Here I wrote about how I’m trying to help this admirably curious young man for whom I am RCIA sponsor on his intellectual journey. I’m no Socrates, but I do know a thing or two that this young man is not going to pick up at school, that would be helpful to him and, frankly, to the world. Any efforts to get a little educated and shine a little light into the surrounding darkness seems a good thing to me.
I figure I’ll give him a single page every week or so when I see him, with the offer to talk it over whenever he’s available. Below is the content of the second page; you can see the first in the post linked above. We started off with a description of Truth and Knowledge. I figure the idea of a cultivated mind might be good next. We’ll wrap it up with a page on the Good and one on the Beautiful, and see where it goes from there.
Any thoughts/corrections appreciated.
A Cultivated Mind
A cultivated mind can consider an idea without accepting it.
What is meant by a “cultivated mind”?
Like a cultivated field:
Meant for things to be planted and grown in it
Weeded of bad habits and bad ideas
Is cared for daily
A cultivated mind
is what a civilized and educated man strives to have.
is not snobby or elitist.
Is what is required to honestly face the world.
Is open to new ideas, but considers them rationally before accepting them.
How do you cultivate your mind?
Reexamine the ideas you find most attractive:
Have you accepted them because you like them, or because you examined them and believe them true?
Carefully review all popular ideas:
Have you accepted them because to reject them might make you unpopular?
Have you really examined them before accepting them?
Double your efforts to be fair when considering ideas you do not like:
Can you restate the idea in terms that people who accept it would recognize and agree with? If not, you are not able to truly consider the idea.
NOTE 1: To engage ideas, listen to and read what people who hold those ideas say, especially when you don’t like them or already disagree. Hear and understand what the idea really is before you can consider it.This takes discipline and time.
NOTE 2: This is a life-long project, always subject to revision. Guard against over certainty, avoid exaggeration. Do not pretend to know what you do not know. Acknowledge that some things are difficult, and can only be known partially.
Follow the Dominican maxim: “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.”
In the comments to the previous post, Richard A linked to this, this, thing, playfully nicknamed Our Lady of Minas Morgul, and I had to share:
I’m somehow not surprised that this is a real Catholic church building, St. Francis de Sales (who is doing 1,000 RPMs in his grave at the moment) in Muskegon, Michigan. I was surprised, although I should not have been, that googling this structure yielded many articles *praising* this building. A fine example of Bauhaus, Modernism, Brutalism – you know, just what the typical Catholic in the pews wants in his church building.
While a comment at the above link mentions the obvious goal is evangelization of the orcs, I had to surf around a little to find some pithy, real world reactions, such as these from reddit:
“It looks like the Borg assimilated a group of Lutherans.” (I laughed)
“This looks like where you fight a final boss”
“This could literally be a building in 1984”
“Looks like exactly the type of place you would serve the flesh and blood of someone to others.” (ouch!)
Going back a fewposts to those discussing the heresy of Americanism. In 1899, Archbishop Gibbons answered the Pope Leo XIII’s concerns about Americanism with firm assurances that nothing of the sort was going on; by 1964, a parish in Michigan is hiring a famous Modernist architect to design its church. (Aside: where does a parish get the money to hire a famous German Bauhaus architect? And the money to build the monstrosity?)
I’m sure there’s no connection.
Here’s a slightly more flattering picture of the interior:
And a quotation from William Torrey Harris: “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places…. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world. ” The purpose of school is, according to Harris, making obedient automata out of the students. So, what is the purpose here, in an environment so suited to Harris’s ideal?
As for praise, no less an oracle than Concrete Construction Magazine assures us that this building “fully demonstrates the architectural potential of cast-in-place concrete construction.” Who could doubt it?
So, any of youse guys got anything ‘better’ than this?
May God forgive us for modern church architecture.
Have we turned the corner on terrible church buildings yet? I sometimes think we have, but that may be just me putting the blinders on so I don’t have to look at this:
and pretend they are anything other than hideous abominations, insulting to both God and man.
Ya know? Or this:
The bomb shelter look was big. I remember reading about the Los Angeles Cathedral, how they took care building it to last 500 years at least. This is achieved by deploying thousands of tons of concrete and steel. Unlike many ugly parish churches, which probably have a 50 or so year life expectancy before the repair/tear down calculations starts to get (mercifully) interesting, these monstrosities are built to last. If the goal was to burn through the Church’s money while saddling her with repulsive buildings for generations or centuries to come, the outcomes would not have been any different.
The L.A. Cathedral is in a class of its own – there’s just no redeeming it, artistically. It is a giant, $200,000,000 middle finger to the Catholics of L.A. To get rid of it is almost impossible. I fantasize that a billionaire might come along, buy land next door, and build a huge beautiful Neo-Gothic or Romanesque Revival church, seamlessly incorporating influences from Mexico, the Philippines, Asia, Africa and so on in order to honor the remarkably world wide nature of L.A.’s Catholics, and then offer it to the diocese. The underlying tensions would thus be exposed. And L.A. would get a nice church.
At least in San Francisco and Oakland, one gets the feeling they were trying for something good, even if they went about it under the constraint that whatever was built must rebuke the pre-Vatican II church. The unhealthy compulsion to be different, which has lead to many bad fashion decisions and questionable tattoos on a small scale, leads to stuff like this when writ large:
These are a few of the approximately 800 louvres, I guess you’d call them, that make up the walls of the Cathedral of Christ the Light.
These features appear to be slabs of laminated 2 x 12s, bolted to laminated uprights(1) with some seriously industrial looking galvanized hardware and bolts. They would make excellent work benches and picnic tables. Here? Oh, I’m sure there’s an artist’s program somewhere that describes how they are meant to let in the light in some deeply meaningful way that only a uncultured peon would fail to understand.
The effect is just weird. Like I say, not irredeemably ugly, just – weird. With 2,000 years of church architectural experience to draw on, this is what you do? Only if hell-bent on rejecting all that collected experience and wisdom.
Obligatory note: over the centuries, many people have pushed and pulled church architecture in many different directions with greater and lesser success. Gothic, after all, was an innovation at one time. I’m not wedded to any particular style or approach, as long as it strives to embody the true, the good and the beautiful. For a century now, many architects have actively rejected those ideals. Such should not be let anywhere near a church design project.
Final funny (at least to me) moment: Youngest son and I were visiting the Oakland Cathedral for a Boy Scout function, when a mom came up to me (I was just sitting there! Minding my own business! I swear!), pointed at the huge image of Christ Enthroned, and asked: “What is He doing with his right hand?”
I answered honestly that he was giving a blessing, and that such images – Christ enthroned giving his blessing – are quite common. She was hesitant to accept this, but eventually gave in. “I thought he was flashing a peace sign. I was afraid they’d gone hippy on us.”
“I have no comment.” I smiled.
I have to think the external frame, or a steel core to the uprights, or most likely both, are actually holding this thing up. Those louvres have got to be heavy.
The music at Saturday’s Mass prior to the Walk for Life was good to excellent, sung by a good choir, some chant, some polyphony, English, Latin and Spanish.
I am grateful. The mass, with a dozen bishops, dozens of clergy, processions, incense, candles – the whole smells and bells routine – was beautiful. The homily edifying. One interesting aside: in a congregation made up of pro-life people, the songs get sung, the responses get said, and everybody kneels for the Domine, non sum dignus (it has somehow become customary in our neck of the woods to stand). It’s almost like believing in what is going on makes one more inclined to fully and actively participate, at least in the ways that can be seen.
That was Saturday, at the Cathedral in San Francisco. But then, as you may have heard, Sunday kicked off Catholic Schools Week. This had failed to register until we showed up for the 10:30 mass at our parish 5 minutes early as is our custom and found the church in general and, more important to us, the areas set aside for people with mobility issues (grandma uses a walker) already all but filled up. I will generously assume that all those kids and their families usually go to another mass, and the crowd at the 10:30 was offset by lighter-than-usual turnout at the other masses. Not easy, but I will assume this.
