Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Note on Starke's Hymns

Over at the blog of Seminarist Josh Osbun, who is presently in his year of vicarage, he has begun a survey of the hymns of Stephen Starke. I offered a comment there, and I'd like to share it here as well, for what it is worth. I recommend his blog to you, and along with his post on the Starke hymn, "All the Earth with Joy is Sounding," I offer for your reasoned consideration my word of criticism of this hymn.

I appreciate the discussion you are having here on hymnody. You suggested a Starke Appreciation Month. The Synod could almost have a Starke Year of Appreciation, with all the hymns that made the cut in the LSB.

As you suspect, there are some who fail to be fans of the hymns of Stephen Starke. As one such Lutheran, allow me to say a respectful word from that particular perspective. A few quick points:

1. You state of those critical of Starke, “I'm not convinced that these people have actually taken the time to read through all of them.” While in my opinion there is an inordinate quantity of Starke hymns in the new hymnal, nevertheless, I must say it does not take very long to read them. When the LSB fell into my hands, as with every other serious minded theological thinker of our synod, I took it upon myself to acquaint myself with it. It is not as enjoyable as reading a Tolstoy novel, but on the bright side, it doesn’t take as long either. And so, indeed, I can testify that it is possible to have read these hymns, and yet remain unconvinced of their genius, and that they ought, for example, to outnumber the hymns of the Blessed Reformer in the hymnal.

2. Those of us who are not fans of Starke’s hymns are not personal in our criticism. There is nothing personal going on here. I am sure that the Reverend Stephen Starke is a good man, a great guy, a fine pastor, and indeed probably even a man worthy to whom to introduce your mother.

3. Not only is my criticism not personal, it is also not very bitter. In other words, I do not hate, or utterly condemn these hymns. I merely think they are inferior to the classic hymns of our Lutheran tradition, and unworthy of the public worship of the Church.

4. A true appreciation of how badly these hymns tend to compare with the great hymns of the Church can only happen when you not merely read them, but in fact hear them sung. A discussion on music is really best set aside for another time, though.

5. You highlight in this post the Starke hymn 462 in LSB, “All the Earth with Joy is Sounding.” I would draw your attention to a concern I have about the third stanza. Jesus, this stanza teaches, “shared in our humanity.” Theologically it would be far better to say that Jesus “shares in our humanity.” Praise be to Christ forever, that He never stopped being a man, and never will. I fear that Starke has inadvertently slipped into a confusion, in this stanza, between Christ’s humiliation and his humanity, for he implies, or at least it can be all too easily inferred, that the incarnation is essentially part of the humiliation when he in the next part of the stanza contrasts it with the line “Crowned with radiant exaltation.” As I say, it is no doubt inadvertent, but he ought to have thought through this stanza much more thoroughly. Nor did anyone along the line catch it, for it seems you don’t stop a Starke hymn from getting ahead in today’s Missouri Synod.

So indeed, I find your last comment, “It is impossible to sing this hymn quietly, unless you just don't believe the words and the message,” to be a bit incredulous. I look forward to any thoughts on how I might be out of line.


Amberg said...

I left a more thorough defense of your understanding at Josh's blog.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks, brother. There are two factors which make me hesitate (for a brief moment) to comment on matters such as this. One is the lightning I always seem to draw. But the other is that there are those who are better qualified to speak on matters hymnological. You are one such man. I truly appreciate your participation, brother, in the great theological conversation.

Amberg said...

It is really a shame that our brother has reacted so violently. I wonder at his sensitivity and its cause. It didn't seem to me that you were being rude at all, simply honest. Perhaps this is because I know how you talk. Sometimes people interpret what I write as "yelling" or sarcastic, when I'm simply explaining myself.

What Missouri Synod Lutherans need to thrive on is constructive criticism. I had never even spoken to you before about this hymn and yet we both independently saw the problem in that verse. This was no jab or malevolent feeling manifesting itself. It was a sincere love for purity of doctrine coupled with a desire to sing the same.

I still think it is an unfortunate verse and could be formulated better. I have a few such verses myself which I only discover until a couple years later sometimes.

I have sensed a "don't criticize the establishment" type attitude in German culture wherever I go. Any criticism of something already set up is de facto nonconstructive. I think it has to do with the fact that without Ordnung Germans will revert to the sectarian disunity that held them in semi-barbarism for so many millennia. ;)

I love making fun of Germans!

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