Gospel hymns, popular politics, and moral behavior

July 31, 2013

Gospel Hymns and Social Religion: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Revivalism, by Sandra S. Sizer [now Tamar Frankiel] (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978)

SizerA recent conversation about the history of hymns in Protestant churches reminded me of a book that I had read more than thirty years ago,  Gospel Hymns and Social Religion: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Revivalism. In this book, based on her Ph.D. dissertation at Chicago, Tamar Frankiel (then Sandra S. Sizer) analyses a largely by-passed aspect of the history of American Protestantism.

Fortunately this book is still on my shelf despite my concerted efforts to reduce my inventory of old theological tomes. The fact that it is severely underlined makes it worthless on the used book market.

Clearly, I had paid close attention to Frankiel’s analysis, and as I reread the book in these later days I recognize some of the ideas that long ago became part of my approach to understanding nineteenth-century religion. Fortunately, I have kept the book jacket, which includes two full panels in which the author’s thesis is summarized.

The last paragraph on the jacket indicates why this old book can help us understand some of the dynamics in the current religious scene in the United States.

“This book, in short, goes far beyond the discussion of gospel hymns; it raises issues which go to the heart of white, protestant, urban America and suggests that the assumptions lodged there demand argument, not acceptance.”

Gospel Hymns, the first words in the book’s title, refers to a series of song books with that title, the first of which was published in 1878, that culminated in the “Diamond Edition” of 1894 and the “Excelsior Edition” of 1895. Although several prominent revivalist musicians were related to the development of these books, Ira D. Sankey, who worked closely with Dwight L. Moody, is the person most fully identified with the mature editions of the book.

“Authorities agree,” Frankiel observes, “that the series was by far the most successful of American hymnals.” She cites an observation by music historian H. Wiley Hitchcock that the final compilation “not only symbolizes the gospel-song movement of the late nineteenth century, but virtually embodies it between two covers” (p. 5).

Social Religion, the second phrase in the book’s title, also has a specific reference. Initially, this phrase is identified with the contest between two approaches to Protestant church life during the early years of the nineteenth century. “Prayer, testimony, and (lay) exhortation can best be understood as the basic forms of what I will call ‘social religion,’ a new complex of religious practices which dissolved the earlier Puritan distinction between private and public religious exercises” (p. 51).

Frankiel notes that “the conversion narrative,” which had developed in the Puritan tradition, linked private and public religion, but she also states that “the private ‘exercises’ of religion were still carefully distinguished from the public ones which centered on the Sabbath services and other fully ‘public’ meetings” (p. 51).

As the nineteenth century developed, the distinction between these two forms of religious experience broke down as the evangelists used social religion as the basic form for their revival meetings. Previously popular hymnals, especially Psalms and Hymns by Isaac Watts and A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists” by John Wesley, were suitable for public worship in the period of time that was disappearing. Gospel Hymns and other hymnals of similar kind were used to bring social religion into the public worship of the churches.

Rhetoric is an important word in this book’s sub-title. The author is interested not only in the words themselves and the messages they convey, but also in “the relationship between text and social situation” that these lyrics address. She wants to “keep in the forefront the question of the intention of the authors in any given case—how they perceived their situation, their allies and opponents, the problems which they thought needed to be solved” (p. 17).

The author demonstrates that the gospel hymns she examines were directly related to the emerging conditions in public life. She uses the revivals of 1857-1858 and 1875-1877 as examples, the one anticipating the sectional disputes that led to the Civil War and the other the end of Reconstruction and “the resurgence of the Democratic party” (p. 142).

Although there was a distinction between revivals and politics during this period, they were nevertheless tied together. “The key which unlocked the door between the two was the translation of political issues into moral terms” (p. 152).

I plan to reread this book carefully and gladly recommend it to others interested in the relation of religion’s rhetoric and public life. Although the author focuses attention upon the nineteenth century, much of what she writes is directly applicable to life in the twenty first.

Note: In later publications, Sandra S. Sizer bears the name Sandra Sizer Frankiel and now Tamar Frankiel.  http://ajrca.org/faculty/dr-tamar-frankiel/

Bicycling, a healing sport that can make you younger

July 22, 2013

Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge (New York: Workman Publishing, 2007; first published 2004)

Crowley-LodgeAlthough Younger Next Year has been on the market for nearly a decade, I had not been aware of the book until some sixty-year-old bike club members called it to my attention earlier this summer. Having now read this constructive and entertaining book, I agree with their assessment. This 300-page manual on how to live a good life has much to offer cyclists as they move into the next third of their lives.

When they wrote the book, Chris Crowley, the principal author, was a retired lawyer in his early 70s and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., (Harry) was a somewhat younger physician still in active practice. Each author writes under his own name. Lodge provides the medical information and proposes the seven rules for living a healthy life through one’s 70s and into the later years of life. Crowley explains these laws, proposes ways of incorporating them into everyday life, and does his best to motivate readers.

The target audience is clear: men in their fifties and early sixties who are nearing retirement. Crowley identifies with these people because he was just like them a few years earlier: in reasonably good health but overweight and not very active physically; overstressed by work and by anxieties because of the life changes that retirement would inevitably bring.

That’s when he met Lodge, who became his physician and encouraged him to create a new life by following the seven rules that Lodge was developing.

The bike club members told me that there is a version of the book written for women. Although I have not seen this volume, the reviews online indicate that the authors have reworked the book to address the concerns of women.

Both versions state that most readers will be able to turn back their biological clocks for the next five years and continue living with that new-found energy and health for a decade or more, into their 80s and perhaps beyond.

The first three rules are interrelated: “(1) Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. (2) Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life. (3) Do serious strength training with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life” (p. 305).

In his discussion of these rules, Crowley contrasts two kinds of sports. “Some sports, like tennis, pull you apart because they’re centrifugal. Others, like running, beat on your joints remorselessly. But a few actually knit you together. Your muscles and especially your joints feel better when you’re done than when you began” (p. 90). Which sports are healing? He names biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and rowing.

At this point in the narrative, one of it distinctive themes is used to explain why exercise of the right kind is so important. In a chapter entitled “The Biology of Exercise,” Lodge explains “the chemistry of movement” which human beings share with “every other animal on the planet” (p. 97).

He describes the evolution of our bodies based on the need to find food for every day by the hard work of hunting and gathering. Part of this biology was the need to exist during periods when food could not be found. When we understand this history of the human body, we can see why exercise every day is necessary in order to stay “lean, fit, happy, optimistic, energetic, brimming with vim and vigor” (p. 37). Even if you find Lodge’s argument a little fanciful, as I do, he provides a way to understand why his exercise rules work such wonders.

Rule 5 is also particularly interesting to cyclists: “Quit eating crap!” (p. 305). The emphasis is upon eating healthy food and avoiding much of the fat- and sugar-crammed stuff that passes for food in the American diet. The authors presume that if people exercise and eat according to their prescriptions they will lose weight, but weight reduction is not put forward as an objective.

The other three rules are pertinent to the larger goal of the authors, which is to help people live a healthier and more satisfying life through the last third of their lives: “(4) Spend less than you make. (6) Care. (7) Connect and commit” (p. 305).

I like the rules, especially those that deal with exercise and diet. The explanations and motivational encouragement are constructive and generally persuasive. Half-way through, however, I wearied of the book’s artificially clever prose and found myself skipping much of the detail while still trying to get the main points.

Despite my impatience with the fulsome exposition (especially Crowley’s), I have benefited from their enthusiastic, intelligent discussion. Gladly I recommend it to everyone who wants to turn back their biological clock.

The Christian Doctrine of Discovery

July 15, 2013

OleksaThroughout our nation’s history, religious freedom has been praised more than practiced. This conflict has been especially destructive in the ways that the dominant society has opposed the religions of Native Americans and used Christian churches and institutions to impose mainstream American culture on indigenous communities.

The religious oppression of Native Americans has been most deliberate and oppressive in English-speaking, predominately Protestant parts of North America. French-speaking Catholic enclaves in the north and Spanish-speaking Catholic cultures in the south were willing to allow modest amounts of Native American spirituality to be integrated into their new world versions of Catholic worship, faith, and life.

According to Michael Oleksa, a more positive example of the cultural adaptation of Christian faith and Native American life developed in Alaska during the years of Russian control. Although his book Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission was published in 1998, the story that he tells continues to be relevant for all who are interested in inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

I read the book in 2002, only four years after its publication, but my review has not been published. It comes to mind a decade later because the Christian doctrine of discovery is one of the topics for reflection and research at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in Orlando, Florida. The document to be discussed was developed at the initiative of David Bell, director of the Yakama Christian Mission, and its sponsors include nine Disciples congregations in Washington and Oregon.

The materials prepared for the Assembly state that early leaders of the Disciples movement held attitudes about this topic that were similar to those held by their peers around the nation. The sponsors of this document for reflection and research believe that this process of study will add an important element in the desire of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) “to become a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” To download a PDF of the resolution as it has been presented to the Assembly, click Discovery.

Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission, by Michael Oleksa (Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998). A Review by Keith Watkins

During the late 1950s I toured the Russian Orthodox Church in Fort Ross, California, which marked the southern most penetration of Russian settlers along the northern Pacific coast during the age of discovery. Following that brief visit, I had given no further attention to the American history of Orthodoxy until the summer of 2002 when a brief excursion along Alaska’s southeast coast extended my knowledge of the Russian Orthodox impact upon North America. I visited three of the tourist stops: St. Nicholas Church in Juneau, the Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka, and the restored Bishop’s House in Sitka, now owned and managed, except for the chapel, by the National Park Service.

The background for understanding these places was provided by Michael Oleksa’s Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission that was brought to my attention at a bookstore in Juneau and by a brief conversation in a second bookstore with the author’s daughter Ekatrina Oleksa.

The author, for thirty years an Alaskan Orthodox missionary and since 1996 dean of St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, begins with two longstanding principles of Orthodox Christian mission: that the Logos of God is to be incarnated into the language and customs of a country and that an indigenous church is to be developed that will “sanctify and endorse the people’s personality.” Oleksa shows that Orthodoxy became an “integral part” of indigenous Native American culture in Alaska and claims that this is the only place in America where Orthodoxy and an American culture have become so integrated. He proposes that an American Orthodox theology of mission should originate from Alaska to serve the rest of the nation and “contribute to the clarification of Orthodox theology for the entire universal Church as well.”

Oleksa gives a truncated account of Russian exploration and occupation of the Aleutian archipelago and southeast coast, noting that military and commercial activities were destructive of indigenous cultures. The monks and other representatives of the Orthodox Church, however, came with a different purpose. Their spirituality provided positive connections with Native American attitudes. They studied Native American religions with a sympathetic attitude and defended Native people from Russian exploitation, especially in the Kodiak region. The result was that nearly all of the people around Kodiak were baptized during the first two years of the mission, establishing a church of some 7,000 people. The Orthodox influence spread among other Native peoples and the church became well established among them.  Continue reading. . . .

To read more, click Orthodox Alaska.

Visible SignAlthough I wrote a book on the history of the Yakama Christian Mission, I was unaware of the doctrine of discovery at the time I developed this manuscript. The book would have been strengthened if I had been able to include this part of the history. To order the book, which was published by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, click A Visible Sign of God’s Presence.