Sunday, December 31, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 8

January 1, 2007 (New Year's Day)

Adoration of Magi, by unknown Chinese artist; period unknown.

At my church this morning, we elected to celebrate Epiphany Sunday. I thought it would be appropriate to share an Adoration of the Magi today. I wish I could find out more about this particular representation, and that it were of better quality.

I have a love-hate relationship with the carol "We Three Kings." First of all, the magi were not kings! Secondly, very few verse-refrain hymns remain interesting by the third or fourth time we sing the refrains. This one is a good example. (We sang it this morning, and sang the refrain only after the first and last verses. We also used a "brisk" rather than "stately" tempo, which helps a great deal.)

What I genuinely like about the carol, however, is what it has to teach us about the nature of the gifts the magi brought to the holy Child. Here are those interior verses:

"Born a king on Bethlehem's plain, gold I bring to crown him again;
King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.

"Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising, worshiping God on high.

"Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, laid in the stone-cold tomb."

This carol is yet another reminder that the Christmas story is not pretty, neat, or sentimental. We Christians celebrate the coming of God, the Sovereign of the Universe, into human history. He was born like any other human being, but into poverty, violence, and political chaos. Christ did not come into the world in order to be a cute little baby we can cuddle for a few days each year, then forget about until it's time for Easter lilies. Mary's infant grew up to set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaited him there. Baby Jesus was born to die. The King of Kings, whose coming was announced by the herald angel, would be mocked as "King of the Jews" just before his execution. And this King, God, and Sacrifice calls us with his eternal "Follow Me."

Am I willing to lay at the cradle of the little King the gold that I would prefer to hoard? The incense of prayer and praise as the God he is, when I find myself yet again on the throne of my own life? The anointing essence of the confession of my sin, that I may be crucified with him so that he lives in me?

Or will I merely sing, bored, about the star with royal beauty bright? Will I miss entirely the Savior to whom that star showed a band of determined Gentile astrologers the way so long ago?

Alleluia! Alleluia! Sounds through the earth and skies--and through me.

Side note:

In reviewing the past week's posts, I was struck by how exclusively Western European the art has been. It's been an education for me to hunt for good art which is in the public domain, in which Nativity themes portray non-European figures. There is a great deal of excellent work being done (and this is also true of North American and European art), but copyright issues make it illegal or unethical for me to post most of them here. In fact, I was careless about this with my post for December 25; I'll be removing the Ina Hecker icon detail in a few minutes and replacing it with something from the public domain.

If anyone reading this would like to suggest good Nativity-theme art for me to consider for the remainder of this series, I'd love to check out any links you may have.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 7

December 31, 2006 (New Year's Eve)

The Nativity, Lorenzo Lotto, 1523

See him at Bethlehem, laid in a manger,
Christ our Redeemer, asleep in the hay;
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child with his mother that first Christmas day.
(From "Candlelight Carol," by John Rutter)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 6

The Nativity, from the Collins Book of Hours, 1430-1440

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Nativity, for me, is that GOD came to be one of us. How could the One who created all that is, trust us enough to become a helpless infant, born at a dangerous time into poverty? I think Christina Rossetti shared this sense of wonderment at how low God stooped at the Incarnation:

"Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and cattle which adore."
(from Christina Rossetti, "In the Bleak Midwinter")

Friday, December 29, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 5

Adoration of the Shepherds (detail), Jacopo Negretti, 1520-1525

The newborn King's first visitors were not "desirables." Considered marginal Jews at best, Jewish shepherds were despised by others. Isn't it interesting that, as in so many future instances, it is the lowly and rejected ones of society who recognized the truth of who Christ was and who told others the good news of his coming? Praise be to God!

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too would thither bend our joyful footsteps;
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 4

The Nativity, El Greco, 1603-1605

El Greco's style always fascinates me. Just as an early music teacher told me I have "square ears" (meaning he thought my love for eight-bar phrases and conventional cadence harmonies was somewhat dull), I tend to have "square eyes" when it comes to art. Far ahead of his time, El Greco bent and even broke some of the artistic conventions of his day, particularly with his use of color, perspective, and in the poses of his subjects.

In this example, there is much for even my "square eyes" to like. I love the way El Greco has captured the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. Rather than romaticizing them, he shows them as real people. The Child is portrayed similarly. The artist portrays the starkness of the stable; can't you almost smell the ox? Only the pure whiteness of the Infant's blanket gives a sense of the supernatural here. (I especially like that Madonna is clothed in red. It suits her!)

"The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 3

(Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honthorst, 1622)

This painting is one of many I like because of its portrayal of light. How fitting that the infant Light of the World should be painted in such a way that he himself provides the light for the stable.

"Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love's pure light! Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace; Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!"

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 2

(Poussin, The Nativity, 1650s)

Don't you love the looks of wonder on Mary's and Joseph's faces? It makes me think of Michael Card's song about Joseph, "How Can It Be?":

"Lord, all my life I've been a simple carpenter; how can I raise a King?"

Twelve Days of Christmas: Christmas Day (1)

Icon detail, Mother of God of Vladimir, 12th century

"Did you know...when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?"

(from Mary, Did You Know?" by Lowry & Greene)

Advent, Week 4: Christmas Eve (late)

Well, typically for me, the final post for Advent is late! Chalk it up to a marathon workday for church on the day itself, and a recuperative day yesterday.

In the midst of a strenuous Christmas Eve morning and evening, I had an interesting mid-day. My pastor and I have some parallels in our life, though she is a widow about ten years older than I am, with several grown children and grandchildren, and I am single with no children. Because my year has been an uncertain one, with various periods of unemployment and underemployment on the day job front, I was creative with gifts of time in addition to very modest purchased gifts throughout the year. One gift that had not been "redeemed" until yesterday was one to my pastor, a gift of labor at church or parsonage, from her birthday earlier in the year. I reminded her of this when she mentioned she wouldn't have time to go somewhere for lunch after worship, since she was expecting her son in for Christmas at some point later in the day and wanted to do some last-minute cleaning. It was good to be allowed to help in this; we both agreed that the work was easier and went faster when shared.

When I finished my part at the parsonage, I went back over to the church kitchen, where I had a crockpot of soup cooking. I set up for our simple supper, which was waiting for us after our 6:00 service. For over an hour, we nibbled on soup and biscuits and relaxed, sans shoes, reflecting on the blessings of the day and what was yet to come at the 11:00 worship service.

This might not seem like much for those with busy families, but it is a very rare experience for me. Many years single, I haven't often shared meals with anyone except two cats. (Forgive me, girls, but I sometimes long for human conversation. Yours is somewhat beyond me!) I live simply, in a neighborhood far from where I work, where I basically sleep and take care of basic needs. My pastor gave me a gift I don't think she realizes: her companionship. She was Christ to me on what is often a very lonely day.

