This Is the Day

fullsizeoutput_204fLast week I posted a blog entry called “Progress.” It was an update on the progress I’m making on my latest writing project, a devotional series based on my favorite hymns. The first part of the series will be a booklet of reflections based on 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns. My first draft of last week’s blog post was too long to expect you to read all of it, so I chopped off the last several paragraphs of the post. Here’s the rest of it – what you didn’t get last week.

The next Psalm-based hymn I wrote about in my booklet (after the four hymns based on Psalm 100) is “This Is the Day.” This hymn, written just 50 years ago, is a short, simple song that is a direct quote from the King James Version of Psalm 118:24. Les Garrett put the words of this verse to music. He was a pastor and traveling evangelist, originally from New Zealand.

The music is based on a Fiji folk tune. Musically, it has a simple call and response pattern, which makes it easy to learn, and easy to add verses to. Garrett wrote only the first verse, or should I say copied the words of Psalm 118:24 as verse one. Today the hymn is often published in hymnals with additional verses that have been added anonymously by oral tradition, a good example of the call and response pattern prompting other people to add new verses to a hymn.

fullsizeoutput_2056One of the books I’m reading as part of my own devotional reading this year is JESUS ALWAYS by Sarah Young. In the “Introduction” to her book, Young writes, “I enjoy singing this short, simple song in the morning, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ It helps me approach the day as a precious gift from God – remembering that every breath I breathe is from Him.”

During my last stay at Christmas Mountain, I re-read Young’s “Introduction,” and I decided to place “This Is the Day” as the next hymn after the four Psalm 100 hymns in my booklet. I’ve adopted Sarah Young’s practice of singing “This Is the Day” every morning as I begin my day. I even started to play with the call and response pattern of the song, and came up with some of my own words.

What can I do, What can I do
to reflect God’s love, to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind, I can be kind
to everyone, to everyone.
What can I do to reflect God’s love?
I can be kind to everyone.
What can I do, What can I do,
to reflect God’s love.

I’m not a hymn writer, but it was a fun exercise, and it reinforced for me that music, and the Psalms in particular, are wonderful gifts from God. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”

fullsizeoutput_2054

Progress

imagesLast week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells again for a 4-day, solitary getaway. I packed heavier than usual this time. It took me 9 trips to bring everything from the car into the condo. I had one small suitcase with a few clothes, 3 briefcases full of books and notebooks, my computer, my piano keyboard with its ironing board-like stand and folding bench, a step stool so I can reach the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards (where the wine glasses are kept), an ice chest, and a bag of groceries. I’m not a backpacker when I travel. I like to have everything with me that I might “need.” Needless to say, I make myself comfortable in my 1100-square-foot timeshare.

I spent most of my 4 days sleeping, reading, working on my latest writing project, and going for walks when it wasn’t raining or snowing. I had a nice, relaxing time, and I made good progress on my writing project.

fullsizeoutput_2052Several months ago, when I stopped blogging weekly, I defined my next major writing project to be a daily devotional book that will be reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started the project last fall by creating a list of all my favorite hymns and sorting them into the most appropriate month for each hymn.

By October, I was ready to start writing about the hymns for November – mostly hymns related to All Saints Day and Thanksgiving. I did my research on the background of each of those 30 hymns, and I contemplated my personal reasons for liking each hymn.

I designed a 2-page spread to follow for each hymn. The left page will include the hymn title, the tune name, the author of the hymn text including a brief bio of the author, the composer of the tune including a brief bio of the composer, the scripture the hymn is based on, and finally the story I want to tell about the significance of the hymn – what will make the book a devotional rather than just an annotated index to hymns I like. The right page will be a lead sheet for the hymn. I plan to create these lead sheets myself using Finale music writing software in order to address copyright concerns.

I have done most of this thinking, organizing, and writing during a few 2- or 3- day writing retreats at Christmas Mountain over the last several months. At home I’m too busy with other things to focus on such a big project. Over the past 10 years, most of my Christmas Mountain getaways have involved some writing – either writing blog posts or working on bigger projects like this.

fullsizeoutput_2051Late last fall when I had about a quarter of the November hymn devotions drafted, I decided to jump ahead to December’s hymns.

When I was about half done with December’s hymns, I decided to jump ahead to January’s hymns.

