Singing Hope in a Long Wait.

One of my favorite Advent songs is the Taizé song, Wait for the Lord, from the ecumenical Taizé community in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. It is a short, meditative call to wait drawn from Psalm 27:14:

Wait for the Lord,
whose day is near.
Wait for the Lord:
keep watch, take heart!

As a worship leader, I once suggested this as a response song for the congregation to sing after the lighting of the Advent wreath each Sunday in Advent. I got some push back. Some of my fellow worship leaders thought the minor key sounded too sad. They wanted more celebration, having mentally already moved on to Christmas, and anyway who wants to be sad in church?

Beyond our inability to make space for lament in contemporary worship, the song presents another difficulty. We are exhorted to wait for the Lord whose day is near. Near? Really? Because if you look at the state of things in the world, the coming of the King still seems a far way off. It seems like everywhere you look you find deceit, division, abuse and assault. We cry come Lord Jesus but live through days where our rich people are violent; and all the people are liars (Micah 6:12). There doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

Do you believe Jesus is coming back and when he does he will set the world to rights? How we answer this question will determine how well we keep watch and wait.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” If waiting for Jesus is like waiting for Godot—a fruitless exercise with no hope on the horizon—then to hold out hope is to torture our souls. If we believe Jesus will come and fulfill our deepest longings than we can bear up under almost anything. Delayed gratification only works if the awaited One proves true.

But do we have the mental space and spiritual imagination to believe in the promised One? Too often, we settle for lesser goods, our hopeful imagination only takes us as far as what presents are under the Christmas tree. Our commodified Christmases, invariably disappoint. The sweater unravels, the toys break, our iPhone overheats.  We are haunted by ghosts of Christmas past: petty disappointments, bruised feelings and broken relationships. Do we dare hope another world is possible? Can we yet hope

Wait for the Lord, his day is near. Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart. 

 

Singing Advent

Advent is a time for singing a new song and for imagining new possibilities in the coming of Christ. We note the not-yet-ness of our experience, but we press in with anticipation and longing. We allow ourselves to hope, again.

The traditional Advent carols (e.g. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus) describe this sense of longing.  But the wider culture presses past the waiting, directly to Christmas (but with less Jesus. Everywhere we go, there is Christmas. Walk into any coffee shop or mall, or turn the radio dial and you hear crooning of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or how I’ll be home for Christmas (if only in our dreams). Rudolph dances the Jingle Bell Rock. Holiday cheer is in full swing. And beyond the music, there are colorful lights, Silver Bells, tree trimming, Christmas parties, and holiday classics on TV. Only eager seminarians, disgruntled ex-pastors, and cranky liturgists seek to deny people all their early celebrations, but there is something pathological about our inability to wait.

The gospel of Luke commends two songs for Advent that describe the hopes. The first comes from the lips of  a Palestinian teenager, Mary, as she considers who the child she carries, is:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (Luke 1:46-55)

This is more than just a mother’s hope for a child. Mary senses God will do something new through her baby boy and it will change everything. Donald Kraybill notes:

Five types of people are startled and surprised in Mary’s vision. Those at the top of the social pyramid—the proud, the rich, and the mighty—topple. Stripped of their thrones, they are scattered and sent away empty. Meanwhile the poor and hungry, at the bottom of the pyramid, take a surprising ride to the top. Mary sings words of hope and judgment. Hope for the lowly, as she describes herself, and judgment for those who trample the helpless. (The Upside-Down Kingdom, Herald Press, 2011, 16).

The Advent of Jesus would mean a radical reversal of the way things are. No longer would the proud, powerful and prosperous oppress the poor. No longer would they assume they can do whatever they want to us (because they are a celebrity). God would depose leaders, impeach presidents and remove kings from their throne, and those on the bottom of the social order—minorities, the incarcerated, the alien and the poor—would find themselves elevated to places of prestige.

In short Mary’s song, the Magnificat, hopes. It envisions a day when all injustice will cease.

The second Advent song we hear is Zechariah’s song (Luke 1:67-79, the Benedictus). Zechariah speaks these words after receiving his comeuppance. Like Mary, he had an angelic visitation and the promise of a child, though he didn’t  trust the angel’s words. He and his wife were far too old. The angel prophesied that Zechariah would not speak until after his son is born (Luke1:20). Immediately his voice is gone and Zechariah is mute. When Zechariah’s voice returns, his son had been born and having scrawled the child’s name on his tablet, out of his mouth comes this song of praise:

 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of his servant David,

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us  that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,  in holiness and righteousness

before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Zechariah was a first century Palestinian Jew. Since the days when Babylon tore down Jerusalem’s walls and carried its inhabitants into captivity (586 BCE), the Jews were oppressed by powerful neighbors. They returned from their exile 70 years later, but never fully returned to the days of past greatness. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome all dominated them. They were at the mercy of foreign leaders and their economy suffered by bad trade deals. Israel’s former glory did not return.

