Thursday, September 25, 2014
Frederick Augustus Fillmore could have been described as a “footsteps follower”. (See the picture here of one of the most well-known footsteps.) In fact, his brothers were also of the same inclination, and thus may have approved of Fred’s apparent following of several of his musical ancestors when he wrote “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” in 1917. The Fillmores were Ohioans (versus the Millard Fillmore of New York who was America’s 13th president in the early 1850s) who were well-steeped in Christian church music, so it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if Fred was familiar with and inspired by the lines of other songs that he probably had heard about the Living Redeemer. What was it he wanted to emphasize with his version of this proclamation?
Fred Fillmore and his brothers James, and possibly also another brother Charles, were the second generation of musical publishers in Cincinnati in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Their father was a minister, composer, and music publisher, whose venture in this business they continued long after his death. Fred and his brothers no doubt must have heard many messages their father preached, using phrases from scripture that would have been familiar in the hymns he and other composers generated. By his 61st year, Fred most likely would have known of many hymns already entitled “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, including two that had been around for many generations and another that was more recent. Charles Wesley’s version in 1742 especially, and also Samuel Medley’s in 1775 from the 18th Century both may have been known to Fillmore. Another by H.A. Merrill in 1879 added to the mix, and gave Fillmore and his contemporaries lots of thematic material to musically gird one’s faith. Some of the phrases in Fillmore’s 1917 “I Know…” are repeats of what Wesley penned some 175 years previously – things about God ‘ever praying for me’ and ‘will (ing) that I should holy be’. Fillmore also may have appreciated Merrill’s reminder that He has ‘prepared a place for me’, since it appears in his own version with the words reordered. Their shared words are prompts from a common scripture that the composers from all three centuries would have recognized. Was this how Fillmore birthed the 20th Century’s “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, by acknowledging the previous efforts and reaffirming their value? Were there additional circumstances that inspired Fillmore?
Fred Fillmore said he knew many things, a characteristic of his hymn that his predecessors did not emphasize as directly. Besides the title’s ‘I know’, Fillmore says he knew the following: that He prays for me, that He gives eternal life, that His salvation is accessible to all people, that He will return, and that He’s prepared a home for me. Stunning, aren’t they? Was that Fillmore’s observation too, as he composed verse 2? Dwell on all I know of Him, Fillmore says. If He’s the magnet, then I am compelled to mimic—as much as humanly possible-- His holiness. I’m in His image, following in His steps, knowing He’s there. What do you know?
See these links for a brief biography on the composer: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Fillmore_Frederick
The poetry of a possibly related hymn by the same title and written by Charles Wesley is here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/i/k/n/iknowtmy.htm
Other songs of the same title are also here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/ttl/ttl-i.htm
Thursday, September 18, 2014
He was a 34-year old Southerner living in Atlanta (see the city’s seal here)
Mosie Lister had sung in various Southern Gospel quartets for over a decade in the mid-20th Century, a career that helped prepare him for another musical role in the 1950s and gave rise to the words he’d write in 1955. He’d had a respiratory infection that forced him to suspend singing for a while, but after recovering he resumed singing with the Statesmen, perhaps the most well-known of the groups that included his bass voice. By 1953 he had started his own music publishing enterprise, wherein he composed and arranged as an extension of his musical avocation. He soon made it his full-time professional venture, with his wife Wylene’s encouragement, and it was soon thereafter that he wrote “He Knows…”. What was his experience at the time, as he and his family resided in Atlanta? The words of two of the three verses he wrote speak of lonesomeness, a sense of being abandoned. Was this a personal admission Mosie was making? Or, maybe he wrote for someone close to himself, perhaps his wife or one or both of his twin daughters. Mosie and his family must also have been churchgoers, a place where he might have observed heartaches of spiritual family members too. This was an environment from which he did not try to escape apparently, as Mosie later became a minister. He knew, either personally or vicariously, that this inner struggle was common, but also knew how to address a friendship-starved heart.
Theres’ no wavering in Mosie’s tone, even as he shares that he or someone he knew was in a struggle. Note how he begins two of the verses with some significant words – ‘My Jesus knows’. He acknowledges the human condition may leave one empty, but he doesn’t wallow in that. Begin by realizing He’s watching, and take that barren sensation that nags at you to Him. Mosie must have been confident to write this way, certain that God, perhaps even through people around him, could help. Believe He’s engaged, even if you have no proof. It’s called faith.
