Category Archives: music

They Silently Gather ‘Round Me: Memorial Day 2018

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After the end of the American Civil War, the poet Walt Whitman reflected on the human cost of it. Whitman wrote,

“Ashes of soldiers South or North,

As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies.

Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves,

In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Memorial Day is always an emotional time for me, especially since I returned from Iraq in 2008, and this weekend I have been thinking about the men and women that I knew who died in action or died after they left the service, some at their own hand, unable to bear the burdens and trauma that they suffered while at war. I was reminded of them again at the memorial service that we conducted for the sailors and soldiers from our base who have died in action since September 11th 2001. In an age where less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, I think that it is important that we take the time to remember and reflect on the human cost of wars.

I think of the battlefields that I have served on in Al Anbar Province, the one my father served on at An Loc, Vietnam, or the battlefields and the graveyards I have been to, Verdun, Waterloo, Arnhem, Normandy, Belleau Wood, Luxembourg, the Shuri Line, the Naktong River, Yorktown, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Stone’s River, Bentonville, Gettysburg, the wrecks of the USS Arizona and USS Utah at Pearl Harbor, and so many more, I think about the men and women who never returned. To me all of these places are hallowed ground, ground that none of us can hallow, the sacrifices of the men who gave their last full measure of devotion have done that better than we can ever do.

There are some songs that are haunting yet comfort me when I reflect on the terrible costs of war, even those wars that were truly just; and yes there are such wars, even if politicians and ideologues demanding revenge or vengeance manage to mangle the peace following them. Of course there are wars that are not just in any manner of speaking and in which the costs far outweigh any moral, legal, or ethical considerations, but I digress…

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of the Battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg wrote something that talks about the importance and even the transcendence of the deeds of those who lost their lives in those wars fought and died to achieve.

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Elton John wrote and performed this song, Oceans Away on the centenary of the First World War. It speaks of the men that never came home, and he related it to those who continue to go off to war today.

I hung out with the old folks

In the hope that I’d get wise

I was trying to bridge the gap

Between the great divide

Hung on every recollection

In the theater of their eyes

Picking up on this and that

In the few that still survive

 

Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross

 

They bend like trees in winter

These shuffling old grey lions

Those snow-white stars still gather

Like the belt around Orion

Just to touch the faded lightning

Of their powerful design

Of a generation gathering

For maybe the last time

Oceans away

Where the green grass sways

And the cool wind blows

Across the shadow of their graves.

Shoulder to shoulder back in the day

Sleeping bones to rest in earth, oceans away

Call em up

Dust em off

Let em shine

The ones who hold onto the ones, they had to leave behind

Those that flew, those that fell,

The ones that had to stay,

Beneath a little wooden cross

Oceans away

Elton John “Oceans Away”

Likewise I find myself thinking about all those times alone overseas, and realize that many did not come home. The song I’m Dreaming of Home or Hymne des Fraternisés from the film Joyeux Noel which was adapted by French composer Philippe Rombi from the poem by Lori Barth I think speaks for all of us that served so far away, both those who returned and those who still remain oceans away.

I hear the mountain birds

The sound of rivers singing

A song I’ve often heard

It flows through me now

So clear and so loud

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

 

It’s carried in the air

The breeze of early morning

I see the land so fair

My heart opens wide

There’s sadness inside

I stand where I am

And forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

 

This is no foreign sky

I see no foreign light

But far away am I

From some peaceful land

I’m longing to stand

A hand in my hand

… forever I’m dreaming of home

I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home.

Please take the time to remember those who whose spirits still dream of home, oceans away.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I’ll Have to Say I Love You In a Song: Love Songs for Valentine’s Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since today is an odd confluence of Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and the opening of Spring Training I am going to hopefully avoid any controversy by sharing some of my favorite love songs for Valentine’s Day.

I have spent many Valentine’s Days away from my wife Judy over the course of my military career. Tonight we’ll be together she has a class that I don’t want to take her away from and on her way there she’ll drop me off at Gordon Biersch and then when she is done comes back and meet me for dinner there.

