Tuesday, February 27, 2024

505. To Have the Mind of Christ

I forget how long ago I started writing this hymn. A fragment of the first stanza has been sketched out on paper for months, at least, awaiting completion. I decided to complete it today, creating what is in effect another Fruit of the Spirit hymn. (Also see here.) Relevant Scripture references include Galatians 5:22 and Philippians 2:5-11. At this time, I have no particular tune in mind, but lots of options exist including several that I have written myself. So, no worries.

O holy Mind, that did not think
To seize Your crown by force, to shrink
From death by cross, all man to serve:
You suffered loss with awful nerve.
You scorned the shame; You shamed the scorn
Of them who crowned Your brow with thorn.
Your crimson badge now on me bind;
In me plant such a servant mind.

In me plant love, that from my breast
May flow what serves my neighbor best.
In me plant joy, that I may lift
A thankful song for every gift.
In me plant peace, and make an end
Of strifes that in my heart contend.
All these from Your own Spirit flow,
That I and all Your mind might know.

In me plant patience, bearing pain,
That I may count my losses gain.
In me plant kindness, showing grace
Like what on me beams from Your face.
In me plant goodness, pouring care
On all who my redemption share.
On all these graces let me draw;
Against such things there is no law.

In me plant faithfulness through all,
Come bitter wormwood, acrid gall.
In me plant meekness, bearing blows
With grace none but the Spirit knows.
In me, indeed, plant self-control,
Abhorring sin with all my soul
Till, falling down before Your throne,
Your name as Lord of all I own.

In these good gifts, good Lord, I find
The pattern of Christ Jesus' mind:
Who could have struck Your mockers dead,
But bore their load of sin instead.
Now, covered by Your paschal blood,
Let me imbibe that selfsame good
Which, binding Three in One above,
Now fills the world with saving love.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Tacky Hymns 121

It's yet another installment of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings! Yay!!!

Going into the "Commitment, Discipleship" section, 1085 is "Hope of the world" by Georgia Harkness (†1974), set to the 16th century tune DONNE SECOURS; in LSB 690 it's set to EIRENE. I previously commented on it here. Was I too hard on it? I dunno. I'll let it go by with 0 tacks.

1086 is "O God, who gives us life and breath" by Carl P. Daw Jr. (b. 1944), set to NOEL, an English tune arranged by Arthur Sullivan (†1900) – don't laugh, this is serious – which some of us actually recall seeing paired with the Christmas hymn "It came upon the midnight clear" (cf. the Common Service Book & Hymnal). Stanza 1 calls on the God who calls us out of death to life, bidding Him "deliver us from fears that kill the life we have from you." St. 2 finds God calling us from the "bleak abyss of doubt" and the "wastes of empty lies," asking Him to refresh us with undying hope. St. 3 addresses Him as the "God of covenant of law" and and says, "We dare not speak your name." It concludes that we are drawn to Him by faith as he writes His "covenant of love" on our hearts. I'd call it an OK hymn but I'm rather astonished to find, really, no gospel in it. 2 tacks.

As the "Praise, Thanksgiving" section begins, 1087 is "Glory to God, whose goodness shines," words and music by Paul M. Vasile (b. 1976), based on the Gloria Patri ("Glory be to the Father..."). It interpolates a few lines of description of each Person of the Trinity into the text, to fill out the meter, which I suppose is in keeping with the tradition of liturgical paraphrases. It does so in a pop-musicky style, accompaniment omitted. And its second stanza doesn't do anything except repeat "World without end, without end. Amen" three times before returning to the refrain "As it was in the beginning," etc., which makes stanza 2 redundant. It's a little slip of a thing that doesn't do what a hymn is designed to do. It should probably be part of a liturgical setting, or at least a section set aside for optional service music, and though the next couple of hymns deliver the fleeting impression that that's what this section is, it isn't. 2 tacks.

1088 is "Hallelujah," or rather, "Halle, hallelujah," just those words over and over, set to a traditional Syrian tune. It's again a tiny little scrap of a thing, even more so than the previous number, hardly of any use as a hymn but maybe as an alternative liturgical setting. For being in the wrong part of the book and omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1089 is "Holy, holy, holy," an Argentine traditional setting of the Sanctus and Benedictus, in both Spanish and English. Which would be great if this was a Spanish-language hymnal, but it's not. And the presumption that it will be sung in Spanish is underscored by the way the English lyrics don't even try to fit under the notes. If the message to English-speaking Lutherans is that they should try to forget about worshiping in their own language, message received. 1 tack.

1090 is "Heaven opened to Isaiah," uncredited Rwandan words and music paraphrased and arranged by Greg Scheer (b. 1966). The setting does evoke the sound of African-style part-singing, with some ossia notes added on top and bottom for people willing to try for a high or low F. Text-wise, it's kind of the Rwandan version of Luther's "Isaiah, mighty seer," telling the story of the prophetic encounter (theophany, technically) that gives us the "Holy, holy, holy," out of the mouths of angels. Stanza 2 adds cherubim to the chorus of seraphim, Te Deum-fashion, then pitches in "all of earth's redeemed" in singing, "Glory to the Lord on high" – so, we're covering the full range of liturgical hymns of praise. Stanza 3 closes the circle with the end-times song of all saints "from ev'ry time and nation," teasing the anthem of Revelation 5 but actually landing on a Trinitarian doxology. I'm impressed. In a town-gown church where there may actually be a chance of the congregation doing it in parts, it might be pretty cool. 0 tacks.

1091 is "Hallelujah! Sing praise to your Creator," the rare hymn in this book that capitalizes divine titles. It's by Tilly Lubis (†2002), based on Psalm 148, translated by David Diephouse (b. 1947), and set to a Batak (i.e. Indonesian) melody arranged by H.A. Pandopo (b. 1935), who (Hymnary.org informs me) is also known as Hermanus Arie van Dop, a Dutch missionary to Indonesia. It has a pretty distinctive cadence to it that might take a bit of adjustment for Grandma and Grandpa Smurf & Co. The presumption of part singing is, again, well-marked, with an "Oh" between phrases for the tenor and bass parts only. What I said about a town-gown church may apply here; but just as likely, if not more likely, this will just be a choir piece. Therefore, 1 tack.

1092 is "Thank you, Lord," a "traditional" hymn in what I'd call the "round the campfire" style of spiritual folk song. Stanza 1 is all repeats of the first line, concluding, "I just want to thank you, Lord" – and those of us who have remained conscious during the sorts of civic-religion prayer that usually starts with "Father God" know just how much the words "I just want" are worth. The same refrain follows three more stanzas, which, respectively, comprise threefold repetitions of "Been so good," "Been my friend" and "Love you, Lord." It gives so little in proportion to the time it takes up that the hot dogs had better be roasted by the time it's over. And until you get to "been my friend," it isn't clear who has "been so good." You might think you're singing about yourself there. Awkward! 4 tacks.

1093 is "In deep, unbounded darkness" by "anonymous, China," translated by Francis P. Jones (†1975) and adapted by Mary Louise Bringle (b. 1953), set to DIVINUM MYSTERIUM (cf. "Of the Father's love begotten") and notated in the manner of plainchant, with stemless noteheads. In my opinion, that's a solid strategy for getting Lutheran laypeople to take one look and say, "Nuh-uh." And it's uncalled-for, what with the modern-notation settings of this tune that are amply available. And really, if you want to achieve that effect, why stop there? Why not go all the way and use Gregorian notation and a C-clef? Then you can make even a well-trained organist sweat. As for the lyrics, they take until stanza 3 to mention Christ, but other than that I have no beef with it. For the needlessly intimidating plainchant layout and omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1094 is "Bring many names" by Bran Wren (b. 1936), set to Carlton P. Young's (b. 1926) tune WESTCHASE, accompaniment omitted. In bringing many names, Stanza 2 leads off with "Strong mother God," and that's before st. 3 gets to "father God," so you know this is going to get bloody. If I were in possession of an anathema, I would slap it down right here and turn the page. This is not how God has revealed himself; so you can take that name and keep it, sparky. Wren attributes creation to this mother; when he moves on to the father God, he depicts him (I kid you not) as "hugging every child," sympathizing with "the strains of human living" and forgiving. Then there's "old, aching God," like a bearded wizard, full of wisdom and moral insight. And then, "young, growing God, eager, on the move," a social justice warrior; and finally, "great, living God," incomprehensible, hidden, invisible, yet always near and our "everlasting home." Somehow among all these aspects of God, there is no Christ and no Trinity. You should tear this page out of the book, sprinkle holy water on it, then anoint it liberally with oil and burn it at the crossroads. I'd love to say, "Brian Wren, I'm done with you," but unfortunately I'm not. 5 tacks.

1095 is "How shall I sing that majesty" by John Mason (†1694), set to Kenneth Naylor's (†1991) tune COE FEN. Mason's poem is a personal appeal to be inducted into the celestial choir, and to be shone upon by God. It concludes with a whole stanza of superlatives addressed to God. To me, it seems more like a verse for private devotions than congregational worship, though I don't object to such artifacts being in a book of hymns. I'd be more thrilled with it if it said anything particularly about Christ. For omitting the accompaniment, 1 tack.

1096 is "Joyful is the dark" by Wren (sigh), set to Young's tune LINDNER. This time (unlike 1093) the darkness never breaks; all five stanzas start with the same line. In the first stanza, Wren characterizes the hiddenness of God, even revealed as "Word-in-flesh," as an unnameable "rolling cloud of night." Stanza 2 moves on to the Holy Spirit, hovering over the deep with "plumage black and bright" – a raven, not a dove. Where is he getting this stuff? St. 3 moves on to the "shadowed stable floor" over which "angels flicker," hailing the birth of Jesus. St. 4 finds us in the cool tomb, claiming that there was no dread and gloom while Jesus slumbered there (a claim the apostles might contend with). The final stanza depicts the glory of God as a "roaring, looming thundercloud" which, strangely enough, is actually biblical. Nevertheless, I feel, Wren strains to keep his unifying theme together, to the detriment of telling the story. For that and for again omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1097 is "Ten thousand reasons" (first line: "Bless the Lord, O my soul"), words and music by Mark Redman (b. 1974) and Jonas Myrin (b. 1982). It's a contemporary worship ditty that vaguely threatens (in the first line of its refrain) to be a paraphrase of either Psalm 103 or 104, but immediately backs down. For the most part. A couple of phrases evoke deep cuts within Psalm 103, like "slow to anger" in st. 2. I'd be a bigger fan of the genre if, just once in a while, its writers would make a real effort to actually paraphrase what they feint at paraphrasing. With the accompaniment hidden (except for a brief instrumental cue during the long rest leading back to the refrain), it's also not very helpful unless you've splashed out big bucks on the accompaniment edition. I'd call it more of a solo or a rehearsed-ensemble number than a congregational hymn. 3 tacks.

1098 is "Who is like our God," anonymous words and music, in Spanish and English (translated by Scheer) and supposedly based on Exodus 15. If by that, the credit line means the Song of Moses, it's a pretty skimpy paraphrase, though you can find the raw material for most of its lyrics there. Nevertheless, it devotes a line to dancing and tambourines, which is stage business between the songs of Moses and Miriam. And where is the pronunciation guide when we need one to explain how to sing "Jeho-" as one syllable? For gratuitous Spanishness and omitting the accompaniment, 2 tacks.

