Saturday, June 29, 2013

He Leadeth Me – Joseph H. Gilmore

It was wartime, and he was filling in for an absent speaker one Sunday. Joseph Gilmore must have wondered what was different about this time that he delivered a message on a familiar subject that he’d spoken about before. His focus zeroed in a just one thought for some unknown reason, and what he said dwelled on the minds of his hearers. He wasn’t even aware of his own effort’s fruitfulness until years later, when he visited another church and found his penned words in a hymnal. What a shock, especially for this minister who wasn’t really in the habit of writing poetry for songs. That’s a brief snapshot of what this fellow did to bring about “He Leadeth Me” on March 26th, 1862. The story’s message just might make one think, “I might never be aware just when and how my own thoughts will be used”.

Joseph Gilmore was substituting in a Philadelphia church that early spring in 1862, and his message on a well-worn subject was the topic of conversation well after the morning’s sermon, and would have implications for many years beyond. Psalm 23 (see here one artist’s conception of this well-known text)
was something he had spoken about on several other occasions, but this time he somehow couldn’t get past the words ‘He leadeth me…’ (verse 2). He speculated himself that perhaps the Civil War’s events were weighing on him, for by that time most Americans had concluded that the war was going to be long and brutal. The people would need a leader of divine nature, no matter where the war’s circuitous path might take them. It’s not specified, but residents of Philadelphia would undoubtedly have been supporters of the Union, and by inference, of President Lincoln. Did he sense the president and the Union needed God’s providential intervention? That afternoon’s discussion at the home of one of the church’s deacons spurred Gilmore toward still more thoughts of God’s leading. As the conversation continued, Gilmore scribbled some words and absentmindedly handed the paper with his meanderings to his wife, not knowing the effect this simple act would have. She apparently was struck by her husband’s prose, and gave them to a Boston publication, whereupon they were subsequently set to music by one of the period’s artists, William Bradbury.  Still, Gilmore knew nothing of these events until three years later. Opening a hymnal in Rochester, New York, where he was interviewing for a pastorship in 1865, he was surprised to find his own familiar words, paired with music. Did that church know something he didn’t, when he came to interview? Did his reputation precede him? Maybe so, and maybe it wasn’t an accident that Joseph Henry Gilmore became the pastor of that Baptist church.  

Gilmore wrote the texts for only a few other hymns, and it’s reported that none were as enduring as the one he composed in just a few moments in 1862. Perhaps its developmental history says something about how a song of lasting quality is born. Gilmore’s thoughts had centered on Psalm 23 before, but as he suggested, the crucible of the war may have provided the key ingredient that triggered its rise, even if this crisis was only in his subconscious. In Gilmore’s experience, he also must have sensed that his hearers were validating his sermon’s thoughts during that afternoon at the deacon’s home. ‘Let your insides speak to you, and listen to that voice that seems to be nudging you’, you can almost see him murmuring to himself as he scrawled the words on paper. He preached on His leading, and then he followed his own advice. Is He leading you somewhere, compelling you to say something? How about following through on that?      
See more information on the composer and the song in Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; 101 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson publishers, 2003.  

See following link for all 4 original verse that the composer wrote:

See following link on the composer:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Faithful -- Randy Gill

He laid it right out there in September 2012 – it’d been a tough time, financially. He needed to exercise his ‘faith’, and believe that he would be uplifted by mingling and worshipping with others. That was the bottom line for Randy Gill as he wrote about being “Faithful” in light of the year – probably really longer than that – that had been challenging him and others. If you’ve ever been in a trough, listen to what Randy and his friends did to lift each other out of that miry position.

It had been going on for perhaps three years, Randy suggests, when he thought about the “Faithful” topic that he and the Zoe group were bringing together in 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Finances had been stretched for these people, since the economy had sunk and some belt-tightening was necessary, even wise, for them. (Isn’t it interesting that a dollar [shown here] might be a sign of wealth, but it still says ‘In God We trust’ on it, right?) 
After all, much of the world was grappling with down stock markets, outta-sight mortgage payments, and lost jobs too, so why should we be exempt? Part of what may have seemed like a luxury – conference get-togethers with other like-minded Christians, their spiritual siblings -- had consequently been choked off temporarily to keep ministries operating at minimum capacity. But, they were kinda feeling like skeletons, without the muscles and organs of an otherwise healthy, vibrant body. Is a conference a luxury, or is it lifeblood? That was the question Randy seemed to have asked and answered for himself, when he encouraged others to be in Atlanta in 2012 – ‘come because it had been a rough time’ he said. Trust in Him, experience Him among us who believe, because He can overpower all of our struggles. He’s among His people who gather because they revere Him, no matter what. He surrounds us, like a protecting mountain range (Psalm 125). And, “Faithful” wasn’t just a stray thought, a single song that Randy wrote. That was the 2012 conference’s theme, and it’s embossed on the Zoe album, too. A reflection of His constancy.   

