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

Eric Clapton (Complete Clapton)
Tears In Heaven

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

Leonard Cohen (The Future)

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)

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”


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)