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To be published May, 2007, by Long Story Short Ezine.

"My Country-'Tis of Thee..."

 

"'Tis of thee," our founding fathers fought for freedom, in this"land where our fathers died". In fact, they died fighting for our freedom. This is the same freedom that led Betsy Ross to burn candles night and day as she sewed the original red, white and blue pieces of cloth to form what became our symbol for that freedom. Our flag flew high in the sky as the battles raged, a reminder to our men of their reason to endure the hardships and death of battle. Those were the "good 'ole days" when our schoolchildren had a deep respect for both the Bible and our emerging country. Therefore, patriotism was encouraged daily and separation of church and state was never considered."'Tis of thee" that people would risk life and limb to travel on crowded ships with stale air, lack of food and all manner of diseases to arrive in this "land of plenty." Upon arrival they would wait hours to days, often with no food, to be treated like chattel.

They would be forced to work long hours for pittance wages, often for people who took advantage of the language barrier to short-change them. I, myself, am a product of this great "melting pot" country. My immigrant German father is so proud to be a United States citizen that he refuses to speak his native German, stating "I don't remember it; besides, I am American now." He married a pastor's daughter shortly after arrival here and they soon gave birth to me in this "sweet land of liberty." My country has always been reverent to me. My parents and grandparents never let me forget what a blessing it is to live in America.

My mother is a descendant of American Indians. My family tree traces back to Pocohontas' descendants. American Indians have been treated much like the immigrants. Shunned and ridiculed, they have been forced to live on small parcels of alloted land or give up their native way of life to mainstream into American society. The main difference is that the American Indians were the original inhabitants of this land whereas the immigrants chose to come. Both met opposition to their quest to maintain their way of life, both were denied basic respect, yet both are a vital part of America's heritage.

Our overrated American ideals make America so appealing that people just like us are willing to risk their lives for a chance to experience them in this "land of the Pilgrims' pride". America has a reputation for being the "land of plenty" where all dreams can come true and everyone is rich. Traveling in Mexico, I frequently was treated like a queen by people struggling to put food on the table. They elevated me to a platform because I was American and spoke to me of their desire to come to my country.

The new wave of immigrant families seeking the "amber waves of grain" of "America the Beautiful" deserve respect and support to create a new future, rather than the ridicule and disgust received by those of the past. We all share the same God, in that He loves each of us equally. Some have different ways of worship and some don't believe in Him at all, but God's love does not change. Why can't we cease the hatred and war and "let freedom ring" as we share the Love of Christ? Getting back to basics and loving our neighbor as ourself would change our world for the better and allow us to live in harmony. The time has come to end the separation of church and state and allow people to worship as they desire. Prayer can be silent so as not to intrude on others and the flag belongs in our classrooms, along with the Pledge of Allegiance (in its' entirety!)

For 'tis of thee, my country, that I am free.  I want my grandchildren to experience the reverence of patriotism as a day-to-day reality, rather than as a canned or bottled delicacy preserved in glass cases and placed on occasional display. 

1.  My Country, 'Tis of Thee, written in 1831 by Reverend Samuel Francis Smith.

2.  America the Beautiful, written in 1893 by Katherine Bates.

Ringing Bell

Developing a Musician "Note" By "Note"

 

The fall of 2005, I was honored to become a new member of our recently reorganized handbell choir. This honor came about as an answer to a forgotten prayer and is proof that God answers all prayers in His time.

Thus, the first note: As Christians, we pray regarding the desires of our hearts, realizing that they will occur if and when it is God’s will. I was crushed to learn that the Handbell Choir had disbanded years ago for lack of a director. I had prayed to find a church in which to have this opportunity. Of course, my next prayer was that a director would be found! What a pity that three whole octaves of bells had their voices hushed by inactivity, while they rested forgotten in a cabinet, unable to share their music with us....Our bells had been silenced too long when finally we rang anew. It had been several years since I prayed for a director for our handbells, years in which life had gradually evolved my prayers into matters far removed from the music ministry of our church. Yet, God remembered that prayer and fulfilled my dream at the time that I needed it most.

The second note: Technique, counting, and repetitive practice are marks of a true musician. As we organized members with interest and/or experience, we first had to determine who had the strength to ring the larger bells, versus who preferred to play the smaller bells or not play at all. During this time, we also began to gradually learn technique, counting and scales. How frustrating it is to desire to play well but be unable to while suffering the pangs of humility to learn the necessary technique! Practicing the same line or measure repeatedly to perfect a rhythm challenged our patience tremendously, and would possibly challenge the patience of Job, too! The desire to play well is not sufficient means to create music with handbells. We soon learned the value of technique and counting, as well as how blessed we are that our director is extremely patient and devoted. A love of music is imperative to being a musician for it is this which gives the patience needed to sustain repetitive practice.

The third note: An unsuccessful practice combined with prayer can lead to a successful performance. We chose to warm up prior to our public debut with a short practice. Due to nervousness, we made every mistake possible despite a decent rehearsal several nights before. A short prayer with our pastor restored our sense of teamwork and strengthened our souls, after which our service to the Lord, not without blemish but drastically improved, received numerous compliments.

The fourth note: Successful practices are not a guarantee for flawless performances. Maintaining composure, then uttering a silent prayer that the audience did not notice, minimizes errors. After a short break, we began work on a Christmas presentation. We were pleased to learn new techniques that brought variety and a sense of accomplishment. Determined to improve on our last performance, we tried our best at rehearsal. We had opted to play pre-service, then enjoy the Christmas Day service with our families. However, scheduling conflicts, combined with nervousness and excitement, led to disaster. It was a very humbled group that reconvened for practice after the holidays.

The fifth note: The music of handbells does not exist without notes played in proper sequence. Accurate counting and technique create the handbell musician. The voices of the bells rely on the musician to release their notes of joy. When we reconvened, it was our love for the music that reunited us and encouraged us to strive for perfect rhythm and clear tones.

After performing fairly successfully last spring, we opted to cease practice for the summer to enjoy vacations and the planting season. As fall of 2006 approached, I found myself anticipating a new season of practice, with the sudden realization that I had come to think of myself as a musician of the handbells rather than just a new member of the choir. I am a living example that handbell "notes" develop musicians. To God be the Glory for the ability to lift others’ hearts in joyful worship through music!

Author’s Note: We have completed our second season as "The Bells of Concordia." Our performances are much stronger. Our music is only slightly more advanced but we have played more dates. Most important, though, our confidence has improved as our abilities have increased! We are living examples that prayer works miracles!

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Fireworks and stars

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