Sunday, August 5, 2007

Anglo-rasto hymnody

In the oddest (and probably most publicized) hymnal story of the year, the Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (i.e. Anglican) plans to include Rastafarian music in its next hymnal:
[Bob] Marley's "One Love" and [Peter] Tosh's "Psalm 27" will be the first reggae tunes to appear in songbooks alongside traditional worship music on the island that gave birth to reggae, said church leaders preparing a new collection of hymns.

Church spokesman Rev. Ernle Gordon said on Friday that members of the Anglican Church of Jamaica were enthusiastic about including the reggae musicians' music in the hymnals, despite their sometimes vocal opposition to Christianity.

"They may have been anti-church, but they were not anti-God or anti-religion," said Gordon, adding that including the songs would help modernize Jamaica's hymnals.
I won’t enter (at this time) the whole debate about whether popular secular tunes are suitable for use in liturgical worship. Nor will I consider the role of ganja as a sacrament for these and similar musicians.

My visceral reaction was negative - as in the tone of the coverage based on the original (and distorted) AP article. While the AP article said “music,” the original article published in a Jamaica newspaper makes it clear that rasta tunes have been used for 25 years, so the difference will be the rasta lyrics.

The AP rewrite desk botched the story in another way — Tosh never wrote a song called “Psalm 27” (sure kiss of death on the Top 40 market). Instead, the original article talks about “Tosh’s version of Psalm 27,” which matches the page by Dave Bulow contrasting various Scripture passages to Tosh’s song “Creation” (including a reference to Psalm 27). At first glance, the theology doesn’t seem any more objectionable than some songs in the 1982 Hymnal.

Again, upon cursory examination the lyrics of “One Love” seem a relatively harmless combination of 1965 social gospel and Biblical allegory appealing to a Biblically literate audience:
As it was in the beginning
So shall it be in the end
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right
Meanwhile, the theology behind the inclusion sounds plausible in the original story:
However, the rector made it clear that the emerging genre referred to as reggae gospel was different from what the Anglican church was doing. The difference, he said, boiled down to the words that are used in each case.

"We make it clear that the words we use are correct theology and that they are catholic theology. We even have the Lord's prayer in mento. (but) whether we use ancient words or not, we make certain that the words relate to the Bible and to our own Anglican interpretation of it," said Gordon.
However, as they say, the devil is in the details.

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