On Sunday, October 4, 2015, my dad shared the following communion meditation in the College Church assembly (Searcy, AR). The words come from various songs and hymns that Dad strung together, and he read this aloud prior to “the Supper.” I post this now, first, to honor the Christ; and second, to remember my dad’s ways and means.
Jesus is all world to me—My life, my joy, my all.
Tell me the story of Jesus.
“Abba Father, Father, If indeed it may,
Let this cup of anguish Pass from Me, I pray;
Yet, if it must be suffered, By Me, Thine only Son,
Abba, Father, Father, Let thy will be done.”
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble.
Were YOU there when they crucified my Lord?
Upon that cross of Jesus, Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me.
There behold His agony, Suffered on the bitter tree;
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
We place You on the highest place.
O sacred head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded With thorns Thine only crown;
O make me Thine forever; And, should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never Outlive my love to Thee.
Your only Son no sin to hide, But You have sent Him from your side
To walk upon this guilty sod And to become the Lamb of God.
My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Amazing love! How can it be That You, my God, would die for me?
He could have called 10,000 angels, but He died alone, for you and me.
Soon Thou wilt come again: I shall be happy then, Jesus, my Lord!
Then Thine own face I’ll see; Then I shall like Thee be,
Then evermore with Thee, Jesus, my Lord!
I behold You, my Lord and my King—in You, Jesus, I find ev’ry thing.
And now truly my worship I bring To You and unto You sing.
In beholding the glorious Son, my eyes see the Magnificent One,
And His splendor, as bright as the sun, reveals me: I am undone.
Dad passed from this life on November 28, 2017, and I am of the distinct impression that he is experiencing a richer “communion” now.
From time to time I hear funereal music I wish I had come across during my graduate research. (Although my cumulative list of funeral marches and lament music was marginally impressive, it was anecdotally developed and limited in scope.) Once in a while, I also come across others’ related writings. Below are extracts from an interesting article on mourning practices and singing. This research may deal only directly with practices in the United Kingdom, but it would seem applicable for most Western countries.
I will now discuss funeral music in some detail because it was the one occasion on which mourners in Britain used to be actively involved in musical performance, but — at least among the majority white population — this is now being rapidly replaced by music consumption. Funerals in many Western countries have recently become more personal (Garces-Foley and Holcomb, 2005) and/or secular (Walter, 1997), and in the UK one major way this is achieved is by listening to two or three of the deceased’s favourite CD tracks or to a piece of music that in some way captures the deceased’s personality. This is replacing communal hymn singing. Singing hymns was once the norm, but recent surveys in the city of Hull (Adamson and Holloway, 2012) and at one London crematorium (Parsons, 2012) indicate hymns now being sung at only a quarter of funerals. 9 (orig. 81)
Religious singing together is being steadily replaced by listening to secular (and occasionally religious) CDs, driven by personalisation and secularisation, but also reflecting the general decline of communal singing in England. 9-10 (orig. 81-82)
Singing together was once the main way in which the whole body of mourners participated in the funeral, engaging together in one of the performing arts to perform words of sorrow and hope. According to Davies (but he may possibly here be influenced by being Welsh), “Singing is, fundamentally, a community activity which sets group hopes and power over those of the individual.” (Davies, 1997, p. 58) But with the decline in church attendance and the familiarity with hymns that goes with it, and with the small numbers at many elderly people’s funerals in Britain, many people report finding singing hymns at a funeral to be excruciating, embarrassing and/or tedious (Caswell, 2012).
. . . the CD capturing the essence of the deceased individual becomes the funeral’s emotional powerhouse. . . .
In the months and years after the funeral, recorded music can continue to retain powerful associations with the deceased. I am doubtless not alone in going happily about my business when a track comes on the radio that reduces me to tears, reminding me of someone I care for who has died, years or even decades ago. 10 (orig. 82)
Various cultures and ethnicities will naturally have various traditions and expectations concerning bereavement, funereal engagement, and mourning. At my own father’s memorial, I know there were tears, but no wailing occurred, for instance. Perhaps that is good (we grieved as those with hope), or bad (we were busy and distracted), or indifferent.
There were hymns, however—hymns in the lyrical sense and also a couple in the strictly musical sense. I had kept my vest-pocket copy of this program in sight in my office for a time (see here) in order to remind me of the life and of the death event. On the reverse side appears the program order itself. Here are the titles that feature hymn lyrics (addressed to God in worship/adoration):
God Himself Is With Us * On Zion’s Glorious Summit * Jesus, Wonderful Thou Art I Behold You Still, Still With Thee
* In both these cases, the initial lyrics are not addressed to God but rather set the stage for direct worship in the latter part of the song: “O Thou Fount of Blessing . . . may I ceaselessly adore Thee” and “Holy, holy, holy Lord! God of hosts, on high adored,” respectively.
There were comments and a prayer of adoration led by three friends of nearly six decades, and the 95-year-old former president of Harding University made comments, as well. Dad’s brother read Psalm 121. Songs were led by Dad’s nephew, a brother-in-law, the son of one of the above-mentioned friends, and me. Recordings were played of my hymn “I Behold You” and my mother’s beautiful song “Silence,” which is about finding God. In all, six songs were sung congregationally, including “It May Be at Morn,” which I recall that Dad introduced to the Cedars congregation in Delaware when I was young. This song is not musically a hymn, and the stanzas are introspective, not directly worshipful. However, in my estimation, the chorus includes one of the top ten expressions of worship in that hymnal: “O Lord Jesus, how long? . . . Christ returneth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen.” This is not the material of mourning. None of this particularly invites sadness, yet there were mixed emotions, remembering my dad as a man who worshipped God with all his heart, and who as a leader encouraged others to do the same for decades.
On the matter of reminiscing through a dead person’s favorite music: my mother recently found the CDs that Dad had chosen to take on their last trip together. I will probably always associate Pavarotti’s famed rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” with Dad. That music brought tears to his eyes many times. He was also very fond of a championship barbershop quartet’s song “I Still Can’t Say Goodbye.” (Here is a YouTube recording of the same rendition.) I suppose one could say this is a song of mourning, but perhaps more, a song of tender memory. It will bring emotion to just about anyone! Dad had asked both my sister and me to play that for him during his hospitalization. Other music Dad chose includes Pachelbel, John Denver, western/pop songs of yesteryear by Sons of the Pioneers, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, which he had loved for more than a half-century. My mom will always associate many of these selections with her husband of nearly 58 years.
Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here and a tribute to caregivers here.
This year’s March Madness is now history, and it was really the first time I “followed” the NCAA college basketball tournament. I thought now would be a nice time to share a blast from my late father’s athletic past. Dad seems to have excelled in almost everything he did athletically; he was a three-sport letterman in high school (basketball, track, and football; my mother tells me there was no Academy baseball then) and had been in the first Arkansas Little League (in Searcy). An article once appeared in the college newspaper when my dad was a freshman playing on the associated high school basketball team.
They tell me that the hottest thing in trunks is a lanky red-headed Irishman by the name of Gerald Casey. –Toady Bedford, “One Man’s Opinion,” Harding Bison (school newspaper), date unknown, presumably early 1953¹
Keep in mind that “hottest” didn’t have the same connotations in the 1950s! My dad, Gerald Casey, #55 in the pic above, appears to have been the tallest on the team and couldn’t have been more than 5’10” at the time. Bedford later referred to Dad as a “young ace” and noted, surely with a bit of hyperbole, that fans were turning out to eat the principal’s popcorn and to “watch ole’ Case wear out another set of cords every Monday and Thursday night.” Apparently my dad was leading the area in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game near the end of the season.
“How does he do it?” continued the complimentary Bedford. “He hasn’t four arms . . . no four leaf clovers growing out of his ears . . . luck of the Irish you say?” Then he called attention to my dad’s practice habits: “[H]e practices . . . not just an hour every other day or a few minutes a day but all the time. . . .
“Second, he knows basketball from top to bottom, left to right, from every angle. . . .
“The beauty of the whole thing is that Casey is only a freshman in high school. I guess that explains the glint in Hugh Groover’s eye.”
Groover, then the high school coach, would later coach my dad in college and would also become something of a mentor, not only on the court. When my dad wrote his autobiographical memoir, he honored Groover, saying that he and Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. “were the top two Christian examples for me.”
¹ I can’t locate this excerpt in the available digital archives, and the date was unfortunately cut off in the paper copy our family had.
Several weeks ago, I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and concepts. I left the academically important pursuits there and now pick up with a few other angles on worship before leaving this topic, letting it rest. Here are links to some of the earlier posts:
The influential worship songs are too many to count, and they’ve surfaced in multiple styles. I have regularly featured true hymns on this blog—writing, for example, about “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love” more than once. Other hymns that have instilled deep worship longings in me include “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “Lord of All Being, Throned Afar,” and “Still, Still with Thee.” In a more contemporary vein, a few solo-ish or performance-y songs rise in my mind: Craig Smith’s “I Worship You”; Michael Card’s “Holy, Holy Holy” from his Revelation album and “Marana Tha” from an earlier project; and Glad’s “Hallelujah,” “Gloria,” and “God Is My Rock.”
Obviously, there are scads more congregationally oriented songs that I could mention in this paragraph. I don’t imagine that would be a very useful exercise; on the other hand, this next item deserves mention.
It has been ca. 20 years since I wrote this little note to my dad after he led on Sunday morning:
You really led worship today—very effectively, I think.
Now, readers may not be aware of this time-travel possibility, but I have just signed up to be transported in time to 1995. Zoom-whoosh . . . plop. There I am, sitting at Cedars in Wilmington, Delaware. Everything is the same as it was then, except for the fact that I am now 20 years older and presumably a half-dozen years more insightful.
Dad leads songs including “Lord of All Being,” mentioned above. His voice seems mostly strong this morning, but it falters a little since he had nodule treatment, and he has to breathe more often than most. But the worship comes across with the same impact, and people are participating with gusto.
The perception of whether worship occurs in song is not about the sounds so much as it is about the content and the intent of the worshipper(s). Because I can know and sense my dad’s intentionality about worshipping God, the worship activities—including prayer and reading and songs and a couple of comments—impress me as active, vibrant, authentic, and effective, just as they had impressed me in 1995.
In sum: this time-traveling worshipper feels exactly the same as he did when he wrote the affirming note about the occurrence of worship, even though He’s lived 20 more years and has learned, led, and arranged hundreds of new songs (some, very good; others, just as mediocre as the old mediocre ones) since then. This is not to say that songs written in the last 20 or 30 years don’t have merit. Many do (!), and I could just as easily have written about a worship experience built entirely on newer songs.
I do mean to be saying that worship is worship, and style is nigh unto immaterial.
Periodicals Worship Leader magazine has been informative along the way, but I suppose I spent more time analyzing and taking exception to some of its traits and emphases than I spent loving it or doing what it encouraged. Wineskins magazine was beneficial along some lines. I don’t have many issues of Leaven (a somewhat more academic journal with deep devotion peppered throughout), but I recently uncovered the ones I have, and I realized I never read them. They deserve attention.
Back in the 90s when I was editing and publishing the worship digest newsletter Principally Proskuneō, I received permission from several friends to reprint articles. Although dozens of other writings (as well as less “developed” but equally insightful thoughts from friends and worship colleagues) have been significant, two articles rise to the top of the heap in terms of their influence on me:
Dr. Gary Selby: “Yearning To Worship: A Personal Journey.” In that travelogue, Selby described his own pathway in Church of Christ worship, intimating the need for more emotion along with intellect, and more body along with spirit. In addition to contributing to my thought and experience around “holistic” worshipping, Selby’s “journey” metaphor is in itself helpful, suggesting that nothing in personal or congregational life need be static.
Dr. Clifton L. Ganus III: “Worship, Service, and the Christian Assembly.” I believe this cogent piece was written in the late 70s or early 80s; through it, Ganus started me on the path of analyzing what scripture was really talking about when the English rendering was “worship” or “service” or something similar. I have in the intervening years attempted to further such discriminating thought and practice in, e.g., this post.
In their college days, my sisters called her “Gram.” I referred to her in shorthand as GMC. She was my Grandmother Casey, and she was born 100 years ago today in Denmark, Arkansas. (So, this is not about General Motors. I have nothing to say about that company, although many others might.)
Ruth Casey was a selfless woman — always giving and serving. She worked a few odd jobs during her life — as an Avon lady, in the Harding Academy cafeteria, and a couple others. But she was a devoted homemaker, primarily: throughout her years, she kept house and cooked exceptionally well.
Grandmother Casey regularly got up early with Granddaddy, who was usually at work by 6 a.m. She had some good friends — among them some southern ladies named Lelah, Lucille, Laverne, Opal, and Marcella. (My 5-year-old son just noted, when he heard me read this paragraph, that these are “very unusual names.”) GMC was willing to try new things such as recipes shared with these friends.
She picked strawberries every year, sometimes inviting friends to go with her, and she gardened some. Patti, a younger friend, remembered that GMC asked whether it would be inappropriate for her to wear “pedal-pushers” to pick berries in. (Patti assured her it would be fine, but she didn’t end up wearing them!) GMC spent many years caring for her mother-in-law, both in the home and in a nursing home. “Ruth Casey was probably the best daughter-in-law ever,” said Patti, who also remembered GMC as “always ready to laugh” and “up there with my favorite people ever.” One of her own daughters-in-law loved Diet Coke, and GMC surprised her with a fridge full of about 6 six-packs once. I remember the laughter over that.
Ruth and Max Casey had two fine sons — my dad, Gerald Wayne, and my uncle, Lanny Max. Both the boys, like their daddy, were outstanding athletes. The story goes that my granddaddy decided against going to a Cardinals tryout camp, choosing to marry Ruth instead. At any rate, the boys had a secure, stable home, and both were standouts in academics and sports. My dad remembers never being in want, but the Casey family never had an abundance, either. While my dad and uncle were growing up, they had dogs named Susie and Sandy. Then, for a long time in the later years, the Caseys had a cat named Beth Ann — named for two friends — gracing the home.
GMC didn’t have a driver’s license until she was in her 40s. She drank Maxwell House coffee (my sister Laura got the vintage MH mugs). She liked to stand by the “fire” — the gas-burning stove, which she turned up high — during the colder months. She had a small kitchen with almost no counter space, but she made do, and she had to store some items way up high in cabinets built for someone a foot or two taller than she was, so she had a step stool at the ready. The small, enclosed “back porch” had three doors, one of which was perpetually blocked off, one of which led to the kitchen, and the other of which led outside. The laundry was done out there “on the porch,” and one could often find stockpiled sodas and other supplies there, too.
Back in the 40s, when the Caseys moved to Market Street, there was an outhouse on the property, and it was quite a decision to have a shower installed in place of the tub-only, around 1982. since she was always thinking of others first, GMC (who was short — about 5’3″) had to be talked into having the shower nozzle placed optimally for herself instead of for her grandson and other houseguests.
Among my four grandparents, Granddaddy Casey died first — very unexpectedly, at 64 — and Grandmother Casey died last, in her early 80s. She lived alone, then, for nearly two decades, but she wasn’t always alone. The oldest of her three grandchildren, I lived in her house during my college years, and I spent more time with GMC than with all my other grandparents combined. My sisters also lived with her some during college, as well as sharing a duplex home next door for a year or so.
A few of my friends came to GMC’s table for dinner, and she liked meeting them and serving them. I remember Grandmother ironing my shirts, waiting for me to get home from the practice room or a rehearsal with dinner on the table, taking me out to Wendy’s or pizza once in a while, and never uttering a single cross or complaining word. My dad has said he never saw her angry. Oh, once in a while, she would set her jaw and lips just so, and say, “Now, Brian . . . ,” scolding me a little, but I deserved every bit of it and didn’t treat her nearly as well as she deserved.
One of the best things I ever did with GMC (in a short-lived fit of collegiate consciousness of someone other than myself ) was to ask a question of this wonderful person who had been providing so much more than room & enviable food during college . . . I asked her how often she thought of my granddaddy, her husband that had been gone for a dozen years at that point. Without blinking an eye, she said that she thought about him every day. She had been patient with him for years, waiting for him to quit smoking, and mostly waiting for him to come to God. Although GMC’s spiritual thoughts and experiences were fairly limited, she was committed to God and to His people. She once wrote to my dad while he was at a summer camp, “Max was baptized.” It was good news, of course, but GMC wasn’t one to complicate things.
Patience, goodness, and simplicity were among GMC’s many virtues — along with love. She loved well, and she inspired a lot of loyalty, not the least of which was shown in her sons, who loved her in return.
This is a tiny tribute to a big-hearted lady, my Grandmother Casey. I miss her. I’ll close with a few quotes from my dad:
I never saw her complain or say a negative word about anyone or anything.
I never saw her cry.
She had an infectious laugh that was, unfortunately, not passed on to her sons.
She was a gracious, Christian lady who was what she appeared to be and who supported her appearance with a lifetime of serving others — family, neighbors, and unknowns.
Before offering some more quotes from Harold Best’s book Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, I should say something about his major premise. After a LONG stand with this heady, soulful book, I’m not sure I yet completely understand his notion of “continuous outpouring.” Best theorizes that God is a continuous outpourer, and we, in His image, are also continuously outpouring. It is our job, then, I’d say, to outpour well, and to outpour with cognizance and spiritual awareness of offering everything to Him–whether mopping the floor or outstretching our arms in praise.
Conceptually and linguistically, I resist the notion that everything is worship, because I think that concatenation waters down both worship and service. Put in terms of “outpouring” and not worship per se, though, Best’s whole philosophy is rather palatable. C’est vrai: our lives must be seen as sacrifices; these sacrifices take many forms, including the vertical and the horizontal.
Worship leaders and preachers do a lot of public praying. This area of public worship can often be careless, cliché-ridden and theologically thin. It can turn into a daisy chain without much thought to overall flow, biblical precision and word beauty. Were the Scriptures themselves muddled this way, we might have a case. Public praying should not only be scriptural as to content but also scriptural as to loveliness of style, richness of expression and fullness of truth. (102)
I’ll add a little to Best’s mention of “biblical precision.” I often find prayers (and comments in Bible classes) to water down distinct ideas by generalizing and stringing things together that really aren’t connected. Heard a prayer like this before?
“Thank you for your grace, your abounding love, and your forgiveness, Lord, because it is in giving that we receive, and you taught us to love, and love is giving. And forgiving comes out of giving, so thank you for giving and for forgiving. And now, let us give with a cheerful heart, because, knowing of your grace, we can do nothing but give.”
Now, there’s nothing particularly alarming there, but neither is a precise biblical use of language espoused in the prayer. Love almost becomes grace, and grace becomes forgiveness, and giving is aurally related to forgiving, so it somehow leads to giving money, which has very little to do with love or grace, except insofar as they are all spoken of in scripture. Ack. Moving on….
Even though it is the personal responsibility of all Christians to grow up into the stature and fullness of Christ, as if there were no preachers, it remains the responsibility of the pastoral staff to preach as though there were no other way to get the full truth of the gospel across. (104)
I like this. It’s the dilemma of dual viewpoints, both of which are valid. I would suggest, as a tagalong to Best’s well-worded statement here, that the problem is more often with the “all Christians” side. Preachers, by and large, take their sermonizing duties seriously enough. The problem is that those of us in the pews don’t take primary responsibility for our own spiritual development.
As to the relation of preaching to the rest of the liturgy, it is to be seen as an offering of worship among the many offerings of the corporate gathering. Preaching is not the high point of worship to which all prior actions are meant to point or for which they prepare. it is not a chosen oracle or an automatic apex that towers in importance over the Word, the sacrament or the simple singing of a hymn, because, in fact, truth is at stake in all these actions. (106)
On this point, I think Best and I (and my parents and grandparents) are soulmates! Even some of the words are almost the same! In case you can’t tell, I’m thrilled to be validated by the likes of Harold Best in terms of the place of preaching in the scheme of things.