Thursday, September 20, 2007

O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing...

A few weeks ago, the United Methodist News Service reported that the General Board of Discipleship would be asking General Conference 2008 to support the creation of a new hymnal revision committee. Not long after that, you may have read at the methoblog that a Good News email has gone out asking people to vote for excluding hymns from the new hymnal that emphasize feminine images of God. *I have not seen this email myself, but this is what was forward to me as the content of the email from Good News.*

The email:
"Good News was much involved in providing input and feedback to the Hymnal Revision Committee that gave us our current 1989 hymnal. We believe that significant grass-roots involvement saved the church from some serious mistakes that might otherwise have been made. The new hymnal added scores of Charles Wesley hymns and gospel songs which had not been in the 1964 hymnal. We will be watching this process carefully once again... We would encourage you to participate in a hymnal survey being done currently by the church. You can share your ten most favorite hymns as well as the ten least favorite that you would like to see removed from the hymnal. Mark Tooley reminded us recently that the supplement to the hymnal which came out in 2000, entitled The Faith We Sing, had some problematic hymns included. They were approved because the supplement did not have to be approved by General Conference. Hymns such as "I Am Your Mother," "Mother God," and "Womb of Life" to just name several, have problems theologically. They would be good for your removal list. To participate in the hymnal survey, go to: ."

I think "Mother God" must refer to the hymn "Mothering God" in The Faith We Sing. None of these hymns are particular favorites of mine, but I just reread the text of each of the three listed, and can't find much theologically problematic. "I am Your Mother" is a hymn subtitled "Earth Prayer," and is mostly a song about taking care of the earth. The final verse talks about God as Creator. "Mothering God" uses the word mothering as a descriptor for all three persons of the trinity - "Mothering God you gave me birth," or "Mothering Christ, you took my form," or "Mothering Spirit, nurturing one." Unique imagery? Certainly. Creative. Theologically troubling? Not to me, at least! "Womb of Life" is probably my favorite of the three listed here. The final stanza says, "Mother, Brother, Holy Partner; Father, Spirit, Only Son: We would praise your name forever, One-in-three, and Three-in-one. We would share your life, your passion, share your word of world made new, ever singing, ever praising, one with all, and one with you." The language used to describe God may be different, but theologically the hymn is well-rooted and grounded in pretty traditional theology.

I do find some hymns troubling. "Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war" has always been hard for me to sing. A song like "For All the Saints," with a couple verses I really like, mostly has verse filled with war and battle imagery. I know this language is biblical (as is some feminine mothering language), but I have a hard time reconciling this imagery with Christ, Prince of Peace. I have a hard time singing "Faith of Our Fathers" - although at least alternate language of "Faith of the martyrs" is listed for those of us who find it hard to forget about the faithful women in our Christian history!

Truthfully, though, my favorite and least favorite hymns usually have more to do with the music - the melody - than with the words. My favorite: "Be Thou My Vision." The words are good. But it is the music that moves me. Some I don't like to sing? "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," or "The Old Rugged Cross." The words don't bother me. But the music doesn't usually inspire me.

What are your favorite hymns? Why? Do you find some hymns theologically troubling? What are your least favorites? What do you think of The Faith We Sing? What do you think about a new hymnal?

Oh - and don't forget to click on the link above to take the survey!
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