Saturday, September 28, 2013

Break Thou the Bread of Life -- Mary A. Lathbury (and Alexander Groves)

Mary Artemisia Lathbury was evidently pretty inspired by the scenery she chose for her surroundings in 1877. It was a method she’d already used, or was about to again, when she composed words for a purpose that was not just musical. We can be pretty sure she was reading some from holy scripture, as her words and the direction she was given for her composition point us there when she wrote “Break Thou the Bread of Life”. What would you read, and where would you go if you were trying to do what she did?

Lake Chautauqua in New York state was a place and an atmosphere that Lathbury and others used many times to teach biblical principles. When Lathbury penned her words about ‘bread’ and ‘life’, the camp had been around for only three years since its inception in 1874.  Perhaps Lathbury’s contribution to the Chautauqua experience in 1877 was of no small significance, as other Chautauqua-like camps would arise, including several hundred across the United States by the 1920’s. Although an important part of anyone’s time at a Chautauqua camp was the music, the camp’s organizers wanted something additional in 1877. The camp’s director and the musical director (William Sherwin), who would write the music for Lathbury’s poem, must have had her in mind as they thought about how to motivate the camp’s visitors to seek God in His written word. From what she wrote and how it’s been used commonly up until today, one might gather that Lathbury was trying to teach us something about communion in “Break Thou the Bread of Life”.  But, its message was broader, perhaps drawn from the teaching that Jesus gave beside another lake (the Sea of Galilee in the middle of John 6).  It was just two verses that she wrote to communicate her thoughts. She must have thought that was sufficient to tell people ‘Open your bible and learn from it’. By 1913, another composer, Alexander Groves wrote two more verses, perhaps as he also reflected on John 6.   

Is it not ironic that we use “Break Thou the Bread of Life” most commonly at communion—a feast, albeit a spiritual one—two millennia after Jesus reminded his hearers of what real food was in the wake of another feast in John 6? He’d just fed thousands of hungry stomachs, including those of the 12 Apostles, the previous day, so maybe those followers couldn’t be blamed for expecting more. Jesus admonishes them in not so many words ‘Quit thinking with your salivary glands!’ Would He say that to me, as I vocalize “Break Thou the Bread…” during communion? Or, would his words ring in our ears during that next fellowship--meaning, potluck meal!--that we value as one of the pillars of church life? Break thou the bread…am I doin’ that just at communion? Or, just in a church bible study? Maybe only in a pew? What if I physically ate only as often as I crack open His book? Don’t starve…go get yourself some real food!  

Information on the song was obtained from the books “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.  Also see this site for information about the Chautauqua movement that Lathbury helped start:

See this site for two other more obscure verses that Alexander Groves wrote later (in 1913) for this song:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Oh To Be Like Thee -- Thomas O.Chisholm

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was just starting on his journey, and had some feelings he wanted to share. In the 1890’s, young Thomas Chisholm was a humble believer who nevertheless had ambition that moved him. Later, he might have had reason to feel discouraged at one point, as he’d tried a few vocations that didn’t last, forcing him into plan B…or was it in fact C or D? Could it be that his real purpose didn’t jell with the paths he initially chose?  Could this 20-something have suspected, as he wrote “Oh, To Be Like Thee” in that last decade of the century, what still lay ahead and how his life up to that point had been shaping him for the future? ‘Being like thee’ no doubt took Chisholm places he had not suspected were in his path.  

Chisholm’s birthplace in Franklin, Kentucky (on the state’s south-central border)
was his launching point in more than one sense, a humble beginning that played no small part in his character and faith. His log-cabin birth belied his later abilities, which he first demonstrated by educating himself and becoming a school teacher at age 16. By the age of 21 he was an associate editor of his hometown newspaper Franklin Favorite, so that this young but learned fellow was already accomplished in some respects – a writer who was honing a skill with little assistance. He called himself an ‘old shoe’ later in life, perhaps as he thought of his origins. When he was born again as a believer at age 27, after hearing his mentor (Dr. Henry Clay Morrison) at a revival in Franklin, his humble yet skillful prose was apparent in the poetry he composed in “Oh, To Be Like Thee”. He knew, as a new believer, how his life compared to God’s, and so he called out to Him. Chisholm’s words show the zeal of this new Christian, as he sought His character traits, not merely to admire them, but to shape himself.  Thomas’ physical condition would be a challenge in the period following the hymn’s publication in 1897, as he pursued being editor of the Pentecostal Herald in Louisville and then ordained ministry. Both of these efforts he suspended because of poor health. He must have wondered how his desire to serve and be like Jesus would be accomplished, as he was forced to abandon editing and preaching in pretty short order. He moved himself and his family to Indiana, and then later to New Jersey as he made a new start at age 50, this time as an insurance salesman. But, all along the way, he kept writing the poetry like that which inspired “Oh, To Be Like Thee” in his hometown, ultimately authoring some 1,200 poems, including 800 that were eventually in print. Thomas Chisholm was a humble ‘shoe’, who nevertheless found his niche as God’s tool in hymnwriting.

T. O. Chisholm may have looked back as he retired in the 1950s in New Jersey and reflected upon what his entreaty to God 50-60 years previously had meant for himself. His 1,200 poems, if one examined them as one would a diary, would show us how one Christian’s life experiences wove a story that was unique. He must have had lows and highs, yet what we know of Chisholm is his resolute direction toward a goal at the conclusion of 94 years. Writing his poetry may have been therapeutic, allowing him to express and resolve challenges. Try it. Call it a diary or a journal, maybe even an autobiography or music compositions. If you want it to work like Chisholm’s, just make sure it includes Him throughout.
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.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Spirit of the Living God -- Daniel Iverson and Michael Baughen

He was taking his cue from a sermon, and counting on the Providential input that he felt would come. Daniel Iverson started something in 1926 on one continent, and Michael Baughen added to it half a century later on another continent. That’s a message about how broad and magnetic the Spirit’s influence is, for people who call upon Him. The second composer was not even alive when the initial composer first penned his words that would capture the latter’s heart and imagination. But, that’s also instructive…the Spirit was already at work for a long time before any of us had a heartbeat.

Daniel Iverson and Michael Baughen both ministered in several areas of their native lands, and although we know only Iverson’s specific circumstances when he crafted his verse, we can surmise some of the surroundings for both of these believers in 1926 and 1980. Iverson was a 36-year old who was visiting Orlando, Florida, up the Atlantic Ocean coast from his future Miami home, where he traveled to attend a crusade, and was inspired by a sermon he heard there. We have George Stephans and his evangelism group to thank, evidently, for Iverson’s stimulation toward his musical composition. Stephans or one of his group must have spoken about the need for the Spirit to come anew in that place, to invigorate the hearers toward His purposes. Iverson had been in ministry as a Presbyterian for 12 years already, having served in Georgia, and North and South Carolina. But, perhaps he was sensing he did indeed need something new, for by 1927 he had started another Presbyterian church in Miami, where he stayed for nearly the next quarter-century. He also reportedly started seven other churches in that area. Could one safely say the Spirit had answered Dan Iverson’s request for a new adventure? Michael Baughen was 50 years old in London in 1980, the 16th year of his professional life as an Anglican minister, first in Manchester and then in London by 1970. He felt the need to build on Iverson’s personal request for the Spirit, calling for His influence to occupy the entire body of believers with a selfless love. What had moved Baughen at this point in his experience to make such a plea – a need inside the church or in the larger urban community there?  

Iverson’s and Baughen’s words are in fact wide open for all of us who need what they asked from the Spirit. He starts by working on the individual, whose response infects those around him. Inside-out, that’s what the two composers’ fused message communicates. This method certainly worked in Daniel Iverson’s life, though it wasn’t he who would pen the words of the 2nd verse that completed this idea. Whether you’re asking for yourself or for your community, the crucial factor is who you’re asking.  Try Him out, and see how He answers in either way.

Check out the following links to read about the initial composer:

See this link for the song’s background story, and biographic information on composers:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sweet, Sweet Spirit -- Doris Akers

Doris Akers couldn’t have been very surprised with the timing of events that Sunday morning in 1962. But, perhaps she could have used a mental tape recorder, as she reflected on the incident that she experienced! Would that moment repeat itself? Or, was she about to forfeit an opportunity to document something pretty special? Post-It Notes wouldn’t be useful in saving the information or giving her the extra minutes she needed, nor allow her friends to stay in that special place.  What could she do? It seemed to be a choice between the urgent and the unique. What would you have done?

