Sunday, June 17, 2007

Crummy Hymn

CS Lewis once claimed that hymns were "sixth-rate poetry set to fifth-rate music."

There are lots of crummy hymns lying around in old denominational hymnals, or on mimeographed song sheets in the closets of church camps. Mercifully, we are spared most of them. They circulate in our denomination or region for awhile, gradually reveal themselves as too time-bound or just awful, and just drop from sight.

When a hymn reaches crossover status - when it gets picked up by other denominations or gets held over for another edition - it is usually an indicator of some sort of minimum quality. In The Covenant Hymnal, published in 1996, there is a crossover hymn written by a Methodist in 1993. People should really let these things cool down a bit before embracing them to hymnal status. I admit that with nearly 800 hymns and 200 more psalms and prayers you can get by with a few clunkers. In an honest effort to include something up-to-date - denominational officials would like have said "relevant" then - they included something that was out of date the day it hit the presses. The words were written by a song-leader from North Texas who was born in 1954. So he's my age. He has reportedly written more than 100 hymns. All of them better than this one, I'll bet.

The lyrics reek of the 1970's, which makes sense seeing that John Thornburg would have been in seminary then. The lyrics also reek by just, well, reeking. He tries to show that he knows what alliteration is.

When faith and culture clash, when Church collides with state,
an agent for authentic love must learn to challenge hate.

When people call for war and hunger for a fight,
God's prophets must emerge and speak to break inertia's might.

A renegade for peace, a midwife for the truth:
we ache, O God, for one to act as justice-seeking sleuth.

Praise God for all like this, who scandalize our scorn
and perforate our prejudice, a fearless, holy thorn.

I suspect that the need to have something of appropriately liberal sentiment overwhelmed the literary sense in this instance.


Dubbahdee said...

O yah! I seen dis one lotsa times 'dere. It's a doozy, you betcha. Makes me kinda wince, you know? Every time I run across it when I'm plannin' da service. Oh sure. Truth and Slueth is da one dat really gets under my skin.
I tink maybe he woulda done a better job if he'da had a few beers BEFORE he wrote 'dat one. Yah. All I can figure is dat he probably wadn't even from Chicago. He must've been from California. Oh yah. California, you bet.

David Foster said...

I think they should just bring back the "Internationale" which at least has some musical merit.

Der Hahn said...

The words were written by a song-leader from North Texas who was born in 1954. So he's my age. He has reportedly written more than 100 hymns.

If he's anything like Handt Hanson it would be more accurate to say he's written the same hymn 100 times.

Assistant Village Idiot said...


Teri said...

Cookbooks are the same, actually. In a cookbook with 100 recipes, there might be two that are actually good and worth making.

Whem I see a cookbook, I sort of flip through and then calculate the cost per 100 recipes - is it worth that to get two good recipes?

The exception is the Joy of Cooking, which is worth it just for the cooking instructions, but also has a very high ratio of good recipes to number of recipes.

By the way, I think the equivalent of wretched rhymes is condensed soup - any recipe that depends on a can of condensed soup is an automatic demerit.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ouch. I consider condensed soup a plus because of prep time. And the salt.