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The Day We Lost Our Hymnals

BLOG #20 SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE DAY WE LOST OUR HYMNALS

MAY 16, 2018

Our most popular blog series last year had to do with favorite hymns—so many of you weighed in on your personal favorites. But more and more, it appears that hymns are becoming an endangered species in Christian churches.

My wife and I have certainly noticed tifference: more and more all those hymns that have been so beloved for so many centuries are being discarded by new generations who value them not.

One of my dear friends, Esther Brummett, just relayed an article that addresses the problem. We are so impressed by it that we are featuring it this week. Not least because we are beginning to realize that the demise of hymn-singing is but the tip of the iceberg: the church services the current generation is substituting for the old is, by extension, disenfranchising all those older generations and, in essence, leaving them with no church to call their own any more.

We’ll be most interested in your reactions to the concerns voiced in the article.

“WHAT WE LOST WHEN WE LOST OUR HYMNALS”

By Appalachian Magazine, April 3, 2017

Few memories are as synonymous with church in my mind, as the sight of my mother holding up a raggedy old red hymnal and singing to the top of her lungs the songs of Zion.

Sadly, the number of children who are privileged to such memories in today’s world is dwindling with each passing hour; partly because church is becoming an afterthought to so many and partly because many religious establishments are “moving past” the golden era of hymnals.

The following is an article written by Tim Challies, in which he seeks to remind church folk what they lose when they give up their hymnals:

If we were to go back in time twenty or thirty years, we would find that most churches had hymnals. They had hymnals because it was the best way of providing each member of the congregation with a copy of the songs. You’d hear it in every church: “Take out your hymnal and turn to hymn 154…” And then hymnals went the way of the dodo and we began to look instead to words projected on a screen. Here is some of what we lost along the way.

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time. Therefore, new hymns would be chosen carefully and added to new editions of the hymnal only occasionally. Churches would update their hymnals, and, therefore, their established body of songs, only once every ten or fifteen years.

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. And we do—we add new songs all the time. As we add new songs with greater regularity, we sing old songs with less frequency. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts. Few congregations could sing even the greatest hymns without that PowerPoint screen.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung acappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities.

It often seems like all we want from the congregation is their enthusiasm. We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment. The loss of the voice has given rise to the gain of the amplifier. This leads to our music being dominated by a few instrumentalists and perhaps a pair of mixed-up vocalists while the larger congregation plays only a meager role. In fact, it often seems like all we want from the congregation is their enthusiasm.

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well With My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

It is probably too late to go back to the hymnal. I am not at all convinced we ought to. But it is still worth considering what we lost along the way and how congregational singing has been utterly transformed by what may appear to have been a simple and practical switch in the media. That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.

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First Lady of the Greatest Generation, Part 2

BLOG #19 SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

FIRST LADY OF THE GREATEST GENERATION, PART 2

MAY 9, 2018

In all our nation’s history, only one other President’s wife, Dolly Madison, ever gave birth to another President. The May 4 issue of This Week titled its obituary:

THE FORMIDABLE FIRST LADY WHO RAISED A PRESIDENT

It begins with these words, “With her brilliant white hair and trademark fake pearls, Barbara Bush was viewed by many Americans as the nation’s kindly grandmother. But within the Bush family, she was known as ‘The Enforcer. As the matriarch of one of the nation’s most powerful families, Bush employed her own considerable political skills to help her husband, George H.W. Bush, and her eldest son, George W. Bush, rise to the presidency. When George H. W. Finally reached the White House in 1989, their Christmas card list had grown to more than 10,000 names. Throughout her husband’s career, she meticulously maintained an index-card library detailing the family’s social and fund-raising contacts.

Through all her husband’s perigrinations (Ambassador to China, CIA Director, Ambassador to the United Nations, Vice President, and President), she remained the rock of the family. In her own words, “This was a period, for me, of long days and short years, of diapers, runny noses, earaches, more Little League games than you’d believe possible.”

Those were heady years, not least the eight years as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, four years as First Lady, and eight more years as First Matriarch during her son’s presidency, with the ever-present danger that her five living children would be wrecked by all the media attention and adulation.

When you see photographs of the wall of Bush people (including grandchildren and great grandchildren), it’s kind of overwhelming, just thinking of how she found time to be family “Enforcer,” to this throng, and keep all these far-flung families intact, it boggles the mind—especially when you compare them to other recent dynasties such as the Kennedys.

But perhaps the most poignant photo of the funeral weekend was the one titled “Last Respects” (Mark Burns/Office of George H. W. Bush via AP), in which the now widowed President, in a wheelchair, is attended by his faithful daughter, Dorothy, and he drinks in the sight of the flower-bedecked casket in Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. His bride of 73 years. A romance for the ages. Sixty years after their wedding, she described her husband as “That 80-year-old whirlwind who makes my life sing.”

Mark Burns/Office of George H. W. Bush via AP

 

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie”

BLOG #18 SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH SERIES #77

LAURA INGALLS WILDER’S LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

MAY 2, 2018

ESPECIALLY FOR CHILDREN

As our series gets older, more and more often, before a new book selection is chosen, I look around and ask myself, Which of the great family classics have we continued to bypass? This month’s selection had been snubbed so many times that I felt its time had finally come.

If ever books were made for television, it would be Wilder’s. Her sentences are short and the words are simple ones, thus even third-graders ought to be very comfortable reading them out loud. And much of it is dialogue. The pace is fast and suspense is interwoven throughout the plot.

Though the books themselves were popular with the young, it was the television series starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and Michael Landon as the father that made the series iconic around the world. The series ran from the 1970s into the 1980s.

I must confess I’d never read the book before, so I wasn’t at all sure it would keep my interest. Not to worry: it certainly does! I can see another reason why the book ought to be in every home library: what a book for a parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt to read out loud when children are present.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1869-1959) was born in the Big Woods country of Wisconsin. She came from illustrious lineage: the Delanos; after all FDR was a Delano. Laura was only two when the family moved west in a covered wagon, west into the Great Plains, initially settling in Indian Country in Kansas; then it was on to DeSmet, South Dakota.

Since she grew up on the sparsely settled Great Plains, in the midst of Indian unrest and the mass slaughter of the buffalo, her autobiographical books ring true historically. However, the television plots, being fictional, only loosely mirror her actual life.

In this book, the reader will be deeply immersed in the lives of those who grow up in the Great Plains. In later years, such individuals feel boxed in by mountains—only on the Plains do they really feel at home.

Here are the books you ought to round up:

THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE SERIES

  • Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
  • Farmer Boy (1933). About Almanzo Wilder growing up in New York.
  • Little House on the Prairie (1935)
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
  • The Long Winter (1940)
  • Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
  • Those Happy Golden Years (1943)
  • The First Four Years (1971). Posthumous. Chronicles the early days of the Wilder marriage.

There were other works not part of this series.

Welcome to Wilder’s world!

 

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FIRST LADY OF THE GREATEST GENERATION

BLOG #17 SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

FIRST LADY OF THE GREATEST GENERATION

APRIL 25, 2018

Scott Olson, Getty Images file

What a celebration of a life! Barbara Pierce Bush, the wife of George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, was laid to rest on Saturday, April 22, 2018.

Thanks to the miracle of television, my wife and I had ring-side seats for the celebration of a remarkable life. But even before her passing, the incredible outpouring of love and appreciation had already begun. It is still ongoing. But the high-point had to be that funeral service in Houston’s magnificent St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Presidents have died with much less fanfare and outpourings of love and respect than we have been experiencing.

When Connie and I were discussing the week’s events and all this attention given a non-elected public figure, we could come up with only one reason: All of us, through her, are mourning what we have lost: a caring, kind, decent, loving, faithful, courteous, empathetic, civil, spiritual, ethical, humble, principled, self-sacrificing, patriotic, altruistic, conciliatory, family-centered, and hard-working world that spawned what we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.”

