Thanksgiving Litany

Below is a Thanksgiving litany that I came up with and intend to use tomorrow at the dinner table. Just thought I would share!

Thanksgiving Litany

Thanksgiving is a time to gather and give thanks for what we often take for granted: food, shelter, clothing, relationships, and community. Let us take a moment to be silent and lift these things before God. Feel free to call them out.

(Silence)

While it is important to give thanks for God’s provision, it is also important to remember and pray for those who struggle to meet their basic needs. Take a minute to be silent before Jesus. Feel free to pray out loud, if you feel led.

(Silence)

The traditional Thanksgiving story is rich with erroneous and mythical information that attempts to cover up the mass extinction and tragic oppression faced by native populations during the colonization of America. I believe that it is important to recognize that the ground we stand on once belonged to the Lenape Tribe, who planted corn, squash, and beans, and were sustained by the Delaware River. The Lenape tribe was forced out of Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York, and pushed Westward due to the Indian Removal Act, which was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. Today many live in severe poverty in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Ontario. Take a moment to pray for the Lenape people whose estimated population in 2010 was 16,000.

(Silence)

Now I am going to recite a special prayer offered by former Principal Chief Chief Thomas Strong Swiftwater of the Lenape people of Kansas City at a recent First Nations conference.

Ke-shay-la-min. Oh, Gitshe Manatoo,
Creator. Oh, Great Spirit.
Gut-ta-mak-ton-hay. Kin-knee-ke-nan e-le-nan,
I speak humbly. Watch over us.
Un-gunda-wakan- will-le-knee-o-knee-can.
Give us your blessings.
Wa-knee-shee. Wa-ne-shee. Wa-knee-shee nuka,
Thank you. Thank you, Father,
Wa-knee-shee nu-ka-lay. Gut-mak-ton-nack.
Thank you, Dear Father. I have spoken.

A Conversation on Worship

The following post is an impromptu discussion between three authors who contribute to this blog: Matt, Sean, and Byron. Raleigh also sneaks in at the end. The initial spark was a conversation in Sean and Matt’s house community regarding passion in worship.

Matt: I think our generation’s “worship music” is usually carefully constructed to elicit emotional response which feels like spiritual response.

Sean: I find this to be strongest with Pentecostals.

Byron: I think one of the bigger issues behind that is that most people have an “emotional attachment” to religion and not a spiritual understanding of worship. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the music per se.

Matt: Great point, which makes me think it’s probably a hybrid of both. Listeners tie themselves emotionally to the music, musicians feed off that and try to produce emotional pieces.

Byron: I don’t know if this is strongest with Pentecostals though. I subscribe as Pentecostal…I see it being more cultural. However it is very interesting. What defines worship though? I would hope the worship does and not the music. I remember reading a story (fictional) about a pastor who would release nitrous oxide through the vents at his congregation. Makes me sad to see the way the outside world views our practices.

Matt: I agree; part of my point was that lots of evangelicals conflate “worship” with “worship music”, and that I prefer to seek more organic expressions of worship, in whatever form they come. Sean “led worship” at house community last night by, instead of leading a song, bringing a blank canvas and inviting everyone to contribute to it with whatever paint or crayon or pencil or other drawing implement as they felt led. That was pretty cool.

Sean: I think that while all senses should be engaged in worship (as the orthodox and Catholics do well) that the sensory elements, music included should be used to enhance the worship experience rather than to define or compel it.

Byron: I a bajillllion percent agree.

Sean: I have a lot of experience in Pentecostal churches. The larger ones I see two things going on. Trying to be too “culturally relevant”, i.e. replacing every secular thing with a Christian alternative. Especially in music. This is brought over to worship. Trying to make it “cool”, ” relevant” and to compete with the world. The other is to stir up a fervor. The problem I have with this is that it creates a culture where that is the only way we see worship. And it compels people, especially youth, to emotional responses that often lead to them going to their 10000th altar call.

Matt: The Church should be transforming the world, not conforming to it. This goes for music too. Why isn’t the Church producing music and art that the secular world then feels compelled to copy?

Sean: 100% agree, Matt.

Byron: I would just be watchful about typecasting or generalizing I guess. Just because you and I feel more comfortable in organic worship doesn’t mean their worship is any less appreciated by God.

