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January 02, 2005

The United Methodists; Fulfilling The Needs No One Thought Needed Filling In The First Place

You know, aid to those affected by the tsunami is nice and all, but what the world really needs is a nice, relevant hymn. Brothers, sisters, let us comfort you in your hour of need. The United Methodists have heard your cry.

O God, that Great Tsunami.

I can't decide whether I love the title for its evocative "Sinners in The Hands of Angry Wave" imagery or whether the clunky attempt at up-to-the-minute-relevance just gives me the willies. Mind you, for what it is the hymn isn't all that bad, despite the Yoda-speak of "We can't their bodies find." And God knows--literally--that we need more hymns that mention sewage. Kind of balances out "All Things Bright and Beautiful," don't you think?

The problem with new hymns, or re-worded old hymns, as this one is, is that congregations don't know them, consequently can't sing them worth a damn, and then resist singing them again, because they sounded so bad in the first place. Most of the new hymns--and by "new," I mean "since the seventies, when Methodism was overrun by guitar-wielding hippies"--also ignore John Wesley's advice on the subject of hymns;

May I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry? Then I will speak to those who are judges thereof, with all freedom and unreserve. To these I may say, with-out offence, 1. In these hymns there is no doggerel; no botches; nothing put in to patch up the rhyme; no feeble expletives. 2. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and creeping, on the other. 3. here are no cant expressions; no words without meaning. Those who impute this to us, know not what they say. We talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no words but in a fixed and determinate sense. 4. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language; and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. Lastly, I desire men of taste to judge, (these are the only competent judges,) whether there be not in some of the following hymns the true spirit of poetry, such as cannot be acquired by art and labour, but must be the gift of nature.

Of course, we're the denomination that re-wrote the classic "Good Christian Men Rejoice" as "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" in 1989, so dear John has probably been revolving in his tomb at quite a rate ever since then.

I don't want to even talk about "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Mind you, we're not skimping on the aid. We Methodists have thought long and hard about about the best way to help, dug deep into our collective pockets, and decided to buy a full page ad in the Monday, January 3rd, USA Today, asking that people donate to the bereaved and devastated people of Southeast Asia.

Because using our money to harangue you about giving your money is such a better use of funds than, say, using them to aid the survivors directly.

Why, if we didn't let America know that people over there needed help, hardly anyone would donate anything at all.

Posted by Bigwig at January 2, 2005 08:52 PM | TrackBack
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After I bought a very old piano for $100 in 1992, I tried to find a good new book of folk (the old kind of folk), holiday, and patriotic songs for my kids to learn. And couldn't find one. Nothing, NADA. I ended up going to a used book store and paying $50 for a very beautiful oversized book from 1939 that had lots of wonderful music in it, lovely prints of the seasons and the holidays. It especially had very beautiful Christmas music. My kids love that book. So much so, that around this time of year, it always disappears into one of their rooms and I have to hunt it down if I want to play (I am not a good player, but I do try).

Believe it or not, it was published for the State of California Department of Education. Imagine the howls from the ACLU if someone tried to publish it today. How far we have fallen...

Posted by: kschlenker at January 2, 2005 11:04 PM

You failed to mention the precursor to this latest Disaster Dirge: The Storm Came to Honduras.

Not quite as catchy as Devil Went Down to Georgia, but far more socially relevant.

Posted by: Captain Holly at January 3, 2005 12:19 PM

Bigwig wrote me and asked me the name of the text book. I can't remember, and I can't find it. I did find another California music textbook that I bought at the same time for $10, it is much smaller, but still with pretty pictures from 1958 called "Music Now and Then, Vol. 3." The first song in it is "A Morning Hymn". It not only has real Christmas songs in (Oh Come All Ye Faithful), it also has songs for Thanksgiving and Halloween. Not only is this a California textbook the first page says it was actually published by the State of California (I didn't see that last night when I wrote back to BigWig).

Posted by: kschlenker at January 3, 2005 02:28 PM

Really unfortunate title, that. You have to actually read the lyrics before you discover that God is not a great tsunami Ms. Gillette is referring to. Lucky thing she didn't put a comma after "tsunami." But you're right, we do need more hymns with the word "sewage" in them.

Posted by: Christopher Johnson at January 3, 2005 09:07 PM

There's a new book of "old" folk out there, with a comb binding and a happy-fun cover, that a friend of mine got. Heck if I can remember the title, but it was available in the music section of Borders. Its only flaw is that it's words and chords only; they assume you know the tunes by heart and just need the words.

Or you could try online. I'm sure that a lot of those songs are in the public domain and might be available in PDF.

Posted by: B. Durbin at January 4, 2005 02:55 PM
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