Friday, October 9, 2009

Save the Hymns - Intro

In as much as I've been doing it in my head for years, I've recently decided download and start writing "visible" reviews about the music I love (or love less).  While I really should be reviewing new stuff, my budget is small, so I am pretty much starting with stuff I already own.  And what what a better place to start, than with contemporary recordings of of a body of music that has blessed folks, sometimes for centuries.

As a child turning teen in the 1970’s (b 1960) I was delighted when new forms of worship fuel by the Jesus Movement showed up at our church. On Wednesday nights my folks hosted a "flock group" in our home, consisting of our family and a dozen or so college kids, replete with big beards, maxi skirts, and longer hair for both boys and girls.

As is, my dad played strings (guitar, banjo, mandolin, and yuke) while others joined in with guitar and tambourine. (My Mom is a hand raising, toe-dancing tambourine shaker to this day, having “introduced” the instrument to several more reserved Baptist assemblies.) Back then, we sang a blend of hymns, simple choruses, and even spiritually inspired pop songs like “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.”

At the time, I didn't realize that we were part of a major cultural shift that would redefine worship in many of our churches. Now some forty years later, keyboards, guitars, and praise bands have replaced many a piano and organ. Overhead projection has taken the place of hymn books, and choruses are the mainstay of many a Sunday morning.

All in all, I am grateful for some of the changes that have come about with the new approaches: Many of our former testimonies ABOUT God, have been eclipsed by words of sung directly TO God, like a love song from the heart.

As for style itself, I once heard a pastor say: “Hymns can be living or dead...Modern worship can be fresh or stale. Either form can be done well... or very poorly.”

It is not much of an exaggeration to say, that in the last decade many hundreds (?) of artists have recorded hymn based albums (or albums with vital hymn content), and that if you were to listen to even a dozen offerings, you would hear more hymns over your speakers than you might in many churches over a year--- or even a decade. In fact, so many churches have tilted toward modern chorus and “praise” music, that hymns are often regarded as a part of antiquity, gone the way of the piano and organ.

(In kind of strange way, there seems to be two very different groups who have resisted this overall shift-- very conservative churches, characterized by cultural separation and a resistance to change – and liberal --often liturgical churches who resist change at a different level. (On a personal level, I most like liturgical worship when it is practiced with the fervor of conservative zealots.)

I would like to tell you that I go to a church practices liturgical zealotry…or at least works to blend rich amounts of yesteryear, with today’s “new wine” offerings. But I can’t. Now we do do some things very well. I am pleased to hear the growth of black gospel harmonies in our worship. I am thrilled to lift my hands (though I do so sparingly) in immediate “throne room” worship, and I am pleased to sing with those that understand your brain and soul comes with a body that digs rhythm. The fellowship I attend is served by several worship teams who bring an astonishing level of skill and passion to corporate worship. But there is part of my particular soul that feels undernourished, and is given to real sorrow as I hear how little of that which ministered grace and strength to the saints of yesterday is preserved for saints today. (I think in fact, we might be a little more saintly if we fed on some of our fore father-and-mother’s food.

Given the hunger, I want to look at just a few of the musical offerings I have turned to, sometimes to fill a void, and sometimes just for the pure pleasure of hearing music that ministers to my intellect and emotions on multiple levels. The Book of Revelation records that people from every nation, tongue and tribe will be gather before "the Lamb, the great I-AM to sing a “new song.” But after some of the new ones, I sure want to sing a few of the standards.

To see reviews in this series click SAVE THE HYMNS

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