Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Land is Your Land! This Land is My Land!


"A voice was chanting,
As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me."
--Woody Guthrie

I am listening in tears as Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sing "This Land is Your Land." Seeger's nearly 90-year-old voice speaking out the wonderful words of Woody Guthrie's old song, and YES! This land is my land! This land is your land! Woody is present in song at Obama's inauguration. Odetta is here in great spirit. Would that her voice, that had the power to would and heal simultaneously, be cascading down upon the crowd in this very moment.

We are getting our country back, to give back to the world. That is the whole liberation that we have found in sending Dick Cheney and George Bush away. No more will that lip of Cheney curl in a strange mixture of disdain and frustration that he's not getting just what he wants when he wants it.

No more will we have to choose between cheering on George Bush against his many critics, and booing, laughing at, or generally deriding a man who seems not to have quite left the frat house on a squalid Sunday morning with a pile of stale beer-puke as his only pillow on a cold, hard floor, only to wake up in these circumstances as the most powerful man in the world.

We can both give thanks that there have been no more 9-11s, no bombs in the subways of New York, no planes crashing into the White House or Capitol building, but also regret that America has been greatly diminished in her power and grandeur, in her ability to broker peace and support nations in need, diminished in being a voice of tolerance and acceptance rather than high-handed moralism of a very certain and narrow stamp.

I find myself thoroughly ready to give Cheney the gentleman's boot out the front door and not mourning him landing on his foie-gras-padded ass bought with the blood of American servicemen and -women as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis, and yet not able to do anything but pity Bush, who, beyond his Ivy League-saturated anti-intellectualism, had some really good ideas that got lost in the shuffle of putting our Constitution to bed for a long midnight's nap.

But the dawn is now breaking above the fruited plain.

For eight long years, this land has been their land.

But now, "This Land is Your Land; This Land is My Land." There is a grandeur in these United States that is both dangerous to behold, and empowering to our own country and to the whole world.


"America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law."
--Katherine Lee Bates

This grand old nation could use a return to self-control and liberty through the law that was this country’s birthright, but has been flouted for seven years in the name of national security.

Self-control is both something we have lacked as a society, and also as individuals. If you can’t afford the mortgage, don’t buy the house, no matter how much you want your own home. Rent, for God’s sake. It’s not so bad. I've done it for years. If you can’t afford those SUV or car payments, buy something a little less expensive, or, God forbid, use public transportation if you can. If you can’t afford the flat-screen HDTV that is as big as the side of a barn, and costs as much as a herd of cattle, for goodness sakes don’t blow $5000 + on it—just get something within your means! Of course, there are health emergencies that could wipe out one's savings in the blink of an eye, no matter how hard one tries to save.
It’s easy to say, and not as easy to do. But with big daddy in the White House doing whatever the h-e-double hockey sticks he wanted, it seemed fitting that we should as well.

But now, America, this land is your land once again. And you’ve got some payments to make on it.


"O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life."

Many have given their lives in down payment out of love for their country. I am a mere armchair citizen, but they are those who go out when the rubber hits the road.

You know, I would like to serve in the armed forces as a chaplain, but it is not allowed under the current “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. I’m not one to not ask, nor not tell. This land may be my land, but it’s yet to fully embrace me.

Barack Obama may help us get to that promised land of full participation in this land that puts the realities of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as bedrock rather than mountaintop experiences. But he can’t do it all by himself.


"This land was made for you and me."

And you know, dammit, the man is right. This land is not just George Bush’s, Dick Cheney’s, Rick Warren’s, Gene Robinson’s, Barack Obama’s, Caroline Kennedy’s, Bill Gates’s, not just the land of those who have large bank accounts and vast connections and high name recognition, who are inheritors of great legacies or forgers of their own legacies, damn the torpedoes.

This land is the land of a lot more people. The “you” may indeed have much more potential breadth than we’ve ever felt possible. And the “me,” notice how it is preceded by “and,” and comes second, not first, may too be much larger than just each of our individual selves.

The coming of Obama is not the coming of a savior, but the turning of a page in a long book whose last chapter has yet to be written. Hope comes in many ways.

We have taken some, perhaps well-deserved, licks. We have not lived up to the potential that this society has always kept as a problematic possibility, rather than a crystal-clear reality. We have, in the words of a rather harsh New Zealand Episcopalian liturgy, “violated your creation, abused one another, and rejected your love,” but instead of doing this towards God per se, we have done it to the rest of the world as well as ourselves.

But there is a new chance not to do that quite as much as we have. There is a new possibility to take some of the God-shed grace from one end of this beautiful country to the other, and from one end of this needful world to another.

May the fog lift from this land, and may the hungry for food, freedom, and equality, be well fed. May this land truly be yours and mine, and may we give it as a gift of great price to those yet to come who will share our dreams and ideals.

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