In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Boycott Black Friday!

I'm adding my voice to the chorus calling for people to boycott "Black Friday," the Friday shopping day immediately after Thanksgiving. It's time to stop the madness into which major national retailers have turned this day, when people let themselves be manipulated by clever marketing into greedy monsters who steal items out of others' carts and literally trample store employees and each other to death in the mad pursuit of cheap merchandise. On top of that, the stores are now depriving their employees of a meaningful Thanksgiving with their families by making them come to work Thursday evening to open the stores by midnight or earlier, and work all night and day dealing with the mobs that the retailers have lured in with special "bargains."

If you have any sense of humanity left after our materialistic culture has done its work on you, don't let yourself become part of the problem; be part of the solution and choose to shop on another day. Don't buy into the idea that you can't pass up those bargains. If you can't afford certain things otherwise, just forget about them and buy something else--something you can afford on another day, regardless of discounts. Your giftees will be happy with what you get them anyway. Just pretend that "Black Friday" never existed, which was true not so long ago before we became pliant sheeple in the hands of corporate exploiters who couldn't care less about the sanctity of family holidays (I'm not a communist, just one who despises abuse of power whatever the source).

If you don't have to work on Friday, spend it with your family and do something fun together, like going to a movie or bowling. Or, find some charity to volunteer for. Decorate your house for Christmas. If you feel you have to shop on Friday, patronize small businesses like craft shops or independent book stores--you're likely to find some affordable gifts that will benefit your giftees more than electronics or expensive clothes. Above all, remember that this season isn't about the things, but the people--our spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends. We MUST make a habit of being thankful for them and of showing it by the love and personal help we give them every day of the year, not by the stuff we buy for them or how much or little we spend on it on some particular day. We can shed love abroad no matter how modest our means, and without paying a penny of tribute to a corporation or a government.

So, let's turn this Thanksgiving Day into Independence Day; let's reclaim our lives and our humanity, and rededicate them to our loved ones and to the God from whom all blessings flow. Boycott Black Friday!

P.S. If you'd like to get involved with others pursuing alternatives to Black Friday, you could start by visiting the excellent Facebook site called, appropriately enough, Boycott Black Friday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

O Valiant Hearts

National War Memorial, Ottawa, Canada

Of all the themes addressed in the catalog of sacred music, few weigh more heavily on the soul than the the loss of those who have given their lives in military service. Whether it is heard or sung by a mourning friend or a family member, or merely by a grateful fellow citizen, a hymn of remembrance for the fallen can provide sorely needed comfort and assurance to the spirit that the departed soldier, sailor, or airman did not die in vain, but "gave the last full measure of devotion" (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address) to his or her country and everything that that it, and we, hold precious.

Military hymns are widely heard on November 11, which is observed as Veterans Day in the United States and as Remembrance Day in Great Britain and Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These observances were established in the 1920s to commemorate the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 that ended World War I--the so-called "War to End All Wars." If only it had been! The Great War, as it was called then, cost more than 117,00 American lives, but more than 10 million lives in Europe, in four short years. The fighting devastated large swaths of Europe, and with its mud-and-disease-ridden trench warfare, machine gunning, huge artillery barrages, and poison gas, involved combatants and civilians alike in a seemingly interminable orgy of suffering and death.

British wounded at Bernafay Wood, France, 19 July 1916

It's no wonder, then, that those who survived the Great War struggled to find some meaning in the tragic sacrifice of so many promising lives--young men they had known, loved, and cheered as they marched away into the most awful killing fields man has ever seen. For some, faith in God was shattered, but others turned to Him for comfort and hope with an even greater devotion. From that spirit was born the heart-rending, yet stirring hymn O Valiant Hearts. The text was taken from a poem by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright (1872–1954), a member of Parliament from Herefordshire, England, and published in "The Supreme Sacrifice, and other Poems in Time of War"(1919). It was set to music by Dr. Charles Harris, who was the vicar of Colwall in the same county. The combination of Harris' tune and Arkwright's words was an immediate success; the hymn was sung at the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, London, on November 11 1920. Interestingly, according to a BBC feature on the hymn, "both men knew the pain of losing a loved one first hand - Dr. Harris lost a son in the First World War, and one of Sir John's two sons was killed in a submarine accident in World War II."

