Monday, January 29, 2024

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat
by Emily Chenoweth and Johnny Marciano
Recommended Ages: 10+

Raj has just moved with his parents from New York City to a tiny town in Oregon, and life has lost all its zest for him. But then comes a green flash of light, and a cat appears on his doorstep, and things start to turn around for Raj. Klawde, as his father names him, is actually no ordinary cat. He's really an evil alien warlord from a distant galaxy, beamed into exile on earth, where the desendants of long-ago banished cats have lost their wits and become mere animals. I mean, who else but Raj has a cat that speaks English, uses a toilet and reads the Wall Street Journal?

Both Raj and Klawde have tough times ahead of them, however. Raj has to go to a wilderness survival camp by day, run by a crazy mountain man who feels his mission is to prepare campers for a coming apocalypse. Meanwhile, Klawde is struggling to build a teleportation device to return to his planet and begin his reconquest, despite Earth being technologically backward and his paws not having opposable thumbs. And though, as an evil alien warlord cat, he understands the concept of "love" only as some type of mental illness, Klawde also discovers that when his human calls for help, he is compelled to respond.

Goofiness is the rule of the day in this semi-graphic novel/chapter book. And it might not be quite honest to say that Klawde grows as a, erm, person. But Raj comes out of his shell a bit, makes some friends, scores a victory in a challenge that seemed hopeless for him from the beginning, and shows some grit when it really matters. Though most earth cats' vocabular doesn't extend far beyond "Mrow," the highly articulate Klawde is evil in a way that might pluck a familiar, and perhaps even fond, string in the hearts of cat lovers. After all, that crazy mountain guy isn't all wrong when he says house cats are the most environmentally destructive force outside the human race. So one may feel a low-key horror, combined with a certain perverse glee, to think of what Raj and Klawde might get up to next.

This is the first book of at least six in a series by the same name, written and illustrated to appeal to middle-grade kids. Subsequent titles include Enemies, The Spacedog Cometh, Target: Earth, Emperor of the Universe and Revenge of the Kitten Queen. Chenoweth is also the author of the novel Hello Goodbye and, as Emily Raymond, has co-authored several books with James Patterson. Marciano is also the author-illustrator of The 66th Rebirth of Frankie Caridi and, as John Bemelmans Marciano, a biographer of his grandfather, "Madeline" creator Ludwig Bemelmans; author or co-author with Ludwig of several Madeline stories; and the author of six "Witches of Benevento" books, the novel The No-Good Nine, the novellas Harold's Tail and The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield, a couple children's picture books and the nonfiction book Whatever Happened to the Metric System?.

Josh Baxter Levels Up

Josh Baxter Levels Up
by Gavin Brown
Recommended Ages: 10+

Josh is a middle school kid who takes video gaming beaucoup seriously. But now he's struggling in a new school. Slow to make friends but quick to make an enemy in the boss jock, Henry Schmittendorf (a.k.a. Mittens), he's also close to failing math and English – close enough for his widowed mom to take away his game consoles. This leaves Josh with pretty much nothing else to do but apply gaming strategies to winning at life.

Josh's thought processes are heartwarming and hilarious to witness. He models his behavior on superheroes and game characters, such as Mario and Luigi, Link, Solid Snake, and Steve from Minecraft. At the end of each chapter, he takes stock of his remaining health points and skills unlocked, all couched in fantasy role-play jargon. He gives the people around him in-game nicknames, like the Rogue, the Princess, the Warrior, the Whirlwind, the Enchantress (his English teacher), the Dragon (his gym teacher) and the Gym Leader (ironically, his math teacher). We're talking Pokémon gyms, here. And he processes his successes and setbacks as levels in a game, no doubt with a boss battle at the end. And as strange as it may seem, he makes it work – all the way to uniting a group of bickering classmates into a fighting unit in their school's video game decathlon, in which (naturally) he'll have to face his own Cobra Kai nemesis – you guessed it, the Mitten Monster.

There isn't a lot of reputable information online about middle-grades author and game producer Gavin Brown. As of this writing, he isn't listed on Fantastic Fiction. His website, linked above, is mostly a list of broken links, though it does mention this book and another novel, Monster Club: Hunters for Hire. His Facebook page mentions still another, yet-unreleased book, The Dark Sorcerer's Intern, allegedly part of a three-book deal. Based on the charm of this book, I'd say those titles would probably be worth looking into. It's loopy, funny, sometimes touching, with a main character who really grows (but doesn't, at heart, change) and a dramatic build-up as he triumphs in task after task. I'd recommend it, especially for kids who are into games, but also anybody who enjoys a light, fast-paced romp in the world of a young teen's imagination.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Tacky Hymns 117

Picking up at the "Witness" section of hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

