Wednesday, November 15, 2017

An Exercise in Interpreting American Poetry

Many people – myself included – bemoan the fact that the study of our native language (English, or, more properly, American English) has degenerated mightily in past decades.  Even college students cannot use grammar properly; neither can they write coherent sentences, or even interpret standard passages of American literature that used to be easily understood by grade school children a half-century ago. Care to guess to what I am referring?

If you guessed the National Anthem, you are correct. Something of a tiny storm in an even tinier teacup has been unleashed with respect to the interpretation of this beloved poem-set-to-music. Please allow me to elucidate.

Most adult American citizens know the first stanza of the National Anthem; maybe half that number know the second stanza – or are even aware that there is a second (or third, or fourth) stanza. The words of the third stanza of Francis Scott Key’s poem that gives us the words of our National Anthem are as follows (the numbers to the right have been inserted by me):

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,                               1
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion                                2
A home and a Country should leave us no more?                               3
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.                 4
No refuge could save the hireling and slave                                        5
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,                            6
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave                         7
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.                           8         
("Star-Spangled Banner" np)

No doubt, Dear Reader, you have been “informed” by some know-it-all English “expert” or media announcer that the National Anthem has been “discovered” to be – horror of horrors – RACIST. This stanza actually mentions – go get your smelling salts before you faint from the shock – the word “slave.” Now, any right-thinking liberal will immediately react strongly to this Dreaded Word. In fact, its mere mention is enough to make even the strongest snowflake’s knees quiver. (Did you catch the sarcasm?)

Hold on, Dear Reader! I will save you from the perplexities of having to invent a New Anthem much more PC than the one we have! I will demonstrate that the only color mentioned here is red (like blood) or red, white, and blue (like the flag) – neither instances of which demonstrate racism. After you read my explanation, you will know that it will once again be safe to sing this Anthem in front of Children and Diverse Groups (whew!)!

Let us begin with the simplest of English-language structures: the Sentence. There are three sentences in this stanza; the first one takes up lines 1 – 3 and is termed an “interrogative sentence” (in other words, a question). [Please note the question mark at the end of the third line if you doubt my word.] The second sentence is found in Line 4; the third one occupies Lines 5 – 8. Both of these latter sentences are “declarative” – that is, they state a fact or opinion. And both of these latter sentences answer the first sentence – the one that is a question.

The core of the first sentence is the subject “band” with the verb “is” – a short succinct “Where is that band…?” The rest of the sentence is filled with prepositional phrases and dependent clauses modifying the subject: “The band who did this and that and threatened us, etc.” Understand? We Americans were threatened by the British Mother Country; they wanted to wipe us off the face of the earth. (Gee…could anyone really mean something that horrible? Does it ring any bells in the 21st century?)

After Francis Scott Key (the poem’s author) asks that important question, he says in Line 4, “Well, we made them pay for their invading our soil, with the shedding of their own blood.” A trifle warlike, but we haven’t gotten to the really bad and offensive part yet!

The third sentence in Lines 5 – 8 could be deemed a run-on sentence (or a comma splice), but people in those days were used to carrying on conversations with complex thoughts longer than three words, so let’s not be too judgmental. Let’s find our subject and verb, shall we? Here is the first part of the sentence put into plain 21st-century American English: “Those suckers will either leave this land or we’ll kill ‘em.” Gosh darn! How harsh! How uncouth, even un-charitable! Those were the bad ‘ol days, weren’t they? [sigh]
Oh – I forgot to tell you one important thing! The “hireling” and “slave” referred to here are the British mercenary and the dumb, stupid British soldier who did whatever their leaders told them to do (like imprisoning Key forcefully while the British bombarded Fort McHenry, despite him being under a flag of diplomatic truce). Black slaves were not aboard ship, and Key was not referring to Americans (slave or free) in this stanza. He was referring to the enemy – and he was hopping mad. He wasn’t about to call our enemies sweet names like “misguided” or “mis-understanders.” Nope! He said they were hirelings and slaves! I guess we should resurrect Francis Scott Key so that we can give him a lesson in Political Correctness!
OK, let’s tackle “color” in this stanza. Let’s see…there’s the color of blood – red. And the colors of the flag – red, white, and blue. And then…
Nope. That’s it. No black slaves. No white supremacists. No yellow anything else…

Wait. I detect a new color; it’s the color of hatred and confusion, inserted in the year 2017 by snowflakes who still can’t – after college degrees and lots of coaching in English – parse a simple English sentence and find the nouns and verbs!
Thank God that Francis Scott Key could read and understand English. Thank God that his prayers for the safety of Fort McHenry were answered. In fact, thank God for Key and other patriots of his day. For you see, Dear Reader, had it not been for Key and his compatriots’ tenacity in fighting off the British rampages, we’d be singing an anthem to a British queen and possibly wearing wigs in a British court of law.
With Key, I repeat: This is the “land of the free and the home of the brave” – and may the National Anthem be used to open our collective eyes to its great truths.