Here’s the obligatory note: these are some good and dedicated people, doing their best to the best of their understanding. It’s that understanding that I’m criticizing here, not the people, who have been formed over their lifetimes in a way not of their choosing. There may well be some personal blame to be laid somewhere, but not at the feet of these good people. My goal is to try to elevate the understanding.
Thus is came to pass that the music was provided by a children’s choir. Somehow, by some unwritten but iron law, music sung by children in Mass must evidently be infantile both musically and theologically. This is done, presumably, because the little dears are not up to singing good music with theologically sophisticated lyrics. The only theological messages their little brains can process are along the lines of let’s be nice to each other, Love is God and, for the more advanced, ‘alle alle allelooooia’.
One suspects there might be a little bit of that soft bigotry of low expectations, at the very least, going on here. One would not want to suppose the kids are purposely being dumbed down, despite Catholic Schools Week being, essentially, a celebration of how our parish schools are kinder, gentler public schools with a little optional Jesus thrown in. Those public schools, after which true Progressive American Catholics have long pined and to which they have aspired, exist to dumb as down, as has been discussed and documented here over the years. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
What should we expect? For context, here are a bunch of young ruffians, orphans even, *boys* even! doing a bit of light singing under the direction of meddlesome adults:
I had the honor, 40 years ago, to hang out for a week with Monsignor Francis Schmitt, founding director of the Boys Town Choir, may he rest in peace, and have also read about him. He was an imposing man, radiating a manly strength, yet warm and easy to talk with. Two things became clear: he was an unapologetic taskmaster, insisting young boys learn some moderately complex music. He also loved the boys and was greatly beloved in return.
It’s as if boys like to be challenged, especially by men they can look up to and who care about them. It certainly is clear that these boys responded gloriously to Msgr. Schmitt’s challenge.
A subsection of the same law mentioned above requires, at least in local usage, the children to gather in front of the altar (backs to it and the tabernacle, naturally) and sing a pre-dismissal song after which all are expected to clap. And so it happened.
As the unruly gaggle of adorable kids congealed around the altar, my 14 year old, wise beyond his years, nudged me and pointed at his Padre Pio wrist band: Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry. I smiled sheepishly, and whispered: “count how often God gets mentioned in this song”. By my count, zero times. Lots of talk about Love, which, assuming some degree of theological understanding, could reference God. But the song failed to remove all doubt.
The teacher ‘leading’ the singing sang loud, as did a few of the kids. I’d say about 90% were whispering, mouthing the words, or engaged in pulling the hair of the kid in front of them or some similar kid activity. But they were adorable, up in front of the altar, in their little school outfits.
Finally, after the kids had dispersed, the congregation started to do likewise – while the priest was still at the altar. In their defense, the Mass + the extracurricular activities had run almost 90 minutes, some people were getting antsy. He and the acolytes then made their way through the milling crowd. Seems the people’s sense of order had been disrupted.
On to the songs: I didn’t know most of what might generously be called ‘tunes’ and there was mercifully not a program, so I can’t comment on most except to say they were simplistic and insipid. No self-respecting kid would be caught dead humming such tripe on their own time – they’re rappin’ or singing pop tunes, which by comparison are freaking Mozart.
I guess the memo that went out with the new translations a few years back about how these are the words, use them as is, no freestyling does not apply to the clap clap Gloria, the text of which is only loosely based on the liturgical text.
And so on and so forth. It hardly needs mentioning that that most sacred and feverishly pursued goal of active participation, beat into our heads over the last 5 decades, which here might be thought to include singing the songs, was jettisoned without comment. The kids choir was performing more egregious than any aloof and aloft choir loft dwellers of yore, which we were told was bad when we were chased out of that loft.
There was effectively zero singing by anyone except the children and their keepers. I’d never heard most of the tunes before, or my brain’s self defence mechanisms purged all memories of them. In any case, nobody but the kids and teachers sang them.