Thank you, dear Jesus, for shining through our church's shepherd on the day we celebrate your birth. Thank you for our meal and conversation, and for work lightened through the sharing. And for the gift of your coming yet again into my life and that of our church, I thank you most of all.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Advent, Week 3: Thursday - Saturday

Recommended readings from the fourth Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:47-55 or

Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

God is turning the world right side-up! To me that is what the Magnificat (Mary's song of praise) is all about. God has regarded our helpless state (as sinners all), and has helped us by sending us a Savior. This is what we wait for (symbolically) during Advent. We remember the first waiting for Christ, we recall our own helpless state before we first welcomed the Savior into our lives, and we wait again for the Savior's return.

What I find fascinating is that Mary, a first-century Jew, sang about this coming as present fact. Though only in the beginnings of her pregnancy with the Holy Child, she celebrated what God was doing, as though it were already done. The longer I live, the more confused I tend to get about the yet-not-yet-ness of God's Reign. I suspect that this is because God has already accomplished salvation, even as in our time and space-bound reality, Christ is still reconciling all creation to God. Sometimes I see it as God having "turned loose" salvation in our time and space and it's a glorious, complex, seeing-it-only-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-canvas work in progress. Sometimes I just say "thank you" to God and leave off wordering about it.

Too seldom, however, do I sing for joy because of God's mercy in working salvation in our sinful world--and in sinful me. Dear God, accept today my echo of Mary's Magnificat. You have helped your servant Israel, and specifically you have helped, over and over again, this least of your ingrafted servants: me!

Holy is your name, and holy is the Child about to be born, again, in our midst!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Advent, Week 3: Monday - Wednesday

Recommended readings from the third Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

The lesson from Zephaniah from last week's Lectionary readings is one of my favorites in the entire Bible. First of all, as a self-respecting singer, it's the only explicit example we have of God the Singer. (The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing - Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV)

I love this passage for a more general, wonderful reason, however. This portrays the extravagant joy of God over the return of a precious people. It also shows the Christian the joy God has over each of us when we return to the heart of God. It also shows us that God doesn't wait passively, wringing hands, wishing for us to come back. Instead, God is moving heaven and earth to bring us home. The coming of Christ which we celebrate in Advent, shows us the extent to which God was willing to go in order to secure our safe homecoming. That God loves us each and all, this much, humbles my heart and makes me want to sing for joy.

That joyful song is my prayer of gratitude today. Won't you sing your own song of joy, too?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent, Week 3: Sunday

Recommended readings from the third Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Here I sit, at the church office computer, in a very unusual situation. I have virtually nothing I have to do this morning except lead an opening and a closing hymn. No choir to rehearse and lead. No scurrying about, looking for misplaced robes and hijacked music folders. No spot checks and chancel furniture adjustments.

Why the "vacation"? Because our church's liturgical dance/movement group is presenting the Christmas story this morning. I could pick about it here and there (they use only canned music, it's generally the same music and choreography year to year), but such criticisms are minor. The group is girls from first through twelfth grade. Though the majority are members/daughters of members of the congregation, a significant number come from unchurched families. Because our sanctuary is relatively small and therefore does not lend itself to conventional liturgical dance per se, many years ago the group leaders developed a blend of more static movement and American Sign Language. They dress in long-sleeved, full skirted (mid-calf length) white dresses (lavender for first-year girls) with white tights and ballet shoes, and have a variety of floral garlands they wear on their heads. For this production, as for the one they do each year for the Easter sunrise service, however, various girls dress as their assigned characters, while the "chorus" full group wears their usual white/lavender. (I say all this to assure any readers who object to liturgical dance because they don't like bare arms, legs and feet; our girls are completely covered except for hands, necks, and heads. And if you object to liturgical dance on other grounds, we'll have to agree to disagree.)

How does their pending presentation this morning relate to this week's Lectionary readings? I think of this verse from the Psalm lesson (First Song of Isaiah):

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4, NRSV)

The girls are "making known the deeds of the LORD" in a beautiful, meaningful way. We Christians read and hear the "old, old story" so often that we sometimes take it for granted. But when we witness it told in a new way, it's startlingly real to us.

I also think about the experience of the children themselves. They will know and treasure the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the rest of their lives, thanks to this group's seasonal reenactments of those portions of the gospel story. That makes worthwhile all the hard work the girls and their leaders do. We promise, when children are baptized, that we will nurture and teach them so that, in time and with God's help, they accept for themselves the salvation God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 12:6, NRSV)

Advent, Week 2: Friday & Saturday

(It's now Sunday; the children's pageant is today. Blogging time has been at a premium, and writing ideas have not been forthcoming. Please continue to the post for Advent, Week 3: Sunday)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Advent, Week 2: Thursday

Recommended readings from the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I'm not feeling well this morning and the creative juices just aren't flowing. Since I have to leave soon for work, I thought I'd just post a link to a song that fits well with this past Sunday's Old Testament lesson, called "Refiner's Fire," by Brian Doerksen. It's one of the better worship songs out there, in my opinion. It's my prayer today.

"I choose to be holy..."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Advent, Week 2: Wednesday

Recommended readings from the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):
Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I'm really glad I waited until tonight to write something. I've just come from our church's youth classroom, which has been taken over by the mission team in preparation for their trip to the Texas-Mexico border and Mexico, which begins Sunday after worship. It's a cross between a food pantry and Santa's workshop! Let me tell you why.

This mission trip is a tradition of our church dating back a number of years. Usually, the various groups of the church contribute items of a utilitarian nature (supplies for a struggling church, canned and staple foods, school supplies, and shoes) and a few "goodies" like hard candies and oranges. In addition, children were encouraged to bring the unopened toys from their fast-food meals throughout the year, as a sacrificial gift. (Though I have no preschool children, I have worked with many of them, and I can appreciate that not opening and playing with these little trinkets takes a real sacrifice for our kids!) On the mission trip, each child recipient would get a small bag filled with school supplies and goodies and one of the drive-through toys, and the mothers would get a few cans of food and some rice and beans. Even for such modest gifts, the recipients were genuinely grateful.

But this year...THIS YEAR! WOW! We began Advent with a church-wide Fiesta in the evening. The tree in Fellowship Hall was decorated with bright paper chains, big tissue paper flowers, and a wild-colored sombrero on top. People have been encouraged since mid-November to bring both the staple goods and children's gifts. Sunday School class parties have had their members bring gifts for Mexico and the Border instead of traditional gift exchanges. The response has been an avalanche of generosity. Every kind of toy imaginable (except super-big ones like bicycles, which wouldn't fit in the trailers and bus) is now in the youth room.

Another cool thing we do each year has also been dedicated for the mission trip this year: "Beary Merry Christmas." People bring teddy bears and other stuffed toys to the sanctuary throughout early Advent. The bears sit in the pews day and night. When services are in progress or when people take some personal time in the sanctuary, you'll find the bears being hugged and prayed for. Though that may sound odd, it's a wonderful thing, because the prayers are actually for the child who will receive that particular bear. In the past, law enforcement and shelters have received them. (Last year, our county sheriff's dept. received nearly 150 stuffed animals to give to children who had to be removed from their homes for various reasons.) But all the bears are going south this year. As always, they represent the love and prayers of a modest north Texas congregation. I'm told that for most of the children, it will be the first stuffed animal they've ever received.

