Posts by Mark Edwards

Making Sense of the Hymnal: Mary and Joseph

Besides baby Jesus, His mom gets most of the press in the Christmas story and perhaps rightly so. For a long time, though, I've thought the birth of Jesus was as much a step of faith for Joseph as it was for Mary. Though not knowing exactly how she conceived, Mary believed the angel Gabriel and was completely confident that the Holy Spirit had fathered her baby. Joseph's faith walk had an additional step -- believing his wife-to-be AND the angel who later appeared to him. Mary has a baby growing in her womb while Joseph's probable task was to keep explaining the unbelievable though blessed situation to people in his circle and beyond. Mary carried the evidence; all Joseph possessed was others' word. 

Through the years, hymn writers and carol crafters have melded sparse biblical record and poetic imagination to tell the ancient story. But as already suggested, there is relatively much biblical record about Mary compared with very little of Joseph. In the Celebrating Grace Hymnal, there is a four-item Mary section that includes, "My Soul Proclaims with Wonder," and "Tell Out, My Soul," both based on Luke 1:46-55 -- Mary's song in response to Gabriel's announcement to her. Between those two versions of the Magnificat is the actual scripture passage and the hymn, "Young Mary Lived in Nazareth;" the latter moves the story forward including Mary's visit to Elizabeth, a brief mention of Joseph, and the journey to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. 

But a subtle thing occurs a few hymnal pages later. On the left side of the spread appears, "Gentle Mary Laid Her Child," but facing it on the right side is an entire hymn centering on Joseph. That occurrence is not accidental nor is it coincidental that their tonal centers are closely related, meaning the two hymns could be sung in worship seamlessly, one following the other. 

Although the Joseph hymn, "The Hands That First Held Mary's Child," is mostly author imagination its message is completely plausible and seems to capture some of the weight Joseph bore and the worship he experienced in his journey of faith. Walk alongside this Christmas giant for a spell. 

The hands that first held Mary's child

were hard from working wood, 

from boards they sawed and planed and filed

and splinters they withstood.

This day they gripped no tool of steel, 

they drove no iron nail, 

but cradled from the head to heel

our Lord, new-born and frail. 

When Joseph marveled at the size

of that small breathing frame, 

and gazed upon those bright new eyes

and spoke the infant's name, 

the angel's words he once had dreamed

poured down from heaven's height, 

and like the host of stars that beamed

blessed earth with welcome light. 

"This child shall be Emmanuel, 

not God upon the throne, 

but God with us, Emmanuel,

as close as blood and bone."

The tiny form in Joseph's palms

confirmed what he had heard, 

and from his heart rose hymns and psalms

for heaven's human word.

The tools that Joseph laid aside

a mob would later lift

and use with anger, fear, and pride

to crucify God's gift. 

Let us, O Lord, not only hold

the child who's born today, 

but charged with faith may we be bold

to follow in His way.

Words by Thomas H. Troeger © 1985 Oxford University Press


We've gotten used to the idea that Mary -- likely a teenager at the time -- was special and, though only a common person, accepted God's call to participate uniquely in the Kingdom. But this hymn helps me see that Joseph, even more"under the radar" and unlikely than we've thought of Mary, was trusted of God and also was faithful to God to be and do a unique thing. I believe it took them both to bring the Prince of Peace safely into the world. 

And if God trusted these two, do you think perhaps He also calls and trusts you and me to do our individual part in delivering His peace to our world? I do. 

- Mark

The Lost Cajun

I seem to happen onto some of the most interesting people on airplanes. Friday night embarking on a flight to Charlotte, NC, for a Saturday morning rehearsal in High Point for a Sunday Celebrating Grace Hymnal dedication, a friendly gentleman a little younger than I took the aisle seat on my row where I was seated next to the window. (I sleep better next to the window on the right side.) Waiting for the rest of the cabin to load, we made a bit of small talk and somehow it came up that he was originally from Louisiana though he now lives in Colorado. The colorful logo on his polo-type shirt read, "The Lost Cajun."