One exception was the old chestnut ‘One Bread, One Body,’ a song older than the grandparents of some of these kids, sung as a communion song. I learned this song in high school, and learned the harmony part – very minimal, Row Row Row Your Boat level musical skill is required to sing it. So, here was an opportunity: a music director could kick the kid’s musical experiences up a small but critical notch just by having the boys, say, sing one part while the girls sang the other. They could have a small taste of the thrill and glory of singing in parts, where you do your best on one thing, others do their best on another, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But it didn’t happen.
One underappreciated glory of the ancient Catholic liturgical music is the way it mirrors the structure of the Body of Christ. Chant, especially sung antiphonally, requires real cooperation and focus. There are parts for you, parts for others, and parts for everybody. Some chants are easy, some a difficult, and a few are quite challenging.
The better everyone does his part, the better the whole. It is in each accepting and executing his part to the best of his abilities that the whole comes to its fullest expression.
Polyphony has the same logic, but in a greatly enhanced form. Those kids at Boys Town learned to not only sing their part, but to *listen* very carefully to all the other parts, and to follow the director, the blend and and balance and stay together. As with the chant, each had to learn how to confidently execute his role and make it fit. But the result – the harmonies created by the blending of several independent and independently beautiful parts – far exceeds their sum.
And this is the lesson learned:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.
Sometimes this truth – that it is by doing our part to the best of our ability that we most belong to God, and that we must always respect and encourage all other parts – is hard to see. A great piece of polyphony teaches us that sometimes, we are front and center, sometimes we move tightly with others and sometimes seem to be going it alone. Most often, we are supporting others, who in turn support us. It is a great blessing, and not at all hard to see how each is differently blessed for good of all, when singing great music in a good choir for the glory of God.
That title is a wee bit over the top. A bit. Here’s the real deal: I am the RCIA sponsor this year to a very bright young man, 16, who asks a lot of good questions and really seems to want to understand things. But he, alas, is a product of the schools, and therefore has systematically been denied any whiff of real education.
So, I thought to myself, I did, that maybe I could hook him on some basic logic and philosophy and steal him from the clutches of those who would dumb him down and control him. I could feed him just a bit of real, honest thought. Seemed like a plan. But given the realities of modern ‘education’, I should keep it real short.
Here it is: a one page outline of Truth. What do you, my esteemed readers, think?
An Introduction to Truth, Facts, and Reasoning
Truth: A man is said to have the truth when his understanding corresponds to reality.
Necessary Truths: Those things which must be true if anything is true. Or, put another way, those things that must be true if you know anything at all about reality. Necessary truths do not depend on anything in particular you see, hear, feel, smell, etc., but rather must be true IF you see, hear, feel, smell or touch ANYTHING AT ALL.
The study of Necessary Truths is called metaphysics. (Today, the term metaphysics is applied to all sorts of stupid ideas, but this is what it means when used correctly.)
Necessary truths include:
An objective world exists. We call this world ‘reality’.
Truth exists. We can understand reality, at least some parts of it, at least a little.
The law of noncontradiction: A thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time.
All the other rules of logic. We use those rules to understand the rest of reality, but the rest of reality doesn’t help us in any way to understand those rules.
The rules of math. Same as the rules of logic.
Conditional or Contingent Truth: Truth that depends on conditions or assumptions. Conditional truths all take for granted the necessary truths. You can’t have any conditional truths without the necessary truths.
Conditional truths are very important. Almost everything we know are conditional truths.
Facts: Units of conditional truth created when the necessarily true rules of reasoning are validly applied to observations.
Conditional truths include:
All science. All science begins with observations and measurements, which are conditional because we can get them wrong. Science applies the rules of logic and math, which are necessarily true, to those observations and measurements to create scientific facts.
All theology. Because it includes revelation and observation!
All philosophy besides metaphysics.
Informed Opinion: A kind of conditional knowledge that has not been thought through completely, such as what a good craftsman knows about his craft. He hasn’t worked through all the logic or examined all the assumptions, but he ‘knows’ what works.