Zoe means ‘life’ in Greek, and perhaps that’s the basic ingredient, the DNA of those who are eager to assemble, to be a ‘one another’ church. Life is more than just existing. It’s more than just the skeleton, the thing we use at Halloween to send a chilling message – this is what something looks like when it’s dead. Zoe sings its “Faithful” message in plain English, telling us what life looks like. It’s us, who are motivated by God’s truths, His mercy and justice that we’ve found in His message – the Bible – that He’s preserved for us, and that we take to others who feel beaten down, rejected, and otherwise hopeless. What’s the faith-life say when it runs into a struggle, a disease that wastes you away to little more than a skeleton, perhaps like in the last few years? Maybe the last few years reminded Gill that the tough part is the persistence, the being faithful, suggested by the phrase ‘let us be faithful, faithful, faithful…’ that Randy employs repeatedly in his composition. Randy doesn’t wrap the faithful message in a lot of fancy paper. You and I know how faith should answer. It keeps answering.        

See the blog entry for Sep. 12, 2102 at this link for the composer’s comments on the song’s background:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Savior, Lead Me -- Frank Marion Davis

One of his contemporaries might have asked him ‘Are you afraid of losing your faith?’ What problems might have bothered Frank Marion Davis when he chose to make himself vulnerable and record the words to “Savior, Lead Me” in 1880? He travelled a lot, and evidently carried a good reputation and led many groups wherever he went, so maybe he just tried to reflect the human condition as he encountered it among the various people he came to know. Or was it the travel itself that made him uneasy, or at least reminded him of the hazards of this earth, and the analogous relationship of accidents while travelling and a believer’s path of faith?  See what you think might have made Frank M. Davis share a little bit of who he was in the late 19th Century.

Whether there was a specific circumstance or instead a collection of many conditions in Davis’ life that crystallized in August 1880 on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay
(perhaps not too unlike the scene in the picture here) – where “Savior, Lead Me” came to life -- is an open question. He certainly had a lot going on, and was often on the move, from New York, to Mississippi, Maryland, Ohio, or Michigan. Davis was a teacher of voice and instrumental music, and reportedly led many choir groups, while also singing many solos. He wrote hundreds of songs, and published at least seven musical collections, so we can imagine his reputation was probably well-known and appreciated. But, on a steamship in the Chesapeake Bay when he was 41 years old, apparently he didn’t feel secure on the strength of his abilities, accomplishments, or relationships. He was unmarried throughout his 57 years, so a family of his own was not the root of his disquiet. Alternatively, perhaps he’d encountered others whose troubles weighed on him. How was his health, or that of siblings or parents? Whatever the cause, he wrote in all three of the song’s brief verses and its refrain of a tempest, evidently some trouble that caused him anxiety. A frequent traveler, including by boat on this trip, may also have been reminded of storms while in transit; was the Chesapeake Bay a rough ride that day? Could it have been mid-life crisis for this 40-something? Short answer: Unknown.

Everyone has good days and bad ones. And, what bothers one may not affect another. The only universal truth is the muck I make of something cannot ever be clean, and your missteps do the same to you. Frank Davis was an honest guy, and wasn’t afraid to admit he was a screwup. He’d undoubtedly had some troubles – how could he write of ‘stormy billows’ otherwise? He was on a ship, and felt the need to reestablish the connection, to firm up the bond that he knew was crucial. He knew enough about music’s effect too, that it helps remind one what sometimes might be forgotten in the day’s tedium. If I hum to myself what Frank wrote, you suppose God will help me dodge a few more potholes?        

See following site for playing of the song, and some very brief background on its history:   

See following site for brief biography on the composer:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Just a Closer Walk with Thee -- Anonymous

He or she may have lived in an era of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, despite a civil war years earlier that many assumed would usher in a new paradigm. The composer of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” may have at one time been a slave, or had parents or grandparents who certainly understood the realities of life in 19th Century America’s Deep South. No further explanation may be necessary to understand, if you’ve ever felt the sting of segregation. The system is against you. How do you respond? In bitterness? Standing and fighting? (And, how does the picture shown here – evident segregation --  make you feel?) The words of this classic folk hymn suggest a different avenue was chosen.  

