Tuesday, November 30, 2010

He Has Made Me Glad – Leona Von Brethorst

She had plenty of reasons to be sad, yet she was glad. As Christmas approaches, this statement about the musical composer Leona Von Brethorst sounds like it comes straight outta the cartoon special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Remember the Grinch’s bewilderment on Christmas morning when he surveys all the joyous residents in Who-ville, following his nighttime raid on their village? ‘This sound wasn’t sad, but glad’, the Grinch notes as he listens for their expected wailing. Leona Von Brethorst’s countercultural reaction to life’s struggles, a la the Whos in the TV episode, might make one wonder if she saw their premiere (on television in 1966), and composed “He Has Made Me Glad” as a reflection on these characters. See what you think, after hearing her story. Leona would’ve had a lot more reasons than one stolen Christmas morning to dim her outlook if she had thought about her own life in 1976 when she wrote “He Has Made Me Glad”. She grew up poor in Tennessee during the Great Depression, then later on became a single mother, as her husband rejected her Christian faith. Consequently, she battled chronic gloom and overwork as she fought alone to support her family. Although she maintained her faith and even broadened her devotion as a worshipper through these years, she sank emotionally when her children left home after growing to adulthood. She says that it was at that point that her heart turned to Psalm 100. Something about Israel’s experience as worshippers dedicating the Temple, about their thanksgiving, got her attention. She didn’t know how to play an instrument, and admits she couldn’t even read music – none of which mattered. What mattered was that she wanted to be filled like the Israelites’ Temple, accomplished through a thankful spirit, a message that Psalm 100 spoke to her. Von Brethorst’s song caught on immediately at the church where she introduced it. Why was that? The answer seems pretty elementary, perhaps in the same, easy way a Christmas cartoon’s message works on us. The Who-ville residents had an infectious joy, one that when shared with others, swelled and overflowed – changing even the Grinch. The same idea is in Psalm 100 – ‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth’. This is a command, sure, but it also says something about what happens when a thankful, joyful sound is made. It spreads. Gladness overpowers gloom. After all, who chooses to be sad when they instead could be glad? Like the psalm suggests, singing “He Has Made Me Glad” helps the believer know something else about God-praise, too, particularly when it’s practiced with others. When He is lifted, we’re all lifted. God wins, and so do you and I. Kinda makes me wanna join hands in a circle of singing Whos. How about you? The source for Leona Von Brethorst’s “He Has Made Me Glad” song story is the book “Our God Reigns: The Stories behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2000. Also see “The Complete Book of Hymns-Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ,2006.

Monday, November 22, 2010

All Things Bright and Beautiful – Cecil F. H. Alexander

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander loved three things, if the song she wrote in 1848, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, is an accurate portrayal of her personality. God, nature, and children are blended into the verses of the song, weaving a message that was unmistakable. It would surprise no one if the song was said to have been written by someone with a child-like spirit -- she had been a poet from her childhood years. The song communicates something clearly, easily understood even by children. Each verse says something every human has experienced.
Cecil Alexander was 30 years old when the song was written, but adults like herself were not the intended audience. She wrote this song and others as part of the publication Hymns for Little Children. It is thought that she may have composed the words near Sligo, Ireland while at Markree Castle (see a picture of it above), suggested perhaps by one verse that speaks of a castle and its inhabitant, versus the more humble existence of a poor man. But, rich or poor, all experience equally some basic elements of our shared existence on planet Earth that Alexander mentions in this poem. Even children could identify them: little birds, mountains, sunsets, wind, fruit, tall trees, green grass. They all present themselves without my help. I might have planted seed for fruit trees or grass, but who made them grow? I can climb the mountain, but who put it there in the first place? Arguing about how these things arrived on the scene, while ignoring the wonder of Him who made them, is pointless. I, in my attitude of strict discipline and conviction about my faith, might have called the unbeliever impudent, if I had authored this poem’s conclusion. But, is that the way a child would say it? No, there is another message of the song that I have missed, until now.
The words of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” are gentle. They caress the mind and soul with images that remind the hearer of the power and grace and certainty of God’s creation. Alexander reminds me as a worshipper in the song’s last verse to testify confidently about the Creator, since He has given me eyes and lips to witness His greatness. But, if I do this like a child – as it seems Cecil Alexander suggests - I don’t need to be pushy or arrogant as I do this. I merely act, as I exist in the shadow of my Creator, like the other things He has created. I’m here because He made me, nothing more or less. I’m humble like a child, so that I can magnify Him. See the below link for all six verses that Mrs. Alexander wrote: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/a/l/l/allthing.htm
Information on the song was also obtained from “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
See this link for biographical information on Mrs. Alexander: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Frances_Alexander

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Are the Body of Christ – David B. Hampton and Scott Wesley Brown

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Exercise. Why do it? Because I want a healthy body, and it comes by exercising my muscles (see the picture). There’s a song about what a healthy body does…In David B. Hampton’s own words below, read and imagine what the body of Christ might do when it’s motivated, as he describes how the song “We Are the Body of Christ” was born. Thanks for the inspiration, David Hampton!
We Are the Body of Christ was written on a day that Scott Wesley Brown and I had just finished the first of two songs for Promise Keepers. We had the “theme song” of sorts for a couple of years and we had just completed the song “Godly Men” when I played Scott a melody. I had been playing around with this melody instrumentally on the piano for a couple of weeks but hadn’t had a chance to show it to anyone. I was playing piano and keys for Scott on the road at the time and we normally used sound check as a time to do some writing. This melody however, hadn’t even made its way to a sound check. I asked him at the end of the day if he had a second to listen to this melody. We had completed the demo for PK and I really only intended to play through the melody and go home. Scott sat and listened quietly and then asked me to play it through again humming the melody line. He began to scribble on his legal pad and then asked me to play it another time. He scribbled more and the last time I played it he began to sing the words, “One heart, one spirit, one voice to praise you...” At that point it was almost like the song wrote itself. I wish I could say all my songs came that quickly but this was just one of those “flukes”. When Scott finished singing it with me playing that last time we literally looked at each other and laughed. That song has since gone on to be included in a number of worship compilations and even a hymnal. I have had a number of stories about how churches experiencing division have been able to at least let down their walls with one another after singing this song together.… I think the lyric came to Scott the way it did because so much of what we had been focusing on for the PK songs were ideas about standing together, being for one another, creating anthems that men could sing in unity. So, I believe this song was just a natural outgrowth of where our heads and hearts had been focused for a few days already.
Great lesson in unity, huh? It makes me think of other questions – If a group (even just two guys) who are focused on unity can create a song, what could happen if a whole community were united? How about one nation? The globe? What would it sound like to hear the awestruck laughter of every believer in unison? Ahhh, heaven! The story for the song was accessed via an e:mail with David Hampton on 11-11-2010 and 11-12-2010: The below link provides a brief biography on David Hampton: http://www.worshipofgod.com/speakers/index.html

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

God Is So Good – Anonymous

Does God care what I think of Him? He must, I hope, for Jesus the Savior would make no sense otherwise, right? Sending the Son must have been the Creator’s expression of concern. And so, a believer’s response to God’s outreach should please Him. There must be plenty of anonymous tunes, or even poems that never were paired with music, that believers have composed to honor our Maker, to please Him and to say ‘thank you’ that He extended Himself beyond heaven. The tune for today is one of those – “God is So Good”. It’s compact, and says something so elemental. Its simplicity, its common, ordinary message could have been invented by just about anyone. But, am I an anonymous nothing when I sing this to Him?
God is good –that’s an understatement. As are the rest of the declarations in the tune. He cares, and He answers me (although sometimes I cannot hear His answer), and hopefully I love Him in return. The song, though its origin is rather vague, is thought to have been perhaps an African-American folk melody. Does that mean it originated in the slave culture of the 1800’s? It would have been a very simple, easy song for slaves to cling to in the fields. But, it works in modern times too, when life can be very confusing and frustrating. (Just take this sometimes flaky, unreliable computer, for example!) According to one commentator on a hymnody website (see below), the composer of the tune was one Bobby Burnett, along with Videt Polk, in 1958, so perhaps it’s evolution has been more recent. But, this remains uncertain. Another name potentially associated with the song is Kevin Prosch, who composed a popular gospel tune by the same title. The mystery lingers, nevertheless.
‘Known but to God’, as it says on many markers in the military cemetery. He knows me, including when I sing. And, if I’m genuine in worship, I know the connection is real with Him, even if bystanders can detect nothing. I’m known by Him. He’s the only one who may know me. Is someone out there the composer of ‘God is So Good’? Even if you don’t identify yourself, you are known by Him. And, maybe someday He will let us in on the story, the episode that made this tune come to life in you. He knows every story, and so He must have a never-ending library of songs waiting to be born. Wow, can’t wait to get there! Awesome, huh?
The following link provides information on the song “God Is So Good” http://homeschoolblogger.com/hymnstudies/540838/