Forty-year old Doris had been prepared since childhood (see the picture here of a church in Kirksville, Missouri, where Doris Akers first plied her musical talent)
for what would take place with the choir she directed one Sunday morning at a church in Los Angeles, California. She and her friends backstage felt something unique as they prayed in the few minutes before the worship service’s start. The Spirit wasn’t apparent at first. Patience was required. So, in that moment, Doris the seeker compelled Doris the schedule-keeper to submit. This group needed prayer more than they needed to proceed with their normal routine. Perhaps she also drew upon her experience with music development since childhood as she paused in that moment. Playing the piano at age 5 and writing her first song at 10 must have told her that a song comes about in various ways, and with a sensitive recipient, ready to accept the musical gift at different paces that are regulated providentially.  She could tell by the faces she beheld, too, that it was right to wait, even to tell the waiting church leaders and expectant worshippers that there would be a delay. Eventually, she did reluctantly abbreviate the prayer session to proceed with the church service, thinking that what her mind and soul had been singing in that prayer had vanished for good. What happened the next day must have told Doris the intimate song she’d heard was important, however. It reappeared, and this time she captured its words and music on her piano. In her version of the story, Doris sounds surprised that the song resurfaced. Had this avenue of music-making, even from an experienced songwriter, never been travelled before? Was there some other ingredient that coaxed this song’s birth?

What happened in the church choir that day in L.A. that the Spirit wanted to preserve? Remembering the moment may have been crucial for someone’s faith in Doris’ choir. Maybe it was the fervency of their entreaty to God that He wanted them to recall. Was it the togetherness with like-believers that was special? Their purpose that day – to worship – was no doubt influential, too. Worship, in its most basic definition, means that I give value or worth to something – ‘worth-ship’. What if one fused all of these pieces into one package?  This was a group of fervent believers relating to God, and impacting each other as they coalesced and prepared to offer something fragrant to a holy God. Now why wouldn’t He want to save that?
The primary sources for the story on this song are the books Stories Behind Popular Songs and Hymns, by Lindsay Terry, Baker Book House, 1990, and The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers,2006. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Forever Reign -- Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan

This was a reflective moment, shared between friends. One of them told the other of the overwhelming sensation of contact with the Divine One, mirrored in the words he and his buddy eventually recorded that day. Thirty-somethings Jason Ingram and his friend Reuben Morgan are, ethnically, what someone might describe as cousins because of their American and British backgrounds. But, they’re also brothers in their musical poetry, and they were doing what comes naturally in their tradecraft one day in 2010. Feeling and thinking and writing, perhaps in that order, were the modes of their composition “Forever Reign”. Was one of these friends thinking about the prodigal son (see James Tissot picture, here)?

Reuben Morgan says he and Jason Ingram were crafting some music one day, an environment where they were just ‘hanging out” and trading thoughts. Jason had the initial ideas, borne from some inner thoughts of how he related to God. It wouldn’t be a surprise if much of what he’d already developed had emerged from some scripture; some references are made to two different ancient authors (Jeremiah’s Lamentations 5:19, and Isaiah 9:7) as the song’s story is told by Reuben. Jason and Reuben assigned multiple attributes to God in their verses, capped with a chorus that Reuben says surfaced very easily. Is it an accident that they hit upon the words ‘running to your arms’ after thinking of God’s nature in various positive ways?  They didn’t ponder judgment, or the destructive power of tornadoes or hurricanes in His creation. It’s a window into how Jason Ingram was feeling that day, as Reuben says his friend shared the traits of God in low tones, something that was an intimate expression – between a believer and the infinite Creator. His goodness -- though His awesome, terrifying presence is real, too – was what inspired the Ingram-Morgan collaboration that day.

Think of His basic nature – love – toward you, and repeat what you feel He’s translating to you, from Creator to created being. He’s welcoming you into His world. It would take away one’s breath, be too much to imagine, and perhaps be too much to sum up in human words, all this goodness flowing from Him to me. That’s what heaven must be like. Those are mental images that the words of “Forever Reign” conjure up. Jason Ingram and Reuben Morgan are probably, like many believers, decades from their eternal inheritance. But, with their song, they seem to be saying ‘why wait?’ Sing it quietly, gently at first, and be reassured that He’s not make-believe. He’s an historical fact, an eternal certainty, and a present-day calm in my storm-ridden life. Reuben acknowledges that the song’s words become a proclamation, a testimony for others to hear after the opening verse. Go ahead. Sing it loud!

See this site for the video that is the sole source for the song story: