This is the one where I finish snickering at the tastelessness of 1992's Missouri Synod Lutheran youth hymnal, All God's People Sing...
Song No. 240 "This Is My Commandment" is another round, or canon, with a tune that (I suppose appropriately) falls into an ABBA form. The complete text, based on Jesus' words in John 15:11-12, is: "This is my commandment that you love one another, that your joy may be full." Far be it from me to criticize the words of Jesus—or even the narrow scope of the selection thereof, since you can't expect a musical exercise of this kind to fit in much more text. What I do criticize, however, is the suggestion at the bottom of the piece, that additional stanzas say, "This is my commandment that you trust one another... serve one another... lay down your lives..." The middle one of these three "commandments" arguably comes out of the footwashing discourse in John 13, and has some direct Biblical support (Galatians 5:13). But I have doubts about the scripturalness of the other two optional stanzas. And if Christ didn't actually give us the commandment, putting those words in His mouth may be a more serious error than mere bad taste.
242 "This Is the Feast of Victory" (for our God, Alleluia) is John W. Arthur's adaptation of the Dignus et Agnus canticle ("Worthy is the Lamb"), excerpted from the book of Revelation, broken up by repeats of the above refrain. The musical setting given here is the one by Richard Hillert, familiar to Missouri Synod hymnal users of the "flyover states" since 1982; though the "saltwater states" tend to lean toward another setting, and the ELCA's latest hymnal has something on the order of 10 different settings of this song. Actually I am pleased to see this piece in the hymns section of the hymnal, where it can be chosen at the discretion of whoever picks hymns for worship, rather than in the liturgy, where it tends to usurp the place historically occupied by the Gloria in excelsis ("Glory to God in the highest"). This shift from Gloria to Dignus really upsets me when it becomes an unchangeable default setting in the attitudes and expectations of church members (an issue that once brought me as an organist into heated conflict with a congregational chairman). This permanent takeover is especially obnoxious when you reflect that the Dignus est Agnus text is really only fitting at a couple of points in the church year, or perhaps (at most) throughout the Easter Season. So rather than complain of the tackiness of finding this hymn here, I applaud it for being where it truly belongs. Whether Hillert's tune has the timeless quality that justifies using it 30 years on, is a topic for another time.
244 "Those Who Trust in the Lord" (are like Mount Zion) is another Heinz-werner Zimmermann/Marjorie Jillson collaboration, about which I would say exactly what I said about #231.
245 "Thy Loving-Kindness" (is better than life) is by Hugh Mitchell, and its tune is notated on two staves so you can better appreciate the echo-effect of its two melodic voices. After repeating the above text a few times, the piece progresses into the refrain, "My lips shall praise Thee; Thus shall I bless Thee. I will lift up my hands unto the Lord." There follow three more stanzas about lifting up my hands, voice, and heart unto the Lord. So really, from the standpoint of conveying knowledge of God, it's over after Stanza 1. And it reminds me of "Bill Grogan's Goat."
248 "To Him Who By the Power" is John Ylvisaker's setting of Ephesians 3:20-21: "To Him who by the pow'r within is able to do more than we can, to Him be glory without end. Amen! Amen!" It would be a nice end-of-service blessing, perhaps, if it was more explicitly Trinitarian. Another consequence of its Trinitarianness being only implicit is the possibility that, taken out of context, the phrase "power within" might lead people to look for the source of that power elsewhere than in the Holy Spirit and the means through which He is pledged to us. Other than that, it's no better or worse than any of the other brief canons spaced throughout this book. (This one happens to be a four-part canon).
251 "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" is an Afro-American spiritual whose five stanzas all begin with the same line repeated three times, and end with "Soldiers of the cross." Minus these repetitions, the full text is: "We are climbing Jacob's ladder. Ev'ry round goes higher, higher. Sinner, do you love my Jesus? If you love Him, why not serve Him? We are climbing higher, higher." All my works, my choices, my activity, my power—all law, and no gospel. And instead of being all in all, Jesus is held up as an emotional hostage to cajole you into trying harder.
252 "We are the Church" (refrain: "I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus all around the world! Yes, we're the church together!") is by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh. Its five stanzas put the doctrine of the church in Kindergarten language, moving from "The church is not a building" (but a people), to the church is made of people of all times and places, to the church's activity of worshiping (and sometimes laughing and crying together); then it mentions Pentecost and the spread of the Gospel. All of this is well enough, if a bit uninspired and questionably churchly; but the ditty concludes with the one verse that tips it across the good taste/bad taste line once and for all: "I count if I am ninety or nine or just a baby; There's one thing I am sure about and I don't mean maybe..." You read that right. If you've been waiting all your life to find a hymn, in an actual hymnal, falling back on the "I don't mean maybe" cliche for its final rhyme, here it is!
