God. Country. Liberty.

What comes first? In what order do these related items prioritize themselves — in the moral compass of a person, and of a population? I got involved in both sides of the nationalism debate over a festive Fourth of July weekend. With November looming and the caricatures of everything wrong with the United States vying to see who can train-wreck this country more forcefully, there was no better time to don my tricorne hat and remind fellow countrymen what actually made America great in the first place.

First was a social media post/link objecting to playing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch of Major League Baseball games. (side note: the world has ridiculously larger problems than this; I should probably be focusing my time on the plethora of humanitarian crises that exist on Mother Earth. Once again, the greasy social media wheel…) My long-time friend (and atheist) Shel vocally objected to it (and it’s religiously-titled first cousin, “God Bless The U.S.A”) replacing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, supporting the stance with a NY Post waste of binary code, I mean, column, describing “God Bless America” as a song “that offends everyone”.

The song still embodies great things about America, but also our worst things: self-righteousness, forced piety, earnest self-reverence, foam.

Wait, what?? All that from a simple flag-waving, Roaring 20’s poem remixed for World War II? The popular rendition, which is what (approximately) 99.9999% of public performances use, contain only six — six! — unique lines:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above

From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home

The debate unsurprisingly fell along “party lines” — religious vs. non-religious. Falling in the former, I cannot totally relate to the latter’s annoyance at all things “God”. Hearing something referenced you don’t believe in I suppose could get overly annoying, although this never seems to bother me with Santa Claus. Regardless, a quick Google search confirmed that us Christians and our omnipresent involvement of God in our lives can kinda annoy others.

This is where the debate got interesting, though. Fans of the song rightly (in my world) defended the moving patriotic feeling the anthem gives a crowd. The critics defended their right to not stand and described the song as “sucking”, with painful jingoism. Jingoism? The “feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries”???

Simple? Yes. Patriotic? Of course. Overly Judeo-Christian? Eh… it’s a pretty big stretch to equate this to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Maybe I am biased as a Flyers fan, but Kate Smith and Lauren Hart don’t exactly strike me as imperial invaders.

Listen to the crowd in that link (or this one); they’re not cheering God and what He gives… they are cheering America, and all She provides. Including the opportunity to cheer a bunch of athletes we identify as our own, and support as fervently as our nation. Sometimes, unfortunately, more so.

The irony is that Shel is a vocal supporter of equality — gender equality, workplace equality, LGBT equality, atheist equality. Shel also has significant pride in heritage, in hometown, in residence, in friendships, in the decision to remain childless. Some of those choices likely put family, friends, and acquaintances at odds with her choices, and, I am sure, have strained or ended relationships; I have always admired that willingness to put those beliefs in public forums with such conviction. There’s no reason she should have to stand up for a song she doesn’t believe in; there’s also no reason it needs to be removed from stadiums and arenas simply because of the inclusion of God in the title and opening line.

Normally I would end here, but the opposite side of the spectrum presented itself on the same weekend (and I have a long-standing tradition of not knowing when to STFU). A tradition in Ocean City, NJ has raised some patriotic feelings among morning Boardwalk-goers — the flag-raising ceremony in front of the OC Waterpark and Mini-Golf course (which still may have my picture on the wall from an aborted round of Sambuca-fueled Putt-Putt in ‘99… story for another time)

What isn’t seen here is the more recent “tradition” of veterans, pedestrians, and even OCPD officers walking from the east side of the boardwalk (right side, in this video) and fanning out — essentially blocking anyone from getting through as the lifeguards play the aforementioned “God Bless the U.S.A” and “The Star Spangled Banner”.

I’m all for patriotic displays; I am glad my parents took us and the kids there each morning, if for no other reason then to teach them the respect and honor they should show for our country. However, imposing a ~7 minute standstill on every person walking a public resort-town thoroughfare just makes me… uncomfortable.

If jingoism is applicable, it certainly seems more so here. At a baseball game, you are a paying customer as part of a commercial enterprise; there’s some give and take, along with the choice to both remain seated (albeit an unpopular one with the crowd) or recuse yourself to the concourse, as Shel will do.

This is public space —a high-traffic one at that, with pedestrians, runners, surreys, and bikes all sharing the way, each with their own lanes. Navigating this on a summer weekend morning is already a bit of a dicey proposition; sorry (but not really) to the Whiskey Tango Yankees fan who kept veering into the surrey lane last weekend despite my repeated rings of the manly bell they put on those surrey bikes, and got his flip-flop run over. Pay attention to the world around you, son!

Anyways, Dad and I got into it about this unofficial policy, which seems to be endorsed by at least one uniformed OCPD cop. Compelling someone to pay respect to our nation and it’s flag is a noble endeavor, be at a ballpark or a boardwalk. Most will rise from their seats or stop in their tracks as they see others do so. Requiring compliance becomes a different matter altogether, and enforcing behavior is everything that Americans DON’T believe in — or shouldn’t. Like many a soldier has said to Kanye West, “I protect your right to act like an asshole.” If the Boardwalk crusaders sat next to Shel during a 7th inning rendition of “God Bless America”, the fireworks would rival the evening pageantry of Independence Day rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air.

God. Country. Liberty.

Liberty. Country. God.

Country. God. Liberty.

Liberty. God. Country.

God. Liberty. Country.

Country. Liberty. God.

Are we really at the point where those cannot exist symbiotically? My kids will grow up to respect the flag, and the various songs honoring our country and those who have scarified for its greater good. They will also learn that others will see the world differently, and make their own choices. Make America great again — by respecting the beliefs of others, and expressing yours, mutually. And play ball…