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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!


Anonymous said…
I heard about that email as well...

As for my personal "faves", here are the top 10 at the moment (would probably be a slightly different list if I was asked another time):

1. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
2. Here I Am Lord
3. How Firm A Foundation
4. O Come O Come Emmanuel
5. O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
6. One Bread, One Body
7. The Summons (in 'The Faith We Sing')
8. Be Thou My Vision
9. Go Down Moses
10. We Are Called

Anonymous said…

My personal favorite hymn is:

Faith of Our Fathers - since I was a young boy, I have always loved that tune. As a young adult when I truly began to learn Church history and the trials and tribulations of great historical Christians both male and female. It took on even more significance and had already become one of my favorite hymns. I was baptized on Father’s Day in 1991. It just so happened that as I came forward for Christian baptism, the choir sang and the organ played the first two stanzas of “Faith of Our Fathers”. I then was asked the questions to profess my faith, and as I knelt and received Christian Baptism, with my own father standing behind me, the Choir sang the final stanza. My own Christian Baptism is the first thing I think of anytime I hear that hymn playing.

I think you are getting too hung up when you say that it is hard for you to sing "fathers". It is standard English (or at least it used to be) that terms such as Fathers applies equal to both male and female members when speaking in a plural manner about a whole group. I could equally argue that when you substitute the word martyrs, your have just excluded many more men and women of great faith who suffered great persecution, but who weren't actually martyred.

I also LOVE "Onward Christian Soldiers". We are told in the Holy Bible that we ARE at war with a great, powerful, and evil enemy. We are told as Christians in Ephesians to put on the ARMOUR of God. The hymn states, "....marching as to war", not marching off to war. For the same reason, I love "the Battle Hymn of the Republic."

My point is there is a lot of tremendously good theology in these hymns. Much more than you will get in a whole CD of praise choruses.

I personally think the UMC needs to be worrying about a lot of things that are a lot more important to the Kingdom of God (oops, I didn't say Queendom) than whether or not we need a new hymnal.

Shucks, my UMC still uses the old Cokesbury hymnal a lot of Sundays.
TN Rambler said…
I haven't really found any theologically troubling hymns (not that I've really looked for any) but I do know some that have tunes that are unsingable or that I just don't care for.

For example, God Hath Spoken By The Prophets is one that I just cannot stand...the tune is absolutley hideous and I'm used to hearing it played by an organist who treats it like a dirge...actually he makes a dirge look peppy as compared to the way he plays that tune. Now, the words may be great theologically , but what's the point if all I'm thinking is "please let this end soon?"

My favorites include Be Thou My Vision, O Love Divine What Hast Thou Done, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross and Amazing Grace.
Anonymous said…
I find I am closest to God, when I am closest to creation/nature, so I'm not surprised to find many of my favorite hymns are about the beauty of creation like, "God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale" and "Hymn of Promise." I also can't not cry every time I sing, "Let There Be Peace on Earth." It moves me every time.

I think In Faith We Sing is awesome. My church has used a number of the shorter hymns as a way to prepare us for prayer or reflect after the sermon. I think the supplement has some really good contemplative hymns.
Christopher said…
Just wanted to mention that Onward Christian Soldiers is a piece of hymnal satire. Did a little research while at Drew and found out that the author had a few beefs with his own government at the time. If only we knew what we were singing.
Peter Attwood said…
My two favorites at the moment:

1) Pink Floyd, "On the Turning Away," which is the best exposition I've heard anywhere Jesus on apostasy and how to avoid it (Matthew 24:10-13, 25:31-46).

2) Gerry Rafferty, "The Ark." It does a remarkable job of bringing together the rescue from Noah's flood and going out of the world's dream in order to truly know and be known. It places in perspective Paul's statement that we knwo no man according to the flesh, even if we once knew Jesus according to the flesh. Knowing according to the flesh is antagonistic to knowing in reality, as Jesus pointed out in Nazareth (Luke 4).

I don't have a problem with war in our hymns, so long as it's handled correctly. Not only knowing but also war is according to the flesh or for real, and the two are antagonistic. So to be free from the bewitchment of worldly warfare requires getting into the real war, the good fight of faith, and really finding out what it is and what it's not.
Beth Quick said…
Chris - that's pretty cool, thanks for that info.

Peter - I like the way you reflect on the war imagery - thanks.
John said…
We don't have The Faith We Sing. We just use the 1989 Hymnal. I really like "Victory in Jesus" and "Amazing Grace". "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" has taken a foothold in me.

I would like to see an end to "In the Garden", which is, to my knowledge, the most theologically vacuous hymn in the book. The ostensibly patriotic hymns that directly point to any particular nation should be axed.

And I don't know about the hymns, but there are parts of the Book of Worship that bother me because they firt too much with a Goddess-figure.
Anonymous said…
" 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. "

For a slightly different but no less awesome description of Christ read Revelation 19 from verse 11. :)

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