Lent 32 (Vinyls)

My heart skips — 33 —
not the wild leap to express joy
but the weary limp to avoid a pain
the wince — 33 — the accommodation
of a long-standing scar
Like scratched vinyl
and a track that misses its beat
so — 33 — familiar that I sing along
with the flawed syncopation
as though
this is the way
the song was intended
as though — 33 —
the lyrics make perfect sense
when that needle skips
the occasional
— 33 —
I learned to dance to broken records
so long ago
that I hardly notice any more
and really — 33 — it’s okay
but sometimes
when the day’s music is turned down
and there’s only
the off-rhythms of my heart
dodging and dancing with the shadows
— 33 — I confess to wondering
how vinyl is really meant
to sound

Ascension Day: Heaven Is A Ghost Town

Ascension Day. Acts 1:1-11. Jesus has been enjoying a few extra days of hanging out with his friends and disciples since that beautiful Easter morning in the garden, but now his time on earth is coming to an end — for real this time. Jesus gathers his followers, gives his final reassurances and instructions, then floats his merry way up through the clouds to heaven.

But what if, upon returning to the glories of heaven on that day of ascension, Jesus found the streets of gold completely silent and still, with no one at the pearly gates to greet him and no one throughout the city of God to herald his return? What if heaven was/is a ghost town?

A fabulous and humorous music video suggests that we Christians have lost our way in our preoccupation with who gets to kick it in glory with Jesus. Canadian music duo Ash & Bloom sing their testimony with a merry tune that belies the seriousness of their theological question: if God is a God who loves the whole world desperately but, at the same time, has set heaven to be out-of-reach for all but a few out of the whole world … isn’t God lonely for all of those folks who don’t make it?

I can’t get enough of the animation in this video! The visual impact of watching as God plays both sides of the chess table, as God peers at those in line for the pearly gates and prays for someone to make it past Peter, as God throws a fit because there’s no one to play dolls with — it’s brilliant! (The only thing missing, perhaps, is Morgan Freeman as God.) The combination of playfulness and truthfulness reflects the best of a rich and curious spiritual life, imho. Ash & Bloom’s lyrics affirm, “We don’t really know what happens at the pearly gates, but we know that we’re all human and we’re all sinners.” Their music video’s animation professes something more, something deeper, not just about our human condition but about God’s holy condition: that God lives to be in relationship with the world, and that God is not willing to wait for us to become saints who qualify for heaven before meeting us and being among us.

Check out Ash & Bloom’s “Heaven Is A Ghost Town,” and watch for God crowd-surfing in a barn near you!

Many thanks to Micah who recommended this song to me!

Monday Muse: Dancing on the Mountain

For those who love to worship God with voices and hands raised, stirred by contemporary rhythms and sentimental lyrics … who also love and hold fast to the theology of a gracious, inclusive God made known to us in the boundary-breaking life of Jesus … finding praise & worship music that does not offend one’s theology is very difficult.

Enter Dancing on the Mountain, by pastor and musician Rob Leveridge!

Leveridge’s album of thirteen songs for community worship is an exciting sign of hope that Contemporary Christian Music is not necessarily wed to conservative theology. But more than that: Dancing on the Mountain is a gift to congregations regardless of theological position. With songs like “In Your Eyes” and “No Matter What,” Leveridge’s music shares the Spirit of hospitality with all people and worshiping communities.

No matter who we are,
where we’re from,
what we’ve seen,
how we look,
how we speak,
what we earn,
how we love,
we are yours…
(“In Your Eyes”)

Each of the thirteen songs inspires possibilities for worship. “Resurrection Song,” for example, can be incorporated into the reading of scripture; “Taste and See” offers reflection for Communion as well as for a Thanksgiving service; and each song on the album can be sung in full or its chorus excerpted for repetition. In addition, how-to essays in the songbook (which includes music for piano, voice and guitar) provide practical guidance and encouragement for writing and teaching new worship songs.

The recordings on Dancing on the Mountain are exceptional, with full praise band sound and harmonies, and the occasional surprise of children’s voices! (The latter makes “Do a Great Work in Me” a quick favorite of mine.) Dancing on the Mountain is an uplifting worship resource, clearly made with joy, for the inspiration of the Church everywhere!

Dancing on the Mountain is available for purchase
as a CD, a songbook and also via download through
robleveridge.com. I was pleased to write an introductory
essay on prayer and poetry for the album’s songbook.

A Psalm from Marvin

How sweet it is to be loved by you, O God!

You are the warm shelter when we need to hide;
You are our praise through every stress and pain,
every delight and every rest.
Your faithfulness and love are beyond words:
We stop to give you thanks.

How sweet it is to be loved by you, O God!

Your love gives purpose  and definition to our lives;
Your love brings peace to our sleep.
Your love calls us from self-reproach and shame
to boldness and fullness of life. You alone are our God:
We stop to give you thanks.

How sweet it is to be loved by you, O God!

Like sugar to the soul,
Like honey to the lips,
Like candy on the tongue.

How sweet it is to be loved by you, O God!

A psalm based on Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” (written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland).

Dancing on the Mountain (Review)

What is your experience with contemporary Christian music? Many of us have a contemporary Christian music story, much like we have a Church story, filled with memories, hopes, and disappointments.

I grew up in a moderate-to-conservative United Church of Christ congregation, where spiritual comfort is still found in the formal liturgies of The [Evangelical & Reformed] Hymnal, where Sunday School lessons teach God as Father and I suspect the felt board lessons of my childhood are not too far gone, where the Pennsylvania Dutch adage against airing dirty laundry holds fast but people genuinely love & take care of one another. I was the second woman to be ordained in that sanctuary, and the only daughter of the church to enter ordained ministry.

In my teen years, the youth programs of this church introduced me to contemporary Christian music. I loved Michael W. Smith (“Friends Are Friends Forever” around a campfire, anyone?), Jars of Clay, the rock band Petra, and the uplifting experience of singing choruses in a large crowd of peers. Rich Mullins (of “Awesome God” acclaim) was and remains a family favorite; Mullins’ music expresses holy mystery and theological curiosity in ways that still move and comfort my soul.

But Rich Mullins was one of the very few artists that I knew in contemporary Christian music whose lyrics gave witness to a faith that struggled and wondered; most of the praise & worship music I heard resounded with a theological perspective that allowed little room for questions. When I moved to college, I joined a fellowship that worshiped with contemporary Christian music . . . until it became apparent that the fellowship required me to affirm an absolute faith in God the Father & Jesus the Eternity-Ticket, and a worldview that saw sin as a spiritual concern only . . . so I withdrew from contemporary Christian music and from the singular theology that seemed destined to accompany it.

Many years later, I am delighted to discover that a colleague is reclaiming the joy and power of worship & praise music with a theological worldview that affirms social justice, inclusion, and a marveling delight in the Holy. UCC minister Rob Leveridge is producing an album, Dancing on the Mountain, that provides worship music to move the spirit & set the body dancing! Three songs are already available:

  • The Seeds of Peace, a benediction song, puts intention and a rhythm of faith into our steps as we manifest God’s blessing for the world.
  • No Matter What (currently my favorite track) shakes off the weight of rejection and hardship to celebrate the joyful certainty of God’s grace and to claim Jesus’ invitation into renewed life: “The stone is rolled away!”
  • Isaiah 65 gives the album its name by envisioning the reconciled community of all people and all creation dancing together on the holy mountain.

I commend Rob’s music to you for your congregation and for your own spiritual refreshment. And if you, like me, have been disenfranchised by the contemporary Christian music genre, I invite you to experience new worship music that might restore your faith in the possibility of raising your hands to praise God while still reaching out to welcome all people from all faith & life journeys.