Lent Log Day 6: Fast food

“My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you…

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.

– from Psalm 63

The trouble with feasting for me is that in my current station in life feasting has been rarer than I’d like. Actually, this semester has been pretty difficult in terms of getting time in the kitchen. I have been attending evening meetings for (ironically titled) the Great Banquet, which has kept me from spending my Sunday afternoons cooking Sunday dinners, which not only are my favorite sabbath activity and way to unwind after a busy Sunday, but provide me with leftovers for the beginning of the next week. I’ve also been up on the North Shore for class on Tuesdays, out Mondays for Bible study, Thursdays for choir, so there are very few nights each week when I’m actually home to cook!

The result is too much fast food than I’d like to admit, and a very understocked pantry which makes me sad.

So it makes sense that I’m compelled by all these food passages in the Bible. Psalm 63 talks about how our souls are satisfied as with fat and rich food – not fast food, but a slow roasted chicken perhaps. Fat and rich food prepared at home is not only immediately satisfying but I believe the feeling of satiation carries well into the next day. So perhaps God is trying to show us how he alone is the metaphorical ‘chicken soup for the soul.’ Everything else that we seek to satisfy our souls are like fast food – they may meet the caloric requirements, may make us feel good at the moment, but they just leave us empty. Basically, it’s reminding me 1) need to spend more time with God, and 2) need to make more chicken stock.

 

Lent Log Day 5: Feasts

Luke chapter 15 contains the well known parables of lost things – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. I always thought these parables were about how God seeks after us and finds us even when we are lost, but in my New Testament class last week (and in last Sunday’s sermon at TCC), I was shown that each story also ends with the theme of celebration. The shepherd calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate finding the one sheep, the woman does the same for the coin, and the Father throws a big party when his son returns home. The message of the parable is clear for the Pharisees and scribes (Jesus is telling this parable to them, see Luke 15:1-2)  – don’t grumble about the ‘unrighteous’ who are found by God. Don’t be like the older son, indignant that those who did right all their lives were not getting any special treatment but the “prodigal son” (note that Luke doesn’t use the word prodigal – that’s just the editorial heading) gets a feast with the fatted calf and a new wardrobe: ring, robe, and shoes. The parable is also for us – don’t just be glad for your own salvation but seek out those who have been newly found by God and throw a party. Bring our most lavish gifts to celebrate with any and all who want to celebrate. Not those who we’d expect to see at the banquet – friends and relatives, but the poor and social outcasts. Remember the parable of the Great Banquet was just the chapter before!

The theme of feasting, hospitality, and eating together is all over the pages of Luke’s gospel. Once I started noticing it, it is so clear that Luke really wants us to know that eating together is very important. It’s quickly becoming my favorite Gospel narrative. Because of its emphasis on eating together (Jesus eats with ‘sinners’), it shows that these simple actions are actually very important to God. I like cooking for people and because of passages like Luke 15, I am beginning to see the dinner party as a necessary spiritual practice in my life. So come on over for dinner sometime!

 

Lent Log Day 3: Belated Advent Reflections

I’ve always wanted to write some thoughts about Advent but can never find the time in the month of December. Too busy! Here’s some non-seasonally appropriate content for today.

I hate to admit but I’m always taken off guard by the season of Advent. Every year I begin the season with determination to wait in hope, but by the middle of the month of December, the high expectations I perceive from congregation,  those that I place on myself as a church musician, and on top of a ton of extra hours of work when I’d rather be spending time with my family, I find myself worn down.

Is the purpose of Advent, as Fleming Rutledge believes, to “take an unflinching inventory of darkness” (pg. 173)? She sternly warns against seeing Advent as a time to ‘prepare for Christmas,’ and urges the church to fully enter into the darkness to see just how bright the light of Christ is. The medieval church did not focus on Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love like we do today, but rather death, judgment, heaven, and hell. “The idea was—and is—to show how the light of the birth of Christ appeared against a backdrop of darkness, depravity, and despair” (pg. 238).

But is the Medieval church right? I can’t imagine the looks I’d get from our staff and congregation if I urged us to consider swapping in death, judgement, heaven, and hell for our advent candle themes. It seems exactly opposite what people want to be focusing on during the holidays.

In grad school I was taught to keep Advent distinct from Christmas, and to resist the hurrying of the cultural Christmas season spurred on by commercialism and consumerism. I can’t help but agree – there seems to be little focus in December about Christ’s second coming.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Should, at certain times, the church focus on the future coming of Christ and the coming judgement of the world? If it’s in the creed, which it is (He shall come again to judge the living and the dead), then I believe the answer is yes.