"What's The Lost Cajun?"

"It's a chain of restaurants a buddy and I started six years ago after my wife died. I've been here today checking on our Hendersonville store. My wife and I operated a fishing camp near New Orleans where I was raised until Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and then the oil spill. We had enough of that so we moved to Colorado, where she later died." 

"My wife also died a year and a half ago. No fun, is it!"

"No, I was paralyzed for months. Are you dating yet?"

"Naw, not even on my radar. You?"

"I'm almost there. But, when you've had the best for 32 years..."

"I know what you mean; Honey and I were married almost 45 years."

For the next hour, we -- mostly he -- talked about our common experience of losing our spouses to cancer, faith, do's and don't's of operating a restaurant, hymnody which we both prefer, etc. 

"Griff" is 61 years old and admits to only an 8th grade education. He has eleven stores in four states and is looking to have 100 within the next decade. 

"When we go to scout out a possible location, we don't force anything. If something doesn't feel right about a deal, we always walk away; perhaps it will work out later. If a prospective franchisee doesn't share our culture of high values, we don't do business. There are no shortcuts to the way we do business, treat customers, or fix food."

From there, he went into specifics of selecting a spot, demographics, traffic patterns, etc., etc. -- all very interesting even to me the musician. 

"How do you know all that stuff, where did you learn it?"

Leaning across the empty seat between us as if to tell me a secret, he said, "I'll tell you what, most of it is plain ol' common sense. People do some of the craziest things that get them into trouble simply because they don't use good common sense. Employees, for example -- they'll make or break you. I hire good, more qualified people who share my values to do most of the upper level work, and I mainly train local employees -- they call me the Culture Consultant. I spend a week training all of the locals to do their job our way, but in a wholesome environment where, 'please, thank you, and you're welcome' are expressed at every level all day long. We've been able to make a difference in young people's lives by insisting on high standards like that. Parents have come to me and thanked me for teaching their kids how to work, be responsible, courteous, and have high standards. I've made a fair amount of money, but I've always given half of it away."

Although I don't know much about him, I'm still impressed with Griff. In many ways, he reminds me of Boompa -- Honey's adoptive father -- who was about Griff's current age when I started showing up around the West house. (Boompa died three months shy of 104.) Boompa's education ended at the 7th grade, but he, too, was a hard worker, had and lived out high standards, without fanfare loved Jesus, made a fair amount of money in the grocery business, quietly gave a lot of it away -- money and groceries -- making people better in his daily life and routine. 

Griff and Boompa seem to be good agents of "peace on earth, good will to men" about which we sing and hopefully think this time of every year. Those guys -- both giants -- remind me most of Joseph in the Christmas story who I plan to talk about here next week. 

In the meantime, here are a couple of stanzas of rather new Advent hymn in the Celebrating Grace Hymnal that I doubt Griff or Boompa ever heard but certainly live(d) by. 

Christians, all, your Lord is coming, calling you to serve in deed.

See the ones who hurt and suffer, hear their cry and act with speed.

Set all selfish ways behind you, purge your heart of sinful greed.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ in you will meet their need.


Christians, all, your Lord is coming, hope for peace is now at hand. 

Let there be no hesitation, walk in faith where life demands. 

Bear the word that God has given; share the birth that stirs your soul.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ will come and make you whole.


Words – Jim Miller, 1993 © 1995 Chalice Press


Although Griff had run out of business cards to give me, I plan to try to track him down in the days ahead. But first, a bowl of real Cajun gumbo up in Hendersonville seems to be calling my name. 

-- Mark

People, Look East

Advent began Sunday and already the songs and services of the season are a blessing. The Youth Choirs – almost 200 teenagers – annual Advent Concert at Brentwood UMC was beautiful and what they do and sing is quite remarkable. And then the Service of Remembrance and Hope downtown at Nashville’s First Baptist Church has always been meaningful to me but, of course, more so since Honey died in 2015.

