Review: Lent to Maundy Thursday, Page CXVI

Page CXVI, New Release: "Lent to Maundy Thursday"

Page CXVI, New Release: “Lent to Maundy Thursday”

Today one of my favourite bands, Page CXVI released a new album: Lent to Maundy Thursday. From their website: “Page CXVI is a project started with the idea of making Hymns accessible and known again. They are some of the richest, most meaningful, and moving pieces of music ever written.”

However you define the word “hymn” and whatever you think of the dismally named “worship wars” – whether you wish the church would blow off some cobwebs and communicate more effectively in this generation, or whether you feel current music is vapid and lacks the depth of music that has stood the test of time (I stand, by the way, on both sides of that argument) – Page CXVI is doing beautiful things with the time-worn poetry of the church.

Lent to Maundy Thursday is comprised of 7 tracks:

  • And Can It Be that I Should Gain
  • Before the Throne of God Above
  • Were You There? (which includes pieces of O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus)
  • Fast From, Feast On
  • This Blessed Day
  • Hosanna
  • I Love the Lord

The album, over all, is brighter than I expected. Often, when we think of Lent, we think of darkness – of confession and withholding. What Page CXVI has done here is focus on the often passed-over brightness that Lent contains. We confess, yes, but we do so without despair – knowing that forgiveness is readily available. The album fastens on the concept that Lent is not just about fasting – it is also about feasting. This is captured especially well in my favourite song on the album “Fast From, Feast On.” Fasting is never solely about withholding and taming the passions. We fast so that we can feast on other things that are too often forgotten. So we abstain from something that eats up our time, so that we can instead spend time consuming the word. We fast from sweet things, so that we can meditate on the sweetness of Christ’s sacrifice. There is always a so that. Consider the lyrics of “Fast From, Feed On”:

Fast from the swelling darkness, Feast on the power of his light. Fast from discontentment, Feast on the joy that he brings.

 Sustainer, Protector, the Well of Life. My Helper, My comfort, the bread of life is you.

Fast from the fear that haunts us, Feast on the power of his might. Fast from the trap of judgment, Feast on all that’s been redeemed!

From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the darkness of our doubt to a cleansing white. From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the blindness of our sin to healing sight.

It’s a beautiful set of contrasts and it encapsulates Lent with depth and power.

I have one reservation about this album that I should mention, which is Page CXVI’s version of “Were You There?” (which is combined with O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus). Somehow this rendition misses the mark for me. At first I thought the arrangement was too joyful for words like “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?” But in talking it through with Andrew, I realized it’s something more than this: the music is too light, too frivolous for the depth of the words sung and it creates – for us at least – too grating a juxtaposition. This is a big miss, because the combination of these two songs, lyrically, is brilliant. I wish the music had the same weight.

The rest of the album, however, holds enough beauty and weight to counterbalance this one miss – so don’t let my opinion about one song hold  you back from the album as a whole. I will certainly listen to this album throughout this season of Lent, as a launching pad for my fasting and feasting during this blessed walk through darkness and into light.

Over all this is a beautiful album that I heartily recommend to you. You can listen to the full album here. Buy it on Page CXVI’s website, or on Amazon, or on iTunes. There are also (Praise God!) chord charts provided on their website.

This album was graciously provided to me by Page CXVI for the purpose of review – with the understanding that I was free to express my full opinion regarding the music it contains.

Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

I began my series on Listening in Two Directions a couple of weeks ago, with a post about the importance of preparation, and how preparation enables attentiveness during delivery. This week I want to begin talking about the sound toward which our right ear should swivel. If we think about leading worship as serving our two-fold “audience,” God being one part of that audience, what does it look like to serve the Spirit, to listen to the Spirit, through the whole process of worship leading – and what are we missing when we fail to be attentive in this way? Before we dive into the three parts of worship leading – planning, practice, and delivery – I want to offer two caveats and give a general picture of why it is important to listen to the Spirit in every stage of our preparation and delivery.

First caveat: there are no hard and fast rules regarding how the Spirit speaks. In fact, as with all conversations, we each interact with the Spirit differently. So please don’t take the examples I lay out in my next few posts as the one way in which to hear God’s voice while planning and implementing a worship service. The corpus of Scripture shows us, intentionally, a variety of individuals and groups who hear from God in a variety of ways. We should never foist the ways and means of our own relationship with God on someone else.

Second caveat: my underlying assumption in this series is that the Holy Spirit always points beyond Himself. My husband calls the Spirit the shy member of the Trinity – because the Spirit always points to Christ. So, to phrase a complex concept simplistically, we know that we have heard from the Spirit when we are pointed toward Jesus. And we serve the Spirit best by doing the same – by pointing beyond ourselves to Christ.

To some extent, then, the reasons we listen to the Spirit as we lead worship are obvious and hardly need to be stated. Of course we need to pay attention to God – the whole point of worship is to pay attention to God. In fact, everyone should be listening for the voice of the Spirit, not just worship leaders. Worship leaders (and pastors, for that matter) are not super-hero Christians who take people and bring them to God. God always reaches toward us – every one of us – first. Every single one of us needs to be attentive to this reaching. To learn to hear the Spirit’s voice, to see the Spirit pointing toward Jesus as we enter in to gathered worship, and as we worship during the week through our work, in our homes, and through our relationships.

As worship leaders, however, we do have a sacred task to perform. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are invited into the process of God’s constant calling; God’s constant drawing of his people toward himself. If we don’t actively listen for the Spirit’s direction and respond in service to the Spirit we will miss this invitation. Worse, we may become an obstacle to others hearing and responding to that invitation.

The tendency of worship leaders is to drift toward one of our two audiences: God or the congregation. If we fail to listen for the Spirit, we will forget who we worship and our gathered worship will no longer be spiritually formative. If we fail to be attentive to the Spirit then we are leading nowhere and to no one – we will simply follow our own preferences and thoughts and hope that the Spirit will use them. And he very well may use them – but how much deeper, how much richer would the worship of the Church be if worship leaders actively listened for the Spirit’s voice, and joyfully accepted the Spirit’s invitation to join God’s work in his congregation?

Thinking Worship Interviewed on Worship Links

Brad over at Worship Links email-interviewed me recently, and it was posted today. Brad’s intro:

I like to describe Stacey Gleddiesmith as a worship theologian. With a strong academic background in the theology of worship, she shares some excellent insights on worship at her blog, Thinking Worship. Recently, Stacey talked to Worship Links about the lack of theological training in worship ministry, the future of church worship, and how many different keys is too many for one song.

I like to describe myself as a worship theologian too. It’s good to be on the same page! Incidentally, we also discovered that we share a common problem: pet hair.

Here’s the FULL INTERVIEW. What say you – am I off base or on?

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation

Last summer my husband and I took a class at Regent College on public speaking. Like pretty much every course Regent offers it was carefully researched, thoroughly prepared, and well delivered… in this case by Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Stackhouse describes public speaking as a gift: the goal is to serve the audience to which you are speaking. To give to them the knowledge, the motivation, the passion, the change you have to offer. Thus your audience must be the focus of your preparation, of your practice, and of your delivery.

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit, Allan Old, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit, Allan Old, Flickr Creative Commons

My brain has a secret “worship theology” setting that is always at a low hum in the background, so this started me thinking about the two-fold “audience” in worship leading. What does it mean to focus in two directions – to focus our preparation, our practice, and our delivery on our congregation and on our God simultaneously? I’ve often described a worship leader’s primary task as one of intense listening – to the congregation and to the Spirit, but the idea of this listening being present throughout the process of preparation, practice, and delivery – while not entirely new to me – has caused me to consider the idea more deeply.

In my next two posts I will explore what it looks like to listen to the Spirit and to your congregation, respectively, but I want to introduce this idea with a further word about preparation.

One of Stackhouse’s key points is that preparation frees up brain space during presentation. If you prepare well, then you can adjust to your audience as you present, shifting to better engage their attention, sensing and responding to difficulties they might be perceiving in your material.

Now, in the world of worship leading, I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments for and against preparation. Usually these arguments pit careful and rigid preparation against the spontaneous and loose leading of the Spirit. On the one hand we have those who meticulously plan every chord, every note, every word. On the other hand we have those who don’t know what song they’re going to sing until they start singing it. This, of course, is a false dichotomy.

You cannot listen to the Spirit without preparation. And the Spirit should be present in every step of your preparation. Also, both a complete focus on the Spirit during delivery and a rigid understanding of preparation as controlled by the worship leader ignore the roll of the congregation in gathered worship. The helpful truth, I think, lies (as it so often does) somewhere in the middle.

Stackhouse’s point regarding public speaking is apt. We prepare because being well-prepared, well-rehearsed, frees up brain space during delivery, giving us the capacity to engage in active listening even as we play and sing and speak. So we prepare well – not so that we can do everything exactly as it has been prepared – but so that we can be free to adjust as the Spirit or as the congregation needs us to adjust.

Think about it. If you’re playing a new song – or if you’re new to an instrument, or to leading itself – isn’t it true that your brain is mostly scrambling for the next chord pattern, the next progression, the next string or key or note? You don’t have the capacity to think beyond the immediate mechanics of the moment. Now, there will be some weeks that are simply like this. You will need to introduce new songs. You can’t mentor a new musician or leader and not expect them to begin with a training period during which the majority of their thought life is taken up with the mechanics of what is happening.

But, as we mature, as we become comfortable with a corpus of music and familiar with the mechanics of leading a band or playing a solo instrument, as we grow in our knowledge and interpretation of Scripture, our weekly planning and preparation should be such that when we get up to lead, we are able to focus not on mechanics – but on the voice of the Spirit, and the movement of the congregation. We should be able to serve our two audiences more fully – ensuring that our worship leading is not just music, not just words, but a gift.

Merry Imperfect Christmas!

Watching TV the other night, I was struck once again by the number of companies urging me to have a perfect Christmas. Every year we are bombarded. Get the perfect gift. Make your house perfectly clean. Get the perfect lights, the perfect tree, the perfect tinsel. Cook the perfect turkey. Set the perfect table. Have the perfect family. BE PERFECT.

No.

Nuh-uh.

Not this year.

This Christmas I’ve been given the power (by the powers that be) to grant you a few permissions:

2011, 2012 030

Andrew and Stacey’s Wonky Christmas Tree, 2011

This Christmas, you have permission to grab a crappy tree from the bush because that’s all you have time to find. Or to grab the first tree leaning outside your local grocery store, without looking for the BEST one. Put some home-made kids’ ornaments on it and call it a day. Make some hot chocolate and sit and admire the imperfection together.

This Christmas, you have permission to leave the dirt and dog hair on your floor for another day. Go out for a moonlit ski or snowshoe instead. There’s dog hair and dirt out there, but nobody seems to mind. Why should your house be any different?

This Christmas, your kids are allowed to yell and be crazy and get dirty. Because kids are kids. Run around with them for a bit. Push them down a hill. Instead of cleaning your bathroom, make a few snow angels and some snow polar-bears OR a snow polar-angel-bear! Instead of washing your dishes, make two forts and pelt each other with snowballs. Let the kids stay up late. Let them help. When people look at you with raised eyebrows because your kids are over-tired and a little ill-behaved and your house is a mess, just tell them it’s my fault. Pick ONE thing to do in a day and throw away that list of “perfect family Christmas memories.” Don’t look at Pinterest.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT make three million cookies. Just a tub or two will do. Unless you like making cookies. Then make five million and give some to the neighbours.

This Christmas, your table can be decorated with a few candles and some branches from the yard. Or not at all. And your turkey does not have to be perfectly browned and moist.  Just don’t’ give anyone salmonella poisoning. Maybe have a wiener roast instead. Let people help you in the kitchen. Accept all offers to wash dishes. Let people bring food. Spend more time visiting and less time slaving. Cook with wine so you can have a glass. Sometimes soup from a can or pasta from a box is the only way to go. You can drink wine with that.

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Snowy Christmas Walk (a.k.a. Sacred Moment)

This Christmas, you do not have to exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in – they will be small. The joy of a child going off-script during a Christmas play. A single line from a well-worn Christmas carol that suddenly sounds new, and fresh, and scary-in-a-good-way. The sight of your breath rising in front of you as you tromp through snow-covered fields with your dog. The shouts of children as they play outside, their snow-suit-shrouded forms ungainly, and their mittens-on-strings flopping at their sides. A quiet moment to yourself, re-reading the story of Christ’s incarnation by candle-light, tree-light – opening yourself again to the hush of amazement.

