Prayers of the People.  A Community Collaboration.

Prayers of the People. A Community Collaboration.

Welcome to a collection of short prayers written during Lent and Holy Week 2018.   

(Feel free to scroll down to skip this introduction and read the prayers.)

These prayers were written by people who responded to an invitation to write and share a prayer with the community which has gathered around the music and work of the Plural Guild and The Many.

These are prayers written because some of us believe, or at least want to believe, that prayer can change things. Not without action, certainly. But maybe what we need are prayers that lead us into action, prayers that acknowledge the realities around us and the God who is always where the hurting are, the God of justice and liberation, the God who cares deeply about the marginalized, the forgotten, the oppressed.  

We would love for you to add your prayer to this collection.  The form to submit is here  .

And we are deeply grateful to all of you who have submitted prayers. Also, if your prayer is not included yet, please be patient.  We are doing this manually...   If you have questions, please email us at  

The video below features Darren Calhoun, of The Many, speaking with Kenji Kuramitsu, author of A Booklet of Uncommon Prayer,  about an ancient form of prayer, the Collect, which Kenji used when writing the prayers in his book.   If this prayer form is new to you, you may want to try it in crafting your own prayers. 

Scroll down past the video to see the Prayers of the People that have been submitted.


God let deep listening be our gift and right action be our response.



O Merciful God, grant that we through the strength of your divine hand might protect and serve one another.  Make all forms of hatreds cease, unmask all systems of corruption and power, drive out all fears and prejudices in our day.

You are as near as our breath and as close to us as the contours of our hearts and minds.  May your presence be a balm to those who are suffering and a bright flame to those who are causing injury.  Rupture the status quo of perennial violence that infects our land, and teach us through your diving Word to reject the lies of any false peace in favor of the presence of your dangerous justice.  Amen.

Kenji Kuramitsu.  from A Booklet of UnCommon Prayer.

Good and gracious God how you must weep for your creation. Gun shots ring out in our land but some will not listen, innocent blood is shed but some look away. Jesus you told us we can find wisdom in the words of the little children. As one who lived in innocence, yet died in violence, guide and strengthen us as we stand with those who cry never again.    AMEN

Pastor Rocky Marlowe

It’s easy, God, to get wrapped up in the anger. It’s easy for us to be loaded for bear. But You call us to care for the earth and her inhabitants; You have named all things ‘good.’ In this time, move us to assume goodness in every encounter. To bring love into the realm of hate, to bring joy into the realm of sadness, to bring compassion into the realm of harm. May we assume goodness with everyone we encounter this day.          Amen.

Suzanne Castle

There are days when the only prayer I have is getting out of bed. There are days when I can't pray that one prayer. Here I am, one foot in front of the other, or lying on my back. Have mercy on me.


For the child wet with ocean on a journey away from home. For the mother whose tears are not enough to feed her son. For the father holding his daughter while bombs shake their home. We pray, have mercy.


Keep my child safe in their school. Keep my child safe in their school. Keep my child safe in their school. Keep my child safe in their school. Keep my child safe in their school. Keep my child safe in their school.    Lord in your mercy. Hear this prayer.


God, Goddess, we are all holy. I pray that with each conversation, with each gesture, in each relationship to all living things, we remember we are the hands of you, the heart of you, the voice of you.       Amen


Holy One. We too often struggle to understand our place in the things that are your world. May the scales be removed from our eyes so we may see all that required of us is to be human reflections of your love.

Rev. Sara Bartlett.

humble love

son of man. unashamed to be like us.  small and frail like us. growing and learning to love like us. help us to set aside our strength and open our arms to each other as you have done with us.

even when we are most afraid. even when it costs us much. help us to set aside our strength and listen like the humble love of god.

Caleb Paxton

Tender God embracing all, heal all those brokenhearted with grief. Ease our anxiety, help us to sleep. Show us a tiny sign of hope that things will not stay the same as they are right now. Open in us a new season and restore to our aching minds your joy, so that your people may embody the promise of wholeness.  Amen.

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

In a Lenten Easter season of restlessness when even the dead must rise up from the grave, awaken our hearts, minds and spirits with an urgency to be the change we wish to see. We are waiting to see a risen Savior and yet, many remain trapped in our own self-imposed tombs of complacency, hopelessness, fear and doubt. Remove the stones blocking our witness, action, and vision of peace, love, and justice. Help us to rise up and resist the sin and evil of racism, classism, violence and oppression wherever it threatens humanity and creation. Amen. Ase.

