Via Transformativa: Music of the Spheres – Praise Songs

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 19:28-40), on this Palm Sunday, unlike other Gospel accounts, in Luke we read a story that has no palms, and no big crowds singing praises as our guy comes into Jerusalem.  Instead, we’re told that it was the “whole multitude” of Jesus’ disciples who sang loud, joyful songs of praise as Jesus rode a simple colt into town.

What a sight that must have been – this long-haired, ragged, homeless preacher riding into town on tiny donkey, his followers surrounding him singing his praises. Jesus wasn’t the only one headed into Jerusalem at this time, of course. It was Passover, one of the biggest Jewish festivals of the year, and many were making their pilgrimage to the city.

Over on the other side of town, the Roman ruler of Jerusalem, Pilate, was riding in on his war horse with a battalion of troops riding along. The author of Luke doesn’t want us to miss the importance of Jesus’ procession when compared to the pageantry and earthly might that Pilate’s procession represents.

While those on Pilate’s side of town probably sang hymns to celebrate the man they saw as far more powerful than Jesus, you can bet those songs were sang out of duty and from a deep place of fear that if those songs of praise were not sung, punishment would surely follow.

Isn’t that still how the world operates? We’re still expected to sing praises to those at the top of the heap, whether it’s in government, business, or even in the church. Not so much because we might want to, but because we’re supposed to. It’s our duty.

There was much singing and praising in these past few weeks as the Catholic Church selected a new pope. Pope Francis I is said to be a humble man, perhaps the kind to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, but it remains to be seen if even a humble man can do anything to change the corruption and scandals that have run rampant within the church.

Just because praise songs are sung, Jesus reminds us, doesn’t mean that shouts of scorn are not far behind. That would be Jesus’ fate in Jerusalem in just a few days as songs of praise would turn to scorn and ridicule, and the even disciples’ proud shouts of affirmation of Jesus would turn into words of denial.

This is the danger of singing praise songs that don’t come from our heart – from that realm of God within. Just as the Pharisees told Jesus to hush up his disciples’ sincere songs of praise, so the authorities today discourage us from singing songs of liberation, or songs of peace, or songs of mercy.

But, Jesus refused to silence his disciples and kept singing his own loud songs of freedom, grace and forgiveness. Those songs were so offensive to the authorities that they arrested him and sought to silence his song on the cross. But, true songs of praise, the music that come from the depth of the Holy within us all, can never be silenced.

Even today we can still hear that song that Jesus sang … that music inside of us that keeps us from being frightened or worried, even when the world threatens to silence us.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Broken Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 15:11-32), we find our guy telling a familiar story about the prodigal son. As a pastor, you really dread this passage coming around year after year. You read it and watch as people’s eyes glaze over. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this one, when’s lunch?”

Familiarity does, indeed, breed contempt. But, what makes this story so good, and so often told, is that in every telling, in every reading, we have to be open to some new revelation – some new insight – coming to us.

In the traditional telling, we are the prodigal son, gone off to live a sinful and wanton life and when we find that life does not make us whole, we come back to God, who is the father in this story, and we are welcomed home.

What we tend to miss in this story is the part where the prodigal son tries to repent of his sins.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”

It goes by so fast, but we hardly notice it – at no point does the father forgive the son. In fact, the father is so ecstatic to see his son, he’s not even listening to his confession. He’s too busy planning a party to welcome his son home.

What makes the father so ecstatic is not the groveling repentance of the son. Instead, it is the son’s utter acceptance of his brokenness that really pleases the father. Do you think a party is enough to make this broken relationship whole? Do you think a feast wipes the slate clean – creates a tableau rasa where the son and father forget what happened in the past? Absolutely not – but wholeness was not what the father promised his son. All he offers is acceptance and honors his son as the broken misfit that he really is and has been created to be.

Ah, but, too often, we’re like the older brother in this story. He seethed that all his brother had to do was acknowledge his brokenness to get a big party. He didn’t have to repent or do some act of penance to prove his brokenness had been healed. The older brother had stayed home, hiding his brokenness behind a mask of piety and loyalty to his father. He refused to accept the brokenness of his brother – perhaps because it cut too close for him and threatened to reveal his own brokenness.

How often do we hide our own brokenness and criticize those who are so open about theirs – so vulnerable and honest about their imperfections? How often do we expect others to become whole – or at least hide their brokenness – before we will embrace them? How often do we stay away from the party because we think the broken are not worthy of being celebrated? How often do we reject our own brokenness in our mad search for a wholeness that always seems to elude us? How much do we long to just come home and be welcomed and celebrated simply for who we are – no strings attached?

