Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Thy chastening rod

I just have to get this off my chest.  It's been bugging me for two days now.

The lessons for Sunday presented a stark difference in the images of God.  There, in the Song of Solomon (2:8:13), was a marvelous image of God as our cosmic lover, beckoning us to come out and play.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
He Qi, China
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”
What a wonderful image of a God who bids us throw all caution to the wind and enjoy the gifts of nature.

The preacher picked up on this theme and played with this image with us, teasingly saying, "And, to this we say with droll voice and flat affect, 'The Word of the Lord'?".

It was an excellent sermon.

Compare this image of God with the one revealed in Jesus and painted by Mark (7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) 
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Agnus Dei
This is the God of rules and expectations, not the one who wants us to throw out all propriey and come and play.

I suppose both are true and it is when we are "doers of the word and not merely hearers" (James 1:17-27), that we get closer to image God has of us.

I got that and loved it. There was much about the service I enjoyed - the 'Pia Jesu' was exceptionally well done - and found meaningful.

I got stuck on the first hymn:  # 574: "Before They Throne, O God, We Kneel" (St. Petersburg)
Search out our hearts and make us true,
Wishful to give to all their due;
From love of pleasure, lust of gold,
From sins which make the heart grow cold,
Wean us and train us with Thy rod;
Teach us to know our faults, O God.
I couldn't finish the last two lines, beginning with "Wean us and train us with Thy rod."

I felt the cold shock of memory course through my body.

I knew it had been a while since I had sung that hymn, but I suddenly remembered why. In the Diocese of Newark - oh, must be 15 years or so ago - we actually passed a resolution at Diocesan Convention which asked congregations not to use this hymn and others like it which subtly but clearly promote this kind of violent infantalization of our relationship with God.

At first, I closed my Prayer Book / Hymnal and then closed my eyes, as memories of my own childhood abuse flashed before me.  I remembered the "strap" my father had fashioned from leather. He kept it on a hook in the kitchen, not far from the picture of Jesus.

My mother would make a list - an actual list - of our transgressions during the day. When my father came home from work, he would hear my mother's complaints and administer the "appropriate" discipline.

I'm certain it was their way of "sharing parenthood" - my mother the homemaker and caretaker, and my father the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Guess where they got that model?

I could hear his drunken slur as he administered punishment for talking back to my mother or not picking up the clothes from the floor of our bedroom - things I had long ago forgotten or already taken care of. "You think I like doing this? I'm doing it for your own good."

Wean us and train us with Thy rod.

I picked up my Prayer Book / Hymnal and held it close to my chest as I offered a silent prayer for my father and all parents who felt that this is the way to 'train' children, somehow secure in the knowledge that this 'discipline' was sanctioned by the church.

The Bible has been used as a cover for lots of violence. God knows, there are many 'texts of terror' in scripture which have been used over the centuries to justify violence.

And, God knows, there are many undisciplined kids running around these days. I'm constantly amazed and aghast when I go to a coffee shop or restaurant and watch parents ignore their children as they whine and cry and yell and run - RUN! - around tables, disturbing other patrons while their parents seem absolutely oblivious to it.

It's not only not 'cute', it's a form of parental neglect.

I am in no way saying that parents ought to whack their child or otherwise verbally abuse them, but I think this 'benign neglect' has become malignant and virulent. 

One of my former parishioners used to tell her adult children about her grandchildren, "You are not only raising children, you are raising future parents."

I wish more parents heard that message.

I watch one of our daughters with her two children. When they need admonishment, she takes them aside - away from anyone's ear shot so the child is not shamed or humiliated - and they talk. She has a system of expectations for behavior and responsibility as well as accountability to those expectations.

It's exhausting to keep on top of it and remember what privilege gets lost and what one has to do in order to regain the privilege - especially when it would be so much easier to yell or raise a threatening backhand or smack them soundly.

She is not just teaching them about good and bad and acceptable behavior and consequences. She's teaching them about self-discipline and moderation and control.  She is modeling the kind of behavior she expects from her children.

She's raising children who will, too soon, become adults and future parents. It's an awesome, holy task, this business of being a parent. We underestimate its value to our own peril.

Eventually, I will have a conversation with my rector and my organist/choir director about the selection of hymns. I'm quite certain they will cringe when I point out this hymn to them and, in the future, they will be more attuned to the words of the hymns before approving them for use.

Somewhere between the image of God as a lover who beckons us to wild abandon and God as one who has expectations for our behavior is the reality of our relationship with God.

We have been created in God's delight to enjoy and care for each other and the rest of creation and, together, to usher in the Commonwealth of God.

There is nothing outside us that can defile what it in us. There is, however, everything inside us that is good and noble and kind that can honor and respect all of God's other creatures and creation.

We can do that with violence or we can do that with a love so deep as to take care and attend to that which may seem to some to be inconsequential and insignificant.

Like children.

Like words.


Sagewoman said...

Whew, Elizabeth. You just knock my socks off on a regular basis. I have taken to reading you barefoot.

Caminante said...

I know of some children who have so manyprivileges revoked for this and that -- minor things -- that they live under a constant cloud of suspension. So, the use of 'privileges' should be done in moderation, lest the child resist and actually act out more out of frustration. This said, I believe in discipline, setting limits and teaching manners.
As far as the theology in hymns, ay... don't get me going.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

LOL, Sagewoman. Whatever works for you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Caminante - Absolutely. There are all kinds of abuse. Hymns are more important than we know.

On a positive note, as it were, I just got a private note from my rector who had read my blog and said that he, too had flinched when he sang those words. I thought I noticed it but was too wrapped up in my own stuff to check it out more carefully. Bottom line: He assured me that he and the Organist/Choir Director will be having a conversation about this. We both know he will be deeply troubled by it as well.

Am I blessed or what?

Terri said...

As a general rule of thumb I read the text of every hymn we decide to use in worship - I read them for any use of violence, war, or other metaphors that harm. For instance last fall my new congregation sang, every Sunday, as our verse for the CHildren's Worship Procession "I want to walk as a child of the light" - now I love that hymn for a very personal experience I once had in the chapel on a Maundy Thur night keeping vigil...but I have a very difficult time singing, "In him there is no darkness at all" when I have congregants who were brutalized in a civil war in their home country. (and they happen to be dark skinned). In him there is no darkness at all? sigh. SO very many ways we can hurt people around us when we aren't attentive to the words we use.

Thank you Elizabeth, for writing about this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Terri - I love that hymn, too and I cringe every time I get to that line. I can't sing it anymore. There's another hymn about "wash me white as snow" that I can't sing.

I love what the UCC's have done in terms of taking standard hymn tunes and writing new words to them to make the language more expansive. Great stuff.

Matthew said...

Is there a good list of hymns to avoid -- not wanting to reinvent wheels -- and our music person does not read them, just assigns one of the ones recommended for that Sunday? A few weeks back we sang Onward Christian Soldiers and in my head, I thought, better add that one to the list. I must be on a Swedish kick (see post about Rape 101) these days but I would mention that Sweden was the first country in the world in 1979 to outlaw parental spanking of children.

I also discipline children running around in stores, etc. and am amazed at how many parents get mad at me for getting after their children.

whiteycat said...

Elizabeth, you are so "right on" with this post! Just a few weeks ago I got to an offensive verse in a hymn and closed the hymnal and would not sing. This has happened more than a couple of times. However, what do you do if your choir/music director continues to include the offensive hymns? That is after being reminded about how the words matter.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I'm inspired by your post to ask if there are any musicians who can compile a list of hymns that we ought to consider not singing. I would be happy to post that list here. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Whiteycat - Whenever I'm asked a question like that, I think of all the stories of persistent women in scripture. I would gather as many women as agree with you to have a meeting with your rector and organist/choir director. If you don't see any changes, have another meeting. Keep having meetings until you wear them down. And/or tell them that you will refuse to sing in the choir when those hymns are selected.

Persistence will win the day.

Jane Ellen+ said...

I read your post, and then I saw this. I'm still giggling.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

HILARIOUS. Thanks so much for that link!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I have enough trouble with sounds as it is, without adding the sounds of certain hymn verses (as evidenced from this post of mine in 2011):

As you well know, I just won't sing some phrases. Sometimes I make up new lines. Sometimes I make up nonsense words or phrases. For instance, "Wean us and train us with Thy rod" might become "Weiners and tragus with thyroid." If you don't sing it very loud, it works.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

LOL, Kirke. I'll have to try that next time. Hopefully, there won't be a next time but if there is, I'll be more prepared.

Genette said...

Oh, the re-writing that goes on ... not so secret among choir veterans ...
Under cassock and cotta, these lay ministers of music fuss and opine, the murmur more Greek chorus than claque.
And woe be unto the priest with no sense of humor!
If the tenors don’t come first with a parody hymn,
altos can be relied upon to offer their favorite anthem:
How lonely are the ministers who mess with the choir’s routine.
How lovely is the peace you preach, so live it and leave us alone.
Don’t make us mad, it would be sad to tell what we’ve seen.
Baritones like pretending to be above inter-sectional friction,
(yes, altos, we know, getting the melody doesn’t make sopranos special)
but blew their cover the day I heard booming in the procession:
How firm a foundation the organist wears,
no need to suck in gut, by Playtex he swears.
The toupee less certain, it shifts on his head,
exotic, quixotic, we’re not sure it’s dead.
"Regulars" will recognize the tunes ... Canon 24 notwithstanding, the faithful have been editing for years, just don't generally get caught or worry about "official" sanction. This is, after all, a radical religion not particularly inclined to follow orders, thank God!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

How much fun was THAT? LOL. You know I'm going to be sending this to my rector and organist/choir director.

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for this. Over a lifetime, I think many people get more theology from hymns than they do from sermons. We sang that hymn last Sunday too and it was a shock -- don't think we have done it in previous years.

I'm sure it's listed in one of those books, which hymns go with which readings, and many worship planners don't even look carefully before slotting it in.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm hoping that more rectors and choir director/organist look at more words to more of the hymns after this post.