Writing Again, and some new lyrics for a troublesome hymn

There must be something about the Turner turnpike to elicit prayer. Perhaps it’s the undulations in the ground and the up and down journey that reflects life and it’s moments of exaltation and desolation. Perhaps it’s the sky un-tinted by sunglasses since I was heading down to Oklahoma City in the morning and the sun was rising behind me. Perhaps it was the conversations with faithful church volunteers concerned about the well-being of their friends in the church. Whatever the reason, I turned my eyes to the western sky and the cirrus clouds, and I prayed—“God, my mind is on a lot of things these days. Why don’t you take the reins at the church for a while?” The answer was clear: an immediate thought of writing, and in that thought, the discernment of an answer: “I’ve had the reins all along, but it’s been a while since you’ve put your hands on the keyboard for anything productive, hasn’t it?”

I’ve long known I have a call to write. I highly enjoy it, and, well, I’m pretty good at it. Despite this call, I spend my time doing other things. This church requires a lot of administration, which……well, I’m not pretty good at. I am called by my ordination to attend to it, and I can do it—it’s not that I’m inept (others might argue with that statement), it’s just that I don’t find the kind of personal resonance with administration that I do with writing. I’ve also been somewhat consumed with planning and outreach, and I find myself this morning at a speaker brought by the Bishop who is phenomenal and quite compelling in his injunction that the whole concept of “programming” is fighting a losing battle. Instead, we should be seeking ways to be blessings to the world around us…that if our motto is “inwardly strong and outwardly focused,” we have it backwards—that if our first focus is “inwardly strong,” we’ll never get around to “outwardly focused.” That “inwardly strong,” that “administration” is a consuming and unfinishable task. It should be “outwardly focused and inwardly strong,” because it is only by being primarily dedicated to “outwardly focused” that we ever hope to be “inwardly strong.” (Don’t worry, I’ll be unpacking what he said for a while, I think. This is good stuff and I’ve about decided to hone in on it for our next sermon series.)

We started this morning (Order’s Meeting/Bishop’s Retreat) by singing “We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” I had made (perhaps) a throwaway comment when we sang this song recently at church, “It’s not hard to see that this song was written during the idealistic colonizing era, is it?” Well—what I was trying to point out was that the viewpoint of that song conveys a deep sense of privileged international hubris. It gets an “F” on the Post-Colonial Theology report card that Rev. Lisa Dellinger might have told us about a couple years ago this month. I had mentioned on that Sunday a few weeks ago that we should also say that “we’ve a story to hear FROM the nations.” Well, in this spirit of being “outwardly focused,” and no, that “outward focus” isn’t about (just) telling people what I think they need to hear, but also listening to what they say, I offer these three verses as additions to the beloved song.

I took pains to retain the manifest destiny type of outlook and language that the original song conveys, but I twisted the concept a bit with post-modern, post-colonial meaning. Interestingly, I think these added words create a deeper resonance with the Divine power conveyed in the refrain, with its visual of “darkness turning to dawning and dawning to noonday bright.” As the old saying goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” So the song should be confessional, confessional in a sense of immediacy prompted by the news of the Syrian refugee crisis I heard about on the drive down this morning and our own country’s failure to live up to our founding principles articulated at the base of the statue of liberty.

 

Original lyrics:

 

I’d add these:

 

We’ve a story to hear from the nations,

that will name the evil within.

A story of war and conquest,

a story that reeks of sin.

A story that reeks of sin.

 

Refrain:

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

 

We’ve a folk to receive from the nations,

For the lamp to the world shines still.

And people fleeing war and cruelty

Should find rest in the city on a hill.

Should find rest in the city on a hill.

 

Refrain:

 

We’ve a story to tell with the nations:

That the nations will cease to exist.

Zion shall descend from heaven

Like Justice and Peace have kissed!

Like Justice and Peace have kissed!

 

And here’s an interesting aside (or rabbit hole, perhaps)