When I finished writing all 31 of January’s hymn devotions, I decided to change my approach. Rather than organizing the hymns seasonally, I decided to come up with 12 themes or styles of music, and to organize my favorite hymns within those 12 categories.

Each month will have a particular focus, rather than just being a collection of 30 or so separate hymns that loosely relate to the time of year. I’m currently envisioning this project as being twelve 68-page, self-published booklets. When they are all written I’ll decide whether or not I want to re-publish them as a single book.

My 12 themes, subject to change, are:

  1. Psalms
  2. God’s Love
  3. Lent
  4. Easter
  5. New Life
  6. Nature
  7. Classic Hymns
  8. Spirituals
  9. Gospel Songs
  10. Contemporary Styles
  11. Thankfulness
  12. Christmas

Obviously, many of my favorite hymns could fall into more than one category. Maybe I’ll incorporate cross references in the introduction to each section.

fullsizeoutput_204fI decided to start with Psalms because that’s where church music has it’s beginnings. In my “Introduction” to the Psalms booklet, I wrote:

God loved us so much that God gave us the ability to express ourselves through music. And God told us to use that gift. We are supposed to make music. The Bible is filled with examples of how to do that.…

The book of Psalms is often referred to as the hymnbook of the Bible. It consists of 150 poems set to music. Many of them are songs of praise addressed directly to God. Others are laments, sometimes blaming God for the sorry state the singer is in. Some of the Psalms plead with God for help. All the Psalms can be viewed as tools that can help us express our feelings to God, all kinds of feelings, both good and bad, or maybe it’s better to say happy and sad, peaceful and frustrated….

Over the years, many of these Psalm-based hymns have become favorites of mine. I can identify with the words, and the music helps me express the feelings within my soul….

I started the Psalm booklet with what is perhaps the most widely sung song throughout the English-speaking world today, Psalm 100, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.” This well-known paraphrase of Psalm 100 was written by William Kethe for the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, published in 1561. The hymn has been published in more than 1,000 hymnals since that time. It is usually sung to a tune called “OLD HUNDREDTH,” composed by Louis Bourgeois in the mid-1500s.

fullsizeoutput_203a

But this isn’t the only hymn out there that’s based on Psalm 100. About a hundred years later, Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest, wrote another paraphrase of Psalm 100, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” often referred to as the “Doxology.” This hymn is also sung to the “OLD HUNDREDTH” tune. (This is the hymn we sang every Sunday while the ushers brought our offerings to the front of the church in the Methodist church where I grew up. We also sang it as the blessing at potlucks.)

About the same time this hymn was first being sung in England, Joachim Neander, a German Reformed Church teacher, wrote a much looser paraphrase of Psalm 100, and adapted a German folk tune to serve as the music for “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” This tune is now referred to as “LOBE DEN HERREN.” Two hundred years later, Neander’s paraphrase was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth. Her translation of this hymn has been published in more than 300 hymnals.

Over the centuries, many other hymns have been written based closely or loosely on Psalm 100. One of the most recent hymns that falls into the “loosely” category is “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” written by prolific contemporary hymn writer Marty Haugen. He used a Caribbean folk tune to carry his joyful hymn.

The first 8 pages of the Psalms section of my devotional hymns project are devoted to Psalm 100, as expressed in these 4 hymns.

037615d43a4eb23542337b122c5d54d1The original song writer of Psalm 100 must be delighted to know how far and wide this Psalm has spread, especially considering that the Psalm begins with the words, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing…” [Psalm 100:1-2 KJV] Millions of people have been singing this song of praise for thousands of years. I’m delighted to be counted among them!

That’s why I’m committed to undertaking this large writing project. I want to become even more aware of how valuable God’s gift of music is, and I want to share that awareness with others.

e5656c867b0ffc61897633574d32e580

Remember Me?

Eight months ago I stopped publishing my blog every week. Now I post an entry sporadically, averaging about one a month. The one thing I’ve been consistent about is always publishing on Tuesday morning. Today that tradition ends, too. It’s Friday. Specifically, it’s Good Friday, and there’s something on my mind that I want to share with you.

