An Evening Prayer After the Capitol Riot

Hi all: like many of you I was glued to the screen yesterday afternoon. I was not sure what to do following the events that unfolded throughout the day. More sobering today, we now know four people died and fourteen police were injured. Beyond death and injury, people are unsettled for all kinds of reasons. I thought about releasing some kind of “pastoral wisdom” on the matter today but determined I might do better just to help people pray–not to avoid the pain and problems at hand, but to engage them more deeply. Prayer strengthens our spirit to engage the world with more love and wisdom.

So, here’s a common prayer you might want to use this evening (or at another time). The prayer is based loosely on Evening Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (1979). Please contact me if I can offer you any pastoral care or support in this solemn moment of history.

— Zen

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A Song for Advent

Hey all:

Swamped with work, and pulled in every direction! Pastoring during this season is wild. I have 20+ books to review next year and I have several blogs sitting in my “ideas” folder. Here’s to hoping for time to knock that out come January, as the winter slows things down a bit at church and home.

In the meantime, here’s a good second-week-of-Advent tune. My wife’s voice is just perfect for it. And the lyrics are a balm to weary souls. We’re covering Josh Garrel’s version of this old hymn. (If nothing else, even if you don’t listen to the song, maybe my still screen face will give you a laugh.) Bless you!

–Zen

An Interview with Jason Byassee

This interview was originally my church’s time of biblical reflection and proclamation during an all-digital service. (Nov. 8, 2020: full service is available here. There is an echo on the pre-recorded videos, however, so you’ll want to watch the interview video below.) We discuss the psalms in general, Psalm 146 specifically, and how Jesus encounters us through that psalm. Enjoy!

Jason Byassee currently teaches at Vancouver School of Theology. He is an ordained Methodist minister and has published numerous books, including a commentary on the final fifty psalms.


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A Prayer for Politicians

Because they (and, let’s be honest, all of us!) need all the prayers we can get right now.

O Sovereign Lord, we pray for politicians the world over. The ones we adore and the ones we despise, all of whom will answer to You. We pray especially for those who dishonor You by ruling dishonestly, harmfully, and unjustly. Guard the weak and the needy from their tyranny. And teach us, even in our sinfulness, to love them enough to celebrate whatever good they do and to call them to account for the wrong. Most of all, Lord, we pray that you would captivate their hearts and minds that their rule may echo the justice, mercy, and humility of Your own rule, revealed in Christ our Lord. In His name, we pray. Amen.

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Phos Hilaron: An Evening Prayer

Howdy, friends. As usual in 2020, I am making too little time to write. What can you expect in a year with a global pandemic and a newborn, not to mention the wild socio-political events?

One beautiful aspect of this year has been my own personal discovery of ancient Christian practices, prayers, and songs, through which Christ has comforted me endlessly. The Phos Hilaron prayer is a wonderful example. Rev. Clarke French, an Episcopal priest in North Carolina, was kind enough to walk me through the Book of Common Prayer’s evening prayer liturgy. He pointed out the Phos Hilaron as an especially beloved prayer. I understand why.

When I heard Owain Park’s composition sang at Ely Cathedral of it, I was struck with solemn joy. A prayer for our season, it is! My church will use it for our All Hallows’ Eve service (digitally streamed on our YouTube channel), as well as in our evening prayers throughout Advent. Since I intend to use it often, I asked my friend Alyssa to help make it familiar to our congregation. We created the video below. Hope you enjoy it!

Political Prayer Challenge

Hey all:

For the run-up to Election Day and in the season afterward, I am sharing this challenge with you all. (I created it, first and foremost, for my own congregation but I hope it might also prove fruitful to TF readers.) The challenge is self-explanatory. I offer some additional thoughts for each prayer below. May the Lord transform you as you and your communities dwell with Him in prayer.

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Rediscovering the Psalms: A Revival of the Bible’s Prayer Book

As an undergraduate at a low-church evangelical school, singing psalms was not on my radar. So, when Sons of Korah showed up to chapel and played an array of psaPlms that they had set to music, I was pleasantly surprised. At the time, I thought it was a neat, if quirky, way to honor the Bible’s role in our worship. Only later did I discover the church’s long history of praying the psalter through song and chant.

Nowadays, there’s a revival happening. The Psalms are being sung everywhere. And, thank goodness, there is a swell of new literature happening on the Psalms, too. In my mind, this may well be the most important development in American liturgical and congregational life that is currently happening. So, I thought I’d put together a list of resources for people growing interested in the Psalms, and specifically in singing the Psalms together.

