A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Category Archives: Religion

Psalm 131

See it full size for the best effect, I think: Psalm 131.
I made this slide show for worship this past Sunday, using CC photographs from Flickr, and music from Lindsay Phillips. It was prompted by Psalm 131:

Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.

And so friends …

Harmonia Sacra online

Here’s a labor of love: the Harmonia Sacra online.

The Harmonia Sacra is a shape-note tunebook in the Mennonite tradition. Originally published in 1832 by Joseph Funk as A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, it has gone through twenty-six editions. This on-line version provides both seven-shape and four-shape (“Sacred Harp”-style) versions of tunes.

I created a website (static website, but generated with Ruby) using James Nelson Gingerich’s excellent newly typeset versions of this tune book.

A crack in everything

Fred Clark gets it:

One of the first questions when approaching the subject of human nature tends to be are we essentially good or essentially rotten? The Christian answer — “Yes!” — can seem like a cop-out, or a contradiction, or a paradox (the euphemism theologian’s use for those contradictions we like). The idea is that every human is of inestimable worth, bearing the very image of God through and through. Yet every human is also fallen, broken, corrupt, through and through. And the matter of virtue and wickedness is only part of the equation anyway — we’re not just fallen, but also finite, fallible and fragile.

Blessed Hope Services

The kind people at Blessed Hope Old Regular Baptist Church in Liberty Kentucky have been making their worship services available online, including lots of ‘lined out’ hymns. The general website is at ‘Blessed Hope Services‘. One very nice hymn is ‘Beside the gospel pool’ (mp3). I love how you can often hear the children in the background.

"When you mix politics and religion, you get politics"

Second thoughts, perhaps, on the part of the religious right, according to the New York Times Magazine’s David D. Kirkpatrick.

(Perhaps I should tag this under ‘politics’ alone).

Glory to rival the sun

This past weekend, Bess, Jane and I attended the 50th anniversary of the founding of Reba Place Church, the church we attended in the 90’s when I was in graduate school and for a few years afterwards. Saturday was spent going though a decade by decade retrospective. Reba began as, essentially, a commune in the 50’s and experienced explosive growth through the 60s and 70s. They allowed non-communal members in the 80s and there were many aftershocks of many of the communal members becoming everyday variety congregational members. The 90s, our decade, were full of angst for Reba, as it struggled to let new leaders emerge, dealt with–or didn’t deal with–its own racism and desire to be an anti-racist church, radically different views on many things, especially the role of women in leadership and the role of the Spirit in the church’s direction. Various betrayals of trust and adulteries didn’t help. The past decade, with (I think) able leadership of pastor Ric Hudgens, the gospel choir led by Helen Hudgens, and a cadre of leaders and members who stuck it out when many left, has been much better, in both the congregational and communal parts of the church.

The current and former members of Reba, to their credit, were able to name the good and the bad throughout these decades, and joyously celebrated the music and liturgical dance for which it has become justly known. We were hosted by the always gracious Shelly family, and it was wonderful to see so many old friends (and a few bête noires), although, really, I’d rather spend a day with one friend than see 100 friends and not get a chance to talk with each one more than a few minutes. (I’m confident enough in heaven that I know there will be plenty of time to catch up).

Jim Croegaert‘s song Changes captures it all well:

Changes coming upon us
It keeps moving, moving around us
Got to keep dancing knowing God loves us
Got to keep joy in our hearts
God knows all of our needs and
God will meet them following God’s plan
Even the changes turning in God’s hand
Soon will be part of it all
So we enter a new time
There are places where it’s a hard climb
But there are faces carrying sunshine
Warming our path as we go
Sometimes we may be lonely
It’s a hard job making us holy
But in the long run there will be glory
Glory to rival the sun.

