Weekly Worship Thought – Faithfulness

This has been an upside down week! Our air conditioner quit working in our house almost a week ago. In Houston, in July, that is a big problem. Our thermostat has been reporting 96 degree temps inside the house at 10:00 PM. To escape the heat we stayed in a local hotel for a few days. After that we have been graciously hosted by some of our sweet family nearby for another few days.

Despite the inconsistent schedule, frustration with the repair moving slowly, missing our comfortable home, and living out of suit cases, we are finding the silver lining. In all of the challenges and changes, God is faithful. We observe that we are provided for and loved despite not knowing exactly where we will sleep or when we will get back home.

It reminded me of the Psalm from last Sunday, and specifically the first verse. Psalm 89:1 says,

“Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing;

from age to age my mouth will proclaim

your faithfulness.”

Last week I wrote a little song to go with this verse.

God is faithful even when things seem like they are failing and not going according to plan.

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How to Use an Advent Wreath at Home

advent_wreath-1An Advent wreath is a great opportunity to ground yourself or your family in a spiritual practice throughout the hectic holiday season.

The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.

There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).

The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.

First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)

  • Reading – Isaiah 9:2
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)

  • Reading – John 3:16
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”

Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)

  • Reading – Luke 2:10
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)

  • Reading – Luke 2:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”

Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)

  • Reading – John 1:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”

Resources:

There Are Two Marriages

2013-04-07 06.21.28These are my friends, Meredith and Anja. I officiated their marriage ceremony on Saturday, April 6, 2013.

In Texas.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in love.

I am grateful for the words of Tony Jones, from whom I borrowed for my introductory remarks during the ceremony:

Actually, there are two marriages in America.

On the one hand, there’s legal marriage.  It’s sanctioned by the state, and it’s available to any two adults who desire to enter into a legally binding contract with one another (some states limit this contractual opportunity to opposite-gendered persons).  Legal marriage affords the married couple as many as 515 benefits that are not afforded to non-married persons, and it is officially incentivized by our government.  And legal marriage has nothing to do with sexual intimacy.

On the other hand, there’s sacramental marriage, which is defined by communities of faith.  This marriage accrues neither governmental benefits nor tax incentives.  However, sexual intimacy is of great interest to this marriage, since the sacred texts of all religions have lots to say about sex.  Sacramental marriage is about what God wants — and that is, of course, a matter of interpretation and debate among Christians.  Nevertheless, it is sacred in a way that legal marriage is not and, as such, it is the more important version of marriage.

 

“Christ our Mother” Benediction

If you are in the Lutheran world and use Sundays and Seasons resources, you probably have noted the blessing/benediction prescribed for the season of Lent:

God our Father bless you and shield you. 
Christ our Mother shelter you and carry you.
God the Holy Spirit guide your journey 
+ both now and forever.
Amen.

If a few eyebrows raised, not to worry. If people revolted in violent protest, worry. Ideally, people will engage, enquire, reflect, and theologically wrestle with the concepts and images in our liturgy. You’re lucky if you have people that do this.

hen and chicksIn responding to one parishioner, Pastor Kerry offered some insights:

I assume that the language in the benediction during Lent has something to do with the image of God as a mother hen longing to gather her chicks as was referred to in a gospel reading.  

We use words that carry both gender and relational connectedness when we refer to other people.  So “father” and “mother” refer both to a biological connection and to gender.  When it comes to references to the Trinity, God has no gender.  Referring to God as “Father” or “Mother” is about using relational terms to describe our relationship with God. The earthly Jesus was clearly male.  The resurrected Jesus?  Mystery to me.

I offered some explanation as well:

We have to start from the perspective that God has no gender. God is spirit. The roles that God plays, however, include both mother and father. “From the Bible: In Isaiah, God says (about God’s self), “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). In a prayer of desperation, Moses uses similar womb imagery, speaking of God as one who gives birth, asking God, “Was it I who conceived all this people? or was it I who gave them birth…?” (Numbers 11:12). Hosea describes God as a mother bear, attacking those who steal her cubs (13:8) Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks together under her wings (Matt. 23:37, one of the gospel texts during this season of Lent).

The saints of the past also have more to say: St. Augustine observes that just as a mother’s body transforms ordinary table food–too complex for a baby’s delicate digestive system–into milk that is tailored to the baby’s needs, so does the Lord convert Wisdom into “milk” appropriate for our limited understanding. Another early church father, Clement of Alexandria, devotes an entire chapter to this mysterious process of mother’s blood becoming milk, musing over the various ways this connects to the spiriutal world. In one example, he views Christ as the nourishment that flows from the “Father’s breast,” feeding us with the milk of love. St. John Chrysostom writes of Christ as a mother who does not farm her babies out to a wet nurse but rather feeds them personally and tenderly.

“As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” wrote 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich. “To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom, and knowledge, and this is God. . . The mother can give her child a suck of milk but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself and does. . .” (I think she was speaking of the Eucharist here?)

St. Catherine of Siena compared Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to a mother who takes a bitter medicine so her nursing baby can get well again.” (quoted from Julie McCarty)  So, throughout the history of the church there is a rich heritage of understanding God as having mothering characteristics.

I would argue that the title “Mother” is not a gender specific title and that Jesus’ actions and very words recorded in the gospel warrant the title “Mother.” Consider the context of single parents or same-sex couples. Regardless of gender, a single parent fulfills both the title of “mother” and “father” (possibly not with the greatest ease, possibly better than two opposite gendered people). Actions and titles are too closely related to disassociate them. I mother my children when they need to be mothered. Does that make me a mother? Maybe temporarily. That’s why we like the term “co-parent.”
 
Also, historically the church is referred to in the feminine as “her” or “she.” If the church is the body of Christ, wouldn’t that be inclusive of Christ (as head of the body) to be called “her” or “she”? There is some mystery there. I’m comfortable living in the tension.

(HT: Spiritual Drawing Board)

Spin the Black Circle

I gave myself a personal home project deadline. I wanted to fix a 1969 Zenith Z922M turntable console by Christmas so I could listen to Willie Nelson’s Christmas LP “Pretty Paper” that I bought on vinyl earlier in the year. This turntable console is special because it was from my grandmother’s house. They bought it new in 1969. I remember listening to albums on it at her house when I was a kid. The original catalog advertisement is still inside:

The turntable wasn’t working when I got it. Not sure how long it has been since it worked. It also has an am/fm tuner which works. I assumed the main reason the turntable wasn’t working was due to the 42 year old lubrication in the mechanism. The amp in this thing is solid state and the turntable is heavy duty – meant to last forever. Today I proceeded to remove the back panel and look inside:

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After fiddling with the turntable I grabbed a can of WD-40 and gave the mechanism underneath the turntable a good spray. I was hoping it would loosen any parts that were locked and maybe lubricate the motor enough to make the table spin again. I powered it up and gave the table a little push to help it get started. After a few tries it started working. I found Willie’s Christmas vinyl and soaked it up. Now I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of my vinyl collection. The console needs some more repairs to fully restore it – only one of the woofers is working and I’m not sure the changer arm works properly.

 

Song Story – "Orphan"

“Orphan” is the fourth track from the “Family EP” that I recorded/released last year. Since we adopted Deacon back in May 2007, I had been reflecting on the whole journey. The whole process left a huge impact on me. This recording is my expression of what our adoption means to me.

In the process of song writing and deciding what themes to include, I knew I wanted to include a track that captured the Kingdom imperative to care for the “least of these.”

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Caring for orphans, widows, strangers, prisoners, the sick, the abused, … etc. is hugely important. The reason I know this is important is because it’s not just a nice story found in one part of the Bible. It’s a command scattered across both the Old and New Testaments. One of my favorite renderings of this command is from the sixth chapter of Micah. “Orphan” is basically a rocking version of Micah 6:8.

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Give it a listen:

Orphan

Here are the lyrics:

People everywhere live with injustice.
Terror, disease, death, and war.

Love mercy,
Walk humbly,
Act justly,
Love mercy.

Strengthen the faint, lift the weak;
Your mighty hand can save.
Stand up for the orphan.

Love mercy,
Walk humbly,
Act justly,
Love mercy.

And the liner notes-type stuff if you’re interested:

“Orphan” – w/m by Clayton Faulkner (c) 2009
electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, percussion, vocals – Clayton Faulkner
drum programming by Stephen Bolech
Produced by Clayton Faulkner & Stephen Bolech.
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Stephen Bolech at Studio K in Waco, TX.

SHARE THE WELL benefit concert

I’ve been organizing this benefit show for Living Water International for several months now, and it’s happening next week! If you’re in or near Houston, I hope you’ll come see us, hear some great music, and support a worthy cause.

DATE: Saturday, July 17, 2010
TIME: 7:00 pm
VENUE: Church of the Holy Trinity, 211 Byrne St., Houston, TX 77009 (MAP)
TICKETS: $10 in advance, $12 at door

Some really talented and wonderful folks are helping out: Randall Goodgame and Ross King.

Your support in any way is appreciated. Here are some ways to help:

  • download the flyer, print it out, pass it around, post it at church or where you hangout (DOWNLOAD FLYER)
  • blog about it, write a post, link to ShareTheWellConcert.com
  • follow us on Twitter (@wellconcert), RTs are appreciated
  • RSVP on Facebook, invite your contacts to attend, share the event on your wall

Thanks for the support – together we can improve the lives of others with clean water.

IWS 2009

Right now, I’m in Orange Park, FL at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies. I come every June to work on my doctoral degree in Worship Studies. It’s always a rich time of learning to think deeply and differently about worship, as well as connecting with friends I’m made along the way.

But it is tough to leave the family behind. 3 year olds are stressful, at least they seem to be sometimes when you’re in the middle of a tantrum. But when you step out of the normal flow of life and leave them behind, you really miss them. Thank goodness for video chat….
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