Repetition (7-11, etc.)

Self-critique

A simple self-critique/test/whatever.  Read through these lyrics.  There are two questions at the end.

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Simple question: Did the recurring phrase get a bit repetitious?

Here’s the harder question to be completely honest with.  If you sang this song in church, perhaps with modified lyrics (the original Psalm, Psalm 136, is about twice as long; I removed the retelling of Israel’s history in the above which was verses 10 to 24 out of 26 total verses [each being a two-line couplet]), would you begin to think to yourself “Couldn’t the author have written something else?  Couldn’t he think of something else instead of just repeating “for his steadfast love endures forever” so many times?”

I would.  Yet, there it is, in a Psalm.

My Conclusions

I have a few conclusions for myself.

First, repetition is not inherently wrong, even something as repetitious as one line making up 50% of the song.

Second, I need to get rid of condescending attitudes, jokes, and phrases used to refer to repetition in songs.  This includes things like “couldn’t think of something better to say” and “it seems like a 7-11 song” and definitely judgments like “people who sing this song are just on an emotional high, they aren’t thinking, their brains are disconnected” and “he’s trying to whip us up into a mantra/song-induced drug-like trance” (and similar nicer variants).

Third, if I honestly would have trouble worshiping by singing selections from Psalm 136, then the problem with my worship is me, not the lyrics.

Now, these conclusions don’t mean I think repetition is the new, improved, holy, right way for songs.  I believe that song lyrics change with culture, with the cultural (and other influences?) of how we think about things and how we process information and how we talk about things and understand things spoken to us.  So, while I think I need to change in how I view and treat and speak about repetition, I also think we do need to craft our songs such that they can be sung from our hearts and minds naturally, as I’m sure the Psalms were.  If repetition is a major problem for our culture, it’s not required that you do it.

But I think it is required that we aren’t condescendingly superior about how our songs, with their quick-paced doctrine unpacking lyrics, are so much more superior to those simple, repetitious songs, lest we come to a place where we could look on a Holy Spirit inspired song with condescension and scorn.

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