There will be some renovation work for the teams to do on a couple of houses and on a church building that doubles as a community center. Some of the gifts provided are "kitchen shower" gifts for that church's first-ever kitchen.

Finally, for the first time, the team members are going to present a full five-day VBS. One of our bilingual members has translated the materials we've used here and will organize a mixed team of local and mission team teachers and helpers. They expect over 100 children.

Some of our most gifted teachers are going. Our miracle-working handyman is on the team. The flightiest (but most pure-hearted) junior high boy I've ever worked with is going, and he invited his best friend who's going as well. The team members are young and old (including junior high youth and great-grandparents and all ages in-between), male and female, long-time members and new Christians...a real cross-section of our congregation. It hurts me to my core that I can't take the time to go. SOMEday, I will!

The people in South Texas and Mexico who are expecting our church members, are also expecting the kinds of gifts we've given in the past. Are they ever going to be surprised this year! With the full body of Christ here in our little area behind this effort, the Holy Spirit seems to have multiplied our offerings exponentially. And I don't mean only the Christmas gifts.

That's a faint taste of how God intends to bless us, I think. We kinda, sorta know that heaven's going to be way cool. But God KNOWS! Our God is lavish, extravagant, and prodigal (in the actual meaning of that word). Cups are going to run SO over, that there's going to be a gushing wide river of blessing before this world and time itself are no more. We Christians get the foretaste, and we are called to pass this good news along.

As our mission trippers prepare for the mission trip, I'm reminded to keep on preparing my own life to welcome Jesus even more fully.

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, NRSV)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent, Week 2: Sunday - Tuesday

Recommended readings from the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I have a few minutes before a church event this evening. I was reading at my friend Dr. Platypus's blog just now, which sparked inspiration for a catch-up post here at my own. (Sunday was our choir cantata and we're on the one-week countdown for the children's program next Sunday--what little time I've had to blog, I haven't had a single coherent thought! So thanks, Dr. P.!)

I used to love singing in my home church's folk choir. One of the songs we'd sing at this time of year was "Mary, Mary, what you gonna name that baby?" It's an Avery and Marsh collaboration, and strangely enough I can't find any online source so that I can post a link to the full text. But perhaps a brief description will give you the gist.

It's in the key of D minor and has a fairly slow, almost African-American spiritual style. The refrain consists of the title line, followed by "What you gonna call that holy baby?" Then four verses follow, most effectively sung by four different soloists, who in turn describe themselves us all as sheep looking for someone to guide them, as slaves needing a master, as hungry and poor and needing to be saved, and kings needing to be ruled. Then, following a voiced "Shhh," the full group agrees with the soloist, "Why don't we call him Shepherd/Lord/Savior/King?"

We sang the only choir arrangement of this song I know of, this past Sunday morning with my choir. It was part of an Advent service that was part cantata, part lessons and carols format. The late Lloyd Pfautsch arranged it, which is quite remarkable; Dr. Pfautsch, who was professor of choral conducting at SMU and a preeminent sacred choral composer, wasn't exactly the "folk choir" sort. But it is a nice little arrangement, which I was proud of my choir and our four soloists for presenting so well.

Mary named her baby "Jesus," the one who saves. As Emmanuel ("God with us"), he truly is our Savior, Shepherd, Lord, and King. As I review the many names of Jesus, I marvel at how he meets each of us where we are and how we need him, if we truly seek him.

Dr. P. wrote about "Mary, Did You Know?" on his blog. I don't think Mary could have known all that her coming Baby would become. But I rejoice in her "Yes!" to God's plan, in the birth of her son Jesus, and in what he means to me and to us all.

Come to my heart, Lord Jesus; there is room in my heart for thee.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Saturday - POSADA Chainblog 2006

Recommended readings from the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

I suggest reading Malachi 3:1-4 and Philippians 1:3-11 in preparation for tomorrow's Old Testament and Epistle lessons.

I am hosting Mary and Joseph today for Andii Bowsher's wonderful Posada chainblog project. If you wish to follow the blog's progress, visit my friend Dr. Platypus tomorrow (Sunday, Dec. 10).

What always strikes me about this part of the Nativity story is the sheer danger of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was not an easy trip, even had Mary not been pregnant. It's easy for us to say, from the safety of 2,000+ years of history, that God protected them. It's true, but a very different thing for them to live in that trust than for us to celebrate it. I suspect that when I finally see "face to face" once this life is over, I will recognize the providence of God in many ways that I could not while on earth. The fact is, it took obedience, guts, and courage for the Holy Couple to trek from Galilee to the City of David. Then, to add insult to injury, they had to pay for the "privilege" of being enrolled in the census. They not only had to be obedient to the will of God, they had to be immediately obedient to the Roman authorities.

What a fascinating chain of events began with Mary's "Let it be with me according to your word" assent to God's will! Saying "yes" to God nearly always marks the beginning of an adventure.

As one of the pre-December 24 "hosts" of the Posada, I can give shelter only for this one day. It is my assigned role to send Mary and Joseph on their way with a "Sorry, no room" message. Realizing that fact has made me reflect, in writing this, on the times I have done exactly the same thing to "the least of these." There have been times when I've welcomed and served the least, as well.

Lord Jesus, please forgive my refusals and accept the halting welcomes you've received from me. Help me be more faithful, even as I now symbolically turn away your earthly parents.

Jennie hosted the Posada yesterday here. For more on the Posada chainblog, read Andii's initial post here.

Here is the rest of the Posada hosting schedule:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Friday

Recommended readings from the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Read Luke 1:68-79, then Luke 3:1-6.

Jesus would later say that there was no greater human being than John the Baptist, yet even the least in God's reign were greater than he. Riddle? Perhaps. Yet in the paradox, we can find a challenge to us today. It is one thing to "prepare the way of the Lord," and another to live in that way. John knew very well that his task was to announce the coming of the Messiah. But Jesus didn't tell people to announce his coming; that had already occured. He told us all to follow him and to do all the things that he taught.

So the question, at least for me today, is this: Will I talk about the Kingdom, or live in the Kingdom? Similarly, it's easy for me to say that I'll live a Kingdom life, yet I must do the actual work of living it.

The other thing to remember is, not everyone who is invited into God's reign will be convinced by our words about it. Yet another reason to live it as well. There is a place for gracious words; the Holy Spirit within us can be trusted to guide us when and how to speak them. That same Spirit will guide our actions as well.

