Column: God and Country and the Indy 500
“America, America, God shed his grace on thee …” – America the Beautiful, verses 1,2,3,4
Say what you will about the Indianapolis 500 as cultural theater – good or bad. It has to be among the most patriotic places in America on Memorial Day.
The crowd roars its heartfelt approval of the military representatives who are introduced. The renditions of “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” are my annual opportunity to sing in a 230,000-voice choir. With “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the only difference is that we all seem to sing a little louder. Conversely, the crowd is respectfully hushed, almost prayerful, during the National Anthem and taps. Indianapolis Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne has fun with pre-race prayer.
Can I get an Amen?
And then the race starts and the event itself is … thrilling. I’ll spot you the Super Bowl kick off, the first pitch of the World Series, tip-off of the NBA finals, and the start of the Daytona 500. I’ll take Turn 1 at Indianapolis. Acquired taste that auto racing may be – and I acquired it long ago – the 500 is even more meaningful to me because I’m standing beside my brother, two sons, wife and, this year, my sister and brother-in-law from Tucson. We share as a family. We share en masse as a nation. It’s not the car racing; it’s the miracle of community identity, the sparkle of America’s possibilities.
We share the love of country and the grace God shed on all of us – showered it, really. And one of the great expressions of God’s abundant grace on our nation on race day at Indy is the love I feel among family, friends, and the patriotic ambience magnifique out there on West 16th Street.
Yeah, Brickyard behavior is a bit rough sometimes. Regarding the crowd, I like to joke that “everything you learned in kindergarten” (see Robert Fulghum’s poster) doesn’t apply at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But in the patriotic light of Memorial Day, it’s love that makes that gathering so special.
What got me thinking about all this, oddly enough, was the nasty-tempered and incredibly ungracious, unloving Westboro Baptist Church protestors expressing, spitting their hate for so much of what Americans celebrate as God’s grace. Their vile signs and loud mouths greeted us along 16th Street on race morning.
God is love, and He surely laments lives governed by hate. Let’s remember to pray for those shackled to darkness, but not miss the love we enjoy together in the light of grace, even at Indy on Memorial Day.
God doesn’t want to lose anybody.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) figures that “grace” verse is repeated because God’s grace is the point of the whole song.