Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tacky Hymns 59

And stiiiilll more on Let All the People Praise You: A Songbook (Northwestern Publishing House, 1999), the first of two supplements to the Wisconsin Ev. Luth. Synod's 1993 pew hymnal Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. I know, I promised last time that I'd keep my snark brief. It was a long post. But I covered a lot of songs, too! So, I'll make an even more serious effort to spare the rod (of my sarcastic wit) and limit myself, wherever possible, to "remember what I said about such and such type of hymn." Again, the numbers at the beginning of each entry refer to page numbers in LAPPY, which does not have "hymn numbers" as such.

(150-151) In my life, Lord, be glorified is a repetitive praise song by Bob Kilpatrick that, amazingly, effects a key change from D to E-flat between stanzas 3 and 4. Other than that, it's kind of boring. The stanzas are mainly distinct from each other by where we are asking God to be glorified today: in my song, in your church, in my school, in my home. It's evident from stanza 4 (school) that this is also a kiddie piece. In case I've never mentioned it before, I'd also like to make a case (throughout this endless series of hymn critiques) that children are capable of learning better hymns than the tripe we chronically lay on them. I think some of them, at least, would appreciate being given more credit and being challenged with something better.

(152-153) Infant holy, infant lowly is the well-known Polish Christmas carol that might be an example of the type of thing I was just talking about. OK, it's a little soft and sentimental, and it doesn't go way deep into incarnational theology, but it paints a charming word picture of the birth scene of Jesus and concludes that He was "born for you." So, it's a little light, but it's full of charm and sweetness and comes with music that sounds rich and expressive whether sung in unison (with accompaniment) or in harmony (backed by the choir). I think the kids would like it. However, I wouldn't sing it once per service from the First Sunday in Advent through Epiphany. (You know who I'm talking to, Padre.) In fact, I'd probably save it for the children's Christmas program.

(154-155) It is well with my soul (first line: "When peace, like a river") has already borne the brunt of my nastiness.

(156) Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your life, likewise. See? I told you this would go faster.

(157) Jesus, lead me day by day is an uncredited poem whose three stanzas mostly ask Jesus to "teach me to be pure and true; show me what I ought to do," etc. Other than the concluding happy knowledge that "Jesus loves me so," it's pretty much all moralism. Look on the shiny side of the coin, you could call this the response of the born again, new creature in Christ to his love, etc. But it doesn't say anything about forgiveness of sins; just to be made "steadfast, wise and strong" to resist temptation. Could be worse. Could be better.

(158) Jesus loves me is the English version (with words by Anna Warner and David McGuire and music by William Bradbury) of which so many foreign translations have been sprinkled throughout the book. Kid stuff. Maybe what the WELS wants is a children's songbook.

(159) Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me is a Charlotte Barnard song in the old-timey tradition of Fanny Crosby and Robert Lowry. It sounds, to my jaundiced ear, like something that might have been of great comfort to generations of consumptive spinsters, cheering them with the news that they have a divine lover hearing their prayers, watching over them and keeping them pure until they die. It doesn't have any harm in it, unless you experience feelings of emasculation, reinforcing our culture's stereotype of churchgoing Christianity as women's business – what sometime Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, Mr. Machismo himself, famously called "a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

(160) Jesus loves the little children, more kid stuff. This is the ditty by George Root that enumerates the colors of all the children of the world (red and yellow, black and white) and says they're precious in his sight. There are actually three stanzas of it, with "died for" and "rose for" in place of "loves the." Repetitive, simple, saccharine, easy-peasy. If you're still making kids sing this after kindergarten age, you may be setting them up to stop going to church as soon as they can.

(161) Jesus, name above all names is a gospel song by Naida Hearn whose three stanzas are pretty much a list of some names for Jesus. To be sung by a throaty soloist with loud lipstick, poufy bangs and long, bedazzled fingernails.

(162) Jesus, remember me I have already discussed.

(162-163) Jesus, take us to the mountain is by the words-and-music team of Jaroslav Vajda and Carl Schalk, whom I have frequently mentioned with mingled awe and impatience. I'll give Schalk full credit for penning a handsome, expressive tune – albeit one with a ring of familiarity about it, possibly due to it being quite like some other tunes by Schalk and his school – but when it comes to modern musical settings for Transfiguration hymns, I think this piece lags far behind such majestic and vaulting melodies as DEO GRACIAS ("O wondrous type! O vision fair," hymn 413 in Lutheran Service Book) and Ted Beck's SEWARD (LSB 415, "Jesus on the mountain peak"). Turning to Vajda's text, there is a sense in which it is quite excellent, confessing and applying deep truths about the person and work of Christ for us. On the other hand, there is also a sense where the hymn beckons us on a journey to witness the events surrounding Jesus' transfiguration "with Peter, James and John," as if having that experience ourselves is more meaningful than "the more sure prophetic word" that they proclaim through the ministry of the Word. I'm often caught on my tippy-toes, about to hurl myself into one of these journeys of the pious imagination, by the chilling thought, "When did the Lord ever instruct me to seek him in this way?"

(164-165) Joyful, joyful, we adore thee is another example of – Oh, heck, read what I wrote about it before. Harrumph.

(166) Just a closer walk with thee is also one I've taken a swing at before. I'm not sure that I expressed clearly enough, that time, how strange it was to find myself in a congregation of the same church body I had been raised in (not to mention traveled around a lot in, been a pastor's kid in, and studied to become a pastor in) only to hear this song for the first time and wonder, all of a sudden, whether I had come to the wrong place.

(167) King of kings and Lord of lords is an ancient Hebrew folk song with Jesus lyrics added (by Naomi Yah and Sophie Conty). There's a note at the bottom of the page suggesting that it be sung through in unison, then as a round. Call me discouraged by the decline in the standards of music education and beaten down by life in general, but I have doubts that this idea will succeed at the level of the congregation. Talented Sunday school class? Go for it. However, don't expect to get much out of it except the exercise and a couple of titles for Jesus repeated multiple times.

(168-169) Lamb of God (first line: "Your only Son no sin to hide") is another Twila Paris hit, one that I've mentioned before.

(170-172) Lead me, guide me (along the way) is a three-page number that I have done before.

(173-174) Leaning on the everlasting arms (first line: "What a fellowship, what a joy divine") is one that I have actually addressed not one, not two, but three times – if only briefly.

(175) Let me learn of Jesus is one that I thought so little of, when I mentioned it in a previous post, that I only just mentioned it and let my comment on a previous selection extend over it as well. Essentially, I was poking fun at a certain school of children's hymns that tended to sound like "sentimental old Gospel ballads, iced with spun sugar to appeal to little palates, which made Sunday school and Vacation Bible school a nightmare for me every year of my childhood," etc. This song is a short, four-stanza attempt by Fanny Crosby to massage a sufficient account of the Christian faith into a shape that tiny children can grasp. It somehow seems to put sanctification before justification (stanza 2) and after putting Jesus infinitely out of reach (stanza 3) invites him to hold my hand (stanza 4) without a breath of explanation as to how he might do that. Maybe there's an age of children to whose comprehension this hymn is suited, but it's a very little age and I hope teacher realizes it and leaves this hymn behind as they grow.

See? It's a shorter post! No thanks to that last hymn... Oh, well. We'll try again another time!

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