I’ve Been Dismissed
Yesterday I was looking at Lutheran blogs and web-sites, and I came upon a post on someone’s blog about the state of Lutheran music. His post was titled “Where are the artists? – or why our church is dying.” Something compelled me to write a response. I’m posting my response below. I admit I have re-edited it a bit and added some more information. I’ve also been a bit more snarky here as I feel free to do so on my own blog. His response to me was a kind dismissal of my perspective, along with an acknowledgement of the resources I’d provided. Here’s what I wrote:
There is truly a need for the Lutheran Church to nurture its artists and, even more so, its musicians. There is such a rich tradition of Lutheran music that I fear is being lost to the evangelical non-liturgical movement. It seems that some time in the early 1970s, the Lutheran Church (all synods) produced a group of pastors who were more interested in bringing the Church into the 20th Century than keeping the traditions by which we, as Lutherans, stand both in our worship and theology. Congregations added a contemporary service where people sat in a circle and played guitars. The Eucharist was celebrated with a loaf of bread and, later, with grape juice rather than wine. Now we have a hymnal where even the creed is adiaphora, and the colour (cranberry) is no longer liturgical.
I look through Lutheran resources for worship and find settings by liturgical whore Marty Haugen, settings that reflect an overly sentimental and confessionally dubious perspective. I love contemporary music: it may even have a place in a Lutheran liturgy. If you’re looking for people producing Lutheran music today I’d point you to Koiné. Although I find them overly earnest at times, and I don’t necessarily like the Lutheran Book of Worship translations of the hymns they sing, they put an edge on tradition that is relevant and sometimes even challenging.
I do think it’s important to maintain a Lutheran heritage. The Anglicans do this through a three legged stool of scripture, reason, and tradition. We have the Book of Concord. As the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in communion with the Episcopal Church, perhaps there’s a bit of sharing that could inform Lutheran worship. After all, most of the developers of Anglican liturgy under Henry VIII were Lutheran or Lutheran sympathizers. I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that the Oxford Movement occurred along-side the neo-Lutheran Movement.
So many children who were born from about 1968 on grew up in a world in which anything goes, even in church (if they went). There is an untapped youth (if 44 is still youth) who are starving for the traditions that the pastors ordained in the ’70s left behind. When the ELCA produced the new hymnal I stopped going to a Lutheran church, except on Reformation Day and Christmas Eve. I started attending an Anglo-Catholic church and found that I heard more Lutheran music and more traditionally Lutheran theology expressed in the sermons than I did in my old Lutheran church. The church I attend is one of the fastest growing congregations in the Episcopal diocese of New York, especially with the under 30s. They understand that “as we pray so we believe.” The traditions that Lutheran priests/pastors had put aside are living in the liturgy in which I participate every Sunday. It may seem that I’m rambling on about something other than music, but music is so connected to the Church of the Augsburg Confession, and that music carries the gospel; it challenges as well as comforts; it does not pander nor molly coddle. It says “here I stand.”
I suppose all of this is to say that, yes, the Lutheran Church needs to nurture her musicians, but it needs to give them a context in which they can grow. They need to know what it means to be a Lutheran, what a Lutheran believes, and what Church traditions actually are. I’m not saying that there’s no room for innovation. After all, Luther set his hymn texts to tavern songs. I’m fine with that. It gives a familiarity to the theology; it’s putting the Bible in the vernacular. There is a Presbyterian group doing this: Bifrost Arts is producing albums of traditional Christian music with a relevant edge, like Sufjan Stevens started out doing. In fact Sufjan has produced for them. If the Presbyterians are the ones preserving and updating a Christian musical tradition, perhaps it’s predestined that a Lutheran musical heritage die out.
One of the groups that’s recorded for Bifrost is The Welcome Wagon. Their blend of traditional hymns and simple faith-based songs is remarkable.
I think the questions are: Why is this not a Lutheran venture? Is our tradition of hymnody so weak? Where are the contemporary hymn writers with a Lutheran point of view? We don’t need another me-centered rock musician singing about Jesus and how his personal relationship with Jesus just makes him feel so good. We do need true musicians who can move Lutheran traditions forward instead of jettisoning them at the first sign that the boat is taking on water.
Look! It’s not a ghost coming through the storm. It’s Jesus.