Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Tacky Hymns 113

We resume with the "Vocation, Ministry" section of hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

Hymn 1000 is "God's work, our hands" by Wayne L. Wold (b. 1954) to David N. Johnson's (†1987) melody EARTH AND ALL STARS – accompaniment hidden – a tune that itself divides right from left within Lutheranism, and I say this as someone who was once karate-kicked in the neck for speaking my opinion of the hymn "Earth and all stars" in front of the wrong person. The guy almost ended me. But here I am to say that the new lyrics set to the same tune are even more of the left, giving the concept of Christian vocation an even more significant punch of political virtue as, for example, stanza 1 identifies doing the Lord's work/sharing His gospel with "building a future, repairng the world," etc. Noble goals to be sure. Stanza 2 does it for our feet, where our travels with Jesus include "marching for freedom" with "God's future the goal," a hint that the millennial purpose of our activism must certainly be His will. Stanza 3 does it for our voice, not merely praying and praising but also "shouting for justice," because Paul appealing to Rome was totally a matter of speaking truth to power and whatnot. Stanza 4 observes "God ... at work in and around us," with a nice reference to baptism and acknowledgment that our good works are a response to His love. So I risk looking like a world-class grinch when I point out that being a social justice warrior is neither the complete picture of Christian vocation nor the ministry of proclaiming the gospel. 3 tacks.

1001 and 1002 are "Holy woman, graceful giver" by Susan Palo Cherwien (cf. backward in this thread), set to ALABASTER JAR by Anne Krentz Organ (b. 1960), accompaniment omitted. The first instance is subtitled "Mark 14" and the other, "John 12." The first hymn waxes poetic about the costly ointment that the unnamed woman in Mark 14 poured on Jesus' head; the second, about the perfume Mary used her hair to massage into Jesus' feet in John 12. In the first instance, we're a metaphor of that costly gift – broken, serving, and ill-deserving (Christ's) "rich, forgiving faith." Also, as it moves on, Christ becomes the point of the metaphor (here st. 3 employs the amazing adjective "Christly"), as He is broken and poured out for His nation. And then it goes back to us being the point of reference as the "hidden gift" of Christ's servants. If you're going to spiritualize or metaphorize an entire Bible story, though, I'd just as soon you delved deeper and more clearly into just one interpretation, while the profoundest one in sight – Christ's death and burial – gets short shrift. In the second hymn, Cherwien does mention His coming passion and burial (more specifically, at least, than the first hymn's mention of a "fatal hour"), but focuses more on the beauty of Mary's act of devotion, which blesses His heart with grace. I'm not kidding you; it says that (st. 2). But without lingering there for very long, it turns us-ward again, noting that "not all treasures gain and profit" with an immediate appeal to feed the poor. "Acts of love are never wasted," says stanza 4, and "beauty is a face of God," and Mary is a pattern for our way of living, and all that is quite correct but the space of time during which the servant love of Jesus is at the center of this hymn can be measured in fractions of a second. You know, how time and resources spent adoring Him because of His work for us is never wasted, etc. But the third use of the law has become so precious that it seems as if time is too precious to waste any more of it than strictly necessary mentioning the gospel. 3 tacks. Don't look at me like that. I'm spreading them between two hymns, after all.

1003 is "For such a time as this," first line "Could it be that we are called," by Jonathan Rundman (b. 1971), words and music. And now you know all of the lyrics to this hymn, which is squeezed into two systems at the bottom of the page below 1002, accompaniment omitted but with a descant line in tiny, ossia notes. It's just the above lyrics repeated twice, with tricky rhythm and a descant. It's all of 30 seconds long and will most likely be performed at the congregation by skilled and rehearsed performers. And what use is it, really, as a hymn? Where does it take the congregation? What does it give them? 3 tacks.

The "Grace, Faith" section begins with 1004, "Faith begins by letting go" by Carl P. Daw Jr. (b. 1944), set to the 19th century chorale RATISBON (cf. "Christ, whose glory fills the skies"). Stanza 1's definition of faith stresses the "taking risks and pressing on" aspect of a "pilgrimage both right and odd," i.e. a leap of faith in God. Stanza 2 flips the script to faith as holding on – remembering promises and possessing hope not through (our) merit "but by God's great faithfulness." St. 3 hits the "reaching out" emphasis, the communal aspect of faith through prayer, mutual service and witness. All very nice aspects of faith to touch on; but somewhere along the way it passed over the central, biblical witness that faith is the free gift of God that freely receives all of God's gifts. 1 tack.