Sir John Stanhope Arkwright

The text and music of O Valiant Hearts are below:
O Valiant Hearts, who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle-flame,
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the Land you loved.

Proudly you gathered, rank on rank to war,
As who had heard God's message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave
To save Mankind - yourselves you scorned to save.

Splendid you passed, the great surrender made,
Into the light that nevermore shall fade;
Deep your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet-call of God.

Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human clay
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self-same way.

Still stands his cross from that dread hour to this

Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still through the veil the victor's pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.

These were his servants, in his steps they trod,
Following through death the martyr'd Son of God:
Victor he rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk his cup of sacrifice.

O risen Lord, O shepherd of our dead,

Whose cross has bought them and whose staff has led-
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to thy gracious hand.

What most impresses me about O Valiant Hearts is the compelling way in which it compares the brave sacrifice of the men who fought for their country and people with the selfless sacrifice of Christ ("[t]o save Mankind - yourselves you scorned to save.") Our Lord is presented as the One who showed the way through awful trial to eternal victory, and in whose footsteps the valiant marched: "These were his servants, in his steps they trod/Following through death the martyr'd Son of God:/Victor he rose; victorious too shall rise/They who have drunk his cup of sacrifice." No greater tribute could be paid to fighting men than this.

This moving video presentation of O Valiant Hearts features the singing of the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and was created as a tribute to the author's grandfather and father, who fought in World Wars I and II, respectively.

Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.

~ John 15:13

One other indispensable feature of Remembrance Day is the playing of the Last Post. Originally a bugle call used in British Army camps to signal the end of the day, the call is now used at Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those who have fallen in war. The Last Post was featured in a post to this blog on November 11, 2009. To me it still means Remembrance, of America's fallen heroes as well as those of the Commonwealth. Once again, here is a rendition by the Royal Marine Buglers at the 2008 Remembrance service at Whitehall, London.

NOTE: This post was imported from my other blog, Songs of Praises. Visit that site for a full exploration of the best in sacred music, its history, and its meaning for us.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Religious Expression: The New Flatulence?

I was listening to our local radio sports talk show the other night, and up came the subject of Tim Tebow, apparently now the most widely admired, or despised, human being on the planet. In addition to his remarkable athletic and team leadership skills, Tebow--once a quarterback for the University of Florida Gators and now one for the NFL's Denver Broncos--is just as famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for his public assertions and displays of Christian faith. For example, he likes to etch references to Bible verses into his eye black, and take a knee in brief prayer on the field before, after, or during a game. He did the latter a couple of weeks ago after leading the Broncos back from a 15-point deficit in the last five minutes of a game against the Miami Dolphins. Ecstatic fans started copying that stance at home, in public, and everywhere, and posted pictures on Facebook of themselves and others doing it. And just like that, "Tebowing" was born. There's even a web site devoted to it.

The fan euphoria evaporated quickly the next week, however, when the Detroit Lions decimated the Broncos and Tebow had a terrible game. To add insult to injury, Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch sacked Tebow in the first quarter and celebrated by doing his own bit of "Tebowing" while the man who inspired that move was still lying on the ground. This sparked a storm of controversy in the sports world over whether Tulloch was "mocking" Tebow and his beliefs by taking a knee over him. Tebow himself, as a befitting a Christian gentleman, took no offense and dismissed the incident as just another football player "having fun with his teammates" (but the backlash against him continues; at a game against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, Raiders’ fans held signs that read “Welcome to Hell,” directed at Tebow during the pre-game warm-ups).

