Saturday, October 28, 2017

Let Me Live Close to Thee -- J.R. “Pap” Baxter

Perhaps he considered the words that he wrote and shared with his new professional partner in the 1920s to be his life outlook. “Pap” (Jesse Randall, Jr.) Baxter communicated something pretty clearly in “Let Me Live Close to Thee” in 1927, shortly after he became a partner with Virgil O. Stamps in a music publishing company. The Stamps-Baxter music enterprise did indeed become so well-known in its varied efforts to promote Southern Gospel music and the greater message for God’s community that one can imagine that Pap probably felt very content with how things progressed in the decades following “Let Me Live…”. Since Baxter ran the music business from one of its branches in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while Stamps did the same in the main office in Dallas, Texas, we can guess that these words he wrote in about his 40th year emanated from the southeastern border of Tennessee, perhaps with a scene not too unlike this one in sight (Market Street in Chattanooga in 1907, some 20 years before Baxter’s song).      

Jesse Randall Baxter, Jr. was a born-and-bred southerner who evidently loved God, music, and his heritage. He was a farmer initially, and it could be said that his love for music and its evangelistic themes, including the offshoots from the music business, cultivated the lives of countless people the way a farm machine might have tilled the ground. In addition to the music publishing business, Pap promoted music education via a school and shape-note songbooks, and wrote the lyrics to some 500-600 songs, many of which were set to music by Virgil. Stamps-Baxter music’s southern Gospel was a hit, and endured for many years after both Pap and Virgil had died. Baxter was posthumously inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997, 37 years after he had gone on to his eternal inheritance, testifying to the continuing impact of Stamps-Baxter music on the culture he tried to influence for good.

What brought about the words that Baxter wrote as a 40-year old who’d recently entered into a new adventure with Virgil Stamps? Certainly, we could imagine that Pap was an energetic businessman, eager to make a living doing what he loved. His ambitious nature, we could surmise from his poetry, was potent in one direction – being a zealous believer. He and Virgil must have agreed this was the hub of “Let Me Live…”, including a music-lyrics fusion that generates a buoyant, fast-paced version of how they thought the Christian life should proceed. Their song conveys optimism about living, when it’s in close proximity to Him. Pap did not ‘shirk’ (v.2), but wanted to ‘dare and do’ (v.1) as he thought about his and Virgil’s newly-launched company and all the dreams they must have anticipated could ensue. It says something about a 40-year old, who felt like this when others who reach this age are having mid-life crises. Baxter was a ‘go-getter’, but he didn’t run over top of others to do achieve what was in his sights. Bearing and sharing others’ loads (v.3) was part of his calculus too. Apparently he expected or had already discovered that living within a certain radius of God was all the adventure he needed.       

See brief biography of the composer here:
Some background on the music company of the composer and his partner:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Instruments of Your Peace -- Kirk and Deby Dearman

A couple who’ve been around as much as these two might know a thing or two, because they’ve seen a thing or two (or, so the insurance commercial says!). Kirk and Deby Dearman spent a lot of time abroad prior to the 1990s trying to spread a message through a musical mission in Europe. And, even after they returned to U.S. soil in 1991 (in the Nashville area), they must have felt a calling that took form in one of their songs “Instruments of Your Peace”, allowing them to continue the mission they’d been conducting since their European days. This song’s purpose may be what took a further evolution into a still larger effort to draw people to a peaceful place. Wanna go there?

The Dearmans have had some varied experiences that have no doubt contributed to their development as worship ministry transmitters. Kirk’s musical adventures began as a five-year old with a mother’s wisdom to channel him with piano lessons, a path that blossomed into songwriting and worldwide touring with a musical group by the time he was 20. Meanwhile, Deby too was living all over the world as part of a military family, before meeting Kirk while in college and finding her artistic voice in speech, drama, and stage song and dance. They lived in Dallas, Texas for a while as Kirk ministered at a church as choir director, but it wasn’t long before this married couple and their two daughters went to Europe for seven years. Together with another couple, they formed Creative Arts Europe, a performing arts group that traveled all over the continent. By the early 1990s, Kirk and Deby moved the family back to Nashville from Brussels, where one could speculate they would slow down. This was where Come to the Quiet came to life, their effort to remind Christ-followers of the veneration God deserves. Therein, they combine the arts with contemplative worship in an Anglican service in the Episcopal church. It’s the focus of their website (see link below), as well as their life of encouragement via a joint ministry with some friends in something known as The Journey to Wholeness in Christ, designed to help emotionally troubled people heal. These two have indeed been all over, perhaps giving them a special taste and a need for peace themselves from what, at times, might look like a hectic jaunt from here to there. You might say they have now been living, as well as singing, as instruments of peace.

Hate, hurt, struggle, darkness, and grief – those are the episodes that seemed to have bothered the consciences of the Dearmans around 1993 when they wrote “Instruments…”. Those are the dark emotions they saw, apparently, and chose to not accept. They offer alternatives like these: God’s love, grace, peace, light, and a shoulder for support. It’s all packed into the two verses and chorus they offer, and it hasn’t stopped when Kirk’s fingers pull away from the keyboard, or when they both drop their microphones. They themselves are the instruments. Deby’s artist strokes, Kirk’s pen, and both’s ongoing advice to others in the arts and among the Christian community are tools too. God’s musical gifts are great, but they don’t stop there. Just ask Kirk and Deby.     

