". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Liturgical Q&A

Today I received a question in reference to my April 3, 2011 post, "Fourth Sunday in Lent." I decided to ask my husband to respond rather than try to do so myself. I think both the question and the answer are extremely important and so decided to share them here rather than in the comments section of the original post.

Question from a reader:

Hey, Cheryl, I was a little surprised to see "Open the Eyes of My Heart." I've heard that sung in the local Methodist church, and to them it's almost a gateway to mysticism. It's cool that it's against the VERY trinitarian HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, but if I didn't know the people involved, there would be a question here: are we trying to redeem "Open the Eyes . . . ", or are we introducing vague theology in our hymnody? Maybe this is a question for Phillip? :) Thank you for your time.

Answer from Cantor:

Hi _____,

Yes, we use some contemporary Christian music at Bethany. I'm surprised you didn't know that! :)

I can't speak to how your local Methodists use the song. I know Baptists sing "Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain" to get folks to make their decision for Jesus, but that doesn't stop me from using that hymn. So many hymns in LSB or choir anthems typically sung in our churches can easily be used by those who teach falsely.

I think if you review the text of "Open the Eyes of My Heart", and the stanza of "Holy, Holy, Holy" that I paired it with, and then read the Gospel of the Day, the healing of the Man Born Blind, I think you'll see how it all works together.

We are dead in sin. Blind. God healed the blind man. He was not just given earthly sight, but spiritual sight. God cleaned his heart out. Ergo, God opened the "eyes" of his heart. We too are born in sin and are spiritually blind. By the working of the Holy Spirit, our mouths are opened, our eyes our opened . . . . and our hearts are opened. As we sing in the Psalm 51 offertory, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me . . . . "

Luther uses this language: "Set our hearts with fire aglow." Obviously, hearts don't literally burn. The point is they are filled with faith. Similarly, we ask that we be given "hearts that see," not that hearts can literally see, but that they be filled with faith. Burning hearts. Seeing hearts. Clean hearts. All are simply metaphors for faithful hearts.

"Perfect in pow'r and love, and purity."

"Pour out your power and love, as we sing 'Holy, Holy, Holy.'"

God pours out His power. He cleans our hearts. He opens our eyes. He fills us with His love.

Being cleansed by His grace and being filled with His power and love, our mouths praise Him, singing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.



Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

Amen, Cantor.

I appreciate the song being put in a proper context with the pericopes and the Holy, Holy, Holy.

To use context to put a song in a proper doctrinal mode is to rely on a discernment that has not been taught or developed in many Lutheran churches. It is commendable that you are using discernment. The topic of passing along that discernment would have been a fine topic in January 2010, would it not?

Knowing that hymns teach, when I do the family Matins on those Sundays when we can't make it to church for whatever reason, I try my best to choose those hymns that have sufficient content on their own. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has to change the words of "Holy, Holy, Holy," in order to sing it. Not so, "Open the Eyes..."

It's a lot of work to take generic songs/hymns and put them in the context that makes them Lutheran. "Earth and All Stars," given pericopes and a sermon about vocation, could theoretically add meaning for a service. But, heck, only an atheist would disagree with anything in that hymn.

I don't expect anyone to account for all the bad ways a hymn or a song can be misused. That would be impossible. It would be easier to use those hymns that have to be maligned in order to be misused. No Baptist is going to use "Sing the Faith," in their churches. If only they would! If only our LCMS churches would! :)

I've been in RC and Methodist churches that sing, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," without changing the words. In those cases they are getting the Gospel despite what their stated doctrine teaches. Whenever we pull the generic stuff into the Lutheran church, we have to modify it to teach, or it doesn't teach correctly. You are to be commended in your efforts to do this. There are others that are not nearly as successful, to the harm of their congregation.

Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane said...

Dan says:
"Whenever we pull the generic stuff into the Lutheran church, we have to modify it to teach, or it doesn't teach correctly. You are to be commended in your efforts to do this. There are others that are not nearly as successful, to the harm of their congregation."

And I guess this is why I question doing it and holding it up as an example.

Why can't we just leave the dreck alone? It would be different if this were some wonderfully beautiful song, but it's schmaltzy and ordinary and on it's own it's pretty darn bad. There is so much that is better.

Why try to force it?

Cheryl said...

Jane, I have asked Phillip to respond to your comment since this blog post was the result of his answer to Dan's question and I think he will do a much better job of explaining than I would do. But as he just tore out of the house to get to staff chapel and I know he has a busy day I'm not sure when he will get to it and I ask your patience until he has time. Just wanted you to know you are not getting ignored!

Phillip said...

Hi Jane,

I guess there is no accounting for taste. I like the song. I think it is good music. So I don't think it is dreck.

More importantly, the song connects with the young singers and also with the worshipers. I observe the assembly often as "special music" is being sung or played, and I saw a much higher level of attention going on during the singing of this piece than I often do when I'm playing a Bach Prelude on the organ for a Voluntary or when the children's choir is singing a Schalk anthem.

As a Cantor, I am called to use the art of music for the Lord's ministry. And this piece connected extremely well with the singers (part of my ministry is to them) and to the assembly. Sure, it wasn't a perfect performance. And, yes, the young volunteer on the sound system accidentally misadjusted the singers on the "Holy Holy" part (he thought he was adjusting something on the podcast and had the wrong fader on), but I'm comfortable enough with the integrity of the arrangement and the performance to say that I don't know of any professional musician who would call that "dreck."