The writer’s identity is anonymous, but the hymn’s apparent origin and its shared emotions give us a window into some of the character of its originator. What would make someone reach out to Him for a closer walk? The song’s popularity in the South in the 20th Century was especially notable, including among southern black churches and their large musical conventions of the 1930s. Though a bitter war some three or four generations earlier was only a memory, the cultural divide of that time remained intact, more or less. In this person’s world, a social order that keeps you ‘in your place’, a sort of cold war between what should be and what actually is, becomes routine. That was the daily reality for millions, including probably this nameless poet. It’s no wonder that the ‘weak’ person who lives with ‘toils’ and ‘burdens’, and often dodges ‘snares’ from enemies looks above for strength.  And, not just to be a potent force against one’s foes, but to help mold and guard the oppressed person’s character. This lyricist could see the dangers of perpetual conflict to his own spirit. Evidently that’s part of why he longed for a closer walk with God, to be kept from ‘all wrong’. That’s someone with a lot of self-awareness, who knows that combat can alter an otherwise sensitive human being into a rabid animal, bent on survival. If you think it doesn’t happen, just ask the guys who’ve been in a war with bullets.

Maybe this composer was afraid of something like PTSD – post (or, in this case, present) traumatic stress disorder. Can you hear him or her calling out ‘Lord, be close, and transform me’? My challenge is to believe that I, too, am in a combat zone. It may seem mild compared to a real war, but check your gut when your suburban world of comfort and peace is upset – how do you react? Anxiety, irritation, rage? If you feel these, join the crowd. A move toward Him sorta makes sense, then. If we realize that we inhabit an underachieving planet, because it has fallen from what the Creator intended it to be, then this anthem for former slaves and their progeny can resonate a message for all of us.

See following site for playing of the song:  

See following sites for brief details on the song’s suspected origin:  

For some other background on the song, see The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.

For some background on the southern United States in the latter 19th Century, see:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

If Jesus Goes With Me -- C. Austin Miles

He was thinking about his utility in the kingdom, perhaps. The words he wrote indicate this fellow pondered his choices, particularly the ones that placed him in a position to serve his God. This self-reflection wasn’t foreign to Charles Austin Miles, as he wrote the words for “If Jesus Goes With Me” upon reaching mid-life in 1908. Was there more going on that we don’t know – almost certainly there must have been, right? Are you a tool (see some tools in the picture here, and think about your role for God), like Miles may have felt when he wrote this hymn? See if Charles Austin Miles sounds like someone you know, or if you’d want to meet him someday.

C. Austin Miles had made a turn in his career early in life that impacted not only himself, but also worshippers for decades, even centuries after his blip on the human timeline. He started out to be a pharmacist when he attended two schools in Pennsylvania near the end of the 19th Century. But by his early ‘20’s he felt something wasn’t right, and he instead took hold of an opportunity to be a songwriter and editor for a publishing company. The Hall-Mack Company became his life, but it probably wasn’t just a random chance that led to Miles’ decision. Leading the song service was one of his interests in the local church, so he’d probably been thinking about making his interest grow into more than just a hobby. When he was 24, he took the plunge, and was still at it 16 years later as he reached mid-life. Was he thinking about his past and his future too, as so many fellows do at that age? We don’t know what circumstances coalesced when he wrote “If Jesus Goes With Me” in 1908, but the words he penned suggest he felt like a missionary. His words convey a readiness to be used, with Jesus as his companion. Had Miles allowed himself some varied experiences, both high and low, because he was a willing tool? He sounds like a guy whose appetite had been whetted, and he wanted more.  That may be what motivated this songwriter, the composer of hundreds of song texts over the next several decades. How many generations of believers have drawn close to God, thinking of Him while singing about a garden meeting (Miles’s song “In the Garden”), or have thought of the Lord as a protective friend-companion because of “If Jesus Goes With Me”? Even one person’s choices, over 100 years old, can endure today.

What would I do different if I could back up, even if just a few years in reverse? C. Austin Miles’ words propose that choices in a wide variety of venues don’t matter so much. Miles may have considered being a foreign missionary – we don’t know for sure. His prose indicates he felt he could be used even if he stayed homebound. So, I need not fret over choosing one path versus another. Just be in His presence. Make certain that where I am, He can be too. He’s the only indisputable choice.    

See following site for a 4th verse that you may not have heard:

See following sites for brief details on the composer:  

For some other background on the composer, see The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.