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Hymnody and the Supposed Sin of John Piper

Article referencedà https://relevantmagazine.com/god/should-john-piper-have-changed-the-name-of-great-is-thy-faithfulness/

I read an article from Relevant magazine recently where John Piper was taken to task for adding a verse to the now classic hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I must admit, an article that takes John Piper to task for theological stances is normally “click-baity” for me because I disagree with John Piper in so much of his theology. We come from different places and I continually appreciate the challenges he presents me with when I read his teachings because it sharpens my own theological wit. I thought “what has John Piper done now that I’m gonna have to argue with”? Well, nothing really that blew my thinning hair back (it doesn’t take much these days). He was at a conference and wanted to make more connections to the theme throughout the worship experience that day. One response critical of the decision was put so well to Christianity Today:

The University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College’s  director of master of sacred music program Swee Hong Lim told them, “Hymns are theological statements …  To that end, and particularly for Methodism, hymns are not theologically neutral but carry theological distinctiveness. This is one reason why the denomination has sought to review contemporary worship songs for their theological position.”—Swee Hong Lim

Should Piper be taken to task for taking a Methodist hymn and adding verses to add to the context of his message? Sure, why not? Does the above argument made against him make sense? Sure, why not? An artist’s original meaning for a piece is important. Acknowledging the integrity of a piece of art is important, especially when the art is to be used as a teaching tool of some sort. But I caution us to fully take that argument all the way in our ministry contexts and houses of worship. As worship leaders, our aims should be different from perfect performance. We cut and paste, rearrange, modify, add, and take away, all the time when it comes to a piece of music (and how often are we also doing this to Scripture?). We do this to fit our contexts of ministry; hopefully, it’s a faithful modification. And yes, sometimes we might be missing some of the rich theological teaching a particular verse might hold for the overall message of a piece (assuming that the people we are serving are engaged in both lyrics and tune of a song….but that’s a different topic for a different day). But unless one is sticking to the author’s exact meter, order, the original instrument the author had in mind for the piece, sometimes the geographic location of the composition, sometimes even the placement in a worship service (or for concert/performance intentions only) they are marring the song at least partially. This happens when we add elements to a piece as well, like verses, or perhaps an extemporaneous prayer in the song.

As to the ethics of this practice, I tend to take a more Roland Barthes and “death of the author” stance, though I don’t carry his argument nearly as far as he would like me to. On some level, when any modifications are made, I realize I am at least partially bending a piece of art to my will and judgment. How many times have I cut a verse out of a hymn by Charles Wesley (I’m looking at you O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing), or a bridge or a  repeating chorus from another song (I’m looking at you Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Matt Maher, Matt Redman and others)? The answer is that I do this as a worship leader virtually every Sunday. And so do many of the artists and composers mentioned above because their music context is continually changing.

But back to John Piper and this particular emphasis of “meaning” in a hymn. Honestly? I don’t see anything particularly blasphemous or damning in the verses he added—both in adding them and the contents of their message. I get it. I get the argument about how, in this instance of adding, the theology and the tone of the song can change and original meaning can be stretched. But the fact these additional verses might take a more Calvinist turn since Piper is Calvinist (which, I would argue you could impose whatever spin you want on virtually any text if you played with it and stretched it long enough; and the verses in question don’t exactly scream from the TULIPS) I think enhances the tapestry of faithful beliefs and meanings in a hymn. As to whether I like the additions? Meh. They worked for his context and probably won’t show up in a worship service I lead. Happy hymnody!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

1.

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be

Refrain:

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me

2.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

3.

Pardon for sin
And a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer
And to guide
Strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside

John Piper’s apparently miasmic additions

I could not love Thee, so blind and unfeeling;
Covenant promises fell not to me.
Then without warning, desire, or deserving,
I found my Treasure, my pleasure, in Thee.

I have no merit to woo or delight Thee,
I have no wisdom or pow’rs to employ;
Yet in thy mercy, how pleasing thou find’st me,
This is Thy pleasure: that Thou art my joy.

 


final-bridges2Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled 1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It That Way Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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“What is God Calling Me To Do?”

“What is God calling me to do?”  If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself that question I would have that vacation home I’ve dreamed about for so long.  For many years I questioned whether or not something was wrong with me because, unlike so many around me, I felt no calling on my life.  I felt as if I were drifting through life, working to pay the bills, feeling angry that I couldn’t find my passion, my calling.  Many nights were spent in tearful prayer, begging God to reveal a plan for my life.  I kept thinking, “There has to be more to life than this.”   I couldn’t escape the feeling that God created me for something greater than just aimless living, that surely I had a purpose.

