God forbid we should feel a little bad…

Miss Kelly is distressed to find that some hymnals (including – sigh – the one in my church) features a change in the words to Amazing Grace.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” Has been changed to reflect both the freedom that comes with salvation – which is very nice – and also the decree from some publishing house on high that we never, ever sing a lyric that might suggest a negative. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved and set me free…”

Never mind that half the time most of us are day-long walking negatives and yes, wretches, to boot. We mustn’t examine that, look at it or even acknowledge it. It might make us feel badly about ourselves. Aw.

I know some female monastic houses (and a few male ones) have edited the psalms so that in their daily offices they are reading “nothing negative, violent or dark;” and heaven knows the psalms – which are marvelously pure and complete expressions of the whole human condition – do express our dark sides. So, for these monastics the Divine Office has become a big Kumbaya-fest where everything is happy and light and free, lollipop, lollipop, ooh lolli-lolli…

But that decision has always seemed to me to be extremely short-sighted and cheap. As with what Deitrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” in The Cost of Discipleship (yes, it is in The Bookshelf, it’s one of my faves), these monastics are creating “feel-good” liturgy that is all-grace-and-all-light but which does not permit introspection, does not allow one to read a hard verse and stop to consider – “Lord, is that me?” If you’re only looking at the positive, it’s very easy to equate any negatives you do encounter as being the fault of “someone or something else.” The problem can’t be rooted in you, after all – you’re all-positive!

At some point in every life, the ugly and dark stuff intrudes. Seems to me the best and healthiest way to deal with it, when it comes, is to have more than a passing acquaintance with it – if you’re acknowleding on a daily (or weekly) basis that what is lesser, and baser, exists and resides within our own hearts right next to all of our highest and purest ideals, you’re much less likely to be shocked or overwhelmed when you encounter the dark, either within yourself or within others. Or even within your town or your church or your government.

This is why the Catholic church urges daily (or at least weekly) examinations of conscience. It’s fallen out of practice, of course, like confession (which is the natural response to an Examination of Conscience). These days society and Dr. Phil tell us we are not to “dwell” on what we do wrong (“you just made a mistake…”) but to examine one’s conscience is not to “dwell;” it is not “wallowing in Catholic guilt,” as some would say. Rather, we examine the conscience in order to be in touch with that baser nature that exists within us – for to ignore it is to allow it to run amok at one’s own peril. Like a child whose parents won’t discipline him because it might make him feel bad, our unattended to conscience can do a lot of rationalized and relativistic damage to our souls and hence to our lives and the lives of those around us. If you’re attending to it – if you’re actually looking at what you’re doing – clearly and honestly – the self-awareness is helpful.

And an examination of conscience can even be about those “positives” in our life. You may have done something good for someone, and feeling really good about having done it, but when you’re alone and looking at your day, such an examination might ask you if you did that good deed for that person, or for yourself – or if the act was some combination of both. Did I do that favor for so-and-so because I’m getting no praise at work, and I needed to hear it from somewhere? That doesn’t necessarily negate the good you did, but it is important to stay aware of your motives, and know when you’re really serving a generous instinct, and when you’re merely serving your ego.

It’s not about guilt. It’s not about ruminating. It’s about staying honest. My li’l brother Thom asked me this morning if I had ever seen a priest he’d heard of, who does a good sermon “but a little brimstone-y. He pulls no punches about our sinful natures. Since hardly any priest talks about our sin from the pulpit, maybe we need it, but maybe we don’t need that much….” he wrote.

There has always got to be balance, of course. But in an era where so many preachers of every stripe are loath to “burden” us with reminders that we can frequently be utter stinkers, I don’t think it hurts to hear it.

And if no one is saying it, we can always remind ourselves – we can take a look at our lives and sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

WELCOME: Captains Quarters Readers!. While you’re here please look around. Today we’re also talking about how – according to the press – the economy has “slipped” into good times, except that we’re standing shoeless in breadlines in the worst economy ever, the vanishing of Abdul Rahman, and we’re remembering what 9/11 was, thanks to the BBC. We’re also hating Islam, being tough on a press that gets a lot of stuff wrong these days, and I’m getting a lot of emails from Loving Christians pressing my head into the toilet for this one. Admit you’re a sinner, and some will understand. Others will merely delight in finding the wood for your bonfire! Thank Heavens for Christ, because we humans really can be stinkers. :-)

Gerald has some thoughts about The Stuart Smally-ing of the Church

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    PC prayers and hymns. Depressing.

    Soon, the word ‘sin’ will be avoided. You know, it might make somebody uncomfortable.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    PC prayers and hymns. Depressing.