And, if you are a worship leader, you have permission NOT to plan the perfect Christmas service, or the perfect Christmas program, or the perfect Christmas banquet. Give jobs to children. Let them screw those jobs up. Allow a few sour chords to make the rest sound sweeter. Practice, but not extensively. Keep it simple. Just tell the story. But tell it in a way that reveals its imperfections. Tell people about the poop in the stable. Tell people about the smells and the sounds. Tell people that Mary was young, and that her pregnancy made her look disreputable. Tell people that Joseph wanted to abandon her. Tell people again that, to God, KING looks different. No gold. No power. No throne. Just a baby in a barn.

You see, all the perfection we are supposed to achieve at this time of year – all of that work – takes something from us. It takes away Christmas.

That first year there was no perfectly browned turkey, no perfect tree, no beautifully decorated home, no hushed angelic children’s faces gathered around a perfectly lovely crib. There was mess, and noise, and smelliness, and discomfort. Dirt and a fair bit of chaos. A crying baby. That is the standard.

So this year – maybe let things slide a little. I’m going to.

Have a merry imperfect Christmas!

Advent 2013: Resisting Idolatry, Choosing Christ

2011, 2012 027This year our church is moving through a number of texts in Isaiah during Advent and on Christmas Eve. The readings below take the traditional themes of Advent (hope, love, joy, peace) and unpack them in an effort to determine where we place our trust. Isaiah deals with themes of idolatry and re-alignment with God through the actions of a Suffering Servant. I’ve counterpointed those themes with a repeated congregational reading of part of Mary’s song in Luke 1, which is a prophetic proclamation of the work that Christ has come to do – the work of a Suffering Servant.
 
(Texts used: Luke 1:46-55; Isaiah 1:2-3; 2:2-5; 40:1-11; 11:1-16. Dark print to be read by the congregation.)

WEEK 1: Tenacious Hope

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a tenacious hope. A thin cry in the darkness that somehow, slowly, inevitably, pushes away the darkness and reveals the light. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. Not even from a powerful family. Destitute. Poor. Fragile. A fragile hope. But a hope that acknowledges a God that goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to live with those who have rejected him. Extending hope where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the false hope offered by our own power and wisdom and place our hope in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this first candle of Advent as a sign of our tenacious hope.

PRAYER: Hope of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to fix our eyes on you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to hope in ourselves. May we look instead to you, our hope. Knowing that you continue to work your hope steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 2: Steadfast Love

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a steadfast love. A love that follows and pursues us even when we would push it away. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. This small, crying one, as we move to comfort him, turns instead to comfort us. For in his weakness, Christ brings us strength. Killed by hate, he lives to extend his love to us. A steadfast love: not dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves; not dependent on our actions or our words; not dependent on how well we perform. The love of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing to love those who have rejected him. Extending love where there appears to be none.

Let us turn away from the love of our own power and wisdom and accept the steadfast love of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this second candle of Advent as a sign of our steadfast love.

PRAYER: Love of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know that you love us. Please teach us to love beyond ourselves. May we look to you, the one who loves us with a steadfast love. Knowing that you continue to work your love steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 3: Persevering Joy

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persevering joy. A joy that moves through suffering and sustains us, even when we think we cannot continue. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that brings joy even to those in darkness. For it is a persevering joy born neither in circumstance, nor in the things we buy, nor in the triumphs we celebrate, but in the knowledge that one day all will be well and all manner of things will be well. The joy of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Choosing joy despite his rejection. Extending joy where there appears to be none.

Let us not run after temporary happiness in our own power and wisdom, but find persevering joy in Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this third candle of Advent as a sign of our persevering joy.

PRAYER: Joy of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to rejoice in you—to know that your work is not finished. Please teach us not to run after temporary happiness, but to find our joy in you. May we look to you, our joy, knowing that you continue to work your joy steadily into this world. Knowing that, at your coming, all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

WEEK 4: Persistent Peace

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have a persistent peace. A peace that goes beyond understanding and stills confusion, upheaval and war. What can overcome the weight of sin in the world? What can overcome our idolatry? What can overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness? What is big enough? What is strong enough to beat back the darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. And it is this child that stops the war engines, turns instruments of torture into instruments of growth and flourishing, and stills the turmoil in our hearts. He brings a persistent peace that erodes the tempers of this world. The peace of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Demonstrating peace in the midst of his rejection. Extending peace where there appears to be none.

Let us not seek our own peace through our own power and wisdom, but seek after the persistent peace of Jesus Christ.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

We light this fourth candle of Advent as a sign of our persistent peace.

PRAYER: Peace of Israel, as we walk through the darkness and difficulty of this world, would you help us to know you—to know your peace. Please help us to seek peace in you rather than through our own efforts. May we follow you, knowing that you continue to work your peace persistently into this world. Knowing that at your coming all war and oppression and sorrow will cease. That the darkness that feeds on this world cannot withstand the coming of the light. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

CHRISTMAS EVE: Abundant Life

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

We have an abundant life. A life that springs up from the stump of Jesse, from the withered vine of human flourishing, and injects into that vine the abundant life of the creator. What has overcome the weight of sin in the world? What has overcome our idolatry? What has overcome war, and hunger, and murder, and rage, and the sorrow of a world bowed under—lost in darkness?

The answer, it seems, is a baby. The weakest and most vulnerable humanity. A fragile flicker of life that extends God’s abundant life in all directions: providing justice, reconciling differences, unifying our shattered and scattered world. An abundant life that confounds death and suffering. The life of a God who goes beyond our expectations. Stepping down into the world he created. Giving life to those who have rejected him. Extending life where there appears to be none.

Let us find our lives secure in the power and wisdom of Jesus Christ! (Light Christ candle.)

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

Rejoice! For the light of life has entered the world and conquered the darkness! He has come! He is coming!

“Dulce et Decorum Est “

This photograph was taken on the western front in France, 1916. It shows British troops going over the top of the trenches during the battle of the Somme. This was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, claiming over a million casualties in five months. Photography copyright Getty Images.

This photograph was taken on the western front in France, 1916. It shows British troops going over the top of the trenches during the battle of the Somme. This was one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, claiming over a million casualties in five months. Photography copyright Getty Images.

Every November 11, Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” eats away at my mind. His poetry, and the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, capture in a unique way the panorama of war “sans propaganda.” Both poets, friends, were soldiers during WWI. Like many of Owen and Sassoon’s war poems, “Dulce et Decorum Est” is graphic, vile, and disturbing. It portrays a poison gas attack in vivid images and does not cosset its readers. Rather, it aims to portray the horror of war in a way that dispels the mythical “glory” that traditionally called youth to the battlefield. I would encourage you, on this November 11, to take some time to read through some of Owen and Sassoon’s other war poems.

I realize that there are many theological tangles regarding pacifism and “just war” – tangles too thick for me to unwind here (and too beyond my expertise for me to make the attempt). And, truth be told, my soul pulls both ways. But whatever you believe about war, we can all agree that it contains a base horror that is unmatched by any other human experience. And, as such, it is right and good that we take some time today to feel deeply for those who have experienced, and those who do experience, war as a daily reality – as soldiers and as civilians. And whether or not we believe there is ever a valid reason to go to war, we must keep faith with those who have been there by refusing the rose-coloured glasses that try to present war to us as “glorious.” The rough translation of the Latin phrase at the end of “Dulce et Decorum Est” is: “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” It’s taken from one of Horace’s Odes and its context is an exhortation to Roman citizens to gain military strength and skill for the glory of Rome.

Whatever your views on war, whatever your views on Remembrance Day, on poppies, on current political realities – I hope you take some time today to consider the depth of evil humanity is capable of. And I hope you take some time today to pray for those who have, who do, and who will experience that evil. And I hope you take some time today to pray “Come, Lord Jesus, Come” in the midst of that evil – because peace will not reign until Christ does. And we are all waiting, longing, praying – I hope – for peace.

 
 
Dulce et Decorum Est

deviantArt by Aadore inspired by "Dulce et Decorum Est"

deviantArt by Aadore inspired by “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Nagasaki Fires. Photo by Yusike Yamahata.

Nagasaki Fires. Photo by Yusike Yamahata.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

diviantArt by ringosdiamond

diviantArt by ringosdiamond

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

~Wilfred Owen (1890-1918)

A Prayer of Rememberance

 We live in a community with a strong military presence. The base is only a few kilometers away, and many families choose to live in Bon Accord or Gibbons rather than on the base itself. So when Remembrance Day fell on a Sunday last year, and we were asked to participate in the service, our small church decided that we would serve the town by attending the town ceremony and serving lunch. I know there are complex and thorny theological issues of pacifism and Christian participation in war that need to be navigated each year at this time. But for us, it was simply a matter of understanding where God has placed us, and moving toward our community rather than away from it. My husband prayed during the ceremony, I sang O Canada (as their original singer backed out at the last moment), my husband read the Canadian poem “In Flander’s Fields” in his Irish accent, and our whole church served lunch. This is the prayer my husband wrote:

Merciful and loving God,

We come before you in praise and remembrance.

Be with us today,

In our heads and in our understanding,

In our mouths and in our speaking,

In our hearts and in our acting,

As we remember.

We remember the horrors of war, past and present:

The death and destruction,

The fear and terror.

 We remember that many throughout your world still live where

War and terror,

Violence and injustice,

Are part of daily life.

 We remember women and men who have

Struggled for peace,

Stood against evil,

And sought justice

With their bodies, their minds, their futures, and their lives.

We offer prayers of thankfulness and care

For those who died that we might live,

For those who suffered and still suffer in the defence of the dignity of all people.

And we ask that you would be with all those who have lost a loved one or wait for a loved one to return.

We are saddened, with you,

By the evil which damages and destroys life,

By the people who have seen the darkness of war.

We ask that your presence would be with those who struggle for justice and peace in our world.

And we ask that you would comfort and strengthen those who suffer from oppression, isolation, and sorrow.

For those qualities in us that make war possible,

For times when we have not sought justice or peace,

For times when we have deadened our spirits to the suffering of others,

Forgive us, we pray,

 

We look forward to the day

When you will cause all wars to cease,

When you will change our weapons into tools of human flourishing,

When our loved ones will return home,

When you will heal your world.

Amen.

 

Rant 4: No T in Worship

6863701649_8c0ece153f_z[1]A friend of mine posted an article on facebook today entitled “Why Rock Star Worship Leaders Are Getting Fired.” Part of me wants to rejoice at what author Don Chapman identifies as the trend of “megachurches” firing performance-oriented leaders. Another part of me, however, a larger part, wants to go on a major rant. Because Don Chapman’s problem with so-called “Rock Star Worship Leaders” is that they are self-absorbed, overpaid, don’t work very hard, and aren’t particularly musically skilled. He writes:

A megachurch is a unique breeding ground for a Rock Star Worship Leader (RSWL)—he [!] probably couldn’t survive in a smaller ministry. A typical church music director is a busy guy or girl who schedules volunteers, conducts rehearsals, writes charts, arranges music and plans Christmas and Easter events. Some megachurch RSWLs surprisingly can’t even read music, let alone create chord chart.

Oh the horror! Ok, I’m as shocked as Don Chapman that there are (apparently) some music leaders out there who are paid big bucks and don’t seem to do much of anything but “perform” on Sunday mornings. But really? Our biggest concern is that they might not actually be as musically talented as we think?

In the 20 + years that I have been leading in churches, which of course includes reading multiple job postings and applying for some of them, I can count on one hand the number of “worship leader” job postings that have asked for any type of theological competency or depth. Musical ability, yes. Ability to plan and lead a multi-media performance, yes. Ability to manage audio-visual equipment, yes. Good people skills, yes. Strong leadership skills, yes. Actively following Christ, certainly. Ability to articulate a cohesive theology of worship and implement that theology in weekly services that draw a congregation deeper into the life of Christ? No. Not once have I been asked about that. I’ve tried to volunteer the information, but even then it sometimes doesn’t go over well.

There is no Theology in Worship.

But then. Then we have the audacity to complain when our “worship” is vapid, when it lacks depth, or when it comes off as mere “performance.” Well – sorry folks. But you got exactly what you asked for. And when you look at it that way, doesn’t it seem a tad unjust – even hypocritical – to fire someone for doing exactly what you asked them to do? We need to spend a little less time blaming, and a little more time re-training. Because unless we find the “T” in Worship, we will continue to sit back and listen to some lovely music on Sunday mornings – drawing no closer to the throne of God, and refusing to enter more deeply into the life that Christ has given us.

Our Shepherd in Heaven: A Liturgy

To be read in one of two ways: bold print read by the congregation, light print by a reader; or as an antiphonal reading, with one half of the congregation reading Psalm 23, and the other reading the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father in heaven,
The LORD is my shepherd,
Hallowed be your name,
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me, all the days of my life.
Give us today our daily bread.
I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Amen.