Friday, October 29, 2004

Nouveau hymnal theology

During my class on worship at LSTC, a number of people had fairly derisive things to say about the ELCA Worship & Praise songbook. The comments (from classmates and the professor) mostly broke down into three categories:
1)Who needs a Lutheran book of praise songs, since traditionally they don't ever really use them? (The unspoken corollary was, "If the "Green Book" was good enough for Luther, it's good enough for us!") :-)
2) If these are really "praise songs," you don't need a songbook anyway - you just need a screen and a PowerPoint presentation, right? It's a waste of paper and ink.
3) They're all kind of lightweight songs, with no real enduring beauty or theological basis to them, so why bother?
I've been thinking of this tonight, after reading my friend Lisa's posting about preventing one from falling into the doldrums of worship. Because, you see, from September 1999 to May 2001, at Faith Lutheran in Prairie Village, KS, a group of us (jokingly known by some as "Friends of Faith," and by some others as "Lutheran Jihad") presented a "renewing-worship" service around music from this same much-maligned Worship & Praise songbook. And silly as it might sound, we found much freshness, renewal and affirmation within all those "lightweight, cheap-theology" songs...

I am strength for all the despairing,
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame.
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free,
Come and rest in Me...

Do not be afraid, I am with you,
I have called you each by name -
Come and follow Me, I will bring you home...
I love you, and you are Mine."
(#158,"You Are Mine," by David Haas, in Worship & Praise (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999))

You, forgettable, empty theology like this...
Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
So hatred and blindness will be no more!

We are called to act with justice,
We are called to love tenderly,
We are called to serve one another,
To walk humbly with God.
(#147, "We Are Called," by David Haas)

Give us a thirst for love, give us a hunger for justice,
Make us one with the mind of Christ.
God, you have moved upon the waters,
You have sung in the rush of wind and flame;
And in Your love, you have called us sons and daughters:
Make us people of the water and your name.
(#127, "Song Over the Waters," by Marty Haugen)
In fact, for about an hour today, I just sat in my desk-chair, singing my way through a verse or two of each song I could remember that we did from what one professor called "that failed bit of unnecessary publishing by Augsburg Fortress." And I am not ashamed to admit that there were tears of joy and of remembrance, recalling just how much of my theology-of-the-heart was set in those rowdy days of renewing worship. Even today, my hope and prayer for the Church (not just the ELCA, but the family of Christ) is that one day, we can all sing this song together:
Now with praise and thanksgiving, we join the song
All are welcome! We gather to sing loud and strong.
Not enslaved, but set free! From now on, all will be
One in Jesus, one in water, baptized and set free.
(#14, "Baptized & Set Free," by Cathy Skogen-Soldner)
May all our theology, and all our Christian practice, get this "lightweight." Make it so, Lord. Amen.

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