1045 is "Come, share the Spirit" by Gracia Grindal (b. 1943, alt.) to the tune ST. PAUL'S, ARDMORE by Robert A. Hobby (b. 1962). I rather like it. Grindal nails the power of Christ's word and mixes it with baptism and the Lord's Supper. Lightly sketched though her portrayal of the sacraments may be, she does speak of "drowning sins" and connects baptism to Christ's Easter rising, and actually comes right out and calls "his body, bread, his blood, the wine" – strides ahead of where the general pack of sacrament hymns in this book and ELW are running. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1046 is "As rivers flow from a distant spring" by David Bjorlin (b. 1984), set to HÖKELUND by William Beckstrand (b. 1962). The lyrics are a series of analogies from nature (rivers, trees, woods) to the relationship between our lives and God. It seems to conclude with thanksgiving for the Creator's "worlds that witness to your care," proclaiming his glory, etc. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1047 is "What is the world like" (when God's will is done?) – apparently a paraphrase of Jesus' words "To what shall I compare the kindgom of God" – by Adam M. L. Tice (b. 1979), to the tune NEW WORLD by Sally Ann Morris (b. 1952). The hymn's five stanzas are, accordingly, a paraphrase of several of Jesus' kingdom-of-God parables. In some cases the language is, um, I don't want to say "dumbed down" but let's say creatively reinvented to the point that you have to think hard to recognize what parable is being paraphrased. I'm still at sea regarding stanza 3. The unforgiving servant maybe? If so, it's an incredibly abstract depiction of that parable. The conclusion that "this is a new world where God's will is done" suggests, to me (and could it be just me?) that Tice's thinking about all these parables – the mustard seed, the prodigal son, the wise and foolish virgins, etc. – are intended to instruct us about how to behave rather than proclaiming what God does for us. For that vaguely discomfiting impression and the lack of accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1048 is "Founded on faith", words and music by Paul D. Weber (b. 1949), a hymn in that stanza structure that has three 10-syllable lines followed by an Alleluia. It squeezes many merits into a compact structure, acknowledging in st. 1 that proclaiming the gopspel is the mission of the church (not, as some hymns suggest, each individual Christian's God-given vocation) and powered by the word of God; rooting it in the cross, baptism and the Lord's Supper in st. 2. It perhaps takes back a little of the merit of st. 1 by acknowledging, in st. 3, the place of each Christian's particular gifts and seemingly reverting to that "everyone is called to do mission work" stuff. Then it veers into social justice warrior territory in st. 4 (the vaguely postmillennialistic suggestion that the "world restored" that we yearn for is on this side of the end times). My quibbles may be paranoid vapors but, nevertheless, I'm giving it 2 tacks, one of them due to the missing accompaniment.

Moving on to the "Lament" section, 1049 is "Before the waters nourished earth" by Jeannette M. Lindholm (b. 1961), set to the Irish tune ST. COLUMBA (cf. "The King of love my Shepherd is" in ELW and LSB). Stanza 1 describes creation thus: "a Love conceived the universe." In st. 2, that Love grieves man's fall in Eden and "each tragic human story." St. 3 acknowledges a deep, paralyizing despair but says it "cannot revoke Love's claim to dwell within our dying" – by which I think it means to be with us in the hour of death; though the syntax here is open to multiple readings. The hymn concludes that the Love that called creation good, turns death to life. It's not a bad hymn, but I think it would be better if it named God personally, or explicitly mentioned Christ and His work, or let its promise of resurrection cut through the cloud of metaphor in literal terms. For being perhaps too artsy-fartsy for its own good, 1 tack.

1050 is "Sometimes our only song is weeping by Tice, set to the "North American traditional" tune WAYFARING STRANGER. There are two stanzas here. The first covers "the Spirit helps in our weakness" (praying what we do not have the strength to utter, etc.) when God seems to be sleeping. Stanza 2 claims that we someitmes hear "the faintest humming," a sense that the Spirit is coming, singing that Christ has shared our laments and restoring our souls to sing God's song. What's missing from this hymn is, to start, a clearer and more complete argument that Christ has borne all manner of sorrow and shame for our sake, and what He has assumed, He also redeemed. And second, any sense that this vague humming sense of the Spirit coming has anything to do with the means of grace. Also taking into account a missing accompaniment, 3 tacks.

1051 is "For the troubles and the sufferings" (of the world), one long stanza of Spanish lyrics by Rodolfo Gaede Neto (b. 1951) and their English translation by Simei Monteiro (b. 1943) and Jorge Lockward (b. 1965), set to Gaede's own tune. The lyrics implore God's mercy for a world in its labor pains. But the anticipated answer to that prayer is "peace that comes from making justice" and "power that will sustain your people's witness." Hmm. I smell a rodent of the social gospel persuasion. For that, its out-of-place bilingualism (an argument I don't need to repeat again) and omitting the accompaniment, 3 tacks.

1052 is "When our world is rent by violence" by Bjorlin, set to Carl F. Schalk's (†2021) tune FORTUNATUS NEW (cf. "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle" in LSB and ELW). It's a hymn for the collapse of civilization, which I suppose is a timely message these days. Stanza 2 calls on God to "waken justice from the dead" for the poor and imprisoned. St. 3 answers the despair that runs hot and cold in our time with a "Come, Lord Jesus, to redeem." The final stanza hits notes of restoring beauty, ending violence, and giving us a vision of a future where (to paraphrase Tolkien) everything sad will come untrue. I'll give it a pass other than 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1053 is "A river flows through Babylon", apparently written in English by Tice but also in a Spanish translation by María Eugenia Cornou (b. 1969) and Carlos Colón (b. 1966) and set to the latter's tune, SOJOURN. This is taking the unnecessary bilingualism to the next level. And though the hymn actually has three stanzas, each one is set to its own strain of music, causing it to spread out across two pages (without accompaniment). And to a degree, I'm not sure why, because stanzas 1 and 2 are melodically identical. Stanza 3 throws in some rhythmic and melodic kinks, however. Based on Psalm 137, it's a legit lament, but I think its structure undermines the culture and purpose of hymn singing. 4 tacks.

1054 is "God weeps with us who weep and mourn" by Thomas H. Troeger (b. 1945), set to Morris' tune MOSHIER, which falls into the same structural rut as 78.2 percent of contemporary worship tunes. The lyrics sympathize with God, who bears the heavy burden of sympathizing with us. It all winds up nicely with an expression of confidence that God will receive and keep those who grieve, touching our hearts with "love's renewing springs." I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, apart from 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1055 is "Ayúdamos, oh Dios", words and music by Mark A. Miller (b. 1958), which repeats the same line of Spanish lyrics six times and, in between reps 4 and 5, squeezes in a single line of English ("Oh, help us, save us, grant us peace, O God"). And a squint-worthy pronunciation guide in the footnote. And no accompaniment. The tune is also quite repetitive, which naturally leads the newspaper reporter in me (always keen for a way to shorten a story) to propose omitting at least three phrases of it with no net loss of material. Or just eliminate it altogether, because (first) we should expect more out of a hymn than this one delivers, and (second) this is not a Spanish-language hymnal, etc., etc. So, 4 tacks.

Totaling up today's butcher bill, I see 23 tacks. That brings ACS's running total to 304 tacks in 155 hymns, or 196 percent. Yowza! And just wait, the next two sections include a hefty pile of hymns about social justice and environmental stewardship – everything poor, miserable sinners don't need when they come to the cross. We'll have to talk seriosuly, pretty soon, about whether the ELCA is the place for them to do that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Tacky Hymns 116

Returning to our tour of hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

As the section titled "Community in Christ" begins, 1036 is "Commonwealth is God's commandment" by Mary Louise Bringle (b. 1953), set to the Southern Harmony tune RESTORATION (cf. "All for Christ I have forsaken" in LSB, only in a modified form). There's also a refrain, which modifies the tune another way. There's a line in the refrain that says "Shanti, pax, shalom, maslaha" and a tiny, agate-type footnote explaining that these are "words meaning peace from other religious traditions"; in other words, blatant syncretism. Yes, the refrain states, shanti is used in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. While it acknowledges the Hebrew and Arabic origins of the other words it doesn't go quite as far toward making Judaism and Islam sound like Christian denominations. Nevertheless, the selection of these particular languages and the way the hymn and the footnote play off each other suggests that the author, and the editors of this book, want us to think thoughts of religious unity with worshipers in those "traditions." There's this line in stanza 2 as well: "God has sheep of many folds." Stanza 3 puts "genders" along with "races, tribes, and nations" among those the Holy Spirit calls to be one and, again, I could be reading into this but given the politics of the current millisecond, I would question the assumption that "male and female" exhaust what Bringle means. For being a bunch of hippie-dippie, syncretistic, Christian communist, let's-be-the-first-to-lay-down-our-religious-principles-in-good-faith bull****, the full complement of 5 tacks.

1037 is "Christ, our peace", words and music by Marty Haugen: a refrain without stanzas/verses, emphasizing how Christ breaks down the walls that divide us and asking Him to come, make us one body in Him. Only without capitalized pronouns. And that's it. It's so short that again I have to question its place in the worship hour and, consequently, what its inclusion in a pew book says about the ELCA's notion of hymnody. 2 tacks.

1038 is "God, we gather as your people", words and (rather uninspired) music by David Lohman (b. 1961). It's kind of a cross between a hymn and a protest song that gradually reveals itself to be a prayer that God would help gay people accept (and be accepted as) who they are. And of course, to open our hearts and minds, and the church, to them. For being diametrically opposed to Scripture's teaching and the form of sound doctrine (and also, for what it's worth, omitting the accompaniment), 5 tacks.

1039 is "Hine ma tov," Psalm 133:1 in Hebrew (not translated into English; you'll just have to look it up), set to the traditional Israeli tune. I know what it means and I've even set an English version of this Psalm to music myself. But I would far rather prophesy in the language my audience speaks, so that all may be edified, than to speak in the tongues of angels (cf. 1 Corinthians 14). Also, I'm unsure whether this inclusion of a couple lines of Hebrew is indicative of one of those triumphalistic, see-how-we-love-the-Jews-and-minister-to-them moments or whether I smell another syncretistic rat in the manger. And though I'm not sure there even is an accompaniment for this tune, it isn't included here. So I'm giving it 3 tacks.

