Monday, July 2, 2007

Seventh Inning Stretch

Okay, here's a gripe. The other day we went to a ballgame (Hudson Valley Renegades – mostly baseball bores us, but minor league games a cheap family outing, and all those silly contests they run between innings are hilarious). Just before it started, a girl who looked like she just entered middle school stood at home plate and sang, "Oh say can you see…?" while some guy tromped up and down the stands yelling "Beer here, get yer beer." People treated both of them with equal reverence. I'll give the girl credit; she sang beautifully, (I could have done better on the "beer here.") and yet, I've never approved of the hand on the heart reverential moment. Reverence is for God.

But that's not my gripe. What gets me is that lately, when you get all the way to the seventh inning and they invite you to stand, I expect Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Instead, that night the announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and remove your lids (they're not hats anymore)." The first time I experienced this, I thought to myself, "Since when is the ball game song a 'remove your lids' moment?"

It wasn't. It was God Bless America. It's a well practiced drill these days: everyone stood, faced the flags at the right field fence and put their hands on their hearts. The little girl who had done such an admirable job with the anthem trooped out to home plate again and sang it every bit as well as Kate Smith – she really did have a great voice.

The song was written in 1938 by Irving Berlin, a Jewish man at a time when Jews in Europe were in the midst of a horror we have difficulty comprehending. But how did it become our unofficial national anthem? I suspect it's because it contains the word "God." Ever since 9/11, we have worked very hard to make sure we know that God is on our side. Singing this song – and I bet most folks don't know many words past "God bless America…" – makes us feel we're in the right. Always.

Well, it's bad theology. Not that God shouldn't bless us, nor that we should give thanks for the great bounty God's given us. It's just that the way it's used, what it's really saying is, "God bless us and screw the rest – especially the terrorists and the French!" It sort of goes along with those bumper stickers that say "God Pride? You Bet!" -- even though pride is a sin. That's not what God teaches us. God will never bless one nation over another, never choose one people over another for special perks. If our religion teaches us anything, it's that God loves and blesses everyone.

Look, it was hard enough watching the Renegades get pummeled by the Staten Island Yankees. Then I have to stand for bad theology? My only consolation is that, after it was over, we all sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and even the beer guy sang along.