I can’t tell you that I have answered this question of “what God is calling me to do.”  If you google this question you will find many who have attempted to answer this, and many more who are seeking answers.  So many of us want an easy answer, we want to see it in black and white – a billboard on our highway of life, “Mikel, you should ______ – Love, God.”  If only.
It’s not that easy, however, there is beauty in that.  There is much to be learned in the journey, whatever that journey looks like.  By not limiting my identity or purpose to one thing, my “calling” if you will, I have been able to live a myriad of experiences.  I have learned so much about myself.  I have discovered I am stronger than I ever believed I could be.  I have learned to depend on other people more than makes me comfortable.  I have learned to expect the unexpected and to never get so comfortable that I become complacent.  I have learned to stop comparing my callings to other people and I have learned that even those who think they have life figured out, are just as lost as the rest of us.
The danger in trying to answer the question of “what is God calling me to” is that we often forget the live the life that we were given.  We forget that God is speaking to us in the quiet, in the chaos, in the mess, in the emptiness.  We can forget that we have an opportunity to live our best lives where ever we are.  We can get so caught up in the searching we don’t realize that we are already at our destination, and that our destination can change as we change.
We tend to make things more complicated than they are.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  However, I have learned to find peace in my uncertainty in knowing that there are really only three things we need to worry about: Love God, Love others, Love yourself.  If we can manage that, even to a degree, the rest will fall into place.  Enjoy the journey.

13087918_10154164251769938_6289861413863975931_nMikel is the woman behind Zach’s beard.  She made from peppermint mocha, Christmas cheer, and adventure.  Mikel lives in North West Montana with her wonderful husband and kids.  She loves a good adventure and being in the mountains.  (Don’t tell anyone but I’m pretty sure she’s Wonder Woman!)

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Make Someone Smile Every Day

Zach asked that I, as a bearded non-theologian, Google “What is God calling me to do” and react to the 15,800,000 search results.  I am afraid, dear readers, Zach didn’t know what he was getting into asking me to do this.

At first look, 15,800,000 search results seem overwhelming until you compare it to the population of the USA at 325,244,591 people (5% of the population) and even less when compared to the world’s population of 7,600,000,000 people (.2% of the population).   When evaluated as percentages of populations, those search results don’t seem as overwhelming to me.  It is undeniable that people are searching for answers and direction in their life, but what does this mean?  What do we do?  I will be honest with you: I don’t know.

I am admittedly not a religious person and I don’t know I would consider myself a spiritual person.  I am not someone that has motivational quotes hanging around my house or office nor do I have any sayings that I live by.  I do have two thoughts that have stayed with me a long time that I will share that I think help answer the question “What is God calling me to”.  Hopefully, it will resonate with a reader or two.  If not, I blame Zach.

When I watched the movie The Book of Eli I had no clue what it was about.  I knew that Denzel Washington was in it and I generally enjoy his acting.  The entire movie I was trying to figure out what book could possibly be so important that he went to the lengths he did to protect it and deliver it to its destination.  Of course, at the end of the movie we learn it was the Bible, but that is not what stuck with me.  After the book had been delivered, Solara told Eli she never thought he’d give up the book because it was too important to him.  He replied that it was, but he got so caught up in protecting it he forgot to live by what he learned from it.  Solara asked him what that was and it’s his reply to this question that I think answers the question at hand:

 

 To Do More for Other Than You do for Yourself

 

I read an article several years ago about the importance of paying compliments to people when you like something about them, what they did, etc.  While the article covered a lot of ground, my take away from the article was a piece about always complimenting someone, especially a child, when you like the shirt they are wearing.  The author’s point, in short, was everyone gets dressed with purpose each day so an affirmation of their style choices will bring a smile to their face.  After reading that, I aimed to tell at least one person each day that I liked something they were wearing.  My only rule for myself was I had to mean it when I said it.  Not surprisingly, the author was correct.  I don’t believe I have paid a compliment to one person on their shirt, hat, shoes, tattoo, whatever and they didn’t smile when I did so.  Smiles tend to be like yawns in that they are contagious.  They would smile, I would smile and maybe someone around us joins in on the conversation and smiles as well.  Plainly, it feels good to make someone smile.  This one doesn’t wrap up as nicely as the Book of Eli quote, so we will call it:

 

Make Someone Smile Every Day

 

I don’t profess to be much more than a bearded non-theologian, but if I were to offer an answer to life’s biggest question, It would be that your happiness can be found in the service and happiness of others.  This is something instilled in me from a young age by my parents and I continue to find it to be truer every day.


23798220_1894676887529031_1721846366_oThomas Wilson somehow managed to find a woman (Susan) to marry him and have two children (Stockton and Marley) with him. In his spare time, he binge-watches shows on Netflix and swears he will catch up on his backlog of audible books. He recently received the news that he may be a bearded theologian, after all. Thomas holds records in the Youth Baseball League -Coach Pitch, for the number of perfect games thrown in a season (8) and the number of batters hit by pitch (9) in a single game.

