Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tacky Hymns 74

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
Resuming our pull through TLH with Hymn 282, I don't find much to comment on in the "Type 1" category. Just a few hints about noteworthy text and tune variants:

(283) God's Word is our great heritage (one stanza by N.F.S. Gruntvig, set to Fritz Reuter's 1916 tune REUTER) is the hymn I've mentioned before, in a story about a Bible class that was torn between closing with this hymn or the same text set to the isometric version of EIN FESTE BURG, as the Lutheran Hymnary has it. Fun times.

(287) That man a godly life might live is Martin Luther's catechetical hymn paraphrase of the 10 Commandments. Besides the fact that every Lutheran should learn it, know it and love it – I've known at least one family whose kids all learned it by heart and sang it regularly during family devotions – it's worth mentioning, first, because the tune (which TLH names after Luther's hymn, DIES SIND DIE HEILGEN) is known, in other hymnals, as IN GOTTES NAMEN FAHREN WIR. And second, the same text appears in other hymnals by a variety of other names, owing to the first line of the translation being a bone of contention. In LW 331 it's "Here is the tenfold sure command," which seems closer to the original. In LSB 581 (whose lengthy list of translation credits includes one of my seminary classmates for stanza 1) it's "These are the holy Ten Commands." ELHy 488 (a composite translation) begins "I am, alone, your God and Lord." The hymnal's own translation, ELHy 490, also begins "These are the holy Ten Commands" – though it predates LSB by a decade. I'm not going to dig further on this. Whatever Lutheran hymn-book you have, I suggest opening to the text index and looking for either DIES SIND DIE HEILGEN or IN GOTTES NAMEN and follow where that leads.

(292) Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, partly written by Formula of Concord co-author Nikolaus Selnecker (1611), is set to the 16th century chorale ACH BLEIB BEI UNS (thus, actually older than the hymn it's named after). It's a gorgeous, important hymn and its use, even on Sunday morning, shouldn't be hampered by the words "round us falls the eventide," in the second line of stanza 1. This is because, for one thing, the hymn is referencing the story of the risen Lord's appearance to the Emmaus disciples; and for another, the hour is (increasingly) late on a level that matters to the faithful more than the position of the sun in the sky at any particular moment. A great confession of faith in God's Word (and Sacrament; see stanza 2), and just a movingly beautiful piece, it should be a regular part of your congregation's repertoire.

(295) The Law of God is good and wise and (297) The Gospel shows the Father's grace are a matched pair of hymns by American Lutheran hymn writer and translator Matthias Loy (1863). These aren't the only examples in TLH of the work of this now underrated hymn writer, but I think if you read them together, you'll be open to considering the opinion of one of my most respected friends: that "Matthias Loy" is the correct answer to "Who is the best Lutheran hymn writer in the English language?"

(307) Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord, a Communion hymn in the "" meter, is set to the 1551 Genevan Psalter tune OLD 124TH. What TLH fails to include in its tune credit line is an "alt." or "abbr." to warn you that, actually, OLD 124TH has a fifth phrase (also of 10 syllables) that has been omitted from this redaction of the tune. You can find the full, unredacted, five-phrase version of OLD 124TH in, for example, SBH 348 and SBH 601. I also used it with one of my own, original hymns in Useful Hymnas.

(311) Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, a Communion hymn by pre-Reformation Czech reformer Jan Hus (or, as TLH spells it, John Huss), is set in TLH to the 1533 Wittenberg tune JESUS CHRISTUS, UNSER HEILAND. There is also an alternate tune by the same name, dating from 1524 Erfurt. In LW 236-237, the editors of Lutheran Worship took the remarkable step of putting both tunes together on facing pages, dividing the stanzas of Hus's hymn between them (odd on the left, even on the right) so that you can sing both tunes in alternation. I love this. I think it's a shame the editors of LSB pulled back to just using the 1533 tune. In my opinion, this is one of a good number of examples of the hype for LSB (i.e., fixing what's broken with LW and repristinating TLH a bit more) being off the mark; in this instance, the "new new" hymnal rolled back a change the "old new" hymnal made, that was actually a good change.

(315) I come, O Savior, to Thy Table is only a cento of F.C. Heyder's Communion hymn – but it's 15 stanzas spread across two pages! What gets my nose out of joint is how LSB 618-619 (for example) chops this hymn into two separate hymns, again on facing pages, with the music on both sides so that only five stanzas fit on each page – meaning LSB retains only 10 of the 15 stanzas TLH managed to fit in about the same space. I can't see the angle in doing this. If the problem is that the hymn is too long, you don't have to sing all the stanzas. If it's that you want to single out particular stanzas later in the hymn, you can just select those. If you want to break up the song into multiple sings, you can do that by simply designating what stanzas to do at what time. None of these problems require the solution LSB came up with, which (in my opinion) is not only a sinful waste of space but also deprives congregations where Communion actually takes long enough to sing all 15 stanzas, with instrumental interludes and all, of the opportunity to do so.

(316) O living Bread from heaven, from a longer Communion hymn by Johann Rist, is set in TLH to the 16th century chorale NUN LOB, MEIN SEEL. Interestingly, LW 244 and LSB 641 squeezed this hymn into the metrically tighter form of Michael Praetorius's tune ACH GOTT VOM HIMMELREICHE. This necessitated deleting a couple of syllables per line from several lines of Catherine Winkworth's translation. I actually think this change improves the hymn. Noticing this is one of the things that stimulated me to start noticing unnecessary prolixity in my own hymn writing and that of others. Speech is silver; concision is platinum.

(329) From depths of woe I cry to Thee, Martin Luther's penitential paraphrase of Psalm 130, set to the 1524 chorale AUS TIEFER NOT, deserves mention for three reasons: (1) It's an essential hymn for believers who are conscious of their sin and need for God's grace. (2) Any translation that fails, in the first line of stanza 1, to take advantage of the original German's text-tune painting of the word "tief" (deep or some equivalent), synchronized with a plunging melodic interval, should be wadded up and shot out of a spitball cannon. TLH does it right. (3) Be aware that in many hymnals, the tune that TLH designates as HERR, WIE DU WILLST is also called AUS TIEFER NOT. It's a great tune, but the tune to this hymn it is not.

(345) Jesus, Lover of my soul is a hymn by Charles Wesley (1740) that TLH sets to Simeon B. Marsh's bland, pedestrian tune MARTYN (1834). With all due respect to the mild-mannered merits of Wesley's hymn, I really think it fares better with Joseph Parry's tune ABERYSTWYTH (LW 508, ELHy 209).

(347) Jesus, priceless Treasure, a hymn by Johann Franck (1655), seems to me to be forever welded to Johann Crueger's 1649 tune JESU, MEINE FREUDE – though, again, that's weird because the tune predates the hymn it takes its title from. J.S. Bach did a lot to cement that text-tune marriage (if you'll forgive my atrociously mixed metaphors), what with his chorale motet on the hymn, a live performance of which I've actually had the honor to participate in. Nevertheless, the moment LHy 351 introduced me to Ludvig Mathias Lindeman's (1812-87) alternate tune, GUD SKAL ALTING MAGE, I fell right in love with it and I'd be totally down with singing the hymn to either tune. I guess that makes me guilty of suborning hymnological bigamy. ELHy (hymns 263-264) is with me on this.

(349) Jesus, Thy boundless love to me, from Paul Gerhardt (1653) by way of John Wesley (1739), is another hymn that I think is just great when set to the superb 16th century chorale VATER UNSER. However, LSB 683 sets it to Norman Cocker's 20th century tune RYBURN, and I'm not complaining. It's one case, at least, where LSB traded in a chorale for a modern hymn tune and I don't feel like bitching about it. I guess, in this case, I'm not worried because VATER UNSER has Luther's hymn paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer to fall back on.

(350) Jesus, the very thought of Thee is a lovely hymn based on a 12th century Latin text that, I guess, is sometimes attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. TLH isn't quite alone in setting it to Herman A. Polack's nice but forgettable 1910 tune CLAIRVAUX (so do ELHb and ELHy), but I can name at least five hymnals that opt instead for the better known, though perhaps even more saccharine, ST. AGNES by John B. Dykes. My favorite tune of those I've found paired with this hymn is Bartholomaeus Gesius' 17th century tune HERRNHUT (cf. The Concordia Hymnal 101). I also fondly recall singing in a choir that did a beautiful, free-flowing, chant-like Richard Proulx setting of this hymn.

