Basil bounty, plundered peperomia My plant rescue hobby

At the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale you can buy plants people donate.  Some plants come unlabeled or lose their labels.  Others are lack appeal (poorly presented, not healthy looking, etc.).  Plants that do not sell by Saturday afternoon are sent to Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg .  I have been offered peace lilies, wax plants (hoya), peperomia and others that are unlikely to sell at the store.  I get a lot of satisfaction in restoring these to health.

Last fall the peperomia (couldn’t tell what it was when I first saw it) had two leaves at the top of a 6″ stem.  There seemed to be life in the plant.  So, I cut off one stem just above what appeared to be a bud and put the the stem in water to root.  Soon I had plants that looked like the picture on the left.  When the stem sent out a new shoot, I cut off the other one and placed it in water also.  A month later the plant looked like the picture on the right.  I sent the picture to Garden Web where I found out that I had a peperomia.  The first plant has gone to Gift and Thrift for sale, the second from the rooted cuttings is still in my sun room.

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Basil bounty

The plant sale was over.  Upwards of 20 dozen 4″ pots of basil plants remained.  Since the Community Center did not want to care for them or have another sale, they chose the compost pile solution.  I determine to rescue as many as possible..  I took 3 or 4  flats and prepared them for the Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg where I volunteer.  When these were nearly gone, I went back to Our Community Center and they still had 3 or 4 more flats of basil plants.  I called Gift and Thrift and suggested they reduce the price.  Then I started cutting out all but one plant in each pot (there had been 5 or more) and fertilizing the plants.   When sales nearly stopped, I still had around 7 dozen plants.  So, I gave some to neighbors, then took some to church to give away. I heard a group was starting a community garden.  They accepted nearly 4 dozen pots.  Now, 6 weeks after the sale, I am down to 5 dozen pots of 6″ plants.  Of those,  21 will go to Patchwork (food) Pantry next Wednesday.  Then I will only have 42 plants left!

A bee in my bonnet

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Bee balm

The small plant in a big pot stumped me for the first year.  I set the pot in a sheltered place for the winter hoping it was frost hardy.  The second year in the pot it had one small bloom which I did not recognize.  Since it was growing well, I set it in the ground the next spring.  By mid-June I had the plant you see above and a friend helped me identify it as a new type of dwarf bee balm (Monarda).  A nice reward for patience (perhaps a balm for my impatience).

Peace with the cat

I am a peace advocate. and I like peace lilies.  When my last peace lily looked good, I reluctantly donated  it to the  Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.  I was pleased it brought a good price.  The next year three single stem peace lilies came to  Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg from the sale.  I dumped out the three, preparing to create a new potting.  They had been potted in clay and none had good roots.  I set them in a 6′ pot.  After a period, two of them died.  So I repotted the remaining one in a smaller plant in a better potting soil (after checking the Internet).  After “sulking” for awhile on a shaded patio for the summer, it finally began growing.  Two years later it is a healthy looking plant and I expect a white spathe any time.  The plant would look better if our daughter’s cat had not nibbled on several leaves.  I have talked to several cat owners who have agreed that peace lilies may be especially tasty to cats.  Now to find a way to make peace between the plant and Feliz the cat!

 

 

Exodus to exile

Isaiah 40 : Preparing for the suffering servant

For a people who have been torn from their homeland, their center of worship and perhaps from their God, comfort was needed. So, the prophet begins Isaiah 40 with assurance that their punishment is over, that Yahweh is coming to them with mercy. The Hebrews need to be reminded what their God is doing. The Hebrews that the prophet was writing to, were captives. While one need not think of the Hebrews being in a refugee camp (remember Jeremiah’s instructions to “seek the peace of the city …”) their situation was not pleasant. So the prophet begins his messages with words of comfort.

