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On Each End of the Rifle

War is an ugly business. For those who call themselves Christian, who celebrate the coming of the one they call “Prince of Peace,” fighting a war at Christmas is a theological oxymoron, and is perhaps the ugliest judgment on humanity’s sad ability to dehumanize one another.

And yet, all too often, it happens.

The music used in the video is a song called “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon, which I first heard at a live concert here in Kansas City about 15 years ago — and not just the song, but also a story to introduce it. (Lyrics here from John’s website.) One of the delights of John’s music is its ability to surprise. Just when you think you know where he’s going, there’s a twist in the lyrics that grabs you.

“On each end of the rifle . . .”

Sometimes those promoting war justify their dehumanization of the enemy by citing nationalism, economics, religion, cultural/ethnic differences, or simply by painting the “other” as monsters. Nations and religions and cultures are often quick to raise up their walls, to keep the so-called monsters at bay. Yet for all the differences trumpeted by the promoters of war, there is a common humanity shared by those on each side of the conflict.

I know this song by heart — it’s a family favorite at La Casa Peterr — but when I came across the video embedded above that was done as a 6th grade history project on World War I, I was stunned and surprised once more. The images they collected are powerful and vivid on their own, but combined with John’s music . . . wow.

I don’t know where Mr. Cutler teaches 6th grade, but if this video is any indication, he’s doing a very, very good job.

I do know where you can find John McCutcheon, though. If you’re out on the West Coast, John’s making his annual California tour this month. If you’re anywhere else, look for an upcoming concert near you — do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just go. If you can’t do that, go over to his website, poke around the songs and stuff, then click through to the store section and buy a couple recordings. You won’t be sorry.

Happy New Years, everyone — with special wishes for peace to Mohammed Ibn Laith and the Gorilla’s Guides team, who remind us often that we are brothers and sisters in humanity.

[Non-disclaimer: I don’t work for John McCutcheon, I’m not paid to shill for him, and I don’t get any free swag from him. All I get is a wonderful experience every time I pay to see him in concert or listen to his music via a recording, and it’s worth every penny.]

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.