Sean: Byron, you’re right. I never once doubted their sincerity in doing it. It’s the worship leaders and those who may or may not cause things that we mentioned.

Byron: I’m sorry you have had a negative view of Pentecostalism, Sean. I see ditches on every side. I see the dangers of charismatics with 1000 altar calls the same as I see the dangers of apathy in others. We must maintain a walk of worship that is straight and narrow and navigate through the ditches of this world. I really love worship and try to teach honest worship as often as possible.

Sean: The key is balance. And as Matt said so well last night, most churches fail there. Most people fail there. I wouldn’t say I have such a negative view. I was a part of it a long time and therefore am more critical of it. I came to Pentecostalism from a Lutheran church. It was a reactionary move for sure. I was seeking out meaningful worship. I grew and had a lot of positive experiences there for sure. What I don’t like is luring kids into “worship” with lights. Drums. Guitars. That rarely prompts deep understanding of what worship is. Mostly it’s a cool Christian concert. “Why go out to a show on Fridays? Jesus can provide the same thing at church. We got all that too!!”

Byron: I led an expository sermon over “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan. The theological implications of that song are amazing. Yeah it’s catchy and moving, but I think it’s because it is true. The relational aspect of Jesus is what breaks us and heals us. When people actually sat down and meditated on the words, it was like a light bulb went on. I’d hate to say that people need to be taught how to worship. But maybe we do? Not “how”…that seems dogmatic. Maybe “why” and “when”.

Sean: I think rather than how, we need to be taught what worship is.

Matt: I think worship is a discipline, something that requires devotion, and I think too many people engage in “lite” worship that neither enables nor beckons them to be intentional about it. Like you said, Byron…someone could sing a “worship song” a hundred times, but never “get it” till they sit down and study the words!

Byron: I really like a lot of different aspects of worship. I just don’t want to pin one down as “gospel” because I think true worship is honest service to Jesus. And God alone knows our intentions as the Holy Spirit will guide us to wisdom.

Sean: I don’t either. I think many churches do that though.

Byron: Most interesting was going to Circle of Hope and the holistic/hallels and breath prayers. Amazing! But Jesus Culture is pretty awesome too. The reason why is that we serve an awesome God. We worship a lot differently than our brothers in Turkey but that doesn’t make us any more free. That just makes me want to worship even more because God is so good.

Raleigh: I think people do need to be led a little bit. At Circle of Hope, we often have instruction on how people can participate, especially if it is something new or something we haven’t done before. We also introduce songs in foreign languages (we do at least one each week) by explaining that we do this to connect with others. There seems to always be a little explaining. It helps people feel more comfortable and helps them to connect.

Byron: I really enjoyed my time at Circle of Hope too. Not because of the worship, or even Rod’s message, but because of the corporate community we shared through Jesus. And I hope that is in every church across the world. If it’s not, we should pray for it. And yeah, I don’t sing very well in Portuguese.

Matt: Closing thoughts?

Raleigh: I think we need to continue having discussions on worship. Creating “authentic worship” is difficult. I believe that we often over-think or add in (consciously and unconsciously) emotion-inducing elements to worship music, which can be emotionally manipulative. We want to avoid this and let God lead worship. It’s not about putting on a show, but letting God move through us. Worship is a communal act that we all take part in.