(351) Love divine, all loves excelling is a Charles Wesley hymn that I'm not too hot about. But again, I think subsequent hymnals did it a service by changing tunes on it. TLH sets it to the bland, 18th century tune O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE, while at least LW 286 and LSB 700 set it to the more fun-to-sing 19th century tune HYFRYDOL by Rowland H. Prichard.

Again, it's an awkward place to stop, but some awkward hymns are coming up and I feel a need to prepare myself mentally for them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tacky Hymns 73

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
We resume in the "Invitation" topic section of the hymnal, which I hinted before would yield a bumper crop of the "Type 1" type of hymn as described above. Generally, this means "altar call" hymns, reflecting what were then called "the new measures" of what Lutheran wags now call "Methobapticostalism." In other words, they tend to take a cajoling, argumentative, not to say whinging, tone in urging the sinner to come to God in a conversion experience. "But you have not so learned Christ" (Ephesians 4:20) – I mean, this is inconsistent with the doctrine and practice of Lutheranism. C.F.W. Walther, one of the founding theologians of the Missouri Synod, warned that raising young Lutherans to sing such songs was tantamount to soul-murder.

(276) Come unto Me, ye weary, words by William Chatterton Dix (1867) set to the tune ANTHES by Friedrich K. Anthes (1847), is a not too offensive specimen, unless you question the use of quotation marks to put words in Jesus' mouth that are, in fair play, loose paraphrases. It's a tightly structured, gentle little hymn that responds to Jesus' promises to give us rest, light and life and not to cast out "whosoever cometh." Where the tackiness might come in is, first, the evident fact that it's an altar call song inviting people to come forward who are probably not in a position to sing or hear it (unless someone has been a nice lay evangelist and dragged them to church with them); and, second, the lack of any mention of the means by which the voice of Jesus fulfills these promises for us. In a friendly, subtle way, it's about as unLutheran as a hymn can be without necessarily being anti-Lutheran.

(277) I heard the voice of Jesus say, a hymn by Horatius Bonar (1846), is set here to John Bacchus Dykes' tune VOX DILECTI (1863), perhaps famously the only hymn tune in TLH that changes midway through from one key (G minor) to another (G major). More accurately described as a change of mode, this musical transition coincides with the structure of the text, which progresses in every stanza from the words of Jesus ("Come unto Me and rest," etc.; "behold, I freely give the living water," etc.; "I am this dark world's Light," etc.) to what "I" did ("I found in Him a resting place," etc.; "I drank of that life-giving stream," etc.; "I found in Him my Star," etc.) There is something to be said for a hymn that responds faithfully to the promises of Jesus. Where it gets tacky, in my opinion, is the poet's conceit of reporting a personal experience and then thrusting it into the mouths of everyone in church, as if it was theirs.

On a more "Type 2" note, this hymn collects tunes the way the space under your bed collects dust bunnies. Among subsequent hymnals, CW 338 retained VOX DILECTI, while LW 348, LBW 497 and ELW 332 replaced it with Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis' beautiful THIRD NOTE MELODY (cf. Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis"). SBH 499 split the ticket between both tunes. LSB 699 replaced both, in turn, with contemporary composer Amanda Husberg's SARAH ELIZABETH, which is nice but comparatively lightweight. ELW 611 provides the English folk tune KINGSFOLD (coincidentally, collected by Vaughan Williams) as an alternate melody, joined by Ambassador Hymnal 558 and Lutheran Hymnal 306 (Australia's OpenBook Pusblishers, 1973). Delving, meanwhile, into earlier hymnnals, we find VOX DILECTI in ELHb 46, CSB 365, the intersynodical American Lutheran Hymnal 163 (Lutheran Book Concern, 1930), Australian Lutheran Hymn-Book (Lutheran Publishing Co., 1925) and Hymnal (Lutheran Augustana Book Concern, 1901). The Hymnal (Augustana Book Concern, 1925) pairs it with the forgettable MURIEL by John Victor Bergquist (1924), and Lutheran Hymnary uses A.H. Mann's 1885 tune BEEFORTH, which follows the same tonal scheme as VOX DILECTI. Also, This Far By Faith 62 (Augsburg Fortress, 1999) incorporates a fragment of this hymn in the song "Shine on Me" (set to a traditional African American tune) – though the extent of the adaptation means this may not be a fair comparison. Two historically significant Lutheran hymnals in my collection – Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary and The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1932) – omit this hymn altogether. So elusive has good taste proven regarding this hymn in anglophone Lutheran circles.

(278) Delay not, delay not, O sinner, draw near is a Thomas Hastings (1831) hymn set to the moody, 17th century Welsh melody MALDWYN. Again, the tone of the hymn is one of cajoling the (perhaps absent) sinner to be converted. It lays stress in stanza 2 on the idea that the door of grace could close at any time (i.e. when you die); in stanza 3, on a warning that the Spirit's patience might run out and the offer of grace may come off the table; in stanza 4, on the possibility that the end-time judgment may take you by surprise. However, what really interests me are the first and last stanza, which dangles the carrot of a free salvation and pleads, "How canst thou refuse?" These stanzas allude to "The waters of life" and a washing, cleansing in Jesus' pardoning blood. Could they be bearing witness to the power of baptism? Lutheran ears will hear these words and be sure that it is so. But what about the ears of the intended audience, the denominational (or non-denominational) persuasion of the revivalist types who would have valued a hymn like this at its highest? Could they be thinking metaphorically? The fact that the answer could go either way makes me leery.

(279) Today Thy mercy calls us, also set to ANTHES, is an 1861 hymn by Oswald Allen – and don't think for one minute that I haven't noticed what century all of these hymns date from – that also uses baptismal language like "wash away our sin" and "Thy precious blood can cleanse us And make us white today." Again, it's an attractively structured hymn that stresses the "however great our trespass, whatever we have been" aspect of God's grace. The urgency of this altar call, depicted a bit less negatively than in 278, is embodied in such phrases as "His Holy Spirit waits." One use I could foresee making of this hymn is to minister to someone who has been overtaken by temptation and is in doubt of the possibility of being restored. But like the preceding hymns, I think its main application is to fill churchgoers with a sentimental feeling at the thought of reaching the unsaved.

(280) Return, O wanderer, return is a cento from a longer poem by William B. Collyer (1806), set to Herbert S. Oakeley's warbly tune ABENDS (1874). Its appeal to the emotions is immediate, speaking (as to the prodigal son) of the "injured Father's face" and "warm desires that in thee burn" (stanza 1), the Father's "melting heart" and "pitying eyes," and your "grief" and "inward smart" (stanza 2), urging the penitent to seek Jesus' "bleeding feet" (stnaza 3) and letting God "Wipe away the falling tear" (stanza 4). The prodigal son is an emotional story, to be sure, and there is an emotional side to faith. But I think that this hymn's emotionalism might be just a bit over the top.

(281) The Savior calls; let every ear closes this section with a text by Anne Steele (1790[!]) and Carl G. Glaeser's early 19th century tune AZMON, which is a convincing counterfeit of a piece of early Americana. Steele addresses "doubting souls," "ev'ry thirsting, longing heart," and finally directly addresses "ye sinners" with a message that, again draws on such baptismal language as "streams of bounty," "springs of sacred pleasures," "immortal fountain ... nor shall you thirst in vain," and "drink and never die." But also again, I think these references are ambiguous and are probably intended to refer to the spiritual drinking of faith in Christ, or something to that effect. One thing this hymn has over those preceding it in this section is a stanza addressing Christ, the kind of prayer ("Draw reluctant hearts," etc.) that, in my opinion, would have been a more productive use of the singing portion of the worship hour – unless your mission is to craftily convert Lutherans into Methodists.

