“A New Father, Awe-Struck” is a new hymn-prayer written days before Christmas 2016. It begins with a traditional image of a manger scene, and becomes a prayer that we may look deeper— at our loving God who chose to come into this world as someone who was poor, powerless, in danger, and a refugee.
I arrange my Mondays around a certain ritual, a yoga class taught by my gifted teacher, Mireille (Mimi) Mears. She’s from Belgium. From Charleroi, to be exact. It's about 30 miles away from Brussels. Her nephew lives a few minutes away from the attack site with his wife and three children under the age of 6. Mimi always closes our class with a ritual, this prayer/meditation/homily (with her beautiful Belgian accent) and yesterday was no exception.
Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The Crisis in the American Dream, laments the decline in social capital (how we are connected to others and care for them) with its devastating impact on poor children today. Past generations of poor children often had more opportunities because they benefited from connections with churches, teachers, coaches, and other mentors who supported them. Putnam, a respected Harvard sociologist, documents how too many children are missing these caring adults in their lives today. He offers "purple solutions" to the growing "opportunity gap" and poverty that includes support by all for public schools.
Many churches witness to their concern for school children with a "Blessing of the Backpacks" service. Some churches invite the children in the congregation to bring their own backpacks for a blessing before a new school year begins. This is a way to acknowledge that school is a common yet very important part of our children’s lives. Other churches collect school supplies for children in need, assemble the donated supplies in backpacks, and bring them to church for a blessing in worship.
The tune of the following new hymn is the same Gaelic melody used for "Morning Has Broken," and it seems appropriate to sing a joyful "morning" tune as children, parents, and teachers start to get up earlier in the mornings to head off to school.
When Christ Went to the Temple
LLANGLOFFAN 22.214.171.124 D (“Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)
When Christ went to the Temple to worship God one day,
He entered through the courtyard where anyone could pray.
That court was for the nations--and all could enter in.
But Jesus found a market, a shameful robbers’ den.
There, cattle, sheep, and pigeons were sold for sacrifice,
And moneychangers shouted of quality and price.
Outsiders could not enter the inner courts for prayer.
Their only place to worship was in the courtyard there.
The Need Is Real: You can literally be a lifesaver by being an organ donor. Here are some important facts about donation:
• Someone is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Over 120,000 people are waiting for organ donations.
• Each day, an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. However, an average of 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs.
• People of every age give and receive organ donations.
Hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has been a chaplain for a hospital and several hospices. She is grateful for suggestions for this hymn from her husband Bruce Gillette (he has served on a hospital ethics committee), hospital Chaplains Tim Rodden and Sister Julian Wilson and ethicist Christian Iosso. This hymn is dedicated to the memory of Roy Timmer, a faithful Christian, a wonderful friend and an organ donor who helped many people.
God, Each Day You Give is Precious
A Hymn for Donor Sabbath
A Hymn for This Sunday
This hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette asks the question what does it mean to be a Christian, a church? Whom do we serve? How shall we respond to those in need? It is based on the lectionary passage Matthew 21:23-32 (September 28, 2014). The United Methodist Worship Office has formatted the hymn with the music as a free download.
Once a Father Told His Children
NETTLETON 126.96.36.199 D (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
Once a father told his children,
“Go and do your daily chores.
Go and work out in my vineyard;
All that’s mine will soon be yours.”
One responded, “I won’t do it!”
Then he changed his mind and went.
One said, “Yes! Just send me to it!”
But he went back home again.
Author's Note: This hymn is written with gratitude for foster parents, social workers, and others who do seek to do their best for abused and neglected children and youth. It is written as a prayer for the many children and youth who are failed by a broken system that too often ignores their cries and rights. Parts of this hymn, especially, are written as a prayer for one small boy who was our foster son for nineteenth months and is no longer in our care, but who will always be in our hearts. Sojourners' January 2014 issue had several helpful articles on foster parenting.
Lord, Hear the Cries of Children
PASSION CHORALE 188.8.131.52 D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
Lord, hear the cries of children who struggle every day,
Caught up in failing systems that steal their hope away.
Some find they’re lost to violence, then lost in foster care.
They long for life’s abundance! Lord, hear their pleading prayer.
Jesus' teaching to his followers in John 14:6 is a challenging one in our world filled with people of diverse faiths: "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." See " What Do Our Beliefs Say About Us?" by Rev. Dr. Guy Nave. The following new hymn lifts up Jesus' teaching in the context of his inclusive ministry seeking God's love and justice for all. John 14:1-14 is the Revised Common Lectionary gospel lesson that will be read in many churches this coming Sunday, May 18th.
Christ, You Are the Savior
ASH GROVE (“Let All Things Now Living”)
“The Little Drummer Boy” tells a wonderful short story of a poor boy who feels he has no gift to give to the baby Jesus. In spite of his lack of gifts, he offers to play his drum for him, to the delight of all in the stable, especially baby Jesus, who smiles at the drummer boy.
Not only is this song fun to sing with its drum-like “pa-rum-pum-pum-pums,” but also it embraces a non-materialistic message that we all need to hear, especially this time of year. In a society of hyper-commercialized Christmas, where we are bombarded with advertisements filled with the pressure to find the perfect gift, “The Little Drummer Boy” challenges this societal expectation. Perhaps the perfect gift is really just ourselves, being who we are, bringing our own gifts and talents to each other and to a world in deep need of healing.
While the boy is poor and feels like he has nothing to offer, he has a drum and plays for those gathered at the stable — and they are pleased. While our society pressures us to perform, to prove our love and appreciation for someone, it is actually the simple sharing of life, being together with family and friends around good food and drink — and maybe even dance and sing (with a drum!) — that is what we truly need or want around Christmas time. I know this is true for me.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote this hymn in celebration of Human Rights Day (December 10), the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Seven years later, on Dec. 5, 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began with 40,000 African-Americans walking, bicycling or car-pooling to pressure the bus company for change. The boycott ended in victory after 381 days. December is a good month to remember past work for justice and to work for it today as we celebrate the one who came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79).
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote this hymn based on Micah 6:8 after attending Bread for the World’s Lobby Day on June 12th and reading Jim Wallis’ “The Missing Religious Principle in Our Budget Debates.”
O God, You Call for Justice
AURELIA 184.108.40.206 D ("The Church's One Foundation")
O God, you call for justice—for goodness, never greed!
You seek a world of fairness where all have what they need—
Where all have food and water and homes in which to thrive,
Where all have hope and laughter and joy to be alive!
Holy Week and Jesus’ Ways for Peace
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday and the week that follows — Holy Week — are times for Christians to remember and share the biblical stories of Jesus’ teachings and actions for peace. These stories encourage us to pray and work for peace, especially in light of those who are now threatening a new war with Iran. “Nine Years of War in Iraq: A Sojourners Retrospective” is a powerful reminder that churches need to do more.
Last year Sojourners posted a new hymn for Palm Sunday with peace themes, “Lord, What a Parade!” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
This year the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina commissioned Carolyn to write a new hymn about Jesus’ nonviolent actions and compassion at the time of his arrest.
O God of Love, the Fast You Choose
KINGSFOLD CMD (“Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”)
O God of love, the fast you choose is not some great display.
It’s everything we gladly do to serve you day by day.
It’s not a moment set apart when we will mourn our sin;
For you require a change of heart— a change from what has been....
The Sunday, Nov. 13 lectionary gospel is Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Kari Jo Verhulst, in Sojourners, reflected on Jesus’ challenging teaching: “The point is not to perfect our particular gifts, or ourselves, but to quit hoarding ourselves from others, and instead step out in faith that we have been given all we need.”
The following new hymn affirms that Jesus’ parable calls us to faithfulness even when it involves risk and challenge today.
O God, we yearn for safety; We long to be secure.
Yet faithful, loving service Is what you value more.
You give us what is needed; You love, forgive and save.
Then, sending us to serve you, You call us to be brave.
You give to some ten talents—to others, two or three;
To some you give one blessing To manage faithfully. ...
Don't believe most of what you'll hear about Kevin Smith's new movie, Red State.
It is not an angry tirade against religion, nor is it an attack on Christianity guised as a horror flick laden with gratuitous violence.
Smith has described Red State as a horror film, and it is that, but not in the conventional Nightmare on Elm Street iteration. There is violence for sure, but nothing approaching the unrelenting bloodbath of, say, The Passion of the Christ.
[Editors' note: Below is a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette to inspire churches to further support and pray for famine relief in Somalia.]
O God, You Love the Needy
220.127.116.11 D LLANGLOFFAN ("Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers")
O God, you love the needy and care for all the poor!
Today our hearts are heavy with news of drought and war.
When plantings yield no harvest, when hungry people die,
When families flee, defenseless -- Lord, hear your people's cry!
Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.
The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.
[Editors' note: Rev. John Stott, one of the world's most influential evangelical figures over the past half-century, died this Wednesday at age 90. Rev. Stott served as a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine, when we were known as The Post American, and wrote this article for the November/December, 1973 issue of the magazine. We will always remember Rev. Stott for his profound contributions to our community and the Church.]
It seems to be a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mind to enjoy inhabiting the "polar regions" of truth. If we could straddle both poles simultaneously, we would exhibit a healthy balance. Instead, we tend to "polarize". We push some of our brothers to one pole, while keeping the other as our own preserve.
What I am thinking of now is not so much questions of theology as questions of temperament, and in particular the tension between the "conservative" and the "radical."