1005 is "Ask the complicated questions" by David Bjorlin (b. 1984), set to the Southern Harmony tune RESTORATION, which LSB and ELW both used for different hymns. Bjorlin encourages the believer to question the truth and not be afraid to doubt, "for our God makes strong our weakness" (st. 1); to "seek the disconcerting answers," following where the Spirit blows, testing the wisdom of "competing truths" and finding new life "in tension" (st. 2); to "knock on doors of new ideas" (ah, did you catch that "ask, seek, knock"?), testing assumptions, etc. (st. 3); and finding truth through struggle as, through knocking, seeking and asking, "we are opened, answered, found." It's all very clever and I'm sure it'll go right to the heart of certain people who are made to explore the faith to the last, dark corner of philosophical abstraction; but it also brings to mind some nasty, cutthroat debates I've stumbled into with the proponents of "doubt is good" when my thesis was that ministers of the gospel should deliver the full assurance of faith. Silly me. 1 tack.

1006 is "By grace we have been saved" by Rundman, set to the tune BY GRACE co-written by Rundman and Nathan Houge (b. 1977), accompaniment omitted. And that accompaniment is evidently quite important, as there are bar-and-a-half-long tacets between phrases suggesting an instrumental cue that my type of sight-reader really wants to see on the page. The bottom of the page is well blotted with copyright notices. The refrain is very Ephesians 2-ish, but the three stanzas are encouraging, greeting-card sentiments founded on the lyricist's ideas. I mean, the next handful of verses in Ephesians 2 are right there, but he doesn't go there. He goes to whether you're feeling weak or strong, "just listen to the song" (st. 1). He goes to resting quietly and finding, in the stillness, what a lovely, precious child you are in God's design (st. 2). He goes to don't be afraid; you're not alone; there is mercy, hope and love in the great impersonal abstraction that you're evidently to put your trust in. See my savage review of "There's a wideness in God's mercy," which ought to tell you all you need to know, and more, about why this hymn irks me. Put in crassly simple terms, after the refrain's "it is the gift of God" there isn't a single mention of anything God does for us in Christ. Despite what the refrain plainly says, the verses kinda leave it all on you. 3 tacks.

We move on to the "Confession, Forgiveness" section, where 1007 is "Khudaya, rahem kar," a Pakistani traditional paraphrase of the Kyrie (set to a Pakistani tune transcribed by R.P. Liberius) whose actual language, Urdu, isn't even mentioned by name in the almost unreadably tiny footnote that explains what the Urdu lyrics mean and how to pronounce them. In addition to being probably the first Urdu lyrics a hymnal has ever asked the users of ACS to sing, it also features multiple types of grace notes and pitch-bending notations going both up to and down from the printed note. It's a single, long stanza, nine systems long, accompaniment omitted, with nothing but repetitiveness to help any helpless non-Urdu-speaking Lutherans who might stray into trying to sing this. It's going to be a trainwreck unless rehearsed; and so, probably, either a solo or an ensemble piece, sung at but not by the congregation. Sure, Urdu is the 10th most spoken language in the world; but I ask you, how likely is it that having an Urdu Kyrie will ever be useful for an American Lutheran congregation? 2 tacks.

1008 is "Forgive your people" by an anonymous Spanish author and composer, translated by Martin A. Seltz (b. 1951), with four stanzas each in Spanish and English. I'm actually impressed by the simple and direct way this hymn pleads for forgiveness for all the insults our sins added to Christ's passion. Stanza 3 pleads, "Show us your feet, your hands," stanza 4 that His life outpoured may flow through us and His death restore and renew us. Funny how a non-English-speaking author whose name no one bothered to note down seems to get hymnwriting on a level that the high-falutin' arteests of the anglophone hymn-writing community struggle with. For omitting the accompaniment and, once again, forgetting that this isn't a Spanish-language hymnal with all the weird thinking that suggests, 2 tacks.

