Saturday, February 25, 2017

Open Our Eyes Lord -- Robert Cull

Somebody not knowing what this guy was experiencing emotionally at the time in 1976 might have assumed he was in a paradise-like place internally, just by looking at his physical surroundings in Hawaii (see the state’s seal here).  But Bob Cull hadn’t become so transfixed by the beautiful scenery in the Aloha state that he ignored what was happening as he tried to reach a group of youngsters. Maybe you’ve had that moment, when the crowd behaved as if you were giving the briefing right after lunch, and the topic was something rather blasé. ‘Dare to be dull’…that’s what they’re whispering, or at least their body language is giving you that vibe. You cannot exactly lob a stick of dynamite into someone’s lap to remedy this situation. You can guess what Bob Cull’s alternative solution was as you consider the title of the song lyric by this 27-year-old Jesus ‘hippie’ – “Open Our Eyes Lord”.

Robert Cull was part of the Jesus Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and that phenomenon ultimately travelled thousands of miles with him along for the journey. As one of the newfound Christians of that era in California, Cull and others in that crucible of faith development wanted their beliefs and practices to be simple and focused. Jesus, in a word, was it. This simple message of God’s grace through the Son resonated with them, and with many others who’d felt discarded by their generation’s older adults. They were, in fact, a consequence of an unpopular war (Vietnam) and a national political scandal (Watergate) that embittered them and their peers. They needed and searched for something they could trust. You can picture Bob, and probably his wife Joy whom he met at Costa Mesa’s Calvary Chapel, strumming on a guitar, humming and singing the uncomplicated tunes of that era, and letting Jesus soak into their beings. Bob and Joy could have remained in California, but they found themselves in Hawaii in 1976, where they took their version of the Jesus Movement. Bob was talking to young people at a Christian school, evidently trying to motivate them with the same message of Jesus’ influence that had touched his own life not too many years before then. But, he says the kids were unresponsive, and he was at a loss. It must have been a jolt for this Jesus hippie to feel their rejection of a God who had captured his spirit as a young person. Was there already an unbridgeable generation gap between them and himself? What was he to do?  That’s when Bob prayed, and “’Open Our Eyes Lord” emerged. Cull had decided that only the God who’d reached inside his being years before could connect with the group to whom he spoke. Nothing intricate was needed, just eyes and ears that He could open.  

Cull’s story suggests that he was in a classroom the first time that he pleaded with God for vision. Maybe other times, it was around a nighttime campfire, looking into the darkness. Did the song’s first singers in fact find something revelatory among shadows where before they’d seen nothing? Perhaps that’s the key that Bob discovered – ask God to let you see (or hear) something you have in fact been staring at, but have not yet noticed. If you see Him at least once, maybe you’ll take a chance and look at other things and see Him there too. Try out those new eyes.     

See more information on the song discussed above also 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. 

See a very brief biography of composer here:
See link here to examine the movement of which this composer was a part:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Teach Me Lord to Wait -- Stuart Hamblen

He was a 45-year old former alcoholic, singing cowboy, actor, radio personality, and presidential candidate (see his and his running mate’s 1952 campaign button here) when he wrote something, with a little help from what he must have been reading. Stuart Hamblen certainly didn’t look the part of a shy, retreating fellow – in fact, the apparent reverse of the person that had lived four decades in the limelight -- when he made the heavenward appeal “Teach Me Lord to Wait”. Maybe he was drawing upon his family background when he wrote the words. Could the words also have been a reflection of where he’d been, the re-creation he now was, and where he wanted to go? It was mid-life for this native Texan, but he wasn’t headed downhill and certainly wasn’t all used up.      

