Sunday, January 24, 2010

Transitory modern liturgy

When I was a kid, a common gift given by your godparents/relatives for baptism, confirmation or perhaps birthday or Christmas was a Bible; for us Episcopalians, it might also include the Book of Common Prayer. So when I went shopping for such a gift this month, I was struck by an unfamiliar dilemma, brought on by transitory nature of our modern liturgy, as well as the fragmentation of US Anglican worship.

For example, in my childhood, our Bible readings came from the Authorized Version (KJV), which had been the gold standard for 300+ years of Anglican worship. Yes, the 1950s-era Revised Standard Version was out — an updated version of the 1901 American Standard Version — but I don’t ever recall reading it or hearing it in the pews.

But in the past two decades, the ESV has been rendered obsolete by two separate updates to the RSV: the politically correct NRSV (1990) and the traditionalist update, ESV (2001). Even in centuries-old King James was updated in 1982 with the NKJV.

Of course, some of our modern proliferation — and dilemma — is due to the profit motives of Bible publishers seeking to crank out new translations in hopes of generating new sales. (Just walk into your local Christian bookstore to see them peddle a 4th, 5th or 10th Bible to the existing faithful.) Thomas Nelson owns the NKJV, Crossways owns the ESV, and Zondervan own rights to the mother lode of all modern translations, the 1978 NIV. (Let’s ignore the TNIV).

So with all this proliferation of Bible translations in the past few decades, it seems reasonable to expect there will be even more the in the decades to come. If you gave any of these Bibles to a child today, would they still be in use 20 years from now?

The prayer book problem is similar and different. What’s similar is the proliferation of choices and the more rapid turnover of changes. What’s different is that being a Continuing Anglican is so much more confusing than my childhood experience as an Episcopalian, as evidenced by our liturgy. When I grew up, the 1928 BCP was in use for more than 30 years. (The Brits had been using the 1662 BCP for 300+ years).

Today, the Schism I churches still use the 1928 BCP, but most of the Schism II (e.g. ACNA) parishes use the 1979 prayer book — in both cases, published by a church entity that they no longer wish to associate with. (Let’s ignore that the TEC will likely produce an even more politically correct prayer book in the coming decade, with same-sex “marriage” rites, etc. etc.) The AMiA asked Dr. Peter Toon to make a contemporary language version of the 1662 BCP, but I’ve never been to a church that uses it, and it seems like a merely interim measure.

Then there is problem I never could have imagined: what denomination will the child be attending 20 years from now? Plausibly, it could be an ACNA parish, a Schism I parish or even across the Tiber. So there’s no prayer book that’s an even remotely plausible choice.

Well, what about a hymnal? After all, today I still love and use my first hymnal, which I received as a gift for being a good choirboy. Any kid who loves our traditional hymns could sing the same hymns for decades.

The British used the same The English Hymnal from 1906-1986 — more than two generations with the same tunes. The Americans got one generation out of Hymnal 1940, although its predecessor (Hymnal 1916) lasted less than half as long.

On the one hand, I think the chances of a new Anglican hymnal (at least among traditionalists) are remote, due to the fragmented nature of the Schism I and II parishes. On the other hand, that same fragmentation means that Continuing Anglicans today use both Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982. So I can’t imagine any choice holding up here.

So, between the modern conceit of updating the liturgy, the egos and greed of those promoting “new and improved [sic],” and the fragmentation of the Anglican faith, what was once a simple choice for parents and godparents has become an impossible one.

What did I do? I bought an NIV Bible. It’s the second only to the KJV in current ownership (if not sales), and seems to be a common denominator for Bible studies. Although not a literal translation, it has the added benefit of being more easy to read than most translations, thus making a good choice for a first Bible and for someone not yet in high school.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A 21st century Lutheran canon of Epiphany

On his blog Thinking Out Loud, pastor Rick Stuckwisch lists the LCMS hymns for the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons from the Lutheran Service Book (2006).

Since I haven’t written about the canon of Epiphany, the list by Rev. Dr. Stuckwisch got me thinking. Many of these would be familiar to the Anglican singers — and to readers of this blog.

Some — like “Wake, awake, for night is flying” (Hymnal 1940 #3) and “Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light” (H40 #25) I would consider to be an Advent hymn or a Christmas hymn, but since they are both originally German, I’ll assume the LCMS (founded and populated by German-Americans) knows what they’re doing.