Byron: I don’t want to be the one to separate what is secular and what is sacred. I believe this to fall under permissible and beneficial. I listen to a variety of music, mostly Christian to be honest. I know most people hate the concept of Christian music, I don’t believe music can be Christian because music cant be “saved.” But I believe it can be redeemed. I listen to music that edifies my spirit and encourages me and makes me muse on the ways of life. I bet Mogwai would be upset if they find out that I have them on my worship play list right next to Chris Tomlin. We allow so many other things to lead us to sensory emotionalism every day, from music to art to movies and even food, but never do we define those as being anything like we are breaking down worship to be. I don’t think that the reason we have 1000 altar calls is because of lighting or weird time signatures. I think the reason why people do not understand grace is because we have missed on discipleship. I see worship in two parts, congregation and personal. We miss the congregational too often. The reason why worship is difficult to pin down as to being anything set is because it was never meant to be set. Some worship in silence and some worship with hands out stretched. Some do back flips and some lay prostrate soaked in tears. Do I find any of this unbiblical? No. David danced before the Lord naked saying he will be even more undignified in the presence of our King. Totally biblical; would I want to see that in a service? Not really. But if it’s honest and genuine then who am I to judge what is appropriate? Anyway it’s not really my place to say if it is honest or genuine. If the fruit is there, then we celebrate; if not, then God will judge accordingly. Truth of the matter is this. I don’t think it matters if we worship with a light system and e-bows or bongos and goat teeth. Because worship as truly defined is to take part in a religious service and to love someone deeply. The bible defines worship as service or to bow down. Do I think that leaders get this twisted? Of course. But that happens everywhere regardless of our subscriptions, Pentecostal, Reformed, Anabaptist, or Orthodox. When we get swept up in the external activities of worship, we can miss God’s heart which is the reason we worship. I understand emotionalism is prevalent, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think if we stop there and don’t take it into the homes with fellowship it creates loneliness. We were designed for community just as much as we were designed for worship. I don’t want to put rules on something that is meant to bring us freedom.

Sean: I think that the concept of authentic worship is a challenging one for sure.  Its all too easy for us to get stuck in the “way our church does it” as the “correct” notion of what worship is.  We have to constantly be reminded that worship is an activity that is subjective and personal and should pervade every aspect of our lives as Christians.  And that means that it can take on many different forms.  So I encourage everyone to experiment with different ways of worshiping God and in bringing new experiences to the corporate worship of our churches and to our own daily private worship.

Matt: I love this conversation. I think it is more edifying for us to discuss and share viewpoints than for any one of us to come blog about our individual idea on worship. The Church is made up of different people who worship authentically in different ways. As long as someone is led by the Holy Spirit, however that comes out – in song, dance, meditation, clapping, or any other inward or outward display – that is true worship. No one should feel coerced to worship in one particular way if that’s not true to who they are. The Church should be a place where worship can be expressed in all ways, for the glory of God and the uplifting of all. I pray for all the Church to be revitalized by the Spirit so that their worship will be pure and true.

Wealth in the Kingdom, pt. 2

Last year, I wrote a post analyzing a couple of scriptures regarding what to do with wealth. Further discussion has made me want to explore this again, from a different angle. Previously, I wrote about what those who are already in the Kingdom should do with their wealth. But lately, a different subject has come up: 1) Do we welcome the wealthy into the Kingdom? and 2) If so, how?

I think the answer to the first question is…almost obvious. The doors of the Kingdom are open to all; we are not to reject anyone. The wealthy are as welcome as any other sinners. However, we do have to be a bit more careful than that, as Jesus reminds us that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24) Entering into the alternative community of Heaven requires sacrifice. It is costly.

Another relevant, and challenging, teaching of Jesus comes from an often-misapplied parable in Luke 14:25-33. Jesus is speaking of the costliness of entering the Kingdom, and compares it to building a tower. The lesson here is spiritual, not economic. Before building a tower, you have to make sure you have the money and resources to complete the project. Similarly, before you choose to follow Jesus, you must “calculate the cost” and assess whether you’ll be able to pay it. The “cost” is not subjective or metaphorical. Jesus makes it explicit in verses 27 and 33: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” and “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

Are the wealthy welcome in the Kingdom? Certainly; but their wealth is not. At least, that’s what I’d like to say – but we have to be a little more nuanced there as well. As it turns out, the wealth is welcome, provided that it is entirely detached from those who originally accrued it. Let’s look at how the apostles handled welcoming the wealthy into the Kingdom in Acts 4:32-35:

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

A lot of wealth was brought into the Kingdom as the Gospel spread to both poor and rich. But nobody brought their wealth intending to retain it (yet — as homework, continue reading into Acts 5). This passage is really, really intense. Imagine being able to speak statements these today! “All things were common property to them.” “There was not a needy person among them.” This is not anarcho-communist idealism. This happened. This was the lifestyle of the first-century church. This is the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God.

In closing, wealth is not something to be embraced, it is something to be repented of. That’s what was happening in the apostolic community. People who were rich recognized that they were being unjust to the poor and sought to make things right by repenting of their wealth and allowing it to be distributed to those who needed it (cf. Zaccheus in Luke 19:8; also see John the Baptist’s concept of “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” in Luke 3:11). In a community that is operating on God’s economy, no one is wealthy, yet everyone is able to live. In this way, all are wealthy in the root sense of the word.

