Irving Berlin wrote the song God Bless America in 1918. In 1938 with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Berlin, who was Jewish, revised the song. Kate Smith introduced it on Armistice Day that year on her radio show and it became her signature song.

It is impossible for me to separate the song from Kate Smith. Countless millions have heard her rendition but in recent years I have come to associate another voice with the song. Timothy Miller, Atlanta Opera Tenor, sings the song during the seventh inning stretch on Sundays and holidays for the Atlanta Braves home baseball games.

This son of a career Army veteran turned Baptist preacher, sang in the Morehouse College Glee Club, graduated from that venerable institution in 2003, and is currently an adjunct professor of voice and music at his alma mater. He has taken his voice to some impressive places. The kid who began with hymns at his father’s church sang “Ain’t Got Time to Die” at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, sang the “National Anthem” and “To God be the Glory” at Nathan Deal’s 2011 inauguration, toured Europe doing “Porgy & Bess” and has appeared in numerous operas, many with the Atlanta Opera company.

I have heard Timothy sing many times during the Braves games but never has he sounded better than last Sunday at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. He began with the introduction that is now rarely heard:

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea

Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.

Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,

As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”

Then in his classically trained voice, he launched into the body of the patriotic tune:

God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.

Never have I heard it sung better and when the congregation joined him on the verse my spirit soared. This is more than a song, it is a prayer (Let us raise our voices in a solemn prayer) for God’s guidance (Stand beside her and guide her thru the night with a light from above). It recognizes the vastness and diversity of this country (from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam). It is a call to commitment (Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free) and an expression of gratitude “for a land so fair.”

I am thankful to be born and have lived all my life in America and I grateful for all this wonderful country affords. Many people have given their lives to preserving our freedoms. At the same time I understand that it is by God’s grace that we enjoy these cherished liberties.

As we approach Independence Day and we celebrate our freedoms, I am mindful that God HAS blessed us and I do not ever want to take that for granted. I will continue to ask for God to bless America, “my home, sweet home.” I will also ask God to guard me from becoming so self-centered that I forget that there are millions of people around the world whose “home sweet home” means as much to them as mine does to me. I will also remember that there are many for whom the storm clouds continue to gather.

God bless America. God bless your people everywhere.

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

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