Church Life, Music, Reflectionary

Freedom’s Holy Light

Until a couple of years ago, I would have described myself as a moderate about singing patriotic hymns in church. I wouldn’t design a whole service around patriotic themes; usually I allowed time for a patriotic sing-along before the start of the worship service proper. My philosophy was to keep what was usually a communion service on the first Sunday in July separate from nationalistic themes. I would tell myself, there is no other place where people sing together anymore. And some – even most – of those songs include themes that call us to be better.

We get into trouble when we consider them descriptive rather than aspirational.

This past Sunday I worshipped at kathrynzj’s church; her attitude about those songs is similar, but for reasons having to do with the installation of a new sound system and the resulting limited rehearsal time for her musician, two patriotic hymns were part of the service.

I can remember listening rhapsodically to a broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” from Wolf Trap in which Garrison Keillor had the audience singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” a capella; I remember wishing I could have been there to feel the sound rise around me.

This past Sunday, though, I was crying by the time we got to verse 4.

Our fathers’ God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

I’m past grieving now for the idealized America my parents let me believe in, because they hope it would be true, protecting me from the racism they wished were solved, promoting values of equality and fairness and kindness to others, particularly those less fortunate than we were.

I'm crying now because when God's holy light shines bright we see every sin, collective and individual, that plagues us.

I’m crying now because when freedom’s holy light shines bright we see every sin that plagues us. Worse, we see how many people in this country positively rejoice in those sins of violence and cruelty when they serve a White Supremacist agenda. Power now seems to belong to the cruelest, the unkindest, the most selfish among us, people who understand freedom as whatever profits the individual.

Today I am looking for and finding signs of hope, not the kind of candy-coated, bunting-inspired hope of past 4ths of July, but the gritty determination of activists, pastors, moms, and many other ordinary people determined to help others, to embody the values I cherish, values I derive from my faith, values I believe will bring freedom and liberation: inclusion, cooperation, and mercy.

I pray for the day when our land will be bright with freedom’s holy light, a freedom that will no longer be merely aspirational, a freedom that makes manifest God’s commonwealth of love.

Good Friday, Music

Good Friday Mix

Rather than a service today, we have our sanctuary open for reflection and prayer. I’ve prepared a meditation guide; Good Friday meditation. I’ll also be playing music, and since friends on Facebook asked, here is my exceedingly eclectic Good Friday mix.

Anonymous 4 (American Angels)
Trad: Wondrous Love
Trad: Sweet Hour Of Prayer
Trad: Wayfaring Stranger
Trad: New Britain (Amazing Grace)
Trad: Idumea

Johnny Cash (American III – Solitary Man)
Wayfaring Stranger

Van Morrison (Avalon Sunset)
When Will I Ever Learn to Live In God

Ben Harper
Better Way

The Blind Boys of Alabama (Bridge Over Troubled Water)
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Jesus On My Mind
                 (Higher Ground)
I Shall Not Walk Alone

Jay Ungar & Molly Mason (Civil War Classics)
Ashokan Farewell

Jack White (Cold Mountain)
Wayfaring Stranger

Alison Krauss (Cold Mountain)
The Scarlet Tide

Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain)
Am I Born To Die?

Reeltime Travelers (Cold Mountain)
Like A Song Bird That Has Fallen

Sacred Harp Singers (Cold Mountain)
I’m Going Home
Idumea

Eric Clapton (Complete Clapton)
Tears In Heaven

The Cox Family (Down from the Mountain)
I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)

Leonard Cohen (The Future)
Anthem

Colin Davis and LSO (Handel: Messiah)

Behold The Lamb Of God
He Was Despised

Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs, & With His Stripes, All We Like Sheep

Chanticleer & Yvette Flunder (How Sweet the Sound)
Be Still and Know

Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc. (Jesus Christ Superstar)
Trial Before Pilate (Including The 39 Lashes)
Crucifixion

Johnny Cash (My Mother’s Hymn Book)
Just As I Am

Norumbega Harmony (Sing and Joyful Be)
Wondrous Love
Sacred Throne

The Wright Combination (Spiritual Evolution)
Take My Mother Home

Taizé (Jubilate)
Jesus, Remember Me

********************************
Due to a CD drive fail on my laptop, there is a lot of music I would have liked to use that is not on this list.

Hymns, Music

Mustard Seed in Song

Three years ago I found I wanted to have the congregation sing something about this coming Sunday’s gospel text, and particularly the mustard seed, but I just didn’t find anything singable enough for a smaller summertime congregation. “Amazing Grace” came to mind as a particularly singable hymn tune, and this was the result. We’ll be singing it this week, and I’m happy to share it if it might be useful.

“Mustard Seed”

~~set to AMAZING GRACE (NEW BRITAIN)~~

Oh, once there was a mustard seed
Almost too small to see.
I planted it and watched it grow
Into a spreading tree.

The tree became a home for birds;
The branches held their nests.
The birds they came from miles around
to find a place to rest.

But mustard seeds will never grow
Into such spreading trees
We tell the tale so we will know
God’s kingdom yet to be.

How can we live our lives today
to be the mustard seed?
We’ll share God’s love with all we meet
and help the ones in need.

Oh, once there was a mustard seed
Almost too small to see.
I planted it and watched it grow
Into a spreading tree.

(copyright Martha K. Spong, 2008)

Men At Work, Music, Sons

The World is Waiting for the Sunrise

While #1 Son was home last week and sleeping in his old room, which is now the den/guest room and favored practice room for clarinet, Snowman went over to TFoMC's house to practice. Now that the room is again available, we get the pleasure of hearing him play.

Tonight I came in from walking the dog and could have sworn Benny Goodman was in my house! I heard his characteristic runs.

And here's what Snowman has been doing. He's preparing the Copland Clarinet Concerto for the placement auditions at Beantown Conservatory, and since Benny Goodman commissioned the concerto, he thought he could prepare better by learning more about how Benny Goodman played. He listened to a recording of "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," and using the chords in his Jazz Real Book, he transcribed Goodman's interpretation from the recording.

Now that the transcription is complete, he is playing it, Goodman-style.

I wonder, do I ever break down a task the way he did? Considering the influences and working through the possibilities with such diligence? I tend to float through life relying on intuition and inspiration. I might have considered his technical approach to be overly intellectual, if I hadn't heard him explain it. I understood completely, and I heard what he took from it, both in the jazz piece and in his playing of the Copland.

It was hard to let him go away two years ago. But when I hear what I heard tonight, the music and his underscoring thoughts, I know we did the right thing.

Here's Benny:

Children, Interim Ministry, Music

But Like a Child at Home

My shepherd is the living God,
I therefore nothing need;
In pastures fair, near pleasant streams
you settle me to feed.
You bring my wandering spirit back
when I forsake your ways,
And lead me for your mercy's sake
in paths of truth and grace.

It can be hard to tell some stories about your children–their accomplishments or their gifts or their good fortune or happy moments in your relationship with them–without sounding like Hubris just begging Nemesis to stop by for coffee.

But I'm going to risk it.

Because #1 Son either shared or grew into my delight in singing along while listening to vocal music of one kind and another, we've done a lot of singing together. I got to hear his voice a lot. Mostly we loved singing along to musicals, and even today when I listen to the favorites in our collection, I imagine the parts he could play. On the trip to take him to college in 2004, we lined up our favorites and sang them with gusto, as if the chance would never come again.

Snowman joined in as a little fellow, although he became more of a listener when he began to pick apart the orchestrations in his mind. Still, even when he didn't want to sing so much himself, he didn't seem to mind if we did.

But we could not get LP to join us. She liked to hear the music the way it was supposed to be and still only tolerates the singing along sometimes. My days of singing in the car with a child seem to be over, and I miss it; I cannot tell a lie.

So I haven't heard our voices together much, except on the rare occasions we stand next to each other for a hymn on Sunday morning. I seize those moments when I can, but usually I am far away.

Last week, as I looked ahead to this final week in Freeport, and thought about the music based on the 23rd Psalm, I asked her if she would be willing to sing something with me for church. She surprised me by saying yes, and I suggested an adaptation of Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," set to the good old tune from Southern Harmony, Resignation. We used the words in the New Century Hymnal, mostly because it seemed less complicated to be singing exactly what the organist would be playing and we had limited time to rehearse. We agreed this tune should work, even for two altos, one long-time and the other newly-minted.

This morning we got to church early to practice. It's kind of a strange thing for me to be the "Special Music," and I wondered if I would regret it. I sometimes sing in the body of a sermon if it feels like the right thing to do, and I sang for a while with the choir at Small Church. Back then we got a friend of #1 Son's to come and play guitar once or twice a year, and we formed our own little family folk group with the young music director there.

But this felt more exposed and I wondered if we would work, or for that matter sound, well together. But I talked with the organist about the introduction, and we began to sing together.

When I walk through the shades of death,
your presence is my stay;
A word of your supporting breath
drives all my fear away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
My cup with blessing overflows,
your oil anoints my head.

It felt good.

Oh, we made a few changes after the first time through. I had to think about whether to sing all the lines in two parts, and eventually made some of them unison. LP asked for a slight pick-up in the tempo. We worked together to find a cut-off that gave us a chance to get our breath at the end of each verse.

Mostly, it amazed me how nice our voices sounded together. I managed to mangle a note or two when it came time to sing in the service, but really the whole thing felt wonderful.

I loved singing with my daughter.

The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others come and go
No more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.

As we began the final verse, I had that feeling of relief I sometimes get on the last page of a sermon–almost home!!–and realized I knew the last bit well enough to lean into it and not be so focused on the page of music in front of me. I felt the peace of the settled rest, although it will not be in that particular church.

And it's funny, I've been preaching for more than a year about the lack of importance of a set place to be present with God, at the same time I've come to hope for my own ministry to be settled again. And I don't like where this is headed, but I suppose the truth for them is also the truth for me. I meet God in those moments when I get my eye off the page and feel the presence.

O, may God's house be my abode, and all my work be praise.

Music

Music Cues

Yesterday contained many music cues.

On the way to church, I listened to an inspiring story about the Howard University band.

At worship, we sang "Take Me to the Water" and "Shall We Gather at the River."

On the long ride home, I heard this tribute on the radio.

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And later, this brought me to tears. He lived to see the day!

Music

Mustard Seed Song

Mustard-seed
I found I wanted to have the congregation sing something about this Sunday's text, and particularly the mustard seed, but I just didn't find anything singable enough for a smaller summertime congregation.

Meanwhile, "Amazing Grace" was much in my mind after singing it at two services over this past weekend. And soon I had a head full of seeds and grace, and this was the result.

"Mustard Seed"

~~set to AMAZING GRACE (NEW BRITAIN)~~

Oh, once there was a mustard seed

Almost too small to see.

I planted it and watched it grow

Into a spreading tree.

 

The tree became a home for birds;

The branches held their nests.

The birds they came from miles around

to find a place to rest.

 

But mustard seeds will never grow

Into such spreading trees

We tell the tale so we will know

God's kingdom yet to be.

 

How can we live our lives today

to be the mustard seed?

We'll share God's love with all we meet

and help the ones in need.

Oh, once there was a mustard seed

Almost too small to see.

I planted it and watched it grow

Into a spreading tree.