SKM_C22717041309390For the past several years, our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, has published a daily devotional booklet to be used during Lent. In January, members of the congregation are invited to volunteer to write a one-page reflection on a Bible verse that will be assigned to them. Every year volunteer writers range in age from elementary school children to very senior citizens. The resulting booklet is a wonderful devotional aid for all of us to read throughout lent. Here’s a link to this year’s booklet on the church website: http://www.messiahchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-Lenten-Booklet-MASTER.pdf

I’ve volunteered to be one of the writers every year. But the verse assigned to me in 2014 just didn’t speak to me. I had no idea what to write about, and I discussed that concern with my partner Mim. The verse was:

Jesus crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Mim said, “Oh, I can write about that.” And even though Mim hates to write, she did it. She started her reflection with, “Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last…” It was the perfect verse for Mim to write about.

This year my verse is also from the book of Luke, and again it’s the one scheduled for Good Friday.

One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

I decided to give my reflection double duty by posting it on this blog as well as having it appear in our church’s devotional booklet.

fullsizeoutput_204dWhy in the world did one of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Jesus ask Jesus to remember him? Why was it important to this criminal to be remembered by Jesus?  Why was the question important enough to Luke that he included it in his Gospel?

We all want to think that we matter as a person. At the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail (where I volunteer as pianist), we take time to pray for each other.  The inmates, the chaplain, and I sit in chairs arranged in a circle. Each person shares what’s going on in her life as we go around the circle sharing our thoughts and feelings. Then we pray for each other by name. The person on my left prays out loud for me. Then I pray for the person sitting on my right. Then she prays for the person on her right, and so on. Each person is remembered. Each person is important in God’s eyes. And each person needs to know that.

I think that’s why the criminal on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. He needed to know that he mattered, that Jesus would remember him. Jesus reassured him that he would. In the very next verse Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

One of my favorite prayers in our hymnal is “Jesus, Remember Me.” It’s a simple Taize chant that repeats the words of this verse over and over again. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.…”

Yesterday I played the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail again. I don’t play there twice a month any more like I used to. I just play occasionally for special services. Yesterday was a special service to observe all of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. That’s a lot to cover in a little more than an hour. But with all of that, we took time to sing four hymns. One of them was “Jesus, Remember Me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Luke had a very good reason for including the criminal’s request in his Gospel. That’s my request, too.

CeZTpf2UYAAwkCl

Trying to Remember a Song

Do you ever have one of those songs that keeps running through your mind, over and over and over again, but you can’t quite remember the whole song?

That’s happening to me right now. Actually, the song has been going through my mind for over a week, and I just can’t remember the whole thing. I’ve even spent loads of time on the Internet trying to google it without success.

Singing Xmas Tree 1964

Can you find me?

The song is a choral anthem that the church choir sang when I was in high school, about 1965 or ’66. It’s the only anthem that I specifically remember singing during the high school and college years I sang in the choir.

I just loved this one particular anthem! The words were Psalm 1, the King James Version, verbatim. It was hard to sing, at least to start singing it, because it started very loud and on a high note. It was written in the key of E-flat, and the first note for sopranos was the high E-flat.

The first part is:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Then it starts to get a little softer…

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And that’s as far as I remember the music. I’ve looked up the rest of the words of the Psalm in my King James Bible. I’m sure those are the words we sang, but I just can’t bring the rest of the music back into my mind. I remember that the mood changes at this point, to a very peaceful setting, which fits the words perfectly:

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Then the mood changes again. It becomes more restless:

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the  congregation of the righteous.

I can’t remember the tempo or dynamics of the ending. The last words of the Psalm are:

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

I wish I could remember the rest of the music, but it’s just not coming back to me. I think what I liked so much about this anthem when the choir sang it fifty-plus years ago was how well the music matched the words. It was exciting to me. I felt we were communicating with God with our whole being as we sang the Psalm together. I felt it in my soul and my body – not just my mind.

5640851837_1fa5c61383_zMany years later I read a quote attributed to St. Augustine, “Whoever sings, prays twice.” That’s what was happening when we sang that anthem. We were not only expressing the words of the song to God, through the music we were sharing our feelings with God. That’s what’s so special about music. With music, our ability to communicate is not limited to our mere intellect. Our mind, soul, and body are all involved as we sing or play a musical instrument.

As you may recall from an earlier post on this blog, one of the reasons I stopped posting to my blog every week is that I wanted to work on some other projects and needed to free up some of my time to do so. One of my new projects is writing a devotional book focused on 365 of my favorite hymns. Over the past few months, I’ve been organizing my thoughts for this book and selecting the hymns to include. I think I’ll start the book with a chapter on The Psalms and how these songs have been sung historically as well as ways they are being sung today. (I’m sure that train of thought is what triggered Psalm 1 to start playing in my mind.)