See this link for composer’s website: http://mosielister.com/Bio_2_8CA5.html
Also see here for more biographic information on composer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosie_Lister
Thursday, September 11, 2014
What would a 43-year old Civil War veteran have to say that I would value? Especially when he admits that he doesn’t have the answers to so many questions that I might ask...or that you might even suspect that Daniel Webster Whittle asked of himself, as he composed the words for “I Know Whom I Have Believed”. Just count ‘em, all eight of the pretty fair questions that Whittle says stumped him, and yet he contends that there’s one overriding factor that pushes all of those questions into insignificance. If that factor—that dynamic, overpowering, all-consuming fact—were true, how much would its information chip be worth today? They weren’t invented in Whittle’s era, nor even dreamed of probably, but having such a valuable piece of information today would kinda be like having a silicon chip (see a sketch here),
Daniel Whittle had a life-changing experience that came about in his early adult life, something that he probably reflected upon many years later and summed up in “I Know…”. He reached the rank of major in the Union forces during the Civil War during his early ‘20s, a seminal event that scarred, but also shaped him for the remainder of his days. He lost part of his right arm in battle, and was a prisoner in a hospital – lots of negative there, right? But, it was there that he found God, apparently by reading a New Testament and reluctantly praying with a dying soldier. He’d also been greatly impacted by meeting the preacher Dwight Moody. Some 20 years later, though active as an evangelist with Moody’s support, he admitted in this song he wrote in 1883 that he was still confounded in many ways. Here’s what he says he did NOT know: 1. Why God’s grace-message had come to him; 2. Why Christ had saved him; 3. How Christ had given him faith; 4. How believing God’s message had given him peace; 5. How the Spirit acts; 6. What good or dire events awaited him, despite knowing Him; 7. When the Lord would come; 8. Where he’d meet Him when He returns. But, he did have one answer, and it was revealed by finding the ‘Who’ in his life. It was in that prisoner-of-war hospital that he’d found Him, as he said years later. Whittle was known as “Major” for the rest of his life—it’s on his tombstone, even—so it’s not a stretch to imagine him sharing many thoughts from his war experience with hearers who were eager to hear Major Whittle talk about faith. It must have struck him, even two decades later, that much of what he didn’t know in that hospital encounter still mystified him. But, knowing Him was the key.
Whittle would not have made a very credible journalist, would he? He still had lots of, ‘What’, ‘When’, Why’, ‘Where’, and ‘How’ questions. Me too. I cannot explain in detail how most things work, including how this computer that I’m using right now works. But, it’s got those little chips and circuits, etc. that make my knowledge gaps moot. Wow! Take that techno- wonder and imagine it as the theo-logical wonder. Try tapping into that mother board!
The following sources provided background for this story:
The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Also see these sites for biographic information on composer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Webster_Whittle
See this site for all five original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/i/k/w/ikwihb.htm
Thursday, September 4, 2014
This song’s history is proof that a specific story and a known author-composer are unnecessary for its survival and propagation. But, there’s also one little-known verse written by Ellis J. Crum in 1977, a verse that adds to the emotional tenor of the song’s message. Crum’s background fits into the message of “I Know the Lord Will Find a Way for Me”, so it’s easy to understand why he might have wanted to add something to its foundation, to this simple poem with which he already must have identified. Was the composer or composers of the song’s original three verses also of the same approach to life and faith as Crum? Crum must have thought so. What approach was that? What would a road sign to heaven look like …anything like this one shown here (a European one) that indicates a restriction on the road? Or, is God’s road more open?
Ellis J. Crum was an evangelist in the U.S. and around the world up until his death in 2011. Therein lies the focus of his life, and the source of the verse that he penned for this tune that most often is attributed to no particular person. Instead, its attribution is commonly noted among the untold number of songs in the “American Folk Music” or ‘Traditional” genre. While its origin details are unknown, we can guess based upon its words what the song’s author was thinking. No mystery here, for the writer makes it plain that he trusted God to blaze the trail for him to follow. He placed his life’s focus squarely on making that conviction known to others and on an abiding knowledge that he would hear the Lord affirm him in eternity. That must have resonated with Crum, too. Besides preaching God’s message in Indiana, California, and Connecticut, Crum reached out to people with His truth in Canada, as well as on missionary journeys into Africa. Ghana must have been especially important to him, as his friends and loved ones were encouraged to make memorial gifts to that mission work in Crum’s name in 2011. What was the verse that Crum penned? Crum noted how magnificent he expected it would be to meet the Lord with all other believers. What a picture, expressed in the original three verses, to know He’s cleared the pathway, inspired me to spread this great hope, and expect to hear Him say ‘Well done!” Crum’s verse says ‘Indeed, just ponder the moment when you will witness Him coming with all the other saints’. Just keep walking in the light of those thoughts, Crum and his anonymous co-writers and believers tell us.
It’s something you can easily imagine Crum must have spent many years telling listeners across the globe. The song’s drumbeat is a positive image of how to be a believer, how to cause others to see His hope-filled connection with humankind. Always try to do what’s right, avoid the wrong, so that you can be with Him. It’s a simple formula. If I can just follow it, I can know He’s made a way. Try telling this to others today.
See the following link to a site that describes American Folk Music, the genre of this hymn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_folk_music