A world where marriage was not a mere tack-on after years of living together, but a sacred and longed-for high-point after a magical period called “courtship”—a far cry from today’s hook-up throw-away relationships. How well I remember my father’s life-long courtship of my mother. When he passed, as we sifted through their memory boxes, the love-letters he wrote in her annual Valentine’s Day cards down through the years were so intense we felt we had no business intruding into such a holy place. That’s why I related so strongly to a brief but poignant side-bar carried by newspapers across the nation this week: a young man is about to be sent into war, with no guarantee he’ll ever see his lovely fiancee again. And he writes these words to her, on December 12, 1943:

As the days go by the time of our departure grows nearer. For a long time I had anxiously looked forward to the day when we would go aboard and set to sea. It seemed that obtaining that goal would be all I could desire for some time, but, Bar, you have changed all that. . . . Even now, with a good while between us and the sea, I am thinking of getting back. This may sound melodramatic, but if it does it is only my inadequacy to say what I mean. But, you have made my life full of everything I could ever dream of—my complete happiness would be a token of my love for you…. Goodnite, my beautiful. Everytime I say beautiful you about kill me but you’ll have to accept it—All of us realize full-well that for two people to stay together for a lifetime, the odds against it are staggering, especially given our longevity today, and the many others we care for deeply, cherish, and love who come into our lives. But my parents’ generation tried their best to make it work, just as George and Barbara Bush did. Today, the media mocks and devalues marriage—if anything, they celebrate out of wedlock sexual relationships more than they do marital ones.

A couple of years ago, on a cruise ship, several of us were celebrating a Golden Wedding Anniversary of one of the couples. After we’d sung “Happy Anniversary” to them, our maitre d’ came over and asked how many years they’d been married. When told that we were celebrating their4 50th wedding anniversary, the look on his face was priceless. It was as though we’d told him they’d just returned from the moon.! After a long sigh, he said, ‘Oh my! Such a thing will never happen to me. . . or any of my crowd.” And George and Barbara Bush had been married 73 years!

All of us have been mourning the loss of such a role model, because we don’t produce many like her any more. Let’s listen in to Carl Rove. In his April 19 Wall Street Journal tribute, “Heaven, Get Ready for Barbara Bush.” Here are some of the things he said:

The sad news came Tuesday while I was on my way to dinner with a friend. A noble life of purpose had ended. Barbara Bush had passed at age 92.Naturally, the table conversation revolved around this remarkable woman. As the evening wound down, an email arrived, an invitation to the Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving Saturday at 11. Will you be coming? The missive reflected Mrs. Bush’s personality: prepared, prompt, direct and thoughtful.

The email also had a picture of Mrs. Bush: grey hair, eyes crinkly and welcoming, the soft smile that bespoke kindness and great joy—and pearls, three strands of them, elegant but understated. You could almost hear her explaining the rapid notice: Well, of course. People are busy and we want our friends to know so they can come if they can. It’s the right thing to do.

When we think of the Greatest Generation, martial virtues often spring to mind—young men in an unimaginably violent struggle, saving the civilized world. Men like George H.W. Bush, who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday to serve as a torpedo bomber pilot and was later shot down over the Pacific.

But there was another, no less admirable part of that generation, epitomized by Mrs. Bush. The two met at a Christmas party, she 16 in a green and red holiday dress and he a year older. Because he couldn’t waltz, they sat and talked and fell in love.

Strong, smart and outspoken, Mrs. Bush was her husband’s indispensable partner when the war ended and it was time for life to begin anew. All that he achieved in their extraordinary life together was possible only because of her wisdom, unceasing love, bracing candor and sturdy values.

Her loyalty brought out the best in everyone around them. I first met Mrs. Bush when I was 22 and working for her husband, then Republican National Committee chairman. Decades later, toiling for her son at the White House, I was still nervous whether she felt I was giving it my best.

Long before she said as first lady, “What happens in your house is more important than what happens in the White House,” Mrs. Bush focused on what was happening in her house. The children she raised are testimony to a mother who taught respect, integrity, hard work, and faith and gave unconditional love.

For Mrs. Bush, the right thing always involved service to others. Her most visible cause was literacy. She inspired millions to provide a window to a larger world of imagination, knowledge and beauty by helping someone learn to read.

There was another cause, more private at first because it was deeply personal. After losing their first daughter, Robin, to leukemia at age 3—a wound handled with grace but never fully recovered from—the Bushes made defeating cancer a central focus of their lives.

One memory: As first lady in 1989, she visited a hospital and cradled an AIDS baby in her arms. That may not seem like much now, but at the time, some people mistakenly thought the deadly disease was transmitted by contact. No matter; she saw a child of God in need of being held and comforted.

In her passing, no person has suffered a greater loss than her husband. Bush men have a way of marrying formidable women. That was the case with President Bush 41’s father, Sen. Prescott Bush. When his wife and 41’s mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, died in 1992, the then-president wrote his brother Jonathan to thank him for a tribute he’d made at the funeral, saying, “Our compass is spinning a little.”

