Category Archives: music

For Everything there is a Time and Season… COVID 19 and a Time to Mourn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I was growing up the Rock group The Byrds released a song written by Pete Seeger entitled Turn! Turn! Turn! (For Everything There is a Season.)  The Song hit number one on the U.S. Pop Chart in 1965 and I still can remember it being played on the AM music radio stations that my mother would listen to when my dad, a Navy Chief was away. It is still one of my favorite songs.

I don’t know about you, but music can get a message into my head much more than simply reading the words, or especially hearing it from an uninspiring speaker, especially boring pastors who couldn’t could preach their way out of a wet paper bag or melt an ice cube with a blow torch.

I was five years old at the time the song was released and living in Oak Harbor, Washington, where my dad was serving with a squadron at the Naval Air Station. Back then I didn’t know that the song’s lyrics were adapted from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 1-8, just in case you want to look them up. Seeger rearranged the words to better work with the rhyme and meter of his music, he composed it in 15 minutes and sent it to his agent who loved it, far more than Seeger’s protest songs, which he couldn’t sell.

But Seeger was  ahead of this time when he wrote and recorded the song as a folk tune in 1962. But it  really didn’t break through until the Byrds recorded it as a follow up to their number one hit Mr. Tambourine Man.

The lyrics to the song are catchy, especially in the version recorded by the Byrds. Over the years other artists and groups have recorded it, but it is the Byrds adaptation that even now still gets airplay, and still resonates in my head, even when that section of Ecclesiastes Chapter Three are part of the lectionary readings.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

The words of the song, and the scripture it is drawn from remind me of our human need to live in the moment and cherish all the times and activities of life. One of those that stood out to me a couple days ago after the death toll from the novel Coronavirus 19 topped 100,000 people in this country. Many of us know people, including family members and friends, who have either come down with the virus or died from it and its complications. Sadly, because COVID 19 is so infectious we are unable to mourn in the ways we normally would when we lose someone we know or love.

That occurred to me Wednesday night when I read yet another article on how COVID 19 is interrupting the normal grieving process, and a second article that discussed who easy it can be to become numb to the deaths, simply because of the numbers. Joseph Stalin said something that to human beings is all too true when confronted with massive numbers of deaths: “The death of one man is tragic, but the death of thousands is statistic.” What the psychopathic dictator was true then and true now. There is something in the human psyche that can accept vast numbers of dead human beings more than they can a single human being. After all, of a hundred thousand people die and you don’t know them they are only a statistic, a mass of numbers who are only that. They are just numbers, and even when we are confronted by their faces or bodies, especially if they happen out of our sight, even across town. However, if one of the dead is a friend, a lover, or even a devoted pet, the loss can be catastrophic.

In a way I kind of know how that goes. When I did my hospital chaplain residency in 1993-1994 at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas there were times that I was nearly overwhelmed by the numbers of deaths where I stood by grieving families and friends, and occasionally over the body of people who went un-mourned, at least at their time of death. I counted myself lucky when I only had to deal with two deaths on any given shift, most of the time it was more. The highest was on a summer night where on an 11 PM to 7 AM shift I dealt with eight deaths in eight hours. Two from gunshot wounds, one from a motor vehicle crash, three AIDS victims, one heart attack, and one newborn baby who was born too early to save, but who was precious to his mother and father in his all too brief life. I walked out into the sunshine of that morning and felt numb. I saw people laughing, and couldn’t laugh. In the eight years as a civilian and military hospital chaplain I have probably dealt with about 700-800 deaths, I lost count along the way. Many simply blended together, but there are quite a few others where I remember them like they were yesterday, even with the dead or their loved ones I remember details that are forever burned in my memory. I can understand what the EMTs, paramedics, doctors, nurses and technicians in overwhelmed hospitals are going through, although with HIV or H1N1 infected people, or maybe a violent family member, friend, or enemy of the victim, most of the time I didn’t have much concern about being infected by a patient in the ER or ICU compared with today’s ER and ICU staffs are dealing.  Likewise, to some extent what the families of the victims are going through, not being able to be with loved ones when they died, because of time, distance, and military considerations.

Too many people are grieving without being able to really mourn, while others are becoming numb to the number of deaths, be they on the front lines, or just bombarded by the news. The way the numbers are shown often reminds me of the “body counts” put out by DOD during the Vietnam War, which were featured on every nightly newscast of the era, like baseball box scores.

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is an episode where crew members of DS9 are reading the daily casualty count: Captain Benjamin Sisko noted: “Every Friday morning, for the past three months, I’ve posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It’s become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list. I’ve grown to hate Fridays.”

I have begun to hate the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths brought about by the Coronavirus 19. But, at the same I cannot forget that behind every number there is a life cut short, loved ones and friends left behind, struggling to mourn, with no end in sight. But we must find a way to mourn those who we have loved and lost. I hope that we can do that. I am trying to figure out a way at the Naval Shipyard where I serve that we can make that happen, while taking every precaution to ensure that no one else is infected. I hope that others are trying to do what I am trying to do for people who have had their chance to mourn their losses as they should.

