It Happened Again

I am still amazed at little, seemingly hidden verses that strike me from time to time. In recent years, it seems to always happen at Christmas. Last night was no different.

Our congregation travels to a local rehabilitation and nursing facility every other Wednesday night to sing and fellowship with a special group of residents. Last night was our final visit for 2017. So, we sang through the entire Christmas, er, I mean, “Special Themes” section of our hymnal. True, there are several important Christmas hymns and carols noticeably absent from this particular compilation (O Come, O Come Emmanuel, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen, Sing We Now of Christmas, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Infant holy, Infant Lowly, just to name a few).

We came to It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. And we started in, just like we’d sung it time and time again. But we came to the third verse, and there it was, and it hit me right between the eyes.

I must make a note here before going into that lyric: We in Churches of Christ have missed the boat on a LOT of the rich, broader Christian hymnody of Advent and Christmas. Not only that, but we’ve bred a culture of singing that skips stanzas. So many of our hymns and songs were constructed to tell a story…especially, this is the case in so many of these Christmas carols and songs…they tell of the full narrative, of the prophets foretelling the coming of Messiah, of Mary’s encounter with the angels, of the manger, and of the upside-down-ness of Jesus’ coming and our waiting for his second advent, his return…living in that in-between. We’d do well to sing all of these stanzas, and to broaden our choices to include hymns and carols with a rich heritage, while also looking to include new hymns such as Matt Boswell’s Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery which tell the Christ story in with a wonderful new tune and rich text. Listen to the original here, then you can buy the a cappella version here. One of my professors and friends, Dr. Scott Aniol of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth offered good perspective on this in an interesting Baptist Press article as well.

midnight

I digress…
So often, these Christmas hymns include a story of how our world is doing anything but living in the reality of God’s world-changing love, as shown through Jesus. I’ve written before about hymns like O Come, O Come Emmanuel and O Holy Night and how they sing into just how we are to live out that love in the here and now. So often, these ignored stanzas speak of the sadness of war and the lack of love for brother and sister humankind…

This verse is no different. Consider these lyrics.
Edmund H. Sears (1810-1876)

3 Yet with the woes of sin and strife
the world has suffered long;
beneath the angel strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and warring humankind hears not
(Some hymnals use the original, “and man, at war with man hears not”)
the love song which they bring.
O hush the noise and cease your strife,
and hear the angels sing.

Considering this hymn was written over 140 years ago, the commentary on the warring between humankind and the plea with us to cease our strife is all the more powerful, and all the more relevant for us today.

And it sets up the closing stanza, now more important than ever to sing in light of stanza 3.

4 For lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the time foretold.
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

In our living and loving, may we send back heavenward, and to our brothers and sisters, the “song the angels sang.”

And may we sing these hymns and the rich stories they offer in their entirety…and may we be changed because of it.

Softly and Tenderly

One of the hymnological tenets that I often examine concerns what contributions people with roots in Churches of Christ/Restoration Movement have made to broader “mainline” hymnody…read that as “songs they’ve written that have had a wide influence outside Churches of Christ.”

While I often lament that our tradition has been so insulated and because of this, a number of hymns & gospel songs written by our people have not made the beyond the walls of our churches, there are several individuals who’s songs are still Sung today in churches and denominational settings of all shapes, flavors, and sizes.

“Softly and Tenderly” is a prime example of this. Earlier this week, Carrie Underwood performed this song on a national award show…and the online chatter it created is remarkable. Everywhere I seemed to look, whether it was facebook, twitter, etc., there were people commenting about how moved they were by this performance. A HYMN? POPULAR PERFORMANCE? IN 2017? SURELY NOT!

Will L ThompsonWill Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909) is one of only a handful of hymn writers from Churches of Christ whose hymns have been broadly accepted outside of Churches of Christ.  His “SOFTLY AND TENDERLY” is probably his most well known hymn. Hymnary.Org claims it has been found in some 720 hymnals in total.

 

 

 

s-l300Alongside his catalogue of hymns and texts that we know about, He also published a number of his own smaller hymnals and church music educational publications as well under his own publishing label in Ohio. He was acquainted with the Fillmore Brothers, also Restoration Movement folks in origin, and Thompson is believed to have found a home in each flavor of our northern Restoration Movement Churches.