Rev. Waltrina N. Middleton, Walk On Water Global Ministries @wnmiddleton

Ancient Mystery, Cast light in our darkness, Bring shelter to our homeless, Find home for our wandering, Provide enough food for all to feast at the table of Christ, The Table of Love. Amen.

Keith Koster

In our quiet meditations and our communal worship, we repeat the ageless pilgrimage of our lives, O Holy One. This Holy Week path of praise, defection, denial, and persistent life is both brand new this year, and as ancient as the human journey. Be with us in these moments of worship, prayer, song and community. Come to us as a fresh breeze of honesty and new life. Come to us in the doubt and hope, the pain and possibility, the agony and enthusiasm. Be near us O Hopeful One, descend on us we pray…

Winton Boyd, Orchard Ridge UCC, Madison, WI

You who carry scars who was whipped and beaten, crowned with thorns, nailed hands and feet to a cross, a sword thrust in your side, be present with the scarred ones of our world. Scars of abuse, scars of violence, scars of war, scars of prejudice, scars caused by bullying, scars caused by mass shootings; scars. Touch them (and us) in those broken places, hold them (and us) in your loving arms and grant them (and us) the strength to hold on tight to the love that is offered through you and to find in your love, healing.


Enter into the normality-shaking, transformative, sacred space of Advent


Enter into the normality-shaking, transformative, sacred space of Advent

"We have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of "business as usual" and remain patiently on the "threshold" ( limen, in Latin)...where genuine newness can begin."

- Richard Rohr



Advent, the four weeks before Christmas on the Christian liturgical calendar, is meant to be a time for us to sit with the way things really are, hold them tenderly and gently, to wait and remember, deep down in our bones,  how things are really meant to be. Advent is about saying there is this beautiful world we all want to believe in and be living in. And there is a terrible not-yet-ness about that world. Advent is about facing the truth of what is right now, and remembering what it takes to get to a Christmas kind of world.

But, let's face it. That's not always so easy. We have mortgages to pay and presents to buy and trees to decorate. We've got office parties to go to and Christmas specials to watch and...then on top of that...who really wants to stop and reflect where there's so much that's so horrible about the state of the world right now? Reflect on that very long and all you want to do is drink a full quart of egg nog and eat all the Christmas fudge. Seriously. All. Of. It. 


But maybe, just maybe...doing what is NOT the same, is the only way anything new can ever happen.


And maybe Advent is the call we need to stop what we're doing - what we should do, and need to do, and can do - and just stop DOING for a few moments...step out of our normal lives,  and step into a different kind of experience, out of the usual into the liminal. Slap ourselves out of it...out of our ordinary lives, into a different way of seeing and knowing, and believing, breathing. Living.


That's why we've put together this advent "liturgicast" 

Each Sunday we will offer a short liturgy - just about 5 minutes long -  that you can listen to and participate in, in whatever way feels comfortable for you. You access it just like you would a podcast, and each week will include reflection on one of the themes of the season, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Each will include a time for lament and confession, a reading from the lectionary, prayer and some music from our house band, The Many

Each will hopefully help us think about the world Jesus came to show us was possible, a world where the hungry have food, refugees and exiles are welcomed, the oppressed go free, swords and guns and bombs are turned into plowshares, and where all belong. 


You may want to light a candle as you join in this ritual. You may want to kneel or sit with your feet solidly on the ground. You may want to do it alone, or share it with your family or small group. You may want to combine this with one of the many wonderful daily Advent readings that are available - one that looks particularly good this year is called  Keep Watch With Me

Join us. Here.

Sunday Dec. 3: Hope. 

Sunday, Dec. 10: Peace.

Sunday, Dec. 17: Joy

Sunday, Dec. 24: Love 

Our hope is that these "liturgicasts" will help you enter into Advent in a way that isn't just head-centered but that also welcomes your body and spirit. Our hope is that you can find that liminal space this Advent that will help you shake up the normal, and refute the stories of scarcity and fear that surround us, and that will allow you to experience the world-altering, unshakeable Love that has already come, and is coming still. 

And by the way, if you haven't yet had a chance to download The Many's Advent/Christmas album, here's a link. It's free through the end of December - our Christmas gift to you. We hope you enjoy it...and please feel free to share the link with friends. 








