Tag archives: Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach’s Bible

by Robert Morrison

April 9, 2013

I don’t speak German. I wish I did. That amazing language wasn’t offered in my Long Island high school or even in any neighboring school when I was growing up. The memories, the wounds of the Holocaust were still very raw. I remember parents of some of my classmates saying they would never buy, or even ride in, one of those new Volkswagens that were becoming popular in the early 1960s here.

When I was selected in 1987 as the first Washington representative of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I began to get clued in to the German heritage of the LCMS. As part of my responsibilities, I would visit many Midwestern congregations of this confessional church body. Older people in those congregations had grown up in the Missouri Synod at a time when German was used in all church services, in all LCMS parochial schools. They would speak Deutsche to me. I would politely answer them—in Russian.

The LCMS members had fought hard to protect their linguistic heritage. They even went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923 to fight back against a xenophobic Nebraska state law that had banned teaching in a foreign language, any modern foreign language.

America had just emerged victorious from World War I and the anti-German sentiment was high. But the Supreme Court in the case of Meyer v. Nebraska sided with LCMS in what became a first important ruling on parents’ rights before the High Court. Shortly thereafter, the Court went further, in the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In that Oregon case, a Ku Klux Klan-inspired referendum had outlawed all private education.

The Court said no, declaring: “the child is not the mere creature of the state.” Pierce is a more far-reaching case than Meyer, to be sure, but what was at issue in Meyer was not just the right of parochial Lutheran schools to teach members’ children in German, it was the right of those kids’ parents to seek the education that comported with their deeply held values.

This is a right not recognized by the modern democratic German government. So admirable in so many ways, the German government nonetheless persecutes home schoolers.

The Romeike (roh-MIKE-uh) family of home schoolers had to flee their native land and has sought refuge here in America. The Obama administration wants to deport this wholly innocent family from their Tennessee home. You can push back against this shameful attempt by visiting the Home School Legal Defense Association’s website. You can help by signing their petition.

Issues of faith and nation were to be seen once again in this amazing story of the Bible of Johann Sebastian Bach. When I would be introduced around Washington as the LCMS’s representative, I would often be teased with: “Ah yes, the Missouri Synod Lutherans—Bach, bier, und Bibel.”

I understood enough German to say, that should be “Bibel, Bach, und bier.” This YouTube video tells the amazing story of the miraculous discovery of Bach’s Bible and its preservation from the clutches of Hitler’s Nazis, as well as the perils of Allied bombing and Russian pillaging.

This much German we can all share: Gottes wort bleibt in Ewigkeit. “God’s Word stands Forever!”

Musings on Bachs Birthday

by Robert Morrison

March 21, 2011

I was researching a U.S. history book several years ago when I read about Gov. Nelson Rockefeller shaking hands with the 110-year old Henry Herndon in Indiana in 1968. Rocky was very excited. You could have given him Venezuela and the billionaire would not have been as happy. The reason?

The governor was told that Henry Herndon shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. Rocky went around for days telling everyone he met: Hey, fella, shake hands with me. I just shook hands with a man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

I mentally filed that not away. Nice to know. Interesting comment, too, on American politics. When Lincoln shook hands with Henry Herndon, he was no longer the poor lad born in the log cabin. By that time, Lincoln was a successful lawyer from Springfield, Illinois.

But he was no Rockefeller. Yet, Lincoln won his first bid for national office—and the richer than Croesus Rockefeller was defeated, not once, but twice.

It was only several weeks later that it all dawned on me: Hey! I shook hands with Nelson Rockefeller in 1971. Which means I shook hands with the man who shook hands with the man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

But Lincoln shook hands with J.Q. Adams, who shook hands with George Washington, his father John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe and James Madison.

History buff that I am, I really got excited about this.

This led me to speculate that I might be similarly linked to Johann Sebastian Bach. Today is Bachs birthday. Bach spent his life as a humble kappelmeister in Germany. I think he must have walked everywhere he went. He never realized that he was a great genius.

He was a great husband and father. Two wives (he was once widowed) bore him some twenty children. Many of them went on to distinguish themselves in the world of music, too. Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Johann Christian Bach are only two of his distinguished progeny.

Columnist George Will says that the angels play Bachs music around the Throne of God (but when they get off on their own, they jam with Mozart!) I dont know about any of that, but it is true that Bachs music opens up a world of devotion to us. He finished every composition with the Latin words: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—to the Greater Glory of God.

How much better our world would be if we all did our work with that dedication in mind.

Maybe then people would read what we write or consider what we accomplish 260 years after we are gone.

Bach has never really been gone. His music went out beyond the galaxy on board the U.S. Pioneer X space probe. What if Extra-Terrestrials hear it and come to Earth asking us: Take us to your Kapellmeister.

Might John Adams have shaken hands with King George III when he was our ambassador to London? And might the King have shaken hands with the London Bach, Johann Christian Bach, who of course shook hands with his father, old Johann Sebastian?

Oops. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Kings didn’t shake hands in those days. And besides, Johann Christian died in 1782, before John Adams arrived in London.

So this hands-on exercise stops with George Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. Perfectly fine. (Unless I can somehow make another connection between John Adams and J.C. Bach).

Now, there was my beloved professor at U.Va., Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who shook hands with Winston Churchill, who shook hands with the whole world!

I shared my Lincoln handshake story with my doctor friend aboard the USS Lincoln. He has assured me that no matter how vigorously any of these worthies shook hands, there would be no DNA remaining to pass on.

May be. But there is a sense of how connected we all are. More important than any of these is our connection to our Lord. And His to us through His son, Jesus Christ.