Hymns and Hims

There’s a quote made the rounds of late. Something about singing hymns with the same gusto as marching songs and sea shanties — because that’s what they are.

Something like that.

Problem is most hymns are not fight songs and sea shanties. And for some, that’s fine. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is perfect as is. Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand needs no improvement. It is Well With My Soul would only be worsened if it were changed. Thy Strong Word is… well, it’s already a sea shanty.

Being a convert to the Lutheran tradition, however, I am confronted with a problem. Most of the hymns were clearly originally written in German. They don’t go well in English. The poetry of the translation is good enough, but the meter of the music was plainly meant for different words.

Sometimes a German Hymn does fine directly translated. Usually, if it is full of sturm and drang. The aforementioned Built on the Rock and Lutheran Theme Song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God are good examples.

On the flip side, nearly everyone who suggests changing up the music in the divine service is trying to sneak in a Baptist-style worship service long on blue jeans and guitars and emotional manipulation and short on anything that actually confesses the catholic faith. I have fended off a couple of attempts to recruit me for such campaigns, due to the fact I have a decent ear, and can thus sing slightly better than average.

I didn’t go to all the trouble of converting just to attend a second-rate version of the church I left.

Thing is, the church has been around since at least when Cain and Abel went to make sacrifices (I would say since Adam first heard God curse the serpent), and in those 6000+ years permeated every culture there is. We have no excuse for bad music. We ought be able to skim the best of tunes and the best of poetry off the top of that great cataract of culture. We ought to have a giant book chock full of verified bangers.

I lack the training to right this wrong. But there it is, and it pains me greatly.

Anyway, I’ll be listening to sea shanties for a while. Sea shanties are the anthem of the broken spirit discovering after the breaking that somehow it has won. That is a very Christian spirit, even if the shanties tend to be long on whores and rum. And I have added “Shanty Hymns” to the list of things I’m making, even though I’ve no skill for the task.

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