Cultivating an Ecclesiological Understanding: An Interview with C. Michael Hawn led by John Witvliet
An interview on the occasion of Michael Hawn's retirement from the Vital Worship Grants Board in May 2021.
John D. Witvliet: Well, greetings to everyone today. My name is John Witvliet from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and it is a great privilege today to be in conversation with a dear friend, long-time colleague Michael Hawn. Michael, here in May of 2021, we're having this conversation as you conclude a very fruitful term of service on our Vital Worship Grants board. I personally, of course, am grateful for so much more—collaborations in this field that go back 30 years, probably, related to trying to strengthen congregations for worship and the practice of church music, so pure joy for me to be in conversation with you today, Michael. Today, we're really interested in exploring a retrospective, a bird’s-eye view of practices of Christian worship and the network of support for pastoral musicians and other leaders that give shape to worship practices. So often we’re involved in day-to-day activities, but today we really have that chance to step back and reflect on the big picture. And I'd like to start, Michael, by asking you to reflect on a bit of your journey. It's taken you to several states, if I'm not mistaken—Iowa and Illinois early on, and most recently Texas and Virginia, but a lot of stops along the way. I wonder if you could give a give a brief sketch of how that journey has unfolded for you?
Michael Hawn: Well, I was raised in the Midwest. And so it's been kind of a surprise to me that I guess providence has taken me for the last fifty years to various parts of the South, starting with Louisville, Kentucky for ten years, Atlanta for a couple of years, North Carolina for ten years, and then finally Dallas for twenty-five. And now ending up, it looks like, in Richmond, Virginia. I would never have projected that particular path, but it's turned out to be very fruitful and helpful for me. I think the things that surprised me along the way were how I soon began to broaden my interests from the Western tradition to where Christians were doing beyond the West. And I can’t really account for that except for just a few seeds that were planted here and there that kind of came together and seemed to grow. The first, I think, was during doctoral work when I had a course in what we called back then systematic musicology, which turned out to be the seeds of ethnomusicology. And it was a very focused study on Japanese music, but that seemed to be kind of an inductive approach and opened up a whole range of things. Then kind of an interesting one that I thought of in preparing for this was it was actually the Psalter Hymnal in 1987 that piqued my interest specifically around congregational song, because that was the first hymnal that I saw that had quite a bit of bilingual work in it. Of course, that was soon followed by the United Methodist Hymnal in 1989 and the Presbyterian Hymnal in 1990 and then a whole host of others. But it was that initial one in the Psalter Hymnal that said, well, what are these pieces? Why are they here? Who should be singing them? What do they have to teach us that we need to know in our faith journey? So that was an interesting one. So I'll always thank Emily Brink for her work that she did there. And then I think the other thing was just my training as a music educator, and children's work specifically, especially at that time of my life, music education in general was moving toward more ethnic awareness, and putting some of these pieces together, I started to ask why shouldn't the church in its education of children and others move in that same direction? It started off to be kind of a multicultural exploration, which really I understood to be just the tip of the iceberg as we move toward much more liturgical concerns, cross-cultural interactions, what this meant for comparative liturgy, ethical concerns, all sorts of things theological that I didn't realize what I was getting into at the moment. I saw it as kind of a simple a simple educational enterprise. So these were some of the things that really influenced my development.
And then I happened to end up in places where that seemed to be at least potentially important, that they were open to this kind of discussion in certain kinds of institutions, and to have other kinds of opportunities. It also coincided with themes of theological education in the ’90s and especially the first decade of the 21st century around global theological education. And so I was able to be the beneficiary of various grants and other kinds of experiences where I could have more sustained experience in other cultural contexts, especially in congregations and educational institutions, and develop some mentors that were willing to take me on and listen to this white guy from Iowa and also let me listen to them.
So I realized that this was a much more involved exploration. It was changing my idea of what the church was about, an ecclesiological understanding. And it helped me understand that the use of this music and liturgy was much more than just sort of an adornment or a fad, that something more was there. And then gradually, of course, it made me aware of myself and who I was. It’s a little bit like studying a language. You don't understand your home language, your mother tongue, until you really start to study other languages. And I think there was a sense of self-exploration. Who am I as this white guy from Iowa—at that point a relatively vanilla state. Who am I in terms of culture and experience? Coming into contact with others made a big difference. So I think maybe the biggest awareness of all this was that I and my experience as a white male in the dominant middle-class kind of culture was not the center of the universe, and that Christianity in general and the way we worship was being influenced much more by what we used to call the Third World—the Global South now. So that’s in a nutshell the experiences that are still shaping me.
Teacher and Learner
John Witvliet: It occurs to me as I as I hear you, Michael, that for these years you’ve modeled for your students and for many of us this posture of being a learner. And there are many people who teach and work in this field who very much aspire to be a teacher. It’s quite a beautiful thing to be a teacher by being a learner and by showing us what you’ve been learning along the way. I’m wondering if there would be one or two of these global mentoring experiences that you have had that really stand out, where you find yourself challenged and pushed by someone who lived and grew up in an entirely different part of the world that really has left an impression on you and made a difference in how you’ve approached your teaching.
Michael Hawn: Connecting with what you just said, perhaps the ongoing biggest revelation, the most ongoing one that I still work with, is being raised as someone who’s supposed to be the expert assuming a much more vulnerable posture and being the listener. I can’t say that I’ve gotten that down, but it’s more of a natural place to be—by far—than it used to be. And especially when you go into situations—and I’m sure you have this yourself—where because of where you’ve been and where you come from, people assume you’re going to be the expert. And so it takes a lot of practice to assume that. And these mentors that I had, especially the primary ones like Simei Monteiro in Brazil, I-to Loh in Taiwan, Pablo Sosa in Argentina, John Bell in his own way, they were great because they didn’t allow me to settle into that “expert” thing. They were they were very quick in good ways and generous ways to help me become a learner and listener and a questioner of my own assumptions, as unfounded as they were, as I came to realize. And also that learning was much more than what I could find in books. There’s a tendency, even as a musician and a performing musician, to rely a whole lot on what’s written about music, but moving to the experience itself and struggling to reproduce that experience as part of your training. So I think one one place that was extremely formative for me was when I was—I think my first extended experience was in Nigeria a little over thirty years ago for six months in a Baptist seminary. And I had . . . sought the advice of Mary Oyer, who is still with us in her 90s. I said, how should I make the best use of this time? And Mary said, very quickly, “Study a traditional instrument, read—don't worry about the histories; read novels, plays, those kinds of things—and then just enter into worship regardless if you know what's going on or not.” And so that was really the best advice I could have experienced. So I sought out in that particular culture a talking drum instructor, Michael Olangewaru. I can still remember Michael. One of the students in my class, and he thought it was a little weird to be my teacher, but he soon got over it. And so I had this talking drum that I purchased. And it’s dependent upon knowing the accents and the tones of your language as to how to communicate. So he proceeded to teach me several proverbs that could be used in the Christian community. And in the course of our discussion, various parts of his pedagogy opened up a whole different understanding of music. And among those things, he would say, well, if you're not going to dance and you’re not going to play drums, and why do you even bother to sing? Which became a sort of a mantra for my life in many ways. And so I never became an expert talking drum player by any stretch, but at least I learned a different system and one that was totally aural and a different kind of pedagogy. So that, I think, had a profound influence. The other one—there are several, but I’m thinking specifically of being with Pablo Sosa, who recently passed away in the last couple of years in Argentina, for a few weeks. Pablo was very direct, and he treated me as his own student. And his pedagogy was pretty direct. . . .
In the United States we oftentimes have to be a little careful with students so we don't hurt their feelings. Well, Pablo cared very much and he asked many good questions. But on the other hand, if he didn't think I was doing it right, he said, “You could do that better.” But then at the same time, he put me in contact with people in his situation that I was able to talk to, and then through trial and error gave me at least I felt like I was moving in the right direction. I remember when Pablo was part of the Worship Symposium . . . was it around 2003 or 2004? I was introducing one of his songs, and even then he was helping me with the tempo to make sure I slowed down or did this or that, which I came to really respect. So those are the kinds of experiences that were very helpful.
John Witvliet: Wonderful, wonderful. It strikes me—along the way, so many remarkable people really that stand out in these personal relationships that are so beautiful crossing cultures.
Michael Hawn: I had to say it and acknowledge up front that the privilege that I've had that many people would not have to be in those contexts has to be acknowledged. I think the technology is such now that one doesn't have to have exactly those kinds of encounters because you can get some very similar experiences. But I have to be really honest that there was a privilege that's associated with that even as a learner, to be able to have the resources to be there, the time, the connection, the flexibility with my family, and all sorts of levels that I don't think are afforded many people. So it’s pretty important to mention that.
Vital Worship Grants Board
John Witvliet: Yeah, beautiful. In light of this, Michael, let’s talk for a bit, if it’s OK, about the grants board work we’ve shared over the past twenty or so years. Along the way here it occurs to me that you’ve read probably like two thousand proposals—many, many, many, many proposals. And what stands out to you as you think back on engaging these proposals? It’s a different window into worshiping communities than we might receive from some other sources, and I’d love your reflections on that process.
Michael Hawn: You know, the thing that is most basic that I think I realize out of this that I hadn’t thought of just as a student of worship or a studier of worship or writing on worship or various aspects of it was (that) it’s the inherent desire and motivation to worship the Creator. Those seem to be underlying virtually all of these. Why do people go to this effort? It’s not an easy process. And while the money is helpful, it’s not a great amount of money. There’s something else going on there. And without getting into the technicalities of what worship is better or less better or whatever, it’s just that inherent desire that I hadn’t thought of that is part of our DNA. And to see that manifest in grant proposal after grant proposal coming from all sorts of different directions. I think that the beauty of the worship grants program is that, when given an opportunity to stop and reflect and think creatively about what could be, not just what is, how many people want to seize upon that and somehow pull that into already very busy schedules, very demanding lives and ministry, or other facets, because it’s not always the staff that take the leadership and these proposals; it’s the laypersons. And it’s in spite of so many thorny issues and the pitfalls and complexity that surrounds worship, that they still want to reach out and get some deeper understanding of the mystery, the basic, ineffable nature of worship, and somehow do it better, whatever that means, or be more faithful, be more authentic. So every proposal, even if it’s not my cup of tea or it’s got various kinds of problems, I think what I realized is that this comes out of . . . an innate desire to be in relationship with the Creator. And I’m not sure I would have grasped that in such an efficient way because of the way the grants would come to us. So I think that’s the first thing. I think the various themes that seem to permeate throughout the years, while always present, some seem to bunch up more than others. For example, the questions they ask, the same questions I would ask maybe from a different angle, but still, they’re there. Do I want to understand the psalms better, for example, and how they articulate praise, lament, hope? Well, yes. Do I want to understand the arts and how they express in a liturgy what words alone cannot express? Yes. Do I want to understand various cultural perspectives and how they contribute to my understanding of who I am and to the church in a more universal nature? Yes. Those are some of the things that— more recently, do I want to understand how worship can bring healing and wholeness to a community. We keep getting a variety of proposals, but those are some of the themes that bunch up. And I want to know those things, too. So I think those have been some of the key issues that have been very helpful to me out of the grant proposals.
John Witvliet: Yeah, very good. And then, of course, we’ve had the privilege of funding a good percentage of them, roughly half over the many years that have come in. There are always proposals that we wish we could fund but that we can’t in a given year. There’s a limit on that. But what remarkable people we’ve met along the way, from the projects that we’ve been able to fund. And I think of the joys of meeting them at grants events and or engaging with them. Are there particular encounters, projects, or common themes when you think about these project directors that we’ve met that stand out to you?
Michael Hawn: Well, the grants colloquium, I think itself is one of the most creative and engaging environments. It’s structured, but it’s open; it’s compact, but it’s pregnant with ideas that’ll carry on, and it allows voices to come to the surface. I always leave those events just really inspired by the enthusiasm and openness to learning that the grant recipients come and they bring to the event. One of the things that I really don’t detect in those which you often find in other kinds of professional meetings is I really don’t sense posturing, like, I’m here to promote myself, I’m here to do that or whatever, which in our professional mien can come through once in a while a little bit. These folks have moved well beyond that. And then whether it’s a Pentecostal at the table with the Roman Catholic, these things, while not falling away, don’t become the centerpiece of the conversation, and listening takes place, and I think there’s relatively few venues for that kind of exploration. The same thing’s true of the increasing diversity culturally among the groups and the various perspectives that are brought. A lot of folks don’t have the privileges that we do of a fairly regular cross-cultural interaction around these kind of issues. I’m always loving the—I don’t know how far they go back now, but maybe a decade or more—the posterboard presentations. I see those as kind of icons into a community and its witness, and then an icon into to not just what is, but what might become what this community might be. So like the Orthodox icons, a window into the soul of that community, and then having folks explain those and talk to us about them, again, it’s just unbelievably contagious. And they’re so pleased that you’re interested! They just can’t wait to tell the story. They’re liturgical evangelists in the best sense. So I think those are some of the things. And then, of course, I think the whole Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to network in ways that I’m sure are beyond what you ever even dreamed of initially, John, in the formation of it. And that networking is complex, it’s deep, it’s broad, and I think it’s a contagious thing. Once you get the spirit of networking, you don’t want to let it go. You realize that I cannot do this alone. It’s only in community that these things happen. So I hope that goes to the heart of that question.
