Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bring Any Name

This quarter, Debra and I have been thoroughly enjoying teaching a class together here at Fuller. The title is "Crafting Language for Worship." We have a lively and engaged group of students, and we're both learning lots ourselves.

This week we're reading Brian Wren's What Language Shall I Borrow as our entry into the topic of God-language. It's a little dated, but very good for our purposes.

As we talk about the virtue of stretching our language for God beyond the boxes we commonly construct, I've wanted the class to sing some of Wren's hymn texts, which were composed precisely to increase linguistic elasticity in our sung prayer. The text he seems to like best is "Bring Many Names." It does, in fact, bring many names: Strong Mother God, Warm Father God, Old Aching God, Young Growing God.

But here's the thing: I find myself skittish about giving it to the class to sing during our worship time. That's because after five minutes of googling some extensive research, I've learned that this particular song has found its widest and most enthusiastic reception in Unitarian Universalist circles. Which leads me to wonder whether Wren's injunction to "bring many names" can be too easily misheard as permission to "bring any name."

I'm not sure the blogosphere is the best place to debate the fittingness or theological merits of this song or Wren's project, but... well, what do you all think?


Andrew Burnett said...

Hmm... sure beats "loud boiling test tubes" (now THAT was a pacesetting mod hymn) but not something I'd pick for Sunday morning at Prairie Hills.
My favorite images here are the ones that come closest to capturing _human_ character. "Wiser than despair" is my favorite phrase in the hymn--it reminds me of Dumbledore in a nice way. What loses me are some of the more abstract tropes like "joyful darkness"--not to be a grumpy gus but this sounds forced, and in any case lacks concreteness as an image.
One would not have to push much harder on this text to nudge it into Theologiggle territory: Old Cranky Creator, Young Insecure Savior, Lemony Fresh Spirit... it's almost too easy.
What would really be fresh and groudbreaking would be hymnody (CCM worship hits don't count) that did something with the King/Warrior/Judge/Deliverer lanugage of Zion that's been gathering dust since about 1955. A new hymn that didn't make God sound about as majestic and dangerous as the Prime Minister of Canada (sorry northern friends, but you know what I mean). Now that would be something.

Ron Rienstra said...

"Lemony Fresh Spirit" -- this had us all rolling on the floor laughing.