Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tacky Hymns 68

Last time, I got through the first 45 or so hymns of The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) without finding any hymns that I actually felt were tacky – with regard to confessional Lutheran values for words and music to be sung by the congregation. But as I've noted, I'm scoping out three things in this thread: (1) objectionable choices by a pew book's hymn selection committee, (2) interesting variants of commonly seen text-tune marriages, and (3) really good hymns that I think deserve to be learned and sung by more Lutheran congregations.

I'm going to start off, however, with a blemish on CPH's so far spotless record – though, to be sure, I've passed over some slightly boring numbers without belaboring them.

(47) Savior, again to Thy dear name we raise is one of those sentimental old chestnuts that some of you are going to hate me for picking on. I think the tune, ELLERS by Edward J. Hopkins (1869), is on the outer limit of sentimental mush that has any business sharing bookroom with the likes of WACHET AUF and EIN FESTE BURG. It's a warm, gushy, touchy-feely piece that comes to an inconclusive ending (the last note of the melody is the fifth of the scale). It has nice, rich harmony – at least in this book – so that's one thing it has over a lot of other smarmy 19th century hymns. John Ellerton's 1866 hymn text, a hymn to depart, thus comes across as an oddly touching farewell to a place of worship and a body of fellow worshipers whom one might reasonably hope to see again the next week. 2 or 3 tacks out of 5.

(48) How blest are they who hear God's Word, however, is another example of "type 3," a Danish hymn that I suspect goes unsung, or undersung, in many German Lutheran congregations because it's just different enough from the familiar and comfortable pattern of German chorales that – strange as it may seem, I can only report what I've observed – people who don't even remember a time when their church worshiped in German are taken against it. Johan N. Brun's post-Communion hymn is really beautiful, and the 16th century tune MIN SJAEL OG AAND is quite expressive and richly harmonized. I think people given a chance to sing it every now and then (like, once a month) will gradually develop a fondness for it in proportion to such faithful words as, "Today I was my Savior's guest, My soul was here so richly blest, The Bread of Life receiving."

(50) Lord dismiss us with Thy blessing is the first instance of "type 2" that I want to point out. TLH awards it two tunes: REGENT SQUARE by Henry Smart (1867), better known as the tune to "Angels from the realms of glory," and NEW ULM by Fritz Reuter (1910). The latter is a very nice tune, but face it, everybody uses REGENT SQUARE. Unless they grew up using certain other hymnals, in which case maybe they use SICILIAN MARINERS (roughly, the tune to the Christmas carol "Oh, how joyfully"). Maybe, one of these days, I will write a new hymn and stick NEW ULM to it, because I think the tune deserves another shot.

(54) Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah is another "type 2" hymn, interesting because TLH pairs it with the tune GUIDE ME by George W. Warren (1884) that, I gather, was written for it. However, in most hymnbooks you find this popular hymn, translated from Welsh, paired with a conspicuously Welsh tune, CWM RHONDDA (James Hughes, 1905). Actually, I think I've met this hymn under the guise of other tunes as well, but none more frequently than CWM. I'm debating amongst myself whether I want to offer GUIDE ME the same deal as NEW ULM. I'm not sure I like it as much. I'd guess that as comfortable as TLH users are/were singing this hymn to Warren's tune, switching to Hughes' was/will be one of the more painless changes that come with buying into a new hymnal.

(55) Come, Thou precious Ransom, come is set to the Darmstadt (1699) tune MEINEN JESUM LASS ICH NICHT – which, judging by its name, is meant to be paired with "Jesus I will never leave" (TLH 365). The book also uses this tune for "Jesus sinners doth receive" (TLH 324) – the hymn I, personally, most strongly associate with it – and the children's funeral sermon "Tender Shepherd, Thou hast stilled" (TLH 595). I say this because I only mean to bring this tune up once, and only in the "type 2" context, to let you know that there are two other chorale melodies named MEINEN JESUM LASS ICH NICHT which can be used interchangeably with this tune, although not necessarily with the same degree of success. I used all three of them in my book of original hymns, Useful Hymns, just because I love fine old hymn tunes.

We've moved on into the Advent section of the book by now. I tell you, I have to bite my tongue, or rather my typing fingers, to avoid stopping at every single hymn and telling you in the spirit of "type 3" why they're so great. I'm going to make an effort to restrict that use of this thread to the hymns I can't stand not mentioning. And so ...

(58) O Lord, how shall I meet Thee is a beautiful Paul Gerhardt hymn, from which TLH selects a mere nine stanzas (gasp!) and sets them to two tunes. The first is VALET WILL ICH DIR GEBEN by Melchior Teschner (1613), whose title suggests a deep tie to the hymn "Farewell I gladly bid Thee" (TLH 407) and which TLH uses with a total of seven hymns – more, I believe, than any other tune except OLD HUNDREDTH and WIE SCHOEN LEUCHTET (each also used seven times). (SEPTEM VERBA doesn't count; its seven hymns in TLH are really sections of a larger structure, a litany on Jesus' Seven Last Words.) I think VALET (sometimes also called ST. THEODULPH) is a great tune, don't get me wrong. But in my study of many anglophone Lutheran hymnals, I've found it chronically overused with more different hymn texts than almost any other hymn tune. But this tune has become such a generic, go-to melody that it shouldn't be difficult to divorce it from any particular hymn except, maybe, "All glory, laud and honor." And then there's the second tune, WIE SOLL ICH DICH by Johann Crueger (1653), a beautiful tune that is tender and devout where VALET is bold and bright. To judge by the title, it's the tune this hymn is really meant to be sung to – and I applaud the fact that more recent hymnals have made it the sole tune for this hymn. Not everyone's with me on this, however; for in spite of, or maybe because of, VALET's systemic overuse (bordering on abuse), it's a terribly well-known tune that requires few Lutherans weaned on hymnal-style worship to learn it cold. And a couple generations of those Lutherans have the impression that it's the tune to this hymn. Let's keep working on them.

(60) Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding is another interesting case of "type 2." I think the tune TLH pairs with it is a very fine and respectable tune: O DER ALLES, from a 1705 book out of Halle (yes, that hotbed of German Pietism; but oh, well). Solemn, dignified, with a wide-ranging arch shape, I think it deserves to be better known. But these days, everybody seems to be choosing a different tune for this hymn and I hate to admit it, but some of them are really good tunes, too. One is W.H. Monk's 1850 tune MERTON (cf. Lutheran Service Book Hymn 345), a very high-church Anglican sounding thing that grabs this hymn in an inextricable grip. Then there's Michael Weisse's 16th century chorale FREUEN WIR UNS ALL IN EIN (cf. Lutheran Worship Hymn 18), which I think is just about equally awesome. I want to sing all three tunes! Which basically means that, since MERTON is obviously going to win, I'm going to have to find an alternate home for O DER ALLES and FREUEN WIR UNS.

(73) Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates is that example of the "type 2" principal where the whole story is actually laid out in TLH. It has three tunes, all titled MACHT HOCH DIE TUER: (1) from a 1661 Berlin publication, (2) by J.A. Freylinghausen (1704), and (3) by August Lemke (1849). Now let's make it easy for you. Nobody sings (1) anymore. More congregations, I sense, are partial to (3) than to (2), but I believe (2) is the higher quality tune – classically elegant, well structured, handsome – whereas (3) is more catchy in a popular, Romantic-era way that (to my ear) sounds just a little coarser. No surprise, subsequent hymnals dropped (1) and kept (2) and (3) as alternates. I advise continuing in this manner and, most definitely, not letting (2) fall by the wayside.

(76) A great and mighty wonder is an interesting case. The hymn, translated by John Mason Neale (1862) from the 8th century Greek by Germanus of Constantinople, is set here to the 16th Century German tune ES IST EIN ROS ("Lo, how a rose e'er blooming") and all but the last stanza end with the refrain, "Repeat the hymn again: 'To God on high be glory And peace on earth to men'" – lines which are actually cut from one of the hymn's original four-line stanzas. The Common Service Book with Hymnal (Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the United Lutheran Church in America, 1917), Hymn 17, preserves the original shape of this hymn with this stanza intact (first line: "And we with them triumphant") as stanza 3, and sets it to the tune KOCHER in the meter Nobody's with me on this, but I'd like to see this hymn restored to that shape and leave ES IST EIN ROS to the hymn it originally paired with – the rhythmic version, not the bland, stodgy isometric thing TLH uses.

(77) All my heart this night rejoices, a long but lovely Christmas hymn by Gerhardt (1653) set to its own tune (FROEHLICH SOLL MEIN HERZE) by Crueger, is a definite "type 3": More Lutheran congregations need to learn it, love it, live it, and for goodness' sake, sing it to Crueger's beautiful melody and not some half-baked piece of bland modernity commissioned on purpose to replace it. This hymn is a Lutheran church treasure, words and music as one unit.

(80) All praise to Thee, eternal God is another "type 3" hymn, with words translated from Latin to German and additional stanzas by Martin Luther hymself, set to a chorale adapted from a medieval plainsong, GELOBET SEIST DU, JESU. This is a rich, powerful confession of faith in the incarnation of the Son of God for our salvation, which again, complete with its strong, earnest tune, are a piece of the Lutheran Church's rich doctrinal and cultural heritage. It should definitely be kept alive among us, alive and kicking as a counterexample to many hymns that present-day Lutheran songbooks keep alive for no essentially Lutheran reason.

