When Jesus Created Father’s Day

“This, then, is how you should pray…” – Matthew 6:9

Modern history – as in internet browser searches – will tell you how Father’s Day began as a 20th century holiday phenomenon with 19th century roots:  how the daughter of a Civil War veteran, inspired by her father who raised six children as a single parent, thought dads should be honored with a special day just as mothers recently had been saluted.

You’ll discover the Christian influence in its creation and the roles four U.S. presidents (Wilson, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon) played over seven decades to secure the annual calendar date as a national holiday.

LEARN MORE: Presidential Resolutions

You’ll learn about sales and kick around the best ways to honor your sire: a tie, food, a day off.  You’ll enjoy bits of whimsy through memes and other internet postings, like this:

What search engines won’t tell you is the quandary this holiday, despite its Christian infused roots, has brought to modern day leaders of musical worship. The quandary is selecting appropriate songs to honor fathers during Services of Worship.

It’s not a dissimilar issue than exists for Mother’s Day.  There aren’t a lot of role-specific church worship songs, and that’s all right. Celebrating Father’s Day in church isn’t one of the ordained feasts mandated by scripture. The pressure is, perhaps, self-imposed. After all, “father” is mentioned in the Bible over 400 times.

Is That All There Is?

It’s not that there AREN’T songs about fathers.  In fact, one selection “Good, Good Father,” written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown in 2014, became a Billboard No. 1 hit when recorded by Chris Tomlin in 2016. Ironically, in musician circles there’s a sense that this and similar daddy-related recent tunes have been sung so often, they’ve crept into the realm of Christian cliché – like annually trotted out Christmas carols.  Okay, more obligatory than cliché.

Nothing against the song, mind you, but the searchers keep asking, “Isn’t there something else?”

Albert Hay Malotte

The answer is, “Yes.” An overlooked modern tune is at the end of this story. However, there is a more powerful contemporary song to be sung to honor fathers, and its lyrics are found in modern ancient text. Albert Hay Malotte, an Academy Award winning composer, found the lyrics and in 1935 created the quintessential  fatherhood song, uttered not by a Christian, but Christ Himself.

Malotte called the song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and introduced to the world the oft-recited words of scripture that best express two principles fundamental to Christian faith: prayer and accountability.

LEARN MORE: “The Christian Origins of Father’s Day”

Interestingly, while “The Lord’s Prayer” is a popular selection among recording artists, as film underscore, and at public ceremonies (often a solo), it’s surprising to discover how often people are unaware that the words come from the mouth of Jesus and not just song lyrics or a denominational prayer book. This is true event among many Christ-followers.

By the same token, taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the prayer, it’s fair to say that long before June was established as a calendar month, Jesus created Father’s Day.

On a Hill Far Away

Jesus introduced “Father’s Day” in the midst of his sermon on a mount.  But this public premiere was the outgrowth of private preaching He’d conducted elsewhere with a small group of followers, as reported by the gospel historian Luke:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 (New International Version)

In that teaching to a small group of men, Jesus continued emphasizing their responsibility to address the needs of neighbors and family even at the sacrifice of personal comfort. These earthly actions, He said, are an example of how “your Father in heaven” tends to our needs, especially those who are persistent and consistent in communication.

These two traits, persistence and consistency, were the essence of the prayer that He repeated to crowds elsewhere, much like a keynote speaker with a stump speech. The text, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, is less a sermon by our contemporary comprehension than a compilation.  Maybe it ought be “The Mashup on the Mount.”

A church sanctuary design for a Sermon on the Mount series. (Photo: Jake Moreland)

A Personal Relationship With…

In the sermon, Jesus frequently reiterates the phrase “your Father” to His audience. Jesus’ use of the third person noun could be interpreted as a philosophical reference, keeping God at a distance. This is especially true in our times, depending on the listener’s paternal relationship.

Student ministry pastors often lament that among their greatest barriers uplifting The LORD to teens is because their concept of “heavenly Father” is tainted by negative relationships with their earthly father.

To a child whose father is absent from the house, or a family residing in a tyrannical household, passages extolling God’s goodness and protection, such as Psalm 68:13 – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” – and 38 similar promises, are empty rhetoric.  Equally damaging spiritually are improper behaviors by father-figures, including clergy.

All the more reason Jesus not only taught the prayer as a mechanism to overcome weaknesses of the flesh, He preceded it with cautionary “sermonizing” about the perils of blind trust. Not only did Jesus tell the people what “Your Father” knows, He also gave them permission to speak directly to Him, then showed them how. In doing so, Third person philosophy became first-person access.

What’s In A Name?

For numerous reasons, introducing direct access to God was earth-shattering. One, going back to the burning bush, when Moses asked His name, addressing God had been formal and fearful.

God said to Moses, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ ‘I Am’ has sent me to you.’ ”   

“I AM” was subsequently spoken as The LORD, Yaweh, El-, and other titles that spoke about His character and attributes. Yet none of these was personal.  Abraham was revered as the “father” of the Jewish nations, but Abraham was human and centuries deceased. And though Isaiah spoke of God in the First Person, Isaiah was a prophet and such references were not unusual. Prophets were supposed to talk to God. Besides, that was over 500 years earlier.

Imagine, then, what it may have been like to hear Jesus give this instruction:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven…hallowed be your name…’ “

For the disenfranchised listener, the statement is reassuring. It’s personal, yet maintains reverence.

The statement is also dangerous, for the another reason the prayer is earth-shattering is that it establishes a firm foundation on His road to the cross.

Jesus The Protestant

In both the prayer and it’s prelude, Jesus advocates appealing to Higher Authority than earthly leaders. His prelude to the prayer unflinchingly threatens the religious status quo, for in that introduction

  • Jesus busts the religious leaders for making public spectacles of prayer.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”

  • Jesus undercuts them as role models, diminishes their organized influence by eliminating the need for a priest as go-between.

“Do not be like them…for Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

  • Jesus distinguishes between lengthy, generic, rituals and symbols of other beliefs, and brief, earnest, specific, bold requests.

“Do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”

  • Jesus empowers personal prayer for even public matters.

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

LEARN MORE: A “Sermon on the Mount” Study Guide for self or group.

The battle between the role of Jesus and the influence of religious authority has continued since. It’s the battle Martin Luther fought that led to Protestant faiths (those that “protest” convention), and that exists today between those who define “evangelical” to share the gospel or be political. What’s more important is that then, as now, is not eliminate the role church leaders, just some perceptions. Simply, Jesus he invites – hypocrites and curious alike – to change actions and have the same personal relationship that He has with His Father.

Musical Hallmarks

Having laid the foundation, in eight simple yet challenging sentences, Jesus then gives the principles to cultivate that relationship: reverence, submission, confession, forgiveness, provision, mercy, grace, eternal life. Malotte, who also wrote scores to The Beatitudes and The 23rd Psalm, turned those poetic principles into lyrics that may also be considered Jesus’ Father’s Day Card.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, it is in heaven.”

Malotte adapted the King James Version, the primary Bible translation available in in 1935.  Other translations have been published since then, all copiously maintaining the accuracy and integrity of original Hebrew and Greek texts as best possible. There has been minimal push-back. Recently, however, a revision of the prayer recited in Catholic masses caused a stir seemingly as radical as when Jesus first intonation of “Our Father.” 

“Pope Francis Approves Change To Lord’s Prayer”

At Last, The Temptations & Christ

Reactionaries groused that the Pope was approving wholesale revisions in line with revisionist political correctness. That’s been a complaint of some translations adopting a gender-neutral tone. 

Reading beneath the headlines reveals that only one line is being revised…for clarity.  

Pope Francis

“Lead us not into temptation,” the Pope says, may be spoken in public recitation, as, “let us not fall into temptation.”  Reason? Bad English translation; bad theology, he said.

Though not Catholic, and as one who puts Christ’s teaching above the papacy, I appreciate this clarity.  For a long time “lead us not into temptation” has been had to reconcile, event for years for those who regular study scripture. Imagine its confusion upon new Christians, especially in light of the later assertion by Jesus’ brother James:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”

— James 1:13 (New International Version)

Besides, the edit is more sensible, less stressful than the ever-confusing, on-the-spot choice between saying “debts” or “trespasses” when asking forgiveness in some denominations.

Can We Only Imagine?

For all its power and simplicity, however, this prayer has also fallen into the cliché, rote chasm.  It’s often referred to as “The Our Father,” as if a mantra or magic incantation.  It could even be said “The Lord’s Prayer” is a misnomer.  A more apt title may be “The People’s Prayer.”  Or, “The Siblings’ Prayer,” since the “Our Father” kinship with the Son of God. The actual Lord’s Prayer, some instructors says, were Jesus’s words after his last supper records in John 17. He prayed for unity among His followers.

Now that I think of it, looking at both, “The People’s Prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” gives an interesting ideas to address the ills facing our world, especially our nation, this Father’s Day season.

Imagine if, in the context of Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christ’s followers employed His prayer template for self and leaders…not just church leaders but, say, legislators. Like:

  • What if, rather than “national days of prayer,” street corner incantations, or convention center revivals, individual Christ-followers simply went into our prayer closets and applied the principles of revering God, seeking His will and provision, asked forgiveness and forgave others?

“Give us this day our daily bread.
 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

  • What if, rather than reciting the “If my people…would pray” passage in 2 Chronicles, we followed Jesus’ guideline of confessing sins of greed, rudeness, and turned from our wicked ways of violence and blame?

“And let us not fall not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

Might “The Lord’s Prayer” enacted “heal our land?” If so, imagine the sound of voices, bursting from prayer closets, a grand chorus singing in unison:

“For thine is the kingdom,

and the power,

and the glory, for ever.


Would that be worthy of a Father’s Day playlist?   

Andrea Bocelli with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Songs for Father’s Day

As we did for Mother’s Day, here are a few songs about fathers that are standard and less well-known. The Marvin Gaye selection is bittersweet. A talented artist and troubled man, he was shot to death by his father. The sentiments here are, nevertheless, accurate and noteworthy as they are rooted in scripture. Thanks to Stephen A. Banks for this rare, bacon-fryin’ recording.

Original 45 rpm version that Marvin Gaye re-recorded on his album “What’s Going On?”

“God Is Love” (Album Version) — Marvin Gaye

“Daddy” (Inspired by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) — DJ LV

“Good, Good Father” — Chris Tomlin


More Than Childbirth

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also, his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.” — Romans 16:13

In the days when I regularly planned Services of Worship, Mother’s Day was particularly challenging, more challenging than preparing for Christmas, Easter or any other “holiday” related program. The planning challenge of those events centers on pouring through resources, coordinating production schedules, and assembling a team to share the load.

Mother’s Day is most personal. Mother’s Day is about the heart,
as Luke tells us in his account of the night Jesus was born.

I’ve often envisioned that Luke’s account, written years later after Jesus had returned to The Father, was because he interviewed Mary and asked, “What do you remember about the night Jesus was born?”

“Mary remembered these things and treasured them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19

While Mary’s recollections lead us on the path of gospel glory, countless other women have no such memories. They have not given birth. That is one of the dilemmas of Mother’s Day, a realization that smacked me on a Sunday years ago when I encountered a friend softly sobbing in the lobby during the service. She was a generally cheerful woman, extremely active in ministry, who had helped plan many programs which is why she stepped out during the Mother’s Day tribute.

En route to another assignment, I did not expect to see her alone, and did an about face to inquire.

“Mother’s Day is hard,” she said.

I thought she was reflecting on her deceased mother, as many do. Instead, she spoke of her unfulfilled yearning for motherhood. She did not question God. She had no rage. She just spoke her feelings which seemed an annual response. I had no pithy words of comfort. In fact, I was tongue-tied, and maybe admitted, “I don’t know what to say.”

She thanked me for listening and smiled her infectious smile.

Lesson 1: Listening speaks louder than words.

Remembering her words, the next Mother’s Day we expanded the scope of our salute. Nothing elaborate. No big pronouncement. Just broadening the idea of what motherhood is and how it exists whether or not childbirth is involved.

The next Mother’s Day my friend stayed in the service. She did not cry. She thanked me, and I her, and I think of this moment with my single friend each May.

“And he called his wife ‘Eve,’ because she was the mother of all living.” — Genesis 3:20

When it comes to acknowledging Mother’s Day in Services of Worship, it’s important to expand our concept of what, and who, a mother is. That includes remembering there are women who have never gone through childbirth, but who are maternal. That includes uplifting women who may have been mothers but who, for assorted reasons, did not deliver. That includes saying thank you to those women who have, for whatever reason, become surrogates for our own mothers whether those females are work colleagues or classmates.

Paul felt this way about Rufus’ mother, and remembered her so in what may have been the first Mother’s Day card at the conclusion of his letter to the Roman church.

The greeting is significant for reasons beyond Mother’s Day. The greeting has a voice to us today in light of scriptural comprehension, and
contemporary issues about inappropriate clergy relations, #MeToo abuse, and #ToxicMasculinity.

Paul’s writings are sometimes criticized as accusations that the Christian church is antagonistic toward women, relegating women to second-class citizenry. Examples include his letter to the Corinthian church, that women should be silent in the worship, and to Timothy, that women should dress modestly and not hold positions of teaching men. Admittedly, the statements are complex and merit further study; for as with many New Testament writings, culture and context of the period must be taken into account. And so…

Consider: Paul was writing to churches that were developing multi-cultural (Greek, Roman, local) and inter-denominational (Jewish and Gentile) congregations. Paul was writing to elders and pastors about establishing order in corporate worship. So statements such as “women should keep silent” and not teach men would have been rooted in his Orthodox Jewish upbringing which included separate synagogue seating for men and women. Un-Orthodox churches being planted based upon common belief in the Jewish Messiah may not have had this background, and thus these statements may based more upon introducing established corporate order than in personal opinion.

The ministry of Priscilla, painting by Harold Copping (1920)

However, even had perspectives overlapped, chronology and experience should also be considered. After all, keep in mind that before he personally met Jesus, admitted that Jesus was Messiah, and submitted to teach Christ’s purpose to reconnect Jews and Gentiles with God, Paul intentionally, proudly pursued persecuting and killing Christ-followers.

In either context, therefore, consideration must be given for the plausibility that Paul’s perspective on women in ministry may have expanded as his mission journeys took him beyond his Orthodox community. Writing to church leaders who did not have his multi-cultural experiences may have been a way to speak to colleagues who struggled with gender responsibilities just as they struggled with questions about whether to circumsize Gentile Christ-followers.

Regardless, in the context of Romans, Paul’s naming the women who supported his ministry — Priscilla; Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis — plus the sister of Neuris; and Rufus’ “mother, who has been a mother to me as well,” indicates an understanding that contradicted gender prejudice in his era, and eludes many in ours.

If naming the women wasn’t sufficient, the ultimate point is that he entrusted delivery of the Romans letter to Phoebe, very similar in how Jesus entrusted the first report of his resurrection to be delivered by Mary Magdalene.

Moreover, Phoebe delivering “Greetings” to the 28 people is not merely being cordial, as in sending a Hallmark card. A modern equivalent of the importance of “Greetings” might be that when the recipients opened Paul’s Hallmark card, the voice of Aretha Franklin would sound forth, belting: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Which was written by a man: Otis Redding.)

That’s the same principle behind “Greetings” and the laud behind ministry mothers today. Just as Paul thanked his women aides with no particular holiday (does “Just Because” count?), in an era with resurgent feminism, it’s important to remind male and female Christ-followers of the importance of women in ministry and culture. Paul’s letter is a model. So is reviewing Old Testament scripture and the relationships of Jesus.

Mother’s Day seems an apt time.

“Who is my mother…? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” — Jesus (Matthew 12:38-49

Throughout our congregations, in our classrooms, in the houses down the street are women who do the will of our Father on earth as it is in Heaven. An array of women across generations who may not have offspring, but who have Eve’s instinct of motherhood and responded to those who cry, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”

They are teachers, attorneys, widows, First Ladies, would-be preachers, nurses, and sorority sisters. They are the cousins and aunts who care-take, fix meals, run errands, lend an ear, dole out advice, or simply pray when a parent or spouse is absent or otherwise engaged.

These are the REAL housewives whom even modern women must see within themselves: a woman of virtue, a woman of natural beauty; a woman who neither curses nor is cursed; a woman who acknowledges mutual respect — just as men recognize their interaction to women is modeled, not by culture, but by Christ.

On the cross, among Jesus’ last actions was to tend to his mother’s needs by passing her care to the disciple John.

He said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” — Jesus (John 19:26-27)

Jesus did not pass judgment on the woman accused of adultery. He praised the woman who washed his head with perfume and his feet with her tears while the men nearby chastised Him for doing so because of her “reputation.” As mentioned earlier, it was women to whom he revealed himself and gave the responsibility of telling others he was resurrected — this, in an era when a woman’s testimony was scorned.

In our times, fewer people recognize the difference between gender abilities and gender responsibilities. While there are gifts each has that are unique, there are others that are best designed to be used collectively. While Scripture introduces, and Jesus reinforces, this union by noting, “the two shall become one flesh,” a modern revelation of the connection has been expressed in the film, “Jerry McGuire.” After recognizing he has taken his girlfriend, Dorothy, for granted, the self-serving protagonist tracks down his forsaken beloved and confesses, “You complete me.”

It could be said that oneness — completion — is at the core of discussions regarding “feminism” and “women’s rights.” If so, Christ-followers have a great contribution to the conversation by demonstrating wholeness in Jesus, the first “feminist,” for ultimately, even Paul acknowledged and reminded the church in Galatia, in Christ “there is neither male nor female” for we are all one.

In some ways, this is what Mother’s Day celebrations, and greetings from Paul’s letters, are about: affirmation. That, as people, our contributions make a difference and are appreciated.

Whether or not a woman has given birth should not be the litmus test for motherhood, any more than a man’s ability to fertilize is indicative of being a father. What is essential is recognizing a woman’s gift to nurture and complete God’s image in our families and communities. That gift is worth worshipping and you don’t have to give cards and flowers to celebrate that.

You don’t HAVE to, but they sure help.

For Further Conversation

We cited some New Testament Scripture samples where women are edified. What are your thoughts on these passages? What other illustrations might you add?

5 Songs of Praise for Mothers & Others

“No Charge” — Sisters of Glory (Thelma HoustonCeCe PenistonPhoebe SnowLois Walden and Albertina Walker.)

“Rely Upon Jesus” and “(Glory) Mary’s Song” — Vikki J. Myers

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” — Richie Havens

“I’ll Always Love My Mama” — The Intruders (“Soul Train” extended play)

Music of “Freedom Song”

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” — Psalm 68:6a (New International Version)

All music that tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ is gospel music.  Yet in some circles “gospel music” is confined to a niche — a certain style of music, generally music associated with African-Americans. 

True, while there are variations of “gospel music” depending on region (usually a modifying region of the United States: Southern gospel, Appalachian gospel — is there such a thing as Asian gospel or Indian gospel?) , for the purposes of this conversation, track with the premise that in many views, the phrase “gospel music” is synonymous with “black gospel music.”

In that sense, components of “gospel music” are symbolized by two easily identifiable images: a choir, and robes.  These symbols come from a powerful aesthetic in African-American heritage; yet there are dangers in defining gospel music and African-Americans by these two symbols alone.

One danger is that of co-opting the sound of gospel music for other messages.  Think, for instance, how often you have heard “gospel music” in a film, television program or commercial, none of which is associated with the gospel of Christ? Enjoyable as the sound may be, the listener must discern the context.

The other danger is underestimating the impact of various styles of music upon liberating Africans in America.  That liberation developed as the robed-choirs connected the music of the times and the regions where they lived with the lyrics from which they were rooted:  the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures those that professed good news gospel music of Jesus Christ as He intended — to link man and God.

Hear “Free Indeed” based on John 8:36.

More than Black’s History

Exploring that link, and telling the story of how gospel music has developed in the United States is the purpose of “Freedom Song,” one of the ensemble plays from the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries history cycle.  The script was created in 2011 as reader’s theater presentation in response to a  request for a church’s African-American History Month program.  Since then, “Freedom Song” has been presented annually as part of church and corporate commemorations in February.  Because of those performances, “Freedom Song” has received subsequent off-season productions – not just during African-American history month. 

Its  themes extend beyond February, beyond the topic of physical slavery in the U.S., beyond the confines of the American shores.  The weaving of Scripture, song history and musical genres create a tale of liberation through Christ from an assortment of enslaving circumstances and behaviors.

Indeed, taking into account the headlines of any given day — perhaps, even, the last hour — it’s natural to conclude that if cries and flights to freedom are universal, then perhaps the key to liberation is beyond the state of any particular union. Or nation. This ageless human cry to escape through a designated liberator became more recognizable as the music listened to over time and in different places became more poignant when heard collectively, especially as the tales of how they were created or utilized were discovered.

Films & Noir

Over 30 songs from America’s colonial slavery to millennial technology bondage are sampled, dramatized and  in the program that is staged as an abbreviated one-act or movie-length  outreach complete with a post-performance talk-back.  In the course of the evening, the audience receives new insight into traditional, beloved gospel music, and is introduced to newer selections that don’t have the gospel music sound, but deliver the gospel of Christ message.   Researching the songs that inspired the script provided more insight than performance times allow.  Nevertheless, the insights and sounds are too important to NOT share.  And so, we compiled most of the songs that inspired the script’s creation into a playlist, assembled on our KIT Ministries YouTube Channel, and have written short essays about each song or song sequence.  We will post those essays and the songs on these pages and our social media pages in coming days as our commemoration of  how Scriptures have shaped African-America.

For starters, we present the entire playlist here along with a brief introduction to the show.   By listening to the playlist, you’ll find unlikely musical connections between  Czechoslovakian classical composer Anton Dvorak and American folk icon Paul Robeson; poet James Weldon Johnson and rappers Doughboy the Midwest Maestro and DJ Kool Rod;  Peter, Paul  & Mary, and Mavis Staples.  You’ll also see rare performances by Sister Rosetta TharpeMahalia Jackson and Richie Havens, and provocative movie clips the voice of African-Americans and  gospel music in film.

​Visit these FacebookTwitter and Pinterest pages for daily posts on individual songs.  Most of the songs will be posted during African-American History Month.  However, don’t be surprised if posting continues into the days after Feb. 28.  Just as African-American history occurs beyond the end of February, the gospel of Christ cannot be contained to just 28 days.

Please consider adding the entire “Freedom Song” playlist to your YouTube channel.

Michael Edgar Myers Freedom Song
Videos of Paul Robeson, Burt Lancaster, Eddie James influence the “Freedom Song” script.

A History of Gospel Music

For those who wish to learn about the genre of “gospel music,” we recommend, “Make a Joyful Noise!  A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America,” available in print or audiobook.  The book was written by Kathryn B. Kemp and is narrated by KIT Ministries Founding Director Michael Edgar Myers and award-winning audiobook actor Barbara Ann Martin.

Make a Joyful Noise Cover

Dr. Kemp gives great detail and colorful anecdotes about how many gospel songs in the U.S. developed through painstaking adaptation and recording from their roots among African Tribes and maintained throughout despite the efforts to disassociate the slaves from those roots on these shores.

Kemp also relates the development of those songs on record, mostly through the efforts of Rev. James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.


MEMos and Musings

Because we were asked to create a new script based in faith and African-American history, we are not touring “Freedom Song” this February. It’s the first time in five years. “Freedom Song” is available after Easter, and our new show, “Strolling Down MLK Street,” has limited availability through the spring and thereafter.

Since both shows evoke questions and conversation, we want to make available not just the music and song stories that we’ve employed, but also other research and commentaries about faith and ethnicity in America. Not just because this is African-American History Month. Just because they’re fascinating and sometimes fun. Like, we hope, the three below: previous faith-race-and-history blogs from Worship Wonderings and a MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers that seem to still have relevance as well as an occasional off-kilter perspective about race. Feel free to read, ask questions, share a thought, and enjoy.

Related African-American History Stories

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

“Look, Grandfather (Nubians)!”

MaMa & Obama: 10 Years After

Carol Story: As Others Wonder, The Faithful Pay It Forward

A great difficulty with contemporary celebrations of Christmas is the misconception of the events and timing of the birth of Jesus. This occurs even among Christians Believers, particularly in Western cultures. The problem? The prevailing concept that Christmas climaxes on a singular date: December 25.