1099 is "Kneeling in the dust to form us" by Bringle, set to Thomas Pavlechko's (b. 1962) tune TURNBULL. It's an organist's hymn, vibrating with metaphorical references to the instrument, though I think some theological discussion is needed regarding st. 1's claim that as God breathes the Spirit into man, "we become God's living vessels." Is that in Eden, in word and sacrament, or what? Bringle depicts us as a pneumatic instrument being played by the Spirit, "sounding chambers for the Word" (st. 2), albeit with references to "fret and string" and "tempered bells" to keep it lively. It's all right as devotional poems go, but I think this one will toot right over the heads of laypeople. 1 tack.

1100 is "O beauty ever ancient" by Shirley Erena Murray (†2020), set to Alfred V. Fedak's (b. 1953) tune ANCIENT BEAUTY. Besides the word beauty, this hymn also addresses its addressee as "divine and Holy Presence" and also mentions the "beauty of the Spirit," each of its four stanzas culminating in the refrain, "In gratitude, in worship, my being sings to you." It's nice that Murray locates beauty in so many aspects of creation, but the way she identifies that beauty with God may also be a topic for doctrinal discussion. Beauty in darkness and light; beauty in movement and stillness, "in lovely form of face" – it's almost as if Murray is choosing her own means of grace and bypassing ones that God established. Am I out to lunch? I ought to be by now. 2 tacks (including one for omitting the accompaniment).

So, we're finally done with that book. That Book. Put a fork in it. Put a stake through it. Put another 31 tacks in it, making the grand total 412 tacks in just 200 hymns. And that, fellow sufferers, is a tackiness rate of 206 percent. Hey! It actually came down a point from its rolling peak at the end of Installment 120. Great job! Of course, you know what this means. It means that if you're into tackiness on holy ground, this is the book for you, with enough tackiness to saturate a book twice its length.

I said, way back, that there was maybe one hymn in this entire book that I wouldn't pitch out and gladly. That was a slight exaggeration. I actually liked a few of the hymns in this book. But after examining it in minute detail, my general impression of All Creation Sings is that it's not a product of people who understand or care what Lutheranism is or what hymns are; far less should they be selecting hymns for Lutheran worship. There are even a number of songs in this book that I wouldn't even call Christian. Let my convictions, knowledge and experience as a trained theologian, musician, and lifelong student, conoisseur and writer of hymns (words and music) count for whatever they may, heed my warning. Stick this book in your church's pews at your own risk.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Tacky Hymns 120

Once more (at least) unto our review of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings, resuming with the "Prayer" section ...

1073 is "Kyrie eleison," a.k.a. Haitian Kyrie, words and music from Haitian tradition as adapted and arranged by Andrew Donaldson (b. 1951). I don't know if it's a French thing or a Caribbean thing, but the "-rie" of "Kyrie" and the "-lei-" of "eleison" both seem to be treated as a single syllable, which might throw off some folks who are accustomed to the standard singers' diction for the liturgical Greek. The non-Greek lyrics are all in French, with a translation and a pronunciation guide reserved for the tiny, eye-straining footnote. Unless you're already francophone, putting the French lyrics together with the Caribbean rhythms might be quite a trick. This isn't a hymnal for a French-speaking church, you know. And also, it's supposed to be a pew book for the congregation, not a collection of choir pieces. For these fumbles, 2 tacks.

1074 is "Óyenos, Señor," words and music by Bob Hurd (b. 1950), "alt." – which is amazing, since there is so little of it to alt. It's four brief phrases of melody (on two staves at the bottom of a page), accompaniment omitted. Three of the phrases say the above text, which (the squint-worthy footnote informs us) means "Hear us, O Lord." If eye-strain permits, you may also pick up an alternate version of the text from the same footnote, as well as a pronunciation guide. The remaining phrase says, in English, "Listen to your people." Have I mentioned once or twice that this isn't a hymnal for a Spanish-speaking church? And have I mentioned what a hymn is, and what it's good for, and how little the purpose of a hymn is served by a little flake of a thing like this? For uselessness on so many levels, 3 tacks.

1075 is "O God, we call," words and music by Linnes Good (b. 1962). It's a single-stanza in five phrases, four of them quite short. The first two are the same; the remaining three gradually amount to "from deep inside we yearn for you"; and that's it. The accompaniment is included, for a treat; the harmony is unusual, with a warm, touching type of dissonance running throughout it before resolving to bare octaves on the final word, "you." I hate to say it, though: even at its brief length, it starts to get monotonous before the end. And that's before either repeating it to the point of self-hypnosis or, failing to do so, wondering why we used a slot programmed for a hymn on such a tiny chip of a thing. 1 tack.

1076 is "Search me, O God," words and music by I-to Loh (b. 1936) based on Psalm 139:23-24. It's four phrases of lyrics and melody, accompaniment omitted, like a refrain in search of a chant setting of the rest of the Psalm. If the intention is that it be used that way, the makers of this book show a certain lack of initiative in not laying out the rest of the Psalm accordingly. As it is, it belongs more in the liturgical part of the book and its usefulness in that hymn-slot that I keep describing is rather dubious. 2 tacks.

1077 is "Mercy, we abide in you," words and music by Bret Hesla (b. 1957). It's another unusual number, with a refrain for "all," then three stanzas of solo melody for "Leader" accompanied by four-part singing by the "Assembly." Which amounts mostly to humming and repetitions of "Stir in us, we pray." The Leader's three stanzas are a compressed litany, though for all its compression, it gets off to a slow start, leading off with three slightly varied ways of saying "In peace let us pray to the Lord." And the concluding line, "Move within each heart," hits me as a most unsatisfactory alternative to "Lord, have mercy." But then, we're not addressing the Lord; remember? We're addressing "Mercy." For bizarre and un-asked-for liturgical innovation, 2 tacks.

1078 is "There is a longing in our hearts," words and music by Anne Quigley (b. 1955). It's another litany sort of thing, with a touchy-feely refrain assigned to "All" and four stanzas for "Leader or All," accompaniment omitted. I think the stanzas are fine, but the refrain bugs me. It just doesn't rise to the same level of (cough) inspiration. Also, don't try to fool me; this is liturgy, not hymnody. I'd excuse it if the hymn section was over and this was set off as a separate section of service music, but it ain't. 3 tacks.

