No independence from God

July 04, 2002|By The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

IT'S BEEN a rough couple of weeks for God. Declared unconstitutional by a court in San Francisco on June 26, God now faces the prospect of a most unusual July 4.

Many of our most beloved patriotic customs hang in the balance. Singing "God Bless America"? That's obviously out. Buying a small flag for the local Independence Day parade? That would involve using currency bearing the phrase "In God We Trust." Even "The Star-Spangled Banner" is suspect since the little-known fourth verse contains not just the word "God" but also refers to the nation's being "blest with victory and peace."

So it seems appropriate to reminisce about an earlier time in our nation's history. Baltimore is, after all, the home to our national anthem. And the church played a role in this, too.

Not many know the full story of Francis Scott Key's safe return to the shores of Baltimore after the bombardment of Fort McHenry. One of his first stops, after putting his poem on paper at the India Queen Tavern, was to Old St. Paul's Church. Key was a parishioner and a friend of church organist Thomas Carr's. It was to Carr that Key turned for help in setting the poem to music. Hence an important and intriguing intersection of church and state in our nation's history. It's not all bad, after all.

Of course the poem was not set to sacred music. Rather, it was paired with an old English drinking song titled "To Anacreon in Heaven" -- Anacreon himself being an ancient Greek poet with a less-than-sober reputation. The original sheet music to the song published in 1814 as "The Star-Spangled Banner" bears the words "Adapt. and Arrg. by T.C.," referring, of course, to Thomas Carr.

As for God?

I'm reasonably confident God will survive His recently deemed unconstitutionality. Whether we acknowledge God's presence in the world, God is nonetheless in our very midst, actively involved in everyday life. And this is true no matter what we may say or may not say about God in public.

Independence Day doesn't refer to freedom from God. There is no such thing.

The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck is the assistant priest at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore.

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