Raised Between Grace and Obedience

GodReflection: Is Grace Still Amazing?

Obedience is the default mode of my church family.

From my earliest days obedience to a Holy God rang out from the church pulpit. Likewise, from an early age obedience was the expectation of my parents and our extended family. Although, it was not the only value on the menu, it was a dominant selection encouraged by church and family.

When acts of disobedience popped in and out of daily routine the penetration of obedience into my soul by the Holy was sufficient to get the attention of my conscience. The expectation of obedience (not perfection) was too clear to miss.

Grace came in a different form. Its glare was not as strong as the call to obedience. Grace entered my soul more by osmosis and less by declaration.

In retrospect, I witnessed grace as it was given to me by family and church as they lived it out in my presence. I did not call it by name but often recognized its benefit when I saw the act. AND I heard about grace through the four hundred fifty-two song in the church hymnal of my childhood. We sang of grace and obedience. We were a singing church.

Not only did we sing—we sang in four-part harmony. If push came to shove, I suspect we could have figured out how to make a case for Mary, Martha, James, and John, as the first soprano, alto, tenor, and bass in the New Testament church.

We learned four-part harmony by reading shape notes probably passed down to us from Sacred Harp singers of eighteenth-century New England. (However, never would we admit that anyone outside our church influenced our worship).

Theron Jay a stucco mason and a gifted tenor led our worship as he taught our church family the four hundred fifty-two songs in our brown hymnal. In his Wednesday night singing class, a tightly rolled newspaper was the perfect tool to press against our diaphragm to learn how to breath as songs flowed out from within. I am sure he must have glowed within as he lifted each little boy upon the top of the Communion Table to lead our first song.

During my adolescent years, the young people of the congregation met at the church building on the corner of Fox and Lake streets every Sunday afternoon at five o’clock to sing from the church hymnal.

Bobby Lowery, who grew up in our town—probably among the first to go away to college and return with a business degree—led us as we gathered on the church pews to sing. No longer with his Sunday morning suit jacket and necktie, he would roll up his shirt sleeves, prop his foot on the front pew and lean in to face us.

For nearly an entire hour he would direct the beat of each song as four-part music rang from exuberance young voices. From our brown hymnal we sang of sacrifice, forgiveness, love, and joy. We sang of Father, Son, and Spirit. We sang of resurrection. We sang of hope and eternal life.

Unknown to us at the time we were singing grace.  Seeds planted through my childhood hymnal at church assemblies, youth activities, and family gatherings, engraved grace into my soul.

One afternoon at our last extended family reunion, a feeble uncle, a spry widowed aunt, cousins, spouses, siblings, some of the kids and grand-kids, sat among a generous distribution of church hymnals.

As numbers were called out, a good portion of the afternoon flew by. Still in four-part harmony, wedged between melodious words of grace and obedience, the family was in song.

Time stood still between two rather good bookends. Not a bad way to pass and afternoon, don’t you think?  

Stay tuned.

Dr. Gary J. Sorrells

A GodReflection on Raised Between Grace and Obedience  




2 thoughts on “Raised Between Grace and Obedience

  1. Thanks, Gary, for the walk down memory lane. I too cherish our four-part-harmony heritage and will be forever grateful for the love of singing that I learned both from my mother and from my church. I agree with you that the theology we sang was often more complete than the theology we preached. God bless us all.


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