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Further Thoughts on Lamenting Well

My community has experienced the benefits of expressing our anger and confusion with God in a time of Lament.  One time of lament that we (the worship arts team) came up with was particularly meaningful.  We married two songs together and used a Psalm of Lament to structure our time.  The Psalm was 60, and the songs were "O God, Where are You Now?" W/M by Sufjan Stevens and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," W/M by Watts/Croft.  The first song can be found on the album "Michigan."  It contains the following stanzas, rich with meaning and content:

"Oh God, where are you now? Oh God, save somehow

There's no other man who could raise the dead

So do what you can to anoint my head"

Stevens is a young artist (and Hope College Grad) who has gained notoriety for his plan to write an album about all 50 states.  "Michigan" and "Illinois" have been released, "Oregon"Sufjan  is currently being researched.  Being an Episcopal, he no doubt approves of this liturgical use of his music.

We interspersed the three verses with the reading of the Psalm and with times of instrumental music (comping).  We closed the time of Lament with the promises of scripture found at the end of Psalm 60 ("Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless.  With God we will gain the victory...) and an almost a capella version of "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" (verse one only).  We led the entire section in the musical key of C major for ease of singability.

I hope that this has been helpful and inspirational as you seek to plan meaningful times of lament in your own context.

pax, pba

Where do the ashes go?

For those Protestant ministers who have congregants that are squeamish about having a cross thumbed on their forehead (“Isn’t that Catholic?”), I’ve found a biblical solution acceptable to all. It isn’t the most edifying passage of scripture, but in

2 Samuel 13:19

a disgraced Tamar puts ashes on her head. Instead of thumbing the cross, try pinching some ash (that’s asH) and sifting it like rubbing two coins together over the head. Now if you want someone to know you’ve been to an Ash Wednesday service you’ll actually have to live it out.


FootholdSomeone I know well recently entered -- and won -- a Hymn Search contest held at Fuller Seminary.  One purpose of the song was to commemorate the Fortieth Anniversary of the School of Psychology. 
The other was to articulate something about trust in God for healing.  The author thought Psalm 25 was an excellent expression of this sort of prayer, and so used it as a basis for this text.  It is meant be sung to the tune Kingsfold.  Here is the text and melody laid out, with chords hand-written above.  This harmonic arrangement of the tune is courtesy of the jazz pianist/preacher Bill Carter.  To get a sense of the arrangement, click here for a down-and-dirty homemade Mp3.


P10 I was at a church the other day where they did the most extraordinary thing at the offering.  Instead of passing the plates and then bringing them up front to the doxology ("Thanks for all the stuff you give us, God!"), they passed the plates while two families came forward to bring testimony. 

But here's the thing--the testimony had to do with what they did with their share of an offering that had been taken some weeks before.  Apparently as a response to a sermon on the parable of the talents, that week's offering was divided up and given _back_ to the various households of the church.  They were then instructed to use their share to invest in the Kingdom. 

One family testified of their confab at which they discussed what to do with their money.  They decided to buy a sheep for someone through the Heifer Project.  But they didn't have enough money to do it.  So each of the family members did something to try to earn more.  The things were pretty typical: the teenage son mowed lawns on a Saturday, the young girl did a lemonade stand.  In the end, they augmented what they had been given and had enough for the Sheep and a few chickens, too. 

File this one as a fabulous theological connection between life and liturgy.

(artwork courtesy http://www.eichgallery.abelgratis.com)

Come to the Table

Screenhunter_002 A wonderful way to make explicit the sacramental connection between our everyday life and its distillation in liturgy is to sing a variation on the Great Prayer over our ordinary meals. Chip Andrus, a pastor, teacher, and musician with the Office of Theology and Worship for the PC(USA) has written a lively folk prayer that works well for just this purpose.             

Sing upbeat, but not too fast—maybe 88 bpm. The song is syncopated throughout, but is notated more simply here for easier learning. Once you’re familiar with it as written, attempt appropriate syncopation where you feel it (the third “come” in the first measure should slightly anticipate the third beat). If you have trouble, ask your kids for help. The song repeats the chorus a few times, and then concludes moving to the tonic and repeating “come.”

This wonderfully percussive tune works best antiphonally. When the meal is almost ready, begin to sing (“Come, come, come!”) as you bring the food from the kitchen to the table. Or send out a family member to the corners of the house, singing and summoning everyone together. When all are assembled, conclude with a spoken prayer to God, since this song is a call to pray and feast rather than a prayer itself.

It’s especially fitting to pray following a classic prayer pattern, like a collect. So, for instance, begin by (1) addressing God and naming one of God’s attributes (“God, you are . . .”); then (2) speak a word of thanks and/or make an appeal rooted in that attribute (“we thank you for/help us to . . .”); finally, (3) express an aspiration rooted in God’s character, an outcome that makes sense of the request (“so that we might . . .”). For example, (1) Lord Jesus, you said that wherever two or three are gathered together, you are with them. (2) We thank you, then, for this good food, for those who made it, for each other, and for your presence with us as we eat. Open our eyes to see you at this table, (3) so that we might more easily see you when we leave it.

(For more table graces for the home, see here.)

Where to put the Lament

Mpaperlament24mm After being persuaded that we need to be more serious about lament in our worship, we have been struggling with where to put it in the service.  There seems to be no natural place in our order of service where it "fits."  Then someone at a planning meeting suggested we replace the confession one week with a lament.  Not to avoid our own sin, but to recognize that our personal sin is caught up in the brokenness of the whole world.  We lament then, and say not so much "I have messed up" but "I am messed up." 

But then there is another difficulty: what is the appropriate response to lament?  After a confession, we long to hear words of God's forgiveness:  "As far as the east is from the west, so far do I remove your transgressions from you."  This doesn't seem quite right when we're talking about racism and environmental degradation and cancer. 

But a declaration of God's ultimate sovereignty is exactly right -- it follows the Biblical pattern (see, for instance, Psalm 42 or 43), and it assures us (just as an assurance of pardon) that in the end, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

(Art courtesy www.davidsweeneyart.com)

The Lord Be with You

TLBWY.openingA few years ago, my worship team tackled the question of how to begin our 'contemporary' worship services.  Sometimes the band would just walk up front and begin to play. Sometimes there'd be a time of teaching new music.   Sometimes there would be a song that felt like a prelude.  Other times there were announcements. 

We wanted to create a dramatic launch to the service ("Here we go!") without succumbing to the cultural forces that pull us toward making the whole thing an entertaining show ("Ladies and Gentlemen!  Your attention please!")

We decided to begin with an appropriate greeting -- in the Lord's name, if not in the Lord's voice -- and then remind each other of why we've gathered: to worship, to renew the covenant of grace between God and God's people.  What we came up with was a short opening song.  Click here for the music in lead sheet format.  And here for an Mp3 recording.

It's free for anyone's use - but do report that use to CCLI.