re-Hymn: In the Garden (of Gethsemane)

In thinking about preaching this year on Good Friday, the idea came to me to create a minor-keyed arrangement of the classic hymn “In the Garden (I come the Garden Alone).”

So often the music and key of a song can greatly impact the words and meaning. After all, “the medium IS the message” and the WAY we communicate deeply influences WHAT we are trying to communicate.*

In thinking about preaching this year on Good Friday, the idea came to me to create a minor-keyed arrangement of the classic hymn “In the Garden (I come the Garden Alone).” This much beloved (and yet also critiqued as being over sentimental or potentially romantic**) hymn from C. Austin Miles was composed in 1912 and made it into our United Methodist Hymnals soon thereafter.

This re-arranging of this hymn text is heavily influenced by re-imagining the text as written about the Garden of Gethsemane (in Matthew 26:36-46) instead of the resurrection garden encounter (in John 20:11-18) and is also influenced by Black Liberation theologian James Cone‘s God of the Oppressed. Placing this hymn tune’s normal major progression in G C D into and Em Am Bm minor progression and adapting the melody leave it with a haunting, appropriate sense of what it means to sing about being with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night just before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. Here is a rough version of the chords written out.

In the Garden (of Gethsemane) from joseph mcbrayer on Vimeo.

I’ll be singing and preaching more about this hymn at the Emory Office of Spiritual and Religious Life Good Friday service April 14th, 12noon at Cannon Chapel, Emory University.

___
Footnotes:

*Media theorist and author Professor Marshall McLuhan, The Medium Is the Massage (New York: Bantam Books), 1967, 10.

**Choir master and hymnal editor Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 1993, 432-433.

Church Music & Oh God our Help in Ages Past

I believe that there IS excellent, theologically diverse, musically interesting, contextually indigenous, and beautiful music out there–some of it helpful for Christian worship. The challenge as pastors and musicians is to seek it out, sort through it, exegete/dissect it, and make it work in our context/setting.

Let me first say that I’m very skeptical of much modern christian worship music. Secondly, I’m especially skeptical of the “Contemporary Christian Music Industry”–which appears to be mostly concerned with certain (most often very conservative) theological/social perspectives, the music’s ability to play on ‘pop-christian’ radio, and the its ability to sell–that is, to make money. When every band in all of musical Christendom comes out with a “christmas worship album” it is hard NOT to see the dollar signs overtaking and obscuring the Gospel–as well as the context and beauty of music. This is not simply the music industry’s fault, but also the blame lies in our tendency towards laziness and sticking to what we already know. I believe that there IS excellent, theologically diverse, musically interesting, contextually indigenous, and beautiful music out there–some of it helpful for Christian worship. The challenge as pastors and musicians is to seek it out, sort through it, exegete/dissect it, and make it work in our context/setting.

It seems like I’m always having conversations with other musicians, ministers, and college students about music–specifically in this case about WHERE to find good music for worship services in the Christian tradition. That’s at least in part of why I began writing here and posting recordings and thoughts on songs, theology, and media. One such source I’ve discovered is Sojourn Music from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Sojourn is a great example of contextualized, indigenous, and thoughtful church community that produces EXCELLENT music and art. (I first heard about them while in seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Rev. Barbara Day Miller, Associate Dean of Worship and Music, gave me a set of their CD’s and an article about them she’d run across. I looked at the article and then listened to the music–it was excellent!) Their songs are influenced by variety of musical styles including blues, folk, gospel, and indie rock. After some further research I found that they are a member of the Southern Baptist Convention–a discovery which, as a moderate United Methodist, I found both shocking AND refreshing! Sojourn musicians have a fond appreciation for the hymns of Isaac Watts and do great justice to his words with the original music and with some new arrangements drawing on the native sounds of their context and congregations in Louisville. One of my favorites of their new musical arrangements is “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” arranged by Brooks Ritter (a gifted musician and song writer with lots of play on Louisville local radio stations). Here is a link to their recorded version.

Finding good worship music is a part of the process–implementing it in a worship setting is often the next step: A few weeks ago we tried it out in worship with the college students at Emory Wesley Fellowship in our Sunday Night Worship service held at Glenn Memorial UMC on Emory’s campus. Here is the resulting recording with guitar, voice, and event some harmonica too.

