A music student in Washington D.C. is singing in the subway. Beautifully. I heard him on NPR singing “In Dulci Jubilo,” a Medieval German carol translated by J. M. Neale to be the well-loved carol, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”
This carol typifies one of the areas of controversy in church music (and yes, there are quite a few areas of controversy). Should the words of hymns be changed to be inclusive? After all, this song was calling good Christian men to rejoice only because the women, being utterly unimportant, did not enter the writer’s head. If you read the Bible, you may be astonished to notice how frequently, and how atypically for the cultures of the times of its writing, women are mentioned. Women are cited by name and treated as of equal importance repeatedly in situations in which one would have expected only men to be mentioned. So why, the argument goes, seeing that God clearly cares about the women too, should we allow a medieval hymn-writer and a Victorian translator to cause us to behave as though we want the men to rejoice, and the women to go do the dishes?
In this song, there are quite a few good options, too. We can sing, as the Presbyterian hymnal does, “Good Christian friends, rejoice.” If that seems a little twee to us, we can say “Good Christians now rejoice” or “Good Christians all rejoice,” both of which scan and make sense. Later, the line “man is blessed” can be changed without loss of musicality or sense to “We are blessed.” I see absolutely no reason not to change this one.
In “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” you may have trouble changing “Pleased as man with man to dwell” into something inclusive, but it seems to me that people who resist the change for “In Dulci Jubilo” (including our choir director) are betraying sexism as well as unreasonable resistance to change. What do you think?
In any case, #2 daughter is coming home today, so I am rejoicing. I finished shopping for things to put in stockings (I started at the health food co-op, but had to be realistic and go to Target, where the staff appeared to have been up all night drinking coffee, and the woman who checked me out told me, at 8:00 am, to “have a nice night”), and have decided on the menu for the Christmas Eve feast — the reveillon. We can all rejoice in our salvation, of course, as the song intended, but there is room for rejoicing over worldly things as well.