Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Played in the Band

Here's a fun song called "I Played in the Band" by Bill Gaither from the Booth Brothers' recent album, "A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither." (So if the link disappears or something, and you liked the song, try to find a copy of the album.)

Bill likes to tell the story of the song's origin. Bill was talking to gospel music great Henry Slaughter and asked him what he would want people to say about him after he dies. Slaughter answered, "I played in the band, wrote a few songs, and sang in the choir." Bill, being a songwriter, instantly recognized that this was the tag line of a song and has carefully given Slaughter partial credit for the song that Gaither and Larry Gatlin subsequently wrote. What struck Bill, of course, was the humility of Slaughter's response.

Now I have a story to add to that one. We were recently privileged to have apologist Lee Strobel come to our town, and he and my husband got a chance to go out to lunch. Strobel tells this story: Some years ago Bill Gaither invited Strobel to speak at some event. (As I'm reporting this secondhand, I didn't get the exact details of the event.) Strobel, an adult convert with no previous connection to gospel music, had never heard of Bill Gaither before and had no idea of how famous he was. He was just happy for the opportunity to speak and thought of Gaither as the organizer. Over a meal, Strobel innocently turned to Gaither and said, "So what do you do? Do you sing?" Bill didn't miss a beat, didn't express surprise, annoyance, didn't become facetious. He just answered quietly, pleasantly, and self-deprecatingly, "Yeah, I sing." And that was all. Lee Strobel had no idea of his own faux pas until later.

The humility that Bill Gaither admired in Henry Slaughter is one of his own qualities. Which is a good thing to think of.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Count your Christmas music blessings

It's that time of year again. The time when the stores rev up the admittedly too-early and too-oft-repeated Christmas music. And the time of year when bloggers and Facebook status writers, eager to demonstrate their trad-ent or Catholic or Protestant-Scrooge creds, start complaining about Christmas music. This cartoon has been doing the rounds and allowing everyone to feel superior.

However, I was struck when going to the grocery store on the Friday after Thanksgiving by a strange feeling of relief as the strains of "White Christmas" wafted over the sound system. Why the relief? It took me a couple of moments to figure it out. Then I remembered the previous week when I stopped at the store of an evening and heard a song so graphic, so sexually explicit that I could not believe it, until one line had been repeated so many times that I couldn't deny what I was hearing. Admittedly, that was one of the worst to have been piped into my unwilling ears while I'm contemplating the cabbage, but for the most part, the music even on the "oldies" stations, even at our nice little local grocery store, is sufficiently junk-laden that I'm usually glad not to have children along on the trip and come home wishing there were such a thing as mouthwash for the brain. (The music makes a nice complement to the copies of Cosmo in the checkout lane.) Even when the lyrics aren't explicit, they include an almost never-ending stream of glorification of fornication, including such charming ditties as "Come On Over Tonight." (I can't help smiling wryly at the line in that one, "If it don't feel right, you can go." That's nice. "Look, Ma, no date rape!") In the evenings, whoever gets to choose the music often chooses hip-hop, so we get to listen to animalistic noises. During the day, a drawback of the so-called "oldies" station is that you can hear every word.

So, I have some questions for all the people who are posting or getting ready to post their yearly gripe about Christmas music in the stores: Why are you complaining about the one month out of the year when your local store plays "White Christmas" when you never uttered a peep about the eleven months out of the year when your local store was playing "Do That To Me One More Time" and "Undercover Angel"? Did all the real trash you've been hearing at other times go in one ear and out the other? Or do you actually prefer soft pornography to Christmas schmaltz?

Sure, there are suggestive Christmas songs as well, or so I'm told. (So far, I've been spared listening to them.) But let's face it: That isn't primarily what gets the complaints, and when it does, it's part of a larger diatribe about too much Christmas music, too contentless, too early, shouldn't be played during Advent, etc. For the most part, the "holiday season" is in musical terms quite an improvement both in the wholesomeness of the lyrics and, believe it or not, in the niceness of the music. I caught myself twice this morning thinking, as an intro. started up, "That's really pretty." The fact that it was an instrumental lead-in to a Christmas song that I'll have to hear five hundred times over the next month didn't change the fact that it was a big improvement over the second-rate rock I usually have to listen to. (No, I'm not an anti-rock hater. Remember me, the person who put up a positive post about "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog"?)

Please take as read all the concessions about the fact that Christmas music is played for too long, that it is more repetitious than at other times of year, to the point that it must be something near torture for the employees before all is done, that some of the songs ("Here Comes Santa Claus," etc.) are utterly trivial and lacking in artistic merit. I acknowledge all of that freely. However: If the stores followed the same pattern in terms of genre and Wholesomeness Quotient for the rest of the year, we'd be listening to Cole Porter and the Andrews Sisters most of the time, with an occasional daring foray into the Temptations--perhaps "My Girl." And that would be, I submit, a change for the better.

