New Inclusive Hymnbook to be Published in September

Earth Transformed coverFinal

Earth Transformed with Music! Inclusive Songs for Worship will be out soon. It’s been exciting to collaborate with composer Larry E. Schultz on this third collection of inclusive hymns.

This collection includes all new songs, most to widely-known tunes and some to new tunes. Many of the songs are appropriate for interfaith settings. A special feature of this new collection is the inclusion of multigenerational short songs for various parts of worship services, such as invocations and benedictions.

Here is one of the fresh, lovely new tunes that Larry created for one of the songs in this collection, “Come, Sophia Wisdom, Come,” along with the lyrics to the first stanza:

Come, Sophia Wisdom, come, live in our hearts;

come, Sophia Wisdom, come, peace to impart.

Heal us, bless us, stir us, and free us.

Come, Sophia Wisdom, come, live in our hearts.

Words © 2014 Jann Aldredge-Clanton

This new collection, Earth Transformed with Music! Inclusive Songs for Worship, will instill belief in the sacredness of all people and all creation. The songs in this collection name Deity as female and male and more to support the foundational biblical truth that all people are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27).

Music has great power to touch the heart and change the world. Words we sing in worship shape our beliefs and actions. The inclusive songs in this collection will contribute to social justice, peace, equality, and expansive spiritual experience. The predominant themes of gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality, economic justice, care of creation, and peacemaking flow from the prophetic tradition in Scripture.

In a world of wars and violence, oppression and brokenness, we can join together as sisters and brothers in faith communities to transform the world through music.

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Visiting Churches of Various Cultures: Reflections by Colette Casburn Numajiri (cont.)

multiracial2

The fifth church Colette Numajiri and I visited on our adventure of visiting churches of various cultures was a United Methodist Church in Dallas. This church is closer to “multicultural” than any of the churches we’ve visited so far. We were delighted to see African Americans, Africans, Indians, and Anglos worshiping together.

It was also exciting to see a strong African American woman as pastor of this church. The other four churches we’ve visited have male pastors.

But we were disappointed not to find inclusive language and imagery. Several of the other churches we’ve visited also used exclusively male language, but we didn’t notice it as much because only parts of the service were translated into English, and the Catholic church did have the female images of Mary.

So this visit brought mixed feelings: we celebrated the racial and cultural diversity and the powerful African American woman pastor, but we longed for inclusive language and imagery. We felt a dissonance between the exclusively male language and this racially inclusive congregation with a woman pastor.

Colette Casburn Numajiri

Colette Casburn Numajiri

Colette expresses her strong mixed feelings about this visit. Here are some excerpts from her reflections.

Outside the sanctuary, robe-clad people were waiting to process down the aisle. We found our spot in the middle of the pews, and the service began. The strong, beautiful African American pastor greeted everyone after the opening hymn.

It was wonderful to see more racial diversity than in other churches we’ve visited. The congregation was about 70% Anglo, 28% African American, and the rest African and Indian. The choir was not as diverse as the congregation, but sang a glorious anthem.

As the pastor began to read the announcements, I started to recall the Methodist churches I grew up in. Although I was very proud to be watching this great woman leader, I quickly grew tired of the “He, Him, He, Lord, Jesus, Kingdom, sin, blood. . . “ Every few words were masculine, and now that I know better, it was very hard to hear. We tried to change the words to “She, Her, and Sophia” wherever we could in the hymns and everywhere the church was asked to recite aloud. It was hard and strange. I felt like this church was in a time warp: that it was right after the witch hunts in England were over and the “men of God” had written these creeds, Lord’s prayer, and Doxology that told everyone what to think and say. I felt like a slave, having to repeat something so unnatural that immediately equated to my psyche that I was lesser and did not matter. I am the daughter of the daughters of Eve and evil and unholy. I just shake my head thinking about how in the world they convinced people to think this for 2000+ years!

But there She was though, before us as an eloquent and charismatic female pastor, leading us. Perhaps she had to use these chosen words to stay in that position and to have this work.

I’ve never seen anyone sing along to the hymns as joyfully as did an elderly white-haired man several rows in front of us. I would have too if the songs were about Godde being a woman! I don’t blame him at all; he lucked out being born an Anglo male because evidently that’s what God is.

What if, in this same beautiful church, with its gorgeous stained glass windows (of all male images unless that figure crying at the foot of the cross was female), this same wombish minister was up there telling us that we are all made in the image and likeness of the Divine and showing us through her language that we are ALL equal and perfect and special? What if? And when?

Perhaps it’s not fair to single out this church. What was I expecting? It was really eye-opening to re-experience this feeling of exclusion in church and to realize that most churches still use exclusively male language. Sadly, it seemed like brainwashing to me. And so many people have been victims of it, starting the first time their parents took them to church.

