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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

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Name: jrichard

Monday, June 16, 2003

With Bended Language We Sing

So, these are a few thoughts that have been rumbling around in my head for a few weeks, but they came back to a point today.

The catalyst for today's thought was a friend of mine. This friend of mine was reading the scriptures one Sunday, and once again, refused to read from the Revised Standard Version (which is my church’s preferred version), preferring to read from the New King James Version. Which I'm ok with, but I knew our preacher was not going to be unhappy with it.

Personally, I prefer different versions of the Bible for different purposes, but I never include the KJV in any of my personal usage scenarios. Well, strike that. I do keep two in my apartment partly for sentimental reasons (they were given to me) and partly to illustrate why I don't like the KJV by comparing them to the other version I do use frequently.

But anyway, back to the point, which actually has nothing to do with the KJV or my friend.

It has begin to irritate me lately when we are singing songs that contain grammatical inconsistencies with our contemporary use of language. And I'm not talking about old English per se (though it does amuse me when someone is praying and suddenly addresses God in medieval English, as if it's somehow more holy).

This is not my soapbox about jettisoning songs that do not support our theology or mission objectives. I'm due for another installment of that, but this is much more superficial.

I understand that many of these songs were written in earlier eras, when grammar rules were either different or were simply not enforced as strictly as we enforce them in contemporary writing.

But I cannot count the number of times I am distracted by copy-editing songs in my head as I'm singing. "On Bended Knee I come" vs. "On Bent Knee I Come" or "I Come on Bent Knee" or "I Approach You Spiritually By Bending my Knee." (Since physically coming anywhere on bent knees seems to imply we're walking on our knees, an image that makes me snicker as I think of members in our congregation running around on their knees in church pants and dresses).

It's normally just a misuse of verbiage that drives me crazy. For example, there was a song at a nursing home we sang that contained "had took" instead of "had taken." And our song books are full of such examples.

I'm also amused by the way our current books define certain words, but not others. That a song would contain a footnote defining “fetter” but not what it means to “raise my Ebenezer” is quite funny.

Also during the nursing home singing, one of the songs defined "beguile" in a footnote as "to happily anticipate," or something like that, which made me burst into laughter while we were singing. That's not how I've ever defined that word, but using it in the context that I'm more familiar with seemed to indicate we were trying to trick people into right thinking through deception (which given our past, may not be inaccurate, if politically incorrect).

So I wonder what the politics are of updating our church music. I know we don't spend a great deal of time really thinking about what we sing, or what the theological implications of the words of our music are, but is it worth it to at least try and correct awkward or incorrect uses of language?

"Jesus, Jesus, how I love Him, How I've proved Him o'er and o'er ..."

I have proved? Yuk.

And I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the statement that I've "proven" a deity anyway. But that's beside the point ...

If we are a church that is focused on those without a heritage, should we feel free to discard outmoded expressions or thoughts that will confuse those approaching our music for the first time?