Yes, there are further celebrations of Christ’s birth in assorted denominations – the 13 days of Christmas continuing through the Epiphany in Catholic and related congregations; and the remembrance in the Orthodox Church observed January 7, or 12 days after the “traditional” Christmas. 

However, if you look around, come December 26, “the Christmas spirit” begins dissipating. Observe three tendencies:  the urgency to remove decorations; the rush to return gifts; the reduction of Christmas songs in public.  Even the most earnest pastors and worship music leaders may wonder how many weekends after December 25 should the congregation continue singing “Christmas” songs in Services of Worship.

FURTHER READING:  “When the 26th Is Over,” a poem for reflection

The transitional songs of the Kingdom Impact Theater production “Carol Story” belie the idea that Christmas music should go away immediately after December 25.  Indeed, a number of Christmas selections build on the concept of evangelizing – that is, telling others the Good News of salvation through Messiah’s birth. Lyrics of three carols,  “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “I Wonder as I Wander,” can be viewed as tools in the on-going witnessing concept first noted here in “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”  Taken as a whole, these lyrics should remind Christ-followers that the birth of the baby was the beginning of the Christmas story, not its conclusion, and their a responsibility to share this information. 

LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

To grasp this idea, it’s necessary to review the scriptural timeline of the Christmas narrative rather than Hallmark cards.  The Biblical story recorded in Luke Chapter 2 indicates that Jesus was born at night. So, unlike us who often open presents at the crack of dawn, Mary and Joseph’s gift of parenthood didn’t arrive until nightfall … at the END of the day.

(Jesus wasn’t swaddled in cloths on Christmas Eve, either, for it didn’t exist yet.  Though we’ll give some allowances for a right-after-midnight arrival, meaning the shepherds COULD have been stirred by middle-of-the-night celestial viewings).

Lifesize Nativity Chicago
Lifesize nativity in downtown Chicago represents the worship vistiations that may have actually taken place over a couple of years. (Photo: Michael Edgar Myers)

By the time the shepherds saw the stars and singing angels, and walked (or ran) to see this thing, arriving at the manger took time. And it wasn’t the same evening as the three visitors from the East recorded in Matthew Chapter, whose account of the Wise Men’s arrival likely was two years later.

Indeed, for point of conversation, it’s possible that the Wise Men’s encounter with King Herod was less about the birth itself, but as a result of what occurred afterwards:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. —

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 15:18 (New International Version)

Three things did happen that night that continue in today’s Christmas season:  1) people came to worship the child, believing the Old Testament (Hebrew) prophecies were fulfilled after 500 years; 2) witnesses went and told others the significance of the child’s birth; 3) others came to discover for themselves, and began to ask questions.

This worship and investigation led to the wonderfully imagined nativity scenes which decorate our landscapes and homes.  However, these are a composite of what happened over time, not on the night of, Hallmark notwithstanding.

Three songs in the middle passage of “Carol Story” capture this sense of “shepherds’ telephone line” that inspired the crowds to visit Bethlehem and ponder what occurred. Their lyrics inspired a poetic encounter between the shepherds heading to the manger and the people they meet on the way to Bethlehem. Those people, like us, have questions.

“Shepherds, why this jubilee…?”

“Angels we have heard on high…”

“Come, all ye faithful! Join the triumph of the skies!”

(Sotto voice): “I wonder, as I wander…”

— Songs Lyrics, adapted in “Carol Story”

The questioning lyrics come from a latter-day carol from Appalachia, representing a person curious about the possibility the newborn babe could be the prophesied savior, while at the same time questioning one’s own belief in Christ during a time of crisis, period.  Questioning occurs even among those who have heard the scriptures for years.  Ask a teenager, as we discovered at a high school dinner party years ago.

LEARN MORE:  The Virgin Shall Be With Child, Really?

The story of how this folk carol from rural 1930s America came to be a beloved Christmas witness is its own miracle.  The accompanying video, a live performance by Vanessa Williams, maintains the reflective intimacy of the lyrics despite an orchestra accompaniment.

VIDEO MOMENT:  “I Wonder as I Wander,” captured in revival after jail

That solitude is contrasted by the acappella power of Italy’s SoundDiva Classical Choir whose harmonies in the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a scaled-down version of how the Heavenly Host may have sounded singing, “Gloria! In excelsis Deo,” (“Glory to God in the Highest!” Which is echoed as “Carol Story” some to its climax (in days to come).

DISCIPLE SOMEONE“Angels We Have Heard On High,” A French carol anglicized

The idea of inviting people to Christ, and musically sharing the gospel door-to-door and outside church buildings, is captured in the remarkable violin-driven flash-mob “O Come All Ye Faithful,” by The Five Strings. This relatively new video reached the Kingdom Impact Theater offices via a friend’s private social messenger as a Christmas greet to be shared.  And so, we do. Here. Interspersed with James Chadwick’s translated lyrics of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a wonderful interview dialogue: A question asked, a story told, an invitation made to join. Heading to Bethlehem, we imagine they encounter a new curious fellow: a little drummer boy.

SoundDiva Classical Choir

SoundDiva is actually a production studio in Italy that’s dedicated to improving the quality and production. The assembled choir in this video is directed by Antonello Martina for part of a series demonstrating the work quality by the studio.

LEARN MORE: SoundDiva Recordings.

The Five Strings

The Five Strings are a performing family band from Utah. The band is made up of 5 siblings, ranging in ages from 8-18. The Five Strings’ high energy concerts showcase eight different instruments including violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, percussion, five-part harmonies, clogging, and choreography.

LEARN MORE: The Five Strings YouTube Channel.

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa L. Williams is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first woman of African-American descent to receive the Miss America title in 1983. Since then her critically acclaimed work in film, television, music and Broadway has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including 4 Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, 3 SAG award nominations, 7 NAACP Image Awards and 3 Satellite Awards. She often performs in the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert, from which this clip was recorded.

LEARN MORE: Vanessa Williams’ autobiography.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: Africans in America Go To The Mountain

It may be fair to conclude that the first Christmas carol created on the shores of the U.S. was by Americans of African descent. That is, African-Americans.

Keep in mind that, in #CarolStory, the ten-minute play by Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, the definition of a Christmas carol is a song that includes the salvation message of Christ amid the story of the birth of Jesus.

Until “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was put to paper by John Wesley Work Jr., in 1906, the traditional carols sung in the States originated in Europe. Work collected, transcribed and published numerous songs born from the oral traditions of African-American slavery. Many were sung by the original Fisk Jubilee Singers after the Civil War.

LEARN MORE: John Wesley Work & Fisk University Singers

“Go Tell It…” embodies the faith many slaves deeply held in Christianity as their route to freedom once they unraveled the scriptures for themselves. This contasted with acquiescence to the limited Bible knowledge misappropriated by their owners to justify enslavement.

As with many slave songs, “Go Tell It…” is coded. The title implies the direct evangelical imperative to go and tell others of Him that Jesus gave after His resurrection; His earlier declaration that even the rocks would tell who He is, and the post-birth sharing by the birth by the shepherds and the Wise Men. Such allusions made the song palatable to owners who missed the potential abolitionist cues “to go” from place to places and prepare for liberation.

The latter idea was not lost upon civil rights advocates in the 1960s who adapted the tune and lyrics as a freedom song.

Many recorded arrangements of “Go Tell It…” embellish the lyrics with joyous gospel funk rhythms, and live choirs embrace the audience sing-along qualities. Either interpretation is effective. The #CarolStoryPlaylist includes video versions that show the universality of the lyrics, and represent the sacred passion of the Negro spirituals which Works captured from the Jubilee Singers.

The playlist again employs a rendition by the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, that reflects the soulful hope characteristic in spirituals.
The universal influence of “Go Tell It…” is illustrated in two videos borrowed from the playlist of “Freedom Song,” the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries historical program about African-American music and Biblical scriptures. One is a recording by a choir in Oslo, Norway. The other, by the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, captures the abolitionist spirit by adapting the lyrics as a civil rights anthem show.

LEARN MORE:Adapted Lyrics and Recordings History.

One More Thing…

John Wesley Work Jr.
John Wesley Work Jr.

Not as well known as the European composers before him, many of the authors of gospel and Christmas songs afterwards, or even the Fisk Jubilee Singers whose music he catalogued and chronicled, John Wesley Work Jr. Is an important person to know and study. And so, we link.

LEARN MORE: John Wesley Work Jr. Biography.

LEARN MORE: Songs Adapted, Arranged by John Wesley Work Jr.

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s classic, unplugged recording, 1950.

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.

LEARN MOREMahalia Jackson Biography

Mahalia Jackson is also one of the individuals whose story is included in  the Kingdom Impact Theater production, “Faith, Hope & Love:  History-Making Women of Faith,” a one-woman performance by Vikki J.  Myers.

The Oslo Gospel Choir

Oslo Gospel Choir is a Norwegian gospel choir centred in Oslo, Norway conducted by Tore W. Aas. The choir started in 1988 and has become one of the most successful in Europe and America. They have released around 20 albums. They are very much influenced by the American black gospel sound and Andraé Crouch is a major source of inspiration, with his approach in taking the gospel out of the churches and into other arenas, reaching a larger audience. The choir has sold over 1.5 million albums.

LEARN MORE: Oslo Gospel Choir History

Peter, Paul & Mary

Peter, Paul and Mary was an American folk group formed in New York City in 1961, during the American folk music revival phenomenon. The trio was composed of tenor Peter Yarrow, baritone Noel Paul Stookey and alto Mary Travers. The group’s repertoire included songs written by Yarrow and Stookey, early songs by Bob Dylan as well as covers of other folk musicians. After the death of Travers in 2009, Yarrow and Stookey continued to perform as a duo under their individual names.

LEARN MORE: Peter, Paul and Mary History.

Carol Story: Hark! It’s The Gospel, Charlie Brown!

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.

As with Handel’s “Messiah,” discussed in the previous Carol Story essay on songs about the night Jesus was born, the development of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” exemplifies  the ever-evolving collaboration (some say interference) of artist, patron and theologian.