Why the "thanks" part of Thanksgiving actually matters.


Why the "thanks" part of Thanksgiving actually matters.

Thanksgiving is this week—our national holiday dedicated to acting really, really grateful. There are no presents to buy for this holiday, no costumes to create, to eggs to hide. You just get together with friends and family. You eat turkey around a table. You thank your lucky stars or some vague notion of a Higher Power or maybe even God, for the food and for all the good stuff in your life. Then you have pie. Hopefully with whipped cream from a can on top.

Thanksgiving is a hard holiday for me because it’s just so abstract: A day to give thanks. Hmmm…Frankly it seems easier sometimes to just give socks.

Partly it’s hard because we’re being told to be thankful. I kind of hate that. Maybe it’s because of all those years of my mom and dad and other authority figures telling me to be polite and say thank you—even when I wasn’t feeling anything even close to gratitude. “Come on Lenora tell your grandma thank you for the matching dresses she made for you and your sisters.” Yeah, you can imagine how cute they were, right? And sometimes God got tossed in there too. “Thank God for your breakfast Lenora.” But it was oatmeal. Lumpy. Cooked. Oats. And I really, really didn’t like oatmeal. “It doesn’t matter what you like,” my dad said. “Thank God for it anyway.”

Maybe you know what I mean. Have you ever felt a little insincere with your thanks? I’ve often felt like a fake when it comes to gratitude. And not just on Thanksgiving. Pretty much any day of the week. Am I really feeling grateful or just saying it because I should? I’m very good at being the polite little girl, too good at taking care of other people and I’ll admit it, I’ve been known to say I liked something when I didn’t, pretended to be thankful for something when I wasn’t. Haven’t we all? I mean we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Even if that someone we’re trying so hard to protect is God.

So, often thankfulness feels hard to me and kind of fake because it’s all mixed up with obligation. With duty. With shoulds. And with habits: say thanks before your meals. Thank God when you pray (and do it first, before you get to the real reason you’re praying--you know, asking God for what you want…).

 Photo by  Simon Maage  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

It’s also hard for me because of guilt. My husband and I bought our first house about 25 years ago, before our first daughter was born. It was small and old and a bit broken down, but no, I wouldn’t exactly call it a money pit. More of a money abyss.  But hey, it had a garage, which for people who’d always lived in apartments in the city with street parking, this was great. I noticed right away though that there was something different about our garage – it wasn’t like our neighbors’. See, to open our garage I had to actually get out of the car, pull hard on this heavy door and hoist it up with brute force. I had to do a similar thing to close it. Not my neighbors, though. They would sit in the air-conditioned or bun-warming-seat comfort of their very nice cars and push a BUTTON and their garage doors would go up and down, just like that. Whew. So after a few months in our new house we started pricing them—those automatic garage door openers. They started as low at $100 on sale at big discount stores. Sears had one for about $140. Of course, installation was extra.

I’d been weighing my options for several weeks, the “one half horse power chain drive with automatic light” versus the “solid steel screw operation for greater security and less maintenance,” when I started reading an article in a magazine, about this young woman who lived in extreme poverty in rural Southern Mexico. This young woman, we’ll call her Maria, was smart and she had dreams of becoming a teacher. So she left her home and moved to northern Mexico to make more money and have a better life. This was a story that had good ABC Family Original Movie potential, I thought. I could already imagine it: Young woman struggles for a better life, faces obstacles, but overcomes them and ends up making her dreams come true. So I read on.

Maria did manage to get a job in one of the American factories that line the border and she and her cousins, who also worked in factories, lived with each other in a tiny hut they were able to scrape together from cardboard and other garbage from the factories. But here’s where the uplifting family movie thing kind of fell apart: Maria’s wages were so low she was barely able to get by and wasn’t able to save a cent. As the magazine article ended it looked like Maria would never afford an education or become a teacher.

The American factory she worked at was located across the Mexican border rather than in Boise, Idaho or Flint, Michigan so it could keep the workers’ wages low and the price of its product down. They manufactured that $140 garage door opener for Sears.

I hear stories like this and I think, “How can I say thank you for all I have, for my nearly perfect husband and amazing daughters, for my well-paying job and my sturdy non-cardboard house, for living in a place where no bombs are falling on a daily basis, and where I don’t even have to get out of my car to open my garage?” How can I be thankful for all that without feeling bad, bad for all those people who don’t have everything I have? It feels rude. It feels like gloating. Like when you get an A on the big test without even studying and everyone else flunks. You’re happy about the A, sure. But it’s hard to be really happy when everyone around you is feeling like crap.

So what do we do about gratitude? Do we just give up on it because it’s so often fake, something we just do out of obligation or habit? Do we give up on it because it feels so wrong to be grateful when most of the world has so little to be grateful for?

Sometimes it feels like we should. And actually it often feels like most of the world already has—whether we say it out loud or not, many people have adopted the attitude that gratitude is so messy and abstract and complicated we should all just forget about it. What have we got to lose?

Here’s what I think we’ve got to lose.


 Photo by  Dylan Hikes  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dylan Hikes on Unsplash

Ever been at one of those little kids’ birthday parties in which they let the kid open the presents at the end of the party with all their friends sitting around together? Oh man. It’s crazy isn’t it? Chaotic and frankly kind of scary, like a shark feeding frenzy except with 4 year olds. As soon as one gift has been ripped open and torn into, they start on the next one. Barely taking a moment to even see what it is they are getting, much less to appreciate it or savor it, or be thankful for it, right?

That’s what I believe happens to our world and our lives if we don’t have gratitude. When we aren’t grateful for anything, when we never take the time to actually pay attention and appreciate anything, everything becomes a big fat nothing.  Everything becomes something I’m entitled to. Something I consume, then toss aside, Something I can use if I need it. Destroy if I don’t. A means to our ends.

And nothing is sacred.

If you look around you can see the results of a world living without real gratitude. Too many of us for too long have looked at this planet as simply a means to our ends-- nothing has been sacred and our air and water and trees are about to choke to death because of it. People are killing each other because nothing is sacred. Countries are fighting with each other because no one can get enough fast enough, like those kids ripping into presents at the birthday party. We’re tearing our world apart because we want and want and want more and don’t value one single thing.

And we’re not just suffering on a global scale. We’re suffering on a very personal scale too. Too many of us for too long have looked at our own lives, at all the graceful moments like sun on skin, the smell of burning leaves, the sound of a really break-your-heart-open kind of song and we’ve had no one to thank but ourselves. And if reading the titles of all the self-help books, or looking at the recreational drug use statistics is any indication, instead of making us feel richer, more important, happier, it’s left us feeling more alone, emptier, less significant than ever.

So maybe we do need thankfulness after all. And maybe deep down we all know it and have known it all along. Hey, we even still have a holiday set aside for it, even though no one’s been able to figure out how to make a lot of money off it.

Where do we start though? How can we be truly thankful?  Not just fake thankful or polite thankful. Or gloatingly thankful?

Here’s what I’m trying to do, what you might want to try too:

First, pay attention. Notice what you have. Wake up to the beauty around you.  Drink it in. Think of living each day by taking smaller bites and actually savoring each one. Just as an example. I LOVE chocolate. Hand me a Hersheys with almonds and I am very happy person. But honestly, after about the 3rd  or 4th  bite, I’m hardly tasting it anymore. I’ve stopped really paying attention. And the truth is if I have one Hershey’s chocolate kiss and let it melt in my mouth and actually stay aware of it, it satisfies me a lot more than gobbling down a big honking king size Hershey bar. What if we tried approaching each day like this? Paying more attention, really smelling, and tasting and seeing, noticing the feeling of the air on your skin, noticing the smell of fall leaves, really hearing your dad’s laugh? Start there. Pay attention.

Second, thank God for three things every day and really mean it. As you’re paying attention and actually start to notice, really notice, one or two good things in your life, thank God for them. Thank God like you’ve just been given a really great gift. A gift from God to you, all wrapped up with a bow on top. Make your list of three things you’re thankful for first thing in the morning, right when you wake up, or do it right before you go to sleep. Do it whenever you find yourself stressed out and worried or jealous or feeling like nobody loves you, and like nothing is going your way. Stop. Make a list of 3 things you’re grateful for. You can just make the list in your head or actually write it down. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do. It’ll make a difference. I promise. It’ll make a difference in how you feel about your day and your life. It will make a difference in how you treat other people. And how you treat all kinds of things in your life. Really. Just try it.

So, you’re paying attention, you’re being truly grateful to God for at least three things every day. What else do you have to do to be a thankful person?