253 "We Come, O Lord, This Day" is a three-stanza effort by Michael Bedford in which we first "lift up our hearts" (in Stanza 1) to worship God, then "bow our heads" (in Stanzas 2-3) to pray that He would, among other things, "make clear our goals" (as though we're necessarily doing His will, if only we have clear goals). Though the final stanza goes above and beyond the average kiddie praise hymn in specifically asking for God's forgiveness, it is mostly for sins of omission (failing to do a God-pleasing act of love)—though I suppose that really depends on how you interpret the final line, "Forgive us when we turn away." Somehow this conclusion leaves me feeling a bit down. It makes me wonder whether putting Stanza 1 at the end might not have brightened it up a bit. Or, must maybe, the song could toss in a hint that in worship, we expect to receive the forgiveness and sanctifying power we have been praying for.
258 "We Shall Not Be Moved" is an American spiritual doctored up by John Ylvisaker to include a paraphrase of Psalm 1. And as much as it pains me to say it (because I perceive this tampering as an improvement on the original), there's just something wrong about this whole procedure. I say that with the interests of the original spiritual at heart, though I admit that sounds like the unlikeliest story I have told so far. Plus, whatever may be the song's merit in the history of American folk art, it is not even a tiny bit churchly.
264 "Whatsoever You Do" is Willard Jabusch's paraphrase of Jesus' "Whatever you do to the least of these" discourse: "When I was hungry, you gave Me to eat," etc. It quickly strays beyond the examples Jesus gave, adding lines about "Hurt in a battle, you bound up my wounds," "When I was little you taught me to read," and several more. What it never does, though, is frame these examples with the context of Jesus telling the story, and the story's conclusion. So it's unclear, from the words of the song itself, whether Jesus is talking to us or whether we're talking to Him; whether it's about what we're supposed to do, or what He does for us. And that's very strange. Possibly even disturbing.
268 "Who Was the Man (refrain: "Rise up and follow") is Katherine Davis' (1892-1980) folksy ballad about Jesus, who calls the fisherman to follow him (Stanza 1), teaches and heals many (Stanza 2), suffers and dies (Stanza 3), and rises from the dead (Stanza 4). Apart from the questions (1) whether Divine Service is the place for folk ditties and (2) whether this song fully succeeds at fabricating the effect of a folk song—neither of which I regard as a settled Yes—I wonder exactly what the singers and hearers of this song will take away from expressions like the end of Stanza 3 ("And when He was laid in a stony tomb, they seemed to hear Him still") and all of Stanza 4, in which the risen Christ is depicted as "here and alive today, like friends you could meet on a crowded street." I would be more comfortable with this hymn if it made a committed itself more clearly as to whether Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and whether His presence today is meant to be invisible (in spirit only), sacramental (bodily but hidden), or visible (without means). Because I'm quite sure this hymn would be acceptable to someone who didn't believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection, ascension, and presence in the Lord's Supper. And that doesn't sit very comfortably with me.
269 "Yes" (first line: "And God said Yes to you! He said Yes to me") is a Terry Dittmer ditty whose syncopated rhythms reminds me of Tom Lehrer tipping a wink to the audience during a mid-phrase rest: "When the baptism water flowed"—wink—"freely..." The refrain is another appeal to the popular idea of "journey" applied to baptismal life, sort of like the "Wet Saints" hymn of hideous memory, only instead of Wet Saints' lounge-lizard smarm, we get the super-cheerful youth pastor's attempt to combine sound theology with kid-friendly hipness. It's an earnest effort by a creative soul hampered by a lack of originality. Stanza 1 forgets itself and almost quotes a whole stanza of "Amazing Grace," before veering off into such mind-numbing banalities as "It's an awesome, lovely sound, It's the sweetest sound around." Stanza 2 takes a "Just say No" approach to resisting the devil, and a "prowl/devour" approach to rhyme. Stanza 3 concludes, "Each and every day is great, It's a day to celebrate," etc. Essentially Romans 6, victory over sin through Baptism stuff, which is all right. It's good material at bottom. But it deserves to be written by a hymn-writer with more of a sense of style.
271 "You Have Put on Christ" (in Him you have been baptized; Alleluia), with music by a certain Howard Hughes, is another tiny little piece that I have heard sung by a choir, as something between a vocalise and a round. Actually, I think I accompanied that choir. And other than its shortness and lack of consequence (unless chanted over and over until the group reaches a state of collective self-hypnosis), the only thing about it that I find tacky is the credit line for the text: "International Committee on English in the Liturgy, 1969." It took a committee of liturgical renewal experts to come up with this? Really?? I hate to complain, since half of the book's references to baptism are squeezed into the last handful of hymns, and this is proportionally the biggest starring role baptism receives in the whole book. But you have to go back one number, to 270 "You Are My Own," author unknown, for an example of a hymn that really proclaims baptism, with an original writer's intent to get through to someone about it in a persuasive and moving way. The "unknown" author of Hymn 270 knows something that all the king's horses and men at Vatican II couldn't work out between them: how to reach hearts with a teaching, preaching hymn.