Shepherd me, O God~a hymn share

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A homeschooling perk: Em and I took a field trip last week to the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park (that’s US history, right?). Em took this pic of one of his window designs.

This hymn showed up in my daily prayer app the other day, and I re-read the first stanza several times: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears/from death into life.” My default wants are safety, security, comfort, acclaim… And why am I so fixated on those? Because I fear that if I am not concerned about them, God will not be either. So I also need shepherding “beyond my fears.” I need God to move me “from death into life.”

I love the shift from prayer to truth-telling in this hymn, with the prayer for shepherding alternating with verses from Psalm 23, reminding the pray-er of God’s faithfulness and goodness. It is because of this goodness that we can confidently ask Jesus to shepherd us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows our true needs, well beyond our wants or what we think will satisfy us. He will lead us through dark valleys of fear and doubt into abiding faith. He will lead us from death (which sometimes looks quite lively and self-satisfying) into true, full life. At the bottom of the post there are two links (to a Youtube audio recording of the song and to the hymn writer’s website) and a verse.

Hymn: Shepherd me, O God

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing I shall want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Words and Music: Marty Haugen

To hear the music, follow this link.

Visit Marty Haugen’s website for more of his music.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’sgiving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Matthew 6:33 MSG

God’s ear

If every act of violence—every single one—

boomed like heavy bass,

or screeched like nails on a chalkboard,

would it be less common?

But what if it IS loud—

and we’ve just grown hard of hearing it?

What if we’ve turned down the volume

till urban killings, wars in far-off nations, child abuse,

slavery, the rape of girls in other places

is merely white noise, background buzz?

Has God, too? Has He grown deaf

or simply unplugged the speakers of our pain?

Wouldn’t you—if that’s all you heard from this broken world?

Remember the crucifixion?

What a soundtrack that had!

Moaning, wailing, cries of pain and terror, sobs of grief,

shouts of anger and hatred, too.

The clamorous theme of our broken humanity.

Darkness covered it—could God not bear to watch?—

But He didn’t cover His ears!

No, He added to the noise.

Not with a whimper or a whisper—

with a loud cry!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The shout of the Son Incarnate,

victim of intentional violence,

carrier as well of the entire burden of the image-bearers

who’d spurned the image and lived the loss.

The Father heard,

listened,

responded—

with gusting winds,

rumbling skies,

a shaking earth,

and then, a final, awesome noise:

the tearing of a thick, dividing curtain.

Top to bottom, it split

With a rip that shook the universe,

Opening the way for us

to whisper our pain

Directly into God’s ear.

*I always feel like I must add a disclaimer when I attempt poetry. I’m not a poet! There are lines in here I like, but the whole lacks something (the problem with not being a poet is that you don’t know what’s lacking!). So, if there are any poets out there who read this and think, “I know what I would do!”, PLEASE feel free to tinker with it. I would love to post an updated, collaborative version.

Working through poopy

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Em’s lettering–and Em’s photography (I think she’s amazing!)

My friend B calls it “working through poopy.” I think it’s a very accurate description. I worked through a little bit of my own poopy this morning: some jealousy, the desire to be noticed more/sought out more, some self-pity and fear and insecurity…

I’ll stop there.

After I spilled it all out in my journal, I felt better: ready to pray, ready to confess, ready to be grateful for the oh-so-much that has been gifted to me.

But God had one more step, one more gift.

I got up from the bench in the park where I’d been writing (so Chai [dog] could be outside) and noticed another woman entering the gate. She, too, had a dog. We exchanged pet names and then our own. In the chitchat that followed, we discovered we are both writers and the chitchat became conversation, with the shared language that comes with a shared vocation and shared concerns/frustrations/struggles/fears.

It was time for both of us to go, and as I walked toward the gate, I remembered, again, that we all—not just my fellow writer and I—are working through poopy. We’re all wondering about our purpose. We all want to be seen/known. We all struggle with identity. We all have very deep fears.

