Saturday, January 22, 2011


The theme of this Sunday's service is "follow me," and we'll hear the story in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus begins calling his disciples away from their work to join his ministry.  As part of that theme, we'll be singing the hymn "Come, Follow Me, the Savior Spake."  I was reading the text tonight and realized just what a downer it is:

"Come follow me," the Savior spake,
"All in my way a biding;
Deny yourselves, the world foresake,
Obey my call and guiding.
Oh, bear the cross, whate'er betide;
Take my example for your guide."

Sometimes there is a tension in the church's message between the Good News and the theme of suffering and self-abnegation embodied in this hymn.  (The hymn only gets more explicit in verse four: "in suffering be undaunted.")  That's a tough message to sell to the world at large (and it's certainly not the kind of message to bring new singers to a choir!).

Instead of focusing on the sacrifices of faith, I wish that we as a congregation and a broader church would think about where we are leading and the example we are setting.  Are we living in such a way that anyone would want to follow us?  Are our lives made any better from our church attendance?  Are we making joyful noise and embodying the good news of God's love?

One of my favorite books is titled "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" about working creatively within bureaucracies, as both a leader and a follower.  One of my favorite analogies in the book is when the author compares the role of following to a water skiier.  The best water skiiers are active, with a great deal of flexibility and freedom of movement, yet they are always cooperating and communicating with the driver of the boat.  I like to think that Jesus similarly prefers us to be fully participating followers with a great deal of independence to find our own way behind his leadership and to enjoy and celebrate the experience.  Rather than a slow trod in single-file, doesn't water skiing seem like a more joyful and free way to follow?

Jesus' call to his disciples is not to an easy life, and the path of the righteous is narrow, I know.  But I also believe that the community of faith and God's love can make even the difficult times joyful.  Different churches and different people place a different level of emphasis on the struggles and the joy of the Christian faith.  We'll try to find a balance this week, but we will close on an upbeat note with the hymn "Rise, Shine, You People!"  I hope it sends us all out of the church as joyous followers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So what's your excuse now?

Lutherans are singers.  I know this.  It's encoded in the DNA of our church, and it's one of my favorite things about being an organist in the ELCA.  And yet...every church struggles for choir members and participation throughout its music program.

Like most music directors, I've heard pretty much every excuse and every explanation.  But I just want to let everyone know that we're taking away one of those excuses for the next few weeks.  We're moving choir rehearsals to Sunday afternoons.  So if you're one of the people who has told me that you're busy on Wednesday nights, or you're one of the people who just can't get yourself out of the house on a dark winter evening, now you can just stay after the second service and sing with us for another hour.  You can set aside another hour of peace and calm in your week and enjoy some time making music with friends.

If you can't sing, maybe you'd rather play in the bell choir?  We're rehearsing between the services (9:45 - 10:30).

Easter may be months away, but planning for Holy Week and Easter are currently at the top of my to do list.  I would love nothing more than to have a huge choir for that most important festival of the church year.  We have 21 choir robes to fill.  Think it over.  Make it a New Year's resolution, part of your commitment to the church - and now there's one less excuse to give it a try.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Epiphany and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've heard from a few people that my posting habits have gotten slack this winter.  I apologize, but the craziness of the holidays were followed by busy weeks of travel.  January has finally started to settle into a rhythm, and I shall strive to write more regularly.

We've entered this year's long season of Epiphany.  With Easter falling so late, there is a long stretch between Epiphany and Transfiguration, eight Sundays that don't immediately bring to mind hymns or themes of the church.  The hymnal simply labels a number of hymns with the heading "Time after Epiphany."  It's a season of the year without a strong message or purpose, and it leads us to a grab bag of familiar tunes this week.

We'll sing "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" and "Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness," two upbeat hymns of praise.  At communion, the text "What Feast of Love" will be paired with the tune Greensleeves, likely still stirring memories of Christmas.

And we'll close with the civil rights anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing."  The song is now more than 100 years old, but it still speaks so eloquently of the American experience.  When I think of the hymn, its strong, lilting beat immediately springs to mind as a joyous march.  Rereading the text this week, though, I was reminded again of the depth and breadth of emotion and meaning packed into its three verses.  The hymn offers praise: "Let our rejoicing rise high as the list'ning skies."  But it also recognizes a difficult and contentious past: "Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod."  After such a difficult second verse, it resolves not only with trust in God, but service to "our native land."

There is a great deal of rhetoric lately about building a more civil and understanding society.  Balancing passionate activism and advocacy with understanding and respect is always a challenge.  But it's one that Martin Luther King, Jr. and other great leaders strove to overcome.  On a grab bag Sunday in the season of Epiphany, that wouldn't be a bad message to contemplate and enact in our lives - perhaps as a late New Year's resolution for civility and compromise.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A quick New Year's hymn

It's not a church holiday or festival, but the new year deserves a hymn, don't you think?  Here's the text of one that I found online.  Just something to get us started in 2011:

Another year is dawning!
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee;
Another year of leaning
Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting,
Of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise;
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.

Another year of service,
Of witness fo Thy love;
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning!
Dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in heaven,
Another year for Thee.