Do Those in the Pews Pay Any Attention to the Lyrics in Hymns?

I can’t imagine that many thousands of dollars of denominational money is spent every years discussing the lyrics of hymns and whether they should be altered or banned.  I sang hymns for decades and remember barely any lyrics.

The attached link discusses the image of God in hymnal lyrics.  The idea to some church officials that the god would be portrayed as vengful is not in keeping with the idea God is a kind and loving idealist being.  Thus, some lyrics had to be changed.

Music and its place in any society is an interesting topic.  The taliban banned music of any kind in territories such as the former Afghanistan.

The famous performer, Charlie Daniels, is a devout born again Christian.  He performs music about the low life.  I saw him on a Christian network once where he explained in a matter of fact way he lives one way and makes his living singing about values he does not approve of.

It seems like the lryics of music would be important if people paid attention to them.  Perhaps there are more peope who pay attention than I happen to think.  It just seems like the singing in many mainline churches is a sort of abstract excercise that does not engage most people.

I think music style is something people pay more attention to.  Putting too much rythm into music of mainline churches is not permissiable.

Black churches disapproved of early black blues musicans because they took the style of church music and played it in bars.  If mainline church hymns are not played in bars, it seems like what they say can be ignored.

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/07/no-squishy-love

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years.
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18 Responses to Do Those in the Pews Pay Any Attention to the Lyrics in Hymns?

  1. Henry says:

    Jon:“Putting too much rythm into music of mainline churches is not permissiable.”

    Sour grapes. Jon, you just can’t sing in four-part harmony.

  2. Wanna B Sure says:

    “Do those in the Pews Pay Any Attention to the Lyrics in Hymns?” Apart from the normal distractions in large groups, it is my observation that almost all, (at least in my tradition), indeed do. We consider a hymn a prayer set to music. Looking across the congregation, almost everyone is attentive to the hymn. I have also observed (mostly men) who read the lyrics/prayer without singing. Some men just don’t sing, and I had one tell me that to sing distracts him from the words,(lyrics). My main distraction sometimes are interesting and beautiful chord shapes in the music. The content of the hymns chosen for the day are in line with the readings for the day, contained in the lectionary, parallel to the church season/calendar. Every hymn in the hymnal has a Bible verse on the bottom of the page in which is the inspiration of the hymn. The line of content is consistent throughout the service, reducing confusion and distraction.
    In scanning other church services on TV, some hymns/ the whole service? appear to be closer to performance art than contemplative. Jon the answer to your question can be all over the place. I can only speak for me and mine.

    • Avatar of realist realist says:

      Blather to you too, WannaB

      • Wanna B Sure says:

        Come see for yourself. Thou of doubtful mind.

      • Wanna B Sure says:

        Jon asked a question. I answered. Do you have anything to offer?

        • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

          Wanna 1:04 “Jon asked a question.”

          While I didn’t get anything out of hymns when I went to church, when I see electric guitars at other churches, it just doesn’t look right. I wonder why some groups are tradition bound in music, others jump to modern presentations.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; I don’t see it as an either-or. I don’t think the instrumentation should be a big concern. David used a stringed instrument. I play them all, and they can all be played appropriately for the setting. While I enjoy traditional music more, I can’t knock other preferences. What does concern me is when it becomes a performance emphasizing the “artist”, over the message contained in the lyrics. (The messenger over the message). I also respect different cultures in their musical traditions involving church music. Everyone needs to respect that, without forcing one’s preference on the other. Some churches have “polka masses”. To me, somehow, the 23rd Psalm just doesn’t feel right when sung to the melody and rhythm of the “Beer Barrel Polka”, for example. Is it appropriate? I don’t think so. The 23rd Psalm played with an accordion as written is.
            It appears to me that the “innovations” today are more closely related to the trend in “experiential theology”, ( or the subjective lack of theology). Chasing the emotional “high”. As one person told me that left that “tradition”, “It was like trying to get another orgasm after another. When is enough enough?” After a while it wasn’t satisfying. Many of the post-reformed preachers that write on Christian post seem to be trying to invent/create a new “Buzz” in their services that are new, novel, and catchy. When it’s used up, they look for another experience producing production that tickles the ears. What’s next? Fireworks and strobe lights? Probably. If that’s what you like, go to a rock concert, but don’t call it church.

