Author Archives: jculler1972

About jculler1972

My husband is the pastor of St. Paul's Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, Maryland. I have two grown daughters and a granddaughter and am retired after a career in Purchasing. I have published articles in The Lutheran Ambassador, Lutheran Witness, and Lutheran Digest. My Bible study on the Book of Acts was recently published by the Women's Missionary Federation of the AFLC(Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Music as a Dynamic

Standard

In one of Michele’s previous posts, she asked about the songs that “move” us.  It’s a fact, music can move us into a different place mentally.  Calm music soothes;  boisterous music ramps us up;  patriotic or spiritual music inspires and uplifts.  Music affects our mood and our spirit, and singing together gives a sense of unity.

 

On a Via de Cristo weekend, music is used consciously, as a dynamic, to move the retreat weekend along.  Thursday evening, people don’t know one another and many are a little nervous.  What’s going to happen?  Why did I agree to do this?  The musicians select light, well known songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” or “Rise and Shine” so that people can easily participate and feel comfortable.

As the weekend progresses, the speakers choose songs that mirror the theme of their talk.  The weekend becomes more intensely spiritual and so do the songs.  Songs like “As the Deer,” “Abba, Father” and “Just As I Am” become part of the repertoire.

By Saturday night, the group is feeling excited and at ease with one another.  A community has been created.  It’s time for joyous, upbeat music like “Shake a Friend’s Hand” and “Dancing Heart.”  These songs involve participants in a physical way, encouraging moving around, and even touching one another.

“De Colores” is the theme song of the weekend.  It’s sung over and over on the way to meals.  This Spanish folk song rejoices in God’s creation and reflects the inner joy of the retreatants as they bask in the presence of God’s love.  I’m including it here at the end, and hope others who have been on a weekend (some of our authors are even weekend musicians) will share the songs that have become meaningful to them through Via de Cristo.

 

Advertisements

Amazing Grace — The Musical

Standard

Recently my husband and I went to Washington D.C. to celebrate our anniversary (46 years!) by visiting the Museum of the Bible.  While there we also attended a performance of Amazing Grace at the World Stage Theater (also located at the museum).  It’s the story of John Newton, a slave trader who converted and wrote the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace.  I’m not sure how historically accurate the play is (the program stated some characters presented were fictional), but I plan to read Newton’s autobiography, Out of the Depths, as soon as I can get it from the library.  That may be another post.  Certainly there were talented actors and singers, amusing moments and great staging.  If you go, you’ll enjoy the show.  However, one review I read called the music “competent, but not inspiring.”  I would have to agree.  Not one song in the entire musical came close to the song it was all about, the one that was sung by cast and audience together at the very end. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes.  Here it is:

 

Why Lutherans Sing

Standard

This article was originally posted in The Lutheran Ambassador, the AFLC magazine.

Lutherans are known as “the singing church” and Martin Luther has been called “the father of congregational singing.”  But why do we sing?  Is it simply our tradition?  Is it an appropriate way to express our emotions of gratitude and love toward God?  Is it a biblically sanctioned part of worship (Psalm 66:1-2)?  Does it help bind us together as a community?  The answer is yes to all these questions about communal Christian singing in the Church.  However, there is another excellent reason Lutherans sing:  hymn singing is an important part of our Christian education.

Maybe you thought the children were just having fun singing all those Sunday School songs.  They are having fun, but they are also learning about important people in the Bible (Father Abraham), the essentials of the faith (Jesus Loves Me), the proper response to God’s love (Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children) and what it means to be part of the church (We Are the Church).

Setting words to music is an aid to memorization.  Young people often learn the books of the Bible (in order no less) by singing a song.  Adults who participate in a Lutheran liturgy discover they’ve memorized many Psalms and other portions of scripture by taking part in the worship service.  Well chosen hymns also serve to reinforce the theme of the sermon and the readings of the day.  And in times of crisis in our lives the comforting words of hymns bring the reminder of God’s eternal concern for His people to our minds and hearts.