The Bible encourages us in many places to sing to the Lord. And over the centuries, we have been prolific in our response. Thousands of hymns have their roots in one or more of the 150 Psalms included in the Bible. For example, the online resource hymnary.org (one of my new best friends) identified Psalm 23 as the source of 344 hymns. Psalm 23 is rich in imagery of God as our shepherd. Each hymn of the 344 hymns listed on this web directory built upon this imagery. Some of my favorites among these hymns are:

  • The Lord Is My Shepherd
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is
  • He Leadeth Me
  • Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
  • All the Way My Shepherd Leads Me
  • God Leads Us Along
  • God Will Take Care of You
  • O Love that Wilt not Let Me Go
  • Day By Day
  • Surely Goodness and Mercy
  • Lead Me, Guide Me

Each hymn can trigger a slightly different conversation with God, although they are all based on the same general image of God as our shepherd. Every one of these combinations of words and music enables us to “pray twice” to God – to pray with our mind, body, and soul. The most usual result of the prayerful conversations based on Psalm 23 is that our troubled soul is comforted, and that pleases God as much as it pleases us.

This newest writing project of mine is bigger than I thought it was going to be, but I love the digressions it’s leading me along – even if I experience a bit of frustration along the way. Whether I ever remember all the music of the Blessed Is the Man…”  anthem I sang with the church choir when I was in in high school, or not, I’ve been blessed by remembering one of my earliest and most dramatic experiences of “praying twice.”

bird singing 1O come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

Psalm 95:1-2 – New King James Version

It’s Complicated, Floey. But Kindness is what matters.

fullsizeoutput_200e

“Floey, you’re barking so loud I can’t think. What’s wrong?”

“Don’t you see him, Mom? Look. Across the pond. A stranger is walking along our trail. What do you think he’s up to? He doesn’t belong here!”

“Oh, I see him. That must be the trapper our neighbor Tom told me about.”

“What??? A trapper! What in the world is a trapper doing here?” Floey was incredulous. “Really, Mom? A trapper?”

“Well, Floey. I wish I could talk with Gilbert and Gloria Goose, and their cousins Greg and Grace Goose about this, but they won’t be coming back to the pond for another week or two. They usually come back just in time for Lent. Remember how we all sing hymns together?”

“Of course, I remember them, Mom. But what do they have to do with a trapper?”

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

“Well, it’s complicated, Floey. You know God created a wonderful world for all of us to enjoy.”

“That’s right. And we get to live in one of the best places in the whole world. We have a beautiful pond in our back yard that we share with lots of songbirds. And in the spring and fall, geese and ducks share our pond with us, too. And this winter, a new family joined us – the Otters. Ole Otter is even bigger than me. When I first saw him, I thought he was a big, brown seal. His wife Olga and their three pups – Oscar, Otto, and Olivia – just love to jump off the ice into the water to catch fish. Then they tread water near the edge of the ice as they chomp leisurely on their catch. I think the Otter family enjoys living here as much as we do. They sure enjoy their fish dinners!”

otter-asian-baby

Internet image (I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to snap a photo of our neighbors)

“Well, Floey, that’s what’s complicated. I like the Otter family, too. It’s fun to have such happy neighbors. But, I’m afraid they’re eating too many fish. Soon our pond will be empty. At our last condo association meeting, everyone agreed that we need to ask the Otter family to leave.”

“Oh, no, Mom! Can’t we just get some more fish? Can’t we all get along?”

“I’m afraid the people who live here decided that we should hire a trapper to safely transport the Otter family to another location. I’ll have to admit, I think the people are being kind of self-centered with this decision. The decision may be what’s best for the people who like to fish from the edge of the pond, but I don’t think it’s what’s best for the animals involved, although the few remaining fish are probably happy. But I wish the Goose families were back again so we could talk with them about this decision. Maybe they would have another perspective and a better solution, one that’s best for everyone.”

“I agree, Mom. What do you think our Goose friends would say?”

“Well, I don’t know, Floey, but in my mind I can picture Gilbert and Gloria singing the song, Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love.”

“I don’t know that song. How does it go?” Floey asked.

“It begins with the refrain:

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

“Then it continues with four verses. The refrain is sung again after each verse.”

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who pours out himself for them.

Neighbors are wealthy and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are nearby and far away.

These are the ones we will serve,
these are the ones we will love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet,
this is the way we will live with you.

[Tom Colvin]

fullsizeoutput_200f“That’s a good song, Mom. I can easily imagine Gilbert and Gloria singing it about our new neighbors, Ole and Olga Otter and their pups. Even though Ole and Olga are a different species from all of us, they are still souls that God created, and we need to love them and accept them as our new neighbors.”

“That’s right, Floey. That’s why I’m troubled about forcing them to move.”

“OK, Mom. Let’s go spring the traps so our new friends don’t get caught.”

“Not so fast, Floey. Remember, I said this is complicated. What about our fish? Don’t you think God wants us to protect them, too? Otters need to eat a lot of fish to survive. Maybe the best solution for everyone is for us to help relocate the Otter family to a place with plenty of fish, a new home where they won’t deplete their food source, a place where the fish population can still thrive, even with the Otters in the neighborhood.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.” Floey looked thoughtful for a few minutes, and then asked, “Will the Otter family be treated like refugees when they try to set up their new home? Or, will their new neighbors accept them as part of God’s family?”

“I sure hope they are warmly welcomed, Floey. Remember the old gospel song, God Will Take Care of You?” The Otters need to believe that song and trust that God really will take care of them.

islay_wildlife_spectacular1

Internet image

“Oscar, Otto, and Olivia are such friendly little pups. I’ll miss having them in our neighborhood. I think I’ll go teach them that song right now so they don’t have to be afraid of what will happen to them next. They need to know that we love them, even if they can’t live in our neighborhood. And, most important, they need to know that God will watch out for them wherever they are. ”

“Good idea, Floey. And when the Goose families return in a week or two, we can tell them about our Otter neighbors, and we can all sing the song together, and as we sing we can prayerfully think of Ole and Olga, Oscar, Otto, and Olivia.

c8b200b62ffce65657da04ab865cd9c3

Little Otto. Internet image

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart doth fail;
God will take care of you.

When dangers fierce your path assail;
God will take care of you. 
Refrain.

All you may need He will provide;
God will take care of you.
Nothing you ask will be denied; 
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

fullsizeoutput_200dNo matter what may be the test, 
God will take care of you.
Lean, weary one, upon His breast;
God will take care of you.
Refrain.

[Civilla D. Martin]

Something I Started To Think about in Fifth Grade

fullsizeoutput_2003I was about ten years old when I first tried to understand what the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” meant. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Borgerud, and she very patiently tried to explain to the class the core beliefs of each political/economic system. Back in the ‘50s, we all knew that the United States was right and Russia was wrong with regard to all our differences. Therefore, it was clear that capitalism was good and socialism was bad. We knew that. What we were trying to learn that day was what those big words really meant.

I learned that “socialism” was based on the belief that everyone is equally entitled to all our resources and everyone should be treated fairly. Our resources should be owned communally, and everyone should work together so that the basic needs of all of us would be met. My initial reaction was quite positive. That sounded like what Christ modeled in the New Testament – that we should help each other and take care of the poor and the sick. I was surprised. That couldn’t really be what “socialism” was all about… Or, was it?

Then I learned that “capitalism” was based on the belief that the harder we worked, the greater would be our rewards. Those who were poor, deserved to be poor because they didn’t work hard enough. That sounded to me more like selfishness and greed and disrespect for the poor. That didn’t seem to be the type of behavior the Bible encouraged.

I was puzzled. I looked around at the other kids in the class to see if they were as confused as I was by what we were hearing from our teacher. I couldn’t tell. No one expressed any of the shock that I was feeling. I guess I must not be understanding what Mrs. Borgerud was really saying. I didn’t speak up. I just listened some more.

Abbey - Mary - sitting tall - adj

Mrs. Borgerud came to live with us for assisted living care several years ago. She and Abbey became good friends.

Mrs. Borgerud explained that one reason capitalism was better than socialism was that it provided an incentive for people to work hard. If you want to be rich, you can be rich. You just need to work hard enough. In contrast, the weakness in socialism is that there is no incentive to work hard. You will get all your needs met whether you work or not. Socialism provides an incentive to be lazy.

I guess that made sense. But I was still troubled. I didn’t know anyone who worked harder than my mom and dad, yet we considered ourselves poor, not rich. I never went hungry, and I always had enough clothes – although they all came from Penneys or Sears, not from Manchesters where some of my classmates from wealthier families bought their clothes. I’m sure their parents didn’t work harder than mine. There didn’t seem to be much of a correlation between hard work and wealth.

And what about the special offerings we sometimes had in church to provide food and clothing for the poor in our inner cities and in Africa and India? What did capitalism have to say about meeting the needs of the poor? Was being poor really their own problem because they were too lazy to work?

It’s been almost 60 years since I first wondered about these things.  Ever since that day in fifth grade, I’ve been suspicious that there may be serious inconsistencies between capitalism and what the Bible says about how God intends for us to share our resources with our neighbors.

At times I’ve wondered if socialism follows the teachings of the Bible more closely. That sounds more like how the early church lived.

Now the group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [Acts 4:32-35 NRSV]

Ellen M KogstadA few years ago Mim and I had a long conversation with Ellen, a friend of ours in Chicago. Her family immigrated from Norway to the United States when she was a little girl. Ellen still keeps in close touch with many of her relatives in Norway. Our conversation with Ellen was after one of her recent trips to Norway. She talked about how socialism has changed the way people think about caring for their less fortunate neighbors. “It’s the government’s job to see that their needs are met – not mine.” Her cousins rarely go to church, and they certainly don’t tithe. There’s no personal sense of responsibility to care for the poor. It seems that the advice given in Proverbs no longer applies to individuals in Norway.

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. [Proverbs 28:27 NRSV]

Why am I thinking about socialism and capitalism today? I can’t help but think about what is the appropriate role of government, as our country is jolted from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. It seems we are changing in lightning speed from trying to be a “kind, gentle nation” to becoming a “tough, aggressive, me-first nation.” Selfishness is expressed in the new administration’s slogan of “America First!”

As I read the lectionary readings for January 29, 2017 in preparation for planning the music for Sunday’s church service, I read Micah 6:1-8, the Old Testament reading for the day. In the reading, God has a complaint against Israel. After all God has done for Israel, why aren’t they following after the righteousness they have been shown. The passage ends with these words:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 NRSV]

I think it’s obvious from experience around the world that no political/economic system is perfect. But God’s standard of how we should act as a nation has been set – To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. With all the political squabbling that’s going on now, this is what we need to remember. This needs to be our guiding principal – personally and as a nation.

micah-6-8-what-god-requires-purple-copy

Special Words for 2017

Floey sitting - profile croppedFloey came bounding down the stairs, ran over to my desk, and sat down on the floor right next to me. “Good morning, Floey,” I said.

“Good morning, Mom. Is it time yet?” Floey asked.

“Yes. I think the time has finally come, Floey. Are you ready to talk about our special words for next year?”

“I sure am. I’ve been thinking about this for months. I don’t think I chose a very good word to focus on for 2016. I want to do better this year. Do you remember what I chose last year?”

“I sure do, Floey. You chose MEOW. You wanted to learn to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood, and you thought learning their language would help.”

cat talking and smiling“Yeah. But it didn’t work very well. The neighborhood cats all disappeared. I think they were afraid to come out in the cold last January, and then they just turned into lazy house cats, and they didn’t come out much in the nice weather either.”

“That’s right, and by August I think you decided to adopt my special word of KINDNESS to use as your special word for the rest of the year. Was that better?”

“It was better, but I never really felt committed to that word. That was your word, not mine. So I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking to come up with a better word for 2017.”

“What did you come up with?”

fullsizeoutput_1929“I kept thinking about a rather unpleasant conversation we had one day last summer. You said I was stubborn. And you said it in such a way I knew you thought it wasn’t good to be stubborn. I think our disagreement was all about taking time to sit at a curb before crossing a street, and then to sit again on the other side. Sometimes, I just don’t want to take the time to sit down, and to do it twice at every intersection seems like overkill. I just don’t see the point. Anyway, during that conversation you called me stubborn and you suggested that I should find a word that’s the opposite of stubborn to have as my special word for next year. Do you remember that?”

“I kind of remember.”

“Well I remember the conversation very well. I don’t like us to have disagreements. So I’ve thought a lot about opposites of stubborn. I came up with words like compliant, submissive, weak, yielding, and complacent. Those aren’t inspiring words at all.”

“I can see that, Floey. But couldn’t you come up with anything more positive that’s an opposite of stubborn?” I asked.

