[Borrowed and edited once more from a blog by Justin Taylor, Crossway Sr. VP & publisher, because the story behind the song blows me away and puts life in perspective…]

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, DC., over 400 miles away, in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.  Charles was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had died from a tragic accident when her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning, and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C. he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a solider. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends [Sen.] Charles Sumner, [Gov.] John Andrew, and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg.

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement. The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair…

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 the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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.”

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!

Respectfully… with hope… always…


what Christmas is all about

From the 1965 animated TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” based on the comic strip Peanuts, there’s a great message thanks to Charles M. Schulz…

The 25 minute special begins with the Peanuts gang skating on the pond together, singing gleefully “Christmas Time Is Here.” Yet Charlie Brown has little joy in the moment — instead, seemingly disturbed and depressed. 

He tells his buddy Linus he’s not sure as to why, to which Linus casually dismisses Charlie’s perceived typical attitude, quoting their friend Lucy: “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”

As the special continues, so does Charlie’s depression. He seems increasingly disturbed at all the commercialism around him… the focus on the money… the focus on gifts… cards… Santa… even the focus on a Christmas decor lighting contest (congrats, Snoopy). 

Charlie wanders, wondering if we really understand the meaning of the season — and all the things that potentially get in the way… that is, unless we are intentional in our pause, recognizing why we share in the happiness of the holidays, the greetings of the season, and the available peace, even when life isn’t easy.

Finally near the show’s end, cumulating in a Christmas play in which the gang is dancing with great joy once again, Charlie Brown cries out:

“Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

To which his pal Linus, humbly, sincerely answers once more…

“Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. 

And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ 

And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.’

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Merry Christmas, friends. 

Amidst all the joy and cheer — even and maybe especially, on the days when it is not the actual holiday — may we remember and be encouraged by what Christmas is all about.

Blessings… always…


the Hymn of Joy

“The Hymn of Joy” was a poem written in 1907 by Henry van Dyke. Intended to be musically set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” we know it better as the song, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Mindful of the current season, allow us to share the original poem in its brief entirety. There is one line I wish to emphasize…

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

God of glory, Lord of love

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee

Op’ning to the Sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

drive the dark of doubt away

Giver of immortal gladness

fill us with the light of day

All Thy works with joy surround Thee

Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays

Stars and angels sing around Thee

center of unbroken praise

Field and forest, vale and mountain

Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea

chanting bird and flowing fountain

call us to rejoice in Thee

Thou art giving and forgiving

ever blessing, ever blest

well-spring of the joy of living

ocean-depth of happy rest

Thou the Father, Christ our Brother—

all who live in love are Thine

Teach us how to love each other

lift us to the Joy Divine

Mortals join the mighty chorus

which the morning stars began

Father-love is reigning o’er us

brother-love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward

victors in the midst of strife

joyful music lifts us sunward

in the triumph song of life

Van Dyke himself considered this “a hymn of trust and joy and hope.” Perhaps it’s due to that one line — a line most challenging in current culture… 

“Teach us how to love each other.”

Note that there is no self focus. There is no shutting down of another. There is no lack of listening nor insinuation that we are the ones who are always right.

Instead there is a focus on others — learning to love and respect them… no matter what. Maybe that’s the secret to the increased joy.

What a fantastic time of year to join in van Dyke’s call…

Learning how to love and value one another, no matter how alike… no matter how not… 



an (un)natural Christmas act

Ten years and one day ago, I penned the edited post below. For some reason, Christmastime makes us think of what is virtuous, what is good. Some of what is good feels a little unnatural…


There’s something about this time of year that makes us all think a little more about virtues… like gratitude and charity, peace and love, faith and goodwill toward men. But there’s one virtue to me, that trumps all others, even though I rarely see it mentioned on any sparkling Christmas, Hanukkah, or even Kwanzaa card.

Forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness.

This is not a one-blog discussion [as we’ve acknowledged these past ten years]. Not everyone believes in grace and forgiveness, and even those of us who do, have trouble offering such both liberally and consistently. I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians extend it. I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians withhold it – unfortunately but often understandably, usually in the name of self-protection. My guess is that old song about “knowing we are Christians by our love” might serve us better if people knew “we were Christians by our grace.” Offering grace – and not in reference to any pre-meal activity – is a seemingly unnatural act.

Today let me simply borrow from one of my favorite books, What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. I read it several years ago, and it changed the way I think. Here is Yancey’s insight as to the challenge of extending forgiveness:

“I and the public know

What all school children learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

W.H. Auden, who wrote those lines, understood that the law of nature admits no forgiveness. Do squirrels forgive cats for chasing them up trees or dolphins forgive sharks for eating their playmates? It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, not dog-forgive-dog. As for the human species, our major institutions – financial, political, even athletic – run on the same unrelenting principle. An umpire never announces, ‘You were really out, but because of your exemplary spirit I’ll call you safe.’ Or what nation responds to its belligerent neighbors with the proclamation, ‘You are right, we violated your borders. Will you please forgive us?’

