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A BLESSING FOR FRIENDSHIP WITH YOUR OWN SOUL by Gareth Higgins

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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?
Everything.
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.

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"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. 






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

 

 

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. 



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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 reputations...so 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.”



 

 

 

 

 

 

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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
pitied

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

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
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
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
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

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"We don't know what we're doing." The grace of telling the truth

Take a listen to one of our favorite songs we heard at the OPEN National Summit Gathering, from a group out of Seattle's EastLake Community Church. The lyrics to this song are especially great. So simple, direct and true. Love this line: "We've got no idea what we're doing." The honesty and humility of that -- wouldn't it be amazing if more Christians were saying that, versus being so addicted to their own rightness. There is so much grace...and so much power...in simply telling the truth.

The song is called "Keep Us All Close" and it goes right to the heart of all the divisions in our world today, divisions so often perpetuated by religion. 

"God bless the christian, God bless the atheist
God bless the muslim, God bless the rest of us
We've got no idea what we're doing

Keep us all close, every one of us close
Don't let anyone go "
 

Here is what they say about themselves on their website...

"It’s probably important to start by making it clear that we are not the ones who “finally got the Bible right”. Neither do we possess the secret to life, exclusive access to GOD or “Seven Steps to Satisfaction”. We are, however, powerfully drawn to the person of Jesus, his teaching and even more so, his life. So we are experimenting, and failing, and building a community that collectively follows his Way; hoping, trusting and even doubting that it might seed something beautiful in the world. Namely; full and abundant life for all creation. We think the TRUTH about LIFE may just be LOVE and LOVE may just be the WAY. "

 

 

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Breaking down the walls we put up

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Breaking down the walls we put up

When I have the time and when it seems right, I am going to be sharing on this site some notes and reflections from our morning worship at LaSalle Street Church.  Some of you LaSalle folks may read this and wonder, “Is that the service I was at?”  But I hope you might enjoy this “inside story” of LaSalle worship.  For those in the wider community, I offer these ideas and reflections in humility, hoping that they may be of interest and that they might be a resource for your work. --Gary Rand

8/2/2015.  Today’s worship gathering was the last gathering in a series called, “Invisible Issues.”  Through the summer we have been focused on tough topics like homelessness, incarceration and addiction.  (My wife, Lenora, gave the sermon on addiction.  It is worth reading.  Here’s the link.

Today, we focused on religious intolerance with a great guest preacher, Joe Morrow, from Interfaith Youth Core.     If you don’t know this group check them out.  They are doing incredible, much needed work.

As I planned and prepared for today, I was struck by the lack of worship resources that hold out a vision for community with those who live by other faiths.  Michael Gungor’s song, Us For Them, inspired me early in the week,  and that song led me to Isaiah 11 and the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom.  I was grateful for the Gungor brothers this week.  We couldn’t get it together enough to sing Us for Them, but we did sing Brother, a song by Michael’s brother, David, and his band, the Brilliance.  The song begins, “When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brother…”  


I think the moment that most folks will remember from today’s gathering was a reading for two liturgists.  They stood about 6 feet apart on the front platform of the sanctuary and alternated reading lines in a dialogue about the divisions and walls that we build between us.  The reading was interrupted at three points by the singing of Kyrie.  As they spoke and as we sang, a wall of cardboard boxes was built between them.  When it was too high for them to see each other, they paused for the final Kyrie

They began again with the words of Isaiah 11 and slowly began to take the wall down, one brick at a time.   When the wall was almost removed, they reached across the remaining boxes, shook hands, and then in unison, recited the words of Isaiah 11:6.  It was at that point that we sang the song, Brother

This wall-building/wall-removing experience was not difficult to put together, but the impact was deep.  It reminded me again of the power of strong images.  It reminded me of the richness possible when music and text and visuals connect and when the congregation participates in the work.  

The idea for the creation of the wall in the service,  originated in a gathering I attended in the Iona Community a couple of years ago.  It was a different text, but the Iona service was also built around the image of building a wall of boxes, dividing the group.   

Finally, I was grateful to find a set of liturgies by Sophie Dutton called, Holy Darkness.  It’s available from Proost.  The text for the wall experience, came from there. 





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