Monday, April 27, 2009


So, my stealth church year observation will finally take a fair shot at Ascension Day, observed on Sunday, May 24.

A couple of years ago Reformed Worship had a couple of nice Ascension hymn options. But the one we are finally getting around to is "Christ triumphant, ever reigning" (Michael Saward), to the tune GUITING POWER (John Barnard), published by Jubilate Hymns in England. I've been walking around with this hymn in my head since summer 2004. It was given to me by the lead musician at St. Andrew the Great, The Round Church, Cambridge. Don't ask why it took so long to introduce it to my hymn-loving congregation. It might just be some intersection of man's procrastination and God's providence...

Our organist, H. E. Singley, is finishing a setting for choir, congregation, brass and organ. The choir has begun to learn it in hymnbook form, and this week will see the arrangement. What a treat we all have in store. Here is Michael Saward's splendid text:

Christ triumphant, ever reigning, Savior, Master, King!
Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining, hear us as we sing:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
Word incarnate, truth revealing, Son of Man on earth;
power and majesty concealing by your humble birth:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
Suffering servant, scorned, ill-treated, victim crucified!
Death is through the cross defeated, sinners justified:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
Priestly king, enthroned forever high in heaven above!
Sin and death and hell shall never keep us from your love:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
So, our hearts and voices raising through the ages long,
ceaselessly upon you gazing, this shall be our song:
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.

(c) Michael Saward/The Jubilate Group
underlined text is originally "stifle human" which I just find confusing

GUITING POWER is a strong tune for a majestic text, written apparently with a choir in mind - or perhaps Mr. Barnard simply had an amazing congregation capable of singing in interesting parts and with a stunning descant. Apparently the arrangement has fallen right from the tree. I particularly wanted the descant to remain intact. The congregation will hear the first 2 stanzas by the choir, and will sing the remaining three. One of the stanzas will be a cappella, with the congregation in unison on the melody. Brass parts will be in pairs: trumpets, horns, trombones.

Why we don't observe this known, given, essential part of the life and ministry of Jesus is an on-going mystery to me. We take our good time with the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection, but fail year after year to take it on home. We speak of the exalted Christ, but don't celebrate his exaltation. We give lip service to the sending of the Spirit as the founding of the Church, but don't acknowledge our own "brithday" at Pentecost. Our heroes, the Continental Reformers, had no reservations in keeping the "Evangelical Feasts." These days are not only biblically historical, they are essential chapters in the redemption story. So for those who may say "humbug," like nephew Fred I say even though Ascension and Pentecost never put a penny in my pocket ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Inclusive/Discerning, Probing

I am working my way through Frank Burch Brown, Inclusive Yet Discerning: navigating worship artfully. (I always include subtitles; is this just obsessive-compulsive? I think it's just a way to communicate the theme of a book, to people who are perhaps not likely to go out and read it.) Because I have so many reading assignments/projects going at one time, this one has been limited to reading at lunch or when alone in the coffee shop. That generally means a chapter (or less) per sitting, which is a very good way for me to absorb a thoughtful book like this.

Probing. That's the word. Brown is stretching this "poster child for traditional worship" to consider how inclusive I am willing to become. At the same time he is confirming my natural caution ... and giving me a nifty label for that caution: now I am being discerning, not just cautious or stuck! But ah, no, he won't let me stay there, either. The call to be discernment is really probing. This will take some time to synthesize, as my reading whip-saws me through questions, issues, history and contemporary issues.

I don't like to suggest that I know where I will land at the end of the book. It is apparent that the purpose of the book is to build a discernment mechanism that will keep me from "landing" any place in particular. That is, keep me from saying "now we've arrived." Inclusive, discerning, and probing.

From the last chapter I finished, in which Brown visits John Calvin's take on music in and outside the church: I return, therefore, to the Calvinist principle that, however rich the resources of secular music - and after several centuries now of intense cultivation, they have become far richer than Calvin ever imagined - the church must be attentive to values that enable at least some music to lift us worshipfully into the presence of God and the angels. To ignore the different powers of music in this regard is as myopic as ignoring the different uses and powers of architecture, and of language itself. Thus the church must be discerning as it searches for music that, in the larger culture, gives voice to human feelings and transformative beauty, with or without words, and in a way that can likewise be enjoyed in God, and offered up to God. (pp 112-113) As to those last 2 phrases, "enjoyed in God" refers to what Calvin called secular music; and I believe music "offered up to God" is explicitly religious music outside the church (p 105).

The quoted paragraph probes all sorts of ways. Chief among them, for me now, is the question of "who is our church music for?" What is its role or function? Does it lift us "into the presence of God and the angels," or is it more humbly designed to build up and encourage those who sing and listen? If merely the latter, then perhaps I really do need to be more inclusive. If I argue for the former, is it only to defend an aesthetic that I am more comfortable with? Understanding the issue, and answering the question, will certainly help in any discussion of "what music is worthy" in worship. [And I should mention here that the discussion in this chapter is indeed about the music qua music, and not about the content/words.] I am not the independent Baptist from the church where I made my Christian commitment. Nor am I high church Anglican. This book reminds me of the challenges of navigating music's role somewhere in the middle. Or, as I feel today, somewhere in the muddle.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

From my lifelong friend. Is it original with him? These things are never original. They work best as folk sayings, anyway. Regardless: thanks, Randy, for ...

Let's put the TEMPORARY in contemporary worship.

Hey, it's Easter, and that's all I got. Enjoy it or let it raise your hackles. But try to laugh.