Growing Old (Well…Not Really)

I have been reading through a few of the posts that were on our old blog site, Sword of Peace, and I must admit that I am quite embarrassed by some of the content. There was so much misplaced and immature passion which was oftentimes judgmental and condescending. I was entering the beginning stages of my faith journey.

Lately I have been asking myself if I am losing my radical edge. I no longer live in a dungeon style basement for $200 a month, I no longer feel the urge to stand in solidarity with people around the world who don’t have water by showering only once a week, I am in graduate school, my wife and I have a combined income that is high enough to almost push us into the middle class, I am no longer a vegetarian, I haven’t thought about dumpster diving in a long time, and I spend more than $30 a month on groceries.

Am I losing my radical edge?

After a lot of thought and reflection, I don’t believe I am. What is happening is that I am becoming grounded. I think I am beginning to understand my place in the world, beginning to understand my strengths, and beginning to understand what I can do with my passion. I am finding that I do not care for debating and arguing these days. I would rather just join up with people who have a desire to serve and get to it. When I was first discovering my faith, I had a consumer mindset. I wanted to consume as much as I could. It was all about me. I was certainly self-righteous and my energies were so misplaced in reading book after book, that I didn’t have any time to live out my faith. Living in a basement and not taking showers is not going to bring about the transformation that God calls us to.

I guess it wasn’t all about myself. I was seeking for an outlet of service, but had no idea where to devote my time. I tried playing music at a homeless shelter on a monthly basis. I did this for 2 years. The problem was that I lived in Philadelphia and the shelter was in Wilmington, DE. This was not my community. I would drive in once a month to play some music, have a quick chat and leave. I became involved in the prisons connections team at Circle of Hope, but I wouldn’t say I was really involved. I attended meetings. Visited someone a few times and wrote a few letters here and there.

Last year I had an extremely difficult time with my faith journey as I was moving away from my naivety. What had I built in the last four years? Anything? I was spiritually depressed for about 9 months straight. This time was extremely difficult for me. St John of the Cross calls this spiritual time the Dark Night of the Soul. He suggests that it is necessary for Christians to go through if they are to develop a mature faith. The romance of discovery spirituality has gone away, is it time to let go of faith, or move deeper into it?

I am glad that I did not abandon my faith during that period. Now, I feel that God has energized me to really be a part of his world redemption project. Lately, I have been doing a lot of listening and waiting, which has allowed me to uncover my strengths. I now know that I have a gift with working with children and adolescents. I am halfway through my school counseling program at Eastern University.

I got connected with Campaign For Nonviolent Schools, a student-run organization that is fighting violence in schools. We have marched down Broad Street and gone to Harrisburg to fight PA budget cuts. Last week we even took a trip to D.C. to rally for Youth Investment. I feel like I am a part of this movement. I have also decided that I want to become more involved with Shalom House. Shalom House is a proactive peacemaking community connected with Circle of Hope. This year, they initiated a listening tour to discover what people are saying about violence in our schools, neighborhoods, and our views on the war in Afghanistan. I am a part of the listening tour team, and hope to listen to what students have to say in the classrooms that I sub in.

My wife and I are trying to live out our faith practically by co-buying a house with another married couple. This is a large step, but we want to ground ourselves in a community and really get to know people around us. We are buying the house from a couple from Circle of Hope who have been a strong presence in the neighborhood for 12 years. We want to continue what they have started. With this there are many considerations and concerns of gentrification as 2 white couples moving into a historically black neighborhood. I will elaborate on this in the future.

I hope I do not appear to be boasting, as this is not my intention. I just want to say that it finally feels good to have a focus. To begin to listen to God and not to aimlessly and self-righeously pursue my own agenda. I used to be fearful of buying a house, going to graduate school, finding a nice job. To me this was selling out. I am beginning to understand that these things can separate us from God, but that we can use these tools to help build God’s kingdom. Co-buying a house opposes American individualism, becoming a school counselor will allow me to interact with hundreds of students and help get the supports they need, and going to school will give me the tools I need to be successful in my vocation. This isn’t the end of my “radical” years, it’s (hopefully) just the beginning.