The second half of the St. Francis* prayer came to mind (another gift, that St. Francis!): Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

 

*Technically this poem is “attributed to St. Francis.” Here is the full text (also seen in the picture above):

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Praying for Chicago

pc-77-east-garfield-parkWednesday night I went to a PrayChicago event, where church members and leaders from all over the Chicago area gathered to pray together. PrayChicago announced a partnership that night. They’ve joined with Prayercast (a great ministry that makes short prayer videos for nations and groups around the world–I really suggest checking out the Prayercast website) to create 77 prayer videos for Chicago, one for each neighborhood. They are releasing a new prayer video each day for the next 76 days (it started yesterday), and each video is accompanied by an informational page on that neighborhood’s history and particular prayer points.

If God has laid Chicago on your heart, please join me in praying for each of its unique neighborhoods over the next couple months. Just go the PrayChicago website, scroll down, and click on the “sign up for daily Chicago 77 updates.” You’ll receive an email each day with a link to the daily prayer video.

If you’d like to check out the videos before you subscribe, go to the Prayercast site, where you’ll find LOTS of prayer videos, for many, many countries as well as for Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Just look at the options in the top menu bar. Maybe you’ll decide to pray for a country a day, too.

Looking for the image

pilsen-mural

When my niece Anna visited, we spent an afternoon hunting murals. This is a mural in progress in Pilsen.

Before we moved, we held one last yard sale in an effort to avoid extra drop-offs at the thrift store. People asked, naturally, “Where are you moving?” Our response—inner city—garnered a lot of head shaking, puzzled looks, raised eyebrows. A couple people even offered gloomy predictions. “You’ll miss this,” they said, gesturing at the trees and yard. “You’ll get tired of the noise and the people and the dirt.”

I nodded. I was sure they were right. I’m sure now they’re right. I will certainly miss, deep in my soul, the waving trees and open spaces and wooded trails that were a great part of my life in our old town.

But I’ve asked, since even before we moved, that God would open my eyes to see loveliness right here in our new neighborhood. I’ve asked him to gift my eyes to look beyond the trash and poverty and sorrow and see elements of beauty.

He’s answering this prayer, but not in the way I expected. Yes, I do notice the old, turn-of-last-century architecture in our neighborhood—somehow-still-complete stained glass, gorgeous old stonework, intricately carved wooden doors—and the neighborhood gardens and the creativity of things like truck-tires-turned-flower-planters and murals brightening abandoned buildings.

But I’ve been most surprised by the beauty I’m noticing in God’s masterpieces, His people, these fellow bearers of His image. I’m seeing more than the destitution of those who hang out all day at the closest L station—I’m seeing the ways they cram close under the bus shelter when it rains, waving their arms at those outside to join them. I’m taking joy in the older men playing chess at dusk at the edge of the park, just under the rumbling L train, their heads bent low in concentration. I get a thrill of excitement at every baby I see, with face fresh and innocent, at every little girl with her hair fixed just-so, at every daddy proudly walking his kids to school. I’m looking for potential and not threat in the groups of young men sitting on doorsteps or walking, strong and sure, down the streets. I’m noticing the city worker riding on the back of the trash truck, dancing in plain sight of everyone to the music coming through his headphones. I’m thankful for the watchful eye and gentle wisdom of the neighbor who’s lived in the house across the street nearly his entire life. I love that on the same street corner on a Sunday morning I saw a man dressed for church—cane, hat, polished shoes, vest, and tie! so sharp!—and an older woman dressed in cheetah pajamas, hood with cat ears pulled up around her face. They seemed comfortable in each other’s presence. I’m noticing the woman, sitting on the seat of her push walker, earnestly carrying on a conversation with the air in front of her, and rather than feeling discomfort, I’m wondering if maybe she isn’t talking with God, maybe she “sees” more than I do.

Will I miss my regular romps through the woods? Absolutely. That forest spoke to me of the beauty and grandeur and glory of God. I saw God in it. But it’s not God’s greatest handiwork.

We humans are. No matter what brokenness we carry—be it obvious or more subtle (even socially acceptable—like greed)— we are still his intricate, beloved creations who carry the image of God!

And that’s not limited to only the “beautiful ones” among us, nor to the saintly, the brilliant or the gifted. You, me, the lady in cheetah pajamas, those who hang out at the L station all day/every day, the alcoholic who regularly sleeps it off in the alley behind our house…

Made in the image of God.

I’m looking for that.

Father Heart

This past spring, when we felt certain the Lord was moving us into Chicago, one of our first steps was to explore school options for our kids. The search for the younger three didn’t last too long. We visited two schools; one of them felt like a good fit to both them and us; and that decision was confirmed when we attended their back-to-school night this past week. Yes, they will face the difficulties of making new friends and learning new systems, but we know already they will be in a nurturing environment, one in which they already feel comfortable.

This, however, has not been the scenario for our oldest child, Emily. Our first choice fell through. Then she found a magnet school she really wanted to attend. She made it past the first round of selections, but not the second. That was heartbreaking and sudden and late. We scrambled and discovered a charter school option. It wasn’t close; it didn’t have some of the classes she wanted, but we thought it would do. So she started classes there, but we found, after a week of trying to make it work, it simply was too far away.

So late Thursday night, Dave and I discussed, again, her schooling choices. We weighed pros and cons and talked through different scenarios, and then, with exhaustion sucking us into sleep, we prayed a plea of confused desperation.

The next morning I woke before the alarm. As I lay there, quiet, I received an insight into my daughter. I got a glimpse into why the less obvious, more complicated schooling choice might be the very best thing for her.

I looked over at Dave and saw he was also awake. I shared with him the insight I’d received. He nodded and told me what he’d woken up thinking about. The two insights meshed; they fit together; they formed something that was enough of an answer for us to move forward with peace.

But even greater than the answer was this: the Spirit’s whispered insights were not just a reminder of God’s great wisdom, they were even more a reminder of God’s Father heart for our girl, for our family.

In that moment of shared insights I got a glimpse of God’s great, beating heart for my girl, who is, even more and always, HIS girl. He knows her, inside and out, through and through, better than I know her, better than her dad knows her, better than she knows herself.

And He loves her.

He loves her oh so well, so tenderly, so knowledgably.

And that understanding is the best answer of all.

 

Post script: When I opened up the Daily Office on my phone later on Friday morning—just after what I described above—I discovered the day’s hymn was “Day by Day,” one I remembered from my childhood. It was like a loving letter written just for us, but I suspect, in God’s incredible way of loving all his people, together yet so uniquely, it’s for many of us, so I’m sharing the words below.

 

“Day by Day” by Karolina Sandell-Berg

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust Thy promised, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

Made for Good

Chicago night skyline, Em's

photo by Emily Underwood (to see more of her work, click on her name.)

This past Sunday my family and I attended the Missionary Baptist church right around the corner from our house. It was their annual outdoor service, so we sat under a tent in the church parking lot and sang, danced, listened, worshiped—and fanned ourselves—along with the church’s very welcoming congregation. Pastor Turk, speaking about how Christ’s purpose gives us purpose, reminded us near the end of the service that not one of us—not one human being given being by God, made in the image of God—was ever created for evil purposes.

“You were made for good,” he said. “You were made to be a blessing.”

The very next day—Monday—as Em and I drove and walked along North Avenue to shop for her school uniform pants, we saw several people holding signs, asking for money. Begging.

I want to set the record straight right now. This post is NOT about whether those with means should or shouldn’t give cash to homeless people. It’s not about the reasons they are homeless or begging or about what they might do with the money they receive.

This post is about the people themselves: the woman and teenage girl sitting outside one of the upscale clothing stores, jacket hoods pulled tight against the rain; the man who squats with his back against a metal fence, his leashed cat next to him; the guy, clearly strung out, asking for train fare; and the lady who chants the same phrase, “Just a dollar. Only need a dollar,” over and over and over again All. Day. Long.

These human beings make sorrow rise in my heart every time I see them. And whether I give them money or not (I’m not telling.), I try to make eye contact, to say “hello,” to smile, to see them.

This past Monday, there was one man, one man in particular…

An older gentleman, standing at an intersection, his head up, his eyes looking straight ahead, his sign reading, “Lost job. Need help to get back on my feet.”

Grey haired.

And there was something about him that felt like a punch in the gut.

