Songs that stink

Paddling By the ShoreIt has been my privilege over recent days to have prepared the liturgies for the various worship services held this week at Whitley College’s School of Ministry. I included two songs from Kim Fabricius’s collection of hymns published in Paddling by the Shore. People seemed to really appreciate these songs, a testimony I am pleased to hear. My own enthusiasm for Kim’s book is noted on its back cover:

The songs gathered here stink. They stink of theology cultivated by the best of the Catholic tradition and sensitive to the hazards of congregational worship. They stink of the holy wit of an indecorous soul set loose. And, most wonderfully, they stink of divinity unashamedly immersed in the blunt realities of being human in the world and delighting in life familiar with, but unconstrained by, death. They also should be sung, loudly and lots.

A number of folk asked me for a copy of the words for the two songs we sang from this collection. So, for them and for any others that may be interested, here they are:

‘Out of nothing God created’. Tune: Blaenwern – 87 87

Out of nothing God created
all the somethings that exist;
from a Bang the world inflated,
light-years later earth he kissed.
Starting with the smallest microbe,
moving from the sea to land,
life evolved around the new globe,
gently pushed by God’s good hand.

‘Go!’ said God, and animated,
species spread by law and chance;
Spirit fashioned and related
each to all in sacred dance.
All that breathes is love’s location,
not just humans in their pride;
by selection and mutation,
ask the beasts how God can guide.

Now creation groans and shudders,
plundered, poisoned, colonized
by a beastly little brother,
self-styled as the one who’s wise.
Will the sparrows finally perish,
though God clothes them and protects?
Time is short, so let us cherish
all that God will resurrect.

‘Migrant Jesus, at the border’. Words modified. Tune: Servant Song/Brother Sister Let Me Serve You.

Migrant Jesus, at the border,
refugee of fear and hate,
you’re a threat to law and order,
nightmare of the nation-state.

Child of Israel, fleeing soldiers,
from the Jordan to the Nile,
were your parents passport-holders,
were you welcomed with a smile?

Home from Egypt, Spirit-breathing,
in the towns of Galilee,
how you had the people seething
when you preached the Jubilee.

At the margins, far from center,
where you met the ostracized,
even friends weren’t keen to enter
conversations that you prized.

Ease our fears, forgive our hatred
of the other and the odd;
help us see the single-sacred:
face of stranger – face of God.

Migrant Jesus, at the border –
Manus Island or Nauru –
Greetings, sister! Welcome, brother!
Make this place your promised land.

‘Enemy of Apathy’: a song for Pentecost, and beyond


She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nestsin the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

– John L. Bell & Graham Maule, ‘Enemy of Apathy’, in The Iona Abbey Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2003), 193. (The hymn also appears in Church Hymnary 4, #593, and in some other places too)

Sunday Hymn: ‘We sing a love that sets all people free’

wind man

We sing a love that sets all people free,
that blows like wind, that burns like scorching flame,
enfolds the earth, springs up like water clear:
come, living love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that seeks another’s good,
that longs to serve and not to count the cost,
a love that, yielding, finds itself made new:
come, caring love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love, unflinching, unafraid
to be itself, despite another’s wrath,
a love that stands alone and undismayed:
come, strengthening love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that, wandering, will not rest
until it finds its way, its home, its source,
through joy and sadness pressing on refreshed:
come, pilgrim love, live in our hearts today.

We sing the Holy Spirit, full of love,
who seeks out scars of ancient bitterness,
brings to our wounds the healing grace of Christ:
come, radiant love, live in our hearts today.

– June Boyce-Tillman

[Image: Svetlana Lazarova]

Sunday Hymn: ‘On the turning away’

Ice people

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden,
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand.
‘Don’t accept that what’s happening
is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away’.

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow,
And casting its shroud
Over all we have known.
Unaware how the ranks have grown,
Driven on by a heart of stone,
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud.

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring,
Where the speechless unite
in a silent accord.
Using words you will find are strange,
Mesmerised as they light the flame,
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night.

