Hymns

The songs/hymns we sing in worship continue to shape us. Nobody goes home humming the sermon. We can preach until we are blue in the face only to have our efforts contradicted by an old favourite hymn that re-inscribes an old theology and perpetuates doctrines we no longer teach. So, I for one,  am always on the lookout for new songs to sing during worship. My latest find is a new collection that has just been released by The Hymn society of the U.S. and Canada: “Songs for the Holy Other: Hymns Affirming the LGBTQIA2S+ Community.”  The collection contains 48 songs for congregational use.

GOOD NEWS this collection is a free download – in exchange for your email address!   Follow this link – Hymn Society

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They Don’t Go Home Humming the Sermon

hum

Liturgy has the power to from us in ways that preachers can only dream of. The truth is worshippers don’t go home humming the sermon. What we sing in worship matters precisely because music has the power to both open us up and shut us down to change. As our theology evolves, so too what we sing in worship must evolve. But familiar chestnuts  are familiar for a reason. Our favourite hymns are singable! Sadly, so many of the best loved hymns inscribe theologies that posit a god that few of us are willing to worship. But rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we can give the best loved hymn tunes a new lease on life with texts that do not re-inscribe theories of atonement that we are trying to leave behind. I have been asked to share some of the resources that we have found helpful at Holy Cross and over the next few weeks I hope to post several resources.

Inclusive Hymns Aldredge-ClantonIt hasn’t been easy to find new words with which to resurrect old hymns. But there are two resources that warm the heart of this particular worship planner. Both “Inclusive Hymns For Liberating Christians” and “Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice” are the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton who is responsible for the hymn texts and Larry E. Schultz who provides a few new tunes for Aldredge-Clanton’s texts. I highly recommend both volumes for those progressive Christian worship planners who seek to use music to open people to the possibilities of  more expansive theologies. Aldredge-Clanton’s texts go farInclusive hymns for liberation beyond “inclusive language” for God and for people.

Jann Aldredge-Clanton currently serves as adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology and Richland Community College, Dallas, Texas. Her vivid imagery opens the mind while familiar tunes comfort the spirit.  

The good news is that although these resources are not easy to get in Canada, I ordered mine from Amazon.com in the U.S. and the shipping charges were minimal. Better yet, with the purchase of 10 or more you get permission to reproduce hymns for worship.

Here are two videos that provide of just two of the pieces sung in very different worship styles.

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 To the Tune of a Welcoming God

welcome

To the Tune of a Welcoming GodDavid R. Weiss’ “To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality, and the widness of God’s welcome” is a wonderful resource for worship planners who are searching for ways to engage worshippers in the difficult task of breaking down barriers to inclusion. As I wrote in the previous post, “they don’t go home humming the sermon!” Music opens our very selves to that which is beyond ourselves and Weiss has written some powerful texts that can be coupled with well loved, familiar hymn tunes. I was first exposed to Weiss’ way with words a number of years ago when Lutheran’s Concerned included his “O Christ Who Came” in their worship resources for the celebration of Reconciling in Christ Sunday. When set to the tune of LONDONDERRY AIR (that’s O’ Danny Boy, for the uninitiated), Weiss’ words provide an expansive welcome that we have often sung with gusto at Holy Cross. So, I was delighted to discover, on iTunes of all places, the album “To the Tune of a Welcoming God” by Sara Kay. After quickly downloading, I began to listen to all sorts of possibilities for worship in Weiss’ splendid texts set to familiar tunes. In addition to providing hymn texts that expand our vision of what it means to extend a welcome to the GLBT community, Weiss’ texts open worshippers to images of God that move us beyond words as they open us to theologies that embrace the reality of the cosmos. You can follow this link to find a copy of the hymn texts.

In addition to the hymn texts, Weiss’ book provides a collection of essays in which Weiss offers a vision of what the Church can become. Weiss is writes from his own Lutheran perspective reflecting his own struggles in work of building a more inclusive church. Weiss opens the book with his own “Credo” which I look forward to using in liturgy as an “Affirmation of Faith”. 

Credo: By David R. Weiss

I believe in God,
The Great Mystery that is the Source of all that is,
I believe that God is beyond our words
And surely beyond our genders,
But that we are still invited to name God as best we can,
With humility and wonder.
I believe in God’s love for all creation, not just humanity.
I believe in God’s yearning,
That justice hold sway in every corner of creation
And in God’s anxious longing
For Sabbath joy to fill the cosmos.

