The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

A Few Songs For Consumption February 27, 2008

Filed under: Songs — Joel @ 3:33 pm

Here’s a song i wrote recently, “What Is Our Voice For.”  It slid out uncomplaining and I wasn’t overly impressed by it.  But now, after a few days, it’s taste has developed on my tongue and i like it now.   It’s called What Is Our Voice For?  The second song, Swedish Drinking Fighting Friends, comes from a passage in a Garrison Keillor book, “Wobegon Boy,” in which the main character elucidates something that i love and long for, some touch of it included in the theology of the common life, the good life, the life which is not boring but holistic.  Here’s the quote,    ” Driving home that evening along the Hudson, the sun setting in flames, I thought about my dumb life pushing a desk.  What a wimpy, wasted life it was, compared to my ancestors’.  They worked in the fields all day, and at night they built a blazing fire and drank and challenged each other to fight for the fun of it.  A straightforward deal compared to office politics.  You didn’t go to meetings and sit wooden-faced in the downpour of bullshit; you drained your whiskey bottle and stripped off your shirt and whooped, “Whoooooooo-haw!  What fool among you dares to engage in a test of manhood with me, the unbeatable Sigurd?  Whoooooo – yeow!  Look upon me, gentlemen, and see what the standard shall be!  A farmer and a Christian gentlemen, and one who can beat the living crap out of any one of you.  Who would prove me wrong?”  And then a younger man steps into the circle and whips off his shirt and eyes you up and down and says, “Sigurd, a wounded skunk on a country road has a greater understanding of trucks than you have of manhood,” and with a ferocious roar, the two of you fall into a clinch and roll in the dirt and sandburs and pound each other, and finally, when it is enough, the others separate you and stand you up and the bottle is passed and you grasp each other’s hands and grunt, “Huh.”  Which means that you are true brothers and your fight meant nothing at all except that you love to fight.”


Raking The Coals, Pt. 2: We Tell The Story and We Are The Story January 24, 2008

Filed under: peace and justice,public theology,Songs,storying — Joel @ 6:28 am

I wrote this song tonight in thought preparation for the sermon I’m giving this sunday.  The talk will be about the subtitle of this post: that as the Church (capital C), we do two things, we tell the story of God and enact that story in our community.  This thought was articulated for me by Stanley Hauerwas.  This belief in the Church as central to God’s plan for the world is becoming a very compelling idea vying for my allegiance, especially the way Stan expresses it.  

                 So I’ll link the song below and write the lyrics as well.  Often the Church is experienced not as a place of humble confidence and faithful proclamation of the kingdom of God but as a place where people are trying very hard to act like they know why they are together at all (giving many the feeling that nobody really knows).                      

                     But perhaps there are some good reasons for the Church of Jesus as a community which witnesses to the work of God (which is not confined to the Church) and to enact (as much as is in their power and maturity) the works of God, as exemplified by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  So we tell the story and then we imitate the story, even if it gets us in trouble.  In fact, there are hints that it should get us in trouble.  This makes sense because it seems to me that if the life of Jesus caused agitation in the domination system of its day and if we are imitating him, we will cause agitation to those systems which propagate injustice and oppression.  HIstorically, we have too often been on the other side.  Here’s the song: We Tell The Story

We tell the story

And we are the story

Of Jesus, of Jesus


He came like the day springs up from the night

He clothed all our weakness in dawning delight

He suffered beneath the cruelty of fear

His body was raised from the ground of our tears


Though we were faithless and will be again

He comes and he comes to lead us like friends

Not like the cruel tryants of earth

Not like the blood lust that spikes our dry thirst




The kingdom has come he said in our ears

The ways of my father have come to draw near

Its not by a system that you’ll know its paths

But by the community we’ll build to last


Watch what I do he said to us clear

Watch how I raise those drenched in tears

Watch how I lay the powerful down

Now go and seek this kind of crown


So he has called us his dear family

The inheritors of his humility

The Spirit of God, a sweet fire within

To make us all signs of this kingdom come in


This kingdom is followed by those who believe

In a God who loves, a God who leads

His people in ways of peace and not war

He leads us to pray, he leads us to give more than we have




Jesus, Love For The Poor. worship songs for communities of justice December 5, 2007