Life After Easter

He is risen!

He is risen indeed.

So…now what?

I am very pleased to announce that this post has been published on Jesus Radicals. You can read and discuss it here.

You are the Sun that Rises While We Sleep

I have been thinking a lot lately about honest, and sincere worship. I often find myself focusing on words or melodies instead of being overwhelmed by who God is. It is very difficult for me to be vulnerable in church or even in my car (while singing terribly!) about the presence of God. I realize now that I have truly missed the heart of worship for a very long time. There has been hints and moments when everything fades away and I just marvel at Jesus, not just for what he has done for me, but because of who He is.

So I wrote this song. It’s not a worship song like you’d see on a sunday service, but its as honest as ive been lately. Because when I look around I see a world that is so easy to get lost in and I often do. But when I slow down I can see God through that. Through the awkwardness drawing me into His presence.

My idea of great worship is being set aside, called out, living differently. Because I idolize so many aspects of everyday life that separate me from who God is and ultimately who I am in Him. My desire is to cast these things down and look upon Jesus’ face and desire nothing else but to worship.

You are the sun that rises while we sleep

You are the reason we suffer this earth

You are the hope of our second birth

You are the secrets we can never keep

You are the I Am…

Everything around us moves in perverted progression

How long can I depend on our own voice?

When all the praise we see comes from creation.

Our lives will become worship submitting our choice.

Our Father, who art in heaven, circumcise our hearts.

We will wait in fervent yet reverent zeal.

While You take our lives and tear us apart.

Rebuilding our souls revealing what is real.

We walk by faith and not by sight,

but God we can see you all around.

In the loneliest nights you still gave us this light.

We once were blind but by grace we are found.

You are the Potter and we are you clay

You are the love that is calling us in.

You are the grace that forgives all our sin.

You are the light that gives us this day

You are the I Am…Amen

There is nothing that will satisfy our need.

Looking around there’s a awkwardness about this place.

The promises you gave we have made our creed.

We won’t stop until we see your holy face.

Take this life, oh Lord, we have nothing left to bring.

We lay down our flesh to be resurrected with You.

You give us this joy, for you alone we sing.

We find your hand in everything we do.

You are the I Am

 

Even if you can’t see your self worshiping to this song.

Can you see yourself worshiping this God.

Because worship isn’t about a song or lyrics but about adoration for who God is, in every aspect of life.

Making New Friends

Made a few new friends the other day. Let me tell you about them.

Maurice was sitting on a bench in the park beside St. Vincent de Paul church downtown, grateful for the park and the ability of people to engage in charity there.

Mikey was a young guy standing at the end of I-83 with a sign that said he was broke and traveling. Turns out he was headed to Asheville, NC, which is very near where my parents live.

Towanda, whose name may not be spelled like that, was sitting on a mattress underneath US-40, listening to a Jeremih CD and hoping to get a few more albums.

Augustus was lying on the other side of MLK Boulevard, also under Rt 40, on a few quilts in a bed of ivy. He seemed more reluctant to engage in conversation, but still chatted for a minute.

James was an older man, walking along the road with the aid of a single crutch. His wife had died several years ago, and he hadn’t been able to put his life back together since. He talked about knowing God was taking care of him, but not being able to “stay out of his own mind” – that is, whenever he felt led in a certain direction, he would overthink it and start asking “What for? Why bother?” I can certainly sympathize.

And Marlon Harris, who I’d run into before, was an energetic soul with plenty to talk about. He’s intermittently working on a book. He’s been in jail, an experience which forced him to deal with parts of his life he otherwise never had, and seems to be better off personally for it. He could easily walk into church and preach a sermon next Sunday. (How awesome would that be?)

These are some of the people we encountered on Saturday afternoon, when myself, my wife (on her birthday), and our friends Brett and Jen all roamed around downtown Baltimore handing out sandwiches (and some of Jen’s homemade chocolate chip cookies). My attitude toward actions like this is not to feel like we’re blessing others, but to be prepared to be blessed by them. Every person is made in the image of God, so everyone we meet gives us new insight into Him. I hope we did bless them, with food and a short bit of company, but I hope we were blessed as well. I know I was. I hope to encounter these individuals again, and I pray God will continue to bless and protect them as they live on the streets of Baltimore.

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