Peace on Earth Starts with Good Will Toward Men

On this Christmas Eve, some thoughts leading up to Christmas — for whatever they might be worth.

According to Saint Luke’s research, presented in the Gospel that bears his name, angels announced Jesus’s birth to shepherds as they stood night watch over their flocks. We don’t know whether Luke was able to question one of the shepherds who was there that night or (more likely) the story came to him through untold number of tellings and retellings. What did those angels really say? And what did they mean?

The translation I grew up with, the King James Version, closes that episode with the angelic proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I particularly like the poetic nature of that version.

Another translation I generally like, the New American Standard Bible, renders Luke 2:14 as, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” “Peace among men” gives a different feel than “good will toward men,” though, and leaves me a little cold. Other translations, notably the New International Version and the Berean Study Bible, give the last phrase as “peace to men on whom His favor rests,” which I do not like at all.

I am not a Bible scholar; I know no ancient Greek; so I will not presume to debate the merits of any translation. It intrigues me that in the Greek the difference comes down to a single letter: specifically, the last letter of the verse in the Codex Sinaiticus was erased (apparently the erasure is visible), and that single change made “on earth peace to men of good will” into “on earth peace, to men good will.” How much does that change the sentiment?

I’ve heard it taught that the proclamation is a promise of God’s peace and good will coming to earth in the person of Christ. I’ve also heard that it is more a prayer — it is, after all, a multitude of angels praising God, since the specific message about Jesus has already been related. That idea is particularly worthy: the angels first give reverence and worship to God, and then ask that peace be manifest on the earth.

But of late I’ve come to think of it in a different way. I doubt that mine is an original thought, but I’m not prepared to conduct an exhaustive search to see who else has presented it. To my way of thinking, “Glory to God in the highest” is clear enough. The creator of everything is worthy of praise. After that, I find that I prefer “on Earth, peace; to men, good will” — giving a definite separation between peace and good will — because it turns the entire verse into a triad that moves from the heavenly to the earthly to the individual.

To God, glory: not peace, because the creature is not in a position to offer peace to the creator; and not good will, because the creature’s good will cannot match the creator’s. On earth, peace: not glory, because earthly glory is more a product of victory in conflict than of peace; and not good will, because good will is something best expressed person to person. To men, good will: not glory, because compared to God men deserve no glory; and not peace, because to achieve peace — especially any secure, lasting peace — requires first good will among and between people.


(Image: “Peace on Earth,” by Sam Howzit, on Wikimedia Commons.)

“There is no peace on earth, I said,” according to the poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” — but it seems to me that, if there is no peace, it’s because there is precious little good will.

And so, I will try with the time remaining to me to be a man of good will. No doubt I will fail, and have to try again. I trust that God will forgive me those failures, and I hope my fellows will forgive me as well.

Part of the reason I will fail goes back to the translation that is probably more accurate: “peace to men of good will.” First, that sounds more like a promise of God’s peace than a prescription for achieving peace. Even if it is a promise, it doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility in the matter. After all, Saint Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” — which remains a good principle for all of us to follow.

The second reason I’m uncomfortable with “peace to men of good will” is that it seems no great challenge to wish peace to people of good will or to act peacefully only toward people of good will. It is far more difficult to live peaceably when we are confronted by people of ill will. That’s why “turn the other cheek” is so revolutionary — and so difficult. And, as noted above, I explicitly reject the idea that God’s peace is offered only to those “on whom His favor rests”: I believe God’s peace is offered to all, though unfortunately many reject Him, and it.

All of that being said, tomorrow is Christmas, and tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’s birth. But even though we are fairly certain he was born in an entirely different time of the year, whenever it happened originally the annunciation still rings out, and the annunciation is fulfilled: Jesus glorified God; Jesus’s teaching, death and resurrection offer a “peace that passes understanding” to any on earth who would accept it; and Jesus empowers us to act as men of good will, i.e., gives us wisdom and strength and discernment to show good will toward others — if we choose to do so.

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”

Merry Christmas, one and all.

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Christian Carelessness

That phrase in the title connotes a lot, doesn’t it? “Christian carelessness” — we experience it every day … and some of us, despite our best intentions, practice it every day.

I ran across the phrase in E. Stephen Burnett’s post, “Christians, Please Stop Warning Against Human Popular Culture Until You Know What It’s For”, in which he addresses “the most well-intended Christian carelessness about” popular culture in whatever form it takes. He writes, for instance,

Why not discuss popular culture—human stories and songs—in terms of human creativity being a gift from God? The way some pastors talk, popular culture is some alien (even if “harmless”) thing unrelated to God. But if God gives this gift (of popular culture-creation), then He, not us [sic], defines the terms of how the gift is best used—to glorify Him, to guard against idolatry, and to make sure we get the most joy out of using the gift in the ways He has prescribed.

Why not explore how Jesus has built the work-rest rhythm into the universe, starting right in Genesis 1? Why not consider how stories and songs are part of being human, whether they’re shared around a campfire or enacted on your tablet screen? Why not allow the possibility that Scripture seems to allow—that we will create cultural works in eternity?

