The Gospel According to Kesha (Part 2)

Part 1 here

If you’re going to read something in the Bible, it helps to also know the background story. Who wrote it? Why was it written? What was going on in the surrounding culture at the time?

If you’re going to listen to Kesha’s new album, it helps to also know the background story. I don’t know all the details. To best understand why these songs were written, it helps to know what was going on in her life that led to this. There are lots of allegations and legal actions. But with the climate of our current culture and the systemic way that women are treated, we can assume what the truth is. You can read all the details here. To sum it up, she was in an abusive situation and contractually bound to be in it.

Out of that situation comes the song “Praying,” the fifth track from Rainbows:

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come

‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known
I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name

You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Songwriters: Kesha Rose Sebert / Ben Abraham / Ryan Lewis / Andrew Joslyn
Praying lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
(Photo by AugeeKim, Wikimedia Commons)

Lyrical Analysis

Prayer is not an unexplored metaphor in pop music. Bon Jovi was living on one and Madonna’s name was called like a little one. But what is prayer? Is it dead ritual? Is it recitation of ancient words handed down through the ages? Is it conversation with a deity?

We can think of prayer as many things, but it might be best understood as connectedness. When I’m being prayerful, I am aware of my connection to God and my connection to the people and things around me. Because of these connections I become opened to what God desires from me, and how I can serve the people and things around me.

Knowing Kesha’s story, the events that led to the composition of this lyric, we can assume they are directed at an antagonist. If prayer is really connectedness then why would you hope that your enemy is somewhere praying? That hardly sounds like revenge. Who wishes prayer, soul change, and peace on their enemies?

Jesus.

Don’t let this nugget of truth and justice slip away. This is not an insignificant detail. Perhaps one of the most Christo-centric lyrics to be produced in all the world in the last year, both within and without the church, just came from Kesha.

This lyric echoes the words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount: “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

It should not be so surprising for such lyrics to come from pop music. Jesus regularly found a home among the disenfranchised, the social outcasts, and women falsely accused. Kesha says for herself that she neatly fits in all those categories. Kesha prays that her enemies find peace. So what do you pray for?

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Weekly Worship Thought – The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

(this was tweeted by Shane Claiborne yesterday)

THE IMMIGRANT APOSTLES’ CREED
by Rev. Jose Luis Casal

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

Weekly Worship Thought – Hurricane Liturgy

hurricane liturgy

As a resident of the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey has made an impression on me. We take storms of this caliber very seriously. So seriously that schools close for multiple days and churches cancel Sunday worship services. We are better safe than sorry. Flooding and dangerous roadways are the biggest concern.

With so many churches canceling worship services on Sunday, there have been several devotions made available for home use. Here is a list of litanies, prayers, and devotions I found for use in times of inclement weather. Feel free to share others that you may know.

Weekly Worship Thought – Prayer for an Inauguration

GalileeLutheran_ELWAlmighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage. Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will. Bless our land with honesty in the workplace, truth in education, and honor in daily life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance; and from every evil course of action. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 77 (©2006 Augsburg Fortress)

Prayers of Intercession after the Election

photo-1428515634197-76c85896cf1f

It is a humbling honor to craft the prayers of intercession for an assembly gathered to worship. I took extra care this week in writing the prayers on the Sunday after such an eventful week. 

A: With the people of God gathered here and throughout the world, we offer our prayers for our nation and those in need of peace during this time.

A brief silence.

A: We pray for the health, well-being, wisdom, and judgment of President-Elect Trump and all who were elected to office this week. Grant our government an orderly and peaceful transition in the months to come, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those who feel like their deepest hopes were dashed and greatest fears were preyed upon in this election. Grant comfort and courage to our Muslim and LGBTQ sisters and brothers during their time of distress, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A:  We pray for peace among the nations. Make our elected leaders quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A: We pray for those who hunger or thirst, for those who doubt or are terrified, for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, for our (specific needs), that all experience the healing and comfort given through Christ, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those gathered in this place to hear the gospel and receive the good gifts of God through Christ Jesus, that guided by the Holy Spirit, we will serve our neighbor and stand against the injustices we might face, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

A:  We give thanks for men and women of every time and place who have died in Christ, and we follow their examples of faithful living, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Weekly Worship Thought – Confession

456903_381360738576439_143418169037365_1103943_1194963067_oOne of the elements of worship at The Gathering will change this week. It is the Prayer of Confession that takes place before the presider speaks the words of institution and we share communion. We added this confessional liturgy into The Gathering worship earlier this year and use it every week. I have been writing and compiling these prayers and this week will be our fourth iteration of it. The structure is the same from season to season:
  • Introduction (which might include acknowledgment of God’s attributes, thanksgiving for the offering that was just collected, and a call to confession from the presider)
  • Silence for reflection
  • Communal confession of sin (spoken in unison by the assembly)
  • Words of Forgiveness (which might include a call to the meal, transitioning us to the table and the words of institution)
One of the tricky things about curating this confessional prayer is to not transition into the meal focused on my sin and my forgiveness. Although the words of the confession us “us/we” language, there is a tendency to make confession about personal wrong-doing and personal forgiveness. However, the table is not so narrow. The table is not only concerned about me as an individual. The table is broad enough for the universe, and is the place where I “become what I eat” and am in turn made to be bread for the world. My goal in this prayer of confession is to set our minds and hearts on the cosmic reach of God’s forgiveness at the table, not merely what God has done for me individually.

Eucharistic Prayer of Confession @ The Gathering
Easter Season 2016

P:        Let us pray. God of all creation, we joyfully give back to you what you have given to us in abundance. All you have made is good, and your love endures forever. You give us bread from the earth and fruit from the vine. We do not presume to come to your table trusting in our own righteousness, but in your overflowing mercy. Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

Silence is kept for reflection.

P:        God of grace and glory,

All:     you have brought us from death to life in Jesus’ resurrection. Yet our lives are still shadowed by sin. Make us alive in Christ, new creations in you. Rescue us in our time of need, renew us in grace, and restore us to living in your holiness, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

P:        Brothers and sisters, we have victory in Christ who has defeated the powers of sin and death through his glorious resurrection. Join in the meal of God’s forgiveness. As we eat and drink the body and blood of our risen Lord, may we live in him and he in us, a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the night in which he was betrayed…

Weekly Worship Thought – Sung Prayer

clayton guitar smallAll of our worship is prayer. All the music we offer in worship can best be understood as sung prayer. This gives me hope, because I suck at prayer. Most of the time I feel self sufficient in my life and not needful of God’s assistance. My problem is pride, the sneakiest, most original sin of all. I am encouraged when I think about singing my prayer to God. All my prayers of praise, confession, lament, and intercession can be carried on a tune from our heart to God’s ear. Jesus told a story in Luke 18 about a pesky widow who would not leave a judge alone. She pestered the judge day after day, and he finally bent to her pleading to avoid the insanity. So may our songs never stop ringing in God’s ears.

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:

Devotion on Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:31-39: 31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

In sports, it is easy to size up an opponent. In basketball, if you’re fast and tall you have a natural leg up on the other person. In football, if you have agility and a rocket for an arm you will have an advantage at quarterback.

In the spiritual world, however, sizing up an opponent isn’t as cut and dry. We have an advantage on our enemy that defies logic and the natural order of things. That advantage is provided through the sacrificial love and humility displayed through Jesus in his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Even though we may face suffering in the present, our hope is pulling us through this life and into a glorious future of new, resurrected life. And not only pulling us as the children of God, but all of creation also. Who can stand opposed to God and God’s people as a result of the incredible work of Jesus, God’s own Son? The clear answer is, “No one!” What can remove God’s love from his children? The clear answer is, “Nothing!”

And because there is never a separation from God’s love, because we have nothing to fear, our hearts rise within us, full of adoration and praise for the One Great Love. 

 

Prayer: God of all love and compassion, bless us with the courage and strength to face any day, any situation, any trial with the grace that comes from being your child. Give us an everlasting hope, through Jesus, and in his name. Amen.

 

Experiencing God in Worship

1228670_90111056How do you experience God in worship?

Is it a feeling? Is it an attitude? Is it a thought? Does it bring joy? Does it feel mysterious? Does it make your fingertips tingle?

Which part of Sunday worship is most meaningful to you?

Is it the songs and hymns we sing together with one voice? Is it the water that cleanses us and renews us as new creatures in Christ? Is it the reading of God’s story and the proclamation of the good news in Jesus? Is it the common meal we share in broken bread and poured wine? Is it the blessing and sending that propels us to be God’s people for the good of the world? Where do you experience God the most in worship?

The important thing is not how you experience God in worship – but that you experience God in worship. If you come to church week after week and never experience the person of God, never enter the fellowship of the Trinity, you’ve missed the point and we as a church have failed in our task.

Also valuable to remember is that how you experience God is not the same as how other people experience God in worship. God creates us as individuals and wires each of us in unique ways. Just because one person experiences God in a different way than us does not make it better or worse than the way we experience God. What becomes crucial is how we act and respond to those who draw near to God using “worship languages” that are different than our own. The words of Philippians 2:3-4 should guide the hearts of everyone in our assembly on Sunday: “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We worship God as one body, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Worship is designed to create space for the Holy Spirit to move and show up in fresh and unexpected ways. Worship is not a one way conversation. We are not the only ones speaking during worship. Worship is space for the Spirit to provoke, whisper, and prod us into Christ-likeness. The work of our worship is to be attentive in both heart and mind and then follow in obedience.