Here’s Sojourn’s pdf of the chord sheet for Oh-God-Our-Help-in-Ages-Past

O the Depth of Love Divine

This is not a hymn that provides answers about how Christ is present and God’s grace is conveyed, but simply marvels that grace is indeed given…

“O the Depth of Love Divine” was written in 1745 by Charles Wesley as a poem/hymn describing how God’s grace is available and given to all people through Holy Communion in the Christian Tradition. This is not a hymn that provides answers about how Christ is present and God’s grace is conveyed, but simply marvels that grace is indeed given. In the United Methodist tradition we practice “open communion”–meaning ALL people are welcome at God’s table and that God’s grace is made available and tangible to all.

Charles and his brother John Wesley were the founders of the renewal movement in the Anglican Church that eventually became the Methodist Church. This is my own setting of the hymn, but you can find Carlton Young‘s (famous arranger of hymns & the hymnal) setting of “O the Depth of Love Divine” in the United Methodist Hymnal #627.

Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy)

Lent is one of those seasons where the phrase “Lord Have Mercy” may get a good bit of usage in worship…

As we move into the season of Lent in the Christian liturgical calendar (a season of preparation, reflection, and spiritual growth) it is good for us to look to Jesus’ time spent in the wilderness being tempted (Matthew 4:1-11) and times in our own lives where things have been difficult. The point of Lent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent) for those who observe it is not necessarily to “give something up” for 40 something days, but perhaps to take on a spiritual practice that helps us realize our need for God’s grace. Many people take time to give to the poor, volunteer, pray, and reflect upon their priorities in life.

Liturgically speaking, Lent leads up to Holy Week where Jesus will suffer and die for the sins of all people–and then Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus. BUT, many people seem to get ahead of themselves and go directly to Easter–Lent is a time to literally “sit in the ashes” and is an appropriate time to contemplate the difficulties in our lives and the lives of others. Lent is not a time of introspection and evaluation to the point of “analysis paralysis” or the loss of self worth, but rather it is a time for reflection and spiritual growth.

The phrase “Lord Have Mercy” now, as in ancient times, often expresses all that we can really say in difficult seasons and situations in life. Lent is one of those seasons where the phrase “Lord Have Mercy” may get a good bit of usage in worship. The song “Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy)” comes from an ancient tradition of sung prayer as found in Psalms, Isaiah, and in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, & Luke. The Ancient Greek words “kyrie eleison” mean “Lord have mercy” and were used as a prayer in times when we don’t know what to say–times when we can only say “Lord, have mercy.”

This is my interpretation of the Kyrie and its debut performance was in February 2011 at “The Composes Concert” sponsored by Sacred Artistry and the Office of Religious Life at Emory University.

“Lord have mercy, have mercy on me
help me be the things you want me to be
help me see the things you want me to see
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on me”

words and music copyright by Joseph McBrayer 2010

Good King Wenceslas

The moral of this olden tale is social justice and care for the poor: “Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing…”

Earlier in the week here in Atlanta, Ga we had 4 inches or so of SNOW. This once-in-a-decade “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse,” as some have termed it, has, needless to say, shut down transportation in much of the city. SO, in lieu of a snowmobile or car that can handle snow/ice,  I’ve been hiking to work (literally) a few miles each way (2.3 miles) to Emory University to meet and work with the college students of the Emory Wesley Fellowship (http://emorywesley.org). The students are filtering in and doing well–especially since classes should have started YESTERDAY–needless to say, they’re enjoying their time of epic sledding and adventurously traversing the ice.

In my own travels through the snow and ice covered streets I’ve found myself enjoying parts of the neighborhoods I usually zip through in my car or on my bike. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the sidewalks (and for people who have been so kind as to scrape and/or salt their section of the sidewalk) and for walking in the snow and ice.

As I’ve been hiking through the ice I’ve found myself humming and singing a familiar carol that we used at Christmas in worship services with the Emory college students. Good King Wenceslas is an old, familiar carol that I’ve sung often (and even made up alternate lyrics on occasion). For our closing worship service for the Fall Semester last year, the Emory Wesley students offered up short meditations on their favorite Christmas carols as to why they liked the carol and some of its historical significance or origins. One of the students selected Good King Wenceslas and shared a brief history of it–of how it is the recounting of the benevolent actions of a Saint King (actually Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia in the 10th Century wikipedia here) and his page (assistant of the day). It is the story of a king looking out on the day after Christmas (the Feast of Stephen) and seeing a poor man gathering fire wood. The king and page then carry meat, wine, and wood to the peasant’s house through a brutal winter storm to “see him dine.” As they are going “Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather” the page says he “can go no longer.” The monarch then tells the page to follow in his footsteps and as the page steps on the warmed ground where the Saint has walked!