The very taste of forgiveness seems somehow wrong. Even when we have committed a wrong, we want to earn our way back into the injured party’s good graces. We prefer to crawl on our knees, to wallow, to do penance, to kill a lamb – and religion often obliges us. When the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV decided to seek the pardon of Pope Gregory VII in 1077, he stood barefoot for three days in the snow outside the papal quarters in Italy. Probably, Henry went away with a self-satisfied feeling, wearing frostbite scars as the stigmata of forgiveness.

‘Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be,’ writes Elizabeth O’Connor. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behavior, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others – all to avoid this most unnatural act.”

This is tough. At a time of year when a focus on virtues is both apparent and appropriate, have we taken time to ask ourselves: 

Is there anyone out there I need to forgive? 

Are there any situations in which I have justified withholding forgiveness? 

And is there anything for which I am punishing myself?

Today’s conversation is merely a beginning point in the dialogue. One blog [nor ten years of blogs] will not change the world nor those financial, political, even athletic institutions. Our hearts, however, can be changed… through the blessing that comes via a powerful, unnatural act.



the most important prep

Multiple books have been written about it. Countless editorials. Don’t even start with the plethora of YouTube videos…

“What to Do Now… How to Prepare… Prepare Now for Christmas!”

And so I began toying and tinkering with sharing some angle of how best to prepare… making my list and checking it twice. Do we talk about all the plans to be made, less material gifts to be given, address lists updated, etc. etc. etc.?

But then it donned on me… although we’ll have to follow a simple story that might initially seem irrelevant… but it’s not…

A few weeks ago, just after Thanksgiving, I was out taking one of my morning long walks. I like to walk maybe 4-5 miles, thinking, praying, talking to my dad along the way — a special Thursday routine we established a few short years ago.

After this particular day, before starting on my typical tasks, I happened to jump on Facebook and check out our neighborhood page. But what to my wondering eyes did appear?! A picture of someone seemingly damaging the property of another in our ‘hood. In a neighborhood known for its outstanding, authentic community, the pic and accompanying description were disappointing that someone would actually do such a thing. And then I looked a little closer at the person in the pic. It was slightly far away — capturing the individual from behind… but…

It was me!

Oh, my. Talk about arising such a clatter… I couldn’t believe it! 

It was me.


The picture was not accurate. I was not doing anything inappropriate and strive to never engage in such. The challenge, though, obviously, was that such could not be discerned from the picture.

Also by this time — since my Thursday walks are long ones, remember — the picture had been posted for well over an hour. Hence, a dozen or so persons had already commented on the perceived carelessness and callousness of the supposed offender. 

What should I do?!

Ignoring the initial temptation to totally hibernate, never go outside again, and/or dismiss any desire to publicly defend myself, I simply reached out privately to the person who had posted the photo. I introduced myself, identified myself as the person in the pic, and humbly shared that what was believed to have occurred in the photo was not accurate. If there was more I needed to say or do to work the situation through, I would gladly do so.

My neighbor was exceedingly gracious. She responded immediately and welcomed the reaching out. Through the course of our extended conversation, she, too, realized the inaccuracy of the picture. Photographic evidence isn’t always what it seems.

She then sincerely apologized, and we talked for a while more — we even laughed for a while more! We quickly became mutually respected, fast friends. 

So allow me to circle back on how to prepare for the season before us — as it is relevant in a season that encourages the concept of peace on Earth and letting it “begin with me.” Allow me to suggest a heart prep that takes a little more intention, a little more time, may be a little harder, but is definitely more profitable…

1. Don’t rush to judgment.

2. Recognize that what you see may not be true.

3. Work out conflict.

4. Be generous with both forgiveness and apologies. And…

5. Treat all people with lavish respect. Always.

Want to prepare for Christmas? Want that peace on Earth to “begin with me”?

I’m thinking the above is a fantastic place to start. 



politically (in)correct?

Out on the airwaves there has again arisen a clatter, when the rest of us ask: what’s actually the matter? In the days before Christmas, the annual conversation begins: are these songs offensive?

With a desire to always be respectful of all, let’s honestly unpack some of the songs, each of which is being called on by more than some to retire…

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”…

The catchy tune was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 and won the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” in 1949 when featured in the film, Neptune’s Daughter. It has been re-recorded at least 58 times by 106 celebrities, ranging from Ray Charles and Betty Carter to Martina McBride and Dean Martin to Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé.

