There are some tunes which, once heard, are never forgotten. Unfortunately.
One such melody occurs on an album of early 1970s Christian children’s songs which I remember well, despite my best endeavours to forget it.
The LP is one produced by the redoubtable Betty Pulkingham, who features on the album sleeve in a luridly technicolour picture. She is pictured seated on some steps, with her guitar and a determined smile, surrounded by children in improbable early 70s attire. Of course, because of her guitar, we called her Betty Plucking-em.
The good Betty doesn’t look like a woman to mess with – a combination of Mary Poppins and Gladys Aylward in her prime, perhaps. I imagine that if some freak tear in space and time had dropped her and her young companions into a jungle, Betty would grasp the neck of her guitar firmly in both hands and scythe a way through, swinging the instrument back and forth, using a few spare guitar strings to swiftly dispatch any hostile beasts. She’d still have the kids all clean and shiny and sat round a campfire singing Christian songs by nightfall.
The album was entitled Hey kids, do you love Jesus? and this was also the name of the main song. If I remember rightly it went something like this… Betty (singing brightly): ‘Hey kids, do you love Jesus?’ Kids (uncertainly): ‘Yes, we love Jesus.’ Betty (with forceful joy): ‘Are you sure you love Jesus?’ Kids (dolefully): ‘Yes, we’re sure we love Jesus.’ Betty (almost hysterically): ‘Are you sure you love Jesus?’ Kids (determinedly now): ‘Yes, we’re sure we love Jesus and please can we have some candy and go home now?’ Ok, I made that last bit up.
But the saintly Betty was on to something. Sometimes when I read articles written by evangelicals or scroll down comments online left by us Bible-believing people I find myself asking the question: ‘Where is love for Jesus in all this?’ And that’s because too many of the things I read seem more concerned with ‘being right’ than ‘being righteous’ – or defending a party line rather than pointing to Christ.
John Newton put it well many years ago when he wrote: ‘I cannot see it my duty, nay, I believe it would be my sin, to attempt to beat my notions into other people’s heads. Too often I have attempted it in the past; but now I judge that both my zeal and my weapons were carnal. When our dear Lord questioned Peter … he said not, “Art thou wise, learned, eloquent?” Nay, he said not, “Art thou clear and sound and orthodox?” but this only: “Lovest thou me?”.’
I looked up Betty Pulkingham online and was interested to see that she had died only last year – at the grand age of 90. The obituary spoke of her ‘her love, faithfulness, strength, grace and beauty’ which touched many lives.
The article then went on to quote Colossians 3: ‘Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another … And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’
That’s rather a good tribute to have. I wonder whether the same verses will be linked to any of us in our own obituaries. And despite having a bit of a joke about Betty’s song, ‘Hey kids, do you love Jesus?’, the fact that the question posed in it has been remembered through the decades since I last listened to it is a terrific legacy.
So – how would you answer her question? How is your own love for Jesus? Is it time to pray for a restoration of that first love (Rev.2:4)? Whatever we do, and whatever we write or say, let us keep love for Jesus at the heart of it. And do you know what? If you have an Amazon account and a record turntable you can still buy a copy of Betty’s LP. So you could play, ‘Hey kids, do you love Jesus?’ for yourself. And you’ll never forget it. I promise.
David Baker is Rector of East Dean Church