Praying for rain

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The record for rain in a twenty-four-hour period is 73 inches on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Mt. Wal-ale-ale (Hawaii) gets 460 inches of rain per year.  Rain falls 335 days of the year.

 

Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.  Deut. 11:14

Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.  Deut. 11:17

The Desierto del Atacama in Chile had 1/4 “ of rain in 1971.  As far as can be determined, the previous rain had occurred some 400 years earlier. (Weather Book)

 

At one time in my life, I would not hesitate to pray for rain.  Now, I hesitate to pray for rain.  As a boy growing up on the farm, I welcomed the rain.  Frequently, rain meant no more digging out thistles or chopping brush out of fence rows and the possibility that I could spend some time reading.  A refreshing summer sound, the cooling rain rattled the corn leaves to announce its coming across the creek field and up the hill toward the house.

Some pastors or worship leaders were uncomfortable about praying for rain in public.  “I always give thanks for rain in public prayers.”  said a worship leader.  Another person said we should not expect God to give an area normally getting ten inches of rain a year to suddenly get forty inches a year.

Rain imagery occurs in many songs and hymns of the church.  Most people I ask for their memories of “rain” in songs and hymns thought of “Showers of Blessing” The song “Healing River” implies rain to cleanse.  A song from my childhood, “Sunshine and Rain” invites both rain and sun.  The children’s song “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” has in the third verse “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.”

 

Rain images abound in the Bible as indicated (see the header):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 2 Chronicles 6:26

Throughout most of the OT rain is associated with blessing, the lack of rain with sin of God’s people.

The prophets saw rain as blessing:

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day, your cattle will graze in broad meadows. Isaiah 30:23

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Isaiah 55:10

 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

Rain as blessing frequents the Psalms, although Psalm 78: 47-48 provides a contrast:  Storms, at least hail and lightning can be a means of punishing God’s enemies:

During the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Ezekiel brings this word:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath, I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. Ezekiel 13:13

Ezekiel’s God can use the rain to punish as well as bless.  Just as the “day of the Lord” once meant salvation for Israel, later it meant a day of judgment, so now rain comes to warn and punish God’s people.

But in the New Testament, Jesus announces:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:45

If God sends us rain without regard for our goodness, and if we have the Weather Channel, why pray for rain?  But today with the likelihood that some drought is the result of (in part) human caused, climate change, the prayer of repentance (including changing our behavior) takes on new significance.  (The verse from Matthew focuses on how we should treat those around us, not on what we should pray about–or when we should pray.)

Reflecting on praying for rain the thought came to me:  Does “give us this day our daily bread” imply a prayer for rain?  Praying the prayer Jesus gave his disciples gives us a start with our prayer for rain.  Perhaps praying for rain is part of our regularly reporting to God what we feel our needs are, not telling God what he should do.  Maybe I can pray about rain without feeling embarrassed!

 

Moses’ farewell “song” is an excellent blessing:

May God’s teaching fall on you like rain and his words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.  [paraphrase of Deut. 32:2]

 

 

Advent:  Learning about the other side of Christmas?

Our congregation is beginning the Advent season worship observances. Do these make our Christmas different from that of the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise?  The bright side of Advent has always been well represented.  There will be candles, bright lights, “Joy to the World” and angels, all as they should be.  Most of these we see and hear when we venture outside our church or home where the world is bright with lights, filled with inflated animals, birds and machines; busy with shoppers and noisy advertisements.  How might we use Advent to make our Christmas focus different from what we see and hear at the Mall?

Mary’s Role

Perhaps to get away from the negative attitudes of neighbors who wondered why she was pregnant before marriage, Mary left Nazareth.  She traveled nearly ninety miles, perhaps by herself, probably on foot to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to exchange news of their pregnancies.  (Mary would have been six or more months pregnant by the time she returned.)  When Mary arrived, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praised God for blessing Mary as the mother of the Son of God.  Mary responded by praising God for his promise to bring salvation, to bring down the rich and powerful and to feed the hungry.   Not long after that, Mary and Joseph experienced the effect of the oppressive government.  To fund their oppression of the people of Judah, the Romans were collecting a tax that required Joseph and Mary to go to Joseph’s hometown.   They traveled ninety miles (probably more) from Nazareth east to the Jordan down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up into the hills to Bethlehem.