Will the people I meet today, know that they've met a Christian? How will they know? Lord Jesus, help me live "a life that becomes the gospel" today, for your sake.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Thursday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Luke 21:25-28 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (NRSV)
The return of Jesus promises to be the ultimate "big event." It depends on who Jesus is to me, whether I will experience his return with eagerness or with terror. And I don't mean how I understand heaven and hell, sin and punishment. I mean simply, how will it be for me to experience the phenomenon itself. Will I be "afraid, very afraid"? The signs will be awesome (in the old sense of the word). Will I recognize them for what they are? Will I be so familiar with Jesus that I will trust him "even so"?

I suppose none of us can really know the answer to that, but I do expect to swallow the very real human reaction of fear, in order to watch eagerly the coming of my Lord. I expect the signs his return to take me by surprise, because he told us clearly that none of us may know the exact time. But I also expect to recognize those signs. They don't have to be literally the same as the various examples we're given in the apocalyptic passages of Scripture; apocalyptic is not meant to be taken literally. But with the Holy Spirit's help, I will recognize the signs. I will recognize Jesus. I will recognize the long-promised redemption of God in its fullness.

Meanwhile, there is Kingdom work to do. That's why I expect to be surprised when the signs present themselves. Being busy about God's task means I don't have the idle luxury of time to spend on fruitless calculations of days and hours, or literal would-be interpretations of figurative passages. Study, yes, but not for the sake of "cracking the code." I'm called to study for the sake of knowing God better through knowing the words of God found in the Scriptures. By learning with this as my goal, I will be better equipped to work ever more faithfully in my Lord's coming Kingdom.

Come, Lord Jesus, and by your help may I be found faithful upon your return.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Wednesday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

"And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you." (1 Thess. 3:12, NRSV)

What a key summary verse for us as Christians! May the Source of our love, the Lord Jesus Christ, grow love within us for one another and for everyone! Oh, yes, cries my soul!

But wait! If love increases, what must decrease?

Envy. Boasting. Arrogance. Rudeness. Insisting on my own way. Being irritable. Being resentful. Finding satisfaction in wrongdoing. Refusing to bear difficulties. Doubt. Despair. Refusing to endure whatever comes my way for the sake of love. (1 Cor. 13: 4-7)

If I am really serious about wanting to grow in love (or, in Wesleyan terms, "go onto perfection in love"), I've got to cooperate with God in removing that which kills love in my life.

It hurts, God. Some of these things have wrapped themselves around my heart and soul, binding them in sinful, unloving ways. Nevertheless, I choose love over self. This day, this moment. Make me more like my Savior.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Tuesday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:15 reads, "In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." (NRSV)

There are times that I long for the Day of the Lord, that long-promised day when all that is wrong will be set to rights, when Jesus comes and (pardon the Texas euphemism here) opens up a can of whup-*ss on all the sorry folks who refuse to do what's right. Religiously popular theology tells us that when the world is at its nasty, sinful worst, we should piously pray for Jesus to come quickly.

Problem is, that's not the way it works. Jesus didn't call us (the church) his body for nothing. Jesus came and showed us quite definitively what it takes to turn this bad old world upside down and right-side up. He already won the victory over sin and death! Our job is supposed to be a bright, salty one in which we "infect" this world with the righteousness of Christ, which is his gracious gift to us. Jesus IS our Righteousness. So what are we doing with that righteousness?

It seems to me that we Christians too often separate ourselves from any inconvenient hint of the evil of the outside "heathen" world, creating a "Christian" safety zone for us and ours. Unfortunately, when we do that, virtually nothing gets done about the work Christ commanded us to do: give up our own lives in order to serve those the Lord died to save. We're so busy saving our lives that we forget we're supposed to lose them! Meanwhile, unrighteous people never even know there's a different way to live, because they never see it in us. We hide behind the doors of our homes and churches and workplaces, trying to keep ourselves as pure as possible by avoiding the messiness of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cutthroat world.

It's good to remember that entire nations are judged by the righteousness of their people, according to Matthew 25:31-46. If we Christians guard ourselves and our perception of our own righteousness so zealously that we don't "do justly" to those around us, I don't see any way that our individual nations are going to become righteous. Justice and righteousness are paired together in the Jeremiah text for a good reason: there is no righteousness where there is no justice, and vice versa.

A "justice" system is simply an elaborate means of exacting vengeance when it is the tool of unrighteous people. When a theological or philosophical worldview requires the subjugation of one class of people by another in the name of "biblical righteousness," it proves itself both unbiblical and unrighteous by its inherent injustice. When we proudly proclaim ourselves righteous yet engage in unjust behavior toward others, we are deceived at best, and are more likely simply liars. We dare not excuse our unjust behavior then hide behind "Jesus is my Righteousness." The just humbly follow God and are genuinely kind toward their neighbors (Micah 6:8). In other words, true justice naturally follows when we embrace the humility required by the practice of godly grace. If we desire justice and kindness from God, we must "go and do likewise."

Advent reminds us that Christ is coming. We cannot know when, though the signs will be clear. There is nothing wrong with praying along with the ancient church, "Come, Lord Jesus!" But let us do so while engaged wholeheartedly in emulating the humble righteousness of the Lord we claim to follow. Let us be his hands and feet and voice and heart in the midst of the sinful world he considered worth everything he had to give. May our prayer be active and effective as we spend ourselves in service to the least and the lost.

Advent, Week 1: Monday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Psalm 25 discusses the humility necessary to live in right relationship with God. Reading this Psalm responsively in worship yesterday brought home to me the truth of this principle. God desires to lead us in the way we should go, but we must be willing to be led. Not by pet theologies, not by self-designated human "leaders," not by our own plans and purposes, but by no one less than the Holy One who created and loves us.

Part of the "house cleaning" time of Advent is to sweep out the self-worship that is at the heart of all sin. Really, that's key: who's on the throne of my life, me or God? If I occupy that throne, there's no way God can lead me. If God occupies it, however, even if progress seems slow, I will be walking in God's way. Sooner or later, the growth I seek will be evident.

I intend to focus today on the details of everyday living, asking myself this question: "Who, or what, is directing my action in this specific matter?" Come to think of it, that can be a good form of prayer. God will reveal the true answer, without fail.

May you--and I--walk with God this day and all our days.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Fast Away the Old Year Passes: Advent Begins Tomorrow

First Sunday of Advent

Recommended reading (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

I love this icon! It reminds me that the Lord Jesus Christ is not "real" to some people, because they haven't yet experienced his presence within them. During this season of Advent, we prepare for all three comings of the Christ: into human history in human form, in final victory, and his continual coming into the human heart, to be born in each of us.

Just wishing doesn't make it so. Christ does not force his way into a life crammed full of lesser things. Advent is a kind of "house cleaning," of making room for the One who is Life itself to us.

This week's Lectionary readings, particularly the Gospel reading, deal with the signs of Christ's coming. While the Christina Rossetti text "Love Came Down at Christmas" is not primarily an Advent text, I believe it fits especially well this first Sunday of the year:

Love Came Down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and neighbor,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Happy New Year to all, and a blessed Advent to you!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nouslife: Posada blog chain for Advent.

Nouslife: Posada blog chain for Advent.

I think this is a wonderful idea! I sat here at my computer practically rubbing my hands with glee, thinking, "Oh, I want to participate in this!"

Do you want to participate, too? I think it would be such a cool thing!

Day Job!

For those who read about my latest job-hunting challenge, here's an update.

I begin a 3-4 month assignment tomorrow that, if successful, could morph into a permanent position after that time. Right now it involves taming a big backlog. I'll be creating and updating electronic patient records for a local nephrology practice, with a little front-desk cross-coverage. The pay rate isn't wonderful, but it's more hours than I had at my previous day job. More than I want, really, but I do need the money. And rarity of rarities, I didn't even have to interview for it; they selected me on the strength of my resume, which my agency recruiter hand-carried and presented last Friday. (You'd be amazed at how there can be a series of interviews even for 1-2 month assignments. Almost no one just accepts the temp an agency sends a them anymore.)

So, if you're so inclined, I'd welcome prayers. (Remember, my last long-term, "permanent" day job was for a hospital system that went bankrupt in 2003. It's all been temp assignments or "permanent" jobs that quickly went bust on me ever since. I personally pray for something stable, soon.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Measure of a Man

Okay, I'll admit to having forgotten (fortunately) who said the following statement and on what online venue, but I read it and my blood almost boiled:

"Mister Rogers isn't the kind of man I want my son to grow up to be."

I was dumbfounded. Really? What kind of man doesn't want his son to grow up to be godly, educated, compassionate, creative, healthy, and simply good?

Well, first of all, let's remember that Fred Rogers isn't walking about in an earthly body anymore anyway, so Sonny (yes, it was a man who posted that remark), you're speaking ill of the dead, and I'm disappointed your mama and daddy didn't bring you up any better than that. I'm certain it's not because you simply don't know jack about what you're saying and are a selfish so-and-so who has no clue what a real man is all about. *

Secondly, and this is the point I want to make, I'd like to look at just what kind of man Dr. Fred Rogers was, and see if I can figure out how an immature blowhard could possibly conclude the late Dr. Rogers wasn't "man enough" to suit said blowhard:

1. Fred Rogers was ordained a Presbyterian clergyman in 1962. Oh, yeah. All that study and talk about God is WAY too girly. (Should he have remained ignorant and talked hell instead, I wonder?)

2. Fred Rogers took care of himself, swimming every day for exercise, never smoking or drinking, and following a vegetarian diet. I guess we all know that "real men" are expected to grow beer guts and fight over whether it's going to be hamburgers, dogs, or steaks on the grill. Pass the butts, please. Oh, strike the "please." Too sissy. Just grab one and light up, and keep the brews coming, woman.

3. Fred Rogers focused the majority of his career on a ministry to children, through "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." He respected children as genuine human beings. He helped them better understand our world. He spoke to them as equals and gave them the gift of his time. Everybody knows that "real men" hang with other real men and leave all the kid stuff to the women. Everybody knows that "real men" consider only other "real men" their equals.

4. Fred Rogers was a musician. He wrote operas for his television show, he played piano, he sang songs that he wrote himself. In fact, his undergraduate degree was in musical composition. Some of the "real men" might be surprised to know that despite this, he was a happily married man, to one woman, until his death. They had two sons together. Imagine artistic man. Yes, Vern, there is such a thing.

5. Fred Rogers was humble. When presented with awards, his habit was to instruct his audience to take ten seconds, in silence, to think of those people who had helped them become the people they were. In doing this, the infamous, unmanly, traitorous Dr. Rogers made grown men (and women) cry. How dare he? "Real men" focus on self, not on others. They're self-made. They're proud. They wouldn't feminize themselves by thinking of others.

6. Fred Rogers wore sport coats, and even sweaters. Yes, sweaters. Sweaters his mother knitted for him. Mr. Rogers was fussy; he changed from street shoes to house shoes on television, fercryinoutloud. He didn't like violence, and we all know that "real men" are pro-gun and pro-fighting and all that other good manly stuff. But Dr. Rogers had the nerve to file a federal lawsuit against a Texas novelty store chain when they used his photograph, superimposed with a gun and saying "Welcome to my 'hood," on t-shirts. Dr. Rogers demanded that the shirts not only not be sold, but also be destroyed. What a wuss! How feminized can you get? He should have been PROUD of all the free publicity, and he ought to have been out there himself, teaching real boys how to love and respect guns, instead of how to love and respect themselves and other people.

Yes, I'm sorry to say, Mister Rogers was hardly the "manhood" kind of man that so many Christians--yes, it was a Christian man who made the comment!--claim that men need to be, in order to be masculine and Christian. But I simply can't shake the notion that Mister Rogers was a whole lot closer to the kind of man Jesus was, than his critic must be.

Mister Rogers' offical PBS website is here.

For a "Brilliant Careers" profile on Dr. Rogers, follow this link.

* I freely admit that I'm caricaturizing some of the "Christian manhood" movement's beliefs. I really don't know what could have prompted a Christian man to say he doesn't think Mister Rogers was man enough to be a role model for his son. But given the kind of man Dr. Fred Rogers was, I'm sorry that this father is so misinformed about the true nature of Christian manhood. May he mature past this world's lies about masculinity and femininity and come to accept the Christ-conforming humanity to which we're all called.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Faith Worth Singing, Part I: Blessed Be Your Name

The Reverend Mommy commented down below on one of "The Faith We (shouldn't) Sing" entries that it would be good to compile a list of theologically sound songs; I tend to agree with her implication that that that might be a shorter and easier list to come up with!

A song that's growing on me lately (no, not like moss) is "Blessed Be Your Name." You can link to the lyrics here.

First of all, while the song is simple musically, it incorporates a wide enough melodic range and interesting rhythm so that it does not become boring. Its form includes three distinct "sections" that contrast with each other and add to the musical interest.

Secondly, this song quotes or paraphrases Scripture extensively, but with cohesiveness. Matt Redman kept close to his theme of praising God at all times, in all circumstances.

Third (and this is a huge plus with me), the song is solidly second-person, directed at God. It's a song TO God, not ABOUT God. Paradoxically, I think it tells far more truth about who God is, than any third-person P&W song I know of.

The one thing I wish could be changed about this song is for it to be a corporate text, rather than individual. When we gather for worship, at least some of our song should be from US, the gathered Body, rather than all be from ME. Frankly, the dearth of corporate texts means there are weeks when our "contemporary" service has no corporate songs. This is one of the problems with the individualism that plagues evangelical-dom, out of which P&W-dom comes. But when the text is otherwise as good as this one, this shortcoming is not a deal-breaker.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Ill Wind that Nobody Blows Good

Yes, that's's the OBOE! A four-letter word if ever there was one.

I haven't played since I sold the blasted thing to finance a year of undergrad school "back in the day," but I "jammed for Uncle Sam" for a bunch of years playing...

...yep: OBOE. I sometimes still wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed that my arsenal of ten perfect reeds are all either cracked or won't work because of a change in the weather. (You know that's part nightmare, part fantasy simply because NO ONE ever had ten perfect reeds at the same time; heck, nobody ever had even five at once that were better than so-so. That's God's curse on reed cane, and on oboists for being insane enough to begin oboe in the first place.)

So here's the quiz result:

What is your inner musical instrument?

You're an Oboe. Girl power?
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

And as my final two cents' worth on this bizarre subject, I'll quote a bit of oboe doggerel which I know, despite the androcentric archaic language, to be all too true (apologies to the "poet," but I don't recall who wrote it; it was in a book called "The Woodwind" that I read in high school when I was learning to play):

Veiled, soft, and sad the oboe's tone;
Not veiled or soft the player's groan
On mornings when his reeds he whittles;
He swears at life, he shuns his victuals:
He wishes he had ne'er been born,
Or learned oboe and English horn.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Guest Bloggers: Rosie & Jenny, Thankful Cats

Counting our Blessings
by Rosie & Jenny

We are grateful to the only Being superior to us in all creation, our Creator, God Almighty, for the following:

1. Greenies Cat Cookies. Our slave Psalmist bought us some last night. We have shown her all day today how grateful we are for this superb gift to catkind.

2. The manufacturers of Greenies Cat Cookies, SM NuTec, for making such a great product for the enjoyment of cats.

3. Walgreens, for stocking and displaying the Ocean Fish flavor of Greenies Cat Cookies so that Psalmist would see it when she shopped there yesterday.

4. God, for creating the human species to serve the feline. We are especially grateful for our human, Psalmist, now that she has found and brought us the Greenies.

5. Our home, which Psalmist maintains for us. It is small but has a number of good places up high where we can hang out, even if Psalmist tells us we're not supposed to. Also for such a perfectly shaped bathroom sink in which to lounge. (That really sends Psalmist ballistic!)

6. Greenies. (A cat can't emphasise too much how good these are.)

7. Our food bowl, especially when Psalmist has filled it with our preferred indoor formula kibble. It may not be full enough, often enough, but we do appreciate what we get.

8. Our water bowl, again when Psalmist has filled it. We especially like it when, in the summer, she put purified water in it. Our municipality has dreadful tasting water in the summer.

9. Our toys, both the bought kind and the made kind. Catnip mice, the laser pointer, foil balls, the occasional fly on the wall...all delight a grateful cat's heart and make her play despite her dignity.

10. Each other. We aren't the best of friends and we're only adopted sisters, but with Psalmist gone so much of the time, either of us would be pretty lonely without the other. Who else would fight with us?

In honor of Thanksgiving, we, the feline singing sisters extraordinaire, Rosie & Jenny, offer the following hymn to inspire the humans and to express our grateful love to the Creator of all catkind:

For the beauty of the house, for the glory of the sink,
For the well-loved catnip mouse, for the water that we drink:
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the kibble in our dish, for the counter where we sleep,
For the treats for which we wish, for the cabinets, dark and deep:
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the service of our slave, for her petting and her brush,
For her lap (when she behaves), for the evening's sleeping hush:
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best gift Divine! For humans, to catkind given,
For that great, great love of thine, peace to feline, joy to human:
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

RGBP Delurkers, Welcome Here!

Happy Thanksgiving Week to all!

Here's the explanation from The Reverend Mommy:

There are so very many things in our lives that we can be thankful for. I personally, am thankful for such a wonderful group people represented by the RevGals and BlogPals and our community here online. At Bits and Odd Pieces of Mindy's Kingdom recently, some of us were noticing that there has been a drop in commenting recently. So, in honor of Mindy, Princess of Everything, we are having a Thanksgiving Delurking week! (Please notice the cow; that's for Mindy).

Place this image on your blog and announce Delurking Week, starting today and going until November 26th. When you visit a blog, you can either just say "Thank you for blogging" or place a blogstone (o) (The invention of PPB of The Ice Floe) or whatever verbage the Spirit moves you to leave.

Let the Delurking begin!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Feast for the Eyes

These are all photos from the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon. It's gorgeous there in the fall. Enjoy! Courtesy of Webshots and Google Images


The more I think about this, the more I like it!

Take this quiz at

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: Thankful

It's that time of year. In the U.S., college students will be on their way home, traffic on the highways will be at its highest point, cooking and baking will ensue. But before the gorging and napping begins, let's take a moment to give thanks.

Please tell us five things or people for which you are thankful this year.

1. God. That pretty much covers it. God's love, providence, patience, grace...all that God is and all that God lavishes on me and on us all.

2. Community. My congregation and each and every member of "us." It is a joy I have trouble describing to be a part of the body of Christ.

3. Pets. As much as I have fun with their cat blogging, portraying them as egomaniacal superior beings, my Rosie and Jenny are dear companions, dependent solely on me, and they give far better than they sometimes get from me. They are a means of God's love and grace to me.

4. Beauty. I love the beauty of the created world (particularly of my much-missed home state, Oregon--the Portland Japanese Gardens is featured in the opening photo). I love the beauty of music and art, of logic and creativity, of sense and sound. (I might as well post the text of the hymn, "For the Beauty of the Earth.")

5. Friends. I count those I know "in the flesh" and those I've been privileged to meet online. To all of you, your friendship is one of life's sweetest blessings. I am grateful to you.

Bonus. CHOCOLATE! Thanks for the yum, God!

"Lord of all, to Thee we raise this, our hymn of grateful praise."

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Absurd Photo of the Month

Thanks, Quotidian Grace, for posting this! I am still trying to catch my breath from laughing.

Pointless Family Photograph

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Faith We (Shouldn't) Sing, Part 2: Here I Am to Worship

This popular song out of the "Praise and Worship" tradition (and I have issues with that title for the movement, which I may address another time) is simply bad quality on every level, IMNSHO.

Here is a link to the text.

First of all, the music is monotonous and unimaginative. The proverbial I - IV - V (oops, in this case, I - V - IV) harmonic pattern is about as basic as it gets, and I don't mean that in a good way. The melody simply parallels the harmony in an equally boring way. The rhythm is even less inspired.

The text is awful. It falls into the individual-idolatrous trap of so many P&W songs, but does so deliberately. "Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you're my God..." Who is being worshiped? Who is being bowed down to? It's all about "me" and "here I am." Where is this? The sanctuary of the Lord? And just who are you? WE are here, yes, and WE should be BE bowing down and worshiping! (Not merely saying we're here to do it.)

Then, what's up with "I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross." "Duh-factor," I'd say. No, we cannot in this life know the cost the Savior paid for our sins. But "seeing my sin upon that cross" is not what it's all about. The SAVIOR, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is WHO was on that cross and is now alive. THAT is WHOM and WHY WE (not just all-important "I") worship.

Honestly, I find very little to commend this particular song. I'm trying. The verses are so-so OK, though verse 1 is still about what God did for "me." Verse 2 is much better, which makes going back to the "me-me-me" chorus that much more grating for me. Another good thing: despite there being only ONE "you" (addressing the Lord) in the chorus and despite all the "I's," it IS in second person. I guess it's all the presumptuous mentions of "I" and "my" in addressing that second person that rub me the wrong way on this one.

If you want a harmonically simple song on a similar theme that does it right, with at least an interesting rhythm and melody and a much better balance (uses "we" rather than "I" and focuses much more on God than "we"), try "We Bow Down" by Twila Paris. Not as new, but much more solid song. Yeah, it's a little too "sing-songy" for my complete liking, but solid text goes a long way with me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hump Day Humor: "Obituary"

A number of my blog friends have posted their "obituaries" from the Quiz Galaxy, so I thought I'd do it, too.

I always HAVE had a soft place in my heart for Mr. Potatohead; glad it's mutual.


'What will your obituary say?' at

Advent/Christmas Music Meme

Thanks to Sue at Inner Dorothy, here's a meme that lets me be positive about music, after ripping "RUOMOG" to shreds below. My answers are in Advent Blue and (non-liturgical) Christmas Red (given that white doesn't show up well) or Ordinary Green (for those that aren't specifically Advent or Christmas).

1. What are your favourite Advent/Christmas hymns?
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light; People, Look East;
O Little Town of Bethlehem (much better when sung to FOREST GREEN); Star Child.

2. Which are your least favourite?
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day; There's a Song in the Air.

3. Which secular seasonal songs make you want to run screaming into traffic? Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer; The Christmas Shoes

4. Do you play Christmas music around the house and in the car? What are your favourite holiday CDs?
Of course! I usually have some sort of Baroque music playing, either instrumental (concerti grossi, mostly, by Bach, Corelli, or Telemann) or one of several favorite recordings of Handel's Messiah. I'm also partial to a cappella choral carols.

So - how about you?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Faith We (Shouldn't) Sing, Part I: Rise Up, O Men of God

For those of you United Methodists who think there's something familiar about that title, you're correct. I'm shamelessly ripping off the title of our most recent hymnal supplement. Please don't misunderstand, though; not all--indeed, probably not most--of the songs I post in this series are included in The Faith We Sing.

I realized that for a blog that was supposed to be heavy on the music kind of posts, I haven't been living up to my own expectations. That is what gives rise to this series.

I have some strong opinions on what makes for good, and not-so-good, songs for congregational singing. This series will present examples of what we settle for, but those for which I believe we shouldn't settle.

Rise Up, O Men of God
Text: William P. Merrill, 1867-1954
Generally sung to
Composed by
William H. Walter, 1825-1893

For full text, follow this link.

First of all, this hymn reeks of "this text doesn't apply to me" to the female half of the congregation. Maybe once upon a time it didn't, but an inescapable fact of the English language is that it is changing. Women no longer consider themselves part of "men." And the fact is, especially considering the full context of the hymn text, this hymn never really means to address women. So do we really need to use a hymn that excludes (over) half the congregation?

Secondly, the theology is simply terrible. Follow the link and pay particular attention to verses 2 and 3. "[The Church's] strength unequal to her task/rise up and make her great" simply isn't true. The Holy Spirit's power makes the imperfect Church equal to whatever task God calls us to do. It is not the strength of the male half of the church that will make the church great, it is the strength of the Lord Jesus himself.

Third, this hymn reinforces the church's historical error of thinking that men can more fully conform to the image of Christ than women can. Verse 4 is particularly bad about this. Women obviously cannot be "brothers of the Son of Man." And just as we need to not forget that there are men in the body of Christ, we must not forget that there are women in the body, as well. This hymn doesn't forget it, it ignores it.

"Rise Up, O Men of God" is not fit for either full congregational or for men's group singing. I suppose verse 1 is acceptable for the latter, if groups will stop with verse 1. But there are better hymns that express the need for all of us, including all the men, to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. It's not especially difficult to find and use them instead.

(EDIT: Thank you to the gender hierarchalist critic who made much of the fact that I typed a "u" instead of an "i" in the word "inescapable." What a terrible, horrible, unforgivable gaffe on my part! My typing error was by far the most supportable of your objections to this blog entry. By the way, I'm going to consider it a typo that you missed one of the "l"s in "Merrill" at several points in your rant against my blog entry. Your toss shattered a wall in your glass house, brother William.

I'm glad my actual objections to the rotten theology of this hymn offended you, though; your unbiblical, worldly theories about what constitutes masculinity and femininity may sell books and seminars, but that will never change the fact that they're false and ungodly theories, based on self-serving eisegesis and bad scholarship. By the way, my thoughts are my own; we women can and do think for ourselves, despite your lie about my being a mere parrot for historical secular feminists. I'm still waiting to read even one legitimate, biblical defense for the appallingly bad theology in this hymn. I'm not holding my breath. It's the same old, same old idolization of masculinity that you've been peddling for years. Talk about parroting! You really ought to stop lying through your teeth about me. I do indeed know the Scriptures AND the power of God, neither of which supports the world's practice of patriarchy which your writings show that you idolize and seek to promote. I continue to pray that you forsake your lies and come to accept the truth that we Christian egalitarian women ARE your sisters in Christ, and we are your equals in the faith. That you deny both these inescapable facts, impoverishes your soul and damages your Christian witness. Again, I pray for you to repent. As your sister in Christ, despite your lie that we Christian egalitarian women are not, I'm calling you to start showing to women, some of the respect you so loudly demand for yourself and all men. That would be a good first step toward actually deserving that respect.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Well, this is about right!

Thanks to St. Casserole for posting her definition, and for Singing Owl for reminding me that this world (and none of the US states therein) is NOT my home.

Psalmist --


An alien

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Purple (red+blue) RevGals Friday Five

Those of us who are in the United States have just been through quite a topsy-turvy election. During the campaign we heard a fair amount about red states and blue states, when in fact most of us live in some shade of purple. And so... a lighter look at those confounding colors:

1. Favorite red food: Raspberries (yum!) - Even better if combined with chocolate.

2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person. Crater Lake. Indescribably gorgeous. If you ever visit Oregon (or better yet, live there), you MUST visit this spectacle in the state's only National Park.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide? The Color Purple. But had "The Hunt for Red October" been a choice, I might have voted for that (both Clancey & Connery fan here). Nuh-uh on "Blue Hawaii," though. My King outranks Elvis, and is definitely alive! ;)

4. What has you seeing red these days? Politicians. Especially the newly-re-elected Texas Lieutenant Governor, whose loudest contribution to the electoral process here in Texas was to declare that repeat sex offenders should get the death penalty. What he played on and failed to speak the truth about, is the fact that the vast majority of sex offenders--who already have to register as offenders for life--did not commit violent crimes. Most were guilty of indecent exposure (most when intoxicated) or consensual sex with underage partners when they themselves were very young (such as an 18-year-old high school senior with a 15- or 16-year-old girlfriend). I don't mean that these aren't reprehensible actions. But even a second offense, even in a pro-death penalty state, cannot possibly be a capital offense. Statistically, what few people know is that approximately only six percent of sex offenders re-offend, and that's untreated offenders. With treatment, it's about three percent. Anyway, Dewhurst simply tapped into the fears and misconceptions people have about sex offenders in order to boost their opinion of him. It fries me that this is the kind of person who stands to inherit the governorship if our equally distinguished governor cannot complete his term. And as for him, I see red at his stunt of election-season "crackdowns" on the Texas-Mexico border. He ought to have been doing things that were actually effective, throughout his term. He outright lied about the state of education and teacher compensation. And because Texas is a legendary "red state," people swallowed it all and re-elected him. Aaargh!