So we should count our blessings. We get to listen to Christmas music until December 25th.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A blessed Thanksgiving (hodge podge)

'Tis true that I've been neglecting this blog, but I just haven't been sufficiently inspired to do a lot of separate posts in two place. Still, courtesy of a friend who sent me a link to a set of Thanksgiving quotations, I was reminded of some passages in Gilead which made a Thanksgiving post at W4. (What? You haven't yet read Gilead? Go and do so. Use the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to get started. Get it from your local library; they will have it. Or buy it at Barnes & Noble. If you think a little prepping might inspire you first and don't mind a small amount of plot spoiling, read my review at The Christendom Review.) John Ames, Robinson's narrator in Gilead, has a marvelous faculty for gratitude and for seeing. Perhaps I should mine Gilead every year for Thanksgiving quotations. (And thanks go to my friend and W4 colleague Jeffrey S. for recommending the book to me in the first place!)

Here's another:
There's a shimmer on a child's hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They're in the petals of flowers, and they're on a child's skin. Your hair is straight and dark, and your skin is very fair. I suppose you're not prettier than most children. You're just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it's your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.
I found a very pretty picture for the post at W4, but what I first wanted to do was to put in a jpeg or gif of a print by painter Timothy Jones.  Perhaps this one, or this one. (Go, look.) No doubt for good and sufficient reason having to do with image copyright (my guess), it's not possible to download or embed images of Jones's lovely paintings. Their greatness lies in the way that they make you see.

Here is the Book of Common Prayer's collect for Thanksgiving Day.
O most merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here is the Book of Common Prayer's wonderful general thanksgiving.

Thanks to my readers who come and read here and comment. I am thankful for so many things, and the only reason that I don't say more is because of a reluctance (in the name of Internet privacy) to go into detailed discussion of my blessings, my beloved husband and family, etc. But beyond that, I am thankful for my Internet friends, and to those of you who read this, please know that I am thankful for you. The Internet can be a blessing or a curse, but one way in which it is a blessing is to bring us friends we would not otherwise have known.

And now, just because: I'm also thankful for this video. The Hammond organ at the beginning goes straight to the happy part of my brain, and the young Ernie makes me smile.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

To be stewards

Gandalf the Grey:
The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?
This, now, is our task. To guard the things that remain. To cherish the seeds, though Gondor should perish. If anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower in days to come, we shall not wholly have failed of our task.

We cannot do this if we become bitter and cynical. (I speak to myself there as well as to others.) We shall not be able to carry out our task if the only things we can find to say are despairing things and bitter things. We shall not be able to carry out our task if we tear one another to pieces. We shall not be able to carry out our task if the only thing that fills our mind is the evil of mankind (or, though I would under ordinary circumstances not add this, but have a special reason for doing so, of womankind).

There is evil among the people and there is evil in high places. Something great that we have loved is ending. Gondor will probably not survive this night. And, yes, there is a place for chronicling that, if only to make people aware of what they now have to face and of what props they no longer have. Mourning is not wrong. But something we can preserve, if we love it. Therefore, let us cherish all that we can of those worthy things that are in peril.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fragments of encouragement

Things don't really look so good for the United States of America. Need I go into great detail about why? Well, I'm not going to. Too depressing. Nor are readers likely to be in any doubt as to why I happen to be feeling a bit gloomy about our nation just now.

Here are a couple of literary bits that I find encouraging myself and pass on for any encouragement they may provide to readers:

         [The Warden of Shrewsbury College] "I sometimes wonder whether we gain anything by gaining time."
         [Lord Peter Wimsey] "Well--if one leaves letters unanswered long enough, some of them answer themselves. Nobody can prevent the Fall of Troy, but a dull, careful person may manage to smuggle out the Lares and Penates--even at the risk of having the epithet pius tacked to his name."
         "The Universities are always being urged to march in the van of progress."
         "But epic actions are all fought by the rearguard--at Rancevaux and Thermopylae."
          "Very well," said the Warden, laughing, "let us die in our tracks, having accomplished nothing but an epic."
From Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers.
Mind must be the firmer,  heart the more fierce,
Courage the greater, as our strength lessens.
From "The Battle of Maldon," Anglo-Saxon poem


Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest. 
From "The Church's One Foundation" by Samuel J. Stone

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Blessed Feast of All Saints

A blessed Feast of All Saints to my readers. A friend told me in an e-mail today that he doesn't know the hymn "For All the Saints." That's tragic! It must be remedied immediately. One of the greatest hymns of them all, with its wonderful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Here is a choir, which the comments say is Welsh, singing it:

Two verses that both seem especially applicable in the darkness of this present time:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might,
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight,
Thou in the darkness drear their one true light.

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.

I've written several posts in the past on the Communion of Saints and on this hymn and don't think I could better them. 2009, 2008, 2007.

Cranmer's collect for the Feast of All Saints:

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.