Knowing the singer, we know what key and what tune to apply to Zechariah’s song. He sensed, at last, God was acting to restore his people, rescue and heal them, and renew His covenant with them. God was about to act. Would this be the moment when God Makes Israel Great Again?

Hope and restoration have become political rhetoric. One leader comes promising hope and change. Another comes promising a restoration of past greatness. How easy it is to be cynical at the hollow din of such words.

But if only we can learn to sing again, the way Palestinian teenagers and old men once did, as they imagined the things God could do and was doing in their midst. What is the song God placed in you? What is your song of hope?

 

On Singing a New Song:

Yesterday, Advent started. As the season begins we note that we are in a time of waiting. To wait, means to anticipate what lies ahead, everything is not yet as it should be. The world is still tense and broken. The poor are shut outside the city gates, they hunger and thirst. The mourners weep, our grief is raw. Many are hated, excluded, reviled, persecuted.

But Advent begins, also, with a symbol of hope: a single candle lit against the lingering dark. The darkness does not overcome it. 

Recognizing that all is not as it should be, is to say the moment we are longing for has not arrived. We are here, in the in-between, and honestly, it feels like we’re all singing the same old song. This is where I live my life. I am a middle-age-man, vocationally frustrated and feeling stuck. I am a chrysalis, life is stasis. I no longer crawl but I have yet to become, to break free into the light, to stretch out my wings and grab the sky.

Do you feel this too? Does life feel stuck? We sing the old songs: ♪ ♫ Clowns to the Right, Jokers to the Left and I’m Stuck in the Middle with You ♪♫ Or: ♪♫  I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

I came across these words from Augustine in Martin Shannon’s My Soul Waits (Paraclete, 2017)  yesterday morning:

Strip off the oldness; you know a new song. A new person, a New Covenant, a new song. People stuck in the old life have no business with this new song; only those who are new persons can learn it, renewed by grace and throwing off the old, sharers in the kingdom of heaven. All our love yearns toward that kingdom, and in its longing our life sings a new song. Let us sing this song not only with our tongues, but with our lives. (5)

Jesus is coming and has come, and though we wait, and all is not as it should be, we can sing a new song! This is a season of hope. What does it mean for us, today, to yearn toward the Kingdom? How do we sing a new song and sing our way to a new way of being? What is our new song?

O Light of the World, shine in our darkness. 

See the source image

The

dark

-ness

does

not

over

-come.

Pick My Turkey Trot Playlist!

Last month, I ran a 10k. I crowdsourced my playlist on Facebook and Twitter. I tried to incorporate every suggestion I could, which meant against my better judgment Chris Tomlin and Sisqó’s Thong Song made the playlist. Of course I got more musical suggestions than the amount of time it took me to run 6.2 miles (1 hr, 56 seconds), but I had fun seeing what people suggested.

Turkey TrotGuess what? I’m running another race this month, an 8 mile Turkey Trot. I’m going to earn my dinner this Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) and I’m looking for some new playlist suggestions. Though this time I am going to be a little more discerning about which songs make the final cut. So if you want to help me pick my playlist, here is the criteria for which songs make the final cut:

 

  1. 8 miles! I do run this distance or more regularly, but this will be my longest race to date, Songs that reflect on going the distance, or this distance specifically would be great. (e.g. Eminem’s 8 mile).
  2. This for Thanksgiving. I am going to eat too much later that day and the meal itself can provide inspiration for songs or artists in my playlist. For example, a rousing edition of Turkey in the StrawDreams by the Cranberries, or Let’s Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas. Any other suggestions? You could make me do the Mash Potato.
  3. Giving Thanks! The theme for the day is being thankful! Do you know a good running song that reflects thanksgiving or gratitude? One of my favorite running songs that fits this theme is God is Good by Northern Ireland, Christian Artist, Brian Houston. I need more music like this!
  4. Music which honors First Nations/Indigenous people groups. November is Native American Heritage Month. In the American iteration of Thanksgiving celebration, we remember the Wampanoag tribe who helped the pilgrims survive the first winter at the Plymouth Plantation. We also remember the troubled racial history of Colonial America and beyond. Cheryl Bear’s Road to the Reservation and Frank Waln’s AbOriginal are already in my playlist. What other suggestions do you have?

I’m doing this for fun and don’t really care about how long I take running the race. So if you have a good song that meets the above criteria, I’ll probably take it, even if it isn’t a “running song.” Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.  Be creative!

 

 

 

 

Kaleidoscope: a music review

Have you ever had an earworm? Stuck Song Syndrome? It is the experience of having a catchy piece of music lodge itself inside your brain and put itself on repeat. Sometimes these are a mere nuisance, but in the case of old favorites or sacred song, it can sometimes be cathartic and formational:

Consider your favorite song—the one you find humming when you feel like dancing or when you need to weep.  Often those “humming tunes” are songs we have known and loved since childhood. They comfort us and give us a sense of strength, hope, acceptance, and love. (from the linear notes of Gloriæ Dei Cantores’ Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song).

kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song-Gloriæ Dei Cantores (Paraclete Recordings 2007).

