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We Are What We Sing - Jim Strathdee - requested reflections as a contributing songwriter to “More
Voices,” Hymnal Supplement of the The United Church of Canada

Published in “Insight ~ connecting leaders in the emerging Christian Way"
Click on “Copperhouse Current Summer ’07”

Recently, Jean and I participated in a symposium entitled “We are what we sing.” Just as “you are what you eat,” the ingredients we put into our songs of faith inform our spiritual journeys, our relationship with the divine, the way we understand the world, and the vision and purpose of our lives. As long-time church musicians responsible for leading our congregations in song, we do our best to choose carefully.

In this symposium, we were asked if we find “praise choruses” useful for the progressive (or the emerging) Christian movement. In answering this, Jeanie referenced the two parts of the “great commandment” – to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and your neighbor as yourself. She said there is nothing wrong with expressing our gratitude to God for the gift of life through these short repetitive songs of praise, piety, and love. The problem is that generally the choruses sing of only the first half of the commandment. They usually do not sing of loving our neighbor, or of the many ways we are called to love God’s world. We need to also find choruses that express the whole of our biblical faith.

The allure of these songs is their easy accessibility and repetitive nature. They hearken back to the ancient chanting found in all religious traditions, where, after a while, the song we’ve been singing to God is actually singing us. When this happens, we can experience a deep personal integration, unity, and connection with the divine.

I would suggest Linnea Good and Keri Wehlander’s “Like a Rock” (More Voices #92)
Like a rock, like a rock, God is under our feet.
Like the starry night sky God is over our head.
Like the sun on the horizon God is ever before.
Like the river runs to ocean, our home is in God evermore.

and our three-part setting of “What does the Lord Require of You”:
What does the Lord require of you?
What does the Lord require of you?
To seek justice and love kindness
And walk humbly with your God.

Bruce and Cheryl Harding have created many beautiful songs in this style, several of which are included in More Voices. Here’s just one example:
Bread for the journey, food for the way.
Cup of God’s blessing, tomorrow, today.

If I had time and space here, I would love to speak of many themes and essential songs – songs I can’t do without, songs without which I would be utterly shipwrecked and unable to navigate the turbulent, troublesome waters of authentic worship and faithful living – songs about God and Jesus, the body of Christ, creation, songs to sing with children – songs that have become my compass. However, here are two essential categories of songs, and examples from each.

Radical Inclusion and Unity
God loves all people. We are called to welcome them. There is no better way to do this than to sing Gordon Light’s “Draw the Circle Wide” (More Voices #145). Here’s the refrain:
Draw the circle wide.
Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song,
no one stands alone,
standing side by side,
draw the circle wide.

We are often asked to lead music for groups of Christians, Muslims, and Jews seeking to find common ground and a way to peace. We would be lost without “Deep in Our Hearts” by John Oldham and Ron Klusmeier (More Voices #154). Again, here is the refrain:
Deep in our hearts there is a common vision
deep on our hearts there is a common song
deep in our hearts there is a common story
telling Creation that we are one.

War and Peace
As citizens of the USA, Jean and I have a strong conviction that the foreign policy of our government needs to be transformed. We need to change from a preoccupation with domination and empire building to a determined passion for the well-being of our neighbours on this planet. When our neighbours have well-being, we will have true security. We need to be known for the quality of our relationships and service rather than for the size and the threat of our weapons. There is a huge gap between these two paradigms and, therefore, lots of work to do. Songs of war and peace, therefore, are very important to us.

For many years, the work of Shirley Erena Murray has been a “tuning fork” for us. Her words ring true for a marvelous variety of faith issues, especially this one. As a New Zealander looking at Americans about to invade Iraq, she wrote the chilling image “hawks are in control of a nation’s soul,” then, hopefully, “evil has no tooth that can kill the truth.” We should listen to our neighbors who, perhaps, can see us better than we see ourselves.

We find our song “Peace is the way,” inspired by a quote from A. J. Muste, very useful today. (Additional words and music by Jim Strathdee, copyright © 2003 by Desert Flower Music, from Stand for What is Right. Used by permission.)
There’s no way to peace, peace is the way.
The strength of love and justice will bring the peaceful day.
The power of forgiveness will wash the blood away.
There’s no way to peace, peace is the way.

There’s no way to love, love is the way
to feel each human heartbeat in all the world today,
to overcome all hatred and melt the fears away.
There’s no way to love, love is the way.

There’s no way to justice, justice is the way
to honour all creation, all peoples have their say,
to end all domination with freedom and fair play.
There’s no way to justice, justice is the way.

There are many more themes and essential songs needed to help us sing our faith together in these times. What’s important is that we keep the faith and keep on singing!