    Soon, the word ‘sin’ will be avoided. You know, it might make somebody uncomfortable.

  • skeeter

    I have found no indication of this in Orthodoxy, although I am very new to it. As we move through the Great Lent, I am struck by the Prayer of St Ephram, which is prominent in the services and seems to strike to the heart of the indictment, at least for me.

    Oh Lord and Master of my life!
    Take from me the spirit of sloth,
    despair, lust of power and idle talk.
    (Prostration)
    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love
    to thy servant.
    (prostration)
    O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own
    transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.
    (Prostration)

    Not a lot of happy talk, but it strikes to the heart of my character defects. And the prostrations? Me and the Publican….

    I had not seen the Amazing Grace change – and hope I never do….

  • skeeter

    I have found no indication of this in Orthodoxy, although I am very new to it. As we move through the Great Lent, I am struck by the Prayer of St Ephram, which is prominent in the services and seems to strike to the heart of the indictment, at least for me.

    Oh Lord and Master of my life!
    Take from me the spirit of sloth,
    despair, lust of power and idle talk.
    (Prostration)
    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love
    to thy servant.
    (prostration)
    O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own
    transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.
    (Prostration)

    Not a lot of happy talk, but it strikes to the heart of my character defects. And the prostrations? Me and the Publican….

    I had not seen the Amazing Grace change – and hope I never do….

  • http://none Darrell

    Atually, it’s the other way around in my parish in Chicago. When “Amazing Grace” was first included in the 70′s, they went with the “saved and set me free” version. Yesterday I noticed I wasn’t the only one singing “wretch like me”–everyone was. I know I am not that persuasive.

  • http://none Darrell

    Atually, it’s the other way around in my parish in Chicago. When “Amazing Grace” was first included in the 70′s, they went with the “saved and set me free” version. Yesterday I noticed I wasn’t the only one singing “wretch like me”–everyone was. I know I am not that persuasive.

  • newton

    Thanks, Anchoress. Hymns like these have been changed in too many Mainline Protestant hymnbooks. In fact, in many churches like my own – a Baptist church, not less – the hymn book is being ditched for the PowerPoint projector and “worship” songs that really don’t fill.

    Sad.

  • newton

    Thanks, Anchoress. Hymns like these have been changed in too many Mainline Protestant hymnbooks. In fact, in many churches like my own – a Baptist church, not less – the hymn book is being ditched for the PowerPoint projector and “worship” songs that really don’t fill.

    Sad.

  • Jean

    Yesterday I was singing a familiar song when suddenly the words became “you do this and you do that” – and it was with a shock that I realized the “he” had been replaced by a completely incorrect pronoun, thus rendering the second part of the verses nonsensical. I guess what annoys me most is that the change actually shows that some people can’t handle the implied masculinity of God the Father.

  • Jean

    Yesterday I was singing a familiar song when suddenly the words became “you do this and you do that” – and it was with a shock that I realized the “he” had been replaced by a completely incorrect pronoun, thus rendering the second part of the verses nonsensical. I guess what annoys me most is that the change actually shows that some people can’t handle the implied masculinity of God the Father.

  • http://musing-minds.com/ Kimsch

    I always have a hard time when reciting the Lord’s Prayer (I always use the King James version) and the congregation is using a more “modern” version. It’s hard to recite King James when the rest of the crowd is saying something else…

  • http://musing-minds.com/ Kimsch

    I always have a hard time when reciting the Lord’s Prayer (I always use the King James version) and the congregation is using a more “modern” version. It’s hard to recite King James when the rest of the crowd is saying something else…

  • http://ohhowilovejesus.com Jeanette

    Amazing Grace was written by a man who had been a slave trader, so saying “a wretch like me” was very appropriate to him as well as to us.

    It is called the Baptist Anthem by many of us. Like newton, our Baptist church puts the songs up on large screens using PowerPoint, but we sing the old standbys. We have a second service for those who like popular Christian music. To each his own, but don’t change the words to such a beautiful hymn.

  • http://ohhowilovejesus.com Jeanette

    Amazing Grace was written by a man who had been a slave trader, so saying “a wretch like me” was very appropriate to him as well as to us.

    It is called the Baptist Anthem by many of us. Like newton, our Baptist church puts the songs up on large screens using PowerPoint, but we sing the old standbys. We have a second service for those who like popular Christian music. To each his own, but don’t change the words to such a beautiful hymn.

  • http://cowpi.com/journal/ Mark W.

    I agree with your point about the ridiculousness of some wanting to convert any negative wording into positive affirmations.