1079 is "Open my heart," words and music by Ann Hernández (b. 1957) – my goodness, what a prevalence of Baby Boomers one can observe in this book's hymn credits! Scored in three-part harmony a capella (on three staves, emphatically marked "Part I," "Part II" and "Part III"), to start with the music, it's an awkward bit of part-writing because the middle part is often higher than the melody. It's definitely not a round, however; Parts 2 and 3 are totally harmony parts, not countermelodies, and besides, Part III is notated in bass clef. I'd have described it as an SAB choir piece, but it's unclear which part is S and which is A. Also, you could almost save two phrases (and hence a whole system of music) by putting a repeat sign after the first two, except the B line (Part III) keeps going while Parts I and II repeat the same two phrases note-for-note. I hate to pick apart such a tiny little pencil-shaving of a piece, but I've got to comment on something and the lyrics, which entirely comprise four repetitions of "Open my heart," don't require analysis. It would be nice to see the author explore more deeply the Person we are asking to open our heart, if any, and what we want Him to open our heart to. But then this piece would be in danger of becoming a hymn. 4 tacks.

Going onto the "Trust, Confidence" section, 1080 is "Total Praise" (first line: "Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills"), words and music by Richard Smallwood (b. 1948) with a assist from arranger Stephen F. Key (n.d.). It's totally a contemporary worship jingle, despite its deceptively chorale-like opening phrases. It initially promises to be a paraphrase of Psalm 121, but almost immediately gives up on fulfilling that promise and just becomes your standard praise song, with a repeat sign to make it feel like there's a second stanza and a long coda with more Amens than you can shake a stick at. The keyboard setting is self-evidently piano music, not organ, and after that fake-out chorale texture at the beginning, it commits heavily to pop music stylings that will demand the services of a miked soloist or a well-rehearsed ensemble, except in the (I think) still rare instance where a congregation is so well-drilled in this style of music that they can sing the pants off of it. Get real. It's not a congregational hymn. 4 tacks.

1081 is "When memory fades" by Mary Louise Bringle (b. 1953), set to the tune HEGER by Jayne Southwick Cool (b. 1947). My sight-reading and -singing tells me it's a lovely tune. It's a hymn around the topics of dementia, the physical infirmity that comes with aging, and the end of life. I'd say it was a blameless hymn, except the last half of stanza 3 leans so much into the good works of the people for whom we pray that, I feel, it loses its grip on the gifts that Christ brings to the aged and those who care for them. It's like a funeral sermon that's all eulogy and no gospel. And sadly, that sours it for me. 2 tacks.

1082 is "O God, you search me," words and music by Bernadette Farrell (b. 1957). It's a paraphrase of Psalm 139. I think it has a pretty good thing going, particularly the line "With love everlasting you besiege me." Because the accompaniment is omitted, 1 tack.

1083 is "Be still and know," a setting of Psalm 46:10 by John L. Bell (b. 1949), accompaniment omitted. It has score text and a footnote suggesting that it may be sung as a two-part round. It's a tiny little scrap of a thing that only stands a chance of occupying enough time to replace a hymn on the condition that the round be kept going untl no one can stand it any longer. It isn't, and I'll be blunt, well written. It isn't "just has to be in the pew hymnal" material. 3 tacks.

1084 is "God, be the love to search and keep me," words and music by Richard Bruxwoort Colligan (b. 1967). With five stanzas and a refrain that twice says "O Christ, surround me," it seems to be a version of St. Patrick's Breastplate. It might be easier than singing the more complicated Breastplate version known to (some) users of LW, LBW, LSB and ELW. It even has a nice little Irish lilt to it. But I'm not sure that people who have gone to the trouble of learning that older setting will appreciate Colligan's effort to improve on it. And the accompaniment is omitted, so 1 tack.

I'll bet I can get through the rest of the book next time. Till then, we're taking a break. We've added 28 tacks in these 12 hymns, making a running total of 381 tacks in 184 hymns. Faith and begorrah, that's a tackiness quotient of 207 percent! (Pardon me. A little Irishness caught on my sleeve from that last hymn.)


by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 12+

In book 4 of the FunJungle series, Teddy Fitzroy isn't supposed to poke his nose into the kidnapping, or rather panda-napping, of the zoo-theme park's newest acquisition. When a panda vanishes out of the back of a truck somewhere between Las Cruces, New Mexico and the west Texas hill country, an international incident breaks out that could ruin the park's founder, J.J. McCracken. But the FBI is on the case – particularly, a certain Agent Molly O'Malley, the sister of Teddy's nemesis, park security guard Marge O'Malley. And a resentful Marge has dirt on J.J.'s daughter Summer, who happens to be Teddy's girlfriend, that she won't hesitate to spill. A little blackmail does wonders to motivate a kid like Teddy, and so he applies his mystery-cracking skills to the panda case despite being warned off by the FBI.

Meanwhile, there's also trouble in the dolphin display, where someone has apparently tampered with the playful creatures' training. Teddy himself becomes the first known example of this when a dolphin pantses him and throws him out of the pool, buck naked. In this case, his help solving the mystery is welcomed. But the two cases get tangled up when a bad guy wearing a panda costume threatens Teddy with a gun in the dolphin enclosure. Things get even more chilling when the same guy tosses Teddy to the polar bears, which is even scarier than having a tiger on the loose. But with incompetent Marge pressuring him from one side, and a brusque Molly ignoring his theories on the other, it will once again be up to Teddy to prove whodunit and restore the missing panda to where she belongs.

Like the three installments before this, this is a middle school-friendly thriller with plenty of laughs, thrills, and the type of learning that goes down easily. Readers will pick up fascinating tidbits of panda knowledge, as well as a few insights about pandas, polar bears and other creatures, all amid the zany setting of a theme park and zoo where something outrageous seems ready to happen on no notice whatsoever. For instance, get a load of what happens when Marge is at the wheel of a golf cart in a high speed chase through landscaping features, vendor booths and an animal-themed parade.

