Sunday, May 27, 2012
Nature lover, that’s who wrote “Fairest Lord Jesus” as early as the 1100s (12th Century). The composer may have been on a journey, perhaps even as he and his compatriots were being forced out of their homeland. Pausing to recognize His creation – perhaps that’s how this person or group managed to maintain some composure, if they indeed were in troubling circumstances. They sang the song in their native German tongue, even though they were separated from their native land. What is one’s native tongue and native land, after all?
Various accounts propose different conditions prevailed when “Fairest Lord Jesus” was first sung by Christians. Was the song on German crusaders’ lips as they travelled toward the Savior’s homeland in the 12th Century? One could imagine such a group doing so, as they carried out their mission to make the Savior “lord of the nations”, as one verse of the song intones. The beauty of nature was obviously impressed upon the composer/s, maybe as they spent so much time in it, perhaps as travelers, either as Crusaders, or maybe as followers of Jan Hus up to five centuries later. Some Bohemian Hussites wound up in Silesia in central Europe (see first map of the region produced in 16th Century), as they tried to escape persecution. Look at some pictures of the region, and you might think this people’s forced relocation was in one way an opportunity to observe His creation. Think of the green meadows and forests, perhaps in springtime, with all the glory of rejuvenated plant life to witness. It might cause one to rejoice, even one with a ‘woeful heart’, as one verse confesses. So, the originator was observing something magnificent, even while feeling crushed in his spirit over some difficulty. He could see the night sky, too, reminding him of the Creator’s handiwork beyond this earth. If I struggle, does that really matter, if He is about me? That seems to be what the songwriter was saying, a message that still rang true for another guy at least two centuries later and an ocean apart from its German origin. His name was Joseph August Seiss.
Seiss was an American, but connected to the Old World by his faith roots. His ancestry was Moravian, and he practiced his Christian faith as a Lutheran, rooted in Germany. It’s not surprising that he would therefore feel drawn to “Fairest Lord Jesus”, perhaps first sung by one or more of his distant relatives. He was a native American, but maybe he’d say he had truly found something universal across the ocean in another land, and centuries removed from his own time. Seiss translated Schönster Herr Jesu into Fairest Lord Jesus for us English-speakers in 1873, but he apparently retained the original Silesian folk tune (known as Saint Elizabeth) associated with its words to synergize an affecting praise-hymn.What was it in the Silesian countryside that Christians saw that mingled with their heart-level faith? We’ll probably never really know all the details, this side of heaven. …one more story, waiting to be told. I plan on hearing more about it, how about you?
Information on the song was obtained from the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1982; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.
See this link for the song’s 4 or 5 or 6 verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/a/l/faljesus.htm
See this link for information on the Hussites, the possible originators of the hymn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussite
See also for information on hymn’s history: http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/PsH/461
Saturday, May 19, 2012
A redeemed hippie. That’s what someone might have said about Melody Green in the mid-1970’s. Along with much of the rest of her generation, Melody seemed to effervesce when she had found the truth, magnified by the polar opposite life she had been living. “There is a Redeemer” that she wrote by 1977, including the third verse by her husband Keith, was a pretty simple expression of the Greens’ discovery. That probably explains its wide popularity. Maybe the way the third verse and its writer’s destiny played out just a few years after its composition helps explain the song’s reach too. Some might say Keith Green was being apocalyptic, perhaps even seeing the four horsemen in the Apocalypse (see the picture).
Melody’s path to “There Is a Redeemer” was anything but direct, and even after its composition, there would be unexpected events that gave fresh meaning to its words. She’d grown up in the Jewish faith of her parents and grandparents, the latter of whom were survivors of the persecution in tsarist Russia. Despite her respect for their influence upon her early life, in her teens and early 20’s Melody tried Buddhism in Japan on the heels of experimentation with drugs in California, as she searched for fulfillment and something that could be termed genuine. She met Keith, her husband in 1972, and they mutually sought the faith they felt must be out there, finally grasping it in 1975 during a bible study. In the aftermath of the discovery, Melody and Keith started something that continues today, called Last Days Ministry (LDM), an outreach to the drug culture, to unwed teenage mothers, and to their neighborhood too. It was in the midst of this in 1977 that Melody penned the words to the song that has become so well-known. Its message was straightforward – Jesus is God’s present to the world, and He also left the Spirit to continue what the Son started. Keith wrote the third verse, unknowing that its words would have what some might call an eerie ring to them just a few years hence, a call to imagine the eternal future. In 1982, with their family life, LDM, and Keith’s music career blossoming, a tragic event—a plane crash—snuffed out the life of Keith and two of the Greens’ children. …Last Days Ministry, ‘life is short, make it count’ the website of this organization the Greens started says. One wonders if that motto buoyed Melody during that heart-rending period in 1982.
