Church

November 16 2012
15

The church of my youth was filled with hymns. We occasionally snuck in a spiritual song (There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit) but we mainly stuck to our guns. We were a people of the Good Book and the Hymn Book. When it came to music although our spirit professed equality for every song, our flesh was weak and we tended to cycle through a select group, sorta like spending all your time only reading the Gospels. Among our red-letter hymns was Count Your Blessings, more commonly known as Count Your Many Blessings. If this hymn found its way into a Sunday evening sing-a-long you could bet your tithe the minister-of-music (remember them?) would say something like “Let’s sing a verse, then pause and have folks stand up and share a blessing, then we’ll sing the second verse and so on.” Everyone knew this was coming but it still caused widespread grins on the faces of my Baptist brethren and sistren, every time.

I confess I went through a season where I pooh-poohed such things; you know, the young disciple of deconstruction, shaking fist at the church and the hypocrisy and the shallowness and the tepid commitment, blah, bleh, blech. Some of that jiggy is necessary, throwing off your inhibitions and finding a faith of your own. And some of it is simply chomping at the bits to bark at any moon that rises. Nowadays I’d love to sing a verse of Count Your Blessings then stand up and count a few and hear the same from others.

There’s no way the poem below can be sung to the tune of Count Your Blessings; trust me, it won’t work, can’t even force it. But maybe the tune can serve as a backdrop as one man stands and grins and counts. You might just find yourself tempted to do the same.

Nowadays my knees ache and my eyes

require bifocals but all four of them still

work – hallelujah. I don’t turn young

girls’ heads anymore, which in begrudging

honesty is a huge blessing as each day has

trouble enough of its own that’s for sure.

 

Nowadays I give little time to the

hemorrhage of news but I do shed tears

when I see a ragged old flag flapping in

the wind, for men and women gave their

lives for me and to whom much has

been given much is still required.

 

Nowadays I’m cotton to that church who

gave me ribbons to memorize scripture ‘cause

the wonderful words are hidden in my heart.

Those saints allowed me my Journey but demanded

Count Your Blessings and Everlasting Arms, songs

that now rise unbidden to haunt me with hope.

 

It is true that joy recurs.

 

15 comments

  1. I love this, John. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. John,

    You nailed it here… “you know, the young disciple of deconstruction, shaking fist at the church and the hypocrisy and the shallowness and the tepid commitment….”

    This is me, or maybe was me as I’m trying to move from it, but it’s likely still me and I’m not far enough away yet to notice how far I have to go. (Boy, that was convoluted.)

    Thanks for your words, Blase. As usual, the did not disappoint.

    Reply
    • Seth, I’m far from having arrived; there’s still a tendency to shake a fist. I try instead to shake someone’s hand.

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  3. “Those saints allowed me my Journey but demanded Count Your Blessings and Everlasting Arms…” Yes. Love.

    You know, as a sistren who came to the party fashionably late, and from too far north/west, I’m a little bit jealous of this rich heritage to which you gave little thought (I’m guessing) as a kid, but appreciate, now. Not to take anything away from my rigorously hip nom-denom church, but those old hymns…they do have a way of helping to give pause in a culture with little care for pausing.

    Guess the best I can do is sit back, and get by with a little help from my friends like you, who change my mind about boring old poetry.

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    • Thanks, Gretchen. I have to be a witness of that heritage; it wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was good.

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  4. You journeyed me this morning back to the church of my grandmother. Ha, made my heart laugh, smile and sing the hymn “The blood, the blood, Oh the powerful blood.” I referred to her church recently in a post as the place of offbeat claps and hallelujah shouts. I am grateful for my upbringing and grateful for the freedom of worship in contemporary scene today. God knew I would need both….thank you for walking me down memory lane today.

    Reply
    • Jennifer, the ability to be grateful for it all is, well, just maybe what its all about. Thanks very much.

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  5. I see myself in that church. And as I raise my three babies, I am committed (I tell myself) to raise them with a more organic view of Jesus. To let them experience His love and Holy Spirit power without the “Yes, ma’am, No sir” and the punishment for everything being writing out an appropriate Bible verse 50 times.

    But.

    But those “wonderful words are hidden in my heart.” And I wonder if I would have found myself here if I hadn’t passed through there.

    As always, thank you for sharing your poetic and honest words with us.

    Reply
    • Brenna, that’s where I am too, not whitewashing those days but realizing I wouldn’t be where I am/who I am without them. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

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  6. My four-year-old sang “Count Your Blessings” this morning at his preschool program. The things on his “thankful tree” included: bears, camping trips, the Bible, Mommy, Daddy, that his name means “King”, and clowns. Glad I made the list.

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    • Kelly, I’m glad you made the cut too…and I think its great he mentioned ‘bears’ first.

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  7. Ah, yes. . . the Sunday night Sing (in CA we shorten it to just one word, rather than the hyphenated -a-long. . .) I tell people often that I am more grateful than I can find words to say for my fundamentalist early years. For two reasons: the scripture memory and the music. Nailed it home with this one, John. I’m glad and grateful not to be there theologically any longer, but I am forever glad that’s where I started. ( And my mom, though losing her memory rapidly, still has verses that pop into a slot now and again, bringing her joy and fresh reminder that she is not alone in this struggle.)

    Reply
    • Thanks, Diana. Yes, those verses may do more to keep us than we know.

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  8. “… to haunt me with hope.” Love that. Thankful it chases us down in the simplest of ways. A little like this post, it sneaks up on you.

    Thank you for this, John.

    Reply

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