Monday, July 21, 2008

Tacky Hymns 4

Today's ode to tackiness is Hymn 84 in All God's People Sing! - a title which, I gather from the exclamation point, is in the imperative mood; otherwise it would be hard to take seriously. Frankly, the whole book (Concordia Publishing House, 1992) is difficult to take seriously. Nevertheless I have seen it in the pews of LCMS churches. I can only regard this as a sign of the end times.

Here's a hymn called "Circle of Friends," with words and music by David Morstad. The only words that can possibly convey the tackiness of Morstad's music are Morstad's lyrics:
Friends all gather here in a circle.
It has no beginning and it has no end.
Face to face, we all have a place in God's own circle of friends.
Hey there *__! How do you do?
Who's that friend sitting close to you?
Thank the Lord for *__ has a place in the circle too.
Take a look around. Find someone near.
Take him (her) by the hand, say "Glad you're here."
We're together and when we've gone,
God's love like a circle rolls on and on and on.
It's all sung to one long stanza, with a repeat sign at the end (to double your discomfort). The final "on" is held for three whole measures.

Wow. Now that's a hymn that stirs up deeply buried (not to say repressed) memories. Squirm-inducing memories of gatherings from which I wanted to flee. People so friendly and welcoming that they scared me to death. A Pentecostal church that some crazy woman dragged me to (all right, it was my mother), and where, even at age ten, I was so struck by a sense of wrongness that I felt physically ill. Memories like that are among the reasons I never, ever, want to be anything but a Lutheran. And now I can relive them at a Lutheran church near me!

Maybe this is a good time to acknowledge one of the things that makes me such a fat stupid jerk, the type of person likely to be his own "circle of friends": I hate to be pushed around. I especially hate when it is done in a "nice" way. So I am glad Lutheranism found me before Pentecostalism did. If I had been raised in a religious tradition that trades on manipulation, mass emotion, and groupthink, I would probably have ended up hating Christianity. Children's sermons and Sunday school songs were almost more than I could endure, even in the Lutheran church; but at least I could look forward to adulthood when my church would no longer require me to participate in precious little role-play games. I didn't want group therapy. I wanted to hear the Bible's bitter truths and comforting promises frankly explained. And, apart from what the Word itself accomplished in me, I wanted to be left alone.

"Circle of Friends"-type church gatherings may attract some weak-minded and emotionally needy individuals. But how shall a critical thinker be saved? "Circle of Friends"-type songs may make nice ice-breakers at an informal gathering of outgoing, unselfconscious people; but where does that leave the man or woman who believes, as I nearly do, that good taste is next to godliness?

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