With Apologies to Charles Wesley
I hate hymns.
Okay, maybe I don’t hate hymns. I mean, we’ve learned some great ones of the years; classics. I can sing all verses to Amazing Grace and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. I’m sure Charles Wesley and John Newton were trailblazers in music for their time. Over the years those hymns have probably led more people to Jesus than I will ever know. With all that being said, I still hate hymns.
Now, you may be thinking, “Come on, those words and notes never did anything to you,” and you’d be right. In middle and high school I learned how to read music (pretty well I might add). I can follow a melody, watch the eighth notes fly by, and take breaths on the rests. No, no, no, those notes never did anything to me. In fact, over my formative years, those notes and words on the sheet of music became friends of mine, an escape from the craziness of being a teenager.
I think, in a way, that makes all of this a little harder. What was an escape, a respite, soon became a tool used against me in unimaginable ways. No, those notes never hurt me, but the people singing them sure did.
Okay, here’s some context: in 2017 my husband was sent to pastor a small Methodist church in rural Kentucky. We had just moved there from a church that… wasn’t the best. We looked forward to a fresh start, a clean slate, new people to minister to, lessons to teach, people to disciple, it was perfect! The church seemed eager to bring us in, and we were excited.
What seemed like a perfect situation turned to absolute hell in a matter of months.
The church was resistant to anything new. No, you can’t have contemporary music. No, you can’t hold a service in the fellowship hall. No, you shouldn’t display words to the songs on a screen. No, you can’t… you get the picture. Hymns, hymns, hymns. Resistance was everywhere, and it took a toll on my marriage, and my relationship with God.
The resistance culminated into a week that I won’t soon forget. It was a Wednesday evening, we had come out of a church meeting feeling completely defeated and deflated. During that meeting, we’d had fingers pointed at us, we were screamed at, told we didn’t care about the congregation. My heart rate started to go up, and my Apple Watch alerted me immediately. “That’s odd,” I thought to myself, as I usually keep calm in stressful situations. I didn’t think much more about it. We went home, looking forward to sleeping the memories of the stressful night away.
The next morning I woke up with horrible cramps all throughout my abdomen. I went to the bathroom and I noticed I’d started my period (sorry if that’s too much information!) I was in so much pain that I missed a day of work, which was unusual for me. Being a teacher, it’s hard to take off and write up sub plans quickly, but I had no choice. I couldn’t make it much further than the bathroom and there was no way I could teach like that.
I was able to return to work the next day, but not without running to the bathroom in between class periods. The pain kept on for the next few days, but I didn’t think anything about it; I thought it was just particularly bad period cramps. I could handle that.
As Sunday rolled around, I was still in pain. I didn’t go with my husband to church that morning, but told him I’d be there for Sunday evening service. It was April, and it was getting warm outside. The only comfortable clothes I had were some appropriately fingertip length shorts and a t-shirt. Knowing this church probably wouldn’t care that I wore fingertip length shorts to an evening service (that hardly anyone ever attended), where I sat in the back, I didn’t think much of it.
Until my husband was pulled aside by a… how should we say it… “passionate” church member saying that a husband should never let his wife dress like that. I was dressing like a whore (yes, that was the word she used), and needed to step up my game if I wanted to be the pastor's wife of that church. Hymns were still being sung in the sanctuary as we left. Like nothing had ever happened. I was livid. How dare she. Just… how dare she.
Needless to say, my husband handed in his resignation the next day.
Later, we found out that the pains I was having were not just period pains, it was a miscarriage. After struggling to get pregnant for a few years, I’d lost my first. By calculations, I was only about five weeks along; too early for me to realize that maybe I’d need to take a pregnancy test. Had the stress of the church and the meetings not happened, that tiny ball of cells would be turning 4 this year. I would be preparing my child for preschool, would be watching them discover the world.
Hymns aren’t bad, but to me they represent the system of church. I hate them because they remind me of the rigidness, the rules, the game of “playing church”. Any bad experience I’ve had with people in the church has been with people who insist it’s hymns or the highway. People who don’t understand change, and will run new pastors off without giving them a chance. Hymns represent to me the bitterness of an older generation. A generation whose concern isn’t for the dying outside the church, only the dying members in the church.
Jesus did not come to set up a system of church. He didn’t defeat hell and flip the world upside down so we could play this game and make old people feel comfortable in their pews until the nails on the coffin are hammered down. That’s not Jesus’ game plan. The Jesus I’ve met in the pages of the Bible was one who wanted to see the world changed, lives changed, systems of religion torn down. He was flipping tables in the temple, for crying out loud!
I’m tired of playing church. I’m tired of singing the hymns. I’m tired of bitterness. I’m tired of it all. I just want Jesus.
My apologies to Charles Wesley. You wrote some great hymns, I just don’t like what they’ve come to represent.