Further installments in this series are Lion Down, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks, Bear Bottom and Whale Done. Stuart Gibbs is also the author of the time-traveling Last Musketeer trilogy, 11 Spy School books, the Moon Base Alpha trilogy, four Charlie Thorne adventures, and four Once Upon a Tim books.

504. Temptation Hymn

Here's a hymn that grew in my mind after hearing yesterday's gospel lesson, including Mark's extremely compressed account of Jesus' temptation in Mark 1:13. I have no particular tune in mind. However, a couple tunes I've written in the past could work, including IMMENSE IMMORTAL, MYSTERIOUS MIGHT and SELAH.

Christ, who passed through a desert place,
Behold what wastes Your children face!
Wild beasts at every footstep snap;
Each thorny scrub conceals a trap.
By night the bog's deceiving lights,
By day mirages fuddle sight.
How could we find the narrow way,
But that You seek the lambs who stray?

Lo, You were tempted more than all;
Prevailed, restoring Adam's fall.
In Your blood-sweat and groans subsist
All we who, tempted, still resist.
Our lot thereby You once assumed;
Therein a precious hope has bloomed
That, having beaten Satan down,
We, too, shall don a victor's crown.

Give us, dear Christ, Your angel guard!
Give us conviction that Your word
Supplies all that we need to live;
And when we falter, oh! Forgive!
Our All in all, You would we praise,
You only serve for all our days,
Till all flesh bows with unseen hosts
To Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Tacky Hymns 119

The number above evokes the great psalm, but the post below continues our interminable review of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings, rejoining with the "Creation, Stewardship" section.

1063 is "God of the fertile fields" by Georgia Harkness (†1974), "alt." and set to Felice de Giardini's (†1796) well-known hymn-tune ITALIAN HYMN (cf. "Come, Thou Almighty King," etc.) Stanza 1 is your common, or garden, acknowledgment of God's providing hand in all that we have and need. Stanza 2 asks that we be good stewards, using what He entrusts to us to share and care for people everywhere. Stanza 3 riffs on the parable of the hidden seed but somehow seems to apply it to another prayer for good stewardship, I guess because no mention of what God does/has done for us can be allowed to stand still for a moment without the conversation instantly turning toward what we must do. Finally, stanza 4 acknowledges "Christ who died to make us one," though it strangely seems to distinguish Him from God, before concluding with more pledges and prayers about "all we say and do" so that "Your will be done." I don't know that I can point to any specific problem with this hymn but – and maybe this is something to be expected in a stewardship hymn – its focus is definitely on our activity as stewards, for what it's worth. 1/2 tack.

1064 is "Earth is full of wit and wisdom" by Adam M.L. Tice (b. 1979), set to the 1825 American tune HOLY MANNA (used three times in LSB, twice in ELW, all to different hymns by contemporary writers). It's apparently an Earth Day hymn, or something like, spending much of its three stanszas randomly listing different kinds of creatures, with humans (in st. 2) arbitrarily parked between spiders and redwoods. It somewhat has the ring of a children's play-song, making creation sound cute and cuddly, with penguins and platypuses in one line, monkeys and mice in another, microbes and whales in close juxtaposition, and only at the very end acknowledges one special thing about mankind: "With a breath God gives us birth," making us stewards, "called to serve the earth." And full stop. Not even a prayer or anything after that. Just, you're on notice, people: you're meant to serve the earth. (Would someone please check what Scripture says about this? I'll wait.) 3 tacks.

1065 is "Can you feel the seasons turning" by Mary Louise Bringle (b. 1953), set to the Welsh tune LLANSANNAN, with which I'm not familiar. This hymn is very concerned about climate change, melding Biblical language like "creation groaning" with ripped-from the headlines imagery of "icecaps melting, oceans rising" and, concluding stanza 1, a challenge to "count the bitter cost." Stanza 2 bids us hear the creatures crying, "the Spirit sighing as her children grieve and fail," as "nature's poor ... pay the price of human greed." This stanza's concluding challenge is to "stop and heed" – which, in practical terms, means we should do what, exactly? Stanza 3 takes the evidence of climate change and casts it as biblical "signs of warning" that "bid us open frightened eyes," urging on us God's call "to serve as stewards" and challenging us, in the final line, to "turn and change our lives." Sort of like a call to repentance, but intead of being directed against a specific sin that Scripture rebukes, it vaguely rebukes human greed as though that explains what we're supposed to do. What it seems to suggest about world politics and economics leaves a lot open for debate, which I have no intention to get into – and nowhere does any of it have anything whatsoever to do with Christ. Frightened eyes, indeed! Taking into account the omitted accompaniment, as well as the impression that this is a hymn more of the religion of environmental justice-cum-communist apocalyptic, 5 tacks.

1066 is "When at last the rain falls," two stazas and a refrain in the original Spanish and with the original music by Pablo Fernández Badillo (†2006) as well as the English translation by Madeleine Forell Marshall (b. 1946). The "I" in this hymn joins in the pretty flowers' and singing birds' (and tree frogs') praises of the Creator. I find no harm in it except the fact that, again, it's a novel tune for which ACS reserves the accompaniment for the extra-expensive, accompaniment edition; and, once again, the book acts like it's a Spanish-language hymnal when it quite clearly is not. I'm not saying that omitting the unnecessary Spanish lyrics would have saved enough page space to make room for the harmony, but I'm not sure it wouldn't have, either. 2 tacks.

1067 is "For the wholeness of the earth" by Bret Hesla (b. 157), set to his own tune. The first of its three stanzas begins "We lift this prayer" followed by the words of the title, all repeated three times and concluding, "Can you feel it rising in you?" Stanza 2 runs a similar game starting with "We turn our lives to..." and ending with "Can you feel it spinning in you?" Stanza 3 goes, "Give thanks to God for (etc.)," times three, ending with "Can you feel it rising in you?" In the context (i.e. section of the book) the feeling it seems to be probing for has to do with environmental justice, though pushed back a section to "Justice, Peace" it might have come across as a mantra for world peace. In and of itself, its message isn't very clear, except that Christ isn't in it and doesn't seem to have anything to do with it, and it might not be Christian at all, and the impression I've picked up that the makers of this book wouldn't care if it wasn't might be uncharitable on my part, but at this point I rather think the impression said makers have allowed to take root is on them. Also, the accompaniment is omitted. 5 tacks.

1068 is "The earth adorned in verdant robe", from the Swedish by Carl David af Wirsén (†1912), to the Swedish tune SOMMARPSALM by Waldemar Åhlén, and I'm tempted to award a tack just because of how hard it was for me to find the html code for that funny letter. The editors wisely omitted the original Swedish, even though it's the ethnic mother-tongue of many historical members of what is now the ELCA, because they noticed (dig, dig) that this isn't a Swedish-language hymnbook. Instead, they used the translation credited to Carolyn (b. 1936) and Kenneth (†2015) Jennings. Again, it's a hymn that joins in the flowers, birds, trees, etc. in their praise of the Creator. In its third stanza, it adds a prayer that God would "grant us grace to keep (His) word and live in love redeeming," recognizing that all life is transitory while God's word remains forever. For being the first thing that smacks of Lutheranism I've seen so far in this section, 0 tacks.

1069 is "God bestows on every sense" by Tice, set to Anthony Giamanco's (b. 1958) tune ALL CREATION NEW. It acknowledges the beauty that our senses collect as signs of "what the earth will be just beyond what we can see": in taste, a "crumb of the banquet yet to come" (st. 2); the vanishing imagery of dreams (st. 3); tiny plants sprouting on fire-scorched ground hinting of "forests yet unseen" (st. 4); and all concluding that "God makes all creation new," with emphasis on reversing the damage that humans do. I guess that's a more positive and, frankly, more believing viewpoint on 1065's vision of "frightened eyes," though it joins that hymn in its a priori tenet that all destruction and decay in the world is due to mankind. Which, in a way, it is; but let's not bring Genesis 3 into this. 1 tack for omitting the accompaniment.

1070 is "The heavens tell of your creative glory," a two-page spread of Spanish lyrics and melody, all in one stanza, by Horacio Vivares (b. 1965) with English lyrics by David Bjorlin (b. 1984). The omission of the accompaniment is problematic because the long-held notes at the end of the phrases create a need for some kind of instrumental filler. The lyrics start out as a paraphrase of Psalm 19 ("The heavens declare the glory of God"), but then, predictably for this particular group of hymns, they end with a prayer that God would "help us ... in sustaining the world (He) made, and in nurturing nature," etc. Even if we accept that mankind's environmental villainy is the main, imminent threat to all life on earth, I would think it would be evident by now that saving the world is beyond our ability. If we actually believe in God, our prayer to him should probably cut the "help us" out of it and just call on Him to save us, if He will. But it was evidently not His will to save this hymn from being printed with no accompaniment, and in an un-called-for bilingual layout (for a hymnal that really isn't for the Spanish-speaking church, in case I must mention it again): and so, 3 tacks.

1071 is "In sacred manner" (may we walk) by Susan Palo Cherwien (b. 1953), set to Robert Buckley Farlee's (b. 1950) tune SEATTLE, accompaniment omitted. In this hymn, the phrases "sacred manner" and "holy ground" turn the theme of environmental responsibility into a sort of sacrament, although God is barely mentioned (st. 2: "The heavens show us God"). Despite this single mention, the way Cherwien puts her thoughts together suggests that He may not be the deity these lines address. For example, in stanza 1, she calls on us to "love the living round that brought us birth," i.e. the "loving earth." The word "loving" is also attributed to the stars and the "suspirant ... green" (that word may be new to most people who sing this hymn); prompting the question, are these (the earth, the stars, the green) those to whom stanza 3 bids us "give honor and give gratitude"? The hymn isn't over yet. There's stuff about the noisy things of nature in st. 4 (waves, fire, wind, etc.). St. 5 bids us sit, "as at sages' feet," before the wise and loving ones: for "the animals will teach." Stanza 6 repeats stanza 1, putting more emphasis on Mother Earth. If stanza 2 hadn't given fleeting lip-service to God, one might take away the strong impression that this is a hymn of a pagan, animistic religion rather than of our God and Christ. It's such a close run thing that I'm giving it all 5 tacks.

1072 is "Abba, Abba, hear us" by Andrew Donaldson (b. 1951), set to the Korean traditional tune ARIRANG, which I believe I once sang, with its original Korean lyrics, in a college choir. Packing all these English lyrics into it makes it sound too busy, as it were overloaded, I think. The lyrics seem to be a paraphrase of Romans 8:19 ff., depicting the groaning of creation, as if in labor pains, awaiting the revealing of the sons of God. I think it's a nice little piece, but I don't think it suits its tune; and also, the accompaniment is omitted. So, 1-1/2 tacks.

It has become a theme of sorts, as I go through this book section by section: I start out thinking, "I might make it to the end of the book this time," only to reach a point well before the end of the section where my spirit begins to cry within me, "O Lord, how long?" So, there were a couple decent hymns in this section, and a few on which, if I had a sheaf of anathemas, I would put some down. Fortunately, such is not my office. I can only report my impressions, and my impression from this group of hymns has the phrase "hoo, boy" in it. I have, however, dealt several tacks: 26 of them in 10 hymns, bringing our running total to 353 tacks in 172 hymns. That's a tackiness ratio of 205 percent. Let that sink in, till next time.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Tacky Hymns 118

We resume with the "Justice, Peace" section of the hymnal supplement All Creation Sings ...