But how? Preaching of ‘hellfire and brimstone’ is today a trope on how not to preach. And speaking of darkness seems not only unnecessary, but not required – we all know there is darkness in the world. We can’t avoid it. We don’t need to be reminded. A whole month of darkness, hellfire, judgement, during our culture’s most joyful time of the year doesn’t seem counter-cultural in a good way, but paints the church as a grinch who doesn’t want any joy.

But perhaps since the culture is well aware of the darkness all around us, I have a feeling that it would be very different and quite possibly very powerful, to shepherd the church by actually helping us consider these “four final things” of death, judgement, heaven, and hell in the light of Christ’s second coming. If we begin (and Advent is in fact the beginning of the church year) with the end in mind (Christ’s second coming) we frame all those nasty things in between in light of his victory. To prepare we must be looking at Christ more closely – remembering how we place our “hopes and fears of all the years” in him and him alone.

But how we prepare is equally important. Rutledge warns that an emphasis on ‘preparation’ is that preparation puts the emphasis of the season on human effort rather than God’s mighty work. I have heard this from parishioners. We need help ‘keeping Christ in Christmas,’ just like the secular world does. If we constantly feel the coming of Christmas as “stress with a deadline” than a season of preparing to receive joy, we’re missing the point. In fact, the gift giving should really be saved for Epiphany! What we want to do is treasure the gift of Jesus. Let every heart prepare him room!

Lent Log: Day 2

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you…” (2 Cor 10:13ff)

Paul talks a lot about boasting. As someone who struggles with pride (which is expressed more often in self depreciation than boasting per se) I find his statements about boasting confusing. Paul, in this passage, does boast in the area that God has given him influence. The famous verse later (“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” reference to Jer 9:24) seems to be a good rule – boast in the things God is doing that are great.

But what does that look like? It’s so easy to cross the line from “boasting in the Lord” to “boasting in the success of my ministry.”

Boasting with regard to the “area of influence God assigned to us” reminds me of a life principle I try (and often fail) to hold on to. Focus my energy on what I have influence over, and, (here’s the hard part) let go of the areas I don’t have influence over. Working in a church, there are many areas I do have influence over, and many areas I do not. Boasting in areas that I don’t have influence over would imply that at some point I tried to take or gain influence in these areas, perhaps extending myself outside of my lane. That never has gone well for me in the past.

By staying within my area of influence that God has assigned to me, I hope to reduce anxious feelings. Paul understood this. “And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Paul also speaks a lot about being anxious. If I want to, I could worry about all sorts of things that the church is not doing well in, but I think God is telling me through these verses to simply focus on the area he has placed me, and boast in the good work He is doing right there.

Lent Log: Day 1

In past years I’ve taken to fasting from social media or listening to music in the car during lent. I don’t really do social media anymore these days (if you want to quit the facebook habit but still need to go to the site every once and a while for a group or some notifications I can’t recommend more “quiet facebook” – it basically blocks the news feed) so I don’t feel the need to “fast from social media” to draw closer to God. What I do need is more reflection in my life. More pausing to listen to God.

During Lent I try to ask myself “God, what are you saying to me?” I try of course to do this year round, but the season of Lent is a reminder nevertheless; an invitation to take a practical step in my life of faith.

So instead of fasting, instead of ‘giving up’ something for Lent, what if I got back to this blog thing as a tool to draw me closer to God. Sometimes it’s hard to reflect simply in prayer alone, and I’m not a fan of keeping a personal journal. It’s just not the tool that works best for me. Perhaps this tool (for all the millions of readers of my blog … /s) will help me reflect on what God is saying to me this season.

40 days of posting. Here we go.

Program Note: Three Poems on Grief and Faith

In May of 2018 I led the choirs and orchestras of TCC Wayland and Westgate Church in a concert which included three original pieces I wrote over the last few years. Here is the program note that accompanied these pieces.

Program Notes:

In greyish doubt and black despair
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air
Pretending to Joy, although I lacked it
The age had made lament redundant.

So here’s the question – who can answer it–
Was he a brave man, or a hypocrite?
– In Black Despair by Czeslaw Miloz

I’m excited to share three pieces on tonight’s program of my own composition. These draw texts from three poems that have been meaningful to me on my own spiritual journey. Though some come from a very real place of brokenness and emptiness, these songs are prayers for anyone who has walked through loss, trauma, heartbreak, grief, or failure. They are for anyone who has walked the path of Christ. Perhaps tonight, you feel broken or beat down by life. Whether this feeling is a kind of grief from an external loss that you had no control over, or a kind of shame because you did have control and missed the mark, these songs speak directly to that place. And the Gospel is this – God knows our story, knows our failures and losses, and turns toward us in love.

As for me, I can say with confidence these words by T.S. Eliot:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

1. Overture: When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple • Text by Thomas Merton (1977)

One who finds themselves at the end of themselves will resonate with these words by Thomas Merton, a Cistercian monk, theologian, and poet. His poem recalls the feeling of emptiness and despair and is the scene we find ourselves at the beginning of a spiritual journey. When consoling one enduring grief, the best thing to do is often to say nothing at all, and Merton understands this. “Be still: there is no longer any need of comment.” 

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions
Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

Notice how Merton describes this failure in seemingly contrasting terms – the life of a disciple is a “noble ruin.” Our failures and losses are not turned into successes, but can be viewed as a “lucky wind” because by walking through them in faith we stop trying to earn our salvation and earn our worth by our own merits. We can turn to God and honestly say the words uttered by the prodigal son in Luke 12, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”  But the Father has compassion. He responds with a disorienting radical love. The Gospel is this: not only is he welcomed back into the family, but given a feast in celebration completely undeserved. Merton’s poem is a lesson in humility, where there is no room for boasting even in our failures. We are okay with just being okay, and this is a lesson I am learning and re-learning every day.

2. The Valley of Vision • Puritan Prayer by Arthur Bennett (1975)

The second song in this cycle is a Puritan prayer about finding God in the valleys and struggles of life. It has been with me since hearing it at a Bible study in California over 10 years ago. The prayer is one of paradoxes, reminding us that the spiritual journey is not a climb up a mountain but a descent as we walk the path of Christ. The early Christian hymn from Phillipians 2 says of Jesus,

“…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him…”

But the Gospel is this: it is by humbling ourselves that we are exalted. It is our brokenness that God uses for our healing and ultimately His glory. The invitation in this prayer is to open your heart in the midst of sin and grief to God’s joy, grace, riches, and glory. 

Lord high and holy meek and lowly
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision
Where I live in the depths
but see Thee in the heights
Hemmed in by mountains of sin
I behold thy glory

Let me learn by paradox
That the way down is the way up
  to be low is to be high
  the broken heart is the healed heart
the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit
the repenting soul is the victorious soul
to have nothing is to possess all
to bear the cross is to wear the crown
to give is to receive
that the valley is a place of vision.

Lord in the daytime
stars can be seen from deepest wells
And the deeper the wells
the brighter thy stars shine
Let me find thy light in my darkness
Thy life in my death
Thy joy in my sorrow
Thy grace in my sin
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

3. Love (III) • Text by George Herbert (1633)

If God is love, and the Gospel is grace, George Herbert’s third poem on love beautifully captures a soul’s response to first seeing God for who He truly is. It is shocking – we often wrestle with believing we are worthy of unconditional love. “If only you knew who I truly am…,” we often think to ourselves, limiting just how far Christ would go to love his children. But Herbert identifies with the shameful hesitancy of a soul receiving Christ for the first time. We don’t feel worthy, and by earthly standards, this is true. We are not perfectly kind, perfectly grateful…we are not perfect, so we do not deserve the perfect love of God. But the Gospel is this: as we place our faith in Christ, we gain his identity through his righteous life, and he bears our blame on the cross, fully identifying with our sinfulness. It’s the great exchange: Christ’s righteousness for our unrighteousness, and inspired Herbert to write these words. This poem, written in the first person, depicts Christ simply as “Love.” As you read, you can substitute the word Love for the word ‘Christ’ or ‘God’, and make this poem your own prayer.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

In the Kingdom of God, if our entrance is not earned by merit, so too our participation neither improves or reduces our status at God’s feast. We are guests, who are simply offered a seat at the table. The Gospel is this: Christ sees us, and as we turn toward him in faith, Christ forgives us, bears our blame, and invites us to feast at His table.

Herbert sums this up in his hymn, “Repentance” (1633):

But you will sin and grief destroy;
That so the broken bones may joy,
And tune together in a well-set song,
Full of His praises,
Who dead men raises.
Fractures well cured make us more strong.

Recording coming soon!

“A lucky sea that drowned his reputation…” On making meaning from emptiness with Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr

In the summer of 2017 I spent 10 weeks at l’Abri Fellowship in Southborough after a pretty tough life transition. I was learning to grieve, and grieving doesn’t come easy. I spent many days reading books, listening to lectures, and generally trying to put meaning back together. Several months in, I discovered that it was not books on theology that spoke to me, but poetry. There’s some part of the mind, or perhaps the heart, that poetry accesses through our imagination which can startle us and wake us up.

One poem I discovered was through Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward,” recommended by my spiritual director. Rohr speaks about a model for life’s spiritual journey in which after an ascent (which he calls, the “heroic” journey), we often find ourselves in a place where our effort, talent, skill, and success can carry us along no further. Many people might call this a mid-life-crisis, but this is not just about quitting your job or buying a sports car. Rohr speaks to a crisis of limitation, where we no longer view life as a climbing up a mountain, no longer looking to achieve the next step in the ladder, but begin to find new meaning in the journey of wisdom, which, as Christ models for us, is always a descent (i.e. Phil 2, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”).

Sooner or later (and for me it was much sooner than I expected) we find ourselves in a state of utter failure and loss, at a place where our own intellect and resources will not save us. It is from there that God can remind us that he and he alone is the rock on which we stand. “In the divine economy of grace,” Rohr writes, “sin and failure become the base  metal and raw material for the redemption experience itself.” From this place of failure Rohr reminds us that our fall or failure is actually the biggest grace we can receive, if we truly receive it. There’s a ton of wisdom in the Enneagram here, which I believe is a very effective tool in spiritual growth, and I hope to expand on in future posts.

At the end of the book, Rohr points to Merton’s Poem, published in 1977, as a unique vantage point of one who has just begun their second half of life. Merton writes:

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

And now with some of my annotations:

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

I lamented many things, but one deep sense of shame came from realizing that I was no longer living up to the heroic image I had for myself – one who is successful, without failure, without problems, and generally well put together. Oh, and I also actually lost my house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions

There’s a certain emptiness in grief that is amplified by the fact that nobody can say anything to make you feel better. The best consolation in grief is simply someone sitting with you and saying “I’m sorry. I can’t make it better, but I can be here with you.” I cherished the friends that were able to say that without trying to make me feel better.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

I suppose looking back on it it is lucky. There are many good things that have come from tragedy, but to say that it is lucky is not to say that “something good will come of it,” but is to say that when your external facade (i.e. our metaphorical “halo”) is blown away, and your reputation destroyed, you have nothing else to stand on, and, because of Christ and only because of Christ, that is a lucky place to be.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction

A quick reminder to an over-achiever like me that there is no prize for finding this poverty, no special award for being content with emptiness. Don’t humble brag, or try to say how awful your life is and how you deserve the most praise for enduring such suffering. There is no easy end or cliché moral to the story.

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

I am still learning the importance of humility – of being okay with just being okay. It is a certain freedom when I can remember it, though this #enneagramthree has a tough time sometimes. So hard that I decided to write music and turn it into a concert for choir and orchestra. Oh well.

Yes, I’ve set this poem to music for choir and orchestra. We’re performing it on May 19th at Westgate Church in Weston. Read more here!

Liturgy and the Grieving Heart

I’ve been silent for a while.

In March of 2017 I heard news that would change my life forever. It was bad news. Really bad news. It weighed deep in my mind, my heart, and my soul, robbing me of all joy of everyday life. My work, which used to be a great source of joy and excitement, withered into a dutiful chore. Food, a source of delight, pleasure, and energy, lost its taste, and my appetite was half of what it used to be. I started losing weight, which was not a good thing. Minutes seemed like hours, and days like years. Every day was drudgery. I remember just trying to get to the end of the day to get to sleep – a short rest from the pain of conscious life. When I did sleep, it was sporadic at best, and I often woke up before the sun came up with thoughts racing through my head. This was darkness. I now know the pains of Psalm 88:

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.

Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

What follows are thoughts I wrote in the darkest moments of grief – I wrote these words in April of 2017. Now that I’ve learned to stand and breathe again, I’ve felt compelled to share these thoughts from this very dark time. I hope that these words draw others to God during times of grief and suffering.

I run to the scriptures. I’m a Christian, so I know how I’m supposed to trust God. I cry out to God in prayer but it didn’t make me feel any better. There was no “inner peace” that helped me rejoice in this suffering. I have never experienced pain like this and did not know when it would end. As a worship leader, I felt completely useless. How could I lead others in praising God when all I want to do is throw rocks at the sky and curse his name. How does one hope, when the circumstances around them seem utterly hopeless? I swear, if anyone quotes to me Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord”) or Romans 8:38 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good”) in the midst of this grieving, I might just punch them in the face. I know I’m supposed to rejoice in all things, but I just want the pain to stop.

In my grief, I turned to the book of Lamentations, which, unlike the verses above, don’t run around or away from suffering, but sit in it.

He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;

Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.

So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

This verse seemed different than the go-to Christian advice. It acknowledged the depth of my suffering (especially all of chapter 3). It acknowledged the distance I feel from God. It also doesn’t rush to cheap consolation. It acknowledged the cries of my heart that God is not acting to fix, restore, heal, or help the situation. But God is still not absent. Though I, and the author of Lamentations, do not feel God’s presence or help, He is still in the story.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope. (Lam 3:27-29)

My eyes will flow unceasingly,
without relief,
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees. (Lam 3:49-50)

God will certainly not take away my suffering, but God sees. By confronting the raw pain, and by honestly speaking of this experience of suffering, hope can be real. I think the most faithful thing one can do in the midst of grief or suffering is to be honest to yourself and to God, even if that means addressing your anger directly at Him. I think the God we know through scritpure would rather have us beat him up and blame him than to turn away from him. I think this because the God of the Bible showed us that he loved us by sending his Son Jesus, who received our blame, our mockery, our abuse, and continued to love and forgive. He took the beating and the blaming, because of his love for us. So, for a while, I was angry at God. Sometimes I still am, and this is a good thing.

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.

From this place of honesty and brokenness I can take a step forward. I went to church one Sunday, and wept through most of the liturgy. I wept not because of my sadness, but because of the amazing contrast between the words of the liturgy and my own experience at that moment in time. And of course, I remembered why I love liturgy. It is there precisely for that reason – as an antidote to personal experience. When my world is crumbling before my eyes, it is a gift to run to words that tell us about God, who is always faithful, always loving, infinite and unchangeable.

The opening prayer of an anglican service reads:

Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thought of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

God knows all of us – even our deepest desires and secrets. He knows how much I can’t stand this pain right now. He knows I want to run to things other than Him to self-medicate and numb the pain. He knows I want to run to sin because though my life is out of control, it makes me feel, at least for a moment, that I am in control. And yet I ask him to “cleanse the thoughts of my heart,” not so I feel less of the pain, but that I may worship Him perfectly.

Okay God. Let’s do this. I’m here – broken and humbled.

We hear the law of God, given to us in the Ten Commandments, which begins “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery…”

Then we hear the commandments and respond saying “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” You need not ask me to say this. I’ve got this one down pat. I’ve been crying this all month. I’ve been shouting this at God through tears. But now I get to have the church say it around me as I can barely open my mouth through the tears. Even as I type this I began to sob again. What is mercy? Does it mean taking away the suffering? Does it mean removing the pain which I utterly deserve? Does it mean fixing the situation or leading me through it barely alive?

It is a gift to sing hymns from centuries past, unfiltered by modern day consciousness. And to this, simply copying hymn texts here do not fully communicate their effect. It is one thing to read the text of the hymn, “Praise to the Lord! the Almighty, the King of creation!”, but another thing entirely to sing it with a congregation. God’s goodness and mercy is not just an abstract thought, but a reality made known through community. We are not just brains, we sing and make music to make sense of the world. The tune is important. The harmony is important. Singing together is important. When I am fighting back tears and cannot open my mouth to sing, I hear dear friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike all around me singing these words. Though I can’t see how my “desires e’er have been Granted in what He ordaineth”, maybe others can, and maybe God is still good. Maybe.

At the church I attend, we weekly recite a simple benediction from Kenya, which says:

All our problems,We send to the cross of Christ!

All our difficulties, We send to the cross of Christ!

All the devil’s works, We send to the cross of Christ!

All our hopes, We set on the risen Christ!

I never thought too much of it. When life is good, it’s just going through the motions to say we send our problems to Christ. But let me tell you, when you can barely get out of bed in the morning, to be able to shout these words out loud in the liturgy is a gift. Then we hear the pastoral blessing: “Christ the son of righteousness scatter the darkness before your path; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.”

Maybe I will get through this.

 

 

Four great anthems for the volunteer church choir

It’s really hard to pick music for a volunteer church choir. When I consider a piece of music to put in the hands of my volunteer choir, I evaluate it on three dimensions: Is it smart? Is it pretty? Is it accessible?