LDM is still active today, carried along perhaps by the memory of the song’s truth contained in its final verse. You just never know when your eternity will become fact, perhaps something that Keith Green would tell us if he were here today. Oh, I guess he did say it today after all…it’s in the verse he wrote in 1977. Am I listening to what I’ve been singing…?
The source for the song story is “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.
Also see the following links for biographies of the composer: http://www.newreleasetuesday.com/authordetail.php?aut_id=431
Also see the following site for background on a ministry the composer began: http://www.lastdaysministries.org/
Friday, May 11, 2012
He had evidently been captivated by the divine message, perhaps as he reflected back on his own conversion early in his first position in ministry. He hadn’t been at his work for long, yet he still had something to say. Every person’s experience is unique, and yet there must have been something in John Merritte Driver’s thoughts that rang true for others who knew him, allowing him to publish his hymn “Wonderful Story of Love” among a collection that others would use for their own worship. What was it that compelled this Illinois native to compose in 1885?
J.M. Driver was born in south-central Illinois in Jefferson County (see picture), and began ministering in 1880 at Prairie, in southwest Illinois, some 40 miles south of St. Louis by the time he was 23 years old. He was still relatively close to his birthplace, perhaps some 70 miles away. One can imagine that he probably still had family relatively close by, and could remember how his life had been blessed up to that point. Though details of his life are scant, his was undoubtedly a Midwestern rural or small town upbringing, probably with some religious emphasis in his family’s life since he would later attend college (at Illinois Agricultural College and Boston University) and be ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister. Five years later he would be credited with writing “Wonderful Story of Love”, probably as one of the selections within the hymnal Songs of the Soul that he co-edited for publication that same year. This was actually his second effort as a hymnal editor, having produced the Bible Temperance Hymns some years earlier. He is credited with composing some 30 hymns, so while not incredibly prolific, as were some of his contemporaries (like Fanny Crosby), he was a useful tool. And, as a hometown, familiar fixture in southern-southwestern Illinois, what he said must have resonated with people there. He spoke their language.
By the time Driver was 28, his words indicate he had various reasons for expressing himself musically. ‘Wonderful’ was how he describes God’s care for him. All three of his verses call out to spirits of heaven for expression of this love, a supernatural quality that upon reflection might make someone alternately describe it as astonishing or incredible. Was Driver being biographic when he wrote in verse 2 about being far away, with God’s persistent love calling him back? Or, was he thinking about reunions in eternity with loved ones when he wrote verse 3? Was he, at 28 years old, already finding much of his earthly life difficult and tedious, as words in verse 3 – looking for ‘rest’ -- might indicate? What was this minister, perhaps a rather ordinary Midwesterner, saying that was worth hearing? Maybe that was just it – a regular guy who had found something extraordinary. Want to make your dull life exciting? Are you thinking ‘Is this all there is?’ John Driver might have wondered the same thing once. What do you think he might tell us today?
See following for song words and a very brief biography of the composer: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/d/r/i/driver_jm.htm
See following for list of songs attributed to J.M. Driver: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Driver_JM
Saturday, May 5, 2012
It was probably an after-dinner song, saved for special occasions (perhaps not unlike the Passover meal shown in the picture). The composer wanted something very brief and focused, to get one or two points across. It was intended to be something memorable and repeatable by large numbers of worshippers for many years. How do perhaps 3,000 years and millions or even billions of people sound as marks of success for this hymn? And yet, we know not the author, although we can guess his nationality, and maybe even his tribal family. “Oh, Praise the Lord” has a history that gives clues for us to uncover.
