La Frontera 2016

Wednesday 9 November 2016

I have a lot of printed t-shirts hanging in my closet, and I’m usually thoughtful about which one I wear on a given day. Yesterday, working the election polls, I decided to go with my Chicago neighborhoods tee (which looks like this, but on a shirt).

Today, flipping through my shirts, I stopped and pulled down my Camp Mowana “La Frontera” theme shirt. The meaning that we were shared (at least as I internalized it) of “La Frontera” was of a place between, neither here nor there, a place of transition from what was to what is to come. In seeing that word and what it’s come to mean for me in the 10+ years since I obtained the shirt, I decided it was the appropriate way to capture my mood this day. (The shirt is subtitled “Where Jesus Meets Us” for some context for the camp’s choice of theme.)

Sitting here, the day after our citizenry (or at least those of age who decided to vote and are not restricted by law from doing so) went to the polls and elected a man who has shown callous disregard for so many different groups of people, I feel between. We’re obviously moving forward, at least in terms of calendar time, but it’s also clear that we’re in the middle of something big.

While there were likely many people who voted for Donald J. Trump out of animus for specific groups and peoples (Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Jews, even women), I suspect that that population alone would not have been enough to propel Trump to the presidency. Instead, there were many who simply turned a blind eye to this part of Trump, taking an “It’s not that important” stance to these issues and focusing instead on his anti-establishment rhetoric and their dissatisfaction with the political status quo when dealing with their (economic) lives.

Whatever the reason citizens opted to vote for Trump (who appears to have not even received the most votes overall, just enough in the right states—but that’s a topic for another day), our country will soon know the leadership of a man who embodies a white supremacist and xenophobic framework, supported by an electorate who at worst find this trait positive and at best find it negligible. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I believe failing to condone such oppression is unacceptable and as good as promoting  that oppression.)

For me, this time—definitely this day, likely the next two months, but perhaps also the coming four or more years—has all the feelings of what I envision for La Frontera. It will be a time of struggle as we figure out where our country, full of a vast number of peoples with a vast number of beliefs and ideals, goes from here.

How can we create a land where all people are able to live in peace and comfort and seek self-fulfillment? How do we heal the wounds that (not only this election cycle but) our history has given so many of us? How do we listen to one another and recognize that my ability to live a full and valuable life does not depend on others suffering, and vise versa?

There are no easy answers, and (as always) the outcome of this election, no matter who had won, didn’t make these questions any less relevant. After all, it takes more than a president to change a country (see: Barack Obama).

As we move through La Frontera, it is important for all of us to ask ourselves what our role will be in the healing future of our country and its peoples. If you’re seeking a place to start on this first Wednesday after the first Monday in November, I recommend it be there.


in defense of the (whole) hymn

Sunday 28 June 2009

I love to sing hymns. You know, the kind with the organ swelling in four-part glorious harmony as the congregation sings along, maybe in harmony, too – and if you’re lucky, you get an organ interlude/flourish before that last verse, and maybe even a key change (though that usually take me out of tenor range). Many take me back to my childhood, be it only the tune or the whole hymn itself, but it just brings me back to a place of confident faith that I can’t say I experience anywhere else. (Excuse me if I’m sounding too much like Garrison Keillor here.) And while I do enjoy singing the praise songs that have become popular in many worship settings today, there’s something about holding that hymn book in my hand and joining the heavenly chorus.

Part of what I love about hymns, and something that I’ve only more recently really began to realize, is the beautiful poetry of hymns. On Easter, I wrote about the way the words of a particular hymn stuck me that morning, and it seems every Sunday I’m greeted anew with more words of faith and assurance, many written by saints of old. This morning it was “God Himself Is Present” (see below) that (masculine pronouns not withstanding) really got to me, taking me into the presence of the Holy One.

And it’s the poetry aspect of the hymns (what else could it be) that has gotten me frustrated various times in the past few months and brings this critique: if you’re going to sing a hymn, you really should sing all the verses. If you were going to read a poem, would you only read half of it? In fact, many poems we remember by their concluding lines of verses (i.e. “… and I took the road less traveled), so why do we feel it OK to conclude a hymn early? If it’s the length of the service one is concerned about, pick a different hymn or fewer hymns – don’t shrink a perfectly good poem down from it’s full nature.

I attended a Catholic mass a few months ago with a few friends, having gone to a Lutheran service earlier that day with one of them, and she noted that one thing about Catholic services is that it’s a very rare occasion to sing all the verses of a hymn – in fact, at that mass I attended, we sang only the first two verses of each hymn we sang. I won’t go as far as calling it sacrilegious, but it would certainly be a deterrent for me attending mass if I knew I’d never get to sing a hymn in its fullness.

A particular example which really got me going with this, about a year ago: At a particular service, they have hymns during communion. The final song was “O Christ The Same.” This is a beautiful hymn to the tune of “O Danny Boy,” with three verses: the first speaking of Christ in ages past (“our yesterdays”), Christ today (“the present hour”), and Christ in the future (“all that is to be”). We were on the second verse as communion distribution concluded, and the service would continue when we stopped singing.

And we stopped singing after the second verse!

Here you have a wonderful poem by Timothy Dudley-Smith, telling this story of past, present, and future, and all we get is the first two pieces of the story! It happened again last week with “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” as we failed to sing the final verse, which sings of assurance in death (“the night draws near”).

I implore all you worship planners (or those with such influence): don’t do a disservice to these great poets and SING ALL THE VERSES OF THE HYMNS!

“God Himself Is Present” by: Gerhard Tersteegen

God himself is present;
Let us now adore him
And with awe appear before him!
God is in his temple;
All within keep silence,
Prostrate lie with deepest rev’rence.
Him alone God we own,
Him, our God and Savior;
Praise his name forever.

God himself is present;
Hear the harps resounding;
See the hosts the throne surrounding!
“Holy, holy, holy!”
Hear the hymn ascending,
Song and saints and angels blending.
Bow your ear to us here:
Hear, O Christ the praises
That your Church now raises.

Light of light eternal,
All things penetrating,
For your rays our soul is waiting.
As the tender flowers,
Willingly unfolding,
To the sun their faces holding:
Even so would we do,
Light for you obtaining,
Strength to serve you gaining.

Come, celestial Being,
Make our hearts your dwelling,
Ev’ry carnal thought dispelling.
By your Holy Spirit
Sanctify us truly,
Teaching us to love you only.
Where we go here below,
Let us bow before you
And in truth adore you.