Tag Archives: songs

Hymn-tinkering. Just Say No.

It was none other than the venerable Charles Wesley, writer of hundreds of grand hymns, who in the preface (1779) to one of his hymnals pronounced a word of stern warning against anyone who would mess with the words—and thus the theology, not to mention the beauty—of one of his hymns. He had little use for “hymn-tinkerers.”

During most of my growing up years, my home church, and most others of our brand, used a hymnal that contained 665 songs, or 666 in one edition if you counted “1-a” printed inside the front cover. (Cue scary music here or not, depending upon your eschatological views.)

I later learned that 130 or of those songs had been tinkered with by the compiler. I also learned why my Uncle Kline (not really my uncle but whose name was given to me as my middle moniker and whom I am proud to claim) referred to the hymnal as Sacrilegious Selections. Uncle Kline was an English professor and much of the tinkering grated on his ears; more than that, he also loved the gospel and hated to see it gutted.

It’s rather amazing that while Christ’s people have so often made a real mess of recognizing the unity for which the Lord prayed so poignantly just before he died (John 17), at least we’ve all sung an incredible number of the same hymns. Most of us don’t know or care about the “religious preference” (as in Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, etc.) of the hymn-writers; we just know that their Lord was Jesus Christ, and, as hard-headed as we may have been in lots of areas, music did what it so often does— tore down walls, lifted hearts, and united us in praise.

I’ve got the words in my head, verse upon verse of many of those hymns of my childhood (most of which included a bit richer vocabulary than the presently popular variations of “Father, I love you—Jesus, I love you—Holy Spirit, I love you—repeated thirty-nine times).  But I still sadly discover on occasion that the words in my brain are a few words or phrases off of what the writer originally wrote.

Some of them don’t surprise me much. References to harps, lyres, zithers, stringed, or other instruments might be all over the Psalms, but you can bet your pitch pipe they’d not make it into that hymnal. Sad, but much worse was some of the theological tinkering. Done with pure motive, I don’t doubt, some of the tinkering nonetheless cut at the very heart of Christ’s cross. (It was, thus, more serious than some of the modern linguistic atrocities perpetrated by politically correct hymn-tinkerers who failed to learn in, oh, about third grade or so, that “-man” is a suffix for “human” and that words like “mankind” are no assault at all on “womankind.”)

Fanny Crosby could write beautifully, “Pass me not, O gentle Savior / Hear my humble cry.” And then in Verse 3, “Trusting only in Thy merit, / Would I seek Thy face.” But the hymn-tinkerer in his version changed “only” to “always.” Why? Because he wasn’t sure that “only” Christ’s merit, his sacrifice, is enough—which, whatever the tinkerer’s intent—makes his “cry” a lot less humble and effectively undercuts the cross.

“When We All Get to Heaven” became “When the Saved Get to Heaven.” As if someone unsaved might somehow sneak in?

But the absolute worst example comes in, of all places, “Amazing Grace” where Verse 2 was tinkered with, and Christ’s cross violated, when “How precious did that grace appear / The hour I first believed” was changed to “When I His Word obeyed.”

So wazzamattuh? We want to obey Christ, right? Yes! But if for salvation I trust in my power to obey, that is not at all the same thing as trusting completely and only in Christ and his blood. That hymn-tinkered “grace” suddenly becomes not very amazing at all. The world didn’t and doesn’t need yet another “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” self-help program or do-it-yourself religion. God’s Son did exactly what we needed. He did it once. He did it all. He did it forever. On a cross. Amazing!

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Good Hearts Have Room for Lots of Good Songs

 

I keep thinking that the folks up, way up, at the Red River Community House (Red River, New Mexico, elevation 8,650 feet) will one day wise up and get tired of us, but they haven’t yet. So this Sunday morning my wife and I were at RRCH on yet another of a nice string of Labor Day/Red River weekends.

I helped lead worship at the Community House this morning, and I’ll be singing a concert there this evening featuring some of the great old “American Songbook” songs,” the ones lots of us have in our memories resonating with the velvet tones of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and on we could go. And on we do go as those sweet tunes live on.

I’m not sure how sweet my tones will be, but not much is better than getting to croon a tune when your lungs are filled with crisp mountain air, your heart is uplifted by the smiles of friends and warm music, and everyone there is being enfolded into the loving embrace of the sturdy log timbers of a building that’s been a community treasure since it opened in 1940.

Count on it, the open rafters at the Community House have heard these tunes many times before. Come to think of it, at least two of the songs I’ll sing tonight were top hits at some point during the 40s, and most were still favorites.