(Yes, It’s still 5 whole hours until 1st Vespers/Vigil Mass, but it will be less than that by the time you read this, and possibly even already Christmas proper, so I don’t care. After getting up at 5:00 a.m. to attend the closing of Simbang Gabi at the local parish, Advent has been right properly celebrated here at Casa de Yardsaleofthemind.)
We were discussing this morning with a lovely couple at our table how many years we’ve been doing the 5:30 a.m. Masses of the Simbang Gabi advent novena, and we came up with 6? 7? 9? Somewhere in there. I have never made all 9 mornings myself in any of those years, caught 5 this year, I think 7 or 8 is my best effort, but Mrs Yardsale and one or two of the offspring have attended all 9 once or twice. Straight to Heaven go such folks.
Brief recap: stories differ, but the one I like goes like this: centuries ago in the Philippines, land owners would not make time for their field workers to attend mass, even in Advent. The only chance to attend mass before spending the day in the fields was to have it before dawn. Locals asked their priest if he’d be willing to say a pre-dawn novena of Advent masses for them, he of course said yes. Everybody brought gifts of food for the priest (all they likely would have had to give) and he turned right around and invited them to breakfast. So now the tradition is for a predawn Mass followed by a traditional Filipino breakfast:
Certain aspects, such as plastic plates and processed cheese seem to be part of more recent tradition. The roll is split, and cheese and meat put on it (pineapple-fried ham this morning – yum!):
Completely lacking this year in pretty pictures of the more religious aspect of this lovely tradition. It will have to suffice to say that the Sacrament works by working, and its efficacy is aided by Mass said at an awkward time with many devoted people present.
Onward, update wise: Did some caroling Saturday at a local nursing home followed by a potluck. It was fun, kids all got to come. Eldest daughter and I try to throw in a harmony part or two – funny, for as long as I’ve sung these carols, I’m still real sketchy on the harmonies, partly because there are lots of different settings, but mostly because of my very meager musical talents.
Speaking of which, for the first time in over a decade, I will be singing at a Christmas morning Mass. A wonderful lady and excellent musician has taken on the task of reintroducing some good music at a local parish, in the quiet, humble way such things are required to be approached. She’s been after me to sing with them, in a very gentle way. My meager musical talents do extent – barely – to being able to learn and carry a hymn part in a couple passes. A little chant, a little Latin, some hymns and an occasional honest to goodness choir piece. No risk of heresy or musical stupidity. Cool.
I didn’t know how much I missed singing in a choir. It had come down to having to either sing insufferable ‘contemporary’ music of dubious orthodoxy or drive for a half-hour or more to a real choir. Inertia won. But this church is 5 minutes away. So here goes nothing.
Next up: Listening to music made by a family in Napa. Beautiful stuff. CD was given to eldest daughter on a first date with a young man whose family has been in Napa for five generations. That sort of permanence and roots is rare these days, and to be admired.
Lingering cold moved on to maybe a sinus infection, which seems on its way out. I’d really like to feel well for a few months at a time, just to mix things up.
Have no idea why anyone would be reading this on this day, or any of the next few, but if you are, God bless you and yours, and have a Happy, Holy and Blessed Christmas – all 12 days of it!
Proposed by aetherfilledskyproductions. Amazing, but I don’t think this tune has yet come in for brotherly correction on this blog. We will need to fix this oversight before giving it the Deus Vult treatment. Thus, Part the Third (a) shall review this song; we shall see what can be done to properly weaponize it in (b).
Lord of the Dance: This needlessly long song suffers from a couple obvious flaws:
Speaks in the person of the Lord. Whether we like it or not, whether we can intellectually justify it or not, on a direct simple level we have a hard time thinking or feeling like we are praying when we speak in the person of the Lord all song long. We may be charmed, or even inspired, but this practice all but prevents prayer. For a song used at Mass, this is not a good thing. (Before you mention the ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ parts of the psalms, merely note that the Lord sayeth his peace, and then the psalmist gets on with it.)
It is too cute by half, and is trying too hard. It would take far deeper poetic gifts than are on display here to make this work.
