Sightings in Christian Music
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall 1998)
Prior to our own hymnals and song books was the hymnal of the State Church of Sweden, Den Svenska Psalmboken (the Swedish Psalm-book). This was the major literary achievement of the archbishop of the Swedish church, Johan Olof Wallin (1779-1839). Among the 500 hymns in the psalmbook, Wallin wrote 128 original hymns, made 178 revisions, and translated 23 hymns from the German chorales.
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 1999)
We all sat in perfect silence for thirty minutes until a man with a strong voice began singing a song by Nils Frykman, “O sällhet stor,” literally, “O bliss so great.” No hymn number was announced but all joined in spontaneously singing all five verses by heart. It was truly a moment of ecstasy for me and one that has never worn off. I left the service that evening with a resolve to translate that song—if not for others, at least for myself.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 1999)
Many years ago, we attended the summer school sponsored by St. Olaf College at the University of Oslo. We were two kids right out of college, married only a few days, going to school together with two hundred American students in a strange land, enjoying it but also a bit homesick at times.
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall 1999)
When I asked Carleton R. Young, editor of the Methodist hymnal, whether the use of overheads in worship might not make singing from hymnals obsolete, he said: "We have all the technology to do so. But when the light of the overhead goes off, I have nothing in my hands. But when I take up my hymnal in song and prayer, I hold 2000 years of church history in my hands."
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring 2000)
One of the magic moments of our Scandinavian Holiday last summer—a tour of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden led by Eloise and Leroy Nelson—was a visit to Fröderyd, a small, rural com-munity located in the deep forests of Småland and the birthplace of Lina Sandell.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2000)
Kit Swanson, a Peace Corps volunteer, has been teaching in a university in Buea, Cameroon, West Africa, and one of her courses is Old English Literature. In a letter to her parents, Dave and Ann Swanson of the Bethlehem Covenant Church, Kit describes her class of 200-plus students and "a sightings in Christian music" that is quite remarkable.
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2000)
"Blood in the hymnal" seems an odd theme to pursue until you encounter a person with furrowed brow or someone with tongue-in-cheek asking a member of a hymnal commission: "Have you taken the blood out of the hymnal?" Given the near earth-shaking significance in Covenant history of the doctrine of the atonement, it is not a question that should be passed over lightly or answered in a defensive manner.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring 2001)
In the last issue I spoke of the imagery of blood in Covenant hymnody and how it reflects the centrality of the atoning death of Jesus in our theology. While the Hymnal Commission did not include the hymn by William Cowper, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," it was not because it isn’t a good hymn nor because it is blood thirsty but because in a literal-minded culture like ours, it could be misunderstood by many people who would be repulsed by the very thing they need most.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2001)
I recall from the earlier years of my ministry—when there were still some first generation Swedes around—that whenever we sang a Swedish translation someone was bound to say after the service: "It just isn't the same in the original."
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2001-2002)
In pursuing a favorite pastime of reading through hymnals, I have often wondered why so few of our Swedish heritage hymns have made it into American hymnals. The two hymns that have made it are "Children of the Heavenly Father" and "How Great Thou Art."
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2002)
The popularity of How Great Thou Art even on the fringes of American religious culture must surely be due to its repeated use over the years in the Billy Graham crusades and the singing of George Beverly Shea. In The Covenant Hymnal (1973) the concluding sentence in the footnote of hymn 19 “O Mighty God, When I Behold the Wonder” tells its convoluted history: “The text widely known as How Great Thou Art is an English translation of a Russian version based on an earlier German translation of the original.”
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2002-2003)
This past May, Royce Eckhardt, Minister of Music at the Winnetka, Illinois Presbyterian Church, and I conducted a 50s Plus Conference at Pilgrim Pines on ethnic music in the Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook. The theme we chose was "Thinking Globally and Singing Locally." Thinking globally has been, and still is, central to our Christian proclamation and mission. However, with the entry into our vocabulary of the concept of globalization, it has new relevance, particularly as the term "global village" seems suddenly real and near—right at our doorstep.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2003)
In this issue of “Sightings,” I think it appropriate to pay tribute to the gospel singer, Winifred Larson, who was well-known in many of our churches and whose passing was memorialized at First Evangelical Free Church of Minneapolis on May 16th.
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2003-2004)
Lina Sandell, the most popular and prolific hymn writer Sweden has produced, was born on October 3, 1832 and died on July 27, 1903. Observances have taken place this past year on the centennial of her death in our own country, in Scandinavia, and wherever her songs are known.
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall 2004)
Early in the 60s I was listening to a classical music station and was stopped dead in my tracks by the deep, mellow voice of the black baritone, William Warfield singing "Shall We Gather at the River."
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2004-2005)
My sightings in this issue include the use of a new hymn in three services held at the Bethlehem Covenant Church of Minneapolis: a Sunday morning worship service, a funeral, and the blessing of a marriage. I was present at these services and felt in each the awe and wonder of a birthing as a congregation found its song: “Surrounded by God’s Silent, Faithful Angels” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with music by Sigfried Feitz.
