This dramatic music dialogue was performed July 4th, 2011 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowshop of Centre Country (UUFCC) in State College, PA. Accompanying music was Georgia On my Mind, Thunder Road, and What a Wonderful World:
America at the Crossroads
We come together to be connected, inspired, comforted, and challenged.
Today we look at America at the crossroads – connected to the past but yearning for a better future – for all the world’s people. We celebrate America’s birth, and ask in what form will America’s rebirth come.
We think that we see things as they are; we don’t. We see them as we are. Let these words inspire us to see the world from many points of view, and in the mirror of how the world sees us, understand who we are on this anniversary.
We take comfort from the action of great leaders who placed us on the right path. Let not this comfort placate our hunger to bring about a better world.
We light this chalice as a reminder that we are the light of the world.
Dramatic reading: two readers. Left column is read by “America” and the Right column is ready by the speaker for the “world.”
America the concept,
the blueprint for humanity
America the promise,
the silver lining of a mirage
that fades as you approach the horizon.
America. A People United.
Out of Many, One.
In God we Trust.
And trust we did.
But what has come of all those promises
in your back pages, America?
Time for self-examination is now,
on your anniversary.
Yes. Let’s. I’ll speak for America.
And you – as the voice of the world – can go first.
America I welcomed you
And kissed the ground when I arrived
I saluted lady liberty
Whose flame shines as a symbol.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And the one who wrote those words also wrote:
“Until we are all free, none of us are free.”
America, you thrived in the days of Kings, Empires and Revolution
Whether faith, power, or reason formed the core,
we have yet to move beyond those days of strife and war.
America has inspired so many nations.
Our hopes and dreams live in documents:
The Declaration of Independence.
Dear World: soon Change will come, and stay.
Those Dreams have become mere archives.
Ideals for a civics class.
Why do they never shine on Main street,
Wall Street, or Capital Hill?
The statue of liberty was a gift to America.
And since then, instead of erecting statues
to the liberty we spread elsewhere,
we have become
“The New Colossus” of wealth and power to the world.
But the rising tide of prosperity lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Peace and Prosperity – the lexus and the olive branch – go hand in hand.
But have they? Standing here in our small town,
We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.
Look at your own history.
Of how this New World
Lured dreamers from old world shores…
…Who, through every stone laid,
And furrow turned,
Did build a world never imagined before,
With free religions, many hearts unchained,
Any many roads to justice paved,
Many paths to the American Way,
All this we forged.
But greed a sly temptress was she.
And when our labor failed
You made your suitors dare
look to African shores.
For hands to steal and chain.
For our dream became a game of more
And theirs a wretched nightmare.
Pioneers on fruited plains
A Trail of tears behind the growing pains
Descendents of those slaves also made this land great.
One of whom wrote:
I am the darker brother
they send to eat in the kitchen
when company comes.
But one day America saw how beautiful he was
and we became ashamed. Countries change.
for this same poet believed: I am America.
And right he was. But now we are America too.
America has become more than a country.
It’s a belief. And we of the world are taking
The reins from you.
You’ve grown up. You’re at a crossroad.
Which path will you blaze?
Will you join us, or go your own way?
I thought we were helping you:
From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
No that’s not the America
we’re dreaming about.
We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal
And that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Destructive governments shall perish from this earth.
But that same America fought the war on terror for you.
What about Guantánamo Bay?
Very Un-American, I’d say.
We built the allied army that won World War Two.
And rebuilt conquered lands in the decades that ensued.
History, like America, is full of contradictions.
Like Julia Ward Howe,
author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
She is the same who created a Mother’s Day for Peace.
‘From the bosom of a devastated Earth
a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat:
Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.
His truth is marching on.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them
of charity, mercy and patience.’
Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored;
Hah! The Grapes of Wrath. What a true American story!
That’s the America I know.
All power, all glory.
America – here are words from one of your own, a communist:
America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
You made me want to be a saint.
America when will we end the human war?
