Category Archives: music

”For Hate is Strong and Mocks the Song Of Peace on Earth Goodwill to Men” Henry Wordsworth Longfellow and Christmas 2018


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I could be writing about the travails being inflicted on the country and the world by President Donald Trump, but I do enough of that. Christmas is coming and even when I don’t explicitly write about Teump, the message of the season stands against him and against all that he stands.

Looking at the news of the week; the resignation on principle by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria to the Turks, Russia, as ISIS, the crashing stock markets, and the completely preventable partial government shutdown brought about President Trump and his most fanatical followers, it is easy to despair. Frankly, there are many times that I do, and Inhave to remember how people before us went through great trials and tribulations.

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. Longfellow had much to despair about, but he maintained a faith in God, as well as the founding principles of the United States.

His 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.

 

 

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 in the age of Trump it will certainly involve much travail. As for the travail, it is just beginning.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Silent Night at 200: A Song Of Hope

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It will soon be Christmas and instead of the government shutdown or the depraved and irresponsible actions of President Trump, I am going to focus on Christmas, 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, 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.

The song is one that always takes me back to a very simple faith and an event that by all accounts is not explainable by logic. Karl Barth, perhaps the most influential theologians in the history Of the Christian faith wrote:

”The nativity mystery “conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary”, means, that God became human, truly human out of his own grace. The miracle of the existence of Jesus , his “climbing down of God” is: Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary! Here is a human being, the Virgin Mary, and as he comes from God, Jesus comes also from this human being. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.”

Silent Night is the most simple and profound hymn of the incarnation and because of its simplicity it has become a song that points to an end of war, an end of suffering, and the beginning of new life.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

, 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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If the Fates Allow: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a Haunting Song Of Hope

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. It is a haunting song with a fascinating story.

But the lyrics for the musical were different than the ones originally penned by Martin, and it would not be the last time that the words were changed.

For the musical, Garland, 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. Martin resisted but finally bowed to pressure and 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 than a Christmas song, and maybe that’s why Muddling Through Somehow isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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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Please Christmas Don’t be Late: Funny and Feel Good Christmas Songs

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I get sentimental when I hear Christmas songs of almost any genre. That sentimentality ranges from the hymns of the season such as Silent Night, The First Noel, or Joy to the World. Likewise I find the hymns of Advent like O Come, O Come Immanuel and Es ist Ein Ros Ensprungen (Lo, how a Rose e’re Blooming) to be songs of hope in dark times.

I have shared many of my Christmas favorites each year. This year I did my favorite Rock, R&B, and Classic Country and Western favorites. But tonight I am going to share some of my favorite non-religious and sometimes funny Christmas songs. I suppose this goes back to my earliest days when as a three to four year old living in the Philippines and my parents bought me David Seville and the Chipmunks Christmas Album, which included the song Christmas Don’t Be Late. 

That came to me tonight when Judy and I were talking about our Papillon dog Minnie, who I compared to Alvin. Judy knew about the Chipmunks but her parents had never let her watch them, so the whole concept of David Seville trying to get Alvin’s attention being like us an Minnie was lost on her.

So anyway, here are my favorite non-religious Christmas songs. Some are sentimental, some irreverent, but I love them all.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Hard Candy Christmas, A Country and Western Christmas Anthology

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As we work our way towards Christmas I am putting out anthologies of Christmas songs. Yesterday it was R&B, the day before Rock. Today it is country and western, or as the wife of Bob, the owner of Bob’s Country Bunker in the film the Blues Brothers noted “We got both kinds, Country and Western.” 

I grew up in a house with a lot of music. My parents both liked Country Western music, though my dad was more of the fan of it, while mom had much more eclectic musical taste, from rock, to R & B and top 40 Pop music. As a result I was exposed to a lot of different musical genres and the Christmas music played around our house reflected that diversity. I have written a number of articles about Christmas music, the latest more focused on Rock and R & B.