This hymn can also claim one of the earliest “gold records” of all time.maxresdefault

Alongside a long list of hymns that only appear once or twice, here are a few more titles you may recognize that Thompson wrote that are sung across mainline hymnody, across the years, and across the world.
There’s A Great Day Coming
Jesus is All the World to Me
Lead me gently home, Father
A Sinner Was Wandering at Eventide
Jesus Bids You Come

For a brief bio of Thompson, click here.
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909).

Finally and unrelated, I wanted to point you to two wonderful sites that I use often in my weekly planning.

First, is a wonderful site called WordtoWorship. WordtoWorship.com is an incredible site that has created a wide compendium of “modern” “or contemporary” titles of the last 25 years (and that is kept remarkably up to date) that allows you to search, create lists, and also, if you choose, become a member to add, upload, and submit titles to help keep the growing list of titles current. Go and search, look around, and help support this great site.

Lastly, it’s easy to get lost in the vast number of texts, tunes, hymns, and songs available to us with this wonderful thing called technology and the internet. I’m always looking and adding to a growing list of bookmarks…A few days ago, I was looking for a particular text by Brian Wren, and I was pointed to an excellent search interface at Hope’s website. You can find it, a link to Hope Publishing’s hymn catalogue, here. This site is one I’d encourage you to look to from time to time, especially in light of more recently written hymns. Texts and Tunes from the New British Invasion of the 1960’s, Brian Wren, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Fred Pratt-Green, Erik Routley, and many others can be found here. These are texts that, thanks to hymnals from Wiegand in 1997 (Praise for the Lord) and the more recent Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Sumphonia), we are finally beginning to see eek themselves into our Church of Christ congregational hymnody, slowly but surely.

PAX.
DJB

Shaped Notes and Widescreens

college-photo_8440Last Thursday, I was blessed to be invited to present a lecture presentation sponsored by Abilene Christian University’s Charis Foundation (www.char.is). This lecture focuses on just a smidge, an introduction, a snippet of my research into the hymnody, worship, and congregational song of Churches of Christ and in the Restoration Movement.

This presentation begins to pick up the timeline of our hymnological history over the last 30-50 years. It was impossible to say as much as I’d wanted to during this presentation…I was cutting things right and left, before and during the presentation because of my inability to keep good time (ironic, given that I’m a conductor… 🙂 ). So, I hope to follow this up with some blog posts and maybe some other exciting things I’ll share with you in the coming days that may be an extension of this blog. We’ll see…

I make reference also to some very preliminary survey numbers in this presentation 3ea7bf8where I’ve been able to survey almost 3,800 congregations of all flavors, shapes, and sizes. I hope to talk more about this and expand this in coming months as well. If for some reason, you or your church wasn’t a part of those but you’d like to be, please let me know!

Anyway, I’d love to dialogue with you about this presentation. Please leave a comment…email me using the link above on the menu. This is living, breathing, ongoing and expanding research. You can be a part of that.

Here’s that video for your enjoyment…or for your assistance in sleeping.

D.J. Bulls from AdamsCenter 4 Teaching&Learning on Vimeo.

 

“Law of Love and Gospel of Peace”

Last Christmas, I wrote this post amidst a sea of unrest, politically and otherwise.  In light of recent tragic events, especially in Orlando, I’m reposting it here today.

There has been a lot of swirling conversation going on around me, both physically and virtually, about what has gone on in the world around us these last few weeks…Syria, San Bernardino, Jerry Falwell…and on and on.  It was so much that today, I’d had enough and I needed a moment to just sit, be, listen and be quiet…in the quiet, I was overcome by the lyrics of one of the world’s most beloved Christmas Carols…and I had to write a bit about it.  I’ll come back to the other verses and the backstory of this wonderful Adolphe Adam carol, Cantique de Noel, on another day.

[And I will return to my series of posts on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” later this week.  But for a moment today, amidst the hatred, vitriolic speech, harsh judgment and language found in my Facebook feed and in other social and news media, I paused today just to breathe in and claim the lyrics of a Christmas Carol that so many love…but I’m afraid have sung too glibly over the years.]

The third verse of “Oh Holy Night” speaks of a world in which those who claim to follow Jesus are living out he calls all of his followers to in his subversive Gospel.

That Gospel is deeply rooted in Love of God and Love of Others…and so many claim the first part of that Call…the part about loving God.  But the back half…well, I’m afraid some have given Christ a bad name in how we’ve lived that out in recent days, weeks and months…that love of “others” is not one we can or should place provisions or privileges on…it’s an unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters…Cantique-002

 

“Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is Love
and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother,
And in his name
all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy
in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise
his Holy name!”

 

Come, Lord Jesus!