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
Your machinery is too much for me.
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
Everybody’s serious but me.
Then it occurs to me that I am America.
We are all America
In the sense that we all want a better life for our children.
And a fruitful future.
It’s just that Fear of the other clouds our vision and spoils our wisdom.
Each year you and I need to have this conversation
And see where are, and where we came from.
This next song for me embodies the spirit of America:
[Is america’s resilience better described by a story of a fortress bombardment, or a holding on to freedom and the dreams of our youth as we get older?]
I’ve rewritten the lyrics a bit.
Thunder Road / America
Freedom Man & Lady Liberty
Like a vision she dances of Eden across the seven seas
Like a storm he travels on the wind
while you and me, we sing through the din
Our lives bring meaning to cacophany.
Don’t run back home yet, cause there’s more to America.
Are you scared and thinking that maybe
we ain’t that young any more
Show a little faith in our magic twilight
You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re all right
Oh and that’s alright with me.
You can hide beneath your covers and study your pain,
Make flags from your crosses, throw roses in the rain,
Pray for a savior to rise from these streets
But Redemption just aint free
Well every hero comes seasoned with wounds underneath
We talk about the glory but hide our history
With a chance to make it good somehow, hey what else can we do now
Roll back the window and take in the scenes
An American crossroad of divided dreams
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in our legends of history for what understanding of this world reveals.
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dirty beach in the skeleton frames
of burned-out Chevrolets
It was a hefty price to pay
And I hope what we bought at the end of the day
Will shine like the heavens and hum like a Harley
Because the hopes for our country (carry more than you and me.)
They scream your names at night in the street
From Indo China to Tripoli
We got one last chance to make it real
to trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks
Oh come take my hand We’re ridin out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh thunder Road, oh thunder road, oh thunder road
This is the New America calling.
This is not about you.
It’s not even about me.
It’s about everybody crowded together.
So let’s not sufficate each other.
We’re at a crossroads and we need each other.
America – I think the world shares your Fears.
Let’s Live Deliberately.
Don’t just allow things to happen.
For now on, lets NAME the things to which we aspire.
Dreams are the scaffold upon which we build a stable future.
What do YOU want to see for our future then, world?
I don’t know. We can’t make up our minds.
I don’t want to wake up one day
and feel your yoke around my neck.
This great nation was built by simpler people
Who believed in justice and sacrifice.
We can promise to keep your neck free.
Then it’s time you talked to your minions on Wall Street.
Conquest to protect American business is a big part of your history.
But I have my inner compass to think about.
There’s a Fear we can’t compete, and a Fear we must do without.
Like all empires of power and might,
You shall wax and wane before you set things right.
That’s going to take time.
Time to live deliberately again.
Own your history.
Write your future.
I have a greater fear than for America’s power to wane:
It’s that it grows beyond our control
– the people who are America.
Then it is up to each of you to be America.
Whatever was done can be undone.
Make this your beautiful life.
Make this our wonderful world.
I can see how what we do sometimes doesn’t make it all that wonderful. Too many things just allowed to happen.
People aren’t mean; they’re busy.
Too busy for housekeeping of the American Dream.
The World Dream, you mean.
Right. So what next?
We live as if we are America.
We must Inspire others
to become all these things that are America too.
And every day we make the world a little bit more wonderful.
(sing What a wonderful world and America the Beautiful)
[Closing words (start at 8:05 in recording)]
I’ve lived a quarter of my life abroad. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know if I am American enough to lead a July 4th service, and so I’ve put a different spin on this to sort of show that when you live part of your life as a an American Abroad, what “being American” feels like tends to change.
It gets broader.
Let us carry with us the spirit of America. The Fourth of July is not just a day to remember our history and give thanks for the country we live in, but also a day to reaffirm our commitment to the future we want to make.
There is no Left or Right in this story. There is no wrong or right. These are stories of people who can hold contradictory ideas and be Americans. America is all of these things. We need to find a way to live as a people, not just as peoples.