    But I believe there is much deeper theological point in rephrasing this particular song. It extends back to Martin Luther’s fundamental notion that man is basically a pile of “dung covered by snow”. In other words, man is excrement and that baptism covers us with a clean, white garment to cover up our sinful nature so that we can receive God’s good graces. As Catholics, we obvious do not agree with this fundamental nature of man.

    I believe this is what John Newton meant by “a wretch like me”.

    Personally, I love the melody of the song, especially with bagpipes, but this one phrase sticks in my throat. I have asked that this song not be played at my funeral because of it.

  • http://cowpi.com/journal/ Mark W.

    I agree with your point about the ridiculousness of some wanting to convert any negative wording into positive affirmations.

    But I believe there is much deeper theological point in rephrasing this particular song. It extends back to Martin Luther’s fundamental notion that man is basically a pile of “dung covered by snow”. In other words, man is excrement and that baptism covers us with a clean, white garment to cover up our sinful nature so that we can receive God’s good graces. As Catholics, we obvious do not agree with this fundamental nature of man.

    I believe this is what John Newton meant by “a wretch like me”.

    Personally, I love the melody of the song, especially with bagpipes, but this one phrase sticks in my throat. I have asked that this song not be played at my funeral because of it.

  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com/ benning

    Jeepers! Lets all be hap-hap-haooy! :D

    Changing the words in the Bible, for no other purpose than to alter the meaning – and making them be nicer is doing just that! – is heretical. How short-sighted the fools that do this are.

    “Well, Lord, you see what you said was just a bit too mean, y’know? So I just ‘lightened’ them up a bit. See? Isn’t that so much better, Lord?”

  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com/ benning

    Jeepers! Lets all be hap-hap-haooy! :D

    Changing the words in the Bible, for no other purpose than to alter the meaning – and making them be nicer is doing just that! – is heretical. How short-sighted the fools that do this are.

    “Well, Lord, you see what you said was just a bit too mean, y’know? So I just ‘lightened’ them up a bit. See? Isn’t that so much better, Lord?”

  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com/ benning

    My folks worship at a Presbyterian church. Very with-it church. When I noticed the changes in the hymns – I visit, now and then! – I simply sang the older words. And sang them LOUDLY, too. Hey, mess with the words, but don’t expect me to play the game.

    I like the pastor, but the denomination has gone far from Christ and into the social world. And messing with the hymns and Scriptures is simply the easiest to do.

  • http://benningswritingpad.blogspot.com/ benning

    My folks worship at a Presbyterian church. Very with-it church. When I noticed the changes in the hymns – I visit, now and then! – I simply sang the older words. And sang them LOUDLY, too. Hey, mess with the words, but don’t expect me to play the game.

    I like the pastor, but the denomination has gone far from Christ and into the social world. And messing with the hymns and Scriptures is simply the easiest to do.

  • Owen

    Whole thing just makes me want to wretch.

  • Owen

    Whole thing just makes me want to wretch.

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  • Bob Diethrich

    Madame: I saw that version printed in the Catholic Missalete (sp.) as early as 1983.

    That was also when my church had a feminist nun as a choir director, who told us what sexist words to change in the hymns when we practiced before Mass! No kidding!

  • Bob Diethrich

    Madame: I saw that version printed in the Catholic Missalete (sp.) as early as 1983.

    That was also when my church had a feminist nun as a choir director, who told us what sexist words to change in the hymns when we practiced before Mass! No kidding!

  • katherine

    Sometimes critics are a little too quick in complaining about the woes of the modern world and of “political correctness.”

    In truth, “Amazing Grace” was effectively banned from Catholic worship before the Vatican Council. (Not that you won’t find fantazing Catholics pleading ‘why can’t we sing old traditional hymns like that.’ Traditional maybe, but not your tradition if you are Catholic.)

    However, after the Council, the orthodoxy police decided that AG could be sung in Catholic worship but that the line in question (“saved a wretch like me”) suggested the Protestant doctrine of the utter depravity of Man. This was a no-no in those times of suspicion of all things ecumencial and it was insisted that the line be changed for Catholic worship.

    A little fact checking in the future might help.

  • katherine

    Sometimes critics are a little too quick in complaining about the woes of the modern world and of “political correctness.”

    In truth, “Amazing Grace” was effectively banned from Catholic worship before the Vatican Council. (Not that you won’t find fantazing Catholics pleading ‘why can’t we sing old traditional hymns like that.’ Traditional maybe, but not your tradition if you are Catholic.)

    However, after the Council, the orthodoxy police decided that AG could be sung in Catholic worship but that the line in question (“saved a wretch like me”) suggested the Protestant doctrine of the utter depravity of Man. This was a no-no in those times of suspicion of all things ecumencial and it was insisted that the line be changed for Catholic worship.

    A little fact checking in the future might help.

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