Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Common Love -- Charles F. Brown



He may be the same Charles F. Brown who was born and raised in Texas in the 1940s and ‘50s, and who became a songwriter even while serving his country in the U.S. Navy in the following decade. He’s lauded by some of his peers, who apparently inducted him into the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame. So what made him write (perhaps while in his native Texas) about “A Common Love” he shared with all these people is rather un-mysterious in some respect, as he’d grown up with a background and education that paved the way for his songwriting.  But, did having served his country during a difficult period (the late 1960s) also give him some explicit emotions that he thought were relevant for his time, as he reflected on the state of his surroundings in 1974? Perhaps someone out there should quiz Charles to hear what he says. …anyone?

Charles F. Brown’s upbringing must have played a significant role for what later, by the mid-1960s, would further shape his outlook and spawn “A Common Love” even later when he was 32 years old. In other words, let’s just assume it was a lengthy process that brought him to the year 1974, when he decided to say something about what was common in his Christian faith. Since his Nixon, Texas years where he was no doubt influenced by his family, including his Baptist preacher father, Charles evidently wanted to make music his career. Music degrees from Baylor and Southern Methodist University were precursors to a four-year stint in the Navy as a teacher in its School of Music in Virginia in the 1966-70 era. Like the composer who wrote about being bound together in the same year (Bob Gillman, see blog entry for 23 July 2016), Brown was approximately the same age and was part of an unpopular, divisive war’s generation. As a believer, perhaps he was also aware of the Jesus Movement and their principles – to focus on the love of Jesus and the unity He brings in communes rather than churches – although it’s not clear that Brown participated in this. Could his words have been intended to reach out to all believers, however, including the Jesus “freaks” in communes? What better way was there to do so, than to spell out poetically-musically what six things all Jesus believers have in common with one another? It was spiritual glue that Charles sought to apply, with a musical brush, to his environment, perhaps as a curative measure for what ailed that time’s inhabitants.  

What common components of belief did Charles Brown see? Perhaps he thought they all looped back to the song title’s bonding element – love. ‘Make love, not war’, the time’s so-called counterculture said in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. There were many who scoffed at the hippies who liberally employed the phrase’s meaning, doubting its utopian ideals as well as its indulgence in the immoral. So, did this 30-something Brown offer his “…Common Love” as his own answer for the freaks, as well as for others outside of that generation? Just who can turn down love’s parts -- a ‘gift’, ‘bond’, and ‘strength’, and ‘hope’ or ‘joy’?

This link shows the composer’s birth year: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Brown_CF

This link-site may refer to the same person, and provides some biography on the composer: http://www.tgmhf.org/charles-f-brown/

Link to the Jesus Movement of that period: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_movement

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bind Us Together – Bob Gillman



Was Bob Gillman making a request, from inside a group, which he hoped the Divine Intercessor would honor? Unity is undoubtedly an important subject in the heavenly family, one that Gillman could have spotted as he studied scripture, perhaps stimulating his composition “Bind Us Together”. If a believer has ever been in a group, each of who are like-minded, the prospect of sudden discord and separation is indeed painful. Was he a relative newcomer, experiencing for the first time the familiarity and then distress of a church crowd he’d grown to feel was a body with complementary parts? As a 28-year old, his experience indeed may have been limited with such an episode, but maybe he’d observed others who’d overcome such a challenge, and sensed what his own group needed to hear and say to one another. While being tied in knots (see picture here) is often perceived negatively, Bob’s vision of being bound was a positive one.

What else we can say with certainty about Bob Gillman will have to come later, including what circumstances inspired his “Bind Us Together” thoughts in 1974. Nothing more than what has already been mentioned above is known of him in published media, but perhaps the timing of his words and their content speak for themselves. By the early to mid-1970s, Gillman was a 20-something, and if he was a U.S. citizen, he wrote during the latter part of an era that certainly was turbulent. Had he been in Vietnam, or known others who’d been there? Or, was he part of the Jesus movement, with followers known as ‘Jesus freaks’? It would not have been atypical for that movement’s adherents to express humanity’s need for God-inspired love and unity, opposites of the war and government authority that Bob’s generation so mistrusted. With such strife invading the culture at the time, was he engaged with a church infected in the same way, perhaps split generationally by events of the time? Gillman’s prescriptive cure, no matter what the potential situation was, is evident in the verses he crafted. He talked to the Creator first (refrain of song, sung first). Then, he focused his hearers and fellow believers on some very basic tenets: the one God (v.1), each follower’s purpose in Him (v.2), and believers’ collective identity in Him (v.3).         