(81) O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is is another Gerhart/Crueger collab – the tune, like the original German text, is titled O JESU CHRIST, DEIN KRIPPLEIN – and what I said about Hymns 77 and 80 applies here as well.

(82) Come rejoicing, praises voicing is a translation from Juraj Tranovsky's Slovak hymn and is set to a 12th century Czechoslovak melody that TLH titles GLADNESS but that I think is also known as CAS RADOSTI. It's quite an unusual selection, outside Slovak Lutheran circles (though, to be sure, a Slovak-American church body did merge with the Missouri Synod at some point). I think it's a good example of the freedom shown by the editors of TLH not to stack the book (or even just its Christmas section) with the songs everybody expects to see, hear and sing every year. As a charming and ethnically-flavored alternative to the usual English, French and German stock pieces, I think it deserves to be kept around and used once in a while.

(85) From heaven above to earth I come, I want you to know, is my favorite hymn of all time. I'll probably say that of a couple other hymns, but right now I mean it about this one – another Christmas hymn by Luther (1535), set to the great tune VOM HIMMEL HOCH (Leipzig, 1539) and printed in TLH with no fewer than 15 stanzas. And I don't care if you think that's too long for a hymn. Sometimes lots of stanzas are called for (like, during a really long communion service). Sometimes, you can take a break and listen to a prelude between stanzas. Or sing five here, five there and five another place during the service. Or have different forces (left side vs. right, male vs. female, adults vs. children, choir vs. congregation, soloists, etc.) chime in for different stanzas. Or just sing selected stanzas. At least to have them to read and meditate on – a complete work of rich scope, beauty and power, fully worked out and full of spiritually moving thoughts – makes it a shame, and I do mean to cast shame, when subsequent hymnals omit fistfuls of stanzas to save space or shorten services.

(86) Christ the Lord to us is born, translated by two different authors from an anonymous Czechoslovak text from the 15th century, is set to its own tune (here titled SALVATOR NATUS, elsewhere given with slight alteration as NARODIL SE KRISTUS PAN). Like Hymn 82, I think it has strong character and could grow to be a new "must sing" Christmas carol.

(89) To Thee my heart I offer is an anonymous German Christmas hymn dated 1653 which, were it not for the fact that it predates the birth of Pietism by 22 years, would set off all my Pietism alarms. It addresses the "Christ-child sweet and dear" in I/me terms that focus almost single-mindedly on transactions involving "my heart" and "Thy love." These aren't bad things in themselves, but they crowd out a lot of other stuff concerning the incarnation of God's Son that, in my opinion, make for a deeper and richer Christmas hymn. Nothing it says is wrong, to be sure; but it is so preoccupied with my surrendering and committing and confiding and declaring that it almost forgets to mention what Christ did and does for me, and for all. In "type 1" terms, I'd give it 2 or 3 tacks.

(96) Oh, rejoice, ye Christians, loudly is a hymn for the Christmas season – specifically, in my view, a Sunday After Christmas – with words by Christian Keimann (1646) and its own tune, FREUET EUCH, IHR CHRISTEN, by Andreas Hammerschmidt. The version in Lutheran Worship (Hymn 40) restores Hammerschmidt's original 12-fold Hallelujah that bookends the hymn – an improvement that The Lutheran Service Book (Hymn 897) unfortunately undoes. With or without the Hallelujah, however, it's a wonderful hymn that proclaims "joy beyond all gladness" in the news that God "our race has honored thus That He deigns to dwell with us," touches on His suffering and bleeding to redeem us, thanks Him that "by Thee I am saved eternally," prays that Jesus would "guard and guide" us and stir us to life, and finally wishes all Christians "holy peace, a glad new year." It's really the essential hymn for the top of the calendar year and if you don't know it, I urge you to start learning it.

(98) Of the Father's love begotten is a great fifth-century hymn by Prudentius, set to the 12th century plainsong DIVINUM MYSTERIUM which, these days, just about everybody knows – or, again, should start working on it. I take note of it here because TLH presents the melody in an unusual, isometric arrangement that I don't recall seeing elsewhere. Stick with the free-flowing plainchant version, thanks.

(99) Now are the days fulfilled is a hymn, from an anonymous 18th century German source, that I suspect most Lutheran congregations fail to properly appreciate. Where I sometimes complain about hymns being repetitive, I think in this hymn's case – all three stanzas beginning and ending with the same line – it drives home the point richly made by the intervening lines: In Christ the woman's seed, God's majesty is clothed in human flesh; Jacob's star has risen, fulfilling biblical hopes and bringing God's people out of darkness; the child of God is freed from the bondage of the Law and its curses. It's so simple and so eloquent, so full of encouragement, that I would suggest teaching it to people who are struggling with emotional problems, guilt and troubles in life, as well as to children, the elderly and the simple-minded.

I want to leave off for today with (100) Christians, sing out with exultation, which I mention mainly because its exuberant tune by Louis Bourgeois (1544), here titled NAVARRE, is elsewhere and more commonly known as RENDEZ A DIEU – in case you go looking for it in the index at the back of another hymnal, wondering why it seems so familiar. LSB uses it three times: "Mark how the Lamb of God's self-offering" (600), "Father, we thank Thee who hast planted" (652) and "New songs of celebration render" (792). I should also add that the hymn text, translated from the original French by Benedict Pictet (1705), does a good job of laying out the doctrine of the person of Christ: "God himself became your Brother" (stanza 1) ... a beautiful poetic description of Christ's State of Humiliation in stanza 2 that I can't quote just in part and daren't quote in full ... a brief telling of the Christmas story in stanza 3 ... and the application in stanza 4: "The primal curse is done away," etc.

So, this time I hit the tackiness buzzer a couple of times, and spent a bit of time comparing TLH's text-tune combinations with some other books. But mostly, this stretch of the Tacky Hymns thread seems to be more on the order of the non-sticky silk that forms the load-bearing parts of a spider's web: the kind of superb but underappreciated hymnody whose excellence sets off in higher relief the tackiness of so many hymns that, face it, just don't belong in Lutheran worship.


by Steve Cavanagh
Recommended Ages: 14+

Eddie Flynn used to be a husband and father. Now he lives alone in a New York City apartment that doubles as his office. He used to be a con-man; now he's a defense lawyer. He used to scrape by, winning cases against crooked cops. Now, suddenly, he's second chair on the defense of a Hollywood rising star who is accused of murdering his wife and her lover. Just as suddenly, when the studio paying for the big-name law firm yanks its support for Bobby's defense, Eddie finds himself in the first and only chair.

The evidence against young Bobby Solomon is solid, but Eddie believes he's innocent. On his first look at the case, the only possible defense seems to be going after the cops for planting fake evidence. There is something fishy, after all, about the dollar bill folded into an origami butterfly and stuck under the tongue of the male victim – like, for instance, the fact that it has DNA on it from a convicted serial killer who was executed, before the bill was printed, for a series of crimes in which dollar bills were left on the victims' bodies as a kind of signature. But even the theory that the cops somehow contaminated the crime scene evidence with trace DNA from 16 years ago and another state is less outlandish than the one that Eddie sees starting to take shape – the theory that the real killer gets off on framing other people for his crimes.

But even that is only a tiny fraction of how weird it gets. For, unbeknownst to Eddie and everybody else (except the reader and one other person), the killer isn't satisfied with just leaving evidence pointing toward someone else. He has to make sure his patsy goes down for the crime. How? By murdering, mimicking and manipulating his way onto the jury at his trial. And then doing whatever is necessary to hand over a Guilty verdict.

Eddie, Bobby and their bunch are in a tight spot. There's a serial killer in the jury box and they don't know who it is. They can't confront the jury with this, because that'll just tick them off and they'll vote to convict. They can't move for a mistrial, because in the first place it won't work and, even if it did, the killer would get away. But every moment they continue the trial, Eddie and his team grow increasingly sure that everyone in the courtroom is in hideous danger.

Oh! And I forgot to mention, while Eddie is impeaching the testimony of some crooked homicide cops, he's making enemies who are just about as deadly as Dollar Bill – as an FBI analyst calls their unknown serial killer. As the trial winds up – not without several jurors being put out of commission, in some cases forever – a rush of violence and death coils up like a spring until the pages almost hum with the tension, and then it lets go. Haunting "offstage" deaths, sickening "onstage" ones, a killer whose motives (revealed in third-person narrated chapters alternating with Eddie's first-person ones) are disturbing in their off-bubble logic, a couple of insane twists worthy of a Jeffery Deaver novel, an accomplice (you forgot that one other person, didn't you?) whose identity is revealed as a final shock, and a climax that boils over with an excess of danger and fear, top off a fast-paced action-mystery that, nevertheless, is at its best during the courtroom scenes.

I've been out of touch with the legal thrillers genre. The titles I've read by, for example, John Grisham and Brad Meltzer all pre-date the turn of this century and are therefore not among my reviews. (Nor will they be, most likely, because I don't as a rule re-read.) So, don't be surprised that this is the first Steve Cavanagh novel I have read, although it's the fourth of his going-on-five Eddie Flynn novels, including The Defense, The Plea, The Liar and moving on to Fifty-fifty, which is scheduled for release Sept. 3, 2020. I may just have to circle back and catch up on this series. A civil rights lawyer from Northern Ireland, Cavanagh is also the author of a novel titled Twisted.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

273. Fathers Hymn

Here it is, right on schedule in a sense – today is Fathers' Day – yet also, a couple years behind the Mothers Hymn that, when I first rolled it out, was met with a comment saying that now I'd better do fathers. It's not so much that this topic eluded me as that I haven't added any new hymns to my collection-in-progress since February of last year. Perhaps this will help break the inertia that I've let that project fall into. Apparently, I've strayed by chance into a meter in which has never been done before, so I'm going to have to come up with an original tune for it ... more on that later.

Thou who all things needful didst,
God and Lord of our salvation,
And to call Thee Father bidst
All who offer supplication:
Bless the fathers in our midst;
Prosper their cross-sheltered station.

As we honor, Lord, Thy name,
Wherein they bade us be christened,
Now Thy Kingdom's goods we claim,
Whereof at their knees we listened;
Be Thy will done, here the same
As whereto their guidance glistened.

In our need, Lord, each day give
All a father would provide us.
Though we sin, Lord, yet forgive;
In a father's bosom hide us.
Lead us, Lord, that we may live,
Lest a vengeful tempter chide us.

Thus, dear God, Thou showest forth
What a father's love compriseth.
For such men of sterling worth,
Rank on rank of saints deviseth
Praise that echoes round the earth
And to highest heaven riseth.

EDIT: Here's the tune I quickly whipped up for this hymn, titled FATHERLY LOVE.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Neon Prey

Neon Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport, the hero of some 30 crime novels, gets shot in this book. Not to worry, he bounces back – mostly – and within a few months, is back on the job, chasing a cannibal killer and his gang of home invasion robbers from a grisly crime scene in Louisiana to the suburbs of Los Angeles and finally (hence the neon) Las Vegas. Joined by a pair of younger Marshals named Bob and Rae, a rising FBI agent who looks like he could be Lucas' son, and the Clark County Sheriff's Office, he tries to catch up to the gang before they skip town again – or before they endanger more innocent lives.

Of course, the gang knows pretty quick that the heat is on, and they start planning a heist to raise funds for their next round of running and hiding. Meanwhile, Clayton Deese – the mean cannibal hit-man and enforcer whom the FBI wants more because he can lead them to a bigger crook than for his own crimes – isn't quite fitting in with his brother's home invasion gang. Beauchamps, Cole and Cox – two guys and a girl – don't kill people, as a rule, but with a loose cannon like Deese cocked to go off, every moment could present a kill-or-die choice. Then there's the mob boss's assistant from New Orleans, who has come to town with instructions to decide for himself whether to pay Deese to go away, or to make him go away and keep the money. When this guy, Santos, is added to the crucible, the mixture goes off with a bang, spreading a trail of blood from a sleepy bedroom neighborhood to a crowded shopping mall on the Strip. And when the surviving bad guys are finally backed into a corner, they're more dangerous than ever.

Like so many Sandford thrillers I have enjoyed before, this book's success rides on the charm of the characters, their witty and sometimes sexy patter, their remarkable bad-guy-catching skills and, of course, the wild card, which is that anything can go wrong at any moment and often does so, with sudden jolts of violence. Suspense purrs along, but it can't be really dreadful when everything is so much fun. I suppose the hero characters must be a little sick to be able to enjoy themselves so much in the midst of so much danger and the frequent sight of violent death. Maybe it's just a matter of having to become callused to it in order to survive in the job. Even they have a hard time keeping their stomach contents inside when they see what Deese has buried in his back yard. Sort of like how we, longtime killer thriller aficiones, may feel we've seen everything (vicariously, in books) and yet struggle, at times, to understand the wickedness in people's hearts. Wickedness comes in many nasty shades in this book, and the glow of neon lights doesn't make it look any better.

This is the 29th of now 30 Lucas Davenport mystery-thrillers by a sometime journalist whose real name is John Camp. Lucas started out as a Minneapolis cop, moved up to the state police (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) and by this point in the series has become a federal employee. I've read intermittently among the installments and have a long-term project to get through the whole set. The next one after this is Masked Prey, and there are are also 12 novels in a spinoff series featuring BCA detective Virgil Flowers, who also appears in this novel.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Three Cheapo DVDs

I needed a movie fix this past week, so during a shopping run at Walmart I picked up three cheapo DVDs – movies priced at either $3.74 or $5 – and watched them over a two-night period.

The first one I watched was a movie that I was a little afraid was going to be a Christian apologetics flick, titled The Healer (not to be confused with at least three other movies by approximately that name). In reality, it turned out to be a sly commercial for a line of camps for kids with cancer started by the late Paul Newman, and although there is one scene where the main character stands in an empty church and tries (for the first time in his life, apparently) to talk to God, he proves to be not very good at it – calls God a big meanie, yells an ultimatum, storms off, etc. It's actually the town's Catholic priest who, having lost his faith, gets it back during this film. Being a healer implies some sort of calling from God, but apparently (some might perhaps say mercifully) the movie doesn't lean into any notion of developing a personal relationship with God. It does, however, explore the personal and relationship implications when a guy, through no merit or fault of his own, suddenly comes into a set of weird powers that (he learns only at the point of the spear) run in his family, skipping a generation and focusing on one sleepy town in Nova Scotia.

Alec, played by handsome Oliver Jackson-Cohen, has a Daniel Radcliffe smile (when he smiles) but, ironically, strongly objects to being deceived, blackmailed, shamed, or otherwise dragooned into being Lunenburg, N.S.'s "Harry Potter." At the moment when he must make the critical choice, whether or not to accept the gift of healing, he balks like a mule. Then he has to face a town meeting full of people who are already primed to thank him for being their healer – an uncomfortable moment in a film well stocked with squirm-inducing scenes. It's kind of the movie's stock in trade, in line with a theme of wrestling with things you can't control, accepting things you can't change and regretting things you allowed to pass you by. It gets really uncomfortable, or rather emotionally wrenching, when the selfish young wastrel realizes that he'd give anything to have chosen differently so that he can save the life of a vivacious teenager who has terminal marshmallow (code for cancer). Suddenly, looking out for himself just isn't doing it for him.

So, yeah, it's a movie with a big heart. It has comedy in it that made me laugh, drama in it that brought a lump to my throat, a romance that's just a little off to the unchaste side compared to Hallmark Channel fare, and a dopey jingle at the end for the aforementioned cancer kids' camping program. I was willing to take that as an alternative to being clubbed over the head with a demand to ask Jesus into my heart. I was also intrigued by the overall quality of the writing, acting and production values throughout, including beautiful locations depicting a town that actually exists. The cast includes Jonathan Pryce (that guy who looks like Pope Francis) as an uncle who is so distant and uncommunicative that he seems to trail unanswered questions behind him at every turn; Jorge Garcia of modern-day Hawaii Five-O as Father Malloy(?!), whose heart attack death on Alec's front porch is caught on video but whose miraculous revival isn't, leading to Alec being arrested for murder; Camilla Luddington of Grey's Anatomy, playing a veterinarian who pretends to be a lesbian so Alec won't hit on her; and Kaitlyn Bernard, whose appearance in the Stephen King flick 1922 is the only role that IMDB puts ahead of this one in its list of what she's known for, as the cancer girl.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The slapstick bit where Alec tries to shift Father Malloy's dead weight from the porch to the back of his pickup so he can race into town and scream for help. I'm not sure which part made me laugh harder – the moment when the wheelbarrow flips over halfway across the yard, or the look Father Malloy gives Alec as he climbs out of the truck bed and sidles, wordlessly, into the church. (2) The town cop, who has been giving Alec heck since the moment he came to town – ranging from a $250 traffic ticket when he catches the kid pulled over on the side of the road, opening a bottle of beer to wash down a chip he's choking on, to arresting him for the murder of a guy who ain't dead – offers Alec a handshake and thanks him for what he's done. It's a good example of scenes on the "choked up with emotion" side of this film. (3) The lens follows the path of an insect into Uncle Raymond's basement lair, where it reveals the answer to any lingering question about whether Alec will actually become the town's new healer in a way that spares us unnecessary dialogue. And if I had to narrow down the strengths of this movie's screenplay to just one, I'd say that it leaves about the right amount unsaid.

Next, that same night, I finally watched Sully from beginning to end – a Clint Eastwood directed movie starring Tom Hanks, Laura Linney and Aaron Eckhart about the passenger flight out of New York's La Guardia Airport that successfully landed on the East River on Jan. 15, 2009 after a bird strike took out both engines. Amazingly, not one life was lost. One of the interesting things about this film is that it holds off on directly showing us the events of that day, opening instead with a nightmare of a not-so-successful attempt to land the plane while Sully is staying at a New York hotel during the post-crash investigation.

It moves on to depict the media circus that swirled around the pilot (Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger) and his copilot, Jeff Skiles, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board's apparent attempts to turn the heroes of the hour into the culprits, accusing them of unnecessarily risking the lives of everyone on board when (the NTSB panel felt) they could have safely landed at either La Guardia, Teterboro or Newark. Ultimately, Sully persuades the panel to re-run their flight simulations, adding the "human factor" accounting for the time he and Skiles spent reacting and deciding what to do, as opposed to immediately proceeding with a preordained plan. As a result, Sully and Skiles are hailed as heroes, in a really quite moving fashion, by people who only moments earlier were looking at them with hatred and suspicion.

