Monday, July 21, 2008

The Chant


"To have a Buddhist chant at an Anglican sermon does not reflect the God we believe in." Bishop Robert Duncan

Well, it turns out that the tune is Buddhist but the text is Orthodox and Trinitarian and actually a kind of doxology. How did Bishop Duncan know that it was a "Buddhist chant?" I read the text of the sermon and he didn't announce "And now, a Buddhist chant!" From what I understand he simply chanted at the end of his sermon. Did the words Om, mani pad-me hum ring through the air? Or is it because a person from Asia chanted something in an unfamiliar language and tune that caused one to fear that Buddhism had reared its head within the sacred confines of Canterbury Cathedral? As a musician, I know that there are several hymn tunes in the Hymnal 1982 from sources Which-May-Not-Be-Christian; I hold all "folk tunes" under suspicion, and we know that some tunes were actually the pop songs of their day, later "holied-up" to sing in church. I wonder how many tunes sung in the churches of the Global South are of purely Christian origin?

Last week I wrote about Jesu Maha Darsana at my own blog. A Hindu woman, Latha Rajasekhar, has written an epic poem along the lines of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. She said that this work is the result of her devotion to Jesus the Christ. However, she self-identifies as Hindu, not Christian. I suspect that Bishop Duncan and his fellow FOCAs may reject Mrs. Rajasekhar's devotional work just as he rejected Bishop Duleep de Chickera's chant.

I'm not one for having Shinto ceremonies in Christian Cathedrals or the Holy Eucharist being celebrated in a Shinto Temple, and I'm not too fond of churches holding Seders during Holy Week. However, I don't have a problem with adapting local traditions or music into Christian practice as long as it doesn't endanger the integrity of the tradition from which it is taken. I know that some reasserters disagree with me on this subject, as I have had several discussions with folks at a Site Which Will Be Unnamed who seem to believe that all Native American traditions are fraught with demonic influences. I think they're nuts and have told them so.

So my questions to you, Gentle Reader, are: is it wrong for Christians to use tunes from other than Christian sources? Does spiritual danger lurk in the music and literature of non-Christians?

25 comments:

Kurt said...

“So my questions to you, Gentle Reader, is: is it wrong for Christians to use tunes from other than Christian sources? Does spiritual danger lurk in the music and literature of non-Christians?”--Padre Mickey

I don’t think it’s wrong; we Christians have always “baptized” other customs into our uses.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Does spiritual danger lurk in the music and literature of non-Christians?

I think there is much more spiritual danger in Christian literature itself, than in the non-Christian variety.

Read the Old Testament, or the book of Revelation lately? ;-)

seithman said...

No. But then, I'm sure I'm just one of those "spiritually dangerous" non-Christians anyway. So clearly, my opinion is deserving of much suspicion.

And let's be frank, men like Robert Duncan are inclined to see spiritual danger lurking everywhere.

Eileen said...

What Jarred said...

Pierre R. Wheaton said...

I used to have this argument back in my evangelical Baptist phase in the '80's when the TV preachers would rail against contemporary Christian Music especially Christian Rock.

I always countered their argument with "Pierre's Christmas Present" theory. Think of the music as a wrapper that makes the actual gift (the lyrics) all that more attractive. As long as the actual words aren't tampered with, the music shouldn't matter.

David said...

LOLDuncan: Oh noes, it da Boodists! Do not want!

airedale said...

I believe that what matters most is that you are praising God. It matters not the tune but what is in your heart.
Airedale

Padre Mickey said...

Well, I heard some people sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of House Of The Rising Sun, and ya know, that just lets the devil in.

Caminante said...

Krishna Das does Amazing Grace in his Mountain Hare Krishna (I think it's that song) and it works very well...

Ann said...

oh no -- now we can't sing - What Child is This as it it set to Greensleeves - a love song, or #385 - originally a Lakota tune, or #381 and 527 set to Ton-y-Botel, nor 536 - set to Yisrael V'oraita. To say nothing of the tunes from the Gaelic tradition- who knows what they were used for before Christianity.

Anonymous said...

What Airedale said. Some people in pointy hats and those without pointy hats, too, just need to get a life.

FWTxn

susan s. said...

Or is it because a person from Asia chanted something in an unfamiliar language and tune that caused one to fear that Buddhism had reared its head within the sacred confines of Canterbury Cathedral?

I think +Poopsburgh has an inordinate fear of the unknown. I will not speculate on how much is unknown to him. He heaps me!

