On the Fourth, Keep Asking Those Questions

“It’s the only national anthem that exists that ends [as usually sung] in a question mark,” according to Loras John Schissel, a music specialist at the Library of Congress, long the center of anthem scholarship.

“I think that’s so appropriate for this big thing we call the experiment in Democracy,” he said. “Because it’s always unfinished. It’s always a day-to-day contribution that we all make to make sure that it goes on, that it’s a success.”

“The way Key writes the poem . . . he’s asking: ‘Is the flag still flying? Are we still a country? Did the British kick our butts? Are we still in existence?’ ” Schissel said. (from a 2014 Washington Post article)

The Question 

Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On this 4th of July, not only do we have trouble answering that question, we can’t even agree with what “freedom” means.

Does freedom mean being able to refuse to wear a mask or get a vaccine, even if it is in the interest of public health…and your job requires it?

Is freedom being able to walk or drive while Black without fear of being at best, feared and at worst, shot?

Is freedom being able to exercise your right to vote? To kneel during the National Anthem? To say whatever you want without consequence?

Perhaps as we consider what freedom means, we could take our cues from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. Galatians 5:13 Click To Tweet

In other words, if you’re only using freedom to serve yourself, you’re missing the boat on who we are called to be.

Today the Star Spangled Banner will be played in spaces and places all over the country, whether we are on our feet or take a knee, whether our hand is over our heart or in our pocket, when we sing our national anthem, we need to be serious about the question it seeks. Because our democracy is a continuous experiment. One, as Schissel points out, that we all must contribute to day in and day out if it is indeed to be a success.

On this Independence Day, may we renew our commitment to participating in our democracy, actively engaging in our local politics, working to elect people to our school boards and state legislatures who support the values we hold dear. May we use our beloved freedom to serve one another. Let us continue to work on the experiment in democracy that is the United States of America, so that when we sing our national song, we can answer its final question with a resounding YES!


Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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