Sightings in Christian Music (Winter 2005)
Through my friendship with Dr. Bernhard Erling, former professor of Gustavus Adolphus in St Peter, Minnesota and the University of Minnesota, I was invited to be a presenter at “Gathering 2004” of the Augustana Heritage Association meeting in St Peter. My subject was the Swedish hymnody shared by the Augustana Lutheran Synod and the Covenant. Dr. Philip Anderson of North Park Seminary presented on our common history as Augustana Lutheran and Covenant at the Association’s meeting in Lindsborg, Kansas two years ago.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2006)
I recently finished reading for the second time the English translation of Levi’s Journey, an engaging novel by Swedish author, Per Olof Enquist. The novel brings together fiction and history and makes for fascinating reading.
Sightings in Christian Music (Christmas 2006)
In the month of October in which I am writing, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is publishing a new hymnal. The last hymnal—the Lutheran Book of Worship (commonly referred to as “the green hymnal”)—was published in 1978. It has been in use 38 years which exceeds the average life of denominational hymnals by 18 years. Work on the 1978 hymnal began with the cooperation of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod but the Missouri Synod dropped out of the process before publication.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring 2007)
On February 26, 2007, several hundred guests attended an extra-ordinary concert at Landmark Center in St. Paul. The concert with the inviting title “Listen to the Song of Life” celebrated the life of Bruce Carlson whose death occurred on July 28, 2006, after a three-year battle with disease.
Sightings in Christian Music (Christmas 2007)
Through my friendship with Phyllis Holmer, I have begun a correspondence with a longstanding friend of the Holmers, Dr Andrew Burgess, Professor of Philosophy and a Kierkegaard scholar at The University of New Mexico in, Albuquerque. Dr Burgess is also a graduate of Minnehaha and was a student of Paul Holmer. I would like to share part of a letter which I wrote this past summer to Dr Burgess.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring 2008)
Sweden, an anomaly in many ways, is a deviation from the rules, especially as seen and experienced by many American visitors. The most common perception many Swedish-Americans carry away with them from visiting relatives or friends in the land of their forebears is that today Sweden has become a thoroughly secular place. This is based on how few attend church—except for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. As one wag puts it “hatch, match, and dispatch.”
Sightings in Christian Music (Christmas 2008)
There are three sightings in Christian Music that I wish to report on: “Mystic Chords of Memory: Some Thoughts on Music and Communication in the Evangelical Covenant Church, Past and Present,” “An Open Letter to Covenant Church Leaders Regarding Our Hymnody,” and Royce Eckhardt on songs of Covenanters.
Sightings in Christian Music (Summer 2009)
For me as a child in First Covenant Church, Kansas City, this became my favorite hymn from the new Brown Hymnal in the 30s. I still believe it was the best hymn in that book. The title in the Brown Hymnal was “In the Lord’s Courts.” That’s the place to which we have come this evening as we have sung: “Here in his presence glorious it is so good to be.”
Sightings in Christian Music (Epiphany 2010)
As a lover of hymns, I have learned to tread gently in offering critiques of hymns, especially those in popular usage. Gracia Grindal, Professor of Rhetoric at Luther Seminary, St Paul has recently raised a question about the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which has won such universal approval including approval by people other than Christians.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring/Summer 2010)
It was an unforgettable moment sitting in a Christian ethics class taught by Professor H. Richard Niebuhr at Yale Divinity School. At first I wondered if I had heard it correctly But it was a seminal statement that would be unfolding in my subsequent years as a believer and a theologian. His statement was “To be a Christian you must first become a Jew.” Beyond the shock of the moment, it speaks truth every time I open the Sacred Book joining the two testaments, or whenever I pray the Psalms or sing the Gloria Patri or the hymns of Easter.
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2010)
The destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John Kennedy, is another of those national tragedies that are stamped indelibly on our minds as a memory we will never forget. Recalling that day, the shock of it summoned a host of Americans to seek out a church or synagogue or mosque to lament as a community the tragedy on the day of the event, as well in the days following.
Covenant-Augustana Hymn Festival (Fall/Winter 2010)
On Nov. 6, 2010, a hymn festival took place in Anderson Chapel on the campus of North Park University in Chicago on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Augustana Synod and the 125th Anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church. It was a hymn sing that can best be described as a “historic phenomenon.”
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2011)
I must add a simple witness as to what has motivated the essays and hymns and their publication in “Singing the Story.” It has been my passion to preserve the music of our movement as Covenanters and Pietists. There will be those who see the music as irrelevant to our times. I believe, however, that there will be plenty in the next generation, if not this one, who will find in this music a treasure worth preserving and singing!