The composers’ website is here:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sweet Hour of Prayer – William W. Walford

A blind preacher he may have been, but he most certainly knew how to pray. That’s an assertion you or I could make after reading some poetry that one William Walford mentally recorded in 1842 as he thought about a “Sweet Hour of Prayer” that he’d experienced. A friend wrote it down for us, but it was Walford who spent the crucial time in thought, perhaps mostly alone within his own mind, between himself and his Creator in his novelty shop. His method and his recitation to this friend reveal something notable about prayer – it stays in one’s mind, as a regular refrain the believer places before Him. It must have been one that Walford replayed repeatedly, as he prepared to share it.     

William Walford was an Englishman, either from Coleshill or Homerton, who was the author of a four-verse ode that he eventually shared with another minister, Thomas Salmon, in the early 1840s and which was published by 1845. Since he was reportedly blind, he stored it mentally until Salmon visited him one day and became the initial hearer and recorder of its verses. The 70-year old Walford must have been gifted with a keen mind and spirit, in order to retain the poem’s words until Salmon happened along to preserve it on paper. It’s said Walford spent much of his time on a chair next to a chimney, carving trinkets out of bone, ivory, or wood, perhaps deep in thought about a sermon topic or a poem like ‘Sweet Hour…’. Can you draw that mental picture of William, alone, carving and thinking, but not really lonely? His words in the poem suggest he treasured those times, to present himself before God and ponder his earthly existence, and also his ultimate destiny. Was it Walford’s insistence, or instead Salmon’s inference, that an exclamation mark be placed after each ‘sweet hour or prayer’ phrase, when these two friends first talked about these words and their import? Fervor for his time with the Father was apparently something that either William or Thomas thought was a fitting description for the prayers that Walford prayed. Perhaps not having physical eyesight magnified the invisible God, and helped underscore the time Walford sought to spend with Him.

Keeping it secure in his mind until Thomas arrived – did that also reinforce prayer’s value to William? Like many issues a writer might mull over repeatedly before he’s satisfied with the final work, Walford must have been accustomed to this pattern as a matter of habit, since physical writing wasn’t possible for himself. If one closes his eyes, he gets some appreciation for William’s world, but it’s not the same. Inhabiting the place where access to God is undistracted by sight…was that what William had discovered by age 70? Was “Sweet Hour of Prayer” actually his life’s experience talking to God? His words sound like something that cannot be contained inside 60 minutes. God’s there all of the other minutes too, as William might remind us.        

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945. 

See this site for all four of the original verses, and a brief note of the song’s history, according to one account:
See the reputed story here also:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Father We Thank Thee -- Rebecca Weston

You would probably guess that she was a teacher, even if all you knew about her were two short verses she penned in the 1870s. Rebecca Weston helped popularize the school and the age that she taught, when she encouraged her students to sing “Father, We Thank Thee” as one of the routines at the Garland School in Boston (it later became a junior college for homemakers, as depicted in one of its signs). She may have done some of the same things as a child, perhaps stimulating her own thoughts of what small children needed from a school and its teachers. Its two verses suggest a two-fold response, a formula for living that could be recommended for adults too.

Rebecca Weston spent most or all of her life in Massachusetts, both as a student and then as an educator. She reportedly attended school as a child there and later was enrolled at Mount Holyoke, although she may not have finished or acquired a degree. Nevertheless, she was apparently a gifted student, having obtained a scholarship medal as a 15-year old. It was no surprise that she was a very capable teacher in the Boston area for close to two decades, subsequently. But, where she must have found her true calling was in helping spawn the Kindergarten school as an educational norm in the U.S. in the 1870s. At the Garland School, she undoubtedly spent hours with her first-time school-goers, deciding how best to shape their experience and give them the best start. Her formula may have been best described in what she wrote in “Father, We Thank Thee”, most likely in the 1870s, as a woman in her prime, probably around 40 years old. It’s pretty simple, yet effective: recognize one’s blessings (v. 1), and then respond appropriately (v.2). Could this have been what she herself had learned in one form or another as a five- or six-year old? The Creator provides what we often say are our ‘rights’ in contemporary lexicon – a place where we can rest, enjoy the sunshine, and be sustained by food and the care of others around us (v.1). Yet, how much of that is my own doing? It might have been a question that Rebecca asked and answered for herself, subsequently deciding that a proper response to the blessings she acknowledged (v.1) was a virtuous life before others and God (v.2). That must have been at least one of the scholastic objectives in schools of Rebecca’s era. How’s that sound in a school today?

Look at Rebecca’s musical output, and you might conclude that she accomplished little – only one song (‘Father, We Thank Thee’) is credited to her. Her audience – the very youngest school-age children – also may seem fairly insignificant. Yet, a child’s first school experience – I still remember mine, 50 years later – can have immeasurable impact. Do you remember your first school episodes? Do you and I ever stop being learners? Now, try on Rebecca’s verses one more time.    

See the brief details of the song story here:
Very brief biography of the composer is here:
Read about Garland Junior College here: