Monday, December 22, 2008

Redemption or Sellout?

Last night College Church celebrated what is for me the pinnacle of our December services: Christmas Communion. Oh yes, I look forward to Christmas Eve, and especially to ending "Silent Night" at midnight. But Wednesday's services are the afterglow of the season. The burning heart, for me, is the Christmas Table: God With Us and God For Us, Incarnation and Atonement.

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
Oh come to us, abide with us,
our Lord, Emmanuel.

Yes, yes indeed the music of the service hath its charms: a skilled exquisite choral ensemble, a close and smoothly blended women's trio, cello, and the congregation in full voice. But the hour-long meditation on why God sent his Son - it's all there in the best classic Christmas songs and hymns: "Christ was born to save!" What a night.

One potentially fatal selection of congregational song kept me wondering right up until its last thoughtfully sung note. "Can a congregation, even this congregation, really sing Londonderry Air, credibly?" It turns out they can, and even if that's just because they're kind of expected to, at least it worked.

But it raises some questions:
  • Why this tune with a sacred text? Well, I understand the text was written with this tune in mind. Indeed, while it is not an eccentric meter, it is distinctive; it's hard to imagine the text was written and then someone said "oh hey, you can sing that to Londonderry Air!"
  • Why this tune in a sacred context? The issue here is the association (strong in my parent's generation and a little later) with "Danny Boy" and swing bands and crooners. Personally, I am able to look back beyond Danny Boy and say, well it's a folk tune with an older and reputable history. Or at least if not reputable (because I don't know that for sure :~) at least uncertain or unknown. In other words, I can dissociate the tune from Danny Boy. Even while I recognize that others may not be able to. (As an interesting side note, it was someone from "that generation" who first pointed me to this song.)
  • Why this tune, which is so hard to sing? Ah, that's a tougher call. Those who criticize some kinds of P&W tunes often cite the extreme ranges (notes go both too high and too low in the same song) need to take note that this is nothing new. Like STILLE NACHT, some classic melodies also have this kind of reach. If they weren't already familiar, they would be criticized for this very feature. But of course, that's the answer, too: we can pull it off (if we can pull it off) because it is familiar, even if no longer "popular."
  • So, if we use this tune with its checkered associations, why not others? Have we redeemed this tune, or have we sold out? Why aren't we singing "Amazing Grace" to "House of the Rising Sun" after all? And I guess in a sense, there you've got me. Certainly the degree of ill repute (get it?) has something to do with it. I might argue that the character of the melody is more fitting. (This text and this tune fit better than that text and that tune.) Definitely honoring "authorial intent"figures significantly into the decision. And finally - this is the part that I love ... and that scares me ... I get to decide! Ha ha.

I was thinking about the first time we used "I Cannot Tell" in this service, some years ago. Kent Hughes was our pastor, and he had already expressed to me his reservation about using "Danny Boy." But he was sold on the text, and we decided to give it a go. As it worked, the people could sing it, and as far as I know there was not a negative response to it. Still, it bears reconsideration, and I never repeat it lightly. A word of caution: don't try this with a congregation unless you have a choir in front of or with them. Unaided, man must fail. Led by a soloist or worship team, and you may get too close to "Danny Boy." But where it can work, it really works.

And now, here is the "it" I have been rambling on about. You see how it is representative of why I so look forward to this service each December:

I cannot tell why he, whom angels worship,
should set his love upon the sons of men,
or why, as shepherd, he should seek the wanderers,
to bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that he was born of Mary,
when Bethlehem’s manger was his only home,
and that he lived at Nazareth and labored,
and so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.

I cannot tell how silently he suffered,
as with his peace he graced this place of tears,
or how his heart upon the cross was broken,
the crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, he heals the broken-hearted,
and stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
and lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
for yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.

I cannot tell how he will win the nations,
how he will claim his earthly heritage,
how satisfy the needs and aspirations
of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see his glory,
and he shall reap the harvest he has sown,
and some glad day his sun shall shine in splendor
when he the Savior, Savior of the world, is known.

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
when, at his bidding, every storm is stilled,
or who can say how great the jubilation
when all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
and myriad, myriad human voices sing,
and earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer,
“At last the Savior, Savior of the world, is King!”


W. Y. Fullerton, 1929

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fine

That is both, "OK" and "the end."

Neither are exactly accurate, and yet both are apt: this morning I have finished the season-long work of properly dividing hymn texts into their singing syllables. From that work on each hymn, a document was sent to be dropped into the music, already engraved. This is a task which, were it not done by 2009, I had promised to drink poison. Now free of that pressure, or threat, what does this actually mean?

What it does not mean:
  • it does not mean that my work on the College Church hymnal is done - it is perhaps (hopefully) the last major piece to which I personally need to give a lot of concentrated time.
  • it does not mean that even this piece is actually 100% complete - I have a dozen or so hymns with particular questions that require some research before sending them on: tune suggestions, text emendations, attributions to check, etc.
  • it does not mean that we will be singing out of a new hymnal at College Church for Epiphany or even Easter!

What it does mean:

  • we are in sight of a 2009 completion and publication for the hymnal
  • we see even more clearly where there are gaps, holes, weaknesses in the collection; this will require a few forays back into the selection process
  • there is a ton of work still to be done, and I'm sure I don't know the half of it, such as - more engraving, all the copyright permissions, indexing (themes, first lines, titles, tunes, etc.), massive proof-reading of the hymn pages, checking and double checking attributions and credits ... you get the idea

And so it goes. This has been the most productive year for this long, tedious, frankly dispiriting project. I have held things up more than moved them along. But I have been encouraged, humbled, and amazed by the ongoing volunteer work that this year has produced

  • the hymn pages, with music, words, information, scripture reference, and category labels (Thank you, Ed!)
  • an extensive - and I mean extensive - scripture allusion index; so full of information that we cannot practically include it all in the hymnal proper - suggesting an online or digital "companion" for those who will use it (Thank you, Harry!)

So, yes, today this project is fine, and in a sense, Fine. End of the movement, but not the symphony. A good place to stop and enjoy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lessons and Canticles

It is properly a Christmas service - at least the classic King's College Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is. There are Advent Lessons and Carols services, to be sure. And I suppose those churches that genuinely embrace the whole Advent ethos must enjoy them. Where I live and work, we have a lovely Advent season, but not so much the patience to specialize in Advent songs and music. Not so much as we might.

But we love the service of Lessons and Carols, and if we do this Christmas service mid-Advent, there's no reason to be disappointed with that. It is the perfect kind of service for College Church: extensive readings from the Bible, song texts that carry along the story and are rife with scripture, a warmth and wealth of congregational song, and something special for the Choir to do. I can say from personal ministry experience: this trumps a Christmas extravaganza any day. (OK, personal preference.)

There is no time in the life of our Choir that we are not mindful that music is a ministry of the Word. It's how we see the role of music here; it's what we do. But a service like Lessons and Carols highlights that specially in a season that is more culturally prone to ... well, to extraneous accretions to the Christmas story. So it was with a heightened focus and a keen eagerness that we sang this year's Service of Lessons and Carols. Oh yes, and Canticles.

In order to accommodate 3 of the Christmas canticles, we limited the Lessons to six - retaining the arc of the redemptive story-line, maintaining the Genesis to John thread, but limiting Isaiah to one reading (contra last week's post!), regretfully passing over Micah about Bethlehem, and foregoing this year the Matthew reading. We filled in those gaps in our singing - congregational and choral - but I missed them. (Though it was reassuring to hear people say they hadn't realized there were fewer readings this year.)

The canticles we used:
Magnificat - a very close paraphrase set to the Scottish tune CANDLER, by Carl Schalk, sung by the congregation
Gloria in excelsis - using the complete Vivaldi setting in D
Nunc dimittis - a recent Rene Clausen composition for choir and organ
Three very different treatments, for very different forces. Along with plenty of singing for the congregation, and just one more choral anthem; what a rich, full celebration.

The service of Lessons and Carols is broadcast internationally, live, beginning at 3pm GMT, from King's College. You may be able to find it on a radio or computer near you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Isaiah Advent

Probably no part of scripture is referenced more in Advent worsthip, than the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. Certainly, if we would see the whole grand sweep of the season, it would have to deal with Isaiah - and Jesus's birth - and Jesus teaching about the kingdom - and the theology of new creation - and the Revelation of St. John ... which of course also takes us back to Isaiah!

I was a little slow coming to the bandwagon that is "The Dream Isaiah Saw." I heard it somewhere, had a couple of choral directors commend it to me, and sort of reluctantly added it to our choir retreat repertoire in Fall 2007. The choral score (Oxford) is printed with accompaniment by organ and piano; the ideal performance forces are organ, brass, and percussion. Drums. Lots of drums. 2 percussionsists handling 8 drums. Big drums - toms in pairs, in 3 sizes, and 2 bass drums. Once you've sung or heard "The Dream Isaiah Saw" with brass and percussion, it is hard to imagine it any other way. (But this is a good sub without organ!)