That's what I have to say about the "Invitation" group of hymns. Got a problem with it? Leave a comment. But be fair. This is the kind of song Walther warned Lutherans about, isn't it? And even if these are perhaps the most harmless examples of the type, what good do they do in proportion to the potential mischief? We've seen, way back down this thread, examples of Lutheran groups that consider themselves conservative, choosing hymns like this as the oldies they want the church to return to. Is that not evidence that such songs exert an influence on the deepest level? Concede that, then let's talk about whether that's a good or bad thing in the Lutheran context.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

It's often fun to guess what an author had in mind when he chooses a cryptic, one-word title for a book. Take this book, for example. At first the apparent referent of the word "deception" is the video left by the victim of a gruesome murder, claiming that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by three of her co-workers at an elite prep school. One interview with each of the teachers named in the video is enough to convince the LAPD's best homicide case-closer, Lt. Milo Sturgis, and his unofficial partner, freelance child psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware, that the allegation is a blackmail scam that the victim never carried out.

But that kind of detecting is why Milo and Alex have been put on the case. The chief is worried about his kid's chances of getting into Yale; said kid goes to the vic's prep. He would prefer that they find a motive, and a suspect, unrelated to the school. At one point, his strictures goad Milo into quitting, but that's only temporary. Eventually, the truth must out. But it doesn't out easy, with a pool of suspects and witnesses who all have something to hide, all pointing fingers at someone else, and all past, present and (in the students' case) future masters of – cough – deception.

All right, enough about the title. Let's talk about the case. This is a disturbing one. Substitute teacher, and SAT test prep tutor, Elise Freeman is found in her bathtub, covered in dry ice, no obvious injuries. Could it be an accident? Suicide? Oh, come on. Don't even go there. Of course it's murder; the only questions are who, why and how. Could it be the sleazy salesman boyfriend, described by one witness as "shake his hand, count your fingers"? Maybe it's the young Prep alum who has become one of teacher's special pets – and who may be involved with her in another scam. Maybe it's the angry Latino student, attending Prep on a baseball scholarship, who threw his shoulder out and resents having to be tutored – and perhaps also sexed up by the naughty teacher.

Milo and Alex find a witness who bought dry ice for the killers, or rather their female accomplices, in return for some marijuana. But the witness denies recognizing the girls in a photo-lineup of all the girls at prep, or the Latino boy's previous school either. While they flounder at an impasse, another murder happens. Then not one, but two people who may be either suspects or witnesses go missing. Could they be victims now? Or are the killers on the run?

When the pieces of the puzzle start to come together, the general shape of it turns out to be one you might have seen coming from a long way off – and no, it doesn't leave Prep smelling rosy – but exactly who done it only becomes obvious through a combination of dogged police work and some diabolically clever interrogating. As in some of the immediately previous books in this series, what Alex contributes (as a mental health professional) to the murder-solving process is mainly insight into what angles might work while interviewing suspects, plausible motives for suspected acts, and the easy-to-miss meaning of a piece of evidence.

But mostly, he's there as a narrator to provide color commentary for another brilliant episode of the Milo Sturgis show – actually a scarily smart guy and effective manager of the detective talent under his command. Self-destructive in his personal habits, always loaded with a full clip of sardonic wit, nimble enough to change the direction he's looking at the drop of a penny, dedicated to pursuit of the truth at any cost, he could actually be the star of this picture – by which I mean, the mental movie that begins to roll the instant the smog-tinted sunlight of L.A. starts to shine through your imagination's celluloid. And whatever else it's good for, Jonathan Kellerman's prose stays out of your light.

This is the 25th "Alex Delaware" novel, from a 36-book series spanning from 1985 (When the Bough Breaks) to February 2021 (Serpentine). Although I've been skipping around in this series as used copies drop in my lap, the next book both in publication order and on my shelf is 2011's Mystery.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
Recommended Ages: 10+

Do you remember the last time a book made you cry? Since I just read this book last week, at the end of a week-long vacation, the memory is fresh in my mind. It did it to me twice. The first time was on pp. 111-112, where a dying elephant tells the gorilla in the cage next door, "Ivan, I want you to promise me something," and he says, "I promise, Stella."
"But you haven't even heard what I'm asking yet," she says, and she closes her eyes for a moment.

"I promise anyway."
The promise Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lives in a seedy shopping mall and draws pictures for tourists, has just made is to save a baby elephant named Ruby from having to live the life Stella has lived. He doesn't even have to be asked to know what he's promising to do. Nevertheless, it's a lot to ask of an ape who has been in captivity since he was a baby, and who (unlike an elephant) doesn't remember much about his prior life. Gorillas live in the moment, seldom thinking back, much less forward. The very structure of this book, narrated by Ivan, reflects that: Not so much chapters as topic headings, mostly with a handful of sentences under them. You almost have to piece the story together, the way a little girl named Julia has to piece together Ivan's masterpiece painting – a billboard-sized mosaic of finger-painted scraps of crumpled paper that he has been hiding inside a hollowed-out stuffed animal in his cage – a picture imagining Ruby in a wild animal park with the painstakingly written word "HOME" at the bottom.

I won't spoil the other part that made me cry, but I'll let you in on an amazing secret – there really was a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall and whose drawing ability, combined with a public outcry about his plight, led to him being rescued and put in a nice zoo. Zoos are still cages, but like Stella told Ivan, they're the kind of cages where humans make amends for the way animals have been mistreated, and often slaughtered, elsewhere. In this book, Ivan's worries and hopes are tied up in the one way he knows how – just maybe – to communicate with humans that Ruby should be in a zoo. But then he has to face the equally worrying, but also hopeful, prospect of leaving his little plexiglass cage at the mall and becoming the silverback a family of real gorillas needs.

Soon to be released as a Disney movie, this Newbery Medal-winning book now has a sequel, The One and Only Bob. Other titles by this insanely prolific author include standalone novels Home of the Brave, Crenshaw and Wishtree, 45 "Girl Talk" books, 11 "Ocean City" books, 28 "Making Out" teen romances (later repackaged as the "Islanders" series), eight "Summer" ditto, 54 "Animorphs" fantasies (as well as 10 books in three distinct spinoff series), eight installments in the multi-author "Making Waves" series (also teen romances), 12 "Everworld" novels, 14 "Remnants" novels, seven "Roscoe Riley Rules" books, Eve and Adam co-authored with her husband, Michael Grant (a prolific author in his own right), the "Endling" trilogy (whose third book, The Only, lands in March 2021) and the upcoming kids' book, Doggo and Pupper, due for release in April 2021.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Dragonet Prophecy

The Dragonet Prophecy
by Tui T. Sutherland
Recommended Ages: 11+

Now that I've read this first book in the "Wings of Fire" series, I totally want to read them all. It starts with a handsomely illustrated map of Pyrrhia, a world ruled by dragons, and a guide to the different kinds of dragons making up that world. Be advised, humans in this book are depicted as puny, no-account vermin, only a little more dangerous than other prey species to the point-of-view characters (you know, dragons). And as a rule, dragons aren't very nice people. In fact, the dragons of Pyrrhia have been tearing each other to shreds for 20 years now, all because of a three-way succession crisis in one of the kingdoms, or rather queendoms – the SandWings, whose last queen was assassinated by a scavenger (i.e., human). Her three daughters, Burn, Blister and Blaze, all want the throne, and the other dragon kingdoms have mostly taken sides between them in a war that seems like it won't end before all of dragonkind has been brought to its knees. But there's a prophecy that says five dragons, hatched on one particular night, will bring peace.

Because of that prophecy, five dragonets born on that night have been raised in secrecy. They've never been outside the cave they hatched in, which makes sense because many dragons would kill them on sight if they knew that Clay, Tsunami, Sunny, Glory and Starfire are the "dragonets of destiny." Still two years short of the age when they're supposed to change the world, the five dragonets decide to escape in order to save one of them whose life is in peril. But now they're all in peril, taken captive by the queen of the SkyWings and condemned to fight other dragons to the death in her arena. Then, Queen Scarlet's ally, would-be SandWing queen Burn, comes for a visit and insists on hastening the dragonets' demise. Somehow, everything depends on Clay – a big MudWing who has never had much success bringing out his inner monster – finding a way for his friends to escape their fate.