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary.
No more turning away
From the coldness inside.
Just a world that we all must share,
It’s not enough just to stand and stare.
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

– David Gilmour & Anthony Moore

O God of earth and altar (Cum terra Deus arae)

G K ChestertonO God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die
The walls of gold entomb us,

The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,

From sale and profanation,
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation, 
A single sword to thee.

– G. K. Chesterton

‘Thy works, not mine, O Christ’

Today marks the anniversary of the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland convened in Edinburgh in 1560. And yesterday marked the birthday of one of my favourite hymn writers – Horatius Bonar (1808–89) – who also, incidentally, wins the prize among Kirkmen for the Bilbo Baggins-likeness award. Anyway, it only seemed proper to post one of his greatest hymns:

1. Thy works, not mine, O Christ,
Speak gladness to this heart;
They tell me all is done;
They bid my fear depart.
To whom save Thee,
Who canst alone for sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee?

2. Thy wounds, not mine, O Christ,
Can heal my bruisèd soul;
Thy stripes, not mine, contain
The balm that makes me whole.
To whom save Thee,
Who canst alone for sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee?

3. Thy Cross, not mine, O Christ,
Has borne the awful load
Of sins that none could bear
But the incarnate God.
To whom save Thee,
Who canst alone for sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee?

4. Thy death, not mine, O Christ,
Has paid the ransom due;
Ten thousand deaths like mine
Would have been all too few.
To whom save Thee,
Who canst alone for sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee?

5. Thy righteousness, O Christ,
Alone can cover me;
No righteousness avails
Save that which is of Thee.
To whom save Thee,
Who canst alone for sin atone,
Lord, shall I flee?

Hymn: ‘We praise the Word of God’

The PCUSA has kindly made available the text and music of a hymn by David Gambrell. The words are set to the familiar tune Leoni (‘The God of Abraham Praise’), and bear witness to the dynamic nature of the Word of God as understood in the Reformed tradition, as ‘Scripture – the Word written, preaching – the Word proclaimed, and the Sacraments – the Word enacted and sealed, bear testimony to Jesus Christ, the living Word’ (Directory for Worship, W-1.1004). Permission is granted for congregational use in worship/educational settings.

1. We praise the Word of God
made flesh in Jesus Christ:
the wellspring of undying love,
the bread of life,
who spoke with human lips
yet taught with heaven’s voice,
in whom we put our hope and trust,
and still rejoice.

2. We learn the Word of God
in stories of the faith:
the Scriptures’ living witness to
God’s truth and grace,
where prophets cry for peace,
apostles preach and pray,
and saints of all the ages seek
God’s holy way.

3. We live the Word of God
when good news we proclaim:
when captives find their liberty
and lose their chains;
when mourners sing with joy
the Word of God resounds,
the Spirit of the Lord still speaks,
and grace abounds.

The sheet music is here.

The judgements of mercy

Kim Fabricius has posted a thought-provoking reflection (does Kim ever post any other kind?) on why the Iceland volcano is God’s judgement! It reminded me of this wonderful hymn penned by Geoffrey Bingham:

1. We have not been knowing the voice of the Father,
We have not been hearing the voice of His pain,
We have not been knowing the heart of His loving;
Our own have been sinning—yes—time and again.

2. Long have we persisted in ways of rebellion;
Unnaturally pressed in the ways of our loves:
The love of our idols and love of our pleasures,
Ignoring the grace that flows full from above.

3. The work of the Cross is as nought in our thinking,
The plan to redeem but a trifling thing,
’Tis worship we worship, but not in the Spirit,
’Tis love that we love, but not Him who is King.

4. Our hearts are so barren though we have such riches;
Our riches are rags—not the raiment we claim;
Our spirits are naked, yet flaunt we our hardness;
Our wounds are so deep, but we say there’s no pain.

5. His judgements that come are the judgements of mercy—
The droughts and the famines the gifts of our God;
The pain that we feel is to heal us from evil;
The scourge in our spirits the blessing of God.

