I should warn you now: If you ever go to a sporting event with me, I tend to yell a lot and I will sing along with the national anthem. Singing is not a natural gift for me, but the “Star Spangled Banner” is our national song about resiliency and courage, and I’m going to sing it. I’m sure I partly get this from my dad who complains that it is not a song meant for creativity and individuality; it is a song meant for the community. Our nation has a complex history, but for just a moment when I am at a stadium singing I feel like I’m part of something bigger. I feel like I am calling my country to a better self where we can gather in our uniqueness without needing to drown each other out.
Other times I feel sorely tempted to drown others out. There are times that I am so sure I’m right about this or that issue, I suddenly feel the urge to rant. I know ranting doesn’t look good on any of us, but if I really can’t control it, then I subject my dog to all my brilliance and clarity. Once all of it is out and I have told her exactly what other people need to do to make this world better, she looks at me and gets her vodka bottle chew toy. I actually think ranting at her might be more effective than it is at people.
When I feel frustrated with national issues, then I think about one of my favorite national anthem moments. One Tuesday night several years ago was a huge volleyball game with the stands full of Thunder Mountain and Juneau Douglas football players, friends, parents and fans. The air was electric with the cross-town rivalry.
I knew and loved the young woman who stepped out to sing the national anthem to this crowd. She blanked. She started the anthem twice and blanked. Then something lovely happened. She started it a third time and we all sang. The football players, friends, parents and even the volleyball players sang what words they knew to the tune they could carry, and we lifted the song of our nation together.
I’m really not a fan of national anthem performances, so this was exactly what the anthem should be. We all risked raising our voices the best we could. Even with our differences, we offered what we had and the song filled the space and I saw more than one teary eye.
There is something powerful about singing together. At least half of worship in church is singing and figuring out how to accommodate and make space for every voice. It’s not entertainment; it is participation in communion. I’m pretty convinced we need fewer public rants and more leaders who make space for every voice when the national song falters. We need fewer egomaniacs and more who are willing to risk being part of a song that is bigger than themselves.
• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.