Saturday, July 28, 2012

Never Once – Matt Redman, Jason Ingram, Tim Wanstall

Matt Redman was at a point where events made him reflect. He had two friends, Jason Ingram and Tim Wanstall, with whom he must have been sharing and identifying later. It was a ‘nutshell’ moment, as he recalled picking up his guitar and letting his memories pour out in a rather lonesome place, a big empty spot, both emotionally and physically. Some of us might have run to a different situation, hurrying to escape the sense of isolation. But that’s where Redman paused. He knew he was in fact not alone, and that “Never Once” had God let him down.

Matt Redman tells the story in his own words (see link below), so you the reader don’t need me to reveal it to you. Redman is very open, saying it was a time when he and his family were returning to England after living in Atlanta, Georgia for some time. It was the summer of 2010, and the departure was culminating. If you’ve ever moved, leaving friends and an uplifting experience, then you’ve felt the way the Redmans must have that day. They probably had a “For Sale” sign (see the picture) displayed, or something else posted on the property to let others know they were leaving, vacating the premises. They were just a little sad, he hints, to say ‘so long’, with the emptiness of their house magnifying the moment for Matt. He still had his guitar, so he began to reminisce, giving birth to the song that his friends Jason and Tim must have helped him crystallize later on. Redman says in that moment he appreciated that God was faithful to him even as a child of seven years old, decades earlier. God had not ‘vacated the premises’. His faithfulness is one divine characteristic that Redman says he tends to reflect on in his music-making most. Perhaps that’s because it feels so personal for him. He doesn’t provide details, but Redman admits his childhood might be described as difficult.  His words describe ups and downs, not unlike what all of us experience, times in which he hopes believers don’t discard God because of confusion or ‘clouds over you’.   There’s a ‘thread of God’s faithfulness’ that Redman has identified, and he hopes that it’s ‘burning deep inside’ the believer.  

Remember and trust. That’s all Redman and his friends ask of those who sing “Never Once”. If you’re still struggling, Redman doesn’t seem to think that discredits his song’s message. It might be a ‘battleground’ with ‘scars and struggles’, but don’t think He’s abandoned you. Jesus must have felt it too, in the garden and several hours later, suspended between here and there. Most of my ‘desert’ moments don’t come close to the gravity of Jesus’ wasteland experience. If He can endure the desertion, can’t I? Call out to Him, and you’ll get on the other side of that moment…that’s how Jesus’ life tells me to manage my anxiety at those times. Eventually, that’s where paradise awaits…     

See video here for Redman’s own story about the song’s development:

Some biographic information on composer:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wonderful Love – Edmund Simon Lorenz

He often chose to name himself E.D. Mund, John D. Cresswell, or L.S. Edwards when he wrote songs, so you might be a little confused if you hunt for this fellow’s biography. He may have randomly decided to use E. D. Mund when he wrote “Wonderful Love” in 1883, but his feelings expressed in the song were anything but accidental. He may have had some conflicting emotions, if the words he wrote accurately presented how he felt, but he wasn’t afraid to expose his weaknesses. He had a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in making music, yet he seemed to recognize where he ranked when it came to saying something to God.

Edmund Lorenz’ family background no doubt played some role in his development as a hymnist, publisher, and minister, including in the thoughts he wrote in 1883. Their Russian heritage and Adventist faith were transported to western Ohio in America, where Edmund was born in 1854. After a varied higher education at two universities and two seminaries, Lorenz was soon publishing hymnals while in his 20’s, including four before he wrote his “Wonderful Love” lyrics. He was a 29-year old, who’d lived within a family of immigrants from another continent and culture, while he himself had studied and traveled in various places (including in Leipzig in Europe). So what could he be thinking as he pondered his life in 1883, and what God was to him? When he writes of God’s love, it seems as though ‘wonderful’ equals ‘supernatural’.  His lyrics’ first few words convey a sense of inadequacy, despite all his preparation for this life of musical expression to the Divine One. He describes his efforts as ‘vain’, and asks ‘who can sing…?’ in his first verse. Does that sound like a confident musician?  It must have struck a chord with his hearers though, for the hymn has also been commonly known as “In Vain, in High and Holy Lays”.  His other words in the song also show he felt God’s supernatural intervention in many ways, ways that upended his human shortcomings. Whatever these episodes were, Lorenz writes with a broad sweep that allows all of us to acknowledge the song’s truth. Our days are filled with challenges that defy our capacity to manage them. But, Lorenz didn’t dwell on the negative. Instead, he marveled over the intercession of God’s love. It says something about how to propel oneself beyond his 29th year.