6. The judgements of God now release us from judgements,
The death of our dying to bring us to life;
The pain of our idols will drive us to Jesus,
To cry in the days and to weep in the nights.

7. There’s balm in the fountain of Calvary’s Gilead,
There’s healing from pain in the Cross of His love,
There’s pardon that heals us, and purifies wholly;
There’s peace for the conscience which comes from above.

8. The Father has healed from the wounds of our sinning,
Has clothed us with beauty—all brought by the Dove;
The judgements are finished, ’tis joy until glory,
’Tis grace upon grace, and is love upon love.

— Geoffrey C. Bingham, 1991

For those who would like a copy of the music to this hymn, here it is. By the way, this hymn, along with hundreds of others, is available freely from New Creation Teaching Ministry whose hymn books are, to my mind, among the richest collections of songs for congregational worship around. They are available in C, Bb and Eb music, and as overheads. Some of the songs are also available for purchase on CD.

… be the sailor’s friend, be the dolphin Christ

Last night, I was privileged to be part of a gathering at the First Church of Otago for the induction of Anne Thomson. Henry Mbambo recalled – with passion much too rarely evident in the Presbyterianism in my part of the world – God’s charge upon ministers to ‘preach the word’ and that those so charged will, at times, be tired and discouraged. And, I was introduced to Colin Gibson‘s delightful hymn, ‘Where the road runs out’:

Where the road runs out and the signposts end,
where we come to the edge of today,
be the God of Abraham for us,
send us out upon our way.

Lord, you were our beginning,
the faith that gave us birth.
We look to you, our ending,
our hope for heaven and earth.

When the coast is left and we journey on
to the rim of the sky and the sea,
be the sailor’s friend, be the dolphin Christ
lead us in to eternity.

Lord, you were our beginning …

When the clouds are low and the wind is strong,
when tomorrow’s storm draws near,
be the spirit bird hovering overhead
who will take away our fear.

Lord, you were our beginning …

Barth’s Hymn to Calvin (the cataract)


Barth was not the only ‘modern’ theologian to have enjoyed a maturing relationship with Calvin’s thought. In the summer of 1922, the young Barth was teaching a course on the theology of Calvin. As he immersed himself in the reformer’s thought, he became beset by the peculiarity and muscle of what he found. On 8 June, 1922, Barth gave voice to this astonishment in a letter to his friend Eduard Thurneysen:

‘Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin’. – Karl Barth and Eduard Thurneysen, Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914–1925 (trans. James D. Smart; Richmond: Westminster John Knox Press, 1964), 101.

In January 2008, eighty-six years later, these words were then put into verse by David Alexander (then of Tainan Theological College and Seminary) to the tune of Philippi: 

Calvin’s a cataract, primeval forest, a demonic pow’r.
Something directly down, from Himalayan heights,
strange to the absolute, mythic in depth.

We lack the means the equipment to fathom this phenomenon,
nor to present it with adequate clarity.
What we receive is but a little stream.

We can give back but the thinnest of extracts of what we have got.
We would well benefit, if we would only sit,
spending our lives with John Calvin alone.

Hymn - Calvin’s A Cataract.jpg

[Top image: Student sketch of Calvin made during a lecture in the Academy (c. 1559-63). HT: Heidelblog]

Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?

A hymn by Martin Bleby

1. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?

2. We are lost in a hell of our own.
We are tossed, weather-beaten, wind-blown:
Will You sink us, so we are no more?
Will You bring us safe home to the shore?

3. ‘I have come to convict you of sin
And to run all the unrighteous in;
Let you know that the judgement is past,
And to show you the kingdom at last.

4. ‘There is He, who has suffered your shame!
Come and see how He wore all your blame!
He’s now Lord, with the Father above—
I’m outpoured to fill you with His love.’

5. Holy Dove, come and set us on fire:
With that love, burn up all wrong desire!
Let us rest in the Father and Son,
In the best, that their victory has won!

6. In Your praise let us take up our part
All our days, with clean hands and pure heart!
For Your comfort has settled our soul—
We were done for, and now are made whole.

7. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?