Poor Bishop Hooper’s “Psalm 1”

Singing Resources: Artists & Publications to Help You Sing the Psalms

  • Poor Bishop Hooper: EveryPsalm – Jesse and Leah Roberts release one psalm set to music a week, intending to set every Psalm to music. They’re almost to Psalm 40 at the time of writing this blog. The songs I’ve listened to are outstanding, especially for reflective purposes. However, most of them would be singable in a congregational setting, if with a few slight adjustments. I listen to their Psalm 1 rendition regularly at the beginning of my day, getting the line “like trees by the river / with leaves that never wither” stuck in my head.
  • Sandra McCracken – Sandra McCracken, a Nashville-based songwriter, worked up a Psalms album some years ago. It is stunning. My church sings a couple songs from it. The songs challenge the congregation musically but once familiar they are incredibly catchy and singable. She also did a really nice conversation with Ellen Davis which appeared on the Road to Now Theology podcast. Dr. Davis is currently writing a book on the Psalms (with Makoto Fujimura during art for it!), so the conversation revolves around the Psalms, prayer, and music.
  • Wendell Kimbrough – Wendell Kimbrough has released a couple of albums fully made up of Psalms set to folksy, easy-to-sing songs. I cannot read or hear “O give thanks” without his melody dancing through my mind.
  • Seedbed Psalter – During Eastertide, my congregation used this incredibly accessible psalter to explore singing the psalms regularly. Julie and Timothy Tennent, of Asbury Seminary, set all of the Psalms into meters of familiar hymns. This makes it simple for congregants, who know songs like “Amazing Grace” or “Immortal, Invisible,” to begin singing the prayers of Scripture.

As for the burgeoning field of publications on the Psalms, I’m not even sure where to start. Jason Byassee offers reflections on five new books, each with their own unique contribution to the study of the psalter. I am also very eager for Ellen Davis and Makoto Fujimura’s book (though I’ve only come to know that it is underway because of Fujimura’s tweets). I imagine Jerome Creach’s book Discovering Psalms will be a gift to the church.

I still have much to learn but I am thankful that I do not have to learn on my own. After all, the Psalms are meant to be sang together.

Have resources or books to add? Comment below!

Willie Jennings on Education

Willie Jennings on Education

“There is nothing inherently good about gathering people together,” writes Willie James Jennings, a professor at Yale Divinity School, “but there is something inherently powerful.” His new book After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging names the distorted powers at work in Western theological education (and Western education more broadly). More than naming the distorted powers, he tries to describe a way, a vision, a hope for a theological education healed from this distortion.

Jennings has written a book the academy and the church need right now.

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Philippians 2:1-13: Year A, Proper 21

Hey there! I’ve had a handful of posts sitting neglected in the drafts folder, several of which are working out some of the questions I was wrestling with when I preached on Philippians 2:1-11 a week ago. I’m not ready to post them yet, but I did come upon some resources that seem like they might open up some ideas for fellow preachers taking up the epistle this Sunday.

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Hebrew for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving Biblical Hebrew

Hebrew for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving Biblical Hebrew

A confession. In my undergraduate studies, I only took one semester of Hebrew. The professor ruled. I enjoyed the language, scoring well on assignments and quizzes. But I found learning Greek and Hebrew simultaneously very hard. I didn’t need the credits from Hebrew to graduate, so I chose to do semester four of Greek (translating Ephesians!) instead of another semester of Hebrew. “I can always come back to it,” I told myself.

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Did Paul contemplate suicide?

Did Paul contemplate suicide while imprisoned? Listen again to Philippians 1:22-24: If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” It does, in fact, sound like Paul is contemplating an option: “Yet what shall I choose?” Life or death?

Several scholars have noted the striking resemblance between Paul’s own speech and ancient writings, which also describe death as a “gain.” These ancient writings consider death a gain because it sets the person free from worldly troubles. Moreover, other scholars have noted that Paul was not, in this imprisonment, facing “imminent execution.” In other words, death was an ultimatum Paul seems to have given himself. These two considerations combined suggest, according to some, that Paul must have been contemplating death by his own hand.

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The Dative Self: Philippians 1:12-21

Reflecting on the Pauline passages that warrant Kierkegaard’s “edifying negativity,” Philip Ziegler ruminates (in a footnote) on the idea of the “dative self.” He writes,

“I am minded to think that it should be possible to develop an account of Christian life conceived on the basis of the idea of the ‘dative self,’ i.e. from an account of how things come to appear when the human self is consistently understood on the grounds of its being displaced into the dative case by the divine subject and its agency (Christ for us, Christ in me, etc.).”

Ziegler is right about this. The Christian life is rightly understood in the dative case, with the Trinity as the sole subject. In Greek, as you may know, the dative case may function in three general ways: the true dative, locative dative, and the instrumental dative. Taking all three in hand, Ziegler’s suggestion may yield a threefold mantra summarizing Christian life as the “dative self,” with God as the subject:

  1. True Dative — God to me.
  2. Locative Dative — God in me.
  3. Instrumental — God through me.
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