Edmund Lorenz apparently was propelled forward – or rather, upward -- for the rest of his 88 years. He published another 15 hymnals through his own Lorenz Publishing Company or through collaborative efforts with several others up until 1937. Some might note that he wrote lyrics for only a handful of songs, and the music for just a few dozen others. But, he must have seen and appreciated hundreds and even thousands of others in all those hymnals that he helped bring to fruition across seven different decades of his life. How much can one know of God’s nature? Edmund must have been asked this, or thought about it as he sang, heard, and produced music for those many years. He grew old, but maybe he’d found the way to think and behave like a youngster. Sound like a plan worth trying?    

See the following link for one of the composer’s books on music in the church:  

See following for some biographic material on composer:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Our God – Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Chris Tomlin, and Jesse Reeves

Teamwork. Passion. Proclamation. Hubbub. Those are words that stand out if you talk to Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin, Chris Tomlin, and Jesse Reeves about what they did together over several days to create a song for a special occasion. “Our God” was something they were planning to say to young adults, but it began in a more ordinary impromptu way than perhaps you might imagine it did. Isn’t it odd that this God who’s so great operates oftentimes in such normal circumstances – like when He made some wine at a wedding (see picture)? This quartet’s thoughts introduce us to Him who did the amazing so long ago, a fact that we too often shelve and treat like a dusty history textbook. What they wanted to do with “Our God” was make Him alive again. Let’s see how they did this.

Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin talk on the NewSongCafé show (see the link below) about how they and their friends collaborated in two different states to create the song. It was one of those after-show sessions apparently, where the song began, Redman says. He and Jonas Myrin were in Florida, and began plucking on a guitar and tinkling the keyboard in a hotel ballroom after a conference they had attended. Perhaps other creative minds might have sought out a quiet venue to mull over such a beginning, but not Redman and Myrin. Hotel workers were moving tables and chairs about, prepping for the next day’s hotel commitments. In the midst of this clamor, Redman says they saw an opportunity just to lift Him up, to proclaim Him. One wonders if the hotel staffers realized they were witnessing something special taking place. Something called ‘Passion’ was approaching, but perhaps it seemed rather ironic that all around Redman and Myrin,  workers were doing their routine. Fervor was on their minds again later in Atlanta, Georgia, as they prepared for a college-age crowd at the Passion 2010 Conference. That is where the song was completed, with the help of Chris Tomlin and Jesse Reeves. The song’s entry into worship vocabulary at the conference was complemented on the “Passion Awakening” album. Like its conference and album companions, “Our God” reminds us who believe and declares to those who don’t that He inspires zeal, perhaps most generationally associated with college students.  

Ever been on a college campus where a street preacher was proclaiming God to students hurrying to class? ‘Brother Jed’ was one I remember wandering about College Green in Athens, Ohio, and no, it seemed as if he inspired ridicule, rather than passion or even genuine curiosity. The Redman/Myrin/Tomlin/Reeves composition doesn’t wave an accusing finger at the sinner, like the street preachers I recall. Instead, it invites the hearer to just believe He’s unique. Link yourself to this person, and see where He can take you. That’s a dare, a challenge that maybe a cocky college student who’s just beginning his adult journey might accept. Are you ready for His adventure?   

