Lead On, O Kinky Turtle!

February 4th, 2013 / 10 Comments

I grew up singing hymns of the faith. But as a kid with an active imagination and plenty of time, I liked to switch hymn lyrics in weird ways.

I’m not alone in creative lyric switching, of course. And it’s not just hymns that offer lyrics ready-made for replacement.

Some lyrics switches are legendary:

   God Bless America: “through the night with a light from a bulb” (instead of “with a light from above”)

   Jimi Hendrix: “excuse me, while I kiss this guy” (instead of “kiss the sky”)

   Pink Floyd: “No dogs or cats are in the classroom” (instead of “dark sarcasm in the classroom”)

   Hymn: “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear” (instead of “gladly, the cross I’d bear”)

   Christmas hymn: “Sleep in heavenly peas” (instead of “sleep in heavenly peace”)

Lead On, O King Eternal

The lyric switch I thought funniest as a kid was changing “Lead on, o King eternal” to “lead on, o kinky turtle.” In fact, I have difficulty singing the original lyrics when, on the rare occasion, I sing that song today!

The music of the hymn feels like a march to war. But a close look at some of the hymn’s lyrics reveals that the methods of holy war are far different from the usual. Here’s the second verse, for instance:

   Lead on, O King eternal,

   till sin’s fierce war shall cease,

   and holiness shall whisper

   the sweet amen of peace.

   For not with swords loud clashing,

   nor roll of stirring drums;

   with deeds of love and mercy

   the heavenly kingdom comes.

I absolutely love these lyrics! (Now, will someone find a more contemporary melody for them?)

The personification of holiness that “whispers the sweet amen of peace,” for instance, is a way of talking about holiness I find winsome. For peace, in its fullest sense, is more than an absence of conflict. It’s full-bodied well-being, abundant life, flourishing, and blessedness.

And instead of swords and drums, this war is waged with deeds of love and mercy. This is the kind of war in which I want to soldier, and this is the future for which I long!

Leadership in God’s Reign of Love

I’ve been thinking lately about what kind of leader God might be. Many of us consciously or unconsciously imitate God’s leadership style. It’s a kind of leadership imitatio dei, to use the Latin. And if we’re imitating God’s leadership, the way we think God leads will shape our own leadership ideals.

I think God’s leadership is persuasive not controlling. In love and mercy, God invites us to participate in the love revolution God instigates.

Instead of vanquishing foes in coercive fashion, I think God beckons, listens, empowers, guides, and seeks cooperation. I think God walks before us, alongside us, and behind us. But I don’t think God ever uses swords either to coerce us or to slay those who might come against us.

And if God leads like that, perhaps this should be our mode of leadership. Perhaps we should “imitate God, as beloved children, and live a life of love…,” to quote the Apostle Paul. Perhaps persuasive power invites cooperation and shuns domination.

This week, NNU’s Wesley Center hosts its “Leadership in God’s Reign of Love” conference. I’ll be listening to what a fabulous set of plenary speakers and workshop leaders say about leadership. And I’ll be wondering, “Is God’s leadership like that?” and “So what does this mean for me as a leader?”

I hope to see you at the conference!

Add comment


Carol VanSlageren

“How oft in holy Nikes”…oh I mean converse….  Your blog brought back many memories of singing in the car as we drove everywhere, playing “Name that tune” on long road trips, and Larry Norman’s album mom gave you. 
My imagination is like your’s…however, I often make up interesting motions to go along with songs.  I like to think that God appreciates my creativity with “staid” hymns and contemporary worship songs.

Jay Akkerman

Thanks for your entry about twisted hymn lyrics, Tom. It reminded me of something a good friend of mine experienced in the late 1980s when choruses were making inroads into our worship. Back then, most churches still relied on hymnbooks that did not include these popular new choruses. Since few churches projected their lyrics on screens in those days, the worship leader at my friend’s church simply sang them out and the congregation learned the words and tunes by ear.

One of the worship leader’s favorite choruses was “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise,” based out of Hebrews 13. My friend picked up the tune, clapped loudly to the rhythm of the beat, but had trouble deciphering some parts of the lyrics. Given its popularity with the worship leader and congregation, the chorus was sung with some frequency.

In spite of my friend’s best efforts, she learned the chorus as “We Bring the Sacks of Rice on Trays.”

Today this song is not as popular in the churches where I tend to worship. But when I hear it on occasion, I can’t help but sing it the way my friend learned it!


Angie Gilmour

Not a song, but my 5 year old is learning the Lords Prayer in school. he says “Our Father which art in heaven, Howard be thy name”….love how kids hear things!


Loved your description of how God leads.  I have always been aware that God’s way of leading is best, but had never seen such a good summary. 

My twisted hymn lyric memory is “Pass me not the mashed potatoes nor the peas and corn.”  Instead of “Pass me not oh gentle savior he my humble cry.”  First heard that when we had the pastor over for Sunday dinner and he sang that to us.  Even as a seven-year-old, I thought it was a little too twisted.

Brian Parker

How about this twist from a familiar old chorus: “May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your rear.”

Frances Parker

LOVE our God who leads like that!  And would that I may follow closer in His steps… I didn’t always know Him like this; I served a God who drove me from behind, who never showed me His face, and who was always watching every move I made with piercing gaze ready to accuse and find fault and punish.  Now this God I know is like a magnet.  He draws me with His love, His care, His attention to every detail of my life which He watches over in order to bring me His best.  How great is our God!
…and on the other note, as a child I always wondered what was in the jar that was left at the gate for me…  “Was left ajar for me!”  My cousin sang “The half has never yippin’ toad, yippin’ toad…” and also wondered what a “peander” was for years.  As in, “…the roll is called a peander…”

Bev Mitchell

Old hymns, how we need them more than ever. Even when we joke about them, it’s because we know they are such good friends that they don’t mind.  In the category of great words in need of better melodies, this Wesley one popped up in a quick scan. I didn’t know these words and the tune (or one tune) is that of the better known “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” As we think of how more theology can be worked into Sunday services, we could do a lot worse that turning to many of these old friends.

1 ALL praise to our redeeming Lord, Who joins us by his grace, And bids us, each to each restored, Together seek his face.

2 He bids us build each other up; And, gathered into one, To our high calling’s glorious hope We hand in hand go on.

3 The gift which he on one bestows, We all delight to prove; The grace through every vessel flows, In purest streams of love.

4 Even now we think and speak the same, And cordially agree; Concentrated all, through Jesus’ name, In perfect harmony.

5 We all partake the joy of one, The common peace we feel, A peace to sensual minds unknown, A joy unspeakable.

6 And if our fellowship below In Jesus be so sweet, What heights of rapture shall we know, When round his throne we meet!

Matthew Codd

Let angels prostates fall- “Let Angels prostrate fall”

I was a very confused little kid

David Sullivan

Bev Mitchell wrote, “In the category of great words in need of better melodies, this Wesley one popped up in a quick scan. I didn’t know these words and the tune (or one tune) is that of the better known ‘O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing’”

I love old hymns and am generally disappointed with the caliber of the worship music nowadays. There are increasingly more hymns available in new arrangements. One great example is an album called “Love Divine” featuring new arrangements of the hymns of Charles Wesley, “O for a thousand tongues” among them.

As for better melodies, the hymn “Jesus Lover of My Soul” is so powerful on this album, but the traditional tune has always made the hymn seem less intense than the words express.

Molly Breland

The only one I can think of immediately is “The moon it ticks in the grass.” Instead of “The lunatic is on the grass.”
Then there’s the classic, “Bennie [Betty?] and the Jetts.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Type in all 5 of the digits below to leave a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.