1040 is "Love has brought us here together" by Bringle, set to HYFRYDOL (cf. "Love divine, all loves excelling," "Alleluia, sing to Jesus," "Lord of glory, You have brought us" and "Gracious Savior, grant Your blessing" in LSB; the latter a marriage hymn by Stephen Starke). Bringle's hymn is kind of a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13, the "love" chapter, also commonly linked to weddings although, in context, it forms part of Paul's argument against going overboard with the tongues-speaking craze. And indeed, the hymn wraps up with talk of two people pledging their union, which as it were sacramentally renews all who witness it. Despite the inward cringe at seeing Bringle's name in the credit line after what I've seen of her work so far, 0 tacks.

1041 is "God is love," words and music by Mark Mummert (b. 1965), "based on 1 John 4:11, 16, 19." I'm not sure where verse 19 comes into it, because the reference to verses 11 and 16 are sufficient to source all the lyrics in this very brief hymn. Besides multiple repeats of its first line, all there is to it is "Let us love one another as God first loved us." Again, we're not seeing a thought being developed, as we ought to and, really, realistically can expect out of a hymn. I recently confessed to someone in a Facebook hymnwriters' group who had written and posted a marvelous new hymn translation that going through this book had nearly gaslighted me out of believing that good hymns are possible and actually exist. It's in the growing prevalence of this type of non-hymn that I feel this process of gaslighting at work. It's almost as if it's what this book is all about. 2 tacks.

1042 is "May this church be like a tree" by Pablo D. Sosa (†2020), both in his original Spanish and in Andrew Donaldson's (b. 1951) English translation, set to Sosa's own tune. Again, begging your pardon, but an English-speaking congregation doesn't need Spanish lyrics and as for a Spanish-speaking congregation, this isn't the book they need. So those Spanish lyrics are somewhere between a costly sacrifice of page space and a tacky expression of some triumphalistic impulse. Also, omitting the accompaniment is especially unfortunate when it's a new, unfamiliar, culturally remote and therefore rather tricky tune. I approach the lyrics last of all. Using a running tree metaphor to describe the church, Sosa reveals what he thinks church is all about and, almost from the first, it seems to be about works of social justice. Also (stanza 1) to gather in "simple prayer"; (st. 2) to embrace the weary pilgrim; to "show the way (st. 3) of loving and self-giving" (i.e., more works) and only at the very last, to name God "a tree of life eternal." It's a pretty law-oriented tree, this church, and the ministry of proclaiming the gospel and performing the sacraments is barely part of it. 4 tacks.

1043 is "Spirit open my heart" (to the joy and pain of living) by Ruth Duck (b. 1947), to Alfred V. Fedak's (b. 1953) adaptation of the Irish tune WILD MOUNTAIN THYME. Thank you, ACS, for reminding me of a movie in which Chrisopher Walken delivers the worst excuse for an Irish accent ever recorded and Jamie Dornan, as his son, plays a man who believes he is a bee. (I have it on DVD. Drop me a line if you're interested. First come, first served.) The refrain calls on the Spirit to help us, individually, to love "in receiving and in giving." There follow three stanzas that expand on this desire to be energized to works of love that glorify God and serve the neighbor. For what it is, my only real objection is that the accompaniment is omitted and, at bottom, turning Irish traditional tunes like this into hymns isn't the best idea. For what it isn't – I almost cringe to say it but that's the gaslighting at work I'm sure – Where is Christ in this hymn? 3 tacks.

1044 is "Not for tongues of heaven's angels" by Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926), set to Peter Cutts' (b. 1937) tune BRIDEGROOM; cf. LSB 695. See me comment on that number here. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

That's that section, and that's this post. That's 25 tacks in nine hymns, one of which (you may recall) got zero tacks. That gives us a running total of 281 tacks in 144 hymns, or a tackiness score of 195 percent. Pee-yew!

Monday, January 15, 2024

503. The Word of the Lord Stands

And so continues the slow trickle into whatever cistern my fourth collection of hymns will become. As so often when I write a hymn text, I have no particular tune in mind. I'd welcome suggestions for one as well as a working title for the volume in which it will eventually figure. Something, ideally, that complements Useful, Edifying and Bountiful Hymns.

Lo, the dewy stem grows dry;
Clouds that cloak the sun rush by.
Turn as may the ages' worm,
Your word, Lord, stands ever firm.

Lands once known as just and free
Times of tyranny may see;
While the saints cry, "Lord, how long?"
Your word, Lord, stands ever strong.

Days of plenty, peace and health,
Fly away by force or stealth;
All the same, undimmed and pure,
Your word, Lord, stands ever sure.

Science, with her haughty claim
Plying faithful minds with shame,
Often finds her case disproved;
Your word, Lord, stands yet unmoved.

Lawlessness is spread abroad;
Sin, the present age's god.
Though men flee its healthful light,
Your word, Lord, stands ever right.

Withered though be all our joys,
This we have that naught destroys:
Jesus' blood on sin is spilled.
All Your Word, Lord, stands fulfilled.

By that word, Lord, You forgive.
By Christ's righteousness we live.
Let the heart that murmurs say:
Your strong word, Lord, stands for aye!

Friday, January 5, 2024

Tacky Hymns 115

We continue our wade through the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

As the "Hope, Assurance" section opens, 1022 is "God, bless the hands" by Marty Haugen, set to John B. Dykes' (†1878) tune MELITA (cf. "Eternal Father, strong to save"). It's a disaster response hymn, first calling down God's blessing on rescue workers, then seeking comfort for the victims ("Save us ... from sinking sands"), and finally, bidding Him "teach us to live in harmony with earth and river, sky and sea," calling their preservation "holy work for human hands." I guess leaving that in God's hands just isn't the thing anymore. 1 tack.

1023 is "God alone be praised" (first line: "Oceans rise, the coastland trembles"), by Susan Briehl, "based on Psalm 46," set to the tune AD LUCEM by Zebulon M. Highben (b. 1979). Already my sense of pattern-detection is telling me that "Hope, Assurance" may be ELCA code for "Environmentalism." However, stanza 1 goes on to say that while the earth is shaken, God's love abides, His promise stands, and His word is solid ground. St. 2 leads off with "Nations rage," where people are driven into exile by "walls and weapons," etc., but "through the wilderness a river flows to heal," namely, "God the crucified." The third stanza find's God's mercy gathering what sin and grief have shattered, bringing life from death. It throws in a "peace, be still" and calls for songs of praise in place of "prideful thunder." So, actually, I'm all right with this hymn and will only give it 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1024 is "Here on Jesus Christ I will stand", Kenyan (i.e., Swahili) words and music "adapted" by Greg Scheer (b. 1966). You have a choice of singing the refrain in Swahili or English, with an all-but-unreadably tiny footnote explaining the pronunciation (only the copyright blurb is in smaller type). To the extent I can read it, it doesn't so much offer help as identify the problem: Swahili is difficult for English speakers to pronounce. There's a rhythmic figure repeated throughout this hymn that I would say might be challenging for the folks at Shepherd of the Cornfield Lutheran Church, but it gets repeated so much that they might just get it by the end. I wish there were more to the refrain, though. It repeats the same line three times, a wasted opportunity to deliver more content for building up believers. For making me squint at an unhelpful footnote, 1 tack.

1025 is "If we live, we live to the Lord" by Rolf Vegdahl (b. 1955), based on Romans 14:8 and Psalm 103. It's three or four phrases paraphrasing approximately one Bible verse, juxtaposing triplet quarter notes with dotted-quarter-and-eighth-note figures like an "I survived 'Jesus, Savior, pilot me'" boss. After looking at 1024 it's hard not to read those Kenyan rhythms into it; or maybe I'm just up too early. I'd like to say I have no objections to this little ditty except that it is so brief that its real usefulness as a hymn eludes me, and it's a tad dull. For omitting the accompaniment, 1 tack.

1026 is "In the midst of earthly life" by Martin Luther, set to its original, 13th century melody, MITTEN WIR IM LEBEN SIND. I think this may have been the hymn I had in mind when I stated, way back when, that there was maybe one hymn in this entire book that I really cared for. So, all right, I've spotted a handful of other gems since then, but this is still the one "Wait. This wasn't in ELW? What's wrong with these people?" moment so far in this supplement. For once, we see a gesture valuing the Lutheran heritage of hymnody. The translation is a fresh one by Susan Cherwien, in which I find no harm. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1027 is "Don't be afraid" by John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (†2019), set to Bell's own tune. It appears to be written for an unaccompanied, three-part ensemble or choir with the low part coming in only on even-numbered phrases; or maybe the accompaniment is omitted. I bet that accompaniment might be important, given the way the first and third phrases start with an off-the-beat rhythmic figure. It's a tiny, uber-simple, light-pop ditty that lasts about 10 seconds and so, once again, challenges me to imagine how it would function in a worship service. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to imagine why it needed two lyricists. Between them, they apparently couldn't think of a way of identifying by name who is speaking, which may be a drawback to putting God's supposed words in the congregation's (or choir's, or solo ensemble's) mouth. 3 tacks.

1028 is "When eyes that we once knew as keen" by John Core (†2017), set to the Scottish melody CANDLER, which really sounds like a Scottish melody, all right. It's a hymn about dementia, from the point of view of the loved ones looking on – again, a case for which I not only see a need, but have even tried my own hand. I think the tune might be a little too peppy for the tone of the poem, but I suppose something may be said for it going toward the purpose of stanza 4, which observes that memories of music are among the last to go. There is a touching quality to this entire poem, but if I had to quibble – and you know me – I might suggest that it's overly preoccupied with the earthy and specific details of what the caregivers of people with memory loss are experiencing, and touches but lightly on what it's asking God to do about it. I would prefer to see it push more strongly in the direction of relying and depending utterly on God. 1 tack, for omitting the accompaniment.