“Well, it took a while, but I finally did. I thought about words like willing, flexible, broad-minded, giving, and kind. And then it hit me. I thought of the word FRIEND. I want to focus on being a FRIEND. A friend is someone who doesn’t insist on getting their own way. Sometimes they will get their own way, but more importantly, they will think about what’s best for everyone, which may or may not be their own way. They will do what’s best for the other person just as much, or maybe even more than what’s best for themselves. So, for 2017, my special word is FRIEND.”

fullsizeoutput_1ff9

Doris and her caregiver Abbey were best friends.

“That’s a great word, Floey. And it’s so appropriate! Have you heard the old saying that ‘dog is man’s best friend’?  The language of the expression could be cleaned up a little to make it more gender neutral, but the sentiment is true.”

“I’m sure FRIEND is going to be a great word for me to think about all year. I think that by the end of the year I’ll know how to be the best FRIEND that anyone could possibly have. I’m so excited!”

“That’s wonderful, Floey.”

“How about you, Mom? What’s your new word going to be?”

“I’m pretty excited about my new word, too, Floey. It’s HOPE. My special word for 2017 is HOPE.”

“I guess that’s a good word, Mom. But what made you choose HOPE?”fullsizeoutput_1ffa

“I have a really good reason for choosing it, Floey. HOPE is probably what I will need more than anything else in 2017. You see, after the presidential election last November, I was depressed, and I was really scared. In the past, sometimes I’ve been disappointed with the results of a presidential election, but I’ve never been really afraid of what might happen under the charge of the new president. But this time is different. I have no confidence in his competence or his integrity. I am afraid that he might carelessly do something that will result in economic or physical harm or even death to millions of people – both in this country and around the globe. You and me included. Like I said, I’m really scared. I sure HOPE I’m wrong. I HOPE that he truly wants to lead the country in good ways that will benefit all Americans as well as the rest of the world. And I HOPE that his unorthodox ways will lead to positive results. I need to give him a chance to be successful. I need to have HOPE.”

“Wow, Mom. That’s pretty serious. I knew the election was a big deal, but I didn’t think it would affect us personally. That’s scary.”

320943“Yeah, I know. That’s why I need to have HOPE this year. Sarah Young (the writer of the daily devotional book Jesus Calling) has written several other books in the same style – as though Jesus is speaking to us directly. In one of these books, Young quotes Jesus as saying,

Though difficulties abound in this world, rejoice that I am ever present with you. I can enable you to cope with any and all circumstances, strengthening you as you look trustingly to Me. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, I assure you that all things are possible with Me….  [Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life, p. 102]

“Young then cites Psalm 46:2 as assurance that God is really with us, helping us.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

“Young went on to reference Mark 10:27:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

“You know, Floey, I think the Bible has a lot to say about HOPE, and I plan to look into that this year, and hopefully I will become more hopeful about everything that’s going on in our world these days.”

Floey sighed and said, “Boy, Mom, we both have high expectations for our special words this year. Do you know what Mim’s new word is? I wonder if she’s decided on one yet.”

2015-floey-and-mim-on-couch-cropped“Here she comes, Floey. Let’s ask her. Hey, Mim, come join us. We’re talking about our special words for 2017. Have you chosen your new word yet?”

“I sure have. It’s HOPE,” she replied as she sat down with us.

“Hey, that’s my word,” I exclaimed. “You can’t have my word!”

“I certainly can! I’ve thought a lot about it, and I need to focus on HOPE this year. I’m going to turn 70 this summer, and I need to keep hoping that some of the changes I’m anticipating over the next few years will work out for the best. Even though I tend to worry, I need to remember that ultimately, God is in control. That gives me HOPE. That’s what I need to focus on – not worrying about the challenges and changes that are ahead in my life.”

Floey - thoughtful faceFloey looked from one mom to the other and said, “I can’t believe my moms are arguing over their special words for 2017!”

“You’re right, Floey. I guess I can share my word. Mim, I came across a benediction a few days ago that might be a good start for both of us in our focus on HOPE this year.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. [Romans 15:13 NIV]

“Hey, I like that. Thanks for sharing it,” Mim responded.

Floey jumped up and trotted over to the patio door. “I think we’re all set. I’m going to learn everything there is to know about becoming a true FRIEND this year, and both of you are going to learn how to be more HOPEFUL. So, we’re ready. Time to go for a walk.”

fullsizeoutput_1ffb