Clay is a wonderful character. Strangely, for a dragon, he cares about others, even members of other dragon tribes, and is so protective of his nestmates that he would put himself in harm's way for them. He also has powers he doesn't understand – including a power over a young killer named Peril, whose merest touch is death to almost anyone else. Clay's fondest wish is to find his parents, from whom he was taken while yet in the egg. But while his quest is not destined to bring him much satisfaction, it does lead to important discoveries. Already, you get a sense that these dragonets might just have it in them to bring peace to their world. And that's without even mentioning the fact that Tsunami is a SeaWings princess ... Starfire, a member of the mysterious NightWings ... Sunny, a not-quite-normal specimen of the SandWings tribe ... and Glory, of the neutral and not very highly regarded RainWings, has tricks up her sleeve nobody expected, too.

This is the first of (so far) 13 books in the "Wings of Fire" series by a Venezuelan-born author who also writes under several pseudonyms. One of them is Heather Williams, not to be confused with the same pen-name used by romance novelist Vella Munn (a.k.a. Dawn Flindt). Tui T.'s Heather Williams is credited with a couple of "Little House on the Prairie" sequels, Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls and Farmer Boy Goes West. As either Rob Kidd or T.T. Sutherland, she has authored several "Pirates of the Caribbean" novels, as well as junior novelizations of the Disney films Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, A Christmas Carol and Alice in Wonderland. (The last two are examples of a literary niche that makes me see red: books based on movies that were themselves based on books.) As Tamara Summers, she wrote the romance novels He's With Me, Save the Date and Never Bite a Boy on the First Date. As Eva Gray, she wrote an installment in the "Tomorrow Girls" franchise, Run for Cover. She also shares the pseudonym Erin Hunter with three other authors in a whole slew of "Warriors" series, featuring heroic cats; I stuck that link up there so I don't have to try and count them. Under her own name (spelled out), she has also written the "Avatars" trilogy (starting with So This Is How It Ends), eight "Pet Trouble" books (from Runaway Retriever to Dachshund Disaster), the "Menagerie" trilogy (co-authored with Kari H. Sutherland), a couple "Wings of Fire" spinoff series, the standalone novel This Must Be Love, several picture books (plus one under yet another pseudonym, shared with her co-author), an installment in the multi-author "Spirit Animals" series (Against the Tide) and a non-fiction book, Who Was Harry Houdini? – Whew!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wayside School stories

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger
by Louis Sachar
Recommended Ages: 10+

I read these two books together, kind of as a unit. The first one introduces a school that was built sideways by mistake, so instead of thirty classrooms in a row all on one level, it has thirty stories each with one room (minus the 19th story, which doesn't exist). The book itself mirrors that structure, with a series of very short tales introducing the kids in the classroom at the very top of the building.

At first, their teacher is the evil Mrs. Gorf, who hates children and uses any provocation to turn them into apples. After she and her spells come undone, they get Mrs. Jewls, a more ordinary teacher (mostly nice, but sometimes a little mad) and the school year progresses with only the ordinary sort of oddness that you would expect of a sideways school. There's a student who turns out to be a dead rat wrapped inside an endless series of coats. There's a girl who sleeps through everything. There's a boy who can't resist pulling the pigtails of the girl in front of him. There's a boy who can only read upside down, and another boy who can only get the right answers in math by doing the work wrong. There's a kid who proves to be a good class president but no one notices. There's a girl who can draw pictures really fast. There's also a helpful yard teacher (who monitors the playground) and a school cook (who makes awful food).

Later, in one of the original book's sequels, the kids go through a series of substitute teachers while Mrs. Jewls is out on maternity leave. We meet one who can suck children's voices up his nose, leaving them speechless while he can use their voices for unspeakable ends. There's a mean old lady who never forgives, or forgets, the students who left assignments incomplete. And there's a young woman who secretly has a third ear on top of her head, enabling her to listen in on her students' thoughts – a talent she uses to spread unhappiness. Meantime, we also meet the school principal, Mr. Kidswatter, who is full of helpful advice like staying to the right while going up the stairs and to the left while going down. Not to mention the school counselor, who uses hypnosis to help kids – but also to play mean little tricks.

These two books reveal multitudes of quirks about the students and staff of an off-kilter school. Some of the stories are touching. Many of them are laugh-out-loud funny. A couple of them are intricate puzzles – such as the one where all the kids bring pets to class, and Mrs. Jewls makes a chart of their species and names. There are stories that will bring back an older reader's memories of school assignments, like having to write poems; science experiments, like testing the laws of gravity; and class discussions, like whether Santa Claus exists or not. The stories make fun of adults, but don't spare the kids – including the funny way they give each other nicknames, their occasional (and sometimes persistent) attitude problems, and that time you came to school on Saturday by mistake. It's adorable nonsense, and (I think) should be a hit in any classroom from, say, grade 2 to grade 6.

Sideways Stories is the first, and A Little Stranger the fifth, of about six "Wayside School" books by the author of the Newbery Medal-winning Holes and its two companion books. The other books in this series are Wayside School Is Falling Down, Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School and Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom. Sachar's titles for kids also include Someday, Angeline and its sequel Dogs Don't Tell Jokes (the latter has also been published as a play), eight Marvin Redpost books starting with Kidnapped at Birth?, and the standalone titles Johnny's in the Basement, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, Sixth Grade Secrets, The Boy Who Lost His Face, The Cardturner and Fuzzy Mud.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Bad Guys

The Bad Guys
by Aaron Blabey
Recommended Ages: 8+

Here is a cute little kids' graphic novel, perhaps better described as a graphic chapter book, in which a wolf, a shark, a snake and a piranha try to overcome their reputation as "bad guys" by attempting to do something noble.

It's really all the wolf's idea, and between his efforts to keep the other three in check and his over-the-top plan to free a pound full of puppies, the results are completely goofy. The artwork is spare, direct, a bit sketchy, with a juvenile sensibility raised to the level of comic genius by the characters' facial expressions. The total effect reminds me of a game of pretend, improvised by really imaginative kids who have a great sense of humor. Souped-up cars, exotic animals, a jailbreak fantasy and a sense of turning scary things into funny things just add to the kid appeal.

Australian author Aaron Blabey has written several well-loved series of children's books, including the 11 "Bad Guys" graphic novels, of which this is the first. At the rate one gets through this book, the whole series shouldn't take long to read – with loads of fun and an emphasis on visuals that should make it a hit even with reluctant readers. Blabey is also an award-winning TV actor and is developing film versions of his books, which also include Pig the Pug and Thelma the Unicorn. The next title in this series is The Bad Guys in Mission Unpluckable.

Monday, July 20, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Borodi Lane, a part-time security guard is tasked with guarding a half-completed monument to an Asian prince's vanity – a tacky mansion with a third-story turret – as it slowly decays, its wooden frame exposed to the weather. Then one day, the guard finds the bodies of a murdered couple in the turret, and a few days later, the place burns down and a third victim is found inside. Not much of a guarding job, eh? But it's definitely a job for LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and consulting psychologist, Dr. Alex Delaware.

As Milo and Alex dig into the background of the victims – the male, identified quickly as a junior partner of a "green" architecture firm that just went under; the female, a little more resistant to identification, eventually revealed to have been a girl he knew in high school, all the way back in Seattle – motives for the crime seem somehow connected to a missing bag of cash, and again perhaps to an ecoterrorism movement that was involved in a teen's death back in the young couple's salad days. Or perhaps it's connected with a ritual revenge plot against a money-guzzling prince who made a Swiss banker's beautiful daughter disappear two years ago. The suspects are an eccentric bunch – a shaven-headed female engineer whose partners think she cheated them; a bunch of female co-workers who all slept with the male victim; the wheelchair bound husband of one of them; or maybe the mysterious figure, photographed outside the Seattle storage unit where the loot disappeared. There's also something subtly off about the evidence from the original crime scene ... but if I say more than that, I'll spoil the mystery for you.

It's a devious plot. It's a sexy mystery that provides a goodly assortment of red herrings, a satisfying solution and, at the same time, just enough lack of resolution to give you that unforgettable sting of "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" – as close as a mass-market thriller gets to hard-boiled these days. I'm not exactly sure why a child therapist, specializing in abnormal psychology, was particularly needed on this case. It isn't one of the installments in this series where there's an obvious application for his specialty. But as one half of a successful crime-solving team, his persistence, his insight into the way people think and, perhaps especially, his subtle gift for deception and manipulation make Alex an essential part of Milo's mystery machine.