If Bob Gillman was shaped by events of his time – and who of us is not, by the way? – he certainly said what could not be denied, no matter what historical period one inhabits. Too often, the refrain and verse one are all I hear, however. Bob didn’t stop there. He felt it was important to acknowledge how mortal life plays out in light of Divinity’s inspiration (vv. 2-3). If He’s true, and I’m the result of His creative genius, despite my flaws, how do I proceed? Bob had surmised that whatever else is true of God, His presence can draw and hold imperfect people as one. There’s no better glue than God.  

This site shows three verses for song: http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/love/love852947.htm

This site shows composer’s birth year: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Gillman_B
 
This site indicates composer wrote song three years prior (in 1974) to its copyright date in 1977: http://www.hymnary.org/text/bind_us_together_lord

Link to brief description of the countercultural group of the period: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_freak

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I Love You with the Love of the Lord – Jim Gilbert



Perhaps Jim Gilbert was trying to say he admired someone for doing or saying something laudable. That’s the moment that would make a person say “I Love You with the Love of the Lord”, as Jim Gilbert evidently wanted to mark with a song in 1977. Did the moment also come with applause or a handshake, or even a bear hug with the individual to communicate the appreciation Gilbert felt? Was it the culmination of a challenging episode, maybe one that had been debated and prayed over for some time, ending in the choice being made that stirred the hearts of the onlookers, or at least Jim?  Capture that moment in music, Jim says, so you and the others involved can relive it and repeat it for others who make a turn toward Him.

If you say you don’t know much about Jim Gilbert, you’re probably not alone. He’s fairly anonymous, with just his name, date of birth (1950), and the year he wrote these loving words apparent to the researching eye. But, what 27-year old Gilbert did say with his few words reveals something interesting, showing a rapport perhaps only possible between people who’ve decided there’s a higher being who’s inspiration they need. His verses tell us he saw something in an individual that he thought reflected God’s Spirit (v.1), and he boldly asked that person to reciprocate the approval he was sending in his or her direction (v.2). One person can ‘love’ another person, but to ask the receiver of my love to return those earthbound feelings in like manner can be a risk – he or she might not feel the same way. I cannot dictate a mutual love relationship. It’s a choice. But, in the spiritual family in which I’m an adopted son, I can expect others to love me, just by asking them to do so. In fact, they might just do that without me first asking. Jim’s third (or in some versions, perhaps fourth) verse says that God started this kind of ‘first-strike’ love, against all odds. He chose to let the unthinkable happen – dying, which would normally separate those who would love one another. Except, there was more.  

He tried to tell others that He was about to do something that would turn love on its head. Ever notice their reaction when He told the twelve over and over again that His love was about to reach fruition through His own execution, and then resurrection? It’s like they were blind and deaf, unable to grasp His meaning. It was only clear once it happened, all initiated by Him. So, it kinda is a marvel to see love work in His way, versus the way we try to implement it among each other outside of Him. What would happen if more of us loved His way, letting Him initiate the bond?      

No sources were available for this composer, and only the information derived from song hymnals and the attribution commonly associated with the printed music contributed to the song story.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

My Jesus, I Love Thee -- William Ralph Featherston



‘Oh to remember my commitment afresh as in my youth’, someone has said in more or less these very words. If you or I wanted to recapture what it was like, as a teenager, to sense the zeal for our Creator-Redeemer, we wouldn’t need to make something up out of thin air. A 16-year-old Canadian wrote, probably from his Montreal home (see its flag here), “My Jesus, I Love You” to show how that fervor played out for himself. And, how his words came to be published showed he wanted to share this overflowing sensation. But, could he have expected that what he wrote would travel so far, to another continent? This sequence of events showed the potency of his expression, of how universal his thoughts and the One to whom they were directed must have been.