1029 is "In the peace of God find rest" by Joy F. Patterson (b. 1931), set to TUCKER by Thomas Pavlechko (b. 1962). It's a four-line blessing, whose fourth line is really a varied repeat of the first. Nice as it is, again, I'm struggling to visualize where it will play a role in the worship service, other than a quasi-liturgical, build-your-own-form-of-worship one. Which is a strike all by itself, in my books. For this reason and for omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1030 is "Death be never last" (first line: "We walk in light of countless faces"), words and music by Ray Makeever. It's kind of an All Saints hymn, or Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, or what have you. Some of the syntax rankles with me, like the last two lines of the refrain: "Saints be now the truth divining: Death be now but never last." What a time to be obscure. Stanza 2 takes a little more time out from speaking quite clearly, with my grammar sense unable even to make out a complete sentence in it. So the fact that this is probably the best lyric by Makeever I've seen so far isn't exactly high praise. Among other issues, the accompaniment is omitted. 3 tacks.

1031 is "In God alone" (my soul can find rest and peace) by the Taizé Community, with music by Jacques Berthier (†1994) and lyrics in both French and English. I'd quote the four-line lyrics in full if I weren't a tiny bit afraid of the copyright bogeyman, but it would only be to get across just how repetitive this brief hymn is, each phrase merely turning the words of the first phrase around in a different order. And I guess (without any score text to offer as evidence) that it must be meant to be sung over and over, to the point of hypnosis, because there's so little to it and it would be over so quickly otherwise. So much of this book seems to be devoted to an idea of worship, historically foreign to Lutheranism, in which music is either relegated to 10-second fits here and there among acres of spoken prose, or developed into an enthusiastic mantra while the speaking goes on. I think there are precedents for both options, in other religions; but not in Lutheranism, where hymnody is a key element in the laypeople's exercise of the priesthood of believers wherein they richly, deeply, thoroughly teach and confess the faith to and among themselves. Whatever way this Taizé stuff is going to play, it will be to the detriment of that tradition. Sparing it only for not outright teaching falsehood, 4 tacks.

1032 is "Lift up your heads" (all you bowed low) by Briehl, set to Highben's tune WEST LEESTAD, with a nice first-stanza-text-painting gesture at the end of the first phrase. It's a Word and Sacrament hymn, describing (though without overtly naming) baptism, absolution and eucharist, then stating that "the Spirit here abides," where "here," to those who have ears to hear, means "in the means of grace." Just a couple of nits to pick. One is stanza 3's description of bread and wine that, I feel, really needs to come right out and say that it's Jesus' body and blood, to put to rest the persisting and relapsing opinion that it isn't. The other is in stanza 4, where the phrase "loos'ning sin" had ought to be "loosing sin." There's just a difference, you know? For these quibbles and for omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1033 is "Nothing can trouble" by Teresa of Avila (†1582), adapted by the Taizé Community, to another Berthier tune, with lyrics in both Spanish and English. Again, this single-stanza, four-line hymn is brief to a fault, brief to the point of questioning its place in the design and purpose of a Lutheran worship service. Also, zooming in on the lyrics, it's a conclusion without an argument – another case where, after you read through it, you might think, "That's nice to say, but why do you say so?" It's like a refrain in search of stanzas of lyrics to support it. So, don't be afraid; "those who seek God shall never go wanting" because "God alone fills us." How does that happen? What has God done for us? Could we please have more? Or, failing that, less? 3 tacks.

1034 is "When it seems the day will end", words and music by Justin Rimbo (b. 1980). I'm struggling to figure out what this hymn is about. It rings somewhat of a hymn about the literal end of day, particularly in stanza 1; more figuratively, of some kind of affliction, whether mental or physical, and possibly death, in stanza 3; and of stanza 2 I can make neither head nor tail, other than feeling impressed by the phrase "we are dead and born again" (simul justus et peccator?) until the succeeding line, "and with you we enter in," throws me off again. The refrain is the least helpful part of all, and seldom have I been more frustrated by this book's (and ELW's) convention of not capitalizing divine pronouns so that I can't even categorically say who the "you" addressed in this hymn is. Also, the accompaniment is omitted. Also, there's an echo effect in each phrase of the refrain. I'm happy to see the work of someone almost a decade younger than me represented in a hymnbook but, at the same time, I wonder at the taste or criteria of the selection committee. 4 tacks.

1035 is "Though the earth shall change", another hymn supposedly based on Psalm 46, by Rolf Vegdahl (b. 1955) and Tom Witt (b. 1957) and set to Witt's rather uninspired tune WE WILL NOT FEAR. And again, I can't help asking why it took two lyricists to write this hymn's single, eight-line stanza, which has only one rhyme in it, and what we're supposed to do with it in the context of a worship service. As noted multiple times in this post alone, there is more than one possible answer to the latter question but they're all disturbing to someone who cares about hymnody and its place in Lutheran life. 3 tacks.