Why might the song be offensive? In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it encourages a rape culture in that it pressures the woman to do something she doesn’t want to do, as she repeatedly expresses her desire to go home.

Why might it not? It’s a non-serious song about flirtation. Besides the fact that flirtation is considered an accepted social interaction, this song was written for a husband and wife.

According to Loesser’s daughter, the controversy surrounding this song has increased most substantially since Saturday Night Live utilized it in a 2015 skit, mocking Bill Cosby.

Or… “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”…

This song was written by Johnny Marks based on a 1939 story his brother wrote for the Montgomery Ward Company. Gene Autry later recorded the song, which hit #1 on the U.S. charts during Christmas of 1949. The song was popularized further when it accompanied the similarly named TV special created in 1964.

Why might the song be offensive? It encourages bullying, as due to his red nose, Rudolph is laughed at, called names, and not allowed to “join in any reindeer games.”

Why might it not? The song (and story) are clearly fictional, and in the end, Rudolph becomes the leader and hero, solving the issue at hand precisely because of his uniqueness.

And… “White Christmas”

This winter classic was written by Irving Berlin in 1942, and the version sung by Bing Crosby is the world’s best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies.

Why might the song be offensive? It ignores the celebration of Christmas by persons of other skin colors.

Why might it not? The color description refers to snow.

Recognizing the above list is incomplete, let’s reiterate our desire to always be respectful of all, as we summarize the realities in play:

  1. Times change.
  2. Classics may not be appropriate forever.
  3. Offensive to some does not equate to wrong for all.
  4. People feel differently.
  5. Wisdom is gleaned by learning from those who feel differently.

I had one wise friend suppose that the solution is not simply to demand these songs be dismissed. Maybe that’s part of it; maybe it’s not. But the greater growth seems to come in the societal conversation regarding possible, prevalent unhealthy attitudes made manifest in the classic’s content. Such may or may not prompt need for dismissal.

Granted, if such prompts need for dismissal, to be consistent, we may need to examine multiple, non-Christmas songs in regard to their potentially offensive content — some of those rap or pop hits encouraging violence, vulgarity and/or infidelity, for example.

It’s tough, friends. It’s a slippery slope… since what’s offensive to some does not equate to wrong for all. Maybe that’s the question: when does what’s offensive to some equate to wrong for all?

Sounds like once again we need to be respectful, listen, and learn from those who feel differently than we.



last week’s amazing moments

There are times to be silent and still… to be intentional in observance… taking it all in. Last week was one of those times.

Honoring the life, character, and service of former President George H.W. Bush, persons of influence — varying in politics and profession — gathered to pay their respects to Bush 41…

… Collin Powell and Condoleezza Rice… Peyton Manning, Nolan Ryan, Yao Ming, and J.J. Watt… Prince Charles, Reba McIntire, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger (… have you seen the picture of 41 and Gov. Schwarzenegger actually sledding together at Camp David in 1991??)…

In the second row of the funeral in Washington, D.C. sat all living current or former vice presidents and their spouses. In the first row, sat all living current or former presidents and their spouses.

It was time to be still, to take it all in… time for the raucous responses to stop.

While the day was full of an impressive plethora of pomp and circumstance, two moments stood out in my observance…

One, when former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson spoke…

Known for the rapidity of his wit, Simpson did not disappoint. How wonderful it was to see actual moments when the entire front-row-eight were seemingly belly-laughing in response to Sen. Simpson. 

But Simpson’s wit should not overshadow his wisdom, which was nothing short of both poignant and profound. While he spoke of Bush’s loyalty and friendship and his willingness to take a political hit if another path was perceived wiser, Simpson’s most perspicacious statement was in his succinct description of 41’s character:

“… He was a man of such great humility; those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

Oh, how wise… how we all need to hear… the recognition that humility is the high road.

Yet there was another moment that stood out more to me — in that time to be silent and still…

When the entire front-row-eight, bowed their heads together…

… were they praying? … were they meditating? … were they talking or listening to God?…

None of us know. We aren’t in the heads and hearts of another and thus need to resist the imprudent lure to judge the exact motivation of another.

But regardless of what we know, there was something in the collective, quiet bow that was incredibly beautiful, rare as such may be. It was the intentional act of deference — the humble submission to someone or something greater than self… an act we don’t often see. What a powerful moment, witnessing those men and women lead us not in any partisan effort or in the fueling of division, arrogance and thus some form of hatred… but rather, pausing… being intentionally silent and still… recognizing there is something bigger and more.

Calling George H.W. Bush “the most decent and honorable person I ever met,” Simpson seemed acutely aware of the gravitas of both his audience and moment. He said of Bush, “He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.”

In a day where too many struggle to see that hate only hurts the holder, humility is the high road, and too many refuse to bow to anyone other than self, last week was an excellent time to be silent and still.

Beautifully refreshing, too…



can everything be changed?

Seriously. If we want it to, can everything be changed? 

Are our feelings enough?

Meet Emile Ratelband. Ratelband is a 69 year old, seemingly charismatic, Dutch television personality. Self-described as an “entrepreneur in personal development,” Ratelband is an author and motivational speaker. 

Last month Ratelband told a Netherlandish court that he identifies with being 20 years younger.  His age made him “uncomfortable.” He argued that being locked into his 69 year old age — consistent with his actual date of birth — was causing him to struggle to find both work and love. He claimed to suffer from “age discrimination.” He therefore asked the court to legally change his age.

Said Ratelband, “We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender. Why can’t I decide my own age?”

So help me here… always, with all due respect, let’s ask some questions… 

Can reality be changed?

Can truth be changed?

Can a fact — which by definition, means “a thing that is indisputably the case” — actually be disputed?

Note that even though Ratelband came into this world and out of a woman’s womb on March 11th, 1949, he argued that his birthdate was a mistake. He feels younger than he is; he thus wants to change the facts.

So how do we wrestle with that? The bottom line is the profound question: are feelings enough to change the facts? 

And if the answer is affirmative, what precedent are we setting by declaring that the feelings of an individual are enough to change what’s true? 

Perhaps some would argue that the change affects no one else. But just as the Dutch court questioned, how do we simply erase 20 years of existence on this planet? What about his family? What about his relationships and interactions during that time? Does that mean how his parents cared for him did not matter or somehow did not even happen?

A preposterous supposition, it would seem.

What if another individual declared that they identify as 20 years older? And what if at the time they felt such discomfort with their age, they were only 15?

Do their feelings then give them the right to drive? … to vote? … and all other legalities where age has proven to be a wise boundary?

Are these persons actually being discriminated against?

After the ruling earlier this week against Emile Ratelband, the court said in a press statement, “Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly. But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

In other words, we are at liberty to feel however we wish. We are free to feel younger or feel older and even to act in accordance with the way we feel.

But we are not at liberty of changing the facts. 

We’re not capable either.



a kinder, gentler us

“… I wonder sometimes if we have forgotten who we are. But we’re the people who sundered the nation rather than allow a sin called ‘slavery’ — and we’re the people who rose from the ghettos and deserts.

And we weren’t saints — but we lived by standards. We celebrated the individual — but we weren’t self-centered. We were practical — but we didn’t live only for material things. We believed in getting ahead — but blind ambition wasn’t our way…

… I want a kinder, gentler nation…”

In his acceptance speech of his party’s nomination for President in August of 1988, George H. W. Bush called for that “kinder, gentler nation.”

If only we had those days back again… if only the younger generation knew those days… days when calls to kindness were first and foremost.

George H.W. Bush passed away yesterday at the age of 94, some seven months after his ever articulate wife, Barbara, also passed. And even though many mocked Bush’s call to kindness years ago, in the wake of his perceived lack of eloquence and charisma, there was always a sense of authenticity to said call over the course of his life.

After losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, for example, Bush left the following handwritten note to his successor:

“Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too. 

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—


Friends, that is evidence of a kinder, gentler nation.

The current cultural challenge seems not that we don’t witness that evidence so often; the current cultural challenge is that we no longer accept such as good. I thus sometimes wonder if, as Bush said, we have forgotten who we are.

Said Bill Clinton yesterday, acknowledging Bush’s note:

“No words of mine or others can better reveal the heart of who he was than those he wrote himself. He was an honorable, gracious and decent man…”

Two other specific aspects seem especially notable to me about this honorable, gracious, and decent man… first, his boldness; starting with the jump he made after the Japanese shot down his fighter plane over the Pacific during World War II in 1944, Bush made seven more parachute jumps — including on his 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays.

And second, his faithful heart… while political pundits and onlookers may focus on his professional career, no doubt Bush’s prompting for calls of kindness was the fruit of his heart. George and Barbara lost their eldest daughter to leukemia just shy of her fourth birthday. It seemed to always affect them deeply, as they admitted in recent years they thought of young Robin every single day, no matter the decades later.

But remembering Robin wasn’t solely sorrowful. Said Barbara in an interview with “Today,” “Robin to me is a joy. She’s like an angel to me, and she’s not a sadness or a sorrow.”

May we remember George H.W. Bush with that same sense of joy… remembering him not as a saint, but as one who lived by standards…

… standards that never sacrificed kindness nor respect.