I believe that the deep beauty of Jesus’ life
Is a true revelation of God’s desire to see compassion
At the center of human community.
I believe that Jesus’ healings, parables, and table fellowship
Reveal the truth of God active in our midst.
And I believe that in Jesus’ life
We hear an invitation to echo such compassion
In our own lives.

I believe that Jesus’ death
Reminds us that oppressive power
Will stop at nothing –
Then or now – to silence compassion.
And I believe that resurrection
Names the miracle that takes place –
Then and now – whenever we rededicate
Our lives to compassion
Thereby announcing that even death
Cannot silence the love of God.

I believe that besides Jesus’ life
And besides the biblical text,
Other lives and other texts also bear the truth of God –
And that our lives are richer for listening well
To the movement of God in many places.

I believe that God continues to be present still today
And that the Holy Breath of God blows
Whenever and wherever compassion is born,
Whether in our words, deeds, or rituals.
I believe we have a special responsibility
To gather in community and share rituals,
Both ancient and fresh,
That exercise our imaginations,
Both bodily and spiritually
For the practice of compassion.

I believe that in our lives
We have the capacity to move God,
This loving mystery that dwells at the heart of all that is,
To the point of tears.

And I commit myself,
With my brothers and sisters and the whole of creation,
To living in ways that seek to move God to tears of joy.

Amen.

Recent Posts

Are we fish or fishers? Jesus’ call to justice! Mark 1:14-20

I suspect that many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief this past week as the most powerful office on the planet changed hands. I know that I am feeling lighter and breathing easier. I know full well that we are headed into the darkest winter of our lives. COVID is not over. Millions are suffering.  Fears and anxieties continue to disturb us, and we have a long way to go. But at least we no longer have to worry about the orange madness which stirred up the worst of who we are, in ways we never imagined possible. Huddled in the isolation of our homes, many of us watched the transfer of power feeling a new sense of hope.

There was a moment during Joe Biden’s inaugural address which filled this preacher with such joy. After all, it isn’t every day you hear the most powerful person of the 21st century, quote a 4th century Doctor of the Church. St. Augustine of Hippo was a bishop and theologian who has and continues to a tremendous impact on Christianity both Catholics and Protestants. Martin Luther himself was an Augustinian. So, when the newly sworn in President Biden quoted Saint Augustine as having said, “a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love,” not only did I breathe a huge sigh of relief, I took a long deep breath as I resolved to explore the various ways in which those of us who strive to follow Jesus are defined by our LOVE.

According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call “Mark,” upon hearing that John the Baptist had been arrested by the forces of Empire, Jesus of Nazareth “appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Jesus said, “This is the time of fulfillment. The Reign of God is at Hand. Change your hearts and minds and believe this Good News.” What follows, (pardon the pun), is the familiar story of Jesus calling the brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John, four hardworking fishers, to abandon their nets in order that they might become fishers of humankind. No sooner than Jesus implored these fishers to follow him, than they followed him. Just like that. What could have possessed them to drop everything and follow Jesus, this itinerant preacher?

For as long as I can remember, this story has been interpreted in ways which exhort the faithful to “follow Jesus and Jesus will make us, in the words of that old Sunday School chestnut: “fishers of men, fishers of men, if we follow him.” I’m sure many of you remember being encouraged to get out there and fish for people and bring them to Jesus. Now, within the context of mainline denominations, these fishing expeditions were designed to bring in new members to save struggling congregations. Within the context of the more conservative denominations, there was to be no doubt that there were fish just waiting to be saved and once saved they would be brought to Jesus to confess that he alone was their Lord and saviour. As for those of us who seek to follow Jesus as progressive christians, well, fishing for people makes tends to make us a little squeamish. So, we do our best to remove any barbs from our fishhooks, and rather than reel them in, we choose to cajole and persuade them, perhaps over a pint of beer, to perhaps chat with us as we save them from the tired old ways of understanding christianity. Whether it’s mainline traditional fishers, bible thumping evangelical fishers, or radical freedom-loving fishers, no matter how you bait the hooks, fishing is all about saving fish from drowning in the very waters upon which they are relying so that they can be washed into the waters by which the fishers themselves have found new life. As I consider the haste with which Simon, Andrew, James and John abandoned everything they knew and “went off in the company of Jesus,” I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this story than fishing for new members, new converts, or new conversation partners.

I don’t know much about fishing. What I do know about fishing, I learned from my Dad, who never ever invited me to go fishing with him without also telling me what kind of fish we would be fishing for. According to the anonymous gospel-storyteller, Jesus makes it clear that they are going fishing not for fish but for “men”. And yes, I do mean men because Jesus was a product of a patriarchal culture speaking to men of a patriarchal culture. Clearly, I need to know more about these fishers of men, if I am to see below the surface of these murky waters.