“For Sentimental Reasons” is a great song—even better, I think, when paired with Nat King Cole, who is pretty much always my favorite. (Tonight I’ll definitely be singing one of his signature songs, “Unforgettable,” though Irving Gordon didn’t write it until 1951. Had Gordon gone with his “working title,” which was both bad English and a bad title, I doubt we’d be singing, “Uncomparable.” But as it is, wow!).

“I’ll Be Seeing You” is another of the 40s tunes. It’s a romantic melody for sure, but it became a love song not just for lovers but for parents and families and siblings and anyone sending a loved one off to war and to an unknown future in terribly difficult and uncertain times. The quintessential song of World War II, this love song was almost a whispered prayer, too, and often accompanied by tears.

I was singing some of these sweet songs at a retirement home several years ago when a dear lady approached me to say, “I remember going to New York City to be reunited with my husband who’d been sent back to the States on a hospital ship. Together again, we danced to those songs.”

It would be a compliment of the highest order if a dance broke out tonight (as has happened many times before at the Community House) and some members of that “greatest generation” were leading out. For so many years, they led us so well.

A bridal shower is being held at the Community House right now. A new life-song is evidently being written. In a couple of hours, we’ll be there sharing some old songs. I like that.

New lives and old lives. Old songs and new songs. My grandkids are bringing in some great new ones, and they also really like some of the songs PawPaw sings, too. Good hearts have room for lots of good songs, old and new.

That’s what “community” is about, right? Sharing what is precious.

Starting this day off at the Community House with Christians of all sorts praising the God of us all. Ending the day there with more sweet songs.

I call that precious indeed.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“There’s an All-seeing Eye Watching You!”

 

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My tastes in music and my theology have certainly changed since then, but when I was a small child, my favorite song was one we sang occasionally at church (I’m very glad we don’t do that now) and pretty often at home (at my request).

That’s another story, but, yes, as hard as it is for most of us to imagine now, when I was growing up, my family spent quite a bit of time singing together around the table or in the living room at home.

We were at home occasionally back then instead of bouncing, kicking, throwing, putting, or serving all manner of balls every evening of the week. Those are not at all bad things, you understand, but our society does seem to have a serious problem with balance and priorities, don’t you think?

To make the music work, so that a family filled with low-voiced altos and basses could manage to fake four parts, we lowered the pitch of the songs pretty drastically. My sister sang the melody, Mom sang alto (I can still hear her smooth alto tones), Dad stretched to catch the tenor (a tenor, he was not, but he strove manfully onward) and, as my voice changed, I picked up the bass. My younger brother, who had the hardest time sitting still for family singing sessions, fidgeted, and, when my much older brothers and their wives were around, we just parceled out the parts as needed. We still find time to sing on the rare occasions when we’re all together, and though Mom and Dad and my sister are gone, they still seem very much a part of the proceedings.

Okay. Back to that song.

For at least a little while in my young life, my favorite song was a questionable piece entitled, “Watching You.” I’m told that I used to prance around the house singing, “Otching Ooh!” (way before I could sing bass). Not filled with the greatest music or the best theology, that song pictured God as an “all-seeing eye watching you.”

I was very young at the time. I obviously wasn’t old enough to have smoked grapevine on a Scout campout or puffed pencil shavings in an old pipe back behind our house (that was a very hot smoke!), or the idea of an all-seeing eye watching me would have been a tad less comforting. The fact is, at that age, I didn’t care what the song said, I just liked snappy and upbeat music, and it had that, if not much else.

My musical tastes have changed a lot since then, and so has my understanding of God. Is God watching me? Is he watching you?

Yes, I certainly believe that he is. But not as an all-seeing cosmic code enforcement officer or a humorless EPA or IRS bean-counting bureaucrat just waiting to catch us in a mistake.

No, our Father watches us through the eyes of love because we’re the sons and daughters in whom he delights.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


All Genuine Joy Is God’s Joy

 

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All genuine joy is God’s joy.

And that’s my defense, if I need one, for my new music album (For Sentimental Reasons) that comes out this week.

The album’s already passed the real test: my biggest fans like it. Those would be, of course, my grandchildren.

My four-year-old grandson, more than capable of singing for you a fine, though a bit unusual, medley of “Long Black Train” and “Let It Snow!” (his two favorite songs from my previous albums), has announced that his favorite tune from the new CD is “It Had to Be You.” Nice choice. Since I sing this song as a duet with his mother (who did an incredible job), I was particularly pleased with his choice.