Filed under: peace and justice,Songs — Joel @ 6:09 am

Jesus, Love For The Poor

This is a song of mine that we sing sometimes here in St. Stephen. It was written as much out of a creative unction as it was out of a systematic desire to be holistic in the theology of our different expressions of worship. I intentionally wrote the concepts simple and the ideas more immediately digestible than i would like to in the future. Step by step…..and one day perhaps there will be charismatics protesting again and social activists quaking with the power of the Spirit again….bring us together under a true flag.

It should not be that the only songs that charismatics and evangelicals sing are those of private faith experience; in the same way, social justice people should not only sing protest songs but both groups should try on each other’s theologies in song. This could be done with the endorsement and help of the pastoral leadership; giving a ‘yes’ to initiations like this could go a long way. though it would be perhaps uncomfortable at first, this would not be due to the untruth in those songs but because we are not used to singing in a touchy feely enviorment, “Jesus, change the mind of our President, give us courage to resist the evil his administration is causing.” likewise we are not used to singing in a very hip and cool, very action oriented atmosphere, “could i just stay here a while, knowing there’s nothing that i need to say, safe in the knowledge that you know my ways, love me completely, no need to hide a thing.”  Though as you are already probably thinking, there are charismatic and political ideas in both song ideas, they just need to be dug out.

here are the lyrics to Jesus, Love For The Poor

Lord your blessing comes to the weak,

comes to the hidden, comes to the meek

Lord your blessing comes to the small

comes to the broken, comes to us all….when we cry ‘our hearts are homeless!’

‘we need love more than we have’

and we proclaim You our final answer

and we proclaim You our question to the world

and we proclaim You our greatest challenge

Jesus, love for the poor


Advent, Nouwen, and a Song by me December 3, 2007

Filed under: advent,public theology,Songs — Joel @ 12:21 am

Margaret Anne led our community in an advent liturgy last thursday and i was surprised at my surprise! I had been so caught up in the preparation for the different Christmas events here at the school ( that i had forgotten my anticipation. i put together a set of readings every week to help us step into a more monastic rhythm in our prayers, so one would think i would be more on top of church calendar stuff but alas, my protestantism shows, and it’s lumpy…

anyways, below is a prayer by Henri Nouwen used for Advent meditation. a couple years ago, i would have only seen a typical western Christian culture application (privatized) of this prayer but now because of God through books like “The Powers That Be” by Walter Wink and “The Gospel In A Pluralist Society” by Leslie Newbigin, i have come more alive to real-time, real-history applications of the gospel. the gospel must be both public and private, spontaneous and strategic.

Where before i associated prayers about ‘dark and light’ as relating to the state of my inner spiritual status whereas now i see that it also speaks powerfully and necessarily to the darkness and light in systems, in ways of thinking that affect the commonwealth, for good or for ill. If an idea like that is new to you, try fitting the prayer below into a practical issue that’s more systemic and communal rather than immediate and personal. for instance: the spiritual pride of certain insitutions, certain goverments and the negative consequences that flow from that systemic “dark”

Let me know what you find!

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” 

whilst Ry and I contemplate the future of our AWOL album, i’ll put a song (linked above) of mine up with my weekly posts, should be fun.

This track is called “Splanixomai” which means ‘compassion from your gut’ in some form of greek. I am singing lead vocals and playing the ukulele; Ry is singing the harmony and playing guitar, enjoy!

the song is about the idea that this kind of compassion is not something that comes easy to most of us, we have to fight for it while at the same time recognizing and accepting our own imperfections in this area. so it is important to seek to be more compassionate, to look for models that can guide us into a compassion that would make us groan, one that we can feel. but it also important to seek it in a way that does not crush our spirits, they are fragile enough as it is.