I have returned to a struggle with language.
Six years of ordained life has not dimmed the inner flinching each time I must speak and pray phrases that exclude half the human race. There is no going back to easy innocence once one has been led by the hand through the feminist critique of language and had consciousness raised.
But I live in a hypocritical state: believing one thing, and saying another. ‘Affirming my faith’ even, in words that betray.
The one exception I make to all this liturgical flinching is the ease with which I can sing old and beloved hymns. Sometimes, a more inclusive version is easy and right; but often, I am happy to sing old worlds to an old tune, and to chalk it up to our tradition. I imagine the saints all around, and accept that I am singing their songs, in the best words, the best truths, they had at the time.
… and in the service booklet (not always, but often; and always if the crowds are gathering) I tip my hat to our forebearers by printing quite clearly next to the worlds: 4th Century; 8th Century; 18th Century; 19th Century.
Where it all comes un-stuck is ‘2oth Century’.
I have been trying to incorporate a few modern songs into the Christmas services. Someone had made suggestions, and sung snatches of tunes that sounded promising.
But then I found the words, and it’s a boys club all around.
Mankind, of course.
he and He, his and His.
horror upon horror.
And the one hymn that — miraculously– spoke of humankind, then went on to talk about the infant Christ as the one born to take our punishment.
I can’t do it.
I don’t think I can do it.
Should I do it?
I very deeply do not believe that we should be singing modern songs written as though nothing good has been learned in the past 100 years. I do not want to pretend that the language is OK.
But in my desire not to flinch — not to teach others not to flinch — not to pretend that our use of language doesn’t matter — I am asking people to give up songs they love and care about.
Will Spring Harvest ever learn to critique language? Will Kevin Mayhew ever say ‘no, we won’t publish it like that. try again’.
… because there are good songs out there, that ‘work’ for worship and carry people’s prayer.
and I wish we could sing some of them.
but I can’t (can I?) when I know that they will get in people’s heads, and sink into their souls, and shape a vision of God that is too small, too angry, too narrow to be true.
You’ve heard me say all this before, but this time it comes with a question. What should I do?
(and does anyone know of better songs for us to sing, that still meet the desire for ‘songs’ not hymns upon occasion?)