 Photo by  on  Unsplash

You don’t have to do anything else. But you might find yourself wanting to. Think about the best birthday present you ever got. It was just what you wanted. It was a gift that was perfect for you. You were thankful for it. What did you say to the person who gave it to you, let’s call that person Joe…Joe the Gift Giver. Did you say, Thanks Joe, what do I owe you for that? No. But when an opportunity comes up to give Joe a gift you think about him, don’t you? You think about what he might really like, about how you could make him happy the way he made you happy, right? That’s the way it is with God. We don’t owe God anything for the gifts he gives us. But out of our gratitude and joy, we may want to give God some things she particularly likes. So what do you give a God who has everything? Not a new tie…


Look at these words from the book of Micah, chapter 6, verse 8 from the Message translation:

What God is looking for in men and women [is] quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

Justice, compassion, love, and not taking yourself too seriously.. Imagine how the world might be different if we had more of that floating around.  Imagine how that might even be good news for people like Maria in Mexico making that garage door opener.

I bought a garage door opener, by the way. But each time I use it I try to think of it as a call to prayer.  A call to pay attention. To thank God for the gift that it is. To feel God’s love in that gift. And all the gifts I’m given every day. And each time I open my garage I try to think about what God might like as a gift from me. What acts of justice, compassion and love could I be a part of that day.

Thanksgiving is almost here. Our national day of gratitude. But considering the state of the world, I’m not sure one day is going to be enough. What if we started right now? Started being truly thankful today? And what if we didn’t stop

 Photo by  Hanny Naibaho  on  Unsplash

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash




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This is a blessing Gareth Higgins wrote, and read on Sunday morning at the Wild Goose Festival 2016. We asked if we could share it here. And thankfully he said, Yes.

You deserve to be known by the miracle of a day.
You are cradled through the night, the dusk affirming yesterday’s work.
You don’t just wake. You awaken unto something.

The miracle of a day.

What can happen in a day?
Stand in front of the mirror and repeat twenty times

‘I’m super-cool, and beautiful, and thrillingly alive.’

In the shower, be gentle with your skin, as if you were caressing a Rodin sculpture of a nude woman.
Pick up the first piece of trash you see, and turn it into an origami Yoda.
Make breakfast as if you were making love, and eat it that way too. Make sure no one’s looking. This time is for you. 
To ready yourself for the miracle of a day.

Your day.

Go out into the world of wonder - trees and cars and roads and buildings and books and restaurants and computers and desks and the greatest wonder: people!
Oh, people, fucked-up and gorgeous; alive and dying; deceitful and trying; and trying hard to be good.
They need you. We need you. Show us your love, and your origami Yoda. Hold yourself like you believe in your own glory - not more than or less than others, but inviting them into the same. 
Take delight in your foibles. Laugh when you lose your keys (again). Smile a wry smile at the first fifteen sexual fantasies that interrupt your conference call. 
Stretch your arms and legs and neck and let your voice transcend Whitman, for goodness’ sake: make it a beatific yawp!
Take yourself out to lunch and enjoy the sacrament of interruption that is queuing and choosing and eating.

Look up at the sky!
Look up at the sky!
Look up at the sky!

This is your roof.

Know that you’re not the only one thinking this. And that both of you are right.

Then, when the working day is winding down, 
readying itself to give way to rest and play, 
find someone who needs your smile.

Give it to them. And you’ll never lose it.

May you find the Anam Cara within. 
Soul Friendship with yourself, 
that opens unto others, 
makes a home for them, 
and transfigures your inner life.

May you be the friend to yourself that we are all waiting for.



"Room For Us All." A song for all of us, right now.

In this season, when we all seem to want to go "home for the holidays," it's heartbreaking to think about the fact that there are currently 60 million refugees on our planet...people without a home to go to. Without a welcome. Who are experiencing just what Jesus' family experienced when they got to Bethlehem...the message that "there's no room for you here."

This song was written thinking about those refugees and also about the refugee and exile that lives inside all of us.  Because all of us have known on some level, at some time in our lives, what it feels like not to be welcomed. We all know deep down the pain of not belonging. Whether that's because of the way we look, where we come from, who we love, what we believe. 


We also know how hard it is to welcome others in. How hard it is to face, like the innkeepers in Bethlehem did,  strangers knocking on the door in the middle of the night, in the middle of our comfortable lives. The fear that's there. The feeling that there's not enough to go around.