The New Exodus theme appears a number of places in chapters 40-55 of Isaiah. But Chapter 40 does not make a return to Judea explicit. Israel is told that they will not need to do the fighting to defeat. Just like at the Red Sea, God clears the way. Instead of water pushed aside, roads will be straightened, hills leveled, and valleys filled in to make the journey easier. According to The Message, rocks and ruts will be removed. But, wait— God is coming to His people! That is the way his glory will be revealed.

Then in verse ten the prophet declares what God will do when he arrives. “He is going to pay back his enemies.” There is little detail about the when/how/what of that payback. In contrast with that image of God, the next of God’s word through the prophet returns to the spirit of the first verses of the chapter with the gentle shepherd image.

Acknowledging the God of Judah and Babylon

The prophet’s listeners may have experienced the harrowing journey to Babylon (900 miles-on foot?) or maybe their children heard the stories that were passed down to them. God’s promise to clear the way and take care of the enemy contrasted with what happened about seventy years earlier. The contrast appears also with the Psalm 137 tells us they refused to sing songs of Zion and Ezekiel found a valley of dry bones. So in verses 12-17 the prophet forcefully reminds the Hebrews of their foundational belief in a Creator God of the entire universe. This was not just a God of Judah. Their God is present and in control in Babylon as well.  Then the prophet contrasts God with human creations called gods. Verses 21-24 describe how God maintains the universe. In various ways the power of God over the whole world is emphasized.

Waiting for strength

The first and last sections of Isaiah 40 are the most familiar ones of the chapter due to familiar songs based on them. The “wait” songs should remind us of the connection between 40:28 and 40:31. Both contain the words “weary” and “faint”. Humans may be weary or faint, but God is always strong. In other passages the word, “wait” nearly always comes as a command from God in the context of violence by evil humans.  The “wait” verses in Psalms and the prophets, the oppressors of the poor, weak, or oppressed may have been fellow Hebrews. Here, those waiting to be rescued from the oppressor are all people of God. Here they are given assurance God will be the one to defeat the oppressor. God’s people will be given youthful, eagle-like strength to return to covenant living as God deals with the enemy. But the explicit return to Judah is not made.

Given the beginning of the Isaiah 40, one might assume that the author is encouraging the travelers headed from Babylon to Jerusalem. But could the author’s audience be the Hebrews who stayed in Babylon (were they a majority of the Hebrews)? Next we need to ask, for what are God’s people to wait? The first verses of the chapter suggest a road or path is being prepared. But even though the prophet mentions Jerusalem, I don’t find the text making the return to Judah the focus. Due to the use of Handel’s Messiah, “Comfort ye”, “He shall lead his flock” and “And the glory”, we think of Isa. 40 as a Christmas passage. But Isaiah 40 may be leading us toward Easter. Isaiah 41-53 tells us about the suffering servant. But if we are to think of the suffering servant “waiting,” that seems at odds to “rising up with wings like eagles”. Perhaps Isaiah 40 points toward the suffering servant looking forward to the vindication of his/their suffering.

Waiting On God An exploration of the basis for the new testament peace witness in the first (old) testament

The Psalmist counsels us “wait on the Lord”! What do you think of or imagine yourself doing in response to this counsel? In what situations have you recalled passages from the Bible that include this phrase? In the passages below, what is the context of the word “wait” or “waiting”? In the past I have thought of “waiting” as suggesting prayer and meditation. Is this made explicit in the text?

For the subjects of the Psalm, what would be the alternative to “waiting”? What more than prayer in suggested by “waiting”? How often does the “waiting” command come in the context of violence? What is the significance of this?

Psalm 33:  16-22

16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 37:(5-9) 14-15, 32-34

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

(See below for a list of similar passages*)

In Psalm 33 use of the word “wait” is preceded by description of violence against the people of God. (“Whether the king is to use his great army or not is not clarified.) Action by God’s people is not needed. Waiting leads to affirmation of God’s presence and control of the situation. Note the words “help”, “trust”, “hope” as helper words for “wait”.

