Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lessons, Carols, Memories

Today was a long church day. I went to the usual 10:30am service, but it was not a Eucharist. We saved that for an afternoon visit from the bishop, so the morning service was a "lessons and carols" service. Lots of singing, congregationally and chorally, I'm generally an all-Eucharist, all the time kinda guy, but this morning's lessons and carols service was full of many memories.

I saw the text for this piece in the bulletin, to be sung by the choir. I think I've heard a different tune with this text and so was cautiously excited to see it there. Luckily, it was the tune I knew.
I first heard this piece when I was in seminary, 20 years ago. I think I was there during a bit of a golden era for the choir. There were some amazing voices in it and so I was able to blend in and sound not half bad. Our choir director, Russell Shulz, was so great with us, pushing us and making us better. It was my primary creative expression during seminary (with the exception of the occasional liturgical dance) and I loved the people I breathed with to make beautiful music like this.

Of course, I also thought of friends like Jeff, Pat, and Kathy, all of them no longer singing in any earthly choir. Bittersweet, to be sure, but the sweetness was worth the loss. I trust I will sing with them again someday.

And to speak on the text for just a second---it's a lovely twist to take what we've traditionally said was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil---an apple tree---and redeem it as a metaphor for Jesus himself.

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest awhile
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

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We sang, congregationally, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." It is one of those moments of culture shock from joining a new congregation and a new denomination. They don't always use the "right" tune for the hymns you love. It's fine, the tune that's in Hymnal 1982 is a fine tune, but lacking for me. If you want to know the tune I know and can sing with more gusto, you should turn in the Lutheran Book of Worship, which you no doubt have at hand, to hymn #30. I just did and sang it for myself. Sometimes we have to meet our own needs, particularly the ones steeped in nostalgia. 

I couldn't find a YouTube version I liked enough to post, however. Search at your own peril. 

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My Episcopalian family can rock "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People." The tune is correct, anyway, and the tempo was perfect. It needs dancing, but, well, neither Lutherans nor Episcopalians are all that keen on that expression of worship, so whatevs. I still grooved on it. It's also a great paraphrase of Isaiah 40

This video probably isn't the best version of it to be found, but it has the organ and bongo combo that works better that you'd want to imagine. If only there were dancing! 

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One of the lessons was Isaiah 6:1-11. It's the calling of Isaiah to the role of prophet. He protests, "I am a man of unclean lips!" Boy did that hit home. The last couple of weeks has had me wondering about what kind of hubris does it take to keep a blog anyway? That God still calls Isaiah somewhat encourages me to keep at this, stumbling, trying to figure out what God would have me say through all this typing I do. My "unclean typing" maybe will serve something someday somewhere.

Obviously, this rather light-hearted post has nothing to do with that tonight. But it was something I heard in today's lessons. 

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Another danceable hymn is "People Look East." Of course, we didn't dance it. Well, I did a little bit where I stood in my pew. I do wonder if I would let loose if people would join in or if I'd be escorted out. The world may never know. 

Although I've sung this plenty of times in Lutheran contexts, my earliest memory of it was at seminary, which was an Episcopal campus, so I guess it's fitting that several of these carols sung at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church bring to mind seminary days. 

My first encounter with this one came in the form of, I believe, a quartet of Episcopalian students, all men as I recall, turning east at the appropriate moments and other bits of silliness. It was almost like a dance, I guess, so no wonder it made an impression on me. 

Here's some Presbyterians singing it. If nothing else, it proves the Presbys don't dance, either. 

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Another lesson was Zephaniah 3:14-18. The thing this brought to mind was when I was in college and writing songs with my best friend, Dean. I did lyrics and Dean did the music. I did a paraphrase of this. I seem to remember taking a challenge to write a lyric based on whatever I opened the Bible to. Or using something from a book that no one really talked about much. Anyway, all I remember was that it started with "Sing and shout! Rejoice everyone!" It had some odd rhythms and we somehow tricked our former high school choir director to sing it in church one Sunday. 

I haven't seriously tried to write a song in a very long time. That's probably okay. 

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The second half of Luke, chapter 1, was read. A friend posted to Facebook this evening, wondering how people read Mary's song and not expect disruptions and such from God? How do they read the upside down world of Mary's praise and still hold "conservative values" as a desirable thing? 

Well, there is that, isn't there? 

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.  

Do bankers and Wall Streeters read this as only allegorical and not pertaining to them? Well, it's worth remembering that to a large population of this planet, I'm one of those powerful and rich, too. But if nothing else, it should bring about some sort of humility in claiming material wealth as blessings, no? 

That little virgin had some troubling things to sing. I admit, I don't know completely what to do with her. 

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Those are my main thoughts this last Sunday of Advent, 2014. The rest of the day was fine, too. I've been in a terribly grumpy mood of late. This day was filled with good music, good friends, and good memories evoked. The news has been full of terrible things of late, things to be taken seriously and not to be ignored. 

But was a blessing to be reminded that some of the best things in the world are not reported by news sites, but can be found in breathing prayers and songs and less serious things with friends (even despite the lack of dancing). 

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