Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mr. Walrus, Said the Carpenter, My Brain Begins To Perk

        The time has come (this writer said) to talk of other things. Of hymns and psalms and worship songs, of cabbages and kings! But mostly hymns.

     Hymns are, in many places, a Very Big Deal. Many (I would say most, but I don’t necessarily have the statistics or anything to back that up) churches view them as a very basic and important part of Sunday worship. Here’s the thing, though. They’re not.

     Hymns are not everything they are cracked up to be. I don’t like them, nor do I have to. Hymns are viewed as superior somehow, to “modern” praise songs, and they are exalted to the point where they are almost worshipped themselves. They may as well be part of the Bible, the way these people carry on. But the way I see it, hymns are really no different from a lot of other music, except that they are really old. But tradition is a powerful force, and it counts (more often than it should) as its own reason for being. We therefore incorporate them into our worship times, in a big way. And because I am not over-fond of hymns for their own sake, I’ve decided to

write this post explaining my thoughts, which are, in essence, this: Hymns are really no different from any other music, and I think it’s a problem that many of us see them as a sacred and necessary part of the Christian life.

     Here are some of the reasons I can think of for singing hymns during worship, and here also are my objections (if I have any) to them.

     1) Hymns are old. Like, ancient. Centuries ancient. They’ve been around forever.
     Well… well, who really cares? Does it really matter? How is one period of time superior to another? I’ve had occasion to say it before, and doubtless I will say it again before the year is out: people who lived in the past are just as screwed up as we are. The fact that these particular songs have “withstood the test of time” is due less to any mystical qualities of their own and more to the still-common attitude of these-songs-are-about-God-they-must-be-holy. The passage of time since their publication is not a significant factor.

     2) They were written by dead people who were awesome, like the church fathers.
     Not to disrespect the church fathers or anything, but seriously, why does this matter? I’m not denying that these men were exceptional, and I’m not denying that they had many marvelous accomplishments under their belts, but a) that does not mean that everything they touched turned [figuratively] to gold, and b) they were still men. They may have been clever, and it’s very possible that they were correct in their thinking more often than I am, but they were still just people. Their writings are no more holy than yours or mine. They were not angels, and they were not gods. It’s always a bad idea to accept something just because someone you like is behind it (for example: The pastor said it, therefore it must be true. I don’t want any wisecracks about Jack Bauer, now. We all know he’s the only exception to this.).

     3) You like hymns.
     Actually, I have no objections to this one at all. If your taste runs that way, more power to you. It’s great if you like hymns. It's fabulous. But, again, it’s no different from my preference for Josh Groban.

     Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against hymns. There are a few hymns that I positively adore, like Be Thou My Vision, and And Can It Be That I Should Gain. Most of them, however, just aren’t my taste. They don’t affect me in the way I feel a worship song should. And that, by the way, is not a fault in my character. Heaven knows I have enough faults to be getting along with. It’s just the way I was made, and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: God loves individuality. That’s why He created the world the way it is. If you are in an environment where there is serious pressure to conform your music tastes— or anything else about your personality, for that matter— to fit an ideal, something fishy is going on.

     The way I see it, worship is less an act than it is an attitude. Worship is not the singing— it’s the desire to sing born of uncontainable joy! It’s when you feel it. By the way, I’ve heard the phrase “God commands worship” more often than I would like lately. He doesn’t, you know. He likes it, to be sure. I think it makes God happy when we’re happy or grateful. I think He loves to see that reaction to powerful emotion. One time, the little boy I babysit, Luke, ran up out of nowhere and gave me a surprise hug around the legs. Just hugged me and darted off again. It melted my heart because I hadn’t asked for it. It wouldn’t have been the same if I had. The action, the hug, would have remained physically unchanged, but if the emotion behind it were not spontaneous or heartfelt, it would be a different thing altogether. Do you see? That’s worship, the sudden, “I love you!” God doesn’t command that. What would be the point? There’s a whole galaxy of difference between “like” and “command.”

     But where was I going with this…? Oh, hymns. God doesn’t command worship, nor does He lay out a format for it. If hymns don’t affect you emotionally, well, that’s just how it is. And if they do, they do. The important thing is if you really mean it. Some people sing hymns when they just need to yell that they love God, and some people sing country songs. Some people just dance. And still others paint pictures. It’s not the song you sing. It’s the reason you’re singing it.

     In short, I still don’t like hymns in general, and I very much doubt I ever shall, though others are free to if they please.

     You know, all this talk about spontaneous worship and bursting into song has me really wanting to get up and dance!

     But I’m writing this in an airplane…


  1. Andrea,

    One of the biggest problem that I find with hymns is that many or most, depending on your theology, teach very bad theology. In turn, people who grow up singing these hymns usually adopt the "hymn" theology subconsciously and many times it is reinforced with teaching from the pulpit. If the teaching from the pulpit is contrary to the hymn, the hymns usually win out. (We learn very well by song and rhyme.)

    Some of my favorite worship music is done by U2. Check out their song "Magnificent" and you will see what I mean.

    There is also the myth of the "sacred" vs "secular" distinction that too many Christians buy into, but that is another conversation.


  2. Amen, Andrea! "Worship is less of an act and more of an attitude." Amen.

    Great perspective on "like" and "command". It was so deep... like C.S. Lewis. Seriously, that's something that C.S. would say:)


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