In 2008, I created a hymn text on baptism to submit to a Methodist church’s hymn search, and am grateful that the hymn has found use in a variety of denominations. Published in the Celebrating Grace, Community of Christ Sings and Voices Together hymnals, “With Water Freely Flowing” expresses a progressive and ecumenical view of the ritual of baptism.
With water freely flowing
we celebrate new birth,
in sacred sign expressing
God’s love for all on earth.
The Well of Living Water
springs up for us this day;
engulfed by love’s acceptance,
our fears are washed away.
Stanza 1 is about water. The opening phrase can refer to the “first baptism” of all humanity in the water of the womb that “freely flows” as it breaks and the labor of “new birth” begins. Water also flows in a baptismal river or immersing baptistery, or, it flows from a pitcher with water poured over or sprinkled upon the head. It flows in the rain that baptizes and nurtures the earth. The idea of “freely flowing water” also references my own baptism, before which the baptistery actually overflowed and flooded the church building!
Adding to the ecumenical nature of the hymn, the idea of baptism as a sacrament and “sign” of love is sung in Stanza 1. But perhaps most importantly, this stanza separates itself from other baptismal hymns by removing the act of baptism from harmful atonement theology as it expresses the washing away of “fears” instead of “sin.” As such, baptism becomes a celebratory welcome into a loving community.
The Spirit, swiftly soaring,
descending as a dove,
conveys the startling Presence
on all whose vow is love.
The Breath of God within us
enlivens and sustains,
beyond this rite of passage
with us always remains.
Stanza 2 focuses on the Spirit. It sings of the Spirit as a “descending dove” and “startling Presence” (from the gospel narrative of Jesus’ baptism), as well as “The Breath of God.” When sung by a congregation, the sibilant sounds created by the alliterative opening lines of this stanza create the effect of the Spirit’s breath or wind.
This stanza also connects with the liturgical practice of spoken vows accompanying baptism.
By water and the Spirit
baptized in Christ, we rise
to walk new paths unfolding
before our opened eyes.
We journey from this moment,
faith’s pilgrimage embrace.
By Spirit and by water
we feel and sense God’s grace.
Stanza 3 brings both water and Spirit together in an effort to respond to my experience with another hymn. The Baptist hymnals of my childhood included “The Church’s One Foundation” by Samuel John Stone. In those hymnals we sang of the church: “She is his new creation by Spirit and the Word.” I first became aware of the practice of altering hymn texts when I discovered that other hymnals used Stone’s original words: “She is his new creation by water and the Word.” This hymn text alteration called to my attention a “baptismal dichotomy” – an ecclesiastical difference of opinion over the most important components in the act of baptism. “With Water Freely Flowing” reunites these dissected elements, exclaiming: "By Spirit and by water!"
In the Celebrating Grace and Community of Christ Sings hymnals, “With Water Freely Flowing” is effectively paired with “MERLE’S TUNE” by Hal H. Hopson, and in the Voices Together hymnal it has been given a different setting with Amanda Husberg’s tune, “OPEN HEART.” Churches who do not use the hymnals in which “With Water Freely Flowing” is included may reprint and broadcast the hymn via licenses through ONE LICENSE or CCLI.
I’m grateful to live and work among people that respect religious plurality and to be minister of music for a congregation that celebrates it![i] This is a different experience from my upbringing in Southern Baptist churches that, except for the occasional Thanksgiving community service, did not emphasize ecumenism and certainly did not encourage the support of other religions. In high school, I remember studying a denominational pamphlet that denied the validity of other faiths by providing scriptural defense for Christianity as the only true religion. My eyes were opened to this kind of isolationism when my Western Civilization professor at Oklahoma Baptist University bravely exposed the egotism involved in Southern Baptists’ “Bold Mission Thrust,” a campaign in the last quarter of the 20th century to evangelize the world without cooperative work with other denominations. Though I appreciate and value many aspects of my early church experience, it did not teach that Christianity, nor even its various denominations, could “coexist” as the contemporary art piece and bumper sticker expresses.
This insecurity of the Christian religion was demonstrated further in several ways during my youth. In church youth group, I remember seeing horrific movies that graphically warned of apocalyptic “anti-Christs” and “marks of the Beast,”[ii] and singing popular “Christian” songs, such as “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,”[iii] or “Oh Buddha,”[iv] that sought to scare “the hell” out of us. All of these promoted a strict Christianity-only message as they traumatized us to think that we would be “left behind” and sent to a fiery pit if we didn’t believe in Jesus as the only way. Even more, one had to have the right kind of Christian experience in order to get to heaven. A revival evangelist at my church once shamefully exclaimed that many of our Christian experiences were “counterfeit,” causing my adolescent emotions to go wild and my teenage mind to fear.
Thankfully, the guidance of my parents and the wisdom they provided navigated these disgraceful and potentially-harmful church experiences, allowing me to healthfully continue exploring faith while asking questions along the way. Through continued education I came to understand that Christianity is only one of countless other faith expressions (and that Christianity itself is interpreted and practiced in unbelievably diverse and conflicting ways). I came to know that some persons of faith – Christian or otherwise – rely on a divine being or beings while others live deeply meaningful lives apart from belief in any Gods. And those that do express confidence in a supreme being or beings, understand and name those divinities in myriad ways.
People in our country and all over the world express their best humanity and highest values in ways worthy of honor. Some express them through religion and others do not. The Jesus I grew to envision would have no problem with this, and even more, would call diverse peoples to recognize similarities and celebrate differences while working together to create a loving and just world. If the world’s peoples could ever achieve peace, the Jesus I imagine would not mind if his name was a part of that result or not. I think this is what Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong, means (as referenced in my first blog post) when he encourages us to walk so deeply through our own tradition and into our humanity that tribal boundaries disappear.[v] And I think this is what minister, Gretta Vosper, of the brave West Hill United Church, Toronto, Canada, means when she exclaims “the way we live is more important than what we believe.”[vi]
As ever-evolving 21st century people, while living our most authentic selves, can we transcend our own limited experience, find relevance in our work and become one with all? I think we must.
(One of my congregational songs that supports religious plurality is Where Is the Sacred?)
[i] Pullen Memorial Baptist Church’s 125th Anniversary hymn, “In Our Own Voice (Raise Up New Hope)” by Shirley Erena Murray & Larry E. Schultz describes the congregation as one that sees “in other faiths enduring worth.” The hymn is published in Murray’s collection: A Place at the Table (Hope Publishing Company, 2013).
[ii] A Thief in the Night film series written by Russell S. Doughten, Jr., Jim Grant, Donald W. Thompson.
[iii] Song by Larry Norman, recorded by various artists and included in the A Thief in the Night film series as well as the more recent Left Behind movie.
[iv] Song by Mark Farrow recorded by The Imperials on the album: Heed the Call (DaySpring Records, 1979).
[v] See A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith Is Being Born (HarperCollins Publishers, 2001) and other books, essays and lectures by John Shelby Spong.
[vi] From the subtitle and content in Gretta Vosper’s book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008).
Welcome to LarryESchultz.com and Resonate! – a site offering downloadable and published music for faith, school and community groups, and a blog that offers notes on the music and other items of interest related to communal music and music-making.
I describe my work as “communal,” because both my ministry and compositions seek to assist groups (choirs, congregations, orchestras, bands) whose individual participants make music together. I also use the word “communal” to communicate that all persons are musicians and are welcomed into the experience of music-making. It is a part of what makes us human, and is not an exclusive opportunity for the “trained.”
A seminary course on “The Philosophy of Music Ministry,” taught by gifted educator, Milburn Price, instilled within me the importance of developing and communicating a philosophy that supports and meaningfully directs my work. Though my initial philosophy of music ministry was bound to church history, church tradition and the Hebrew/Christian scriptures, it has evolved through the years to include more.
Ever since reading John Shelby Spong’s book, “A New Christianity for a New World,” I have been on a quest to provide a music ministry and creative works that break down religious and social barriers. Spong encourages all to walk so deeply through their own tradition and into their humanity that the tribalistic boundaries fall away. We then discover our connections with other people, and the oneness of all.
Like the efforts of present-day scientists who are seeking a “theory of everything,” I’ve been seeking such a theory related to communal music-making, and have borrowed three words that I hope for now succinctly state my ideas: Resonance, Transcendence and Relevance. So far, I find that these three words encompass the goals and outcomes of communal music-making, whether it be in church, other faith groups, school or community settings. (Though sometimes needed for clarity, I hesitate to use the words “sacred” or “secular” as I find them to be inadequate descriptions that can bring further division.) I’ll speak to Transcendence and Relevance in future posts, but want to briefly express my thinking on Resonance (and therefore, the name of this blog: Resonate!).
Though science cannot yet empirically prove it, “String Theory” as posited by quantum physicists is a beautiful description that I think can pertain to a philosophy of music-making and music ministry. String Theory suggests that the smallest elements of literally everything are tiny vibrating “strings.” Smaller than other sub-atomic particles, these vibrations make up all that is – from the computer keyboard on which I am typing to my own human cells. These vibrating strings may indeed turn out to be the common denominator of all things.
Not only are the smallest elements of life thought to be vibrations, but in 2003, astronomers discovered that a supermassive black hole in space was producing sound waves that created the deepest note yet detected from any object in the known universe!
Human biology and anthropology come in next. We humans have evolved with lungs to fill with air and a larynx through which to pass that air causing vibrations of sound. As humanity grew, we developed language out of that sound – words that convey meaning.
After considering all of this, I then am in awe, and wonder as I think: “If the tiniest quantum element as well as one of the largest known objects both vibrate with sound (music), and if humans ‘in the middle,’ also have the capacity to resonate sound…then there must be something very formational and primal to the experience of music-making. It must be foundational to our humanity, it must connect us with ‘everything,’ and there must then be benefits to music therapy, music ministry and communal music-making of any kind!”
I'm not alone in these scientific ponderings. I know of at least two other hymn writers, Brian Wren and Jann Aldredge-Clanton, who have included the specific idea of String Theory in hymns, and others like Shirley Murray and Thomas Troeger express ideas from science in their hymn poetry. I have connected scientific reality with faith-language metaphor in my hymn, Spirit of God, Spark of Creation.
When groups gather to make music, sound waves from one individual are produced and carried through the air until they are detected in the ear cells of other individuals. There is then an instant and physical connection! Music-making literally unifies and connects individuals into one community – a good foundation on which to build a more peaceful world. (For choral expressions that connect to this idea, see my compositions: Where Two or Three, May a Song Remain, Gathered Here to Share Our Music, Tear Down the Walls and others.)
And so, the name of this blog, Resonate!, refers to our human capacity to make music with all that is, and the exclamation point reminds us to do so with joy and energy. The name also reminds us that when we add words to our music, we can give emphasis and meaning to important ideas and philosophies with which we “resonate.” (Several congregational hymns I hope assist progressive communities in resonating their ideas are: We Are a People on a Journey, From Wisdom Emerging, and A Stranger, Starving on the Street).
Not all of the words to every composition I’ve written are as progressive as I’d desire them to be, but even these creations represent a part of my journey and can reveal an ever-evolving progression – one that continues and is life-long. I hope on this site you find a choral anthem, congregational hymn or instrumental selection that is useful in your community, and I look forward to offering additional works in the days to come.