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!

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