Reclaim: Lutheran Hymnal for Church and Home
Edited by Gracia Grindal
Recommended Ages: All Ages
Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006; hereafter ELW) was taking it, it was preceded by an "Introductory Edition" (kind of like a hymnal supplement) that caught my attention some years ago. Published in that book, and repeated at the end of this one, was editor-in-chief Gracia Grindal's essay "What Makes a Hymn Lutheran?" (She also wrote an introduction to the present book.) I recognized then, and re-recognize now, that Grindal's essay is an important document - though I disagree with it. Hand to heaven, I intend for this to be a fair review, but it is worthy of full disclosure now, at the beginning, that a lot of Grindal & Co.'s hymn choices are of the same persuasion as what I have often lampooned on this blog as "tacky hymns." But before I lampoon them again, several things must be understood.
First, I have the highest respect for Gracia Grindal. She has done some very important work as a hymn writer and translator. Her achievement, for example, writing a book of original hymns for every Sunday of the church year, all with original tunes by a composer of my (slight) acquaintance, is an outstanding showing of hymnnographic industry that both challenged and inspired me when, several years later, I attempted a similar thing. I also have great respect for many of Grindal's co-workers named in the acknowledgements at the end of this book - including Dr. Oliver Olson, with whom I have conversed a couple times and who has done important work in the study of the history of Lutheranism. But I am reasonably certain both Grindal and Olson evaluate Lutheran Pietism (and probably other kinds of pietism) one way, and I evaluate it quite another way. I have seen evidence of this in their writings, and have heard it from Dr. Olson's mouth in person: to them, a condemnation of Pietism is entirely out of place. It is part of the heritage of the ELCA, or rather, of its parent bodies. So, you need to know as I go forward in this review, that when I gather pietistic hymnody into the heap of "tacky hymns," I am evaluating them as a confessional Lutheran.
In my idea of a hymnal that would "reclaim" the hymn-singing heritage of Lutheranism, there would be an overwhelming prevalence of hymns of specifically Lutheran origin and of distinctively Lutheran doctrinal content. Grindal's essay, on the other hand, holds up the example of a China missionary who argued "any hymn that told of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ for us was Lutheran," and goes on to conclude "a hymn that preaches or assumes faith alone, grace alone, word alone, Christ alone, the cross alone is a Lutheran hymn." This may seem to some to be a very strict and exclusive test, but in my opinion, especially because of the phrase "or assumes," it is all but meaninglessly reductive.
Second, Grindal advises bringing hymns "from the entire ecumenical and global church" into the canon of Lutheran hymns, but I have observed that, in practice, this works out as a few Lutheran hymns squeezing in among a selection of predominantly British and American Protestant standards. Among the hymns of historically Lutheran origin gathered in their net, many (possibly most) come from hymn writers who were at least heavily influenced by Pietism, such as Paul Gerhardt (a controversial designation - I myself, at times, have been ready to fight bare-knuckled to defend his hymns against the charge of Pietism, but they have that odor on them). I have also proudly worn the epithet "Norwegian Wannabe" because of my interest in introducing more hymns of Scandinavian origin into Missouri Synod circles, with their mainly German historic roots; but, while entertaining this openness to the creative output of Scandinavian hymn-writers, I've also had to wince, at times, at some of the embarrassing guests who crash the party.
In a third section of her essay, Grindal makes the point that early anglophone (English-speaking) Lutheran hymnals in the U.S. imported "many favorite hymns by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, which Lutherans have sung ever since with joy," she makes a point that, I think, obscures the important distinction that selecting suitable hymns by these Anglicans or Methodists, or what have you, required keen attention to, and often subtle alteration of, their doctrinal content. While she notes some groups (like the Norwegian-American editors of The Lutheran Hymnary, 1912) selected "mostly classic Lutheran chorales and made very few gestures toward American hymnody," I sense a tone of approval when Grindal contrasts this with the Swedish Augustana group's The Hymnal (1925) being "very friendly to the American songbook, including gospel hymns."
Finally, Grindal notes some contemporary hymns are not suitable for Lutheran worship because they do not confess the truth. She stresses, and here I feel closest to her in spirit, that only hymns that preach the gospel - as opposed to those that "tell God what we are doing, and seem to imply that our works should do anything to win us favor with God" - should be given a place in our worship, no matter how popular they are. But, again, I think the reductiveness of her main thesis about what makes a hymn Lutheran has a very telling effect on what examples from "contemporary" hymnody get pulled into this book. Taken together with the essentially conservative character of the impulse to create this book, I think the point that divides us in our judgment of what makes a hymn Lutheran strikes very close to the point that divides us on what, in the historic heritage of hymnody, we should be "reclaiming" for posterity.
The book begins, as I said, with Grindal's introduction, but I think I've spent enough time on essay material and I want to get into the guts of the book. I'll just point out a few of the flags it raised for me: 1) the equation between the 1888 Common Service and the liturgy from Martin Luther's era (which aren't really as identical as Grindal suggests); 2) the stated objective of cleansing the liturgy of the Lord's Supper of ceremonies that suggest we are participating in the atonement (a veiled criticism of ELW, with which I sympathize); 3) the emphasis on a formula of absolution that "both binds and looses the sinner" (for my money, a flat-out misapplication of Jesus' institution of absolution and a horrible intrusion of law at a point when the gospel must be unconditional and final); 4) carrying the idea that "the words in the liturgy are more important to the music" so far as to allow for folk, jazz, and traditional chant settings of the Divine Service (and I'll spare you my opinion about D.S. Setting 2 other than to kid that Cole Porter surely never wrote a more churchly liturgical setting); 5) and a defense of its small selection of hymns as making the book "physically lightweight while heavy in content," and suited to learning by repetition. This point is well taken, but it would be better taken if, in my opinion, the content really was heavier and more worthy of learning by repetition.
Finally, I can confirm that, besides the three settings of "The Service with Holy Communion," as it calls the Divine Service - the folk one composed by the late John Ylvisaker, who fell asleep in the Lord this past March, and whose hymn "I was there to hear your borning cry" is a classic example of the type of song that causes me to twitch; and the lily-white jazz setting by Douglas Norquist, who could have a successful career as the house composer at virtually any Christian music publisher in business today, and I'm sorry if that doesn't sound as bitchy as I intend - the book also contains Luther's Small Catechism, the Athanasian Creed, rites for baptism, confirmation, marriage, burial, individual and public confession and absolution, general prayer, evening prayer (like Vespers), and two Gregorian-style chant tones followed by "selected Psalms" 1, 8, 19, 23, 51, 84, 90, 103, 121, 126, 139, and 150. Then the hymns begin.
There are some good hymns in this book. There are a lot of hymns that I'm not going to complain about, because there is a limit to how much of a jerk even I am willing to make of myself; and although they are as bland and thin as gruel and seem to have skated into this very exclusive collection on the force of inviolable tradition, if perhaps not a specifically Lutheran one, they don't increase this hymnal's tackiness quotient any more than they do, say, The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), which also has many of them. And then there are the tacky ones, but they're not all tacky for the same reason or to the same degree, so they're the one's I'm going to discuss in detail. I apologize in advance for the negative tone this will necessarily cast over the review that follows. Keep thinking about the fact that the hymn numbers we are skipping include some really good hymns. And if I can remember to do so, I'm going to point out one particularly good hymn that was new to me when I read through this book. And so, in order of hymn number...
3. "Glorious things of thee are spoken." This only registers 0.5 on the tackiness scale of 0 to 51 because of F.J. Haydn's tune AUSTRIA, also known as the Austrian Imperial Hymn, also known to millions of people scandalized by the actions of German's Third Reich as the tune to "Deutschland über Alles." Alas, most of those folks are now gone, or going fast, so this beautiful tune may soon be safe for hymnody again; but I have personally known Holocaust survivors who felt ill at the sound of this melody, and until I'm sure nobody with that sensitivity is still around, I would advise substituting a different tune, such as GALILEAN. Also, I've expressed my views before about the pairing of classical tunes with hymns, which I think harms both the hymn and the original masterpiece from which the tune was copied; so I'll skip mentioning 36. "Joyful, joyful we adore thee" (whose tune HYMN TO JOY does violence to a great theme from Beethoven's 9th Symphony) when it comes up in sequence.
4. "All things bright and beautiful," by a 19th-century lady named Cecil F. Alexander. This precious, saccharine little children's ditty about God's First Article blessings (creation) doesn't mention Jesus or really have anything to do with the gospel. As an example of the reductiveness of the "or assumes" clause of Grindal's essay on what makes a hymn Lutheran, and as a pretty lightweight specimen in what is meant to be a content-heavy, 275-load jug of concentrated liquid Lutheranism, I reckon it rates 2 tacks out of 5.
5. "God of our fathers," whose tune NATIONAL HYMN is by George W. Warren (d. 1902). Not only is it one of the most pompous-sounding pomp-and-circumstance hymn tunes heard in any church, but it's also one of those golden oldies that play on the electronic church carillon system at whatever church in your town wants to be known for its carillon system - even if the hymn tunes broadcast over it conflict with that church's culture. With this book, it need conflict no more! But it is still, I am afraid, a shaky-kneed, elderly, pompous bore. Also, just to make sure nobody misses the pompous bit, trumpet cues are actually written into the accompanist's score for the beginning of each stanza and after each phrase. So, because music is only a little important (but important nonetheless), and because Daniel C. Roberts' (d. 1907) lyrics are probably only remembered today because of the tune, 2 tacks out of 5.
9. "Sweet hour of prayer," words by William W. Walford (d. 1850), tune SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER by William R. Bradbury (d. 1868). It is best described as "that hymn you tend to confuse with 'Leaning on the everlasting arms.'" Since it assumes the reader/singer/congregation will understand a reference to Mount Pisgah, perhaps the fact that it forgets to mention Jesus can be put down to relying on their biblical literacy. For sheer flattery, and for helping make Lutheranism indistinguishable from any other moribund sect in 19th-century American Protestantism, 3 tacks out of 5.
18. "For the beauty of the earth," words by Folliott S. Pierpoint (d. 1917). All very First Article; only the fifth stanza hints at Jesus, without naming him. It calls him "best gift divine, to the world so freely giv'n, agent of God's grand design," but that's about it. It's apparently one of those hymns that "assume" the gospel - which I think makes for a pretty thin helping of whatever makes a hymn Lutheran. 1 tack out of 5.
21. "Lord, listen to your children praying," words and music by Ken Medema (b. 1943). The fact that it is four lines long means that I almost can't quote it without running afoul of the Hope Publishing copyright, but it sounds like either the refrain of a considerably longer gospel song, or one of those Taize ditties that need to be repeated to the point of self-hypnosis to repay the licensing fee. I personally suspect the former. I also smell a Pentecostal rat in the lyrics "send your Spirit" and "send us pow'r." 3 tacks out of 5.
23. "Awesome God" (first line "Our God is an awesome God"), words and music by Rich Mullins (1955-1997). Sort of the epitome of the type of CoWo2 anthem that many of us have probably seen stretched out into a long, passionately emotional musical spectacle at a hand-waving, praise-band-led mega-church service. Seeing it in a hymnal is a bit jarring, partly because the layout makes it apparent how very little there is to this song. If the words are more important than the music, as Grindal says, then what is this pop-charting little scrap of sweet nothings to some God, perhaps any God, doing here? 4 tacks out of 5.
24. "Shout to the Lord" (first line "My Jesus, my Savior"), words and music by Darlene Zschech (b. 1965). It mentions Jesus, calls him "my Savior," and alludes to his "mighty love" and "the work of [his] hands," but that's about as much gospel as this song contains. The rest of it seems to be about my emotions as I join the mountains and seas in praising him. Looking at the sophisticated, pop-music rhythms of this piece, I'm dubious about the prospect of inducing a whole congregation to sing this, unless they've been fed a diet of nothing but CoWo since childhood - which would be another problem altogether. 4 tacks out of 5.
25. "Lord, I lift your name on high," words and music by Rick Founds (b. 1954). It's another piece of baby-boomer Christian pop, and even less congregationally oriented than Hymn 24. Totally a band & song-leader number, performed at the congregation (not by the congregation), probably with the aid of an expensive sound system. Songs like this defeat the purpose of having a pew hymnal. 5 tacks out of 5.
26. "How great thou art" (first line "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder"), words by Stuart K. Hine (d. 1989), set to his arrangement of a Swedish folk tune. Everybody knows this, and some of us have gone to a church where it was pasted inside the cover of a hymnal that very pointedly didn't have it within; some of us have also belonged to churches where a motion to paste it inside the hymnal could not be sustained. My church's current hymnal has it right inside, so I guess I'm going against my own policy here, but I just have to say, it takes so long to get to the Gospel in this hymn, Christ could come before we make it that far. 1 tack out of 5.
27. "God is so good," a "traditional"/"anonymous" little children's ditty whose four stanzas, minus repeats, add up to the following total: "God is so good, he cares for me, he loves me so, he's so good to me." There so very little there, I feel compelled to speculate that it got in because it fit at the bottom of the second page of "How great thou art," saving costly pages in the hymnal layout. It pains me to think what "heavier in content" hymn might have been squeezed out by such an economy. 1 tack out of 5.
31. "The numberless gifts of God's mercies," words by Carolina Sandell-Berg (d. 1903), tune by Albert Lindström (d. 1935). Lina Sandell, whom I have heard described as "the Fanny Crosby of Sweden," was a popular gospel-song writer in the old country, best known here for "Children of the heavenly father" and "Day by day." In Grindal's translation, and taking the tune into account, I find this example of her work comes across rather like a gospel-song in translation that, interesting to note, was popular in the old country. It isn't terribly specific about the content of God's mercies, although it goes on at some length about them in general. Perhaps I missed out on the ability to detect the merit in this hymn by being born without a drop of Scandinavian blood. 2 tacks out of 5.
33. "Father, I adore you," words and music by Terrye Coelho (b. 1952). The tune, titled MARANATHA, could be sung as a round. Its four stanzas differ only by the first half of the first line, addressing all three persons of the Trinity in succession, and finally "Three in One." Other than that useful bit of doctrinal instruction, and exercising little kids' ability to sing a round, it is hard to detect this song's "heaviness in content." 1 tack out of 5.
34. "This is my Father's world," words by Maltbie D. Babcock (d. 1901), to the English folk tune TERRA PATRIS. This strikes me as another one of those stereotyped Anglo-Protestant hymns that can only be understood as an indispensable part of an American Lutheran hymnal because it was, deservingly or not, in some older American Lutheran hymnals. It may even have been more popular, in the churches that used those hymnals, than quite a few of the weightier, more historically Lutheran hymns in them (if "quite a few" made it in, at all). And that may, in turn, have come about as a result of cues from other American protestant groups, whose taste in hymns was entirely unpolluted by German chorales. I'm only speculating here. I have nothing else to go on. I can't tell whether this hymn is any good or not; it never gets out of the First Article of the Creed, mentioning only the first person of the Trinity and his acts of creating and ruling the world. I just have a feeling it would be a good idea to keep the sound of this hymn out of my congregation's ears, so they don't get the idea it's more Lutheran than it is. 1 tack out of 5.
37. "Sunshine and rain," words by Britt Gerda Hallqvist (d. 1997), tune by Egil Hovland (d. 2013). Another translation by Grindal of a hymn made up of very short phrases, which apparently make it difficult to say much of interest. There's a stanza for each person of the Trinity, and a rather awkward refrain, and some repetitiveness seems to be a casualty of the odd meter. For example, it says Jesus died "so that we may live, and live today; and he is here; here with us now..." I know new hymns have to be introduced from time to time, and it's always a risk. Sometimes it doesn't pay off. I've written worse hymns than this. I just hope they don't get published. 0.5 tacks out of 5.
38. "Majesty (worship his majesty)," words and music by Jack. W. Hayford (b. 1934). More or less "Awesome God," but longer. 4 tacks out of 5.
41. "Thine the amen (thine the praise)," words by Hebert Brokering (d. 2009), music by Carl Schalk (b. 1929). Schalk's tune THINE is a guilty pleasure of mine, but Brokering's text is an example of a type of hymn that I comprehensively hate: a run-on list of sensory impressions that never, and I mean never, add up to a complete thought. See also Jaroslav Vajda's "Now the silence, now the peace," also with a tune by Schalk (but not one I like so much). "Now the silence" didn't make the cut in this book, so in that respect, the ReClaim crowd showed better taste than the editors of several bigger publishing houses' pew books. 2 tacks out of 5.
51. "Lord, with grateful hearts (we share your faithfulness)," words paraphrased by Ylvisaker from Psalm 89, set to the traditional Italian tune SANCTISSIMA (a.k.a. SICILIAN MARINERS; similar to the German carol "Oh, how joyfully," and also used in hymn 54, "Lord, dismiss us with your blessing"). My first kvetch is that Ylvisaker's lyrics fit the tune with great difficulty. Some of it doesn't quite make sense. For example, I don't understand the line "Honor, justice and respect all righteousness." Maybe the comma is the problem? 2 tacks out of 5.
53. "Go, my children, with my blessing," words by Vajda (d. 2008), to the Welsh tune AR HYD I NOS ("Sleep awhile and peace attend thee, all through the night"). I'm injuring myself by saying this, because everybody loves this song, and it does have some merits; but I just have a wee hangup about a hymn that is entirely set in quotes, as though we are singing God's words to ourselves. As a newspaperman, I have to ding it for failing to properly attribute the quote. Since I split an infinitive there, I'll split the ding down to 0.5 tacks out of 5.
55. "God be with you till we meet again," words by Jeremiah Eames Rankin (d. 1904), tune by William G. Tomer (d. 1896). One of those stereotypical, old-timey numbers that wouldn't sound out of place coming from a clapboard church in a spaghetti western as Father Clint Eastwood rides into town. It has some nice stuff in the interior lines of its four stanzas, but it totals out at a great cost in time in proportion to the amount of that good stuff. I would call it more lightweight than heavy-duty: 1 tack out of 5.
56. "Lord, now let your servants depart," Ylvisaker's paraphrase of the Nunc dimittis, set to his arrangement of a traditional Norwegian tune that I personally find uninspired. It's hard to go wrong with a liturgical paraphrase, but Ylvisaker may have managed it. Instead of compressing his material into fewer words, he drew it out into unnecessary verbiage (or necessary only because of the meter), such as "depart in peace and quietness" in place of "depart in peace." Some of this unnecessary verbiage is almost ridiculously so: "We have seen salvation right before our eyes," for example. Some of it exceeds his brief as a paraphraser, such as "a world that has no ending; a world of peace and harmony." The one time the meter forced him to compromise in the other direction, it was to change the name of the Holy Spirit to "The Holy One." Now, I'm not being hard on Ylvisaker because I think I can do better. I've also written a bad paraphrase of the Nunc dimittis, and published it, too. So, making allowances for being in the same boat, 1 tack out of 5.
64. "Day is dying in the west," words by Mary A. Lathbury (d. 1913), tune CHAUTAUQUA by William F. Sherwin (d. 1888). The text is a little odd, combining a nice evening hymn with a refrain that seems to be a paraphrase of the Sanctus. Whence comes the impression that it was intended for a tent revival in the burnt-over district of upstate New York? Perhaps from the title of the tune, but more likely from its sentimental smarminess. Yeccchh. 2 tacks out of 5.
66. "Now the day is over," which I'm only going to ding because its tune MERRIAL, by Joseph Barnby (d. 1896), is so dashedly boring, in the manner of a late-Romantic masterpiece of the genre of "tunes in which smarmy harmony covers up the fact the tune doesn't go anywhere." 2 tacks out of 5.
67. "The day you gave us, Lord, has ended," also gets dinged primarily for its tune ST. CLEMENT by Clement C. Scholefield (d. 1904), another stereotyped number on the town carillon that only recently made it into an LCMS hymnal, at which point I felt like I had fallen into a sepia-tinted photograph. 1 tack out of 5.
68. "When seed falls on good soil," words by Norman P. Olsen (b. 1932), tune by Frederick F. Jackisch (b. 1922), a most unsatisfactory treatment of the Parable of the Sower that I am sure I have slammed before. It misapplies the parable to a spiritually dangerous degree, and that's only the beginning of its artistic failures. The tune isn't bad, so 4 tacks out of 5.
73. Ylvisaker's "Borning Cry," about which I have already commented. I will say no more, except to note that Ylvisaker's tune WATERLIFE is notated in a rather un-hymn-like piano figuration, and also, isn't the first tune in this book to come with guitar chords; the idea of it being performed on an organ doesn't even seem to have entered the composer's mind as an afterthought. 4 tacks out of 5.
74. "We are baptized in Christ Jesus," also words and music by Ylvisaker (tune OUIMETTE). I'm not awarding this any tacks, because I actually think it's a good hymn - though it's not the one I had in mind earlier, when I mentioned discovering a superb hymn in this book that I hadn't seen before. I wouldn't call this hymn superb, and I don't particularly care for its tune; but it does show that Ylvisaker could be on his game at times. For that, I honor his memory.