Stuart Hamblen began life in Texas, but really hit it big in California, in more ways than one. His father was a preacher in Texas, which must have given Stuart at least some of the background for what would take place in mid-life, after a tumultuous two decades in entertainment adventures. Hamblen was a 1930s radio and country-western movie star, and it wasn’t long until he had a record contract too. He owned race horses for a time, and by 1938 even ran for Congress (though he lost in a close race). All along the way he tried to manage the stress of his celebrity status with alcohol and gambling, a descent that found its bottom via an encounter with Billy Graham in 1949. Stuart gave himself to God, and perhaps any remaining conversion skeptics began to believe when he subsequently declined to promote beer on the radio, for which he was fired from his show. Perhaps his father’s career as a minister in Texas got Stuart’s attention during this time, too; it was in 1946 that Dr. J.H. Hamblen established the Evangelical Methodist Church in Abilene. Until 1952, the converted Stuart hosted a Christian radio show The Cowboy Church of the Air, and also ran on the Prohibition Party’s national ticket for president in the same year (though losing to Dwight Eisenhower). By 1953, this 45-year old was a twice-loser for public office, but also a converted drunk and still popular country-western musician, whose Christian faith stuck with him; Billy Graham delivered the eulogy at his funeral in 1989. “Teach Me Lord…” gestated in Stuart’s mind during these days in the early ‘50s, when he as a newfound believer and successful popular figure. Its words indicate he sought his direction from above; perhaps he also suspected the gracious Lord would bless him further – as Isaiah’s words suggested to that prophet when he thought of himself as airborne with God’s eagle wings (Isaiah 40:31).   

Hamblen wasn’t finished in 1953, despite losing an election the previous year. Two of his most well-known songs came in 1954 and 1955 – “This Ole House” and “Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sunshine In”. In 1963 he testified at one Graham crusade about his Christian faith and sang perhaps his best-known song “It Is No Secret, What God Can Do”. Between 1970 and 1999 Stuart became a member of several halls of fame – and those were just some of the highlights. He’d waited, and the Lord let him soar. What do you think he’s seeing from that eagle’s perch now?  

See these links for biographic information on the author-composer:
See picture of composer-author here:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

O Master Let Me Walk with Thee -- Washington Gladden

This minister never let himself, nor his hearers, be comfortable. Washington Gladden saw too much in the American culture of the post-Civil War era that troubled his conscience, and so he pleaded “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee” while he endeavored to make his faith relevant, including in Massachusetts where he was (see picture) when he composed these words. He was what sociologists/psychologists today would characterize as type-A – activist. His conscience-stricken approach evidently came with a cost, for many of his peers found his message too consistently upsetting. Understanding what was going on in his own heart, versus what he saw and heard among his fellow believers and others in the larger secular setting about him, helps us contextualize this particular episode’s resulting poetry. Social justice-seekers are not content trying to gently coax their hearers; Gladden’s original words were more like dynamite, though they were trimmed for wider general consumption.

Washington Gladden had been a newspaperman in his adult life before he became a minister, and perhaps it was the investigative journalist in him that compelled his role as a social crusader and liberal Christian leader. His activist nature was not limited to church debates, but extended to battling political corruption and helping settle industrial strikes, as well as racism issues. One episode apparently drew heavy criticism from his own congregation, as he condemned a donation from the Rockefellers that was intended for missionary work, labeling it as unacceptable because of the donor’s reputation for running a corporate monopoly. It was apparently during one of many incidents like this one in which the 43-year old Gladden sat alone to pray, to ‘vent his spleen’ even, as did many of the minor prophets in their day (similar to perhaps Amos, known also as a social crusader). It was also during his time in Massachusetts when he began to campaign for workers’ rights among the various industries, so “O Master…” may be seen in this context, perhaps. Two of the most compelling verses of the hymn show Washington’s angst and his reaction to his opponents, but they were eventually excised when the poem was set to music. He compared his critics to ‘taunting Pharisee (s)’ and complained of their ‘dullness’; Gladden obviously did not shrink from this clash. Instead, he showed that he was human, and as so many of us do when we are the objects of scorn, he responded in kind. But, he also cried out with words in four other verses that show he sought his Master’s help for his own shortcomings. He asked for fellowship with Him in order to continue serving (v.1), for Divine guidance to steer those he encountered (v.2), for patience (v. 5), and for the reassurance of eternal blessing (v.6) that would spur him onward. One can guess that he got what he prayed for, since his social work continued long afterward, including his efforts to resolve an anthracite coal strike in 1902.

