Hymns for Him

With the Christmas season in full swing, as it has been since last Dec. 20 — I’m sure you recall as I do how the stores all took down their 1999 Christmas decorations five days before the holiday and replaced them with the 2000 Christmas decorations, which have stood since then — I am reminded of the part of the holiday season that brings me the most joy and good cheer: the opportunity to take advantage of suckers who are not nearly as trusting the rest of the year.

I kid, of course. When I think of Christmas, the first thing I think of is the music. As an LDS Mormon, I am well-acquainted with the Christmas hymns in the LDS Mormon hymnbook, and as a piano-playing LDS Mormon, I am quite tired of several of them. There are only a few weeks in the year when we can sing them, and so we wind up singing some of them several hundred times. I love “Silent Night” (#204) because it’s beautiful and peaceful, but is there any hymn more boring to play? Yes there is. It’s called “Ye Elders of Israel” (#319). If you have spent more than five seconds in an LDS Mormon priesthood meeting, you have sung this song. It is apparently the default hymn for any gathering of men in the church: Unless someone specifies something else, “Ye Elders of Israel” will be sung, and with manly gusto, at that. Our current Elders Quorum President, who says the word “awesome” at least five times per Sunday, is infatuated with the song, so we sing it about every other week, though I have adopted a position of civil disobedience and won’t sing it anymore; I figure I only had so many singings of that song in me, and I’ve used them all up. (I have a short supply of puttings up with the word “awesome,” too, I might add.)

“Ye Elders of Israel” consists of the same two lines of music repeated three times per verse for three verses, and it makes you address Babylon directly, in the context of bidding it farewell, which seems like an odd thing to do. I mean, if you’re really going to leave Babylon, why would you bother to tell it goodbye? It seems like the only reason you’d say farewell is that you’re kind of hoping, in the back of your mind, that Babylon will convince you to stay. “Oh, come on, Elders of Israel,” Babylon would say soothingly. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t mean to offend you. Really, dude, I’m sorry. Just stay a while longer. Please?” And you’d cave in and stay and spend an eternity in hell for it.

The other specific hymn I have an objection to is “In Our Lovely Deseret.” This is a silly children’s song that was included in the hymnbook as a prank to see if people would sing it just because it’s in there. (And they do!) This one has a chorus that makes you say, “Hark! Hark! Hark!” It’s no wonder people think we’re weird.

One trend in hymning that amuses me is when they try not only to make “heaven” and “given” rhyme, which they clearly don’t, but also to turn them each into one syllable: “heav’n” and “giv’n.” Replacing the “e” with an apostrophe does not make the word any shorter. If I change my last name to “Snid’r,” that doesn’t change the pronunciation of it. The writers should just admit that their lyrics are one syllable too long to fit with the music and deal with it. There’s no shame in that.

Also: “Lord” and “word” do not rhyme. I’m always tempted to pronounce it “Lerd” just to make it work, but I know that would be wrong.

Also: While “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (#19) is a great hymn, it’s funny how we always sing it on prophet-related occasions, even though, except for that first line, the song has NOTHING to do with prophets. Similarly, “Prayer of Thanksgiving” (#93) is traditionally a Thanksgiving hymn, even outside of LDS Mormon culture. But look at the first line: “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” This is no prayer of thanksgiving! It’s a regular old prayer of askin’ for stuff! Do you think we’re fooling Him, calling a song a prayer of thanksgiving and then slipping in some requests instead, hoping the title alone will trick Him?

Oh, right, Christmas. A cold winter’s night that was so deep? What does THAT mean? I didn’t realize there were varying depths of nighthood. Seems like either it’s night or it’s not. Anyway, I’m confused and out of time. Catch ya later, Babylon. I’ll be dwelling in the mountains of Ephraim if you need me.

There was a time when you could name a hymn and I could tell you what number it was in the book, or you could tell me a number and I'd tell you which hymn it was. Sort of a Mormon parlor game, I guess, like being able to tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue (which I can still do, by the way).

The part about my Elders Quorum President was originally intended to be in this post-column commentary; however, I decided I liked it and included it in the column proper.

Those readers who are not LDS Mormons (yes, that phrase is redundant; my consultant/research assistant/fashion adviser Josh said it once and I thought it was funny) may not fully grasp the level of comedy inherent in all of this, but that's OK. That's what you get for not being LDS Mormons. But for those unfamiliar with "Ye Elders of Israel," the chorus says: "O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;/We're going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell." The lyrics are by one Cyrus H. Wheelock, which is a great name.

Hark, hark, hark, there was an angry letter. It was sent to my Daily Herald e-mail, and while it starts out sounding like it agrees with me, it quickly changes.

Mr. Snider;
After reading your article ... I had to respond.

Can't you do better than that? [Sadly, no.] A real man would take on 'fluff' like "I Believe in Christ" (# 134) or "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" (# 29). Or how about the real default hymn "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" (# 136)? Then there's "The Spirit of God" (# 2) that encourages shouting in the church.

On page ix of the hymn book, the First Presidency states, in part, "The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, ' and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.'"

Yes, I know that we, as LDS people, are allowed a sense of humor. [Do you really know that, or are you just saying you know it?] But is mocking the Lord, His music and His prophet's council what we should be laughing about? [No, it isn't. Good thing I didn't mock any of those things. Whew!]

As Christians, we are told to 'be a light unto the world', to 'let our light so shine'. What exactly, are you using as your 'light'?

It is because of you that the Daily Herald will not be subscribed to by this household.

Amy McKinlay

P.S. You may not use my name without written permission. [I used it anyway. I didn't like her attitude.]

If you are considering a move to Utah County, be aware that there are a lot of people there who are just like this person.