The drama is built into the story, and you have to respect Eastwood's risky decisions regarding structure and pacing – such as holding off so long before showing us what happened on Jan. 15, then showing it twice (but from different angles), then having the whole audience sit through four computer simulations of the event in a row. It really shows a director's chops when he can pull off that kind of repetition without losing his audience. The quality of the acting probably also helped. I've actually seen that scene (with the simulator flights) used as an example in a sort of YouTube masterclass on how to do filmmaking right.

I just have a few minor quibbles with the job Eastwood did. One is that, while he got away with it this time, he has a tendency to try risky experiments in storytelling structure that don't always work out. He also has a knack for infusing dramatic, life-endangering events with an almost soporific calm – a tendency for low-key atmospherics that extends to a sound design that made me glad I was watching this movie on DVD, because I wouldn't have been able to follow a single line of dialogue without the subtitles. Pretty much the loudest event in the movie (repeated a couple times) was the bird strike. Even the closing credits music was below the threshold where I could clearly make it out, partly because I had the air conditioning on in my apartment.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) The one moment when Hanks (as Sully) loses his cool somewhat – he almost cries, in fact – after someone finally confirms for him that all 155 occupants of the plane were alive and accounted for. (2) After being told that in one NTSB wonk's opinion, he was the "X" factor without which the equation (how everyone survived the water landing) would not have worked, Sully immediately responds, "I disagree. It was all of us working together." Holy cow! Why aren't guys like that running for office? (3) The air traffic controller who sat in a conference room, waiting to have it handed to him after he (in his own words) "lost a jet airliner in the East River" is apparently the last person in the aviation community to learn that the plane landed successfully and no one died. His change of mood must have been incredible.

One other thing I feel like noting – there was an actor, playing a passenger on the plane, whose face I thought was familiar, but I had to wait for the cast list to scroll at practically the end of the closing credits before I realized who he was – Sam Huntington, who played a werewolf whose housemates are a ghost and a vampire in the Canada-U.S. version of Being Human. I'd forgotten about that show; I only saw the first two seasons of it. Now, I learn, there were four. I'll have to look for Seasons 3-4 on DVD.

Finally, the following night (last night, actually), I watched the Peter Berg directed The Rundown, also known as Welcome to the Jungle, a movie from way back in 2003 when Dwayne Johnson was still billed as The Rock. Here he stars as Beck, a would-be restaurateur and rock-hard (heh) bounty hunter who only needs to do one more retrieval job to get the money he needs to start a little bistro. This time, he has to go down to Brazil to fetch a bad-boy college dropout named Travis, whose father wants him to face the music for some unspecified misstep that apparently involves either gambling debts, fooling around with married women, or both. Travis, played by Seann William Scott, proves more slippery than most of the retrieval targets to whom Beck has offered the choice of "Option A" (Do what I say) or "Option B" (I'll make you).

Travis is determined to retrieve a solid-gold idol called el Gato del Diablo, saying he knows where to find it. But a tough, wily rebel leader (Rosario Dawson) also wants the Devil's Cat to fund her people's freedom struggle, and then there's a ruthless businessman (Christopher Walken) who treats the local natives like slaves – hence the rebel faction – and who wants el Gato for himself. And there are lots, lots, lots and even more lots of chase scenes and fights, building up to a climax in which we see Beck demonstrate what he means about not liking guns (or rather, not liking what happens when he uses them).

Also in the picture are a bagpipe playing pilot with a "dodgy knee" and a broad Scots accent, played by Ewen Bremer (Trainspotting, Wonder Woman), a brother for Walken's character played by Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite), an Indian martial arts master whose bare chest somehow gets more screen time than either the Rock's or Scott's (Ernie Reyes Jr. of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films), William Lucking (Sons of Anarchy) as Scott's dad and the Rock's boss, and Stephen Bishop (Criminal Minds) as the young football player whose party the Rock busts up in the movie's first scene.

Scott, Johnson and Dawson are all in top charm in this movie, and Walken is as threatening and weird as ever. Somewhere, I've picked up a sense that this is considered one of the Rock's worst movies, but I don't see it. I enjoyed it all the way through. It's got terrific action – people actually get hurt and in some cases killed, but it's played for fun and it hits the target. It's got good character chemistry between Beck, Travis and Mariana. The dialogue is well written and performed, and the story moves on at a good pace, accompanied by spectacular scenery and some "Raiders of the Lost Ark" hijinks. All around I think it's a smart and attractively made movie, with one of those clever endings that, upon further reflection, leads you to think, "Those guys are doomed. But hey, that was fun!"

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Right at the beginning of the movie, Beck has retreated to the nightclub bathroom after unsuccessfully trying to convince the football kid to give him his championship ring as collateral and getting hissed offstage by the kid's linebacker buddies. He gives you just long enough to think that he's going to tell his boss, "I can't do this," then says into the phone, "Are you sure about this? I don't want to hurt these guys. They have a chance at a repeat this year." As in, "I'm afraid I'm going to destroy a pro football team's entire starting lineup." That was me, going on the hook right there. (2) The Scots aviator saunters into town, playing bagpipes and making ominous sounding prophecies ... then his herd of cattle stampedes down Main Street. (3) The two (anti-)hero guys have succumbed to an intoxicating fruit that leaves them partially paralyzed and helpless to resist a troop of hump-happy monkeys in the surrounding trees. In a squeaky falsetto voice, distorted by muscle relaxant, the Rock delivers a tirade about the Amazon basin's penis-eating fish, psychedelic fruit, rapist wildlife and general lousiness, concluding, "I miss concrete. I want my Los Angeles Lakers!"

Or, of course, you could substitute any three big fight scenes. There are more than plenty to fill the dance card. Another runner-up is where Travis "translates" for Beck and a group of Portuguese-speaking rebels while making every effort to wind them up.

Tacky Hymns 67

Let's see how quickly we can get through the hymn selections in The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia, 1941), a book that for the most part serves the interests of Confessional Lutheran congregations in the U.S. This brief (I hope) survey will only pause to comment briefly on hymns that show either either (1) poor judgment, in my opinion, on the part of the hymn selection committee; (2) an interesting variant of the usual text-tune combination; or (3) an unsung gem that deserves to be sung more often and more widely.

(6) Kyrie, God Father in heaven above is a "troped" version of the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), the first part of the Ordinary of the Divine Service, adapted from Medieval Latin by way of Reformation-era German attributed, by some, to Martin Luther himself. By "troped" I mean that the body of the hymn is inserted between the words "Kyrie eleison" as well as the subsequent "Christe eleison" and "Kyrie eleison." It's a worship song that I would urge all Lutheran congregations to learn to know and love, and if they're occasionally going to replace the ancient liturgy with something more contemporary, to do it with hymns like this. It has timeless beauty, freedom, reverence and the advantage of being the common possession of Lutherans worldwide and throughout post-Reformation church history, which I feel we look for in vain in the poetic and musical products of Baby Boomers and post-Boomer writers.

(19) All praise to God, who reigns above is another underappreciated gem, with words by J.J. Schuetz (1675) and the tune LOBET DEN HERRN, IHR by Melchior Vulpius (1609). Rhythmically exuberant, joyful music combines with hymn of praise. It has the mixed blessing of a line (middle of stanza 2) that reminds you of a sitcom starring Burt Reynolds. But it also has wonderful thoughts in it like, "I cried to Him in time of need: ... For death He gave me life indeed," and "All idols underfoot be trod," etc.

(25) I will sing my Maker's praises, set to the tune SOLLT ICH MEINEM GOTT by Johann Schop (1641), is a beautiful hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1659) that I have also found in other hymnals, set to different tunes. But like hymn 19, I particularly enjoy this book's pairing of a hymn praising God's "tender love to me" with a melody of great strength and confidence. Its key could, however, stand to be lowered a step or two.

(26) Priase the Almighty, my soul, adore Him is still another favorite praise hymn, good for practically any purpose or season, and again demonstrating that TLH (for one) has its repristination dial set on the right era. With words by J.D. Herrnschmidt (1714) and the tune LOBE DEN HERREN, O MEINE (Onolzbach, 1665) it again demonstrates how joyful, powerful and beautiful a hymn can sound, while proclaiming such thoughts as "Trust not in princes, they are but mortal; Earthborn they are and soon decay," and "Penitent sinners, for mercy crying, Pardon and peace from Him obtain," etc.

(28) Now let all loudly sing praise, a 1644 hymn by M.A. von Loewenstern set to its own tune NUN PREISET ALLE, is one that I mention here because, even more than the hymns above, I don't think it's gotten into the ears and voices of many American Lutherans. I think it's got a fascinating, distinctive sound, however, joined to a text that invites "heathen races" into the "pleasant places Your Savior doth prepare, Where His blest Word abroad is sounded, Pardon for sinners and grace unbounded." It also emphasizes God's providential grace: "Richly He feeds us ... Gently He leads us," etc. It gives a lot more than the "contemporary" praise songs in vogue today.

