Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Symbol Creation

It's almost Christmas, and, therefore, the past month or more has seen the annual deluge of diamond store commercials. Zales, Gordons, Kay, and any number of local stores, in seeking to up their holiday sales, seemingly spend most of their advertising budget between December and February (a wise decision, I'm sure, especially this year with such movies coming out).

I myself considered purchasing an anniversary band for Amy (it was just our 7th!), as a new Zales outlet opened right by our local Wegman's. There was one I liked, and I know Amy would like, but the Zales saleswoman would not accept this fact—I of course needed to purchase a ring with three stones, "which symbolize our love in the past, present, and future." After I unstuck my eyes from the position into which they had rolled, I said thanks and left.

Besides the "past, present and future" collection, it seems that the rage this Christmas are "journey" collections. These necklaces feature different sized diamonds, growing from small to large—to symbolize the journey love takes as it grows.

These designs are curious to me. Do people allow diamond companies to designate symbols for their lives? Can a corporation really succeed in designating such "illustrative symbolism" into a common symbol system? And, can this corporation expect that the interpretant of its symbol really understand what was intended?

I suppose that last question's answer is, yes, largely, since viewers of commercials are told in that interaction exactly what to understand the symbol as—no abductive thinking there. But, will these necklaces be understood in five years? Ten? If not, then the sign has failed. Do these ads work, though, I wonder?

Two ideas come to mind: the first, that they do not work, and, that people like myself gag when thinking about them. But, if that were the case, they probably wouldn't continue to run them. The second is that they do, but that leaves my to wonder, Why? Are we so sign-starved as a culture that we need diamond commercials to give us more? And, why cannot a couple determine their own sign? Part of sign creation is bound up in the relationship of the sign giver and its interpretant—who has a greater relationship than a romantic couple?

I suppose, though, if movies are any indicator, people really can't interpret signs without explicit explanations given. I don't necessarily agree with that, but that does seem to be how this culture is understood. That brings me to a more important point, and that is, that Christian worship is largely made up of signs. Again I wonder, can people interpret the signs that occur during a celebration of the Eucharist? Can they interpret what happens at baptism? At Easter Vigil? I think so, with little prodding.

Those who have a relationship with the Church and with God should be able to interpret what happens in church during the worship of God. But, maybe the Church should take out television advertisements to run every commercial segment explaining the meaning of thuribles, of bread made from wheat, and of water. That of course would leave congregants free from thinking, and then they could focus only on their feelings about God.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

John W. Peterson

I was saddened to read this week of the death of John W. Peterson on September 20 ( I was living in another world during September). I was instantly taken back to my childhood growing up at Sunnyside Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Some of my favorite songs to sing in church were "Drinking at the Springs of Living Water," "Jesus is Coming Again," "Surely Goodness and Mercy," and, what was my favorite hymn at the time, "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul." Plus, I remember some of his cantatas, like Night of Miracles and No Greater Love, which we did during college at Hazel Dell Baptist Church.

But, I mostly remember Peterson's songs from morning car rides to school with my mom, who always took that time to sing every verse of hymns she knew with me so that I could learn them. As a church pianist since about 1958, she knows a lot! She's been a church musician for so long that even if she plays a popular song, it sounds like an offertory (as my sister is quick to point out). But I am forever grateful for the love of hymns she passed on to me.

And, even though Peterson is sometimes considered passé, many of his hymns are really enjoyable to sing, with fabulous tenor counterpoint lines. Sing a couple, and think of the composers and poets who have so impacted so many people's lives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I love Advent for several reasons! They include getting ready for Christmas, the excellent advent hymns and carols that we get to sing (we of course sang Let All Mortal Flesh this past Sunday, even though I didn't choose it—it brought tears to my eyes), my anniversary falls during Advent, and I am always reminded by the beginning and ending of the church year of the sonata-allegro form.

The sonata form, you ask? Or, even if you don't, I'll tell you anyway. The sonata-allegro form grew out of simpler forms of music (notably the rounded binary form) during the classical period, and is notable for three main sections—the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation.

The Exposition is where the main thematic materials of the sonata are given. It is usually made up of two themes joined by some transition material and followed by a coda.

The Development takes the themes presented in the exposition and plays around with them, taking them through all manner of different keys and various compositional techniques. It ends with a half cadence (I don't really want to go into that here), to bring back the themes from the exposition.

These themes reappear in the Recapitulation, in which the themes from the exposition are again presented, often in a similar fashion, but most often both in the same, tonic key.

If you're asking yourself, "How does this bear on Advent," here's how: the Christian year, from Advent, to Easter, and back to Advent, follows much the same shape. Advent is not only the time of looking to Christ's first coming, but it's also the time of looking to His second. As the beginning of the Christian year, looking for Christ's first coming sets out the first theme, which continues through Christmas. Advent is also a time of fasting (or not, today—it's traditionally been) in preparation for the feast of Christmas and the days following through Epiphany.

Similarly, Lent prepares for the second great theme of the year, Easter. After Easter and Pentecost, the ordinary time builds on the themes of Christmas and Easter—a time of development. Finally, two weeks before Advent again approaches, readings from the lectionary focus on the second coming—a fitting end to the year, which also brings to mind the first coming, and recapitulating the things that began the year.

Even the ratios of the different times of the year fall into ratios that are similar to those often used in sonata-allegro and other forms. In some years, notably those in which Easter falls between April 17-23 (which will next occur in 2014), the ratio of the days from the beginning of Advent to Easter and Easter to the end of the Christian year is near to 140/225, which, if you're up on your math, is almost exactly the Golden Ratio, used in artistic endeavors since ancient Greece.

So, as a new church year begins, listen to some Beethoven or some Haydn, think about the beauty inherent in the form of the music, and the beauty similarly there in the Christian year, and enjoy them both!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I received a phone call on Tuesday while in Oklahoma, with the news that I passed all four of my comps. Celebration ensued.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Sunday School

My final comp over the Sunday school movement is complete! I think I did fine on it, as well. There were some good questions, and I find the Sunday school to be incredibly intriguing.

I'm especially interested in the architectural results of Sunday schools. After the 'Akron' style was passing, many churches began building classrooms directly off the main sanctuary (or, more properly, adjoining the nave) with sliding partitions, either coming down from the ceiling or out from the wall. Others built two large rooms, divisible by large partitions lowered from the ceiling, with a pulpit in the corner that would be viewable from both. Both of these were partially attempts to draw children into the main worship service of the church, rather than simply attending Sunday school.

Do any of you go to churches built like these? A great example is the Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands, NJ (unfortunately with few pictures on their website, and none that show the architecture). What other ones are there? I saw a lot of pictures of various First Baptist Churches in a 1916 architectural manual. If anyone wants to send me a picture of your church built like these, I'd love it!
Here's a picture from the side of the Sunday school addition at the First Baptist Church of Hightstown to get you started! While it's not built using the ideas I was discussing (it has a separate Sunday school building, rather than classes adjoining the sanctuary), it's still a wonderful architectural example. It exemplifies some of the other classroom ideas, like small rooms, a large assembly room for "departmental work", and easy access from classes to the sanctuary.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Common Census Map Project

In my love of maps and demographically-oriented things, the CommonCensus Map Project is pretty neat, if not entirely scientific. It allows you to enter your address and determine the major city which influences you, as well as local neighborhoods. It is partially a protest against gerrymandering, but it's also just fun to examine!

