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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The New Mormon Hymnal: What Must Stay and What Must Go

Rumors have been swirling for several month regarding the possible changes to the Mormon hymnal, which was last updated in 1985. Even one of my favorite Mormon bloggers, Janna Riess, has got in on the action.  As she aptly points out, these are rumors and nothing more.  We have yet to hear anything concrete regarding a new Mormon hymnal.

But what if we did get a 21st century Mormon hymnal?  What changes would we see?

With this in mind, I am going to enter the world of the hypothetical and assume that I have been charged with the task of producing a new Mormon hymnal.  The guidelines I have been given are simple:

1.) Choose 10 uniquely Mormon hymns to be labeled "classics" that will stand forever.
2.) Choose 10 hymns to be tossed out and banished forever.
3.) Choose 10 new songs to be added to the new hymnal.

So, without further delay, I offer my amendments for the new Mormon hymnal (all ranked 10 to 1 in order of importance):

10 Uniquely Mormon "Classic" Hymns

10.) Our Savior's Love: Hymn #113
So this selection has a family bias to it.  "Our Savior's Love" was written by Edward Hart, a somewhat distant relative of mine.  With that being said, I still believe it is a wonderful hymn that so many Mormons today enjoy.  It's a good one to start off our list of "Mormon Classics."

9.) Called to Serve: Hymn #249
Any Mormon who has served a mission (or who hasn't served) knows the significance of "Called to Serve."  It's a no-brainer selection.

8.) I Believe in Christ: Hymn #134
For as unpopular as McConkie was when it came to Mormon doctrine, the hymn he wrote is timeless.

7.) Love One Another: Hymn #308
Simple but beautiful.  "Love One Another" is a perfect example of the fact that hymns don't have to be complex or carry elaborate lyrics in order to be meaningful.

6.) If You Could Hie to Kolob: Hymn #284
Initially I intended to add this song to the "gone forever" list because...how do I put this...it's a REALLY WEIRD song!  "If You Could Hie to Kolob" touches on one of the most bizarre aspects of Mormon doctrine that comes from one of the most bizarre books of scripture. Abraham, chapter 3 states that God lives on a planet orbiting a star named Kolob.  With that being said, "If You Could Hie to Kolob" is still a beautiful hymn that is uniquely Mormon, perhaps more so than any other hymn out there.

5.) The Spirit of God: Hymn #2
This hymn has been a favorite going all the way back to the beginnings of the church itself.  "The Spirit of God" was originally sung at the Kirtland Temple dedication and has been sung ever since.

4.) I Am a Child of God: Hymn #301
This hymn is a favorite of kids and adults. Originally a Primary children's song, "I Am a Child of God" was so popular that it became an  official hymn in 1958 and has remained ever since!

3.) O My Father (or as it was originally titled, "The Eternal Father and Mother"): Hymn #292
Arguably Eliza R. Snow's best hymn, "O My Father" is powerful, touching and illustrates some of the best aspects of Mormon doctrine that exist.

2.) Where Can I Turn For Peace?: Hymn #129
This is my favorite hymn in the world and another biased (but I believe still solid) selection.  It is loved by almost all Mormons.

1.) Come, Come Ye Saints: Hymn #30 If there were to be a "Mormon National Anthem" chances are this would be it!

10 Hymns to be Removed Forever

10.) Adam-ondi-Ahman: Hymn #49
W.W. Phelps is arguably the greatest contributor to the Mormon hymnal.  He wrote a number of gems (a couple in our list above) but he also wrote some disasters, namely "Adam-ondi-Ahman," which touches on another less-than-pleasant tidbit of Mormon doctrine. We almost never sing it so I don't think it will be terribly missed.

9.) There is Sunshine in My Soul Today: Hymn #227
It's upbeat, happy and a popular hymn, but "There is Sunshine in My Soul Today" probably isn't the most appropriate hymn for a Sunday worship.  Why?  Because, frankly, there isn't sunshine in everyone's soul.  Some people go through really tough trials in life and a song like this can do more harm than good.  We would all do well to not assume that everyone is blissfully happy all of the time. We need to be more sensitive than that.

8.) Sons of Michael, He Approaches: Hymn #51
Another weird hymn about another weird tidbit of Mormon history. But nobody should mind because it's another dead song that is almost never sung to begin with.

7.) Onward Christian Soldiers: Hymn #246
I think we can safely say that mingling religious rhetoric with war rhetoric isn't the best course of action in the 21st century.  I love "Onward Christian Soldiers" as much as the next guy (at least in terms of the music) but the message needs to go. Singing "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus, going on before" isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we can do better.

6.) Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel: Hymn #252
I have always loathed this hymn. Work, work work, It all depends on work!  No room for grace, no room for mercy.  Work, work, work, work, work.  Salvation depends on us!  For all of Mormonism's preaching about works, we sure do forget the importance of grace, and this song does that better than most!  It's gotta go.