(32) Redeemed, restored, forgiven, with words by 19th-century author Henry W. Baker, is a hymn that revels in the atoning blood of Jesus that makes us heirs of heaven – "Oh, praise our pard'ning God" – and confesses that when we were lost, Jesus found us, washed us, put his "cords of love" on us and leads us as his own lambs. In other words, our salvation, and that of "each recovered soul," is entirely His doing, as is the work of keeping us in the faith – quite the reverse of much of the "altar call" stuff in Baker's time. To all this, I'd like to add that the 16th century chorale ICH DANK DIR, LIEBER HERRE (also known as LOB GOTT GETROST MIT SINGEN) is a fabulous example of the effort the editors of TLH made to reintroduce rhythmic chorales into usage within American confessional Lutheranism. The music is, I'm sure, more challenging than the isometric arrangements, by which chorales from the Reformation era and the "age of Lutheran orthodoxy" survived through the era of Pietism – see, for example, the chorale harmonizations of J.S. Bach. The rhythmic chorales' strong rhythms have an appeal for me that would probably take a whole long essay to discuss – another time.

(33) The Lord hath helped me hitherto is a late 17th century hymn by Aemilie Juliane, here set to Nikolaus Decius' 1539 tune ALLEIN GOTT IN DER HOEH, which, apart from being a fabulous and versatile tune, is a hymn that I loved choosing for my congregation's worship services when I was in a position to do so. The fact that it frequently uses archaic words like "hitherto" and "henceforth" works, I feel, in its favor, lending it a certain something that makes an impression on the memory. "God hitherto hath been my Guide, Hath pleasures hitherto supplied," etc. And "Help me henceforth, O God of grace, Help me on each occasion, Help me in each and ev'ry place," etc., all the way to "Help me as Thou hast helped me." In three stanzas, this hymn covers its subject very thoroughly and with amazing directness and simplicity.

(37) Lord, 'tis not that I did choose Thee is another 19th century hymn – in this case, by Josiah Conder – that gets it right as to whose decision made me a child of God. The biblical reference to John 15:16 at the top of the hymn text credit line is very apposite and reminds me to mention that each hymn in this book comes with a similar Scripture verse that could be profitable to spell out in the service program or read aloud as an introduction to the hymn – though, in my recollection, these citations mostly went unnoticed.

(44) Ye lands, to the Lord make a jubilant noise is a hymn by Ulrik V. Koren (1874), one of the three founding fathers of the Norwegian synod that is now known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (along with Jacob Aal Otteson and Herman Amberg Preus, lest you doubt my retention of the church history I was taught while I attended Bethany Lutheran College in the 1990s), a paraphrase of Psalm 100, set to a 19th century Scandinavian chorale by Erik Hoff called GUDS MENIGHED, SYNG which I never heard, played, or sang in all my childhood, growing up (in part) in churches that used TLH, until I went to that ELS college in Mankato, Minn. and learned to love it in the campus chapel and choir. It was such a beautiful discovery that I took it home to my LCMS home church, of mostly German heritage, and tried to introduce it there, along with some other Scandinavian hymns, but the people's response ranged from tepid to downright hostile. I seem to recall some of the Norwegian tunes being described, by my Teutonic neighbors, as sounding like a random series of notes. I guess it goes back to what I was saying a few posts ago about people responding best to whatever they were immersed in from childhood. I'd like to suggest immersing some of our children in frisky, rhythmic, eloquently simple yet endlessly interesting songs like this.

Up to this point, I have to admit that I'm apparently terrible at scoping out tacky hymns because, so far, I haven't spotted one in TLH – other than the sense that it's tacky to leave these wonderful, worshipful hymns on the ash heap of church history in favor of Marty Haugen ditties and cheesy pop songs. However, I see something coming up that gives me that feeling that I'm going to be bad, and since I've been good so far, I don't want to spoil it. So, this post breaks here, and there will be more TLH to come – with some actual tackiness in it, even!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Roadside Crosses

Roadside Crosses
by Jeffery Deaver
Recommended Ages: 14+

The California Bureau of Investigation has an agent whose expertise in kinesics (the study of body language) helps her close loads of cases. You'd think they'd appreciate that. But while Kathryn Dance pursues a teen who has apparently snapped after being cyber-bullied, and who can seemingly move back and forth between the simulated world of online gaming and the real world, she also has to deal with a horrible boss, an investigator from Sacramento who is trying to wrest control of the investigation from her, a prosecutor who plans to make his bones by putting Dance's mom away for murder, a defendant from a previous case whose legal team is trying to gum up the works, and a romantic dilemma between a sheriff's deputy who has been something of a soulmate for years (but, alas, he's married to somebody else) and a new guy who suddenly starts to look like Mr. Right.

That's a lot to put on one person's plate, but Dance is good at multi-tasking. So, however, is the killer who has been targeting people who commented on a news blog, starting with a discussion about a certain weird boy who lives half his life in cyberspace. The kid may be a couch potato with no friends or real-world skills, but he proves amazingly elusive as attack after attack – the first few aren't fatal – seemingly exploit the victims' worst fears. Also, the killer somehow finds time to plant roadside memorials, with cut flowers and wooden crosses, every time an attack is due to take place.

Unless this is your first Jeffery Deaver novel, you probably already know by now that there will be multiple surprise twists. And by that I mean that you'll think you know whodunit, and that the mystery is over, more than once before it's actually so. Some of that goes down to Deaver's patented "there's more than one thing going on" trick, some to the classic "there's more going on than you think" trick (not the same thing) and of course, there's a final twist of the "every clue up to this point, except maybe one, has been a trick" trick. Full of tricks he is, that Jeffery Deaver. Somehow, however, this book leaves me more in the mood than some to give him credit for concealing the unexpected within a tightly woven skein of clues. It also digs into the emotional lives of its characters, especially Kathryn and her inner circle, to deliver more than an impersonal puzzle – a novel tinged with romance, family drama, workplace conflict and the ongoing formation of a brilliant sleuthing career.

This is the second of four Kathryn Dance novels by the author of some 14 Lincoln Rhyme crime thrillers and many other books. The series begins with The Sleeping Doll and also includes XO and Solitude Creek.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Blue Moon

Blue Moon
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

They describe him as a big, ugly, old guy – nothing like the actor who plays him in the movies – when Jack Reacher randomly walks into a city divided down the middle between Ukrainian and Albanian gangsters' spheres of activity. It's almost, but not quite, a complete coincidence that he gets off a coast-to-coast bus there, his instincts as a former Army MP triggered by a hunch that a young tough is going to mug a frail older man. He foils the robbery, but the old man does get bruised, so Reacher takes him under his wing and helps him the rest of the way home. Aaron Shevick has problems, though. He and his wife have sold or hawked everything they have, and now they're in debt to some bad people, all for a cause that means more to them than everything else put together. The very roof over their heads belongs to the bank, which only lets them stay there because they're old.

Now their situation has become even more complicated because the rival gangs have exchanged the first shots in a slow, secret war, and Reacher has become involved in a way from which he can't back down. The Shevicks' hopes depend on a hard man who has nothing to tie him down but his sense of right and wrong – which, by the way, does not deter him from putting out bad guys like cigarette butts. At the center of the spiral of corruption on one side of the city center, there is a man who defrauded the Shevick family out of the money they desperately need. Time is running out for them. And now, with Reacher on the case, that means time is running out for organized crime on both sides of the gang turf boundary.

Reacher collects a small group of allies to help him achieve the seemingly impossible – destroying not one, but two organized crime gangs that have their boot on a city's throat. Part of his success seems to be based on absurd luck, part of it on his professional knowledge of the way criminal minds work, and part of it on what he describes as the Army way – hard work, built on perfect intelligence, tactics and weapons – along with the amazingly simple principle that most outfits aren't prepared for an enemy who does something completely insane. Reacher, a cute waitress, two musicians and an ex-Marine do a bunch of insane stuff, wading hip-deep through deceased crooks just to get to one guy who owes a sweet older couple.

It's brutal, violent, fast-paced, steering tightly along the razor edge of the preposterous, with a glossy sheen of sex and a satisfying sense of justice being meted out in a systemically unjust world – a feeling complicated, just a bit, by the coldbloodedness of some of the murders and the improbability of some of the others. Lee Child's writing seems to be calibrated to stay out of the way, to keep the picture morally and emotionally uncluttered, except for the highly charged atmosphere of suspense and the explosions of swift, deadly violence. You almost, at times, pity the bad guys, who are so helpless to stop what's coming for them in spite of the fact that they have pretty good intelligence, lots of weapons and some dangerously effective tactics themselves. They're smarter than you'd expect – smart enough to make the unnamed city where the Shevicks live a seemingly inescapable trap for ordinary people who have no chance against the Eastern European gangs – but, naturally, no match for the never-beaten-yet Reacher.

Reacher knows his luck will run out someday, but not today. And so, for that much longer, his near invulnerability and unstoppable success (matched only by his loneliness and lack of a place to belong) make him a surprisingly satisfying hero once again. This is the 24th of currently 25 Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, who has also published a collection of shorter Reacher stories titled No Middle Name. Book 25, co-authored with Lee's brother Andrew Child (who also writes under the pseudonym Andrew Grant), is titled The Sentinel and is scheduled to be released in October 2020.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Everything in TLH but the Hymns

In my books still one of the best Lutheran hymnals in the English language is The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941), a product of the Ev. Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, which at that time included the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods and the Ev. Lutheran Synod.

My objective in reviewing TLH is not to give an exhaustive critique of every jot and tittle. Just some general remarks about the foreparts, and when I come to the hymns I'm going to give a general overview, then single out (1) hymns whose selection I think was a poor decision on the part of the hymnal editors, (2) underrated and relatively "unsung" beauty spots that deserve another look, and (3) a miscellany of things worth noting, like the choice of a tune for a particular hymn that kicks against the usual text-tune pairing or a quirk of editing at odds with what one finds elsewhere.

