Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Unanswered Questions

So we went up to the City by the Great Lake on Sunday afternoon. We went to see Earnest Younger Stepson, a serious sociology student at the University by the Great Lake.

On Monday, we made stops at a couple of local antique stores that we like to haunt. They know us so well at one of the stores that they asked where our partner was (they meant Scout.)

I had a good time looking through old children's illustrated books. I was this close to getting a hardcover copy of Elizabeth Enright's book, Thimble Summer. And there was a cute children's picture book, so exactly post-war, called "Betty and Bob Go to Church." I wish I had a picture of the dust jacket. Alas, I did not purchase that one either.

One of the proprietors, a bookseller who thinks I have good taste, took down some of the names of the authors I was looking for: Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire, Maud and Miska Petersham, Masha, Pelagie Doane. I especially like to find Bible Story books and prayer books.

At one point in our conversation he looked at me and said, "Are you a minister?" When I answered in the affirmative, he asked, "What has happened to the church lately? It seems that young people don't like the old songs any more. They want all this praise music."

My husband writes contemporary church music, so I am somewhat of an apologist for new music in church. He said he doesn't have a problem with new music, but ....

".... why forget about 20 centuries of tradition?" I completed his question for him.

He is a member of a small main-line congregation in town. I can tell he loves his church. They are wondering about their future. I would have loved to stay and talk more with him about 20 centuries of church tradition, about the growth in both the Pentecostal churches and also the growth in unbelief, otherwise known as "atheism."

(This could be a whole separate post, but Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religion in the world. We have to stop considering people like Sarah Palin out of the mainstream.)

I would love to have talked more about the mission of the church, and how in the era of "Betty and Bob" it was just assumed, and how we can't do that any more. I would have loved to tell him that 20 centuries of church music, prayers, literature and art are a part of a vibrant faith that is worth passing along.

The truth is, I don't have all the answers. But I think being part of the conversation is a great first step.

In those 20 centuries of tradition, what do you value, and why? What songs, prayers, and works of art live for you?


FranIAm said...

Oh Diane, what a provocative post!

BTW, before I launch into my comment I must say that I have this image of you among so many books and it warms my heart.

I had a reaction when he said "20 centuries of tradition."

Perhaps it is my class this semester, which is church history... What is perceived as tradition is often anything but.

Which then leads me to say that I must give some thought to what does feed me from both the old and the new and all the in-between.

I so love you for posting something this soul-stirring.

Diana said...

I started to comment about Elizabeth Enright (because she's one of my all-time favorites), but now also about the music-- it's funny to me, because I just joined a FB group: "Young people like traditional liturgy, too."

Wormwood's Doxy said...

In those 20 centuries of tradition, what do you value, and why? What songs, prayers, and works of art live for you?

That is actually a wonderful Lenten meditation, Diane. I'm going to think about it...


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I DO appreciate the older music, some of the newer music, etc. as long as it is singable and has a good Biblical message. There are some Gospel songs that are a bit obscure to me, but I think that reflects lack of Biblical knowledge. We have a pianist/choir director who used music from a lot of traditions, so that is a plus. Music has to be played/sung like the people "mean what they are singing." I think that a good number of churches and organists play the older (and newer) music way too slow or without spirit, so a very traditional song, which could be called a praise song, based on the words, becomes a funeral dirge.
I attended a midweek "contemporary" service this past week. The music wasn't new. It was good, but not at all peppy. But there were guitars, keyboard, drums, so I guess it was "praise music." I found an on-line list of Praise Music. It contained lots of music that was old and familiar.

Lindy said...

There may be a lot of Sarah Palins out there but I don't have to consider her religion anything but what it is: Hate and homophobia. There is nothing of Jesus or his Good News in the "I believe better than you-ism" that best defines such sects. It's dangerous and mean. I simply can't afford to accept that as mainstream. What's next? Fred Phelps? Burning heretics? Stoning lesbians? Yikes!

Praise music and guitars don't bother me too much. The truly evil beliefs/practices that sometimes go along with it is a much more serious matter.

As for your question... That's a good one, Diane. Very provocative post. As usual, I have something to think about when I leave here. Thanks you Diane.

Diane said...

Lindy, of course, as usual, you raise good questions. I don't mean Sara Palin herself, but I do think we need to think about the fact that the Pentecostal religion is growing, and what that means. I don't mean buying most of the theological positions, but wondering what the experience means, and what it does....

Crimson Rambler said...

I'm sl glad someone else remembers Maud and Miska Petersham! And my children had a number of the D'Aulaires' books -- I seem to remember Greek myths...??

LutheranChik said...

I think one of the "something old" traditions I want to reaffirm this Lent is the practice of fixed morning and evening prayer...it's one of those don't do what I want to/do what I don't want to issues in my spiritual formation. [rueful grin]

Purple said...

Great post Diane. I was a fairly traditional PCUSA worship person, who like to push the envelope, spent some time doing the Willow Creek method of worship, and now the model of worship for me is the contemplative model...periods of silence and not so many darn words.

Simple songs work best for me...two lines long.

Has your husband published his songs?

Thanks for the thought provoking post.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I tend to pick and choose among eras. A lot of really good contemporary music is ruined for me because of the theology I associate it with. I still love a lot of the folksy scripture songs though. I love some traditional hymns, while others make me cringe if they're too didactic in their evangelicalism. I'm afraid I'm a hodge podge.

Diane said...

Ruth, I know! sometimes a catchy tune, but if I listen to the words, I'm bummed.

I have favorites in every era.

Rev SS said...

Over simple answer to this complex question: "and" I like most genres of Christian music IF/when the theology sounds like Jesus ... love, forgive, don't judge ... etc. And, I think it's important that music leaders know the correct tempo and instrumentation! (nothing can turn people off faster than music played too fast or too slow) And, in my humble opinion what the Pentacostals have that we need is "fire in the belly" (or "passion" about our good news)

Barbara B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Song in my Heart said...

In those 20 centuries of tradition, what do you value, and why? What songs, prayers, and works of art live for you?

Good questions!

At this stage? Basic stuff. The Lord's Prayer. The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi. Singing "Johnny Appleseed" before meals with my family when I was growing up. Various requiem masses I've sung (Verdi, Fauré, others). Brahms, who seems to have struggled with theology in a way I think I can relate to, though I'm not nearly as agnostic as he sometimes seems. Hymnody that I remember from childhood, hymnody I'm discovering now as I start attending various services again. Sung psalmody, which I'm only beginning to discover. Gregorian and Ambrosian chant. The shema and the kaddish from my exploration of Judaism. Spirituals. Any service involving candles.

This post at Choral Reef explains, better than I can, some of what I find effective. The style of the music is less important than the execution.

Jennifer said...

Great post and great comments!
I'm a hodge-podge, too, loving theology that is generous and inclusive, whether ancient, contemporary or somewhere in between.
I think passion takes many forms...

Auntie Knickers said...

I like many different kinds of music, whether secular or sacred. The "Sacred Songs" playlist on my computer (no iPod) has everything from Bach to the Roches, Taize to the Blackwood Brothers to the Blind Boys of Alabama. But very little contemporary Christian or what I think of as Praise Music -- the very repetitive kind. That said, I do like Marty Haugen and the multi-cultural things Bread for the Journey does, so I'm not against new music as such.
I too love the d'Aulaires, Petershams et al. The d'Aulaire Greek and Norse myth books are awesome and our kids were brought up on them. If I were you I would have bought those books.