Words Mean Things

… and it’s important not to conflate them, or it gets really confusing.

Words We Use to Describe Lyrics and Music

Here is an example: when reading about the contemporary vs. traditional music controversies, which I am trying to do to get a better idea of what various groups/people think and to get a good understanding of the various arguments from all sides, I often come across words like hymns and praise music used in a musical style context.  In other words, there is a distinct hymn musical style, as opposed to a praise music style.

So what’s the problem?  Well, when we talk about lyrics, we will often contrast hymns with praise music/choruses/praise songs/etc… typically saying that hymn lyrics offer a more complete and progressive thought, whereas choruses or praise songs tend to be shorter and more shallow, and perhaps more on the responsorial side.

So… what’s the problem?  Well, when we start conflating the lyrical aspect of the word hymn with what some people use that word to refer to as a musical style, it can get confusing; when I say that I like hymns, am I saying I like traditional music?  Or am I saying I like progressive and longer thoughts set to music?  When I say that some people like praise music and other people like hymns, am I referring to musical styles of lyrical content?  And when I then say that we should have more hymns and less praise music, am I saying we need more traditional music or better words that make one think?

Without getting into a big discussion … it seems that clarity is a good thing.  There is such a thing as traditional music and it often goes hand-in-hand with “traditional hymns.”  But there are modern/contemporary hymns as well.  We need to be aware of what we sound like when we talk about songs.

Objectivity, Subjectivity, Responses, First Person Pronouns

A few other tidbits of thoughts… hymn lyrics are not automatically “objective.”  I’ve kinda heard this, as though good hymns are objectively about God (or, for example, don’t use many first person pronouns).  Nor are modern hymns automatically subjective, nor does personal lyrics equal subjective lyrics, nor does objective lyrics equal better lyrics.  Here’s an example:

I once was lost in darkest night, but thought I knew the way; the sin that promised joy and life had led me to the grave.

So, are those subjective?  Well, yes.  First person pronouns?  Yes.  However, it’s not subjectivity as in feelings; it’s personal.  It could have been written that “the world is lost in darkest night and thinks it knows the way; the sin that promised joy and life is leading them to the grave.”  That’s rather non-personal.  Making something personal does not automatically mean we’re not talking objectively about something.  The truth about sin is the truth, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking of it with myself in mind (I was lost) or not (the world was lost).

Or, looking at the Psalms, count the number of first person references.  David (and others) very often refer to themselves.  The important part isn’t the number of references to me, but how those references are used.  We often refer to Christianity as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; well, when I sing about that relationship, sometimes it is nice to sing about it … personally.  And can it be that I should gain and interest in the Savior’s blood? … died He for me … or When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and poor contempt on all my pride.

Bottom line, for me, is that simply counting pronouns (I have seen this advised as an indicator of whether the song is me or God centered) not a good indicator.  I need to read and figure out how I am referencing myself in the song in order to figure out whether it’s centered on God or centered on me.

How about response songs?  I have read various criticism about such… that we really shouldn’t focus on response but on proclaiming objective truth about God.  I agree that we shouldn’t really focus on it … but we definitely should have it.  We are supposed to personally respond to the Gospel, to the Spirit, to Christ, to the Word… we should respond in song, too!  We should respond to the right things, and that’s where truth comes in (whether expressed personally or more objectively).

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