Friday, March 25, 2011

Library Lady - Gloria

This week I'm recommending a title from a very popular series, namely "The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks."  In that story the young members of the Bear family learn the meaning of the holiday of Thanksgiving.  It's a good holiday to recall in the spring because the Gloria cultivates a positive attitude of celebration.  Plus, it's so closely related to the liturgical song we sing in place of the Gloria sometimes: "This is the Feast."  Thanksgiving is always one of the biggest feasts of the year, but it still pales in comparison to communion!

The story is a great way to share the meaning of Gloria with young members of the church.  We recognize God's glory as reflected in the blessings of our own lives.  That's worth singing about every week!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Soli Deo Gloria

The Latin phrase "Soli Deo Gloria" is familiar to all church musicians.  Bach famously wrote it on his manuscripts, and many composers since then have picked up on the habit.  The picture with this post is from Handel, and you can see it has been shortened to SDG.  It can be translated as "To God alone be the glory."

This attitude pervades my own approach to church music.  I've always been uncomfortable with concert series in churches solely as concerts, and even special music during a worship service can veer dangerously toward the feel of a recital.  The purpose of music performed in a church is to glorify God and enhance worship.  Bach himself put it this way: "Music...should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamor and ranting."

This Sunday the Wittenberg Choir will be visiting, and they will be fully incorporated into the structure of a worship service that still includes readings and prayers and communion.  Maintaining the liturgical structure allows us to remember that the beautiful music is not an end in itself, but a symbol, a guidepost pointing in the proper direction.  The only difference between a hymn and an anthem, or between the prelude and the liturgy is the people who are participating directly in the music.  In all cases, the music is to the glory and praise of God.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


After the Kyrie, the next piece of music in the liturgy is the Gloria.  Some hard core liturgists out there might be shocked to learn that we are even singing the Gloria during Lent.  During this pentitential season, it's usually omitted from the worship rubric because of its celebratory nature.

Personally, I think the flexibility of the worship service to aid our faith is more important than any such "rules" laid down over the years.  There comes a point when we have to ask if a rule is being upheld simply to honor tradition or to enhance the worship experience.  I recognize that the problem inherent in such a standard is that people can disagree over it, but I hope that people will understand the edifying purpose of the deviation as we journey through the liturgy.

The text of the Gloria is not drawn explicitly from the Gospel of Luke, but clearly it is based on the message of the angels in the Christmas story.  It echoes the call for peace in the Kyrie in its opening lines, and it follows a tripartite structure that foreshadows the Credo to come.  In other words, the Gloria marks a turning point in the service; in the simplified liturgical order it is the point where we move from Gather to Word, with the lessons immediately following.

At worship tonight, we'll sing the Gloria as a congregation and David will sing a solo based on several classical sources that he has arranged especially for tonight.  Also, I'd like to mention breifly my Wednesday night preludes during Lent. I've been playing slow movements from Haydn's piano sonatas and will do so for the remainder of the season.  I often do a Lenten series of some sort.  (You might recall that last year I played various selections from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.)  It creates a sense of continuity and sets aside the season as different from the regular church year, and to be perfectly honest it also helps my planning by quickly filling six slots in a busy season!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Still aiming for 21

My quest to recruit 21 singers for Easter continues!  I really should warn everyone that I am a huge NPR geek, so I know how to lay on the guilt and just keep nagging until people step forward and support the cause.  (Last week was pledge week, so the effect is strong right now.)

We had 14 singers today, and I know a few more are committed to joining us for the holiday.  But we still need a more!  The music is ready to be picked up.  I'm making rehearsal CDs so that you can run through the music on your own first and feel confident at your first rehearsal.  We're rehearsing on Sunday afternoons, so you can just stick around after worship.  We usually have treats at rehearsal, and we always have a good time.  Please consider this opportunity for service and offering of your time to the church.

I hope you'll agree that the choir sounded fantastic singing two different versions of the Kyrie this week - a polyphonic Renaissance setting by William Byrd on Wednesday and a modern, rhythmic arrangement by Klouse on Sunday.  Why don't you join us to Make Joyful Noise for the 5 weeks left between now and Easter?!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kyrie guest blogger

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that no one can step into the same river twice as a metaphor for continuous change in our lives.  In the same way, despite repeating the lyrics and often the tunes of the liturgy each Sunday, the meaning can still be different for each of us and can change dramatically from week to week.

A few weeks ago, my undergraduate college advisor passed away.  He was a philosopher and a wonderful teacher, who inspired a group of students on our journey through the Western Canon in St. Olaf's Great Conversation program.  His final weeks inspired a poem on his Caringbridge website, and more than anything else I could say here it is a tribute to him and to the power of the simple words of the liturgy to carry immense meaning for our daily lives:

From the land of the living
From the bedside of hospice
From the foot of the cross

...every moment precious...

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Library Lady - Kyrie

I'm back for Kyrie week!  This time I want to talk about a book for the kids and for the adults.  For the kids, I suggest the title "Mama, Do You Love Me?" by Barbara M. Joose.  It's a beautifully illustrated story about an Inuit mother and daughter.  The story is specific to the arctic, with descriptions of mukluks and puffins, so it's an opportunity to talk about Inuit culture and the geography of Alaska and Canada.

The story also relates perfectly to the theme of mercy.  The little girl begins the story by asking her mother "Do you love me?"  The mother replies with strong metaphors about the vast extent of her love.  The girl proceeds to suggest all kinds of hypothetical situations where she makes mistakes or something bad happens.  In response to each, the mother affirms her love.  Even when she is angry, she tells her daughter, she still loves her.

It's important to notice that we need mercy most when we have erred.  Mercy doesn't spring from a Zen-like calm; it isn't simply a synonym for gentleness or kindness.  Instead, mercy is most vital when there has been offense and anger.  Like children who have made a mess, we sin, and even in frustration and anger, God forgives us.

Portia makes that same point eloquently in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice."  (That's a picture of Maggie Smith playing the role; she's one of my favortie actresses!)  When she rescues Antonio in court in Act IV, Portia notes that mercy cannot be compelled in one of the most famous passages ever written:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.  It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The value of mercy is precisely that it is a voluntary gift that lies outside the law.  What a perfect metaphor for God's forgiveness of our sins!  I hope the stories help you understand and contemplate the meaning of Kyrie, and I'll be back next week.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Message in Music

I found this video by David Neff on his blog a few weeks back and have been looking for an opportunity to share the message here.  Since we recently sang "A Mighty Fortress" and the music is so entertweined with the themes of our Lenten services, this seemed an appropriate time to share it here.

The Worship and Music Committee at Bethany has definitely accepted David's call to align the hymns with the readings and message of the week.  I also do my best to find service music and choral pieces that further complement the season and meaning of the service, so that the worship experience each week is one coherent story from prelude to postlude.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Prayers of the church

Yesterday, I wrote about the Litany of Peace that begins our Kyrie.  Today, I want to mention the remaining two lines of the text.  The Kyrie turns its attention to the church and its members.  First, we sing "For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord."  I'm likely over-reading the text, but I've always been a fan of the word "all" in this text.  It does not say that we pray solely for members of the church or anything of the sort.  We pray for all who offer worship and praise, visitors and long time members, clergy and staff.  I'm convinced that churches need to be inviting places of peace, mercy, and inclusiveness to thrive; just as Jesus dined with tax collectors and people from all walks of life, so should we welcome all into the embrace of God's mercy.

The final line of the Kyrie is a request: "Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord."  Since this text comes near the beginning of the service, I think of it as asking for His presence throughout the rest of the service and the week ahead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Tonight we begin the new weekly theme of Kyrie.  This is the first portion of the Ordinary of the liturgy.  It is called the Ordinary because it is comprised of the texts that are repeated every week.  This distinguishes it from the Proper, which changes every week.  Lutheran churches have moved away from most of the sung portion of the Proper, but it includes such things as the Introit, Gradual, and Collect.  We do retain it in some places, such as the communion blessing before the Sanctus, which changes depending on the season or festival.

But back to the Kyrie.  The text could not be simpler: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.  It translates simply as Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.  Thus, it follows naturally from the Confession.  Mercy is entertwined with forgiveness.

The phrase can be found in scattered passages throughout the Old and New Testaments.  For example, Psalm 4: "Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer" and in the sotry of Jesus healing two blind men (Matthew 9), they first get his attention by calling out "Have mercy on us, Son of David."

The ELCA liturgy follows the Great Litany of Peace, in which the first three petitions concern peace.  "In peace, let us pray to the Lord."  Followed by "For the peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord" and "For the peace of the whole world, for the well being of the church of God and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord."  The text is a dramatic prayer for peace, mercy, and forgiveness.  We will sing it tonight as part of our Lenten devotion, and may it set our minds at peace as we pray for that peace to extend out to encompass the world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Full Disclosure

This past fall, I got to see Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane on Broadway in the new musical version of "The Addams Family."  Of course, they were both brilliant.  As for the musicall, it was an enjoyable trifle.  Despite less than gushing reviews, the show is still a fun experience.

What does it have to do with this week's theme of confession?  Well, the act one finale is a song called "Full Disclosure."  It is described as an ancient Addams tradition for everyone at dinner to sip from a sacred chalice and confess something they've never told anyone.  Thanks to a mix-up, the stories lead to scandal and chaos in the household.

The show allows audience members to write down their own full disclosures, and some of the best appear on their website.  They range from extremely silly to the occasional profound thought.  A similar need to confess plays itself out in everything from cop shows to anonymous Internet comments.  Sharing our thoughts can bring us closer to each other, just as confession brings us closer to God.

It brings to mind one of my favorite poems, one that I memorized in high school.  It reminds us how important it is to confess our feelings, especially of course, words of love:

We are spendthirfts with words,
We squander them,
Toss them like pennies in the air -
Arrogant words,
Angry words,
Cruel words,
Comradely words,
Shy words tiptoeing from mouth to ear.
But the slowly wrought words of love
And the thunderous words of heartbreak -
These we hoard.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tolstoy's Confession

Tolstoy was a man plagued by existential doubt and a lifelong religious struggle.  His Confession is the story of how he faced nihilism and confusion to return to his own unique faith.  He explores science and philosophy, music and literature, and a variety of religious perspectives in his search for faith.

Late in the work, when he has returned to faith, he writes about the beauties of the rituals in church.  He tells us that "the most important words in the liturgy became more and more clear to me."  He finds beauty in the simple and honest faith of the Russian peasants, rather than the writings of philosophers.

Tolstoy recognizes the shortcomings of the church and the mistakes that are made by some people in the name of the church.  But in the stories and the music, the Bible and the liturgy, he recognizes a deeper truth that improves his life.  We all struggle with our faith at times, and Tolstoy's writings remind us that struggle can be an important part of our confession.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Library Lady - Confession

Hello!  I'm the Library Lady, and I'll be visiting every week during Lent to recommend books that relate to the themes of the liturgy.  The books I suggest will be perfect for younger members of the church to read or share with their parents, and I know that some of the choir members will even be using these titles during children's sermons.  The goal is to spark discussions among families and invite our younger members into the conversation taking place at Bethany throughout Lent.

The theme this week is Confession, so I want to tell you about a book titled "I'm Sorry" by Gina and Mercer Mayer.  The book features the well-known character of Little Critter.  In this book, he learns the importance of apologizing when he does something wrong.  Even if it's just a mistake, you still need to say "I'm sorry."  Even further, it's important to be more careful and try to do better.  That's the same thing we do at the beginning of worship when we say the confession, telling God that we are sorry for our sins.

There are plenty of other great books in the library that remind us of the importance of heartfelt apologies.  In the book "Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying," the main character learns that she's wrong to believe that "You don't actually have to mean I'm sorry 'cause nobody can even tell the difference."  In fact, a contrite heart and desire for forgiveness is an important part of confession.

Another of my favorite books on this theme is "The Berenstain Bears and the Truth."  Curious George also seems to be getting into trouble all of the time and apologizing for his mistakes.  There are lots of great books on this theme, and I hope you get the chance to at least one this week.  If you do, I hope you'll share your thoughts, and I'll be back next week with more recommendations.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Augustine's Confession

The original tell all autobiography, authored by a bishop in North Africa, is more than sixteen hundred years old.  I first read it in college, and I've enjoyed flipping back through it to reread my comments and underlinings.  What's most amazing about the book is how much we can relate to Augustine.  His temptations and sins are so familiar to a modern reader, which reminds us that no matter how much our lives have changed over the centuries human nature has remained remarkably similar.

Among the most famous passages is in chapter 8, when Augustine has decided to leave behind his sinful ways and reform his life.  But he still finds himself putting off the change:

"...I, convinced by the truth, had no answer to give except merely slow and sleepy words: At once - but presently - just a little longer, please...but 'just a little longer, please' went on and on for a long while."

Who hasn't promised to make a change in his or her life that never seems to happen?  From the diet that always starts next Monday to the career change or move and everything in between, we can relate to Augustine's struggle.

Shortly after his struggle to submit to conversion, Augustine also noted that human pleasures are satisfying primarily when they follow discomforts.  In his words, "There is no pleasure in eating and drinking unless they are preceded by the unpleasant sensation of hunger and thirst."  Feeling a bit under the weather today myself, I know that I will appreciate my health more soon.  Going through the experience of Lent makes Easter that much sweeter.  We confess in order to be forgiven, and Augustine's story reminds us not to delay but to take action.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

21 for Easter

I'm issuing an Easter challenge to the members of Bethany: Let's run out of choir robes for Easter.  That means we need 21 singers to commit to singing on April 24th.  Of course, anyone is welcome to join anytime.  We have so much great music planned throughout Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  I think that Good Friday in particular will be a service full of beautiful and meaningful music.

But if you can only join us for services on one day all spring, make it Easter!  The music is selected, and the folders are just waiting to be picked up.  Sunday afternoon rehearsals should be convenient, and we have treats most weeks.  Make an offering to the church of your time and your voice.  Let's hit 21 for Easter.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lenten Liturgy Project

During Lent, Bethany will be focusing our devotions around the themes of the liturgy.  You'll hear it in the music and the sermons, and the discussion will continue here on the blog.

Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, we began the series by discussing the role of confession.  Technically, confession is not part of the ordinary liturgy.  However, we do begin most of our worship services with a confession.  While humble self-examination can be a difficult challenge, I think tonight's service avoided the dreary dirge-like atmosphere that can ruin the experience of Ash Wednesday and Lent in general.  By singing "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling" during the imposition of ashes, we reinforced the theme of reconciliation rather than self-abasement.

Many of us think of ourselves as living good lives, working hard and doing our best.  So maybe the more important sins to consider are the sins of omission.  The text and the form of the Lutheran confession do not ask us to list petty sins we have commited during the week.  Instead we admit that "We have not loved [God] with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves."  Rather than being punished for mistakes, perhaps we could view the confession as a chance to acknowledge how often we do not live up to our potential.

Looking ahead, I want to mention below the dates and topics coming up.  I am so excited about some of the "guest bloggers" who have already submitted comments, and I would welcome anyone to be in touch by email or in the comments!  Join us in this discussion in our journey toward Easter.

March 9-15: Confession
March 16-22: Kyrie
March 23-29: Gloria
March 30-April 5: Credo
April 6-12: Sanctus
April 13-19: Benedictus
April 20-23: Agnus Dei
April 24 (Easter): Alleluia!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


The Epiphany season ends this week; the Brazilian Carnival begins on Saturday.  We won't have a party quite that crazy this week, but we will celebrate the Transfiguration with a range of festive music.  We open and close on big hymns to match the festival: "Oh, Wondrous Image, Vision Fair" (ELW 316) and "Immortal, Invisible" (ELW 834).  Also, at communion we'll sing "Beautiful Savior" (ELW 838), which is naturally dear to the heart of this St. Olaf alum.  For most of the hymns and the liturgy, we'll have a guest trumpet player adding to the celebration.

In addition, the choir will be singing two pieces.  The anthem is built solely on the text of Mark 9:7, "This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!"  It is a very modern piece, as different as possible from the Renaissnace music of the last two weeks.  (In rehearsal, I warned the choir to beware musical whiplash as we move from style to style.)  The music has many cluster chords to give it a different sound from anything you're used to hearing us sing.  It also uses long rests to draw the listener's attention to the importance of the word "listen."  The second choir piece will be sung at communion, and it's a melodic tune titled "With This Communion We Thank You."  Even if the first piece stretches your ear too far for comfort, I know the communion piece will be a more pleasing, though still modern, tune.

The bell choir will also be playing this week, offering "Amazing Grace" as the prelude for the late service.  Our dedicated ringers are back already with only one week off.  As always, it's a pleasure to conduct such talented and dedicated volunteers!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Commemoration of George Herbert

Have you ever read the fine print on the back page of your bulletin insert?  I don't think many people notice the suggested readings and commemorations listed each week under the title "Preparing for Next Week."  If you had read this week's list, you'd have noticed that today is the commemoration of George Herbert (1593 - 1633), listed in the bulletin this week with the title of "hymnwriter."

I think that he might be better described as a poet, however.  The only hymn with his text to appear in the ELW is "Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life" - hardly a well-known hymn to us and set to a tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams hundreds of years after Herbert's death.  But the choir also sang another of his famous texts "Let All the World in Every Corner Sing" recently.  It fits so beautifully with my ongoing encouragement to Make Joyful Noise that I wanted to share the full text today:

Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
The heavens are not too high, His praise may thither fly,
The earth is not too low, His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out;
But, above all, the heart must bear the longest part.

It's great that the church officially recognizes the great artists, poets, and musicians who have helped shape our faith and worship.  Read the fine print from time to time, and you might find new sources of inspiration to guide your own prayers.