Why write new hymns and songs?

Because the Psalmist calls for them? Because language changes? Because new circumstances present themselves?

All of that and more! When we write poems and set them to music, when we sing, we set something free which pushes at the boundaries, that strains both doctrine and understanding, and in doing so gives birth to new hope. But this is dangerous. It can lead to heresy.

We need heresies. Heresies are the antidote to closed minds, to broken hopes. Christianity was predicated on a heresy, as far as the Jews were concerned; similarly Islam for Christians. Heresies sometimes help us frame what we really believe. Most of the historic creeds have come into being as defence against distortions of truth. But as someone once said, ‘what is truth?’ The moment we think we possess it we are, perhaps, captives of our own arrogance. Creeds can have a positive purpose, but equally they can be a strait-jacket.

I want to be able to explore faith in the same way that my scientific probing enabled me to make new discoveries. And yes, I know there is risk in that. But it was Sydney Carter who pointed out that you can’t cage the bird of heaven and still keep faith alive, anymore than you could cage a lark and expect to hear its voice. We know the truth of the metaphor, but people so often seek to cage certainty. Think of those Hebrews in exile who thought that God was dead because the temple and the city of Jerusalem and had been routed, until Ezekiel gave the dry, dead bones of their faith a wake-up call. [1] Or Peter who was so constrained by the Jewish food laws that he couldn’t talk to Cornelius until God pointed out the foolishness of his theology in a weird dream. [2] Or there are those friends of mine who wouldn’t go into a pub to ‘share the gospel’ because drink was evil, forgetting the wedding at Cana in Galilee – surely those jars didn’t contain grape juice? Oh, I could go on, but perhaps I’ve gone on long enough. The root of the problem is that we never fully know God.

And then we declaim and so often judge, we codify and the spirit of God is diminished and emasculated. Somehow the church needs to reclaim that prophetic spirit that can enable new adventures of faith, new discoveries of the unfathomable grace and freedom of God. At their best hymn poets have done just that. Today this is still part of our responsibility. On the one hand we are to communicate belief in that subversive way that perhaps only hymns enable, so that we sing our faith not only with our lips, but in our hearts that it might then be lived in our lives. On the other hand we should allow imagination to inform our writing so that we discover new and liberating truths fresh for our age and our need. Today this is as important as it ever was.

So we must express old truths in new ways. We must explore new circumstances and make sense of them in terms of our understanding of God. We must forge new instruments of audacious hope testing our theology and recognising it as dynamic, growing as our understanding of God and the world deepens. And in all of this, praise of God, sung is a tool to be used and to be treasured. We can often sing those things we only tentatively hold to be true with our intellect and we can give birth to hope through poetic imagination that we would never contrive through conscious thought alone. If we do not have hymns and religious songs then we must invent some tool to take their place. Until then, let us continue to write and to sing new hymns and songs to God!

©Andrew Pratt 2010

 

Progressive religion – thoughts

Progressive Religion is an expression of faith held within the phrase: ‘Nothing Fixed or Final’.*
This is a creed in that Progressive Religion is not without belief, but that belief is always provisional because we are human. It involves a seeking after truth with the humility to admit that if we think we have found such truth, and we are tempted to frame and dogmatise it, then we have missed the point. Our understanding can never be complete, is always dynamic, always subject to change.
Progressive theology is predicated on the provisional nature of this religion and cannot ever be rooted in only one religious expression. While it may draw conclusions these are always open to critique, modification, change or even ultimately abandonment.
Progressive worship gives expression to such theology and it is the nature of liturgy and worship that they are not simply dependent on this theology, but are also the crucibles in which such theology is explored and sometimes formed.
*Sidney Carter once said that his creed was ‘Nothing Fixed or Final’ and I have found this has held for me thus far.

Investing in a monolith – Government and poverty – Jesus – Temple

Investing in a monolith
that reaches to the sky
can blind us to our neighbour’s loss,
we’re deaf to hear their cry.
The infrastructure that we crave,
carves scars across the land,
where food and beauty once was found,
but can no longer stand.

The monuments we build to power
that sap a nation’s wealth,
will crumble as they leech the poor,
yet wreck our moral health.
When will we learn a quiet way,
not strident in its speech,
of love for neighbour, knowing peace
is not beyond our reach?

When will we till this common ground
we share through human birth,
that all its riches, love and joy,
may show our common worth;
each one a child, a neighbour, friend,
a partner in this life?
Then let us share in Christ-like love,
and harbour no more strife.
Andrew Pratt 13/11/2018
Reflecting on Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus and the Temple, government and poverty
Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Tune: VOX DILECTI

No armistice – Remembrance – every year

No armistice
and every day a memory,
not remembrance.
Survival’s guilt hangs heavy
like a shroud.
The frightened eyes,
the failing breath,
the flailing limbs,
I will never forget.
Never forget.
Decades pass,
yet nothing fades,
vivid as yesterday
the violence,
the carnage,
flamed on the retina
of my mind.
I hold his hand,
hear his voice,
he slips away,
is,
yet is no more,
And
at the going down of the sun
and in every blazing,
blinding moment
I will remember him.
God where is your victory?
Death, I feel your sting.
Christ!
hold me.

© Andrew Pratt

When will we see all people just as people

When will we see all people just as people
devoid of labels, prejudice and fear?
When can we love our neighbours without limit,
not loving just the ones to whom we’re near?

When can we share the grace of God more simply,
not clouded by theology or fudge,
in order that the world may sense the presence
of Christ in love, and not some frowning judge?

God give to us audacity and courage
to grasp each nettle, risking others’ sting,
until the love that binds us all together
will hold us in one vast unbroken ring.

Andrew Pratt

Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, www.stainer.co.uk.

Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

Written in response to the Methodist Conference Marriage and Relationships Report having been delayed, as we were informed at Synod due to ‘unforeseen circmstances’.

Dysfunctional people? The state of society witnessed by politics

Dysfunctional people still seeking direction,
still blindly pursuing our selfish desires,
we’re longing for certainty, vision distorted,
embers of hate blown to wild, raging fires.

Struggling persistently, stirring up prejudice,
fuelling the hatred that labels the poor;
storing our wealth, yet more grasping than giving,
hoarding what’s worthless in life’s endless store.

When will we learn that our Godless humanity
faults every plan, undermines every hope,
leaving us desolate, fearing the future,
putting the love that we crave beyond scope?

Good God forgive us, restore and renew us,
knit a community woven with grace,
help us to live held by love for each other,
here, in this moment, right here in this place.

Andrew Pratt (7/11/2018)

Reflecting on the state of society in the UK and USA following mid-term elections in the USA.
Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England,
http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.