1009 is "Come, bring your burdens to God" from an unnamed South African source, crediting the English translation to three people despite there being only two lines of poetry. (Hint: The copyright blurb mentions the Iona Community.) It's presented both in English and the original Xhosa, a language that the tiny, all-but-unreadable footnote at least deigns to mention by name while also providing an admittedly "approximate pronunciation." Besides the first line, repeated three times, all there is to it is "for Jesus will never say no" – a questionable promise to make in the context of prayer, unless we are strictly talking about pleading for forgiveness. I'm a little concerned about that, but also about how this little snippet of traditional African-style harmony is going to occupy enough time to be worthwhile in the worship context. Will a choir be singing this? Will the congregation manage it in parts? How many times are they going to repeat it, and to what effect? So many questions. Let's say 2 tacks.

1010 is "Wind and cold roar" with words and music by Homero R. Perera (†2019), translated from Spanish by Madeleine Forell Marshall (b. 1946), with lyrics in both Spanish and English and no accompaniment; you see where I'm going with this. It apparently hails from the Social Gospel tradition, confessing our sin of some people having and others having not and the inequalities of the world that are, on the face of things, unfair. By stanza 3 we're actually taking responsibility for "violence and hatred ... terror, slaughter, war" and resolving to give bread to the hungry. And the refrain actually, flatly asserts that by getting what we have, we "cost our neighbors loss," which is tantamount to saying that everything you earn is stolen from somebody else. Property being theft, you know. I can't be 100 percent sure but I broadly suspect that this hymn puts into believers' mouths the confession of a sin that isn't necessarily theirs, unless we're talking about the "no matter how much you do, it's never enough" angle of repentance. But if that was the case, shouldn't there be gospel in this hymn, too? 4 tacks, including three for the reasons noted above and one for just being a Communist manifesto disguised as a Christian hymn.

1011 is "Holy God", a setting of the Trisagion ("... holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us") set to the tune CHICAGO TRISAGION by Daniel Schwandt (b. 1977). Man, that tune title sure is dissonant. Like TORONTO OFFERTORIUM or BRONX REQUIEM (I could go on all day like this), the tonal mismatch could be downright comical. I know, it's just me. I'm always finding reasons to snicker at hymn tune titles, like thinking about Wayne's World when I see SCHWING DICH AUF, and it reveals more about me than the piece in question. This is a very brief piece and probably belongs more in the liturgy section than among the hymns (cough) I mean "assembly song." 1 tack.

1012 is "To you all hearts are open" by John Tirro (b. 1966), based on a collect in the Book of Common Prayer and set to Tirro's own tune, accompaniment omitted. Like a collect, it says in the credit line, but it doesn't actually ask God for anything; it just concludes, "We come to you." It's bracketed with repeat signs, making "We come to you all hearts are open" a sentence that starts heading in one direction and flips another way around, except on what the score text describes as "last time" – and that, I shudder to note, means this little four-phrase ditty will be repeated indefinitely until somebody decides we've suffered enough and puts a stop to it. Also, the all-but-unreadably tiny footnote does talk about switching the term of address in the third line during the repeats, suggesting a few alternatives but also, significantly, leaving that avenue of variation open to an indefinite number of repeats. That's potentially a lot of time to spend repeating the part of an 11th century prayer that doesn't actually ask for anything. My idea of hell, during the hour(s) of worship. 4 tacks.

I could go further, but I don't want to. With an additional 29 tacks, we're accumulated 211 tacks in 112 hymns – a numerical palindrome! And a cumulative tackiness rate of 188 percent! Next on deck is the "Healing, wholeness" section, and we're going to need healing after some of the stuff I see coming up. Now, I'm off to wash my eyes!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Strange New Worlds, Season 2

My DVD of Season 2 of the best Star Trek series of the current millennium arrived by mail last week, and I've watched every episode twice already. Boy, am I a fan.

This season introduces a new chief engineer on the USS Enterprise: Pelia, a member of the Lanthanite tribe that are virtually immortal, and that lived undetected among humans for thousands of years. She's played by comedy legend Carol Kane as a sort of direct opposite to the late Hemmer, who was killed off at the end of Season 1. You'll see Bruce Horak a couple times in this season, however; primarily in Uhura's home video footage and, um, hallucinations, but also playing a Klingon commander.