My newest grandchild, a sweet little girl, is just a month old; it’s too early to expect her to review the album verbally. But her parents have recorded her reaction to the songs. I smiled as I watched the video review they sent on her behalf.

At first, she’s fussing a bit, working her way up to a pretty loud cry, but then Mom and Dad start playing the album. Startled, she cries harder for about two seconds, then quietens, snuggles down into the music. I like to think she’s recognizing her PawPaw’s voice, but one thing’s sure: hearing the music, that lovely little lass settles down right before my eyes and sinks into sweet sleep. I love it!

I’m not sure if this music will be that potent an anesthetic for most folks, but if it provides just a little bit of sweet relaxation for many who hear it, I’ll be very pleased. The world needs more of such. More peace. More calm. More beauty. More deep joy.

In the album “liner notes,” I wrote this: “What a privilege to work with so many amazingly talented folks to make this album! Our prayer is that every note sung and played in these sweet old songs is filled with the genuine love and deep joy of the Author of all real love, all real joy.”

I mean what I wrote. You see, my first love will always be singing songs with words that point overtly to God’s love, but real love, real joy, all come from the same Source.

I never thought I’d make a recording composed of some of what have been called the “Great American Songbook” songs, some of the sweetest old “love” songs from, say, the 1920s to early 50s. Of course, some songs from that era have words I just can’t sing. But the ones I chose, I dearly love to sing. Even the ones that may be a little long on “syrup” are sweet musical treasures it’d be a shame for our world to lose.

Don’t worry! I won’t be singing “Unforgettable” or “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” as offertory hymns. But when I do get to sing them, it’s no stretch at all for me to thank God with every note for his gifts of sweet music, a little precious peace, and calm, and, I hope, joy.

Any words, any music, any smiles and gifts and laughter that honor our Lord do not need to be stamped “religious” to truly be God’s.

All real joy is God’s joy.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! (Yes, some info about the new album is there, and a sample or a few!)

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Seasons Change, But the Lord of the Seasons Does Not

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Seasons. I love living in a place where we get them all. (Altitude. That’s the ticket to ride if you want all four full on.)

I’m unrepentantly partial to the one that includes roaring fires, snow, and Christmas. But each holds its own particular hue and beauty, and I’m on mostly good terms with them all.

Seasons come. Seasons go. No surprise. But the changing colors, varying for each of us within the changing seasons, do surprise me a bit. It’s not just winter or summer or . . . It’s that particular time in winter or summer when you and yours . . .

I know what to expect, for example, as autumn gives way to winter. The candles lit too rarely residing “off-season” in the fireplace feebly reminding us that it is a place for fire, are pushed aside, packed up, and put away as wicks give way to logs and flickers give way to blazes. Every year in front of the hearth I celebrate as the fireplace gets down to the business God intended.

I’m more than willing to croon a tune in any season, but December brings the best opportunities to sing the best songs and make a little music particularly in step with His. Singing and joy are gifts of God all wrapped up together and never more beautifully than when we celebrate the Gift.

So in December, I sing and sing and . . . as we get further into the season, services multiply, preparatory candles are lit, hope and expectations rise up anew as (I always hope) snow falls down, the gifts pile up around the tree, and then, for me, a candlelight service or two, and Christmas Day, and suddenly, even as the twelve days are adding up, a bit of a new season comes within the season.

And that’s where I find myself, as I’m writing on this fifth day of Christmas. It’s deliciously cold. One good breath of air will remind you that you’re alive, and the smell of the burning oak and pinion makes you glad that you are. The kids and grandkids are coming in a few days, so gifts are still piled around the tree. The Christmas train at the tree’s base is becalmed by a blizzard of presents, but the grandkids will soon dig it out. And some good Methodist friends and colleagues who know about the twelve days of Christmas will, ere long, give me one more chance to sing its songs and help me gently tuck this season into bed yet again.

The task, I think, is to learn to let the Lord lead us into each season, and the seasons within them, with open hands and hearts, to learn their lessons anew, to savor their particular joys, and, on a more somber note, to hold on to his hope as we (not often, I pray) pass through dark times within some seasons that seem completely bereft of warmth. Winters of that sort no one likes, but—Lord, help us believe it when we can’t feel it—even their dark cold is no match for his warm light; one day it will be banished forever.

The seasons, the years, change. But walking with us through each season and every time within it, is the One who does not change. Thank God indeed!

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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