Vespers for these times… July 4, 2020

(posted Monday-July 6, 2020)


Hark the Vesper bell is pealing,

O’er the meadow soft and green.

Nearer now and nearer stealing, 

Soft it breaks upon my ear.

Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen. Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen.

First Thoughts and a Song: At camp, the fourth of July is a time for fun, frivolity, and, at the end of the day, at the July 4th special Vespers, a time for reflection about our country and its place in the world.  This summer, particularly, we all recommit to Black Lives Matter, to the end of police brutality, to social justice and equity for all Americans, and to the health of our planet.  To that end….this Vespers.

If we had been at camp, we would have begun the day with the singing of America, the Beautiful.  Written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1883, America the Beautiful celebrates the remarkable land on which we live.  Katherine Lee Bates was an English professor at Wellesley College.  In a remarkable feat for the times, she took a trip to Colorado, where, from the top of Pike’s Peak, she felt inspired to write the lyrics to this beloved song.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20th, 2009, Beyonce was asked to perform this song.  Gathered around and behind her on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  were Americans of all races , ethnicities and creeds.  Before her were a similarly diverse group of Americans, all yearning to work on a future that would realize the full positive potential of our citizens and nation.  Many of you may have been there and others will remember the photos from that day.

At the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, also on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, armed troops were stationed prepared to attack protestors who might, in their estimation, get too close.  There was a terrifying photo taken that day reflecting a serious challenge for all Americans who value our constitutional rights to gather, to protest, and to demand change when injustice is evident and named.  

Today, we choose to begin this Vespers with Beyonce’s performance on those steps.  Here is the YouTube link so that you can listen and watch. Beyonce-America the Beautiful Live

Then play it again, and sing along.  Let’s all raise our voices, as we would have in the dining hall just a couple days ago, in the name of the freedom we deserve and strive for.   Here are the lyrics:

“AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL” by Katherine Lee Bates

(Note: the lyrics have been rewritten three times.  These are the most recent ones from 1911, with just two very important camp edits. You will find them easily.)

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain.

For purple mountains majesty,

Above the fruited plains.

America, America, God shed her grace on thee.

And crown thy good with sisterhood, 

From sea to shining sea.

A Fourth of July Poem:The Pulse of Morning”, by Maya Angelou

On another presidential celebratory day, this time on Bill Clinton’s inaugural,  January 20, 1993, Maya Angelou delivered this beautiful poem.  It is so appropriate for this moment in our nation’s history just as it was back in 1993.  Do you know it?

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species longs since departed, 

Mark the mastodon, 

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens 

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my 

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness,

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spelling words

Armed for slaughter.

The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,

A river sings a beautiful song,

Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege. Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more.

Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs 

The Creator gave to me when I

And the tree and stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow

And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.

The river sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing river and the wise rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the tree.

Today, the first and last of every tree

Speaks to humankind.  Come to me, here beside the river.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.

Each of you, descendant of some passed on

Traveler, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name,

You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,

You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,

Then forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of other seekers—

Desperate for gain, starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot….

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,

Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the tree planted by the river.

Which will not be moved.

I, the rock, I the river, I the tree

I am yours—your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain, 

Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,

Need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon 

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need.  Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts.

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out upon me.

The rock, the river, the tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes.

Into your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

SING: “Peace I Ask of Thee, Oh Mountains”

Peace I ask of thee, oh mountains,   

Peace, peace, peace.

When I learn to live serenely, 

Cares will cease.



From the hills I gather courage.

Visions of the days to be. 

Strength to lead 

And faith to follow, 

All are given onto me.

Peace I ask of thee, oh mountains, 

Peace, peace peace.

A Fourth of July Story—”Pop Elwood and the July 4 Parade”

Note:  This is a long-time Sangamon July 4th story laced with important ideas and lessons!  We think that it was published in an automobile magazine way back at the beginning of Sangamon’s history in the 1920s.  That magazine has gone missing long ago, making it impossible to list its author.  But the story lives on for the telling!

The story takes place in a small New England town.  It has to be a New England town because the action begins in a town meeting.  Town meetings are a tradition in many New England states, Vermont included.  Once a year, usually in March, and to this day, citizens of Vermont towns gather to discuss matters of importance to the town’s citizens.  From taxes to whether the town needs a new fire truck to the town budget, matters large and small come before the assembled voters.  Some towns give citizens the day off so that they can attend. 

This is participatory democracy pure and (many times) not so simple!

In the particular town in which this story takes place, lived a gentleman named Pop Elwood.  At the time of the unfolding of these specific events, Pop was a long-time citizen of the town, long enough so that he had built up a reputation in town as an argumentative, disagreeable sort of person.  He was known as the kind to make town meeting take at least twice the amount of town most people planned to take because he argued about everything, every issue whether it be Mrs. Smith’s chickens that seemed to always be on the road, or the cost of snowplowing to town citizens. We all know that good citizens should take stands on the issues that concern them.  But in Pop Elwood’s case, he even objected when the local ice cream shop offered to provide free strawberry ice cream cones to all town citizens on July 4.  Rarely did he offer solutions or new ideas. He was,   in short…. a grump!!  

Well…as you now know, town meeting is in March.  Usually, in this particular town, there was an agenda item about the annual July 4th parade.  Most citizens thought that agenda item might take as long as 5 minutes since….hey….the parade had existed for many years without controversy!  But this particular year, Pop Elwood took to the floor and laid claim to a series of perceived problems.  The parade disrupted traffic for too long.  There was always too much litter on the streets after the parade.  He couldn’t hear the student who delivered the first paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence because the church bells rang in the middle of the speech.  And so on, and so on.  And to the town meeting began to go on and on and on. 

Eventually the moderator (the person elected to run these meetings) posed a serious question to Pop Elwood.  The tone of the meeting seemed to be that, if there were so many real or perceived problems with the parade, perhaps this was the year that it shouldn’t happen.  Those town citizens who had planned to put it together (as they had in prior years), stood and stated that they were retiring from the job.  They had no patience or time to look into all Pop Elwood’s issues and as they sat in the town meeting, they began to feel that a quiet back-yard barbecue might be much more fun than dealing with the parade.  The moderator’s question, a direct and irritated proposal to Pop, was that if Pop felt as if the parade was so badly managed and so problematic, perhaps he should run it!  In a moment of courageous lack of awareness….Pop accepted the challenge!

It was not until the next morning that he realized the scope of the planning process!  Running that parade was a BIG task.  Over the next several weeks, however, Pop got into it!  He called local businesses and arranged for the antique car parade (one of which he would ride in, right next to the Town Manager and Town Moderator).  He called the Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders to make sure uniforms would be well pressed and that numbers would be high for those groups in the parade.  He negotiated just the right John Philip Sousa march for the high school band to play.  He talked to the various town organizations that he was sure would benefit from the visibility of taking part in the parade.  He even offered a morning “decorate your bike spokes” workshop for kids, including paying for the red, white and blue crepe paper streamers necessary for the task.  That was so successful that he offered it again to young mothers and fathers who could decorate the wheels of their kids’ strollers.  Elementary kids were offered a free American flag to wave if they marched.  High School kids were given extra credit for essays they might submit on their experience marching with other town citizens. The selected honors student who would deliver the first paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence attended not one, but FOUR training sessions in advance of the big day. Pop Elwood left no person untouched in his efforts to present the best ever July 4 parade.  

July 4th dawned as a perfect early summer’s day.  Blue sky, light breeze, just perfect!  The participants began to assemble in the high school parking lot.  Pop Elwood, looking over the scene, noted the size of the parade and felt extremely satisfied with his work.  And in a subtle, quiet reflection, granted to himself that he had enjoyed the endeavor.  And in fact, he enjoyed congratulatory remarks from many of the assembled parade participants!  His grumpiness?  Gone!  

The magic hour eventually arrived!  The high school band led off!  Pop Elwood in the antique Ford with the Town Manager and the Town Moderator on either side, followed.  The rest of the parade fell in behind.  But what??  As the parade moved down through town, Pop, looking to the left and the right, noted that there were no citizens lining the streets.  Ah!  There was one young mother with her stroller and a toddler, looking quite enthusiastic about the music and action that was passing by!  Pop Elwood called out to her!  Join in, he urged her!  There’s twenty three young parents with decorated strollers just coming up!  And so that person eagerly took her place among her peers in the parade.  