This section of ACS got off to a slow start, but it ended up amassing 30 tacks. That makes 256 tacks in 135 hymns, which makes the book about 190 percent tacky so far. The question is becoming less and less "will it go down toward zero by the end" and more and more "will it slope to infinity?"

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Tacky Hymns 114

Our critical sack of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings continues with the "Healing, Wholeness" section ...

1013 is "Anointing fall on me," words and music by Donn Thomas (b. 1949). The music is a nice little piece of jazz harmony with rhythms that probably won't go smoothly with musical laymen; so, perhaps more likely to be sung at than by the congregation. The lyrics entirely consist of three repeats of the phrase above, plus "Let the power of the Holy Ghost fall on me." So, barring hypnotic repetition, there isn't much to it. Or rather, the congregation isn't going to get much from it, compared to what it could get from a well-thought-through, teaching, praying, worshiping hymn. 2 tacks.

1014 is "When we must bear persistent pain" by Ruth Duck (b. 1947), set to the Southern Harmony tune PROSPECT (cf. "Creating God, your fingers trace" in ELW). I respect the attempt to write a hymn to address aging and infirmity – a need that I recognize to the extent of taking a run at it myself. But I think it could hit the target better if it tied in the means of grace: especially where it calls on "Holy Presence" to bring peace, warmth and healing light (st. 1). Also, this hymn would sit much more comfortably in my gut if it put a more Personal name on the God it addresses. 2 tacks.

1015 is "As a mother comrforts her child," words and music by Brian Wentzel (b. 1979; pictured is an organist by that name). It's a Trinitarian blessing in which all three Persons are described using a feminine analogy (a hen gathering her brood, a wise one counseling her friend, etc.) After decades of viewing, from the sidelines, the ELCA's and its constituent church bodies' program of feminizing God and with Him, the ministry, I smell a rat. The music is harmless but, with it, rather banal. 2 tacks.

1016 is "Cast out, O Christ" by Mary Louise Bringle (b. 1953), set to the Kentucky Harmony tune CONSOLATION (cf. "The King has come when morning dawns" in both LSB and ELW; also "O Lord, throughout these forty days" in ELW). Bringle's hymn puts biblical accounts of demon possession to work in a prayer about our mental and emotional struggles. I'm ambivalent about this; not because I don't recognize the need for hymns addressing mental health issues (I've written one or two, myself), but because I worry about metaphorizing clean out of existence the gospels' literal accounts of real battles with the forces of darkness. However, what I take away I am obliged to give back with such a stanza 4 that it says "Your word breathes life and health and hope that break through evil's thrall," etc. For teetering dangerously on the brink of confusing mental illness and demon possession, through language that certain people may not understand to be figurative, 1 tack.

1017 is "Come to me, O weary traveler" by Sylvia G. Dunstan (†1993), set to the tune AUSTIN by William P. Rowan (b. 1951). The entirety of the hymn's four stanzas is enclosed in quotes, comprising a slow-paced, repetition-fraught paraphrase of Jesus' "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden" saying in Matthew 11:28-30. There's no harm in it, but it really doesn't add anything to its loose paraphrase of Jesus' words – no application or meditation, no proclamation or prayer. So, it could give us more. But I'll restrict myself to 1 tack, for omitting the accompaniment.

1018 is "Deep peace" (of the running waves), adapted by Ray Makeever (b. 1943) from something "Celtic traditional" and set to his own tune. I guess you could interpret its single, four-line stanza as a blessing (cf. "to you" in line 3). Otherwise, grammatically, it doesn't seem to complete a thought. Musically, it's very simple and yet, in my opinion, not particularly well written. The harmonic structure leaves me a bit cold, and there's a repeat sign at the end with a tonally inconclusive first ending and the alarming score text "to repeat" – alarming, I say, because it doesn't specify how many times we're supposed to repeat it, and nor does the second ending's score text "last time" enlighten us on that point. It does, at least, resolve at last to a tonic chord. For the creeping idea that we may be repeating this trite little ditty for a long time, and for offering a blessing that has nothing to do with God (all waves, air, stars and earth), I'm laying the full complement of 5 tacks on this number. I mean, really, as a minimum requirement to be in a Lutheran hymnal, shouldn't a song be specifically Christian?

1019 is "Lord Jesus Christ, lover of all", words and music by John L. Bell (b. 1949) – a piece so brief that its two systems, harmony and all, fill out the bottom of the page under the latter two-thirds of 1018. And that harmony includes little alto-line echo effects. The lyrics consist entirely of the above phrase and "trail wide the hem of your garment, bring healing, bring peace." Nevertheless I have to admit, this hymn has a bunch of things 1018 is missing. Like, for example, a meaningful chord structure and, you know, Jesus. My only quibble is that it's so darn short; it's like the precis of a proposed hymn that didn't get picked up by the publisher. Would that its author had taken his concept a bit further. As it is, I have to wonder what practical use it can have as a hymn, being over in less time than the introduction the organist will play to give the congregation time to find the page. 1 tack.

