The Common Good

Christmas in the Trenches

Sojomail - December 27, 2006


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. ... In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

- President Gerald R. Ford, upon taking the oath of office following the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford passed away this week at the age of 93. (Source: American Rhetoric)

+ Read Duane Shank's blog entry on Ford's legacy

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Christmas in the Trenches

We first published this reflection by Jim Wallis in 2002. It has since become our Christmas tradition, kind of our own Charlie Brown Christmas special, if you will. With the ongoing conflicts raging during each passing year, it remains tragically relevant.


Silent Night, by Stanley Weintraub, is the story of Christmas Eve 1914 on the World War I battlefield in Flanders. As the German, British, and French troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a young German soldier began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht." Others joined in. When they had finished, the British and French responded with other Christmas carols.

Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches and met in the middle. They shook hands, exchanged gifts, and shared pictures of their families. Informal soccer games began in what had been "no-man's-land." And a joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides.

The generals, of course, were not pleased with these events. Men who have come to know each other's names and seen each other's families are much less likely to want to kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless enemy.

So, following that magical night the men on both sides spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then the war was back in earnest and continued for three more bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered - a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.

Folksinger John McCutcheon wrote a song about that night in Belgium, titled "Christmas in the Trenches," from the viewpoint of a young British solder. Several poignant verses are:

"The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I.
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky
"There's someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore."

My prayer for the new year is for a nation and world where people can come out of their trenches and together sing their hopes for peace. We here at Sojourners will carry on that mission, and we invite you to continue on the journey with us.

Blessings to you and your families.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog

THIS WEEK IN GOD'S POLITICS

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Duane Shank: The Best Legacy of Gerald Ford
As we enter 2007, our country is mired in another seemingly endless war we were deceptively led into, we have a president in a state of denial, and we live in a deeply divided country. We need once again to hear those simple, direct words from a president - "truth is the glue that holds government together," "honesty is always the best policy," and "our long national nightmare is over." They are the best legacy of Gerald R. Ford.

Jim Wallis: Christ's Divinity Should Inspire Humility, Not Arrogance
Jesus being the Son of God does NOT mean that Christians are better, more right, more righteous, more moral, more blessed, more destined to win battles, or more suited to govern and decide political matters than non-Christians. Instead, believing that Jesus was the Son of God would better mean that people who claim to believe it ought to then live the way Jesus did and taught. And on that one, many of us Christians (who believe the right way) are in serious trouble when it comes to the way we live. Those who believe that Jesus was the Son of God should be the most loving, compassionate, forgiving, welcoming, peaceful, and hungry for justice people around - just like Jesus, right? Well, it's not always exactly so.

Bob Francis: Religious Correctness on the Campus?
I found Mark C. Taylor's New York Times op-ed, "The Devoted Student,"interesting but off-base. Students exist who wouldn't know how to handle a serious intellectual engagement with ideas seemingly hostile to faith. However, though these students exist, I am bothered by Taylor's inference that he is up against a sort of "religious correctness." Anyone familiar with the world of higher education is kidding themselves if they think the academy is anything but hostile to organized religion – fundamentalist, liberal, or otherwise. This perceived animosity between what is often crudely framed as "faith" versus "science" does a disservice to both.

Deanna Murshed: O Strangled Town of Bethlehem
When we hear about Bethlehem this Christmas season, what do we imagine? A town far away and frozen in time? Or security walls, checkpoints, and a place that has been home to tens of thousands of Christians - descendents of the early church? In a recent nationwide survey, carried out by top U.S. political pollsters Zogby International, it was found that only 15% of Americans realize that Bethlehem is a Palestinian city with a mixed Christian-Muslim community, lying in the occupied West Bank.

Tony Campolo: Getting Our Own Microphone
We Red Letter Christians (Evangelicals who don't want to be identified with the Religious Right) have long been frustrated by the fact that we haven't had the means to get out the message of who we are and what we believe. The Religious Right has controlled the microphone. There are more than 1,500 Christian radio stations, many of which blare out extreme right-wing politics during the course of the day.

Jim Wallis: I Read Your Comments Too, And Here's What I Think
OK. I'm going to respond to some of the rants in the blog comments. Yes, I read them, and you know who you are. There are also some very insightful comments each week on our blog, but those are not the ones I'm talking about today. As I said, you know who you are.

Ryan Beiler: Conservatives Cash in on the War on Christmas
We've all heard the tired sermon cliches about the real meaning of Christmas being overshadowed by the materialism and commercialism of holiday shopping. Blah Blah Blah. Well, here's another layer of crass holiday exploitation for you: The very people claiming to be putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas" are cashing in big time on buttons, magnets, and bumper stickers. Take a deep breath, and then exhale a long exasperated sigh with me as you read this RNS report on Christianity Today's Web site...



PIECE OF MIND

Beliefnet recently invited the God's Politics Blog to participate in a discussion of the controversy surrounding Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. We invited Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper to respond. Here's the discussion, in order of posts:

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern: A President's Foul Play

Jeff Halper: Yes Virginia, It Is Apartheid

Rabbi Joshua Waxman: Twisting the Truth

Jeff Halper: Untwisting 'the Truth'

Rabbi Susan Grossman: Israel's Good Fences Against Bad Neighbors

Jeff Halper: Moral Blindness

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern: Mr. Halper, Please Respond to the Facts

Jeff Halper: The Occupation is the Issue

POETRY

'Twas the War Before Christmas
by Karen McKim

'Twas the month before Christmas; with anticipation,
I'd prayed to be peaceful, I'd felt adoration.

The Good News was soon to be shouted out loud.
The Wonder, the Joy, would dispel every cloud.

The angels are singing their glorious song.
And we have the gift to join in! Sing along!

So I settled my brains and typed on my keyboard.
I opened my e-mail, expecting warm words.

But from my computer, there arose such a panic!
I read with amazement; the writers were manic!

"They're ignoring our revels!" the fussbudgets say,
"Make sure all say 'Christmas' and not 'holiday'!

There's no peace on earth; it's time to be critical!
Forget joy and love! Make Christmas political!"

+ Read the whole poem on the God's Politics Blog


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