Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Ten Worst Hymns...

With apologies to those who have used this tool before, I might dip my toe into the water to see what comes up...  I read from Joe Carter the ten worst hymns (from a decidedly Roman Catholic perspective) and noted that on his list almost all were modern hymns, mostly by Marty Haugen and David Joncas (who might be considered two of the most successful of the modern Roman Catholic composers/authors).

The first problem we encounter with such a list has to do with the criteria.  Are they bad because they are hard to sing, because they sound terrible, because they espouse false doctrine, because they trivialize what is profound and turn truth into something banal and ordinary, or because they lack substance?  The list I might write up would change depending upon the criteria chosen.  Some of the hymns I would choose are bad because no one can sing them, some are bad because their melody and text are an embarrassment of badness.  Some of them I might choose teach against the creeds and catholic faith or take something noble and make it casual and ordinary or trivialize the faith so that it scandalizes God and His people.

So I am proposing that we limit the criteria a bit.  We all have hymns we just don't like.  Let us forgo the mention of those unappealing to us and concentrate instead upon those that clearly are unworthy of the Church -- those which speak unfaithfully the truth of God's Word, those which lack any substance and make commonplace the wondrous Christian faith, and those which scandalize the faith because of their particularity or or even lack of religious or Scriptural reference.

Remember that the hymn is not simply a song but, because it speaks the Word, a means of the means of grace.  I am being careful in this statement.  While I do not want to say that hymns are the same as Scripture, they are another form of preaching the Word.  Not every hymn qualifies for this; that is why we acknowledge that some hymns are simply unworthy of the Church -- they do not proclaim the Word or speak the faith.  They may not at all be heretical but their unworthiness lies rather at the door of what they fail to say (or sing).

So let us confine ourselves to hymns that are clearly meant for Christian usage and target those which are unworthy of the Church either because of their content or because they lack sufficient content (doctrinal and Scriptural). So go at it and contribute your offering to the list of the worst in hymns...  I will attempt to stand back and see what happens...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

(In no particular order)

1. I Am the Church. Just a completely anthropocentric view of the Church. And the line, "There's one thing I am sure of I don't mean maybe". Really?

2. Something by Starke. Okay, I'm sure he's a great hymnwritter and all, but did we need 20 new hymns by the same guy. . . I mean - that's around 3% of the LSB (the Largely Starke Book).

3. Amazing Grace. This hymn has ruined more hymns, because now almost every hymn is place at a snail's pace with tremelo because that's how Amazing Grace is played. Not every hymn is meant to be played at AG's 40 beats a minute. . . pick up the pace, A Mighty Fortress is a fight song!

4. "The Clouds of Judgment Gather". No, it's not the Clouds of Judgment gather, LSB folks - it's "The World is Very Evil". 1 line - that's all they changed, but the title, and it annoys me. That title had taught something we believed about the world very clearly - now we hear about clouds. I don't know if this makes it one of the worst, but sheesh!

5. Beautiful Savior. It's like singing a sappy love song to Jesus, well, maybe it's to Jesus, but we never say His Name. Makes me think of David Allen Coe's "You Never Call Me By My Name".

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...
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SKPeterson said...

I can't list 10, but we made the CoWo service this past Sunday and this struck me as particularly poor:

"You Are Worthy of My Praise". Gets the relationship exactly backwards and is all I, I, I. God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy
Spirit do not act in the "hymn" nor does the lyrical quality approach that of the psalms. But, you could dance to it.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...
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Carl Vehse said...

In case Rev. McCain's list maxed out before getting down to 1964, one of my nominations for the top worst hymns: "Earth and All Test Tubes."

Lee said...

Well, here is my stab at it. Remember, I'm from the ELCA so we have more than our fair share of interesting choices from Evangelical Lutheran Worship. In fact, I am sure I have missed some glaring ones, but here is a quick list.

10. ELW #574 "Here I Am, Lord" - Personally, I like this song, especially it's tune, but it is completely misleading. Whether Isaiah or Samuel, the "Here I Am" answer to God's call is followed mostly by harsh words of law and not Gospel as the song implies. Plus, it focuses too much on the person accepting the invitation to follow and not the God providing the way to follow.

9. ELW #641 – “All Are Welcome” - Again, a song I really like, but it is not a hymn. It is a song to rally Christians in mission, to outreach and to accept the responsibilities of being the body of Christ, but all the action is focused on “Let us build…” Jesus does act in the song, but only after we build.

8. ELW #659 – “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” - Again, not a bad song, but the action is all on us bring Christ to another. This is a good goal and sentiment, but it never speaks of what Christ has done so that we are moved to be Christ to others.

7. ELW #661 – “I Love to Tell the Story” - I know, a favorite standard. But every time I hear it I want to scream, “Don’t tell me about how you like telling the story! Tell me the story!”

6. ELW #677 – “This Little Light of Mine” Well, the song says that the light is mine, I’m going to let it shine wherever I go and Jesus gave me this light to shine. So, what’s the light? I know, overanalyzing a simple song that obviously is referring not hiding your light under a bushel, but it still seems rather “I” focused.

5. ELW #692 – “We Are an Offering” Again, “We, we, we, we…” Plus, the song makes a promise to God that is blatantly not true, “All that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be, we give to you.” Really? Do we really give all that we are to God, even when we have the intention to do so? All that we have and are is God’s, but not because we give it.

4. ELW #821 – “Shout to the Lord” - Just plain bad in most every way.

3. ELW #887 – “This Is My Song” – God is merely the creator God as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, not the God who in Jesus Christ saves us from sin. This is a political song teaching us to be good citizens but also remembering that other countries are great and God loves us all. True enough, but not the Gospel.

2. ELW #423 – “Shall We Gather at the River” Why? Because the song never answers this basic question except it’s where angels’ feet trod and something called grace will help us with our burdens. The chorus tells us, though, that the river is really pretty and flows by God’s throne.

1. ELW #439 – “Soon and Very Soon” - Once you start singing this song, it is never too soon to stop.

Lee said...
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Tapani Simojoki said...

Most of the above (though I think Amazing Grace, when understood in its original context, and without the American final verse, isn't all that bad), plus:

* 'Father welcomes all his children'.
* Most of the Hispanic stuff in LSB.
* The way some really good Christian poetry has been needlessly mangled by the LSB editors (I assume it's them) – especially 'Praise My Soul the King of Heaven' [yes, it should have 'alt' after the author's name] and 'The Day Thou Gavest'. My rule: if you wouldn't do it to Shakespeare or Donne, don't do it to Lyte or Ellerton.
* And who thought it would be a good idea to ditch BOTH of the traditinal (and great) tunes for 'I heard the voice of Jesus' for whatever they replaced it with?!

Thank you, Pastor Peters, for providing a grumble corner. I'll stop now before I get into a groove.

Jim Wagner said...

Okay, there are a lot of bad hymns out there. I agree. We sing some of them from time to time.

I wonder though if some of these things would be said to Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, Stephen Starke, or even John Newton if it were face to face on not online.

How many of us have actually tried to write a hymn? And had the guts to try to get it published?

Remember, Charles Wesley wrote over 6000, and Isaac Watts over 750and only God knows how many John Ylvisaker has written. Only a few have/will survive.

Jim Wagner said...

Just thinking about Herb Brokering's "Earth and All Stars."

I suspect many of us know that it was written for St. Olaf College's 90th anniversary, which explains verses 4-6. And makes some sense in that context. My guess is that verses 1-3 (a paraphrase of Psalm 98 & 148? - which is all we usually sing) will survive, but not verses 4-6. But isn't that the way it sometimes works?

Anonymous said...

Any hymn with a melody that defies even the best singer.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I do write some hymns. In fact, I end every funeral sermon with a verse for the deceased for "By All Your Saints in Warfare". I have written a few other hymns on the side - even submitted one or two for the LSB - and they were rightly supplanted by other, superior hymns.

However, to be critical of hymns or art is not vile or mean -- for many of the hymns given the problem is doctrinal - and yes, with problems of doctrine, I would confront folks. For changes to texts of hymns or hymn selection - well, I talked about it to folks on the LSB committees whilest I was at the Sem, so I probably would have no problem with speaking face to face.

Hymns are not primarily a chance to produce art - they aren't primarily a means of self-expression. If you want them to be that, don't hand them over to the Church to be sung - for if that happens, they are held up to high scrutiny. And well they should be.

As a note: I've actually become a slightly bigger fan of "Father Welcomes" - wasn't a huge fan of it but arrived at a congregation where it is the customary baptismal hymn - so it gets used. A little sing-songy perhaps, but it is played at a decent tempo her - almost ends up being robust. I'd prefer "The Father" for references to God - but there are many that are worse.

Oh - and here's a complaint. "Once in the Blest Baptismal Waters" was a much better hymn back when it was "Who Knows When Death May Overtake Me" - when its verses went through the whole of human life. Ah well.

Jim Wagner said...

Thanks, Pr. Brown. I appreciated your response.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, what are the ten best?

Rev. Kevin Jennings said...

How Great Thou Art - it took a Baptist to write the stanzas about the cross, while the Swedish Lutheran wrote the sappy stuff.

Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty - The tune requires a huge range. Besides, one of my professors in college said it would be better as a wedding hymn.

Earth and All Stars - All these things are singing a new song to the Lord? Really?

There is a Balm in Gilead - I don't know if it's a bad hymn or not, I just can't sing it with a straight face. Ask Pastor Weedon why I can't.

Anything with the Ode to Joy tune. I just can't sing another one until sometime in 2012.

How Great is Our God - P-U!! The same words over and over. All foam and no beer!

Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord - Why not Open the Ears on the Side of My Head, Lord?

We Know That Christ was Raised - Okay, this is my wife's least favorite hymn based on tune. To use her words, "The tune needs to be resolved."

I know it's only seven.

Lee said...

TEN BEST: I must say, it was harder pairing down my list to the ten best, which is good because it means there are many good ones from which to choose. Also, it is hard to separate my favorite hymns from what I think are the “best” hymns. I do not know if this is my final list, but these are my midnight quick picks:

10. ELW #890 – “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory…”

It usually gets a bad rap as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; however, it is a song that arose directly from our nation finally coming to grips with the sin of slavery. Most of you probably already know, it’s original title was “John Brown’s Body Lies Moldering in the Grave”, John Brown being the leader of a failed slave revolt who was hanged shortly before the Civil War. The words to the song actually do not speak of battles, but of God’s truth and justice being revealed, hearts being transformed and answering the call to sacrifice for the betterment of others. For these reasons, it makes my list.

9. ELW #244 – “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”

I have to pick this one because it was the processional hymn at our wedding, which was just before Christmas. Pretty good words, too.

8. ELW #565 – “All Praise to Thee My God This Night”

A great prayer of confession and trust to go to bed by.

7. ELW #666 (great number, I know) - “What Wondrous Love Is This?”

I think the words capture the essence of Law and Gospel.

6. ELW #623 – Rock of Ages

I HATE THIS TUNE. But, the words clearly have a Gospel message.

5. ELW #592 – “Just As I Am”

Again, a song of recognizing our complete reliance on God’s grace.

4. ELW #389 – “Christ is Alive”

This is a joyful song of resurrection that doesn’t forget to tell us why we should be so joyful.

3.. ELW #296 – “What Child is This”

Again, a seasonal hymn that does not forget to tell what Christ does for us.

2. ELW #349 – “Ah, Holy Jesus”

I think the words capture the essence of our broken relationship with God and the lengths that Christ will do to restore that relationship.

1. ELW #517 – “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word”

What can I say? Luther Rocks!

Tapani Simojoki said...

"All Praise to Thee..."

Yes, a great evening hymn, often sung in our family evening devotions. And another one with a needless alteration of words.

I know "Glory to Thee" places the emphasis on the wrong syllable. So what? That's what the author wrote. So that's what we should sing.


Anonymous said...

At least no one mentioned any of the wonderful hymns penned by Pastor Larry Peters LOL

RobbieFish said...

1. Now the ___, now the ___ (One searches in vain for a complete sentence. Plus, the WELS hymnal has a sequel sung to the same tune, Then the ___, Then the ___...)

2. How Great Thou Art (except for one stanza, it's a whole lot of "God is awesome" nothin' set to the spitting image of the Horst Wessel song)

3. Just As I Am (especially to the Billy Graham tune - very "altar callish")

4. Rock of Ages (Somehow the rank Pentecostalism of the line "be of sin the double cure" gets in under our radar. "The ears of the people are holier than" etc. etc., but that's no excuse.)

5. Earth and All Stars (another "whole lotta nothin'" hymn, only with ludicrous touches like "loud boiling test-tubes")

6. God of Concrete, God of Steel ('nuff said)

7. O Father, may Thy Word prevail (Brorson's hymn containing the awful line "How slight the power and evidence Of word and sacraments!" In another stanza he observes: "Baptized are millions in Thy name, But where is faith's pure flame? Of what avail that we Know of Thine agony So long as we do not o'erthrow In faith the wicked foe?" Augh!!! And this is a Lutheran hymn writer??)

8. Into the garden the master went (my father calls this the "seeing-eye olives hymn" because of the line "the olives were not blind to him." I always thought it could be improved by inserting the line "The chipmunks genuflect to him." Are you laughing or did you get olive juice in your eye?)

9. I'm goin' on a journey ("Wet saints" hymn - "My head is wet and I'm on my way" - Oy vay, the tackiness!)

10. Any of the hymns I picked apart on this blog post.


Unknown said...

I also a Missouri Synod Lutheran, have come to see all music as good. I'm a first soprano in our choir and sing a bunch of various types of music. Maybe I am a very open minded person but I don't think of any of the hymnal music we have as bad per say. It's simply different. We are working on a Bach piece now and it's trivial but beautiful. I in courage you to listen to a song called Lamb of God. Very inspiring.

Tim Druck said...

I, for one, adore "Earth and All Stars" - it's a lot better than "We Are Called" or, for crying out loud, "Here I Am, Lord" - I think I've actually skipped church entirely to avoid the latter.

Chuck Braun said...

"Here in this Place, a New Light is Shining" has the last stanza that says the unnamed deity is "not in some heaven, light-years away". Yeah, I get it, He's with us in, under and with the bread and wine, not just in Heaven, in whichever place or dimensional plane of existence it is. But this hymn seems to "imagine there's no heaven". Not surprisingly, the writer Marty Haugen is of the apostate UCC.

Anonymous said...

I love Earth and All Stars. To me the test tubes boiling mean that man is working on ways to better mankind, i.e.vaccines, medicines, safer packaging, etc.

Anonymous said...

Earth and All Stars is beautiful. I love the contemporary verses, esp the test tubes boiling, celebrating the knowledge God has given us to make new discoveries to improve humankind's lives. Great melody, too.