We have spent a lot of time away from each other during the course of my military career. I added up the time between when I was mobilized from the Army Reserve in 1996 to support the Bosnia Operation until when I returned from Camp LeJeune in August of 2013 and I figured at we had been apart 10 of 17 years between 1996 and 2013 due to military assignments. I am glad I am hopefully won’t have to spend months or years away from her again as I enter the twilight years of my career.

In all of these times I have loved music. I remember dating Judy and every week bring in new LP albums or pop 45 singles on vinyl back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the songs were popular on the radio and I would hear them on American Top 40.

I find that music expresses love in ways that I find difficult to do on my own. Perhaps this is because of the fact that I am a historian and not a poet or artist. Here are 25 of my favorites of all time. They are songs that express the emotions of love, love embraced and love requited the joy of love and the agony of losing it.

These are songs that men and women express the feelings of those who have loved, lost and longed for love. They are songs of men and women who sometimes are geographically far away but still close and others that can be sitting next to each other but be as far from each other emotionally and even spiritually as Earth is from the furthest star system in the galaxy.

I think that in my life that many speak to the relationship that I have with the woman that I have loved since the day that I met her back in the late summer of 1978 at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California.

It is interested because a number of years later Barry Manilow wrote a song called The Summer of 78 which expresses much of what I felt and still feel about her.

It was one of those summer’s
lasting forever
making the winter wait
a summer of music and passion
the summer of ’78
you appeared like the summer
sudden and perfect
and not a day too late
I swear there was music when I found you
that summer of ’78
it seem we floated through the days

and nights were always filled with stars
and it seemed every song they played on the radio
was ours
it was one of those summer’s
only for lovers
touched by the hand of faith
and now when the winter’s are long
I remember the summer of ’78

I think any compilation of love songs has to begin with Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England”  I think for me, as a career military man who has spent many years away from my wife, sometimes in harm’s way the questions asked in the song resonate. “When will our eyes meet?” “When can I touch you?” “When will this long journey end and when will I hold you again?” have particular meaning and they are part of the longing that I have.

 

The Carpenter’s breakthrough hit “Close to You” written by Burt Bacharach is a song that is fitting for the love that many young lovers feel when they first meet. I remember when we first started dating I could hardly stand to be away from Judy. The song is more one of infatuation than actual love, but I think unless we first have that infatuation that love often remains dormant.

 

Bread’s classic mellow ballad “If” is a song that expresses an almost eternal nature to love. Jim Croce’s hit “I’ll Just Have to Say I Love You in a Song” is one that expresses how badly the words often come out when we try to communicate with the one that we love. There are so many times the words that I have said have not come across how I meant them. So much of a relationship that is based on how we communicate that care and love for each other, the lament that “every time I’d try to tell you, the words just came out wrong” can be true for many of us.

England Dan (Dan Seals and John Ford Coley) “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” Sometimes when we love someone we somehow lose contact, or maybe have grown apart emotionally. The song begins with small talk on a phone call and is the words of someone who wants very badly to be together again with the one that he misses.

In a similar vein to “I’d really love to See You Tonight” but perhaps even more heart wrenching is Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” because the woman that he loves is now with someone else and he sings “when I look in your eyes I still go crazy. That old flame comes alive, it starts burning inside…”

 

 

All couples sometimes have arguments and sometimes those arguments lead to complete silence and even the break up of a relationship. Sir Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” is one of those songs where one partner blames the other for the breakup and boldly states that he isn’t losing sleep over the end of the relationship. Not a very good way to go, but a very real feeling for many people in the Lonely Heart’s Club.

Olivia Newton John and Cliff Richard’s duet “Suddenly”  is a song that is a 180 out from We Don’t Talk Anymore. This song is one that speaks of a deep love and admiration for each of the two people in the relationship that they are willing to do anything and go anywhere to be with one another.

But we really do, at least most of us hope that we will find that person who will take a chance on us like in the Abba song, or in some cases if we have been hurt someone who will take a chance again as Barry Manilow sang about.

 

But “It’s so Easy to Fall in Love” as Linda Ronstadt lets us know, but holding on to that love can be a different matter.

 

When we do fall in love we hope that they will be our First, my Last, My Everything.

But holding on to love can be difficult and can end up on the rocks when our love stops bringing flowers or singing love songs.

 

The Dr. Hook hit “Years from Now” is one that always manages to bring a tear to my eye. It came out about a year after Judy and I started dating and even though it is now well over 30 years since I first heard it I imagined the future, now we are deep into it and I feel the same way. One verse says “I know this world that we live in can be hard, Now and then and it will be again, Many times we’ve been down, Still love has kept us together the flame never dies, When I look in your eyes the future I see.” Since we have gone through many difficult times it is a song that is intensely personal and one that I almost feel that I could have written the lyrics.

David Soul riding high on his success in Starsky and Hutch released “Don’t Give up on Us Baby”  in 1977. It hit number one in both the US and UK and was his one big hit. It is a song of a man trying to convince a woman that they have a relationship that is more than just one night. “Don’t give up on us, baby, We’re still worth one more try, I know we put a last one by, Just for a rainy evening, When maybe stars are few, Don’t give up on us, I know, We can still come through.” I find the Chicago ballad If You Leave Me Now evokes similar feelings.

Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” is a song that means a great deal to both Judy and I. The words are somehow haunting and healing. One verse and the chorus really get to me. “Romance and all its strategy leaves me battlin’ with my pride, But through the insecurity some tenderness survives, I’m just another writer, still trapped within my truth, A hesitant prize fighter, still trapped within my youth. And sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, And I have to close my eyes and hide, I wanna hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry, I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides.”

 

Van Morrison wrote “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”  in 1989. Recorded and released by Rod Stewart in 1993 it is a song that originally was written as a prayer by Morrison. It is sung at many weddings and it a song that I will stop and listen to whenever I hear it.

The Australian duo Air Supply is known for their mellow love songs and one of them“Two Less Lonely People in the World”  is one that I like. Sometimes I think that had I not met Judy that I never would have married. I am quite the introvert and often a loner that prefers the adventure of being independent and adventurous and does not like to be tied down. When my father retired from the Navy in 1974 I thought that my life was over, because we were going to remain in one place. Judy had spent most of her life in one city but I took her away from that because throughout my life I have been afflicted with this wanderlust and spirit of adventure. That being said the fact that we are together means that even though we are often apart that there are still “two less lonely people in the world tonight.”

Meat Loaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love” from his 1993 Bat Out of Hell Album is one of the big world wide rock power ballads of the past two decades. The focus is probably more on the physical relationship that some of the other songs in this list but it has a resonance because the physical is also a big part of why we fall in love with each other. “As long as the planets are turning, As long as the stars are burning, As long dreams are coming true, You’d better believe it, that I would do, Anything for love, And I’l be there until the final act, I would do anything for love, and I’ll take a vow and seal a pact…”

Elton John’s “Your Song” is a tender ballad of a musician who has little to give his love except a song.

 

One of the tenderest duets for Valentine’s Day comes from Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, the hit Endless Love  was written for the movie of the same name. The Bee Gee’s Disco era smash How Deep is Your Love  is another tender song of devotion to a love as is Al Green’s classic Let’s Stay Together.

Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” is a song that hits hard at a situation that many couples that love each other find themselves. That is when for whatever reason they find that they need to be away from each other, but the key is that they find their way back.

REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight this Feeling” is actually quite good because it is a song that sees a relationship go from a friendship to something more, something that sometimes scares the people involved because somehow we often think that we don’t want to “ruin the friendship.” I really think that any relationship that is meant to be has to begin with friendship and the words in the song “What started out as friendship, Has grown stronger. I only wish I had the strength to let it show” is a reality for so many people.

 

Anne Murray released a song called Daydream Believer   that had been recorded years before by the Monkees, but in 1980 it became one of my favorites as my relationship with Judy began to really develop

Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache” has been recorded and been a hit for Juice Newton and Rod Stewart as well as Tyler. It is a song that speaks of the pain of a broken relationship when one of the people involved is more dependent on the other person than that person is committed to them, and sometimes when we fall for someone we are in over our heads, as Fleetwood Mac’s Over My Head so bluntly states.

Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” is a song that describes the breakup of what may be an illicit love affair. Since a lot of people become involved in such relationships it is a powerful reminder of the pain associated with the end of those relationships. A similar theme is part of Laura Branigan’s “How am I Supposed to Live Without You”  though it seems that this song is not about an illicit relationship but the betrayal felt by a person who finds that the one that they love is leaving them. Her song Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?  tells the story of a woman wondering if her love will still love her, but there is always the Power of Love.  However when all else fails it is helpful to know that Storms Never Last. 

 

I find a lot of commonality with Journey’s power ballad “Faithfully.”  Written about the love of a couple, one of whom spends his life on the road as a musician and rediscovers his love for his bride. I think that it is a song that any man or woman in the military, or for that matter any other profession that spends much time away from home can relate as is Elton John’s I Guess that’s Why they Call it the Blues.

The tender ballad by Kiss “Beth” is a song that I think expresses how many people deal with the tension between what they love and who they love. The song is about a man who promises to come home as soon as he is done playing music with his band and keeps calling back until finally he admits that he will not be coming home that night.

Blondie’s Heart of Glass  is another song that talks about misplaced love and how many relationships appear to be real but then end with at least one partner hurting and wondering what happened. The Tide is High  is Judy’s ringtone on my iPhone, it is about a girl who won’t give up on her love and Dreaming  is another song of dreams of love as is Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Love Me.

 

The Swedish super group Abba had numerous songs dealing love, hope, love lost and love found.  “One of Us”  is song about a relationship where one partner thinks that they can do better only to find out that they were wrong. The chorus “One of us is crying, One of us is lying, In her lonely bed, Staring at the ceiling, Wishing she was somewhere else instead, One of us is lonely, One of us is only, Waiting for a call, Sorry for herself, feeling stupid feeling small, Wishing she had never left at all….” finds an echo in many of the people that I meet. Their lesser known song, Our Last Summer  tells the story of a woman remembering her last summer in Paris with a former lover. Knowing Me Knowing You  tells the story of a breakup as does The Winner Takes it All. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Kenny Rogers released a number of songs suitable for the Valentine’s Day. She Believes in Me  is wonderful because it talks of an experience that many young lovers know that of having someone who believes in them and their dreams, even when they wonder. You Decorated My Life  talks about the difference a love makes in life, while Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer a duet he sang with singer songwriter Kim Carnes talks about the hazards of falling in love with a dreamer, or a person like me, and love can be difficult even when we give the best that we have, as the Eagles noted in The Best of My Love.

 

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Finally there is a song that from the first time I heard it has been a song that speaks to me about my love for Judy. It is a song that like Dr Hook’s Years from Now, is a reminder of how far we have come and how much we have been through; that song is Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years”  which was released in 1982, a year before we were married.

Of course there is one that is Judy’s ringtone for me, The Partridge Family and I Think I Love You.  I do think I love you too Judy, “So what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of, A love there is no cure for…” 

But then I am in love with a beautiful woman…

And I Will Always Love You.

So to all of my readers, enjoy the music and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Haunting Hope: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

There are some songs at Christmas that despite their relative newness as compared to ancient carols seem to strike a chord that resonates deep in the hearts of people. I think that in our day that some speak louder than others.

One of those songs, at least for me, and probably many others is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The music was written by Ralph Blane and the lyrics by Hugh Martin for the musical Meet Me in St Louis and first performed by Judy Garland in that film. In the movie Garland’s character sings the song to her younger sister after their father announces plans to move from their home of St Louis to New York for a job.

The lyrics for the musical were changed because Garland’s director Vincent Minnelli and co-star Tom Drake felt that Martin’s original lyrics which began with “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, it could be your last. Next year we may all be living in the past” were too depressing. The lyrics were changed to “let your heart be light, Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” in response to their request. The words sung in the musical by Judy Garland have a haunting but very real feel for people who face uncertainty at Christmas, as such they were very meaningful to the US military personnel who heard them at the front in the Second World War.

As originally produced they reflect a hope for a better future as opposed to a carefree present. As such they are probably much more appropriate to our current time than in the mid-1950s when Frank Sinatra recorded a modified version of the song for his album A Jolly Christmas.

Sinatra asked Martin to “jolly up” the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” and Martin changed it to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”

When Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 it too became a hit and the focus on present happiness rather than a hope for a better future fit the times in which it was recorded. Sinatra’s version also notes that “faithful friends gather near to us once more” instead of “will be near to us once more.”

The song was re-written by Martin a number of times including a “Christian”version which included the words “if the Lord allows” instead of “if the fates allow.” Though I am a Christian I think that change was kind of lame, but then if there are a few dollars to be made off religious people who otherwise won’t listen to a song why not?

The song is one is one of the most recorded Christmas songs ever written and can be heard being sung by artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Steward, the Carpenters, Kelly Clarkson, John Denver with the Muppets, the Pretenders, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Loggins, and even Twisted Sister.

The song as recorded by Judy Garland is actually my favorite, though I also love the Sinatra version. Somehow “muddling through somehow” seems to be more appropriate in my experience.

So enjoy these versions of a song that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people since it was first recorded. May it be an inspiration in these uncertain times of a hope for a better future. Maybe that makes it a better Advent song and since until about evening on the 24th it is still the fourth Sunday of Advent that might actually work.

For me it is kind of a sad song, but at the same time it is mixed with hope…and I always try to live in hope.

Here’s to muddling through somehow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Another Rock and Roll Christmas

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to post about Christmas and so tonight some classic Christmas and holiday songs performed by various Rock and Roll artists and groups.

I realize that it is not quite  Christmas yet, and in fact it is still the season of Advent but I have to admit that I love the holiday season, especially the music. But I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s, so I have certain preferences in in music and Christmas music comes in many forms and genres. Over the next couple of weeks I will be doing a number of articles like this which have no purpose but to share a little joy through music. I plan on doing one focusing on the great R & B legends, one with Country artists, and a couple dealing with the stories of White Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, as well as the many different versions of both.

These holiday season I hope that no matter what holiday you celebrate that you do it with a joyful heart, even if it is Festivus, which it is tomorrow, or today when many of you are reading this.

So here are some great songs put out by some great artists and groups over the years, they are in no particular order. Some are traditional Christmas hymns while others are popular Christmas songs without a particularly religious bent, and many are sung by artists who are not practicing Christians, some of whom would be condemned to hell by many conservative Christians. Maybe that speaks to the power of the holiday, and the hope that it brings to so many people.

I hope you enjoy them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Elton John, Step into Christmas

Elvis Presley, Blue Christmas

Paul McCartney and Wings, Having a Wonderful Christmastime

Freddy Mercury and Queen, Thank God it’s Christmas

The Bangles, Hazy Shade of Winter

The Beach Boys, Little Saint Nick

Band Aid 1984, Do They Know It’s Christmas

Billy Idol, Jingle Bell Rock

The Carpenters, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Wham! Last Christmas 

Jose Feliciano, Feliz Navidad

Chicago, O Come All Ye Faithful

Annie Lennox and Al Green, Put a Little Love in Your Heart

Gary Glitter, Another Rock and Roll Christmas

George Harrison, Dong, Dong, Ding Dong

Herman’s Hermit’s O Holy Night

Chuck Berry, Run, Run Rudolph

Mariah Carey, All I Want for Christmas is You

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Christmas All over Again

Blondie, We Three Kings

The Eagles, Please Come Home for Christmas 

Rod Stewart, Let it Snow

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Little Drummer Boy

Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song

Twisted Sister, White Christmas

John Lennon, Happy Christmas (War is Over)

Bruce Springsteen, Baby Please Come Home

Stevie Nicks, Silent Night

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Will We Hear the Bells This Christmas Day?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words of hope on Christmas Day, 1863, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Christmas is coming and I feel that Longfellow’s words are as pertinent today as when he first penned them. The thought of what is to come in the next few years, in the United States and in many other liberal democracies bodes ill for our future as authoritarian and often xenophobic leaders rise to power. The world that we grew up is is passing away, and what comes in its place, a dystopian world where hope will be a rare commodity beckons.

Longfellow’s words became the heart of the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I have heard it a number of times in the past few days and each time it really touches me.

The song has been recorded in a number of versions by different artists over the years. However, the words of the song go back to the American Civil War. It began as a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863 following the serious wounding of his son Charles, a Lieutenant in the Union Army at the Battle of New Hope Church, and the death of his wife in a fire two years before.

The words are haunting. Probably because they demonstrate the profound tension that lies at the heart of the Incarnation, which is the heart of Christmas and the Christian faith. the tension, played out so well in the song is the existence of a message of peace and reconciliation in a world where war and hatred of many kinds rip human beings apart coupled with the tragic inability of Christendom, especially American Conservative Evangelicalism to even come close to the message of Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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The reality of this is seen in the third verse. It is a verse that echoes throughout history and seems to be true even today, in fact it seems to be the most real as we deal with war, hatred, terrorism, killing in the name of God, and political fratricide.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

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The interesting part about the songs as opposed to the poem is that they omit three of Longfellow’s verses that admittedly in a reunited country would not help record sales. Those verses speak to the heart of the Civil War.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But Longfellow hears in the bells something more powerful. It is the message of Christmas and the incarnation. The message that justice and peace will finally embrace.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The song has been recorded many times by many artists. I like the version sung by Frank Sinatra, which the music was composed by Johnny Marks, composer of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Another earlier version composed by John Baptiste Calkin has been recorded by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among others.

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As wars rage in the Middle East, tensions rise in Asia, Africa and even Eastern Europe while the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, led by the American President rage as we go into another, and even more perilous year with the possibility of nuclear war more probably than not, people still look for hope.

Longfellow, who lost so much in a short time in the midst of a terrible Civil War, reminds us that in such times, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

In a time like this when the world led by the American President seems to be hurtling into the abyss, it is important to remember Longfellow’s words and the message of Christ and the Incarnation. The child born as an outcast in a manger would die as a criminal, crucified by an occupying power with the full support of the leaders of the occupied country. As the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

Yes, the wrong shall fail, and the right prevail, but it will certainly involve much travail.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Silent Night: A Song Can Overcome War and Violence

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It will soon be Christmas and I am going to focus on that, particularly musical expressions as well as meditations about my own faith journey as well as the experience of soldiers during the holidays.

In the midst of everything happening in Washington D.C. and the potential crises that could plunge the world into war in the coming months it still is important to focus on the holidays. Since I am a Christian I share about Christmas without any shame, even as I respect and honor other people’s traditions and expressions of faith.

So here is a post about the song Silent Night. 

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Stille Nacht Autograph in the Hand of Joseph Mohr

In 1816 a young Austrian Catholic Priest in a small parish near Salzburg penned the lyrics to a hymn that even in the midst of war can bind people together. Father Joseph Mohr after moving to another parish in Oberndorf took those lyrics to Franz Gruber a nearby schoolmaster and organist. Mohr asked Gruber to put the words to music, specifically with a guitar accompaniment. Together the performed the song at Oberndorf’s parish church’s Vigil Mass on December 24th 1818.

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There are a number of fanciful apocryphal stories about why the song was written and performed on the guitar, including one about the bellows of the church organ having been eaten by mice, but these are akin to sensationalist tabloid journalism. The simple truth is that Mohr sought out Gruber to arrange the song for guitar to be sung by two people accompanied by a choir for that Christmas Vigil Mass.

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund
, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

 The song rapidly grew in popularity and spread quickly in Europe. A traveling Austrian singing group, the Rainer family performed it in front of Austrian Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I.

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They also gave its first American performance in New York outside the famed Trinity Church in 1839. I continued to grow in popularity and was translated into many languages, now numbering about 140.

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The American Episcopalian Bishop John Freeman Young translated it into English in 1863. It is his version that is most used today in English speaking lands today. A website called the Silent Night Web http://silentnight.web.za has 227 versions of the song in 142 languages on its site.

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Silent Night 

Silent night, Holy night

 All is calm, all is bright

‘Round yon virgin , mother and child

Holy infant so, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Father Mohr refused to profit from his song and donated his proceeds to care for the elderly and educate children in the parishes and towns he served. He died in 1848.

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I find that the song will bring me to tears fast than almost any song. It is one that I have sung in English, German and French. In my travels as a military Chaplain have used on every Christmas Eucharist celebration that I have done, including at two lonely COPS in Iraq, COP South and COP North on the Syrian Border in Al Anbar Province. Likewise I have celebrated joint ecumenical Christmas services with German military chaplains and civilian clergy. Last Friday I did that again for the members of the German NATO contingent at my chapel.

It is a simple and humble song. It is performed the world over by the great and small, the famous and the unknown. It is a song that in two world wars has stopped the violence as opposing soldiers paused to sing it together each in their own language. This happened during the Christmas Truce truce of 1914 as well as in 1944 along the Western Front during the Battle of the Bulge.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbGZ7T5EHpQ

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On Tuesday as people gather for Christmas Eve Sunday and when they gather for Christmas Day services the song will be sung around the world. In lands where war rages the song will be sung. It is my hope that someday that war will be no more and the tiny child spoken of in this humble hymn will understand the incredible grace of the message spoken by the Angels as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” (American Standard Version)

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, music

The Sound of Silence and a Prayer: An Evening at an Art Garfunkel Concert


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was an eventful day. I’ll tell you details over the next few days but last night we had the privilege of being able to see Art Garfunkel in concert. 

I admit it. I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s and I am not ashamed. When I look at my life which includes 36 years of military service, multiple deployments, two of which were combat deployments I am still basically a anti-war 1960s and 1970s person. Likewise, I believe that in terms of speaking out for the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak, the sick, the elderly, those wounded in war, that all of us have a responsibility as citizens to do our best to alleviate the conditions that do harm to the least, the lost, and the lonely. 

One of the songs that was a part of my life back then was The Sound of Silence. It is as hauntingly relevant, maybe more today, than when it was first written and performed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. As he sang it last night I closed my eyes and listened with tears flowing down my cheeks. I imagined the young Simon and Garfunkel singing it and me listening to it on the LP and on my 8 track cassette tape. 

In the age of Trump and Imperial Evangicslism those words are prophetic and etched in my mind especially after my tour in Iraq which changed my life in so many ways. 

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping, Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain, Still remains, Within the sound of silence

After Iraq I came to know the darkness, and in my most desperate times, the darkness became an old friend, one that I continue to converse with, especially at night and in my dreams and nightmares. I had a particularly violent one of those Saturday night and early yesterday morning. I’ll write about it later in the week. 

In restless dreams I walked alone, Narrow streets of cobblestone 

‘Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light, That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

My dreams, even the good ones are restless and in them I am alone and I have visions that are often not for the faint of heart. 

And in the naked light I saw, Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share, And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

Before Iraq I did little to disturb the sound of silence, but after Iraq, in the despair, depression, and discombobulating of PTSD, I found that I must speak, or perhaps perish. 

Fools, said I, you do not know, Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you, Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words, like silent raindrops fell, 

And echoed in the wells of silence

I have found that many people are content to talk without speaking, hear without listening, write songs that voices never share, because they are all too willing not to disturb the sound of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed, To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning, In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence

And the people in the churches bow and pray, to the inauthentic god they made, a god that they fashioned in their image, one that on occasion might resemble that of the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran, but which is far removed from an conception of truth. 

Garfunkel sang a couple of songs and after that concluding with a variation the nighttime prayer that I learned as a child, one that I actually find more comforting than the one I learned, and one that I pray will take me through each night. 

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Guide me safely through the night,

Wake me with the morning light.

I am glad that we got the chance to see this amazing American troubadour; to hear his songs, and listen to his stories and poems. He is a treasure. So until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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