I think in most progressive Christianity, being critical (def. - exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation) of what we read in the Bible is sort of a hallmark. We scrutinized over difficult theology (for example: Job!), and we ponder how we can see the love of God as it exists for us today in the words of authors from centuries and milennia ago. So why is it that in many of our churches we don't do the same thing with the words we sing?
Our Bible's most recent thoughts are from the second century BCE, but Christian thought has continued to develop. Those ideas are often captured in congregational music, so I put this challenge to my church at our biannual "annual" meeting this week, "Be critical of the songs and hymns we read and sing in worship."
- What does the song teach us about God?
- What does the song teach us about Jesus?
- What does the song teach us about ourselves?
- What does the song teach others about us?
Many Christmas carols are perfect examples of images that don't really correspond to what we're presented in our scriptures. Was it really "in the bleak mid-winter" when Jesus was born? What about the idea of a newborn baby staying utterly silent in a cattle trough? ("The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.")
I like John Bell's observation of the perennial Christmas favorite "O Little Town of Bethlehem." If everyone had been recalled to the place of their ancestors for the census, hundreds or possibly thousands of people could have been flooding into the City of David to enroll. And if your long-lost friends were back in town, would your town be lying still at night?
I think it's a simple practice that each of us can do. Really read the words we sing and be critical.