“O Brother Man, fold to thy heart thy brother. . .” (John Greenleaf Whittier)

The Quaker Abolitionist Whittier

The Quaker Abolitionist Whittier

Well, Phooey!

I can’t put my hands on my copy of the hymnal Christian Worship published jointly by the Northern Baptist Convention and the Disciples of Christ in 1941.

It’s the hymnal I first played hymn tunes from. Somewhere in the mess of books in my apartment is my mother’s copy of the hymnal from the ‘50s.

By the time I used it, the Northern Baptists had changed their name to the American Baptists, thinking that 90 or so years was long enough for Christians to carry on the polarization of the Civil War.

Christian Worship was (is) a fine hymnal. Very few “gospel hymns,” and many tunes and hymns that don’t immediately come to mind as part of the Baptist tradition. For example, I remember when I was in junior high school discovering and immediately learning to play “O Sacred Head now Wounded” to the Lutheran tune O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden with a harmony by J. S. Bach. I don’t remember if we sang the tune in church services, but it was a favorite of mine long before I realized the importance of the Bach harmony.

I learned other hymns and tunes from that hymnal that are perhaps unfamiliar to Baptists today. Perhaps unfamiliar to any churchgoers today.

A random example, apropos of nothing except that I was humming it today for some reason, one of my favorites was one of my father’s favorites. The tune is a stirring, visceral Welsh traditional tune, Blaenhafren. An unusual tune for Baptists to be singing—and not widely used in other hymnals. Even more unusual is the hymn itself—“We are living, we are dwelling,” by the second Episcopal Bishop of Western New York, Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1840).

We are living, we are dwelling, in a grand and awful time,
In an age on ages telling; to be living is sublime.
Hark! the waking up of nations, Gog and Magog to the fray;
Hark! what soundeth is creation’s groaning for the latter day.

The words have been altered in Christian Worship to omit Gog and Magog, an obscure Biblical reference to the “end times.” My father was not a “dispensationalist” (neither pre- nor post-millennial) and would not, I think, have been nearly so fond of the hymn with those references. He thought of the hymn, rather, as a call to Christian faithfulness, which is undoubtedly its meaning.

Another of my favorite tunes was Acadia, composed by W.T.C. Morson and sung with the hymn “O Brother Man, hold to thy heart thy brother,” by John Greenleaf Whittier, the second most important 19th-century American poet (after Longfellow, of course).

I loved Acadia because about the time my voice changed and I could sing bass, the church choir sang an anthem setting of the tune. The tune is obscure. It’s not in any of my collection of hymnals from the ‘50s, and neither the Cyber Hymnal nor hymnary.org has it in midi format. The hymnary.org has one record of it—as hymn number 515 in the Christian Worship hymnal.

On June 11, 2014, the Pew Research Center published the results of the largest political survey it has ever undertaken, interviewing over 10,000 Americans. The title is

Political Polarization in the American Public: How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life.

I heard the discussion of the survey on PBS Evening News on June 12.

Frankly, I was shocked. I’m one of those polarized Americans. In fact I do believe Republicans in the form of Ted Cruz, Antonin Scalia, and the Koch Brothers are dangerous—are in the process of destroying the “American way of life.” With the cooperation of the NSA, of course.

My political views are, I fear, polarized from nearly everyone either conservative or liberal. They are even farther left than most of my friends, all the way to (shall I say it in public?) socialist. Where is Eugene V. Debs when we need him?

Most Americans, when they hear the word “socialist,” immediately jump in their minds—without any logical progression of ideas—to “godless communism.” The concept of the European “Christian Socialist” parties is impossible for Americans to comprehend, I think.

Polarizing.

Polarizing.

In every way I’ve been able to discover, I am an old style European “Christian Socialist,” except that it’s a little strange for someone whose belief in God is as tenuous as mine these days to self-identify as a “Christian” anything.

For reasons I don’t understand—but for which I am enormously grateful—after listening to the PBS report of the Pew Trust survey, what came to my mind was the hymn “O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother.” In my mind I was singing it to Acadia.

Because I’ve been unable to find a copy of Acadia and can’t quite play it out of my head by ear, I researched the text and found it as a hymn in the Southern Baptist Hymnal of 1951, The Baptist Hymnal. The tune is Ilona by Joseph W. Lerman (1865-1935).

So here is a tune by a 19th-century American organist, immigrated from England, and a text by one of America’s great Quaker Universalist Abolitionist writers, played by a sort-of Christian Socialist Texan on an organ built by a California organ builder. Several missed opportunities for polarization.

Many Americans will have a problem with the text from the very beginning because we don’t use the quaint masculine to mean both brothers and sisters. Perhaps being willing to take Whittier’s language for what he meant it to be would be a first step in trying to “fold to our hearts our brothers” and work on ending our personal participation in polarization. The Pew Trust survey was true yesterday, but I, for one, hope the time comes soon when it is no longer true.

O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where mercy dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

For he whom Jesus loved has truly spoken:
The holier worship which He deigns to bless
Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
And feeds the widow and the fatherless.

Follow with reverent steps the great example
Of Him Whose holy work was doing good;
So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple,
Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.

Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangor
Of wild war music o’er the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.

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