Meantime, Paul Wesley comes back several times as James T. Kirk. When he appeared in Season 1, it was as an alternate-timeline Kirk whose encounter with the Enterprises nobody but Pike would later remember. But now he appears, first in another alternate timeline, then as his prime universe self, establishing some important relationships for the Original Series canon.

And finally, casting wise, Martin Quinn turns up in the season finale as Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant junior grade – and it's Pelia who we first hear calling him Scotty. Here to stay? Hard to tell. The season ends with a cliffhanger, don't cha know.

An ongoing theme in this season of Capt. Pike-Trek is love and how it challenges the development of multiple characters. Pike is in a relationship with fellow captain Marie Batel, which is tested at multiple points throughout this season's 10 episodes. Spock's engagement with T'Pring hits a speed bump, leading to an affair with Christine Chapel that has trouble of its own. (There's also a tease of Christine's eventual engagement with Dr. Roger Korby, depicted in the TOS episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?") Also, events during this season involving Jim Kirk open up a vulnerability in La'an that will break fans' hearts over and over. The first time alternate-timeline Kirk leans in for a kiss, I almost hissed, "Don't toy with her, Kirk." But he does worse than toy with her, and coming to terms with that back in the prime timeline forms a major part of La'an's story arc for the remainder of the season.

Here's a brief rundown of the episodes. In "The Broken Circle," we find the Enterprises divided, with La'an still on leave, Una under arrest for being genetically modified and Pike off looking for a lawyer to defend her. This leaves Spock in command, and when Starfleet denies his request to follow up on an urgent distress call from La'an, he decides to steal the Enterprise from spacedock, complete with an inspection engineer (Pelia) who considers it the best fun she's had in 100 years. They end up on a planet jointly administered by the Federation and the Klingon Empire, trying to protect the fragile peace while a group of yahoos tries to reignite the recent war. The main theme of the episode seems to be that Spock isn't your average Vulcan. It's hard to tell which is more entertaining to see: Spock's agony on seeing Christine in mortal peril, or his obvious "Klingon hangover" after negotiating peace with the Klingon commander over a barrel of blood wine. "Ad Astra Per Aspera" is the courtroom melodrama in which Una is tried for the Federation crime of being an Illyrian, and lying about it on her Starfleet entrance application. It plays as one of Trek's politically relevant episodes, addressing the issues of "othering" and marginalizing people on the basis of race – apparently something humanity hasn't outgrown as of the 23rd century. "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" is La'an's time-travel adventure to 21st century Toronto with an alternate-timeline Kirk. Romantic sparks fly between them, partly because he doesn't blink at the name "Noonien-Singh" (which, frankly, should have been a much bigger clue). Pelia also gets an entertaining backstory in this episode. "Among the Lotus Eaters" takes the Enterprise back to the planet where Pike lost three crewmen – the incident Jeffrey Hunter-era Pike was mourning in original Trek pilot "The Cage." The planet in question turns out to be a new kind of nightmare that will likely give lots of viewers the willies, on a level they've never gotten from Trek before.

"Charades" flips the tone to broad comedy, with a weird alien encounter somehow turning Spock fully human. While I appreciate the laughs, which come in swarms, I have to admit that this is the type of Spock treatment that strains my willing suspension of disbelief. Surely, after a lifetime of learning Vulcan mental discipline, simply having his Vulcan DNA removed wouldn't instantly change Spock into a petulant human teenager. A little genetic jiggery-pokery couldn't possibly erase his knowledge, experience and deeply ingrained character. But so it does in this episode, and with his hateful mother-in-law-to-be coming on board to judge him (along with a comically spineless father-in-law, his longsuffering fiancee and his own dear mom) there couldn't be a worse time for it. The upshot ends up being a catalyst for an all-too-brief romance with Nurse Chapel.

"Lost in Translation" is the Uhura-centric episode where the hardworking ensign starts showing signs of burnout, if not downright mental illness. Though there turns out to be a sci-fi explanation for it all, for a while the episode is about dealing with grief and seeking help for mental health issues. "Those Old Scientists" (note the initials) is a comedy-gold crossover episode involving characters from Star Trek: Lower Decks. First Boimler, then Mariner come through a time portal, and their silly antics threaten the integrity of future history while also hitting important points on the character arcs of Spock, Chapel, Uhura and Number One. "Under the Cloak of War" is a war-is-hell, PTSD episode centering on Chapel and M'Benga, who witnessed a pivotal battle in the Klingon war and who are therefore unequipped to deal with a pacifist, Klingon ambassador who, in his previous role as a general, gained the nickname "Butcher of J'gal." This episode goes super-dark and has a mindblowing plot twist at the end, which could leave viewers pondering and debating ad infinitum.

"Subspace Rhapsody" does either the inevitable or the inconceivable, depending on your point of view: it turns the Enterprises into the cast of a Broadway musical. Of course, a subspace anomaly is behind it all, and figuring out how to prevent it from destroying the entire Federation becomes a matter worthy of (and, coincidentally, requiring) a Grand Finale. The tunes are actually pretty good, particularly the solos by La'an and Uhura.

Finally, the briefly teased threat of a war with the Gorn sneaks up and bonks everyone over the head in the season finale cliffhanger, "Hegemony." It also proves to be the episode that puts the Pike-Batel and Spock-Chapel romantic subplots to their ultimate test. You get to see adult Gorns for the first time in this series, including a killer zero-gravity, space-suited combat scene between Spock and a hero Gorn. It's the one where Scotty enters the storyline, and it faces everybody with the kind of danger that leaves you calculating which characters could get killed off without affecting franchise continuity. And now, you may commence biting your nails until Season 3 airs.

Here are my Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) La'an subspace-transmission stalks prime-universe Kirk after she gets back from her time escapade, only to verify that he isn't the Kirk she fell in love with in 21st century Toronto ... and oh, boy, does that hurt. The kind of hurt that keeps on giving, such as in the musical episode when she tells him all about it and confirms, all over again, that he isn't her Kirk. That guy doesn't have to lift a finger to break her heart, and I felt so protective of her because her vulnerability was so powerfully portrayed. (2) Boimler tumbles out of the time portal at the feet of the Enterprises and, before passing out, says, "You look very realistic!" A line that works on multiple levels. I really got a kick out of watching Jack Quaid, as a live actor, physically embodying the animated character he has heretofore only voiced. Despite being disproportionately tall, he really pulled it off. (3) M'Benga lays down that mindblowing plot twist before his final grapple with Ambassador Rah. Like, wow. And the ambiguity over what actually happened in that scene has already triggered a debate between me and my dad. Solid stuff.

State Flags, You're Welcome (Part 3)

Wrapping up my proposed redesigns of various state flags of the U.S., which nobody asked me for ... here's where Oklahoma is currently at:
Not bad, but it could be better:
Possibly the absolute worst out of all 50 states' flags, here's Oregon on the "obvserse" (i.e. front) side:
It actually has this on the reverse side, and a good start might be just to go with this image on both sides:
Pennsylvania takes us back to the hackneyed theme of a state seal on a blue field:
Also just a start, but applying a lighter shade of blue (eyedroppered from the sky inside the shield):
South Dakota as is, with too much unnecessary verbiage:
South Dakota as could be, with the state motto visualized:
Vermont as is:

Vermont, with less chit-chat, less blue and a bit simpler:
Virginia, with the state's name boldly and unnecessarily spelled out:
And without:
Washington, with a state seal that pedantically tells you what it is:
And now without the painfully obvious:
Wisconsin, all obnoxious:
And now, only somewhat obnoxious, but still crying out for improvement:
And finally, West Virginia:
And again, without the painfully obvious:
Again, I'm just proposing a modest start toward making state flags start to act like flags. More could probably done, if these states took their symbolism back to the drawing board. Fewer blue fields, people! Less bold, block text spelling out what shouldn't have to be spelled out! And maybe fewer fiddly details that are hard to distinguish at a distance, or reproduce in a sixth-grader's hand with colored pencils on paper! Then we'd really be cooking, eh?

Friday, December 22, 2023

State Flags, You're Welcome (Part 2)

We resume with the existing flag of my most recent, former home state, Missouri:
... which could stand to be a little simpler, maybe like this:
Returning to the oft-whistled theme of a state seal-type illustration on a blue field, with a dead giveaway in block letters, is Montana's flag:
Now a little less on-the-nose (and not so lost in a sea of dark blue):
My sometime home state of Nebraska's flag is about as ugly as they come:
I've always fantasized about replacing that nondescript cameo with the silhouette depicted on Nebraska's state highway signs:
... which, with a little colorization, might look something like this:
Then there's New Hampshire, currently very forgettable and same-old, same-old:
... but potentially more striking, though it might make better sense if that land mass continued to the left:
In New Jersey, the situation is less dire, thanks to a more distinctive background color:
... but it could perhaps be improved by making the imagery easier to see from a distance:
In New York, the situation flies thus:
... but it could fly thus, a bit more simple and readily visible:
In my native state of Nevada, this flag doesn't need too much work:
How about this tiny tweak?
North Carolina is another one that overexplains, with too many dates and a dead giveaway "NC":
I'd like to keep that gold color in there, though. So, how about some rings?
North Dakota again is "one of those":
One way to improve it might be simply to cut the painfully obvious bit out:
Or, once again, you could start with the state highway sign silhouette:
... and go flat-out with it:
That's enough for Part 2. Part 3 to come yet, maybe after Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

State Flags, You're Welcome (Part 1)

Further to this four-part series of posts way back here, I've gone ahead and done what nobody asked me to ... whipped up some concepts for improving some of the state flags of the U.S. that could use some improvement. Mind you, I'm totally unqualified and a lazy Photoshop user who follows the path of least effort, but even so, I think I came up with some ideas worth tossing around, if not out. My immediate inspiration is the current flag redesign of my state of residence, Minnesota, which went from this hot mess:
to this elegantly simple design, that any child could draw, anyone with a needle and thread could sew, and anyone could point out of a line-up of state flags and recognize at once as Minnesota:
Skipping over the flags that I don't think I can improve on at the present – including the fairly recently updated flags of Mississippi and Utah, as well as a couple of flags (cough Florida and Alabama) that just need to go back to the drawing board – here are some before-and-afters that I'd like folks to consider as tiny steps toward the ultimate goal of every state having a flag that does what a flag should do. Which means, for one thing, NOT having the name of the state spelled out in great big, block letters! Here's the flag of Arkansas:
Here's exactly the same flag, but without the painfully obvious. Also, I pushed the middle two stars a little farther apart, feeling that they looked crowded, but still with an eye toward preserving the diamond shape befitting the diamond state. Too naked looking, yet? Maybe the stars could be spaced out even better.
Here's the "California Republic" flag.
And here it is again, without the text that no one needs to identify it as the flag of California, and with the red stripe widened a bit to balance it out:
How about Delaware? Awfully proud of their date of statehood, aren't they?
And now, without that ugly line of text, and it might be even better with the interesting bit blown up in proportion:
Idaho's flag is just ridiculous, spelling out the name of the state not once but twice:
This is just a beginning of what I'd like to propose, maybe extending the landscape (and not just the sky) behind the Great Seal images to the edges of the flag:
Illinois is one of my least favorite state flags, with upside-down text, two dates, and ugly little blades of grass:
Here it is without the images that especially irritate me, though it still leaves much to be desired:
Indiana's flag has just one tiny thing that irritates me:
Can you spot the difference without it?
Iowa has more of what Illinois suffers from:
Just imagine it like this:

...or even this:
The name of Kansas hits you in the eye, but the picture it mansplains doesn't:
Some guy named Steve Hamaker proposed this improvement:
...which I took even further:
Here's Kentucky's flag as it is:
And here's Kentucky as it could be, appealing a little more to the eye:
Here's Maine, for another hard-to-distinguish-at-a-distance state seal on a blue field:
And here's my favorite part of the Maine flag, with space cleared around it to bring it into better focus:
One of these days, people are going to start calling the Massachusetts flag "problematic":
This should clear it up:
Michigan has at least two too many Latin exercises embroidered on its flag:
Here it is again, pared down a bit:
I've got more to share, but this post has gone long enough for now. Part 2 yet to come!