This song is about that too. How hard it is to love as God loves us. With open arms and open doors, and an open heart. And a reminder that it matters, that love is why we are here. To love our neighbors, as ourselves. To live on this earth with love. To be love in this world. 

"Room For Us All" was inspired by the story of Jesus' birth, and Mary and Joseph's experience as strangers and exiles,  but it's a song we need to sing all year long. We've included the lyrics and chords below so you can. 

For another couple weeks it is available as a free download on NoiseTrade. And it's also available on iTunes.  

Finally, here's a iPhone video of Hannah Rand, Gary Rand and Torri Hamilton singing it with our congregation at LaSalle Street Church during the Advent season. 



A new song for we can sing together the revolutionary song of Mary

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Today we’re releasing the latest song we’ve completed for our new Advent and Christmas collection. This one, “Remember Mercy” is a gospel music version of Mary’s Magnificat, one that I co-wrote with gospel music legend and my friend, Elsa Harris.  

Lenora wrote these lyrics, adapted from Luke 1, where Mary sings about how, from generation to generation, God has remembered mercy. We shared the lyrics with Elsa, and then Elsa and I worked on the tune together over a couple weeks. Recorded here in Chicago, gospel music singer Leslie Michelle sings lead, supported by our band, The Many. You can take a listen here, and download it for free.


The story behind the song

It was a real honor to get to write this song with Elsa. She has been my Gospel music mentor for many years. If you knew Elsa, you would understand a little of why I feel so privileged to say that. Her bio includes extensive recording credits, directing choirs around the world and working with many of the greats in Gospel music including Jessy Dixon and Andre Crouch. Elsa also toured with Paul Simon for 8 years, and performed on two of his albums’ ‘Live Rhymin’ and ‘Still Crazy.’ She was named a Legend of Chicago Gospel Music in 2012.

Ever since I became pastor of worship and the arts at LaSalle Street Church, one of the things I've tried to do is introduce a number of different kinds of music to our congregation, as a way of opening us up to other ways of knowing and experiencing God, to move us outside of the comfort of our own limited cultural understandings. So, in one service we might sing a traditional hymn, a praise chorus from Korea, and end with a rousing march from South Africa. As a part of that, I have also gotten our congregation singing a lot of black Gospel music, and Elsa has been kind enough to help with that…first leading our choir in several Gospel music workshops and then partnering with us for the last several years in putting together Gospel Music Festivals at LaSalle, where we bring in choirs from all over the city to get to know each other and make music together. 

As Lenora and I started working on these new songs for congregations to sing during Advent and Christmas, one of the scriptures we were most inspired by was the passage in Luke where Mary makes up a song, in reaction to the news that she’s pregnant with Jesus, a song which is now often called the Magnificat.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis, said about the Magnificat

"The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here.
“This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary's mouth.
"Swelling with new life by the power of the Spirit and affirmed by her kinswoman Elizabeth, Mary sings a song that proclaims God's gracious, effective compassion. " 

To capture some of that revolutionary, prophetic wildness of Mary's words, Lenora and our daughter Hannah wrote the song, “Holy Is Your Name,” which we released a month or so ago, that is musically a unique blend of indie folk and gospel.

But as we continued to explore that passage, Lenora wrote some more lyrics. And I asked Elsa if she'd be interested in writing a more straight-ahead gospel song to these new lyrics. It just seemed so appropriate, because gospel is a music born out of the African American experience of suffering and the struggle against oppression. It calls into bold relief what's wrong with the world, yet in the midst of the cries of pain, there are also cries of praise -  the testimony that things are bad now but we trust that God is not going to let them stay that way. 

We hope that's what you'll hear in "Remember Mercy"...that this Advent and every Advent season, we worship a God who sees the oppressed, hears their cries, and is here for all of us, the whole wide hurting world, and is not done yet. 

We can join in praising that God. And we can join in working towards the world God has in mind...the world Jesus' birth is meant to usher in...where the hungry are fed, the suffering find relief and the oppressed go free. 


200 Candles and a Thousand Alleluias -- All Saints Day


200 Candles and a Thousand Alleluias -- All Saints Day

 Candles lit for All Saints Day at LaSalle Street Church, Chicago. Photo by Mary Rodriguez

Candles lit for All Saints Day at LaSalle Street Church, Chicago. Photo by Mary Rodriguez

All Saints Day is the day in the Christian liturgical calendar set aside to celebrate the saints that have come before us. And the ones among us. Not just some saints – the 5-star big-name ones – but all of them. And by saint we don’t mean the “perfect Christians” or the “ones who got it all right.” No, the saints we celebrate are those who, through their very ordinary, very human, absolutely flawed lives, still managed to bring a little more love and hope, mercy and grace into the world. In big ways that put them in the headlines and on the most quotable lists. And in small ways. Almost imperceptible ways, sometimes.