The words of Pastor Turk came back to me. “He was not made for this,” I thought. “He was not made for sorrow and humiliation. He was not made for other human beings to pass by, some obviously trying their hardest NOT to see him, some scanning him as if he were an animal in a zoo. In God’s kingdom, he will not be doing this. No one will be. We will each have a clear understanding of each other’s dignity, of the God image in every single person, including ourselves.”

This—some humans walking past and around those who hold cardboard signs as if they were no more than a tree or a light pole—is not right.

This—those humans holding signs, most of them with their eyes downcast because it’s less painful to not know you’re being blatantly ignored—is not right.

The sorrow lingered. As I prayed, a question wandered into my mind. Jesus, is this how you felt all the time you were on earth? Was there always a sorrow because you knew this is not what we were made for? Because you saw each human, created to be citizens in God’s world, walking around instead without true knowledge of Him, oblivious of each other at best, downright cruel at worst, full of fear and anger.

Did you walk through each day looking at those around you and thinking, “This is wrong. This is not Kingdom life”?

Is this what I am meant to think, to wonder? Is this sorrow supposed to linger, to always color my perspective, to remind me this is not the Kingdom? And is this sorrow ironically supposed to lead to hope? Because a Kingdom must, by definition, have a King—and ours is coming.

And he is good, and He works good.

He works good—even through and among and in his broken people.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

 

*If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recognize a new look to the blog. The header photo was taken by daughter Emily, and she chose the new format as well. Hope you like it!

Today I Awake

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The Garfield Conservatory is just down the street from our house–so beautiful! And free! This is the entrance to the fern room. (shot by Emily Underwood)

In the Daily Office app I use on my phone (The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare), yesterday’s hymn was “Today I Awake” by John Bell. (I’ve shared another of John Bell’s hymns, “Take O Take Me As I Am,” in a past post [click on the title above to see the post, which has the words as well as a link to a recording of the hymn].) Bell’s treatment of the Trinity is beautiful, and it reminded me of the book Delighting in the Trinity (this link leads to a blog post recommending that book–so good!)

I re-read this hymn all day long yesterday, and last night I found a Youtube recording of it so I could also hear the tune. Click on the title below to listen to the recording. Hope you enjoy as well.

Today I Awake” by John Bell

Today I awake and God is before me.

At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the

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Fish @ the Conservatory  (by Em)

day;

For God never sleeps but patterns the morning

with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.

He walked through the dark to scatter new light.

Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people

to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me

at worship and work, in struggle and rest.

The Spirit inspires all life which is changing

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Another Conservatory pic (by Em)

from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,

above and beneath, before and behind;

the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together

They called me to life and call me

their friend.

Black Movers, White Neighborhoods

Perhaps it’s just that my current life chapter could be titled, “White Movers, African-American Neighborhood” or that the author of this piece, Esau McCaulley, is a fellow Anglican who desires more African American leadership and presence in the Anglican/Episcopal church in the United States, but I nearly cried when I read this piece. I want to sit down and have a really, really long conversation with this man. And, oh, do I wish he were in Chicago instead of in New York.

Thicket of the Jordan

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Yesterday, four movers arrived at our new home to deliver items I had not seen since we placed them in storage some three years ago. Two of these delivery men were African American brothers. When one of them walked in he said, “I remember this house! I moved the people out of here a few weeks ago.”  Then he gave me that subtle nod that black people exchange.  Next he asked me what I did for a living.  I told him that I was starting a new job as a professor of New Testament at one of the schools near here. Soon after this, his brother walked in and he told him that I was a professor and that I moved here to start a new job with my wife and kids. His brother then started to educate me on the glories of my new neighborhood and the…

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Missional churches

Early in June–before we got completely crazy with moving, I took a five-day intensive class at Northern Seminary. It was taught by Dr. Michael Frost. It was excellent, and I wrote a blog post about it (“Exiles in a post-Christian era“) for Northern Seminary’s blog. If you’re interested in missional living and the missional church, Dr. Frost is a leading thinker in this area, and the post has links in it to several of his books. If you’re at all wrestling with feeling separated from your neighbors or community–or church, I highly recommend Frost’s book Incarnate.

Click on the title above to read the post. While you’re on Northern Seminary’s site, I also recommend checking out some of the other posts. Northern Seminary leaders have written some really good pieces this summer on the violence plaguing and tearing apart our country.