1056 is "Bless to us our bread", in the original Spanish collected from Argentine tradition by Frederico Pagura (†2016) and John L. Bell's (b. 1949) English translation, set to Bell's arrangment of the Argentine traditional tune also collected by Pagura. Besides a concluding repetition of the first line, the remaining lines of the text (in English) call on God to "give bread to all those who are hungry, and hunger for justice to those who are fed." The score doesn't come right out and say it, but it seems (from the belated entry of the accompaniment) that the first line is meant to be sung by a leader and the rest by everyone. For once again forgetting that this is not a Spanish-language hymnal, and for being a little speck of a thing that isn't worth filling a hymn slot in the service, 2 tacks.

1057 is "What does the Lord require of you?" – words and music by Jim Strathlee (b. 1941), apparently excerpted from Micah 6:8. It's a three-part round, with the first part of the Bible verse repeated twice in Part I, the second part stretched throughout Part III, and a Part II that lingers over keywords of Part III. The suggestion of singing it as a round is mentioned in a footnote with the auxiliary verb "can," as if singing the three parts in sequence is actually an option, though the parts are scored as parts and not as consecutive stanzas. Also, there's no accompaniment, suggesting an intention that the piece be sung a capella, but also creating the issue that Grandma Schmeckpepper (the church choir's rehearsal pianist) has to read three staves at one time, and not with the advantage of the third stave being a pedal part. For really being a choir piece, for omitting any notion of accompaniment (even for rehearsal purposes) and for being a little speck, etc., etc., 3 tacks.

1058 is "Let not the needy be forgotten", words and music by Bret Hesla (b. 1957), in an arrangement by Tom Witt (b. 1957). It's literally two lines of text set to two phrases of music, whose tiny duration is only extended by a melisma at the end (i.e., a series of notes sung over one syllable). And it ends on a dominant chord, which is to say, it sounds inconclusive. I'll bite my tongue sooner than kvetch about the parallel perfect fifths in the final cadence, since I've caught myself publishing PP5s often enough that I haven't a leg to stand on. But again it's a tiny speck of a thing; it's not unreasonable to expect more out of a hymn (and I won't be gaslighted again, no matter how often this book attempts it). 3 tacks.

1059 is "Come now, you blessed" by Ruth Duck, whom we know, set to the tune MATTHEW 25 by Emily R. Brink (b. 1940). It's an appropriate tune name for a hymn built on the Matthew 25 parable of the sheep and goats ("When I was hungry, thirsty, and homeless, sick and in prison, you showed me love," etc.). When it comes around to Jesus explaining when we did these things to him, stanza 3 puts details into Jesus' mouth that Matthew 25 doesn't find there, such as talk of war refugees. Stanza 4 concludes the hymn with a sort of prayer that's really an out-of-the-side-of-our-mouths exhortation to ourselves and each other, to see Christ in the faces of the needy and show them love; which is all very well, as far as "third use of the law" application goes, but it also omits the parallel condemnation of those who thought they did all these things but whom Christ judges thus: "I never knew you." Which suggests that there might be more to this parable than exhortation to do thus and so. Like, maybe, the application of an alien righteousness (from Jesus) that is appropriated by faith alone. Some might call that a far-out interpretation, but it definitely has a ring of Lutheranism to it. For being an incomplete account of its subject matter, and for omitting the accompaniment to this novel tune, 2 tacks.

1060 is "Gentle Joseph heard a warning" by Carl P. Daw Jr. (b. 1944), set to PLEADING SAVIOR from Joshua Leavitt's 1830 Christian Lyre – in other words, an early American traditional tune. It omits the accompaniment (the better to fit three hymns onto a two-page spread) but includes a footnote suggesting that it could also be used around Christmas. It dramatizes the Holy Family's flight into Egypt as "targets of a tyrant's army, seeking safety, fleeing strife," etc. Other than a hint (st. 2) that God was with them, and their sense of His presence helped them, the main application (st. 3) seems to be to ask God for courage as we move from place to place, and to be "channels of [His] grace" toward "every stranger," both to welcome them as "refugees from Bethlehem" and to "receive the Christ in them." Might that "every stranger" rubric be perhaps a little over the top? Could we be looking for Christ in people who do not have Him in them? Might this application of Christ's flight into Egypt be a swerve into the moralistic ditch when a pure gospel application is literally right there – with Jesus closing the circle of His ancient people's exodus out of tyranny in Egypt, assuming and thus redeeming even the plight of the most helpless, harassed and oppressed? 3 tacks.

1061 is "Caminemos con Jesús," a bilingual Spanish-English litany for which the leader's notes and the accompaniment have been reserved for the accompaniment edition (coughCHEAPcough). I mean, there aren't even musical cues for the congregation (all/todos) to pick up on. Just notes for a response and a refrain, and then a full page of lyrics printed as a block of text with the leader's part in regular type, the "todos" part in bold and an interlinear translation in italics, which isn't confusing at all. And still this book hasn't shaken off the impression that it's a Spanish-language hymnal, though it clearly isn't. For being a train wreck waiting to happen on so many levels (don't get me started about the footnote's squint-worthy pronunciation guide!), the full 5 tacks.

1062 is "Build a longer table" (not a higher wall) by David Bjorlin (b. 1984), set to the French carol NOËL NOUVELET. Accompaniment omitted, wouldn't you know. You can probably tell where stanza 1 is heading from just the lyrics I've spelled out so far. It concludes, "Christ breaks walls to pieces; false divisions end." I'm torn between interpreting this as a polemic against national border controls or, taking a cue from the line "feasting together," against closed communion. If it's the latter, I think the burden of proof rests with whoever is accusing necssary distinctions of being "false divisions." Stanza 2 branches out into another social issue: "Build a safer refuge, not a larger jail." Stanza 3, "a broader doorway, not a longer fence." Stanza 4 puts the icing on the cake with the argument that we lived as exiles until "Christ became our doorway to the reign of God," so our tables must welcome all; "none can be excluded." Yeah, it's an anthem to open communion, where (as the argument goes, when extended beyond this hymn's tightly crafted phrases) the church can no longer draw a line in the sand, or any type of dirt whatsoever, be it moral, doctrinal or even distinctively Christian. All of which reminds me of the tweet shown here. 5 tacks.