Others are recognizable from the Epiphany section of Hymnal 1940, including “As with gladness men of old” (H40 #52) by William Chatterton Dix and “Songs of thankfulness and praise” (H40 #53), which both have English words and German music.

Sadly, his list (and perhaps the LSB) seems to omit two of the prettiest Epiphany carols. One is the Prudentius poem “O sola magnarum urbium”, i.e. “Earth has many a noble city” (H40 #48). The other is “What star is this, with beams so bright” (H40 #47), with the tune Puer Nobis by Praetorius. While I don’t own a copy of the LSB — and there is no Lutheran equivalent of Oreumus — neither hymn is in my copy of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), the LCMS counterpart to Hymnal 1940.

So while there are many important overlaps between Anglican and Lutheran worship — and of course between Anglicans and Catholics — we still have important divergences.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oldest Christian B-side

Back when I was growing up, teenagers still bought their new music on 45 rpm disks. The artist (or record company) would pull some sort of hot song from the new album and put it on the front of the 45, and then fill the back (the “B-side”) with something else that was unlikely to be a hit. (Occasionally, they underestimated the potential of the B-side and the buyer got two good songs for the price of one.)

Normally when Christian musicians think of the Christian poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-c. 413), we think of his incomparable Christmas song, Corde natus, or, as translated by J.M. Neale:
Of the Father’s Love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
But during Epiphany, we get a second Prudentius hymn:
O sola magnarum urbium
Maoior Bethlem, cui contigit
Ducem salutis caelitus
Incorporatum gignere
Today, we don’t sing it in the Latin, but as “Earth has many a noble city,” hymn #48 in Hymnal 1940 (or #127 for those who use Hymnal 1982). [Conjubilant with Song also blogs on this hymn during this Epiphany season.]

The text was translated by Edward Caswall. As with “Of the father’s love,” both Hymnals use the version from Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861). Somehow the 1982 crew resisted the temptation to bowdlerize the text (perhaps because the M-word was absent.)

Of course, this is not really a B-side. Ignoring the lack of 120V AC and phonographs in the 5th century, the tune for both hymns is an anachronism — in this case, the ever-popular Stuttgart (1715) attributed to C.F. Witt. (Although Stuttgart is better known for the Advent favorite “Come thou long expected Jesus,” it was actually introduced to Anglicans with this hymn in Hymns Ancient & Modern.)

Still, it’s a fun mental exercise to think of how Prudentius gave us the words to these two timeless hymns, and how a 5th century entrepreneur might have packaged them for the faithful to enjoy together.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

San Diego scorched earth victory

David Virtue reports this week that Bishop James Mathes (TEC-San Diego) announced plans to take back St. Anne’s in Oceanside, after winning an important procedural round in November.

“Winning” the St. Anne’s property is but the latest milestone in Mathes’ scorched earth campaign against traditionalists, who — reading the writing on the wall — fled en masse beginning in 2005, even before PB Katharine Jefferts Schori and her attack dog/chancellor began their national campaign against conservative parishes.

I will leave aside the legal merits of the TEC claim to the departing parishes since Anglican Curmudgeon has been doing the best job of covering the law. However, outside the TEC, other denominations have been negotiating rather than litigating such disputes, and none has a (morally if not legally dubious) policy of favoring de-consecrating churches rather than selling them to “competing” jurisdictions (e.g. Schism I or Schism II parishes).

Despite the same national policy across the TEC, San Diego had the greatest proportion of parishes fleeing the diocese of any in California: nine of the 49 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego had many or most of their parishioners flee with the rector to set up a new parish. Six of the nine parishes are in San Diego’s North County, the most affluent and educated suburbs of the San Diego metropolitan region.

At most of the parishes (Christ the King Alpine, All Saints’ Vista, Grace San Marcos, St. Timothy’s Peñasquitos, Holy Cross Carlsbad, St. Paul’s Yuma), those leaving the TEC left without fighting for the property. (At Holy Cross, thanks to the duplicity of the bishop selling their land without consulting them, the mission had no property to fight for.)

Three of their parishes fought for their property: St. John’s Fallbrook, St. Anne’s Oceanside and Holy Trinity Ocean Beach. After winning the first round, St. John’s lost a key appellate decision in 2008 and decided to vacate the property last March when the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The Anglican faithful at St. John’s surrendered the property to the much smaller group of TEC loyalists, and held the first services of the new Christ Church Fallbrook on Palm Sunday 2009.

This week’s letters by Mathes claimed victory over St. Anne’s Anglican, which this Sunday is beginning worship as Grace Anglican Church with two services at a borrowed sanctuary in Carlsbad.

Still continuing its fight is Holy Trinity, which believes it can still win its case on appeal — particularly if the US Supreme Court intervenes to reconcile conflicting state rulings. Holy Trinity has been anticipating a legal fight for years, and one of its longest serving members is the retired City Attorney of San Diego (who was for years was among 4 lay delegates in the diocese at General Convention, voting against the stupid idea du jour.) It is not clear what the EDSD would do if it won the Holy Trinity property, since it has no use for it (it is smaller than the nearby ultra-liberal All Souls) and is not allowed by KJS to sell it back to its current users.

Not leaving TEC is St. Michael’s-by-the-Sea, the onetime flagship of Anglo-Catholic traditionalism in San Diego and one of the five biggest parishes in the diocese. Established in 1894, the parish has an irreplaceable coastal property that I imagine has weighed heavily on the decision of clergy and laity to stay put in the diocese. (Given the city of Carlsbad has long resented this tax-exempt usage in a prime tourist location, I’m sure the EDSD would sell it in a heartbeat to ameliorate its own serious financial troubles.)

Today, TEC’s loss forms the backbone of the 18 congregations of the ACNA Diocese of Western Anglicans. Last Sunday, ACNA-affiliated forces opened Holy Spirit Anglican, a new congregation near San Diego State, not quite halfway between the existing Western Anglican parishes in Alpine and Ocean Beach.

I’ve attended several of these parishes in their original locations but none in their new locations. The one I’m most keen to visit is Anglican Church of the Resurrection in San Marcos, which has the most active youth choir of any Anglican church in San Diego (if not California). Last year, the choristers were among 15 choirs participating in a choir festival sponsored by the “San Diego Choristers Guild.” (I imagine readers in other cities wish they had a similar organization).

Legal troubles (and lack of permanent facilities aside), next to the Diocese of San Joaquin (which left TEC lock, stock and barrel), San Diego seems to be the most vibrant bastion of traditional Anglicanism in all of California, if not the Western United States. Let us hope these parishes can work with their new Western Anglican bishop (based in Long Beach) to build the infrastructure for communicating the faith, preserving the liturgy and (at least among the Rite I parishes) continuing a tradition of Anglo-Catholic hymnody.

Update: A.S. Haley of the Anglican Curmudgeon notes that for the first months of 2009, TEC has slashed mission spending by $1.4 million, while litigation expenses are $1.8 million over budget. In earlier postings, he raises questions about the TEC’s “hierarchical” claims to church property, the central question in lawsuits against the Anglican dioceses in Ft. Worth and San Joaquin, and reports that St. Luke’s (La Crescenta) has appealed to the US Supreme Court, asking for an application of neutral principles of property law (as in South Carolina) to the current property disputes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Traditional non-sense

January 2018: Slightly updated; see postscript.

Regular readers know how a major focus of this blog is preserving traditional hymns. I love the old hymns, and am particularly suspicious of changes in hymn doctrine that have occurred in the 30-40 years.

Tradition is even formally part of our theology, at least for Anglicans who argue that our theology is based on a “three legged stool” (scripture, tradition & reason) or “four legged stool” (scripture, tradition, reason & experience) attributed to Richard Hooker. (A minor problem with such formalizations is that they are a 19th or 20th century fabrication because Hooker never said that.)

Certainly tradition is certainly an important (if not more important) consideration for our Catholic and Orthodox brethren. At the same time, one of the major arguments for Luther and the other Protestant reformers was that Tradition had improperly subordinated the plain text of Scripture.

During the 12 days of Christmas, I’ve found two good examples where older, popular, long-established hymns do not make sense when laid against what we know from Scripture. As it turns out, on Sunday I sang both of the hymns in church — one twice at two different churches. (Providentially, these are the same two hymns that I selected on Christmas Day to blog about later on.)

Exhibit A is Epiphany’s greatest hit and certainly one of my childhood favorites: “We three kings of Orient are.” The antiphonal arrangement of Hymnal 1940 (#51) as opposed to more prosaic presentation of Hymnal 1982 (#128). The carol was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1857 and published in his 1863 book of carols. (The 1872 edition is on Google books).

Various modern sources (correctly) note the dissonance between Hopkins and the story of the Wise Men given by Matthew 2. We know they brought three gifts, but there’s no direct Biblical evidence that they were three, let alone kings. In general, Many of today’s theologians might be comfortable with “Wise Men” or even “Three Wise Men,” but would say that the “kings” are a fanciful concoction. (In addition to scripture and tradition, we also have external astronomical evidence that suggests of a “star” that appeared over Bethlehem appeared around 2 B.C.)

So what should we do with the hymn that has misled (if not indoctrinated) generations of Americans into assuming that the visitors from the East were kings? It’s a fun song, but what if it’s unbiblical? Should a rector schedule this hymn believing that it is in knowing the error? Does it even belong in the hymnal? Or is it up to the PC police to bowdlerize the text for the next edition of the hymnal?

Exhibit B is the poem (ca. 1872) by Christina Georgina Rossetti: “In the bleak midwinter.” Certainly the major attraction of the hymn is that English composer Gustav Holst composed a tune for the poem for The English Hymnal (1906). While the details have more ambiguity, the condensed argument against the hymn is that “bleak” is a description of 19th century English winters, not 1st century winters in Palestine.

Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Jerusalem, and Wikipedia says both are at an elevation of 2500’: it seems reasonable to assume a nearly identical climate. Anecdotally, snow does fall in Jerusalem — occasionally dumping several inches on the city. However, such heavy snow is not frequent, according to a scientific study of the mid-20th century, and in recent times, the snow quickly turns to slush or melts off.

Of course, today’s TV-era climate is neither Rosetti’s 19th century or that of Mary and Joseph. In terms of long-term climate, we know that in the middle of the “Little Ice Age,” 1600 A.D. was more than 2°F colder than the 4000-year average, while 2-4 B.C. and 2009 are right near the average.

Even if there was an occasional snowfall 2000+ years ago in the ancient capital of Judah, the image conveyed by Rosetti implies a much deeper and more durable cold:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Based on my travels, “water like a stone” seems like a place with daytime highs below 32°F for several days. Nowadays, the median winter high in Jerusalem is in the 60s, even if the lows are in the 40s. While random variation would be outside this range, it seems highly unlikely that the Bethlehem high today (or during any similar climatic period) would be below freezing for any significant period.

Here, this is just an error of fact rather than doctrine. (As far as I know, no denomination has a doctrinal position about mean winter snowfall or low temperature in Bethlehem.) But is this also a case where a rector (or hymnal editor) should nix a hymn due to errors?

The rest of both hymns are less problematic: who can argue with a description of gold, frankincense and myrrh? If the suspect verses were buried later on, they could be dropped — but in both cases, these are the opening, most familiar, title verses.

I don’t have an answer to either case because I am personally torn: they have been such a part of my worship life for so long. Still, if a theologian, musicologist or cleric identifies a gap between lyric and doctrine (or lyric and fact), it seems dishonest not to advise the congregation of this. And if the song is flawed, how can you keep it and use it? I don’t want to lose either one, but on the other hand I don’t see how to keep them, either.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Will Christmas and Christianity soon be forgotten?

From the Daily Mail, Dec. 30, decrying the secular attack on Christianity in England and Europe:
How long before small boys here ask: A church? What’s that, Grandad?

I had hoped to have a sort of Christmas truce this week, but the controversy just keeps on raging, drowning out the choirs and bells.

And one of the problems is Christmas itself. How much longer will it exist in the form we know today?

I fear it won’t be much longer. Many of its traditions are visibly dying. Teachers complain that children don’t know the carols any more, because their parents don’t know them either.

At a couple of packed services during Advent (a season many haven’t heard of), I’ve noticed that large numbers of adults stand with their lips not moving during the singing of these simple, easily mastered songs.

Perhaps they’re humming, or struck dumb with awe, but it looks to me as if they are just completely unfamiliar with words or music and don’t know what to do.

The link between people and Christianity, many centuries old, has now been broken.

A small boy was walking with his grandparent past a church in a small town in Brandenburg. ‘What’s that strange building? What’s it for?’ he asked.

Watch out for increasing attacks on Christian State schools, on official or public celebration of Christian festivals. The word ‘Christmas’ is already slipping out of use in police forces and local authorities.

If you don’t protest, these will succeed. By the time the BBC relegates Carols From King’s to a special minority channel, replacing it with a football match or a ‘special Holiday edition of Strictly Come Dancing’, we will be so used to this sort of thing that we will barely notice it. And then Christmas will be gone