Gloriæ Dei Cantores is, of late, providing the soundtrack to my life. I listen to them as I work at my computer desk, I play their music in the evenings to help settle kids to sleep, I play their music as I sit down to read. Sometimes I just listen.  Gloriæ Dei Cantores are the choir of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts (at the Community of Jesus)Their 2007 release, Kaleidoscope: America’s Faith in Song explores folk hymns, psalms, and sacred song from the American tradition (19 songs in all).

There are some standout performance. The first track is their rendition and interpretation of John Newton’s Amazing Grace (yes, Newton was a Brit). “This setting is arranged by a group of composers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts who have shared their own  needs, suffering and joys together” (linear notes). The vocal phrasing and the legato to staccato string accompaniment  (especially under “many dangers, toils and snares . . .) provides a  sense of movement through this arrangement capturing both the beauty, and tension of grace.

Bookending this collection is Paul Manz’s E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, an anthem written while the composer was critically ill. Between these two songs are folk melodies, psalms, spirituals, and favorite hymns from various Christian traditions. The Gabriel V Brass Quintet does a rousing jazzy rendition of Let us Break Bread Together on Our Knees and organist James E. Jordan performs William Bolcom’s setting of the hymn (which Bolcom wrote having been ‘taken-in’ by the singing at a local African-American church, see linear notes). Other standout performances include those of the Baptist Hymn, At the River, and the Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts.

On a whole a very solid collection and interpretation of American sacred song. I give it four stars.

Note: I was provided with a copy of the CD by Paraclete Recordings in exchange for my honest review.

Here is a full Track Listing

  1. Amazing Grace arr. Michael Hale, James Jordan, Timothy McKendree
  2. I Will Arise arr. Alice Parker
  3. Foundation arr. Alice Parker
  4. The Eyes of All Waite Upon Thee – Jean Berger
  5. The Morning Star – Virgil Thompson
  6. The Twenty-Third Psalm – Arthur Foote
  7. Holy Manna arr. John Carter
  8. Let Us Break Bread Together – Traditional, performed by Gabriel V Brass Quintet
  9. Ching-A-Ring Chaw arr. Irving Fine
  10. The Boatmen’s Dance arr. Irving Fine
  11. Zion’s Walls arr. Glenn Kopenen
  12. What a Friend We have in Jesus! – William Bolcolm; James E. Jordan, Jr, Organist
  13. Psalm 136 – Virgil Thomson
  14. Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal arr. Alice Parker
  15. Come, Holy Ghost – Leo Sowerby
  16. At the River arr. R. Wilding White
  17. The Best of Rooms – Randall Thompson
  18. Simple Gifts arr. Irving Fine
  19. E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come – Paul Manz

A Song for Trump

This is not a political blog and I respect friends on both sides of the aisle. However I think there is an obvious parody and I am surprised I haven’t seen anyone make it. So to the tune of “Lump” with apologies to the Presidents of the United States of America (all of them):

Trump

Trump said some words, they sounded harsh,

Schlonging Jeb, straight from the start

Slamming candidates like Carson and Fiorina

Feeding the PC/Gluten-Free crowd, semolina

 

He’s Trump, He’s Trump

He’s out ahead

He’s Trump, He’s Trump, He’s Trump

He’s beaten Jeb.

 

They said that Trumps, was just a passing fad

By the end of summer, we’d all know that he was mad

But Trump’s still here,  cause he takes a stand

Wants to build a wall,  have all the Muslims banned.

 

He’s Trump, He’s Trump

He’s still ahead

He’s Trump, He’s Trump, He’s Trump

No matter what he says

 

Trump struck a nerve, so he’s leading in the polls,

Makes the GOP want some Cruz-control

Trump wants to make America great agin

He’s number one, with everyone named Putin

 

He’s Trump, He’s Trump, He’s Trump

He’s still ahead

He’s Trump, he’s Trump, he’s trump

Choose someone else instead

 

Is this Trump outta my head?

I hope so

Is this Trump going to lose to Ted?

I hope so

Will Rubio surge and beat the spread?

I hope so

Is this Trump outta my head?

trump5

 

 

Final Week of Advent: Love Comes in the Morning.

Tomorrow is winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. In the midst of the darkness a light has come, the darkness has not overcome it(John 1:5)

All of the Advent themes are in short supply. We are a world in desperate need of hope, of peace, of joy and love. Jesus came (and will come) and embody these for us, but still we wait. . .

Is it any wonder that some people find this time of year difficult? We suffer from separation, divorce, Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, estrangement from loved ones, and loneliness. We worry about those we care about who are in dangerous or precarious situations. All is not as it should be. We live in dark days.

In a bleak midwinter long ago, Jesus came and brought light to our darkness. I don’t know know what you are going through. This is a hard Christmas for me too. But I have hope because of Christ’s coming. I have peace because I know he is coming again. I have joy because I experience Christ through the Spirit today. And I experience the love of God living in relationship with Him through Christ.

Whoever you, wherever you, whatever you are going through, there is a Savior coming who will carry you through  your dark days.