(almost) never change song lyrics

I have this very bad philosophical habit of picking up a lot of my catch phrases from song lyrics. Fortunately, I have pretty solid songs with philosophically and theologically stable ideas that I am usually singing or listening to.

One of the things that irks me, and my wife Betsy, is the changing of song lyrics, especially to old hymns, to make them meet modern sensibilities about gender, race, or other ridiculously hot topics. So when I found myself perambulating to actually making a change, just one word, in a familiar song/hymn lyric, I knew I had a good topic for a blog.

Betsy has serious problems about gender changes. There is one hymn where they change father to creator and brother to children. It doesn’t work. The metaphor gets all screwy. And we authors/writers are very sensitive about metaphors. Another metaphor mix up involves a song which talks about the Trinity (Father/Son/Holy Sprit), that when they get rid of the father you don’t even know if there is a trinity left. Are we singing about parent/ child/child or parent/child/parent? The antecedent confusion is so bad that the child might even be the parent of the parent. But the word changers seem totally oblivious.

So why do I suddenly want to change (just) one word of a song lyric? You can thank President Joe Biden, and commentator Dennis Prager.

First eight minutes are a good explanation of why I oppose masks, and think they are even opposed to the gospel, but watch minutes 7 to 15 for the part about why calls for unity are phony.

Prager, in his fireside chat after the inauguration pointed out President Biden’s emphasis and call to unity, and why any call to unity is naive, coercive and dangerous. How do opposites unite? by accepting the views of the one who calls for unity; by giving up or being forced to mouth the words of the uniter. Unity is nice sounding, but nice sounds don’t prevent it from being tyrrany.

Fortunately Michael Card had a lyric (I don’t wish to change his words) that came to mind and gave me my lyrical answer to the tyrrany of unity — community.

In his lyric to The Basin and the Towel I realized that the call is to COMMUNITY, not Unity. As Betsy noted to me today, we want HARMONY. Unity is not harmony. Some of you think this is just a fancy play on words, but the power of words, the power of the parable is community, “the impoverished power that sets the soul free.

So, I could dwell on the politics above, or I could concentrate on my topic, the most important one, of changing the lyrics of a hymn.

They’ll Know we are Christians by Our Love is quite a nice-sounding song, but I think it suffers from the same naivete that Prager mentioned of Biden’s address. The first verse goes:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

The word I have the problem with is unity. I am very much a stickler for songs within the church to be theologically correct. Much error has been generated by heretical song lyrics, and I think this one is very heretical.

The change I would make, very simple, which would straighten this out, is:

And we pray that community may one day be restored.

This is a call to every committed Christian, with all our various beliefs and persuasions, to seriously consider never singing this song the old way, but this way. The body of Christ is not a coercive unity, it is a living harmonious body of members, a community of diifferences that kneel and yield to each other, using impoverished power to set each other free. It doesn’t use power against each other to create enforced unity.

Some views we can disagree on. Others are heretical. I believe I have found a dangerous heresy, and am making a call to action.

G. K Chesterton would be proud of me, I hope.

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