In Psalm 37 the situation is bleak. Not just the people of God are the target of the forces of evil, but specifically “the poor and needy”. Violence is what evil people do. In the end “the wicked [will be] cut off”. The people of God “wait” and “keep his way”. Keeping God’s way (v. 34) refers to covenant/Torah behavior. In Isaiah 40, the setting is a bit different. While in these Psalms there is the implication that God will overpower the enemy or the evil Hebrews, that is not as clear in Isa.40:28-31. Is the vindication of the “suffering servant” what one is to wait for?  (See my blog on Isa. 40, “Exodus to Exile”)

Waiting and then what?

Are these “wait” passages behind Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:19 and following? “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19 with Deut. 32:35)? How is Paul’s reminder related to the need to wait? The normal response to violence is vengeance.  Note surrounding the “vengeance” command we are encouraged to “love”, “seek peace”, and “feed” [your] enemy”. Here we have some of the things from the life and teachings of Jesus that are to the focus the people of God while waiting for God to act.

The “First” Testament basis for the peace understanding of Anabaptists needs further exploration. While there is much violence found in the first testament, the new testament affirms the contrasting thread lifted out here that calls for us to wait on God. From God comes protection and vengeance/justice.

 

*Similar passages are:  Psalm 25:1-5, Psalm 27: 11-14, Psalm 62:1-7 (See also, Psalm 40:1-3—no suggestion of violence in this passage), Psalm 130:1-6, Proverbs 20:22, Lamentations 3:13-26, Isaiah 30:15-18 (the word “rest” is used in this passage), Micah 7:2-3, 7; Isaiah 40:28-31 (God has just “rescued” Israel from Babylon), Isa. 64:1-4, Zephaniah 3:8

Related concept:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Terminating mother

Having all the sweet potatoes slips I need signals the end of main planting season.  Now I must decide what to do with the “mother” that has produced all the sweet potato slips.

Sweet potatoes are not one of my favorite foods. I grow them because I have read that they are one of the most productive of nutrients per square foot.  Further, they are satisfying to grow:  seeing the rapid sprouting of new slips from the “mother”, watching the running of the vines and then lifting the orange or purple tubers in early October (we are in zone 6 at 1500 feet in western Virginia).  The June 10 late planting date approaches.  The tub of moss and vermiculite that I buried the tubers in proved a good incubator for all the new plants I need.   I have the two dozen or so plants potted for myself, plus more to sell at the local Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg.

Sweet potato slips may be purchased at the local hardware store and some greenhouses or ordered from a number of sources.  Common varieties available are Beauregard, Centennial, Georgia Jet and Porto Rico.  The Sand Hill Preservation Center carries many more, listing white, purple, yellow, orange, short vine, long season and other types of  sweet potatoes.  I have been growing a split leaf variety of sweet grown and preserved for many years (she didn’t know how many) by Esther Shank, compiler of Mennonite Country-Style Recipes.  I got the sweet potato slips from her when we worked together at the Gift & Thrift store.  To try to identify the Shank heirloom, I have worked through the Sand Hill online catalog and located six split leaf sweets of the right vine length, season length, and with orange skin and flesh.  I can say they are a tasty sweet potato that keeps well.  Not as large as Beauregard, perhaps, but sufficiently productive to keep us in sweet potatoes until May.

Ending the first planting season

Sprouts are still emerging from the sweet.  How do I give thanks for the mother tuber’s productivity of slips but by finishing the job and moving on to the potting?  I had buried the sweet in vermiculite and moss producing good “dirt roots”.  So why, one might ask, is potting necessary?  I have relatively limited space, so I have a form of double cropping.  .  As peas—planted in the middle of my four-foot wide beds—are declining, I push aside the mulch nearer the edges and set in the sweet potato plants.  Planting is usually two weeks later than if I had enough space to plant peas and sweet potatoes in separate beds.  So, the potted sweets have good roots when set in the ground and take off with little stress.  This year we were traveling until March 6, so did not get our peas in the ground early, so there is even more overlap.

