What I Continue to Learn from Cindy Bolbach: Not All Hymns Are Equal

John Calvin was the Mascot when Cindy Bolbach stood for Moderator of the 219th General Assembly in 2010

John Calvin was the Mascot when Cindy Bolbach stood for Moderator of the 219th General Assembly in 2010

Note:  It’s Cindy Bolbach Week in my head, so I’m thinking of her wisdom as we approach the 3rd Sunday in Advent.  

Yes, yes, we all know that new hymns often use fresh lyrics set to popular music. Supposedly Ein’ Feste Burg was the tune of a drinking song in 16th Century Germany, but in truth Martin Luther wrote the tune himself – along with the lyrics to A Mighty Fortress – probably while drinking a hearty German beer.

John Calvin wrote I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art set to a tune in the French Psalter about the same time that Luther was composing A Mighty Fortress.  Maybe he was drinking a glass of French wine during the process, or maybe not.

These are two of the greatest hymns ever written.  And here’s my point:  great hymns are written by great theologians.  Recently a seasoned pastor told me “There are no good new hymns anymore because there are no good new theologians.”  I respectfully disagree.

All of us are theologians.  Even atheists are theologians. (Simple:  There is no god.)  But the deeper our faith, the more profound our theology and the most creative among us can put that to poetry and music.

Not all popular songwriters are deep theologians, but there are some amazing songwriters today who stir something in us which connects us to God – maybe not with resounding organ sounds but – still – with deep meaning.

Jesus Is My Boyfriend music doesn’t do it for me and I don’t see that message as sound theology.  But everyday, theologians continue to write amazing music and lyrics.  And some of us are still stopped in our tracks by those 16th Century favorites.

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5 responses to “What I Continue to Learn from Cindy Bolbach: Not All Hymns Are Equal

  1. Stopped in our tracks for sure. My husband, who passed away in 2010, used to affectionately call these hymns 16th-century rock and roll. To which I say, amen!

  2. I love this post. As one who has written a few hymns and is stirred by many post-16th century composers, I say “Amen.”

  3. Sunday our choir sang “The Dream Isaiah Saw” with heart-breakingly beautiful, profound lyrics by Thomas Troeger, one of our most gifted hymn-writing theologians.

  4. Yeah, I can’t stand that 7/11 music. 7 words sung 11 times.

    Praise music? I was talking about Taize.

    *ba dum bum*

  5. @Shawn Coons, lol I was just thinking the same thing.

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