Friday, February 03, 2012

High-Church Signs of the Apocalypse

Yeah, yeah, yeah: the moon will turn to blood, et cetera, et cetera. But what if the omens of the Apocalypse were more ... subtle? What if they were the sort of thing that could only be discerned through the particular lenses worn here at the Egg's Dept. of End-Time Prophecies? Scried, if that's the past participle we want, in our proprietary crystal ball?

Then perhaps they would look like this:

#7: Grape juice. Hey, it's fine in a kid's lunchbox. But on an altar?

#6: The ELW Psalter. We appreciate the large selection of Eucharistic prayers, as well as the improved texts and harmonies for so many hymns, really we do. We even -- if hesitantly -- appreciate the profusion of Mass settings. But that psalter is, in simple fact, the Abomination of Desolation.*

# 5: The Wedding Industry. Unity candles, crepe runners, floral excesses, cream-colored antique limousines -- with these and so many other innovations, the forces of business have created a parallel liturgical ordo separate from, and sometimes at odds with, the ordo of the church. (A friend recalls the wedding at which a priest turned to the altar and saw that the photographer had climbed onto it -- and refused to get down because he had "a perfect angle.") Starry-eyed brides and their families are ruthlessly exploited, and the ministry of the Gospel is reduced to serving as a scenic backdrop.

#4: Common Worship. When the Church of Freaking England can't be troubled to use the Book of Common Prayer, the end is surely nigh.

#3: The Pax-as-mosh pit. Thirty-some years ago, pastors struggled to loosen worshipers up enough to turn to their neighbors, extend a hand, and mutter "Peace." Today, we struggle to keep the "seventh-inning stretch" (and yes, a church member once called it that, approvingly) from turning into coffee hour or, worse yet, an opportunity for unwelcome smooches and gropes.

#2: Everything on the blog Bad Vestments. Wow. Gives new meaning to the exclamation "Holy cr*p!"

And, the Egg's most absolutely decisive sign that the locusts are swarming and the Four Horsemen are on the move, and have been since the 1890s:

#1: Individual Communion Cups. Need we say more?

But a moment of humility here: we at the Egg are priests, not prophets (nor, unlike Eddie Long, kings). So it is possible that we have misread the signs of the times. If you have searched the Scriptures, or more likely the internet, and found some yet more certain proof that the earth is about to swallow us whole, please drop a line.
*A quick check of the standard German commentaries on Revelation suggests that this spot may be shared with The New Century Hymnal.


Daniel said...

Fr. A,
Could you please explain what's so awful about the ELW psalter?

Nestor said...

About the end of the World:

Nestor said...

Also, please read "The Year of the Jackpot" by Robert Heinlein... if we are not witnessing the hugest amount of bullshit that Humanity has procuced so far, I don't know what bullshit really is... We are Lemingues!

Father Anonymous said...

Sure. Put simply, it's a bad translation. A very bad translation.

Now, let me back up and admit what every first-year seminary student knows: All translations are bad in their own way. "Traduttore, traditore," as they say. Rendering any language into another is an iffy proposition, and a thousand times iffier when we are talking about ancient Hebrew, with a grammar, syntax and poetic style so radically different from those of English.

Add to that the fierce theoretical debate that has raged these past forty-some years in the world of Bible translation, between verbal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. It's a serious debate, and there's no single correct answer.

But, when you cut right through it, the translator has a duty to both the text and to its readers: to convey the meaning of the original, rather than to embroider it with his (or her) own ideas. And this is where ELW fails.

The ELW psalter was apparently developed by people following a theory popular in some liturgical circles, according to which the various prayers of the liturgy are the property of the assembly which uses them here and now, not of an invisible Tradition, and they they can be freely altered to fit the needs of the assembly.

To be honest, I'm fine with that -- for a lot of the liturgy. (Actually, as I get older, I get less fine with it. If you don't like the medieval collects, write new ones -- but don't add and subtract clauses from our our common ecumenical heritage). I am not fine with it where the words of Scripture are concerned.

Following this theory, the Psalms have been dramatically altered. Most of it has to do with sex or, really, grammatical gender. Trying to avoid "Lord" is hard enough, although that's reasonable enough, since the word isn't in most of the original texts anyway. But trying to avoid "man," "men," "him" or "his," with regard either to God or (more problematically by far) to human beings -- even when the Hebrew is using specifically masculine language in preference to gender-neutral language -- creates a cascade of syntactical problems.

Psalm 1 is an easy example. "Blessed is the man" is accurate; Hebrew has words for "man" and "person," and the psalm uses the former. It just does. Even the LBW got this one wrong, by the way; but ELW takes the game to a new and extreme level, practically re-writing most of the psalms.

Do enough of that, and you give them a new meaning. Enshrine that new meaning in the quasi-official liturgical formulary of a church body, and within a few years you have a church body that no longer recognizes the Scriptures, and to which authentically Scriptural expressions sound wrong when they hear it.

I don't like editors who take the naughty bits out of Shakespeare, or the racially sensitive ones out of Huckleberry Finn. But it's worse with the Bible.

And I know it's all well-intentioned. I'm pretty sympathetic to most of the intentions; probably more than most ELCA laypeople, at any rate. I'm certainly okay with gender-neutrality where the text is gender-neutral, or even (as when Paul writes "brothers" to a mixed company) where the neutrality is arguably implicit. But there are limits.

Augsburg actually published a Psalter like this years ago, developed by two of the finest liturgical theologians in the ELCA. I think it was a commendable resource for the smallish number of congregations that really valued gender-neutrality at the expense of accuracy. But I'm deeply troubled by a book that establishes this "write-your-own-Bible" as the norm for the whole church.

Father Anonymous said...

There is another thing as well: it's pretty bad poetry. Compare it to the traditional BCP psalter or even the 1979 BCP psalter (produced by a committee which included WH Auden) and you can hear the difference in a few minutes. If the wooden tone were achieved in the service of accuracy, that would be one thing -- but just the opposite is the case.

Incidentally, another thing about translation. There are times when the implicit bargain I described changes, and a translator is free -- even expected -- to embroider. One of these days, I'll write about the Sidney Psalter, a spectacular series of poems based on the psalms, written principally by Mary Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, and her brother, Sir Philip Sidney. Great stuff, but there's a reason it isn't used in worship.

Father Anonymous said...

And here's an article by Philip Pfatteicher, who wrote the Commentary on the LBW. I don't agree with all his criticisms, but I take Pfatteicher seriously, and he's on target regarding the pslams:

Anonymous said...

Another end-time sign, that really burns my butt, is when, at a graveside, I can't get my hands on any dirt (it's covered over by fake grass) and I'm handed a "salt shaker" of sand that is supposed to be used when I recite the words "ashes to ashes,etc." Weddings went over the edge long ago, and, I fear, funerals are right behind them.


PrSBlake1 said...

Amen and Amen. And not only that but the decision to start numbering the hymns beginning with the Psalms is one of those "great" ideas in theory that are a disaster in practice. Now one simply can't find the Psalter - maybe that's a good thing. So I print the Psalms out myself - using mostly LBW.

You mentioned the blog "Bad Vestments." It is funny and outrageous. But on a more serious note, have you ever spent any time reading the comments. They are truly disturbing to me. The level of bitter of particularly anti-women rhetoric is simply offensive. And when the picture has a female bishop - then the hated becomes even more apparent. I am amazed that the owner does not edit, deny or at least respond in some manner to this. And the other thing is that some of those pictures are doctored or completely out of context.

Father Anonymous said...

Actually, no, I've never read the Bad Vestments comments in any detail. Not sure if I want to, now -- it might take all the fun away.

(Although, now you mention it, I had noticed that the Episcopal PB comes in for disproportionate abuse, but I figured it was because she got photographed so often.)

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Communion: rip and dip, chip and sip, chip and dip, on and on. But really, a CUP? THE CUP? Who has "THE CUP?" And since we obviously don't have it, whatever we use isn't true to the first Lord's supper.

Anonymous said...

The redundancy of such formulations as "God will save God's people all by God's self" is just too much for me. We do have a gender-neutral pronoun in English, after all ;-)

mark said...

Improved texts and harmonies for the hymns? You're mad. Get the jacket. Call the wagon.