This 2009 book is the 24th of the Alex Delaware mysteries, a series that started in 1985 with When the Bough Breaks (a.k.a. Shrunken Heads) and due to continue with a 36th book, Serpentine, in February 2021. Next in order after this book is Deception.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Tacky Hymns 72

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.

(251) We all believe in one true God is the longer of the two hymns that start with the same line (see also 252) and one of three creed paraphrases in TLH (see also 253, a seldom-heard Czechoslovak contribution to our literature). On a Type 3 note, this particular creed hymn is based on the Nicene Creed and comes to us via the German of Martin Luther hymnself. Again, it's one of those hymns that every confessional Lutheran congregation should be prepared (by whatever labor necessary) to sing in lieu of the corresponding piece of liturgy. Now, turning to Type 2, TLH includes two tunes for it: first, the nice but less familiar 1742 Langenoels tune (I've known exactly one church organist who preferred it); second, the original German chorale based on a 13th or 14th century Latin chant melody, which apparently went with this hymn when it started life in 1525. I think the second tune is the one to work on, if your congregation is willing to start learning this piece, because that effort will more likely be transferable to other congregations that have done the same work. Fair play: It's a tricky tune, with a couple of long melismas (single syllables stretched out over several notes) and a strong, Dorian mode, medieval character. But after the work is done, I think people will suddenly realize it's one of their favorite songs.

(254) Lord God, we all to Thee give praise is a mere eight-stanza cento of Philipp Melanchthon's 1542 hymn for St. Michael's and All Angels' Day (Sept. 29), and should therefore be the chief of this hymnal's very small group of hymns acknowledging the protection and intercession of the holy angels. Set to a really well-known and easy tune (OLD HUNDREDTH), it should be well known and regularly used by faithful Lutherans.

(258) Lord of our life and God of our salvation is my favorite hymn ever. Yes, I know: I've already said this at least twice. Written by Matthaeus von Loewenstern (1644), it is a powerful prayer for peace and protection in a church hemmed in by persecution and divided by conflict. TLH sets it to Johann Crueger's tune HERZLIEBSTER JESU, a somber tune associated with the Lenten hymn "O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken." LW 301 and LSB 659 both use the 18th century French tune ISTE CONFESSOR instead, a change that I approve of. However, I do not approve of LW and LSB's butchery of this hymn, reducing it from five stanzas to four by sticking the last line of stanza 5 at the end of stanza 4. This not only omits the magnificent climax of the hymn, but also leaves a gap in its train of thought that I have difficulty leaping over. LW doesn't even have the excuse of needing to save space, since the page LW 301 is on has ample room for another stanza at the bottom.

(259) Flung to the heedless winds (here set to Charles Dale's 1904 tune DENBY) is an interesting selection, excerpted from Martin Luther's very first hymn, "A new song here shall be begun" – which celebrated the faithful witness of two early Reformation martyrs. The tune that originally went with Luther's text was his own EIN NEUES LIED, a fine piece of music that (some have argued) may have pioneered the use of what we now call the major scale. I've heard that tune played on the electronic carillon system at some mainline Protestant churches, suggesting that it has picked up currency elsewhere, while falling out of use in American Lutheranism. I made a feeble attempt to remedy this by pairing one of my original hymns with it.

Hymns sectioned "Reformation" in TLH, such as (260) O Lord, look down from heaven, behold, (261) Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word, (263) O little flock, fear not the Foe, (264) Preserve Thy Word, O Savior, (265) Thine honor save, O Christ, our Lord, (267) If God had not been on our side, (268) Zion mourns in fear and anguish and (269) O Lord, our Father, shall we be confounded, are mostly in either a minor key or a medieval mode that strikes the modern ear as minor-ish. They also have a surprising tendency (compared to the triumphalistic numbers that seem to predominate in more recent hymnals' "Reformation" sections) to strike notes of lament – the church pleading with God for protection against temporal enemies and false teachers, and for comfort in a time of affliction. My general feeling, going back to when I started noticing differences between Lutheran hymnals, is that TLH had it right and the move toward more of the "Lift high the cross" type of thing has been at the church's cost. We are seeing times again, even now, when it is not hard to imagine a wail of anguish going up from the church on earth to her Lord in heaven. So, the position that there is no time or place for such a cry of lament, or that it bears no connection to the remembrance of the Reformation, really is spiritually bankrupt, in my opinion.

To that I will only add, on a Type 2 note, that "Preserve Thy word" (with updated language) is set in LW 337 to the early 17th century chorale IST GOTT FUER MICH (also a tune for "If God Himself be for me") instead of, as in TLH 264, Hans Leo Hassler's 1601 tune HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN (also the tune for "O Sacred Head, now wounded" [TLH 172], "Commit whatever grieves thee" [TLH 520] and "A pilgrim and a stranger" [TLH 586] as well as Paul Simon's oddly titled "American Tune"). I rather like both tunes, but I think IST GOTT could use more ground to stretch its legs on while HERZLICH, equally, could use a breather. LSB 658, meanwhile, changes the tune again to MUNICH, a late 17th century chorale in a brighter, major key. (TLH 294 pairs it with "O Word of God incarnate.") It would be nice if two hymnals in a row would keep this hymn together with a single tune, you know, so people can get used to it and not have to learn it all over again every time a new pew book comes out. It might go a ways toward "preserving the word," as far as that hymn goes.

(270) Jesus calls us, a hymn for St. Andrew's day by 19th century hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander (author of "All things bright and beautiful"), is set here to the charming 18th century chorale STUTTGART, whose name I memorized for a hymnology class by singing "Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Stuttgart" to it. Sounds stupid, but it really stuck. (My other really great mnemonic success on that order is the lyric, "This tune is WAREHAM," repeated over and over.) Anyway, when I was perusing Service Book and Hymnal in the early days of my comparative study of hymnals and came across this hymn in SBH 553, set to W.H. Jude's (1851-1922) tune GALILEE, I instantly and irreversibly recognized a text-tune marriage between that tune and this hymn. Maybe it's just that I haven't sat in on very many observances of St. Andrew's day, so the STUTTGART union didn't have a chance to congeal. But I've never attended a church that used SBH, either, so it's not like GALILEE had a home-field advantage. You just recognize, sometimes, when two people, or rather two pieces of hymn culture, belong together.

I'm going to call Hymn 275 the cut-off for this installment, so I can turn the page next time and enter a hotbed of "Type 1" tackiness that begins, promptly, with TLH 276. Till then, be good to good hymns, people!

Monday, July 13, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Rookie LAPD homicide detective Moses "Moe" Reed makes his debut in this novel – interesting to note for those of us who are ascending this mountain of murder mysteries by a non-canon-order route – and brings family baggage with him, in the form of a rivalry with his ex-detective-turned-private-investigator half-brother, Aaron Fox. Maybe the title of this book could be interpreted as a reference to Moe's anxiety to "make his bones" as a colleague of case-closing phenom, Lt. Milo Sturgis, whose coattails he rides for the first time in this outing. Maybe it has something to do with the bones he has to pick with his brother, the skeletons in their family closet. But naaah, it's clearly about the bones a team of forensic anthropologists unearths in a protected bird marsh in the middle of Los Angeles, after a pretty piano teacher turns up dead on a walking path through the marsh. All the bodies, including the piano teacher, were strangled, posed facing east with their right hands missing. The other victims were prostitutes.

As Milo, Moe and consulting psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware probe further, other traits the victims had in common bubble to the surface – being into painful, kinky sex; being seen with a bald guy. Along comes Fox, announcing that he has a client who believes the police should be looking at the shaven-headed estate manager of the rich couple whose son took lessons from the latest victim. The more they look at him, the better he looks for the crimes – a loner with a history of doing prison time for murder (although his lawyer, on the previous occasion, got him out on an appeal) – cagey, bald when last seen by the cops, and now apparently on the run, which makes him look pretty guilty. But there are still some loose threads dangling from the case. Like, why was the environmental activist in charge of protecting the marsh stabbed to death a few nights after the piano teacher's body was found? Who was the mysterious man seen giving him an envelope (presumably full of money) and what was the money for? And what on earth became of the husband, wife, and piano prodigy son who live in the house managed by the runaway suspect? Why has no one heard from them since, all of a sudden, they canceled trips abroad and flew back to California?

