Saturday, December 15, 2007

The logic escapes me

[This piece's draft date says December 15, 2007. The ordination was, I believe, on the 13th]

For someone who's kind of vocal about her identity as a Christian, I must admit I rarely go to church. The church in which we were married has become an "Anglican Network" parish in opposition to gay marriage and ordination, and withholds member pledge money from the Episcopal Church of the US unless the congregant makes formal request of the minister that his money go in as always. Swell idea -- I mean, Peace and Justice Ministries and Episcopal Relief can always cut back.

Anyway, I can't stomach it. And the liberal Episcopal church down the road is all into promoting the creation of a government Department of Peace. Sorry, fellow liberals, I think that's ridiculous. And all these things may just be my excuses to sleep in and not comb my hair on Sundays.

But since Dad's down with bronchitis and my mom can't drive at night, I said I'd take her to the ordination of a friend of theirs. The about-to-retire Bishop is a family friend too, so she wanted to be there, and enticed me with declarations of how ceremonial and medieval it was. I can get into that.

And Oh! It was. Conservative it may be, but this church has real grab-you professional music and puts on an exquisite ceremony. And it's Advent so we got some hymns of the season, in, really, a richer, more mystical ceremony than I'd have gotten in a regular Christmas service, and in a church shimmering with candlelight and draped in evergreens like some kind of Russian fairy tale.

My church attendance has been sporadic enough to ensure that I hadn't heard one of my favorite hymns, "Holy Holy Holy," in well over decade. (YouTube alert: This link goes to a 43-second once-through on the organ, for those who might be unfamiliar with the piece.)

I love this hymn. "Holy Holy Holy" dips and soars with the drama of an epic movie's climactic fade-out. I was singing along, having a childhood-nostalgia trip and savoring the words. Till they changed them.

They effing-A changed them. Last time I sang it, Reginald Heber's 1826 lyrics (Don't be impressed. I looked that up.) were intact:

Holy holy holy! Though the darkness hide thee.
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see.

So when the line came along and people were singing:

Though the sinful human eye thy glory may not see

I began to do my fire-breathing act. The simple punch of the original accented words "eye, sin-, man," turned into multisyllabic ooze. And now it's not the person who's sinful, it's his/her gendernonspecific eye.

I'm a liberal. Which means I'm also anti-censorship and to me that trumps the inclusiveness thing big time. Censorship may seem like a strong term but, God blast it, it's one of the all-time classics and it deserves to stand as he wrote it. If we need to change our speech patterns for this more enlightened era, OK. Changing the church service liturgy does that. The service isn't a finished work of creative art (though the poetic language of earlier versions grants them literary status in their own right for a lot of people), it's a working handbook. But don't rewrite the past.

Hey, we're so much smarter than the creative artists of the past, so let's rewrite Dylan. "She takes, just like a person, yes she does." (Bob Dylan YouTube alert)

If the song is unacceptable as written then quit using it. I mean it, I have no problem with letting a favorite become a museum piece, nor do I have a problem with rocking out with modern songs. Keep each song's integrity intact, dammit.

Why am I making such a big deal about a line? One line?

Because we also sang "O Come O Come Emmanuel." We sang every single one of the 6 verses with the familiar chorus between them, which took about one glacial epoch to get through.

Here's the thing: the men and the women of the congregation were instructed to sing alternate verses.

By gender.

The verses the men were to sing were about power and achievement:

2: "Free Thine own from Satan's tyranny"
4: "Make safe the path"

The ones assigned to the women were: wisdom, nurture:

3: "Cheer us by Thy drawing nigh."
5: "O come thou wisdom from on high."

So let me get this straight: it's Terribly Important to banish any and all so-called male dominance from an 1826 hymn. Why, somebody could get the idea that the Christian church doesn't give women credit for their share in bringing sin into the world! Wouldn't want that. (No, giving up sarcasm isn't gonna be one of my New Year's resolutions.)

But assigning traditional gender roles in singing is okay??

It's getting ridiculous. And I want my hymn back.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

My friend, I couldn't agree more.

The changing of hymns in the name of being "inclusive" (how I have come to hate that word) does nothing to 'include' people. If I, a woman, am not smart enough to figure out what is meant by the archaic use of "man" instead of "human" then I'm not using the intelligence God gave me.

Worse, changing someone's well-crafted lyrics demeans the ministry and faith of individuals who can no longer speak for themselves.