Salvation is likewise portrayed as a dance. In the hands of a great mystic, this might work. In the hands of Sydney Carter, not so much.
This concept – Jesus as Lord of the Dance – possibly traces back to a song written in the Middle Ages. Based on internal evidence, it is supposed to have been associated with mystery plays. This is believable. Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day, which I append to the end of this post, is a masterpiece after the fashion of the didactic purposes of mystery plays. Each verse lays out in 4 lines some fundamental teaching, yet frames it as completely personal. the refrain is:
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love, This have I done for my true love.
…where we, each one of us, is the beloved of Christ, Who expresses his love AND explains what His Dance entails through the example of His life, death and resurrection. He is Crucified for us – AND that Crucifiction is part of the Dance that He is inviting us to!
In other words, as you will see when you peruse the medieval text, quite a bit deeper and more challenging than Sydney Carter’s Lord of the Dance.
Speaking of Mr. Carter, it seems Shiva, the original Lord of the Dance, was as much an inspiration as Jesus:
In writing the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance” in 1963, Sydney Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja (Shiva’s dancing pose) which sat on his desk, and was partly intending simply to give tribute to Shaker music. He later stated, “I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”
The sort of Christianity Mr. Carter believes in is not what the Church believes – it is a sort of syncretist Jesus-light Hindu flavored Arianism. So, in the last song, we had a Church of Christ heretic, not to put too fine a point on it, teaching us about the Eucharist. Here, we have a syncretist teaching us about how Hinduism and Christianity are a lot alike, especially Hinduism.
What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like he’d be inclined to equivocate on Jesus’ unique divinity or anything….
[Aside: a perhaps unintended consequence of Vatican II was the driving out of many folk devotions in favor of ALL devotional activity needing to be included in the Mass. Thus, while previous ages had songs for pilgrimages and processions, oratories, and devotional activities such as the mystery plays explicitly for use outside the Mass, we seem to think it essential that any and all devotional fervor find expression in the Mass itself. Much of the less heretical stuff we do today at Mass, from rock bands and their goofy songs, through liturgical dance, to many of the more scripturally based St. Louis Jebbies songs would be perfectly fine things to do – outside of Mass – for the people who like that sort of thing. Indeed, this extending of our personal devotional lives to our time outside Mass is one of the good things to come out of the Charismatic renewal, it just has as yet to spread far enough. Lord of the Dance might be acceptable accompanying a mystery play or sung on a pilgrimage. It just doesn’t really belong at the Eucharist.]
It is set to a modified Shaker tune, perhaps best known from Simple Gifts. Shaker tunes do have a certain charm, and are not as utterly inappropriate for use at Mass as many other styles, but – maybe I’m a snob – they are not great music. We can do better, but, hey, we can and certainly do do much worse. In the folk tradition, the tune is merely beaten into submission whenever the text doesn’t quite fit it.
Let’s go verse by verse again.
Lord of the Dance
I danced in the morning When the world was begun, And I danced in the moon And the stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven And I danced on the earth, At Bethlehem I had my birth.
Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he, And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he
This has a rustic charm to it, and is not strictly heretical. He echos the first chapter of John, except that Jesus here dances in creation, instead of *creating* creation. The world was not just passively ‘begun’. Weak. His Divine Nature is omitted, as one would expect from a syncretist.
I danced for the scribe And the pharisee, But they would not dance And they wouldn’t follow me. I danced for the fishermen, For James and John They came with me And the Dance went on.
Ever wonder why pharisees don’t enter into our Mass songs much? As Chesterton brilliantly points out in The Everlasting Man:
We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the popular machinery of the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal to excess the sentiment of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ It is the first thing that the outsider feels and criticises in a Pieta or a shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient, I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite.
Here we have the interjection of the gentle side of Jesus that the Church rightly presents to her children the vast majority of the time into a situation in which He was not gentle. A modern pharisee or hypocrite, confident that he is unlikely to run into the “petrifying petrifaction” of Christ’s face in wrath just around the next corner, might very well comfort himself with the idea of Christ merely dancing an invitation to the pharisees, rather than rebuking them and – gulp! – judging them.
