soft. It builds.

11 thoughts on “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    Well, in the circus that has been the Republican pre-primaries so far, a deus ex machina is perfectly in keeping, no?

  2. Herb Brasher

    From a biblical point of view, Joshua 5:13-15 comes to mind:

    Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

  3. bud

    Does anyone besides me find it offputting when the POTUS says “God Bless America”? Who started this practice? I never noticed it before George W. used it at every opportunity. Now Obama is getting carried away with it. I just cringe whenever the president uses it. It’s like God shouldn’t bless anyone else but Americans. And then there’s the whole question of exactly whose God is suppossed to do the blessing? The Christian God is so completely different from the Buddist one. So how can they both do the blessing? Especially if one of them doesn’t even exist if one is to believe the teachings of a particular faith.

    But what really bothers me the most about this practice is the POTUS is implying that only Americans are worthy of being blessed by God. That Americans are somehow superior to the French or Chinese. If some sort of trite closing statement is needed to wrap up a speech why not something like “May everyone, everywhere have have a wonderful day and a joyous future”.

  4. `Kathryn Fenner

    Yeas, bud, but if W started it, and Obama doesn’t keep doing it, it will show that he is really a godless Kenyan Muslim Socialist Nazi who hates America. That is what we have come to.

    Actually, I am happy to have God bless America, which does not exclude his/her/it from blessing everywhere else. We need all the blessing we can get, and, using Descartes’ conjecture, if there is no God, where’s the harm?

    I have far more of a problem with actual invocations at events of state, prayer breakfasts, all sorts of other more specific pieties.

    I agree totally with Herb–stop parading around your “godliness,” politicians. It has the opposite effect you are purporting to be intending.

  5. Tim

    Presidents have to say it from now on, because if they don’t it is a three day news story and another campaign line. Just like if they don’t wear a flag lapel pin.

  6. Brad

    Folks, come on. Neither Barack Obama nor George W. Bush invented ending speeches with “God Bless America.” I can’t tell you when it started because it has been so ubiquitous for so long.

    And frankly, I like it. No matter how pompous the speaker, I like it when he ends on a note of humility, which is what that is. It’s a nod to that which is greater than the speaker and all the power he commands.

    It is an invocation. OK, technically, since it’s at the end, it’s a benediction. But basically, it’s a plea sent aloft — Please bless this nation which I have been elected to serve. It’s impossible to imagine anything more benign, or more appropriate, for an elected leader to say.

    And I’ve got to tell you, I long, long LONG ago got sick and tired of all that “whose God?” stuff. Such a benediction is wonderfully, powerfully inclusive because it does NOT specify. (Oh, and “Buddhist God” is a bit of a nonsequitur, Buddhists being noncommittal on the existence of a Supreme Being.)


    I respect that presidents before Richard Nixon generally avoided such an invocation. Declining to do so is another way of demonstrating humility, and proper respect toward a deity. A serious, thoughtful politician might well consider it crass to invoke God in connection with a political speech, as it is necessarily tied to petty temporal concerns and usually designed to advance the position of the speaker.

    I excuse the practice to the extent that it is a sort of departure from the rest of the speech. I tend to hear it as the speaker saying, “Whether you go along with what I said just now or not, whether I continue to serve you or not, whether I and my party prevail or be consigned to the dustbin of history, I ask that God bless our country.”

  7. Brad

    OK, I looked it up. The modern practice started in inauspicious circumstances: Richard Nixon said it as he was fighting to survive Watergate.

    Neither Ford nor Carter (surprised?) said it, but Reagan made a habit of it. So did Bush, Clinton, Bush and now Obama.

  8. bud

    Anything that addresses “God” cannot possibly be all-inclusive. The capital “God” implies a specific diety so when the POTUS says “God Bless America” that must imply the God to which the speaker believes. Otherwise it makes no sense to say “god bless America”. In that case we are either asking some insignificant, perhaps non-existent god to bless America or we’re being all-inclusive, which would be blasphemy. After all doesn’t one of the biblical commandments state that no other god should be placed before me. So technically a speaker using such a “benediction” is either being specifically non-inclusive or he’s being blasphemous.

    And that’s exactly what is so disturbing about the practice. But it’s apparently here to say and it yet another political practice that I disagree with but I’ll have to simply shrug and ignore the whole thing since I don’t have the choice to support someone who doesn’t do this.

    It’s sort of like supporting a major reduction in the military budget. There is no viable candidate who will do that so I shrug and vote for someone I know will spend prodigious amounts on the military. Or the death penalty. All the candidates support that so shrug, shrug.

  9. Mark Stewart

    Hey, I agree with Carter about something – other than Habitat for Humanity, that is.

    I don’t always view the statement as humble in political speech; sometimes it does sound as you describe, but not everyone (and not every time) avoids using it as Nixon probably meant it – as a cover and a prop.

    If it were a sign of humility before God I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But often it makes my stomach turn when I hear it spoken as a device.

  10. Matt Bohn

    The modern equivalent of ending every speech with “Carthage must be destroyed.”. I agree that it has become expected and it must be said- or else. Like politicians wearing a little American flag pin on their lapels.


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