The resulting venn-diagram of appropriate music that fits these three categories leaves just a sliver of repertoire at our disposal. Bach cantatas are smart and pretty, but rarely accessible for a volunteer church choir. The hundreds of newly composed anthems published each year are often pretty, almost always accessible, but rarely very smart.

Here are a few that I’ve found to be gems. My choir loved all of these, and have sung them again and again when we need to just relax and sing something we all enjoy. I hope these are useful to you!

1. The Comfortable Words
Text from the book of common prayer (Matthew 211:28 and John 3:16)
Music by Andy Piercy (c) 2015 IQ Music
Arranged by me, here: The Comfortable Words

2. Total Praise – Richard Smallwood
Doreen Rao’s version for choir SATB is good.

3. The Valley of Vision – Kurihara
Text from the Puritan Prayer Book The Valley of Vision
Music by Adam Kurihara (c) 2014

4. Take Courage My Soul (The Storm is Passing Over)
By Charles Albert Tindley
This arrangement by Barbara Baker available from Boosey & Hawkes is decent, though I’d prefer it down a few steps for the tenors!

(Free!) Brass and string parts for hymns and contemporary worship music

sheet-musicBecause I work at an awesome church with awesome musicians, and we regularly utilize melodic instruments as part of our worship team, I have written hundreds of instrumental parts over the past several years. I don’t want these parts sitting on my computer for only us to use, so I’ve made them available here for folks who might have a willing viola player but no training in composition or orchestration. I often hear of music directors that have instrumentalists who want to play, but they just don’t know how to incorporate them in an effective and constructive way.

Here are a few of the parts I have written over the years. As you can see, the selection is limited to the instruments I regularly use (trumpet and strings), but parts could easily be adapted to other similarly pitched instruments as well. Trumpet parts are in Bb unless otherwise noted.

I hope these are a blessing to you and your team! If you do use them, there’s no charge and make as many copies as you’d like, but shoot me an email or leave a comment to let me know you used them. If you’d like to send a donation my way, you can do so here!

The Charts and the Parts

Charts separated with | pipes | are separate parts not meant to be played together.

10,000 Reasons | Chart | Trumpet
All Creatures of our God and King | Chart | Violin
Alas and Did My Savior Bleed (Tune: RESIGNATION) | Chart | String Quartet (Score and Parts)
All Glory be to Christ | ChartTrumpet | String QuartetViolin 1 Violin 2 Viola Cello
All Glory Laud and Honor | Trumpet
Be Still My Soul | Trumpet
Be Thou My Vision | Trumpet
Before the Throne of God Above (Shane and Shane version) | Chart | Viola and Cello
Blessed Be Your Name | Chart| Viola
Brass Trio for Easter (original composition with “In Christ Alone” and “Wondrous Love”) | Trumpet, Trombone, and Tuba (Score and Parts)
Called Me Higher (All Sons and Daughters) | ChartViola and Cello
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery (Boswell/Papa) | String Quartet – Score V1 V2 Vla Vcl
Come Christians Join to Sing | Viola and Cello
Come People of the Risen King | Chart | Viola | Trumpet
Come Thou Fount | String Trio – Score Violin Viola Cello
Glory To God (Steve Fee) | Chart | Viola and Cello
God of our Fathers (Hymnal for Worship and Celebration) | Trumpet
Great is Thy Faithfulness (Hymnal for Worship and Celebration – D Major) | Trumpet
Holy  (Brenton Brown) | ChartViola and Cello (Score and Parts)
Holy is the Lord | Chart | Viola
How Deep The Father’s Love for us | Chart | Viola and Cello (Score and Parts)
How Great is Our God | Chart| Viola
In Christ Alone | Trumpet
The Solid Rock | Trumpet

That’s all for now…more to come soon, including…

Indescribable | Viola and Bass
Man of Sorrows (Hillsong) | Piano and String Quartet
Oceans | Hillsong Music | Violin
Our Great God (Ortega) | Viola | Trumpet
Our God | Viola, Cello, and Bass
O God Beyond All Praising | Viola | Trumpet
Psalm 117 | Jered McKenna | Viola | Violin
Speak O Lord (Getty) | Trumpet
This is our God (Tomlin) | Viola
We Confess | Glenn Packiam | Viola and Cello | Viola Alone | Cello Alone
What Wondrous Love is This | Trumpet | Ortega Arrangement Full Score

Parts are also available as .sib files. Please contact me if you would like editable Sibelius files.

Want something you don’t see? Contact me for arrangement services.