Monday, April 4, 2011

Nerd Alert: Hymns, Research, and Archives

Today I spent the majority of my day researching and reading on the debates that have surrounded the altering of hymn texts. One thing you find out very early is that altering hymn texts is not new. For example, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," would just not sound the same with its original title: "Hark, How All the Welkin Rings" ("welkin" being an archaic term referring the heavens/firmament).

The other debate that is interesting is whether or not to alter war and battle language, which crystalizes around the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers." Those who want it left alone argue that militaristic metaphors are biblical and need to be understood as metaphors; we strive peacefully against the powers of evil in a battle. Others (notably Brian Wren) argue that since modern warfare is so awful, it shouldn't be used to symbolize the peaceable kingdom of God. Wren ends his article with his own re-writing of "Onward Christian Soldiers":

Onward Christian Rambos,
spoiling for a fight!
Wave the flag for Jesus,
knowing that we're right!
Spread the gospel nerve-gas,
throw grenades of prayer,
blast the Spirit's napalm:
evil's over there--
Onward Christian Rambos,
spoiling for a fight!
Wave the flag of Jesus,
knowing that we're right!

(last verse)
Feel the thrill of bloodshed,
guns, and holy wars.
We don't really mean it,
it's all metaphors.
Nuke the Devil's Empire,
for in God we trust.
Yes, we'll love our enemies
when they bite the dust.

I also spent a few hours in the archives going through the hymnal commission's notes. I think my favorite find (although not the most useful to my paper) was an email from Zenos Hawkinson to a member of the worship book committee regarding the use of "hades" in the Apostles' Creed ("he descended into hades"), which I will now quote:

I want to put in one more plea regarding the Book of Worship statement of the Apostolicum (fancy way to say Apostles' Creed).

I cannot accept "he descended into Hades." Hades was Greek in imagination and construction, in one commentator's words, a dreary cafe society for gossip and recrimination. To get to Hades one had to cross the river Styx courtesy of the boatman Charon.

No! He descended into Hell, and there (according to Luther (among others)), he harrowed and emptied it as the first action of resurrection liberation.

I can't imagine the harrowing of Hades unless to see Christ striding around the cafe, flipping the tables at which the shades sat.

In short, using "Hades" is to undercut the weight and mystery of Incarnation, without which Christ's true death is rendered shadowy and without weight. Please put him where he belongs in the depths of a hopeless abyss which could be destroyed only by the resurrection of the flesh!
-Zenos Hawkinson

I don't know why, but I thought that was humorous/interesting.

This Butler/UConn game is ugly! Butler has only 28 points with 6:30 to go. Woof. And the Twins the Yankees. Ugh. Maybe Jesus descended into Yankee Stadium? Okay, I'm going to eat a cookie, read a book, and go to bed.


  1. Is the artwork of what's to come for the bulletin cover for Easter?

  2. Haha, Elise...that would be classic. Nice words from Zenos Hawkinson.