Wednesday, May 27, 2009


This Sunday at College Church we have a grand alignment of preaching text, complementary scripture reading, Anchor memory verse (and series), and the church calendar. I can assure you that no planning in the church offices brought these together! Our original plan was to begin the Anchor memory program in September, not January - and on that plan we would have memorized the Holy Spirit verses back in February. The preaching text and complementary reading were provided by Pastor Moody when he was still in New Haven, and the Galatians passages had to be worked around a schedule accommodating Missions and the Preaching Workshop guest preacher. The only given in the mix is this year’s date for Pentecost … it always comes 50 days after Easter!

As it turns out our observation of the day is hand and glove with the flow of this excellent preaching series in the Galatian letter. Paul asks: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3) Pentecost is the historical redemptive event by which we are able to come to faith, and by which we live out our life in Christ. Let’s celebrate like it’s AD 33!

Our closing hymn for the morning is this apt prayer for the church:

Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing:
Christ over all, our undivided aim;
fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labors, all but unavailing,
to bring us nearer what a church should be.

Lord of the Church, we seek a Father’s blessing,
a true repentance and a faith restored,
a swift obedience and a new possessing,
filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord!
We turn to Christ from all our restless striving,
unnumbered voices with a single prayer—
the living water for our souls’ reviving,
in Christ to live, and love and serve and care.

Lord of the Church, we long for our uniting,
true to one calling, by one vision stirred;
one cross proclaiming and one creed reciting,
one in the truth of Jesus and His word!
So lead us on; till toil and trouble ended,
one Church triumphant one new song shall sing,
to praise his glory, risen and ascended,
Christ over all, the everlasting King!

Timothy Dudley Smith
© 1984 Hope Publishing Co.

These words were written to be sung to the folk tune LONDONDERRY AIR.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Ga. 5:25) And let us be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our whole heart! (Eph. 5:19)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I had the interesting experience of my first up-close and personal military ceremony, just a week ago. I was a young teenager when I attended my oldest brother commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps (during Vietnam). I have been at cemetaries for Memorial Day events for many years - as a band member, as the parent of a band member, and as an occasional interested onlooker. I have attended, and served, at the funerals of some veterans and been moved by the presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps at the graveside.

It's that last part that gets me now, as the father of a young man who has just entered active Army duty as a newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, with orders eventually to serve as supply officer for an artillery unit. Gulp! This all is starting to be a bit too personal for me.

But I will say this - give the military credit for managing ceremony. Now, I'm glad we are past the days of gloved ushers wearing morning coats; beyond lock-step precision while taking the offering, and so on. And while I miss a degree of formality in our own services at College Church, I think we are in fact better off for not having the pastors enter the chancel from the side door, walk to our chairs soberly, and sit in unison. We are past these things, but we also have lost something in their passing.

I expect to see quite a few military ceremonies over the next 4 - 20 years. And from what I've seen so far, I can predict that they will be well planned, clearly and seriously executed, and yet not without a sense of personal touch. Not emotional and not by breaking the import of the occasion, but yet somehow personal for all their pomp and respect.

And I have to ask: can't we in the church approach our duty and delight with at least that kind of care, if not that precision? With a sense that something greater is going on here? Acknowledging that what is present and at stake is deeper, older, and more important than the cultural drive to be relevant and engaging? My son - who makes no pretense to Christian belief - delights in the settledness and history of military protocol and ceremony. That seems to match up with his generation's desire for something transcendent, rooted, meaningful and important. Do we miss them by paying less attention to ceremony?

Or is it just me?

Monday, May 11, 2009


I have long felt that being in the Anglican communion would be worth it if only for the titles. Why be the choir director, when I might be the choir master? Why be Pastor King or even Rev. King, when I might be The Right Reverend, or optimally the Most Right Reverend? How cool would that be? And just to be able to aspire to the post of Canon ...

But on a serious note, I have appreciated one particular Anglican title. I see that the term is applied and used in other ecclesiastical circles - currently or historically - but I only know it through the Anglican Church. That is the Precentor. (And the awesome Canon Precentor, which woudl be very cool.)

The Precentor's role is primarily to order, and sometimes to lead, public worship. Rarely if ever would it include the role of organist or choir master. I sometimes try to describe my role here as Precentor Choir Master. Which sounds fun enough even though it is unlikely. But in fact it is a fairly accurate, if somewhat nerdy, description. If there is any place for a "liturgist" in this free church tradition, I guess that's what I do. It's just that if I were Anglican, I'd have a cool title to go along with it.

Reflecting on this now because we are working through some changes in our morning services this year. With a new senior pastor, we have introduced a complementary scripture reading - a radical innovation in an independent evangelical conregation! We are also trying to incorporate into our services the Bible verses learned in a church-wide scripture memory program. Rather than simply have the "Bible verse moment" I have tried to place these verses apporpriately for the unfolding of the service, ideally so people can see how Scripture informs our gatherings. It has not been smooth. How much simpler the "Bible verse moment" would be!

Along with these changes, we are also re-learning and re-assigning the various service roles for the ministry staff. So the senior pastor is not doing all that our former senior did, and the others are preparing and doing more than before. Lots of change to manage! It all takes time.

If only it came with a cool title ...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Inclusive yet Discerning

I am now trying to decide what my next "coffee shop" book is, having finished Frank Burch Brown, Inclusive Yet Discerning. It proved to be a probing read, to the end. Though to my taste - or perhaps I should say, for my purposes - it is a chapter too long. Not "one chapter too long," becasue I think Brown has much to say, and he says it well. But "a chapter" because his final chapter does not seem to me to add anything or indeed even to clarify his argument. But then, I'm no philosopher.

And that final chapter is in fact "philosohical," specifically dealing with Plotinus, and him by way of Margaret R. Miles. Plotinus has never been more than an old dead Greek's name to me, and I'm still content with that. How is Plotinus a philosopher to be reckoned with? And why take the time to deal with him with all the modifiers? I feel Brown would have done as well to speak directly, especially after his excellent chapter on Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

"In modifying Plotinus in the way proposed above, we are recognizing a potential within earthly artistry and beauty that he hinted at, but in other ways questioned or undercut... (p. 151) OK, so why did Mr. P. got a whole chapter?

The conclusion of the chapter and the book:
From a Christian point of view, at least, that spiritually disciplined way of making music and of partaking bodily in beauty may be an integral part of our participating in the sacred, cosmic dance of a sacramental universe. As John of Damascus wrote in defense of icons, "Perhaps you [iconoclasts] are sublime and able to transcend what is material ... but I, since I am a human being and bear a body, want to deal with holy things and behold them in a bodily manner."* In seeing how the arts can participate in that bodily process of dealing with beautiful things, we likewise see how artistry and worship, while by no means identical, are (or should be) closely allied, and at times inseparable." (p. 151)
* John of Damascus, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition,vol. 2:
The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 122.
Finally, I have already suggested to someone in another church, that this book might be helpful. But now upon completing it, I might make that recommendation cautiously, or even just suggest specific chapters. A lay reader, or a hyper scrupulous clergy, reading Inclusive Yet Discerning, may throw out an overall good thesis with the Plotinus bathwater.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Music by Anne Porter

I listen to 3 podcasts, all from public radio: Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, The Sunday Puzzle, and Writer's Almanac. My listening time is during my dog's evening constitutional, a leisurely walk around the neighborhood.

Yesterday, in the gloaming, it was Writer's Almanac, from May 1. (By the way, my wife kind of rolls her eyes when I use old words and phrases like that. Bathe, weary, dungarees, in the gloaming - I guess I'm just the child of my grandparents. There's so many rich old ways to say things.) Many of the poems at the end of Writer's Almanac are interesting, or funny, or confusing. Few have taken my breath away, and lead me to worship and wonder, as did "Music" by Anne Porter. Today, looking for the text online, I see that many have taken their cue from Garrison Keillor and are now reflecting on this work of art:

by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

But there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

"Music" by Anne Porter
from Living Things: Collected Poems. © Steerforth Press, 2006.
Go to this link to hear Keillor read it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Caught out

I guess that unless a blog is used for news and information, or to formally guide learners, we aren't obligated to check facts. One of my blogging sons is a meticulous speller in real life, but considers his blog informal enough to not feel obligated to proof-read and make tidy.

I fall somewhere between there. Because I know someone will tease me about my spelling (are you reading, HC?) I try to be careful there. Elsewhere I acknowledged that I may write out of my ignorance, without taking time to look up quote sources or even facts.

But last week I rather blithely offered up an excellent hymn, with my own text change. Oh well, at least I didn't try to pass off the the text tweak as part of the original hymn. But a more careful reader actually took the time to find "Christ triumphant, ever reigning" in one of his hymnals. To be fair, I also tried, but none of my hymnals include it. And Jim passed along this bit of information ...

the text in question
Priestly king, enthroned forever high in heaven above!
Sin and death and hell shall never stifle human love:
* which I changed to: keep us from your love: *
Yours the glory and the crown,
the high renown, the eternal name.
Jim wrote: "In my copy of Jubilate Hymns (2nd edition/Music Edition- 1987; #172(ii)), the 'confusing' phrase is "stifle hymns of love". The line, "stifle human" sounds like it might be from a previous version."
Or indeed it might be a misprint in the hymn page I was given. In either case, it was pretty cavalier of me to change someone's text, especially without due diligence.

Having said that, I do still rather like the proffered phrase with its echoes of Romans 8 set up by "sin and death and hell shall never" ... But that isn't my business, is it? My responsibility is to (a) confirm the text, (b) understand the urtext and/or the author's own alterations, and then (c) if I change it, get permission. Mea maxima culpa!

But still, we sing.