          • Wolfy32 says:

            I love the “buzz” seeking reference. That is exactly what I feel Evengelicals are after. The next emotional buzz. Making everyone cry and sad, and feeling guilty for being human. Somehow creates a group emotional buzz that a lot of people seek.

            I also wonder too if it serves a special emotional need. I’ve noticed a lot of the fanatic religious people (evangelicals) are highly emotional people. Not to generalize. However, my experience is that a lot of the people thought very black and white, were very moody, and emulated a lot of the traits of Bi-Polar / and/or personality disorders (e.g. BPD – borderline personality disorder).

            So, I guess, what I’m saying and maybe this is a new topic for Jon. :) Do Church Services serve a specific mental wellness need? My experience thus far is yes. But, it’s limited to Evengelical Christians, and what I’ve seen of Evengelicals. Maybe it’s more than just evengelicals. I still believe in God, I’m just saying the service style, the music, the need for speaking in toungues, the way services are “planned” to invoke some sense of worthlessness, then being built up into feeling on top of the world. It’s a definate emotional roller coaster that serves the Bi-polar traits very well.

            Just my observations, they may be way off.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            “Serves” or is it feeds on? I don’t know, but I am concerned about the vulnerability of some people in areas such as this. “The still small voice” is often missed, or unknown.

          • Wolfy32 says:

            Hard to say whether pastors at some level know this and perpetuate it intentionally. For a while there I went to 1st assembly and I actually quit going because every week they invoked someone speaking in toungues as a sign that God is with them. I believe there’s powers beyond our understanding, I also don’t believe the God of the universe would make people speak gibberish every Sunday conveniently at the same time every Sunday…

            And conveniently right before the offering every Sunday. You pay for a show…

            I agree there are very vulnerable people that fall pray to this guilt / conviction / now you’re awesome rollercoaster of emotions. Heck I fell for it for a while, until I asked the question, hey wait a second, if God made us, why did he make us to be horrible miserable people that hate ourselves? As soon as I started asking questions, I didn’t find many answers, at least not in the assemblies of God. I saw it as emotional manipulation. And resented it quite a lot.

            That said, I do agree that services feed on people’s emotions. However, I believe some of the leaders, maybe not all, at some level know what emotions they’re evoking and driving for. And once you know what emotions one can derive through different words and actions, It just becomes an orchestrated emotion fest.

            I could see the service being planned:
            Invoke sense of worthlessness and guilt:
            — 5 points to do this.
            Invoke hope:
            — 5 points to do this.
            Make everyone feel happy about themselves now:

            – 5 points to do this.

            I came to my final question: Is spirituality / religion simply emotion?

            If that’s all it is, there’s medications for that…

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wolfy32 1:31 Thanks for an interesting observation on you experieces.

  3. entech says:

    bit like the biblical stories, if they paid attention there would be problems.

  4. Wolfy32 says:

    When I went, I paid attention. I found peace in reading the lyrics and reciting them within my head or singing along in my head as more of a prayer than to sing them out loud. I can’t sing, and freely admit it unlike so many other people who think their voice is actually good.. I refrain from embarassing myself or God and choose to respect the things I was not blessed with. Including the lack of a singing voice. Instead I would quietly reflect / pray using the lyrics as a bridge to my own thoughts on God.

    That is / was when I went to church. Now, I quietly reflect on God each day, wherever I am. Realizing I don’t need a church service or some preacher telling me his version of how to feel about myself. That said I can still appreciate a christian song or two.

  5. kay syvrud says:

    Long time, no comment, no blog…..a difficult summer….I broke first bone at advanced age….ankle. About hymns: I easily memorized MANY hymns from childhood to present. Older traditional hymns have great Biblical truth and are like a sermon for Believers. I do not appreciate the “new” ones which only repeat one phrase over and over til one feels like they are hypnotized…those have brought “the world” into the church. Not good at all ….but understandable as apostasy increases constantly.

  6. StanB says:

    Singing prayer twice. Wither in the congrigation at mass, in the choir or leading in praise and glory prayer services it is all inspirational. We tell them the phrase is “make a joyfull noise” not” sing well or shut up”.

    We use old familiar secular and religious songs when trying to make prisoners I jails more comfortable on retreat weekends. Music bridges the gap so well.

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