Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Come to the Garden Alone -- Charles Austin Miles

Talk about being in the moment, carried away by one’s imagination. That is what Charles Austin Miles could have said about how he came to write the words of “I Come to the Garden Alone” (also commonly known as “In the Garden”) in 1912, an episode in which he recalls being transported to a scene that left him trembling. You might use the word ‘imagination’, particularly if what one saw was only in one’s mind, a fantasy. Yet, what he imagined was based upon a very real event, in a real garden (perhaps not too different than one shown here, in Japan). And, Miles’ own awestricken recollection of his transportation to and return from this distant place suggests he was part of a very unique, perhaps even Spirit-led vision.  

Austin Miles had been pursuing his second career, in the music business, for about 20 years by the time he reached 44 years of age and was challenged by a publisher to come up with a new song. He’d given up his pharmaceutical profession in his early 20s, for perhaps the same reason that anyone changes his life’s vocational focus – more interest, and even passion for something else. Perhaps what happened to him at this time in 1912, twenty years hence, reaffirmed his decision. The song development method he employed on this occasion was probably not too different than ones he’d tried before. He’d given up on the pharmacy as a vocation, but still played at his photography avocation, and so he was reportedly in a dark room in his home that he used for developing pictures, most likely in the Philadelphia area. He had his bible too, turned to the 20th chapter of the fourth account (John) of Jesus’ rising. It was a place where he’d probably sequestered himself at other times, but had he had similar experiences like this one? He remembers vividly the scene as Mary encounters the risen Son, a rapture that humans might describe as astonishment. Perhaps that is too tame. It’s an unparalleled experience, leaving the witness afraid and overjoyed at once. That probably explains why Miles says he found himself quivering, and though he’d chosen the room because of its dim light, he discovered himself in a fully illuminated place at this apparent vision’s conclusion. And so, the song’s words flowed effortlessly, and the music soon thereafter. Do you suppose Miles thanked his publisher-challenger (reportedly Dr. Adam Geibel) for soliciting his efforts to produce something ‘tender’ and ‘sympathetic’ for worshippers seeking to identify with Mary?      

Was it real, or not? We believers count on it, don’t we? I might see in my mind a place and an event--a dream—and then completely forget it all in my sleep. That’s different than what Austin Miles remembered in 1912. His ‘dream’ was his entry into an actual, history-making, life-changing, revolutionary, moment. Interesting how Miles’ objective was to create something gentle and touching for believers, and yet the experience left him quaking, isn’t it? Austin’s story shows that while I might be looking for a peaceful episode with Him, I should know that entering God’s life-story will also be unnerving. Especially if I’m a vessel for Him. You ready for that?

Information on the song was also obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

See following site also:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Live for Jesus – Eden Reeder Latta

He was a small-town fellow, yet with a big-time output and a view of a larger world. He had a unique name also - Eden – that might have spurred his bigger-world perspective. There are not too many Edens, though Eden Reeder Latta probably wasn’t that unusual for where he was born, near the village of Eden in east-central Indiana. (He was actually born in nearby Haw Patch, which apparently doesn’t exist today. Maybe he thanked his parents for naming him after the next-nearest village, and not his actual birthplace! [No offense intended for anyone name Hawpatch out there!]) This Eden evidently thought a lot about his creator, and probably some about the Garden in a faraway place that’s associated with his given name too. “Live for Jesus” could have also been encouraged by one of his Indiana boyhood friends and the experience that these boys’ upbringing provided for this song’s development decades later. 

Latta was born, lived, and died in small-town Middle America, though his connection to a larger world was present in those areas. Eden today has just 80 citizens, and after his family moved to Iowa, Eden Latta lived much of the rest of his life in the small towns of Colesburg and Guttenberg (about 12 miles northeast of Colesburg) in northeastern Iowa, on the west bank of the Mississippi River (see picture of Guttenberg here).Colesburg and Guttenberg were both populated by just a few hundred people at or soon after the beginning of the 20 th Century.  During his childhood, he was friends with another nascent composer, William Ogden, a native Ohioan who would eventually return there. Given Latta’s and Ogden’s contribution to hymnody, one can imagine these two stayed in touch as adults, sharing musical ideas and their devotion to God, even if separated by several hundred miles. Eden put together at least one book of hymns (The River of Life) and contributed to another (Temperance Jewels), both of which were published in Boston. It’s said that Eden taught school in Colesburg, though how long is not known. But, he must have shared more with his students than just textbook knowledge, as he is credited with over 1,600 songs in his lifetime. Did his teacher’s role spawn some of his musical creations, perhaps even “Live for Jesus”, which encourages hearers to adopt and maintain a virtuous, Jesus-centered lifestyle – a message a teacher-mentor might deliver? He wrote it in 1892 in his early 50s, perhaps as he considered the students, probably some of whom wanted to venture outside of Iowa, and whose paths he had tried to help steer properly. Even in small, pretty obscure places like northeastern Iowa, wisdom for living in the larger world can emerge.   

A small-town teacher like Eden Latta surely didn’t see himself as a hick with nothing important to say. How big, or small, is the world today? Some of us might answer this by how many electronic devices we use – how many channels we watch. Latta shows me that’s not so important, although it does enlighten me to see how others think and live. Eden Latta might advise that my world needs focus, no matter how many miles I’ve flown, or the variety of languages I’ve encountered. The focus I need can go anywhere, Latta says. 