I almost tipped too much of my hand in this synopsis. It would be a pity to spoil this thriller for you, another example of a case with rich possibilities for a crime-solving partnership between a psychologist and one or more homicide detectives. The disturbing discoveries in the bird marsh are as nothing next to what the good guys find at the end of the trail, in a final, wired-for-video-and-audio interview between their sometime prime suspect and a surprise culprit – a climax that will have lasting, devastating effects on at least three surviving characters, and that may not leave you undisturbed, either.

Kellerman's writing is clean, lean and brisk – aiming for more of a popular register than a literary one – but the ugly truths uncovered by his sleuths' sleuthing gets across a definite worldview that, in one of the previous installments, a speaking character suggested might be just a touch nihilistic. In this book, a character challenges Alex to come back to his real job (psychotherapy for kids), and although Alex doesn't answer her, the reason he probably won't comes alive in the reader's imagination. Whatever name you want to put on it, it probably doesn't live far from the side of Alex's character that drives him to make independent inquiries alongside an official police investigation, and on occasion, to deceive witnesses, apply pressure to psychological pressure points and otherwise bend medical ethics in the pursuit of justice. Alex may never be able to go back to treating kids, but given how invaluable his input is in this investigation (and so many others), child psychology's loss is clearly criminal justice's gain.

This is the 23rd of 35 (going on 36) "Alex Delaware" psychological thrillers. Since I'm skipping around in the series as used books come my way, I missed out on books 20-22, titled Gone, Obsession and Compulsion. However, my next objective in climbing this mountain of books is this novel's immediate successor, Evidence. Other one-word titles in the series include Monster (No. 13), Therapy (18), Deception, Mystery, Victims, Guilt, Killer, Motive and Breakdown (25-31), and the yet-to-be released Serpentine (36). However, these hard-to-distinguish single-word titles are only part of a gigantic body of work that also includes non-Alex novels The Butcher's Theater, The Conspiracy Club, True Detectives and The Murderer's Daughter.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Easily Confused Books 4

If you read a lot of books, it's not unusual to find multiple books with the same title. Earlier this year, I had to distinguish between two books I've reviewed that are both styled The Book of Lost Things (one by John Connolly, the other by Cynthia Voigt). There have even been instances where I bought the wrong book because I wasn't paying close enough attention. Further to this, this and this, I stumbled today upon another treasure-trove of easily confused books. It happened when I was searching thriftbooks-dot-com for another work by Voigt titled The Book of Secrets. Here are some of the results I found either before I came across the one I wanted, or on the same page of search results:
  • Books titled The Book of Secrets (with or without the initial "the") by Deepak Chopra, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Marion Buhagiar, Tom Harper, A.L. Tait, M.L. Little, Loreeda McKennitt, M.G. Vassanji, Chris Roberson, Stephanie Kneese, Mat Tonti, Kate Morrison, Elizabeth Joy Arnold, Melissa McShane and Fiona Kidman
  • The Book of Secrets I by Ed Rychkun 
  • The Book of Secrets: Part 1 by Faith Mitchell
  • The Girls' Book of Secrets by Gemma Reece
  • My Book of Secrets by Moira Butterfield
  • His Book of Secrets by Liam O'Shaughnessy
  • Book of Secrets: Ancient Secrets by Ken Hudnall
  • Giggleswick: The Book of Secrets by Matthew Mainster
  • Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin
  • Jinn Book of Secrets by Robert C. Miller
  • The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins
  • Minecraft: The Survivor's Book of Secrets by Stephanie Milton
  • Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets by Russell Ince
  • The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader
  • The movie (on DVD) National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
  • The History Channel DVD The President's Book of Secrets
  • Various specific "books of secrets" with no author listed, possibly blank journal books for kids, role-play guides or marketing gimmicks accompanying lines of toys, animated films or graphic novel franchises.
  • One or two Book of Secrets books listening various authors (like, collections of short stories).
Looking back, all I really want to ask is ... What? Really? Giggleswick??

Tacky Hymns 71

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.

(202) Welcome, happy morning (Type 2) is John Ellerton's translation of a cento (selected lines) from Fortunatus' 6th century hymn for Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. In this instance, it is set to the 16th century chorale SEI DU MIR GEGRUESSET, which is really quite nice. In more recent hymnals, the same hymn has been translated as "Hail thee, festival day" and set to the much more challenging and irregular tune SALVA, FESTA DIES by 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, which I also like. However, I think SALVA belongs to the choir (in part because each stanza is sung to a different strain of melody). SEI DU MIR is more the congregation's speed.

(204) Come, ye faithful, raise the strain (Type 2) is J.M. Neale's translation from an 8th century Greek Easter hymn by John Damascene. TLH sets it to the 17th century German chorale SCHWING DICH AUF, a tune title that made me giggle when I was a kid – which doesn't quite rule out the present day. It's a good tune, albeit one that stretches the vocal range of the congregation a bit. Lutheran Worship, Lutheran Service Book and others have moved en messe toward the tune GAUDEAMUS PARITER, by 16th century German composer Johann Horn, a change that I fully support – although I'd like to see SCHWING come to some good use in anglophone Lutheranism.

(205) The day of resurrection (Type 2) is also based on a Damascene/Neale Easter hymn, and TLH sets it to Henry Smart's 1836 tune LANCASHIRE, which I really enjoy. It's very classical, clean and elegant, full of joy and an effective tonal/dramatic design. LW made a move toward the chorale HERZLICH TUT MICH ERFREUEN (not to be confused with HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN), and although I love that tune – not to mention some great organ preludes based on it – I can understand why LSB went back to LANCS. HTM ERFREUEN is comparatively unfamiliar in American circles, and its rhythmic robustness tends to throw folks off. I set one of my own hymns to it, but I also gentled the rhythm somewhat in my setting of the tune. For what it's worth.

(208) Ye sons and daughters of the king (Type 2) is a 16th or 17th century Latin hymn focusing on the resurrected Lord's appearances to the disciples (notably Thomas), translated by Neale, and set in TLH to Melchior Vulpius' 17th century chorale GELOBT SEI GOTT. Not everyone agrees with me that this is a great hymn; apparently some folks object to the amount of time it spends retelling the Doubting Thomas story in verse, before it gets to the application. But I like it, either with this tune or to the chantlike, 15th century French tune O FILII ET FILIAE (cf. LW 130). LSB (hymns 470-471) leaves the option up to you, and frankly, I'm conflicted. I absolutely want to continue the tradition of using the German chorale, but I like the French chant tune so much that I wrote a choral setting of it many years ago. Coin flip, I guess. I'm with LSB: put both tunes in the book and let the pastor, elders, musical leadership or a coin toss decide.

(209) Who is this that comes from Edom is a hymn by Thomas Kelly that I mention (Type 3) because I don't recall hearing, playing or singing it very often. Despite the Bible verse reference to 2 Timothy 1:10 at the top of the hymn, the hymn takes its departure from Isaiah 63. Another weird thing, maybe a bit of layout tackiness on the part of the TLH editors, is that they section this hymn under Easter when, in fact, it's more of an Ascension or maybe End Times hymn. These factors may have played a role in this hymn's obscurity in the TLH-using community. Dipping momentarily into Type 2, I'd also like to note that the tune that TLH titles NEANDER (after its composer, Joachim Neander), used five times in this book, can be found elsewhere under the title UNSER HERRSCHER.

(211) Lo, Judah's Lion wins the strife (Types 2/3) is a striking Czechoslovak hymn, translated just in time for TLH by John Bajus and set to a 17th century "Bohemian" tune that TLH titles JUDAH'S LION. It has an interesting meter, each stanza consisting of a couplet (two rhyming lines) followed by Hallelujah and a final line that, while it varies from stanza to stanza, always amounts to some vernacular equivalent of Hallelujah. So, basically, its stanzas are couplets with a freely varying refrain. I think there might be merit to a version of this hymn that omits the Hallelujahs and thereafter and combines the couplets into four- or six-line stanzas, though one difficulty is that there are seven stanzas. Another difficulty is that the meter itself, including the vaguely similar concluding lines, is part of the charm and cultural identity embedded in this hymn. Meanwhile, tune-wise, JUDAH'S LION is a nice enough melody but a little bland. In LW 146, the hymn is set to Ralph Schultz's 20th century tune BRONXVILLE, which I think is much more interesting, though that opinion may run crosswise to some people's level of music appreciation; it's also a bit more challenging to sing. Either way, I think there is room in our church's repertoire to put more effort into getting familiar with this dramatic hymn, which compares Jesus' triumph over death to several Old Testament characters before explaining, in strikingly economical language, what difference that makes for us.