5.) In Our Lovely Deseret: Hymn #307
Yet another weird song about weird points of doctrine. Besides, it's too bubbly, to strange and too infantile to be considered a hymn (my apologies to Eliza R. Snow).  Any song that sings, "Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise" and "eat very little meat" isn't a hymn for worship. It's a piece of propaganda and rhetoric. It's outta here!

4.) Joseph Smith's First Prayer: Hymn #26
Yes, I know I am going to catch some major crap for eliminating this very popular hymn but hear me out. One of the charges often levied against Mormons is that we worship Joseph Smith.  I refute these charges but also understand how somebody could feel that way.  This hymn tends to support the skeptic's claim.  Besides, Joseph's "First Vision" isn't exactly a clear-cut piece of doctrine.  After all, which version of the First Vision are we talking about?  Or how about the fact that most early Mormons never even heard of the "First Vision?"  It's just not the best hymn for the 21st century church.

3.) Families Can Be Together Forever: Hymn #300
Another popular hymn that most will want to keep but I still maintain needs to go.  Sure, it's inspiring, meaningful, touching and pleasing...so long as you fit the traditional Mormon mold.  But what if you don't?  What if you're a single mom? A partial member family?  A family with individuals who hate or no longer participate in the church?  In that case, "Families Can Be Together Forever" is a painful song that has little appeal.  Plus, not everyone wants to be "with my own family."

2.) Hope of Israel: Hymn #259
Talk about a hymn that REALLY needs to go!!!  "Hope of Israel" is full of lyrics that promote war and violence, yet very few see it.  Consider:

"Hope of Israel, Zion's army...Now the victory we must win...Every stroke disarms a foeman, every step we conquering go.

And the terrible chorus:

"Hope of Israel rise in might. with the song of truth and right.  Sound the war cry, watch and pray.  Vanquish every foe today."

Need I say more?  For the 21st century it isn't needed.  Time to go!!!

1.) Praise to the Man: Hymn #27
For as long as I can remember, "Praise to the Man" has been my least favorite Mormon hymn.  I realize it is popular with most, but as I mentioned above, the charge that we worship Joseph Smith is harder to refute when we regularly sing a hymn like this.  As Jana Riess states:
If I could jettison just one song from our repertoire, by God it would be this one—and it’s a shame, because the tune is fabulous and the tempo brisk, unlike the more snail-like LDS hymns. But this theology is simply awful. How is it that Mormons can insist up and down and until Tuesday that we don’t worship the prophet and yet continue to sing this hymn? Here the recently deceased Joseph Smith is communing with Jehovah, mingling with gods, and making plans on our behalf from heaven...kind of like God makes plans for us from heaven. Even worse, the song is all about how we need to glorify Joseph Smith, not God: “Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.” I realize this hymn has already been made slightly less vengeful and bloody from a 1927 revision, but that’s not enough: the whole concept of this song is about worshiping a human being. Only God deserves our worship. End of story.
I couldn't agree more!

10 Hymns to be Added to New Hymnal

10.) Beautiful Savior
This ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS German hymn has been around for at least 3 centuries. Though the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed it on multiple occasions, "Beautiful Savior" is still not in the Mormon hymnal...and it should be.  Sample of the song by clicking here.

9.) I'm Trying to be Like Jesus
This is a favorite Primary song of almost all Mormons and it's high time it became a hymn!  My favorite rendition of this song is here.

8.) O Come O Come Emanuel
One of the best Christmas hymns ever, yet for whatever reason not in the Mormon hymnal.  DUMB!!!!  M y favorite version of this hymn is here.

7.) The Resurrection Day
I couldn't find an online version of this hymn but it's awesome.  It was also Brigham Young's favorite hymn.

6.) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
We Mormons would GREATLY benefit from some cultural diversity.  We're just too damned "whited and delightsome" as the Book of Mormon states.  =)  We need some soul, and this has always been one of my favorite African spirituals.  Since jazz is my favorite form of music, it's hard to beat this rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

5.) Holy, Holy, Holy
Here's another MASSIVE Christian classic that we've turned our back on.  It's legendary, has an amazing message and is quite old.  Written in the early 19th century by Reginald Heber, "Holy, Holy, Holy has been a part of almost every Christian worship...except ours.  Here's MoTab singing it,

4.) O Holy Night
Yet another no-brainer.  Why isn't this song in the hymnal?  Enough said.  My favorite version of "O Holy Night" here.

3.) Homeward Bound
Probably not well known to many Mormons but an instant classic that I completely love. "Homeward Bound' was written not long ago, actually in 1998 by a middle school music teacher named Marta Keen Thompson.  The song exploded and was even sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  It would make for an awesome addition to our hymnal.  Song by clicking here.

2.) Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
It's just stupid that this hymn isn't in our hymnal.  I don't know what else needs to be said.  MoTab singing it here.

1.) Amazing Grace
The greatest idiocy of our current hymnal is the absence of "Amazing Grace." I'm sure John Newton is turning in his grave over the fact that we shunned his timeless song.  The hymn that inspired the great William Wilberforce and has become arguably the most popular Christian hymn in the world BELONGS IN OUR DAMN HYMNAL!!!  Period, end of discussion!

We should include the bagpipes as well!

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