When Well-Intended People Do Evil on Your Behalf

For the shrinking number of people left who are still mainline Western Christian, let’s face it: Christians have become embarrassing for their many public faux pas, have given “religion” a bad name, and are causing a continuing shrinkage of the entire church.

Some of the things these people are doing/have done is unapologetically evil.
What are we to do when we are tired of looking away from their 15 minutes of ill fame? What can we do when our collective voices grow tired from constantly screaming, “Wait! I’m not like that,” and in this day-and-age, fewer people believe what you are saying? Because of what they see. Because of what others have done in the name of their crazy religion that just so happens to carry the same name as mine.
Yes – crazy.
How do I respond to being part of that awful, hurtful group, even if what they do and say goes against every good part of my being?
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This week a friend sent me a copy of Enriching Our Worship” – a new (-ish, it was authorized in 1997) version of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BOCP.) The last language update to the book was proposed in 1979 and ratified in 1981, adding the major services of the church in alternate, contemporary language in addition to the traditional language (thee, thou,thine, etc.)
The previous edition to that was 1928. That book is a challenge to read with its ornate liturgical language, and tough to follow if you’re not immersed in that book.
It is no longer used in the Episcopal church.
This newest version continues the evolution of liturgical language and makes the rites more accessible to a younger, more urban church. Yes, old people will get mad because it’s “not the way it used to be,” they will call it sinful and apostate. There could be another schism in the church just as with the 1981 book.
We should not care about all that mess. 
We should look toward our future, since our past (*according to the rites) are forgiven and gone.
The new-speak version of the confession and absolution stopped me cold in my tracks. I had that forehead smack, jowl shaking, “I should’a had a V8″ moment as I read it. The wording is still very similar to the old stuff shown here:
{…} We have not loved you with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
I like that middle line in there. It speaks directly to the teachings of Christ about what is important in our lives.That one line, in a nutshell is what we are supposed to do (as Christians) and it is the line in which we apologize for not doing it. We ask pardon for that terrible omission.
This is the new version, just a very subtle change in wording, but life-changing in my thoughts about all these embarrassing, nasty people some call Christians, along with a knowing smirk:
God of all mercy,
we confess that we have sinned against you,
opposing your will in our lives.
We have denied your goodness in each other,
in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf.
Forgive, restore, and strengthen us
through our Savior Jesus Christ,
that we may abide in your love
and serve only your will. Amen.
 

I’ve highlighted the same section in context of the entire prayer above. 

For the first time in many years, I had that forehead smack about these loony people who proclaim to be in the same club as me. Guess what: bad, embarrassing, foolish, stupid, or evil: they are indeed still Christians. And just as much as it is my responsibility to pray in the confession for me and my sins, I apologize for them and theirs.

 
Why?
Because as the prayer says: they have done evil on our behalf.
 
This is where we stop throwing our own righteous aspersions about these nut jobs. Yes, we have a civic obligation to shut down any of their ridiculous language and actions that hurt other people,  their work that tries to change laws of the land to their own beliefs. And we have a Biblical direction to act in a way that points out their wrongdoings (Matthew 18:15
 
We are obliged to act in a way, stand up in a way, and continue in a way that shows everyone (including ourselves) what Christianity is all about.
 
And the first step in that direction?
 
We must first do our own self-forgiving. We must ask forgiveness for our own wrongs, and we must ask for forgiveness for theirs, done in the name of that common thread that I share with them.
I have to do that, like it or not.
 
Prayer is never an easy thing. I’ve called it a difficult sport. It’s tough and it will make you (spiritually) sweat. Praying for our enemies is one of those big hurdles that many folks have difficulty with. And now there is this one: apologizing and asking forgiveness for folks who – foolishly or intentionally – do evil, in Christ’s name, while including us as Christians in their roster. 
 
RuPaul says, “How in the Hell are you going to love somebody else if you can’t love yourself?” The same, it seems, goes for forgiveness. 
 
Keep the faith!
 – Amen
 
If you would like to download a free copy of the book Enriching Our Worship (Adobe PDF format), please click on the book’s name here. 
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Hymns Aren’t Always Hymns – Thoughts on Good Shepherd Sunday

Confession time: plenty of non-religious people listen to and sing hymns. Guess what: that’s ok.

When I was first learning cello as an adult beginner, after mangling managing finger positions and bow holds and scales, then came the first sprinkling of technique. In the beginning, what separates the scales player from the songs player is the ability to do vibrato.

