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Hallo again to all.

We've had an odd sort of mental occluded front, if you will, this last week, with two very different 'mind worms', as they are rather disgustingly called, running through our head. On one hand was the first stanza of the eminently Victorian poem by Arthur Hugh Clough, Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth: Arthur hugh Clough (drawing by Samuel Rowse)

Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not nor faileth,
And as things have been, things remain;

On the other hand were a few lines from Psalm 23, which we heard recently in a hip hop mass, translated into the vernacular of the street:

And even though I walk through
the Hood of death,
I don't back down
for you have my back.

Official HipHopEMass cardThe first is a late 19th-century poem written within the constraints of rhyme and metre and the second a 21st-century translation of a Hebrew song. A chasm of culture and nearly 150 years separate the language of each. And yet both are true to their time and are authentic in their expressions. Is one 'better'? It all depends on what one considers their purpose. We'll admit a strong predilection for Victorian verse over hip hop, but that's owing to our education, our cultural background, and the era in which we were born.

In Anglican liturgy, Victorian texts edge out street vernacular, we suspect. Is that a good or bad thing? We're not sure. We know what we like, but it's an enormous mistake, we believe, to identify our prejudices with what pleases God. If words and music in our liturgy are to be understanded of the people -- our Anglican heritage -- we wonder if there are times when our words leave the plebs sancta Dei behind.

But stop! Before you write a Letter to the Editor, we do indeed understand the point of view that the strangeness and mystery of traditional Anglican liturgy can be a strong pull for a person experiencing our forms of worship for the first time. And we've certainly heard young people claim that Elizabethan language was an alluring aspect of an Anglican service. But if, for others, the usual language of Anglican liturgy and music is off-putting or even foreboding, how do we entice them into the beauty and richness of our worship? The bravura attempt of a now-reborn-once-dying Episcopal parish in greater New York City to evangelise to its parish neighbourhood led to the development of a hip hop mass. Happily, this bears no resemblance to the squirm-making folk and rock masses of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but is rather an attempt to take the liturgy in its entirety and translate it into a language understood by the people: the people of that place and this time. Whether one finds this laudable or execrable will depend a great deal on how one views the point and purpose of a parish church. We applaud the bravery and salute the attempt.

We found it fascinating to learn that some of the young people who were drawn into that Bronx church because of hip hop are now sampling services beyond that. Having heard the traditional chanting of the Gospel paired with the rhythmic and plaintive sound of an electric guitar accompaniment, they're now curious to experience the 'original' setting of a chanted Gospel. That seems perfectly Anglican: both/and rather than either/or in the same parish church.

If hip hop can be a possible portal to Arthur Hugh Clough, just think what other liturgical pairings are conceivable. And if the desire to advance the kingdom of heaven is behind all that we attempt and all that we try, anything is possible. Say not the struggle nought availeth.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 5 June 2005

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