Jesus birth

Did nearly nine-months-pregnant Mary repeat her prophecy of the downfall of the rich and powerful of her time to Joseph as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem?  Because many people had arrived in Bethlehem for the taxing, the couple could only find shelter in an animal pen.  They may have found the warmth of animals for their comfort there or the animals may have been out in the field because it was warm at the time. Due to the Roman occupying army, Mary had none of the comforts of home, presence of family and friends and may or may not have found a midwife.  After the Jesus birth, Mary may have placed Jesus in a feed trough of stone.

The lights, bells and cheery greetings of the season as we celebrate it do not remind us of the words of Simon reported by Luke.  Simon’s words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

Herod’s role

Then after somewhat less than two years, Persian wisemen/astrologers/priests stumbled into Herod’s schemes.  A violent ruler who had killed several relatives who he feared wanted his throne, Herod saw Jesus a threat to his rule.  Jewish leaders located scripture that they probably could guess Herod would use to find and kill the child.  To try to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his throne, Herod ordered killed maybe 10 to 30 young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.  God had already warned Joseph to take his family away; so, by night they were started their trip to Egypt when the massacre happened.  For several years Jesus’ family were immigrants in Egypt.  So, Joseph, his teenage wife, and son had been away from home probably five years.  Murders, forced immigration and hardship due to the efforts of the political and religious leaders to maintain their power and privileges are nothing new.

Advent vs Christmas?

Perhaps the old Anabaptist idea of “separation from the world” needs dusted off and used here.  Perhaps our Advent observance should be used to balance the world’s (including much of contemporary Christian world’s) Christmas focus?  Maybe we need a sermon on occasion from the Revelation 12 Christmas story on the dragon and the woman.  Do we recognize that turmoil and suffering will be a byproduct of Jesus coming (and probably of our proclamation of his coming), but redemption and peace is the goal of the season?  Mary, mother of Jesus spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the poor and hungry would be cared for.  Thirty years later her Son spoke very similar words in his first sermon at Nazareth (see Luke 4).  This, too, was Jesus Advent.  Is this our Advent proclamation?

 

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How is Christ our Cornerstone?

“Christ is our cornerstone,

On Him alone we build.”

Hymnal:  Worship Book #43

            “A cornerstone is a largely ornamental architectural feature.” -Encyc. Brit. (unknown ed.)

In celebration of our church’s one-hundredeth anniversary, the pastor had carefully chiseled away the crumbling mortar from around the stone.  As people of the community, former and current church members watched, he carefully slid the stone onto the stand prepared for it.  A small metal box was removed from a recess in the stone.  From it came a few coins, a decaying newspaper and a moldy Bible.  Later, the first cornerstone was replaced with a new, hermetically sealed container with new ingredients in the recess in the stone.  In the weeks between the removal of the stone and its replacement, the church building, minus the cornerstone, stood, and the church (people)  continued normal activities.  The still functioning, cornerstone-less building remained in my memory.

Singing “Christ is our cornerstone” reminded me of the earlier experience.  Having recently studied the scripture referring to Christ as the capstone, I wondered how the capstone and cornerstone were related.  While beginning some research on this topic, I asked several people what the image suggested to them.  “Christ is the foundation, something strong and firm.” one offered.  Later she agreed that she didn’t distinguish between Christ the foundation stone, and the  corner foundation stone .  A song leader offered that “cornerstone” suggested a rock with it’s strength and solidity*.  Another said that the cornerstone was the one by which the foundation was set straight.  After these comments, I still felt the dissonance of the song and dictionary definition.  My research turned up some clarification.

In the modern era, most buildings do not have a functional cornerstone. I have not been able to find out when the load bearing function of the cornerstone ended.  I did find some information about a commercial building in Chicago (early 20th century) that was thought to be the last commercial building with a load bearing foundation.  I am still trying to find out when the “surveying” function of the cornerstones (plural) was no longer important.

During the time the Psalms were written, foundations were seldom laid with dressed or finished stone.  Rough stones were used.  For Solomon’s temple, however, dressed stones were used for the entire foundation  I Kings 7:9-10 which reports that the stones used were eight and ten cubits (12 to 15 feet) and that they were all trimmed with a saw on the inner and outer surfaces.  The first stone laid was carefully squared and finished to line up the rest of the foundation wall.  The other corners had some of the same function, but the first was the “chief” cornerstone.  The rest of the wall was laid up, often without mortar.  Fresh cut stones would dry and settle together.  Some of these foundations remain today, cut so precisely, a knife blade could not be stuck between the stones.

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. Isaiah 28:16

Since uniform, ready-made stone was not used, some irregularities would result so that the last space to be filled required a stone not exactly the size of the others.  Since this was the final stone a good fit would tie the wall together.  A stone which previously had been set aside might be used because it was an exact fit.  This was the capstone, the one that tied together the wall and fit exactly.  Laying the last stone was a ceremonial occasion as

“What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!’ Zechariah 4:7

In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as both the chief cornerstone and the capstone.

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, 1 Peter 2:6, 7

If we believe our eyes and experience, we understand that in our day, a cornerstone is a decorative repository of items from the past history of a church or other institution.  A closer look at the world of the Bible helps us see how the people of Jesus time used this image to move toward an understanding of him.  I hope this helps.

Jesus is the first stone and the last, the “tested” stone, the one that determines that the rest of the building is well-build, solid, and will stand.  He is the final stone, the one that just fits and holds the building together.

 

*The image of the cornerstone and stone or rock overlap.   I have pursued these images in another blog, “On being chips off  the old Rock.”

Stories of my Dad

Dad’s Frugality

The big three bay, bank barn held several thousand bales.   The hay wagon pushed into the center bay. Getting the bales into the side bays from the center bay required use of ropes and pulleys.  Dad was usually the one who pushed the four prongs, called “forks”, into eight bales.  A rope ran from the forks to a combination pulley on a track running the length of the barn at its peak. The other end of the rope from the forks was attached to a tractor supplying the power to pull the bales up to the track and then to one bay or the other.

I was stacking the bales in a nearly full bay. So, while waiting for the next load of bales, I sat on the ten-inch beam that was about 15 feet or so above the hay mow floor.  As the load of bales neared the top of the barn there was a crack and I felt something hit my head.  God was with me in several ways at that moment.  First, when I was hit, I did not fall forward fifteen feet onto the mow floor where there were a number of things dangerous to fall on.  Second, the place where the bolt from the fork assembly hit me—the middle of the top of my head—was less threatening than, say, my eye.  At least the bolt didn’t ruin my good looks.

The fall back onto the bales I remember, but I do not remember climbing down the ladder or walking the hundred or so yards up the hill to the house.  I do remember that as Dad and Mom cut away the hair as the blood flowed from the cut, they discussed whether to take me the fourteen miles to the doctor.  (I don’t know if there were ERs in those days or not–this would have been about 1957.)  As I remember the discussion Dad thought that since I had only a small cut (as you can see from the scar depending on how I part my hair), a trip to the doctor wasn’t necessary.  Then, too, there was hay to be made.  Neighbors or maybe a hired man were helping with the haying.  Mom was worried about my head.  At least since Dad had his way I had an excuse for whatever trouble I got into later—it was due to the hit to my head.

Funny thing is, I do not remember the accident’s aftermath:  Was I embarrassed about having a strange haircut?  Did I have a lot of pain?  How long did I get to read instead of needing to go back to helping with hay making and doing chores?  The outcome apparently was good:  no infection or other problems.

Dad was frugal.  No doctor’s bills and haymaking continued.

 

Dad’s Kindness

Dad was kind to his children.  Once he sent me with our old Case tractor (maybe a DC4) and chain saw to clear out a fence row a mile or so by road from the buildings.  As I remember this tractor, the tires were nearly as high as the driver’s shoulders and seemed higher than the hood of the tractor.  Some of you know that when a tree grows up in a fencerow, the tree often grows around the fence wire.  The wise thing to do is to start the cut above the wire so that you don’t cut into the wire.  Chain saws around 1955 were heavy and I wasn’t full grown.  So I used the manure scoop on the tractor to lift me high enough to notch the approximately twenty-inch-diameter tree.

After notching the tree, I went around to the other side of the tree where the ground was higher to drop the tree.  Just as the cut was finished, I realized the tree was falling toward the tractor.  I hadn’t moved it!

I stood there imagining I could run around the tree, start the tractor and move it, when smack, the tree hit the tractor.  What damage do you think there was?  Surprising little to the tractor.  Only the muffler and the battery were damaged.  On that model, the battery sat just in front of the steering wheel.  What happened was the tree was wish-bone shaped with branches that curved around just right to rest on the high wheels of the tractor.  This protected the tractor’s vital parts.

The greater damage may have done to my sense of well-being. My fears expanded rapidly as I walked the three-quarters of a mile across the pasture and field to the barn to get Dad to help get the tree off the tractor.  I do not remember how we got the tree off the tractor, just that dad did not make a big fuss about the cost of the damage or get mad at me for my mistake.  He was merciful.

 

Working on Sunday

 

Dad was careful not to work on Sunday.  Of course, he took care of the animals on the farm.  That was different.  Some farmers thought haymaking was in the same category and would “make” hay on Sunday; but Dad wouldn’t.  But in the Spring, though, sometimes he would work on Sunday.

We lived off the main road on a gravel road that just past our house and barn became a dirt road that got bad just past our buildings.  With no trees and low ditches the road across the creek and up the hill stayed dry.  Once over the hill there were trees close on both sides of the road and several low spots that stayed wet.  So “Sunday drivers” would zip down the gravel road past our house, over the bridge and up the hill and out of sight on the mud road.  A little later our Sunday dinner or Dad’s nap would be interrupted by a knock at the door and a stranger would inquire about help getting a car out of the mud.

Dad would agree to have dinner interrupted or to give up the nap to help the “Sunday Driver.”  But, giving that help required getting out our tractor.  We had a John Deere A 1937 with a flywheel crank start. (If you have heard the “putt-putt” John Deere, you have heard one of these.) For those who do not know about late 1930s John Deere, the flywheel was a large thick wheel (3” x 14 or 16”) attached to the left side of the tractor.  To start the tractor, one grabbed the wheel with both hands and tried to spin the wheel counter clockwise to get the engine to fire.  On rare occasion in the summertime it might start on the first spin.  Most times it took many attempts and interspersed with adjustments of the choke.  Incidentally, being able to start the JD-A was a test of manhood for a young teen.  But, starting the “A” was not a favorite Sunday activity.  I was 11-14 when these rescues happened (before the road was graveled) and I don’t think I went with Dad on any of the half-mile trips.

Dad may have commented about the emotional and mental qualities of the Sunday Drivers when he returned, but I don’t recall that.  I do remember he refused pay for the rescues. And, I remember that Dad was compassionate enough to work on Sunday even to help foolish “Sunday Drivers”.

 

Ultimate Composting: Our experience with “no-till” gardening

 

Our first attempt at a “no-till” approach to gardening in Virginia came when we arrived for a quick visit to Virginia to complete a purchase agreement on a house in June.  We purchased a sheet of plastic to cover a garden space currently in grass.  When we completed our move in mid-July, we began preparing raised beds to be ready for Fall planting.  Neighbors later told us that the former owners had spent considerable time getting the grass started during a dry period the previous year.  When we expanded the garden, we put down leaves to kill the grass.

At our current residence the grass in the backyard was in good shape.  I worked in a library giving me access to a steady supply of newspapers.  Two convenience stores and a college dining hall produced fifteen to thirty gallons of coffee grounds plus filters per week.  (Some of which was used on another garden.)  Wasteful city residents placed bags of compostables (grass clippings and leaves) at the curb for me to pick up.  (When looking for grass clippings, I watched for clover and dandelions–indicators of no weed spray.)

A fellow worker moved to a farm with a barn housing a quantity of old (5 years plus) hay.  He would drive my pickup with a rack home on Friday and return it Monday full of hay.  (Julia once said we had a yard full of hay and no cow.)  Five or six loads of broken bales of hay with the other organic matter gave us a good start on “ultimate composting”.

All of these ingredients permitted us to enrich the clay ridge we lived on.  The top soil that may have been there was probably gone before the slaves left the area.  Now there are five garden beds of sixty-six feet down to thirty feet of black soil on top of the clay.  The technique we used to improve the soil is similar to what has been called “lasagna” gardening.  The book with this title came out about time we were refining our practice of soil preparation and helped us to systematize our practice.  However, “stew” gardening seemed a better label.  My reasoning?  Mixing the materials as is done in a compost pile helps the microherd.  The microherd have little mouths/teeth and little feet.  Having both nitrogen and carbon mixed together as throughly as possible helps the microherd (bacteria, yeasts and allies) start converting the organic material into soil.  Below is a summary of the procedure which I have used with workshops on this procedure.  We used this procedure with several flower beds and to expand a food pantry garden.  The food pantry garden included patches of wiregrass which provided a constant battle during the 8-10 years of using that patch of ground.

 

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Ultimate Composting a.k.a. “lasagna”/stew gardening or  sheet composting

Why should I sheet compost?

* Enrich the soil in your garden by composting on site

* Superior to bin composting for improving soil

* Save money — purchase less topsoil, humus and peat

* Reduce tax-funded yard waste processing costs

* Protect water quality by increasing the efficiency of water and fertilizer use

What is compost?

* Dark crumbly material like top layer of soil in a forest

* Produced naturally by microbes and compost worms feeding on compost pile materials, including leaves and yard wastes from your own backyard

* A soil amendment that will improve clay or sandy soils

How does composting work?

* Composting is microbe and earthworm management

* ‘Feed’ for compost critters is material rich in carbon–fallen leaves, straw, even newspaper

* Microbes also need a source of nitrogen–green garden trimmings, manure, alfalfa, etc.

What do I need to begin?

* Manure fork or garden fork

* Newspapers soaked in water (if a new garden or if you have lots of weeds)

* Composting materials (dry leaves, garden waste, coffee grounds, peat, straw, hay, other materials)

* May need to add water

How do I begin?

Collect materials including carbon (leaves, wood chips) and nitrogen (grass, coffee grounds, manure)

  • Place 6 or more sheets of wet newspaper overlapped on sod. Cardboard can be used for fall application. (Cardboard is hard to get fully wet and to get to conform to shape of ground so that there are no spaces for weeds/grass to grow around/through.)

Spread up to 1 ft of leaves and grass clippings, shredded, packed down or up to four inches of green wood chips (in dry weather, water each layer.  2 bags leaves to 1 bag grass)

* Mix with nitrogen-rich material:

~1/2 ft or more green garden wastes); OR

~1-2 inches manure; OR

~A scattering of alfalfa meal (rabbit pellets); OR

~a few cups of organic N fertilizer (5-2-2)

[leaves alone will decompose eventually.  I am assuming you want faster breakdown]

* Add a sprinkling of finished/mature compost.

* Water to consistency of wet sponge

*Microbes get full diet quicker if you mix the different materials.

*Some recommend covering the area with porous material–burlap is best–until planting time.  (Google “Interbay” method.)

What stays out?

* Cat litter and dog droppings

* Sick plants

* Pesticide and herbicide treated plants

* Petroleum products

* coal ashes (wood ashes are good)

* Noxious weeds and weed seeds

* Oils, fats, large amounts of dairy products or meat

What about kitchen trimmings?

* Must be covered to avoid smell, insects and attracting animals.

*May introduce seeds—cover with leaves or hay to control sprouting seeds from trimmings

* Contribute valuable micronutrients to the pile

* Reduce organic wastes going to the landfill

* Add any amount on an on-going basis to composting material.

* Dig a hole or trench and put in scraps, cover with at 6″—8″ of leaves, hay, and grass, shredded paper

* Next visit, dig the hole in a different spot or cover with more dry material

 

When may I start planting?

*Best to start sheet composting in summer or fall for the next year.

*You may begin planting immediately–especially plants. Monitor plants to see that the mulch around them does not decompose and let them “high and dry”.

*You will need to put down mature compost or potting soil (soil pockets) to plant small seeds or plants.

For more detail:  https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-make-a-lasagna-garden-2539877

See the book Lasagna Gardening by Lanza (published by Rodale Press)

Also at gardenweb.com there is a lasagna gardening forum.

 

 

 

 

Singing justice for the poor: Praising God for His just acts


I proclaim the power of God: You do marvels for your servants;

Though you scatter the proud-hearted  And destroy the might of princes.

To the hungry you give food,  send the rich away ——empty.

In your mercy you are mindful  Of the people you have chosen.

Refrain: And holy is your name through all generations. (verses 2 & 3 “My Soul is Filled With Joy”. (#13 Sing the Journey). See also, “I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath” verses 2 and 3 Hymnal, a worship book #166 and “Hail, to the Lord’s Anointed” Hymnal, a worship book #185).

Where can we find similar praise to God for caring for the poor and hungry in contemporary and traditional worship music? The results of the search I’ve done show few examples of helping the marginal and bringing down the powerful in praise and worship music.   Early 2015 the Mountain States Mennonite Conference concluded an Anabaptist songwriting contest. They asked for “New songs with lyrics that espouse Anabaptist/Mennonite values: (e.g. Non-violence, love for enemy, reconciliation, communal life, etc.), musically spanning from traditional forms to non-traditional genres, styles and cultural expressions.” Specific mention of the social justice theme is not made, but perhaps it is implied in “Anabaptist/Mennonite values”. The link below identifies winners and includes their lyrics and music. One of the six mentions attention to the poor. * The 2015 Mennonite World Conference Songbook, Walking with God includes at least three of fifty-six selections that specifically praise God for his attention to the oppressed and poor. January 4, 2016, MennoMedia announced Project 606, intended to produce a new hymnal by 2020. Will this project include work on identifying elements of Anabaptist-flavored, Bible-based worship music?

 What Biblical models warrant placing a strong emphasis on praising God for social justice, especially in praise music? “Social justice” here is short hand for God’s act in delivering an immigrant/slave people from the super power of the day. It is a social act because a group of people, the children of Israel, was rescued. A new people with a new plan for living (the Torah) were established. God’s rescue of an oppressed people was “just” because it showed God’s love and mercy, not because Jacob’s descendants deserved it.

The contest (see above) reminded me of my quest of some years to find references to discipleship in worship music, narrowed here to social justice. Some 40 years ago I had a period of illness that resulted in a significant loss of hearing. Gradually I lost additional hearing until today I am nearly deaf. Hearing aids and now a cochlear implant. Cochlear implants are engineered to help with the hertz range of conversation level, but do not cover high and low notes of music. So, I give my attention to the words of the song. This has led me to ask questions about the theology behind the music used in worship. As a non-musician I make no claim to expertise in evaluating musical quality of any of the songs mentioned. I need a welcome help in identifying the quality of lyrics and music featuring attention to God’s interest in the oppressed.

Worship music in the evangelical churches I am familiar with usually includes what can be categorized loosely as contemporary Christian music (CCM), traditional hymns, and gospel songs. These types of music have some overlap. I will not attempt to fully distinguish between them. Each type has its focus. They are not fully listed here. Contemporary and traditional music praises God for many attributes and deeds, gives many invitations for re-dedication to Christian living, and rejoices in the promise of future life with God, but seldom praises God for concern for the poor and oppressed. My focus on the marginalized in this essay is very narrow.

Christian contemporary music

Several writers have noted the lack of attention to social justice issues in CCM. Jay Howard writes: “There are few [contemporary Christian worship] songs concerned with social justice because there are few songwriters from the Anabaptist tradition.” He analyzes 77 Contemporary Worship Songs –those most frequently requested of the licensing service CCL–and finds only one that gives direct attention to social justice issues. John L. Bell, songwriter argues that CCM is mainly about the birth and death of Jesus and ignores his life. Have I missed some CCM titles that give attention to Jesus’ life, especially to his attention to the poor, the widow, and the outsider?

 Traditional ‘gospel songs’ and hymns

Praise and thanksgiving in traditional hymns and gospel songs (I will not define these here, but look at that category the Mennonite Hymnal for examples) give little attention to social justice. “Gospel songs” are strong in their emphasis on grace, God/Jesus’ companionship and love. I have not found any of these that praise God for his love and care of the “widow and fatherless”. There are a number of hymns in Hymnal, a Worship Book (HWB), that include an interest in the poor and oppressed and justice for them. One that praises God for this attention is “I’ll Praise My Maker”, verses three and four (HWB, #166). Some encourage us to follow Jesus’ example in caring for the marginalized. Did I miss hymns that specifically praise God/Jesus as Miriam and Mary did for God’s championing of the oppressed?

Models and sources:

The preliminary Biblical models I would propose for praise songs are Miriam’s song (Exodus 15) and Mary’s song in Luke 1. The book of Psalms was Israel’s “praise and worship” book. That requires some attention to psalms that praise God for his attention to disadvantaged and those who prey on them.

Miriam’s Song

While God the warrior image usually makes Anabaptist uncomfortable, God is first called holy when he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptian cavalry and foot soldiers.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you?—majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?
 You stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them. (Ex. 15:11-12 (New English Translation)

God is praised for delivering the immigrant/slaves God chose to become his covenant people.

 

The Psalms

In his work on the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann says that the things we praise God for shows the way we view the world and our place in it.  Many Psalms praise God (see also Miriam’s Song) for delivering a slave/immigrant people from the Egyptian superpower whose religion favored politically powerful and the rich. We are sometimes tempted to assign God’s action here to a special category, rather than see it as a model of what God does.  Psalmists praise God (and kings) for their concern for the poor and marginalized.  God is praised for being a just judge and for making wars cease.  See the following Psalms: 9, 10, 29, 35, 65, 66, 68, 69, 72, 74, 81, 82, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 102, 103, 105,106, 107, 109, 123, 124, 135, 136, 139, 140, 146.

Phrases from Psalms 72 and 146 capture a king’s and God’s attitude and action and are characteristic of the other Psalms:

 

Ps. 72: The King:

— takes pity on the weak and the needy
— saves the needy from death.
rescues them from oppression and violence,
— for precious is their blood in his sight.

Ps. 146. The Lord

–upholds the cause of the oppressed
–gives food to the hungry.
–sets prisoners free,
gives sight to the blind,
— lifts up those who are bowed down,
— loves the righteous.
watches over the foreigner
–sustains the fatherless and the widow,
–frustrates the ways of the wicked

Praise the Lord.

Repeatedly God gives attention to the oppressed and provides security and safety to victims of violence. To what extent should words and phrases like these from the Psalms be present in our worship music?

 Prophets

Attention to the needs of the orphan/widow/poor is identified more with prophets than the Psalms and I was pleased to find significant attention to this topic in the Psalms. Prophetic critiques of worship do not contain comments on purity of sacrifices, social justice content of Psalms or the quality or frequency of Psalm recitation. The prophetic critiques point out that Sabbath worship by the people of the covenant should be reflected in covenant behavior during the week.

Mary, Jesus, Paul

Mary’s prophetic vision of her son’s work is captured in the song “My Soul is Filled With Joy”. (#13, Sing the Journey, verses 2 and 3 above). Jesus inaugural sermon repeats these themes.

The prophetic focus is reflected in Paul’s statement in Romans 12:1-2:  “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering [as your worship]. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (The Message-my emphasis). Perhaps an important aim of worship music should be to help us connect thanksgiving and praise with covenant living.

Today our world is one of increasing disparity in wealth. God’s rescue of an immigrant/slave people makes clear to us what kind of God he was/is. Jesus affirmed this nature in his work and teaching by giving significant focus to healing, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. Can God’s people today teach and act less like the world and more like our lord? Are there songwriters addressing this need?

 

Miriam’s Song, many Psalms, the prophets’ reminders all tell us that connecting worship and living is crucial.   The New Testament contributions of Mary’s song, Jesus life and teaching, and Paul’s take on worship in Romans 12 all point to the worship-discipleship-concern for poor and marginalized as an essential element in our praise and life. I have found very few songs in CCM and “gospel songs” with this focus and only a few in traditional hymns that praise God as a champion of the down and out. (Perhaps additional research and help from knowledgeable persons will locate songs with a social justice focus.) Eugene Peterson’s (The Message) take on Psalms 65:1 provides an appropriate conclusion:

Silence is praise to you,
Zion-dwelling God,
And also obedience.
You hear the prayer [praise] in it all.

 

*Text and music of six winners can be found at:

http://www.anabaptistsongwritingchallenge.org/

 

Thanks to Julia H. Alleman and Ray E. Horst for sharing their music knowledge with me.


My original  This blog has been reposted to allow comments such as

Kate Kortemeier has listed many excellent songs and hymns that reflect in various ways a concern for the poor and oppressed that is part of the Anabaptist tradition. (“Anabaptist music” Letters, The Mennonite 21 No. 4, April 2018).  My blog at https://uplandweb.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/singing-justice-for-the-poor-looking-for-anabaptist-flavored-worship-music/ ” will be reposted to clarify its focus on praising God for his work in caring for the poor and oppressed. Kate, will you (or anyone) list there examples of the emphasis on social justice in contemporary worship music?  Additional discussion appreciated.

                                                                                                                             

 

 

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Fear and trembling?: Easter reflections

Should we come in fear and trembling

Our first sisters imitate?

Should we come in doubt and torment

Like disciples look to hide?

Ask for nail scars, finger spear slash?

Wait for ghost to slide through wood?

 

Should we come in cheer and gladness,

New traditions legislate?

Sunrise breakfast at mid-morning

Gowned or sashed in joyful hue.

Flower deck our place of gathering,

Easter lilies, tulips, too?

Four part anthems, special music,

Happy greetings, family gatherings,

Bunnies, eggs, then ham at noon,

Marking Resurrection Day?

 

First disciples still our models,

First experience our guide?

Riding high on giant’s shoulders?

Celebrators’ modern pride?

 

Should we come in fear and trembling,

Law and prophets comtemplate?

Till our hearts begin the burning

Till the bread is broken new?

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