Composer Glenn Rudolph has set a thoughtful, harrowing setting of Isaiah's prophecy (chapter 11), written by Thomas Troeger. The text is below; one rarely sings a poetic treatment that keeps the prophetic punch. I'd like to hear a recording from our use of this work, in our morning services yesterday. At some level, the choir has never sounded better. But something special happened yesterday, that probably was not captured in a recording - it was more than singing with brass and drums, more than singing with a full choir in all 3 morning services. A service that began with the choir singing Paul Manz's "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come," included the congregation singing from in dulci jubilo, "oh, that we were there!" and reached its musical peak with this vision of what that day will bring in "The Dream Isaiah Saw." As director, I found myself awed by this grand vision, and I read in the singers' faces as well - they got it! Dare I say it? It was a morning in which the choir was truly filled with the Spirit. Wasn't it just the emotion? No, not this time: when the choir left the loft, singers spoke of being humbled by the prayer (see below) and seized by the picture of what is to come. This is what we long for, and what Advent reminds us of while we wait!

The Dream Isaiah Saw
Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
blood will not darken the earth that God made.
Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.
Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God's intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.
Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
knowledge, wisdom, worship, awe.

Thomas Troeger, c. 1994 Oxford University Press

There is a professional recording available, sung by the choir that commissioned the work, the Bach Choir Pittsburg. I, for one, am ordering it immediately.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent Hymns 2008

November 30, 2008 - the First Sunday of Advent. Lovely morning services, with nary a Christmas carol in the mix. The evening service began with a nice extended set of Christmas carols. Something for everyone at the start of the season.

Young preacher begins his evening sermon along these lines ... "Don't you enjoy singing the songs of the first Advent, preparing for the celebration of Jesus' birth? But don't you also long to sing songs of his second Advent?" Music pastor's antennae spring up ... it isn't often his selections are publicly denounced or dissed. Quick review of the day - was there really no reference to the second coming, in all these songs of the day? (Well, sure, there is the not-too-oblique "O Lord, how shall I meet you?" of Paul Gerhardt.) I let it pass.

At the end of the sermon, I realize what the good ministry resident meant, by what he reiterated. Ah yes, of course! Yes, I do; I do long to sing the songs of the second Advent ... the songs that we sing after Jesus returns. Maranatha! Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

Or, as the choir will sing this coming Sunday (as choirs have for over 50 years now, courtesy Paul Manz):
Peace be to you, and grace from Him who freed us from our sins,
who loved us all and shed His blood that we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord, the Lord Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come;
Sing holy, holy Lord!
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein, rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
for Christ is coming, is coming soon!
E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more;
They need no light, nor lamp nor sun, for Christ will be their All.


And now, another great Advent text, this one for congregation:

From the Father’s throne on high
Christ returns to rule and reign.
Child of earth, he came to die;
Judge of all he comes again.

Darkened be the day at noon
When the stars of heaven fall;
Earth and sky and sun and moon –
Cloudy darkness covers all.

Ancient powers of sin and death
Shake to hear the trumpet blown;
From the winds’ remotest breath
God will gather in his own.

So behold the promised sign,
Sky and sea by tumult driven,
And the King of kings divine
Coming in the clouds of heaven.

Come then, Lord, in light and power,
At whose word the worlds began;
In the unexpected hour
Come in glory, son of man!
USA © 1987 by Hope Publishing Company
Yes, this too is how we should be singing in the meantime between Advents, and specifically in December 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Songs of Thanksgiving

With a sheepish grin for those who also read Knowing the Score ...

Let all things now living
a song of thanksgiving
to God the Creator triumphantly raise,
who fashioned and made us,
protected and stayed us,
who guides us and leads
to the end of our days.
His banners are o’er us,
his light goes before us,
a pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
till shadows have vanished
and darkness is banished,
as forward we travel
from light into light.
Katherine K. Davis


Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Thomas Ken, Doxology

He only is the Maker
of all things near and far,
he paints the wayside flower,
he lights the evening star;
the winds and waves obey him,
by him the birds are fed;
much more to us, his children,
he gives our daily bread.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord for all his love.
Matthias Claudius (trans. Jane Campbell)

God, who has given us so much,
give us one thing more:
Give us a grateful heart.
George Herbert
And to all: Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Perspective

I had the privilege of attending this weekend, as an observer/guest, a meeting of the American Church Music History Consultation. Hosted on Wheaton's campus by the ISAE, the Consulation is an informal but highly intentional group of academics hoping to chart a new course for the teaching of church music history in the U.S. The group includes women and men whose work is on my bookshelves and in our hymnals. There was hardly any way I would not accept the invitation to be a fly on the wall while they worked.

I don't think their work is secret, but it is not my place to report or comment on it. But it did give me perspective on a couple of things.
First - the academic life that might have been: perhaps this is no great loss, after all. I admire all those around that table, and quite a few of them are both academics and church musicians. None can be fairly called "ivory tower" academics. But I found myself quite content to be in the church and not the academy. Enough said, except to quote my college roommate when he went to work for a denominational college in another country, "It's a school with the PCUSA; 3 guesses what the "PC" stands for." (No, I don't think there were any PCUSA musicians in this particular mix. But you get my meaning.)
Second - the challenge of objectivity: granted the legitimacy of "whose canon," "whose tradition," etc., but isn't there a point at which one has to choose the "whose" and then just live and deal within it? Maybe that will change from post to post, church to church, school to school. But how effective can we be if we have to keep that question in the foreground all the time? I needed to hear these perspectives, and I hope I will be stronger/better/more effective for them. But don't I need to work where I am with the culture I'm dealt, in order to be truly effective? (And in this regard, one beautiful example of that was at the table - a white nun whose work and worship is in the black Roman Catholic church. Fascinating.)

Well, it was a perspective shaker and a chance to focus as well. Not being an academic, there will be no temptation to take part in this Consultancy. But I am eager to see its work, and I know I will benefit from it. As of now, there is no web presence, no on-going funding, and no product. But I am sure before long all 3 will be in place, and this group will make an impressive mark not only on the academy but in the churches, and certainly in my work.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blustery

It is full-bore autumn, and the pastoral staff are on retreat. The trees in Wisconsin - as at home - are in their glory. The air is cool, and the wind is blustery. Retreat is the pause that refreshes just before everything kicks into high gear for the holidays. It is the harbinger of an autumn birthday, and whatever else it involves it also is a few days when I can't help think of all that I have left undone. But it is a great good gift. I am thankful.

Two recent episodes with colleague friends - friend colleagues - have perhaps revealed more about myself than I care to know. Or maybe, if I dare to put a positive spin on my bad behavior, they simply illustrate the tension or pressure I feel this time of year. Blustery is probably the best way to describe the weather and these encounters.

In both cases, a simple question or comment opened some kind of door out of which rushed a torrent of opinion, a storm of high-mindedness, a lot of hot air. Without going into a lot of detail - suffice to say the adjective "boorish" might be a kind description - the upshot of these windbag encounters was a reminder that being "right" is no excuse for a lack of grace, no reason to tell everything I know, no platform for diagnosing situations from a distance, no cause for discounting the experience and subjective appraisal of others.

Today I sit here humbled ... not by my friends and colleagues, as I deserve, but by my conscience and (I trust) the Holy Spirit. I do not think my opinions wrong or unfounded or merely subjective. But my bluster betrayed a pride, an impatience, probably a fear, certainly a lack of confidence in the light I have received. I have gone back to my colleagues and friends to apologize for the bluster. I have come to see myself as a crank, a boor, and maybe a dinosaur. But I am learning to trust God to change that in me.

I do still believe these things are true:
1) it is wrong for a church to have 2 styles of worship on offer every week.
2) many of the RUF tunes are pathetic pieces of poor melodic craft.
Now, can I communicate these things with grace and humor? Apprarently not yet, but perhaps some day by God's grace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

milestone, copyright

At home this week, on a study break. My singular task - to finally complete the syllabification of all collected hymns, to be sent on to the music editor.

I have just reached a significant milestone: I am now done with this task, for all texts under copyright. It looks like exactly 100 hymns, from about 425 in the collection. The one reservation being, that I am certain there are still a few hymns to be included, which are not in this collection. Oh well, we take our milestones where and when we can.

It is also regrettable that as I send these texts on to Ed Childs, I am finding how great is the number of tunes he was not given this summer. He kindly and diligently gave his summer to this project, and met his own deadline of completing that task (all tunes engraved and waiting for syllabified text) on time. For my part, I am still limping along, though I had the same deadline. Now I find that he still has some engraving to do.

Which is why this project seems never-ending. But today I am celebrating this step. And now I go back to the top, to work on the remaining Public Domain hymns. Though I have already done some PD, I have to look at this as 25% down, 75% to go.

Back to work!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A tempo

I heard an interview with Terry Gross ("Fresh Air") and Quincy Jones, that as a conductor and song leader, I think about a lot. In fact, I should look back and see if I've already written about it in this space! It wouldn't surprise me. (I'm pretty sure the link to Fresh Air is the interview I am thinking about.)

Ms. Gross asked Mr. Jones about his success producing recordings for so many artists in so many genres. His single-word reply: Tempo. It all boils down, he expanded, to getting the tempo right.

The counsel plagues me, frequently. It cautions me as I prepare for choir rehearsal. It colors the way I hear organists lead hymns. It makes me a little uptight as a song-leader. And when I get the tempo wrong - or am in a position to fix someone else's tempo, and don't - it haunts me, sometimes for days!

Quincy Jones, whose music and recordings have long been part of my life sound-track, is not the final word on this subject. But it is a wise word: most of getting our music right is getting the tempo right. Even when everything else is spot on, the wrong tempo will spoil it. But in reality, getting the tempo just right is often the key to getting everything else the way it should be.

Learn from the best, apply lessons wherever you can, shake off the mistakes, and press on. That's my motto today.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gone Global

Well, it wasn't quite a full gestation. But, 8 months after hearing the Goshen College Women's World Music Choir (February 2008, Grand Rapids ACDA), we have given birth to our own little World Music Choir at College Church. And, serving as midwife? The GCWWMC themselves!

In the weeks following their epiphanic performance, I was possessed by the dream of getting something going with the high school students, singing world music. On the immediate horizon was inaugural high school art festival sponsored by our youth group. Then they were into a season of preparation for the biennial World Impact teams - 5 groups working in 5 countries this past summer. Meanwhile, my eager co-conspirator, high school pastor Jonathan Cummings, chatted up a few students on the idea. So when school began and it was time to test the waters, an announcement was made in a Sunday morning youth meeting. 16 students signed up. A week later the high school group saw a video with a couple of Goshen choir performances. The next Sunday afternoon, 15 kids showed up for our first rehearsal.

We've met 4 times over 5 weeks, and have seen a total of 20 students come at least once. The core remains about 15, with 6 guys who can sing and seem to have fun (at the same time); and young women who can hear and sing parts. We learned a South African praise song, "Sithi bonga," worked out some physical elements to the performance, and brought in a drummer to cap off our learning.

Yesterday morning the students sang for their peers and college students. That afternoon they had their long-awaited (long-awaited by me, anyway) workshop with the Goshen choir. My inspiriation, and now theirs too.

Debra Brubaker and nearly 60 women arrived at College Church Saturday afternoon, for a 2-hour rehearsal. Sitting in as they worked through Sunday morning's repertoire, I had a private master class in conducting (generally) and in working with music of other cultures. It was totally worth being indoors on a perfect warm autumn afternoon.

The women stayed in College Church homes, to mutually agreeable satisfaction, by all accounts. But they had a 7am call for our 8:00 service, and a busy - somewhat complicated - morning of missions services. I hope they feel it was worth it. The congregation's response has been warm and appreciative. Two prelude songs brought the choir out into the congregation and back to the loft in procession - an immediate connection made, physically as well as musically. Their song for the missionary procession established a joyous tone for the service. The evocative Celtic offering provided a contemplative spot mid-service, and their postlude succeeded in bringing us with the cherubim into that place where the thrice-holy Trinity is adored. In the service they sang in a South African language, an Asian Indian chant, Swahili, English (tune from Ireland), and from the Bulgarian orthodox liturgy. Transported? Yes.

After lunch, when I know the students would have happily been back on the bus to read, study and sleep before a week of midterms, Debra and the choir met with our fledgling group in a 75-minute workshop. They taught us a couple of songs. We taught them "Sithy bonga." They helped us polish our song, showed us a "move" for it, and introduced rhythmic clapping concepts and ethnic percussion instruments.

Our fledgling Hyacks World Music Choir sang in the service last night. It was a full day for them - or, at least for those who actually participated in everything on the choir's agenda for the day: 10:40 practice, 11:00 sing for peers; 2pm workshop; 5:45 call for the 6pm service. Whew! I guess we must have had a total of 18 involved during the day ... If only they had all been there at one time, I think they would have been amazed at themselves!

Given that we had heard the fabulous Goshen choir all morning, it was probably cheeky - it was certainly risky - to have the students sing last night. But sing they did, with enthusiasm, conviction, new "move" and all. And the congregation loved it. Not simply because it was "our kids." Even those not given to cheap congratulation commented meaningfully and in specific terms on how well the students did. I was pleased with the debut.

I don't know if we will continue - I'm pretty sure we will - nor how, nor when our next appearance will be. But we have just had our first successful go at it. Maybe it shouldn't take a college to start a church choir, but this morning I am thankful for the providential connections that led to our global experience yesterday. I am thankful for a new friend and choral colleague in Debra Brubaker. And I am increasingly thankful to serve a congregation that can support a growing diversity in the arts, prepared and offered to God's glory.

Monday, October 6, 2008

In praise of God meet duty and delight

This is the tag line on my church email signature, credited to Erik Routley. "In praise of God meet duty and delight." I have used it as long as I've used a signature, and prior to that it was the scrolling screen-saver on my work desktop PC. It occasionally elicits an interesting comment or reply - often from something posted on Choralnet's choralist. I've had it with me so long that it was a surprise to have someone quite close to my work here say, last week, "umm ... I never really got that."

What? She had just seen the book on my shelf which prompted the use of this quote - Duty & Delight: Routley Remembered. Erik Routley might well be considered the dean of the mid-20th century British hymn explosion. Among his many contributions to modern hymnody, his magnum opus is the 1985 hymnal (published after his 1982 death), Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures. This is on the short list of my reference hymnals.

The editors of the Routley memorial, Robin A. Leaver and James H. Litton, explain the quote:
"The title of this volume, 'Duty and Delight,' may puzzle some, but hardly those who through the years heard what Erik Routley spoke or read what he wrote. "Duty and Delight" is a phrase that Erik frequently used. The words, found in Watts' hymn, a version of Psalm 147
Praise ye the Lord; 'tis good to raise
our hearts and voices in his praise:
his nature and his works invite
to make this duty our delight.
convey the rich understanding that true worship is a paradoxical and joyful combination of God's demands and our responses to Christ." (xii-xiii)

For years I have tried to maintain that conviction at the core of what I want to do in worship music. Not only the music we sing (as congregation or choir) but also in our preparation for making music in the assembly. Singing is an imperative in the Christian life; and obeying this command is also such an obvious pleasure - duty and delight!

Here is one example of how the practice of music helps us exegete the Bible and make theological application. Psalm 119:32 reads "I will run in the way of your commands for you set my heart free." Command and freedom - duty and delight. Is it not instructive that the longest psalm is an embrace of our relationship to the law of God? And the last section of the 119th psalm includes these words: "My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right... I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight." Duty; delight. What does freedom in obeying God's law look like in our lives? It must look a little bit like the pleasure we have when we fulfill our obligation to sing.

Sometimes people think (and sometimes say) that serving in a music ministry isn't real ministry. How could it be, since it is so enjoyable? No, this is the paradox we live and serve in. "In praise of God meet duty and delight."

Routley favorites on my bookshelf:
Church Music and the Christian Faith
Twentieth Century Church Music
and a book that clergy, church musicians, committees and elders could profitably read, The Divine Formula.
I don't know how many are still in print. Find one or more, and read some abiding wisdom about the role of music in the life and practice of Christian worship.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Busy

Sure, I'm no busier than anyone else. Same number of hours in a day, same need to balance complementary and conflicting interests, same challenges when deciding do I do this or that other thing? So, why is my office so messy, so full of unfinished projects, so blatantly the space of a man whose epitaph will read: "well, he tried" ?

During a sabbatical four years ago, reading in the Dictionary of National Biography (England), I came across this, regarding one Charles King, born in Bury St. Edmonds, 1687, died in London, 1748. He was an organist, composer, and vicar-choral at St. Paul's Cathedral. That is to say, he was a church musician. This appraisal was offered by one Hawkins: "King's inferiority was due rather to indolence than want of ability." It's funny - and it stings - because it's true.

Yesterday began the 2008-09 series of the College Church Concert Series. In homage to French organist composer Olivier Messiaen, organist Carolyn Shuster Fournier played a mostly French program including Messiaen's L'Ascension, and a work commissioned by Madame Fournier for the Messiaen centenary, Ubi caritas for organ, boy choir, and women's chorus, by Jacques Charpertier. This was the first performance in English, the first in the U.S.

The women who assembled to sing this, all from College Church, sang beautifully a very difficult piece. Irregular rhythms, extensive range, unpredictable intervals - this is not normal church music. Its unifying theme - textually and musically - is the lovely "ubi caritas" chant probably best known through the work of Maurice Duruflé. Again I came up against this truth: because of my indolence and undisciplined busyness, the women walked into the program under-prepared. Not unready to sing: they sang beautifully, and the audience thought it was magnificent (it was!) and could not guess that what they heard was the product of only 2 group rehearsals. It was not false modesty that deflected compliments on my work with the group: this success was all to their credit!

I rather like others succeeding, and me having little to do with their success.

Still, something's gotta give. The scramble, the hanging on by my fingernails, the dread when I walk into the paper flurry that is my office - The unfinished projects, the nascent brainstorms, the undared dreams - The receding goal of the high calling, the lapsed and diminishing musicianship, the waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On the other hand: wow! The people of College Church sang their hearts out all day yesterday. The chancel choir and the bell choir served with special distinction in the morning. And I am happy to say that if I am only a conduit for this sort of thing to happen, it is enough.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 18, 2008

If you miss this Rapture

Who should not read Daniel Radosh, Rapture Ready: Adventures in the parallel universe of Christian pop culture?
The author uses irregular, non-gratuitous use of some vulgar language. If this offends, just be forewarned. Even more alarming to some evangelical readers will be the rough vulgar language used by some of the evangelical subjects of his interviews. I don't travel much in the pop sub-culture described in this book ... but nor do I interact much with self-professed evangelicals with salty language. Just be aware, it's in here.
I imagine each chapter will have its detractors, people who say "yeah, but ..." or who are just plain offended by the critique of their pet dimension of this parallel universe.
If one is simply dismissive of an evaluation of our world by one who is admittedly an outsider, this will not be a pleasant read.

Who should read the book?
Anyone who wants to take a look at who evangelicals appear to be will appreciate and learn from Daniel Radosh. Read his rationale for writing, and as you read, look for the ways he affirms aspects of the sub-culture. He is not making fun of evangelicals - well, OK, so he really only makes fun of or takes on evangelicals who may appear extreme even to other evangelicals. ("I had a moment of quiet despair. All my effortsto seek out the darkest corners of this parallel universe had finally brought me to geocentricism, only to find out that even geocentrists insist on distinguishing themselves from those other, really crazy geocentrists." p.294, author's emphasis) He is uniformly good-natured, and in several cases he observes how secular pop culture could integrate and accept Christian contributions.

The book does not address worship. This is important to keep in mind. It seems to me that underlying Radosh's book is a presumed or nascent theology of entertainment. It would be interesting to explore that with readers.

Ultimately, he expresses this hope: "I loved American pop culture going into this project, and for the most part I still do. But the best aspects of Christian culture - the unabashed celebration of the transcendent, the challenge to crass materialism, the commitment to personal responsibility - helped me see more clearly what is too often lacking in secular entertainment and media. Jesus's radical message of brotherhood, selflessness, and dignity may be just the antidote to our contemoporary ethos of shamelessness and overindulgence.
"Evangelicalism and pop culture are two quintessentially American innovations that have never outgrown their worst impulses. Both James Dobson and Paris Hilton still exist. As our alternate universes begin to merge, we can either brace for an explosion, or we can open ourselves to the possibility that the new integrated universe will be better, richer, and more humane for everyone. And at least as much fun." (308)

I'll be cautious about recommending this book, but I have already begun to. I have yet to explore the corrolary website, on which the author has posted photos, video, and interviews that comprised his research: www.GetRaptureReady.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rapture, in progress

Update on "Rapture Ready" - I'm nearing the end, and find there are several chapters on music. By and large Radosh is less dismissive of the music and musicians he encounters, though still there is a healthy critique. Interestingly (tellingly?) it appears that the less "like" evangelicals his interviewees are, the more open he is to what they bring to the discussion. And he obviously likes the popular music that is being imitated and/or created; which means both that he is a bit warmer to this subject and that he is critical in a medim-specific way.



Reading over the weekend, some perspective started to coalesce: 1) It is easy for me to make fun of this evangelical sub-culture, and sometimes difficult to love those who do embrace or thrive or wallow in it. To the degree that this means I am dismissive or uncaring about those who are genuinely my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something I need to confess, repent of, and put behind me. 2) Regardless of how spot-on I think Radosh's observations may be, there is still a spiritual reality at play. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14) For example, I understand that there are genuinely offensive ways we communicate the gospel. Radosh exposes all kinds of apparent and (I'm sorry to say, probably real) anti-Semitism in the church. But he cannot understand the exclusive claims of Christ, nor how that necessarily shapes our approach to all other religions. Sure, we too easily dismiss people's experience, feelings, values, etc. But even when we get all that "right," we are still operating from a world-view that believes "there is salvation in no other name ..." The cross will always be a stumbling block. The lesson from "Rapture Ready" is to make sure we are not putting up the wrong stumbling blocks, and so obscuring the only important one.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rapture Ready

I have just begun reading Rapture Ready! (Adventures in the parallel universe of Christian pop culture). The book was recommended by Larry Eskridge during his seminar appearance at Calvin College this summer. Larry called it the best look at the topic by an outsider. The snob in me suggests that if it is the best "by an outsider" it is probably the best, period.

So, I've just begun, and it is going to be difficult to not read straight through. It will probably push other, arguably more important reading, aside for the week. Author Daniel Radosh is Jewish ("My own Judaism is neither orthodox nor conservative - in either the denominational or the colloquial senses of the words ..." p. 16). Over the course of a year he looked in on the evangelical sub culture, and each chapter addresses a single aspect of it.

I learned this morning that this is a book I cannot read in a coffee shop. I don't know, it's just a bit embarrassing to sit alone, laughing out loud or trying not to. Radosh nails the ridiculous aspects, but he is not (so far, at least) mean-spirited. It's a good read along the lines of A. J. Jacobs The Know It All.

So, today after reading in a coffee shop and trying not to laugh out loud, it occurred to me: the very things that are easiest for us insiders to ridicule (largely the attempt to be, in Ken Myers' elegant critique: "of the world but not in it") often stops short of a careful critique of music, including music in worship. We find it easy to scoff at Jesus junk jewelry, knock-off/rip-off T-shirt slogans, Christian fitness regimens, and on and on ... but somehow don't seem to worry that we not only copy but embrace any and all kinds of popluar music?

This will bear reflection, and perhaps become a talking point in conversations about the role of popluar music in serious Christian worship.

Some great quotes ... oh I have the feeling there will be many in this book:
Radosh cites the T-shirt slogan "Modest is the hottest." "The tangled rationale of that last one - we can persuade girls to dress in a way that does not attract sexual attention by telling them that doing so will attract sexual attention, especially if they wear this form-fitting shirt - begins to hint at the tension in bending Christian messages to pop-culture forms." (12) [I had to go to the LarkNews site to make sure this wasn't one of their parody T's. Nope. Sadly, it is hard for satirists to stay ahead of real life in this realm.]

"Apparently there is an insatiable demand for the timeless message of the gospel slapped onto anything made out of plastic." (13)

Well, you get the drift, and I could probably go page to page with funny, insightful, really sad observations when you stop to think about it. I will just end this post with this, upon seeing, at a Christian retail convention, the Smiling Cross: "This was, as it sounds, an anthropomorphic cross with its horizontal beam bent up into a cheery smile. Apparently the traditional symbol of Christ's agonizing death by torture was just too depressing. For the first time, I had the experience of seeing devout Christians embrace something that I, as a non-Christian, found sacreligious. It wouldn't be the last." (12) Nor are you alone, Mr. Radosh.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Faith and Melody

Faith and Melody. That sounds like "two sisters I went to school with"!

But today I am reflecting on the question of a composer's personal faith as a requirement for using her/his tune to sing sacred text. That is, may we use the musical gifts of a non-regenerate person to set the words of scripture, prayer, and hymn, and then use the resultant song in gathered worship?

I am posing the question strictly, here, in terms of the melody. When the composer of a tune is known, and the nature of that composer's faith is known (or, cautiously, inferred from his/her life story), does it matter in any spiritual or moral sense? We are always pleased to claim J. S. Bach as the church musician par excellence, but we rarely sing his melodies. Arthur Sullivan may give us pause, but his tunes are still in wide use in Christian hymnals. Last week I mentioned Ralph Vaughan Williams's beloved tune SINE NOMINE - he who was a great friend of church music and hymn lovers, but no great friend of the gospel. Does it matter?

Sometimes people get bogged down in the attribution of a hymn tune. I was surprised to find in Hymns for the Living Church a tune by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Yes, that Jean Jacques Rousseau. When I first used it, someone graciously approached me and asked if that was really "OK" to use. Silly me for not anticipating the question. But it was not a silly question. It's just a question that I wonder, how far do we want to pursue that?

In fact, my objection to the use of that particular tune (identified as GREENVILLE in our hymnal) is not its composer, but the faint impression that it gives of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."

Of course, many of our hymn tunes are anonymous and/or folk tunes; we don't know who "wrote" them. This gets us off the hook on this question. As for composer attribution and the presence or absence of faith, for me it tends to boil down to the quality/usefulness of the tune itself. In this I refer to Alice Parker (who would, I imagine, be baffled by the question) not because she has addressed this question but because of what she has to say wisely about the importance of melody.

To summarize, poorly, it comes down to this: a melody has a life of its own, and must be recognized, embraced, and sung on its own merit. It either fits the words set to it, or it does not. A good fit is worth singing, a poor fit should be re-considered. The source of a melody is in any real sense inconsequential. I'm no composer, but I believe many composers will say that a melody "came to them" (even if they labored over the details of getting it right). I feel some freedom to match excellent words with the best tune available, regardless of the source.

Now, pastorally? There can be another complication. If I am going to use tune (and give appropriate credit) written by someone whose faith and life are known to be antithetical to the Christian faith - especially if there is a strong likelihood that some will connect those dots ... As a matter of avoiding offense, I will decline to use the tune. I will probably be saddened by it, but I think I know my greater duty there.

And one more comment, on a humorous note: Recently I had to deal with another side of this guilt-by-association, ad hominem, hymn tune decision. We wanted to use a classic text in our evening service, but with a less formal tune. Due to the more folk nature of the service, I turned (as is my custom) to some early American tunes. Having found a pretty good match (if I may say so myself), we then faced the question: "Do we name the tune in print?" We chose not to. So we set the great hymn "O Word of God Incarnate" to the Southern Harmony (1835) tune ... ROMISH LADY!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Hymn a Day

Some years ago an encouraging, musical couple from church gave me a copy of the Tyndale "One Year Book of Hymns" - now sadly out of print. Each day has a hymn text with a brief devotional. The devotional thoughts are drawn from the hymn, from the life or times of the author, or the scripture on which the hymn is based. It's a nice devotional companion.

I read in the book for a while, and then as is common with books in my life, I guess it sifted down a pile, and out of sight. Late last summer I came across it again, with the bookmark where I had stopped reading. I added it back to my daily morning practice, and am about to complete the year with it. What a gift was given me, by a couple that loves hymns and carries them in their hearts.

Some of the hymns in the collection were unknown to me. A very few are so unusual as to be of little practical value in public or private devotion. Most are classic, endearing, cherished by the church for generations. For my taste, almost all of the hymns make the accompanying devotional unnecessary or inconsequential. A good hymn should do that - it should stand alone, and point beyond itself to realities greater, deeper, and higher than the words on the page.

We had hymn singing like that in our services yesterday morning. Two of our hymns, especially, transcended even the beautiful singing of this congregation. When we sang "Before the throne of God above," very simply introduced and led by the piano, before congregational prayer, it seemed to me that we were uniquely prepared for corporate prayer. And in the later service when that hymn followed believers' baptisms, well I was undone and (in the words of a completely different hymn) "lost in wonder, love and praise." No commentary I could read or write will ever improve the simple singing of "Before the throne ..." And then again, at the end of the service, as a full house sang "For all the saints" - following a sermon on faith and faithfulness, to maestro Vaughan Williams's flawless SINE NOMINE. Well, it was heavenly, and there were the witnesses, who have gone before. Nothing beats singing a hymn for "getting it."

Sure, the One Year Book of Hymns has challenged me, too. More than once I have come into the office with the title of that day's hymn. To check whether that hymn is in our collection, and if not, can I squeeze it in somehow? Kid in a candy shop. So many hymns, so few services, so big a project already.

Read hymns. If you have to find them in a devotional book with commentary, even an excellent little book that is sadly out of print, read them. Read them, and rejoice. Read them, and weep. How can so many get through so much church with so little of this kind of nourishment?

Monday, August 11, 2008

4:44 - a breakthrough!

I am working through the syllabification of the College Church hymnal project. It goes like this:
With each hymn I carefully read through (yes, it is one more chance for all kinds of proof-reading) looking for multi-syllable words. Finding a word that needs to be divided for the notes of the melody, I click on the open Merriam-Webster website and type it in. The dictionary gives me the correct syllabification, which I put into the "Find and Replace" function in my Word document. In most cases I can hit "replace all" and move on. (I love the exceptions to that, except that it slows down the process a bit. For example, a word like heavenly which can be 2 or 3 syllables, sung.)

Today at 4:44pm, on page 51 of 440 in my compilation document, I came to the first hymn that was all entirely, properly hyphenated before I got there. The process works! I'm sure I will be making changes all the way through to the last hymn text - it's amazing how many different words are in our hymns! - but this is a psychological breakthrough. I feel that the job may actually get done.

Music notation is nearing the end, in the hands of master engraver Ed Childs. This week I will start sending him these prepared texts, which he can then drop into the music file, and voila! we will have a hymnal page. I'm eager to start seeing those drafts.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The (first) end in view!

Oh there will be many, many more hours at this. But today I came to the first end of a significant text review for the College Church hymnal. Some 400 hymns, proof-read and wrangled through editorial consistency. These texts were some time ago put in hymnal sequence (thank, Jonathan A.!) and that is the order I have been dealing with them in this text review, beginning at Calvin College back in June.

This afternoon - bless God for quiet summer afternoons in the church office! - I reached the end of the initial compilation. Now I am at work on the "final batch" of 2 dozen texts, which need to be placed in sequence, proof-read, and edited. This won't be fast. It won't be fast, and they won't be the last. Because I have seen where there are still holes that (now I see them again) I left last fall, "to be filled in later." Only 1 Ascension hymn? Only 1 Pentecost hymn? After all my ranting about these Evangelical Feasts?

Well, it just serves to remind me that the project is after all farther from being complete than I want to admit. But today it is easy to see that the end is truly in view. I'll finish plowing through this batch in a couple of days, then move the whole collection on to be hyphenated, from there to be dropped into the beautiful pages of music that are prepared and waiting for their completion.

It is truly the first end in view. If it's only a corner, at least there is light in it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Power and Safety?

One month ago, I had the joy of sitting in my sunroom on a Sunday morning, appreciating the summer service schedule that allowed me to watch a phenomenal storm roll in from the west, thunder across our neighborhood, drench our yard, and scatter amazing electrical displays. (Only later did it occur to me that, as cool as that was, perhaps I was not wise to sit and watch this in a room whose walls are all windows.)

If you think I am going to now riff on Psalm 29 - well, I wish I were. I will do in a couple of weeks when I teach Bible Boot Camp on the subject of worship, from their memory verses Psalm 29:1-2. Man, I love that lesson!

No, because what came next still disappoints and saddens me, for some reason.

On my drive to church it was obvious that the storm had been severe, and that power was going to be a problem. I arrived at the church to find a hastily scrawled sign that services were canceled, at least for the time. (What exactly did it mean? The initial syntax was not helpful.) I hustled into the sanctuary to find the morning's musicians had already figured out how to make the service work without power: piano instead of organ, that is easy. Small piano from the choir room instead of grand piano to accompany the solo vocalist - Christy's voice can easily (not to mention gorgeously) fill the room; the choir piano would not overpower her. With a massive skylight and a generous east window, there would be ample light for the congregation - so long as the dark storm did not return. Preaching would be a problem, but the rest of the service could roll without power. After all, we had absolutely nothing to keep us from doing church the way it's been done for centuries.

That is just one of the simple glories of a traditional/historical/acoustical worship service!

I came across to the church offices to try to find out who had made the decision to cancel services, and whether it was a given that we would. Key players in making that decision were present, and I do - no, honestly, really, I do - respect that decision. For safely reasons, we would cancel the services, and tell those arriving for a 9:30 service that we would not hold a morning service. Even if power came on? Well, thankfully (?) we did not have to deal with that.

Perhaps the nicest thing to come of this was that the ministry staff had the privilege of greeting people as they arrived, to explain what was up. And this gave us many good, brief, personal conversations ... many more than we would have had on a normal Sunday. I think we all enjoyed and appreciated that. For my part, I sort of had to explain that the one thing everyone was arriving for, we could have done: we could have held a worship service. What we could not do was open nurseries, navigate most of our hallways, or use bathrooms (because almost none have windows).

So, yes, it was the safe thing to do. It might have been the legal thing to do, vis-a-vis fire marshall code. I don't know. I just know that it was a little embarrasing to tell non-American worshipers (Asians, Indians) that we were canceling services because we had no electricity. It was sort of awkward to hear (though not critically) from one of our life-long members, cradle rolled in the 1930s, that he was sure a morning service had never been canceled before. I had to speculate: would Kent Hughes have canceled services? Was this decision - not lightly made, and made for all the right reasons - all too easy to make, at some level? What did it say, however unintended, about the importance and value placed on our weekly Sunday morning gathering?

Let me stop here and reiterate my respect for those who made the decision, under the press of time, with all the best intentions. If for any reason a reader quotes or references any part of my critique in this post without including my support of those who led in this matter, I will consider it a gross misrepresentation of the situation and of my opinions about it. We must be able to critique without demeaning; to question without disrespect; to ponder without second-guessing.

Well, that was all a month ago, and really what are the chances that we'll be confronted with this situation again? Trees and limbs were down all around us. Over 50,000 homes were without power early that Sunday morning (the number grew higher through the morning). It was not restored until late afternoon in the church's neighborhood, and even then it went out again before coming on to stay around 6pm. Still, I hope we have learned from it, and that if there is a next time we may be prepared to make a different decision.

I keep stopping myself from writing the Monday Morning Quarterback "what if." I hope, instead, that it won't be needed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Time away

Most of the past month has been spent away from the office. Only one week completely away from the computer, though. And the past two weeks would have been an excellent time to blog the way blogging was meant - as a web journal to process and report the stimulating Calvin College Seminar , "Christian Hymnody in Historical Perspective."

I spent non-seminar hours in a focused editing mode for the College Church hymnal - proof-reading texts whilst and at the same time applying editorial consistency to the texts. After 4 hours of seminar and up to 7 more at the computer, I guess journaling was the last thing I felt like doing. Oh well, at least now I have ample material for reflection and processing in this space!

Briefly, then:
The Seminar - an amazing opportunity to interact with others on the issues and texts and uses of Christian hymns. Dr. Edith Blumhofer is a skilled seminar leader and brought interesting guests in for each day's seminar and discussion.
The Campus - Calvin College really does hospitality well. From the little welcome bag in our apartments to the on-site seminar staff. Really a model operation.
The Surprises -
* Wednesday morning prayer: the ancient models for gathering together before the work of the day begins, still works. If I ever started a church or campus ministry, this is something I'd want to work into it. I have long felt this way, and it was reinforced by 2 very different morning prayer experiences.
* The degree and ways to which hymns and hymnody appear in academic scholarship.
* The small world that we live in ... connections continue to surprise and delight me.

More anon, as I continue to process this amazing experience and gift of time, focus, and accomplishment.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Musing

Why is it that hymn-singing churches seem to be less inclined to confuse “worship” with “music”? Put another way, the churches that have abandoned, or all but abandoned, the singing of classic historical hymns appear more likely to use the word “worship” when really all they mean is “music” or “when people sing in services.”

This question has been burbling in my head for a while, but I haven’t taken time to sort it out. My initial conclusions, such as they may be, fall along these lines:
* There is a general sense among those who do not sing hymns, that a developed line of thought with multiple stanzas is too cerebral for the emotional act of worship. That suggests that worship is primarily emotional, and not volitional or intellectual. “Too many words” is how some have actually expressed this to me. So, music in the service is their time to genuinely worship.
* There is an appropriate understanding that worship is participatory. So if a group is engaged in an extended set of singing (and accompanying physical postures, gestures, and rhythmic accompaniment) this is worship. It is contrasted with the parts of the service in which we receive – especially the sermon – and appear to be more passive.
* The youth rally culture certainly has played a part in this. I remember when the youth pastor (at another church, in another state, in another decade!) regularly took students to a regional youth rally on a Christian college campus. I distinctly recall when his language shifted from “rally” to “worship” – though nothing changed about the event. And that language shift corresponded to a shift in the way he and the students talked about music in the church. These students are now young (and not so young!) adult leaders in churches, and my youth pastor friend has planted a vibrant congregation … where people call the musical part of the service their worship.

Does it matter? I think it does. If words matter, then these words matter. Calling our shared music in divine service “worship,” elevates music to a role not warranted by scripture, and demotes the biblical understanding of worship. Sure, at some level it’s only words. But words are all we have. So I continue to try to be gentle in correcting someone who says worship when he means singing. And try to carefully teach that our musicians are leading in the congregation’s musical expression of praise, adoration, prayer … and yes, granted, worship.

Learning humility

I had another opportunity on the heels of last week’s post. Check out the comments that follow it. Ha! Oh well …

Monday, June 2, 2008

The very merry, nearly nary, month of May

Mondays have gotten away from me lately, and te decet hymnus has taken the hit. As we roll into summer and a different rhythm to the week, I hope to regain some momentum in ongoing reflection on music, the public assembly for divine worship, and ministry.

Today we celebrated the life of a non-musician, whose musical wife sings in the Chancel Choir. Dr. Earle Cairns celebrated his 98th birthday one week ago today, and passed into glory last Wednesday. He and JoAnn had ample time over the years to prepare his service, and while he was no musician he did have a discriminating appreciation for music, loved hymn singing, and was a fan of the Chancel Choir.

So it was a privilege for the Choir to be asked if we would sing Earle’s service. In particular, we were asked to sing the Harry Rowe Shelley setting of “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” This classic anthem (copyright renewed in 1914!) has long been in this music library, but has not been used in worship by any of the last three choir directors (including myself). I’m not sure why. Some anthems get overused, I think, and set aside; and it takes a while – or a special occasion or a special request – to rediscover them. In this case, I have pulled the octavo several times to consider its use, realized that we don’t have enough copies in the library to use it, and been too busy, distracted, or lazy to do anything about it.

I have to admit that in my prep for this morning, I was still somewhat ambivalent about the anthem. I was sure it would sing well, it wasn’t that. I just wasn’t sure how I felt about the piece. Add to that the uncertainty of who all would show up to sing, and how the sections would balance … Well, I made some notes about how we could combine voices, balance parts, cover solo sections, etc. We would make it work, and we would not be embarrassed to offer this anthem in service honoring a dear saint and his chorister widow.

So it was with a deep joy that I learned how lovely this psalm setting (Psalm 23) is. We sang it through first with my suggested alterations, but with 4 perfectly balanced sections and the sweetest sound imaginable, we fell back to the voicing as given. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” was written for Solo Quartet and Chorus. We did use unison women on the Alto solo, and unison men on the Bass solo. But beyond that we let each section sing throughout, whether marked Solo or Chorus. It was a glorious, almost numismatic sound.

You’d never mistake the melody for a new tune. It seems very distinctly 19th century, and yet not distractingly dated. The organ accompaniment is interesting and supportive. I repent of my pride and indolence, and now intend to find and purchase enough copies for the full Chancel Choir to use in the year ahead.

It’s a constant learning, unlearning, and relearning. Oh for the grace and humility to grow into this work!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I will sing with my spirit

Not only because it is the season, but because the presence of the Holy Spirit brings song to God’s people, let us pause to acknowledge the day of Pentecost.

Granted, the book of Acts does not tell us anyone sang on the day the Holy Spirit came and filled the room like a mighty rushing wind and rested on the disciples as tongues of fire. If that were the entire history of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church, we could leave the manifestation of the Spirit to preachers and writers. But let’s stick with Saint Paul on this matter, and celebrate the gifts the Spirit brings that are expressed musically.

To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: … be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart … (Ephesians 5: 18,19) Speculation here: after 40 days of Jesus’ instruction (“everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms …” Luke 24:44) it is not too big a stretch to think that some of those Pentecostal utterances were addresses in psalms.

When correcting the theology of the Holy Spirit to the Corinthian church, Paul seems to take for granted that singing was a common manifestation of the presence of the Spirit: “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing praise with my mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15). And what does he say as he wraps up his teaching with practical matters for orderly worship? “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn …” (14:26) Now, I don’t think Paul uses “hymn” here as a function of priority, but I am always fascinated that he includes it at all. And in this discussion of the gifts of the Spirit in worship here, he says “Let all things be done for building up.”

Christians are a singing people. That is something, I believe, that simply comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And it is my further conviction that the Holy Spirit is always giving the gift of new song to his people. (Though, I believe it was hymn scholar Alan Luff who observed about some claims that the Holy Spirit inspired specific songs, “we are surprised to learn that the Spirit is such a poor craftsman.”)

The Spirit’s role is to point people to Jesus. But perhaps it is not out of place to highlight a hymn text about Himself. The best Holy Spirit hymns do both:

Born by the Holy Spirit's breath,
loosed from the law of sin and death,
now cleared in Christ from every claim
no judgment stands against our name.

In us the Spirit makes his home
that we in him may overcome;
Christ's risen life, in all its powers,
its all-prevailing strength, is ours.

Sons, then, and heirs of God most high,
we by his Spirit 'Father' cry;
that Spirit with our spirit shares
to frame and breathe our wordless prayers.

One is his love, his purpose one;
to form the likeness of his Son
in all who, called and justified,
shall reign in glory at his side.

Nor death nor life, nor powers unseen,
nor height nor depth can come between;
we know through peril, pain and sword,
the love of God in Christ our Lord.

Timothy Dudley-Smith ©1984 Hope Publishing

Monday, May 5, 2008

He ascended into heaven!

Lest it pass entirely and get lost in Pentecost reflections, I wanted to note the Evangelical Feast of Ascension, which would have been properly celebrated on May 1, 40 days after Easter. During those 40 days following the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, teaching them and showing how all the scriptures – Law, Writings, Prophets – spoke about himself. These days climaxed with his dramatic ascension to heaven, taken up in clouds (a powerful biblical symbol of God’s glory).

The continental reformers, busy tossing out all kinds of liturgical accretions, maintained what I have heard called the Evangelical Feasts. That is, the celebration of actual events clearly from the life of Jesus, found in the Bible. An altogether evangelical commitment, I should think. We can pinpoint Easter, because of its connection to the Passover. And we have the actual count of days for Ascension and Pentecost. We believe these things happened, so let’s let them inform our worship of our glorious, risen, ascended, Spirit-sending Savior!

A hymn to mark Ascension:

The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.

The highest place that heaven affords
is his, is his by right,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
and heaven’s eternal light.

The joy of all who dwell above,
the joy of all below,
to whom he manifests his love,
and grants his name to know.

To them the cross with all its shame,
with all its grace, is given,
their name, an everlasting name,
their joy, the joy of heaven.

They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.

The cross he bore is life and health,
though shame and death to him:
his people’s hope, his people’s wealth,
their everlasting theme!

Thomas Kelly, 1820


Ascension hymns are sometimes “filed” under Jesus Christ: His Reign. Other good hymns to mark the day and occasion include: Charles Wesley, “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise,” and “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” (when he had purged our stains he took his seat above); and William Dix, “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” (though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o’er/shall our hearts forget his promise, ‘I am with you evermore’?)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Evangelical Evensong

The congregation of College Church in Wheaton enjoyed a beautiful service of Evening Prayer last night. We could have called it Vespers; we could have called it Evensong. It seemed best to call it by the simple and descriptive, “Evening Prayer.” For one thing, we have been emphasizing and incorporating prayer into our evening services since the year began. For another, there is something that still sounds a bit like performance in Choral Evensong. Ultimately, though there is choral music prepared, and the prayers also by the ministry staff, it is a service of prayer for all who attend – who sing, listen, participate, and receive.

Using the historical pattern, the Chancel Choir sang Psalm 122 in an Anglican chant (“Let Us Go to the House of the Lord” Benjamin Hutto), and responses to the scripture readings were Vaughan Williams’ Magnificat and nunc dimittis. For a prayer anthem we sang the lovely Stephen Paulus “Pilgrims’ Hymn” and for the offering (not the ‘offertory’!) DuruflĂ©’s “Ubi caritas.” The Choir was in fine form and sang beautifully.

But it was the hymn singing of the congregation that really carried the service. Not to take anything away from the lovely expressivity of the chant (they did this so well) or the mystical character of the Paulus piece (never better by this choir). Certainly not to discount any of the choral singing. But to hear the congregation sing evening hymns, the Lord’s Prayer (to LANGDON), and to end the Prayers with “I am Thine, O Lord,” was a glory. Then to top it off, Robert Hobby’s organ setting for congregation, “Abide with me,” well it was all so satisfying. The service was framed by a harp solo prelude and a freshly written postlude on EVENTIDE, for organ and harp.

The College Church ministry residents and pastors also brought deeply personal praying into the service. The Confession, Petitions, and Thanksgiving were prepared from scripture and congregational life. They had a Prayer Book character but were entirely from pastoral hearts. No Anglican would have confused them for BCP, but would have been at home with them. And they were completely natural for this congregation, where public prayer is taken very seriously and joyously. A 20-minute sermon was the perfect length to make this the "compleat worship service."

The response to this service has already surprised me. Where we go from here is still to be considered. But I think we have learned that we need not fear a form so long as we bring our biblical and pastoral hearts to it, and treat the congregation as full participants in the tapestry of prayer and worship.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What “your music” says about …

So, getting back to the comment about “your music.” These were obviously two statements, related in specific contexts in which I was not present, that stirred up some free association issues for me.

When someone says “hymns are no longer the music of the church,” I think they are saying more than they mean to, or care to, or understand, about the music of the church.

What does is mean that hymns have been replaced by non-hymns? I’ll walk into this by trying to be clear about what hymns are and what I understand to be non-hymns. Hymns are poems, written in praise of God, meant to be sung by a group of average singers – generally mixed in age and gender. As Poems, they generally consist of multiple stanzas or verses, use words that are at once simple and rich in metaphor and allusion, and express a progression of thought or narrative. (check out some hymn texts in earlier posts) Non-hymns – to sketch a caricature – are usually limited to a single verse/chorus (sometimes simply a chorus), stick to a single idea which is uncomplicated and undeveloped, and may be repeated a number of times with or without variation. Again, to generalize, Non-hymns are often sub-culture specific, and may be rhythmically complicated (and thus more difficult for a group of average singers to sing well) or so simple as to not sustain interest over time. (Hey, it’s my blog and I can use as many stereo-types as I want!)

When “hymns” are no longer the music of the church, the result often is that there is a severe limiting of “the peoples’ song.” One of the primary biblical means of expressing praise – music – is kept in the hands of the worship leader qua performer. The congregation may enjoy the music, but participate less and less in the folk art of the church. Further, the congregation sees less and less of the artistry and achievements of the church historic, when all that is sung (or heard) is new.

Let’s be clear about this: there are wretched hymn tunes. But one area in which non-hymns are seldom critiqued is the nature of the melodies employed. There is a craft to writing a truly singable and memorable tune. Very few musicians have this. I definitely do not. Many new songs do not have tunes that you want to whistle, hum, or have in your head apart from the words. Taking a cue from Alice Parker, I look for melodies that can stand alone, that I want to hum, whistle, or sing even if I don’t know or can’t remember the words. Here’s where I take issue with some recent attempts to write new melodies to old hymns. Yeah, I’m talking to you, RUF Hymnal … if you can’t produce a better tune, then resign yourself to mastering the old one. Don’t content yourself with just a new tune. And, while you’re at it, maybe you could think about writing tunes for the whole church to enjoy. Just because it works rhythmically and sounds good with a guitar doesn’t cut it in the world of melodic craft. A melody is a melody, and should be able to stand alone.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter

The pinnacle of the Christian year. The very heights of gathered worship. Even the earliest Easter makes for the longest – and most invigorating – Sunday morning.

And so we rejoiced at College Church.

Umm … just don’t listen to a recording of our 11:00 prelude. I know I won’t. Sure, I’d like to know “who’s fault it was,” but I’m not sure I want to know it was mine. Thanks to a slow harmonic rhythm, only the closest Bach observers could tell that the organ and trumpet arrived at the final bar before the strings and conductor.

And, with apologies to John Rutter: I was wrong to try to slow the anthem one bar before your marked “Molto Allargando.” Too clever by half. And that fact that the string players never quite understood what I was after was just an indication of their good taste.

But oh what a time it was.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Your music works for you

College Church in Wheaton is in an interim between Senior Pastors. An excellent search committee is working with due diligence, including bringing in people with expertise and experience to shed light on the process, the challenges, and the realities of finding a senior preaching pastor for a large influential independent evangelical church with some interesting latitude in non-essential doctrines and practices. (Now there’s a mouthful and an understatement!)

In a recent report to the church elder council, the search committee chairman related the following comments from one of these wise counselors (who was kept anonymous):
“Your music works for you” – that is, the music of College Church’s gathered worship is not typical and we may not find a pastor who comes from a ministry with similar musical commitments.
And “Will the music in your services be this way 15 years from now?” – the implication being, I gather, that we had better be prepared for change.

Now, I have no idea if the music of College Church presents, or will present, any real obstacle to the willingness of a potential senior pastor candidate. Experience and anecdote suggest that incoming senior pastors routinely exercise direct influence on public worship, especially music. And they are not always able to articulate when they take the position, what that influence might be. Perhaps, to be as positive as possible about it, senior pastors come into position with completely open minds about a church’s music, and only develop their concept of change over time after careful evaluation, thoughtful conversation, and much prayer. No, I think it is unlikely that our given historical and traditional use of music in worship will be a genuine stumbling block to a potential candidate.

But the comments do suggest an understanding of music in the church that needs to be evaluated, exposed, and challenged.
“Your music” – as if the historic hymnody and sacred music of the Church is somehow unique to College Church; as if there is no continuity between the recent and distant past, the very current present, and the near future in regard to the peoples’ song, sung theology. “Your music” – at least as related in the anecdote – has the ring of condescension or accusation.
“Will it be the same 15 years from now” – suggests that only by abandoning the past can a church move credibly into the future. Realistically, only if we insist on keeping our music as a museum piece could it possibly be the same 15 years from now. It is not the same now as it was 12 years ago, when I came into this position. But someone who left the church 13 years ago, coming back, would recognize the same music ministry. The trajectory of the ministry guarantees that. Tradition is handing on, not holding on. We sing newer songs and different choral music … along with older hymns and music that was bought for this choir over 70 years ago. We have abandoned some hymns and sent some octavos to the recycler. We have declined to sing other new songs and refused to purchase some popular choral music. The question about 15 years from now is: “Will the congregational and performed music of our public services still be upward, reverent, joyful, Bible-based and Christ-focused?” If there is nothing different, we will have failed to pass on the tradition. If everything is different, we will have failed by abandoning the riches of the historic, global and ecumenical Church.

One of my interns related a similar comment, from the music pastor of his home church: “Hymns are no longer the music of the church.” There is a world of material in that assertion, which I will try to get at another time. I mention it now because it comes from the same apparent mindset as our pastoral search committee anecdote:
Hymns are no longer the music of the church – They still work for you – But 15 years from now if you are to be a viable church you, too, will have abandoned hymns, sacred classical music, and choirs.

I know that my work in the church will ultimately be judged on the basis of stewardship – in light of this discussion, specifically the stewardship of the history and tradition of the music of the Church and of this church’s gathered worship. Will I hand my successor a carefully curated, protected exhibit of the way evangelicals used to worship? Or a vague blank slate to be filled in with the worship du jour? As a steward, let me pass on a living worship ministry with vibrant ties to the past and growing connections to the future!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Synchronicity

I love how things “come together” unexpectedly.

For example when I learn a new word, then start seeing it in use all over the place. Or when I see a long-forgotten song on Monday, and on Tuesday am asked a question the answer to which is that very song.

Or why when I was in the 8th grade and tried to read “The Fellowship of the Rings” it just didn’t click with me; but as a college freshman on my first Christmas break I could not put it down. (I know from my own children that 8th grade is not too early to “get” Tolkien’s work.)

Or, to be specific, particular, and current, how I “just happened” to get a copy of Alice Parker’s book on melody, days before hearing the Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir. I didn’t start reading the book until after the ACDA convention, and have found that it points me to some essential elements that will govern music-making for our World Music Choir work here.

Two things I appreciate about this: first, that the book fuels my enthusiasm for establishing a high school church world music choir; and second, that the book provides a musical foundation early on as I think and dream about the idea . Would I have come to this foundation naturally? Where would the idea have come from? Is it the essential starting point, or does it just seem like it because the two apparently unrelated things came together unexpectedly? When would I have taken time to begin to think about getting started, and how would I have known what resources to look for?

Alice Parker’s Anatomy of Melody is not written as a guide to singing world music. And perhaps few world music choirs will naturally look to Alice Parker for their musical inspiration. But it is such a natural match, for me, and I’m thankful for the synchronicity. As much as I admire Carl Jung on that topic (and I confess I am not well-schooled on it), I must say that it is a specific gift of God to bring these things to germinate or cross-pollinate when otherwise I could not devote myself at this time to the creation of the WMC here. Call it cognitive bias if you must; call it casually providential if you will: I will go a step more personal and thank God for graciously making these things “come together” unexpectedly, and fruitfully.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Epiphany

Or perhaps, epiphanic …

The Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir performed at the Central Division ACDA convention on Thursday, Feb. 21. They were the first choir I heard at the convention, having arrived too late to hear the first choir in that first set on the first day. I could have gone home satisfied, fulfilled, and energized for a new initiative at College Church. (For more reasons than I have time to comment on, I’m glad I did not go home then. But I could have!)

As I watched and listened to these women, I had an epiphany regarding youth music in the church. It is a perennial and thorny question: how to engage high school youth meaningfully in a church music program? College Church long had a vibrant, large, viable youth choir, which sang regularly in morning services and learned repertoire which I still use with the adult Chancel Choir here. Generations of students participated in the choir, and many went on to significant musical study and careers, and not a few continue in all sorts of ministry right here. But that fell to the wayside before I came along, and in spite of heroic attempts at resuscitation we are now about 20 years past the youth choir years. High school musicals (including a touring group), special services and events, what might be called “guerilla youth choir” (meet 4 times to prepare one thing, sing then disband) – the attempt to keep students somehow involved in a traditional choir program has taken a number of creative and successful steps.

But can we say we have youth music if there is not something ongoing? Even if it is seasonal, if it is not ongoing, and on the books, we’re just limping along, making it up, hoping for the best, and ultimately just fooling ourselves.

All of this was so not in my mind as I drove to Grand Rapids early Thursday morning, eager to get to the convention, eye on the clock (and the time zone change), thinking about my organizational duties later in the day. Not in my mind as I sat down, breathless, to hear the Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir. (To be honest, I had made it my goal to arrive in time to hear the Greenville College Choir, third on the set.) What I heard – and saw – completely revived me. It was an epiphany which prompted a number of conversations during the convention, which sailed home with me on Saturday. And I could hardly wait to talk to our high school pastor about it.

World Music Choir is the way to re-establish a youth choir program at this church! Our high school students go overseas every other summer, working with missionaries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the Caribbean. They always come back impressed with the gathered worship in the cultures they serve. They always wonder “why cant’ we sing/dance/clap/worship like that?” As time passes, they return to their normal routines, lowered expectations, and parochial youth music culture.

I am delighted that our high school pastor seems as enthusiastic as me to establish a World Music Choir. We will scheme and plan and in the fall launch this endeavor, building on this summer’s World Impact trips to Bulgaria, Wales, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Spain. I will ask the students to bring back examples of the music they hear and sing, and this will shape our first year’s repertoire. Our second year will precede the next World Impact summer – and that year we will prepare music from the countries to which the students will travel and serve.

A World Music Choir provides opportunity for youth to contribute uniquely to the music ministry of a church, engaging more of the senses than a traditional choral experience, and an antidote to CCM or popular-music-influenced worship music. Rooted in folk cultures and expressions from the church around the world, the Choir will also contribute to and build the congregation’s global awareness and connection to Christian worshipers in diverse cultures.

Wow!

Monday, February 25, 2008

ACDA

The American Choral Directors Association is my musical lifeline. As I did not take a typical route to music ministry, ACDA has been an important part of my professional development. I have just come back from the Central Division convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and again find myself thankful for this organization and its impact on my professional development.

Aside from a few conducting courses, my education in this arena is best described as OJT … on the job. I had some good coaching as an assistant to Don Doig at the Village Church in Western Springs. (Yes, and some experiences that make me laugh, now.) And lots of patient singers while I sorted things out in the early years at Berean Baptist Church. But it was through the state and division levels (Minnesota and North Central) that I began to really understand and apply conducting technique, seek out and long for choral excellence, and put myself in sometimes embarrassing situations (workshops, master classes) that pushed and stretched me to improve … if not actually excel. Over the past dozen years I have also taken in the biannual national conventions as well. Which, wow.

Involvement in ACDA kept the standard in front of me, to which I still aspire and so seldom reach. Hearing auditioned choirs exposes me to new repertoire, to old standards that I am too uneducated to know are old standards, and to beautiful performances of pieces I thought I knew and conducted well … Not to mention the workshops, the special events/concerts, and the many conversations that take place during a convention. So today I find myself back at work, again pumped up and motivated, and yet feeling even less confident that I will ever approach the standard in my own work.

I have had the privilege of doing “association work” for ACDA, in both the state and division levels serving as Repertoire and Standards chair for the Music in Worship interest area. This allows me to participate in an organization that I depend upon, which at the same time I will probably never bring an auditioned choir to.

I can’t say enough about how ACDA re-fuels me for the musical part of my work. No “church music” convention or event has ever come close, for me. I long ago gave up on the kind of repertoire introduced at the “big box” church music events; and most of the denominational events haven’t done it for me at other levels. While ACDA is primarily academic, I find that it feeds me musically, and provides some spiritual nurture as well – through friendships, Music in Worship events, and the new music sessions for “church music.” (OK, so we do have to keep some measure of PC about the whole enterprise.)

This past weekend I was especially jazzed by the following:

* Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir – wow. An epiphany.
* Greenville College Choir – always a delight to hear Jeff Wilson’s group
* The Westminster Choir, from Westminster Choir College – along with St. Olaf Choir, one of our country’s bellwether ensembles, now under the exciting leadership of Joe Miller
* llinois’s Chet Alwes on the Bach Magnificat. Could I really conduct this work?
* Otterbein College Concert Choir – previously unknown to me, and very satisfying.
* A worship event featuring the Valparaiso College Choir, Christopher Cock, conducting – music of the psalms, planned by John Witvliet. This was worth the price of the convention, for me.

Well, I have lots to apply. I’d better get back to work!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hymns, hymnists and hymn-singing

Apropos my last post …

Yesterday (Sunday), as is my custom, I went to my office after the choir left the loft during our 3rd morning service. My office is a block away from the choir room – quite literally, a block away – and on a Sunday morning it is a nice quiet place to spend a few minutes until that last service lets out. Then it’s back to the sanctuary, with people to greet, etc.

So, anyway, my hands full of music and books from the choir room, I found something in my “outside mail box.” You know: the lobby mailbox where I leave things for others to pick up when the office is closed, and vice versa.

Anyway: Apropos my last post, “The music minister’s bookshelf” …

The book was unwrapped, and had no note or inscription indicating the giver, purpose or occasion for the gift. Yet there it was, and now I have another book to add to my stack – or at least to the “to be read” shelf.

It is a 2007 volume in the Eerdmans Library of Religious Biography. These handsome paperbacks are under the general editorship of Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch and Allen Guelzo. I admire an earlier work in the series, Edith Blumhofer’s Now I Can See: the Life and Hymns of Fanny Crosby.

The book at hand is by John R. Tyson, and I can hardly wait to tear into it. Assist Me to Proclaim: the Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley comes at the conclusion of the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth. Wesley holds a pretty firm place as “favorite English hymnist” for many, including myself. This promises to be an outstanding introduction to the facts of his life, and to many of his hymns familiar and not so familiar.

But where and how and when could I hope to add this gift to my reading queue? Happily I will be taking a short vacation soon, involving air travel, and now know what I will take along with me.

And it reminds me that I really short-changed my stack “in progress” – failing to mention the anthology of essays about Jonathan Edwards, A God-Entranced Vision of All Things. And something from Thomas Nelson’s project for the emerging church, “The Voice.” And, and, and, and …

Still reading on.