Silent Night” is the quintessential Christmas song. It’s virtually impossible for any artist to record a Christmas album and not have a rendition. In this 200th anniversary of the song’s creation, we thought it fun to expand the variety of recordings of the song to show its durability and to underscore the need to not let musicality overshadow the message of the lyrics.
However, for the purposes of our #CarolStory live presentation, the renditions that best reflect the backstory nuances are by Andrea Bocelli and Mahalia Jackson .
See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.
In the context of #CarolStory, the 10-minute worship play, “Silent Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)
Bocelli, singing in Italian, brings to mind the European feel of the original German carol written by Franz Gruber. We wonder how Gruber may respond to the variety of arrangements of the song, especially considering the urgent and somewhat controversial circumstances under which he wrote the piece for Christmas Eve 1818.
There’s a nostalgic prejudice for Mahalia Jackson’s version. It was among the first “church” Christmas songs I heard (as opposed to the just-released “Frosty,” “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bell Rock,”) and was a family favorite. Mother was not a singer but held her own singing along whenever the record (as in vinyl) played , or when the Spirit moved her to burst into song while baking cookies — thinking she was alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.
As with other selections in this piece, the lyrics of “Silent Night” are woven throughout the play to move the story along and work effectively as scene exposition transitioning between scenes.
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Celin Dion, with whom he recorded “The Prayer,” has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”
Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 90 million records worldwide. He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts.
He was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at age 12, following a football accident.
Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.” She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.
“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,” Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” — Source: Wikipedia.
This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,” a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue. Learn More.
“O Holy Night” is an English translation of the French carol “Le Christien Minuit” that was translated and became a rallying cry of abolitionists during the Civil War. The third verse of “O Holy Night” was a direct Christian call to eradicate slavery, a sentiment that led to the song begin edited or outright banned in some sections of the country. We address this story more in our production, “Freedom Song.”
In the context of #CarolStory, “O Holy Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “Silent Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15).
Danny Gokey, a former American Idol runnerup, cleanly expresses those emotions and the abolitionist sentiment in his elegant yet simple video. As a bonus, we add a unique one-man barbershop quartet performance by Julien Neel, aka Trudbol A Capella, in the original French.
Daniel Jay Gokey is an American singer and former church music director from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the third-place finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol.” After his placing on the show, Gokey signed to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville at the beginning of a career in country music, releasing the single “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me.”
Trudbol A Cappella (Julien Neel) is a one-man barbershop quartet. Julien sings all the parts from bass, to baritone, to tenor. He typically covers classic barbershop tunes, but also Beatles songs, video game and TV theme songs, choral music, etc.. Julien lives in France and sings in French, English, German, Swedish and will try other languages. Julien sells audio learning tracks and publishes a cappella videos each Thursday.
Depending on the source you’re reading, there are varying views about divorce rates among couples who profess to be Christ-followers. The rates are either growing at the same rate as non-believers, greater than that rate, declining from that rate, or were never as high.
Assorted denominations have particular perspectives whether couples should divorce and what roles those who do divorce should have in Christian ministry, particularly leadership positions. Whatever the numbers, whatever your opinion, these facts remain:
children of God divorce;
they have done so since the time of Moses;
divorce is not God’s desire.
Of the numerous verses in Scripture about divorce, the best perspective is Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with Pharisees.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
(Yes, we switched from the New International to the King James for the last verse for readers who may have heard the words at weddings yet didn’t realize these are the words of Christ, not just the preacher.)
The salient exchange is this:
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
The question 20 centuries later, then, is, “What causes hearts of married couples to become hardened today?” Moreover, “How do Christian couples become hardened?” For our purposes, one more reflection: “What happens if one of those hardened Christian spouses is a pastor?”
Keep these questions in mind when listening to Family Priorities, today’s audio installment from “Who Prays for the Pastor?” In this segment, author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye recounts the testimony of a pastor whose zeal for evangelizing produced fruit, not all of which was sweet.
Before you start, discuss or journal about the following:
What does the phrase “God-First Ministry” mean to you?
What does Family-First Ministry mean?
Pray for the health of your pastor’s marriage as you hear the following testimony. Ask God to improve communication between both spouses and their offspring.
“Practicing What Is Preached:”Steps to apply weekend sermons to daily communication.
“The Roscoe P. Love Love Clinic:”Practical relationship communication for men, for women; couples, singles; adults, teens.
For maximum, on-going impact, we recommend purchasing the paperback or the audiobook, or both. Each is available at amazon.com.
