by Dorothy Wells
Listen children to a story that was written long ago, ‘bout a kingdom on a mountain, and the valley folk below. On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone, and the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own. Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end. There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the judgment day. On the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away. So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill, asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they’d kill. Came an answer from the kingdom, “With our brothers we will share all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there.” Now the valley cried with anger, “Mount your horses! Draw your swords!” And they killed the mountain people, so they’d won their just reward. Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain dark and red. Turned the stone and looked beneath it: “Peace on Earth” was all it said. Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end. There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the judgment day. On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away. “One Tin Soldier” (Songwriters: Brian Potter / Dennis Earle Lambert) One Tin Soldier lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.
More than a few years ago, our older daughter returned from her first trip to sleep-away camp (an Episcopal Church camp in the mountains), telling me about a cool song she’d learned at camp. The song, “One Tin Soldier,” was one I’d learned as a kid – and as much as I love its lyrics and message, I was a bit surprised that it is still popular at camps. For a song that had apparently had been written during the 1960s to express an anti-war sentiment, it had a message that was much broader and far-reaching: Valuing possessions and riches over people and relationships, and exercising disregard for any human life, will result in disappointment and suffering for us all.
For some reason, the song has been particularly on my mind over the past few days. Maybe it’s because in my city, and in other major cities all over our country, crimes against persons and property seem to be increasing – and the persons charged with having committed those crimes seem to be without remorse. Maybe it’s because violence erupted in so many cities across our country over a long 4th of July weekend – and at a time that we should have been recognizing our nation’s independence from Great Britain, we were instead mourning our dead and injured. Maybe it’s because compassion – even simple tolerance – for neighbors seems to be declining. Maybe it’s because so many countries in our world are facing bloodshed and violence – and so many of our neighbors are seeking to flee danger, and find peace and refuge somewhere, desperate enough to risk their lives to escape.
Maybe it’s because it seems that we wreak much havoc in the name of the Creator, and take too many lives for granted. I wonder why all of humankind can’t choose love with the free-will with which we’ve been entrusted.
Scriptures remind us that the story of “One Tin Soldier” is not new. Its haunting refrain calls to mind Jacob’s sons, who were willing to trade their brother, Joseph, for the treasure of a few pieces of silver; David, who was willing to take the life of his trusted soldier, Uriah, for the treasure of Bathsheba; Judas, who was willing to trade the life of his teacher and friend – God’s own Son – for the treasure of a few pieces of silver.
A legion of valley people ascend to the top of a mountain, prepared to do whatever it takes to walk away with a treasure they’ve never even seen and unconcerned about the welfare of their neighbors. Peacemaking mountain folk were willing to share hospitality and the good news of peace with their neighbors – but never had the chance.
For this day, I imagine peace – the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that Jesus breathed onto disciples, the peace that is our treasure. I imagine peace on our streets, peace in our communities, peace in our country, peace in our world – peace that can only come from hearts that are transformed in the love of God and neighbor.
I imagine a community that reflects the commitment of the early followers of Christ, who “were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need… And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-45, 47)
I imagine new life emerging even from the top of the blood-stained mountain – healing that only God can give, a fresh start, the promise of a new day.