At LaSalle Street Church we often celebrate this day by hearing words from saints who are gone and by some who are still alive and still changing our world. So on Sunday there was a liturgy where folks in our service stood and read quotes from people like Julian of Norwich, Oscar Romero, as well as from young Malala Yousafzai who in 2012 defied the Taliban by demanding girls be given an education and received a bullet in the head for speaking out.

In the prayer time, toward the end of the service, we celebrated by reading aloud the names of the saints who have died this year, ones we’ve known personally and those who we’ve only known through their grandparents and neighbors and friends and co-workers, alongside theologians and baseball players and famous musicians. As names were read, people from the congregation walked to the front, lit a candle and placed it in a communal sand pit.

Those lights shining all together became a physical reminder of a spiritual reality… and reinforcement of what we’d heard from the Scripture reading and reflection of the morning:  Moses, didn’t get to go into the promised land, but passed on the baton, so to speak, to the people around him…and really to all of us. Showing us, once again, that as significant as one person’s actions may seem to be, it really isn’t about just one of us…the transformation of the world is about all of us. About daily acts of love and kindness, peacemaking and sacrifice. About just showing up, awake and willing to participate in God’s work in the world in whatever ways we can. 

About singing alleluia in thousands of different ways and places.  

That image - a thousand alleluias - is one I discovered when looking for music for Sunday. I ran across those words in a song lyric by acclaimed hymn writer, Brian Wren, a song titled, “A Cloud of Witnesses Around Us.” 

I’ve been a long time fan of Wren’s work because he always manages to give language to new, more inclusive views of God, and themes of justice and openness, with a real poet’s ear. A few years ago I wrote a tune to his lyrics on welcoming refugees, called “Break the Bread of Belonging,”  a song I led in worship at a recent gathering of progressive evangelical leaders in Minneapolis. 

"A Cloud of Witnesses Around Us” was written in a kind of odd meter, however, and there wasn’t a tune in our hymnal that really worked with it that well. So I decided to write my own tune to it last week that we could sing as a congregation on Sunday.

A crowd, that clamors pain and anger,

prevents us from nostalgic pride;

the cries of poverty and hunger

recall us to our Savior's side.

There we entrust, to God most just,

a thousand alleluias.

-Third Verse from "A Cloud of Witnesses Among Us" by Brian Wren

Its refrain, “…a thousand alleluias” made me think of the haunting and iconic Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah,” so as I wrote the tune I tried to make a space for that “Alleluia” lyric to breathe…and take hold.  It also felt like, since we were talking about ordinary people who have gone before us, lamenting their loss but celebrating their legacy, that it would make sense to pull in some music with echoes of the past as well. So I brought in a little flavor of Sacred Harp and bluegrass/Americana to this song, a style of music crafted by ordinary working people, a style born without pretense and out of genuine feeling. 

Many people seemed to appreciate it on Sunday…so Tuesday when I was in the studio working on some additional vocals with Cindy Stacey for our Advent/Christmas song project, while we were taking a break for lunch, I took out a guitar and Cindy and I started singing it together. We sang it through once and then Dorian Gehring, who is our sound engineer and also a multi-talented musician, picked up a fiddle and joined us. We ended up just turning on my iPad camera and making a quick video of the song, which you can watch below. The video isn’t perfect of course, but it did end up capturing the tune and a little of the feeling we were going for. 

And hopefully it can help you celebrate all the imperfect saints we know…and we are… and hear a little better those “thousand alleluias.”









Break the Bread of Belonging

In a time when refugees are front page news, what does the church have to say? The words of hymn writer Brian Wren are, "Break the bread of belonging. Welcome the stranger in your land. We have each been a stranger, we can try to understand."

Here is a song written to those words several years ago. 

"HOME," by Somali poet Warsan Shire:


Here is wonderful poem to read in worship. Perhaps before a prayer time, focused on all the people in our world today leaving homes because they have to.   


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i've become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

by Somali poet, Warsan Shire