Check out the following link to hear Redman and Tomlin talk about the song’s development:

This is the link to the conference video where song was performed:

See this link for details on Passion Conferences:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Praise Him Praise Him -- Fanny Crosby

What was going on in the life and mind of 49-year old Fanny Crosby in 1869? This blind hymn lyricist and social worker had so much to make her well-known and loved by the end of her life in 1915 that we could gloss over what brought to life her song “Praise Him, Praise Him” that was published in the mid-19th Century. Besides her spiritual energies, Crosby had also engaged in many secular endeavors by the time she reached middle age, including popular music and national-political issues toward which she had applied her poetic skills. More personally, she was also a married woman who had lost her only child some years earlier. Living in the New York City area, she must have also been aware of the various events locally that colored her perception of the world. This blender of events created something special in 1869, for “Praise Him, Praise Him” is one of her most well-known hymns.

Yet, we know few or none of the specific circumstances of the hymn’s origin (it was published in the Bright Jewels hymnal), although we can see much of what surrounded Fanny Crosby and imbued her life at the time. “Praise Him, Praise Him” was written the same year, 1869, as her “Rescue the Perishing”, which focused on missionary work in U.S. inner-city areas, one of the major themes of her life, particularly in the period after the Civil War until her death. Her hymn writing could thus be viewed primarily through the prism of her missionary labors, especially the rescue missions in the New York area where she lived (like the Howard Mission shown here). Crosby and her husband, Alexander Van Alstyne (called Van by friends), moved frequently during the period, giving up much of their income to help the needy. She also wrote many hymns to lift spirits and convey God’s message to strugglers. Crosby was incredibly prolific, producing perhaps as many as 9,000 hymns in her lifetime, a rate that some say included composition of six or seven songs per day in some periods. So, what made her write one may have made her write many others, too. Perhaps her aggregate output should be thought of as a reflection of the depth of feelings – her gratitude toward Him could not be contained in just a few words. Did she also struggle with the loss of her only child 10 years earlier in 1859? Might that have spurred her toward reflective behavior, like hymn writing? Crosby was a Methodist, and apparently attended the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, while also reportedly a member of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in NYC. She may also have been aware of the February 1869 dedication of the Nostrand Avenue M. E. Chapel, at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Quincy Street in Brooklyn, so maybe her hymn flourishes also served to supply new and growing churches with praise material.   

Fanny would never have been called a cultural hermit in 1869, if what she did as a younger woman stuck with her later on. From the 1840’s and beyond, she wrote many secular works to commend events of the times in which she lived. These included poems about abolition, the Civil War, and presidents. Locally, she probably knew about the Booth Theater that opened at 23rd Street & 6th Avenue, that the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge had begun, and about the first American steeplechase horse race in Westchester, NY. Nationally, how could she have missed that treason charges were dropped against former Confederate States president Jefferson Davis, of the inauguration of the new president Ulysses Grant, that the US Congress upped the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to nine, and that Thomas Edison patented the first voting machine in June 1869? Did she feel liberated when US women were first given the right to vote in the Wyoming territory in December? Do you suppose a mine fire in Avondale, Pennsylvania that killed 179 miners in September 1869 grieved her? Did she, a one-time popular music composer, hear that the German composers Wagner and Brahms premiered “Rhine Gold” and the “Liebeslieder Walz” in September and October? Did the Suez Canal opening in Egypt in November enlarge her world, even indirectly? Was she intrigued to try William Semple’s newly patented chewing gum?  

From the sublime to the mundane, Fanny Crosby probably heard about or had an opinion about much of the world’s events in 1869. But, no composer, even one as talented and sensitive (though blind) as Fanny Crosby, can sum up in one song all that goes on in his or her world. Fanny didn’t try. Instead, pass all your world through one lens…even if that eyepiece cannot see the physical.

Information on the song was obtained from the book “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990. 

See this link for the song’s original verses:

See also these links for the composer’s biography: