Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Old Refrain

During the Great Depression—capitalized because of the importance of the devastation it caused—in the thirties, entertainment was sparse and unaffordable. The money was just not there for even the least expensive of treats. Current comparisons being made about the state of our economy today and conditions during that period are ignorant, uninformed and revisionist history of the worst order. Forget the pundits and check with your relatives and friends over seventy-five for the real story. Persons standing in bread lines had little interest in the latest movies, books or stage performances. It became a society of self-providers.

Thus, when a “singing convention” came to town it was a huge event. For folks my age just the words “singing convention” will bring a rush of memory and good feelings. The event featured a huge tent set up in a vacant lot with wooden benches and at least one creditable musical instrument (piano, organ, or ?) and song leaders with sufficient lung power to overcome the lack of amplified sound. The theme was religious and generally non-denominational but the music was entirely familiar regardless of one's association with any protestant church. During the service, one of the visitors took the podium and railed against sin and encouraged repentance. However, the prevailing ministry lay in the hymn after hymn that the group offered. I have strong memories of scuffing my feet in the sawdust and seeing a sea of moving fans (provided by a local funeral home) in the hands of the audience as they sang songs of praise for their Lord. As usual, at the close of the service, there was an altar call with numerous responders. Occasionally, healing ministry was offered as well. God knew that everyone there needed some sort of help that only He could provide. It was a rite of summer.

A typical feature of most hymns is the refrain; that part of the work which repeats the central message of the song. I often find myself quietly humming or just recalling some of those heavily stressed verses. Today, I noticed I was repeatedly singing “we will walk in the light, in the light, in the light; we will walk in the light, in the light of God.” You remember the tune and probably find the recollection comforting. Music is one of His greatest gifts in that every person can participate and therefore enjoy an individual benefit as well as contribute to the massed congregation raising their voices. The repetition of ancient truths adds to our knowledge of the Lord and refocuses us on His work for us and the direction He seeks.

I also remember that in many hymnals, a scriptural reference was provided, from which the origin and intent of the verse were derived. As your familiarity with the hymn becomes more sound, time spent in mastery of the music then turns to more thorough understanding of the message. It then becomes circular in that the hymn suggests the theme and then that in turn suggests the hymn which then reinforces the message and on and on and on. As I thumb through many modern song books, this feature appears to be omitted.

The other thing which, although not missing in the absolute, has become less of a factor in the music of faith is the frequent reference to the unlimited power of God. Hymns which celebrate that majesty and omnipotence are gradually giving way to the softer side with more emphasis placed on “peace and love” and less on “All hail the power….” I believe they both deserve equal time in our vocal praise and neither should be ignored. When the subject arises I am frequently accused of sounding bellicose. It is then that I point out the level of courage and strength required to exhibit the love of others and the Savior. Many have suffered and died to follow that command to love one another. To not be armed with both is to meet the adversary unprepared.

I shall always be grateful to those who drug me off to those “singing conventions.” They led me to a vastly enhanced appreciation of Christ and His message. You can only imagine the magnitude of importance that we all placed on the event. Relative to the times, it was a major show; a marvelous training ground for a restless kid; and, a memory of one of the happiest times of my life.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

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