Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Perfect Hymn: "My Mother is in My Mansion in Glory"

In the near-constant battle of today’s “worship wars,” two different ages tout the glories of their songs and denounce the woes of the “other kind of songs.” The battle line is usually one of style, which basically is synonymous with differing eras. People of all ages come to the same church and all of them want songs like they sang when they were growing up. Everyone likes familiarity. What we fail to admit is that our memories of our “golden days” are selective – we remember the good and forget the bad. We also fail to remember or realize that all eras have some of each.

To be sure, many of today’s popular worship songs are simply horrible. They suffer from unsingable tunes or from theologically weak lyrics. It is often hard to discern if you are singing a song to your Savior or to your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Also, what will future generations think of the depth of this song?
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord,
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord,
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord. Amen.
The older generation might hear such words and scoff at the theological airiness of such lyrics. I join them. However, their memories are selective. It wasn’t all “Power in the Blood” and “Amazing Grace” back in the day, either. Rodney Harrison, our Minister of Music, was just presented with a two boxes full of old hymnals and songbooks. A quick glance through these books from the 1920s-1950s brought many a raised eyebrow.

It was soon apparent that many of these songs centered on certain themes. In particular, I was amazed at the number of “going home” songs. Generations past seemed to focus a great deal on leaving this earth behind and were in a hurry to get to glory. I assume the recent Great Depression had a lot to do with that, not to mention World War I and the looming World War II. I'd want out of here, as well. But take a look at some titles from a few songs:

I Want to Go There, Don’t You?
When I Enter the Gate
I’ll Be Singing in my New Home
I Am Going to My Home
I’m on the Highway of Love
There’s a Mansion
There’s a Mansion in the Sky
And, my favorite, There’s No Housing Shortage in Heaven. Here are the lyrics:
There’s no housing shortage in heaven,
No searching for somewhere to live,
No signs “We are sorry, no children”
No bribes to an agent to give;
We’ll never be bothered by landlords,
Demanding their rent when it’s due,
Up there we may live in a mansion,
Rent-free, and utilities, too.

There’s no housing shortage in heaven,
I’m bound for that home all my own.
“Twas purchased for me by my Savior,
No mortgage, no trust deed, or loan;
I’m going to live there forever,
No taxes, no rentals to pay,
What a joy will be mine in that country divine,
When I come to my last moving day.
Grover C. (Grandad) Hite and J.R. (Pap) Baxter, Jr., 1946
Another common theme was “mothers.” I was stunned by the number of songs extolling the virtures of motherhood or mourning the passing of long-lost mothers. Here are some titles:

O Dear Mother (Once I had a precious mother . . . )
O Mother How We Miss You
Heaven is Nearer Since Mother is There
Once again, one in particular stood out. Here are the lyrics to Shake My Mother’s Hand For Me:

When you reach that golden city,
Friends and loved ones you will see;
When the saints come out to meet you,
O shake my mother’s hand for me.

There are times I often wonder
How can all these trials be?
Time can’t keep me here much longer
O shake my mother’s hand for me.

Over there you’ll meet my Savior
Many others you will see.
When you’ve had a talk with Jesus,
O shake my mother’s hand for me.
Eugene Wright, 1937
Some songs reveal religious attitudes of the day (that often remain). Here’s another good example:
Ain’t it a shame to work on Sunday,
Ain’t it a shame, a working shame
Ain’t it a shame to work on Sunday,
Ain’t it a shame, a working shame.
When you got Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
And you got Thursday, Friday and Saturday,
Ain’t it a shame.

Ain’t it a shame to joyride on Sunday . . .
Ain’t it a shame to gossip on Sunday . . .
Ain’t it a shame to lie on Sunday . . .
Cook and Whitworth, 1939.
Finally, I noted this song: R.E. Winset wrote “The Skeptic’s Daughter,” a true story in song. It contains 17 (!) verses.

However, either in today’s or yesterday’s music, none compare to the songs in “Songs that Are Different” by F.M. Lehman. This collection of songs published by Lillenas Publishing in Kansas City sometime in the late 1940s is amazingly bad. How bad? You’ll find out in the next post.

1 comment:

Vicar Josh Osbun said...

I am a collector of hymnals and a blogger of hymns. I just received a copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns that includes "Ain't it a Shame." I just posted about it on my site and included a link to your site and this post.

Thanks for your keen insight!