I can’t decide if I’m just annoyed by this practice right now, or if the songs in this section are annoying me personally right now, or if really, I have stumbled into a difficult section and hymns like this annoy just about everyone.
Suffice it to say, I’m annoyed.
First off, I’m not so sure I am fond of the recasting of Christian hymns; I’m fine with finding ways that the original lyrics might hold new, expansive meaning for us, and I love using music in unexpected places. But this isn’t the first, nor do I expect it to be the last, example of a decidedly Christian lyric – in this case, by Jane Laurie Borthwick – being changed to remove its original intent.
Second off, I’m rather annoyed that this once Christian hymn has been set to a tune that is so strongly associated with a different set of lyrics, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” – I mean, it’s like they wanted us to think about Christian ideas REALLY BADLY but didn’t want to say it.
Seriously – I spent enough time in a Methodist church in my youth that I just can’t hear this tune without singing “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross…” and then cringe at the militarism. Forget how lovely the lyrics try to be about world community. The tune is as encoded with militarism as is the tune for Onward Christian Soldiers, which we sing as Forward Through the Ages.
Here are our lyrics:
Now is the time approaching, by prophets long foretold,
when all shall dwell together, secure and manifold.
Let war be learned no longer, let strife and tumult cease,
all earth a blessed garden and God the god of peace.
Let all that now divides us remove and pass away,
like mists of early morning before the blaze of day.
Let all that now unites us more sweet and lasting prove,
a closer bond of union, in blessed lands of love.
O long-expected dawning, come with your cheering ray!
Yet shall the promise beckon and lead us not astray.
O sweet anticipation! It cheers the watchers on
to pray, and hope, and labor, till all our work is done.
On their own, with no context and no melody, they’re not bad. Not great, certainly (and I am also annoyed with that old way of rhyming “prove” and “love”), but not horrific. But knowing they were originally about the second coming of Christ, and set to that tune?
Yep, I’m annoyed.
It’s at times like this that I’m glad I was raised Unitarian (later UU). I never knew any other words to these tunes, so I think they’re fine.I love these old tunes — they make me feel all religious and everything.
I, too, grew up with traditional words to many of the hymn tunes used today, and it is sometimes hard to sing new words without remembering the old. What I realize, however, is that for young people growing up today these contemporary words will be the lyrics they will know, love, and carry with them. Singing new words to old hymn tunes is not just about my own benefit (or irritation); it teaches a better theology to younger Christians today.