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Singing for Apprentices?!

“Why are you going to seminary to study worship? All a song leader needs to do is open the hymnal and choose 3 songs.”s-l225

My aunt said this to me just before my family and I moved to Eastern Mennonite Seminary in 1994. I was pursuing a church leadership degree with a focus on congregational worship and music. My wife and I have often chuckled about her words. Yet they stay with me for two reasons.

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Trusting slowness

“There is one fault I must find with the twentieth century,

And I’ll put it in a couple of words: Too adventury.

What I’d like would be some nice dull monotony

If anyone’s gotony.”

I recently stumbled upon these words by Ogden Nash. (My high school music teacher, John Neufeld, first introduced me to Nash with the couplet: “”The Bronx? No thonx!”) Nash’s poem about monotony reminds me that my life too often feels as if it’s moving so quickly that I lack the capacity for creativity and joy—and prayer.

For that reason, during my walks home last week, I was comforted and inspired by this poem by the Jesuit (and priest, philosopher, palaeontologist, and geologist) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. More specifically, I was reminded that God’s work of transformation often feels like disorientation (sometimes for a long time) before it feels like re-orientation. I therefore found myself invited to trust God with the incomplete and confusing details that I experience in myself, and in the church.

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

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The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer—perhaps more helpfully referred to as Jesus’ Prayer, since it incorporates the kinds of prayers he himself prayed during his adult life—is, in my opinion, the best prayer and model for prayer that Christians can use. In a few weeks,

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How Faith Prays

During this first week of the Christian New Year, I wondered whether I might choose a suitable prayer as a focus for this year’s Advent season. That question reminded me that when I was a pastor, I once used the four Sundays of Advent to focus the congregation’s attention on four prayers associated with the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel: the prayers of Mary, Zechariah, angels, and Simeon. With that memory, a phrase came to mind: “…and who am I to merit your attention?”

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Praying the Ordinary

Poems are wonderfully evocative. With just a few lines, a poem evokes an image, a memory, a possibility, or a feeling. When I recall Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” Bruce Cockburn’s “If I had a rocket launcher,” and Earle Birney’s “David,” I readily picture autumn leaves; I imagine righteous anger; I feel inner horror. Recently, I read a poem by Angeline Schellenberg that 

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Also Praying on Vacation

During one of my early years as a pastor, I remember eagerly looking forward to spending a couple of weeks of traveling on a family vacation. Before I left on that trip, an elderly Baptist minister suggested that even while I was on vacation, I should be alert to ways that God might want me to be a reconciling presence with people I met. I took that advice to heart, and had a remarkably rich vacation as a result.

Looking back, however, I also recognize the importance and even necessity for pastors and their families to receive rest and relief from the demands of pastoral life and ministry, which can often feel relentless. To my Baptist friend, I would now say that it’s also vital for pastors to take regular sabbath-ing breaks. In other words, a vacation needs to be more than an extension of one’s pastoral ministries and duties. It can also be a much-needed occasion for being renewed by God’s loving Spirit.

These two perspectives mean that when I’m on vacation, I’m to live as an apprentice of Jesus AND it is good for me to enjoy rest from my work.  With that in mind, I’m attracted to a prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that names the dependency on God and the honesty before God that I’m convinced is just as important for daily life as for being refreshed. I’ve copied an English translation of Bonhoeffer’s prayer below. It is followed by a short song from the Taizé Christian Community in France; this song has often become an earworm for me, and has nurtured me in my life with God.

May God bless you (and me) with a wonderful summer of living in God’s way.


O God, early in the morning I cry to you.

Help me to pray

And to concentrate my thoughts on you: I cannot do this alone.

In me there is darkness, but with you there is light;

I am lonely, but you do not leave me;

I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;

I am restless, but with you there is peace.

In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;

I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me….

Restore me to liberty, and enable me to live now,

that I may answer before you and before me.

Lord, whatever this day may bring, Your name be praised.


Here is my rough and more-or-less singable English translation of Aber du weißt den Weg for mich (click here to listen):

God, gather all my thoughts and then turn them to you.

With you is the light; you forget me not.

With you there is help; with you is patience too.

I do not__ understand your ways, but you know the way__ for me.


Credits: https://ilifejourney.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/bonhoeffers-prayer and http://www.taize.fr/spip.php?page=chant&song=4633&lang=en

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The Psalms, and Praying Hatred

Growing up, my Christian teachers said that I could—and should—talk to God conversationally, just as if I was talking to a friend. (Although my Dad also cautioned me against speaking to God too casually, because God is more than a buddy) All this good advice was unsurprising, since I grew up in a church that valued extemporaneous instead of written prayers.

The corollary to this teaching was that I could—and should—

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Why do Christians Pray? (Part 2)

What happens when you thank someone? Think back to the last time you thanked a bank teller, the cook in your home, a child who cleaned up his Lego set, a grandparent who recalled a bit of her history, or the greeter who held the door open for you at Walmart. Try 

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Why do Christians pray? (Part 1)

Christians struggle to pray. Or at least, that’s what I hear. Church attenders, my students, and pastors all express to me their dissatisfaction with how they pray. They’ve heard that they should pray. They want to pray. But they tell me that they don’t pray enough, that they’re not sure how to pray, or that they have some other frustration with their prayers. I hear people express guilt that they pray too little, or that they don’t pray the way they’ve been taught to pray.

There’s something wrong with this picture. 

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A Christmas Prayer

Recently, I received a newsletter from the Northumbria Community, in which the following prayer caught my eye—and heart. Written by Pete Askew, these words capture many of my desires at this time of year. I’m spending my days grading, preparing courses, and writing and rewriting—while also