Far above Earth’s tumult
The call of love we hear
Shall its gentle pleading
Fall on a heedless ear?
Back in the Eisenhower '50s, when the Primary chorister in our ward took song requests from the kids, our vote was always unanimous: “The Call of Love.”
I don’t know if the song was popular all over Utah. We were so isolated in Brigham City we thought our ward Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invented glass grapes.
But I suspect “The Call of Love” must have been a hit in other towns, too.
It had all the elements. The tune sounded like a football fight song. It had a “call and response” section where the girls sang high and the boys sang low (as low as 8-year-old boys can go). And it finished with a bang.
So it came as a surprise the other day when, while leafing through an old Protestant hymnal, I discovered we’d been singing a different version of the song. Someone had monkey-wrenched the lyrics. The phrase wasn’t “the call of love” but “the call of Christ." And the call wasn’t to “service that never shall cease” but to “warfare that never shall cease.”
Suddenly the song's final line, “Onward press, my comrades, we are gaining ground,” made sense.
Austin Miles (not Miles Austin, the wide receiver) penned the song in 1935. He also gave the world the hymn “In the Garden.” And the real title of our Primary pep song wasn’t “The Call of Love” at all but “Far Above Earth’s Tumult.”
What's more, the song was not a jaunty singalong but a call to arms, a militant, military-style anthem in the vein of “We Are All Enlisted” ("Hymns," No. 250) and “Onward Christian Soldiers” (Hymns, No. 246).
I never much liked those hymns — all those images of combat and “marching as to war” ran against my notion of the Christian ideal. In fact, military hymns bugged me so much that when we’d sing one in church, the bishop — my friend Lefty Baird — would look my way to make sure I wasn’t pouting.
But over time, I came to see militant marching songs in a fresh light.
I realized, as Christians, we were singing about the “internal battle,” not the “external battle.” We weren't cracking the heads of infidels, but fighting like warriors to be good people. And that battle required the same kind of discipline, commitment and bravery that early Christian crusaders displayed, only the body count was lower.
In essence, the song penned by Austin Miles actually was a “Call of Love” and a call to service. He just couched the fervor in convenient warlike terms.
I also think whoever changed the words to “The Call of Love” in our Primary songbooks probably did us boys a favor. We tended to end up in too many dirt-clod fights and fisticuffs as it was, without singing about being “called to warfare” in church.
So, truth be told, I’ve never made my peace with the Christian Crusades. I cringe just writing the words. But I have made peace with our Crusader-style hymns.
What's more, I'm also pleased the line in “Praise to the Man” (Hymns, No. 27) about the Prophet Joseph Smith’s blood was changed to say his blood will “plead unto heaven” and not “stain Illinois.”
I mean, who wants to reignite those ugly skirmishes?