Good hymns teach.  They help us understand the different church seasons (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel).  They prepare us for communion (Let Us Break Bread Together).  They tell us about the attributes of God (A Mighty Fortress). They convict us of our sin (Amazing Grace). They explain theological concepts (The Church’s One Foundation) and give lessons in how to serve (Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling) and be more generous (We Give Thee But Thine Own). Some hymns are almost a sermon in themselves (Salvation Unto Us Has Come)!

Church music can touch our hearts and sink into our souls in a way that is hard to explain or understand. Church music can lift us up into the very realm of God’s presence.  No wonder Luther called it “a fair and glorious gift of God.”

I Am the Bread of Life — Book Review

Standard

A few months ago when our theme was “Food, Feasts and Gluttony” I purchased a copy of I Am the Bread of Life by Sister Suzanne Toolan and Elizabeth Dossa.  Sister Suzanne is the composer of the song, as well as many others and is also a gifted teacher of music.  The book is made up of a series of essays –some are biographical, others Sister Suzanne’s thoughts on topics such as Silence, Liturgy, Ritual, Celebrations, and some contain practical advice on prayer, music and liturgy.

I Am the Bread of Life

As a Lutheran, I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but much of the material on liturgy resonated deeply with me.  It’s obvious that to Sr. Suzanne, music is a spiritual practice. She took care to make sure her students understood what they were singing.  She felt the music should encourage their faith. She speaks about liturgy not as something to study, but as a beloved and thoughtful discipline.  Here are some of her quotes:

“A good hymn is almost instructional.”

“Entertainment or liturgy as theater has no depth to it.”

“There is a unity of spirit in the singing.”

“The Liturgy is about leading the congregation to the Real Presence.”

Sister Suzanne is an amazing woman, and anyone interested in the liturgy and music of the church will enjoy this read.

 

Lutherans and Music

Standard

This article, written by my husband, our Pastor was included in the congregation’s December newsletter.  If you would like to read more articles he has written, his blog is goodnewsforabadworld.wordpress.com 

The Lutheran Church has often been called “the singing church.” Prior to the Reformation there was no congregational singing in most worship services. What singing occurred was done by choirs and specially trained cantors. Martin Luther decided to change that and published the first hymnal in German with a number of hymns written by him and by his colleagues in the reform movement.

Luther was, himself, a talented musician who enjoyed playing and singing. His love of music led him to the belief that lay people, many of whom were illiterate at the time, could learn more about the faith by being taught to sing of the doctrines and truths of the Church during regular worship services. While other reformers encouraged only the singing of the Psalms, Luther’s work was much more expansive.

Over time a great tradition of hymnody developed in the Lutheran Churches and this was copied by others, especially in England and in the United States. Now the Church has thousands of hymns to choose from as part of its function as the teacher of the true faith.

It is important for us to maintain this tradition of hymnody. Without it we would, as a Church, be much the poorer. At St, Paul’s we are trying to expand our repertoire of hymns, searching for ones that, while they might be unfamiliar are, indeed, gems that we have yet to unearth.

Unfortunately, not all hymns in our hymnal are gems. Some of them are difficult to play and sing and a very few others have theological problems. When we try one of those less than stellar hymns and it doesn’t work well we have to decide if we’ll keep working on it or just drop it. But it’s a process. In the last 2 years we’ve used over 200 hymns in our worship. Some we’ll see again, some we won’t. But all singing is for the glory of God.

 

Music that Takes You Back

Standard

My mother died just a few days ago, and I started thinking about my childhood — when I was very small, mom would sing to me;  silly songs or popular songs of the late 40’s and early 50’s.  Songs like “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?,”  “Yes, I have no Bananas,” or “Happy Trails to You” take me back to that time. (Does anyone else remember these, or am I just really, really old?)

Music connects us with other times and places.  “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles takes me back to the days of watching American Band Stand as a young teenager;  “Hey, Jude,” (Beatles) “Leaving on a Jet Plane,”(Joni Mitchell) and “I Second that Emotion”(Smokey Robinson) take me back to college days, playing records in the dorm.

There are plenty of hymns and Christian songs that take us back to significant times and seasons in our spiritual journey as well.  As a child, I sang “Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam” in Sunday School and “Beautiful Savior” in church.  “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” recalls singing in the car with my young daughters.  “A Mighty Fortress” is, of course, for Reformation Day; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” — Advent, “Silent Night” — Christmas, “O Sacred Head Most Wounded”–Lent and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” — Easter.  For Lutherans, the liturgy is a constant that binds all those songs together as we walk through the birth, life and death of Christ and the seasons of the church year.

Like Michele, I’m going to give our authors and readers a challenge — what song takes you back to an important time in your life with God?  I hope to see some posts and comments about the music that takes you back this month.

 

My Life Hymn

Standard

This is in response to Michele’s  challenge to post the song or hymn that moves us most.  It’s hard to choose, and I’m sure this month I’ll be posting others, but this one has been a favorite for a long time, and it speaks to me and calls me to Christian action. At times it brings tears to my eyes.  It actually has a very similar them to “Here I Am” which was Michele’s pick.  I’ve talked before about my life verse, so I guess I’d say this is my life hymn.

Spring will Come

Standard

“In winter it seems that the season of Spring will never come, and in both Advent and Lent, it’s the waiting that’s hard, the in-between of the divine promise and its fulfillment ….Most of us find ourselves dangling in this hiatus, which in the interval may seem a waste of time … But ‘the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.’ With such motivation we can wait as we sense that God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was within Mary as the Child within her grew.”

Poet Luci Shaw, in God With Us

Luci Shaw (born 1928 in London, England) is a Christian poet. Shaw studied at Wheaton College, Illinois and is now Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver. She lectures on art and spirituality, the Christian imagination, poetry-writing, and journaling as an aid to artistic and spiritual growth.

Who Do You Fear?

Standard

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt. 10:28

I’ve started reading a book by Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black;  maybe you’ve heard of it.  Piper is the typical upper middle class girl.  She graduates from college, and unfortunately is attracted to the wrong person — a woman whose life seems exciting and adventurous.  turns out her lifestyle is funded by drug money.  She invites Piper to travel with her as she manages drug mules and money laundering couriers in exotic places;  it’s fun … for a while.  Eventually Piper is put into a situation where she crosses the line and delivers a suitcase full of dirty money for her friend.  The stress and fear she experiences while committing this act wakes her up to the fact that she’s in over her head, so she flees.  She moves, gets a regular job, reconnects with family and eventually is engaged to a nice young man.  She’s recovered her “normal” life and nobody  is aware of that brief, foolish, lapse in judgement.

Ten years later federal agents knock on her door to tell her she is being indicted for drug trafficking.  At this point she must confess to her fiancé and family.  She is humbled and embarrased as she agrees to plead guilty to a charge of money laundering and serve three years in prison.  Then something even worse happens — shortly after sentencing, her date with prison in postponed indefinitely, as the authorities want her to be available to testify against one of the drug kingpins “in street clothes, not an orange jumpsuit.”

Okay, I’m finally getting to the point.  For years Piper lives with a jail sentence hanging over her.  Can you imagine how awful that would be?  She knew she had committed a crime and she was going to prison, she just didn’t know when or where.  It was a miserable way to live. I could empathize with her pain and terror, trying to lead a normal life, yet knowing the punishment that was waiting for her.  But, think about it, without Jesus, wouldn’t we be in the very same situation?

Like Piper, we go on living our lives, telling ourselves that our sins don’t have consequences.  They’re not big sins anyway.  Just the kind of things we fell into without really thinking;  things somebody else lured into;  things that happened when we were young and inexperienced.  We foolishly think we’ll never be called to account.

The Bible tells a different story.  Judgement is hanging over us and we don’t know when it will come.  Most of us, like Piper, would be terrified at the thought of going to prison, even for a short time — so why aren’t we worried about spending eternity separated from God?  Piper was humbled before an earthly judge;  at some future date, we’ll all bow before the Lord God Almighty!  She was pathetically grateful for those who spoke up for her in order to reduce her sentence because she knew what she really deserved — how grateful should we be to Jesus who died to save us from the fate awaiting us?

Christmas is a time to rejoice in the good news that our sentence has been commuted, thanks to the God who came as a helpless baby, willing to bear our punishment. We’ve been released from the penalty of sin. We don’t have an eternity of darkness hanging over us.  Now we need to live a life that reflects gratitude for that grace.  Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to appreciate the gift we’ve received.