76. "Thy Holy Wings (O Savior)," Sandell's words translated by Grindal, set to a Swedish folksong that I have seen set to Gregory Wismar's hymn "In holy conversation." The setting of the hymn in this book is, again, very pianistic and not at all considerate of organists. I also come through this hymn's four stanzas feeling a bit cloyed by all the warm, fuzzy, feminine imagery relating to Jesus. 2 tacks out of 5.
77. "Jesus came with simple things," words by Petter Dass (d. 1707), translated by Grindal and set to a Norwegian folk tune. I think this is the great discovery of this hymnal, with a beautiful confession about how the sacrament of baptism connects us to Christ. It isn't perfect verse ("so sin and death won't snare us"), but it is a beautiful, powerful baptism hymn, never before published in English to my knowledge. Negative 3 tacks!
78. "Stand up, stand up for Jesus," words by George Duffield (d. 1888), tune WEBB by George J. Webb (d. 1887). Again, I'm making no friends by saying this, but I don't get a lot out of this militaristic piece of pomp and triumph. This book's suggestion that it be used as a confirmation hymn only adds to the impression that it would go over best at a Boy Scouts meeting. 1 tack out of 5.
79. "O Jesus, I have promised," words by John E. Bode (b. 1874), set to a good old 17th-century chorale. I pick up a lot of pietistic vibes from this hymn, starting with its starting point, which is what "I" have promised to Jesus! As a confirmation hymn, it might have some merit. But some of that merit will be best perceived by a pietistic eye, including such lines as "Oh, let me feel you near me." It does turn things around the right way in Stanza 4, which opens, "O Jesus, you have promised..." But then it flips back again to "I have promised..." and asks for grace to follow him to the end. Depending on how you read it, and maybe what you had for dinner before doing so, you might find this hymn shaving pretty close to Grindal's description of hymns that "should be banned no matter where they come from or how popular they are." 4 tacks out of 5.
82. "Jesus, I long for your blessed communion," words by Peder Jacobsen Hygom (d. 1764), set to a Norwegian folk tune. In four long stanzas, I can't see any reason this should be included in the "Lord's Supper" section of the book, except for the rather equivocal word "communion." If this was really meant to be a Lord's Supper hymn, it does not give a very good account of the Lutheran faith about that article. 4 tacks out of 5.
83. "Let us break bread together (on our knees)," an African-American spiritual of the type that burns the most time delivering the least amount of information, and what it does deliver is far from the best. As an account of the Lord's Supper, it talks about "breaking bread" and "drinking wine," and in Stanza 3, praising God. It suggests very little, and openly says less, but I don't think this hymn is with us in perceiving the Lord's body and blood. 5 tacks out of 5.
85. "Break thou the bread of life," words by Lathbury, tune by Sherwin. Particularly in the context of the Lord's Supper section of the hymnal, this is an obnoxious selection, since the only bread it is interested in is the bread Jesus broke by the Sea of Galilee (i.e. during the feeding of the 5,000), thereby suggesting (as no less a foe of Lutheran doctrine than Ulrich Zwingli taught) that, according to John chapter 6, the sacrament is only an allegory about believing in Jesus' word. If I do this hymn an injustice, I was set up to do so by the section heading at the top of the page. 4 tacks out of 5.
96. "When He cometh," words by William O. Cushing (d. 1902), tune PRECIOUS JEWELS by George F. Root (d. 1895). A bit of Stanza 1 may serve as a brief example of the deficiencies of Cushing's poetry: "When He cometh, when He cometh to make up His jewels, all His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and his own." The refrain, following this, makes it clear the hymn is talking about Jesus adorning himself with us as jewels in his crown; but the three stanzas grope and stumble toward that in such an awkward, halting manner, it makes me a nervous wreck. It's an artificial instance of the tendency of some folk hymns to spend a lot of time, by repetition and other techniques, covering very little territory, and perhaps not very interesting territory either. 2 tacks out of 5.
111. "I heard the bells on Christmas Day," words by Longfellow (d. 1882), music by John Baptiste Calking (d. 1905). I won't go into the details on this one, because I've hammered it before. Let me just say, you've been warned, and you didn't listen. For a poem that has nothing to do with the gospel, 5 tacks out of 5.
121. "The First Noel," a 17th-century English carol. Again, not doing myself any favors saying this, but this is not hymnal-caliber material. For one thing, it dithers and delays: "...in fields where they lay; in fields where they lay, keeping their sheep..." Also, it introduces details that are not in the biblical record: "...on a cold winter's night...three wise men..." Then, it gets downright confused about which Christmas story it is telling, by apparently depicting the shepherds as following a star - unless it only seems that way because a stanza was mislaid between 1 & 2. Finally, it takes forever to get to the punchline about "gold, and myrrh, and frankincense." For being kids' stuff, not meant to be sung in church, 3 tacks out of 5.
122. "Bells are calling (ringing, tolling, ringing, tolling from steeple spires)," Grindal's translation of words by Elias Blix (d. 1902), set to a Norwegian folk tune that sounds similar to a tune I have heard set to "Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding." This is another example of a hymn with an awkward meter, whose text ratchets itself forward in repetitive jerks. Though this is done with more skillful intent than Hymn 37, it's still a hymn that gives me a strange feeling, like I'm wading through thick mud. Only after three long, frustrating stanzas do I hear the news that Christ is born and has redeemed us, and once that brief item goes by, the slog (albeit full of bright scenery like "joyfully singing") continues for another whole stanza. For sheer aggravation in the service of lightweight content, 2 tacks out of 5.
124. "In the bleak midwinter," by Christina Rossetti (d. 1894) and Gustav Holst (d. 1934). As in the case of Hymn 111, I've been here before. You were warned. 3.5 tacks out of 5.
130. "We three kings of Orient are," words and music by John Henry Hopkins Jr. (d. 1891). Again, you were warned before. There are some merits in Stanzas 2-4 to mitigate the inaccuracy of Stanza 1, so I'll let it off with 2 tacks out of 5.
131. "Bright and glorious is the sky," a hymn by the much admired (even by me) N.F.S. Grundtvig, set to a 19th-century Danish tune. I'm only dinging this hymn because of the biblical inaccuracy of suggesting (in Stanza 2) that the Christmas star brought the eastern sages to Bethlehem on Christmas night. 0.5 tacks out of 5.
137. "There is a green hill (far away)," Alexander's hymn about which I have previously commented because, in my view, it cruelly took back the comfort of the gospel from a child who (on the occasion for which the hymn was meant to be written) was believed to be dying. How very clever of the editors of this book to omit the stanza that gave me offense. Grudgingly, 0 tacks out of 5.
138. "In the cross of Christ I glory," by John Bowring (d. 1872), wedded to the tune RATHBUN by Ithamar Conkey (d. 1867). Again, at risk of blowing up a beloved hymn that has been in the hymnal(s) used by every church I have attended, I'm a little weirded out by this sentimental poem about a glowing, almost personified cross. It's too bad the author couldn't give credit to word and sacrament for the benefits he saw fit to attribute to his (perhaps imaginary) relationship with the cross. 2 tacks out of 5.
139. "The old rugged cross," by George Bennard (d. 1958). This is the Billy Sunday-era equivalent of "Lord, I lift your name on high" - a singable, but mostly by paid singers, contemporary-worship anthem that is no longer contemporary; really, at bottom, an old-fashioned country-western song that addresses its melancholy endearments to the cross of Jesus. Because it actually has gospel in it, I'm going to take it easy and give it only 3 tacks out of 5 - tacks well-earned by making me sit through four long stanzas of a slow ballad, and by its sentimental individualism.
140. "Jesus, keep me near the Cross," by Fanny J. Crosby (d. 1915), tune by William H. Doane (d. 1915). I automatically suspect any Fanny Crosby hymn of tackiness until I am persuaded otherwise. This one doesn't persuade me otherwise. It opens by describing a "precious fountain" and a "healing stream" that flow from the cross, without giving me any encouragement to think Crosby had baptism in mind. It then pulls out stops on my mind's Wurlitzer organ that I would just as soon leave pushed in, by mentioning such creatures as "a trembling soul" and "my raptured soul," praying to be visited by the cross's "scenes" and "shadow" (as on the movie screen of one's pious imagination), and looking forward to reaching "the golden strand, just beyond the river." Best sung by middle-aged spinsters who have never in their adult lives taken a deep breath, due to the constraints of corsets, I give it 4 tacks out of 5.
142. "Beneath the cross of Jesus," by Elizabeth Clephane (d. 1869), tune by Frederick C. Maker (d. 1927). I am grieved to admit I have wronged Fanny Crosby by mistaking this hymn for one of hers, at least in my heart. I have loathed it, word for word and note for note, since I first ran across it in my youth. I find it sickeningly sentimental, full of first-person subjectivity and wallowing in the cult of the pious imagination; it spiritualizes, or rather emotionalizes the cross, and even has the word "fain" in it (line 2 of stanza 1), which just goes to show. Its piety is that of a retreat from the world, more catatonic than monastic. Since it does mention Jesus dying on the cross, I'll go easy and award it 4.5 tacks out of 5.
144. "Go down Moses" (first line "When Israel was in Egypt's land"), African-American spiritual. I'm all right with this as a cultural artifact; I've even enjoyed singing an arrangement of it, as part of a performance of Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time" (not in church, though). But it does measure out its material in very small doses, over a long period of time. I just don't think I would have the patience to sit through this in church, where you only have so much time to teach or learn as much as you can. If you went to one of those churches where services go on for hours, and sometimes you just need the choir to vamp for a while, I can see the point of it. In the worship hour where the congregation is expected to instruct itself by singing the faith, I'm not seeing it. 2 tacks out of 5.
147. "Were you there (when they crucified my Lord?)," African-American spiritual. Everything I said about "Go down Moses" goes for this one, plus it has way too much "tremble, tremble, tremble." While I can see the Exodus being brought in as a lesson during the Lenten series, I'm not sure what day of the church year is ready for a long, slow hymn that is 3/4 about Jesus being crucified, dead, and buried and 1/4 about him rising from the tomb. I have actually had to veto, on the day itself, a church choir's plan to sing this as their Easter Sunday anthem. But it's because all this song's waffle boils down to asking a ridiculous question, I'm giving it a full 5 tacks.
160. "In the Garden" (first line "I come to the garden alone"), words and music by C. Austin Miles (d. 1946), does for Easter what "The Old Rugged Cross" does for Good Friday - very little, but at a premium price in length and patience-trying sentimentality. The singer is supposed to be in character as Mary Magdalene, did you know that? The idea of a congregation singing this is a little bizarre, because it's definitely a solo number; and also, because that would obliterate the Mary Magadalene-ness of it. I am also rather suspicious about the type of religiosity it is suggesting. 4 tacks out of 5.
161. "Thine is the glory" is an Easter hymn that I mostly ding because of its tune JUDAS MACCABEUS by Handel, a particularly unfortunate (in my opinion) example of what happens when you marshal a piece of classical or theater music into service as a hymn-tune. I don't think Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabeus" will ever be the same, now that this tune has become a stereotyped old-timey meetin'-house song. On the other hand, its pompousness is just a little too much for a just-OK text by Edmond Budry (d. 1932). I give it 2 tacks out of 5.
172. "In heaven above, in heaven above," by Laurentius Laurentii (d. 1655). This Swedish poet, not to be confused with a very prolific German hymn-writer by the same name (1660-1722), is pretty much known for just this hymn, set to a Norwegian folk tune, which paints such an idyllic word-picture of heavenly bliss that I grow concerned. In fact, this is the most striking exhibit among several hymns that suggest to me that something unhealthy is going on within the Scandinavian pietist tradition, a morbidly spiritualizing turn of mind that despises this world perhaps too much. Because I'm open to discussion about this, 1 tack out of 5.
177. "Softly and tenderly (Jesus is calling)," by Will Lamartine Thompson (d. 1909). It's another one of those stereotypical town-carillon hymns, perhaps the one you were most likely to go looking for in the hymnal because you were sure it was there, but it wasn't. Only now, it is. Why am I not rejoicing about this? Because it's a Methodist revival altar-call song, that's why. 4 tacks out of 5.
182. "Is it true (that Jesus is my brother)?" by Lina Sandell, translated by Grindal and set to a Norwegian folk tune. I'm mostly OK with this hymn, but the first line raises a flag; I'm not sure what the opening question is driving at until Stanza 3. It had me worried that it was going somewhere weird. 0.5 tacks out of 5.
183. "Cleansed and forgiven," a Grindal translation of Ole Brattekaas (d. 1916) with an interesting Swedish folk tune, gets maybe a sliver of a tack because I'm not sure the line "Sin cannot hurt me" is altogether sound. Because the spiritual autobiography laid out in Stanza 2 may not fit all Christians' circumstances, I'm giving it a full 1 tack out of 5.
186. "There's a wideness in God's mercy," by Frederick W. Faber (d. 1863), set to an early American tune (LORD, REVIVE US), is another one I have previously poked at, probably because its persistent use of impersonal sentence structures comes across as passive-aggressive doubletalk, and also because its overall aim seems to be to sanctify pious broadmindedness - to coin a word, platitudinarianism. 3 tacks out of 5.
190. "Blessed assurance (Jesus is mine)," by Fanny Crosby, with a tune by Phoebe Knapp (d. 1908). Another stuffy stereotype of old-timey, old-womanish, blandly sentimental, white people's gospel music. It is full of anemic imagery, such as "visions of rapture," "echoes of mercy, whispers of love," and a slightly romantic (as in boy-meets-girl) conception of union with Christ. Plus, the refrain, which twice runs through the words "This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long," reminds one impiously of "walkin' along, singin' our song..." 4 tacks out of 5.
193. "Just As I Am," by Charlotte Elliott (d. 1871), to Bradbury's tune WOODWORTH. Because we got this from Billy Graham, and because it is fundamentally an altar-call song, and because it suggests the decision to come to Christ is up to you, and because your congregation will sing it at 10 times the loudness and emotional commitment as a more faithfully Lutheran hymn, as though to shame you into never making them sing the latter, 2 tacks out of 5. If I were vindictive, I would make it 3 to avenge myself on the organist who lied to me about not being able to play an alternate tune (ST. CRISPIN) that sounded less Billy Graham-y.