One delightful Advent hymn I learned while helping build the Celebrating Grace Hymnal is “People, Look East.” It is a fresh, joy-filled text alerting people of earth, furrows in the field, and angels in the air to do their respective things to make ready because “Love – meaning Jesus – the Guest, the Rose, and the Lord is on the way.” The hymn is set to a bright French folk melody that sort of dances off the page.

For ages, east has been symbolic of hope, of new life, of resurrection. In the creation story, God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden. The prophet Ezekiel talks about the east gate of the Temple where the glory of God hovered over them. The magi saw His star in the east, and east is the root word for our word “Easter.”

The sanctuary at FBC, Nashville is a majestic, resonant room, not well-suited for every kind of music, but the absolute best for congregations and choirs to sing. The room itself is part of what kept Honey and me there thirty Christmases in a row. “People, Look East” was not written for our church, but the hymn’s title, if not also its imagery, has something to say to that congregation. You see, to the west of the sanctuary and to the backs of most of the congregation is not only the setting sun, but also the historic Customs House where bankruptcy court is conducted – both suggesting the down side of life. To the south of our campus is the huge and encroaching Music City Center (and soon-to- be three high-rise hotels) housing nearly every form of commerce imaginable, none of which ultimately satisfies anyone’s soul. To our north and across bustling Broadway are the central business district, the state capitol, and entertainment hub which also come up short in life’s matters that really matter.

But in the midst of it all the congregation sits in worship facing east, right into the magnificent resurrection window at the base of which is the baptismal pool – itself a symbol of new life, rebirth, and eternal hope. The massive window is the most abstract of the set of nine. It not only invites the worshiper to face east but also to look up, following the facets of blue, red, and green glass to the Easter lily-like white at the very top, opening upward toward the heavens.

Sanctuary at First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

Sanctuary at First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee

It is not coincidental that many churches face east and rightly so. But it seems to be more intentional and dramatic in this place.

People, look east, the time is near

of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the hearth and set the table.

People look east and sing today:

Love, the Guest is on the way.


Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare, 

one more seed is planted there.

Give up your strength the seed to nourish,

that in course the flower may flourish.

People, look east and sing today:

Love, the Rose, is on the way.


Angels, announce with shouts of mirth

Christ who brings new life to earth.

Set every peak and valley humming

with the word, the Lord is coming.

People, look east and sing today:

Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East - words by Eleanor Farjeon (1928)
© 1960 David Higham Associates., LTD. 


If you are not familiar with this hymn, follow this link and listen:

May this Advent season be a time to begin to “look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.”

- Mark

A New Book of Psalms

Our Tuesday morning Bible Study group recently began a rather new book, Making Sense of the Bible, penned by Adam Hamilton, a Methodist pastor in Kansas City. Already the early stanzas dealing with the nature of scripture -- Biblical geography, timeline, writers of the Old Testament, when and why they wrote, and which books did and didn’t make into the Old Testament -- are turning on lights within me that a faith-based college degree in religious education and a pair of seminary degrees (in music of course) failed to do. In no way do I fully credit those institutions nor my junior college Bible teacher with those failures. My upbringing left a deep impression that critical Biblical scholarship somehow debunked the authority and power of Holy Writ. Growing up, a steady stream of revival preachers leaning toward “the Bible says it, I believe, and that settles it” left its mark also. But in my heart of hearts those slants didn’t seem to ring completely true even back then and the theological environment amidst which I’ve lived most of my adult life hasn’t done much to change my misimpression. I’m not blaming that either. I should have investigated further my hunch. 

The fact is, much of the Bible began as oral tradition, told and retold over generations rather than scripted by the finger of God or transcribed verbatim from the voice of God. Imperfect people eventually put the old stories in writing and later on, other mere mortals decided which of those writings made the cut and which ones would not be included in the manuscript as we know it today. But none of the above diminishes or dilutes the message of love or grace or power or judgement of God conveyed in scripture. Personally, it elevates the sacred text and makes me want to read more of it – it now makes more sense. I feel more connected to it and inspired by it realizing that God has trusted His eternal kingdom work to His people, people not unlike you and me. And God still does. 

I have performed as preacher exactly once in my life -- at a Celebrating Grace Hymnal dedication several years ago. (Since no additional invitations have come, methinks word has gotten around.) Preparing that single Sunday wonder, it occurred to me that God did not cease his revelation when the Bible came into being, that some of God’s more recent revelation can be found in other places -- for me, most readily within hymns scripted by other inspired writers. 

Those of you who followed our Notes From Susie Facebook page while Susie (aka Honey) was sick and those who have read the Notes From Susie book know how she and I drew on the depths of hymnody during her illness as have I since her death a year and half ago. Most of those hymns came from the Celebrating Grace Hymnal that I was privileged to help build. That book and those hymns were like discovering a new book of Psalms. Adam Hamilton reminds us that many of the biblical Psalms were written in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, during and after the Exile, encouraging the people to rebuild their lives and temple after great national turmoil and hardship. In like manner, those hymns were like psalms to Honey and me during our extended journey.

Occasionally in this space for the next little bit and in the spirit of Adam Hamilton, I’m going to try my hand at “making sense of the hymnal.” There’s a lot of Bible in the hymns…there is also inspiration…and more recent revelation. Perhaps we will mine some new and remember some other. 

This morning I’m reminded of a line from “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” a hundred and fifty year old hymn about the Bible -- “beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord.” 

And another – “singing His praises all the day long.”

- Mark

Boy, We Didn’t See That One Coming, Did We?

Boy, we didn't see that one coming, did we? We thought the election would be closer and I suppose the popular vote indicates that it was. 

BUT the historic election is over -- mercifully -- and we have a new President-Elect who needs and deserves our prayers and support. It is a little scary, but also offers a modicum of excitement that things will be different. Speaker Paul Ryan said of Mr. Trump: "He saw something that the rest of us didn't." That's encouraging. I sure want my President to see more than I. It's a tough job, his.

I shared this hymn in the previous post. In the Celebrating Grace Hymnal it is included in the Commemorations section - mostly intended for church dedications and anniversaries. But I encourage us all to consider it again as a call and resolve to sorely needed unity in our divided country.


In unity we lift our song

of grateful adoration, 

for brothers brave and sisters strong,

what cause for celebration.


For those whose faithfulness

has kept us through distress, 

who've share with us our plight, 

who've held us in the night, 

the blessed congregation.


For stories told and told again

to every generation, 

to give us strength in time of pain,

to give us consolation.


Our spirits to revive

to keep our dreams alive, 

when we are far from home

and evil seasons come; 

how firm is our foundation.


For God our way, our bread, our rest,

of all these gifts the Giver. 

Our strength, our guide, our nurturing breast

whose hand will yet deliver.


Who keeps us till the day

when night shall pass away, 

when hate and fear are gone

and all our work is done, 

and we shall sing forever.

In Unity We Lift Our Song – words Ken Medema, 1985


The long campaign was ugly and the rhetoric poisonous, but Jesus' command to us remains to be salt and light in our world no matter the circumstance. Let us remember that it is "with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes."

- Mark

Sundays and Heart Friends

Honey would have loved last Sunday! 

Our entire married life, actually our whole lives, both of us spent Sunday all-mornings at church -- although she got out of the habit her one year at Baylor. Then, she married a minister of music, and the routine returned in earnest. Even after I retired from church staff music ministry, we continued the practice of spending Sunday mornings at church. And I still do; I just like it and it feels like home. 

Sunday morning church began as usual, at nearby Brentwood UMC 8:15 a.m. service. My pew mates -- Anne to my left, Kent to my right -- and I were displaced one row forward. A children's choir began the service and early arriving parents/grandparents apparently mistook "our seats" for theirs. But, that was okay, and we even "passed the peace" to them at the appropriate time. Nice folks they. Honey would always sit beside Anne; they enjoyed one another, sometimes a little too much and to the point that, on occasion, I had to call them down. Following a wonderful sermon, we had Communion, and then I scooted out to make a dash downtown to practice with Gordon who was singing an arrangement I scripted last summer.

'Twas a big day at FBC. The congregation approved a new ministry plan and also voted to sell a parking lot, half of which we had sold a few months ago using the proceeds of both to build a new education building that fronts and opens up to the now bustling Broadway. There is so much new development in our downtown neighborhood, we needed to improve our house also. FBC hasn't built a new building since the sanctuary in the late 60's for the church's Sesquicentennial Celebration (1970). Hopefully, the new building will be completed in time for the church's Bicentennial Celebration in 2020. 

As our pastor Frank delivered his powerful and personal sermon on congregational unity, I sat there celebrating that our church is a place of grace. Not all churches are; ours is and in large measure because our pastor is a person of grace and has been a model of grace for now nineteen years. Honey would have loved the service and being down there with our forty-year "heart friends" as she would say. 

I pulled in at Rafferty's for Sunday lunch and happened onto my thirty-year friend Lloyd who blurted out: 

"Are you here by yourself?"

Looking around in all directions, I responded, "it sort of looks that way."

"Why don't you join Sue and me?"

"Well, if it's okay with her, sure!"

"Yeah, she's nice and will be glad to have you."

I did, and it was a delight. He even used some of their "milk and egg money" to buy my lunch. Lloyd and Sue have been friends ever since they came to Nashville to become President and First Lady of the Baptist Sunday School Board in the mid-80s. Lloyd was a person whose counsel I sought several times when I was in full-time ministry. Those two are the real deal. 

Driving away in the fall beauty of the day, Honey came to mind. Being with "heart friends," hearing Gordon sing while I accompanied, meaningful worship, and then lunch with long-time friends, I could almost hear her say, as she often did -- "we are so blessed!" Sunday, we found out that a friend is going to have a baby. And they fact that this baby is out of wedlock would only draw Honey toward this sweet expectant mom even more, for one reason, because Honey was also born out of wedlock. There's little doubt that Honey would have traded  her usual Sunday afternoon nap for a trip to the fabric store to begin making a baby quilt for that special one. 

Yep, Honey would have loved Sunday.

Here are some good stanzas we sang downtown during worship -- sung to the tune, EIN' FESTE BURG (A Mighty Fortress is Our God). You know the tune; come on and sing it with me: 

In unity we lift our song

of grateful adoration, 

for brothers brave and sisters strong, 

what cause for celebration. 

For those whose faithfulness

has kept us through distress, 

who've share with us our plight

who've held us in the night, 

the blessed congregation.


For stories told and told again

to every generation, 

to give us strength in time of pain, 

to give us consolation. 

Our spirits to revive

to keep our dreams alive, 

when we are far from home

and evil seasons come; 

how firm is our foundation. 


For God our way, our bread, our rest, 

of all these gifts the Giver. 

Our strength, our guide, our nurturing breast

whose hand will yet deliver. 

Who keeps us till the day

when night shall pass away, 

when hate and fear are gone

and all our work is done, 

and we shall sing forever.

In Unity We Lift Our Song –
words Ken Medema, 1985


I love the images our friend Ken uses in this lyric. He sees many things far better than we.

- Mark

Update from Mark Edwards

Warning – Travelogue Ahead!

Since we visited last, I’ve made two trips a week-longer to Texas and a 36-hour-shorter to Macon, GA and back. Both were profitable and enjoyable.

Halfway during the flight to Texas, I broke the conversational ice across the empty seat between me and my several-year senior female row-mate, “I’m trying to decide whether to sleep or read” – having already done both.

“Yeah, I have that problem also sometimes.”

“Are you from Nashville?” I asked.

“No, I live in Tulsa; I’m returning from visiting with one of my sons in Columbia (TN).”

“Oh, I live in Brentwood.”

“I know where that is; my husband and I used to live in Nashville. He went to school there and then to school in Fort Worth.”

“I went to school in Fort Worth also – Southwestern Seminary.”

“He did, too!”

It turns out that she – Bev Tresch – used to work at what was once the Baptist Sunday School Board. I told her of my time at First Baptist Church Nashville, and she spoke fondly of Dr. Franklin Paschall who was pastor when we came to FBC. Later she reported having won a Speakers Tournament at our church when she was a teenager. She, Honey, and my now deceased long-time friend, Gayle Oldham, raised their kids at the same time. We talked about and celebrated Gayle’s husband, John, recent remarriage.

From there, we began talking about our deceased spouses, and Bev reported that she and her high school boyfriend had reconnected in recent years. 

“Do you get to see him often?”

“Maybe once a year. He lives in Tullahoma (TN) and sometimes we see one another when I come to visit my son. It’s nothing serious and we certainly don’t plan to get married. He’s a very nice gentleman and it’s good to connect again.”

“But no marriage plans, huh?” picking at her a little.

“No, you know what they say – ‘purse or nurse!’”

We had a good laugh. I hadn’t heard that one before and apparently she wants a part of neither. We continued back and forth. As we parted ways, I suggested that she add a couple more rhyming words to her adage – “curse and hearse.”  

I looked in on our 90-year-old Dad who is not have a good time at all in assisted living. He’s ready to “change his address” as he says, meaning to die. It would be merciful, indeed. He’s in pretty good shape for his age; my siblings and I only wish he could redirect some focus toward positive things rather than spending most of every day stewing over the dark side of everything. One day I loaded him up and took him down the hill a half-block to his former independent living spot for lunch with his former table mates. It was a grand time to be with Milton and Martha Smith and Eloise Fluth. He’s a “rock star” down there. Entering the place, the office folks came out to make over him. Other residents were so glad to see him, every dining hall waitress all gave him a big hug and even the kitchen crew made it a point to come out and see Mr. Edwards. Lunch was interrupted several times by people coming to greet him. Getting back in the car, it was back to the dark side rather than a grateful afterglow of what had been a delightful couple of hours. Too bad. I hope I can remember not to repeat such.

Brother Randy and I spent of a lot of quality time together, some of it traveling some 400 miles west to meet our cousin Tim and wife way west in Ft. Davis. It is serene and beautiful there and we had a great time in the same manner as last October.

From San Antonio to a night as sis Judy’s place – a great intermediate stop/visit/food midway toward Dallas. Beside blood-line, Judy and I share the loss of our spouses in 2015. Not a good year at either house.

Friday with Fort Worth friends – extended lunch with college roommate Royce and wife Patti, then overnight with the Springfield clan in Azle. The Springfields hosted Honey on weekends before we married. Their daughter Christy was 11 year old at that time; now she has a grandchild – which makes me 82, I’m sure of it. Yikes!

Before catching my return flight Saturday, I was able to have brunch with Honey’s high school friend/college roommate/wedding attendant Virginia. Virginia lost her husband unexpectedly last month. Fortunately, she has strong faith, a supportive faith family, and daughters nearby. She’s a strong gal and is going to make it, but right now is a tough time. To hear her bear witness to God’s work in her life through this unexpected tragedy is a blessing indeed.

Thinking about the people seen and places experienced in the last couple of weeks reminds me of this opening stanza of Psalm 24:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”

And close behind that thought is this old gospel song refrain that I love:

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
some through the fire, but all through the blood.
Some through great sorrow but God give a song
in the night season and all the day long.”

God Leads Us Along – G.A. Young

Update from Mark Edwards

Getting older has its down side for sure; but there are also good sides.  For one thing, the more years we’ve lived, the more of life we have experienced, if we have paid attention, our perspective is broader.  We seem to gain a greater sense of what really matters.  Franciscan priest Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward talks about two halves of life.  The first half involves preoccupation with establishing one’s identity – climbing, achieving, and performing.  The second half usually associated with age involves challenges, loss of control, broader perspectives, and sometimes suffering. Rohr contends that this “falling down” is in fact moving upward, thus his book title.

Looking back, Honey’s two-year illness and eventual death seventeen months ago seems to have been the occasion for our transition into the second half of life. Her second half went by far too fast. I’m still greatly saddened by what she/we went through, I miss her every day and would have her back in a heartbeat; but I don’t regret my move, though forced, into this new territory.  I’m even beginning to enjoy the second half.  I reckon the fact that I’m still doing a bit of achieving and performing says that, to some extent, I may still be resisting that transition although it is different now – no climbing: I do those things because I can and want to rather than because I must.

In this space in days to come, maybe I’ll try to share some of my second half scenes, continuing to draw on the beauty and depth of hymnody that continues to light the path.  Here’s a good second half hymn scripted by a saint who may have lived most of her life in the second half. I think she had a bit of advantage – she was blind:

All the way my Savior leads me; what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me; cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial, feeds me with the living bread;
Though my weary steps may falter and my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me, lo! a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me; oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest for me is promised in my Father’s house above:
When my spirit clothed immortal wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me – Fanny Crosby 1875

Encouragement and a "Sweet Amen of Peace" Unto All

I'm encouraged. A series of experiences the past couple of weeks, and as recently as worship this morning, lifts my outlook a bit. 

Like you, I am dead tired of all the us vs. them, me vs. you, this vs. the other that seems to permeate every corner of our culture these days. The election year political debate has only risen the expectation that this shall be the new normal. We can't seem to get on with much main business, show much positive progress in the world, or make any headway on serious issues around us because we're wasting our time and energies fighting the other side. And the more talk there is about people at odds with others, the more at odds we seem to become. 

But of late I'm encouraged. Here's why.

The first day of school in metro Nashville, some snafu in the central office resulted in school buses never showing up to pick up probably hundreds of students. The local evening news selected school mom Sarah Galloway to bear witness to the impact on her family of three bus-riding boys. She reported their inconvenience, but rather than throwing the school administration under the bus (that never showed up), she quickly praised her boys' teachers, principals, and those doing their best to fix the problem. Her testimony and photo even appeared in the local newspaper the next day. I was never more proud of a FBC Nashville "child, then teenager" and now a responsible adult in all my life. Sarah gets it!

One early morning last week I happened to do my walk with Dr. Cynthia Croom, the Executive Director of the Metro Action Commission who was telling me about her side job -- a non-profit that encouraged and equips African-American women in leadership positions to intentionally reach out to women of different cultures and religions in an attempt to understand them and hopefully build community with them for everyone's good. 

This past Sunday morning at Brentwood UMC, senior pastor Davis Chappell is in the middle of a sermon series entitled, "Counter Cultural." This week's installment was basically that we need to grow up, quit acting like babies, get along, be spiritual people, and live lives that look more like Christ our sure foundation than the carnal Corinthians in the early church. Then later downtown at FBC, student minister Tim Wildsmith preached a fine sermon about actually doing justice rather than only talking about it, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. 

So I'm encouraged to see and hear some "counter-culture" sticking its head up. Oh sure, wars, rumors of war, and political rhetoric still are with us and will be, but we can all make some difference and have some positive impact as we walk our pilgrim journey. 

I told Sarah the other day her testimony reminded me of a line in the second stanza of "Lead On, O King Eternal" --

"...for not with swords' loud clashing or roll of stirring drums, [but] with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly Kingdom comes."