Today in Houston, George H. W. Bush’s compass is spinning a lot. He has lost the love of his life and his wife of 73 years. May the God of tender mercies bless and comfort him, the remarkable children he and his wife brought into this world, and the many grandchildren whom they loved and enjoyed so deeply.

I shall continue discussing Bushes and the Greatest Generation on May 9.

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THE LAST STAND OF “THE DENVER POST”

BLOG #16 SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE LAST STAND OF THE DENVER POST

APRIL 18, 2018

Tis all too true! When we first moved back to Colorado back in 1996, there were two fully-staffed and highly-respected newspapers serving Denver: The Denver Post (leaning Democrat) and Rocky Mountain News (leaning Republican). During those brief 22 years, the grand old Rocky Mountain News was forced to close its doors. Just a week ago, the already greatly reduced Denver Post, let yet another batch of its most valuable and badly-needed employees go—and furthermore notified subscribers that it would soon close its doors completely! Unless someone would be willing to step in and purchase it, the Centennial State would be left without a major newspaper for the first time in its history.

“No newspaper? Who cares?” So say today’s non-reading public. “We can get all the news we want electronically.” Maybe so, but an informed electorate—so crucial to a democracy—cannot continue to exist with only 15-30 second political attack ads as a basis for choosing the best qualified candidates for public office. A stable voting electorate presupposes a base of literate adults (surrounded by newspapers of stature, magazines, and books).

All of which are today at risk.

The prevailing attitude of Americans up until recent years has been: Of course America is a democracy, and is certain to remain so! In recent years, the sky has darkened, and fears of a looming dictatorship taking control of “the Land of the Free” is voiced more and more often, as public rhetoric is being characterized by vulgarities, obscenities, and loss of civility.

Considering all this, The Denver Post, flawed and reduced though it be, is a must-save! Without such a flagship, Colorado is reduced to red-neck, non-reading, non-thinking stature. Talk about red-lines! Is this a red-line we can afford to not take a decisive, principled stand on?

 

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Why So Many U.S. Men Die at Age 62

BLOG #15, SERIES #9

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

WHY SO MANY U.S. MEN DIE AT AGE 62

APRIL 11, 2018

That is the title of a landmark study of aging conducted by Maria D. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University and Timothy J. Moore of the University of Melbourne. The information came from the National Center for Health Statistics (years studied: 1979-2012).

They discovered that the increase of the probability of death for men who retire at 62 could be as high as 20%!

How strange! The lifeline we call Social Security” may be resulting in earlier death rather than extending it!

This dovetails with other studies I’ve come across during the last 25-30 years. According to virtually all of these studies, there is one constant: the average American (especially the average male) tends to die within seven years of retirement. Apparently, the very worst thing that can happen to a male retiree is for him to breathe a great sigh of relief and say, “Finally! No more committees, no more deadlines, no more projects—starting today I can just veg, and enjoy life!” When that happens, in his brain’s control tower, the commander in chief of his white armies sends out a final command: “Demobilize! You aren’t needed any more!” And you die. Clearly, often quickly—even at 62! Thus, every retiree (at any age) ought to be aware of his/her options: unless you immediately establish new priorities, develop new passions, set new goals, get involved in new hobbies, find new ways to serve and make a difference, read books widely, travel in order to learn—, yes, failure to do this is a death sentence.

All around us are men and women who refuse to let go, refuse to terminate growth (at any age!)—and they tend to remain vibrant, relative, energetic, and interesting to be around. On the other hand, those who piddle out their days with mindless TV, lackadaisical physical activity, etc—nobody wants to be around them. Because they get dumber and more uninteresting by the day.

The writers in the Good Book concur: Nowhere in the pages of Holy Writ is there any indication that God expects us to cease growing at any age. Instead, Christ’s parables are full of stories that teach us that, of no talent God has entrusted to us, will He require a stricter accounting on Judgment Day than of the Talent of Time. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a divine injunction that says, “When you get old, you’re home free: you no longer have to grow, learn, make a difference.”

Who knew that early retirement would amount to a death sentence?

Permit me to conclude with one of the greatest poems (and plays) on aging ever written:

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the night.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1952)

Copyright ©1945: New Directions Publishing Corporation