One hot Sunday afternoon last season, I did not rise for “God Bless America.” In a beer-soaked tone of voice that wasn’t pleasant, a gentleman several rows behind me told me to stand up. I reminded him that I don’t have to.
This incident made me think more about the question: I love this country and don’t want to live anywhere else. But being pressured to stand up at a baseball game for a song that’s essentially a prayer seems, well, un-American. It feels like being pushed into the river for a baptism I didn’t choose. It’s an empty ritual, and one that I think doesn’t hold much theological water.
What we join together to say, sing and stand up for says something about us as a people. I think it matters. At ballparks across the country, we are expected to participate in what can be described only as a prayer to ask God’s blessings on our nation. As nice as blessings are, singing this song doesn’t feel like it has integrity the way signing our national anthem does.
I’m reminded of the admonition not to pray just to be seen by others. More important, though, I’m concerned that this is a myopic way to exercise faith. I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings. (Or, perhaps more to the point, blessings for our bullpen, error-free fielding and sufficient run support.) When we ask for blessings to be bestowed only on “us,” we are in danger of seeing ourselves as set apart from the world. Faith is global, and one nation doesn’t get any more or less of God than any other.
Asking for God’s blessing for “us” or “me” ignores greater needs in our world. We should ask a bigger question: How can we get this blessing to all? I want God walking with and standing beside every single person on this Earth — and every country.