Learning to "Pray with the Church"

At the beginning of our spiritual formation classes at the university we always offer prayer in some form with which the students are not very familiar. A couple weeks ago I was preparing a brief service of Taizé-style prayer using Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro) as the primary resource as I had earlier decided to do. And then I read the reflection for the week:

“On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a mother has the legal right to end her pregnancy up until the point at which the fetus can live outside of her womb. We lament the death of each child lost to abortion. We pray for each parent who has chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And we commit to become a people who welcome life in a culture of death…

“Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century North African bishop, wrote, “The world is going mad in mutual extermination, and murder, considered as a crime when committed individually, becomes a virtue when it is committed by large numbers. It is the multiplication of the frenzy that assures impunity to the assassins.”

Now I don’t think I am prone to unnecessarily shy away from this issue. I have often told people that I think abortion should be illegal except in cases or rape and incest. And I’m still theologically working through even this exception. I don’t have a problem with the reflection offered for this day, except maybe pairing Cyprian’s comments on war with a reflection on abortion without explaining the contrasts.

But our normal mode of operation as an ecumenical campus ministry is to avoid emphasizing where various strands of Christianity would differ on an issue. We fully recognize that there are theological reasons for a variety of positions on this and other issues. Individual members of our staff might speak out on one or another of these positions. But rarely would we address these topics in worship because we hope for the worship that we organize to be a place where all Christians can gather together.

But that is one of the great formative aspects of “praying with the church.” That phrase refers to the practice of praying through a set of prayers and times that are handed down from the tradition. These prayers in many cases have been used for generations or even centuries within the life of the Church. In one sense, the practice of preaching the lectionary, the three year cycle of prescribed readings for worship, is another instance of this. Praying with the church describes a prayer life that is submitted to the Church’s tradition of prayer rather than following only the whim or desire of the individual who prays.

And this tradition will often bring us to those Bible verses or prayers that we would otherwise not read or pray. It brings us to those verses about money and judgment and purity that we would prefer to forget about. And causes us to say prayers of commitment and allegiance to those callings from God as well.

Many of us would much rather read just those parts of the Bible that suit us. We would rather pray in the way that is most encouraging. We want to practice those spiritual disciplines that are most comfortable. But to pray with the church says that maybe there is a more holistic way of being a disciple of Jesus. And if only I will pray along with the great tradition of prayer that is forged over time by a great many disciples under the guidance of the Spirit, then maybe I will become a fully formed disciple yet.

While I really like the prayer book that we were using (Common Prayer), I would really encourage you to find out what prayer guidance is offered from your tradition. Do you have a prayer list that is published by your denomination regularly? Do you have a daily liturgy and lectionary such as the Book of Common Prayer? Are you willing to submit yourself to the great saints of your own church to let them lead you in prayer? Do you trust these saints that much?

If you don’t have something like this in your tradition, then I would recommend the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office Lectionary that is available electronically here.

You can also get a hardback copy of the Book of Common Prayer very inexpensively.

I also highly recommend the book mentioned above, Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro).

Related Post: Words of Grace for Inadequate Christians

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Music for the "Emerging Church"

A friend asked me recently what it would mean to do music for the emerging church. I thought a trite answer in passing would simply not do, and I have yet to write anything on the matter. Here it goes.

There is no simple “Look at what these artists” are doing for the emerging church. I don’t think there could be such a simple guide. But I think I can name a few trends that I have seen as relevant.