Washington may not have been the perfect Christian, but one could never accuse him of being lukewarm. One can imagine that perhaps he’d absorbed what God said about being hot nor cold (Revelation 3:16), and was determined to be hot, at least in respect to activism. The historical accounts of Gladden indicate his liberal interpretation of biblical topics often drew harsh conservative reaction, and that his reputation for social economic justice was also very progressive for the time. Whatever one might have thought about Washington Gladden, one could never say he was mild in his message. You suppose that he was indeed walking with God?

The following websites have the lyrics for the song, a brief version of the song story, and the author-poet’s biography:
See more information on the song discussed above also 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; Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003; 101 Hymn Stories, Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories – Brief Biographies of 120 Hymnwriters with Their Best Hymns, Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.  

See biography of composer here:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

New Doxology -- Thomas Miller and Thomas Ken

His goal was to help others see what he had just noticed, and re-appreciated, as one morning he reflected on something he’d been reading. Thomas Miller was a 38-year old minister, five years into his role in a Texas church, when he happened to be studying and spending some time in personal worship. He’d sung the very old and familiar hymn a long time ago, but perhaps that’s what helped make it fresh to his heart once again. And so, Miller crafted a couple of new verses and added ‘New’ to the “Doxology” that awoke something in his spirit. It was a personal moment for him, perhaps not too unlike the motivation that the original “Doxology” composer, the Anglican bishop Thomas Ken, employed in the 17th Century to respond to God in his own way, despite how it challenged others in his era. Ask yourself, as Ken no doubt wanted people of his time to consider: Is God the ultimate of my existence – the Omega (see this Greek letter here in both upper- and lower-case)?

They were both named Tom, and have a common link through the hymn they both have loved, even if they had widely different experiences with others because of the Christian worship they sought to inspire. Anglican bishop Ken has already been noted in this blogger’s history (see September 17, 2010 entry for “Doxology”), so let it suffice to say he was somewhat of an iconoclast of his time – a vocal critic of those who were traditionalists, especially those who favored music as it had been practiced for many centuries. Thus, Ken’s “Doxology” was his personal worship statement, yet also an affront to others because its words were not directly from the Psalms. Some three or four centuries later, our second Tom – Miller – was also making a statement of sorts via the Doxology vehicle. He says in a video of “New Doxology” that his two verses (the second and third, between the first and fourth that Ken wrote in 1673) came to him one morning (in 2008) as he spent some time in personal worship. An old hymnal song and an even older biblical text (Genesis) ‘struck a strong chord’ within him. Ken’s original 3rd-person perspective in his two verses captured Miller’s attention, and so while this 21st Century minister maintained the same perspective as his 17th Century brother, he added the more personal 1st-person approach. His main goal was to preserve Ken’s reverential viewpoint. He says that reading about creation reminded him of the Eternal One’s transcendence – He IS, even when there was nothing else. Miller concludes that he wants churches, including the Gateway Church where he ministers in Dallas, to maintain old hymns, rather than discard them for modern choruses. He says ‘new skin’ can enwrap an old hymn, helping to resurrect something that had been dead or dormant. Following that theme, Miller muses that Christ was still transcendent, even though crucified -- a startling concept this present-day composer wants to convey with the words of his third verse.   

While Miller has not experienced the persecution that would have been familiar to Ken, his goal may have been similar to Ken’s. “New Doxology” appears on an album entitled “Wake Up the World”. He evidently wanted to cause a stir, a condition from which Ken also refused to retreat.  Isn’t it odd that both Thomases may have had the same objective in Doxology? Yet, if one considers the derivation of the word, we may also appreciate what they were both saying.  The hymn historically has concluded worship, and the word’s etymology likewise indicates it means finality. In fact, it’s a kind of show-stopping climax that is intended. Nothing tops it. Kinda tells us what Ken and Miller were thinking and feeling, doesn’t it? Our God is the last word, the only word I need.    

The following site has Thomas Miller’s own story about how he came to write the new verses to this old hymn:
Link to some biographic information on the composer:
See here for origin of the word: