God of Earth and Outer Space

Discussion in 'Music Ministry' started by rlvaughn, May 29, 2016.

  1. rlvaughn

    rlvaughn
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    The hymn “God of Earth and Outer Space” was written by Thad Roberts Jr. in 1970 (of South Main Baptist Church, Houston, Texas), and included in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal. Here is the hymn.

    God of earth and outer space,
    God of love and God of grace,
    Bless the astronauts who fly,
    As they soar beyond the sky.
    God who flung the stars in space,
    God who set the sun ablaze,
    Fling the spacecraft thru the air,
    Let man know your presence there.

    God of atmosphere and air,
    God of life and planets bare,
    Use man’s courage and his skill
    As he seeks your holy will.
    God of depth and God of height,
    God of darkness, God of light,
    As man walks in outer space,
    Teach him how to walk in grace.

    God of man’s exploring mind,
    God of wisdom, God of time,
    Launch us from complacency
    To a world in need of thee.
    God of power, God of might,
    God of rockets firing bright.
    Hearts ignite and thrust within,
    Love for Christ to share with men.

    God of earth and outer space,
    God who guides the human race,
    Guide the lives of seeking youth
    In their search for heav'nly truth.
    God who reigns below, above,
    God of universal love,
    Love that gave Nativity,
    Love that gave us Calvary.

    This hymn has been "nominated" by several people on the world wide web as "the worst" or "the stupidest" hymn ever. Greg Adkins makes fun of it in his post The Baptist Hymnal, Hymn #20, All 4 verses, standing as we sing, writing "it is pretty amazing that someone was able to write a worship song including the words 'spacecraft', 'rocket', 'astronauts', 'outerspace', and 'thrust'." David Bruce Murray, author of Murray's Encyclopedia of Southern Gospel Music, calls it the Worst…Hymn…Ever….* He writes, "For me, the clear winner is hymn #20 from the 1975 version of the Baptist Hymnal...'God Of Earth And Outer Space'." It is apparent from some comments at David Murray's blog that the problem is not just with the words, but that they clearly have a distaste for minor music. The tune is Aberystwyth written by Joseph Parry in 1879.

    In contrast Jonathan Pritchett writes In defense of “God of Earth and Outer Space”. He says "Not only should this song be sang more often, but we need more songs that combine themes of faith and science, creation, the sovereignty of God and His love revealed in Jesus Christ."

    David Music notes that “God of Earth and Outer Space” and two other "space" hymns were written in the late 60 and early 70s -- "the most vigorous period of America's space exploration program" and that after "manned space flight began to be de-emphasized" these "hymns about space and its exploration quickly fell out of favor." ("I Will Sing the Wondrous Story": A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America, p. 473)

    While a few things about the hymn strike me as a little odd, I suspect Music's observation best captures what happened. The song seemed relevant in the early 1970s, but after that it seemed a little weird to glorify God in the realm of space exploration. But the overall tenor of the hymn doesn't strike me as anywhere near hilarious, as is portrayed by some writers on the web.

    Is this the "worst hymn ever" (as Murray)? Or does it combine themes that should be sung more often (as Pritchett)? Or does it fall somewhere in the middle? What do you think?
     
  2. Aaron

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    The author obviously had Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey in mind and thought that the colonization of space was a real possibility.

    Regardless, the song is man-centered and faithless. It has to be. To whom are we taking the Gospel in space? Going to space is no more exploration than frog dissection. Where are the hymns mentioning microscopes, scalpels and probes?

    The dumbest song to be included in a book of traditional hymns and Gospel songs, but then the same book includes Gaither songs. It was one of the Baptists' early attempts to seem "relevant."
     
  3. rlvaughn

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    Thanks, Aaron. I don't see the meaning of it being about colonization of space and taking the Gospel to someone in space. To me it's more of a "as man travels into space, let him realize you are as real there as in the earth" kind of thing. Written in 1970, it was probably associated with the Apollo missions of men to the moon. Be that as it may, I agree with you that this is not the type of hymn to include in a church hymnal. Possibly not the most man-centered song in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal, but certainly related to something that makes the text quickly become outdated and oddball (well, kind of oddball from the start).
     
  4. JonC

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    I do not see the song as "man centered and faithless". Actually, it looks to be the opposite. While acknowledging the skill of man, it attributes that to the work of God. I don't see anything wrong with the song, except it is IMHO rather outdated, centered on culture, and simply ... well...bad.
     
  5. OnlyaSinner

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    I agree with the above comment that the words are dated, and I also thought them somewhat awkward but far from stupid. And I'm surprised at the minor key issue, which I think should be a non-issue, especially for such a grand Welsh tune like Aberystwyth. However, in my mind that tune is inseparably linked to Charles Wesley's deeply personal prayer, "Jesus, Lover of my Soul."
     
  6. rsr

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    Yep. Remember that song from youth camp. Yes, it appeared in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal, but I never, ever heard it sung in church. Probably because it was so dated and because of the tune (which I love, but modern Baptists seem to shy away from.)

    I don't think it belongs on a list of the "worst" ever written. There have been innumerable dreadful songs written — and thankfully discarded — over the centuries. We remember the relative handful that are worth keeping.

    Yet even a "bad" hymn can be used by God, so long as it's not heretical.

    As to Jesus Lover of My Soul (my favorite old hymn, BTW), our hymnal insisted on setting it to Martyn (the only tune I ever learned to play on the piano). It was only years later that I heard it set to Aberystwyth and immediately knew the text had a good home.
     
  7. rlvaughn

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    Thanks to each of you for your thoughts on this.
    That was just an impression I got from comments made (on either Adkin's or Murray's blog, or maybe both). But I might have misunderstood.

    I love minor tunes myself, and tend to compose more in minor than major.
     
  8. rsr

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    I'm no hater of minor keys. Who says music has to be cheerful all the time. O Sacred Head Now Wounded, for example, is perfectly pitched to the theme. And Chris Rice's Come to Jesus modulates to a minor key for effect, which in my book is a really musical thing to do, before resolving to the major key to express the glory that awaits those who are in Christ.
     
  9. rlvaughn

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    There is no reason for music to be cheerful all the time, either in the tune or the text. There are lots of sad subjects in life and in the Scriptures. And a good composer can even create a sprightly cheerful effect in minor and a sad solemn effect in major.

    One thing I like about a lot of the old Sacred Harp tunes is the effect of major tunes that modulate back and forth into minor. (We Sacred Harpers don't really think of it that way, but I think that is the proper explanation). Here's an example of what I mean, whether explained correctly or not:
    The Minister's Farewell.
     
  10. tyndale1946

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    Elder/Brother Vaughn I have a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time related to Sacred Harp Singing... In The Minister's Farewell why is the song sung completely through just the first stanza with just the shape notes?... I am ignorant to why this is done and looking for further understanding?,,, Is this to assure all parts are in sync?... I do love Sacred Harp Singing!... Brother Glen
     
  11. rlvaughn

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    Brother Glen, Sacred Harp is part of the old American singing school tradition, based on a moveable scale and syllables represented by shape notes. The singing schools taught/teach its students to sing by the method of reading the shapes and singing the syllables. Within the Sacred Harp singing conventions themselves, we have maintained that tradition of "singing the notes" before we sing the words of a song. This is more tradition than utility -- in that we sing songs this way that we have known for years and have memorized just as if they were new songs we'd never seen before. Bottom line, I suppose, is that we enjoy doing it. Hope this helps.
     
  12. tyndale1946

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    Tradition!... You need not say anymore... We do it because that is the way we have always done it... I think it adds a little flavor and is different and it stands out compare to just jumping right into the words of the song... I like it!... Brother Glen
     
  13. OnlyaSinner

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    From what I've read, which isn't all that much on the subject, the "major = cheerful" and "minor = sad" meme was a product of the Romantic era of Western classical music. And J.S. Bach, who merely harmonized "O Sacred Head", could and often did compose sad music in major and cheerful in minor. So could Mozart, though he used minor less frequently. His two most prominent symphonies in minor, #25 and #40, are very dramatic but hardly sad.
     
  14. rlvaughn

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    At least some of our idea "major = cheerful" and "minor = sad" is from cultural conditioning -- because we think that way, we think that way! But songs in our culture don't necessarily follow that pattern, even if we think they do.

    When John G. McCurry compiled The Social Harp, he pointed out this inconsistency in our thinking:

    'Some writers say that minor-keyed tunes are applied to poetry that is solemn, pensive, and melancholy; and major-keyed tunes are applied to poetry that is animated, spirited,and cheerful. But I differ with these writers. If that be true, why is the good old hymn, "O! when shall I see Jesus," &c., applied to tunes in the major and minor keys? and why was the hymn, "Lord, what a thoughtless wretch was I," &c., applied to Huntington in the major key, and also to Greenwich in the minor key?' (The Social Harp, John G. McCurry,1855, p. 12)
     
  15. rsr

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    I don't disagree with the above comments (surely minor vs. major is largely a cultural construct) I think you will find it well developed before the Romantic era, though it may have intensified the distinction. Handel's Messiah is chock full of alternating major and minor keys representing "light" and "dark" passages, even within the same chorus. (Such as All We Like Sheep in F Major transitioning immediately into And the Lord Hath Laid on Him in minor mode.)
     
    #15 rsr, Jun 22, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2016
  16. rlvaughn

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    This is off topic, but I thought this was an interesting comment about major and minor in the NPR piece on the death of Ralph Stanley:

    "...Ralph...built a fan base fiercely devoted to his straightforward banjo and archaic-type singing known as the "high lonesome" mountain sound. Stanley's sound came in part from the fact that he often sang in a minor key, while his band played in a happy-sounding major key."
     
  17. JohnDeereFan

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    I remember when this song was included in the Methodist hymnal when I was a kid. Even as a kid, I thought it was kind of dopey.

    It's not heretical, it's just really silly.
     
  18. JohnDeereFan

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    I've always been a huge Stanley Brothers/Ralph Stanley fan. We've been going to festivals since the late 60s/early 70s, and we got to see him many, many times. Never failed to put on a good show.

    I saw him once at a little place in Chester County, Pa, called Sunset Park. It must have been about 100 degrees, but he and the band (which I don't think included Keih Whitley at that point) stayed until the last person was greeted.
     

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