First, emerging church people like things that are old, but they don’t want them to seem old. There is a desire to connect with the historic church, especially the very early church. Of course, very little of the Second and Third centuries’ music is readily available. In absence of this, songs more than 100 years old will do. Remade hymns are very popular. They need to be “remade” because many emerging congregations are led in music by guitar-driven bands and the formerly organ-driven music doesn’t translate well. This is not only because the harmonization is hard to reproduce, but more importantly that the rhythms are wrong. I’m not a trained musician, but years of leading worship has told me that I can play the wrong chords in a modern worship song but I can’t mess up the syncopation. Rhythm drives modern music even more than melody or harmonization. The best of these remade hymns have been done by Passion Hymns: Ancient and Modern and The Odes Project. The first project consists of hymns which have been modified to work with guitar rhythms and often add a very singable and simple chorus/refrain between verses. A multitude of other projects are available with a little internet searching. (NOTE: DO NOT try to introduce these remade hymns into a church which loves to sing hymns and think that you will make your “traditional” church into a “contemporary” one. The differences will make the “hymns people” go crazy. This only works one direction because the guitar and rock rhythms are the uniting factor, not the lyrics or melodies. Contemporary churches can use these, traditional ones cannot. I have tried it in two different churches and it failed MISERABLY both times.) The Odes Project takes some first century worship songs and puts them to music. I haven’t used them, but I imagine they have great potential with emerging church types….just give them the history of what they are singing and they will love it.

Second, and this is related to the first, “emerging church” types are tired of shallow theology. “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” and “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” just will not cut it with these folks. This is part of the reason they like the hymns projects, they have some theological depth. They don’t want to lose the singability of these earlier songs though. On a practical note, I have found that the best songs for this group are the ones with great theological depth in the verses and a very simple and singable chorus and, hopefully, a simple bridge also. While “emerging church” types do not want an overly simple sermon with trite answers to all of life’s questions, they similarly don’t want their music to express such a world either. The world is complex and mysterious, music and sermons should be too. I think much of the music by the Passion music label is going to take you in the right direction (especially David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, and Matt Redman).

Third, passion is more important than polish. Jeremy Camp and Rita Springer are cool, Hillsongs are not. The former artists sing their heart out in every moment. They are experiencing their own music, even in the studio. Hillsongs seems (though I don’t believe that this is their ministry hearts) to be more about strong harmony than connection with God. Four part harmony is cool once in a while, but don’t lose the total abandonment for the Good News of Christ. Worship leaders should be selected on the depth of their worship. Does their singing and playing come out of a deep desire to bring glory to God? This should come out in their worship in church too. Don’t choose the better vocalist, choose the more sold out worshiper. Don’t choose the song that sounds the prettiest, use the songs which make your worship leaders and your congregation want to sing their heart out.

I would suggest that the quintessential “emerging church” worship song is “Joyous Light” by Chris Tomlin. This song is a revision of the oldest hymn in continuous use in the church today. Some would suggest that “Phos Hilaron,” often translated in English as “Hail Gladdening Light,” was written in the late third century. The Orthodox churches of the East still sing the song daily at evening prayer. In Tomlin’s revisions, the song is infinitely singable, retains the basic lyric and structure of the original, and has a chorus that is best sung as if it is an anthem.

Here is his lyric:
Hail Gladdening Light, sun so bright
Jesus Christ, end of night, alleluia
Hail Gladdening Light, Eternal Bright
In evening time, ’round us shine, alleluia, alleluia
Hail Gladdening Light, such joyous Light
O Brilliant Star, forever shine, alleluia, alleluia

We hymn the Father, we hymn the Son
We hymn the Spirit, wholly Divine
No one more worthy of songs to be sung
To the Giver of Life, all glory is Thine

When I have shared the story of this song with young adults, I have rarely heard an ambivalent response. Young adults are desperate to be a part of something bigger than themselves, even when they sing.  Singing an ancient song with passion gets to the heart of that.

There is one other thing, music-related but not necessarily worship related. Emerging church types also really like the “protest songs gone Christian” of people like Derek Webb. (My personal favorite is one of his earlier albums “She Must and Shall Go Free.”) They aren’t really meant to be sung congregationally, but they work in other aspects of a worship service.

I hope some of that is helpful. If you have some comments or additional music selections, then please add them and lets start a conversation. What music are you doing for “emergents” that is working? Is there anything here that you just disagree with? Have I named too many main stream musicians to “really” be emerging church music?

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