(220) Jesus, my great High Priest (Type 2/3) is an excerpt from a longer hymn by Isaac Watts, "Join all the glorious names," which explores Scripture's various names for Jesus. The tune TLH chooses for this cento is BEVAN by John Goss, a harmless but also relatively boring tune. I applaud the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Hymn 289) for making use of three additional stanzas, including Watts' original first stanza, and setting it to the more interesting tune ST. PETER'S MANCHESTER, by R.R. Ross.

(222) Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious (Type 2) is an Ascension hymn by Thomas Kelly, famous for its refrain "Crown Him! Crown Him!" toward the end of each stanza. TLH pairs it with William H. Monk's tune CORONAE, which is quite good and seems to have been written for this purpose. However, Service Book and Hymnal (Hymn 114) provides a choice of either Henry J. Gauntlett's pomp-and-circumstancy TRIUMPH and William Owen's powerful, dramatic BRYN CALFARIA, used in LW 281 with the hymn "Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor." LSB (495 and 534) uses BRYN with both hymns. Again, I'm kind of conflicted about which tune to recommend. I like them all. But I think in a vote between me, myself and I, BRYN CALFARIA would probably win by a sliver-thin majority.

(228) Oh, enter, Lord, Thy temple (Type 3) is a Paul Gerhardt hymn for Pentecost, set to the beautiful Johann Crueger tune ZEUCH EIN. I think its omission from subsequent hymnals (LW, LSB) is an egregious loss to American Lutheran hymnal culture. It's particularly objectionable in view of a book titled The Hymn of the Week: Organ Settings by Jan Bender, which designates a hymn of the day for each Sunday in the church year out of TLH, and in which this hymn is assigned to the the 8th Sunday after Trinity. Given the importance of this hymn on so many levels, I'm just amazed that hymnal editors after TLH have apparently let it drop.

(243) Oh, that I had a thousand voices is one of two centos in TLH (see also Hymn 30) from J. Mentzer's 1704 hymn which is first set (in TLH 30) to J. Koenig's tune, and then (in TLH 243) to Kornelius Dretzel's tune, both titled O DASS ICH TAUSEND. I'm actually aware of a third hymn tune by the same name, used in the Lutheran Church of Australia's Lutheran Hymnal (Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House/Openbook Publishers, 1973) and also in the pre-TLH Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook (although ELHb used it with a different hymn). I myself chose the Koenig and Dretzel tunes for two of my original lyrics in Useful Hymns. Good stuff.

(247) God the Father, be our Stay is a wonderful hymn with three stanzas, one addressing each person of the Trinity, which after the first line are word-for-word identical. This has led to latter-day hymnals, such as LW and LSB, compressing them into "Triune God, oh, be our stay" either as an alternative to repeating the same words (except for the first line) all three times, or as the only option. This is an obnoxious change – particularly when the three-stanza "option" is presented in small type, as an afterthought. This is the kind of hymn that, I think, demands to be sung multiple times just to get it down, to get the words (to say nothing of the melody) into people's ears and hearts. Accept no short-cuts.

(249) Isaiah, mighty seer is Martin Luther's 1526 verse paraphrase of the Sanctus, or rather of Isaiah's entire sixth chapter in which the angelic hymn "Holy, holy, holy" originated, set to Luther's own tune JESAIA, DEM PROPHETEN. I'm not saying everybody should be in a rush to replace the Ordinary of the Divine Service with Luther's hymn paraphrases or the next thing to them, but if you're going to do that, this is your Sanctus hymn – and even if you're not, it's a spectacular hymn depicting the awful majesty of God, which deserves to be learned by and kept in the repertoire of every confessional Lutheran congregation. This will take some work, up front, especially because the long melody never circles back on itself with a repeated phrase except for the thrice-repeated "Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth." But once the hard work is done, don't let it go to waste; sing it now and again, to keep it locked in.

(250) Holy God, we praise Thy name is based on a German paraphrase of the Te Deum ("We praise Thee, O God") and is set to the beautiful Austrian chorale GROSSER GOTT. One of my seminary profs pointed out a drawback of later hymnals' mania to update modern language. In stanza 4, the hymn as TLH gives it begins, "Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee" – a use of the pronoun "Thee" that loses its singular force when updated to "You." It's an example of the theological cost of meddling with established texts and fixing what ain't broke.

I see hymns I want to comment on in the immediate offing, but this is a good place to quit for today. And what do you know? Not a single "Type 1" tacky hymn in this lot!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Bible Stories Boringed

A game has been going around Facebook recently: "Can you describe your favorite movie as boring as possible?" In churchly circles, a variant I've seen replaces "movie" with "Bible story." Here are the boringed Bible stories that I contributed to that thread. Mostly written in headline style:
  • Brat hits soldier in the face with a pebble.
  • Dude naps on roof and dreams about food.
  • Dude finds out his fiancee is pregnant and the child isn't his. He marries her anyway.
  • One out of 10 people gives positive feedback after being treated for a skin condition.
  • Public fracas over sexual misconduct disrupts sidewalk art project.
  • Schoolboys thrive on vegetarian diet.
  • Rare animal chokes to death on hairball.
  • Theologian walks out of church whistling "Holy, Holy, Holy" after experiencing religious ecstasy.
  • Wreck of prisoner transport results in no fatalities. Witnesses credit cool-headed prisoner with leading survivors to safety.
  • Prison break unexplained. Guards, who previously failed to keep religious leader's body from vanishing out of a sealed tomb, may face discipline.
  • Community organizer fails to ask for directions, followers spend 40 years wandering in the sticks.
  • Pre-getaway bbq combines with home redecorating project.
  • Ancient text suggests ancient Egypt had its own 2020.
  • Holy man's presence turns wedding reception into massive bender.
  • Gambling ring revealed at capital punishment site.
  • Inspection standards under review after beach house collapses in storm.
  • Judge reverses decision after woman renews her appeal.
  • Property damaged, church vandalized during earthquake/eclipse.
  • Property manager makes last-minute deals before turning books over to investigation.
  • #MeToo defendant found guilty of sexual assault after claiming he was the victim.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Dr. Alex Delaware doesn't practice much as a child psychologist, these days, but he consults with the Los Angeles police and courts. Eight years ago, it was as a court consultant that he became involved in the case of two 13-year-old boys who murdered a 2-year-old girl. His job was just to evaluate whether the boys should be tried as adults or as juveniles; his report was inconclusive and, anyway, the case ended in a plea deal with both boys being sent away to different facilities in the California Youth Authority (as the Ca. Division of Juvenile Justice was then known). Time passes.

In the story's present day, Alex gets a phone call from one of the boys – a mentally handicapped guy named Rand – saying that he just got out of juvenile prison, that he's a good person, and that he wants to talk about Kristal, the victim. But then Rand fails to show up for their appointment, and the next thing Alex hears, the police have found him shot in the head and dumped under a freeway on-ramp. Enter LAPD Lt. Milo Sturgis, and Alex is once again on the police side of the case.

The book takes its title from the presumed motive for Rand's murder, at an early point in Milo and Alex's joint investigation when the clear suspect is Kristal's father. Barnett Malley owns multiple guns, including the type used to shoot the kid; he also has a history of shooting looks that, if looks could kill, would reduce everyone he perceived as being in the boys' corner to a smoking crater. His evident anger smoulders so hot that even Alex could be in danger – so our heroes think – as they gradually start to suspect that Malley may have also done in his wife (making it look like a suicide), putting a prison hit on Troy (the other boy convicted in Kristal's death), maybe murdering Troy's junkie mother, maybe doing in the kid who killed Troy when he got out of the CYA (this book, by the way, does not make the California justice system look good), and might not be done killing yet.