All that being said, with the President and his cult of followers, mostly conservative “pro-life” Christians, or those that say they are pretend to be for political purposes, continue to act in a a uniquely disturbing and murderous behaviors. They shun Protective masks and call it government tyranny. The same is true for social distancing rules designed to protect the lives of all, in order to conduct public worship services, crowd around bars, and send poor people back to work where they have little protection from the virus due to the intentional negligence and concern that those workers might become infected or die.

I cannot understand such convoluted reasoning. I actually wrote much more pointedly about them in this post bust decided that those words, which present unpleasant facts and truth would have completely destroyed what I want to say in the article.

We cannot allow such longstanding selfishness, race hatred, suspicion of Americans who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Nor can we allow the lives of the Americans infirm, elderly, or disabled to be sacrificed just to get the economy moving faster and hotter. That is not pro-life, but it is pro death.

While such beliefs remain intrenched among Trump’s shills and supporters, I believe that they are not beyond redemption. It will be hard for them, but when the next wave of the virus hits and kills their loved ones and friends, they might finally see the light. Of course I could be wrong and find them to be like the most fanatical ideologues, religious or unreligious to have their leader be the President of the United States.

Somehow we will get through this together, unless Trump and his cultists destroy us first, and to die so we will have to mourn the dead, as we fight to save the living and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Sadly it will have to be an us thing because the President has determined it to be yesterday’s news, declared victory and deserted the battlefield with the enemy’s counter offensive just beginning.

Peace and blessings, Until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ER's and Trauma, ethics, faith, healthcare, leadership, ministry, music, Political Commentary

Cabaret: the Perfect Film for Trump’s Changing America

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I watched the 1972 musical film Cabaret. The film, based on the 1966 broadway musical could be a metaphor for the transformation of the United States under Trump.

The film and musical are set in 1931-32 Germany, the end of the Weimar Republic, the end of democracy, and the coming of the race based dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Joel Gray, plays the very dark character of the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, reprising the role he played in the original stage musical. Liza Minnelli plays the role of Sally Bowles, an American expat selling her soul as a cabaret singer in order to become a famous actress. She becomes a lover of Michael York who plays Brian Roberts, a PhD candidate from Cambridge working in Germany as part of his degree studies, as well as Helmut Griem who plays the wealthy conservative baron Maximilian von Heune. Eventually the relationship of the three dissolves under the clouds of homosexuality, bisexuality, dishonesty, lies, abortion, and Sally’s hedonistic lifestyle in which she sacrifices everything about herself to become a movie star.

Finally, Sally drives Brian away, and he returns to England, while she ends up alone chasing her dreams at the Kit Kat Club, even as the Weimar Republic dies and the Nazis come to power.

I guess the most frightening part of the movie as how the film shows how ordinary people went from opposing the Nazis to supporting them. The opening of the film shows a Nazi being thrown out of the club by a bouncer, who is then set upon and beaten to death by other Nazi SA thugs.

Gray, who plays the Master of Ceremonies, is a very dark character who bends with the political winds goes from mocking the Nazis to a willing stooge, Griem, who plays the conservative Baron, hopes that the Nazis and Communists will fight it out, and that the conservatives can then control the Nazis. In a subplot, Fritz Wepper, who plays Fritz Wendel, a Jew who has moved to Berlin and been passing himself off as a Protestant, falls in love with Natalia Landauer, played by Marisa Berensen, a wealthy  Jewish heiress, who does not know that he is a Jew. It is only when she tells him that their love cannot survive because she is Jewish and he isn’t, that he realizes the extent of the lie he has been living. He ends up admitting that he is Jewish and they get married just before the Nazis seize power. Since this is a fictional work, we can only presume that the Landauer money, extorted from them by the Nazis helped get them out of Germany, but with the specter of the Holocaust looming one cannot say for sure.

In one part of the film, Max takes Sally and Brian on a road trip. They end up stopping in a rural Biergarten where a young man begins what initial seems like a very innocent song, called Tomorrow Belongs to Me” which is taken up by almost everyone in the audience. While it was a song written by the Jewish writers of the play and film, John Kanzler and Fred Erb, and was never an actual Nazi song it has become a Neo-Nazi anthem.

 

The sun on the meadow is summery warm.
The stag in the forest runs free.
But gather together to greet the storm.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
The branch of the linden is leafy and
Green,
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea.
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
Now Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
The morning will come
When the world is mine
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs  to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me

Meanwhile in Berlin the Kit Cat Club is adjusting to the rise of the Nazis. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song entitled If You Could See Her Through My Eyes in which he dances a waltz with what turns out to be a gorilla. The words and the song are haunting, as the audience, now more accepting of Nazi anti-Semitism laughs and cheers.

