Saturday, March 30, 2013

He Loves Me – Anonymous

Anyone could say this. Could that be why this particular song – “He Loves Me” – has no recognized composer? He was just a believer, one among the countless who wanted to say something about the love of his life. But, he did more than just declare how the Almighty felt about him. He asks lots of questions, as if his was a guarded response to God’s gift initially. After all, could it be credible for anyone to love to the degree that He did?  Was it these questions that leapt off the page for Anthony Showalter, when he picked this one for a worship songbook he published in 1898?

Whether 40-year old Anthony Johnson Showalter may have known the writer of “He Love Me” as the 19th Century came to a close is unknown, but he knew good music when he saw it. Showalter was himself a musical composer, and had produced many collections of hymns by the time he spotted this love song. His 130 productions spanned more than two decades in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It was in Dalton, Georgia where Showalter published the second volume of his Song Land Messenger, which includes “He Loves Me”.  Showalter was known all over the South for his musical enterprising in teaching, composing, and publishing, so he must have had a plethora of contacts who floated ideas, like new songs, his way. Perhaps this mysterious composer was also a Southerner, or maybe it was large number of folks who developed the song’s words, to which Showalter or some other capable musician contributed the tune. Lots of questions were on the mind of this poet, as he or she puzzled over God’s selfless behavior.

Why did He leave home? What compelled Him to reach out to people wary of His true identity? How could He endure the lures of this world? And, most bewildering, why was He apparently bent on a martyr’s cause? The answer: LOVE. There’s a musical I take part in this Easter weekend that sums up His looming, yet providential destiny. He had the secret answer, but He had no desire to keep it hush-hush. He made death turn upon itself, He, the creator of life. That’s what Jesus knew, what He came to do. This universal guiding principle isn’t just another ‘silly love song’, as a well-known secular composer (Paul McCartney) has written. It’s not a cute, fuzzy, bunny rabbit you cuddle this Easter. No, as Philip Yancey has written, the Christ’s Easter is blood-stained, but with overpowering hope. “…then human history becomes the contradiction and Easter a preview of ultimate reality. Hope then flows like lava beneath the crust of daily life.”  Maybe that’s what the anonymous composer discovered -- he couldn’t resist the draw of the love God implemented. Love is powerful, even by human standards. But, try God’s love-standard…it might knock you over, but it also lifts you to a place you’ll never go otherwise.  

See also Philip Yancey’s “The Jesus I Never Knew” Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, p. 220.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why Did My Savior Come to Earth? -- James Gerald Dailey

He was inquisitive, that much we know. Maybe even puzzled, or bewildered, you might say. But, that type of thinking led him toward an answer as he pondered several parts of Jesus’ biography, and as he composed his response in “Why Did My Savior Come to Earth?” in 1892. James Gerald Dailey had some talent for composition and music publishing, and would spend his life between several locations as he spread the message of God through the music he must have loved. But, what was he encountering in 1892 that made him ask questions and dwell on the answer he found?    

A few details of James G. Dailey’s life are known that tell us he was someone who wanted to propagate the truth about God through the music medium in the eastern United States in the latter 19th and early 20th Centuries. He was born in Delaware in the mid-1850’s, and must have lost his father early on in life, as he is known to have moved with his mother to Brockwayville (known today probably as Brockway), Pennsylvania around age 18. It’s a small town in north-central Pennsylvania, not far from Punxsutawney, and today is part of the national historic culture of that region because of a nearby railroad and its many stops near there (like the one pictured in nearby Scottsville here in 1874, as it might have appeared to the Daileys). What would make this mother and her son go to a small town like Brockway is not known. Perhaps they had a family connection there. We can guess that his mother may have played an influential part in his musical development, one which led him to write some 15-20 songs over his life, and publish at least three works, including one of which compiled some songs for use in worship while he and his mother lived in this small-town environment. It was during the Daileys’ life there that James also composed his hymn with the question mark. Later on, in the latter years of the 1800s and early 1900s, James lived in Freedonia, New York and then in Philadelphia. He apparently especially appreciated the God-Son’s love for him by the time he was 38 years old, as he marked 20 years of living with his mom in small-town north-central Pennsylvania. Can you imagine James and his mom, from a rather humble, obscure area? Perhaps James felt he didn’t really stick out as anything special, a theme that is apparent in his prose. Why’d he come to earth for me, this nobody from nowhere, and go through hurts and sorrow like I have? And, why did he decide to die for somebody like me? James’ questions have but one answer. Love.

James answers that Jesus gave His life because of this love…a thought we might often limit to appreciating how this was manifested during His execution. But, perhaps James Dailey was thinking of more. He seems to appreciate that the incarnate God also gave up His life the whole time He was here. When He was born in the manger, when He was scorned by the multitudes for befriending ‘sinners’, and when He experienced the distress of everyday living in the 1st Century, He was sacrificing then too. Would it surprise us if Jesus was longing to be in heaven again at those moments? Is that maybe why He spoke of His Father’s kingdom so much, because He missed it so? He loves me so, James Daily reminds me. ‘I’m nobody’, James might have been saying, but somebody in Brockway, Pennsylvania made him realize that that’s who Jesus came to find and take back with Him. Feeling insignificant, small, and obscure? Come join the rest of us!     

See following sites for brief details on the composer:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Years I Spent In Vanity -- William R. Newell

This 27-year old had just moved to a new position as a teacher, so one might expect he’d feel rather sure of himself. Yet he knew enough to retain his humility. What made William Reed Newell a gifted teacher was also what - -or whom, rather – made him aware of his own condition, of the route he’d travelled, and of where he was headed. Most of all, he knew whom he should thank for all of this experience, and the hope of what lay ahead. It all comes across in the song “Years I Spent In Vanity” that he composed in 1895. 

Newell’s song may be more commonly known as “At Calvary”, and the lines he wrote seem to indicate this alternate title is probably more appropriate for the thoughts that were apparently going through his mind during its composition, too. It is said that Newell pondered his own conversion story for several weeks, and then in the space of a few moments, while he walked to a class that he was scheduled to teach one day at Moody Bible Institute, he penned the words. He’d just begun teaching at this institute in Chicago, so perhaps he was giving himself a bit of a self-exam, reviewing his own life as part of a new beginning at Moody. Ducking into an empty classroom to jot down the words that day suggests he sensed he had something special, something he wanted to be certain he recorded before he was distracted by other pressing duties. What happened next must have confirmed for him and his musical collaborator, Dan Towner, the school’s musical director, that “At Calvary” was indeed extraordinary.  Towner composed the music in just an hour after receiving his friend’s words, so its quick development must have meant the words were powerful and incisive for him too. Maybe Newell was thinking about a lecture or a commentary on the Bible’s book of Romans, as someone has noted the song’s verses seem to follow the general outline of that ancient work, for which the composer was also a noted academic authority.  

There are lots of reasons to look at Calvary the way William Newell did in 1895. It must have been personal for the composer, but he invites me to think along with him about the shadow that piece of wood casts. Verses 1 and 2 tell me Newell recognized his true nature, despite all of his notoriety, so I’m prompted to reflect ‘Am I any different?’Verse 3 allows me to rejoice with the composer that I can extend beyond my limits by accessing, of all things, another’s death. How strange! But, it’s not supposed to be conventional. God is, after all unique, and this cross-view perspective provides a window into His mind in verse 4. Yes, ‘at calvary’ is necessary, if I want to tie myself to God. It’s the one place on earth where I can see myself, ugly as I am, and Him at the same time with open arms, literally and figuratively. Oh, wait. I think there may be another moment somewhere out there when He’ll have open arms for me. For you, too.      

The following website has a soundtrack for the song:
See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.  Also, see Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

See biography of composer here:

Friday, March 8, 2013

He Still Came -- Donna Douglas and Pam Thumb

Donna Douglas really appreciates a good story. She feels so strongly about this, that she goes around speaking about stories, inspiring believers to think of how the Divine One has intersected their lives. It’s also a book she’s written entitled God Stories: They're So Amazing, Only God Could Make Them Happen. So, it wasn’t really a surprise, when quizzed about how she feels about the song “He Still Came” that she and Pam Thumb composed, that she eagerly answered in just a few hours, ready to share this story. Hear what Donna says about the song in her own words, some 23 years after she wrote its lyrics in 1990:

I wrote the lyric, Pam (wrote) the perfectly crafted melody. The inspiration for the song came solely from my inability to comprehend how that God the Son, would willingly choose to leave all the glory of heaven to come to earth, knowing all that He would endure and still come, just for me. It is unthinkable and unfathomable the kind of love and compassion it took for that to occur. No matter how old I become or how much more deeply I get to know and love my Savior, I will never get over what He provided for me and how He did it.  Donna Douglas Walchle

You can tell she still thinks God is amazing! It’s personal and powerful for her, as any story should be, as the words she composed show. “…just for me”, she says. When it’s sung, it draws the emotion from the believer, as when an artist with just the right flick of the wrist creates singular, unforgettable strokes on canvas. Perhaps that’s why she’s been able to write over 200 songs, accessing that gift from Him, to reflect it back to the One who gave it. Her friend Pam Thumb also has the gift from Him, so it must have been a great moment when Donna and Pam merged their words and music in 1990. Their collaboration reawakens for the believer the wonder of God descending (see Charles Le Brun masterpiece reminding of this scene here).  It’s something that none of us would risk, as Donna admits when she calls it ‘unthinkable and unfathomable’. Since God is all-knowing, what He did voluntarily is staggering – He must have known what lay ahead, and yet, He came anyway. He still came. Thinking about that makes the heart swell, doesn’t it? It sounds like she never wants to forget that fact, nor the gratitude that accompanies it. Here’s how it plays out in Donna Douglas’ life: Meet others, hear their stories, tell new ones you’ve experienced. And, see His hand in it all…then and now, and in what’s to come, too.  

The source for the story is an e:mail contact this SongScooper made with the composer on 6 March 2013. Thanks Donna!

See these pages for Donna Douglas and Pam Thum(b) information:

Friday, March 1, 2013

He Paid a Debt – Anonymous

He or she was American, that much can be said. And, it should go without saying that this composer of ‘He Paid a Debt’ was a Christ-centered believer – just look at the words written by this otherwise anonymous writer-musician.  He/she was focused on His sacrifice, and on singing a grateful note in humble response. The few times it appears in contemporary music collections also suggests it had a narrow audience, perhaps in just one of America’s Protestant church traditions. It may also be called a ‘devotional’ song, one that you as a teenager may have learned around a campfire, looking into a light in an otherwise dark place. That’s a metaphor for every believer….perhaps that’s why the song has stuck around.

The words ‘American Folk Hymn’ or ‘American Folk Melody’, but no other attributions, accompany this tune in a few hymnals today. Most American folk music has been around for relatively few years, perhaps only in the last two centuries as music goes, according to historical accounts of this music genre. Typically, a song in this tradition without an identified specific composer develops orally, based on a simple construct. It’s something that can be learned easily, just by anyone who can ‘carry a tune in a bucket’.  This unknown creator, or maybe even group of creators, must have been bible students, studying and thinking about what His sacrifice cost in two past-tense verses, and its relative value to the devoted follower in one future-tense verse. It was personal for this writer – notice how often, 15 times, that ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘my’ is vocalized in the three short verses. Yet, unknown is this person, in a rather ironic twist, huh? But, it’s completely appropriate and consistent with the song’s theme. I would be nothing without His everything, to put it simply. Jesus said to come as a little child (Matthew 19:14), say nothing, but feel His embrace. Nothing else matters in that world. It’s timeless, so maybe that’s why there’s no date associated with this tune either. Just focus on Him, in that timeless space. That’s what I can do with ‘He Paid a Debt’.   

See the links here for articles about the origins of American folk music: