Music was one of the most defining aspects of my mission. In every area, there were opportunities to play the piano, sing in choirs, or use other musical abilities in some way to invite the Spirit and give power to the work in which we were engaged.
One of these experiences that I will never forget was in June of 2009, when the local baseball team (appropriately named the San Antonio Missions; it wasn't always easy for us, however, to admit that the Spanish had beaten us to Texas centuries earlier) invited the Church to provide a few missionaries to sing the National Anthem at their game against Corpus Christi. That evening was "Mormon Night" at the ballpark, and what better way to open the night's events than with Mormon missionaries? (Which apparently wouldn't be the last time, either, as recently our elders and sisters in San Antonio made the news for their singing at a Spurs game.)
I don't think I can ever adequately describe how choice that experience was; and indeed, the Lord was with us from start to finish. Unfortunately my camera battery died just after we got situated on the field, but one of the elders attending the game with us managed to shoot a little bit of our rehearsal before we went out:
The whole thing passed quickly, in an almost dreamlike moment. We were permitted by our mission president to stay and watch the game when we were done, which naturally came with the opportunity to receive feedback from those who had heard us sing. I remember being approached one or two times by those who weren't members of the Church, inquiring as to which arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner we had used, as it was a very clean, straight-forward and no-nonsense presentation. I was very pleased to tell them that we had sung it straight from our church's hymnbook.
Which brings me to my thoughts for today.
I think it's awesome that we use patriotic songs like The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and My Country, 'Tis of Thee as hymns in church. I'm grateful to be part of a religious organization that recognizes and appreciates the divine origin of our country, and that teaches it as doctrine. Indeed, if there is anyone who must celebrate this free land, it would most certainly be us; for in order that the Church of Jesus Christ could be restored in its fulness, there first had to be established a nation independent of the rule of tyrants and an oppressive state religion. Without liberty--I dare say, without America--there could have been no restoration of truth, and the full blessings of the Gospel would have remained unclaimed.
One thing I love about the Book of Mormon is its emphasis on liberty. Throughout the book there are countless stories and sermons on the subject. We read of many wars, and in every case it's one side defending their liberty while the other side seeks to oppress. The American continent is spoken of as a land of promise; and perhaps the most repeated promise given in the Book of Mormon is that the inhabitants of this land would prosper as long as they kept the commandments of God.
I firmly believe that promise. It is made both for individuals and for nations, both in the past and now. The world is changing, and the values on which our nation was established are not the same values that are gaining the most influence in the popular mind today. The Book of Mormon was written for our day, and when I read it I see our nation, both for the good and for the evil. The Book of Mormon is so American in so many ways, and that's part of why I value it so much. Most of all, I have seen its promises come to fruition in my life, and continue to even now. Whatever happens--whatever corrupt or immoral laws are passed in our modern halls of government, whatever foreign entanglements spill the blood of our soldiers, whatever dark thing wins popularity among our people--God knows me as an individual, and as long as I keep His commandments, I will prosper in this land. Everything I now have has been conditioned upon that, and is a result, by extension, of the liberty established with this free nation. I'm grateful to be a member of a church that teaches that, and for the freedom to practice my beliefs in a land such as this.
Happy Independence Day, my friends. May we as a nation remain blessed of the Lord, and as individuals strive to remember the cost of those blessings.