A place at the table?

A few days ago I had an exchange with a friend that made me do some thinking.

One of my favorite new hymns has the words “For everyone born, a place at the table…” This exchange made me think about how I’ve responded–and how/do if I make others feel that there is a place at the table for them.

Over the last year the political situation in the United States has been very difficult and divisive, and it has caused my friend to feel that there has not been a place at the table for those who have disagreed politically. She has felt uncomfortable at times…felt judged and not welcome.

I deeply regret that.

When I sing “For everyone born, a place at the table,” the hymn talks about male/female, young/old, the just/unjust… Do I also mean that there’s a place for those whose political opinions differ from mine?

I would hope so.

My friend has some deep and valid concerns. They are not necessarily ones I agree with–but as I have listened to her talk, I understand them better.

And I think that’s part of the secret of finding a place for the table for everyone. While I think it’s essential to find ways to protect those who are vulnerable, I also believe that we have to be willing to listen to each other…even–perhaps especially when–it’s uncomfortable.

Only through listening can we find ways to work together to solve problems. And then…

…God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

 

Advent 4…

I did not get my article posted yesterday for Advent 4…but we are still in that week.

There were valid reasons for my delay. We had extremely cold and bitter temperatures…we had ice and snow…I had a graduation and a nursing recognition ceremony to play for…and our musician at church got sick and I needed to cover (and also take a couple of other responsibilities in the service as well)…

Valid reasons…but also in many ways a response to the theme and focus yesterday.

Our them for Sunday was “Emmanuel: God with us”…and we celebrated the emphasis of love.

“God with us”…God meeting us where we are. But it’s not just God doing that.

We meet each other for ministry where each person is.

Sometimes that means playing the organ for a celebration of a life activity, such as a graduation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge all the hard work someone has put into that accomplishment.

Sometimes that means allowing someone else to take the time they need to recuperate.

Sometimes it just means being aware of what’s going on in someone else’s life.

And sometimes it’s pretty easy…sometimes it’s not.

Love isn’t particularly difficult when someone is lovable. But when someone is angry…or upset…or smelly…or any of the other myriad of reasons we don’t really want to have anything to do with them, it can be difficult.

But there’s a lovely poem by Christina Rossetti that I think catches up the theme…and the challenge…of this week:

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 all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Advent 3…

This Sunday is the day we talk about peace.

Peace…when there is war raging in so many places around the globe…when people are not safe in houses of worship…when we don’t seem to be able to see each other as brothers and sisters but as enemies or “other”…when we seem to have little care about taking care of the environment we live in…

Where is peace?

This isn’t a new question. It’s one that’s asked in every generation–and every generation has to find their own answer.

Peace doesn’t mean just the absence of conflict. Yes, that would be nice, but even absence of conflict doesn’t mean peace. It may just mean that the conflict has been driven underground where it will fester until it breaks out again.

I like this quote from the Dalai Lama: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

And I also like the challenge that is given to me by the One I follow. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” So peace is my responsibility as well.

The theme for the services this Sunday in my tradition is this: “Are you the One who is to come? or are we to look for another?”

Here is my response:

As we look around, we know that we have disagreements with each other. Some of them may be theological…some political. But our calling is to answer the question by both our telling and our living.If we can let the spirit of Christ bring healing and wholeness to our relationships…if we can let it help us find ways to work together despite our differences to bring peace…shalom…then we will show that truly this baby born in a simple stable far away from home…to a poor couple living in an occupied country…this baby did indeed grow into the One we were—and are—looking for.

May peace be yours on this third Sunday of Advent.

 

A place at the table…

I spent Labor Day weekend with a wonderful group of people at the GALA annual retreat…and the theme was “A Place at the Table.”

I was also responsible for our closing Communion/sending forth service…and one of the hymns we sang was one by Shirley Erena Murray that has become a theme song for this group of people who have so often been marginalized by those who claim to follow Jesus.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

And God will delight
when we are creators of justice
and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

It’s a wonderful song to sing–but also a challenging one! In fact, right after I got back from the retreat, I saw a discussion about some of these words that became difficult because of some of those challenges.

It’s fairly easy to welcome men, women, and children to our table. It’s not so easy to be willing to give up some of what we have so that others can have enough to live–clean water, bread, shelter…

It’s especially difficult when we talk about those who deal justly and unjustly…when there are both abusers and abused ones asking for a place at our table. How do we give folks a chance for redemption while being sensitive to those who have been deeply hurt, whether that hurt is caused by physical, sexual, emotional or mental abuse? How do we create a table of justice and joy, compassion and peace?

The first time we sang this song in our congregation, I was aware that there was an individual who had been abused for whom this might be difficult, so I went to talk to the individual. The response was one of appreciation for the heads up…and now that has become a favorite song for this person.

However, as I have listened to other discussions, I have become aware that there are other individuals dealing with similar situations. I cannot always go to them because sometimes that means letting them know that someone else is aware of their past when they may not be ready to share it. And sometimes I may not know who in the congregation is dealing with these issues, but I want to be sensitive to them.

Yet there are also abusers who need to know that there is a place for them as well.

How can we be sensitive to the needs of all of them?

I think that sometimes it’s simply acknowledging that this is difficult…and that it’s okay. It’s important to have folks who are willing to be present with those who need someone to stand with them…to walk with them. We need to get to know each other better so that we create safe places where we can share our deep needs and fears.

Is any of this going to be easy? No.

Are we going to make mistakes? Yes…

But we have to keep trying.

Everyone deserves a place at God’s table…everyone deserves a safe place…and as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be uncomfortable…to work with others to create a place of justice, joy, compassion, peace…and safety.

How do we use worship music?

A friend of mine raised some questions about how we use worship music in our services. This was precipitated by the fact that my faith tradition is publishing a new hymnal this year–and so there are concerns among many people as to why kind of music will be in the hymnal…what will the theology be…how will we use the hymns?

I remember the first time I heard someone call our hymnal “a book of scripture.” Huh?? But the more I’ve thought about that–and the older I’ve grown–the more sense that statement makes!

Worship music–especially for those of us who have grown up in a faith tradition–is part of our DNA. We absorb it from our earliest days–and, at least for me, when I am hurting, confused, wondering, the words of hymns and some praise songs are often the first thing that come to my mind. Sometimes those hymns are biblical scriptures put to music; other times they are what I would consider inspired writings by poets and hymn writers that speak to my needs and concerns with the impress of God’s spirit.

They carry our theology, whether we intentionally think of that or not. Sometimes that can be valuable, but sometimes…as we grow in our understanding of God and our relationship with God…that can be problematic. There are some “golden oldies” that have long tentacles into my mind and soul because of the places I sang them and the situations I sang them in. But I don’t believe that theology any more. There are new songs that are much more expressive of my beliefs–and I have no doubt that they will also develop long tentacles that will also cling to my mind and soul. But I am also sure that as my relationship with God–and my relationships with others–continue to grow, eventually their theology will also no longer express my beliefs…and I will need to look for new statements.

I hope that our hymnal launch will initiate some good discussions on just how we will use these new songs.

Too often I have seen our worship music misused in ways that I believe abuse the songs:

  • “We need a hymn here in the service…let’s just pick a favorite song.”
  • “This is a familiar song–it will work for our opening / closing hymn.” (Never mind that the words don’t have anything to do with the theme or the focus of the service!)
  • “Here’s our standard order of service. Just pick a couple of hymns and we’ll print it off.” (What about intentional service planning instead of just “fill out a form”?)
  • “I know that’s not what we believe any more…but everyone loves this hymn, so let’s go ahead and include it.” (If we don’t believe it, why should we sing it?)

I know there are other concerns…we could each add to this list. But if music enters into our hearts and souls in such a significant way, should we not really consider how we use it in our worship?

Singing our faith

Last weekend I was at a workshop that was the beginning of the introduction of my denomination’s new hymnal (which will be officially debuted in October 2013 at our annual Peace Colloquy). This was just an introductory glance with opportunities to talk about worship planning, how to be true to the cultural traditions of the songs that come from non-USA (and non-white USA) traditions, how the hymns speak our theology, encouraging congregations toward continued vibrant singing through keyboard and guitar accompaniments…and, of course, to sing!

As we were singing through many of the hymns, I got to thinking about how our singing shapes our faith…perhaps more than anything else we do. One of the workshop presenters reminded us that we teach our children the alphabet by setting it to music, because that makes it easier to remember.

So it is with our faith.

Scripture and tradition are important–but what we sing is what we remember, even when everything else fades.

Our last hymnal came out in 1981. It has been an important part of who we are, but much has changed over the past generation, and some of the theology we sang then no longer meets our needs. As we have (hopefully) grown spiritually, we have changed. We have sensed God calling us in new directions–and our hymnody needs to reflect those changes.

But it’s not going to be easy.

As I sang some of our new hymns, I realized that while I was comfortable with what they were saying, there are many for whom these words will be a struggle…if they truly read them.

That’s the other challenge of a new hymnal. Often we have become so comfortable with the songs that we have sung for a generation (or more) that we don’t really pay any attention to the words. And so the question arises: Do we really mean what we’re singing? Really?

Maybe that’s part of the reason we need new hymns and new hymnals every generation…to get us out of our comfort zone and to shock us into thinking about what we truly believe.

So…

All to Jesus I surrender…” (Judson Van de Venter) Do I really mean that?

For everyone born, a place at the table…” (Shirley Erena Murray) Am I willing to sit with everyone at God’s table?

Christ, you call us all to service, call us all who follow you; plant in us a deep commitment all your work and will to do. Fire a passion for your justice, in us kindle love of peace; help us heal the brokenhearted, to the captive bring release.” (Joy Patterson) “Us” includes me. Do I want that to happen in my life?

There are many old favorite songs that are part of my life that have made me who I am–and I am looking forward to many new favorite songs that will continue to shape me on my spiritual journey.

Leading or enabling?

Last night I attended the last meeting of this season for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Our guest was Robert Hobby, a well-known composer and church musician, who led us in an evening of his compositions (organ, choral, congregational…). It was a marvelous evening!

One thing he said, though, really caught my attention. He talked about how he saw his responsibilities as a church musician–not to lead congregational singing, but to enable it. There’s a lot of similarities between the two words, but there’s also a significant difference.

If I am leading congregational singing, that puts me in charge…and requires that the congregation follow my tempo, my breathing. The congregation doesn’t really have any responsibility–except to keep up with me. 

But if I am enabling the congregation, that makes our experience a shared partnership. I must be sensitive not only to the words and music but also to the needs and mood of the congregation. A hymn that might ordinarily be sung fairly rapidly might–because of circumstances impacting the congregation–need to be sung slower and more thoughtfully / meditatively.

And the congregation is then no longer a somewhat passive participant, dependent solely on what the worship leader(s) determine is needed. Instead, the members are actively involved, listening to and aware of the spirit’s presence–and responding to that presence.

Enabling….in this case, a positive way of looking at the role of the worship leader(s) in our congregations!