Weekly Worship Thought – Fasting

So, what is the difference between fasting and dieting? Asking for a friend.

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One of the courses I’m taking right now is working through a book on spiritual disciplines. One of the course requirements was to make a plan for how we are going to incorporate spiritual disciplines into the rhythm of our lives.

Meditation and prayer. Easy.
Worship. No sweat.
Study and submission. Yep, I can do those.

Fasting?

It just so happened that Kate was ready to start another round of Whole 30 during the month of October. I had done it once before and survived. I dropped about 25 pounds the first time. I agreed to follow the diet, although not be as much of a stickler about the details this time. I accidentally ate some corn yesterday, forgetting it was a grain (how come it is not a vegetable?). And I failed to avoid the chili cheese nachos at my son’s football game last Saturday.

Well, ironically the spiritual discipline assignment was due two days after I started the diet. While writing up my plan I realized, “Hey, I’m going to be fasting this whole month. Easy.” Then I began to think about it more. What is the difference between dieting and fasting?

I’m not sure. Like most things, I have a feeling it comes down to the attitude of your heart.

Just so you know, I did go into a Dunkin Donuts today and only ordered an iced black coffee.

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Weekly Worship Thought – The Elusive Sabbath

as1w2qxjrie-felix-russell-sawWhy is it so hard to take a break? Even as I type this, it is early in the evening on one of my days off. What is it that made me open the laptop and start typing this article on a Saturday evening? I could postpone it. I have time to finish this article during the week ahead. I could be doing any number of other things right now. I could read a book. I could play a board game with my kids. I could make a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the break. Instead I’m typing this article.

Sabbath is a concept that you already know. It is a spiritual practice. There is something inherently spiritual about our ceasing to work. God could have created the world and the story could have moved on. But the rest is there for a reason. Not so much because God was weary from the heavy lifting of creation, but because we get weary. We are the ones who need to cease working. And God, who always does what is good and best for us, models the best practices for life.

It is the same with music. Music is not just continuous sound. Music is the dialogue of sound and silence. One of the most common mistakes that ensembles make is playing or singing during the rests. The squiggly lines are there for a reason. Music is not music without the rests. Great music draws you into its silence. What musicians don’t play or sing between the notes is just as important as the notes. For music to work, there must be rests.

I know why I am typing on my day off. It is productivity. My self-worth is conjoined to my ability to get stuff done. My identity is wrapped up in what I am able to produce. If I’m not producing something, then I’m not being who I am meant to be. And that is a lie. God did not make me to be a cog on a wheel or a machine in an assembly line. I am God’s child. My self-worth is dependent on who loves me, not what I get done. My identity is claimed in the waters of baptism, not my output.

If you struggle with Sabbath, don’t feel bad. I do too. As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I hope you will not skip over the rests. The notes don’t sustain forever. You have to take a breath to keep the music going.

Weekly Worship Thought – Spiritual Content

A photo by Jezael Melgoza. unsplash.com/photos/2ktKz6CnNk0When we gather together for corporate worship, the people assembled are engaging with the music at a variety of levels. I like to simplify this into three layers, or sections of a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, the outermost layer, is the musical content. Some people engage and respond to the music used in worship purely at the musical level: melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and dynamics. The next layer down in the middle is the lyrical content. Some people engage and respond to the music and also recognize that there are lyrics and the lyrics have a quality. They are poetic and have rhyme, meter, and beauty. The bottom layer is the foundation that we want all people to get to. It is the spiritual content. All of the musical and lyrical content being presented is prompting us to recognize the spiritual reality of who God is and what God has done. Our songs in worship are there to move us into participation with God in the work of recreating and renewing the whole world.

Weekly Worship Thought – Spiritual Gifts

giftWhat are your gifts? What do you bring to the table? What are your spiritual gifts? We believe that God gives the church every thing she needs to grow and thrive, through the spiritual gifts of the assembled body of Christ. What gifts has God given you that make you uniquely useful and beneficial to God’s people and for the good of the world? Have you ever taken a spiritual gift inventory? If you haven’t I invite you to take the one in the link. Obviously, church musicians are usually gifted in the area of music and worship leadership. That is why we do what we do every Sunday. But what other gifts might you have? What do you bring to the table that makes you unique and makes the church better? We can’t do the work of ministry unless we have resources. Our biggest resource is you – and God has gifted you to be a resource.

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.

