Guest post by Michael Hicks.
I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.
First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf.
I mention these two consistencies because yesterday in sacrament meeting the superb tenor Erik Agle sang a simple but thrilling rendition of “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” by Janice Kapp Perry. As I listened, I thought (again), “This is one of the masterworks of children’s gospel music.” Why? The music is excellently designed, of course: the lovely but subtly surprising parallellism of the first two lines, the gradual climbing of the melody into its apex at the chorus, and so forth. But more important to me is the wording, which is not about Jesus as God or some symbol of Whatever, but about a fallen human trying to imitate His attitudes and acts.
Consider: How many hymns are there that doggedly emphasize *trying*, with the humility and understatement the word implies. Here the singer says again and again “I’m trying.” That’s all one can ask or demand of any mortal being. And the nature of what the singer is trying? All the virtues that denote real Christianity–the emulation of Jesus instead of the “mere” adoration of Him.
But there is something else: the striking emphasis on the mind, not the heart, as the locus of inspiration. “Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,” the song says. And when the Holy Spirit (*not* the archaic “Holy Ghost”) speaks, He does it when He “enters into my thoughts.”
Then what is the message the Spirit speaks? Just this: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do. Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought, for these are the things Jesus taught.”
That’s the gospel. And if children get that message in our church via this song, they will outlast and transcend all the other, lesser messages that enter their ears through the siren songs of religiosity.