A "sweet amen of peace" unto all.

- Mark

An Update from Mark Edwards

Returning from a week in Texas a couple weeks ago last Sunday night, I mentioned having made a couple of unexpected connections during the week. Here's the first: 

Having led music at Second Baptist Church in Memphis July 17, my flight to Texas for the Baylor Alleluia Conference was out of Memphis rather than Nashville... but not until 6:50 p.m., Sunday evening. We were through with church before high noon and what does one do in near 100 degree Memphis for the next 5-6 hours when hotel check-out is 12 o'clock?

My cell phone had died, so I found a Verizon store who put a charge on my phone while I walked across the street for lunch. (Never mind that I had gone through those motions of charging the phone all night at the hotel.) I honestly can't remember what I did the first half of the afternoon other than find a place to change from my Sunday clothes and drive to the outskirts of the airport to watch a few FedEx planes take off. But apparently Sunday is not a busy cargo day, so that didn't last long. Oh well, I found the long-term parking spot, gathered up my gear, and headed to the airport. Thinking to myself, "It's already 3:30, so we'll be boarding in only three hours." WRONG! 

As is my custom, I check my luggage rather than carry it on so I use the wait time to get in a walk. Security lines almost nil and having a pre-pass, I walked right through security. Now, it's barely 4:00, so I strike out on my walk. I've seen every inch of every concourse at the Memphis terminal at least four times. About halfway through the third lap, I noticed the monitor that reports my 6:50 Southwest flight is now 7:25. Oh good, another 35 minutes to kill. 

Some two hours into the wait, and being somewhat of a wood-worker, a handsome wall display of finished slats of various kinds of wood caught my eye so I stopped to have a closer look. Having nothing better to do and plenty of time, I read the labels, compared grains, and was conducting a fairly thorough inspection when I became aware that someone had walked up beside me to do the same thing. After a bit, she said, "Hmmh, they don't have any madrone?"

"Did you say madrone? I've never heard of that."

"Yeah, we have it in Texas."

“Texas? I grew up in Texas and have never heard of madrone. Where in Texas?”

“Comfort. It’s in the Hill Country.”

“Comfort? I got married in Kerrville (19 miles away).”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding. What is madrone?”

She began to describe madrone as her son, entering Baylor this fall, walked on toward our gate. 

“So do you live in Comfort?”

“No, we live in San Antonio.”

“I grew up just south of San Antonio. Have you lived there all your life?”

“No, I used to live here.”

It turns out that Karen is the daughter of the late Bob Troutman, once pastor of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church in Memphis in the 60s. He was one of only two white Baptist pastors who participated in the march of the sanitation workers during the height of the civil rights movement in Memphis that led to the death of Martin Luther King. The other white Baptist pastor was Brooks Ramsey, who was then pastor of Second Baptist Church where I had led music that morning. She and her son had been in Memphis that weekend for centennial celebration of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church which has now merged with Shady Grove Presbyterian Church. (Somewhere along the line, Prescott had called a woman – Nancy Sehested – as pastor at which time they were disfellowshipped by the Shelby Baptist Association.)

We ventured down toward our gate and arriving noticed that our 6:50, 7:25 flight was now 7:55. UGH. But, it did provide time for the three of us to eat a bite and for me to learn more about her father. Preparing for the anniversary trip that weekend, Karen had gone through a box of her father's papers, sermons, writings, et cetera, in her attic which blessed her again. I asked her if any of the history of those two pastors had been written and she didn't know. So if any history buffs out there know anything about that, I'd like to hear from you. Seems like it would make a wonderful doctoral project for someone.   

Karen said they sang the hymn below at their anniversary event that morning. It’s a civil rights hymn:

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.


What a delight to have that kind of serendipitous experience along the way.  Stay tuned for another.

- Mark