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Students sitting outside Bockman
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Saturday, July 05, 2014

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O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain:
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life:
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
till all success be nobleness,
and ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears:
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

I hosted a Dietrich Bonhoeffer study tour in 1979. On the Fourth of July, our group came back from Poland to our hotel in East Berlin. We had been on the east side of the dividing wall for about a week and we had gotten a glimpse of what it was like to live under the totalitarian rule of the communists. Our bus and passports were searched for more than two hours at Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point between East and West Berlin. Ingrid, our guide, was nervous about our intentions as a Bonhoeffer study group. After all, Bonhoeffer was executed as a traitor in 1945. When we ate in public places, people were very reluctant to talk with us, as even friends and neighbors could turn them in to the authorities. There was no private ownership of houses or farms--and the lack of pride in ownership was evident.

There was a bouquet of red, white and blue carnations on a table in our hotel room when we returned from Poland, congratulating my brother and me on our celebration of Independence Day, even though we knew that they had searched our luggage while we were gone and had bugged our room. Never had we appreciated so much what it meant to live in a free country. The line from the hymn, "O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life," became our prayer of thanksgiving. "America God shed his grace on thee." Freedom is a precious gift.

Heavenly Father, it is easy for us to forget the beauty of spacious skies and amber waves that we are free to enjoy. It is easy to forget the high cost paid for the freedoms we enjoy. Spark our memories as we sing this hymn. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Hubert Nelson
Eden Prairie, Minn.
Master of Divinity , 1962

This God Pause daily devotion is brought to you by the alumni of Luther Seminary.