I know, I know these fishers, fishing and fish metaphors are losing their power to carry us beyond the surface of meaning. But stick with me here. Because when we discover what lies beyond Jesus’ call to become fishers of men, we can begin to see that Jesus was not about to lead these fishers on a quest to save souls, or to convert, or even to make believers of any of the people they or we might be fishing for. You see the phrase “fishing for men” already had a long history for the Jewish people. Biblical historian, Ched Myers suggests that we look back into the Hebrew Scriptures to see how this phrase was used by the Jewish prophets, like Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel. Jesus didn’t just happen upon any fishers. Jesus upon hearing of the arrest by the forces of Empire of John the Baptist, went down to the Sea of Galilee precisely because the Sea of Galilee was in the throes of Roman oppression. Simon, Andrew, James and John were part of a family fishing enterprise which was being squeezed by the taxman. Rome had placed an exorbitant tax upon every fish that was caught in the Sea of Galilee. This once prosperous fishing spot was the target of the Empire’s quest for treasure. The injustice of oppression was felt acutely among the people who made their homes on the shores of Galilee. The forces of Rome exacted a high price from those who did not or could not pay their tribute. Fishers were being forced into servitude or worse yet into slavery.

It is not surprising that Jesus harkened back to the prophets of old who used the metaphor “to catch a fish” as a euphemism for exacting judgement upon the rich. By inviting these oppressed fishers to “fish for men,” Jesus was inviting the persecuted to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. Jesus went on to insist that “the Reign of God is at hand.”

While Roman oppressors used the power of Empire to persecute the various tribes who fell to Roman military might, Jesus had the audacity to proclaim a new reign, a new empire, was at hand.

In Greek, the “basileia ton theon” the Empire of the DIVINE – the DIVINE MYSTERY who Jesus insists is LOVE – the Reign of LOVE is at hand. Jesus did not invite the persecuted to follow him to fish for souls, or converts, or believers, Jesus invited the persecuted to follow him and learn how to usher in the Reign of LOVE, a kin-dom, in the words of Jon Dominic Cross, a place where “everyone has enough.”

Following Jesus is about learning Jesus Way of overturning the existing order of wealth, power, and privilege. Jesus’ call to follow is as radical as dropping everything for the sake of ushering in the Reign of LOVE, creating the kind of empire where everyone has enough, and doing it all Jesus’ way, not the Roman way of victory through might, but Jesus way of non-violent resistance. To follow Jesus is to join a revolutionary movement to create peace through justice.

I know that right now, it is tempting to simply breathe a sigh of relief and fall back into familiar waters and go with the flow. I for one was tempted by President Biden’s words designed to calm us all down. Sadly, as much as I’d like to be quieted, I am compelled by Jesus’ invitation to catch a fish. So, I must point out that as beautiful as it was, and as much as this preacher enjoyed hearing St. Augustine being quoted by the most powerful person on the planet, the sad reality is that Biden took Augustine’s words out of context. It is true St. Augustine did write: “a people is a multitude defined by the common objects of their love, defined by the common objects of their love,” and it would be so very soothing to focus our attention on all that we hold in common. For there are so very many wonderful things which all of us love which bring us together. However, Augustine went farther than the President was willing to say. Augustine was writing about the failures of the Roman Empire when he wrote: “If one should say, ‘a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.” Unlike Biden, Augustine is not pointing to love as a feeling, but rather to the objects of a peoples love.

Dear ones, as weary as we have become of the challenges of these strange times and as tempting as it is for us to breathe a sigh of relief and sing a few bars of “Happy days are here again,” we too must examine the objects of our love, in order to see the nature of who and what we have become.

Are we the fishers or are we the fish? Are we the ones who are willing to sit back and enjoy the benefits of unjust systems of oppression, or are we the fishers, the ones who follow Jesus in the hope that we might learn to usher in the Reign of LOVE?

Let us breathe deeply and take our rest, for lord knows, we need it. Let us be restored so that we can find the courage to abandon the familiar objects we love, as we respond to Jesus’ call to follow a Way of being in the world, which ushers in the Reign of LOVE. “The Reign of LOVE is at hand.” It is right here. Let us abandon our small boats, to follow wherever LOVE may lead us. Let us go in the company of the ONE who IS in the words of St. Augustine our “LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Herself.”  Amen.

VIEW the full WORSHIP Video below

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