Corn’s up, the snap peas are reaching the top of the fence, pole limas show the first signs of “running”, green beans look ready to send out blossoms, first tomatoes are swelling, peppers have blossoms and cabbages are big enough to cut.  It’s the lull before produce starts becoming the “burden” we love.  The heat this week will wilt the lettuce, send the arugula and mustard to flower and turn the spinach bitter.  We will still have Swiss chard, though, and maybe the “summer” lettuce can be shaded and watered enough to show its superiority to store-bought.

This year I don’t have someone else to give the mother to.  Why do I find difficult slicing   the “Original Sweet Potato” in pieces?  Partly because there are still a number of new sprouts showing on the tuber.  Terminating the mother, even more than giving her away, sets the end to the main planting season.  Then, too, I enjoy the starting of plants and of the garden, more than the maintaining.  This “pioneering” inclination of mine is an annoyance to my gardening partner.  She would like to see me equally engaged in the watering, weeding and harvesting aspects of gardening.

Giving thanks to God for the soil, the rain and strength to plant.  Looking forward (with a non-ground hog summer) to a bountiful sweet potato harvest.

New life: Connecting a death and an amaryllis

Making the most of a fascinating coincidence

This week a friend died.

She brought joy to many with her humor and sparkling laugh. She brightened the world around her. Over a year ago, after her amaryllis had bloomed, our friend had passed on to us the spent bulb hoping we could find new life in it.

Last fall when I brought in amaryllis plants so that they would bloom at Christmas time, I missed one. Usually a bulb left in the ground over the winter in western Virginia will freeze and no longer be viable. In late April when I was pushing back mulch to plant green beans, I saw the green leaves of an amaryllis. Later, when beans were sending out their second and third full-sized leaves and we saw buds emerging between the amaryllis leaves.

For some time she had been eagerly looking forward to her new life with Jesus.

This week a bright white double amaryllis blossom opened.

 

amaryllis

Not Just for Preachers — Living our call in all of life

Our small church was in a time of leadership transition and the overseer was visiting. He asked me if I had a call to serve the church.  I was in my forties and had thought about the question and responded to what I sensed was his question: “I have not identified within myself a leading of the spirit to the pulpit ministry.” He asked no further questions.   He didn’t seem interested in my struggle with how I could best serve God in the church and beyond. Sometime later a young man from the congregation began pastoral leadership in our congregation. We were discussing some issue and he responded that his views should have greater weight because he had been ‘called.’ Later a friend reminded me that Paul’s lists of qualification for ministry do not include having a CALL.

First look at call

You have all been called to follow Christ. Just as Jesus called disciples and the Spirit called Paul at Damascus, everyone hearing the gospel has a call to follow and serve Jesus. Most Christians would agree with these two sentences. [This use of the word call will appear in lower case letters.]   In the Bible there are many ordinary uses of the word “call” such as “request to come” or to give someone a name. Paul uses the word ‘call’ refer to the spirit’s leading or God’s encouraging us to follow Jesus. For example:

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 1Th 4:7

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2)

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 2Pet.1:10

We are all called to become Christ ‘s followers. Our call includes doing as Jesus’ disciples did, whether it is holding the baskets to collect the leftovers after the feeding of the 5,000 or going to the village for food while Jesus talked to a woman of Samaria or going out like the seventy-two to announce the coming of the kingdom. As Paul was directed to take the gospel to the gentiles, our call also includes making tents while talking about Jesus to shoppers.

CALL as a special experience

At one point the Mennonite Church had a program to address our concern over the lack of candidates for pastoral office. “Culture of CALL” initiative encourages people with pastoral and administrative skills to consider church ministry, usually on a full-time basis. Historical shifts of the past century (status and difficulties of church workers, a shift away from use of the lot, and perhaps opening of the pastorate to women (and probably other factors) have affected the drawing of young people to church work. But if everyone is called, why are we speaking of CALL in the specific sense regarding Christians entering church offices? What is the origin of the use of the word ‘call’ to mean a special leading of the spirit to service and leadership in the church. Almost always people experiencing a CALL in this sense are already Christians. [I will use the CALL to indicate this specific use.]