But then, another pattern catches Alex in the corner of the eye – another suspect, another motive – and from that point on, Malley's rage seems less and less relevant to the case. Which is not to say that it won't play a role. All I'm saying is, the picture that Milo and Alex fill in, with increasingly convincing detail, is so disturbing and sickening that by the end, you'll want to jump into the page, grab one of Malley's guns and use it on a creep whose victims, including the unborn, number somewhere in the neighborhood of 15. I'll leave you to debate whether the unborn count. I'll also hold back from spoiling it any more than it's already been spoiled.

Alex is a pretty keen sleuth. What actually proves to be the truth initially comes to Milo's attention through a series of epiphanies, based on Alex's expert insight into human behavior and what Milo himself describes, with a shudder, as an evil mind. Another question I'll let you debate amongst yourself is whether knowing the evil that lies in the heart of man makes one, ipso facto, personally evil. However, Alex also reveals something of his character to a therapist girlfriend who, afterward, realizes she can't be with him anymore, by the way he prioritizes catching the bad guy over the emotional wellbeing of a vulnerable girl. He also wrestles with his conscience after helping Milo hogtie a non-compliant witness who happens to be having a manic episode. Mental health ethics comes to blows with stopping a sexual predator and serial murderer, and the one that wins tells you (and Alex) who Alex really is. Guess who?

This 2005 novel is the 19th of soon-to-be 36 Alex Delaware novels, a series that started in 1985 with When the Bough Breaks (a.k.a. Shrunken Heads). The most recent release in the series was The Museum of Desire, and a new book titled Serpentine is due to reach booksellers in February 2021. Since I'm reading used copies of whatever installments I can pick up, my next look into this series will be book 23, Bones (2008). For what it's worth. Besides mysteries featuring Alex and Milo, Kellerman has also authored or co-authored 11 other novels, a book of poems, some short stories and a handful of non-fiction works about abnormal child psychology.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Tacky Hymns 70

I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.
So far, we've made it through Hymn 175 and only discovered four or five instances of "Type 1" tackiness, apart from a few boring little hymns not worth making a stir about. Not bad, for American Lutheranism. So, let's go on.

(177) Our blessed Savior seven times spoke is a hymn by J. Boeschenstain (c. 1515) about Jesus' "seven last words" on the cross. It's a great topic, not the only hymn in this book to explore it, and one that I might try my hand at sometime as a hymn writer myself. This is just a "Type 3" note to alert you that it's there and might be a useful thing to go along with a Good Friday "Tre Ore" service or perhaps a midweek Lenten sermon series. It's a fine, economical (albeit with a lot of material to cover) piece of poetry set to a Phrygian mode melody (DA JESUS AN DES KREUZES) in a solid, serious 15th century style that, in my opinion, is a strength of the Lutheran heritage of hymnody. For an alternate treatment of the same subject, see Hymns 180-186 ("Jesus, in Thy dying woes," etc.), which are actually one hymn but with three stanzas on each of the Seven Words, set to a tune in the litany meter (

(179) On my heart imprint Thine image is a one-stanza hymn, here set to the tune DER AM KREUZ (J.B. Koenig, 1788) also used for the Lenten hymn "Jesus, grant that balm and healing" (TLH 144). I learned this hymn by heart at Bethany Lutheran College, albeit sung to the tune WERDE MUNTER (J. Schop, 1642), because it was the next thing to the school song. And now that I've learned it by heart, I have to register a bitter complaint at the subsequent hymnals (LW, LSB) that meddled with lyrics that I know by heart, replacing them with inferior alternatives that just cause people who know this hymn well to stumble. I think it's an example of editors fixing what ain't broke and only causing more damage than they set out to repair.

(187) Christ is arisen is an ancient Easter hymn that (it has been my sad experience) some Lutheran laypeople these days complain about because it's in a "minor key" (actually the Dorian mode) and sounds "sad" (actually, strong and confident). I think it just needs more time and work getting it into people's ears so that they can appreciate it as a vehicle for Hallelujahs and proclaiming Jesus' resurrection. If it isn't too far out for your laypeople, I also recommend the Victimae paschali treatment, in which sections of this hymn are interlarded with sections of the medieval chant "Christians, to the paschal Victim" – only with two cautions: (1) The chant part will either be a solo or a choir number, which (2) may presume on the choir's compliance with something on account of which one choir member of mine, years ago, accused me of trying to turn everyone Eastern Orthodox, shook the dust off her feet and departed. The concern was out of touch with reality but that's where some people are. Anyway, see LSB 460. Also, for an isometric version of this tune (CHRISTUS IST ERSTANDEN), set to a Michael Weisse (1551) Easter hymn "Christ the Lord is risen again," see TLH 190.

(194) Abide with us, the day is waning is a just-OK hymn by Norwegian writer Caspar Boye (1884) which has the strength of using the account of Jesus' Easter appearance to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. It uses this source material well as the basis for prayer in our times of grief, forgiveness of our sin and confidence in the hour of death. It has the weakness, however – and for all I know, this may stem from Oluf Smeby's translation – of never explicitly mentioning our hope of resurrection. It gets as far as "While earth is fading from our sight, Our eyes behold the realms of light." I just think it's amazing that an Easter hymn doesn't mention rising from the dead. Sure, not every hymn has to focus on what I think it has to focus on, but I'm still giving it 0.5 tacks.

(195) Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands is another very important Easter hymn that I think Lutherans today may not know and love as well as it deserves, for the same reasons as TLH 187. Written by Martin Luther, it originally had more stanzas than TLH includes as well. Somebody commissioned a choral motet based on this hymn, which I executed some years ago and then adapted into an chorale fantasy for organ. Upon request, I can provide that music as evidence of how I feel about this hymn. But many other composers, including J.S. Bach, have made their feelings about it known in musical settings including cantatas, chorale preludes and more. I recommend exploring this literature before writing this hymn off as a loss. And also, read the words. The solution, however, is not to write a replacement tune for the melody this hymn has been sung to worldwide since 1524. The solution is to teach it to people – like the organist, the choir, the handbell group, the kids – and keep at it until the congregation is on board.

(196) I am content is another Easter hymn that has been beautifully harmonized by J.S. Bach. I think the tune, ES IST GENUG, is quite remarkable – one of the few Lydian mode melodies in our hymn literature, with that raised fourth note (fourth in the scale as well as fourth in the tune). It is so moving and comforting to hear, when performed with conviction, that even the serialist Alban Berg quoted it (Bach's harmony and all) in his violin concerto. I'm not saying "if even an author of ugly modern music recognizes it" etc., etc. – in fact, the ears of the year 20— are proving rather kind to Berg, though perhaps not so kind to some of his contemporaries – but I mean, really! Musically, this is a piece whose eloquence and gentle confidence is a selling point for the entire art of hymn writing and the tradition of congregational hymn singing.

(198) He's risen, He's risen, words and music by C.F.W. Walther, has its share of detractors, some of whom rejoice to point out that its music is a rip-off of the song "Oh my darling, Clementine." I make no excuses for the banality of Walther's tune (here titled WALTHER). The fact that it (WALTHER) dates back to 1860 and the lyrics to "Clementine" were written in 1884 doesn't put it in the clear, since the "Clementine" tune is believed to have been adapted from a Spanish ballad known in the U.S. by 1849 at the latest. But we're talking about a superficial similarity in only the first line of the melody and, after all, the tunes DIR, DIR JEHOVA, ALL SAINTS and WINCHESTER NEW are all at large in our hymnals without anybody complaining that they're essentially the same tune. I don't think this is the best Easter hymn in the book, or even one of the top two dozen best hymns in this book's 25-hymn "Easter" section, but I wouldn't raise a big stink if a congregation feels like honoring the early Missouri Synod leader with a run-through of this late 19th century popular-style hymn. I'll give it a tack shaving – 0.1 tack – just to teach it a lesson for embroiling American Lutheranism in an intellectual property rights dispute with a folk tune that probably predates the colonization of Mexico. There.

Time's up for today. I only made it through a section of 25 hymns (176-200) but that's not bad for a slightly long lunch break. Till later!