Sunday, August 7, 2011

American Patriots: Lee Greenwood and Keb' Mo'

I'm probably just digging myself deeper into a hole but I'll give it a try. I was at Philmont Scout Ranch this last week. It is a wonderful, beautiful place and part of that is because everyone is so nice there, motivated by personal choice to live the principles of the Scout Oath and Law. Now, that is not to say the Scouts don't have their controversies and issues as I step aside the 800-pound gorilla waiving the little rainbow flag. I will note that I have never personally experienced, in any official Scouting function, a negative word or even official statement against gays. Of course, there is the all too common and inappropriate gay-bashing by jokes among youth, and maybe some adults, although I think that is less frequent now than when I was a kid. And I have actually heard it condemned by Scout leaders, yours truly included. It seems to be a courteous "don't ask, don't tell" policy in practice. And while I might prefer a more straightforward policy of acknowledgment and strict adherence to conduct standards, more like the current, official LDS church policy, I will leave it for now.

Nobody owns the rainbow. God shares it with everybody, even Philmont.
(It's good it shows up here though, even if a little under the radar)
No, my point comes back again to the politics of patriotism. I've already expressed what I feel about Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." It has been a part of the opening evening program at the Philmont Training Center  for some years now. The young adult staff march in carrying American flags as Greenwood is heard from the loudspeaker. The audience stands and salute or place hands over hearts as one would expect when the flag enters. This time, I discretely walked out during the Greenwood part returning for the posting of the colors and the pledge of allegiance in which I heartily joined. I was discrete enough that I think my wife was the only one who noticed my absence and certainly the only one aware that it was some kind of political statement, poorly executed as it may have been.

Several days later, heading on the long drive home, a song came up on random play. It was "America the Beautiful"performed by Keb' Mo' in a very Mississippi blues style, and as it came from Obama's victory album of 2008, Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement (how many presidential elections include cool victory albums?), it also included some inspiring words of the man who became our President:
We made our share of mistakes. And there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived at great cost and great sacrifice to form a more perfect union.
Now, I at least, find those words very inspiring, and honest, and part of the reason why I voted for our President and probably will again. But as I heard them along with the also very inspiring lyrics of that tune performed in a style that was outside of my usual zone of reference, I recognized that there may be some who would be extremely offended by that, maybe more so than I even am by Lee Greenwood.

Going a little farther, I have one other friend, interestingly a military veteran, who has expressed similar concerns about the Greenwood song. I don't know if there were any others at the Philmont program who were in any way concerned about Greenwood. Yet, if the PTC staff had marched in with the flags to that recording of Keb' Mo' along with the words of Obama, even if he is current President of the United States of America, and honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, how many do you think might have been offended? I bet a lot more than one. I figure at least 40%.

They might have an opinion about how Obama is such a disgrace, not a "real American" like Sarah, etc., and supports the "gay agenda," or how he snubbed the Scouts by not showing at the Jamboree (by the by, I didn't exactly see Nixon show at the one I was at in '73, but then maybe he was otherwise engaged in un-indicted co-conspiratorial activities).

So, what am I getting at besides stirring uncomfortable controversy? (Or even a little pity party about how I find myself straddling cultures so often with my personal experiences?) I'm wondering if the whole Lee Greenwood theme just doesn't reflect some kind of cultural/political litmus test. Greenwood sings at Palin rallies, Keb' Mo' sings on Obama records. So, maybe I should just leave it to you. Watch and enjoy, vote for whom you want, or walk out if you have to:

Actually, I think my point is we are all real Americans. The Scouts are doing a pretty good job with this in recruiting more types of diversity in their youth programs, inner-city youth, special needs, various religious, ethnic and racial groups. There are even a few gay Scouts under the radar as long as there is no overt sexual behavior. But then there shouldn't be any overt sexual behavior of any type in Scouting.

But these videos do just make me wonder if some of us are just more "real American" than others? Can we ever get beyond these cultural conflicts? And how do we do it?


  1. Nice to see you're thinking about the exclusion of gay kids, and I'm sure you know that, to give an analogy, it's was never enough just to be kind to slaves; they had to be set free. I think it was your picture of Lincoln that suggested the comparison to me. BTW, I saw one of Lincoln's love letters to a male friend at the Lincoln museum in Springfield and made me become emotional. I've read a collection of Lincoln's erotic letters to male partners from his youth and they're as moving as King James's letters to his gay lovers. There's disagreement among historians about Lincoln, but I'm convinced about that aspect of his life, and he's someone who could do no wrong, in my book. Aside from that, I think it's the tone of American excetionalism that might bother you in the music you cited. It does me.

  2. Well, Ron, sorry to disagree but I hope I'm in a friendly way, but I've never personally seen a kid excluded. I know one who at 15 declared himself gay and stopped going to Scouts and all church activities as we kept inviting him back. (Been experienced in Scouting for some twenty plus years as an adult leader). It may happen as absolutely wrong and ugly things do in any community. I'm just trying to do what I can where I can under the knowledge, abilities, and commitments I have received and have chosen.

    I've read the Lincoln letters too. If you're convinced he was gay it may be on faith and feeling rather than objective truth. You're entering into territory where objective truth is rather difficult to establish. Lincoln could and did do wrong as all of us are capable and I'm not talking about whatever his or anybody else's private, intimate practices were. He certainly had his political crimes (suspending habeus corpus. as he broke the Constitution to save it, etc.)

    I agree that so-called "American exceptionalism" may be the dogmatic culprit in my musical and patriotic tastes. I fight dogmas of all types. Even if I may hold to a few as I try to figure them out. I seem to be always trying to hold on to slippery babies as I pour out the bathwater.

  3. I am also a life-long Scout, having earned my Eagle, and actively participated in Order of the Arrow. Indeed, much of who I am today I can directly attribute to the Scouting program and the LDS Church's sponsorship of it.

    That being said, I am also very bothered by the Lee Greenwood song. Even as a kid in the 80's who had to sing it during assemblies and whatnot, I was uncomfortable. I have always had a deep and abiding respect for our nation and its symbols, but I find that song to be distracting and obnoxious. There is so much of America to be genuinely proud of that it feels like a betrayal to the good to buy into this jingoistic garbage.

  4. Thanks, Daniel. I'm glad it's just not me.

  5. I meant, "not just me." My mental dyslexia kicks in after 9:30 p.m.


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