Saturday, December 02, 2006


I had some favorite hymns when I was a believing Mormon. O, My Father; Abide with Me; Lead, Kindly Light; O Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief; I Need Thee Every Hour; The Spirit of God. I liked them fine for church settings, though it wasn't the kind of music I listened to outside of church. Is there a theme to the hymns I liked? Perhaps they point to a personal, emotional relationship with a kind and loving God. (I haven't gone back to look at the lyrics, but that's the impression I have from memory.)

The worst part of the hymns in church was their ethnocentricity. They're Protestant. They come from a European/American tradition. Which is okay for European/American people. To us, those are the types of songs that feel churchy, spiritual, because that's what we've been raised with. But with the expanding world church, what is it like for Japanese and Kenyans and Inuits (are there any Mormon Inuits?) to sing them? Couldn't the hymns and church music (and other aspects of worship) be adapted a little more for local settings? Local instruments, local melodies, local rhythms, local cadences? Wouldn't that resonate more with people than these strange Protestant hymns, often sung in English because the hymnals haven't been translated into Shona and Telugu and Qichee?

When I was young, I preferred any song that was faster, with (for a hymn) a more upbeat pace. Come, Come Ye Saints; Praise to the Man (the tune to that is a drinking song, by the way); Battle Hymn of the Republic. They kept me awake in otherwise boring meetings. (I also doodled on the program, played thumb ways with siblings, counted light fixtures or architectural features, played tick tac toe.)

Later, I began to despise Come, Come Ye Saints because the sesquecentennial celebration of the Mormon pioneer trek got way too much emphasis. I just got sick of pioneers, never mind that some of them were my ancestors. Faith in Every Footstep. Yeah, whatever, keep it to yourself. And once I learned more about Joseph Smith, I just couldn't sing a praise hymn to him.

I also came to despise Battle Hymn of the Republic and other militarized hymns. In the last months of my attending church, I couldn't even bring myself to sing the words. I just sat there, silent, uncomfortable. "Putting on the whole armor of God," "defending truth and righteousness," "the battle of the last days," never resonated with me. I'm not a military, fighting, confrontational person. I didn't like having my religion encourage that, especially since my interpretation of Christianity and God involved peace and love, not war and revenge. (Even though both versions of God can be gleamed from the Bible and Mormon scriptures.)


Sister Mary Lisa said...

Hey, were you quite done with this post? I'd like to read more.

:) SML

another former mormon said...

Your pioneer reference cracks me up. My brother says that the reason Brigham Young got sick and said "This is the place" was because the pioneer children kept singing and singing as they walked and walked and walked and he couldn't stand it anymore.

I have a great journal from my great, great grandfather who describes crossing the plains. They hated the food, kept losing the cattle, got lost, fought, and pretty much couldn't stand the pioneer thing. Much different than the glorified picture we had as kids.

from the ashes said...

SML- Oops! The last part got cut off. I updated. Thanks for pointing that out. (At first, I thought you just loved my ideas so much...but alas, I just cut off in the middle of a sentence.)

afm- The pioneer stories really are glorified for us. But it was variously dangerous, boring, unhealthy, etc. And it's sad that the railroad came through there just a few years later.

The part they don't tell you is that there were also lots of disaffected Mormons going back the other way, back East, in the 1850s. Bagley talks about it in Blood of the Prophets. Most of them were extremely poor and ill-equipped because they had to kind of sneak out.

another former mormon said...

That's so sad!