I'm the kind of person who sees standardized, multiple-choice tests as fun puzzles. I always did well on them—but only because I learned to shut down that part of my brain that delighted in finding alternative answers, in favor of that part that could discern which answer was probably in the minds of the test-makers.
My gut wanted this t-shirt.
Sadly, the other part of my brain overruled it, insisting that there is a valid and important place for politics in our lives. What I need is a shirt that says,
A case in point:
Back in 2014, I was introduced to the hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing. Here's what I had to say about it 10 years ago.
We arrived early at church, and having discovered that the processional hymn was a new one to us, I plunked it out on the piano several times before the director arrived. It may sound easy, but it is decidedly not if you've never heard it before. Mercifully, he took it down a whole third from what is written in our hymnal.
I would never have guessed that Lift Every Voice and Sing was an African-American song, much less the "Black National Anthem" as it is sometimes called. Not knowing the tempo at which it is apparently usually sung (judging by the YouTube recordings I listened to), I took it at a faster clip, and would have guessed it to be a World War I era song, or maybe something from the Salvation Army. If you listen to it and note that the middle part sounds like the more militant parts of Les Miserables, be assured that this was written 'way back in 1899/1900 by James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson.
Our church usually sings that hymn on a Sunday near to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and I love it, despite the fact that I'm not really comfortable with singing it in a worship service. I get uncomfortable when we sing music in worship that honors secular occasions, such as Independence Day, Veterans Day, Mothers Day, etc. I can't really say it's wrong, but it makes me uncomfortable.
Nonetheless, Lift Up Your Voice and Sing is a powerful song, and I was excited a few weeks ago when I learned that it is going to be performed during this year's Super Bowl. I made a comment to that effect, and was shocked at the can of worms I opened. First of all, I revealed my complete ignorance of football games in general and the Super Bowl in particular, by stating that I sure hoped they would sing all the verses, because the words are very important for our time. How was I supposed to know that the attention spans of football fans are so small they wouldn't tolerate more than one verse? (There are only three.)
There are some songs in which some verses can be removed without doing damage to the meaning—and other songs where that is decidedly not true. You'd be amazed at how often a church will sing only the first verse of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, which leaves off at a most unfortunate place.
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood,
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel and hate,
On earth is not his equal.
I mean, really? You want to stop there?
Our own Star Spangled Banner, when sung, almost never includes my favorite verse:
Oh! thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r 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."
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Lift Every Voice and Sing deserves (and needs) all of its verses.
But worse was yet to come. I then learned that the singing of this song had become a football of the political variety. I don't know what all was said; I'm deliberately avoiding it, and I certainly will be avoiding the Super Bowl for other reasons. But it's a shame, because this is a marvellous anthem full of faith, hope, caution, history, and patriotism, suitable for anyone who has struggled through difficulties and still faces challenges.
So here, since you are highly unlikely to hear them performed at the upcoming game, are all the verses of Lift Up Your Voice and Sing.
Lift every voice and sing,
’Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed.
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
’Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.