It was well-known by Jewish historical figures in the 1st Century, and though used widely by those worshippers, its ultimate purpose is to draw non-Israelites into God’s sphere along with His chosen people. “Oh, Praise the Lord” is verbatim Psalm 117, with ‘ye’ and ‘endureth’ in its text leaving marks for us to discover and research, to appreciate that its writer’s background included use of the King James version of the Holy Bible centuries after the psalm’s genesis. The original psalm composer was perhaps one or a group of the Temple’s Levitical musicians – an individual or gathering of professional worshippers. Professionals who went for something easy, not complex. That model still works centuries later, doesn’t it? Psalm 117 was part of the Egyptian Hallel that included Psalms 113-118, with the first several of these Psalms sung before one of the Jewish festival meals, and the latter, like Psalm 117, sung especially after the Passover meal. Its exhortation to ‘ye’ (us) is always preceded by ‘all’ – all ye nations, and all ye people -- telling us its composer envisioned everyone everywhere, not just Israelites, lifting up thanksgiving to Him. Certainly it must have been a spirit-led, futuristic hope of which he wrote, since during the Temple’s time few peoples beyond Palestine would have answered such an exhortation. With a dream for what could be, perhaps yet to be seen here on earth, but especially in Eternity, this composer penned these words of anticipation. It resonated with the Lamb of God and His Apostles, who probably sang these words at one very unique Passover centuries later (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). It didn’t end there, as Paul recognized its significance for non-Jews (Romans 15:11). Finally, a reader of a KJV at least 1,600 – 1,900 years later recapped its import by matching its words with music composed by William Hill in 1921. Other writers, like Charles Naylor in 1900, also used Psalm 117 as verse 1 of his composition by the same name, and then Naylor added three more verses.
I’m one of those non-Jews, a Gentile, 3,000 years later. A Levite might have written “Oh, Praise the Lord”, unsuspecting how wide it might reach someday. ‘All nations and all peoples’, why would they want to praise Him? The composer answers, God’s mercy is unbounded and the reality of Him is undeniable and unending. Three ‘un’-conditions of Him…they’re probably as simple to remember as the words of the hymn. Believing them doesn’t mean I’m a simpleton, however. In fact, acting on these simple, but inescapable facts is the wisest thing I’ll ever do. He made ‘em that way, so that I cannot miss them. So simple, right? So what’s stopping you?
Sources for the historic background of the Psalm 117 is found in the New International Study Bible, copyright 1985, Zondervan Corporation. Also see the NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 1: The Old Testament, editors Kenneth L. Barker and John Kohlenberger III, copyright 1994 Zondervan Corporation.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
What does your favorite championship-winning song sound like? I remember one from my favorite baseball team’s last World Series-winning year –1979 and the “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. It’s about togetherness, and how that propels a group toward its destiny. How about that rock-n-roll classic “We Are the Champions” by Queen, wherein the composers conjure up feelings of us-against-the-world? Which works better, people focused inward on bonding together, or focused outward in fending off their adversaries? How about both of them, or neither? Does the victory sign, like the kind Winston Churchill flashed during World War II (see the picture), always mean that it’s within our grasp, or does it merely convey confidence in the eventual outcome? What was Joseph Vogels thinking in 1985 when he wrote “Victory Chant”?
Joseph Vogels’ composition must have struck a chord with lots of other people. His website says the “Victory Chant” he wrote has become one of the most often-recorded worship songs since its inception. If Vogels lifestyle is any indication of his attitude, he really has used its message as a springboard for the last several years. The song’s words indicate the influence of the Lord has imputed the power, freedom, loyalty, and life direction for its composer that continues today. Vogels, a native of New Zealand and Australia who now lives in North Carolina, still gets around. He reportedly travels with the divinely inspired message that he delivers with a flair and energy that helps him communicate that God’s presence permeates this planet. Celtic, African, and New Zealand sounds emanate from his music, covering wide areas of the globe. “Victory Chant” calls upon Him through several names, as diverse as the musical genres that Vogels employs. In the same song, the Lord is the lamb, but He’s also the Lion of Judah – sacrifice and conqueror at once. One senses that Vogels felt vigorous, alive as perhaps he hadn’t felt with any other earthbound method, compelling him to write words and music that communicated the elation he felt in knowing his journey has a certain destination.
Victory contains something common in any language. Everyone wants to be a winner, but because only the relatively few find it, including in the world of sports, you have to wonder if most people really know what makes someone a ‘winner’. While it may be a certain amount of luck, health, timing, nerves, talent, and confidence, who can order all of these into perfect synergy? Maybe I cannot expect to very often, terrestrially, at least. And, since I know I’m imperfect, spiritually, what are my chances of the afterlife’s prize? Someone says ‘You can’t know for sure.’ Vogels answers emphatically ‘Yes you can!’ with “Victory Chant”. Jesus was Providential synergy, our victor, humankind’s nexus. So, listen to those champions’ songs, root for your favorite team, and rejoice if they win it all. Remember that feeling, and imagine it going on forever, like the ultimate high multiplied by a million…yow!
See the following site for information on the composer: http://josephvogels.tmgartist.com/bio/