The moral of this olden tale is social justice and care for the poor: “Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing. It is not simply a 10th Century prosperity gospel, but a carol that reminds us to be a blessing to others–regardless of our social or economic status. Christ calls us to ministry with and for the poor–in serving and loving people we will discover the blessing of mutuality and understanding of others.

Below is my recording of an arrangement of the beloved Christmas Carol from the 16th Century. Again, the origins of this carol come from the stories of a Saintly ‘King’ Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia, who lived in the 10th Century in what is modern day Czech Republic (where he is now the patron Saint).

Words:
Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even
Brightly shown the moon that night though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight gathering winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me, If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, Forth they went together;
Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
Mark my footsteps, good my page; Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,  Where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very sod  Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure,  Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing.

Good King Wenceslas chords here

“There is a Balm In Gilead” (acoustic version)

This is my own interpretation of the Spiritual “There is a Balm In Giliead.” I spent much time in conversation with a good friend Rev. Michael A. Hunt about how to bring my style and who I am into the singing of a such a song…

This is my own interpretation of the Spiritual “There is a Balm In Gilead.” I spent much time in conversation with a good friend and accomplished singer, Rev. Michael A. Hunt, about how to bring my style of music and a bit of who I am into the singing of a such a song as Balm in Gilead.

It was recorded in preparation for a sermon for Emory Wesley Fellowship (http://emorywesley.org) and Glenn Memorial UMC (http://glennumc.org) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on 09.18.10 in a chapel at Glenn Church on Emory University’s Campus.

Doxology: Reclaiming a post-offering hymn

This is my arrangement of the classic “doxology” or as it is better known: “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” or “Old 100th”…or ‘the song they play after they take up the offering.’

It is number 95 in the United Methodist Hymnal (& public domain), but the “Old 100th” came from when the ‘hymnal’ used to only be filled with psalms set to music and this tune was from that 1551 arrangement attributed to Louis Bourgeois. The words for this text came from Thomas Ken (father of english hymn writing) and was written by him with the simple title (or instructions) “morning and evening hymn.”

This may sound strange, but I prefer to play it a safe distance away from the offering. When we do use it in worship (hardly ever near the offering, those in worship seem to grasp a different meaning of the tune and lyrics. The meaning of ‘Doxology‘ is actually from New Testament Greek for praise, honor, or glorify. We’ve settled with it being played at the time of the return of the offering to God (ushers bringing the plates back up to the front of the church altar/table) is because it has a good theological reason: we should give praise, honor, and glory to God in returning a portion of all that God has given us back to God’s kingdom and the work of the Lord. However, the a common result when we hear this song now is that we get an ever-so-strong sense that we should be standing, singing, and giving money.

All joking aside, this is a real example of tradition that needs to be RE-taught and RE-contextualized. I think that many people really do like this song (great history and excellent words and even theology) but it gets used in the church context only as ‘the song we sing after the offering.’ This is a short shrift for such a beautiful, powerful, and diverse song–it can be sung quietly as a prayerful evening hymn or loudly as an anthem at the 11 o’clock service.

This version uses a cut capo (simulates DADGAD by holding the strings in an Esus, which allows the guitar player to play ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead/melody’ at the same time) and is styled/arranged after a Passion/David Crowder version of the song.

Note the use of ‘God’ in lieu of ‘Him’ for greater inclusivity while retaining the Trinitarian and doctrinally important (Baptism/Eucharist rites & inter-denominational covenants/agreements) language of Father, Son, & Holy Ghost.

lyrics/chords:
E                                              A2  Bsus  E
Praise God From whom all Blessings Flow
E                                         A        B
Praise God all creatures here below
E             A      B       E
Praise God above ye heavenly host
E                       A             B           E
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
(Cre-a-tor)

A      E  A     E    A     E    A     B   (E)
Amen   Amen   Amen   Amen

(in G: G C D)