Monday, August 31, 2009

Get myself into trouble . . .

I wrote an email this morning to the two senior pastors (one retiring in a few months, the other in the midst of entering in) and the worship leader at our church.

I thought you might find it at least interesting if not thought-provoking.

Let me confess that I know I have a quirk about how my mind works with language.

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, the words themselves: they matter very much to me. And I realize they mean much more to me than they do to the average bear. That's my training. That's a discipline I have pursued since I was very young. I realize that the structural elements of language make a difference, and so I seek to use them to the best effect.

I am concerned that [our church], in its worship/singing on Sunday mornings, seems, often, to ignore these elements . . . to the detriment of meaning.

Four of yesterday's songs "put me over the edge" in this regard, honestly.

Two of them, of course, we have sung many times before and I have held my peace. But after yesterday's experience, I thought I should comment.
  • All the Earth by Jack Hayford--a master wordsmith if I have ever bumped into one!--includes a major faux pas. I haven't said anything before, but I figure it is time.

    My guess: Jack accidentally misspelled a word he meant to use.

    Please notice that exalt is a transitive verb. It requires an object. One exalts--or raises up--a particular thing. In "All the Earth," we are asked to sing a phrase that says, "The fields will exalt, seas resound." The problem: there is no object for exalt. What do the fields raise up? The lyrics never say.

    So I've been thinking: Jack must have meant to say not that the fields exalt, but, rather, that the fields exult--rejoice--[and the] seas resound. . . .

    This morning, I did a quick Google search for Hayford's song, just to see if maybe it is our church that happened to get the lyrics wrong. And, apparently, it is not just our church. Everywhere I find that song, it includes the transitive verb exalt.

    However, I discovered where Hayford got that line. Check out 1 Chronicles 16:32 (NASB). My grammar led me to what the Bible actually says: "Let the sea roar [NIV says, "resound"], and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it."

    --May I request that we, at least in our church, correct this obvious copying error that either Jack or his publishing company made and bring our singing more in line with Scripture? . . . And perhaps someone--Pastor Alan, a friend of Jack's--can notify Jack, too, about this error?
  • Be Glorified by Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, and Jesse Reeves. Again, some master wordsmiths. But . . . Good grief! What are we supposed to mean when we pray, through song,
    Your life the air I breathe
    Be glorified in me
    What are those words supposed to mean?

    Please note: I have punctuated these words (or not) exactly as they are punctuated on the [church's] overhead . . . and the way I have found them punctuated online. --There is no punctuation.

    Which means I am left wondering: Are these supposed to be two sentences: "Your [God's] life is the air I breathe" . . . and "I want God to be glorified in me"?

    Is it supposed to be one sentence: I want to glorify the air I breathe and I want to glorify God's life?

    Either way, it strikes me: these phrases may "feel" holy (or something), but neither one, as far as I can figure out, makes any kind of biblically appropriate sense. I see nothing in Scripture that suggests I should glorify the air I breathe. Nothing that suggests I should glorify God's life (whatever that means). Nor anything that suggests God's life (whatever that is really supposed to mean) is the air I breathe. . . .

    Yesterday, I spoke with [a young woman in the church], and she suggested that the first line should be written
    You're life, the air I breathe.
    Be glorified in me.
    Okay. Maybe. That's not what Giglio and Tomlin wrote. But, at least, it makes some sense. Better sense, certainly, than the lyrics as written. Even still, I'm afraid the lyrics are weak.

    I ought to note, however, that [another young woman] objected to [the first woman]'s proposed solution: "We try to avoid punctuation," she said.

    Yeah. I've noticed. To the detriment of meaning.

    --May I suggest that we use punctuation to clarify meaning in the songs we sing? Follow the rules of the language? And may I suggest we not sing the referenced section of "Be Glorified" until we can rework is so it says something good and true?
  • Everything by Tim Hughes.

    I'm not too keen on the way the author piles on participial appellation upon participial appellation before he finally provides a verb. It is hard enough to make sense of such a sentence (where you have eight appellations before a verb: "God in my living, There in my breathing, God in my waking, God in my sleeping, God in my resting, There in my working, God in my thinking, God in my speaking" before, finally, a verb: "Be"--"Be my everything."). But, despite the complexity, if you are paying attention, it finally makes sense.

    HOWEVER, at the tail end of the song, we wind up singing a heretical pantheistic affirmation that God is everything ["You are everything"]--repeated at least four times over (though, as I recall, [our worship leader] encouraged the congregation to sing it 8 times). Please! God is not "everything." He made all of creation. He made human beings. Etc. He is not the things He made.

    But then, after a pantheistic affirmation, finally, the song winds up repeating a kind of Hinduistic mantra, a meaningless jumble of words: "Jesus everything." Four times over on the screen. Eight times over as a congregation:
    Jesus everything. Jesus everything.
    Jesus everything. Jesus everything.
    As above: Whatever is that supposed to mean? . . . Or is it the intention of [our church] to advocate that its members enter into a kind of mindless euphoria through thoughtless repetition of meaningless--but holy-sounding--words?

    --Once more: May we avoid this section of "Everything" unless and until we can come up with a way of singing words that are meaningful and true?
  • And then, finally, Something About That Name by the Gaithers.

    I had a particular beef with this song as it appeared yesterday. Somehow, even though, I understand, the lyrics that show on-screen are supposed to come directly from the publisher, there was a definite error in transcription. AS IT APPEARED, the congregation was encouraged to sing that the name Jesus is "like a fragrance after the rain."

    I wondered which fragrance we were supposed to be suggesting the name Jesus is like. Perhaps Christian Dior's Poison or Lancôme's Poême?

    If we have to sing the song, it's probably better with the original lyrics: "like the fragrance after the rain." At least we know which fragrance we are referring to. Maybe. --Y'know, that fresh, clean smell. . . .

    On the other hand, after we get beyond the sentimentally positive feeling of this song, I have to really question: What truth do the lyrics actually encourage congregants to proclaim--and what truth do the lyrics suggest "all heaven and earth" is supposed to proclaim: that there is "some [undefined] je ne sais quoi [I know not what] about [the] name [Jesus]"? (I don't see any other or additional message. --Unless we want to suggest that there is strong value in the one line that equates Jesus with "Master" and "Savior," since it says
    Master, Savior, Jesus
    Like the fragrance after the rain)
    --With this song, too: Perhaps we can "put it on the shelf" and forget about it?
Finally, in sum: Will you please continue to call us to love the Lord our God (worship Him) not only with all our hearts and souls and strength but with all our minds as well? I find myself pressed to the wall to worship with my mind when called upon to sing phrases like these.

Thanks so much for listening to me.
One last comment that I didn't include in my letter to the pastors: the first young woman noted that she far prefers "praise songs" to "hymns" since hymns are so hard to understand.

I agreed that many hymns can be difficult to understand. Though I wish I had noted that, at least, after one invests the time and trouble to work through the lyrics, they almost always satisfy: they mean something.

I rarely get the same satisfaction nowadays when I try to sort through hard-to-understand praise songs. Far too often, at the other end of my troubles, all I find is gibberish.
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