"Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep, but lift up your voice with strength ..."
- From John Wesley's "Directions for Singing"
Once a year, during the month of August, our church members shed their coats, ties and choir robes - sometimes even the choir - and take on a casual, camp-meeting style for Sunday morning worship.
Although everyone seems to enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere, the favorite event of the month is the singing of all those "old-timey" hymns. "Rock of Ages," "The Old Rugged Cross," "Victory in Jesus," - the song titles pour from the mouths and memories of those who grew up circled around the piano, visiting a summer campground or clapping happy hands in an all-year-round, singing church.
I enjoy it, too. Growing up as a Gospel pianist in a Baptist church, I liked adding a run or two between the regular notes of those "good-old" hymns. Peps up the singing, I learned. Peps up the pianist, too. Former Baptists make good Methodists, my pastor says. We share a smile and forgive each other our inter-denominational rivalry.
Music, singing, laughter, even in church, are good for the soul. Well, there's a little rivalry about that, too.
Years ago I was on the Board of a Christian women's organization that held two or three large retreats a year. (That's camp meeting in any season, usually inside.) The program always included leadership training, Bible study, a keynote speaker and time for fun.
It was during one of the "fun" times that our very professional, usually devout music leaders sang a song not found in most church hymnals, and one particular retreat almost came apart at the seams.
I don't remember all the words but the song, to the tune, "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue," went something like this:
"Five foot nine, eyes that shine, born and bred in Palestine,
Has anybody seen my Lord...?
Now, if you run into, a lovely Jew, wearing a sheet... .
You better look at his hands and feet...."
The women loved it, and left the auditorium singing the catchy, new song. They knew the hands and feet of "the lovely Jew" were pierced with nails and whip lashes from events leading to the crucifixion, and they were not laughing at that. But one of the conference leaders was aghast at the sacrilege and called an immediate meeting of the Board to resolve the "problem." Should we fire the musicians, she wondered, apologize to the women at the next session, or what?
Those of us who didn't realize we had a "problem" were a little aghast at her. No, we decided, it was never our intention to poke fun at Jesus nor offend anyone attending the retreat who might think we had. We might still be debating the question if one of the Board members hadn't said, "I think we serve a Lord who can laugh at himself." Most members agreed, and the "problem" was left in the Boardroom.
I thought of that "lovely Jew" incident recently when someone handed me a list of "professional hymns." Would my readers be offended if I shared the tongue-in-cheek list with them? No, I decided. Most people know I'm a sedate church musician 11 months of the year, and that I believe not only the Lord but those who write and sing hymns can laugh at themselves, too. If they can't, they should.
So, if you find your profession on the following list, feel free to adopt the suggested hymn as your own:
• Baker: "Let Us Break Bread Together"
• Builder: "The Church's One Foundation"
• Dentist: "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
• Lawyer: "In the Hour of Trial"
• Librarian: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"
• Obstetrician: "Come, Labor On"
• Optometrist: "Be Thou My Vision"
• Plumber: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
• Teacher, et al: "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"
(from Charla Brunton, "The Organ Portfolio")
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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