Hymns Stripped Bare

WORLD’s music critic Arsenio Orteza recently highlighted a batch of modern albums dedicated to hymns. One especially caught my attention:

Bridging the generation gap is Wendell Kimbrough’s dozen-cut Hymns & a0809261379_2-1Friends….the album will appeal both to fans of alternative-folk Americana and to their parents.

Kimbrough, a D.C.-area singer-songwriter and Anglican Church worship leader, and his ensemble of singers and musicians preserve the melodies of hymns such as “O Worship the King,” “How Firm a Foundation,” and “For the Beauty of the Earth” while discarding aural cultural baggage.

“I see the project as something of a ‘preservation’ endeavor,” Kimbrough says. “Because it’s not always readily apparent how to translate these old hymn tunes from the piano to the guitar, some of them are falling out of use. I hope that by making serviceable guitar-based recordings of them, I might contribute to their wider circulation.”

I’ve listened to it a couple of times and love it. Sparse and minimalist with simple but effective harmonies and instrumentation, it works well. May it find its way into the liturgy of younger churches, especially church plants.

Stream the album and buy it here.

Confessions of a Lapsed Lutheran: An Appreciation

My nearly 102 year old grandmother died last week.

The last time we had regular conversation was 10 years ago, before she began losing her memory. She often asked me if I was going to be a Lutheran pastor. My answers repeatedly, and resoundingly, disappointed her.

imgres-3Some context: my grandmother was baptized, confirmed and raised Lutheran, married a Swedish immigrant in a Lutheran church, was involved in various women’s circles, and finally had her funeral in the same Lutheran church. For my grandmother, when Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) those three things were found only in a Lutheran church, and none other. A Christianity outside of the Lutheran church? Unthinkable.

As I grew older, I eventually shed the Lutheranism (ELCA) of my youth. It was increasingly theologically liberal, socially progressive and seemingly devoid of an explicit gospel message, often displaced by fuzzy theology and entertainingly cute stories. This was the Lutheranism I remember—“Luther-lite,” one that Luther himself would scantly recognize. The years have taken a greater toll on the ELCA, and I have little hope things will improve.

But however valid my concerns for the ELCA, my grandmother’s passing provides fitting occasion to articulate what I did appreciate from my Lutheran heritage:

  • Liturgy: Every week out of that forest green hymnal we had a rhythm of corporate confession of sin and pardon, affirmation of the faith, etc.
  • Creeds: Every week we corporately recited the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.
  • Hymnody: Instead of singing contemporary praise songs (quite popular in the 70’s with the Jesus Movement), we sang traditional and well-known hymns, many of them with theological fiber.
  • Weekly Communion: The significance of the Lord’s Supper was unmistakable. I even took a class on Communion’s importance, albeit from a distinctly Lutheran perspective.
  • Catechism: I was taught the essentials of the faith in Sunday School and Confirmation. Here is where I learned the biblical narrative rife with compelling stories, along with core biblical content.

I did these things weekly. Yes, at times they became rote. And I’m unsure how many of the congregants really believed what we were doing, saying, singing and praying. However, in hindsight I see how the Lord used my growing up Lutheran, even with all of my present misgivings, to lay basic yet crucial building blocks that would later be honed and refined.

martinluther_300

And even though I’m no longer Lutheran, many of the above attributes are things I highly nvalue today, albeit from a (chastened) Reformed perspective: liturgy, creeds, hymnody, weekly Communion and catechism. Indeed, many evangelical churches would do well to incorporate the best of these aspects into the fabric of their church life, without fearing that they will end up Lutheran or like any of the other liberal mainline denominations. (With due apologies to any Missouri Synod readers, who are screaming “Don’t forget about us! We’re Lutheran too!”)

So as I lay down to bed for the night, with my Luther bobblehead doll keeping watch on my burgeoning bookshelf, I thank God for my grandmother and for the best aspects of Lutheranism she embodied.

And I also pray that the Lutheran church she knew and loved will remember, repent and return not only to Luther’s primary tenets of justification by faith alone by grace alone, in Christ alone and the primacy of the Scriptures, but to Luther’s Christ, who is the only way, the truth and the life—for all of us.

Even for this former Lutheran.

New Lent Album from Page CXVI

Lent To Maundy Thursday CoverPage CXVI, aiming to make old hymns more accessible for the modern ear, releases their new album, Lent to Maundy Thursday, on March 4.

Here’s a video preview of the song, “This Blessed Day”:

And here’s their take on “And Can It Be”

and “Before the Throne”

Update 03/03/14: Stream the album for free here.