The Christmas Carol That Helped Save A University

American spiritual songs are difficult to date because they were passed down orally without publishing or recording. Such was the case with the Christmas song Go,Tell It On the Mountain. It became a Christmas classic because of the efforts of John Wesley Work.

John Wesley Work was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He studied Latin and history at Fisk University, but his great passion was music. In 1872, he was asked to lead the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a ten member touring vocal ensemble commissioned to save the University. In a bold move, the ensemble was sent on an eighteen month tour and was given the entire University treasury for travel expenses.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain and other spirituals were a regular part of the student singing at Fisk University, but were not part of the original repertoire of the ensemble. This is understandable because the songs were associated with slavery and represented recent history many of them wanted to forget. However, the school’s treasurer encouraged them to expose the world to the rich history of spirituals in this tour. The response was overwhelming and by the time they reached New York in December of that year, their concerts consisted primarily of choral arrangements of spirituals. 

Over the course of their 18 month tour, the Fisk Jubilee Singers grew to a full choral ensemble. Led by John Wesley Work, they performed a host of spirituals to both white and black audiences across the United States and Europe, including William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Ulysses S. Grant, William Gladstone, Mark Twain, Johann Strauss, and Queen Victoria. This phenomenal tour resulted in both the school and the musical style earning an international reputation. Fisk University was saved financially and Go, Tell It On the Mountain was on its way to becoming a Christmas staple.

Click here to hear Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of Go, Tell It On The Mountain. 
Click here to read more about the history of Fisk University.

The Christmas Carol written by an Atheist, composed by a Jew, and translated by a Transcendentalist.

I once attended a worship service when the congregation attempted to sing O Holy Night. At the end, the worship leader shook her head, and said, “Well, that was awful.” As hard as it can be to sing, congregations around the world love this beautiful song. It has a majestic yet mysterious sound. It is regarded as holy but acknowledges the darkness within each of us. It also has a unique story.

It was Roquemaure, in southern France, in 1843. The parish priest wanted to commemorate the renovations of the church organ, so he commissioned a poem from the local poet and wine merchant Placide Cappeau. While on an overnight stagecoach to Paris, Cappeau penned Minuit, Chretiens, or Midnight, Christians. The priest was extremely pleased with the poem, especially because the author was an outspoken atheist. However, the lyrics were so beautiful, the priest pushed forward and shared them with Adolphe Adam, a prolific Jewish composer. The resulting Christmas Carol was titled Cantique de Noel. It premiered in 1847 featuring a local opera singer Emily Laurey.

Cantique de Noel became instantly popular with Christians across France. However, once word reached the church officials that Cappeau was an atheist who publicly spoke out against the church, the song was banned from liturgical use in France. Even so, the song continued to spread outside the church and grew in popularity.

Later, in 1855, John Sullivan Dwight, an American music critic and Unitarian Minister translated the song into English. He was a Transcendentalist who believed there was goodness (and possibly holiness) in everything and everyone. His translation liberties can be seen in our current version of O Holy Night. when the evening itself is seen as holy. For Dwight, the night was holy in and of itself, not simply because of its connection to Jesus’ birth. Most people missed this completely because the chorus includes the lyric, “O Night when Christ was born.” The song then continued to grow in popularity across the English speaking and French speaking worlds. 

The song is believed to have even played a part in the Franco-Prussian War. On Christmas Eve in 1870, French troops sang Cantique de Noel from the battle trenches. In the stillness, German soldiers heard the singing and were moved. In response, they sang a carol by Martin Luther. This impromptu Christmas worship resulted in a 24 hour truce in honor of Christmas. Now, there is a strong possibility that this never happened, but the story spread across France making the song wildly popular which resulted in its eventual reinstatement in the liturgy of French churches.

So, there you have it. O Holy Night was a song commissioned to celebrate an instrument, written by an outspoken atheist, composed by a devout Jew, translated by a Transcendentalist, banned from church use in France, finally used as an instrument of peace in a time of war. Most people sing it without concern to its origin, which is probably just as well, but it does go to show you that God can work through the most unlikely of sources to create something beautiful.

Click here to hear a version of O Holy Night sung by Carrie Underwood on the Tonight Show.

*Image used courtesy of Ales Krivec and Unsplash

The Christmas Carol with the Nasty Tune

In 1865, William Chatterton Dix, a businessman in Bristol, England, became ill. His sickness caused a near death experience which left him with severe depression. During his recovery, however, Dix became an avid reader of the Bible and experienced a personal revival of sorts. His reading led to his writing of several poems, songs, and hymns, including  the beloved Christmas carol What Child Is This? For the tune of his new song, Dix chose the tune from the well known English folk song Greensleeves. 

Greensleeves was a popular English folk song probably written in the 16th century. The lyrics of the song contain numerous references to a lady in green sleeves who cheated on her beloved. Popular legends claim that King Henry VIII composed the song for his mistress then wife Anne Boleyn, but there doesn’t seem to be much historical evidence for that theory. A more likely possibiliy is that the song was written about a loose young woman, possibly a prostitute, whose dress developed green sleeves because she frequently engaged in sexual activities in the great outdoors. Greensleeves could just as well have been titled Grass Stains.  


Can you imagine the looks they gave each other in church when What Child Is This? was sung for the first time in church? It would be like a modern composer setting Christian lyrics to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. However, it’s my guess that in 1865 that no one really thought much about the meaning behind Greensleeves and were simply happy to know the tune to the new Christmas carol. 

The truth is, the tune itself is amoral. It’s neither bad or good. It’s simply music. And I, for one, am happy that the tune Greensleeves was redeemed in a way and now helps us worship Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

Click here  to hear What Child is This? performed by Take 6.
Click Here to hear a version of Greensleeves performed by Tim Foust.

Image courtesy of David Beale and Unsplash

So Different From This Hell I’m Living

I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living.
The lyrics above were sung by Fantine, a fictitious factory worker turned prostitute mother in the musical Les Miserables. It’s been reported that in preparing for the role of Fantine, actress Anne Hathaway tried to envelope herself in sadness. She even sent her husband away from her for a time because his being near her made her too happy to play the role accordingly. Her plans certainly succeeded for she played the role flawlessly.
However, the words she sang are all too often the very true unsung anthems of countless people in our world today. These victims of life live in all corners of society, silently marking time with their steps and lives, all the while watching their dreams being pulled further and further away. I think if people everywhere spoke honestly, they would…

View original post 804 more words


Two men called me fat today. 

The first cried out to me loudly enough for all passersby to hear, “You look like you’ve gained 100 lbs since I last saw you. What have you been eating? Lard mixed with cement?”

The second man was more subtle. He asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Kevin James?”

“Kevin James?” I asked. “He’s not a bad looking guy, but isn’t he quite a bit heavier than me?”

“Sorry,” he replied. “Did I say Kevin James? I meant to say that fat guy from the Guinness Book of World Records who was buried in a piano case!”

“Am I that big?”

“My apologies,” he replied. “I meant to say that you look like Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars!”

Ok, so none of that happened exactly, but two men did call me fat, sort of. The first saw me and said, “Wow, you gained back all of the weight you lost and more. That’s not good. You should lose it again so you won’t be, you know, fat.”

“Thanks for pointing that out,” I replied. “I hadn’t noticed.”

The second guy pointed at me and said, “You look like Mike Golic.”

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Don’t you watch Sports Center?” he asked with raised eyebrows.

“No, I don’t,” I replied. 

He looked down, shook his head, and walked away in disgust. 

I did a quick search for Mike Golic and showed the images to my wife.

“Do you think I look like this man?” I asked.

“The one where his hair is longer looks like you,” she said.

“But that’s the picture where he looks the heaviest,” I replied.

My wife smiled and tightened her lips at the same time. That’s her way of telling me I’m fat without actually having to say the words.

So let me correct my earlier statement: “Today, two men and my wife told me I was fat.”

I guess it’s time to do something about it.

I guess.


I don’t know.

*Image courtesy of Andre’ Hunter and Unsplash

The Fine Art of Exercise Procrastination

I’ve been eating food all of my life. I’m a big fan. Some might even call me a fanatic.

Recently, I’ve written about bougie food grocery stores and the dangers of the demon weed kale. Once, I even wrote about Healthy Eating’s Evil Cousin better known in the underworld as exercise. I’ve been avoiding the topic of exercise because I’ve been avoiding exercise altogether, but as I approach my next birthday, I can’t hide from it any longer (at least I think that’s what my wife said when she told me I had to start exercising). 

Avoiding exercise is one sport where I reign supreme. Move over squats, treadmills and elliptical machines! Mama says we have a new exercise Daddy now and he’s here to stay because I have perfectly mastered the fine art of exercise procrastination. 

My wife tried to tell me that if it’s not in the Olympics then it’s not a real sport. I beg to differ. I’ve traveled all across this world and I’ve seen it practiced everywhere. Entire cultures have been built around it. Take, for example, the entire nation of Spain and its practice of the siesta. If that’s not avoidance of exercise, I don’t know what is unless it’s our practice of fried chicken and waffles in the south, better known as nirvana. 

To help me overcome my exercise procrastination, a “former” friend sent me an article titled Exercise Motivation: How To Overcome Procrastination by Fit Day, a free diet and weight loss journal and app designed to make my life miserable. 

The article suggested I do the following: 

  • Set Achievable Goals (not working out is pretty achievable to me) 
  • Exercise for a Minimum Amount of Time (I can’t get any more minimum than nothing)
  • Choose Enjoyable Forms of Exercise (I considered hammock mastering. It takes a lot of effort to get in a hammock and sometimes even more to get out)
  • Exercise With A Friend (I’m trying to avoid friendship accountability in this area of my life)
  • Reward Yourself for Exercise (How about a large pizza after every workout?)

I suppose if you really want to get motivated and move forward with exercise, this is good article with good advice. However, if you want to be cultured and support the arts, more specifically the fine of exercise procrastination, avoid it at all costs.

*Image courtesy of Giorgio Trovato and Unsplash

*Thanks to the editors of Fit Day whose article really did challenge me. Check it out here.

Review – The Reset by Jeremy Riddle

The first page of the introduction slapped me hard across my face: 

This is what it said:

I don’t believe there has been a moment in history when the temptation to be a worship leader for all the wrong reasons has ever been greater, never a moment where the seduction of personal glory, fame, followers, adulation, money, self-gratification and earthly reward has more surrounded and infected this precious thing we call worship.

Then, I turned the other cheek so I could read it again. 

I first heard about The Reset: Returning to the Heart of Worship and a Life of Undivided Devotion from a friend of mine. I was intrigued, so I purchased the short book, expecting to finish it in a day. It took me a week because I had to spend time reflecting after each chapter. 

The book causes me to pray for those musicians who play or sing in multiple churches but who aren’t a part of any. At the same time, it reminds me of the times when I’ve settled for less than what God wants of me as a worshiper and a disciple of Jesus Christ.

If you desire to worship the Lord in a way that is deeper than music, status, and position, this book is for you.

Get ready to repent.

*Photo courtesy of Ben White and Unsplash

I Sinned. He Paid.

I betrayed him with a kiss.

I arrested him I took him to the high priest.

I stood before him with the Sanhedrin.

I declared him a blasphemer.

I blindfolded him,

I slapped his face I yelled, “Prophesy!”

I denied that I knew him three times.

I tried to free him, but my plan was doomed.

I screamed, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

I ordered him flogged and crucified.

I put a robe on him and yelled, “Hail, king of the Jews!”

I shoved a crown of thorns down on his head.

I hit him on the head with my staff

I drove the thorns deeper into his head.

I spit on him.

I humiliated him.

I tied him to the post for his flogging.

I whipped him, 39 times, with a cat of nine tails.

I made him carry his own cross.

I drove the nails into his hands and feet.

I stood the cross high so the world could see his death.

I cast lots for his clothes.

I cursed him from my own cross.

I took a spear and jabbed it into his side.

I saw how he died.

I heard what he said.

I sinned but he paid the price.

“Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Number One Colonoscopy

This past Friday at 6am, I checked in to the hospital for my colonoscopy. I signed up to go first. I was happy to have the procedure because it meant I was finished with my prep: a clear liquid diet, four laxative pills causing explosive diarrhea, and two bottles of liquid solution torture water. My prep began at noon on Thursday and ended at 3am Friday morning.

Let’s just say I became very acquainted with my bathroom. 

The morning of the procedure, I dressed in a hospital gown and jumped on my personal rolling bed. I had promised myself I would stay calm, but that was hard when the staff arrived. They asked me for my date of birth while they simultaneously took my temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. 

One of the assistants asked the doctor, “Why do we ask all of these security questions for a colonoscopy? It’s not like he’s trying to sneak in here to take someone’s test!”

“That’s true,” said the doctor, before turning to me. “Any kind of music you’d like to hear?” 

“Doesn’t matter to me,” I replied. “Whatever will help you all be calm and steady.”

“Ah,” he said. “Good answer. I think it’s time for some Michael.”

“Oh good,” one of the nurses replied as a grin covered her face.

As my IV was inserted, Michael Jackson sang, “I want to love you, PYT, Pretty Young Thing.”

Suddenly, Groucho Marx entered the room, removed his cigar, looked at me, and said, “So today, you get to be the guinea pig.”

My eyes grew large. “I’m sorry, what?” 

“Don’t say that to someone about to have a procedure!” scolded the doctor. 

Groucho shook his head and said, “Well, anyway, here’s his anesthesia iPad.”

I breathed in deeply as Michael Jackson switched to Blame It On The Boogie. 

“We’re trying this for the first time,” said a nurse, trying to comfort me. “This iPad sign in, I mean, not your procedure.”

“We really are medical professionals,” said the doctor. “I promise.”

A nurse shook her head at his comment, turned to me and said, “Before we put you to sleep, can you turn onto your side please?”

I did as she instructed and noticed a monitor showing the ceiling. Something told me the picture was coming from the camera they would use to, well, you know. 

“Ok,” said the anesthesiologist. “I’m putting you to sleep now. Believe me, you wouldn’t want it any other way. This might burn a bit at first.”

I started getting sleepy. The last thing I remember is the music switching to Montel Jordan’s This Is How We Do It.

I woke up later to hear a nurse say, “Looks like you’re waking up. Would you like some water?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Thanks.”

I dressed as the nurse went for my water. She came back and shared my results as I sipped my water. Everything was fine. 

As I stood to leave, she handed me a thank you note from the staff.

“We’re really glad you came,” she said as if I had visited her church. 

“Ok,” I said, feeling awkward. “It sure is quiet at this end of the hall.”

“Oh, it will fill up soon. Your procedure was first this morning.”

“Oh yeah,” I said with a smile, “I always wanted to be number one, just not quite like this.”

*Photo courtesy of Clay Banks and Unsplash

Please Don’t Do This

Most people give up too early. Their closets are filled with unopened saxophone cases, shrink wrapped canvases, unassembled carpentry tools, unopened art supplies, unread books, unlearned language resources, and dusty exercise bikes with 2.4 miles on the odometer. Giving up on dreams can be devastating to people, but can also have disastrous results for others. 

Here’s one example:

As a young man, Adolph Hitler applied to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and endured a two day entrance exam where his drawing and painting techniques were evaluated. He failed the entrance exam. He demanded an explanation. He was told, in no uncertain terms, that his art demonstrated a lack of talent for artistic painting, especially when it related to the human form.

Although devastated, young Adolph vowed to develop his skills and reapply the next year. However, he was distracted by his mother’s illness and abandoned most of his projects before they were completed. Hitler did reapply the next year, but wasn’t allowed to take the final artistic exam because of his lack of effort.

Hitler became homeless for a short time on the streets of Vienna, until he finally moved into a homeless shelter. Once there, he abandoned his art, sold his paintings to Jewish merchants, and joined the German military. It is said that on the day war was declared that he fell to his knees and thanked heaven.

Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, makes the following observation:  “Call it an overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Don’t give up. Don’t give in to distractions. Pursue it, whatever it is, passionately. Pray for direction and work like your life, and mine, depended on it.

*Image courtesy of Justyn Warner and Unsplash