“Without Forme, and Voyd”
In theory, I don’t have a problem with contemporizing the liturgy, and my objections have less to do with musical setting or style than preservation of the text. I do feel that the setting of the Divine Liturgy should be dignified, but that is, in part, a matter of taste. I would love to hear what someone like Sufjan Stevens would do creating a setting of the liturgy, but then again he is a Christian artist whom I like. I would not, however, like to have him rewrite the text. There is a church in Minneapolis that I’ve heard is doing some interesting and respectful contemporary settings of the Lutheran liturgy. They are called Mercy Seat. I’ve listened to some of their settings, and I do have some concerns that texts have been changed, and that can change doctrine, but…
One of the blogs I visit from time to time is written by Gregg Burch. He is a life coach and consultant. Gregg often writes about the decline of the ELCA. His perspective is that of his generation; based greatly on a business model with which he’s had some amount of success in the business world. One of his fairly recent posts is Life at the Edge of Chaos, in which he advocates for change, if the church wants to survive. Below is a response I made to his post.
The first and perhaps least important is a common error that I myself have made. I was advocating for flexibility in musical styles, or settings of the Divine Liturgy on the Steadfast Lutherans site. I rightly received admonishment for saying “Remember that many of Luther’s hymns were written to tavern or volk songs.” This is wrong, and here’s the evidence:
“Of the melodies to Luther’s 37 chorales, 15 were composed by Luther
himself, 13 came from Latin hymns of Latin service music, 4 were derived
from German religious folk songs, 2 had originally been religious
pilgrims’ songs, 2 are of unknown origin, and one came directly from a
secular folk song.” (Data compiled from Squire, pp. 446-447; Leupold,
ed., Liturgy and Hymns; and Strodach, ed., Works of Martin Luther, VI)
There are some wonderful hymns set to folk songs, and other popular melodies. There is a melody by Haydn that has been used over and over again. It has been used as the Alma Mater of my university, the hymn tune Austria, or the hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, and has been put to other less savory purposes. (I like to link to songs or video clips here, but I cannot in good conscience link to the last version of this melody. I do not own a recording of this, and the comments on the YouTube pages that feature this version I find too distasteful.) The difference between these reworkings of what was then popular music and contemporary Christian music is that these songs were written for communal singing, something that people just don’t do anymore. Today’s singing is performative. Popular Christian music is not written to be sung in unison or in chorus, but by a soloist. It inspires applause not glory to God.
This should not be read as if I’m against new settings to the Mass or new hymns being written, but they should not be written for performance, but for worship. The Anglicans have been looking at creating a new hymnal. Like the Lutherans this involves many committees and study. One of the things they found was that youth are not looking for change. Change is what their parents and their grandparents did. They want the traditions that the previous two or three generations feel are holding the church back, and have abandoned. Here’s the evidence: Don’t Do It for the Kids: Of Hymnal Revision and Young Adults
The other thing that concerns me in your post is the idea of running a church like a business. This seems like a rather Godless way of approaching the Divine. Truly I want to see church attendance grow. I want to see more people accept the the Love of Christ, but using a five year business model seems wrong. Business is mercenary. It does not nurture. It does not care for anything other than it’s own gluttony. It turns people into consumers, and this language seeps into all aspects of culture.
I worked as a social worker for quite a time. When I started out I worked with patients, then clients, afterword participants. Slowly the nomenclature was changing, becoming more human. Then, suddenly, everybody started adopting a business model. When I left the field of social work I was working with consumers. They consumed goods and services. They no longer participated in a program of care. They simply consumed. Business models make us consumers, not worshipers, not God’s people, but a thing to which other things can be sold. The financial meltdown of 2008 shows us just how sinful the business model is.
Living on the edge of chaos is not the same as wallowing in it. We’ve been wallowing in chaos ever since the 60s, as more and more of the traditions of the Church of the Augsburg Confession are set aside. It is time for the over 40s (that includes me) to actually listen to what the younger generations are saying that they need, not want but need, and for us to stop acting like we know what’s good for them. Give them a proper catechizing and let them continue the work of ordering the chaos.
I’ve recently started reading a book that hasn’t been getting much press on the Lutheran blogs, at least not the ones I’ve been reading: “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.” I’ve barely scratched the surface, but it would seem from the tiny bit I have read that part of the thesis of this book is that one of the ways in which we’ve become more heretical as Americans is through a sentimental, me-centered willingness to discard tradition: a variety of sentimentality that permits Marty Haugen, praise band performance, and liturgical dance in the Divine Liturgy.
Probably Surely the most conservative blog to which I attend is The Brothers of John the Steadfast. It should be no surprise that they would be opposed to contemporary worship in a Liturgical church, and it’s no surprise that they reblogged this reblogging from Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere called A Belly Full of Greeks.
And now, Here’s the Trojan Horse: