Category Archives: Poetry by Dwight Gingrich

A Song: “Before All Things (Colossians 1:15-20)”

Our church is enjoying a sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. At the start of the series, it was suggested that the musicians in our midst might want to compose new songs based on the letter. I immediately thought of the “hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20 and decided I’d like to put it to music. This task has proven difficult however, since the passage doesn’t follow the rhythms or rhymes of English poetry, despite being full of other poetic features.

This week I meditated on the passage again (in Greek and English) until I could more or less say it by memory (in English). On Wednesday some musical lines finally started to come, but I wasn’t very impressed. Thursday morning my wife recalled and played Andrew Peterson’s fine arrangement of this passage (“All Things Together“). Hearing Peterson further opened my musical streams and also gave me the idea of beginning each verse with questions. Finally better music started to come, and that day I composed most of this song.

After a couple more days of adaptations and valuable feedback from my family, I am content with the result. Today–the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection–my family and I recorded the song. Special thanks to my daughters for sharing their pleasant voices, which made the song so much better, and to my wife for willingly overseeing lights and camera.

I do not pretend this is great music, but I am happy that it meets my original goals of sticking closely to the biblical text and yet being singable by a congregation. I envision a soloist singing the questions at the start of each verse, with the congregation responding. The rest of each verse could be either sung by the soloist or, with a little practice, by the entire congregation. The chorus and bridge are simple for all to sing.

In writing this song I tried to follow the text of Colossians as closely as possible (using the ESV translation), with minor adjustments to ease the rhythm and retain clarity. I also tried to follow the original structure of this “hymn,” which has two stanzas (1:15-16 and 1:18b-20–the two verses of my song) tied together by several transitional lines (1:17-18a–the chorus of my song). There is an “extra” line in the second stanza of the song that breaks the rhythm–an exclamation that Jesus is preeminent (first) not only in the original creation, but also in the new creation. I saved that line for the bridge of my song.

Here is this passage in Greek. This note was written by me in June 2014, when I first became fascinated with the literary structure of this passage. I knew very little Greek at the time, but I shared it on Facebook with this comment: “Sunday school thoughts: Here, from today’s CLP lesson, is the central ‘Christ poem,’ Colossians 1:15-20–in Greek! Even those of us who don’t know Greek can see something of the poetry of Christ’s firstborn status both as creator and as re-creator.”

Bible students may recall that this passage is sometimes called a “Christ hymn”; it is often praised for its “high Christology.” While it is true that this passage describes Jesus in terms fitting for an anointed king, the word “Christ” itself is conspicuously missing from the passage and its immediate context. Instead, we find the language of sonship: “the Father… delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13). This sonship language ties directly into the firstborn imagery in the hymn.

These observations explain the answers I provided to the opening questions in each verse. Who is the One whom the song discusses? “Jesus, God’s own Son”; “Jesus, the Son of God.” 

Here are the lyrics to the song:


BEFORE ALL THINGS
(Colossians 1:15-20)

Verse 1:
Who is the image of the invisible God?
Jesus, God’s own Son
Who is the firstborn of all creation?
Jesus, God’s own Son

For by him all things were created,
In heaven and on earth,
Visible and invisible.

Whether thrones, dominions, rulers
Or authorities
All were created through him and for him.

Chorus A:
And he is before all things
He is before all things
And all things in him hold together
He is before all things
He is before all things
And he is the head of the body, the church.

Verse 2:
Who is the beginning?
Jesus, the Son of God
Who is the firstborn from the dead?
Jesus, the Son of God

For in him all the fullness
Of God was pleased to dwell
And reconcile through him all to him

By the blood of his cross
Making peace with all
All whether on earth or in heaven.

(Chorus A)

Bridge:
He’s the firstborn of all creation
The firstborn of all creation
That in all things he might be first

And the firstborn from the dead
The firstborn from the dead
That in all things he might be first

You’re the firstborn of all creation
The firstborn of all creation
That in all things you might be first

And you’re the firstborn from the dead
The firstborn from the dead
That in all things you might be first

Chorus B: (2x)
And you are before all things
You are before all things
And all things in you hold together
You are before all things
You are before all things
And you are the head of the body, the church.

You are the head of the body—You’re first!

Optional ending: (Repeat as desired)
Jesus, you are first
In all things you are first
In all things you hold first place of all

Jesus, you are first
We worship you as first
We worship you as first over all

Copyright April 9, 2020 by Dwight Gingrich. To be freely used for nonprofit uses only by the church of Jesus. All other rights reserved.


Is there a passage of Scripture that you have wished was set to music? Do you have any feedback on my efforts here? You may share your thoughts in the comments below.


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“How Do You Know Me?” — Words and Self-Identity

I dedicate this poem to all who have gathered courage to climb a mountain, look out over the world, and speak—and then, startled by strange echoes, wondered who the speaker really was.


“HOW DO YOU KNOW ME?”
John 1:47-49; 2:24-25; 21:17

The more I post my words abroad
For hearers near and far,
In true attempt to share with other souls,
Athirst or not,
The meager growth in understanding I have felt
And feel we want still more;
The more my words, as arrows blown beyond my sight,
Are heard by those who know me not
And cannot weigh with knowing minds
The heart and mind from whence those words took flight.

From distant minds more words return,
Words launched in echo to my own,
Each bearing freight of praise unmerited
Or censure crisply drawn.
My words are weighed on varied scales.
And not my words alone:
Hearts that I cannot measure well, or fairly,
Do not wait to weigh my own,
Assigning mental skill,
Fidelity,
Or motive liberally.

How shall I weigh these words?
They rightly rouse me to appraise my heart, and yet
Unequal weights abominations are,
And mock the truest scales.

For even love paints me with double tongue:
Its words of thanks and warning fall
In overlapping strokes upon my ear
Until a muddled portrait now appears.
Unless I am two men at once, or more,
I cannot be the man of whom all speak.

By Judge, not jury, we’ll at last be tried
(Though judged as mutual jurors, side by side)

And so:
One word alone I long to hear,
The word of Him who spoke this spinning sphere in space—
Whose words I must proclaim, no more, no less—
Who needs no witness, knowing what’s in man
(And knowing all, you know I love you, too),
Who underneath the fig tree saw my soul
Before I knew his name—
May He, the King, proclaim:
“An Israelite indeed, in whom there’s no deceit!”

—Dwight Gingrich, December 2015


For most people, self-identity is largely rooted in community. When our community offers a coherent and consistent reading of our souls, our confidence is bolstered. We know who we are, and we speak who we are. (This is a very biblical reality. For only one example, see Romans 12:3-8.)

But when our community expands, multiplies, or otherwise changes, divergent readings of our soul may be offered, and our self-identity can be shaken. At worst, such inconsistent echoes threaten to unhinge us mentally, destroying all confidence in our own ability to hear, to assess, to know anything at all for sure. Who am I, really? And dare I continue to speak, when speaking only increases the echoes that lay claim to my ears?

We are not competent to weigh our own hearts. But One is. He will weigh both our hearts and our words. In him we rest, and for his sake we speak—and will continue to speak, God willing, in 2016.


Writers, speakers, teachers—anyone: Have you ever experienced what I express in this poem? How do you process the diverse feedback that your words awaken? How do you discern when and how to let this feedback change your future words? How do you write and speak for an Audience of One without disregarding the needs and perspectives of your audience of many? And how do you learn from your audience of many without letting your Audience of One lose command of your words? Send me more echoes in the comments below.


PS: It was a lot of fun for both Mom and I to exchange normal roles and have her give me feedback as I made final decisions about this poem. I thank her for her help, yet any remaining flaws are entirely my own. One line in particular gave me no end of grief. My wife couldn’t make sense of it, Mom wasn’t sure about it, and I tried well over a dozen variants before I finally settled half contentedly on one, only since it was time to publish. So I’ll leave you with the explanation I gave my wife: Sometimes it’s good to have a line or two that leaves the reader completely stymied, with no sure way of knowing exactly what the author intended. This forces the reader to consider multiple possible readings, each with its own moral implications. Thus the reader enjoys multiple opportunities for moral improvement. 🙂 So puzzle and reflect—and let me know if you think you know which line robbed so much of my time.


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Between Comings (A Poem for Christmas)

This morning when we read the Christmas story we began with the prophet Micah. In Micah’s account, Christ’s coming was promised to a people facing great distress:

4:9 Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies...

5:1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. (Micah 4:9-10; 5:1-5)

In the fullness of time, when the Christ finally came—in Bethlehem, just as Micah foretold—the people he came to were also in distress. Though back in the land of Israel, they still felt themselves to be in exile, withering under Rome’s heavy hand:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed who was with child. (Luke 2:1-5)

And those in distress today still await Christ’s coming. We still await the full fulfillment of Micah’s words: “He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”

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Long centuries passed before the Lord’s words to Micah first began to be fulfilled. Even more centuries have passed since Christ first came, while we await the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

To all who, like me, live in an imperfect world, to all who battle fear and rest in faith, to all who live between Christ’s first and second comings, between his resurrection and his final appearing, I dedicate this little poem. Our King will come.


10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people… 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10, 12)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:11-13)


BETWEEN COMINGS

“Fear not,” to us the angel said,
“Fear not, for you will find.
“Fear not, this is the sign:
A baby in a manger laid.”

But now the child, our Lord, is dead.
But now we cannot find.
But now we see no sign
To show us where he has been laid.

Disease and death, the wars of words—
They’ve taken him away.
We cannot find the way;
Our world is ruled by other lords.

At such a time our Lord first came,
At such a time as this;
At such a time the mist
Of fear was rent by heaven’s flame.

Why are we weeping here today?
Why are we seeking blind?
Why have we fearful minds?
He’ll come, sure as he’s gone away.

—Dwight Gingrich, December 15, 2015


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I wish you the comfort of Christ’s Spirit this Christmas, and invite your response in the comments below.


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