Again, no accounting for taste. People have their genres of music they prefer. One mark of musicianship, though, is the ability to appreciate music of all genres on the basis of objective criteria. I would reserve "dreck" for music that would fail on at least more than one count of my criteria, which are melodic primacy/lyricism, harmonic logic, rhythmic vitality, and textural integrity. I can enjoy and appreciate any music that has those characteristics. And, regardless of text & composition, I would call a great Lutheran chorale or motet musical "dreck" if it lacked these characteristics.

That said, as a musician I don't expect non-musicians to listen to music at my level. I know that those who like music X or music Y will like pretty much any chorale if they like chorales, spirituals if they like spirituals, praise songs if they like praises songs, classical if they like classical, folk if they like folk, etc. So I don't expect everyone to like the Anglo-Methodist hymns of TLH. But we sing them. I don't expect everyone to like the Psalter tunes. But we sing them. I don't expect everyone to like the chorales, but we sing them. I don't expect everyone to like the "modern" hymnody of Schalk, Hillert, Johnson, Hildebrand, et. al. But we sing it.

Why do I intentionally as a cantor use all genres of church music, from Gregorian chant to Taizé?

Because all earthly musics are of human construction and therefore stand under the judgment. We dare not hold up any type of music therefore as the holy sound. Instead, we should humbly use the art of music to proclaim the Word, and that proclamation needs to be embrace the hearers - just as any preacher takes into account the sitz in leben of his hearers. Otherwise, our preaching and our music become academic exercises, and our churches become museums, as we perform musical artifacts rather than the "living tradition" Dr. Nagel wrote so eloquently about in his preface to Lutheran Worship.

Accordingly, at Bethany, we teach our people to embrace the musical catholicity of the church. In doing so, we sing faith into each other's hearts as each member sings not just their favorite songs or types of songs, but the musical witness of every tribe and nation.

Cheryl said...

I would like to add a couple more thoughts to Phillip's.

Dan says he appreciates Phillip's discernment but worries that others may use a song like "Open the Eyes" in a less discerning way. I think that is a valid concern. Many of our churches, from one end of the worship spectrum to the other, do things without really knowing why they do them. Dan suggests that the teaching of discernment about matters of worship is something that our church body needs. Again, I heartily agree. I think an example such as this one, showing how a song such as this might best be used in a theologically rich context rather than as one in a series of front-loaded praise songs designed to set a mood for worship, is one way to do that sort of teaching. Perhaps someone out there who would otherwise use the song "Open the Eyes" in isolation will see how it can serve a much richer purpose than they might have otherwise imagined. Perhaps there are others that will not "get" it. That is a risk. There is always a risk that someone will not "get" whatever it is you are trying to teach or say or do. That just means there needs to be more teaching.

Dan points out that a big part of what hymnody is about is teaching the faith. Exactly right. But our worship is not only about teaching the faith. It is also about praying and receiving. I would submit that the Kyrie on its own does not fully teach the faith. It does not tell the full salvation story. But within the context of the entire liturgy it carries great power for the believer. I think there is a place in worship for the heartfelt prayer of the worshiper, whether that prayer is "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy" or "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; I want to see you." In my opinion, neither one of those texts says everything that needs to be said about Christ crucified. But in the larger context of a worship service, they serve a worthwhile purpose.

The last thing I will say right now is that I am a cantor's wife but I am also a mother. Two of the kids in that video are mine. :-) And while my kids and one other in the video would be plugged into the music program at our parish without this song's ever being sung (they serve musically in other ways), there are two young people who contributed their musical talents on that song who would have otherwise might not done so. Music "ministry" is not just about ministering to the congregation but also about ministering to the musicians (and by extension, their families). Not everyone may buy that premise. But I think that's the philosophy of many church musicians, and it is definitely Phillip's. Part of the reason for the breadth of music done at Bethany is his goal of finding ways for anyone who wants to sing the story of God's love to do so, whether it's with the trumpet, the harp and lyre, the timbrel, strings, the pipe, the cymbals, or the guitar, bass, or claves. :-) Personally, I think that's a worthwhile use of his time as well as a Godly witness to the congregation.

Jane said...

I am making my answer to Phil's extremely patronizing response in private. He hasn't convinced me.

Cheryl said...

Jane, I don't know what to say. I do not see anything patronizing in Phillip's response. He showed it to me before it was posted and in light of my friendship with you I would not have allowed the comment to be published if I thought there was anything that could be read that way. I think that is an unfair accusation and since you have made it publicly I want to respond publicly. Phillip's words were written in earnest, as were mine, and I ask that you take them at face value. As to the convincing, I didn't expect that anything we said would convince you--we have been down this road before--but you asked and in respect for your question we did our best to answer.

I'm glad you will be taking this to Phillip in private and I pray that understanding will follow. In the meantime I'm putting comments back on moderation for the protection of myself and my readers.

Untamed Shrew said...

I'll admit I think the song is schmaltzy, BUT (there's always a big 'but'), there is absolutely nothing wrong with the text. It echoed the lesson for the day, and it's a fine practice (a Lutheran tradition, even) to take someone else's heretical meat and serve it up properly, while taking care that our fare doesn't cause a stumbling block. In the end, we can't get our knickers in a twist over matters of Christian freedom.