And, after next Thursday, I'll blog more, I promise! I have 3-4 posts rolling around in my head, I just haven't taken the time to do them.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

3 Down, 1 Left

My third comp went pretty well. I had a lot to say, and wound up with about 9700 words! So, 9700/6 hours=1616 words/hour. At that rate, I should finish my dissertation in about 4 days, right?

And, in answer to Millinerd's question, in the Anglican/Baptist faceoff, of course the Baptists won.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ah, music

As an example of all that bugs me about the current Christian music scene, check out this that I happened to see while clicking past Nickelodeon—yes, that Nickelodeon (it was during a Spongebob episode). There's something that bothers me about children singing "O, the wonderful cross, bids me come and die and find that I might truly live" to a techno beat while playing baseball (that was on their commercial). Listen, it's #6.

Sure, kids should know worship songs, but do they need to be marketed with KidzBop? And yes, it's the same company that produces the soundtrack to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Debbie Does Dallas. But, Worship Jamz 1 apparently reached to top of the children's charts last year. Go figure.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Church of Brunch and a Confessional (not mine!)

Mea culpa, mea culpa. I've been going crazy between comps and teaching, but I've been mulling over some things, even so!

Last weekend on NPR's Weekend America (you can listen to it there), an Austin church was featured–the Church of Brunch. Hosted in a home, its main principle is that it is non-God based. The members meet together and participate in their liturgy of singing a song or two (by Johnny Cash on the day NPR attended), having a reading of some kind (on that day from The Devil in the White City, which Amy highly recommends as an interesting, fun read), there's a moment of quiet meditation for whatever usage the attendees see fit, and then, of course, brunch.

So, noticeably absent are hymns/other praise songs, Scripture reading, prayer, and, especially, God. The founders said that they had attended many churches and synagogues looking for a sense of community, but were upset because eventually it would come out that you need to do "this, this, and this," or you are going to hell. What shocked me about that statement was that the Unitarians were listed in the places they had tried—what Unitarian church told someone they were going to hell?

But, as John pointed out, I suppose that people come in to church hearing what they expect to hear. Which, perhaps, means we should be all the more bold in gospel-proclaiming, since people who'd be offended by it seem to be offended no matter what. And, it's offensive by its very nature. But, I digress.

What I was most interested in was this group's search for a sense of community. Maybe the statement that their main principle is being non-God based is incorrect—more correctly, they seem to be seeking community. I'm glad that people are doing so, in a time when community seems to be increasingly absent. I do wish they had found it in a local church in Austin, where I'm sure there are churches on every corner (it is SBC land, at least).

I am glad that some are seeking community and human contact, because many are not, evidenced by, a church which began in Oklahoma City, and which my brother, as well as many others I know, attends. It now has 9 campuses, in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Arizona, Fort Worth, a new one in Tennessee, and the "internet campus." Realizing that this is not that new (internet church—although it still grates on me), what I am surprised at now is the internet confessional. Yes, the internet confessional.

At, you can give your confession to the familiar space of your own computer screen, as well as anyone else's who cares to read it. It's interesting to me, the idea of anonymous confession to the internet. The pastor, Craig, gives a video explaining that only confession to God will truly mean something, but, it seems almost empty when you can go right over to the sidebar and either read lurid tales of sin or write your own.

Interestingly, I saw this last Sunday on the Today show (or perhaps Saturday). Lester Holt interviewed Craig Groechel about the site and its purpose. Craig said that it is advertised as a first step in a repenting process. Lester really took him to task, though, asking if it weren't true that the Bible and the early church taught that we should confess to God and to one another—which really shocked me on the Today show, but for which I was glad. Craig said that this first step would hopefully lead someone to do just that.

I'm quite skeptical. The anonymity of the internet, IP addresses aside, leads me to think that most who would post to a site like that would never confess to a fellow believer, although whether God is involved is between that person and God. Churches should be addressing the internet, of course. For many people, it is the first point of contact with a local church. It probably should not be the only contact, however. I don't think that's what was intended in instructions about "fellowshipping with one another."

Maybe I should go confess that I haven't blogged in weeks.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Whole Armor of God

Yes, you, too can own your very own Armor of God! I guess, though, that salvation isn't as protective for girls.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

2 Down, 2 to Go

My second comp, on Reformation Liturgies, was this morning. It went fairly well, and was a bit shorter at only 4 hours. I think I did pretty well on it, although it will be a few weeks before I hear. Thanks again to those who prayed for me—I appreciate it! My next ones will be October 6 and November 2.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to clean house (I have books everywhere!) and not think of anything.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Abductive thinking & worship

One of the books which I read for my Eucharist comp was Graham Hughes' Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity. He examines the theories of the semiotician Charles Peirce and applies them to worship. I highly recommend it, even for those of you who hate semiotics or have never studied them—he explains Peirce's theories well, and the conclusions he draws regarding worship are thought-provoking, even if you might not agree with all of them (just try to ignore the fact that his sentences have an average of about 60 words in length).

Some of the themes Hughes establishes are especially interesting. First, he establishes that meaning is produced in the interaction between the sign producer and the interpretant. Regardless of the giver's understanding of meaning, the interpretant's understanding, based upon what understandings are available to him or her, will affect the meaning intended into a third meaning, one different from the producer and the interpretant's original ideas.

Second, Hughes spends some time discussing the notion that humans like to go to the edge of chaos. He notes people's proclivity to enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, extreme sports, etc. He then calls upon the designers of worship to make the worship service such an experience—bringing people to the edge of chaos in that they are approaching the holy God.

Third, Hughes draws upon Peirce's understandings of meaning production to say that abduction produces the most meaningful meanings, as opposed to induction or deduction. By abduction, he means that some information is given, but not enough to know for certain what is truly the meaning of a situation. Therefore, imagination is necessary to create meaning, since not enough information was given to induce or deduce the meaning. In a given situation, for this purpose a worship service, thousands of tiny signs lead the worshiper to create meaning based upon them, whether consciously or not.

So, we see that worship leaders should be mindful that the worshipers might interpret a bit differently the signs that are given in worship; that worshipers like to be brought to the edge of chaos; and that the best method of giving meaning is allowing for the imaginative, abductive process. What that indicates could be different in different places and situations, because meaning can only be produced based on the cultural situations which produce it (one critique of Hughes is that he seemingly leaves aside the work of the Holy Spirit, instead relying on human agents for meaning production).

However, can we rely on contemporary people to be abductive in their thinking? An examination of recent Hollywood movies seems to indicate not, yet, many forwardthinking churches are using movies to outreach to their congregations. The church which some of my family attends just had a couple of services in which they watched the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line—an enjoyable movie, but interesting to show in worship.

Amy and I watched 16 Blocks last night, and it seems fairly representative. No room was left for abductive thinking, in which every tiny plot detail was spelled out in excruciating detail. The entire plot was fairly obvious from about minute 15 of the 102-minute feature, but, the filmmakers felt it necessary to be doubly sure that everyone would be able to comprehend the straightforward, clichéd story. I would fault them for my boredom, but, going to movies in the theater makes me wonder about our moviegoing public.

In Lady in the Water, what had been explained fairly well, although not fully, was finally mostly spelled out in the last few minutes. Some was new information, but some of it had been left for our imagination—although with much guidance. However, what had seemed fairly obvious left the lady behind me gasping in shock. Further, when Amy and Amanda Drury saw The Devil Wears Prada, a movie with much less to reveal, one of their fellow moviegoers was left in shock at the revelation of another obvious plot detail that had finally been spelled out.

Other movies that leave much unexplained have been unpopular, such as Unbreakable, which apparently I and three people I'm friends with liked. However, too much left undone is unsatisfying to me, such as Winter Light, part of Ingmar Bergman's "faith" trilogy.

So, is the simplified spelling out of every detail, like in 16 Blocks, really all we can expect of people? If so, can we depend on the abductive reasoning of worshipers? And, what could we do to encourage abductive thinking? How can we bring people to the boundary with chaos?

Blingo is good

So, I've now won four times on Blingo—I've won twice, and my friends have won twice. It's really great—it searches Google, but when you search you're entered in a lottery to win prizes. And, if you use Firefox, you can integrate the search in your search bar. There's a helpful button on the right if you'd like to join as my Blingo friend. Then, if you win, I would win too! So far, I've gotten 2 movie tickets and 2 iTunes gift certificates. Try it out!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

1 Down, 3 to Go

My first comp is finished! I think the others will seem easier after spending 6 1/2 hours typing on Eucharist and Signification. After producing a 5600 word document, my brain is fried! But, it's good to have one done. I think I did pretty well, although not perfect on one question (about the development of early anaphoral families, their distinguishing characteristics, and modern liturgies that draw from them—it was a lot to remember!). So, thanks to those who were praying, and, you can pray for me next Thursday, too, when I have my Reformation comp.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I am Zwingli

Well, according to this test I am. It's not great, but it was a good, short diversion from studying! Out of the 5 options, I guess that's probably whom I would most identify with, although I don't know about the percentages I just got. Besides, what did they mean by "mere symbol?"

You scored as Zwingli. You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are mere symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably.











Eucharistic theology
created with

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation

Next I'm going to examine Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation by William R. Crockett. Crockett has recently retired from the Vancouver School of Theology, where he was professor of systematic theology.

Crockett spends the first six chapters of his book addressing the changing understandings of the Eucharist throughout history. Rather than summarize his statements, I will later compile a narrative of this development based on several books. C. includes a whole chapter examining Luther and Zwingli, which will also be helpful for my next comp, Reformation Liturgies. He does show important theological points throughout his history, ones that should not be ignored—especially, his discussions of Augustine and of the epiklesis.

His final chapter, however, is the one in which C.'s ideas come through most clearly. He begins by noting that, as heirs of the Reformation, Protestants have come to see the proclamation of the Word as the normal, weekly event, rather than the celebration of the Eucharist. The Reformation liturgies placed a strong emphasis on teaching and exhortation because the reformers wished for the sacrament to be grounded in the word, not that they wished to abolish the sacrament. Soon after the Reformation, the Enlightenment caused sacramental and symbolic language to further be lost from the general consciousness.

C. discusses the idea of eucharistic sacrifice, a difficult issue for the heirs of the Reformation. Max Thurian is cited as regaining the centrality of anamnesis, while at the same time recovering the idea of sacrifice. The Eucharist is neither a repetition of the sacrifice of the cross, nor simply a mental recollection of the event. Through it, the sacrifice of the cross is made sacramentally present that we may participate in its redemptive reality. C. cites Regin Prenter, also, in noting that through this participation in Christ's sacrifice, we help to fulfill our duty to offer ourselves as a living, holy sacrifice.

C. then takes up the issue of the eucharistic presence of Christ, another challenging issue for all churches. He traces the development of the doctrine, noting that after Augustine, during the Middle Ages, the community lost its sense of itself as the body of Christ, and instead became a group of spectators viewing Christ as an object on the altar. This developed along with the loss of symbolic consciousness, signaled in the controversies of the 9th and 11th centuries. No longer was it understood that a symbol participates in and mediates the reality that it symbolizes. Without spending a great deal of time on the issue's modern interpretants, C. does address two Catholic theologians, namely, E. Schillebeeckx and P. Schoonenberg. Schillebeecks interpreteed the sacraments as the symbolic activity of the community of faith—they "are communal symbols that mediate a personal encounter between Christ and the Church." Schoonberg also saw the real presence in a personal manner. The presence of Christ is not in an object, but rather "the personal presence of Christ in his community" (234). They both stress that the presence of Christ cannot be isolated from his presence in proclamation and in community. His presence takes place at the level of symbolic activity. The reality that is offered by the sacramental signs is Christ himself; although, this does not necessarily imply a local presence of Christ within or any physical change of the elements.

C. moves on to discuss the symbolic, recapping what he discussed throughout the book as related to symbols. In the ancient world, symbols were vehicles that mediated to the community the meaning of life in society and in the cosmos—the symbol participated in the reality it represented, and, therefore, when the community participated in the symbol, it participated in that reality. The loss of this understanding has been a process in Western thought, and C. analyzes two categories of understanding arising from this process—the "symbolic-realist" tradition, seeing in symbols a true meaning; and the "sociological" tradition, seeing symbols as matters of function.

The "symbolic realists" see symbols with an integrity of their own that cannot be reduced. While symbols can express different meanings, they cannot be one without the other (the example of the Exodus as a declaration of the liberation of an oppressed people, and as a divine act of redemption is given). It is the holding together of different meanings that gives symbols their power. The symbolic-realists also see the abolishment of symbols and their replacement with concepts as leaving modern culture impoverished and lacking whole worlds of meaning—the loss of the symbol has dehumanized us. However, symbols must also be interpreted for their meaning to be effective.

The "sociological tradition" sees symbols similarly, but also takes into account such thinkers as Freud, Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Freud's symbolism was that of individualism (dreams, etc.), but this tradition also sees symbols as a reflection not of individual life history, but instead of the society in which we live. Marx saw this, and noted that symbols are not neutral conceptions, but rather serve a social function, which he called "ideology" (understanding that Marx' ideas arose in the Industrial Revolution and critiques of capitalism). Durkheim, further, saw a "social bond" that holds traditional societies together—their common symbol system. Baum, Mannheim and Bloch all point towards the idea of symbols creating a utopian ideal in society as well as performing an ideological role.

C. gives his own reflection on symbols based on some other theologians. He begins by noting, "...the role of the symbol is to disclose the transcendent or the sacred.... religious symbols do not disclose a world different from this world, but the transcendent dimension that is present in all ordinary human experience.... Christian symbolic not an escape into another sacral world, but the celebration of the divine presence in the whole of life with a veiw to its redemptive transformation" (248).

C. uses Langdon Gilkey to show three meanings of symbol in Christian theology:
  1. Every finite being is a symbol of transcendencee precisely as a finite creature.
  2. Symbols assist a group to become "aware of its own status as symbol (in the first sense), as existing in and through the power of the divine"
  3. The presence of the Divine in and through these symbols is communicated to the group over time through the symbols (in the Christian tradition, primarily through word and sacrament).
Through these ideas, C. shows that religious symbols not only serve to disclose transcendent meaning, but also provoke social transformation, the Eucharist in particular. In celebrating the Eucharist as looking towards the coming kingdom, we should be mindful of those who have insufficient bread through injustice, poverty, war, etc. It is this that C. spends the remainder of the book discussing—the idea that throughout the Old and New Testaments, meals or banquets were ideas of feasting with God, and, eschatologically thinking, we should seek to include all within this feast, therefore making advocacy for the poor a priority. The link between the eucharist and sacrifice gives Christians purpose to more deeply address the self-giving action of God that is celebrated, and in eating the elements signifying that we should seek the transformation of the whole world. "The material signs of bread and wine, offered and shared by the community, are signs of the transformation of the entire material creation" (262).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church

Laurence Hull Stookey, professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., presents a different view in Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church, published in 1993. His book is very accessible, and would be appropriate for a wide variety of readers, from scholars to Sunday School attendees.

Writing from a Methodist perspective, Stookey calls for a restoration of prominence to the Lord's Supper within Protestantism. He asks whether the memorialization of the Last Supper, and therefore the solemnity of the cross, should be the focus of the Supper; or, rather, if it should not be a joyful celebration of Christ feasting with his church, even as the two on the way to Emmaus broke bread with him, and, in doing so, recognized his presence.

S. begins his discussion by calling for a more sacramental understanding of the church's life. He, like Schmemann, sees the renewing of all creation as one of the goals of the church, and, therefore, of its celebration of the eucharist. While protestants often seem frightened by "grace" language when related to sacraments, S. notes that "God's grace can be proclaimed through things such as the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the holy meal" (15, my emphasis. He discusses baptism more fully in his earlier work, Baptism: Christ's Act in the Church). He uses this fact to say that it is through this proclamation of God's grace that creation may be fulfilled, a fulfillment which for Christians began with the resurrection of Christ.

The Supper is seen as a covenant, which, by definition, makes demands upon the covenant makers (although S. does not reference Hebrews 8-9, the overtones are there). This covenant calls us to responsibility for our Christian walk, and from God is a covenant of justice and mercy. Christ is the central focus of the Eucharist, "a feast in which we, with the risen Lord, incarnate the hope we have of a righteous realm in which Christ's sacrificial love destroys barriers among human beings and between humanity and God. To this feast all are invited by God on equal terms" (22). It is, however, the feast of the ekklesia, not of the individual. It is not just that of the current church, but of the entire church, past and present.

S. moves on to discuss the history of eucharistic interpretation, beginning with Paul and moving through church history to the present day, noting that our unfortunate understanding after the Reformation is that the Eucharist is Christ's gift to deserving individuals.

He calls for a renewal of eucharistic theology in six main points (95-108):
  1. The Eucharist is to be seen above all as sacrament—God's gift to us.
  2. A necessary corollary is that the Eucharist is a reliable means of grace, yet is not grace itself.
  3. The Christ who is proclaimed through the Eucharist is the whole Christ, and the proclamation should embody the full saving work of the feast's Host.
  4. Inseparable from all this, and often also obscured, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Because the Eucharist is a meal of the church,embeddedd in any theology of the sacrament is an ecclesiology—assumptions about the nature of the church.
  6. Just as there is always an ecclesiology, recognized or not, so also always there is an eschatology—some assumptions about the goal and final outcome of things in the providence of God.
Here Stookey's pastoral spirit comes through, because he proceeds to give several suggestions as to the implementation of eucharistic reform. Further, his sixth chapter is a summary of what a eucharistic celebration would look like, and a discussion of its parts. In his final chapter, S. discusses the ways in which the church should seek to bring people to the Lord's Supper, from those members who are absent on the day of celebration, to members of different denominations, to the church's evangelical call of missions in the world. It is here that S. again notes a major purpose of the church—providing community for those who are its members. This purpose is assisted by the Eucharist, in which all who come are gathered as a community to this feast with Christ.

The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom

The first book I'm summarizing is The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, by Alexander Schmemann. If you're unfamiliar with Schmemann, he was an former dean and professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. He died in 1983 before he was really finish polishing this work, but the Russian version was published the following year and this English version in 1987.

Schmemann takes the Byzantine Liturgy and uses it as his basis for the outline of his book. He speaks against the "illustrative symbolism" readings of the various acts of the liturgy, instead focusing on the sacramentality of creation itself, and, therefore, noting that each section of the liturgy is essential for its work and understanding. He calls focus to Western scholasticism for much of the blame for the fragmentation of the rite into its separate parts, and calls on Orthodox theologians to resist the westernization that has become the normal mode of interpretation. He especially is troubled by the Western focus on the consecratory formula, noting that undue focus on just this part of the Liturgy leads to the understanding that it is the only meaningful point, rather than understanding the entire Liturgy as indivisible and important.

He shows the interrelationship between lex credendi (the rule of faith) and lex orandi (the rule of prayer or worship) throughout, noting in the first chapter that they should be inseparable as the early church understood them. It is an excellent volume to help in understanding Orthodox theology, since much of their ecclesiology is based on the Eucharist, and much of their theological stances are revealed by the Divine Liturgy (christology, atonement, missiology, eschatology, etc.).

However, The Eucharist is not applicable only to Orthodox readers—the meditations on each section of the liturgy draw on universal themes that Christians of all traditions would do well to consider. They are labeled "Sacrament of..." the Assembly, the Kingdom, Entrance, the Word, the Faithful, Offering, Unity, Anaphora, Thanksgiving, Remembrance, the Holy Spirit, and Communion. Without taking a detailed look at each chapter, broad themes prevail in this work.

The first would be that the Divine Liturgy should be taken as a whole, rather than divided into its parts. Although he analyzes and meditates on it by its divisions, he clearly relates each section to both previous and following sections in both ideas and actions.

The second would be that there is a strong relationship between the assembly (which begins both the liturgy and the book), the eucharist and the Church (meaning the whole Church, past, present and future). S. notes this on the first page of chapter 1, and this theme is carried throughout the book. A further relationship which comes through as the book progresses, is that these three also are relating to creation at large, as well—both the physical world and those who are not part of the Church. By viewing the entire world as sacramental (by which S. means that "the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life", p.34), he sees the Church, which itself is a sacrament, as seeking the renewal of all things, since sacraments, in his understanding, are both "cosmic and eschatological"—referring at the same time to the world as first created and to the fulfilled Kingdom of God.

Third, S. calls into question the symbolic interpretations of liturgical actions which had become prevalent in Orthodox churches. He does not deny that Orthodox worship is symbolic—instead, he denies what the word "symbol" is taken to mean. Rather than understanding "symbol" as the antithesis of reality, S. calls for the comprehension of "symbol" as reality. In lieu of than seeing these symbols as illustrations, which deprive them of their "inner necessity," he sees them as manifesting and communicating what is manifested. He notes that "the symbol does not so much 'resemble' the reality that it symbolizes as it participates in it, and therefore it is capable of communicating it in reality" (38, his emphasis). He goes on to say that while we understand symbols today as the "representation or sign of an absent reality," its more ancient understanding would be that "it is the manifestation and presence of the other reality—but precisely as other, which, under given circumstances, cannot be manifested and made present in any other way than as a symbol" (38). It is this symbolic awareness that allows S. to call into question the separated, illustrative interpretations of each moment of the Liturgy, and instead call for the Liturgy's unity into a participation in the Kingdom of God.

These three themes seem to be the most important to S., as they reoccur throughout this work. I highly recommend reading it, if you haven't; and, if you have, feel free to add to what I've noted here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry

In 1982, the World Council of Church's Faith and Order Commission produced a document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), which was heralded as a breakthrough in Christian communion. It was the result of over 50 years of discussions, beginning in 1927, and received its final revision at Lima in 1982. The committee requested responses to the document, which many of the major denominations provided, and which have largely been published in the "Responses to BEM" series.

The reviews of this document have been mixed, with some seeing it as opening interdenominational dialogue, and others seeing it as having little effect, perceiving in its effort to be inclusive of all Christians a lack of doctrinal stances. It is, however, a major document in regards to both the ecumenical and liturgical movements, and many of the books which I am studying for my upcoming comp refer to it. Here is a brief summary of the Eucharist section:

The Church receives the Eucharist as a gift from the Lord. Jesus is recorded as sharing many meals during his earthly ministry, which proclaim and enact the nearness of the Kingdom of God. The eucharist continues these meals of Jesus after his resurrection as a sign of the Kingdom. It is a sacramental meal which by visible signs communicate to us God's love in Jesus Christ, by which Jesus loved his own "to the end."

The eucharist is one complete act, but is considered in five main aspects:
  1. As Thanksgiving to the Father
    It is the great thanksgiving to the Father for everything accomplished in creation, redemption and sanctification, for everything accomplished by God now in the Church and in the world in spite of human sin, and for everything that God will accomplish in bringing the Kingdom of God to fulfillment. It is thus the benediction (berakah, a Jewish thanksgiving prayer) by which the Church expresses thankfulness for all God's benefits. It is also the great sacrifice of praise by which the Church speaks on behalf of the whole creation. It signifies what the world is to become: an offering and hymn of praise to the Creator, a universal communion in the body of Christ, a kingdom of justice, love and peace in the Holy Spirit.
  2. As Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ
    It is the memorial of the crucified and risen Christ, i.e. the living and effective sign of his sacrifice, accomplished once and for all on the cross and still operative on behalf of all humankind. Christ is present in the anamnesis, granting us communion with himself. It is a foretaste of his parousia and the final kingdom. It is thus both representation and anticipation, which are expressed in thanksgiving and intercession. It is the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and we make intercession for others with Christ, the Great High Priest. This anamnesis of Christ is the basis and source of all Christian prayer. Further, in Christ we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice in our daily lives, which activity is strengthened by the eucharist. We are renewed in our unity with Christ and communion with all saints and martyrs by his blood. The anamnesis is as much present in the preached Word as in the eucharistic meal, therefore, each is codependent on the other. The words and acts of Christ in the institution are the heart of the celebration. The Church confesses his real, living and active presence in the eucharist. This presence does not, however, depend on the faith of the individual—but, to discern the body and blood of Christ, faith is required.
  3. As Invocation of the Spirit
    The Spirit makes the crucified and risen Christ really present in the eucharistic meal, fulfilling the promise in the words of institution. There is an intrinsic relationship between the words of institution, Christ's promise, and the epiklesis (the invocation of the Spirit) in the liturgy. The whole action of the eucharist has an "epikletic" character because it depends on the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the virtue of the living word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine become the sacramental signs of Christ's body and blood. The Church, as the community of the New Covenant, invokes the Spirit in order that it may be sanctified and renewed, led into all justice, truth and unity, and empowered to fulfil its mission in the world. It is through the Holy Spirit that the eucharist gives a fortaste of the Kingdom of God—the life of new creation and assurance of the Lord's return.
  4. As Communion of the Faithful
    The communion with Christ who nourishes the life of the Church is at the same time communion within the body of Christ, the Church. The sharing in one bread and the common cup in a given place demonstrates and effects the oneness of the sharers with Christ and with their fellow sharers in all times and places. It is a representative act of thanksgiving and offering on behalf of the whole world. As participants in the eucharist, we are inconsistent if we are not actively participating in the ongoing restoration of the world's situation and the human condition. Solidarity of the body of Christ and care for one another and the world find specific expression in the liturgies, whose manifestations of love are directly related to Christ's own testimony as a servant, and in whose servanthood Christians participate. The place of ministry between the table and the needy properly testifies to the redeeming presence of Christ in the world.
  5. As Meal of the Kingdom
    The eucharist opens up the vision of the divine rule which has been promised as the final renewal of creation, and is a foretaste of it. Signs of this renewal are present wherever the grace of God is manifest and human beings work for justice, love and peace. The world, to which renewal is promised, is present at the whole eucharistic celebration. Reconciled in the eucharist, the members of the body of Christ are called to be servants of reconciliation among men and women and witnesses of the joy of resurrection. It is an instance of the Church's participation in God's mission to the world. Finally, it brings into the present age a new reality which transforms Christians into the image of Christ and therefore makes them his effective witnesses. However, when they cannot unite in full fellowship around the same table to eat the same loaf and drink from the same cup, their missionary witness is weakened at both the individual and the corporate levels.
In reference to the celebration of the eucharist, BEM notes that the best way towards unity in eucharistic celebration and communion is the renewal of the eucharist itself in the different churches in regard to teaching and liturgy. At the celebration, Christ gathers, teaches and nourishes the Church—it is He who invites to the meal and who presides at it. Since the eucharist celebrates the resurrection of Christ, it is appropriate that it should occur at least every Sunday. It further helps to deepen Christian faith.

The final statement is a call for Christian unity, looking for the day when the Church will again be united around one common table.

Getting Ready for Comps

In an effort to study for my first comp on August 8, regarding signification and the eucharist, I'm going to summarize some of the major books I've been reading to help me understand them better. Feel free to comment on them, especially if you've read them and think I've missed something important. I'm going to especially focus on signification and signs/symbols, so it will not be a full summary.

However, first, to keep track, I'm going to post all the Scriptures that are commonly referenced when discussing the Lord's Supper.

The first is Mark 14:22-26, the institution narrative. Matthew 26:26-29 is much the same, with only "for forgiveness of sins" added after the institution of the cup. Luke 22:17-20 is slightly different, with the addition of a cup before the bread instead of just afterwards. Also, it is notable in that the vignette with Judas' hand on the table occurs after the institution of the Supper.

John's account does not contain the Institution Narrative, although he spends a great deal of time discussing the other activities of the night before the crucifixion.

Paul address the Supper as well first in I Corinthians 11:17-34. Paul's account of the institution narrative is also slightly differrent, adding "Do this in remembrance of me." The cup is also called the "new covenant of my blood," perhaps a reference to Jeremiah 31:31-34. The synoptic institution narratives use the phrase "blood of the covenant," a reference from Exodus 24:6-8 that is also taken up in Hebrews 9:19-21 (I read a good paper about that—search for Amy). Paul addresses shortly before this reference, in 10:16-17, that because there is one loaf and one cup, the participants are one body.

These are all the explicit references to the Supper, although there are many more related, especially those about presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, Christ's ascension, the unity of the body of Christ, Christ mediating for us at the right hand of the Father, Old and New Testament references to banquets as eschatological events, etc. The doctrine of the Lord's Supper has been so long debated, it has been discussed in relation to most of Christian doctrine.

eBible, again

I have two more invites to eBible, if anyone wants them.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Organ music

Our first night in St. Andrews, we attended a concert at the Holy Trinity Church of organ and choral music. It was a beautiful venue, and the music was good, too. The organist was excellent, and he played some Vierne, along with several other pieces by lesser known composers, among them one by the choral director, David Gascoigne.

It's a beautiful instrument, with amazing French-influenced stops besides the "Bobby Jones Bombarde" (donated by the golfer's widow), well-suited to the Vierne he played, Clair de Lune. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although it was rather lengthy. Amy, on the other hand, did not enjoy this Vierne (although she did like the other pieces). And, as I glanced around the audience, it appeared she was not the only one. Granted, most of the attendees had gotten off a plane that same day, and were fighting back jet lag, but I saw several people "praying" or nodding in agreement.

So, Amy said to me, that that was why people don't like organ music—organists play long pieces that don't quickly move through expected cadences and melodies, but rather are a bit "noodly," as my first composition teacher would call them. My first thought was that people just don't understand music, and this should help them in their music education. But, then I considered that perhaps she's right. I've always tried to play easily apprehendable pieces for church, but, sometimes I know that I think, "well, this could be a little strange for people, but, they should be exposed to new things." Maybe this isn't good, though. In 2006, pipe organ music is definitely on the decline, if not at the bottom.

We went to a concert in Ocean Grove last summer, which I found to sometimes be a little cheesy, although that organist and organ were quite fabulous, too. But, maybe that's the idea. People don't want challenge in their music listening—they want to be entertained. That, however, goes against what I think about music in the church. It's not there for our entertainment, but rather, for the worship of God. So, if a piece is well-crafted, maybe it should be played regardless of whether or not people like it. I think that is what I wonder about organ music, however. Some pieces, like those by Vierne, are wonderful to show the colors of an organ; their form, however, might not be incredibly sophisticated, often being through-composed (realizing, that many do follow standard forms—I'm not doing a music theory analysis here). Is that a well-crafted piece? I tend to like pieces that do use a standard form, because I fell as if those forms give pieces a continuity that is sometimes lacking otherwise. But, the beautiful tone colors that arise from French organ music could possibly make up for this lack of form. Is all French organ music good for church? I'm undecided.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Let All Mortal Flesh...

One of my favorite hymns is "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," taken from the 5th century Liturgy of St. James. I like it both for its text and for the French carol it's set to, PICARDY. The current, common harmony is taken from The English Hymnal, 1906 (see my post, below). Here is the text, as presented in a few hymnals, translated by Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885) (some have some verses, others have others):

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood.
Lord of lords in human nature,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the pow'rs of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim, with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Lord Most High.

These verses are taken from the Anaphora of the liturgy. Notable is the second verse, Christ giving himself for heavenly food. It is absent from some hymnals, among them the Baptist, while included in others (even those of the Protestant type). However, in Protestant hymnals (Episcopalians, Lutherans and the new Methodist hymnal excluded), this hymn is usually placed in the Advent section, or Christmas if there is no Advent section.

I've had churches sing this during Advent, and they generally react positively to it. The last couple of years, I've had our church sing it on our communion Sunday in Advent, which is more fitting given its history. But, should Protestants be singing it at all? Christ giving his own self for heavenly food doesn't bother me, because that can be interpreted many ways; but, does it confuse? Noone has ever asked me about it. I would prefer it to go away from the Advent section, personally, especially in those hymnals that leave out the second verse—the only one which specifically mentions the first advent.

But, would singing it at communion be appropriate at a Baptist church? I often feel like people have no idea what they're singing, anyway, so would it wake them up? And, I wonder how Orthodox Christians would feel about Baptists singing part of the Divine Liturgy?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I have three more invites to eBible! If you want them, email me and I'll give them away. So far, it's just a helpful study tool because you can add your own tags to passages or verses. There are some older commentaries included, as well. It's still a work in progress, and it looks like it could be really excellent as it continues to develop. I do like it, so far.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Music Maps

For my new favorite web toy, check out Live Plasma. You can make interactive maps of bands and their relationships, or movies, directors, etc., based on Amazon's database. It's pretty fun, although the classical catalog doesn't seem to work too well.

Friday, July 07, 2006


We spent Sunday-Tuesday in one of our favorite places to be, Boston, with our friends John and Amanda. We had lots of fun, and Tuesday evening, saw the most absolutely amazing fireworks display on the famous Esplanade with the Boston Pops. As the entire sky lit up, brighter than day, with fireworks that looked like shimmering water, Amy was jumping up and down in sheer joy. She said to me, "I'm not trying to be sacrilegious, but do you think that things like that will be in heaven when we see God?"

I was reminded of a conversation with millinerd, in which we were discussing craftmanship, whether it be of art, music, food, or anything. If we have been put on earth to glorify God, and will spend all eternity doing so, then are we just practicing for our more perfect job in eternity? As God has given us gifts and interests to perform our duties on earth, are those not the things that we will continue to do? And, those things that are beautiful because of the God-given gifts of the creators, will they themselves not remain to God's glory for eternity? In reading the scholastics (for an upcoming comp), they felt that all true creativity was from God—which would indicate more strongly that these works of art would last.

In thinking about music, as some pieces have lasted for hundreds of years (e.g., the music of Pérotin), will not some of it last into eternity? And others, like "Breathe" (sorry Mike), will they last? Or what about Tarkus? It's a work of amazing craftmanship, but it already seems to have faded. Of course, we have no way of comprehension of what eternity will truly be like; however, these things which are glorifying to God's creative spirit seem likely to be a good starting point.

So, whether or not Pyro Spectaculars will be doing shows in heaven or not, at least their ingenuity will be helping, along with musicians, carpenters, bakers, and everyone else. Amy will be glad, at least.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A difficult week

Sorry to those of you who have been checking every 30 minutes to see if I've posted something (yeah, right). It's been quite a couple of weeks!

Besides all the comp preparations, for those to whom I haven't spoken, Amy and I, after much prayer, decided that I should start applying to other churches. I did on Tuesday at 3:30, and got a call at 4:30 for an interview. After my interview on Thursday, I was hired on Friday—all of which happened, obviously, incredibly fast. I knew that I felt like it was the right time, but, the ease and quickness of all the events following confirmed that for me.

The difficulty lay in telling the folks at Hightstown, especially our pastor and his wife, because I truly love them all. Although I could at times be frustrated, there is not one whom I won't miss greatly. It was my first church job as organist and as music director, and, as a beautiful, historic church, it was an excellent one. So, tonight at executive meeting, it was time for me to let them know, which I had to do by letter since I couldn't make a speech without too much sadness on my part. They were shocked, but incredibly supportive and positive towards me. I really hope that God has the right person already waiting to be hired as the new organist, and that that happens really quickly!

So, I'm fairly melancholy after having to inform people with whom I've worked and fellowshipped for four years that I'm leaving, and in looking forward to tomorrow, when I'll help our neighbors, whom we've known for eight years now, pack up to move to Oklahoma. But, I'm excited to start at our new church, where I will only be the organist, and where there are many more people involved in the music program. In looking over their bulletins from the last year, it looks like they sing a wide variety of hymns and choruses. I'm excited to see what it will bring in my musical and spiritual development.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Trinity Sunday!

I was thankful this week for Trinity Sunday, because after the unfortunate torpor of Pentecost, the hymns celebrating the Trinity are some of my favorites. Since so many hymns include a trinitarian last verse (thanks to the Latin poets of the early Middle Ages, like Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, author of "Of the Father's Love Begotten"), there are many to choose from.

We sang "Holy, Holy, Holy," the last verse of "Now Thank We All Our God," "Praise Ye the Triune God," and I played "Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart," "Of the Father's Love Begotten," a setting of "Holy, Holy, Holy," and one of "Ave colenda trinitas." After the service, no fewer than 6 people commented on how much they enjoyed Sunday's music!

I was mulling over whether I played better because I like the hymns better, or if they're just better hymns, and, I think the latter. With so many to choose from, and so many with great theological statements (well, I like "Praise Ye the Triune God" for its Victorian feel), and so many with rousing tunes, it seems like a better corpus for congregational singing.

So, is the church comfortable with the Trinity, but not the Holy Spirit? It seems that the musicians are, since there are so few Holy Spirit hymns but so many Trinitarian. Or, perhaps it's only the church now that is in that situation. It seems like you can't have one without the other, though. Many of the Trinitarian hymns are old, too, so maybe we're not addressing either. The newest hymn in our service was "Praise Ye the Triune God," written in 1858 (not counting the Dennis Jernigan special music provided by my lovely wife). Maybe the rousing music for them has lasted better than the calmer music of the Holy Spirit hymns.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pentecost hymns

In choosing hymns for this coming Sunday, I've realized something. Hymns about the Holy Spirit are generally boring. There's "The Comforter Has Come," with tune by William Kirkpatrick, but, other than that, they seem fairly sedate. I truly enjoy "Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart," but a whole service of songs of that nature would be fairly monotonous.

Are there ones out there to which I'm just unfamiliar? Even contemporary ones I know tend to be more meditative, such as "Breathe" (my least-favorite song), or any of the river/spirit imagery songs.

I guess there is "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit," although I wouldn't really consider that Pentecost. Or, I suppose the Episcopalians have some nice ones—"Hail this joyful day's return," "A mighty sound from heaven," or "Come, thou Holy Spirit bright." Also, there's a second setting of that to the tune ARBOR STREET, which I find stately but joyful, even though in a minor key (see "Jesu Meine Freude," below). And, "Hail Thee Festival Day" has its Pentecost verses (also below).

There's of course the trinitarian verses in so many hymns that mention the Holy Spirit, or the last verse of "A mighty fortress," too. Some of the "Holy Spirit" hymns in many hymnals seem to be focused rather ambiguously, such as "Spirit Song," which switches back and forth from Jesus to the Holy Spirit.

All that to say, what are we missing? It seems like Pentecost was a momentous occasion, and one that would be important for all Christians of all time. Further, I'm sure the first Pentecost was both incredibly frightening and exhilarating. What are we doing singing such flowing, gentle songs about such an event? The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, sure, but the Holy Spirit is also what has indwelled the Church.

So, what are some more appropriate hymns/songs that I don't know? Having gone to churches most of my life that never even knew when Pentecost happened through the year, have I missed out?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life

One of the high points of a class I took this past semester (Anglican poets and preachers) was reading George Herbert and John Donne. They both had great poetry, although I liked Herbert's a little more, I think, for their form, but Donne's more for content (especially the Holy Sonnets).

Besides "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing," which has been set to many different tunes, a less well-known hymn by Herbert (at least in non-Anglican circles, it seems), is "Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life." Published in his work The Temple as "The Call," I like it for its play with the English language, as well as its meditative message.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

Maybe I'll have my church sing it soon. It would make people pay attention to what they're singing, hopefully, with its interesting phrases.

My other favorite poems from The Temple are "The Church Floor" and "Easter Wings," which would be less likely to be set as hymns, but are great poems. As to Donne, a great sonnet of his is #18, especially as I study for a Reformation comp.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Evangelicalism, Global Warming and Poverty

"I don't think God will ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created." So said Richard Cizik, vice-president of the NAE in the New York Times, quoted on Speaking of Faith. Cizik has been "converted" to believing that global warming exists, and that evangelicals should do something about it, comparing the churches' relative silence to that during the civil rights struggle.

Interestingly, he has been castigated by Senator Inhofe, from my home state of Oklahoma. Inhofe says that Cizik and the NAE have been "'led down a liberal path' by environmentalists and others who have convinced the group that issues like poverty and the environment are worth their efforts."

Global warming aside, convinced that poverty is worth their efforts? I suppose that means Jesus was a liberal. I hope that the NY Times has taken Inhofe out of context.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Jesu, meine freude

"Jesu, meine freude." As one of my favorite hymns both for its music, its meter, and its text, it is not sung often enough! It was written in the 17th century by Johann Franck (1618-1677), whom Catherine Winkworth says "ranks second only to [Paul] Gerhardt as a hymn-writer" (thank you, PTS book sale for my $1 copy of Christian Singers of Germany). German hymnwriting history before the 20th century is sometimes seen as being divided into two main schools, with Gerhardt at its divide—the first, of religious poetry easily set to music and sung as a group—and the second, poetry that is at times less regular and often more intensely personal and mystical. Franck falls into this latter category, although just at its beginning. As a provincial German politician, Franck seems an unlikely candidate for hymnwriting, but his output both in hymns and secular poetry is generally well-regarded.

Jesu, priceless treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me!
Long my heart hath panted,
Till it well-nigh fainted,
Thirsting after Thee!
Thine I am, O spotless Lamb!
I will suffer nought to hide Thee,
Ask for nought beside Thee.

In Thine arm I rest me,
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here;
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell
With their heaviest storms assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I need not fly thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease!
Rage, O world, thy noises
Cannot drown our voices
Singing still of peace;
For God's power guards every hour,
Earth and all the depths adore Him,
Silent bow before Him.

Wealth, I will not heed thee,
Wherefore should I need thee,
Jesus is my joy!
Honours, ye may glisten,
But I will not listen,
Ye the soul destroy!
Want or loss or shame or corss
Ne'er to leave my Lord shall move me,
Since He deigns to love me.

Farewell, thou who choosest
Earth, and heaven refusest,
Thou wilt tempt in vain;
Farewell, sins, nor blind me,
Get ye far behind me,
Come not forth again;
Past your hour, O pomp and power;
Godless life, thy bonds I sever,
Farewell now for ever!

Hence all thoughts of sadness,
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in!
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whate'er I here must bear
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesu, priceless treasure!

This hymn, with its "Lord of gladness," and thoughts of safety and comfort from Jesus, is actually usually sung to a tune that most feel is not joyful at all. The c minor chorale melody's composer, Johann Crüger, was organist at the Nikolaikirche in Berlin from 1622-1662. Bach arranged it into its common, present form in 1723.

I usually am relegated to singing it in Lent, because of its minor quality. But, it doesn't strike me as Lenten, or, mournful in nature (which I have been told it is)! Can we sing minor-key hymns today in America without connotations of sadness? A large portion of rock tunes are minor, but, a glance through recent evangelical hymnals reveals very few. Perhaps this is due to the gospel hymn influence at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

American Ethnic Geography

After discussing with some of you who haven't seen this site, here's a link on American Ethnic Geography. It's a course at Valparaiso, and there are many really cool maps of ethnicities, religions, languages, etc. taken from the 2000 census. My favorite map is this one.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I've finally finished my first last paper! It was about William Howard Doane, which I briefly mentioned below.

Doane intrigues me, as a larger-than-life person from the mid 19th century and into the Progressive Era. He was incredibly brilliant, making a huge fortune through his woodworking inventions and his business acumen. At the same time, he wrote over 2300 hymntunes, and many texts, too. He was friends with almost all the famous American hymnwriters of the day, including William Kirkpatrick, Robert Lowry, E.O. Excell, Hupert Main, Ira Sankey, Phillip Bliss, and many others. His closest working companion was Fanny Crosby, with whom he wrote the most hymns and with whom he maintained a steady correspondence. He is credited by early 20th century writers with helping to invent the American Christmas cantata, for he wrote many himself and many with Crosby, most about Santa Claus (some of my more favorite titles include Frost Queen and Santa Claus and Santa and the Fairies, both available at the Cincinnati Public Library).

My paper focused on hymns that he set with pictures of Christ in them. He had an interesting array of images, from "Safe on his gentle breast," to being "poor in spirit" like Jesus, being "gentle as a dove" like Jesus, to, conversely, "toiling on" like Christ, Christ whose "arm is our strength and shield" during battle, and Jesus as a strong leader through foes' attacks.

These latter three came from a hymnal published near the end of his career, Jubilant Voices for Sunday Schools. It seems as though Doane had views of Christ as both a gentle, loving friend, and a strong, awe-inspiring master. However, perhaps this latter came later in his life, as the Muscular Christianity movement continued and Doane continued his work with the Y.M.C.A. (he was a travelling singer for them in his younger days, and financially supported them in his later).

Doane was also a good businessman, seen by the incredible fortune he amassed and the huge amounts he gave to various charities and churches. Perhaps he used many different images to reach a wider audience, and subsequently sell more hymnals.

I think it might have been both—he did see Christ in differing lights (as many Christians have throughout time), and he was good at what he did. Is it possible to be incredibly capitalist and very pious at the same time? I think so...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Parry, Vaughan Williams and Doane

I was working on a paper this week about C. Hubert H. Parry, the English composer and musicologist, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of his pupils (who is now much more famous). Parry, along with Charles Stanford, was known in the early 20th century as one of the musicians involved in the "new English renaissance," who helped to move music past the Victorian age. In 1904, Parry and Stanford edited the venerable Hymns Ancient and Modern 0f the Anglican Church, first published in 1861. The previous edition, of 1875, was incredibly popular and in fact is still in print.

The A&M new edition, however, pretty well tanked. People had been using the earlier editions for 43 and 29 years, and were slow to change. Further, the new edition restored earlier texts which were unfamiliar, such as "Hark, how all the welkin rings" as opposed to "Hark, the herald angels sing." Parry did not include many of his own tunes in this selection, instead doing extensive historical research and using post-Victorian tunes, both new and re-used older ones.

Vaughan Williams, in 1904, was asked to edit The English Hymnal, which task he accepted although an aganostic. Vaughan Williams took the route of including four of his own tunes, using French and Welsh tunes, as well as bringing English folk tunes into use in the hymnal, a subject that was a major research interest for him. Further, he used art songs for the basis of many tunes in the hymnal, giving it a wide musical gamut and making it a very influential hymnal for the English speaking world. His tunes which were included in this hymnal and its 1933 edition are almost all well-known, among them SINE NOMINE, DOWN AMPNEY, SALVE FESTA DIES, and KING'S WESTON.

What has really made me consider these composers' contributions is what I am working on today, which is some hymns of the American William Howard Doane, who wrote many gospel songs as well as edited many hymnals. The hymnals that Doane edited all included many of his own hymntunes (especially the Sunday School hymnals, but that was standard practice). The Baptist Hymnal, 1883, which was Doane's biggest work as editor, includes 35 of his hymns. Some of his more famous tunes are included, among them "Rescue the Perishing" and "Near the Cross."

Vaughan Williams has remained fairly famous throughout the last century, especially for SINE NOMINE, "For All the Saints." Very few people know Doane, although they might know some of his tunes, and fewer still know Parry, although they might recognize JERUSALEM, whether from the end of Chariots of Fire or from ELP's Brain Salad Surgery.

What I've been thinking about, though, is why some composers are still known and others aren't. My idea is that most of the churches that would have sung Doane's works when they were new are now singing contemporary Christian music, and therefore have left Doane's works aside—as a gospel hymn composer, he was the "contemporary Christian music" of his day. Churches who would have sung Vaughan Williams when he was new are likely still singing him, as a musician of the more artsy type.

Parry, however, is interesting, because the two tunes that are the most famous of his, JERUSALEM, which is usually heavily British-nationalist, and REPTON, often joined with "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," were not composed for hymns at all. The former was written shortly before his death to accompany William Blake's "Preface to Milton," and the latter was from Parry's oratorio Judith. The tunes are musically interesting, very singable (even with a wide range and wide leaps), and tend to stick in your head (or, at least my head). They are well-known in Britain, from what I hear, but Americans seem to have little knowledge of them.

Why did Parry not write things like that for hymns, instead doing so for non-congregational usage? If he had written more tunes like these to include in A&M, would we know him much better, like Vaughan Williams? He had the ability, unless those two tunes are flukes. But, looking at some of his other tunes in The Hymnal, 1982, they don't seem terrrible, although possibly not quite as nice as these two. Why would a composer limit his music writing to be more simple when writing congregational song? Is the idea that congregations are not educated enough to follow more musically interesting tunes true? Or, should we look more at folk music traditions with their easily comprehended pentatonic scales, from which Vaughan Williams was heavily drawing and to which Parry's tunes have some similarities? Is it these folk characteristics that give some tunes such lasting power?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Hail thee, festival day!

Enjoy the celebration of Christ's resurrection! Here is one of my favorite sixth century Easter texts by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus:

Hail thee, festival day!
Blest day that art hallowed forever;
day wherein Christ arose,
breaking the kingdom of death.

2. Lo, the fair beauty of earth,
from the death of the winter arising,
every good gift of the year
now with its Master returns.

3. He who was nailed to the Cross
is God and the Ruler of all things;
all things created on earth
worship the Maker of all.

4. God of all pity and power,
let thy word be assured to the doubted;
light on the third day returns:
rise, Son of God, from the tomb!

5. Ill doth it seem that thy limbs
should linger in lowly dishonor;
ransom and price of the world,
veiled from the vision of men.

6. Loosen, O Lord, the enchained,
the spirits imprisoned in darkness;
rescue, recall into life those
who are rushing to death.

7. Ill it beseemeth that thou,
by whose hand all things are encompassed,
captive and bound shouldst remain,
deep in the gloom of the rock.

8. Rise now, O Lord, from the grave
and cast off the shroud that enwrapped thee;
thou art sufficient for us;
nothing without thee exists.

9. Mourning they laid thee to rest,
who art Author of life and creation;
treading the pathway of death,
life thou bestowedst on man.

10. Show us thy face once more,
that the ages may joy in thy brightness;
give us the light of day,
darkened on earth at thy death.

11. Out of the prison of death
thou art rescuing numberless captives;
freely they tread in the way
whither their Maker has gone.

12. Jesus has harrowed hell;
he had led captivity captive;
darkness and chaos and death
flee from the face of the light.

This version is from the 1906 English Hymnal. If you know Vaughan Williams' tune SALVE FESTA DIES, he has set up a beautiful contrast between the even and odd-numbered verses in different tonal centers, and the refrain in a different one, again.

Have a wonderful Easter!

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I decided to join the blogging community in order to think about hymn texts and what they mean to the Christian faith. Since there are approximately 2000 years worth to think about, that should be enough to keep me busy. Feel free to give comments as to anything you see.