PSA: How to Read a Hymnal

A helpful post for churchgoers like me, who have had the experience of opening a hymnal, feeling a bit lost, and looking around surreptitiously to see how everyone else is doing it. Hopefully, next Sunday everyone can join the chorus of worshipers with confidence!

citizens & sons

I attend Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (aka John MacArthur’s church).  Recently, my church unveiled a new hymnal.  I’ve met a great number of people who had never opened a hymnal before coming to Grace.  There was one time I was having a conversation with a worship leader and mentioned that I sometimes followed the bass line of the four part harmony.  When he said he’d never noticed more than two voices in a hymnal, we realized he’d never noticed that there was music written BELOW the words as well as above them.  As a result, I figured I’d put together this guide to help understand hymnals.

A hymnal is a book of hymns.  Unlike a powerpoint slide, it shows you musical notation to help you follow the song.  This is the hymnal’s greatest quality, and one of several reasons using powerpoint instead of a hymnal is like playing…

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was a literary display of fine art, Singaporean cuisine, pure cut diamonds, and fashion obsessions. I was simply blown away by pages and pages of high society descriptions. The reader gets taken along on a tram car tour through the world of crazy rich Asians. Paragraph after paragraph is dedicated to making sure we know the latest fashions, the oldest mansions, the biggest jewels. Along the way, Kwan has just enough time to give a sidelong glance at the characters, personality development, and plot.

That’s right; I got the distinctive feeling that the story-line took a backseat during this book. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with that. Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young have a romance thing going, and there’s nothing particularly special about the plot of an average girl suddenly finding out that her boyfriend is filthy rich. The scornful mother-in-law and high-society gals who want Nick for themselves also make an appearance as appropriately cliche elements of the story. The development of their relationship is fine. They run across some obstacles. Rachel has some monologue time to help her deal with the bombardment of dazzling riches that belong to Nick. Jealous girls plot; Nick’s mother seethes; a kind friend gives advice; the couple ultimately shows that their love is stronger than, well, everything else. Classic stuff.

I believe some readers even found this disappointing – no proper closure, no real character development. We don’t really see the characters doing much of anything. But I thought it refreshing. The author is absolutely unapologetic about using the medium of the novel to let us take a peek into the lives of rich people. It’s not about reaching the climax of the story, people. It’s about oohing and aah-ing at the glamour and splendor of it all. It’s about having a good laugh together about the ridiculously shallow nature of this miniature society.

Reminds of the feels I had when I watched this:

mean girls
From Mean Girls. Image taken from eonline.com

In any case, to me at least, the story and the characters weren’t really the point of this whole book at all.

First off, Kwan spends much more time and effort sculpting the descriptions of the characters’ designer dresses and brand-name handbags, than he does giving them real personality and recognizable traits. Most of the characters apart from the central cast quite quickly fade away from memory. Instead, they are mannequins – men and women with different last names who flash across the novel’s pages displaying their wealth, status, fashion sense, and fancy house before disappearing back offstage. Whether or not it was purposeful, I find it ironic in a meta-literary way that several fashion shows and runways make an appearance throughout the story.

Also, the story progresses according to the changing locations and events, not necessarily according to the development of the plot. They start in America, then fly to Singapore, and from there Rachel is whisked through a super deluxe hotel, a huge mansion, a getaway resort on a private island, another huge mansion, a church hosting a 40 million dollar wedding, another mansion (this one’s a summer villa), and so on. Nick moves from hotel to boat cruise to mansion and more mansions. And who can forget each and every kind of private jet, plane, yacht, and car they take to get from one place to another? It almost feels like the characters travel around for the sake of allowing the reader to have a glimpse of another five-star piece of property. Sure, Rachel goes to the getaway resort because it’s the location of the bridal shower…. for a bride she met 2 days ago. What can possibly have motivated the bride to invite Rachel, no matter how charming of a woman Rachel happens to be? The author’s determination to wow the reader with the dreamy landscape of this private resort island.

There is something strangely gratifying when I read this book. As a regular human being, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to live this kind of lifestyle. A life where one worries for nothing except which summer villa to spend the boring summer season at. As a regular human being who has never been to Singapore (or has never had the pleasure of being acquainted with billionaires), I can’t help but wonder if people like this actually exist. If Kwan’s lovely descriptions of the finest private banquets and mouth-watering foods starts making me green with envy, he relieves me in the next instance by providing a scene of comic relief, in which these privileged humans betray a ridiculous attitude of self-worth and self-righteousness.

A marvelous display of scenery that I will never get to actually experience. A crazy amount of research must have gone into this book – the author’s knowledge of women’s clothing and brand names borders on ridiculous. The plot deserves polite applause, but the ball gowns that the characters wear demand a standing ovation. Kwan presents readers with the kind of book that could only be structured in this way because its subject matter yields to it. And of course, these kinds of books, where the form of it is organic enough to mold into the shape of the content, is all kinds of fun for the reader.