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue? The children in our church's choirs. From 3 to 15 (the one youth boy who rings handbells), they always say or do or pray something that makes my heart glad. But the adults often do, too. (See the All Saints post.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Follow-up: All Saints' Sunday

OK, enough about the job-losing and job-hunting woes. Sunday was glorious! We celebrated the day as All Saints' Sunday. Our pianist had a line-up of jazz-inspired service music. The choir presented a Mark Hayes arrangement of "Blessed Assurance" which was about as soulful as our anglo church will ever sound. We remembered the saints who have died. We heard the Word proclaimed about what the blood of Jesus means to us, then we celebrated the Lord's Supper. It was, to my way of thinking, just the right mix of solemnity and exuberant celebration.

One of my least favorite things--applause--erupted after the anthem. But somehow, it was OK this time. It was absolutely spontaneous. The choir members were totally absorbed in singing this beloved expression of faith for God's glory. We were well-rehearsed and able to sing with abandon. We were sharing with the congregation and our God what we all hold to be true: we belong to the Lord, in whose blood we're washed and in whom is our eternal hope. So it seemed to me that applause for that particular anthem was a way the full congregation could participate in the choir's representative celebration of faith.

That may not make a lot of sense to those who've never sung in choirs. I had to think about why applause seemed so appropriate this past Sunday when it so often does not. But I would challenge any congregation to remain silent when an anthem that expresses their faith well and which is of a celebratory style, is sung well. A hearty "Amen!" is good, too, and probably more appropriate than applause (actually, we got both). But I suppose I'd rather be irritated by even inappropriate applause from enthused, engaged worshipers than by their indifferent silence.

Anyway, it was a wonderful to experience the "communion of the saints" so powerfully. I do feel somewhat sorry for churches which don't observe All Saints. It's one of the times in the Christian Year when I always give thanks to God for the gift of the liturgical calendar. It keeps us balanced in its panoramic focus throughout the year. I read once that the liturgy "entertains" us easily-distracted humans. There's a lot of truth to that! We cannot possibly comprehend all that God is, but with the help of the Christian year, we can systematically focus on many of the various aspects of God's nature and self-revelation.

Praise you, O Eternal One, for all your saints and for the Savior who calls us by his own precious name!

Hunting Again

Yep, I'm hunting once again: for a day job, that is. I'd been close to resigning and even offered to do so, at the height of the depression trouble. I've been half-killing myself to get things caught up again and was making significant progress. Apparently, however, it was not enough. Despite the days on end with few private clients, my boss insisted on making the correlation that they've lost money since I was hired. Never mind that they went with no insurance filings for nearly two months BEFORE I was hired. Never mind that the therapist did zilch to drum up general practice clients (as opposed to the court-ordered clients with whom he holds group sessions). Never mind that he has near-zero grasp of how his own business works. (He's a great therapist, but that's where his understanding ends.) Just as things have turned around, he fires me. C'est la vie. In most ways, I'm relieved. But it still bites. Their loss, though. It was too few hours for me in the first place, so I stand to make more money even temping. The sheer number of hours on top of the church position is what has me exhausted just thinking about it.

The good thing is that three different agencies have strong assignment possibilities for me, though I turned down one because of a ridiculously low hourly rate and a relatively long period of time at that rate. There's supposed to be a good desktop publishing assignment in the works that I'll hear more about tomorrow.

Friday, November 03, 2006

For All Souls

With yesterday being All Saints' Day, I've thought a lot of a Schubert lied I studied years ago, which still moves me deeply: Litanei [auf das Fest Aller Seelen]. My brother died in a tragic accident the semester I was preparing this song, which I'm sure is a major part of why it spoke so deeply to me at the time.

While not strictly speaking a sacred song, the author Jacobi tapped deeply into the spiritual realm with this text. Schubert wrote one of his most sublimely simple melodies and a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment for it. I consider this one of Schubert's most undeservedly neglected lieder. It is an exhausting song to sing, however, with its long phrases which require absolute control on the part of the singer and restraint by the accompanist. In no sense of the word is it a "fun" song to learn or to perform. However, singing this remarkable lied was, despite its technical demands, always a prayerful experience. I commend the Litanei to you.

Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen
(Litany for the Feast of All Souls)
Author: Johann Georg Jacobi (1740-1814)
Composer: Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828), D. 343 (1816), published 1831

For an English translation and additional information, see

Among artists who have recorded this lied, I recommend Elisabeth Schwartzkopf (vintage, native language) and Heidi Grant-Murphy (current, American).

(Verses set by Schubert are bold.)

Ruh'n in Frieden alle Seelen,
Die vollbracht ein banges Quälen,
Die vollendet süßen Traum,
Lebensatt, geboren kaum,
Aus der Welt hinüberschieden:
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Die sich hier Gespielen suchten,
öfter weinten, nimmer fluchten,
wenn vor ihrer treuen Hand
keiner jeden Druck verstand:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Liebevoller Mädchen Seelen,
Deren Tränen nicht zu zählen,
Die ein falscher Freund verließ,
Und die blinde Welt verstieß
Alle die von hinnen schieden,

Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Und der Jüngling, dem, verborgen,
Seine Braut am frühen Morgen,
Weil ihn Lieb' ins Grab gelegt,
Aus sein Grab die Kerze trägt:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Alle Geister, die, voll Klarheit,
Wurden Märtyrer der Wahrheit,
Kämpften für das Heiligtum,
Suchten nicht der Marter Ruhm:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Und die nie der Sonne lachten,
Unterm Mond auf Domen wachten,
Gott, in reinen Himmelslicht,
Einst zu sehn von Angesicht:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Und die gern im Rosengarten
Bei dem Freudenbecher harrten,
Aber dann, zur bösen Zeit,
Schmeckten seine Bitterkeit:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Auch die keinen Frieden kannten,
Aber Mut und Stärke sandten
Über leichenvolles Feld
In die halbentschlaf'ne Welt:
Alle die von hinnen schieden,
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!

Ruh'n in Frieden alle Seelen,
Die vollbracht ein banges Quälen,
Die vollendet süßen Traum,
Lebensatt, geboren kaum,
Aus der Welt hinüberschieden:
Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden!