Thursday, October 9, 2014

Looking Back

So much to say, so little time . . .

Immersed in my (new? temporary? tenuous? unlikely?) teaching role, I find that I have little time to sit and write. Lots of time to think, with nearly 10 hours of week commuting by car. Lots to write about, with my head in music and related subject areas. Lots to write for, with some potential conference/article uses of my thesis. (A hint of that here on an excellent blog.) But not a lot of margin to reflect and write about some things that are important to me.

Happily, thanks to social media, I am able to keep up with others who are writing the good fight. I would particularly draw your attention to my friend Jonathan Aigner, whose work at Ponder Anew is getting noticed, shared, re-blogged, and commented on. Bookmark it, and join the conversation.

I'm also enjoying an ongoing discussion about Millennials and liturgical worship . . . or why run-of-the-mill Evangelicalism is losing young people to churches with historic liturgy. This is just the most recent post I've appreciated. If you're not tracking this conversation, just do a search on those key words. Intriguing. It seems that a couple of generations of pragmatism is coming home to roost. Or rather, driving young people out of the nest.

This past Sunday, October 5, marked a full two years since I left my full-time role as a pastor for music. I miss many aspects of that life, and perhaps I will again serve the church in that way. For two years now, I have been on a path that has kept me open to surprise. I am learning to trust God in ways that I haven't "had to" for a long time. And my Karen and I are being nicely cared for by our faithful, covenant-keeping Lord.

I am working full time again, teaching music subjects, including music & worship, and directing the band at Trinity College, the undergraduate college of Trinity International University. I direct a little church choir at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Hinsdale, Illinois. And this fall I am guest chorus master for the Fox Valley Orchestra. It's thrilling, and tiring, and probably temporary, and I am having a ball.

Some people, two years ago, assumed this was what I was off to. I have to say, they knew better than I did. Is this where I belong? Well, all I know is that it is where I am now, by God's grace, and what is to come we don't really know. But when we need to know, we will.

Monday, August 11, 2014

And the prayers

Apropos yesterday’s post, two prayers from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer also have recently shaped my prayers for the Church in troubled spots.

From the collect assigned to “Proper 13” (Sunday, August 3), note the highlighted portion especially:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And the prayer that ends morning devotions:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sadly, it took me a couple of days into last week, praying the first collect, before I made the connection to praying it on behalf of the persecuted church. I find I can no longer pray the daily morning prayer routinely. I will not take for granted that I have been brought safely to any new day; and I pray that the church in Iraq will also be safe, and preserved, and overcome.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

BWV 178 and the Persecuted Church

Since the start of this church year (which happened to align with the completion of my thesis) I have been listening each week to a Bach cantata appropriate to the liturgical Sunday. I am listening through the second Leipzig cantata cycle, since my case study cantata (BWV 5, Wo soll ich fliehen hin) is from late in that year (1723–24).

So today I turned to BWV 178, Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält (If the Lord God does not stay with us) and was not only refreshed (as I am each Sunday), not only amazed at Bach’s inventive treatment of texts (a source of constant delight), not only keeping up with a discipline/commitment (as only an obsessive can and must). No, today I was floored by the timeliness of this cantata text in light of world events.

For the past couple of weeks we have been hearing about the brutal beheading of Christian children in ISIS controlled Iraq. We are mourning the persecution of Iraqi Christians (Chaldean Catholics). And this on top of ongoing terror in Nigeria, Somalia, and elsewhere.

In 1524, Justus Jonas wrote a chorale based on Psalm 124. Two hundred years later Bach set the words of that hymn in Cantata 178, for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity. The Scripture readings for the day were
Romans 8:12–17 (“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”) and Matthew 7: 15–23 (not all who say “Lord, Lord” belongs to God, and that “by their fruit you shall know them.”). Combined with Psalm 124 (“If the Lord had not been at our side . . . Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) and Jonas’ chorale, this Cantata is an extended meditation on the focus, hope, and consolation of persecuted Christians.

Mind you, in Jonas’ day the persecution was from one group of Christians against another. And God knows over the centuries (before and since) that has been a sad reality. I recall the old Mennonite Central Committee poster from my college days.

Fair enough; and sad enough.

So, this is not a rant against Islam. It is simply pointing out that one of the virtues of the arts—and of the musico-prophetic art in particular—is that words written 490 years ago, paired with music written 290 years ago, provided perspective to me today, as I consider world events. They teach me how to pray today. They remind me where my Christian hope lies. And they unite me in some strange, unexpected way, with Iraqi Christians.

If you want to enter into this musical devotion . . .
The Bach Cantata website, with German text and English translation, in parallel.
The Bach Cantata website, with German text, and the English translation interleaved. Scroll to the bottom of this page for some notes on the Jonas chorale, and Bach’s setting.
From both these pages you can delve more deeply into the cantata.
Recordings: Ton Koopman on YouTube

I’ve been listening to as many of the cantatas as I can by John Eliot Gardiner, on Spotify.
And if you can lay your hands on the recordings by Masaaki Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan, enjoy!
Listen to a recording while following along the text. I like to read through the full text in English first (since my German is very weak), then track the movements with the recording.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Reading List for Music in Worship

I am preparing to teach my first collegiate course in the subject I have lived for three decades: Music in Worship. So now I take three decades of attention, and shelves of reading, and pare it down to a “reasonable” Reading List for undergraduate seniors and seminary students. This is a bit like answering the question, “What is your favorite hymn?” Well now, that depends, doesn’t it! So many to choose from, and context is everything.

Music in Worship will meet as a seminar for three hours on Monday nights. Undergrads will read up to 100 pages per week; seminary students a little more. We will spend four weeks on basic definitions (worship, liturgy, church music, congregational song), eight weeks on historical matters (biblical times through today), then have three weeks of symposia (hermeneutics, history, and culture). In the final class meeting students will present, defend, and lead the class through their designs of a musical segment of public worship.

The Reading List

  • Begbie, Jeremy S. Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.
  • Block, Daniel A. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014.
  • Dowley, Tim. Christian Music: A Global History. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.
  • Pinsor, J. Matthew, ed. Perspectives on Worship: Five Views. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2009.
Dan Block’s book is to be released just in time for us to use this semester. His comprehensive view of worship, and his thorough treatment of biblical materials, makes this a must-have book in this discipline. Dowley’s Christian Music provides a chronological and global look at music and the Church. Pinsor’s Perspectives sticks with evangelical practice (appropriate for TIU and the students who will take this course), and puts the five practitioners in dialogue with each other. Begbie’s philosophical, historical, and theological reading of music is something that students (and worship leaders, and pastors) ought to be aware of and grapple with.
            In addition to these, seminary students will also be required to read the following, and to work through the question of whether or how music gives insight into theology:

  • Begbie, Jeremy S. and Steven R. Guthrie, eds. Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. 

From the following titles students will select one book to read on their own.

  • Best, Harold M. Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
  • Best, Harold M. Music Through the Eyes of Faith. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
  • Brown, Frank Burch. Inclusive Yet Discerning: Navigating Worship Artfully. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  • Day, Thomas. Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
  • Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010.
  • Hustad, Donald P. Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal. Carol Stream: Hope Publishing, 1993.
  • Johansson, Calvin. Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint. 2nd edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998.
  • Jones, Paul S. Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006.
  • Kidd, Reggie. With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.
  • Myers, Kenneth A. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Wheaton: Crossway, 1989. (2012 with new Introduction by the author)
  • Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Row, 1951. (2001 edition by HarperCollins) with (or without) Carson, Donald A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. Recommended reading for seminary students. I do not want them to read Carson without reading Niebuhr first.
  • O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. God’s Lyrics: Rediscovering Worship Through Old Testament Songs. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010.
This list is more clearly weighted to reflect my personal/professional/pastoral concerns, and I don’t apologize for that. (The list will almost certainly be changed, if not abridged, before the syllabus goes to print.) I will give the students a précis of each item on the list so they can choose according to their interests, questions, or taste. This course is designed to get students to wrestle with the issues of music in worship. The following semester course in worship is much more practical and focused on worship resources of all kinds.

There are still many books that I would like students to know about and read. But I have to remember that I’ve been at this a long time, and they are just getting started!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Feast of the Enunciation

A liturgy that sprang to mind whilst listening to new choral music in the car yesterday. 

Feast of the Enunciation

A service for the start of a new choir season

            Gather ye singers, with all your might,
            And let us sing with joy this night;
            And joy give ye to all that hear,
            Without an over-labored ear.

Chorus:  Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear, when Washington’s washerwoman went west?

            The Maker gave us all we need
            To make a sound that others heed,
            To sing with clarity and verve
            And not get on our list’ner’s nerves.

Chorus: The lips, the tongue, the tip of the teeth.

            Though there be grace for every ill,
            And words be printed, even still
            I shall insist on clarity
            And that your words please even me.

Chorus: Poppy, petunia, poppy, petunia, gladiola.

            When singing with the instruments
            We will be taxed, but never spent;
            The vowels will make our sound so dear,
            But consonants make meaning clear.

Chorus: A tooter who tooted a flute, tried to tutor two tooters to toot. Said the two of the tutor, “Is it harder to toot, or to tutor two tooters to toot?”

            “The people know these words,” we say;
            But still, let’s not get in the way.
            The less they have to work at it,
            The more our message they will get.

Chorus: The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

            I’ll say this many times, you know,
            And you’ll grow weary, even though
            To shut me up all you need do
            Is take to heart, and follow through.

Chorus: Minimal animal, minimal animal, minimal animal, minimal animal.

             Before we get to work we should
            Catch up, relax, for schmoozing’s good;
            We’ve lots of music yet to make,
            But first let’s take a social break.

Chorus: A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee cup.

[Here at the Director’s discretion, s/he may announce the length of a break, along with other notices of immediate and local importance.]

[Let there be ample coffee, according to choral practice at all times and in all places. As circumstances allow, let there also be an assortment of edible goods.]

[After the break, the Feast of the Enunciation continues with the music appropriate to the Proper of the Season.]

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Agree to Disagree about the Ways we Agree

It’s my take on the old saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (a description of Voltaire’s principle, often wrongly ascribed to Voltaire himself)

With a book I’m working through now, my attitude is: “I approve of what you say, but I regret like death the way you say it.”

This particular biography and appreciation of Isaac Watts is a strangely articulated celebration of the father of English hymnody. The author asserts – and I agree with him – that the church of the 21st century would be richer for knowing the hymns of Isaac Watts, and for writing new songs along the same principles. Amen! But I’m afraid the tone of critique, expressed in short tangents and off-hand comments, must surely put off the audience this author would most like to reach? Of what value is my appreciation for Isaac Watts if the way I present my case puts you on the defensive? For whom is the book actually written?

Far better, it seems to me, would be to present the case simply and forthrightly:
·         Watts’s hymns are colorful, expressive, clear, and simple
·         He wrote lyrics to be sung to tunes congregations could easily and heartily sing together
·         He wrote directly out of his engagement with Holy Scripture, and the hymns are rich in biblical and theological references, allusions, and themes
·         300 years after his death, we are still singing many of his psalm settings and hymns; and we still have to reckon with Isaac Watts.
Therefore, we might go on to suggest, modern writers and composers of congregational songs would do well to study Watts—his work, his principles—and make them our own in appropriate and disciplined ways.

And may I learn, from this helpful but flawed book, how not to press my own concerns—in private and in public.