As we continue to address the burning problem of Tackiness on Holy Ground, through judicious ridicule of the hymn selection in 2006's Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW hereafter), please bear in mind that in my blog, grounds for being considered "tacky" in the context of a body of Lutheran hymnody include, but are not limited to: making a lukewarm or colder confession of Lutheran doctrine; suggesting, or leaving open to interpretation, teachings contrary to Lutheranism; throwing out valuable pieces of Lutheranism's hymnody heritage to make room for symbolic tokens of appreciation of other religious cultures; confusing multiculturalism for catholicity; confusing the simplistic for the simple; confusing law for gospel; giving subjective experience priority over objective truth; and giving the sensitivities of Special Interest Groups (political correctness) priority over continuity and conformity with the whole church everywhere and at all times.
leading theologians counseled against using songs like this.
325 "I want Jesus to walk with me" is an African-American spiritual whose haunting, minor-key melody is titled SOJOURNER, at least in this book. Its arrangement, created for this book, implies part-singing (particularly when the alto line echoes the words "walk with me") and requires a certain rhythmic precision that won't come cheap in the context of congregational singing. In short, it's a choir number. And while a non-African-American choir might be excused for singing it on some basis like cultural diversity and the study of historic art forms, the only way it could be less tasteful would be to perform it in blackface. It takes all of Stanza 1 to say, "I want Jesus to walk with me all along my pilgrim journey." Stanzas 2 and 3 likewise make much out of saying little. And though what little it says is emotionally moving, it doesn't give anything like promises from God; it just expresses an almost hopeless wish that we had something like that. You know, like the gospel...
And so, I am developing an idea that there might be a better way to bring hymns like these, that we would like to see becoming useful and enduring adornments to the church, before the hymn-singing and -reading public. Something that would not occupy hymnal space to the detriment of already-proven masterpieces. Something that would not over-expose the church to a commitment to preserve a thing of ephemeral value. Something like a journal or periodical in the form of a quarterly hymnal supplement, which can be reproduced for use in worship, archived, or binned as the Spirit takes you. Then more poets and composers can see their works field-tested, and perhaps by the time the next big hymnal comes out (if that ever happens), the selections to represent the present generation will more accurately reflect the direction in which our body of hymnody is growing.
That's enough for now. I've got other stuff to do today. Meanwhile, hang in there, Lutherans! I'm praying for you!