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Brenda Isaacs.

In his best life, John Newton was an Anglican clergyman. Before that, he had been a captain on a slave ship transporting Africans owned by Great Britain across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

What is most significant about Mr. Newton's life is the fact one day he had a very close encounter with God during an horrific storm on the high seas. After that, he accepted Jesus as his savior and began to denounce the slave trade. Additionally, he wrote what is easily the best known hymn in christendom — "Amazing Grace" — which is still sung by all races, creeds, colors, denominations and languages.

It is particularly fitting to recognize this hymn during this celebration of Black History Month because even though Newton penned the lyrics, it has been discovered by scholars that the melody comes from an African "sorrow" chant that the enslaved peoples from West Africa sang during their suffering on the ships.

Yes, the Africans suffered dramatically in those times, but John Newton was able to interpret that suffering as well as the release that comes from eventual freedom and he turned it into a sermon in song. The song teaches we were all once slaves to sin until Jesus entered our lives and delivered us from whatever held us captive.

Another song that fosters that same concept is "Jubilee" by Michael Card: "The word provided for the slaves to be set free, for the debts to all be canceled, so His Chosen One could see. His deep desire was for forgiveness, He longed to see their liberty, and His yearning was embodied in the Year of Jubilee. Jubilee. Jubilee. Jesus is that Jubilee. Debts forgiven, slaves set free ... Jesus is our Jubilee."

Although Card's song is based on Old Testament principles, the word of God is "forever settled in heaven," and it is from "everlasting to everlasting" like God is. (Psalm 119:89, Isaiah 43:13)

Through study and experience I have found the single factor that unites all Christians is music — whether Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, nondenominational or whatever! We all love the "Hallelujah" chorus by Handel, a Lutheran and an Anglican. We rejoice in the "Ode to Joy" by Beethoven, a Catholic, but as some would say, not a "good" Catholic. One of my personal favorites is "Rejoice the Lord is King" by Charles Wesley, a Methodist. And who can resist "My Tribute" and "Jesus is the Answer," both by the late, great, black singer and pastor, Andrae Crouch? The Church of God in Christ performer visited Bakersfield many times during his lifetime, and those songs, too, are sung all over the world.

Honestly, when people are singing, there is no room for arguments, disputes or opinions: Everyone is singing the same notes, on the same page, at the same time. I imagine that is exceptionally pleasing to God, and that it comes up before his throne as sweet smelling perfume.

Christianity has been going in manifold directions during the past several centuries, but what ever direction it decides to take, let's just keep singing!

Brenda Isaacs is an author, Bible scholar and part-time teacher. She can be reached at baroness1@fastmail.fm.

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