TLH starts with a very brief preface and a one-page calendar of the church year, which lets you know, right up front, that this is a hymnal that observes the Gesima Sundays between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent (hence Transfiguration is three weeks earlier than nowadays), and the christological Marian feasts like the Annunciation, Visitation, Circumcision and Presentation. It preserves the Latin names of the Sundays in Lent and the Easter season. It also marks the apostles' and evangelists' days as well as St. Stephen, Holy Innocents, the Reformation, All Saints' Day, St. Michael and All Angels, St. Mary Magdalene's Day and the Conversion of St. Paul. It calls Pentecost "Whitsunday" and numbers the Sundays of Ordinary Time as So Many After Trinity. It has more liturgical feasts on its calendar than some hymnals but fewer than others. These days, one might regard as "conspicuously missing" the Confession of St. Peter, the Baptism of our Lord and perhaps the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

The next page, p. 4, offers short prayers for before and after worship and before and after communion, which are really quite beautiful and worth copying into the inside cover of whatever hymnal you use today. The rest of the page is given over to "general rubrics," which explain how to do the red and say the black, etc. (albeit without actual red ink). Most people would be surprised to read what it says, most Lutherans having blithely ignored it for almost 80 years.

The orders of service begin (p. 5) with a version of the Divine Service tailored for non-communion Sundays, a possibility that later hymnals acknowledged by including rubrics in the D.S. roughly saying, "If there is no communion, say the Lord's Prayer at this point and skip to the last page." An interesting thing to note about the liturgics of TLH is that the offertory is understood as a response to the preached word, and in both orders of service are a setting of verses from Psalm 51, "Create in me a clean heart," etc. This is one of those things TLH users took for granted, and so perhaps failed to rise up and defend when it entered a later generation's mind to walk back Luther's reform a bit and restore the idea of the offertory as an opportunity to say to God, while collecting the offering, "Here you go, God, here's our service to you, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a valid Sacrament." On the other hand, the idea of celebrating the Divine Service without communion is an anomaly that this book, unfortunately, helped to enshrine as the norm in American Lutheranism.

The order of communion (p. 15) is exactly the same as p. 5 except, of course, it includes the communion service as well as a different setting of the offertory. It includes some things that were sadly taken for granted and even some things that are not used at all. There was, for example, a chant part for the minister, but somehow or other it didn't get published until some time after the hymnal and its accompanying altar book and agenda, so in effect TLH also became a powerful influence on the widespread American Lutheran perception that it's normal for the pastor to speak and the congregation to sing in response. Originating without any real reason except the precedent established by this accident of publication dates, this usage has become so deeply rooted that in some corners of the church, people are offended by the idea of the pastor chanting his side of the dialogue and accusations of "taking us back to Rome" or "taking us to Eastern Orthodoxy" come into play, all without any historical or doctrinal basis.

It's nice of p. 25 to put the Proper Prefaces for each season of the church year in one place for all to see, rather than burying them in an altar book like some more recent hymnals. This is one of the nice things about TLH; in effect, it makes it possible for the minister to lead the service with nothing but the pew edition of the hymnal and a Bible at his disposal. A couple of books later ... well, that's another story.

The p. 15 service's setting of the Lord's Prayer is challenging for folks to follow today, with the pastor alone reading (or chanting) the petitions and everyone joining in to sing the doxology ("For Thine is the kingdom," etc.). I've noticed a trend in recent years toward congregations joining in the petitions and forcing the organist to decide between interrupting them with the concluding music and staying out of it; apparently, this is a strain on the nerves of some of them.

The book is also helpful enough to give the exact words the pastor is supposed to say while distributing the bread and cup and dismissing the communicants. I sometimes wish the dismissal could go back to "Depart in peace" rather than the long and still growing paragraph of exhortation it has become.

The post-communion canticle is the Nunc dimittis, Simeon's song (Luke 2:29-32), "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace," another example of something beautiful that TLH Lutherans took for granted until a later generation of liturgical leaders decided to replace it with the banal ditty, "Let the vineyards be fruitful."

It would be a shame not to mention the debt this hymnal's liturgical settings owe to the Anglican Chant style of church music. Except for the offertory, the Agnus Dei ("O Christ, the Lamb of God") and the Nunc dimittis, which are German chorales, the rest of this liturgy is played and sung in groups of two or four brief, simple phrases of four-part harmony, repeated over and over so that they're easy to learn and adaptable to any level of musical ability. I think Anglican Chant is a crucial part of why American Lutheran congregations can sing pieces of the liturgy at all. Simple as they are, they are also reverent, expressive and dignified. I have no objection to going the Gregorian route today, but considering where Lutheranism was at when this hymnal came along, I think it's a good thing this hymnal came along when it did.

Following these orders of service are the prayer offices of Matins (morning) and Vespers (evening), also in Anglican Chant settings. As simple and unsophisticated as it is, the three-part setting of the Te Deum ("We praise Thee, O God") in Matins is spectacularly beautiful. Using a simple, unmetrical translation of the ancient Latin creed/hymn, in my opinion, it vastly outshines the metrical paraphrase by Stephen Starke that everyone in my circles currently loves singing to Gustav Holst's tune THAXTED. And while I'm speaking of beautiful things now taken for granted, I also believe that the setting in LSB similar to TLH's Te Deum does gross damage to the shape of this piece ... but I'll discuss that more at another time.

Pieces like the Benedictus (p. 38) and Magnificat (p. 43) are hard to perform because so many verses are lined up under the chant notes that it's hard to keep straight what stanza you're on, from one line to another – especially if you're the organist and you're trying to keep one eye on the notes and the other on the words. There are various tricks you can use to cope, like underlining or highlighting every third verse, but this may be a case where "memorize the music, dummy" is the best advice. The Nunc dimittis on pp. 43-44 suffers from a page turn between its two systems, requiring singers to flip the page back and forth between stanzas – one of the tackiest layout sins in this book.

There's an order for group confession and absolution (p. 46) which, I suppose, had some use at a point in American Lutheran history when people needed to be prepared wholesale for a Lord's Supper that was celebrated less often. There's also a form for opening and closing church schools (p. 50), which I remember using on occasion when I was a parochial school kid, or maybe in Sunday School or weekly chapel services. The Athanasian Creed takes up a whole page (53), pointed to be read responsorially. Then, starting on p. 54, there's a huge section of material that was sadly taken for granted – the introits, collects, graduals and scripture references for every Divine Service of the church year – sorely missed now in the era of LSB, where anyone who doesn't have the Lectionary has to get a bulletin insert from CPH to find out what the propers are, and besides, CPH keeps changing them.

From p. 95 there's also a section of propers for the prayer offices, then (from p. 102) collects – tightly structured, beautifully written prayers – for all kinds of needs and occasions. There's an alternate version of the General Prayer (p. 110), followed by the Litany (a responsorial prayer now popular to use in Lent), Suffrages (kind of the same thing), the Morning and Evening Suffrages (a brief form form of daily devotions, handy to use at home or to open and close meetings), the Bidding Prayer (customary to use on Good Friday), and some longer but excellent prayers for morning, evening, mealtimes, before and after communion and for the sick and dying. THEN biblical canticles (pp. 120 ff.) pointed for chant, but (alas, again) without the melody provided. THEN selected psalms (pp. 123 ff.), likewise pointed for chant and again, due to an accident of publishing dates, effectively the basis for a dry, sleepy tradition of reading the psalms responsorially by half-verse in a dull monotone. TLH actually provides Latin titles for these Psalms, and the fact that we've ignored them all these years just shows how far our educational system has slipped.

The foreparts to TLH include a now useless table of the dates of Easter from 1941 to 2000; a table of the dates of the moveable feasts of the church year depending on the date of Easter; a table of the historic one-year lectionary which includes, beside the same Epistle and Gospel lessons for each Sunday and feast day of the church year that Luther based his postils on, a bonus Old Testament lesson (which this hymnal's compilers selected, apparently, to emphasize the Christ-centered, gospel themes of the Old Testament), as well as a second Epistle and Gospel (for what use I don't know, except I suppose if you're going to have two different Divine Services any given week), and psalms for Matins and Vespers. THEN, putting the cherry on top of the reason I once taught a seminar on how to use TLH as your family prayer book, a table of Old and New Testament lessons for every day of the calendar year – basically, a roadmap to reading the whole Bible once a year. AND a lengthy list of Psalms chosen for each Sunday, feast and festival of the church year. PLUS a 31-day Psalter (i.e. a roadmap to reading the Book of Psalms, morning and evening, in a month). AND a list of suggestions of Psalms to read for different purposes, such as "against the enemies of the church," "against an evil conscience," "for bodily blessings," "for the teachers of the church," etc. THEN a glossary. THEN a list of abbreviations used in the book to follow. And FINALLY, on p. 170, the last numbered page before the hymns start over at 1, a plate with a beautifully chosen Bible verse (Colossians 3:16) and prayer dedicating our songs to His worship.

Skip, skip, skip. The last numbered hymn is 668 (actually more of a canticle, but whatever). THEN you get a table of contents (p. 837), which might perhaps have been more helpful up at the front of the book. So, here's another example of TLH's tackiness by layout. This is where you have to look to figure out what page all those other very useful, but mostly unused, treasures are that I described above. It also explains the layout of the hymns, identifying the first main section (Hymns 1-54) as "adoration" with sub-sections devoted to opening and close of service, Lord's Day, and worship and praise. Then there are the church year hymns (55-275), arranged first by season, then with festivals and saints' days tacked on at the end. The next section, 276-281, is titled "Invitation" and as that means altar call hymns, reveals a hard nugget of "Methodist new measures" tackiness right in the heart of this ostensibly Lutheran book.

Hymns about the Word and Sacraments, confession and absolution, and confirmation follow; then some solid topics like The Redeemer (339-368), Faith and Justification (369-392), Sanctification (The Christian Life, 393-459), Prayer (454-459), the Church (460-512), Cross and Comfort (513-535). Then there are some flimsier topics, like Times and Seasons (536-584) – which includes Harvest and Thanksgiving and, usually the last section in a hymnal, The Nation; then The Last Things (Death and Burial, Resurrection, Judgment, Life Everlasting), hymns 585-619; The Christian Home (Marriage, The Family, Christian Education), 620-631; Special Occasions (Corner-Stone Laying, Dedication, Church Anniversary, Theological Institutions, Foreign Missionaries, Absent Ones) and the Long-Meter Doxology (644). Third section from the end, "Carols and Spiritual Songs" (649-660), is basically the stuff the editors were embarrassed to include among the proper hymns (so, perhaps, another place to spot tackiness). There's a 16th century Lutheran chant setting of the Litany at Hymn 661 (unfortunately, missing the minister's musical cues), and then a handful of Psalms and the Beatitudes in beautiful Anglican Chant style.

The afterparts of the book, following the Table of Contents, is full of instructive and useful stuff, too, if you're a student of hymns or interested in putting them to their most effective use. Page 838 lists the locations of all the doxological stanzas in the hymnal. There's an index of tune names and a metrical index of tunes, useful either for the kind of research I've been doing all my adult life or, at least, for finding an alternate tune for a hymn whose words you like but whose music you don't. There's also an index of first lines (of first stanzas, that is), so if you can remember that much, you can figure out where a hymn is in the book. Then an alphabetical list of authors of the hymn texts (it says it's an index, but it doesn't provide references to which hymns they wrote); another of the composers of the tunes; another of the translators; and at the very back, p. 858, a short form of baptism in case of necessity.

So, that's everything in the book but the hymns; we're out of space for now, so I'll have to get to the hymns themselves in "Tacky Hymns 67." So far, what I think I've illustrated is that TLH is mostly a very useful hymnal, with lots of resources not only for the study of hymns (and psalms and scripture) but also their daily use at home, as well as during the congregation's worship-together time. Some of the poor decisions made in its layout and in the timing of supplementary material had, I think, unintended and far-reaching effects on the sensibilities of a couple generations of American Lutherans. But if you know where to look for the indices, the table of contents, the daily Bible readings, etc., you can get a lot of mileage out of this book as an individual, a family, a study group, or whatever. If you can get hold of that supplemental book with the minister's side of his duet with the congregation, you can experience some beautiful musical dialogues. And if you're on a seek out and destroy (with caustic remarks) mission about hymnody that can only be sung in a Lutheran church service via a (hopefully temporary) suspension of good taste and judgment, that TOC can at least point out a few likely places to get started.

Besides these helps, I might also mention that there are a Handbook and a Concordance to The Lutheran Hymnal, as well as a Lectionary, Altar Book (Liturgy) and Agenda. So there.

Equal Opportunity Tackiness

I've previously made mention of a tendency of critical hymn-singers to be extra critical of hymns that a later hymnbook presents differently from the hymnal they grew up with. Like the lady I know, bless her, who grew up in the now-defunct American Lutheran Church (since then mostly absorbed into the Ev. Lutheran Church in America) and who, upon encountering a hymn in worship at her current church, always comments wistfully about the tune out of Service Book and Hymnal (SBH), which nobody else in the congregation ever sang out of but which everyone (she feels certain) must agree is the right tune for that hymn. The oddness of her preferences stands out in sharp relief against the balance of the congregation, which mostly comes from a The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH) background with a dash of the old Lutheran Hymnary (LHy) and a pinch of the newer Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy) thrown in for flavor.

I've also told the tale, I feel sure, about the congregation (50 percent TLH and 50 percent LHy) whose adult Sunday School class once deadlocked in a vote – they actually had a vote – over whether to close a study of, I believe, 1 Peter with the EIN FESTE BURG (isometric) setting or the REUTER setting of the hymn "God's Word is our great heritage." The vote split down LHy/TLH lines, respectively. I don't remember what the result was – maybe everybody sang it to the tune of their choice, like the Hogwarts fight song.

This illustrates several principles that should serve as an irritant to devoted, but critical, students of hymnody. First, you're probably not going to dislodge anyone from the opinion they already hold, no matter what reasons you put forth. Second, you may be blind to your own bias in favor of the way things were in the hymnal(s) that influenced you early in life. Third, you'll likely make enemies for life just by bringing up the subject, because people are that emotional about it.

I flatter myself that I'm a little more objective than average because I witnessed the rollout of a new hymnal at a pivotal point in my mental and musical formation – right about the time I became a proficient enough pianist to play any hymn or piece of liturgy by sight. Also, as a pastor's kid and later a student, a ministry student in particular and (for a short while) an actual minister, I moved around a lot and even changed church bodies once or twice. In doing so, I was exposed to even more hymnals and hymnal supplements, regularly worshiped out of several of them, began to study them in detail, and began to mine them for both good and bad examples of hymns both new to me and of long, intimate acquaintance.

So, I haven't just been stamped the image of TLH and conditioned to object to any way the next hymnal(s) deviated from the pattern. I've tried to put TLH, and quite a few other hymnals, in their place in the context of the theology and cultural history of American Lutheranism. I can appreciate ways that I think the Missouri Synod's Lutheran Worship (LW) improved on TLH – that's the new book that rolled out when I was a kid – and I even miss some of those things that didn't survive into the more recent Lutheran Service Book (LSB). I've called the Wisconsin Synod's Christian Worship (CW) a clone of TLH that suffers a bit from genetic fading, but I don't let its similarities to and differences from TLH determine which parts of it I approve or disapprove of. I haven't given the ELCA's (or its ancestors') Lutheran Book of Worship the full treatment – generally, I think of it as the template off which LW was struck, with some differences to the advantage of each book. Then there is the whole complex question of what to make of LHy, ELHy, the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook (ELHb), and a bunch of other books from wider (and earlier) American Lutheranism over which I've poured during many long, lonely hours. And a couple Australian ones, too.

Basically, I'm a hymnal nut. I think there's always room to add to the rich body of hymns that Lutherans have at their disposal to read, sing, hear and meditate on. I'm crazy about their tunes, to the extent that at times I only cared about the words as far as understanding what the melody "means" in the hearts and souls of the people who know them. But I've swung the other way, as well, writing hymn texts wholesale and only worrying afterward about what tunes to pair them with. If I know that a hymn has a bad (like, doctrinally compromised) text, its tune has to be extraordinarily beautiful to convince me it deserves being rescued and paired with something better. It's much easier to transfer an OK hymn text to a better tune. So, my criticism extends to both hymn texts and hymn tunes, but I'm not dogmatic (usually) about which tune and which text go together.

So, in a future post on "Tacky Hymns," I plan to go back to where it started (for me) and prove that I'm not one of those people to whom the old home pew book is all that a hymnal can or should be. I've got my reservations about the book that was the only hymnal in the pews of the churches I attended until LW came out, when I was about 10 years old. I've also, as I said, got opinions about LW to share one of these days, some of which may not play well with the set that welcomed LSB as a modified return to the glory days of TLH. And there are many other hymnals to fit into the story of hymnody in English speaking Lutheranism. If God gives me enough time and I'm not crushed under the weight of the labor, I hope to analyze them as well.

Whatever impression you may pick up as I comment on them, however, please remember and believe that I am not out only to take a dump on other people's well-meant works of piety, poetry and musical composition. I intend to raise up principles of analysis that can be objectively applied. I intend to take a stand for what is truly good and to suggest improvements for things that fall short of the best we can do. I intend to be open to a range of opinions (such as which tune to sing "O little town of Bethlehem" to, etc.) and to go to bat for underappreciated treasures. But I won't be sparing even of hymns that I myself, at times, have personally loved. Certainly, I will not shrink back from saying what I really think, even when it's about everybody and their grandma's favorite hymn. I might be wrong, but so might they. And this is where I get to say my piece.

So, with that "coming attraction" put out there, have a musical day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tacky Hymns 66

Here we're making a mad dash to complete a survey of the hymn selections in the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod's Christian Worship: Supplement of 2008. Let me re-emphasize that I'm only planning to draw attention to two things: (1) Hymns whose selection for American Lutheran congregations to sing in worship is an error in judgment, in my opinion (which, if I may say so, is pretty well informed) – whether this is due to musical difficulty, questionable doctrine, poetic or musical misfires, cultural miscues or strong associations with a faith tradition that breathes a different spirit than Lutheranism; and (2) Really good hymns, new to me, that I appreciate having brought to my attention.

So, being listed below (as opposed to skipped over without comment) is not necessarily an accusation of tackiness. I'm trying to mix some positive criticism with the negative, here. Also, being passed over without comment may sometimes mean that I previously panned a hymn only because of the tune paired with it, and I didn't feel it was worth going over every tiny quibble again. Feel free to leave a well-behaved comment, but please read what I actually said first and give me credit for sincerely believing that it bears saying. And now, on with the second half of the book!

(745) May the peace of God (our heavenly Father) is a CoWo setting by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend of 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philippians 4:7, two biblical blessings that are customarily used during liturgical worship. The exact wording of the verses is altered and expanded a bit, and there's a refrain with all-purpose praise language ("from the depths of earth to the heights of heav'n, we declare the name of the Lamb once slain," etc.) Like other Getty-Townend pieces I have reviewed before, I think the lyrics are all right; but I don't think this song is necessary, given that the nut of it is spoken aloud by the minister, very briefly, at regular worship services, and because a move toward irregular worship is not something I want to encourage.

(746) You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd is a hymn by Sylvia Dunstan (d. 1993) focusing on the dualities and paradoxes surrounding Christ, and set to the haunting melody PICARDY (which you may know as the tune to "Let all mortal flesh keep silence"). I love this kind of hymn, contrasting Jesus' power with his meekness, his glory with his humility, his richness with his poverty, his defeat and his victory, etc. I bring this hymn up, first, because I want to remember to introduce it to some people I know, but secondly, because I find the varied refrain that concludes each stanza a little odd in a couple instances; at least, the wording raises questions and may require some discussion to arrive at a proper understanding of what it means, or what we want it to mean. The repeated phrase "You, the everlasting instant" is quite striking and stimulates thought. The follow-up, different for each stanza, includes "You, whom we both scorn and crave" (let's agree that we don't scorn him now) and "You, who are both gift and cost" (by which, I hope, Dunstan meant that in Christ, God offered what God's justice demanded – certainly a difficult idea to squeeze into one line).

(747) There is a Redeemer is by Melody Green, written in the 1980s but sounding like something written a century earlier. It's got a hushed, expressive, choir anthem quality to it, although singing it might be within the congregation's ability. I just think its message is a little lightweight and generalized – more broad than deep – and that the time expended on it could be devoted to something more richly edifying. I can see where some people's preference would swing the other way. But that's the streak of pious sentimentality in the church that I've been wired, since as far back as I can remember, to struggle against.

(748) Lamb of God (first line: "Your only son, no sin to hide") is one that I've criticized before.

(749) The love of Christ, who died for me is a fine hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith that applies Christ's redeeming work to the individual, and doesn't hold back about the seriousness of sin. So, this is one to discuss with friends, with an eye toward introducing it in our circles.

(751) Word of God, when all was silent is another new-to-me hymn by Herman Stuempfle that pretty effectively covers the person and work of Christ, and I think it's lovely. I have to hand it to the editors of CWS, they keep choosing excellent, and in my experience unsung, hymns by this particular hymn writer, whose work I have often panned.

(752) In Christ alone (my hope is found) is one that I've already discussed.

(753) Father, God of grace, you knew us is by Paul Eickmann (d. 2006). It's a good "justification" hymn that shows signs, especially in stanzas 4-6, of having been used sometime as a WELS rallying cry. Not that I'd hold that against it. Again, I'd be willing to try to introduce this to Lutherans outside the Wisconsin Synod – especially in these days when the doctrine of objective justification is under attack.

(755) Your kingdom, O God (is my glorious treasure) is one that I've dinged before.

(757) Where your treasure is (there your heart shall be), based on Luke 12:22-34, is a song by Marty Haugen with an assist from Michael Schultz, from Haugen's patented corner of CoWo that straddles the line between pop music and art song. It spreads across three pages, with a five-bar piano intro, a refrain that occupies most of two pages, some tricky pop-music rhythms, and accompaniment that does not always double the melody (see particularly the last phrase of the verses). All of this will likely relegate it to a soloist or rehearsed group.

(758) Blest are they is one that I've already done.

(759) Do not let your hearts be troubled is, like 758, by David Haas and spreads across three pages. The lyrics are based on Jesus' preaching in John 14. It's another song whose refrain is scored for choir on two staves above the piano part, and whose verses are scored as a single melodic line on a separate staff above the piano part, which does not double the melody. The rhythm is tricky and metrically irregular (i.e. the rhythm changes from one verse to the next). So, again, lest I fail to make my point, it's a choir piece.

(760) When peace like a river (refrain: "It is well with my soul") is one that I've done before.

(761) Christ is with me (first line: "We were buried with him into death") is by the same Gerald Patrick Coleman who wrote "The Lamb." First off, I want to pick a nit with the layout of the refrain, which drops an optional harmony part on a separate staff above the melody line – even though the harmony line runs under the melody, savvy? This is just poor scoring practice and makes the piece tricky to read. Coleman's text is good content-wise, and what it lacks in high-toned poetic style ("One who loved me so – gave himself for me") it makes up in uncluttered directness. I also like Coleman's tune in this piece (better than "The Lamb," anyway) and appreciate its rhythmic daring, but I think it may require a rehearsed group to do it justice. I might introduce this to my church choir, though.

(765) Day by day (your mercies, Lord, attend me) is one that I've touched on before.

(771) I want to walk as a child of the light is one that I've covered before.

(773) How good it is and how pleasant is a three-pager by James Chepponis, with a refrain based on Psalm 133:1 and three stanzas paraphrased from Paul's epistles, exhorting the church to unity and peace. Hearing it sung at them might be good therapy for contentious parishioners. But with a four-bar piano intro, a descant (added to the chorus after verses 2 and 3) and some metrical irregularity, it will have to be sung at them for sure. Either that or you'll have to teach it to the congregation and make them sing it on a regular basis, like some of the through-composed canticles in our most recent hymnals.

(775) For builders bold whose vision pure is a Herman Stuempfle hymn set to the Irish traditional tune FLIGHT OF THE EARLS, which I've never heard before and that I find perfectly lovely. At the same time, however, I think it's a strong example of the case Thomas Day made in his book Why Catholics Can't Sing, which cited the difficulty of Irish melodies as one reason certain congregations do not sing very strongly. Stuempfle's text gives thanks for the faithful saints before us who built the church founded on Christ, prays that we would contribute to its future growth, and honors God for generating all that growth through word and sacrament. My only fear is that certain churchmen will glom onto phrases like "brick or stone" and "soaring spire" to hijack this hymn into the service of a building program.

(777) Now let us all in hymns of praise is a Fred Pratt Green hymn set to a tune called OPEN DOOR by Roy Hopp, who makes a virtue of parallel perfect fifths by putting in so many of them that they can't be an accident. I have a very slight concern with this hymn – toward the end of stanza 2, where the message the church must proclaim (FPG says) is that "God's house (is) an open house, and Christ the open door." That wasn't how I expected the burden of the church's message throughout time to be described, and the suspicious streak in me (which you'll have heard about by now) wonders exactly what axe FPG is grinding here.

(779) I sing as I arise today is an excerpt from the hymn popularly known as St. Patrick's Breastplate, here attributed to "Anon." and joined to a couple of stanzas by Michael Schultz (cf. Hymn 757), and set to the fine tune ROCKINGHAM OLD. I notice that the lines Schultz adds to the hymn (particularly in stanza 3) subtly shift focus away from God's power and what He is doing for me and toward my worship and works. With the right understanding of worship in response to God's gifts I can let this pass. I just thought it was an interesting shift and wonder how many other people will notice it.

(780) Stay with us (till night has come), a Herbert Brokering hymn, is another one that I've discussed before.

(783) Stay with us, Lord, the sun descends is, by contrast, a nice Herman Stuempfle piece that (as the blurb the editors added below the hymn points out) echoes the Emmaus disciples' plea to the risen Jesus. This might be a good one to pass around outside WELS circles, too.

(784) O gracious Lord, with love draw near is one of several Stephen Starke hymns in this book, and I mention this confirmation hymn chiefly because it's new to me. We could use more good confirmation hymns! Worth noting, the music's two-page layout includes a descant for verses 4 and 6.

(785) O Lord of nations is a hymn of thanksgiving and prayer for the nation by Laurie Gauger, set to Joseph Herl's tune KIRKWOOD. If only I could persuade my church's musical leadership to introduce this hymn instead of "God bless America" on the next occasion in which patriotism is wedded to worship.

(786) The Song of Moses (first line: "The Lord is our strength") is Keith Wessel's paraphrase of Exodus 15, set to music by Lynn Petersen. Rather unusually for this book, the pew edition only displays the melody and a melodic cue for the two-bar intro; I guess you have to buy the accompanist's edition to hear how it sounds all put together. Unlike the Jeffrey Blersch version that I discussed here, this is a through-composed canticle-type setting, as are (787) A Canticle to the Lamb ("To the One who sits on the throne," lyrics based on Revelation 4 and 5, music by Ronald Shilling) and (788) Thanks be to God! (refrain from 1 Corinthians 15:57, verses from Revelation 7 and music by Kermit Moldenhauer). So, as this book's hymn selection comes to a close, we've kind of strayed back into liturgical canticles about which all I can say is that teaching them to the congregation is a noble (and challenging) undertaking for which I hope you can count on the choir's cooperation. It would be nice to be able to assume that you can (count on them, that is), and it seems only reasonable to expect, but experience unfortunately teaches otherwise.

So that's it for the WELS's second hymnal supplement since their 1993 hymnal Christian Worship. I'm itching all over to see what's in store for us in their upcoming new hymnal. When I do, you can be certain I'll let you know what I think of it.