Friday, July 22, 2016

11 Reasons to Keep Screens out of the Sanctuary

Blogger Jonathan Aigner at the Ponder Anew blog this week posted a list of 11 reasons why churches should not use projection screens in their sanctuaries.

Several of these points tie back to earlier points in this blog:

  • 5. Screens have hastened the decline in musicianship in the church. …  those of us who can read music are limited by not having access to it.” Even if people know the melody, as I noted almost seven years ago, the lack of a hymnal means the lack of musical harmony for all but the privileged members of the choir.
  • 7. Screens open the door to theological disunity.  Denominational hymnals contain songs that are considered, examined, and vetted for adherence to their theological tradition. ” Or as I said in 2010:
  • “This is also another reason why hymnals are important: a hymnal codifies a church’s doctrine and minimizes deviations from doctrine. It doesn’t matter whether the hymnal is photocopied, oversewn or a PDF: what matters is that it has been vetted the same as any other part of the liturgy. As Anglicans, we don’t allow just anything to be read as scripture or prayer, so of course the hymn selection should be put to the same test.”
  • 8. Screens have cost us an awareness of our common hymnody. Printing songs in a hymnal gives them legitimacy and permanence, especially when they’ve been included in volumes for decades or even centuries. Even when we don’t sing them, they remain there, and we encounter them in the pages. … Before long, we may lose the best of our musical heritage completely, simply because nobody’s ever seen them, let alone thought of recording them.” This is exactly the point I’ve been making since the beginning of this blog, emphasizing the importance of timeless hymns that provide “continuity across generations and the centuries.”
Aigner (and others) have predicted the imminent decline of praise music, but I doubt that the persistent rants of a few of us traditionalist bloggers will be enough to turn back decades of CCM. Still, the same principles that cause baby boomers to reject music largely from the 15th through 20th centuries would presumably mean that each generation would reject the previous — thus rendering obsolete the music that the boomers fought so hard to bring into the church.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Praise Songs with “Old Words”

There was a great post earlier this month on how praise bands update traditional hymns on Ponder Anew. The blog is by Jonathan Aigner, a Texas PCUSA choir director who regularly turns a skeptical eye towards the excesses of CCM.

Entitled “Modernized Hymns: Hymns, or Contemporary Songs with Old Words?” the post starts with a late 20th century example of such modernization at his Baptist youth summer camp by a praise song leader named Chris Tomlin (yes that Chris Tomlin). Even as a teenager it was clear that Aigner smelled something fishy about claiming that the new song — with bridges modulation and additional lyrics — was just a different way of signing the old hymn.

Are Modernized Hymns Actually Hymns?

Here is the crux of his argument:
But were we actually singing hymns?

I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

Of course, Chris Tomlin and other commercial worship songwriters have led a trend in the industry in which hymns are turned into commercial recordings, and then find a place in churches that practice contemporary worship. We see this even more in December, when everyone wants to hear their favorite carols and Christmas songs. So, all the biggest recording artists cook up their own versions of these songs, and church cover worship bands offer up their best imitations.

I hear from a number of contemporary worship apologists who proudly tell me they sing lots of hymns in their services, but that they are “refreshed” or “reimagined” in a modern style.

I think there’s a problem here. Though singing good theology is important, the way we sing it is also vitally important. Of course, that’s in contrast to the prevailing message of contemporary worship that says it’s all about taste, and that musical style doesn’t matter.

But it does matter. It’s about meaning, not preference. And music always carries meaning.
He continues with additional details of how to tell a hymn from a contemporary song with old words.”

When Was a Hymn Written?

This posting resonated with two other observations on a similar topic.

One was my own posting from last year asking “When was a hymn ‘written’?” Again, in other contexts people have claimed old words with modern music and performance styles qualify as an ancient hymn. It’s one thing to say that acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment does not change the character of an ancient or medieval chant. It’s another thing to claim that it’s a traditional hymn when you have the full-on rhythm guitar, electric bass and drummer accompanying your lead singer.