1020 is "Let my spirit always sing" by Shirley Erena Murray (†2020), set to the tune SPIRITSONG by Jane Marshall (†2019). Musically, it's a touching, richly harmonized piece that I loved at first play-through, though I'm a little concerned about what will happen to Mrs. Schmeckpepper's confidence when she spots the key signature in D-flat major (5 flats). I wonder how important that is when both C major (zero sharps or flats) and D major (two sharps) are just a half-step away. Meanwhile, Murray's text grabbed me right in stanza 1 with its phrase "though my heart be wintering," going on to pray for God to keep a song there even when he doesn't feel present. Moving from mental affliction to physical, st. 2 invites God's word to be at work within even a mind shut up inside a disabled body. St. 3 engages with aging, calling on God to "give me wit to welcome change," and to help me find joy in the knowledge I retain. The final stanza concludes with a prayer that the Spirit (capital ess) will answer my spirit's song, sustaining my trust through life and death. Being the twerp that I am, I never provided for the possibility of awarding negative tacks, so the best I can do is say 0 tacks for this one and admit that I got a little choked up reading it.

1021 is "O God, to You I cry in pain" by the same Murray, this time set to Marty Haugen's (b. 1950) tune SHANTI (cf. "We walk by faith and not by sight" in both ELW and LSB). Again, it calls on God for help in times of infirmity, "when mind and body out of tune bring fears I cannot speak" (st. 1). St. 2 calls for help accepting my illness and trusting the skill of my caregivers. Stanza 3 adds an odd sentiment about the comfort that a loving, human touch can give; maybe a reference to a laying on of hands? And finally, st. 4 asks for peace of mind and relief from fear. So, again, a very effective and understanding hymn about, and for, those who suffer in body and mind. Regretfully, I have to give it 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

A little surprised that a single topic carried me this far in today's installment, I guess I'll pause here. And I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised to find in Shirley Murray's two hymns, right at the end of the set, feats of "useful hymn" writing that I wouldn't mind seeing in a collection for home or church use over on my side of Lutheranism – maybe even something designed specifically for use in institutional chapels and visitation ministries. But on the whole, we're looking at 15 new tacks, making the running total 226 tacks in 121 hymns. That's currently a tackiness rate of about 187 percent.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Am I the Idiot?

I just got a column into the local newspaper, urging people to "look on the bright side" of Minnesota's new flag. I pointed out a bunch of reasons why, in my opinion, it's an improvement on the old flag and will, over time, grow to become a point of state pride. I also answered some objections that I've heard floating around, such as the charge that the new state flag is a ripoff of the flag (or a flag) of Somalia. And despite my pointing out that the similarities between them are really very slight, I've already received two voicemails from irate readers who, in one case, called me a f***ing idiot and, in the other, told me to look at the flag of Djibouti.

Well, here for comparison is the flag of Somalia.
Notice that, instead of an 8-sided star in a K-shaped (or abstractly Minnesota-shaped) canton of a contrasting shade of blue, Somalia's flag has its 5-pointed star in the center of a solid blue field. I don't think any reasonable person would confuse them.

Just to be sure that I was looking at the right flag of Somalia, here's a former flag of the Somali region of Ethiopia:
And here's the flag of one of Somalia's constituent regions:
We're not going to get confused with those, are we? I mean, the flag of that region within Somalia has one big white, 5-pointed star on a blue field at the fly end, and two smaller, green, 5-pointed stars on a triangular, white canton that points toward the center of the flag. If you said "white star on a blue field with an angular canton in a contrasting color" but didn't actually look at this flag, you might think it was a description of the Minnesota flag. But saying they're the same flag would be ridiculous. And as for the Somali Region, forget about it. The angle of the blue canton points the wrong way; the star has the wrong number of points; and those three stripes, including two colors nowhere near Minnesota's new flag, clinch the case. There's no mistaking the two flags for each other.

And here is the flag of Djibouti, which is supposedly even more similar to Minnesota's new flag than the Somalian examples:
Really? I don't see it. Again, look at the shapes, the angle, the stripes, the colors, the number of points on the star. Red, 5-pointed, on a white canton, a triangle pointing toward the fly end, with two stripes, one of them green. Two of those colors aren't even on our new state flag. And am I the idiot for not being able to see how a red star on a white triangle, pointing outward from the hoist, is exactly similar to a white star on a dark blue, K-shaped canton? I ask again, am I the idiot?

Meanwhile, I would now like to point out several examples of international flags that no one seems to have trouble telling apart despite their mutual similarities being much more pronounced than the supposedly identical Minnesota and Djibouti or Somalia flags. Like these three countries – Bangladesh, Japan and Palau. My goodness! How do they tell each other's flags apart?
Or how about these flags, representing (respectively) Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Oh, my gosh! How could they possibly expect people to keep those straight?
And finally, with no further visual aids, consider all the umpty-ump countries whose flags comprise three stripes, horizontal or vertical, some of which are actually almost identical ... and if their similarity hasn't been a problem, what's wrong with Minnesota's truly unique and distinctive flag? It doesn't look remotely like the flags these folks are saying are exactly the same. I think they need to have their eyes checked.