Thursday, June 9, 2016

Penned by Subterfuge: How the Sexual-Identity Crisis Alters What We Sing in Worship


New Reformation Hymns
In the current gender crisis, I wonder if the church hasn't made her own unwitting contributions to the sexual-identity chaos by allowing our feminized culture's priorities to creep into the content and manner of our singing in worship. 

Notice the contrast between what the post-conservative church sings and the lyric of Zechariah 9 and 10, for instance. The Bible's lyric often has heavy-duty language about war and violent conquest: "...mighty men in battle, trampling the foe in the streets," is one in a myriad of examples.

One of the ways we can tell when we are being more shaped by our culture than being shapers of it, is when the Bible's language and themes begin to sound odd to our ears, when we feel like we need to make apologies for the biblical authors, worse yet, for the Holy Spirit. They didn't really mean to put it that way. Couldn't they have been more sensitive to the priorities of our culture? 

This is one important reason the church must continue singing the Psalms and the best hymns of our spiritual forebears. Then, after our minds, hearts, and imaginations have been thoroughly shaped by biblical and historical doxology, only then are we equipped to contribute new appropriate hymns for this generation of Christ's body the church to sing. 

Isaac Watts' father rebuked his teen son for complaining about the abysmal singing in their church. "Don't complain unless you can do better," the wise father urged his son, the young man who would become the Father of English Hymnody. In no way comparing myself with Watts, nevertheless, I have been attempting to be less of a critic and more of a contributor. In that spirit, over the next number of weeks I'm planning to post new installments of my NEW REFORMATION HYMNS. I'll post them in the order in which I wrote them, this one being the first, written fifteen years ago. Over the last couple of years, it has been a delight to work with my friend Greg Wilbur, Dean of New College Franklin, and composer extraordinaire. Watch for the final result of those efforts coming soon (Deo volente).

(NRH 01) The Lord, Great Sovereign (Common Meter, CM,

He makes his children mighty men,

They bend the battle bow;

So in God's strength, against the proud,

His foes they overthrow! (stanza 3; see the entire hymn below)

4th Mr Pipes--a romp on the high seas
The whole hymn is a loose versification of highlights from Zechariah chapters 9 and 10, a passage on which I haven't seen other hymns written. Martial and conquest themes, one of many of the Bible's themes that capture male interests, are largely missing in much of what the church sings in worship at the moment. Browse through the Psalter. The Psalms are full of this full-armor-of-God theme. It ought to trouble us that this theme is almost entirely absent in modern worship songs.

I'm father of six, four of them male, three of them now married young men, starting their families. I wanted to write hymns on biblical male themes being neglected by well-intentioned lyricist today, but I was worried that I couldn't do it. Then I hit on an idea.  I would have my male protagonist, Drew, in The Accidental Voyage, the fourth Mr. Pipes book, write my first hymn. Then if it was a complete disaster I could blame it on my character. Drew gnawed on his pencil throughout the book, working at the hymn in fits and starts. Meanwhile, I was making--equally in fits and starts--my very first effort at writing this hymn. That was fifteen years ago. 

Honestly, it is no exaggeration to say that I was terrified at attempting to write a hymn. Let me write a haiku or a sonnet, anything but a hymn! I have such deep respect for the Psalms, the Old Covenant hymnal, and for so many hymn writers down through the centuries who have penned such rich Psalm-like and Christ-centered poetry for the church to sing. How could I presume to set my pen to write a hymn? Complain or compose?

So I set my trembling pen to paper. Whether or not it will find its way into the hymnal is entirely in the Lord's hands. Little did I realize fifteen years ago that this would by the first of many New Reformation Hymns. Here it is: 

The Lord, Great Sovereign, shall appear,

His wand’ring sheep he’ll bring

From distant lands, through surging seas,

To shout before their King!

Deceitful shepherds, false and vain,

Have led his flock astray;

God's enemies he'll trample down,

Their lies he will repay.

With trumpet blast, the Lord appears,

His arrows flashing round;

He shields his flock, destroys his foes;

Glad vict’ry shouts will sound.

He makes his children mighty men,

They bend the battle bow;

So in God's strength, against the proud,

His foes they overthrow!

Restored, victorious, gathered in,

Their enemies o'ercome;

God’s children worship round his throne,

And in his name they run!

God’s bless’d, redeemed, and chosen ones,

His children shout and sing!

"All praise to Christ, the Cornerstone,

Triumphant, glorious King!"
 Douglas Bond, (Copyright, 2001)

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