Will we ever hear angels?

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008

"But with the woes of war and strife / the world has suffered long, / beneath the angel strain have rolled / two thousand years of wrong, / and we who fight the wars hear not / the love song which they bring, / O hush the noise of battle strife, / and hear the angels sing."

As we end a year that saw yet more days of war, of strife and of pain, and enter another that we know will bring more of the same, this verse still rings too true. It is the third verse of "It Came upon the Midnight Clear," written in the 19th century by Edmund Hamilton Sears.

Yes, there is reason for some hope, as a new administration takes over in our nation's capital, but the problems around the world of war, hunger and economic strain will linger no matter who is in our White House.

One of the most troubling facts of the modern world is that the promise of peace and love that came out of the Middle East more than 2,000 years ago, has instead evolved over the millennia into a seemingly endless struggle between the modern incarnations of the followers of the God of the Old Testament, each of whom believe that their way is the only way.

I realize it is neither that simple nor is the strife of today only the result of religious differences, but the sad fact remains that the original message of peace, unconditional love and inclusion of all, has been forgotten, ignored or tragically distorted by far too many.

When I reflect on all that I have witnessed in my lifetime - the amazing technological progress, the improved medical care, the availability of so much to so many of us - I can not avoid thinking about all the tremendous failures that have accompanied those successes.

Despite the promises of peace in our time, we have seen a world constantly at war - sometimes small conflicts in obscure countries, sometimes large battles involving our own. Despite the advances in medicine, there are still too many people without access to adequate or affordable care. Even though many of us can eat far more than a maintenance diet every day of our lives, many more are lucky to have anything at all to eat in a week of days.

Have we become so satisfied in our comfortable realities that we don't bother to hear the song the angels sang? Are the problems so numerous and so complicated that we live comfortably in denial and turn to TV and video games instead of facing reality?

For example, it seems to be much easier for us to lock up people with mental health and other serious personal problems in prison than to tend to their real needs. That old message included a lot about caring for the least fortunate among us and loving even our enemies. Yet the America I see today does not come close to living that message in its daily affairs.

Tradition says that this is the time for new promises for positive change in the new year. If we promise ourselves nothing else, we should resolve to listen more carefully to the angels' song and spend a little more time working for peace, reaching out to all our neighbors and learning how to love unconditionally.

• Dave Dierdorff is board chairman of the Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

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