Here’s a hint – stop trying to repent of – or hide – your brokenness, because God’s not listening. Instead, the Holy is too busy planning your welcome home party that starts in the exact moment that you realize that we are all wholly broken, which means there is no separation – no gap at all – between you and God.

Breathe deeply. 

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Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys – Shipwrecked Misfits

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 14:11-13), we find our guy telling us something startling. He says in John 14 “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”

Can you imagine doing greater things than Jesus did? Well, no, really we can’t because the religion we’ve been following all of our lives doesn’t teach us that. It teaches us that we are here – in a lowly sinful state, unable to do anything good, and Christ is way up here – far above us, holier than us, of the same substance of the Father, and of we can ask ourselves a million times, “What would Jesus do?” but we’re never going to do it.

In seminary my old faith got shipwrecked. But, in retrospect, I’m glad it did, because it showed me that’s exactly the kind of faith that deserves a good shipwrecking. The kind of faith that calls us filthy, unworthy sinners and teaches us to cower in fear before a wrathful God deserves to be wrecked. Any faith that relies solely on a theological sniff test of beliefs deserves to go down in flames, because at it’s heart, it’s no faith at all – but is a limiting set of beliefs that keep us from revealing God’s glory in our own lives.

G.K. Chesterton once quipped that: “The problem is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but rather that it’s been found difficult and never tried.” What all the argumentation over this doctrine and that dogma means to me is that the early church fathers found actually following Jesus too difficult, so to distract themselves they began to argue about Jesus.

They limited themselves, and in doing so, they have limited us down through the ages. We are not encouraged to follow Jesus and attempt to do good works like Jesus. In fact, my good Southern Baptist roots had a name for that kind of arrogance – “works righteousness.” They believed that going out and doing good works meant you were trying to curry favor with God, so they said, “you’re saved by faith and not by works.”

James (James 1:22-25tells us however, that we are not to be mere hearers of the word, but doers of the word. While it may be true that we’re not saved because of our works, James asks, “Show me your faith apart from your works.” We’re not setting out to curry God’s favor by doing good in the world, instead we are showing our faith through our works. It’s not “works righteousness” to want to imitate Jesus – and even doing greater things!

Ah, but how we limit ourselves. Right now, someone in the room is probably thinking, “How on earth can we do the things that Jesus did – and not just that – but even greater things!”  I’ll tell you how – stop limiting yourself. Stop believing that you are a worthless sinner who can do no good in this world. Stop thinking that Jesus is so far above you that you’ll never measure up.

Jesus is here – working within each of us and if we give up our limiting thoughts, our limiting beliefs, we’ll be doing what Christ did – healing a sick and wounded world.

Nelson Mandela, in his inauguration speech in 1994 identified our deepest fear not as inadequacy, but that we are powerful beyond measure. Mandela said that our “playing small does not serve the world.” Instead, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

And this is what Jesus taught – liberation from fear, liberation from our limited thinking and being. Only people who have set aside their limited thinking will do what Jesus did, and even greater things. It was this belief that got Jesus nailed to a cross, because it’s dangerous thinking. Think about it – if everyone overcame their limiting thoughts and believed that they were powerful beyond measure and able to do what Jesus did – and even greater things – what would happen to those in power? Those who have power over us count on us to think limited thoughts and live limited lives. They count on us to not protest when they lead us into wars and foment hatred in our names. They count on us to feel limited, helpless and hopeless.

Then comes along this Jesus fellow who tells us how powerful we are – that our lives can be limitless – that we can do everything he has done and even more. What if the people believed him? What would happen to those at the top who make their money off our limited lives? They had to do away with this Jesus fellow. He was far too dangerous, telling people that the kingdom of God was within each of them and they could do such greater things than he could. For those who wish to limit us, that spelled the end of their domination over us. The powers that be couldn’t let that happen.

In Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, all the misfit toys had limitations – a boat that sank, a bird that swam, a train with square wheels, a gun that shot jelly, a Charlie in the box. But, in the end, it was their shipwrecked misfit nature that ultimately brought change to the world. Instead of focusing on their limits, they discovered it was exactly what made them misfits that made them the most valuable to the world.

We are the same – limitless even while we deal with our limits, powerful even in our weakness, wise even in our ignorance and able to do greater things even as we are full of doubt.

Breathe deeply.

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