During the talk show one of our local sportswriters, while criticizing Tulloch's gesture, suggested that Tebow "deserved it" for "wearing his religion on his sleeve," and that kneeling and praying should be limited to the locker room or the privacy of the player's own home. "I don't need to see that," he said in a disgusted tone of voice, and opined that such behavior was probably just for show anyway. Another sportswriter on the show also criticized Tulluch's "Tebowing," but stressed over and over that he was "not a religious person."

I started to seethe as I listed to this banter. It wasn't about Stephen Tulloch's kneeling in mock prayer over Tim Tebow's prostrate body--if Tebow himself can pass that off as a clever joke, so can I--but rather the attitude of the sportswriters in speaking about religious faith, or the public expression of it, as though it were something offensive that one just doesn't manifest in polite company.

What's happening in this country? Since when did acknowledging God become socially unacceptable, like belching or breaking wind? Perhaps it was when openly anti-religion groups like the ACLU, and atheistic professors and commentators in academia and the mainstream media, convinced America's intellectual elite--even sportswriters?--that expressions of faith are out of bounds (no pun intended) in the public sphere, a sinister threat to our secular "multicultural" society and even to our democratic political system. We're all familiar with their efforts to remove any reference to or reminder of God from public schools, public meetings, and public property, even streets and sidewalks. Now, apparently, their sympathizers would like to remove those things from purely voluntary, privately funded events like professional sports contests (as well as from ads televised during broadcasts of those events--remember the furor a couple of years ago over Tebow's pro-life spot with his mom that aired during the Super Bowl?)

Why do some people feel outraged or threatened when a young athlete briefly takes a knee in public, apparently to give thanks to or invoke the aid of, the Deity in which he or she believes? And how would a casual observer know--and why would he or she presume--that such an act is empty and hypocritical? Wouldn't it be just as easy to assume that it is sincere? Why, then, would the observer be offended? And why would someone who didn't think anything offensive was being done take elaborate pains to dispel any suspicion that he is a "religious person"? Does he think he'll be shunned, or not invited to cocktail parties?

Gestures like Tebow's aren't novel or uncommon at sporting events. Over the years I've seen many football players other than Tebow take a brief knee in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, or even make the sign of the cross. I never heard criticism of those acts, so one wonders whether it's Tebow himself, and his more outspoken brand of faith, that some people object to. And there are certainly other common practices by players that we "don't need to see," like scratching their "private areas" or patting each other on the rear end, that I've never heard a sportswriter complain about.

I suspect that unashamed, public expressions of faith rub many people the wrong way because their consciences are pricked, and they might be reminded that their lives are not focused where they should be. Almost always the expression, especially one like Tebow's at a sporting event, is not intended to embarrass anyone or make them feel badly. But the expression and the one making it is condemned nonetheless.

Not so many years ago a gesture like Tebow's would have been lauded, or at least tolerated without comment. Those were the days when Christian faith was the norm in this country. And those days are, apparently, long gone. Now people have no problem with the orgy of materialism and crudity that professional (and increasingly, college) sports has become; they pay hefty ticket and cable prices to watch obscenely wealthy athletes engaging in violent, arrogant, and juvenile behavior on the field, while commercials aired during the event feature boorish men and barely-clad women promoting gluttony and alcohol abuse. But these same people find it offensive when a player kneels for a moment to acknowledge the God who created him.

If anything, sports--and all walks of life, really--need more Tim Tebows. We need more people of faith, whatever their church or denomination, to come out of the closet and not be afraid to "offend" others by openly praising and witnessing for the Lord. We must not let the forces of darkness drive the church underground and rob humanity of His light. Nor should we hide that light under a basket in order to avoid personal criticism or loss of friends or connections. We are taught that "if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Peter 4:16) This was precisely Tim Tebow's point when he Twittered, in response to the alleged mocking of him by other players and fans:
“Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”
Amen, Tim.