William Ralph Featherston is believed to have written “My Jesus, I Love Thee” in 1862 in the afterglow of his conversion, kicking off a series of further events that have allowed his thoughts to endure for the last 150-plus years. He must have been a young man (even if just 16) in touch with his own moral imperfections, prompting his turn to the Divine to salvage himself and spurring the heartfelt poetry he chose to mark the occasion. It was further evidence of this ebullience when he sent the words to an aunt in Los Angeles. She must have been someone he reckoned would especially appreciate his life-changing decision and rejoice with him in the poem he related to her. Did she also have connections in the music publishing world, or under what circumstances did she pass along her nephew’s rhyme to someone in England, where it was in print two years later? Since he died a bare 10 or 11 years later, was William a sickly individual, suffering a physical malady that ultimately took his life, while also compelling this teenager’s self-examination and spiritual commitment? Many hymns have been planted and grow in the soil of someone’s health struggle. Featherston wrote no other hymns that we know of, heightening our appreciation for what he said this one time. Was it perhaps even something to which he clung because he could sense his own demise was near? Jesus was his, William said, so the accessibility of his God was once facet of Jesus that struck him (v. 1). His sacrifice (v.2) and the promise of eternity (v.4) also drew his heart to Him, mature concepts that this teen had nevertheless accepted. William was ready for Him, and God was ready to use him in return.                 

God doesn’t really care how youthful I am. He used someone else in her early life to do something quite unexpected, in fact incredible and totally unique by any standards before or since. Mary, of course, had little to offer, except for how she was prepared to respond once she got over the shock of what Gabriel told her. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) Could it be that He finds a malleable heart more often in the young, in someone who’s unaccomplished, unassuming, and maybe a bit shy and uncertain of herself? William Featherston may have been, as a 16-year-old, once perceived that way, and look what he did! Oh to be a teenager again. Hey, with God, all things are possible.  
      
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003. 

Also see this link, showing all four original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/m/j/e/mjesusil.htm

Saturday, July 2, 2016

I’ll Be a Friend to Jesus – Johnson Oatman



This New Jersey native was near the end, and did he know it? Johnson Oatman, Jr.had written, by the time he composed “I’ll Be a Friend to Jesus”, thousands of hymns, so what more was there for this 66-year-old man to say? Since his death is recorded in the same year that this song is credited to him, perhaps he really just wanted to circle back to how he felt, to his focal point as a believer, before he would die. In that year, he was evidently engaged in taking the message outside of his native area (including Norman, Oklahoma, shown here in 1900 – perhaps not too different from the way it looked to Johnson in 1922), so perhaps he could feel that he was ready to go, although he may have expected to return to New Jersey. His life as a businessman had no doubt led him to encounters with many people, so it must have been important to remind himself and others whose friendship he really counted upon, especially since he undoubtedly expected this one to continue on another plane.

Johnson Oatman’s upbringing and life as a businessman must have ingrained within him the sentiment he expressed repeatedly in “I’ll Be a Friend…”. It’s said that a portion of Oatman’s youth was spent listening to his father singing church hymns, a love that evidently took root within the son, who by his life’s end had authored some 3,000 hymns. This father and son with the same name were also close in their vocational life as well, being partner-merchants in Lumberton, New Jersey for many years. Though the son was licensed as a minister, he reportedly preached only locally, and spent much of his time as a businessman when his father was alive, and then in an insurance enterprise in Mt. Holly (also in New Jersey) following his father’s death. Nevertheless, Johnson’s avocation would have no doubt been well-known to customers and counterparts in the business world who knew him. To write 3,000 hymn texts, he would most likely have engaged in some of this while otherwise occupied making his living. What kind of businessman-insurance man was he? With Jesus as his friend, one can imagine he was influential on a personal level. What venture had taken him to Norman, Oklahoma in 1922, where he died, is unknown. Perhaps he saw business opportunities in this recently established state (since 1907), or was there only temporarily. Whatever the reason, perhaps it was his stay in this ‘Bible-belt state’ that prompted him to consider his friendship with the Divine One.

How does one measure the value of a friend? Johnson may have asked himself that as he composed the words that survive him nearly 100 years later. Oatman’s answer was that he measured it in length, ‘until…(the) end’ (refrain and v.2); in places he might not have gone otherwise (v.3); and in telling others about him (v.4). Can’t you just imagine Johnson saying, ‘Got a friend like that, yet’?         

See these sites for all four verses and refrain, and a short biography on the composer: http://www.hymnary.org/text/they_tried_my_lord_and_master
This site shows the composer died in Oklahoma, though he had otherwise lived in New Jersey: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/o/a/t/oatman_j.htm

This site describes the city where the composer died: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman,_Oklahoma