Since I have done those I figured I would add to the mix with the Country and Western Christmas music that I grew up with, which I consider to be classic. What you won’t find in this particular list is anything new, and by that I mean anything done in the last 20 years. This is a conscious choice on my part and not because I dislike the new Country music sound or artists. I actually want to reintroduce people to some of the classics, the artists who made the overwhelming success of the modern artists possible.

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Like R & B Country and Western music comes out of the unique experiences of Americans. The unique styles of the the artists even when they perform traditional Christmas music comes through to make a distinctive sound. Like the R & B artists the Country and Western artists also wrote and performed Christmas music the spoke to both the joys and heartaches of life, especially of lost loves and loneliness.

So, tonight I present these Country and Western Christmas and holiday songs.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

So wherever you are in whatever circumstance this Christmas season finds you I hope that you find hope and comfort in these songs.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Blues For Christmas, a R & B Christmas Anthology

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I wrote yesterday, I love Christmas and holiday music. Yesterday I did a piece that had a lot of my Rock and Roll era favorites, and today one about my R&B favorites.

American Christmas music has been enriched by the influence of Jazz, Blues, Gospel and what came to be known as Rhythm and Blues in the 1940.  I have always loved R & B and some of the most memorable songs about Christmas come from the African American experience and the R & B genre.

R&B as it became known was what record labels marketed music by African American artists. It became popular with White Americans as well with audiences in Europe and the musical influence was felt in the early days of Rock and Roll as Elvis Presley’s musical style incorporated many facets of this rich tradition. R&B Christmas music incorporated a good amount of the faith found in African American churches of the time as well as the reality of life including discrimination, segregation, Jim Crow, violence, poverty, brokenness and loneliness.

A couple of years ago I decided to look up some of those great songs by the great R&B artists. Now while I was familiar with many of these artists, for me their Christmas songs were new and refreshing, despite in many cases being recorded before I was born. Some of course were new versions of songs already made popular by people like Bing Crosby or other crooners. But here are some of those great songs, as well as some of the lyrics. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. The songs are in no particular order, and I do hope you enjoy them all.


 

Marvin Gaye’s “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”  is a song that those who can’t be home for Christmas, in this case that of a Vietnam Prisoner of War set in 1972. It is a song that anyone who has served in a combat zone at Christmas can understand.


But for a song that I think speaks of the human meaning of the season; something that anyone, of any faith or simply anyone who just want’s to be a good human being can understand it is The Jackson 5’s Give Love on Christmas Day”   I like it because love is something that any of us can give to someone else if we want.

People making lists

Hiding special gifts

Taking time to be kind to one and all

It’s that time of year

When good friends are dear

And you wish you could give more

Than just presents from a store

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Oh, even the man who has everything

Would be so happy if you would bring

Him love on Christmas day

No greater gift is there than love

People you don’t know

Smile and nod hello

Everywhere there’s an air of Christmas joy

It’s that once a year

When the world’s sincere

And you’d like to find a way

To show the things that words can’t say.

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Oh, the man on the street and the couple upstairs

Who need to know there’s someone who cares

Give love on Christmas day.

No greater gift is there than love

What the world needs is love

Yes, the world needs your love.

Why don’t you give love on Christmas day

Every little child on Santa’s knee

Has room for your love underneath his tree

Give love on Christmas day

No greater gift is there than love

What the world needs is love

Yes, the world needs your love.

Give love, oh give love on Christmas day

Every Tom, Dick, and Harry, every Susie too

Needs love every bit as much as you

Give love on Christmas day

So with that message I wish you the best in these days leading up to Christmas. Until tomorrow my friends…

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Rockin’ At at Christmas: An Anthology of Christmas Rock

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break from history, and Politics to share 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+

Chuck Berry Run, Run Rudolph

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

Eagles, Please Come Home for Christmas

 

Mariah Carey, All I Want for Christmas is You

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Christmas All over Again

Blondie, We Three Kings

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

Barry Manilow, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas  

Neil Diamond, The Chri

Stevie Nicks, Silent Night

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