The Hymnal From Below: A Justice Reading of Glory to God
“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the power-less, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison)
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has just released a new hymnal: Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal, and people all over the country are beginning to pore through it with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Will my favorite hymns still be included? What new hymns have they chosen? Will my worshiping community purchase the hymnal? Do hymnals even matter in this age of technology and screen projectors?
Here at Unbound, we think the new hymnal does matter because, as many of our contributors will argue, the words and music we sing regularly in worship deeply inform what we believe about God, humanity, and the world. Particularly, we’re interested in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “view from below” – what this collection of hymns communicates about and to groups of people who have traditionally been marginalized by society.
We’ve asked our various authors to reflect on the question, “What does the new hymnal communicate about ________ justice?” (gender, racial, economic, etc.). During this Advent Season of hoping and waiting, we will journey alongside those who have long waited for justice – and those who are still waiting. Our contributors will reflect on how Glory to God does – and does not – announce to the “good tidings of great joy to all people” to those who hear it from the margins. Perhaps by listening to them, we will learn something about how we can use this new hymnal to enact justice through our songs until, in the words of the well-known carol, “the whole world sends back the song which now the angels sing.”
–Managing Editor Ginna Bairby
In many faith communities, the first week of Advent is a time to cultivate hope — hope as we wait to celebrate the first coming of the Christ child at Christmas and hope and longing as we work and wait with anticipation for the coming of God’s Kingdom in all its fullness. Our authors this week will live into that hope as they reflect on Glory to God from the perspective of gender justice. What images does the hymnal use to describe God? To describe humanity? Whose experiences does the hymnal highlight? And what does all of this communicate to those who will sing these songs about what it means to be made in God’s image?
As an introduction, and for those who are still debating whether or not to buy the new hymnal, you may wish to start with Rev. Randy Bush’s thoughtful overview of the considerations he and his church have had. As the week goes on, we will hear from Miriam Foltz, James N. Hoke, and Rev. Stacey Midge as they lift up their own joys, concerns, and observations about gender justice in Glory to God.
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