Kelly (and Susan) Clark

Sunday evening, Bess, a number of friends, and I went to hear Calvin professors Kelly Clark (philosophy) and Steve Matheson (biology) speak on “God after Darwin, Dawkins, and Dennet” at the Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids. Kelly has been a friend of Bess’s since high school, and Susan Ford Clark, Kelly’s wife, shared an apartment with Bess their senior year–in fact, Kelly and Susan, and Bess and I, were married on the same day in the same church (at different times). It was great fun to go out to dinner with the Clarks and catch up a bit; we haven’t seen them much over the years.

It was interesting to hear Kelly and Steve Matheson, both evangelical scholars and believers in natural selection, talk. Being ‘pro-evolution’ is a bit of a third rail in some evangelical circles, and being ‘pro-God’ is a bit of a third rail in some professional circles. They did a masterful job of presenting–in just over an hour–a basic epistomological stance, what explanations are, and why theism and natural selection are compatible.

(“Sue” corrected to “Susan.”)

Two small occasional works

This has been a delightful weekend. On Saturday, I attended the Golden Gate Sacred Harp singing in San Francisco (with a nice Après-chant at Philip’s house, nicely described by Linda, who also has pictures of the singing). In the morning today, Jeff Shrager took me to see redwoods and banana slugs and tidepools, capped by some nice bluegrass music at a cafe. Worship at Sojourners was also good.

Back in Michigan, I missed some cool things happening. Bess hosted an Earth Day parade for our neighborhood, with lots of bikes and kids and people dressing up like something they admired in nature (Bess went as a maple tree). Some 60 people came; I wish I could have been there. Or perhaps at Sam Sommers and Beth Hall’s house blessing in Elkhart that I was disappointed to miss.

Anyway, I wrote two small occasional works for this weekend. One was the opening prayer for the Golden Gate singing; the other a text to sing to a new tune by Thomas Malone that he composed for Sam and Beth’s house blessing. First, the text for the tune (in “Common Meter,” so you can sing it to Amazing Grace or the Gilligan’s Island theme song). It helps to remember that Sam and Beth’s last names:

Home Blessing

The halls we build seem grand and strong
And sturdy in our sight;
Eternal eyes can see them fall
Swift as a summer’s night.

So, gracious Lord, we ask Thou grant
Our homes be built on praise,
And guide us to Thy boundless halls
And ceaseless summer days.

And here’s the prayer, with footnotes, even, since it’s a bit of a pastiche:


When you laid earth’s foundation the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy [1]. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have perfected praise [2]. The very stones would cry out should forget our voices [3].

We have neither the innocence of babes nor subtlety of angels to praise you as you deserve. What we do have is this time and this place and these voices.

So, in the singing of our spiritual songs, let us sing with a soul flying away to you; help us not give over the struggle till we feel ourselves come into a holy symphony with the saints [4] who with the angels and babes and stones and stars shout out your perfect praise.

I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith [5]. Amen.

[1] After Job 38:4,7.
[2] Matthew 26:16. On the title page of William Billings’s New England Psalm-Singer, the first book composed of music written in America.
[3] After Luke 19:40
[4] After Cotton Mather (from The Accomplished Singer, quoted in the biography William Billings of Boston, by David P McCay and Richard Crawford).
[5] After Hebrews 12:2

Reading the Revelation at Lent

Excellent teaching by Debbie Gish at Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco, Reading the Revelation at Lent. Excerpt:

Like it or not, which often I don’t, we are actually in a battle, in a war. Being strong, being focused, being whole hearted and single-minded are painfully necessary….This isn’t a war of survival; this is a war of conquering. And in order to conquer, not just survive, we gotta get the Enemies ways and means out of our system. Not so that we are little pure, shiny angels or something, but because we fighting the Lamb’s war and we’re fighting with the Lamb’s weapons and for the Lamb’s victory. And we aren’t fighting this fight with Satan’s weapons; it’s not fighting fire with fire. It’s fighting fire with water; it’s fighting hate with love; it’s fighting infidelity with faithfulness; it’s fighting darkness with light. We aren’t trying to sneak across enemy lines and steal the enemies weapons and tactics and use them again them. To defeat the Beast we don’t need to study the ways of the Beast; we need to study and live the ways of the Lamb.