I think Jonathan and I have similar reservations about the efforts of praise band leaders to modernize traditional hymns while claiming the mantle of the long-accepted form of Christian praise and worship.

The Need for Reverence

The other thing that resonated with this theme was listening the same week to a May 24 podcast of Issues Etc. The topic was “Reverence in Worship,” an interview with Lutheran Pastor David Petersen. (The same topic had been covered seven months earlier in an interview with regular guest Rev. Will Weedon, director of worship for the LCMS.)

The interview drew on his article on the same topic published in (“The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy”). Alas, the journal hasn’t made it to the 21st century with articles (or at least a table of contents) from recent issues.

The arguments made by Rev. Petersen appealed to the authority of Lutheran and seminal Lutheran doctrine, notably the Book of Concord and the Augsburg Confession. In particular, he noted the admonition to worship “with greatest reverence.” But the actual conclusions were ones that should be shared by any liturgical Protestant.

One is that reverence is not (as some might claim) merely in the mind of the worshipper. Instead, it has an objective reality. As Rev. Petersen cited C.S. Lewis:
CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man tells a story about an English textbook, of a story of the artist Coleridge who overhears two tourists looking at a waterfall, and one says it's “sublime.” Coleridge says that is correct, while the textbook says that's not correct, that different people could have different opinions.

There is something objectively real in the waterfall that requires a response from us.
Rev. Petersen’s definition of reverence is
  • virtue — a habit of the heart, developed through practice
  • an attitude and feeling love towards God, tempered by respect, honor, fear, awe and shame
According to his conception, different attributes of this reverence wax and wane depending on where we are in the service.

However, to this conception, Petersen added a final element — joy — or a feeling of exuberance. This ties to the emotive element of music throughout the generations (including the sublime sacred music of composers such as Tallis, Bach and Mozart) without the excesses of CCM.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day

From the propers for July 4 as prescribed by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
The Collect.

O ETERNAL God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Excerpted from the second lesson for Morning Prayer (John 8:31-36) from the daily lectionary:
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32, RSV)
From the Prayers and Thanksgivings:
For Our Country.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hymns for the Great Banquet

At our (28 BCP) parish today, the gospel lesson was Luke 14:16-24, the Parable of the Great Banquet. This passage is for Trinity 2 in the 28 BCP, and also called out for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost in the 1962 Catholic lectionary (“in the Octave of Corpus Christi”).

We heard the KJV, but here is the ESV (the RSV is almost the same):
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go oJesus, Breut quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
This seems such a powerful passage regarding the nature of faith: all are invited but few (today ever fewer) will come. It also anticipates Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

In his commentary Luke for Everyone, NT Wright notes that beyond the two obvious levels of the parable is a third less obvious implication for the faith:
The party to which the original guests were invited was Jesus’ kingdom-movement, his remarkable welcome to all and sundry. If people wanted to be included in Jesus’ movement, this is the sort of thing they were joining.
Strangely, it is nowhere to be found in the Revised Common Lectionary (according to the Vanderbilt RCL site). Looking through tables of the 1979 prayer book, the passage is also skipped in the Sunday readings for Year C and only found in the daily lectionary. The ACNA trial use lectionary also omits this passage, as does the 1998/2002 Roman Catholic lectionary for the US. (I thought the point of the 3-year lectionary was to cover more Scripture, not less.)

Hymnal 1940, 1982

I was expecting to have a hymn today touch on this theme. Our communion hymn came the closest: “Deck thyself, my soul with gladness” (H40: 210; H82: 339), a 1649 German Lutheran hymn with a tune (Schmuecke Dich) by Johann Cruger and a text by Johann Franck.  Verse 3 of the translation by the great Catherine Winkworth says
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
Let me gladly here obey thee;
Never to my hurt invited,
Be thy love with love requited;
From this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give me,
As thy guest in heav’n receive me.
In fact, when I pulled out A Scriptural Index to the Hymnal 1982, this was the only entry in the book for this gospel passage (which confirms that the 1979 prayer book schedules the text only for the Daily Office).

But I also heard echoes of verse 1 from  familiar hymn that turned out to be an Easter season favorite (H40: 89, H82: 174), with the Jakob Hintze melody harmonized by J.S. Bach:
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierc├Ęd side;
Praise we Him, whose love divine
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.
Hymns Ancient & Modern

In my folder of PDFs of old hymnals, I used a PDF search to look for mention of “banquet” (which appears only 5 times in the NT — 4 times here and once for Herod’s banquet that brought the execution of John the Baptist). This offered a third hymn from Hymns Ancient & Modern, described in the 1914 companion to Hymns A&M as follows:
128. P.
The Lamb's high banquet (Neale), 1851.
Orig. ascribed (?) to S. Ambrose. It was used as the proper Vesper hy. from Low Sunday to Ascension, but without a doxology, which was taken from hy. 141 for all hys. in that metre. It was the custom of the early Ch. that Baptism should be solemnly administered to many catechumens on Easter Eve. These persons were now for the first time about to receive the H. Com munion, and therefore waiting to share that high banquet In garments white and fair, in reference to the chrisom-robes given at Baptism, and worn till Low Sunday, called  "Dominica in Albis." The tr. is slightly altered. Dr. Neale wrote "We await" for "called to share," and in st. 2,1. 3, he gave "roseate," afterwards altered to "crimson," and then to "precious." In a preface he specially drew attention to these alterations as spoiling the idea of the orig. "Though one drop of Christ s Blood was sufficient to redeem the world, yet out of the greatness of His love to us He would shed all. As every one knows, the last drainings of lifeblood are not crimson, but of a paler hue : strictly speaking, roseate. Change the word and you eliminate the whole idea. Besides which, Christ is the True Rose, is a second reason for this word."
As in the companion, my copy lists this as #128 but Oremus lists it (perhaps from an earlier edition) as #111. (Hymns Ancient & Modern had notable inconsistencies across the various editions). The first verse is:
The Lamb's high banquet called to share,
arrayed in garments white and fair,
the Red Sea past, we now would sing
to Jesus our triumphant King.
The rest of the hymn has more of a Revelation 19 than Luke 14 feel to it.

In conclusion, I’m surprised that this major passage of Luke has so little scriptural support. However, right now — beyond US Continuing Anglicans and the global Anglicans who use the 1662 BCP — this passage is not often being heard.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

What's not to like about praise music?`

At a recent ACNA workshop, one of the hosts thought it would be a good idea to bring in a guitarist and play some praise songs. This helped crystalize some of my thoughts about what’s not to like about praise music.

I’ll admit an Anglo-Catholic critique of Evangelical music might be a bit biased, but at least it’s a starting point for a conversation about the bad (and perhaps good) of contemporary worship.  I will also try (as best I can) to distinguish between objective defects rather than mere differences of taste.

1. Lyrics

Anglo-Catholic worship has an emphasis (as with the RCC and Orthodoxy) in continuity of doctrine over the centuries. This morning for Easter 2 we sang “That Easter Day with joy was bright.” (H40: 98). The Hymnal 1940 Companion says that it is taken from a a Latin hymn entitled “Aurora lucis rutilat,” via J.M. Neale’s Hymnal Noted and Hymn’s Ancient and Modern. The hymn “may be by St. Ambrose,” and dates to at least the 8th century if not the 5th.

Bad: Many praise songs are “Jesus love songs,” where the lyrics seem to express a (non-Trinatarian) secular affection for the great JC. The lyrics also tend to repeat the same idea over and over again.

This is not to say that all pre-rock band hymns are good. Even though Anglicans are (to some degree) the Via Media, there are major doctrinal differences between the Catholic and Reformed extremes of Western Christianity, such that the hymns of one might not be acceptable to the other. And the emotive (doctrinally suspect) praise songs of the past few decades have their antecedents in 19th century American hymnody.

Good: The first song of the worship “set” was the Trisagion — as Catholic and doctrinally safe as they get — albeit with an unrecognizable modern setting. The 1960s praise hymn “Bread of Life” (by Sister Suzanne Toolan) made the tail end of the hymnal era — musically like a 60s folk song with problematic voice leading and phrasing — but the text is an undeniably Biblical adaptation of John 6.

2. Reverence

Admittedly, this is the most akin to taste. We Anglo-Catholics have a visceral reaction against rock bands on Sunday morning, even though the majority of American Protestants (and more than a few Catholics) have embraced contemporary worship. On weekends, I’ve been known to sing 2- or 3- part Beetles (or Eagles) harmonies, but IMHO they have no place on Sunday.

Still, I think we can agree that there are differences in the degree of reverence to God. Are we in our lyrics, music and style reflecting the omnipotence of our great God?

Bad: There is a common concern that the CCM is worldly and doesn’t belong in church — whether because it’s schmalzy, trendy or faddish . My sense is that the churches that use this music don’t have this concern, so it seems about as productive as asking Democrats to debate Republicans over the role of the free market.

Good: A contemporary favorite is the 2004 Chris Tomlin No. 1 CCM hit “How great is our God” (#6 on today’s CCLI CCM list) The lyrics clearly emphasizes such majesty, althtough the performance style is often more 60s (or 80s or 90s)

3. Performance vs. Congregational Singing

When I go to hear a praise band, usually I have no idea what’s going on. They repeat themselves, they change keys, there’s a different tune for the bridge, they improvise, change tempo etc. For example, at my ACNA meeting the praise guitarist decided to dot the rhythm of a familiar tune.

This problem seems particularly bad when there are more than 200 people in the room: the band is performing for the audience rather than leading the congregation in singing. (TV services are also bad in this regard). There is no music on the screen and the words don’t completely show the meter or what is going on. The net effect is that the congregation — unless they know how this particular band likes to perform this particular song — doesn’t know what to expect and is partially or entirely left behind.

To be fair, organ-based choirs do this too. In either case, the effect is to discourage congregational singing — particularly by new members who are trying to figure out if they belong here.

4. Continuity with Early Generations

The emphasis on praise music seems to conclude that nothing worth playing was written before 1980 (or even 2000). For Anglican contemporary worship, that means we claim continuity of doctrine and belief with the historic undivided church — but not for key elements of the liturgy.

This seems unprecedented for the past 150 years — ever since churches began printing Hymnals. In the US, Hymnal 1940 has content from 1916, 1892 and 1872 US hymnals, as well as The English Hymnal (1906) and Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861-1889). Despite an intentional effort to make major changes in theology, style and inclusive language, Hymnal 1982 still has considerable overlap with Hymnal 1940. In its favor, Hymnal 1982 add some new hymns (“Amazing Grace”, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee”) that were written well before 1940, and well known to Protestants outside ECUSA.

Good: A few have tried to make compromises with updates to familiar tunes. . Chris Tomlin has an updated “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” where us old fogies can sing the familiar part even if we get lost at the 21st century bridge that makes it “fresh” (and newly copyright-able).

5. Continuity Between Parishes

With a published hymnal, people are using the same songs, selected and authorized by a central authority. The lack of a hymnal (whatever style) eliminates that likelihood that going from one parish to another will have familiar music. Different churches have different expectations about what is current and relevant; for example, attending contemporary worship in Texas exposed me to music that was very very different.

Good: at our workshop, the final praise song was the 2012 Matt Redman song “Bless the Lord, oh my soul” (aka “10,000 reasons”), #2 on the recent CCM chart. Everyone in the room knew it (I didn’t know it well, but had heard it before). Now these were all people in the same diocese who had worshiped together, met regularly and probably had music directors who shared ideas. Still, I was surprised at the degree of commonality.

Unknown: Will there be a praise song from the beginning of this century that will still be sung at the end of this century? It would be interesting to track how many of the top 20 songs were more than 10 years old. If there are many, then this is like oldies radio, jazz, classical, and consistent with building up a new canon of this different style of writing and performing worship music. If not, it would suggest that contemporary worship music is inherently transitory and temporary — a feature, not a bug.