This essay is one in a series of devotionals on coping with stress in ministry, and is based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” written by Bro. Frederick Ezeji-Okoye. The accompanying discussion guide was written by Michael Edgar Myers, who also narrated the audiobook and 1-minute devotional excerpts. If you have any difficulties accessing the material, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
When the 25th is over
And all the kin are gone,
When you’ve packed away the tinsel,
The lights and all the songs…
When you’ve paid the bills for all the frills
And feel your ample girth,
Will you gaze upon your bottom line
And find your peace on earth?
When the 25th is over
And you’re standing in a line
Returning gifts you didn’t like,
But that you said were, “Fine.’
Will you run a tab on your whole life
To see just what it’s worth?
Will you ask yourself, “What must I do
To find some peace on earth?”
As crabby girls and sulking boys
Cry over broken brand-new toys,
When the 25th is over
And you’re taking down the tree,
Can you tell them the irony
Of that tree with lights so bright?
T’will stand for a cross on Calvary
On a darker silent night?
Yes, the 25th is over
And life is back to normal.
You’ve tossed your cookies
And squeezed the candies
(to find the one that’s caramel)
You’re feeling glad Christmas is gone
With all its hype and prices…
Yet, deep inside remains this thought:
“I wonder who this Christ is?”
Then simply search, and simply ask
And think of His good news.
Then simply make His sacrifice
An offer you can’t refuse.
For if you do, He’ll give to you
Peace on earth so strong…
You won’t have Christmas on the 25th
You’ll live it…all year long.
— (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2002. All Rights Reserved. Use granted through written permission of the author only. Cover photo (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2014. All Rights Reserved
Says the Lord: “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:8, 9 (New Living Translation)
The piano player phoned about 10 minutes before the call time.
“I just wanted to make sure I’m at the right place,” he said. “All I see is a barn.”
“You’re in the right place.”
The actors arrived at the big red barn about 15 minutes later, in time to see The Pianist at work. He grabbed a snow shovel and joined two other men, who may or may not have been attached to The Barn, clearing the sidewalks. Not because he had to. It’s just who he is. The extra hands were helpful because the temperature promised to only become more sub-zero, although no more snow as anticipated.
Except for the eye-watering atmosphere, the scene was picturesque: The fresh white covering over acres of woods made isolated crimson structure and its attached beige silo more robust. A Courier & Ives card-in-waiting.
That The Pianist pitched in reflected the aura emanating from The Barn, manifested in the two men who were already at work when The Pianist parked. The manifestation continued through Shoveler No. 1, George, who stopped shoveling to greet and hold The Barn door for the entering cast. He was especially elated to meet The Singer, who would be presenting a solo during the Service of Worship. He had heard a recording of the song she’d selected and made an offer.
“I play drums,” he said. “May I sit in?”
While The Singer, The Pianist and George The Drummer entered The Barn to rehearse, stabilizing harmonies in the sanctuary; The Director climbed into the loft of The Barn for an overview of staging and recording possibilities. Ten minutes later, as George The Drummer assumed his mile-mannered George The Shoveler identity, The Director descended the loft and went to talk with The Pastor in another part of The Barn, the silo — The Pastor’s oval office.
“Lark (n): A lighthearted, fun, carefree episode. Often unplanned, a lark can happen when you are feeling adventurous.” — vocabulary.com
Atop the circular stairs, The Director gazed out the window into the white field glimmering under the eastern rising sun. The view was pastoral. Placing himself where The Pastor studies at his desk, it was easy — and helpful — to envision the serenity and inspiration of this view on a lush, green day. At -6 outside, this was not that day.
Yet Minus-6 or 98.6, that the view exists is a miracle. The Pastor, Lamarr Lark, is not the first of many connected to The Barn, who will use that phrase, “a miracle.”
“I remember standing out in the field,” NOW he could flash the smile that rivals the snow for gleam. “I was…I was crying…and I was…..”
Mad at God?
“I couldn’t understand.”
During this brief chat at the top of the winding staircase that supplanted an office door, Pastor Lark recounted the short, intense history of Connection Church, the church he had been working to plant in the country – farmland – an hour north of Chicago. He had no idea how apt “planting a church in the country” would be.
Lark and the team had purchased a large acreage of farmland, the centerpiece of which was a rickety building slightly older than Abraham: a 136-year-old barn.
“You would not believe what it looked like. I said, ‘God, what are you doing?’ ”
RAISE THE ROOF
Lark had a vision for a church. This wasn’t it. When a real estate developer offered cash for the property and a quick closing date, the complex Lark envisioned sharpened. “I had the spot and the property all picked,” he said. Something sleek and modern. Custom-made. Something economically feasible with bells and whistles to intrigue families of the Media Age, families with whom he interacted when working in corporate America nearby, families curious about The Word but scattered about where it’s hard to meet new neighbors. This vision was clear.
Before closing occurred, village officials nixed the deal. The developer’s plan for a new multi-house residential complex was incompatible with zoning guidelines. No sale. The Barn became a white elephant. Lamarr wept.
And submitted. Rather than a barn razing, there was a barn raising.
“God’s plans are not our plans!” Lark’s smile was praiseworthy.
IF GOD WERE A CARPENTER
As God unveiled His plan — in His time — He provided new vision, blueprints, capital, partners, and workers. Like George the Shoveling-Drummer. Like Brenda Lark, The Pastor’s Wife (First Lady of the Oval Office Silo). Like Mike the Carpenter. Lamarr preaches from the pulpit. Mike preaches from the carpet. (Or, he would if there were any. The floors are hardwood. So are the walls. And the beams. Almost everything.)
“We didn’t want any drywall upstairs,” said the soft-spoken Mike. “We had to shore up the beams, keep the wood. We didn’t want any pressed wood. I’m a carpenter. Carpenters are craftsmen. I always wanted to pass what I know on to someone else. God made that happen.”
Among the volunteers was a college-age lad, a medical student who latched on to the intricacies of carpentry.
“Carpentry is one of those professions that used to have prestige, like the pastor was saying. Sometimes people see me and ask, ‘Are you still pounding nails?’ They don’t mean it bad, I’m not somebody to make an issue, so I say, ‘Yeah, I’m still pounding nails.’ But it means something to be a carpenter.”
He didn’t say so, but like any good preacher, he left room for interpretation and personal application. On this last Sunday before Christmas, standing in the middle of a rehabbed barn with a nail-pounder gave new insight into the fact that Mary’s husband from the line of David the Shepherd was a carpenter who taught the craft to his son.
“Carpenters are creative. Everything was created through Jesus.”
The Barn has endless sermon possibilities.
IF WALLS COULD TALK
“Somebody was telling me that the walls could preach a sermon,” Pastor Lark interjected into his message. He continued noting that the whisper of the walls remembering the process of cleaning the building in preparation for the carpenters. “Some of you remember. When we dug out the downstairs, the SMELL from the horses! Imagine…THAT is the barn where Jesus was born…”
Cleansed of its horse dung, porous rafters, and unstable foundation, the remodeled basement is the Connection connection. The drywall is painted stark white, offset by hand-crafted wood trim. It’s an adaptable open, modern space where children play, teaching may occur, food consumed, TV viewed over the fireplace.
“That wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Pastor Lark. Then came Mike, who added two other places that weren’t “supposed to be there:” the kitchen and, upstairs, an entry hall into the worship space.
“You know, it’s easier for some people to come to ‘The Barn’ than to come to ‘church,’ “ says Mike the Carpenter, who moved from a church he had been attending for almost 20 years to answer a cry he heard in a message by Pastor Lark. “People have baggage about ‘church,’ but when they come here, and get to see what we’ve done they’re more open to hear The Word.”
Although weekly services began in September 2016, the official grand opening won’t be until Spring 2017 as Easter approaches. Until then, building within the building continues. The building of relationships — among the members and within growing local communities in Lake County and across the county lines.
Crossing county lines doesn’t mean just across the road into Cook County. The mission of Connection to be a multi-cultural church is more than an advertisement on a side of a barn which is why Lark – an African-American leading a small, mostly Caucasian congregation – is partnering with Rodney Patterson, also African-American and pastor of historic Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side, a predominately black congregation, to worship and study Scripture together. The fellowship hall is the workshop for building that relationship. It’s a room of transformation– a carpenter’s 2 Corinthians 5:17.
HANDWRITING ON THE WALLS
The fellowship hall walls are covered with poster-sized sticky notes, the residue of brainstorming sessions. They are a blueprint teaching the members how to interact and engage with people who drive from nearby communities, who have different church experiences or Bible knowledge. To emphasize the teaching, the sticky-noted mission statement discusses an edit between “A diverse community” to “an inclusive and equitable” community. That vision, Lark said, is not his, but His. “We want Connection to reflect a heaven that says ‘every tribe and nation.’ ”
At the same time, he knows he is dealing with humans — real people, sinners, who have personal issues that must be addressed, Biblically. Like Paul’s church epistles, these sticky notes have specific instructions. One challenge is developing a corporate, proactive sense of serving as exhibited by The Carpenter and The Drummer (who not only played drums on the rehearsed special song, but unexpectedly — miraculously? intuitively? Spirit-fully? — provided improvised drum underscore in the scene performed before the sermon). Part of overcoming the challenge is discipling through action and language.
Illustration: “I don’t like the word ‘volunteer’ in a church setting,” said The Carpenter. “A ‘volunteer’ doesn’t have the same commitment. It’s about ‘servanthood.’ ”
Another illustration hangs on the walls of the oval office. Above The Pastor’s desk, the post-it note outlines guidelines for developing a Ministry Team proclaiming boldly: “Come and See Orientation Engaging a Non-Believer” leading to TEAM Time:
SHILOH IN THE SILO
On the opposite wall are outlines for practical application of TEAM Time. “The Worship Experience” speaks of “unity fellowship” an important element in a church culture where “worship” is often a synonym for “music.” (Toward this, Connection jobs-in musical ensembles or individual worship leaders rather than depending on a set musical team or style. Perhaps something else Pastor Lark had not planned.)
“The Worship Experience” plays out in the Sunday hour, however, it’s especially applicable as the guideline for the burgeoning relationship with Shiloh entitled, “Let’s Talk About Race,” a series of six dialogues including themes of socialization, reconciliation and transformation. Part of the process includes “unity fellowship” worship experiences in the home church’s neighborhood. Shiloh is scheduled to visit The Barn in February — African-American History Month. Among their collaborations is a semi-annual joint Service of Worship alternately hosted on their home sites, meaning – a trip to the South side and a trip to The Barn.
The idea, Lark explains, is that in an era of increasing racial tensions in the U.S., it’s important to demonstrate that the gospel of Christ is for all; that worship is more than musical style, but a place of preparation for regeneration; that Christ, more than the ballot, is the hope for the nation. Saying this in his message, The Pastor paraphrased a public official who had recently spoken of feeling without hope as the country changes leadership. The Pastor looked to the walls of the resurrected barn on which hung a symbolic cross of resurrection.
If the walls could preach, they’d say THAT resurrection was as likely as the expected Savior of Humanity being introduced to the world in the guise of a baby in the din of a stable. If walls could preach they’d say THAT birth was as likely as a dingy stable being resurrected into a chapel. If the walls could preach, they’d say either of the above would take a miracle.
If the walls could preach, they’s stay it was no lark that the The Pastor stood in the middle of The Barn talking about the birth in the dingy stable. They’d say it came from a silo mentality.
“I will give you the promised and sure blessings promised to David.” — Isaiah 55:3
The kitchen has an intense struggle with the television as the focal point of the family interplay. But until there’s an HD fridge-TV combo unit in the den, the kitchen wins out. Even on TV they admit everybody’s got to eat.
So it’s apt that in the middle of the kitchen table is a quart-sized Mason jar, the kind that — in the days before tin cans, Tupperware and microwaves made dinner more facile — great-grandmoms stuffed with peaches, tomatoes and all sorts of homegrown treats then vacuum-sealed with wax to be eaten months later, or donated to those who couldn’t do so.
This particular jar is a modern variation on Greatgran’s. Rather than wax, the lid is sealed by a gold plated metal top, held to the glass by a metal clasp. A rubber cylinder seals the lid that keeps fresh, not food but small, neatly folded squares of paper. Taped to the outside is a homemade white label on which a child has printed, “Our Blessing Jar.” One S looks like an N, the other is backwards, as is the J.
Written on the papers are notes about what happened to each family member that day. These are their blessings. It’s not the desired daily ritual originally hoped, but the effort allows them to stay in touch with each other and the LORD in this era when there’s more time commuting than communing.
More often than not the family writes at least three blessings of the day, trade papers to read aloud, then place in them in The Blessing Jar. Sometimes they write after dinner; often just before bedtime. The blessings are the basis of their nightly prayers. The blessings are big stuff — “Bonus check came.” Little stuff — “Didn’t argue with V.” Sometimes they overlap: “Had fun with…Mom/Dad/Family.” They’re often enlightening.
The Blessing Jar began as a time capsule to be opened on Thanksgiving. Often, though, the seal is broken in the middle of the night when someone feels hungry, overwhelmed, or lonely and ends up in the kitchen at 2 a.m. The Blessing Jar is where blessings are counted, instead of sheep; where life stops and roses are smelled; where thanksgiving isn’t a holiday but a daily reminder of God, from whom all blessings flow.