I personally don't like a lot of the 'newer' music in the church or the world. Yes I know I'm an opinionated old fart. But we would be poorer if the 'traditional' tunes used from ale houses etc. were not available to us. And the Christmas Tree would be kerputt, eh?, if we took all things pagan out of our tradition.

JCF said...

Two words (for the two questions): Heck No.

JCF said...

Sending a special shout-out to San Joaquinians (and Fort Worthers, too):

Doesn't this just break your (apostate) hearts? Greg Venables wasn't consulted by GAFCON, before they issued a statement in his name! *LOL*

Must.Resist.Schadenfreude...

Anonymous said...

Martin Luther used a drinking song for "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Ein Feste Berg). When challenged, he asked, "Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?" or something to that effect. The hymn lives on while the drinking song has been forgotten.

I don't mean to compare a Buddhist chant to a drinking song, but I think the words carry more weight here than the tune or style. Music is one area where we go out of our way to accommodate other cultures. I had to spend some time in Mississippi to discover how many Baptist hymns there are in our hymnal. (Personally, I prefer singing in Latin, but no one asks me.)

+Duncan's comment says a lot about +Duncan, and not very much about Lambeth or the preacher involved.

Paul M
(Sorry, can't find my Google ID)

Anonymous said...

Thank you JCF! for the shout-out! Shure glad we've got our Katie over there looking out for alls'us!!

Wonder what woulda happened if ABC Rowan had invited the Dalai Lama to be a guest speaker at The Event? Guess there woulda been a lotta folks not showing up for that, either....
Sometimes I think I'd rather be a Buddhist; they ring bells and burn incense too, and laugh a lot more, at themselves, not each other.

FWTxn

FranIAm said...

Tonight I was out walking and thinking about the Hindu god of Ganesha. I have a particular fondness for this elephant headed god who is known to clear obstructions.

That thought led to how I think it all rolls up to God and that if I have a picture of Ganesha on my bulletin board, that God is probably ok with that. Didn't God make Ganesha too? Oh. That is not in Genesis, is it.

Then I come home and find this post- instant karma if you ask me.

I agree with you about how too much borderless bleed can have issues of its own, but this just seems like an overreaction to what sounds like a lovely prayer.

However, as the saying goes - OCICBW.

PS- I am with Doxy on those books!

Leonardo Ricardo said...

No the only thing recently that endangers our sweet spirit, wholesome/unison and over-all spirituality is the Bob Duncan, Peter Akinola and Henri Orombi and honking their deathening noise making...of course there are a few others, like Venables that try and harmonize with them as they blurt-out "singing the blues" but they are strictly second fiddles and off key from the start of the great overture orchestrated by God.

Leslie Littlefield said...

Isn't God in everything? Poeple need to stop running scared...

Scott Hankins said...

Quitsburgh needs to be taken out for a good night on the town. Have a few. Dance a little, ya know? (Unless he really is a southern baptist.) Oh for heaven's sake. (spit)

Keep your ears open, Bob. You never know where God is going to show up next. Had a little urge to sob during the end of that sermon, did you? Editing yourself again? Let the Spirit in, for Christ's sake.

Jane R said...

Oh, good heavens. Have none of these folks who are wringing their hands heard of contextualization and inculturation? This is one where RCs are way, way, way ahead of us.

The response to the South Asian chant only shows cultural imperialism. Gregorian chant and 19th c. English music are as local and inculturated as the earliest Sanctus, the Spirituals, and the Mass parts sung to Japanese compositions in Nippon Sei Ko Kai. There is no "pure" Christian culture. Never was. The Gospel has never notbeen incarnate in particular cultures.

Those who complain should have this played as an anthem without being told what it is. They'll think it's properly orthodox because of the tunes. ;-)

Mark said...

Wow.

I'm absolutely gobsmacked.

I've said that I think Duncan has lost it. This is proof, as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, good heavens. Have none of these folks who are wringing their hands heard of contextualization and inculturation?

That's the thing: we've heard any number of dubious behaviors defended by Duncan's ilk concerning these "holy" African bishops, even dismissing Akinola's seeming tolerance of the Yoruba religion (known over here in the New World by the term Voudun or Obeah).

Lynn said...

No matter how this ends up being spinned by the FOCAs, my uncharitable heart tells me that Duncan just jumped to a racist conclusion that the text of the chant wasn't Christian in nature. Why didn't he just ask Duleep de Chickera about the words of the chant?

How many, many times could misunderstandings be avoided if people would just ask the d*mn question when they don't know what is going on?

Scott Hankins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PseudoPiskie said...

Aha! Jane, R, thanks. My favorite Chant CD. I gave it as a hospitality gift when it first was issued. He uses it in his sacred music classes.