After returning to Berlin Sally and Brian are exposed to the pro-Nazi words and beliefs of their fellow boarding house residents. Brian argues against them but they have fully bought in to the propaganda put out by the Nazis.

I know what you’re thinking
You wonder why I chose her
Out of all the ladies in the world
That’s just a first impression
What good’s a first impression
If you knew her like I do,
It would change your point of view-
If you could see her
If you could see her thru my eyes,
Maybe they’d all understand…
Why don’t they leave us alone?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you,
Is there a crime to fall in love?
Can one ever choose where our heats lead us?
All we as is ‘Ein bißchen Verständnis’, a little understanding!
Oh, I understand your objection,
I grant my problem’s not small;
But if you could see her thru my eyes,
She wouldn’t look Jewish at all!

After the break up with Brian, Sally return to the club and performs the song Cabaret. She has abandoned everything for the sake of her career. The song is a complete abandonment to the moment, and encourages the audience to ignore the reality of what is going on.

What good is sitting, alone in your room?
come hear the music play!
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow your horn
Start celebrating
Right this way your table´s waiting.
What good´s permitting some prophet of doom?
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret , old chum!
So come to the cabaret!
I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared for sordid rooms in Chelsea
She wasn’t what you call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.
The day she died the neighbors
came to snick her
Well, that is what comes from
Too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I´d ever seen
I think of Elsie till this very day
I remember how she´d turned to me and say,
What good is sitting all alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
And as for me
HA
And as for me
I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I go………
I’m going like Elsie. 
Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
It´s only a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!

But the words and visuals of then ending of the film are the most chilling. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song where the video shows the transformation of the audience. First the imagery shows no Nazis, then one, the a room full of Brownshirts as the MC signs:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

It reminds me of today, where in our entertainment culture we are encourage to ignore the reality that surrounds us. We are descending from a Republican form of representative democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship, and sadly most people would rather be bystanders waiting to see which way the wind will blow. Our media, entertainment, and yes even our insatiable need to fill our lives with the material wealth of the world, even if it means surrendering freedom.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich, and member of the White Rose resistance movement wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I would rather be like Sophie than Sally, the Master of Ceremonies, or Max.

If you have never seen the film I encourage you to watch it, as we are in the midst of such a situation in our own country. History May not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: a Haunting Song of Hope in Trump’s America

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 Trump the message of the season stands against him and against all that he stands, despite his Court Following of Evangelical Christian Leaders, and his Cult of badly compromised Conservative, Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Catholic followers, who choose him over Christ on a daily basis.

I cannot be part of that despite what such people call me on social media and in comments I will not approve on this blog. Christmas of 2019 comes amid social and religious turmoil not seen since the 1850s that led up to the American Civil War. The rhetoric across the politic spectrum is becoming more uncompromising, and especially in the case of Trump supporters tinged by threats of violence, and even killing political opponents, and this is condoned by supposedly Christian people. Trump demands their fealty and they willingly give it.

I such times I reach back to history and often music that came out of that tumult.

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 like Trump 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. 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 during the Mine Run Campaign (not to be confused with a battle of the same name outside Atlanta in 1864) 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.

Longfellow’s 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.

gburg dead2

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.”

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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Filed under civil war, History, music, Political Commentary

Mama Mia! An ABBA Tribute Concert

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Nothing Of any consequence tonight. I spent most of the day at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth doing aquatic physical therapy, seeing me sleep doctor about my crazy dreams and need to increase my CPAP pressure, and waiting an ungodly amount of time in the pharmacy for new prescriptions.

However, tonight Judy and I went to the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach to see the tribute band ABBA the Concert. They are really good. They are from Sweden, they are not the original ABBA, but they are outstanding. As an ABBA fan since the day I first heard the song Waterloo on the AM radio of a bus going to 7th grade in 1972.

I have every album they ever did on CD, plus DVDs of the videos they released to promote their overseas concert tours well before any other groups did music videos. The concert was amazing and since many ABBA fans were a decade older than us, they drew a lot of older people, as well as new fans who got to know them through the Mama Mia play and movies.

ABBA’s songs speak so powerfully of love, loss, grief, joy, and almost every human emotion, in part because their songs reflected their own lives. The words to many of their songs, enhanced by their amazing vocals and incredibly tight instrumental works have made them an enduring force in music, long after they recorded their last record and stopped touring. But the legacy is bigger than life, ABBA never gets old.

I could write on this forever, but I have to be up very early in the morning,

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Lest We Forget: Memorial Day 2019

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, the Somme, Paschendaele, 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, Oceans away

 

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.

 

I close with the words of John McCrea’s immortal poem, In Flanders Fields: 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

The 20th Century was the bloodiest in human history. If we and our leaders are not careful, the peace and international institutions that guarded that peace will be destroyed in a cataclysm of Nationalism, Racism, and renewed wars over contested living space. In short, the 21st Century is setting up to be every bit as bloody as the 20th.

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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”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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