I knew what the sound was – it’s that sort of tremulous sound that a singer uses when holding a note, or that sort of vibrating sound you hear when violins play and they cascade over the notes. I knew what it was, but on a piano there is now way to do it. The piano is a percussion instrument so the note is either playing or it is not playing.

Life is often like that: you are either living it, or you are not living it.

It’s tough to move on from an instrument on which I know that if I push down a certain key that is a certain note. With the cello there are no such keys, just those four strings, resting against your chest, seemingly waiting for you to mess up. Vibrato is the fanciness that we add to the sound, once we have found the note.

We all have the ability to live. Do we have the assurance (and the bravery) to add that vibrating happiness to our own lives?

To learn vibrato, it’s best to start with a simple(r) song with long, held out notes so that the new player can practice the subtle back and forth movement of the finger on the string that produces the sound. Mechanically speaking, “the sound” is made by quickly oscillating between the note itself and mid-way to the note above it, done fast. The cello has a very exaggerated and long movement, and the violin very tiny and subtle. There are times in my day when I need those long broad strokes of happiness (I call it my party face,) and times when the contentment sits there, always on, and ready to leap up if necessary.

The song I used was Brother James’ Air.

The song is the simplest of simple, and is a Scottish hymn tune that is written around the 23rd Psalm (The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want…”) I’ve played it a million times on piano. On the organ, I’ve transposed it into “traveling music” – the incidental music played in a church service when something is happening at the altar, and the music closes up an awkward silence such as the cleaning off and clearing the table after communion.  The Air is a song that when I hear, it’s so peaceful and so restful that I suddenly relax, exhale, breathe a little slower, and all my rushing around and emotions take a pause, even for just a couple of minutes, the length of a tune.

And it’s a great song for humming.

Here is a recording from a service at my own church, sung by the youth choir and the cantus choir (the little elementary school age kids.) I don’t even need to hear the lyrics to become relaxed and focused. I will post the words for you at the end.Brother James Air

The psalm used for Good Shepherd day is (you guessed it!) Psalm 23. The scriptures of the day speak on the theme of Christ, the good shepherd, and how we can relax and become calm in that protection of said shepherd, always aware that we have that “watchful eye” over us.

From the same day, this is a recording of the adult choir chanting the 23rd Psalm, which I will also give the lyrics below.

Chanting Psalm 23

On this day of comfort and pause, these hymns aren’t just hymn singing to us. They are easy on the ears and easy on the soul reminders that we are safe, we are loved, we are remembered.

I feel very refreshed when I hum this little song, or recite this poem. Or chant, because chanting is good for keeping your lungs full of fresh air, and the vibrations of the words going through your body and the sensation of letting your stress out with each word. Humming and singing along helps you in ways that thinking you are “just singing a hymn” never will. Music should surround us even when we are not singing or hearing a song: music as the proverbial healing fountain – that should be deep in our very bones.

Listen to what you sing, hum, and recite. Not just for the message you are putting out into the world, but what the music does – favorably – to your body. No one will think the worse of you for exercising your body and fluffing up your contentment by singing hymns. I promise.

Keep the faith!

 – Amen

Brother James Air
by James MacBeth Bain (1860-1925)

 

hymn tune: Brother James Air

 

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
the quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own Name’s sake.
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through shadows death,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.
Thy rod and staff they comfort still
They comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head with oil thou dost anoint,
And my cup overflows.
My head with oil Thou dost anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my days
Will surely follow me;
And in my father’s house alway
My dwelling place shall be.
And in Thy house forevermore,
My dwelling place shall be.

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Psalm 23
from the Psaltry of David (NRSV)Psalm 23

The Divine Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

 

A Prayer for Strength

When things always seem their darkest, when we need an extra boost to get through the next great test, when our patience is pulled to the thinnest, most silken thread, there is always prayer. As short or as long as you want it to be, even a single word can be prayer. You can find prayer in singing just one musical note.

Remember that if you pray through music that Bach told us: To sing once is to pray twice.

Keep the faith!


(Dear God,)
Give me courage
to face the problems that confront me today;
thank you for your sustaining strength.
 – Amen

 

“The angel of the LORD is round about them that fear him, and he delivers them.”
– Psalm 34:7

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Plainsong

 

Te lucis ante terminum

 

(Latin)
Te lucis ante terminum,
rerum Creator, poscimus,
ut solita clementia,
sis praesul ad custodiam.

Procul recedant somnia,
et noctium phantasmata:
hostemque nostrum comprime,
ne polluantur corpora.

Praesta, Pater omnipotens,
per Iesum Christum Dominum,
qui tecum in perpetuum
regnat cum Sancto Spiritu.

Amen.

 (English)
To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favour, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.

Amen