The roar of B-17 engines, and the importance of teaching children hymns

Happy Veteran’s Day!

The other day, as I was outside exercising, I heard a sound that instantly took me back to my childhood.

My apartment lies near the approach path for landing at one of the Asheville Airport runways, so I hear certain engine sounds all the time: The shrill whine of a commercial airline jet engine, the confident rhythm of a corporate plane turboprop, or the quieter sound of a personal Cessna out for a look at the fall colors.

Last weekend, though, the sound I heard was the throaty roar of four radial engines. I instantly knew, even without looking up, that a B-17 was flying by. Of course, though, I did look up, and paused what I was doing as a silent salute to a plane that had played such a crucial role in saving freedom as we knew it. There may have even been a tear or two.

Neither of my grandfathers was old enough to serve in World War II; both were in the service in the Korean War era. One was at Inchon; the other had an injury in training that left him mostly deaf and ended his military career prematurely.

But through my childhood, I found and became friends of World War II veterans frequently, at church and elsewhere. A remarkable number of them had flown in the B-17, so I took a particular interest in World War II aviation history in general and B-17 history in particular. In fact, as a child, I had even toured the very plane that stopped by the Asheville airport.

It seems that something that moves us as a child has the power, later in life, to stir some of the deepest emotions known to the human soul. I’m not enough of a scientist to go out and find reams of studies to back this up, but perhaps I don’t need them. Just watch people, and you don’t need science to prove the power of nostalgia.

This, perhaps, is part of the case for the importance of introducing children to hymns. Yes, of course, also introduce children to new songs that have a similarly solid theology. Perhaps the day will come when we will call some of these songs hymns, too. Every generation of Christian music has good songs, but hymns have been tested and proven in a uniquely pertinent way. The songs that resonate most deeply in the souls of believers are the ones we’ll keep requesting time and again. If a song has that staying power for several decades—for several generations—then we start to call it a hymn.

We can’t know at the outset, of course, whether a particular child raised in a Christian home will come to know the Lord at an early age, and remain a lifelong Christian. That is something we can certainly influence but cannot control. But there is one area where parents and other family members and close friends can have a decisive impact. What sort of songs is that child surrounded with? When that child is 35, or 45, or 55, or 65, what songs will stir the deep emotions that only come with something that has been familiar since childhood?

The hymns—the songs that have been tested and proven to have that staying power, for generations upon generations—should at least be some of those songs.

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9 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. I agree about the importance of surrounding ourselves and our family with solid Gospel music. I grew up listening to all Gospel.Even during my teen years when my friends talked about the current secular groups,I listened to groups like The Chuck Wagon Gang and singers like Jimmie Davis and Kitty Wells.Do I regret this now? NO ,a thousand times no.God used these songs and their messages to form me into who I am today.

    • I agree. Even though the music I was surrounded by growing up was quite a bit of praise & worship and CCM, as well as some hymns, I don’t regret that for a moment. At least it was all Christian and had Christian words to fill my mind and heart! (And I did learn quite a few hymns along the way, too!)

  2. What does it mean for a “wine” to be shrill and what does it have to do with a jet engine? 😆

    • Oops – typo! Thanks, and fixed!

  3. THANKS DANIEL for these remarks.

  4. A good post indeed! The importance of teaching children hymns cannot be over emphasised. Yesterday I watched a music seminar. The presenter of the seminar said that the average teen spends 40 hours per week listening to music. Sadly, most of that music is the kind that corrupts the thoughts, awakens and strengthens the baser passions, and feeds the old man of sin, the flesh.

    Even sadder still, some among professed christians let their children listen to junk, not knowing that their young minds are being led astray. All who claim to be preparing for translation to heaven must exchange impure suggestions for pure, elevating thoughts. And what better way to do that than to use the 40 hours listening to music with wholesome lyrical content, thus training the mind in the contemplation of heavenly themes.

    Parents, teach your children hymns that tell of His love, that lift His name and teach His ways. When they are older, their minds will have been trained and sealed to appreciate pure music, their thoughts will be such as would not make angels blush.

    I remember as a kid we used to have song service at church from 8am to 9am. We would sing hymn after hymn, oh what an explosion of joy, a fore-taste of heaven! To this day I still go to that same church and still see some of the faces. Some have long died and their graves never fail to move my heart with sadness, but some are still alive and well, and we still have song service from 8am to 9am. Once we start singing, the things of earth really grow strangely dim and sadness is dispelled for we believe what the old song says,

    The mossy old graves where the pilgrims sleep
    Shall be opened as wide as before
    And the millions that sleep in the mighty deep
    Shall live on this earth once more.

  5. Our family loves the hymns of the church. We know some of them, but not enough of them! A friend of ours just gave us a gift of two “red-back” hymnals…what a blessing. We used to pick a hymn of the week and sing/learn it during our devotion time. It’s time to start that up again! Thank you for this post, Daniel.

    -Mom for TGF

    • You’re welcome! What a neat present!