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Beloved hymn is ‘Amazing’

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Carma Wadley of the Deseret News — a devout Mormon — has more than 50 recordings of the hymn "Amazing Grace." She has a Celtic version, a Cajun version. She has it by Elvis, Roy Rogers, Mahalia Jackson and Andy Griffith.

At Deseret Book stores you can find versions by David Barrus, the Mormon Youth Chorus and Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

My father's LDS choirs sang the song in a bluesy style with a roadhouse piano.

The LDS Church has no official position on the hymn, though a church spokesman says the church always welcomes expressions of faith. So for now, "Amazing Grace" will continue to hover out on the edge of LDS culture.

Most Mormons have heard it; few lifetime members have sung it.

In the "divide" between Mormons and other Christians, "Amazing Grace" has unwittingly gotten wedged in the crevice.

What follows is one man's opinion about it all.

And that opinion begins with some notions of "grace."

For many "born again" Christians, Christ not only pays the price for our sins, He redeems us from our sinful nature. His resurrection rescues the body from "decay," his suffering rescues the soul from a state of "decadence."

In Christ, we are completely re-cast and re-made. We become new creatures.

It's a miracle that calls for praise and celebration.

Mormons, on the other hand, don't believe we are born with a sinful nature but are born into a world that confuses and corrupts us. Our job is to find a path through it, to run the "obstacle course." If we err along the way, Christ is there to shoulder any punishment we have coming and support us, as long as we show remorse and try to do better.

It's a miracle that calls for gratitude.

Over the years, "Amazing Grace" has become such a "national anthem" for the first point of view, Mormons shy from singing it too loudly so people won't get the wrong impression of LDS beliefs. Among themselves, however, Mormons embrace the hymn and sing of Christ's "grace" on their own terms.

Evangelicals and Mormons do agree, however, that human beings are prone to being blind and getting lost. We need divine help.

And both groups love "Amazing Grace" because it tells of that need so honestly and clearly.

It does so, because John Newton, the author, was spiritually blind, lost and desperate for redemption.

Among his many sins, Newton was the captain of a slave ship. He was, as hymn says, a true "wretch."

After a dramatic rescue at sea, however, Newton was spiritually rescued as well. Christ blew into his heart like a hurricane. Soon Newton, a poet, was writing like the wind. He wrote "Amazing Grace" in a frenzy.

In a Bill Moyers television special about the hymn, scholars offered opinions about the melody. Some said it sounded like a Southern slave song. Others heard a Scottish dirge.

I've always heard the mournful sound of a military bugle call — a tune akin to "Taps."

I wrote Moyers to tell him so.

In his reply, he said he was such a terrible trumpet player in junior high that he didn't deserve an opinion about bugle calls. Still, he knew the hymn could be looked at from a hundred angles and embraced a million ways.

The amazing thing about "Amazing Grace," Bill Moyers said, is it remains sweet, ever-fresh and forever personal.

It is, in the end, like the gift of grace itself.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com