Friday, August 23, 2013

Introductory comments in the African American Heritage Hymnal

A Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. writes in the introduction to the African American Heritage Hymnal:

     The African-American generation of the 1950s and 1960s beginning in 1955, took the songs and hymns of our ancestors into our marches, jail cell, and mass meetings and fashioned the faith of a movement that reintroduced the African drum, chant, and music in an undisguised and transforming symphony of protest and revolution.
     I remember being arrested and taken to a crowded jail in Atlanta and hearing a welcome song echoing from another section of the jail, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 'round." I remember another occasion when the jailer called the Reverend A.D. King and myself  aside for a private conversation.  At first, we were a little suspicious.  but when he began to tell us how he did not want his "soul to be lost," we knew that the spirituality of our movement was akin to that of Paul, Silas, and John.  The jailer was carrying side arms with the authority to kill.  We were armed with righteousness and the power to heal.  The music of the movement did not create this power but communicated it and motivated the messengers, teachers, and leaders.  

J. Alfred Smith, also says:

     During the period from 1960 to the present, gospel choirs have appeared on college campuses.  Members of many of these choirs are atheistic, agnostic, Jewish, or otherwise non-Christian in their faith posture.  They have chosen to sing about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the providence of God, not for the sake of worship, praise, and adoration of God, but for the motivation of satisfying their own emotional needs or for the embracing of aesthetic appreciation for a musical-cultural art form.  The intentionality of African American musicians in the black church ecumenical family has always been to creatively express, with the community engaged in worship, the deepest feelings of love for and dependence on the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.
     May the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit be ever present as you utilize the resources of the hymnal. 

James Abbington made an important distinction between "spirituals" and "gospel songs".  We see here in Smith's comment that "gospel" has also been used to communicate messages of non-Christ-centered material.  I have encountered this in two music workshops now, where all the hymns had been depleted of all biblical references except for possibly a "Hosanna" or "Alleluia" somewhere.  I must say that many of them were quite beautiful songs about social gospel, freedom and such.  But we need to heed this reminder, that a true Gospel song will be grounded in the "dependence on God who has come to us in Jesus Christ."  We are not there to "satisfy emotional needs or embracing aesthetic appreciation" for their own sake.

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