Can’t have that. It is too horrible to contemplate. The nice syncretist Jesus of our cowardly imaginations would never rebuke us! He is our brother! Our Friend!
Our ultimate Judge, too:
Verse 1 has watered down Jesus of the Scriptures to an acceptably tepid level.
I danced on the Sabbath And I cured the lame; The holy people Said it was a shame. They whipped and they stripped And they hung me on high, And they left me there On a Cross to die.
In a similar vein, note how it’s not the hypocrites who “said it was a shame” but the holy people. We needn’t stretch too far to see the blanket condemnation of anyone even trying to be holy in any conventional manner in favor of those who are simply willing to dance – as equal partners, of course – with Christ.
I danced on a Friday When the sky turned black It’s hard to dance With the devil on your back. They buried my body And they thought I’d gone, But I am the Dance, And I still go on.
While the ‘devil on your back’ image is certainly evocative, I note that this lyric does the opposite of what the Church does when it commends the Crucifiction to our contemplation: we are urged to focus on our role in Christ’s death, how He died for our sins.
But that would be, like, a total buzz kill. Better to redirect attention to the devil.
They cut me down And I leapt up high; I am the life That’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you If you’ll live in me – I am the Lord Of the Dance, said he.
“Cut”? Odd word.
In general, this is just not a good song, not overtly heretical, but subtly so. I would find better things to complain about if it were sung around a campfire or as part of a procession, even though even then we could do better. But as part of Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – no. Just no.
So far, two of my generous readers have made very worthy proposals for the next modern liturgical ditty to get the Deus Vult treatment: aetherfilledskyproductions nominates Lord of the Dance and Richard A thinks Gather Us In should be very firmly kicked, um, up a notch. I agree with both. We’ll start with Richard’s suggestion merely because my muse is more intrigued by it at the moment.
God, Jesus, Lord, (and related terms, such as Savior, King, etc): 0 instances. There’s an implied God behind the gathering, couple of pronouns wander by, but overall there seems to be a quaint delicacy about just naming Him, let alone thanking and praising Him. Almost like we think Dad’s asleep and don’t want to wake him. He might come down and see what we’re up to.
We also have here the subtle despair of low expectations. Pick any beloved old hymn and the poetry paints a vivid, concrete picture and puts us in it. Here? Vague feelz, curious circumlocutions, a general resistance to saying clearly what we are doing. Space and Place instead of Church; Awaken and arise to the sound of our names – what? See, the temptation for those of us paying attention is to provide logical backfill so that the lines say something – “I guess he means…” But really, it’s a hymn, not a reading comprehension test.
Must say, this might be the perfect song for the Deus Vult treatment, as it wants to gather us, just not into a holy army; it wants to change us, but not into Soldiers for Christ; it wants us to awaken, but not to repentance and holy fear of the Lord.
Enough is enough. Steps must be taken. For too long have we put up with wretched modern hymns, whining, sure, but doing nothing.
I here propose that we – I and anybody else who wants to play – Do Something. How about we take specific egregious hymns and through the magic of Scripture and doctrine married to classic hymn structures, write something that answers and corrects the pablum and heresy? Line by line, verse by verse, with references, we answer the drivel, the incoherences, the feels and, yes, the occasional overt heresy, with lines that mean something, advance the faith, and even rhyme!
We must for now set aside the ear-achingly bad music and focus on the texts. However numbingly awful modern church ditties may be, bad music most of the time merely insults taste and decorum, not Divine Truth directly. Besides, if we write our texts in any one of dozens of perfectly nice hymn formats, any number of existing tunes should fit them suitably.
We shall call this little exercise the Deus Vult Hymnal. Just because.