See these links for various pieces of information on the composer and places he lived:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Who Can Satisfy My Soul Like You? – Dennis Jernigan

Dennis Jernigan says this is one of his favorite songs, though it’s phrased as a question. “Who Can Satisfy My Soul Like You?” may sound like a searcher’s uncertainty to some, like someone who hasn’t found in his world the key to contentment. That might be true if the person vocalizing these feelings were brooding over a mortal being with whom he had just lost touch. But Dennis was actually thinking vertically about the personal Creator in 1988, a year when so much happened for Dennis and his wife and family. He made a decision to share something very personal, a risky proposition that someone else might have balked at. But, plunging ahead, Jernigan was really making this rhetorical question-song contain an answer that he wanted his hearers to know is unequivocal. He had the equivalent of a Smiley Face (see it here), a satisfaction that others in our cultural landscape haven’t found (a la the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger’s outlook on ‘Satisfaction’).

Dennis Jernigan’s story had really become known widely only in the late 1980s, though some of the people closest to him knew of his previous lifestyle and his turning from that. Why should he need to confess his homosexuality to others who weren’t directly impacted by this? He shares that in mid-1988 his sense that God had big plans for him, by confessing this. And so he told the church where he was ministering in Oklahoma the bare facts of his life less than 10 years earlier – that he’d been living as a homosexual, even though he’d grown up knowing and feeling convicted that this was wrong. His Christian upbringing and education must have shouted in his ears at times ‘Dennis, how can you do this?’. A series of events - -a music concert, an in-your-face friend’s confrontation (in a heartfelt, unconditional way), among others – allowed Dennis to accept he could turn from this episode, that God and others would not smite him. But by 1988, Dennis was feeling that Evil’s force was still trying to debilitate him with his own personal history. ‘Unburden yourself’, and even more so, ‘let others know there’s a God that fills up the space that the chief Demon once occupied’. There’s freedom and relief in confession. That’s what you can read of Dennis’ mindset in mid-1988 on his website. And, Dennis discovered something more. Others identified with his situation, a phenomenon that continues today. God had more than just Dennis in mind, but others too who needed the answer he’d found.      

Dennis doesn’t sound like someone who doubted sharing his story in 1988 was the right thing to do. No, from his song’s words, you get the feeling that he was very secure in this. That says something about Christian fellowship that is genuine. There’s no condemnation, since everyone stumbles, even thrashes about with behavioral and attitudinal junk. Dennis had discovered where to unload his refuse, and how to get beyond its stench, even after he’d dumped it years before. Just admit to others that you’ve got B. O., a body odor that asserts itself, unless you take a shower and clean up. Dennis shares that his 1988 experience was like having Mary Magdalene’s perfume poured out. The people at the scene disparaged her for this, but she made dirty feet and an entire room smell beautiful. Dennis did something our world today says is foolish too – turning from inner feelings, and offering Him his broken vessel-life. What brings satisfaction? Is Mick Jagger all wrong in his words…satisfaction is not here in our world? How about in another world?   

Composer’s rendition of song:
And, see this book:  Giant Killers: Crushing Strongholds , Securing Freedom in Your Life, by Dennis Jernigan. WaterBrook Press, 2005.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jesus Is All the World to Me -- William Lamartine Thompson

He made a choice for one way versus another that he’d tried, and so composed a few verses that declared why the option he’d taken made so much sense. Fifty-something William Lamartine Thompson explained ‘why?’ with “Jesus Is All the World to Me” in 1904, as he reflected on his songwriting and business life of the previous few decades. He’d been exposed to bigger venues than where he probably was in that year, when he put pen to paper and expressed his bond with Jesus Christ. After all, who’d ever heard of East Liverpool, Ohio? (See picture here of its historic East 5th Street district, a contemporary scene Thompson might have at least dimly recognized in his time.) But this is where Will Thompson was inspired to articulate his devotion to God.

Thompson was a small-town entrepreneur who could have chosen a bigger stage at one point in his life, but instead took a different route to success. He was musically educated in Ohio, and then in New England, and finally in Germany in the latter part of the 19th Century. He’d written several secular songs in his youth and early adulthood, including one (“Gathering Shells from the Sea”) which was reportedly ranked as the third-most popular song in the U.S. in 1879. So, Thompson’s career path to accomplishment and renown seemed obvious. But, he also had a streak of Christian faith that tugged at him too, marked by several songs of his faith he wrote by his early 30’s. So, when he decided to start his own music company in his hometown, rather than chase and coax commercial companies to publish his efforts, it was a natural direction for him. His gained a strong business sense from his father, and became a fixture in East Liverpool in many ways, known not only for his accomplishments but also for his charity in the community. His music business attracted attention far and wide around the nation, and he later established another music enterprise in Chicago. He’d earned his nicknames the ‘millionaire songwriter’ and the ‘bard of Ohio’, but by his mid-50’s must have wanted it known what he thought of all this. “Jesus Is All the World…” vocalized his message. In a word, ‘friend’ was how he thought of his God. It’s this one-word description that he repeats throughout the song, and it grows therein, perhaps mirroring his own experience. From verse one, where he says ‘friend’ once, to its usage twice in verses two and three, and then three times in verse four, one gets the impression Will’s relationship had grown more and more intimate with Jesus over the years.    

“Jesus Is All the World to Me” was one of the last songs Will Thompson wrote, as his life was cut short just five years later, but his thoughts and legacy live on. The Thompson Music Company is said to still carry on, and a Thompson park established with land he donated in East Liverpool still exists today also. The music he wrote still endures, having been used in different ways several decades after their author first wrote them (reportedly at Martin Luther King’s funeral, and also in a 1985 movie). These various ways echo how Thompson is remembered, including in the ways he generated his songs’ words. He supposedly made notes to himself no matter where he was or what he was doing, with words and themes popping into his mind. Jesus really must have been throughout all of his world!     

Information on the song was also obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; and The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; and Our garden of song: A book of biography of song writers of the Church of Christ, by Gene C. Finley (1980). West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing Company. pp. 479–418.