The word call in the Bible

Gospel writers sometimes use the word ‘call’ in reporting Jesus’ inviting the disciples to follow him. Paul does refer to himself as being called to be an apostle in the salutation of two letters

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Ro 1:1.) Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, (1Co 1:1)

Are these references to Paul’s Damascus experience? Was that a conversion experience, a vocation change invitation or both? Prior to his ‘call’ was he (were the disciples) a follower(s) of Christ? Paul, in discussing the office of elder/bishop/overseer and deacons, does not list “call” as one of the qualifications. These servants of the church, of course, had a call that led to their salvation. One passage that includes both the word call and speaks of church offices is Eph. 4.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Eph. 4:1

In Acts 13:2 we are told that the Spirit has “called” Barnabas and Paul to a particular task. Does this imply a lifetime leading? When speaking of the leading of the spirit to church office, the Paul does not use the word ‘call’. Is the pattern of use of the word ‘call’ in the New Testament reflected in our use today?

Finally, Paul uses the word church, ecclesia, as the distinctive term for followers of Jesus. This word is defined as the “called out ones”

Uses of the term CALL in the church

The probable origin of the use of the word CALL for full time church workers is the development of a two-tiered spirituality after the establishment of the state church under Constantine. According to this tradition, Jesus had a special spiritual vocation/calling as Messiah. Since it was his ‘vocation’ to suffer and die, the events of his life are not a norm or example for us to follow. Some Christians like Jesus have a ‘spiritual’ rather than a temporal or secular vocation and receive a special “call.”   These are the people who become priests and nuns. The laity did not need to follow Christ closely in spirituality, direction for Christian service or service in the military. Priests, for instance, were expected to be pacifists, but not the average Christian. At the time of the Reformation, some claimed that only the ordained were CALLED and part of the church.   Taking issue with this separation of life into secular and spiritual, Anabaptist sought to recover the sense of following Christ in all of our lives. They insisted that those called were to follow Christ in ‘churchly’ activities, work and all of our daily lives.

The word CALL identifies the leading of the spirit, the thinking of the individual and counseling by other Christians directed toward individuals considering full time work in the church, especially the pastorate. This term is generally not used for those who are considering other careers or occupations.     (Some have worked to extend this sense of a special leading of the Spirit to all work situations.) I wonder if this focus places unnecessary stresses both on those considering church work and on those considering secular jobs?   For those with gifts and skills suitable for the pastorate or full time church work, there is pressure to expect a high intensity and memorable experience (probably datable) of the Spirit’s leading to full time church work. On the other hand, devout followers of Christ seeking the leading of the Spirit for work direction or job change who desire to serve God in their work and in their non-vocational time may wonder how God leads them differently. Does using the impetus of the concept of CALL accomplish in a scripturally sound way (as interpreted above) the important job of encouraging individuals into missionary or pastoral positions? If we used “call” in the scriptural sense for persons entering “secular” work would they better understanding that work as a way of serving Christ?

Living out our call

Let’s find ways of encouraging and aiding people making decisions about their life’s work. Initial career choice or later changes are major life milestones at which fellow Christians should provide support for one another.   Finding a job in which we can honor and glorify God requires the spirit’s leading within us, as well. To cooperate with the spirit’s leading and to work with the spirit in aiding all Christians in career choice, we should affirm that

  1. Serving the church/extend the kingdom is an important responsibility of all Christians.
  2. Serving Christ in one’s vocation is part of every Christian’s calling.
  3. Encouraging fellow Christians to make the best use of their gifts is an important task for the people of God.
  4. Challenging jobs such as the full-time pastorate or outreach in difficult areas may require encouragement from others, and extra prayer and courage by the one making the choice.

God’s call comes to all people. Those who respond are called to salvation and a life of serving God. Let those who answer God’s call live all their life in response to the call.

Saving books

Old books

“Do you have any old books?  I need a gift for my fiancee.”  That was one of the stranger requests that we’ve received at Booksavers of Virginia.  The customer told us his fiancee just liked old books and  he wasn’t sure if she liked more than the look of them.  That solved a problem for us.  I was working on a Luther Bible in German script without a title page, probably from the eighteenth century.  I had not been able to identify any distinguishing features of the Bible to permit us to list the Bible on Amazon.  The book was about three inches thick, by six wide by nine long.  The leather cover was well-preserved with five raised bands on the spine.  There was only limited foxing (brown spots) on the pages.  When the groom-to-be saw the Bible on the shelf in its warm brown leather binding with only “attractive” wear, he was sure that his fiancee would be happy with the gift.  (I don’t remember the price, but it was more than $50).

Our work

Booksavers of Virginia is part of Gift & Thrift of Virginia.  We are part of the Mennonite Central Committee network of stores that raise funds for famine and disaster relief and for development work, mostly overseas.  Most of the books, DVDs, and CDs posted to Amazon fall in the seven to fifteen dollar range.  Many have UPCs and ISBNs and are easily identified.  My work is with the items that do not have these numbers and often requires a good bit of research.  All of the items mentioned above are donated.  Those not posted on Amazon may be displayed for sale in the retail store.  Books and magazines not sold are sold to paper recyclers.

Another old book I worked on was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century Bible with local newspaper clippings of births and deaths. It had no title page and was destined for recycling.  The manager said, “Let’s put it on the [in store] silent auction.  Maybe someone will want it for the local information.”  Result:  $90.  In the electronic age I am amazed that we still receive books for which I cannot find electronic records.  Recently I process an autobiography of a pilot who had lived just down the road (north) the road in Basye, Va.  He had piloted private planes for famous personalities in film, sports and politics.  None of the standard book sources or variations of Google searches turned up a record of the book.

Other languages

Due to several retirement villages in the area, plus three higher education institutions and numerous immigrants, we receive donations of many non-English language items.  I’ve discovered you can find Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people in Farsi, that there is a language called Catalan (formerly thought a Spanish dialect) and that a 1986 book in Russian published in Azerbaijan is barely understandable by a young (Russian speaking) Ukrainian.  When a cookbook in a southeast Asian language (I thought) arrived, none of us could find anything in the book to determine its origins.  So, I took it to a Laotian restaurant to ask for help.  When the cook looked at it, she said, “Oh, yes, this is Laotian country cooking”.  (I remembered seeing French words in a menu in an upscale Laotian restaurant, so I guessed I knew what she meant.)  Then she said, “How much do you want for the book?”  I admitted I had no idea of its value.  I told her the book was to be sold for disaster and famine relief, including funding for refugee camps in Southeast Asia.  We agreed on $10 or $15, I believe.   Five years or so later, she bought another Laotian cookbook.

Valuable books

Bunyan’s Holy War in German script?  Photos from a famous nightclub in New York in the late thirties?  A compendium on the fur trade in North America?  All these and more have come through Booksavers and valued at $500 or more.  The photo album sold for $1200.  A devotional book from the eighteenth century may have been worth more.  It contained an 1742 Luther Bible, a shorter catechism, an early devotional work and a special Psalter.  These were specially bound together in leather with an intact metal clasp.  We were unable to get full value for the volume because of the difficulty of describing the different parts.  Value is not always measured in dollars.  The manager fielded a call from Texas about a cookbook.  The caller asked about particular pages and recipes.  Then they ordered the book, saying their copy of the cookbook was lost in a flood and they valued the recipes it contained.

 

 

Singing justice for the poor: Looking for Anabaptist-flavored worship music

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)

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 informs 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.