Pop Elwood began to wonder about the meaning of having absolutely no one along the parade route.  Had he failed to create the best-ever July 4 parade?  He craned his neck to look back.  What?  The parade was so long, he couldn’t even SEE the end float with the local candidates for town election.  It seemed that EVERYONE was IN the parade! But wait!  There, at the end of the parade, on the grounds of the town Little League Baseball Field, stood a parade observer!  As Pop’s car approached, to his amazement, his wife had come out to cheer for his good work!  She alone, after all her support of Pop’s efforts to build the parade, was free to stand and acknowledge his victory!

And what of the end to the story?  Well…the town Rotary Club had cooked up a town-wide barbecue there on the ball field.  And as the free strawberry ice cream was served up, the Town Moderator asked Pop Elwood to step up to the podium and to the resounding applause of the entire town citizenry, Pop Elwood shyly accepted their approval of the very best July 4 parade ever!


  This Sangamon story confirms several things:

  • Good things happen when individuals group together to acknowledge and act on a cause!  
  • People can change!  A grump is not assigned that role forever!  In fact, the grump is in charge of being that or something much better!
  • If you find yourself in a leadership role, empower others around you!  More will get done and you will be happier!   Working for change doesn’t have to feel lonely when you bring others along with you!
  • Being part of a cause gives one very good feelings, indeed.  
  • People should not allow themselves to be divided by generation, race, color or creed.  There’s a place in the parade of life for everyone and certainly there are things to love and to learn about from people of every sort.
  • The Pop Elwood story is a July 4 light-hearted story.  But its impact is significant!  Have fun thinking about the deeper elements of the story!

SING: “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land,

From California, to the New York Island.

From the red wood forests, to the Gulf Stream waters,

This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway

I saw above me that endless skyway.

I saw below me that golden valley.

This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled, and I followed my footsteps

To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts.

And all around me, a voice was sounding.

This land was made for you and me.

A Reflection: Evie Happel

So you know….First-year Muggie leaders, for many summers now, have each delivered a morally courageous speech on a current topic about which they are passionate.  A request went out to each rising second-year Muggie  to see if anyone would be willing to write a morally courageous reflection about our country on this particular July 4.  Evie Happel, a Friday featured Future Leader on our camp Instagram account,  responded and her very special remarks are here for you to consider.  Thank you, Evie!

A few days ago, I had a powerful conversation with my mother (Rachel Clark Happel, Camp Betsey Cox alum!) about America’s current situation.  I was feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, and couldn’t understand how people were going about their daily lives with the constant stream of new news stories describing the tragedies taking place in our country.  My mom helped me realize that I am only one person in a world of 7 billion people.  I can only do so much.  But, on the other hand, the things we, as individuals, are able to do, move the world closer to our goal.  

My hope for you all is to use the resources provided to you.  Sign petitions, donate if you have the means, go to rallies if you feel safe, and most importantly, stay informed.  Following the news can get stressful and even tiresome, and I have been guilty many times of taking a break from social media or the news when it got too difficult to read.  

One of the most important things that all of us can do is to stay educated, which often means fighting discomfort and fatigue over the events of our world.  However, it is also important to understand that we are all human. We have limits to how much information we can comprehend and act on.  So with this in mind, I encourage you all this July 4th to take time to reflect on our country, what you have done to make a change, and how we as a camp community and human race can move forward.  Sit with the discomfort and painfulness of the situation, and find ways that you can add to the bigger change that we are contributing to.  

Most importantly, stay safe from physical illnesses, and don’t push yourself past your mental limit.  The world needs you to continue the fight in years to come.”

Final Song: ” What a Wonderful World”, by Louis Armstrong

Today we are surrounded by hope.  That’s because there’s you, and you, and you and you.  We are our hope and it’s strong by itself and stronger together.  Louis Armstrong wrote a hope-full song.  Here are the lyrics and a link to his comments about the song and the song itself.  Take the time to listen once and then to sing along.  It will be a fitting way to feel empowered to move forward…..yes….with hope.  


Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World (Original Spoken Intro Version) ABC Records 1967, 1970


I see trees of green

Red roses, too.

I see them bloom

For me and you.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue

And clouds of white.

The bright blessed day,

The dark sacred night.

And I think to myself, 

What a wonderful world.

I hear babies cry.

I watch them grow

They’ll learn much more

Than I’ll ever know.

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Oh, yeah.



Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen. Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen.


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