by Dustin Davis
Re-blogged from: Community of Christ Orange
Nothing stirs my spirit quite like the sound of organ song and many voices combined, spiraling upward through the swirling spire of the Temple in Independence, Missouri. Even now as I write this my ears and my heart still ring with both new and familiar texts and tunes that fill our new hymnal, Community of Christ Sings. The annual Peace Colloquy held this last weekend made the connections between the songs we sing and the mission we claim, Christ’s mission. Peace Justice Song – the theme of this year’s Colloquy – boldly declared that what we sing matters, that words and music don’t just fill the gaps in worship but inspire us, challenge us and compel us forward into mission. As we have just begun to discover, and will continue to discover in the coming weeks, months and years ahead, the songs we sing will manifest themselves in our hearts and congregations and communities as we seek to make real God’s Kingdom and bring the peace and justice of Jesus Christ to ALL we encounter.
I eagerly began flipping through the clean pages of my personal copy of Community of Christ Sings as soon as I got my hands on it. My first instinct – and I’m sure I’m not alone – was to search for my favorite hymns, to see if the songs I’ve grown to know and love had made the cut and been carried over to our new song book. But as I began to see the songs I knew, my curiosity couldn’t help itself as I saw new hymns with titles like Leftover People in Leftover Places, When Memory Fades, The Summons, and Friend of the Streetwalker. There are even titles I wasn’t sure I could pronounce like Kanisa Litajengwa and Nimwebo Ba Yahweh! What a treasure this new book is, just waiting to be discovered and plundered! The titles, however, only scratch the surface of some of our new and provocative hymns. The texts are at once beautifully poetic, daringly challenging and, in some cases, heartbreakingly touching. (Not just once did I see people moved to tears after reading through a new song, but many times.) In his address to the colloquy, past Hymn Society in the United States and Canada president John Thornburg declared our new hymnal “gutsy!” As one person on the hymnal steering committee described to me, these aren’t just songs about the poor, these are the songs of the poor. When we start to sing words like, “Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled…God has work for us to do,” we will know and understand with little doubt the mission to which we are called.
But Community of Christ Sings is far more than a collection of songs that will confront us on Sunday morning. Inside its covers we will find songs that guide us into deep and quite moments of stillness where we find God dwelling within. Be Still, Calm to the Waves and Spirit Fill Us are just a few. Songs of joy and praise and thanksgiving also spill from its pages. Generosity and sorrow find expression here, as well as commitment and interfaith respect. And what about all the songs that appear in multiple languages and will challenge us when we sing them as our brothers and sisters do around the world? Theses songs will change the sound and feel of our worship, infusing it with a deep and profound joy that will make our hearts burst and leave us humming and tapping new rhythms for days on end!
Even the way we image God will be challenged and transformed when we sing songs that describe God as “Mother strong.” Other songs are radically inclusive – Draw the Circle Wide, All Are Welcome – and will help us truly value the infinite worth of ALL persons. Without tune, the text would just be words. The new music – swelling, haunting, bright, soft, full, round – will bring these poems to life in meaningful and memorable ways. Melodies from places as far flung as Zambia, India and Korea will soon be familiar favorites. And the authors are just as diverse, coming from all centuries and cultures, even from within the Community of Christ itself. There is even a new hymn written by the youth who attended the 2009 Community of Christ International Youth Forum, Is There One Who Feels Unworthy?
It will seem overwhelming I’m sure as we start to incorporate these new songs and melodies into our worship, but we can take comfort knowing that many of the beloved hymns are still there. It’s even a bit exciting to see the old mixed seamlessly with the new! (A new rendering of Old, Old Path sits page by page with this well-loved classic!) Community of Christ Sings will challenge us musically, theologically and missionally, but what a challenge to undertake. In the process we will no doubt discover much about ourselves and our God and the sort of people we are called and created to be, a community of Christ.
After spending just a few days with Community of Christ Sings it is clear that it is far more than just a song book. “You hold in your hands a vital mission tool!” the foreword proclaims! Community of Christ Sings is versatile in ways no previous hymnal has been, just as encouraging and inspiring for personal devotion as it is for corporate worship. Any visitor who picks up a copy and flips through its pages will immediately get a sense of who we are, who we are becoming and what matters most. Theological thinker and writer Henri Nouwen discusses the relationship between our words and actions. He says, “A world of love can be the greatest act of love. That is because when our words become flesh in our own lives and the lives of others, we can change the world. Jesus is the word made flesh. In him, speaking and acting were one.”
We have much to sing about! And it’s a message that our own hearts, congregations, communities and the world needs to hear! As we take yet another step on our faith journey, may our words become flesh and may the world be changed.