I really was thinking of taking this post further, maybe to the end of ACS. But this was a challenging little bunch of songs, so I'm going to give it a rest at this point. We've added another 23 tacks in just 7 hymns, bringing the running total to 327 tacks in 162 hymns. And that, beloved, comes to about 202 percent. Yes, we've broached the 200 mark. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Night School

Night School
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

This book takes us back to the mid-1990s, when Jack Reacher was still in the Army, before he became the wandering loner and brute-force fixer celebrated since 1997's Killing Floor. We find him still a Major in the Military Police, fresh off a top-secret mission for which he received a shiny medal, when he suddenly receives orders that at face value seem more like punishment than reward. He gets sent back to school.

The ruse that it's a school doesn't last long, however. Actually he and his fellow students – agents from the FBI and CIA who, likewise, just returned from a successful assignment – have been tasked with finding out who a double agent embedded in a terrorist sleeper cell was talking about when he said, "The American wants $100 million." No, the double agent doesn't know. But somewhere in Hamburg, Germany, somebody is fixing to sell something worth the purchase price of, say, a ranch in Argentina big enough to see from outer space. It's now a top national security priority to find out who that is and what he's selling, before a certain organization based in Yemen and/or Afghanistan gets hold of it.

The action moves from the Washington, D.C. area to Hamburg, where Reacher and Co.'s search for the American and whatever he's selling leads them across the German police's trail of a man who killed a high-priced prostitute. Now securing the cooperation of local law enforcement becomes a delicate dance across a landscape mined with such explosive issues as an American citizen's Sixth Amendment rights, the priority of catching a traitor who is potentially supplying terrorists with a weapon of mass destruction, and the U.S. government's desire to keep the presence of said WMD secret even while nobody knows exactly what it is.

Also crossing Reacher's path are just enough street toughs and neo-Fascist heavies to ensure he gets in a little bare-knuckled fighting and gun action. However, compared to other Reacher novels, this one leans more heavily into puzzle-solving and international intrigue, with a lot of suspense building up around how close the bad guys get to getting away with, um, what they're trying to get away with. The graphic violence you may have come to expect happens mostly out of the frame, while the threat to world security is what keeps the tension humming. That, and the many times the narrator omnisciently reminds us how close, at times, the good guys and the bad guys get to each other before they finally meet face to face. It's a cleverly constructed, intelligent, sexy and (still) quite violent mystery, starring a cool customer who takes big gambles and, thanks to his keen insights, frequently wins.

Lee Child is the author, or at least co-author, of now 29 "Jack Reacher" novels, of which this book is the 21st novel. The five latest installments have been credited to him "with Andrew Child," which is another name for his brother, spy thriller author Andrew Grant (not to be confused with the New Zealander author by the same name, also known as Grant Shanks). For the record, I haven't seen any of the Jack Reacher movies or TV episodes, starring either Tom Cruise or Alan Ritchson; though in my opinion, Ritchson looks more like the character I see in my head when I read these books.

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Investigator

The Investigator
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

Letty Davenport, for those of us who are doing a middling job of following John Sandford's "Prey" series, is the adopted daughter of a sometime Minneapolis cop, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension detective and U.S. Marshal, who encouraged her enthusiasm for guns, and with good reasons. One reason is that, before she joined his family, she hunted for survival and winged the guy who killed her birth mother. Another reason is that she also killed two killers who came after Lucas's family. Now she's out of college with a master's degree in economics from a major left-coast university, and she's working for a senator in Washington, D.C. Her idea of a fun assignment is breaking into her boss's campaign headquarters to dig up evidence on the staffers who are stealing from him. She's ready to quit and move on to something more exciting when the senator offers her a different job: working alongside a Department of Homeland Security investigator named John Kaiser to figure out why oil is disappearing in Texas.

Yes, obviously, somebody is stealing it. But why? Who are they selling it to, and what do they want the money for? The crime is so nearly undetectable that Letty wonders why anyone cares. But clearly, it's more important than it seems at first look, since at least two people, and counting, have died over it. First it's an oil company employee and his wife, ruthlessly slain in their own home. Then this crime somehow seems connected with the disapearance of an ex-con who testified against his former cellmate. Said cellmate is a right-wing kook who, along with a woman mysteriously code-named Jael, is assembling a mob of anti-immigration yahoos at the Tex-Mex border, and the closer Letty and Kaiser get to understanding what they plan to do, the more the timetable accelerates toward a brutal endgame.

This book's release is recent enough that it acknowledges a certain kinship between what Letty and Kaiser are up against and what the U.S. Capitol Police dealt with on Jan. 6, 2021. I don't want to get into an ideological hairball about that, so I'll just point out that if you have a problem understanding why 1-6-21 was a matter of serious concern, this book's fictitious scenario may set you straight. Or you could just experience the thrill of seeing Letty move around behind the lines held by a group of insurrectionists who have cold murder on their C.V. and more death and mayhem on their to-do list. It's that exquisite cocktail of being afraid for her, being afraid of her, dreading what the bad guys may do and gleefully anticipating what will happen to them. And it leaves a door open for even more hair-raising adventures to come.

This is the first of, as of this writing, two Letty Davenport novels by John Sandford, a pseudonym of sometime journalist John Camp. He is also the author (or at least co-author) of now 34 "Prey" novels, featuring Letty's adoptive father, Lucas Davenport; 12 books in the spinoff "Virgil Flowers" series, four "Kidd" novels (from early in his career); and multiple other titles, branching out into young adult fiction and sci fi.