John Witvliet: Yeah, thanks. Meanwhile, Michael, all these years you’ve been teaching, and not just teaching, but designing curriculum and in fact entire new programs. Could you say a little bit about how this grants program has influenced you as a teacher?
Michael Hawn: I think it’s grounded me in reality. Rather than always carefully formed documents or treatises or various kinds of statements or even worship in a seminary community, which is a different kind of animal, and I think it should be unusual to meet the needs of that community. But there’s a different feeling about that as opposed to what happens on a weekly basis. I think it’s helped me broaden my sense of the resources that I take in. When I was trained in worship, we were basically working with historical documents, denominational differences, sort of what I would consider now a thin biblical pretext, and the beginnings of more liturgical theology, but now through the tools we have to work with—and I must put in a plug for my colleagues on the advisory board and how they keep bringing these to bear as they come on the board with their experiences and more recent methodologies—I realize that the lenses we have to work with are so much broader, be they ritual studies, sociological lenses, ethnographic, ethnomusicology, liturgical theology, all of those coming to bear on how we look into the core of that worship experience. I think another thing—two things—moving away from just the deductive teaching practice to a much more inductive approach and balancing the two. So looking at a specific community and what that can teach us, or several in sequence, as opposed to “Here are the principles of worship. Now see if you can fit your community into it.” So inductive teaching has become more important. Most recently—part of this is because it’s doctoral work—I’m lecturing relatively little, and I’m much more setting the stage through readings and other kinds of interactions for focused, shared experiences by students and guiding them, because in this particular case what I’m doing is the students have at least ten or twenty years of experience and it’s helping to create conversations about those, and then I can pick certain aspects out of it. I think I could have been doing more of that a lot earlier, even with less experienced students. So realizing that the textbook is the community itself and the people who are presiding in that community is just as important a textbook as the other “official” text that I might write or we might read. And then bringing them into contact through media and visits and various things like that with others who are lifting up certain aspects, whether it be intentional communities like . . . Iona, or paperless music teaching, or whatever. I think the final thing is trying to make sure what we talk about is situated and rooted in their specific communities where they come from. So one of the things that I really have enjoyed and expanded upon is taking an old structure like daily prayer: what would that look like if you situate it in Jacksonville, Florida, where there's just been a police shooting? Or there's going to be capital punishment that's going to take place: how could you take that daily prayer into that community, paperless, and use that structure to somehow give voice to that community. I found that to be extremely powerful. The skills that come from that just evolve naturally as opposed to “Now we're going to learn how to teach paperless song. Now we’re going to learn how to write liturgy.” And then the reflections from each other . . . I would say that the grants proposals in that experience have been part of a bigger package that has had a direct influence on that kind of thinking.
John Witvliet: Yeah, thank you. Inspiring. It makes me think again of the opportunity we’ve had in the past few years to add to our congregational grants that we’ve given these grants to teacher-scholars, a relatively new piece of our grantmaking. Could you say a little bit about how you see those two kinds of grantmaking working together? What’s been your experience of that newer wrinkle in our work together and what we can learn from it going forward?
Michael Hawn: I think the first thing that’s been very clear is I don’t think our group or the Institute has seen these as hierarchical—“Oh, now we can really add what's important.” We’re all looking inside here to figure out what this mystery is, and some of us do that for a living in different ways. I think the intentionality of the teacher-scholar grants to bring other disciplines into the conversation is extremely important, and the application of those methodologies very directly with people who have a background to do that. And then seeing what I think over time—we're so new at this, but I think what over time is in the grants colloquium, little by little those are going to come together. They already are in table conversations and things of that nature. Probably, my guess is that the teacher scholars are learning more from the others, which I think probably should be the dominant posture in that particular situation, because they, like myself, need that kind of contact when they’re working with people who aren’t their direct students, but are still very engaged. But at the same time, learning how to communicate the essence of what may be very technical in some form that is not just manageable, but helpful to someone else—I think it was Jerome Bruner who said that if you can't teach a complex idea in some form in a simple way, you really haven’t got a hold of it. And I think that's very much what the coming together as a reader of the grants adds wonderful variety to the work. But I can't prioritize one over the other. They’re both sides of the same coin, and if I took one away now, it would not feel whole.
John Witvliet: That's been a dream come true to see this kind of interaction. We're so grateful to you for all the proposals that that you’ve read and the experiences we’ve shared along the way. I would also like today to back up and even think about a bigger picture and really have a bit of conversation about, oh, let's call it the global worship ecology. That's an interesting metaphor to think ecologically. And in that metaphor is this idea that everything does affect everything else. You know, there are places where the ecology is strained and places where it’s healthy. And so when you think about the kind of worship ecology of worship practices in the Christian church globally, what are some of the things that excite you, and what are some of the things that concern you?
Michael Hawn: Well, I'm pretty excited especially with the skill set, and I mean that in a very broad range, with what I see young people bringing to the discussion. By “skill set” I would say their level of spirituality just again, inherent, but also very specific skills, whether it's technology or interpersonal relationships or pulling together of various fields, and their desire to worship in an extremely complex situation. I believe that what we've been through in the last couple of years, actually, while extremely not just difficult, but devastating in many ways, the positive side of that is maybe it's moved us ahead about ten years to do what we already need to be doing. I’m just thinking of a couple of my close friends here in the Richmond area who are coming to the end of a forty-year-plus tenures in music ministry. And we’ve been talking and they’re having to think about how to turn over these positions in congregations that shouldn’t hire the same people like them because it’s going to be a very different world. So our discussions are how can they prepare their congregations to not get a clone of them, because it won’t work, but to find who they are and what the music and arts ministry needs in that church and in the community and find the right kind of facilitator leader, accompany her on the journey to do that. So I think those people are out there. They’re not being trained in the traditional way. Some of them come through programs like I’ve given myself to for the last forty years. But that’s not the only way. And even at its height, those programs didn’t produce the majority of people out there doing this in churches. I don’t want to minimize the importance of those people, but there’s a lot of ways the Spirit works. So I think the increase of awareness of worship beyond the “11-to-12 gathered hour,” the idea of the sacramental life, issues of worship and justice, to carry what you meant in your ecology in the more literal use of the term, worship and creation and ecology, the balance between our worship to God and our love of neighbor, and how those two come together.
Right now one of my little soapboxes is we’re really good about singing our love of God, but not so good about singing our love of neighbor. And if you were to analyze in any style of music or worship, it’s going to be a pretty high percentage of one and a pretty low percentage of the other. And I don’t see those two in the gospels as they’re discussed to be one or the other, but they're integral. So I think I think those are some of the issues. The ethics of worship, I think, are much more at the center of my thinking and I think the thinking of others: Who’s presiding? Who’s visible? Who has a voice? Not just making assumptions without asking those kind of things. My concerns I think range, but one of them is in many communities, and this goes across mainline church and evangelicals especially, substituting the act of preaching for the whole worship experience. I’m not denying the importance of the preached Word, but in many communities, the time for worship is the same, but the time allotted to the preached Word, or substituting Bible study for worship has increased. And I see this across the board, especially among Protestant congregations. This bothers me a little bit because I think we’re shortchanging ourselves in terms of the diet that it takes to maintain a healthy, worshiping human being and community.
Another thing that I’m concerned about, or at least I hope will change, is a closer examination of how the Christian community expresses its worship in relationship to the pluralistic worshiping communities and other traditions—setting up context of discussion, dialogue, openness to how a Creator is manifest in perhaps in a variety of ways, even ways that I might not understand or perhaps initially don't agree with, not as a matter of conversion, but as a matter of understanding, again, that innate drive to worship. I think that's something I would like to see a lot more discussion on. I think those are, I guess, a couple of the big issues in the broader ecology. We’ve got a lot of work to do, of course, around the balance between a cultural cohesiveness, on the one hand, that allows a group to have a common gathered worship experience, but a cultural openness, on the other hand, that allows us to experience the spirit in different ways. I think in many ways, we have the potential, with the technology and things that are available to us, to experience a kind of second Pentecost. But that’s a little scary for a lot of us, and so there’s a retreat to a kind of a tribalism if we aren’t careful. So overall, I’m encouraged. And I think the folks coming along that are taking this field seriously and ministry seriously, there’s a lot of gifts there to bring discernment to the process.
John Witvliet: One of the things that strikes me as I think about your own contributions, Michael, too, are just all the different kinds of institutions that support worship, and that also promote particular approaches to worship, and I think what key roles publishing companies have had, denominational offices, groups, task forces or other ways of convening people. There are, of course, influential congregation leaders that are part of this, professional organizations, including several that you and I belong to, Facebook groups and other social media connections, training programs out there. And then, of course, colleges, seminaries and divinity schools, the ones you’ve taught at and others. Each one of these play such key roles. But now, if you were to think of your students, how would you advise them? Where would you encourage them to invest in the institutions that help support and promote and encourage? What reflections do you have about those different, really complementary institutions?
Michael Hawn: Since I’ve dealt over forty years with persons who have gone through the theological institutions, I would say first that they should they should bring their current experience to bear in conversations, to be constantly reforming the curriculum and to be examining what—it’s very easy to become just sort of classic ruts of theological reflection—and to keep those voices active. I think a lot of theological institutions are realizing, for example, that the classic MDiv is not the primary bread and butter it used to be. And that means that a variety of programs from certificates to other kinds of even non-ordained programs open up the possibilities to draw people into the conversation—and those are not lesser voices, but other voices. As a person that has had the privilege of being—probably pretty rare—in three different institutions on a church music faculty, which is less and less common, I’ve always had a sense of struggling to make sure that voice was heard as a legitimate voice and not a lesser. But I think this is even a broader discussion.
The second thing I’ve noticed is, I think, finding a community. You can have a sustained relationship with outside the one that’s the focus of your ministry that really brings to bear things you can’t experience in your community. That may be a theological perspective. It may be a socioeconomic group or a cultural perspective. Find a way to be a participant in a community that is antithetical in in so many ways to yours, but still sharpens your perception of who you are. It’s very difficult. As a musician, I’ve told students for decades now that it only takes about three years for a choir to take on your personality. And that is both the not-so-attractive aspects and the attractive. Now, what happens with a lot of choirs is they figure out—I’ll just use myself as an example. This guy can’t line up a choir, so we’re going to find someone to do that on Sunday morning because he couldn’t organize a straight line. . . . That’s a simplistic thing, but you know what I mean. They start to fill in our gaps, assuming we don’t have too many foibles. So I think it’s important we put ourselves in situations, other communities that kind of expose us to other ways of doing. And I think a third thing was—and pastors often would do this, but musicians and those that deal with arts maybe have been more reticent to do this, and that is engage in some aspect within the larger community that isn’t ostensibly there as Christian. What do you have to contribute, and what do the gifts of the people in your congregation have to contribute to that community that they need, that goes beyond your label as a minister? That’s a little frightening, because you take away our music stand, our organ, our choir and a lot of us get pretty nervous. But I think it’s that kind of vulnerability that would be helpful. I understand the support and appreciate the work of a lot of denominational music, church music organizations. And I’ve been the beneficiary of being in a whole slew of those over the years across the spectrum, as well as a guest and really enjoy them. I’m not sure they’re going to be where the action is in the future. I’m not saying don’t participate, but don’t participate in in the sense that you can’t invest in some other kinds of groups, especially ones that test your mettle, make you a little bit more uncomfortable so you can find out who you are and what other people are thinking. There’s others, but I think I’ll leave it at that.
John Witvliet: Thank you so much. Very, very wise. And I appreciate the chance to think with you, too, about this larger context. And I’m so grateful for the different entities that are out there and the way we’ve connected through several of them. And the grants program is just one more in a long list of institutions and one of the key pieces of learning for me. You’ve stressed that none of us in any of these institutions has a complete picture, but we start adding up the composite view that we get from many different perspectives, we start seeing more deeply into all of it. Before we close, I’d love to ask you about some of your continuing work. I love reading your hymn histories that appear online, for example; they’re one of my favorites. I wonder if you could say a bit about that and some things that you are continuing to be involved with.
Michael Hawn: Well, reinventing oneself in retirement is a vocation in and of itself, you know, and it’s different for every person. I took the advice of someone back about ten years ago and started thinking about it and just asking, what would a good day look like in retirement? Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be a day where I sat around and watched TV. And so, as you can tell by the backdrop, this is where I’ll spend six to eight hours a day. It depends on the day. And if I don’t want to, I don’t have to. So I found in my particular case, I’ve never been one for what would be called recognizable hobbies. I think part of that is—some people call it workaholic; I just say, well, my so much of what I’ve done is my hobby, and I’ve decided I’m not going to feel guilty that I don’t also do woodworking or something like that. But basically my time now is spent working with this sort of coda to my teaching career with a doctoral program, and I don’t use the word lightly, but it’s unique in that there’s no other of this kind of a DMin for church musicians and doctor of pastoral music. And it’s been a dream for some time. Getting that off the ground and in preparing it in such a way that I can pass it on in a sustainable form. But I’m learning a lot from the students, and it keeps me in contact with current practices, especially over the last year and a half or so where these people have been on the cutting edge in all of the United States and in Asia especially, and how they’ve worked to facilitate and engage people in worship during the pandemic, and to have an open and ready conversation spaces. I’m learning and enjoying the various skills of working with people who come to this point in their vocation, and they want more. They know that the skills that they acquired somewhere between ten and twenty years ago are not going to carry them the rest of the way without reflection. And so I don’t have all the answers, but I do have the privilege of creating the space in which we can ask the questions and that has been great. Everything from working with people who are really good at what they do, but they spend a lot more time in the practice room throughout their bachelor’s and master’s than in the library, and now developing those skills a little bit more. And actually they’re really ready for it. And it’s not just a writing exercise, but learning how to articulate and hopefully reinvent the vocation after we collect about ten or twenty theses, this is what it might start to look like in a new way. So that’s the number-one thing right now.
The other thing is in terms of writing bite-size pieces, somewhere between a thousand and sometimes three thousand words when I get carried away, on very specific congregational songs, historically, globally, current, whatever, and looking at them as someone’s witness at some place and time, and how does that witness—not only do I find out its historical origins, but that's just the beginning. What was the truth that they were communicating, and why should it have meaning today? And then chasing some rabbits that I didn't get to chase before that lead to someplace. And that’s a real privilege and a luxury to do that in a couple of different forms. The only the other thing is I’m trying to finish up the third edition, it’s actually going to be a new book, a hymnology text called Sing with Understanding that was last published in 1995, and my life and the life of my co-contributors has made it so that it’s getting plenty of time to germinate. But I hope it’s going to be helpful. Rather than a straight historical approach, it’s going to be a modified systematic theology through hymnody. It’s a methodology that hasn’t really been tried. And I wanted to see if I could do something that would cause us to look at the field in a way that we would normally access it. We don’t usually wake up on Saturday night saying, “Oh, darn, I’ve not done an 18th-century hymn for a while!” Nothing wrong with the historical arc, and I want to maintain that to some degree. But what is the difference between that approach and looking at the topical index in the back of a hymnal and realizing that those do not all plug into that topic in the same way; there are shades of difference. What is that? So that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to start the conversation on, and hopefully in the next couple of years, it’ll be there. It’s going to have both an equal online component as well as the text. So that's been pretty exciting to think about.
John Witvliet: Michael Hawn, all of us at Calvin are profoundly grateful for your service on the grants board for the past twenty years, and all of us are profoundly grateful for your contributions as a teacher, scholar, mentor, friend, encourager, cheerleader, a source of great wisdom. And we are very grateful as we think back, but we’re also very excited as we look ahead to reading that book and your ongoing columns and learning from your students going forward too. So thank you so, so much.
Michael Hawn: Thank you for the privilege of being a part of this wonderful experiment. It really has been a real gift in my life.
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