196. "My Jesus, I love thee," by William R. Featherstone (d. 1873), tune by Adoniram J. Gordon (d. 1895). This hymn, with the refrain "If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now," has some gospel in it, but I'm concerned about the proportion of verbs in which the action flows from me to Jesus. As a "faith and justification" hymn, it's pretty lightweight stuff, especially compared to some rich treasures of Lutheran hymnody that didn't make the cut. 2 tacks out of 5.
199. "Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)," by John Newton (d. 1807), with the tune NEW BRITAIN by William Walker (d. 1875). Note, this couldn't possibly be the tune originally paired with this hymn, since Walker was born two years after Newton died. And though it's hardly any fault of this hymn that it has been so successfully, yet ridiculously, sung to "House of the Rising Sun," the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme, and the "Gilligan's Island" theme, this is nevertheless a hymn I am not comfortable having in a Lutheran hymnal - especially after it seemingly confuses Law and Gospel in the line "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." At bottom, my objection to it is that it is a pretty primitive, lightweight hymn that talks about "grace" either in abstract terms, or using the word to mean a variety of different things across one person's lifetime of religious experience, and all without explicitly mentioning Christ or proclaiming the gospel.
200. "Lord of all hopefulness," by Jan Struther (d. 1953), set to the Irish tune SLANE. I'm pretty sure I've registered my opinion on this hymn before; 2 tacks out of 5.
202. "Have no fear, little flock," by Marjorie Jillson (b. 1931), set to Heinz Werner Zimmerman's LITTLE FLOCK. Compared to, say, "O little flock, fear not the foe," it delivers very little material, spread out over four somewhat repetitive stanzas. Some of it is a bit hard to sing to the rhythm of Zimmerman's tune. 1.5 tacks out of 5.
204. "Because he lives" (first line "God sent his son"), words and music by Gloria Gaither (b. 1942) and Bill Gaither (b. 1938), is a no-longer contemporary Christian pop song from, I believe, the 1980s. The last time I heard it sung in public, I was disappointed; I had remembered it being better than it actually is. I guess my imagination, colored by Scripture, filled in gaps in my memory. Instead of something like "Because he lives, I will live forever," it actually says, "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow." It's as if all the resurrection of Christ is good for is a day-to-day mood adjustment. 4 tacks out of 5.
205. "Savior, like a shepherd lead us," words by Dorothy A. Thrupp (d. 1847), to a tune by Bradbury that wouldn't sound out of place with any lyric by Lina Sandell. While not quite a refrain, the last half of each stanza includes four repetitions of "Blessed Jesus." My mind's ears hurt when I imagine the tuning problems of this hymn's stereotypical singers, those corseted females of whom I have made mention. That a conservative group in the ELCA is digging precisely this hymn out of the discard-pile of ELW prompts me to ask, what again, why this era of American Protestantism seems to be the heritage they want to ReClaim. I can think of a couple of more deserving fields of repristination. 3 tacks out of 5.
206. "Precious Lord, take my hand," words by Thomas A. Dorsey (d. 1993), music adapted by Dorsey from a tune by George Nelson Allen (d. 1877). This Dorsey is not to be confused with jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey, who died in 1956. This hymn captures the sound of the type of Christian oldie that would be sung, with full-throated sentimentality, by a soloist at a Billy Graham rally. It's not really congregation material. 4 tacks out of 5.
207. "On Eagle's wings" (first line "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord), words and music by Michael Joncas (b. 1951), is undeniably a solo or choir piece, as evidenced by the complicated four-page layout in this book. Again, not congregation material; and nor is the soft-pop/jazz piano accompaniment at all organist-friendly. 4 tacks out of 5.
208. "Leaning on the everlasting arms" (first line "What a fellowship"), words by Elisha A. Hoffman (b. 1929), tune by Anthony J. Showalter (b. 1924). It sounded great in the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit," didn't it? But again, why are we repristinating meetin'-house hymns from the Methodist Old West in 21st-century Lutheranism? 4 tacks out of 5.
210. "Day by day," by Lina Sandell, with music by Oskar Ahnfelt (b. 1882). This is perhaps the perfect example of a song that might have some use during personal devotions at home. I guess, since the book does specify "for church and home," it wouldn't be altogether right to accuse it of pushing individualistic prayers on the congregation as a whole. But if the hymnal's purpose is really so divided, maybe going so light on the hymn selection was a mistake. 2 tacks out of 5.
211. "Great is thy faithfulness," by Thomas O. Chisholm (d. 1960), with a tune by William M. Runyan (d. 1957). It is another one of those mildly smarmy, old-timey hymns for soloists with a stained-glass voice, though it is just simple enough to edge into the skill range of an average singing congregation. I was disappointed when the LCMS' latest hymnal included it. If Jesus were in it, it might be improved. 2 tacks out of 5.
212. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus" (first line "O soul, are you weary and troubled?"), words and music by Helen Howarth Lemmel (d. 1961). It again has that early 20th century sound of something that would be sung at a big revival, preferably by a soloist whose vibrato can wring gallons of emotions out of every smarmy chromatic note. It also makes some poetic moves that give me the odd sensation of being stifled, like stanza 1's "there's light for a look at the Savior," and the refrain's "the things of earth will grow strangely dim." 2 tacks out of 5.
214. "Give me Jesus" (first line "In the morning when I rise"), African-American spiritual. Again, this comes from the school of hymn in which very few words are repeated so many times, and in which so much time is spent saying so little, some of us spend approximately the last four stanzas praying for the Lord to come, or for a wall to fall down nearby so we can escape. These exercises may have their spiritual uses, though how the hymn intends for us to receive Jesus is left strangely vague. 4 tacks out of 5.
215. "In Christ alone my hope is found," words and music by Keith Getty (b. 1974) and Stuart Townend (b. 1963), not to be confused with the Irish actor Stuart Townsend. It's CoWo, whatever else it is. It rankles me to admit that this hymn makes a good case for the opinion that a CoWo song can do a good job of preaching the gospel; though I hasten to add that, in my experience, this makes it almost unique. For being unsingable by a congregation, and really requiring a professional soloist, 1 tack out of 5.
216. "Faith of our Fathers (living still)," words by Faber, with the tune ST. CATHERINE by Henri F. Hemy (d. 1888) and James G. Walton (d. 1905). Another stereotyped town-carillon tune, it seems to be an anthem to religious conservatism that doesn't specifically confess the faith. 2 tacks out of 5.
220. "Jesus, Savior, pilot me," words by Edward Hopper (d. 1888), tune by John E. Gould (d. 1875). I have mentioned this tune before as being a bane of mediocre organists, who can't get the rhythm right, and compound their inaccuracy by playing it too slowly. I have the ability to play it, but not the will; I find its long-drawn-out wordplay about piloting a ship grows tiresome quickly. 2 tacks out of 5.