Work Cited:
Key, Francis Scott. "The Star-Spangled Banner." American Accessed at: 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Too Clever by Half

The British have a saying which is not often repeated in the American South: “He is too clever by half.” It means that a person is, as Merriam-Webster explains it, “annoyingly proud of one's intelligence or skill and in danger of overreaching oneself.” Right now, the whole of Judge Roy Moore’s list of opponents is engaging in the most ridiculous attempt at “being too clever by half.”

Imagine: A man who has stood toe-to-toe with the entire liberal establishment of Alabama – not once, but twice – is now, on the eve of an important election, suddenly “discovered” to have been a lecherous, disgusting lawyer forty years ago. And – amazingly so! – this has only suddenly come to light just in time to save those wretched Southerners from making a mistake that Mitch McConnell and others would heartily regret!

Huh? Say again? You mean to say that the man who twice lost his elected position as an Alabama Supreme justice due to his unflinching stand on the place of the Ten Commandments has really, truly been a blackguard all this time? You mean to say that our society is so evil that it has elevated this man to the highest position of trust, totally ignoring the cries of these “poor, disadvantaged [once teenage] over-forty-year-old girls”?

Please. Spare me!!

Shakespeare wrote a line in Hamlet that suits these accusers perfectly: “The lad[ies] doth protest too much, methinks.” Permit me to offer some insights into this state of affairs:

1.  Roy Moore’s opponents can’t bring up anything to stop this righteous, stalwart man from being elected to Congress by a state whose citizens have been awakened to what is at stake in our country.

2.  This would not be the first time that a political group has hired people to lie in order to destroy the opposition. What is President Trump being subjected to at this very moment?

3.  Why wait all this time to bring the allegations to light? These woman know that they do not presently have – nor do they ever have a snowball’s chance in hell of obtaining – actual physical proof of what they allege. Furthermore, they are also overly-confident that they will never be taken to court for their allegations. They firmly believe that Moore’s Christian ethics will prevent him from suing them; thus, they feel overly-confident that they will not suffer any repercussions whatsoever.

However, the people who have cobbled together this last-minute attempt to discredit an honorable Christian from doing God’s work in Washington, D.C. – a place where the devil has run rampant for far too long – have been “too clever by half.” The timing of these allegations smells to high heaven. In fact, it reminds me of a startling and poignant passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-17).

Roy Moore is the savor of the Savior. That leaves a stench coming from somewhere else.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What about the Sheep?

As an informed, Bible-believing member of a local Methodist Church, I am dismayed at the recent tendency of the Methodist hierarchy to disregard clear Biblical teaching, as well as clear Discipline instructions,in order to allow wolves to infiltrate and attempt to destroy the Sheepfold of Christ.

It was bad enough – years ago – to be told by the local bishop of the Baltimore-Washington conference that my personal protests against a lesbian pastor were “uncharitable” and that I needed to “pray for myself” (whatever that meant). That was back when Allen & I were members of a Methodist congregation on the outskirts of Baltimore. The bishop did not mention Jesus Christ, the Gospel, or the welfare of the many souls that were to be affected by this outrage. It was exactly like releasing a wolf into a sheepfold, and instructing the sheep to be “charitable” to their mortal enemy.

At that time, I prayed for the misguided bishop and his strange mindset. In the end, things did not work out exactly as the bishop and the lesbian minister planned; she did not move to the Baltimore – Washington Conference. Years passed, and Allen and I moved to Tennessee and – for a time – enjoyed the fellowship and teaching of a local Baptist church. When the leaders in that congregation working to exclude us from participating in the life of the church (you will have to read a former blog “When Your Pastor Divorces His Congregation” – November 18, 2015 – to learn more details), we eventually moved our membership to a local Methodist congregation, who welcomed us with more love than we ever imagined possible. In addition, we knew that that congregation was led by an excellent preacher, who paid no attention to the latest PC initiatives from the hierarchy.

But the assault on the Sheep of Christ’s fold continues. The latest atrocity is the female so-called “bishop” who openly teaches that Christ’s humanity led Him to “change his mind” regarding certain issues, and therefore was not a perfect human being Who was capable of being our sacrificial substitute to a wrathful God. Karen Oliveto claims that she “learned” she was gay in seminary, but openly confessed to this sin only after she was ordained. She “married” a female later, and then presented herself as a candidate for the bishopric. Not content to add sin to sin, she decided to attack the very Savior she says she serves (and receives a salary for serving!). A more egregious example of hypocrisy is hard to find.

What can Bible-believing Methodists do about this and other examples of open hostility to Christ’s Sheep? Here are several suggestions:

1   1.   Stay centered in the Word. These attacks on Jesus Christ and His Church will be coming fast and furious as the days of His coming approach.

      2.     School yourself in the approval of God. What pleases Him? What meets with His disapproval? Those are the only things that matter. Other people’s approval can vanish on the wind; only the approval of a holy and righteous God endures into eternity.

3. Pray for the conversion of these wolves. Paul the Apostle was once a wolf, but later he testified that, “As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’” (Romans 8:36)

p    4.   Speak out. Even if your words are met with hostility and derision, trust that the Holy Spirit of God can and will use them to perform miracles for God’s glory.

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). What a glorious thought – that we common Sheep will be rewarded for our faithfulness by the Good Shepherd Himself!