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring/Summer 2012)
In a recent issue of Pietisten I described a Service of Lament I was asked to lead on the evening of 9/11, remembering the hundreds who perished in the Twin Towers.
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2012)
In the recent book When I Was a Child I Read Books, one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, writes: "I have reached the point in my life when I can see what has mattered, what has become a part of its substance — I might say a part of my substance.”
The Gift of Singing (Spring/Summer 2013)
Recently Bryan Leech, a cherished friend of many years, called and engaged me in conversation around a number of our common interests, mostly of music. As a composer of 17 hymns in the Covenant Hymnal out of a collection of some 250 hymns and anthems, our conversation has never lagged. His purpose in calling, however, was to speak about a festival of worship and hymn sing held last year at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles where two of his hymns were sung with organ and orchestral accompaniment.
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2013)
During Salem Covenant Church’s 125th Anniversary, it was deemed appropriate to highlight Salem’s musical life by bringing forth the lovely reed organ from the archives into the sanctuary to stand side by side with the Holtkamp organ, which was undergoing maintenance. Our organist, Cindy Reents made the comment that both instruments have played an important role in the worship life of this congregation.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring/Summer 2014)
Revise us again? This was the title of an article in the September, 2013 issue of Christian Century. It is a question which every hymnal commission has faced. Should churches alter worship texts? In a hymn text, theology can turn on a single word or phrase.
Words that matter (Fall/Winter 2014)
The final statement in my previous column in Pietisten quoted a fine statement by Bob Smietana that inspires me to further discussion. “The words in a hymnal matter.” The context was a recent trend of music leaders sharing music across theological lines where copyright laws in some cases are frequently ignored and letters requesting permission for the use of such hymns are not written. There are those who say, “We’re so small who cares,” or “There are more important matters.” Really?
Glimpses of Glory (Spring/Summer 2016)
Can you recall a first time when you felt jubilation in a service of worship? Perhaps it was unexpected, a moment when it seemed that the Lord himself breathed on you, turning to radiance where the moment before you felt like a burnt out cinder.
The Covenant Hymnal, a worshipbook (Fall/Winter 2016)
Last summer, Pastor Mark Pattie of Salem Covenant Church of New Brighton, Minnesota, preached a remarkable sermon using the hymnal as a “worship book” – just as it was meant to be used. We on the hymnal committee had named it precisely that: “The Covenant Hymnal; Worshipbook” and hoped it would be used not only as a musical voice but as a praying voice. As a member of the hymnal committee, Mark’s sermon gave me great hope.
Sightings in Christian Music (Spring/Summer 2017)
In the fall semester of my final year at North Park Theological Seminary (2010), Professor Phil Anderson asked if I would play saxophone on a couple hymns for a hymn festival that was to end a day of lectures honoring the joint heritage of the Augustana Synod and the Covenant Church. I agreed, partly because I was excited by the new discovery of the heritage hymns during my time in seminary, and partly because it never hurts to do a professor a favor!
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2017)
As a worship leader and a hymn writer, the past year has left me wondering how the church can respond to dangerous political rhetoric and action directly opposed to the central narrative of hospitality and welcome presented in Scripture. In light of a leader elected on the promise of border walls, Muslim bans, and opposition to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), it seems clear to me that a true Pietist movement rooted in the immigrant experience has a responsibility to speak and act on behalf of the stranger and foreigner in our midst. Further, I am convinced that part of the way we envision how to engage well in political discourse and social action is formed by the words we sing and pray in worship.
Music that makes community (Fall/Winter 2018)
Of all the tired debates of the so-called worship wars over the past 30 years, one that I have grown particularly exhausted with is the hymnal vs. screen debate. Each side trots out the usual arguments. For hymnal supporters, it’s the ephemeral nature of projected words, the lack of musical notation for part-singing, and the aesthetic drawbacks of a screen in a sanctuary. Conversely, screen supporters note that hymnals don’t allow the use of your hands while singing, present unfamiliar songs to a public who on the whole doesn’t read music, and implies a closed canon of songs. As with most of these arguments, both sides have merit and both tend to overstate their case.
Music that makes community (Spring/Summer 2019)
As at least some readers of Pietisten no doubt experienced, one of the rites of passage in Covenant History class was reading Karl Olsson’s By One Spirit. The sheer size of the book led to many of my classmates experiencing dizziness and shortness of breath!
Sightings in Christian Music (Fall/Winter 2019)
In my last column I discussed how a particular passage in Karl Olsson’s history, By One Spirit, helped me understand what I believe is a key characteristic of Pietism. As I wrote then, at the heart of this movement is the introspective person — one who is aware of their own faults and moves through the world with this basic self-reflective posture. At its best this posture leads to humility and charity towards others; at its worst, it fosters scrupulosity and anxiety that can slip into despair. Continuing that theme, I will explore how this self-reflective posture is found in the early songs of the Mission Friends — especially in the poignant descriptions of anxiety, worry, and fear.