The original poem which begat the song, written in 1739 by Methodist pastor and song writer Charles Wesley, was entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  Wesley’s hymn was an epic with over 10 stanzas. It included words that showed Wesley’s intellect but left listeners scratching their heads.  Wesley’s pastor friend, George Whitfield, pointed this out and suggested revisions, simplifying the text.

Half of the Wesley-Whitfield stanzas survived into the next century and made an impression on English composter  William  Cummings. Cummings liked the lyrics, but not the slower, Easter-season tune Wesley had composed (“Christ  The Lord is Risen Today.”) However, Cummings felt the words were compatible with the tune of the popular “Gutenberg Cantata” recently written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.  Cummings believed Mendelssohn’s symphonic arrangement captured the implied awe and power of a sky full of “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” the passage in the Gospel of Luke that  inspired Wesley’s hymn.

The “Collaborators”

In 1855 the Wesley-Whitfield-Cummings-Mendelssohn  composition debuted with  the structure changes familiar today, but maintaining the essence of the words first recorded centuries before in the gospel of Luke: 

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men.” —

 (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)

LEARN MORE:  Comparative lyrics.

Centuries later, these words and music created controversy when used in what is not one of the most iconic annual Christmas television programs, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” the 1965 TV special that almost didn’t occur.

The overt gospel presentation that author Charles Schulz included in the script had CBS network offices and sponsors concerned.  They were okay with the “Peanuts” gang rendering one of the most poignant versions ever of “Hark! The Herald…” as they caroled at Snoopy’s house with Charlie Brown’s revived tree to end the show. 

LEARN MOREGlenn McDonald, CBS & Linus’ security blanket.

What scared the executives was an earlier scene when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the gospel of Luke in the pageant rehearsal. This makes Charlie Brown one of the  few programs that directly speaks the gospel of Christ for a non-church audience.  There was the rub.  Fearing a public backlash about show including the story of Christ in Christmas, CBS wanted the scene cut. Schulz stood firm.  No gospel; no “Peanuts.”  And unto us, a franchise was born.

LEARN MORELinus recites what Christmas is all about.

Many wonder if – or how – the should could be created and aired today.  Nevertheless, the evolution of “Hark! The Herald…” from lengthy, erudite poem, to symphonic anthem, to simple children’s song, to uncomfortable gospel message, point out the enduring strength of the essay researched by Luke the historian.

Poetically, the visuals of the lyrics as presented in #CarolStory starts a sequence of dialogue between the shepherds and the angels.  “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” another carol more recently associated with a children’s cinema favorite (“Gremlins”), is added to the conversation to  begin the evening’s journey.  First , hearing, then seeing the angels,  the shepherds are moved from fear to comfort as they interpret the angels’ mission and  instructions to begin  a Pied-Piperesque journey to Bethlehem, picking up a drummer boy and others as they go away to the manger.

The videos here — the  majesty of Mendelssohn’s  anthem in  Alan Silvestri’s arrangement of “Hark! The Herald…,” contrasted with its  quiet message to Charlie Brown and connected by the intimacy of Johnny Mathis asking, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — allow us to experience various ways the Lord speaks:  with herald trumpets and a sweet, still voice.

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live

Alan Silvestri

Alan Anthony Silvestri is an American composer and conductor known for his film and television scores. He is best known for his frequent collaboration with Robert Zemeckis.  He is a two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee, and a three-time Saturn Award and Primetime Emmy Award recipient. 

LEARN MORE: The Film Music of Alan Silvestri.

Vince Guaraldi

Vincent Anthony Guaraldi was an American jazz pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated television adaptations of the “Peanuts” comic strip, as well as his performances on piano as a member of Cal Tjader’s 1950s ensembles and for his own solo career which included the radio hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind. 

LEARN MORE: The Guaraldi-Peanuts Connection.

Johnny Mathis

John Royce “Johnny” Mathis is an American singer of popular music. According to Guiness Music Chart historian Paul Gambacini, Johnny Mathis has sold well over 360 Million Records Worldwide making him the 3rd biggest selling artist of the 20th Century. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.

LEARN MORE:  Johnny Mathis Biography.

LEARN MORE: Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

Carol Story: A Handel on Flash Mobs, Hallelujah!

Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song:  a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly  the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.

What would you do?  Sit slack-jawed!  Complain?  Hide?   Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?

The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation.  In their case, “What the…?” may not have been  an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid. 

George Fridrick Handel
Handel created “Messiah” for an Easter concert, not Christmas.

​The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores.  Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and ​Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.

Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt.  “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called  “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.

LEARN MOREHow Handel’s Messiah Came About

However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing.  This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began.  Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch).  With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.

Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences.  But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.

Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.”  It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God.  (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)

Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host,  the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news.  In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn.  Sort of.  As we shall see.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live

Viral flash mob post that started as a customer thank you.

Alphabet Flash Mob

 On November 13,  2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch.   Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash,  the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date. 

LEARN MORE:  http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com