 

 

Favorite hymns

 

“I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath” (HWB#166) and “My soul is filled with joy” include praise for God for his lifting up the poor and pulling down the powerful. So, that’s why I list them first, although the rest of this list is not necessarily in order of my sense of their importance.

 

The chair where I sit for morning devotions faces just north of east so that more than half of the mornings during the year I probably could see the sunrise. That feeds my love of sunrises and a preference for the hymns “I owe the Lord a morning song”( HWB#651) and “When morning gilds the skies 1. The latter sticks in my memory from a theme song of a 1960s radio program, a favorite of my mother’s.

 

Since the question of favorite hymns was raised at Thanksgiving and since I spend a lot of time in the garden (or thinking about it), I must list “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground” (HWB#96).   I list this one even though I know my favorites will vary by season. The place I find myself in my spiritual pilgrimage influences my preference for songs. Recently at church we sang “I sought the Lord” (HWB#506) and that provided the help I needed at the time which music has frequently done. (Once during a period of distress I was given words and a tune for my encouragement. I wrote down the words, but the tune I heard in my head required more of a musician to put on paper. Julia suggested that maybe if she put her head close enough to mine she could hear the tune, too.)

 

In addition to looking for songs about God’s justice I have been looking for songs that see grace for the journey as important as grace for the destination. The third verse of “Amazing grace” “Through many dangers toils and snares, I have already gone” 2 does that for me. Finally, I enjoy the sustenance of “My shepherd shall supply my need”HWB#589. In addition I recommend that everyone write their autobiography outlined by the last phrase of this hymn, “no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.” I may have listed less that ten hymns, but my preferences change with seasons of the year and of my life. As I looked up the numbers for the hymns above I saw many that have been my “favorites” at various times. And, I am still searching for more songs praising God for justice.

 

1 http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/When_Morning_Gilds_the_Skies/

 

David Alleman

Nov. 27, 2016

                                                                                                                             

 

Dirty Trees

“Why would anyone plant catalpa (bean) and walnut trees in their back yard?” we asked when we saw the blossoms, beans, walnuts and stemmy leaves in our back yard. Just after we moved to 245 Union Street in April, the catalpa tree was ready to drop its blossoms. Later that summer the nine to eighteen inch beans occasionally dropped and with them catalpa worms (two or more inches long). The rest of the huge beans dropped throughout the fall and winter.

A black walnut, the other tree in the back yard kept a lilac from blooming and killed some eggplant and tomato plants that were just beyond the drip line (we thought) of the tree. We didn’t have time that fall to use the walnuts, so the leaves and the nuts were an additional nuisance.

We had two dirty trees in our back yard of our new home.

By the next spring, we were settled into our house. Neither the kitchen nor dining room had a good view. From the closed-in, but un-insulated porch we could see some flowerbeds, part of the garden and until the trees leafed out, the sunrise.  Because the two trees leafed out late the sun warmed the porch. During the spring the porch was a pleasant place to eat lunch. As summer neared and the catalpa and walnut trees leafed out, they provided cooling shade for lunchtime or for times when we could sit and read. That fall, also, during our breakfast time the sun shone through the leafless trees to the unheated back porch. That fall the walnut drop seemed less of a problem because we found a man with a mechanical walnut huller who would hull our walnuts and buy the ones we didn’t want.

So, over time, we realized the ‘dirty trees’ were a blessing. During the spring, they leafed out later than other trees. In the fall, dropped their leaves earlier than most trees. But we enjoyed their shade during the summer. We might have had the trees cut down (as did the people who owned the house after we sold) but as first-time home owners we couldn’t afford it.

How often have I just seen ‘dirty trees’ when I looked at people or reacted to events in my life? Do I focus on beans, bugs and nuts (“dirt”) and miss the gift of shade? As I thought about our changing views of walnuts and catalpas, I thought about how I have responded to the trees based on first impressions/outward appearances. Do I do this with trees and people?

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

Composting and Grace

Thinking about the Way of God

Weather and schedule permitting, I begin my monthly composting cycle by picking up five to ten bags of grass clippings or leaves along the street near my home. I spread these yard wastes in thin layers in the collection area near my compost bin. Nearby I store the coffee grounds I have collected at a local convenience stores and shredded paper from work. Soon I have enough materials to fill my one-pallet by two-pallet bin.

From my collection area, I estimate that I am mixing two parts of carbon or brown matter to one part of green or nitrogen. When I do not have enough leaves (browns) to mix with the yard or kitchen trimmings(greens), I use shredded office paper. For greens I usually have some household wastes (vegetable only) and in the summer, garden trimmings to add to the grass clippings. In the winter, I add coffee grounds (brown-colored, but a green with as much nitrogen as manure which the local convenience store furnishes at the rate of five gallons a day. Then comes a sprinkling of mature compost from the previous batch that was too coarse to go through my 1/2” screen. This compost inoculates the new material with the microorganisms that will speed decomposition. To moisten the materials, I sprinkle the pile with water from my rain barrels. I continue to add more grass and other wastes, then water the mix until the pile is three to four feet high.

During the next weeks the temperature nears 140°. I take a half inch, six foot-long rod and poke holes in the pile from top to bottom to provide oxygen. If I have not lined the bin with plastic, I occasionally water the pile to help maintain a moist environment which the micro-organisms need to break down the vegetable matter. I scrounge agricultural plastic from farmer friends to loosely cover the pile, keeping it moist in the summer and warmer in the winter.

If I see that the composting has not reached the outer layer, I fork the material from one bin to another, being careful to move the outer matter to the inside of the new pile. Dry matter gets watered as I mix it. This mixing provides an additional benefit of an hour or so of vigorous exercise and time to think.

As I lean on my fork I imagine that my composting mirrors the grace of God working in our lives. My compost pile contains other peoples’ garbage: Leaves and grass clippings. I have added the zuchini that stayed in the refrigerator too long, cabbage that the worms wasted, corn stalks from which we have harvested yellow, juicy ears, tomatoes that I neglected to harvest promptly. God takes the remains of one growth cycle, the scraps, the worn out parts, and the prunings of excess growth and mixes them together. He takes the garbage that life dumps on us and adds the air and moisture needed to activate the change. The material that God changes provides benefits for the next stage of growth. Maybe God, the composter, models for us a way of dealing with life. If you make garbage of your life, God will help you make compost or If life brings you garbage, make compost.

Children understand this concept when I have talked to their classes. Tough second and third grade boys enjoy taking deep whiffs of the old kitchen wastes in the bucket I set in the dark next to one of compost. They enjoyed the feel of the compost and some offered to run their hands through the garbage as well. I told them: Sometimes you make a mess of a project at home, an assignment at school or a friendship. Sometimes the garbage is dumped on you, sometimes you make it yourself. God can help you change this garbage into something like compost; something to help you grow when the next opportunity comes along.

“Bioremediation” is s variation of the composting process. Contaminated soil is mixed with wood chips and poultry litter and allowed to heat to above one-hundred and forty degrees. After several months of cooling, the contaminants have disappeared. As a pacifist it seems ironic to me that this process was developed on a military base for soil contaminated by aviation fuel.

Forking the compost from one bin to the other has given me time to think about these things—time also for the change in the compost. After a several months the damp, brown compost now shows little evidence of the original ingredients. As I throw the compost against the half-inch hardware-cloth screen most of the material falls into my wheelbarrow below.

The results of my stress-reducing exercise, the blessing for my rescue of valuable organic matter from the local incinerator, and the boon for my plants, flows dark brown and sweet-smelling through the sifter. From smelly green grass clippings, brown leaves, banana peels and coffee grounds-with time and effort—came the miracle of mature compost.   This compost will enrich the soil promoting a new period of growth. The transformation convinces me that anyone who holds mature compost in their hands has a better “feel” for God’s grace.

If life brings you garbage, make compost.

If you have garbaged up your life, make compost.