223. "What a friend we have in Jesus," words by Joseph Scriven (d. 1886), tune by Charles C. Converse (d. 1918). I think we may finally be seeing the last days of this hymn's undeserved popularity. Once again, I'm probably losing my last handful of friends by saying this, but I have come to the conclusion this hymn is more trouble than it's worth. If you (as the organist) play it a tick too fast, nobody can keep up; a tick too slow, and they go blue in the face or, perhaps, pass out from lack of oxygen. There's a very narrow range of tempos for this hymn that isn't deadly, one way or the other; and in my opinion, it's Converse's fault. Meantime, there's a really lovely tune for this hymn by Henry Smart (author of REGENT SQUARE, known to you as the tune of "Angels from the Realms of Glory"), but nobody will let you play it because it's got to be this gushy, syrupy, mediocre tune by Converse. As for the text, last time I heard it sung in church (at a funeral not too long ago), I was reminded how disappointing it is. There are several moments when Scriven seems to be leading up to something really strong, and then he wimps out and just repeats "take it to the Lord in prayer." 3 tacks out of 5.
224. "When peace like a river," by Horatio G. Spafford (d. 1888), tune by Philip Bliss (d. 1876). By now you must have noticed a great prevalence, among tunes registering on my tack-o-meter, of authors and composers from just about exactly the same point in history. This is, again, the exact period the editors of ReClaim seem intent on "reclaiming" for their church's heritage of hymnody; and yet I wonder what they, as Lutherans, see in it. Take this part-songy number, with different sections of the choir coming in with staggered entries of the refrain "It is well with my soul." It has some gospel in it, albeit related in a very individualistic and melodramatic register. But it would be a shame to waste this old-timey choir number on a mere congregation. 2 tacks out of 5.
226. "Rock of Ages, cleft for me," by Augustus M. Toplady (d. 1778), tune by Thomas Hastings (d. 1872). Lutherans who try to baptize the Pentecostal theology of the line "be of sin the double cure" are doing a disservice to Lutheranism. Also, while our ears may hear baptism in the line "foul, I to the fountain fly," I wonder what Toplady would have thought of that. Finally, either they don't make organists like they used to, or playing Hastings' tune TOPLADY badly has become a hallowed tradition. 3 tacks out of 5.
227. "Come, thou Fount of every blessing," by Robert Robinson (d. 1790), tune NETTLETON by J. Wyeth (b. 1858). To me, the sound of this hymn still sends an impression of Presbyterianism straight to my brain-stem, thanks to early childhood experiences at my grandparents' home church, when I first conceived an impious amusement at the line "here I raise my Ebenezer." My judgment may be off, however, since there is a decided "choosing Jesus" aspect to Robinson's poem. 2 tacks out of 5.
228. "Onward, Christian soldiers," by Sabine Baring-Gould (d. 1924), tune by Arthur Sullivan (d. 1900) - yes, that Arthur Sullivan. You wouldn't ask if you'd heard this song, which you probably have, since it's hugely popular. I'm not sure why, unless it's the catchiness of the oom-pah bass line. It's kind of like a love-child of "How Great Thou Art" and "Stand Up for Jesus," with all the spiritual appeal of a British-accented military march. Except on Boy Scout Sunday, 2 tacks out of 5.
232. "He leadeth me (oh, blessed thought)," by Joseph Gilmore (d. 1918), with a tune by Bradbury. With all its inflections of religious part-songs from around the time of Abraham Lincoln and its repetitive text that goes on and on about being led by God's hand, without ever mentioning Christ, I wonder again what the ReClaim folks see in this, other than it being a throwback to the Americana of yesteryear. 3 tacks out of 5.
239. "You have come down to the lakeshore," by Cesáreo Gabaráin (d. 1991), a Spanish priest. Drawing on imagery of a fisherman being called away from his nets and boat to follow Jesus, it seems to be (even on an allegorical level) a very personal expression of one man's religious experience. I can see its value as a work of devotional art, performed by a soloist on some informal occasion. I don't really get its appeal as a congregational hymn, which should probably be a lot more direct and plain in its language, and more relevant to the corporate body. 2 tacks out of 5.
242. "I look not back," author unknown, music by Oskar Ahnfelt, has the ring of a poem that would circulate on a tract rack, back when church tract racks were the thing; perhaps today, on a Facebook meme with a nice landscape photo in the background. There's a stanza on the theme "I look not forward," and another on "I look not round me," and another on "I look not inward," and finally "But I look up into the face of Jesus." Again, the whole character of it is personal, individual; it sounds like it would work better as a solo number in a church talent show, than as a congregational hymn. 2 tacks out of 5.
244. "Have thine own way, Lord," by Adelaide Pollard (d. 1934), tune by George Stebbins (d. 1945). It's another one of those gospel songs that tend to turn up at church talent shows in communities where the old-timey stuff is still best loved. I think the fact this kind of hymn only gives incrementally more quality content than the average CoWo anthem may contribute to some of the intergenerational strife between old-timers and the CoWo crowd; in my opinion, a nice, robust, teaching hymn from the best of historic Lutheranism would provide more of an alternative to the dilemma between clinging to the old (American) stuff or going full-on rock band. Anyway, for its soft, pleading blandness, I give this hymn 2 tacks out of 5.
246. "All the way my Savior leads me," by Fanny Crosby, with a tune by Robert Lowry (d. 1899). More 19th-century old-timey pious sentimentality, with Jesus cast as a guide, and full of tantalizing references such as "feeds me with the living bread" and "Gushing from the rock be fore me, lo! a spring of joy I see" - neither of which Crosby probably intended as a reference to the sacraments. 2 tacks out of 5.
248. "Just a closer walk with thee" (first line "I am weak but thou art strong"), words and music by "North American traditional." This is another example of the type of song that, if you're not careful, will be sung so loudly by the usually-mum old mumblers of the congregation that you'll start to feel afraid of choosing a better hymn. I had that exact experience while attending a church that had this hymn in a photocopied supplement to its pew hymnal; I couldn't sing along, because I had never heard it before and the music wasn't printed with the words. It gave me the disturbing sensation of having mistakenly attended worship with the wrong denomination. But now, thanks to this book (among a few others), Lutherans can sing it without giving any such confusion. For stagy, evangelism-rally smarm, 4 tacks out of 5.
251. "I'm a pilgrim, and I'm a stranger," by Mary Shindler (d. 1883), tune by Oskar Ahnfelt. This is a clear example of the unchurchliness of Ahnfelt's music in general, which wouldn't have been confused for anything but a piece of Swedish Christian popular/folk music 100 years ago. Shindler's poem, which is a very poor patch on Paul Gerhardt's "A pilgrim and a stranger," is (once again) all about despising this world and looking forward to the next, where "there is no sorrow, nor any sighing, nor any sinning, nor any dying." That, right there, is about the high-point of it. 3 tacks out of 5.
253. "My life flows on in an endless song," words and music by Robert Lowry. Many people know this song by its refrain, "How can I keep from singing?" I've participated in it as a very effective choir piece. It may also be a good solo song. But with its tricky pop/folk rhythms, I have doubts about its chances of success as a congregational hymn. 2 tacks out of 5.
254. "What wondrous love is this," of early American origins. It's a movingly beautiful piece, but as a congregational hymn, it drives me crazy with impatience. Why? Because, once again, it is of that long, slow-paced persuasion that lets out the minimum of information over the maximum amount of time. 2 tacks out of 5.
255. "Nearer, my God, to thee," by Sarah Flower Adams (d. 1848), with the tune BETHANY by Lowell Mason (d. 1872). I've read somewhere, perhaps The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, that this is only one of a great confusion of very similar hymns, many of which were written in direct response to one another. How all that variety got pared down to this particular example, I can't tell; I only know that with its umpteen repetitions of its first line, over the course of five stanzas, it tries my patience. I also can't help but question Adams' judgment in wishing on herself, or anyone else who sings her song, a Jacob-at-Bethel type of experience - if I can gather that much from the slow trickle of useful information that drips through this hymn. 3 tacks out of 5.
257. "Like Noah's weary dove," by William Augustus Muhlenberg (d. 1877), set to an early American tune. To be brief: altar call hymn. 4 tacks out of 5.
259. "I saw him in childhood," by Vilhelm Birkedal (d. 1892), set to a Norwegian folk tune. This hymn is a five-stanza spiritual autobiography, in somewhat allegorical terms, of some individual's personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Oscar Overby's translation has some cute licks in it, like a rhyme between "decorum" and "before him" - but I shouldn't speak, having once rhymed "Gomorrah," "flora," and "fora" with each other in a single stanza. My objection is this is, again, too personal and subjective an account of a person's faith to be a good fit for a singing congregation. 2 tacks out of 5.
264. "Go forth, my heart, this summer day" is a Paul Gerhardt hymn, translated by Grindal, about which I only want to comment about the tune GEH AUS, MEIN HERZ by August Harder (d. 1813). Its folk-songiness has the effect of making Gerhardt's hymn sound like a nice, pietistic Lina Sandell/Oskar Ahnfelt number, which puts a serious crimp in my design to defend Gerhardt against the charge of pietism. I know, Grindal doesn't care about that. 1 tack out of 5.
265. "I love to tell the story," by Katherine Hankey (d. 1911), tune by William Gustavus Fischer (d. 1912). It's a pity this song is so catchy, because, ironically, it goes on at great length about loving to tell the story about Jesus, but doesn't ever tell the story about Jesus. What was it Grindal was saying about hymns in which one seems to pat oneself on the back?
269. "Lift high the cross," by George W. Kitchin (d. 1912) and Michael R. Newbolt (d. 1956), tune by Sydney H. Nicholson (d. 1947) - an older hymn than I realized, having associated it all my life with the latest vogue in the triumphalistic, written-for-synodical-meetings type of hymn. I was surprised to see it mentioned, recently, in a mystery thriller featuring a standoffish little Christian sect; I wondered where that group had picked it up, to be singing it at one of their barn meetings. Anyway, it's a bunch of pomp-and-circumstance with loads of militaristic imagery and numerous references to "conquering," "triumph," and "victory," which in the context of mission work may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves. 3 tacks out of 5.
271. "O beautiful for spacious skies" (America the Beautiful), words by Kathryn Bates (d. 1929), tune by Samuel Ward (d. 1903). Who are we addressing in this hymn? America! 4 tacks out of 5.
272. "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (first line "Mine eyes have seen the glory"), words by Julia Ward Howe (d. 1910), set to an American folk tune. This militaristic remnant of the at first political, and finally military war to end slavery in the U.S. has some pretty iffy theological formulations in it; plus, its whole appeal is historical, rather than having any spiritual use for today. 4 tacks out of 5.
275. "Shall we gather at the river," words and music by Robert Lowry, is a bunch of glittery, future-tense stuff set to a 19th-century part-song. How very quaint. 3 tacks out of 5.
I'm not taking a composite score, or an average. I'm just suggesting that, out of the few hymns in this "physically lightweight" book, there is a great weight of hymnody that I wouldn't have gone out of my way to "reclaim" for the edification of a future generation of Lutherans. American Protestantism can have them, and preserve them; it should, in the cases that have artistic merit or historical value; it will, in many cases that have neither. I think the branch of Lutheranism that flirts with them, flirts with disappearing sooner into the indistinct vista of American Protestantism. If I could have expected anyone to listen to me, I would have advised the ReClaim folks to reconsider what they aimed to reclaim.
1Hereafter to be described as "x tacks out of 5," as a measure of how tacky I think the hymn is in the context of a highly selective selection of hymns representing Lutheranism; the more tacks, the tackier.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Hymnal Review: ReClaim
Posted by RobbieFish at 3:57 PM
Labels: books, hymnody, music, tacky hymns, worship
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Good post. Very thorough, too!
But I must register my disagreement:
3. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken. This should always be sung to Abbot's Leigh. Fact, not opinion.
18. For the Beauty of the Earth. I haven't seen Grindal's book, but the original words (including original refrain) are better than the more commonly found version. See this Wikipedia entry.
76. Thy Holy Wings (O Savior). I believe the original is a two-stanza hymn, not four. It's not feminine or fuzzy, but it is warm. Try sticking the original Swedish words into Google Translate and you'll get a good idea. Can't comment on the English translation, but Sandell's Swedish words are just fine.
And since we are on the subject of Sandell: it's misleading to refer to her as the Swedish Fanny Crosby. She wasn't a Baptist, or a revivalist (in the North American sense at least). She was a Lutheran within the Rosenius movement, which is a million miles from the provenance of American Gospel songs.
79. O Jesus, I Have Promised. This was written as a confirmation hymn, and it seems just fine for that purpose. American decision theology was not a factor when it was written by an Anglican priest for the occasion of his children's confirmation. The only tune it should ever be sung to is Wolvercote. Fact, not opinion.
172. In Heaven Above. Don't knock something I grew up with! Moreover, how can someone be a Pietist who died over two decades before the publication of Pia desideria, and wrote the hymn another two decades before that? Anyway, I can't comment on the translation, but it seems to me that this extolling of the joys of heaven isn't a million miles of what we find in the Revelation to St. John.
193. Just As I Am. I sometimes use this as an altar call hymn. Also known as a communion hymn.
215. In Christ Alone. You pronounce this hymn unsingable. My (musically entirely uneducated and untrained) congregation would like to demonstrate that you are entirely mistaken. They sing this with gusto reserved for no other hymn. Yes, it is CoWo, but it is actually rather good. On the other hand, you should have pointed out that "from life's first breath" is incorrect: we come under Christ's care not at birth but at baptism.
226. Rock of Ages. Toplady predates Pentecostalism by over a century. He was a Calvinistic Anglican, and an opponent of Wesleyanism. So whatever one hears in these lines, Pentecostalism it is not. Overrated, yes, but I think you underrate it.
254. What Wondrous Love Is This. I admire your ability to find this moving or beautiful. I find that I only concur with the sentiment of impatience. If for no other reason that early American pentatonic tunes drive me insane. Glad my family stayed in the old country for that reason alone.
Finally, I think you do Gerhardt a disservice. That Pietism over-egged the personal response to God's grace should not make us allergic to personal responses to God's grace. Otherwise, we'll have to start striking out some of the biblical Psalms, too, for pietistic tendencies.
I think I agree with everything else. Which means that I must think this is a pretty good post. So thank you.
Thank you for the instructive corrections.
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