I love that, but I keep coming back in my mind to the idea — and the challenge — of “Christian carelessness” in general.

For people who claim to be Christ’s representatives on Earth (“Christian” means “little Christ,” does it not?), we are often quite careless in how we represent our Lord and Savior, in how we interact with each other and the world around us, in how we think and speak and act. And by “we” I primarily mean “I” am often quite careless.


(Image: “A Careless Word, A Needless Loss.” US World War II propaganda poster, on Wikimedia Commons.)

And beyond that, I come back to another way to think of carelessness: specifically, that of caring less than I should. I am guilty, and I daresay most of us are guilty, of caring less when Christ would have us care more. That’s not to say that we have it in ourselves to solve all the problems we face or to correct all the evils we see in the world, but when we turn away from them or pretend that they don’t exist our “Christian carelessness” condemns us.

Lord, help me — help us — to care more, and to be more careful.

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Admitting My Doubts

I feel a great kinship with two Bible characters in particular: Thomas, who asked for tangible proof of Jesus’s resurrection, and the man who wanted Jesus to heal his child but who confessed his doubts with the poignant, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

So I wrote a song called “Help My Unbelief,” and put it on my Truths and Lies and Make-Believe album. Now, here’s a music video for it:

Hope you like it.

___

And, because I neglected to mention it on the blog before now, a couple of weeks ago I put together a music video for one of the science-fiction-inspired songs from that album:

Hope you like it, too!

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A Daily Baptism?

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

On this Easter Monday, it seems appropriate to recall one of the seminal events in the development of Protestant Christianity: on this date in 1521 Martin Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms — an assembly (“diet”) convened in Worms, Germany, from 28 January to 26 May 1521 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V — to answer the charge of heresy.

On the 17th, Luther was presented with a list of his own writings and asked if he would recant of the heresies they contained. He asked for time to consider how to respond to the charges, and was granted a day to think it over. On the 18th, he spoke. He differentiated between the various works, left open the question of recanting if he could be shown his error, and apologized for the harsh tone of some of the works, but in the end Luther said,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

What does that have to do with baptism? Nothing in itself, but it does illustrate the confidence Luther had in his Scriptural interpretations. And that leads us to something he wrote about baptism ….

St Patrick’s Cathedral
Interesting fish-eye view of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, founded near a well where Saint Patrick is supposed to have baptized converts. (Image: “St Patrick’s Cathedral,” by Jennifer Boyer, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In a treatise on infant baptism, Luther presented an idea I find very interesting. He wrote that baptism

… is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.

I don’t think Luther’s point is that we need to be baptized anew every day (though most of us benefit from bathing regularly). Baptism is a living metaphor, and not one we actually need to go through again and again. It seems to me that what Luther calls a “daily baptism” is the daily personal exercise in living out the faith. In other words, following Christ involves living every day in light of the two central facets of our faith: that Christ died, and that our “old man” died with him; and that he rose again, and thereby we also have new life. Baptism is the experience that represents those facets of the faith.

It is a remarkable thing to consider. But it’s not as easy to do as it is to consider, or even to write about.

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Holding On

If I Had Been an Apostle on that terrible Holy Saturday,

… would I have gone into hiding? Yes, I would.
… would I have sunk into despair? Yes, I would.
… would I have wondered if it all had been for naught? Yes, I would.

Because I am fickle and uninspired and weak. Because all I had dreamed of and hoped for had been crushed. Because I would have known, with the surety that I knew the sun would rise, that I was bound for the same fate.

Despair
Sometimes all we can do is hold on. (Image: “Despair,” by Lloyd Morgan, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

And yet, when the next day dawned for the Apostles, all was not as they feared it would be. The world was the same, but their lives were radically changed. They held on long enough to see the new dawn, and sometimes — when we are hiding, in despair, and wondering if what we’ve done is for naught — all we can do is hold on, as well.

Wherever you are, whatever you may be going through … hold on.

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Monday Morning Insight: New Year, New Things

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

It’s the first Monday of 2017 — and for many folks it’s still a holiday, so that’s not a bad way to start the year!

The first quote I’ll present in this series this year is a promise from the 21st chapter of the Revelation of Saint John:

He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Sunrise!

(“Sunrise!” by Larry, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

 

Other translations render the verb tense a bit differently, but I like this one because it’s a statement of intention and purpose: not “I would like to” or “I am in the process of” but “this is what I do,” specifically, “I make all things new.” And not some things, not most things, but all things.

If we believe the one saying that is the one through whom all things were made in the first place — as the Gospel of John presents in its first chapter — then it is no great stretch to believe that he can remake the old into the new and even that he intends to do so. We might even go so far as to think that he delights in doing so.

And that’s a nice thought with which to start this New Year.

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Day of Despair

On this darkest day of the Christian calendar, I think about the disciples’ misery, their fear, and the hopelessness they must have felt.

They had no idea what the next day would bring, and how much better and brighter it would be.

I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us when we mourn, when we are afraid, and when we lose hope.

Opening of roadside tomb_0654

(Image: “Opening of roadside tomb,” by James Emery, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)
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Blogging the New CD: C is for Christ’s Hard Sayings

Third in a series of blog posts about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

Some people reading this may be averse to anything that even hints at Christianity, its tenets or its practices. That’s okay. But even people who do not follow Christ can often recognize and sometimes appreciate things he said.

Consider “Turn the other cheek,” for instance. Many people might recognize that sentiment without knowing that Jesus said it, or without knowing how subversive it was at the time.* Like many of the things that Jesus taught, however, it’s easier to say than it is to put into practice. To apply it to a recent situation in science fiction and fantasy fandom, had more people been able to turn the other cheek the great Hugo Award Fracas of 2015 might have resulted in fewer hurt feelings and fewer damaged friendships.

The truth is that Jesus said some things that are difficult to understand and difficult to embody. As a result, the practice of Christianity is sometimes hard to accomplish.

Follow me, and learn to fish for human souls
Follow me, leave your family and your home
Follow me, I don’t bring peace, I bring a sword
Follow me, and let the dead bury their own

“We Want the Easy Road”

Some of those things are hard to figure out, and some are hard to do, on top of the basic problem of dealing with doubt and uncertainty day by day, and of trying to make the most of whatever measure of faith we may have. This song, then, is primarily about dealing with the difficult things that Jesus said, the things he said that fly in the face of the way we think the world works or should work, and above all else the one thing he said that can confound us whether we ignore it or we try to obey it. And that was simply, “Follow me.”

What are we to make of the things he said? At times during the song you get some of my reactions:

  • “It sounds so good, you knew it would, all the pleasant things you said”
  • “It sounds so odd, these words from God, so we ignore the hard things you said”
  • “It sounds absurd, these things we heard — all those crazy things you said”
  • “We close our ears, don’t want to hear, are we sure that’s what you said?”

And as the good things he said transition to odd things, to things that sound absurd, and to things that we may not want to hear, I conclude that quite often we want the easy road rather than the straight and narrow, the wine and the bread of communion rather than the sweat and sacrifice of service.

A loaf of bread...
“We want the easy road, the wine, the bread.” (Image: “A loaf of bread…” by James Lee, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Whether you are a believer or not, whether you have ever even thought much about who Jesus was or what he did, I hope you can find something to ponder in “We Want the Easy Road”. And if you like it, go ahead and share it with others who might like it, too.

___
*If you want to know more about how turning the other cheek or going the extra mile would have been subversive acts, drop me a line.

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Release Day! DISTORTED VISION is Now Available!

Almost 2 years to the day since I released Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, here comes my second musical collection, Distorted Vision.


(Album cover photography and design by Christopher Rinehart. Click to go to the Bandcamp page, to listen to or purchase the album.)

Like its predecessor, Distorted Vision is another collection of songs mostly inspired by or referencing science fiction and fantasy, as well as songs about the marvels and misfortunes of life itself. I consider it to be a second helping of “truths and lies and make-believe.”

Where T&L&MB had ten all-original tunes, this new album has eleven songs, including two which use existing tunes. I intend to write a series of posts examining each song on its own, but here’s the running order with a few basic notes:

All the above links go to Bandcamp, which is the only place the album is available at this time. At Bandcamp you can listen to the songs, purchase a download of individual songs or the whole album, and order a physical CD for me to send to you (and, yes, I ship them myself).* I will make the album available on CD Baby soon, and from there it will be available on Amazon and other outlets — and the songs themselves will be available for streaming.

If you never listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe,** but you’ve heard me play guitar and are a little leery of how these songs might sound, let me assure you that just like the first album I did not actually play any of the instruments on this one. My friend Mark Minervino was once again the studio musician par excellence, and also engineered and mixed the songs, and my friend Brian Ceccarelli of Talus Music mastered the CD so the sound quality would be uniform. I couldn’t have done this album, or the last one, without them!

So if this sort of thing interests you, or if you’re just curious, or even if you just want to humor me, I hope you’ll give it a listen — and that maybe you’ll find something you like enough to buy! And if you know someone else who might appreciate it, by all means send them a link to the album or to this blog post.

Thanks, I hope you like what you hear, and let me know what you think!

___
*Note that physical CDs won’t ship until close to the end of the month. Sorry!
**Really? It’s been out for 2 years, and you haven’t listened to it yet?

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Reflections on the Second Day

Today is the second day. A day of doubt, despair, and fear.

Jesus Cross
(“Jesus Cross,” by Claudio Ungari, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think of Jesus’s disciples on the second day. Those who knew him, loved him, followed him; who listened to him, questioned him, wondered about him. Those who believed in what they thought he would do, believed in what he said, believed in him. And saw him taken from them.

They were marked men (“Weren’t you with him?” “I don’t know him!”). Not so much revolutionaries without a leader as sheep without a shepherd.

The second day was a Sabbath day. A day of rest, when no work would be done. A day when the mind should be turned to God. A day of no distractions.

I imagine they prayed for distractions. For brighter memories of better days, instead of bitter images of the first day.

I imagine they did not think of the day as the second day, or the day before as the first. And I imagine they did not much anticipate what the third day would bring.

For them, it was just a dark and terrifying “today.”

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