 

True Spirituality

jesus_icon_i(Reflection from the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Psalm 15:1-2: LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill? Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart;

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

When we think of being religious or being spiritual, we tend to think inwardly. Perhaps we think about the situations that we have to deal with, or the struggles we have to shoulder, or the battles we fight in our mind. It is widely understood that spirituality is an inward discipline – something shared between God and me.

But Scripture teaches us that spirituality is also about what happens outwardly. Spirituality is about doing right and caring for others. Sharing with those in need is good religion, acceptable to God. Our spirituality is embodied in how we treat people that are less fortunate.

A quote from Robert Webber: “No matter how hard we try, there is nothing we can do to restore our union with God. That is the bad news. But the good news is that God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. . . . So spirituality is not a self-generated achievement but a gift given to us by God. This gift sets us free to see life in a new way and to live life as God intended, in union with the purposes of the Creator and Redeemer of the world.”[1]

God’s purposes for us are actualized in serving others. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, the last are first and the first are last. The best in God’s community are always on the bottom, serving others in humility. When we help people in need, making ourselves available to be used by God, we become truly spiritual.


[1] Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 18.

There Is a Balm in Gilead

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One of my favorite hymns is “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” There is a depth to this hymn that expresses a longing for healing and wholeness. It acknowledges that there is a wellness in Jesus Christ that goes beyond physical healing and reaches into our very souls and even the entirety of creation.

“Balm of Gilead” was an aromatic medicinal ointment. Jeremiah 8:22 asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” The refrain of this African American spiritual answers the question: “There is a balm in Gilead.” At first blush that seems like a strange answer, because the stanzas seem unconnected to it, until you realize that they tell you where the balm is located.

It is not in Gilead or in any place in this world where horrible things like oppression and lynchings happen. No, it is the Holy Spirit who “revives my soul,” and it is Jesus who “is your friend” and “died for
all.”

This means that if you know where hope is found—namely, in God—the balm is paradoxically precisely in Gilead and in every other
place in this world. Or, as James Cone said when he cited this spiritual, “Hope, in the black spirituals, is not a denial of history, [but] the belief that things can be radically otherwise than they are: that reality is not fixed, but is moving in the direction of human liberation.”

Like many black spirituals, the origin of the text and tune for “There Is a Balm in Gilead” is difficult to track down. Many of these songs
were anonymously handed down through an oral tradition. The song was probably formed in the early part of the nineteenth
century. The first appearance of the refrain was found in Washington Glass’s 1854 hymn “The Sinner’s Cure.” The complete spiritual appeared in Folk Songs of the American Negro in 1907.

(excerpts from Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2010, p. 454-455.)

Is it a hymn, a song, or a chorus?

 

One of the things I like to do is respond to questions about worship or liturgy. I don’t claim to know everything, but I can share my two cents. During a recent conversation this question came up: what do we call the songs we sing in our services? Are they hymns, or songs, or choruses, or what?

 

It’s a tricky question. If you want to get technical, there are dozens of categories within the broader sacred music genre. There are chorales, gospel hymns, scripture songs, contemporary worship songs, spirituals, and doxologies, just to name a few. Even our own Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) hymnal can be perplexing. Pages 92-93 in ELW map out the pattern for worship in our context, but say that a “Gathering Song” can be either a “Hymn” or a “Psalm.” The ELW pattern also calls music during communion a “Communion Song” and music during the sending a “Sending Song.” However, the section of the hymnal that contains the music is titled “Hymns” (beginning at #239). And to add to the confusion, the “Hymns” section in ELW contains several songs that are staples in many contemporary worship services (like #857 “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” and #821 “Shout to the Lord”)!?!

 

Maybe the best solution is to take it back to basics and what the Bible says about music in worship. We know in two separate occasions the Apostle Paul mentions songs in his letters. In Ephesians 5:18-20 and in Colossians 3:16 Paul says that we are to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” So we know for sure that there were at least three categories of songs that the earliest Christians used in their communal worship. Psalms are biblical songs from the Old Testament book by the same name, but likely included other songs (like the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2). Hymns are songs addressed to God and to Jesus as the Son of God. Possible examples of the first hymns of the Christian era are included in the New Testament (like Philippians 2:6-11 and Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55). Spiritual Songs were most likely short, extemporaneous songs that arose within individual Christian communities. These songs were probably songs of testimony, fellowship, witness, and were very reflective of the community from which they came. The songs are called “Spiritual” because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

 

One thing is certain – God’s people are encouraged in Scripture to sing a variety of songs in worship. No matter what we call them, the church has been given the gift of music for the purposes of singing God’s praises.

Got a question? Leave me a comment…