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Puff Sleeve Theology -6 Tips to Discover Your Calling

Two months ago, I moved back into my old room at my dad’s house – totally living the millennial dream, folks – and I discovered that my brother had convinced my dad to subscribe to Netflix. If you knew my dad, a man who refuses to use electric or gas heat in the winter because it is expensive, you would understand this feat might as well have been Harry Potter level witchcraft.

While I still have not unraveled the mystery of how my brother arranged this, it means my dad has access to the internet and Netflix. It also means, by extension, that I have access to the internet and Netflix. Since winter is coming and I live in a cold house, this is an exorbitant luxury for which I am extremely grateful…and last night, I discovered the Netflix original series, Anne with an E. As a child I loved these books, so naturally I had to watch the first episode.

It was beautifully done, but what struck me most as an adult is this little girl’s obsession with puff sleeves. She is absolutely maniacal about these sleeves, y’all. She wants them so much she speaks about them incessantly, and I feel like every other scene mentions these blasted sleeves.

(At this point, if you are wondering how Anne with an E has anything to do with God’s calling, we’re almost there.)

She is obsessed to the point she cannot let go of the possibility that one day these sleeves will adorn her tiny shoulders. She talks about them to others, imagines how they will look, and requests them at the first opportunity in her new home. Anne might be a childish fictional character, but her behavior reflects our own. When we want something badly enough, we obsess over it. We talk about whatever our obsession is constantly to anyone who will listen, we research it, we imagine it over and over again, and we often idealize it.

This connection between Anne and our own obsessive nature led me to a question. What kind of responses would I find, if I became obsessed with determining my calling? Would the answers I found be helpful or inspiring? What would I learn, if I googled – What is God calling me to do?

What I found were surprisingly well written recommendations that would help guide someone away from being merely obsessed to being meaningfully focused on discerning his or her calling.

These are the top four tips I discovered from googled blogs and articles:

  • Pray: You should be talking to God about your calling at least as much as Anne talks about puff sleeves. God does not grow weary of this conversation, so have it often.

 

  • Dive into scripture and listen carefully to what compels your heart to action: God wants you to know your purpose and fully live the abundant life Christ gives. Often the best way to discover your calling is simply to read God’s word and embrace the pieces of scripture that stir you to make the world a better place, to seek justice for those who are oppressed, and to serve as a witness of God’s amazing love.

 

  • Acknowledge that your job does not have to be your calling and that is acceptable: Your calling is far more than a profession or trade. Do your best not to limit God by determining that your calling and your job must be synonymous. God has been known to use a volunteer or two. Last time I checked Exodus, Moses didn’t get paid to drag the Israelites out of Egypt. Noah didn’t receive a commission for every animal he welcomed onto the ark and Lydia wasn’t on the clock when she provided hospitality to Paul. In fact, her secular job is what allowed her to live into a calling outside the realm of her professional work.

 

  • Trust God to help you discover your calling, but try not to be discouraged if God does not provide something tailored just for you: Our greatest calling is simply to be a disciple, who loves God and our neighbors. God might not call you to be a specialist, but God calls each of us to be practitioners of our faith. God calls us all to serve as a witness of Christ’s love and grace. The calling of discipleship transcends everything else.

 

When we are as obsessed as Anne is with puff sleeves, however, we rarely stop with Google. As I have tried to discern my calling, with my own Anne-like tendencies, I have discovered two additional recommendations that are completely obvious, but no less helpful.

 

  • Talk to other people about your calling: Family, friends, and mentors who know you best can often see your calling before you do. Listen to their words of wisdom and ask them to pray for your discernment. Lastly, listen to the people God puts on your path. God does an amazing job of confirming our gifts, talents, and calling when we listen.

 

  • Your calling can change: This is not a heretical statement. While our call to discipleship will not change, the ways in which God uses us for higher purposes can evolve and that transformative process, no matter how unnerving, can be God ordained.

I believe when our obsession with finding the “perfect” answer to the question of calling ends, then God can do the transformative work required to guide us in our callings…so let go of your perfect puff sleeves and enjoy the journey. I promise, whether you are a specialist or a disciple at-large, living your calling will be the greatest adventure of your life.


19732366_847958712354_4601996656973187886_nMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school.  After 7 years in communication, fundraising, and development serving five conferences and a short stint in fundraising consulting, I have been given the amazing opportunity to return home. Now, I am serving the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church in communications and I am beyond thrilled about this gig!  Currently, in my spare time, I am teaching my dad how to check his voicemail on his new smartphone.