Today’s execrable hymn crying out to heaven for rebuttal if not vengeance, is the little Haugen tune All Are Welcome. Here, Mr. Haugen tries his musical hand at reinventing the Lutheran hymn, and the results are really not bad – musically speaking. The text, however, is a sort of motte and bailey: if we object to singing the Hegelian We Are Church Spirit into existence, we can be accused of objecting to being welcoming. Surely, the very least love of neighbor requires is welcome!
In the RCIA class I’m helping out with, we’ve been discussing Scripture and Tradition. One thing I didn’t get to mention, but I imagine might come up: what to do with those passages that contradict beliefs you hold near and dear, beliefs you hold to be *obviously* true? Examples that leap to mind include Old Testament passages where God orders the complete slaughter – men, women, children, livestock and, I imagine, pets – of Israel’s enemies, and Paul’s commands that women remain silent in Church and be subject to their husbands.
My advice, for what little it’s worth: fight off the temptation to explain these passages away. Instead, ask: how could this be true? What could it mean? What does it tell us about God and man? Is there a non-dismissive way it can true?
How could a loving God order His Chosen People to kill innocent children and non-combatant women? Clearly, I believe my notion of what constitutes a loving God precludes Him ordering his followers to kill innocent people. I personally would not obey such a command. I would assume such a command, if given to me in, what? a vision? a dream? could not be from God.
Still don’t exactly know what to make of this. The best explanations I’ve ever heard include the notion that this evil – the slaughter of whole villages and cities – was a result of Israel’s disobedience when they failed to promptly invade the Holy Land. Had they proceeded as ordered, the story goes, the inhabitants, faced with a huge army invading out of the desert, lead by God Himself, would have fled – and lived. But once Israel futzed about and was unfaithful, the 40 years passed, after which the inhabitants had ceased to be terrified. So God now needed to purge the Promised Land of the abominations of the worshipers of the Baals – child sacrifice and sexual perversions being central features – to give His people any chance of remaining true. The slaughter becomes like the Mosaic permission of divorce: given because the people were weak, but not intended from the foundation of the world.
Intellectually, those are kind of OK. Not sure my heart agrees. Yet.
The wives are subject to their husbands and should remain silent in church stuff used to bother me much more than it does now. If husbands are to be as Christ toward their wives, laying down their lives for them, then the whole ‘who’s in charge’ thing seems to pale to insignificance. Further, unsolicited and coming as a complete shock, many years ago my wife said that of course she was subject to me. One of the chief reasons I wanted to marry her in the first place was because, while she was sweet and accommodating in general, I’d also seen that she had real spine when people tried to push her around. My immediate thought: I’m not the boss of you!
The effect of having my wife tell me that she is subject to me – and I’m sure she means it – is that I’m aware that she is looking to me to lead, and that what a terrible and wonderful duty that is. The last thing I’d want to do is push her around (not that I haven’t failed, but I don’t want to). Talk about throwing down the gauntlet: now I have to be as Christ to her! I think obedience, even to a clown like me, might be the easier task!
Once I did my best to accept that part, the whole ‘women silent in Church stuff seemed at least less offensive. If men must be in charge, but only in the sacrificial sense in which Christ is ‘in charge’, then reserving public leadership roles to men is defensible, and in fact could be beautiful is done well. The hard part: we will, and have, screwed this up. Our mothers, wives and daughters should be the most honored and respected people among us, as Christ shows repeatedly in His life, both in how he treats – and honors – the women he encounters, and in His command to love one another as He has loved us.
This cuts both ways, of course: men will error in both being bullies and in being cowards, women in being harpies and in being shrews. We’re one big screwed up family! Adam must now work and earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; Eve’s desire shall be for her man, and he will lord it over her. These two curses are perfect poetic justice for the sins. Doesn’t make it any easier on us.
And this disfunction all gets reflected in the Church. It’s almost like Democracy, in that we tend to get the leaders we deserve.
It is tempting and easy to come up- with ways to dismiss these troubling passages, or to let them destroy what little faith we have. I don’t know which is worse. It is better to embrace them, let them trouble us, and try to discover how they can be true.
This about plumbs the depths of my Scripture knowledge, so grain of salt and all that.