Monday, September 10, 2007

Genre and the Decalogue

My favorite seminary president preached last night about the difficulty of applying the prohibition of using the Lord's name in vain. Difficult? You bet; it's not just the "true oaths," but also minced oaths ("gosh darn it" & such) and even....

....literary forms used in a wildly improper manner. No kidding; Dr. Bauder recited a number of limericks, and explained the form to the congregation. AABBA rhyme scheme, short lines, and an element of absurdity. Believe it or not, obscenity is NOT central to this form--I teased him, though, about reciting ALL of the clean limericks known to man. (He said there were even more.)

He then recited a number of poems with AABBA rhyme scheme talking about salvation, the goodness of God, and other Biblical topics--and made the claim that by using the inherently absurd genre for eminently serious topics, those who would use the limerick to talk of God's grace are using His name in vain.

Troubling, but true, I think; perhaps we need to confront ourselves in how we put Scripture to music and verse, and see if the form we've chosen is appropriate to our topic. If we do this, I dare suggest we'll be able to reach out to the lost more effectively, too.


pentamom said...

I'm not disagreeing, and I think my question might be on a different level than the point you're making, but...

would an AABBA rhyme scheme (along with the meters and syllabic counts that are inherent to limericks -- you can have a very dignified sort of AABBA after all) be inappropriate in another language, in a culture where the limerick form doesn't exist and isn't associated with silly/bawdy doggerel?

That's not to undermine the point that for English speakers, the limerick form just isn't going to appropriately convey the holy sorts of things you're talking about without undermining the depth and seriousness of the message. But I wonder how deep and inherent the form/subject matter relationship is, or whether it's more a matter of associations, and can be flexible over time, space, and culture. I don't have the answer.

Bike Bubba said...

I would tend to think that the form, while not necessarily flippant, would almost necessarily be lighthearted due to the rhyme and rhythm inherent to it. So I'd think that no matter where you are, it wouldn't be well suited to serious and weighty topics.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't see the steps that lead to the conclusion about the limmerick form's proposed status. I would never rule out simple rhyme and meter like its to teach an abbreviated form of catechism to primary grade students.

Simple melodies like London Bridge can be powerful memory aids. I'm reminded of Augustine of Hippo who cited an overheard children's song with a refrain of "tolle lege, tolle lege" (Latin for "take and read, take and read") that was a part of his spark of salvation, turning him to look seriously at scripture for the first time as an adult.

I don't think I buy Dr. Bauder's definition of absurd. Perhaps banal or mundane are better candidates for the term. But given that, how does he feel about worship being conducted in the common vernacular? Shouldn't it be held in a language more reserved for lofty things? (Sorry, I don't mean to sound snotty.)

-Monkey Brad (Infinite Monkeys)

Bike Bubba said...

Brad, it comes down to the difference, more or less, between "simple" and "silly". Simple verse--you bet we can and should use it. Silly or absurd verse--well, wait a minute, let's not forget that the genre sets a mood here.

To draw a picture, I once had a friend who told about the abortion of his first child in the form of a joke--it took me a second to realize that he was talking about an immense tragedy, not anything worth laughing about.

Think it was an accident that he hid his deed in this form?