So, what do we do? I hope to do my part. Just by our visiting these churches, we are planting seeds.

FreedR copyFreedomSophia copyAfter the service, we stood in line to see the minister. When it was our turn to visit with her, Jann introduced us, saying we were from New Wineskins Feminist Ritual Community and doing research for a book on multicultural churches. The minister stepped back a bit, as though we were selling something. We didn’t know how she took us. And maybe we are saleswomen. Then if so, we’re selling freedom, peace, love, and acceptance for all.

            

           

            visions1Peace

 

 

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Visiting Churches of Various Cultures: Reflections by Colette Casburn Numajiri

Colette Casburn Numajiri and I have been on a fascinating adventure of visiting churches of various cultures. Colette volunteered to join me on this adventure as part of my research for a new book, Beyond Diversity: Building Intercultural Churches in a Modern World, that I’m co-editing with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.

So far we’ve discovered churches of various cultures, but no church that is intercultural. On one street in Dallas, Texas, there is a Vietnamese church, an Eritrean church, and an Ethiopian church. These churches exist side by side, but they are not intercultural. We’re continuing to look for “intercultural” churches, that is, churches that bring people of various races, ethnicities, and nationalities together to learn to value and celebrate each group’s traditions.

Colette Casburn Numajiri

Colette Casburn Numajiri

Colette has written about some of the churches we’ve visited. Here are excerpts from her reflections.

Our first church was Gospel Light Eritrean Baptist Church. We were greeted by a teenage boy who led us through the youth section (where a few teenagers were singing their own service) to another part of the building.

We chose to take the boys (Zayden 3 ½, Nikko, almost 1) with us into the service where the choir was already singing. We found a spot in the back where we could watch the service and the boys playing on the floor with other small children who had joined their parents. An older lady, who seemed to be the head matriarch, asked if she could help us. When I told her we were there for the service, she asked if we understood the language. I smiled and shook my head “no.” Later, a gentleman came and sat with us to translate; he said it was a language similar to Aramaic. Knowing Jesus spoke Aramaic, I wondered if he had looked like these beautiful people with mocha skin, black hair, and big eyes and cheekbones.

Everyone was very friendly to us, and we quickly felt welcomed and comfortable there. We sat listening to the music and the choir (only words we understood were “Hallelujah” and “Jesus”) for over an hour. My kids played on and around us and comfortably crawled amongst the congregation. Everyone seemed to sway, some danced (including my boys and other small children), and some let out an enthusiastic yelp from time to time, reminding me that their roots were far away. Some people seemed to be praying and most were singing. It was very peaceful.

After an hour more people and all of the Sunday school children trickled in. A handsome family in front of us took their baby (about Nikko’s age) up to be blessed. They invited us to take Nikko, but I didn’t want to take away from that baby. An older robed gentleman spoke and prayed for that baby.

The minister had us stand and be recognized. They asked our names and applauded us. It was lovely and very welcoming.

After this the children’s Sunday school classes (speaking and spoken to in English) came up and sang and recited scriptures. Then they all went back to their classrooms. A friendly middle-aged woman asked if Zayden wanted to go to the classroom with the other children. To my surprise, he agreed. Soon after, tired Nikko started spinning in my arms. I stepped out with him and met an Eritrean mom who worked the nightshift at Walmart.

 

Our second adventure was at St. Peter Vietnamese Catholic Church, a mere ½ mile away from the African church we visited first. I was a bit nervous, okay a lot nervous, about doing the whole Catholic thing. Did I remember how to “Catholic”? And nervous how this would work with two small un-napped children who also didn’t know how to “Catholic.”

We arrived about ten minutes early, and took the stairs to the balcony. Music was already playing, and people were already seated and singing along. The choir and orchestra took up 2/3 of the balcony.

Zayden3 copyIf my bright blonde hair wasn’t enough for us to stand out in the entire church of Vietnamese people, Zayden, my loud, bored 3 year old was.

Three minutes until time for the service to begin at 10:00 a.m., the priest entered. He bowed at the empty altar table that had a large alpha inside an omega holding it up. He started speaking in Vietnamese, and I think there was a call and response before the first of many times of standing and kneeling. I’d forgotten how physical mass is. There were several lovely songs.

GoddessIn the sanctuary there were a few statues of what they would probably call “Mary” or “Mother of God,” but we knew She was more than that. I also admired the greenery, stained glass, and beautiful architecture of the sanctuary—which all, to me, represented Her.

The service ended at precisely 11:00 a.m., and the entire congregation poured out into a courtyard with a Goddess and child statue in the center. As we exited the parking lot, we noticed an Ethiopian church across the street.

 

 

For our third adventure we went to Church in the Cliff, located in Oak Cliff, South Dallas. This church meets in a small mid-century modern building. The large windows brought in a lot of bright, natural light and emphasized interesting architectural details.

A friendly Hispanic gentleman offered to move out some of the chairs in the main room so that Nikko, my 1 year old, could play right in front of me during the service. I think Nikko highly enjoyed the pastries and friendly faces, more than any toy.

Someone handed me a program. (My experience in the theatre makes me almost want to call it a playbill.) I’ve always enjoyed programs; it’s nice to know what to expect. I wondered if these “programs” were an “Anglo” thing and where they started.

The service began with the hymn “Woke Up This Morning.” I exchanged “Jesus” with “Sophia” when I could, softly. Church in the Cliff is one of a few churches who use inclusive language, and their “Words of Welcome” include the “Wisdom of Sophia” and state that they are open to all.

We recited St. Francis’ prayer “God, make me an instrument of your peace.” And it was apparent quite quickly that the South Carolina church shootings (1 21-year-old white male shot and killed 9 African American church leaders—6 women, 3 men) had set the tone of this Sunday gathering. We sang a meditation song, “Da Pacem Cordium,” which means “Give Peace.” At that point with a restless 1 year old, it wasn’t all that peaceful for me.

Then the young and somber pastor read his insights about the tragedy. He delved into the history of this country’s racism. I was reminded of how solemnly frustrating it is that these kinds of hate crimes continue and how we still have much work to do. After his reading, the pastor opened the floor to discussion. Various members of the congregation spoke beautifully eloquent words of hope and love.

We took communion (Nikko had a cracker) in honor of those killed. And then an offering basket was passed around before announcements. One of the announcements that caught my attention was that the church wanted to partner with other churches to gain more diversity. There were 14 people there on the Sunday we attended; Nikko and the sweet Hispanic gentleman were the only non-Anglo people there.

On the way home, Jann and I reflected on the service and on the connection between racism and patriarchy. The shooters/terrorists are almost always male. In the Charleston shootings, 6 of the 9 victims were female, and few people bring that up. Who is going to stand up for half the population and stop violence against women?

 

The next church we visited was Cathedral of Hope in the Cedar Springs area of Dallas, just two days after the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states. On Friday and Saturday the church had held celebrations of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and many same-sex couples were married there earlier that weekend. 

As soon as I turned into the almost full parking lot, I could feel this overjoyed energy. Parishioners happily walked into the building.  I’d never seen people so excited to go to church.

I took the boys to the very friendly and efficient childcare where they were greeted with smiles. All of the (maybe 6-8) children were kept together in a room, and the other 75% of the kids’ area was dark. Maybe with the new freedom to wed, this church’s children’s department will fill back up.  

As I went back out front, I saw the greeters tearfully hug friends as they entered. Many were bringing canned goods with them for the food drive. I watched as a dozen same-sex couples walked toward the cathedral, hand-in-hand.

An usher in a purple jacket took Jann and me to our seats as the fabulous choir finished Miriam Therese Winter’s “O for a World.” The music was sensational, what you would expect from a huge congregation founded within the LGBTQ community. As their new senior pastor Neil Cazares-Thomas began, the tone remained celebratory and relieved.

This 9:00 a.m. service was proudly packed with mostly middle-aged white gay men. There was a sprinkling of lesbian couples and African American, Hispanic, and Asian gay men. I got the feeling that maybe the younger crowd was out late celebrating the night before and that they would come for the 11:00 a.m. service. There was also a service at 1:00 p.m. in Spanish.

rainbow flagPastor Cazares-Thomas expressed gratitude to the Dallas Police Department, thanking them for their protection that morning and in previous days. There followed the longest and most enthusiastic round of applause I may have ever witnessed live. The pastor went on to share his excitement over the good news. He spoke about how important it is to be Christ-like and to better our community and to spread love. As I sat there near the huge rainbow banner on the wall, seeing grown men and women wipe away tears and shake their heads in absolute amazement, I knew we were experiencing an important part of history.

The service continued with glorious music, readings, and the sermon, all with the rainbow theme of unity and acceptance.  Then we joined a long line of people to take communion.

 At the close of the service, the minister enthusiastically signed a newly married gay couple’s wedding license. Very charismatically he said: “It gives me great honor, as an ordained minister of the Christian Church [to applause], in the state of Texas [more applause] that is upheld by the Constitution of the United States [applause] to pronounce you legally married [more applause and cheers as the couple kissed before the congregation.] And with that the happiest service I had ever experienced ended.

 

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Hymn in Celebration of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Marriage Equality

rainbowMy heart is filled with joy over the triumph of love, justice, freedom, truth, and equality. Marriage equality is not only a huge victory for LGBTQ persons but for all people. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). I would add: The victory of justice anywhere is a victory for justice everywhere.

Believing in the power of music to continue bringing transformation, I offer this hymn in celebration of marriage equality and with the hope that justice and love will keep moving from the courts to the hearts of all people everywhere.

Praise the Source of All Creation

(Genesis 1:1-27, 31; Proverbs 3:13-18)

Praise the Source of all creation, giving life throughout the earth,

blessing every love relation, filling all with sacred worth.

Celebrate all forms and colors, varied beauty everywhere,

streams of goodness overflowing, wondrous gifts for all to share.

 

Many genders, many races, all reflect Divinity;

many gifts and many graces help us be all we can be.

Partners on this path of freedom, taking down each stifling wall,

we will open doors of welcome, bringing hope and joy to all.

 

Long have many been excluded, judged and scorned by custom’s norms;

everyone will be included as we work to make reforms.

Let us end abuse and violence, bringing justice everywhere,

joining Holy Wisdom’s mission, helping all be free and fair.

 

Equal marriage, healing, freeing, nurtures body, mind and soul,

reaffirming every being, all created good and whole.

Come, rejoice and sing together, celebrating life and love;

praise the great Creative Spirit, living in us and above.

Words © 2012 Jann Aldredge-Clanton

(suggested tunes: BEECHER, HYFRYDOL, HYMN TO JOY)

Note on this Hymn:

In 2012 the Religious Institute sponsored its first hymn contest on the subject of the gift of sexuality, calling for hymns specifically addressing themes articulated in the Institute’s “Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.” Among these themes are working to end sexual abuse and gender violence, and working for full inclusion of women and LGBTQ persons in congregational life, including their ordination and marriage equality. I was delighted and honored that “Praise the Source of All Creation” was selected as the winner. When asked by the director of the Religious Institute to comment on the hymn, I wrote: “Words we sing in worship have great power to shape belief and action, helping congregations and individuals in our journey toward healing from sexism, heterosexism, racism, and other injustices. The Religious Institute’s prophetic mission inspired my hymn, and I feel honored to contribute to this mission of celebrating the goodness of all creation and affirming a sexual ethic based on justice, equality, and full inclusion of all persons.”

 

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Hymn Prayer for an End to Violence and Hymn of Hope

Joining people all around our country, I grieve over the horrific massacre that occurred at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. My heart is broken over this racially motivated hate crime, and my heart goes out to all who are suffering from this heinous act of violence.

When will there be an end to all this violence? What can we do as individuals and as faith communities to help end the violence? We can pray, we can speak out, and we can act to help end racism. We can come together across races to work together for peace, to learn from one another, and to engage in mutual relationships that give equal value and respect to each race. We can advocate and take action for gun control. We can pray and work to transform our culture of violence to a culture of peace and love.

We can write, preach, and sing our laments over the violence, and our hopes for a world of peace. I offer this hymn as a lament and a prayer for violence to end.

How Long, Christ-Sophia

Psalm 74:3-7; Psalm 94:3-7

How long, Christ-Sophia, how long must we wait?

O when will the violence and suffering abate?

The children are crying; O come to their aid;

our pleadings and prayers on your altar we’ve laid.

 

How long, Christ-Sophia, how long will it be

till justice will triumph so all can be free?

O surely you feel all the anguish and pain;

for you also suffer; rejected you’ve lain.

 

Arise, Christ-Sophia, and help us, we pray;

with you we will labor to bring a new day;

with you we will challenge the forces of wrong,

till we overcome with your love, deep and strong.

Words © Jann Aldredge-Clanton       sung to the tune of “My Jesus, I Love Thee”

I offer this hymn video as a lament and an expression of hope that peace and justice will come.

This hymn draws from the imagery in Isaiah 42. The prophet Isaiah pictures God crying out “like a woman in labor” over injustices: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (vs. 14). We all labor and often suffer as we labor. Sometimes we suffer because our labor for nonviolence and justice seems in vain. Sometimes our work is rejected, demeaned, trivialized, discounted, criticized. This picture of Deity as a woman suffering in Her labor can encourage and strengthen us with the assurance that our labor takes part in God’s labor, and Her labor takes part in ours.

Also, we can find hope as we join with Her in co-creating peace and new life: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).

This video comes with the prayer that it will bring strength as we labor together for racial justice and nonviolence. Also, may it give us hope that we do not labor alone and that our labor is not in vain. God labors with us, and She will help bring new life from our labor for justice and peace.

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