Hope is Our Most Valuable Currency

I am not a religious man. I don’t call myself an atheist because I don’t consider myself smart enough to know whether or not there is a God or how the universe was created or where we go after we die. With that said, I am not comfortable with any of the popular belief systems that describe God’s role in our lives. I consider much of it allegory and superstition. I think for all the good organized religion has caused, there has been great harm done in the name of just about everyone’s version of God. I say all this as a disclaimer for what is about to follow.

After dinner, Thursday night, Christmas night, the radio was tuned to a station playing Christmas music non-stop. I’ve heard so many of the songs so often that they go in one ear and out the other.  I like some and I dislike others. This particular night I heard a  song with a haunting piano introduction that so enthralled me that I had to find out what the song was and who was playing it. I discovered the song was a re-arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by a contemporary Christian band called Casting Crowns. Apparently, this was a standard Christmas song going way back that I had simply never heard before. Even if I had heard it, I would not have recognized it by Casting Crowns’ rendition. They gave it a complete and compelling face lift. I located a video of the song that included the lyrics and I found myself drawn in even deeper.

As I did more research I discovered that the song drew most of its lyrics from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called “Christmas Bells”. Longfellow wrote the poem in the waning days of the Civil War before the war’s outcome was predictable. He had just gotten news of his son being wounded in battle. In the poem he tries to reconcile the fact of so much violence and bloodshed with the knowledge that peace is attainable. The two closing stanzas particularly struck me:

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.”

Christmas Bells – Longfellow.

While I have no concept of God with which I am comfortable, these words resonated with me. For the first time, I realized that I believe that mankind has a momentum towards “good” or “right”. Call it God, call it karma, call it whatever you like. I think that for all the evil that surrounds us, mankind strives to do the right thing. People are fundamentally good the world over. I thought, if I just replace the word God with “hope”, then I’ve pinpointed my primary emotion. Hope is not dead, it does not sleep, the wrong shall fail and right will prevail. As we look at small pockets of history, this might be hard to swallow but when taking the long view, right does prevail. If you limited your view of life to WWII Nazi Germany, then you might be tempted to lose hope, but the suffering did end. Many of the guilty were brought to justice. All decent men and women learned lessons they would never forget and they made sure future generations would not forget either.

If you limited your view to the antebellum South, it would be easy to lose hope. The long view proves that the evil of slavery was defeated and many many years later, the presence of racism in American society is substantially less destructive. A couple of nights ago when I was watching a review of major political events of 2008, I saw the celebrants in Grant Park on election day. I thought I was done crying over Barack Obama’s election but my eyes welled up again. You see with Barack, we got a “twofer”. On the one hand we had the incredible symbolism that the old spiritual “We Shall Overcome” had some substance to it. A man who could just as easily have been lynched in the 1930’s South would be leader of our country and the free world. But we got more than symbolism. Over the past two months, Obama has spoken and acted in ways that give us hope in this economically despairing time. The man who would have been lynched  in some parts of this country when we had our last major economic crisis is now our source of comfort. Obama has not said it will be easy but he has said repeatedly that we will get through this. “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sometimes when the chips are down, hope is our most valuable currency. Yes, positive change takes hard work but the work is buoyed by optimism, by never giving up hope that we, as a species, gravitate toward good outcomes. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” has become my favorite holiday song because it reminds me that no matter how much sadness and despair surrounds us, by never giving up hope we get to a better day. We can overcome.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” — Casting Crowns Live (notice there are no bells in the song, but rather the sounds of a children’s choir, the children’s voices reminding us that there is a future worth hoping for):

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” — Casting Crowns studio version (with lyrics):

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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10 thoughts on “Hope is Our Most Valuable Currency

  1. I don’t think that we get comfortable with a concept of God, I think rather that it apprehends and arrests US.

    Many seeds are planted along the way that lead up to this in various manners. I believe that this is an instance of one of those seeds being planted. What remains to be seen is what type of soil has this seed fallen into.

  2. I’m a fan of Casting Crowns. They are a very honest band with immensely powerful lyrics. I haven’t actually heard much off of their Christmas album, though my church’s worship team did their arrangement of a song this Christmas Eve.

    Usually, when you hear “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day,” you’ll only hear the first couple verses, which miss the real power of it.

    I just read this post to my wife, and we agreed … we’re not entirely comfortable with God, either. But I assume that that’s in a way different than you mean.

  3. Reverend, very poetically put. I cannot say that I am a “convert” yet, which is one reason my post started with the “disclaimer” but I did find deep meaning in the lyrics of this carol within the context of my secular view. Perhaps that is sufficient for the time being?

    Wickle, the song has an interesting history. Two of Longfellow’s original verses are altogether omitted from the carol because they are civil war specific. I don’t know whether you took the time to listen to Casting Crowns’ version but I think they definitely picked the proper stanzas to include. The happiness of the first verse, the doubt in the second verse, the epiphany of hope (or God) making a brighter future possible in the bridge and then the closing contentment in the final verse. I think it’s a fantastic arrangement!

    As for your final comment, one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve aged is that religious people don’t just wander around blindly religious. Many struggle with their faith and how that faith fits into the real world they live in. If that is what you’re referring to by saying you’re “not entirely comfortable”, then I think I understand.

  4. I understand totally. Your secular view is basically that of an agnostic which means that you cannot affirm nor deny the existence of God thus no way of believing that meaning and purpose belong to daily events.

    My point is that perhaps this incident was a beginning of your recognition of an emerging pattern of meaning and purpose arising out of the events and occurrences of your life and the world. Is there an actor or superintendent ruling, super-ruling, or over-ruling the choices we make by our own freewill for His or Her own purposes?

    To say no would mean that all of this creation, science, humanity could just come together on its own is to say that you could have all of the component parts, screws, paint, etc. of an unassembled automobile laying around and somehow just come together on its own to make a perfect automobile all by itself. No, we might not understand how it was done, but obviously something or someone had to bring it together and sustain it.

    I think the main problem comes about when we religious humans try to claim a monopoly on the knowledge of the ways of God and thus drive others away. But you are right, you have got to recognize this pattern of purpose in events for yourself. Perhaps now, perhaps later, but God is patient.

  5. I think the main problem comes about when we religious humans try to claim a monopoly on the knowledge of the ways of God and thus drive others away. But you are right, you have got to recognize this pattern of purpose in events for yourself. Perhaps now, perhaps later, but God is patient.

    I fully agree and I would hope that a God, if there is one, is more than just patient but is also willing to acknowledge righteousness in His “children” without the necessity of their recognizing Him. To be otherwise would be a shame as there are so many honest, decent, caring people who doubt or outright deny His existence.

  6. Actually, I didn’t listen to the song from the post. I use dial-up, and listening to anything online is a royal pain in the neck.

    However, I did listen to a friend’s CD this morning, and I can see why that opening bit caught your attention. And, yes, I loved their verse selection.

    As to comfort … You hit on part of it.

    There are also all kinds of times when I really want to ask Gd what He’s thinking. Why let this, that, and the other thing happen? That’s where faith has to come in … I don’t understand, and I don’t like some of it. But I have to choose whether to believe that He’s there, in control, and good, or choose not to do so. Somewhat like loving your wife even as you fight … it’s not comfortable or happy sometimes, but you choose not to walk out because you have that faith/hope/love in the relationship.

    I would also have noted that losing the ego wasn’t comfortable, but I’ve had my ego squashed so many times in the past year or four that that isn’t a huge concern, anymore. ; -)

  7. Rutherford,

    I would have to respectfully disagree with your decision on the goodness of mankind. Mankind is basically evil. Only through hard work and some help from God can we even control the least of our desires. Your reason for mankind being basically good is that we fight off evil. What if the evil is only eliminated because of God. Many events that lead to great changes have the air of impossibility about them. An impossibility that could only take place under perfect circumstances, many that could not be controlled.

    A counterexample for you is the Rape of China. Japan was an isolated nation by it’s own choice. Religions were allowed in, but only if they wouldn’t interfere with the Japanese worship of themselves and their emperor. Most didn’t interfere, Chistianity was one of the very few that refused to comply. The Japanese believed that they were gods. A perfect undefiled cultured civilization. Hitler was more civilised in his murders. Japan rejected the Lord and showed it in that war. I do not believe in religion, organised or not. I believe in God and his son Jesus who is also God. It is narrowminded to pronounce something wrong, whether it is in science, gods, or math problems. I am narrowminded.

  8. Solar1, Happy New Year to you too!

    OK, seriously … if man is made in God’s image and man is basically evil, what would that say about God?

    You claim not to believe in religion but you believe Jesus to be the son of God and a God himself. How can that belief exist outside of some religious construct? Even if you want to label it “Solarism”, it’s a religion just the same.

    I’ll give you this. It’s not everyday that someone professes to be narrow minded. By that admission, you’ve certainly deflated one potential line of attack from your opponents. 🙂

  9. Rutherford,
    Happy New Year back to you.

    1. If you read Genesis, humans were originally faultless with the capacity- but not the incentive- to sin. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, the whole world has been covered in evil.

    2. The definition of religion from encarta “people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life” Christianity is not just people’s beliefs, it is truth (and before you ask, I don’t consider myself that smart either).

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