Of Gods and Men

Saturday night I had the evening to myself (my wife being out of town), so I decided to rent a French movie that I'd been wanting to see, Of Gods and Men. The movie, based upon actual events, tells the story of a group of Christian monks in Algeria who find their region overcome by violence as Muslim extremists and the corrupt government struggle for power.

As the violence descends closer to the monastery, and as other foreigners are killed by Islamists, the monks are faced with a choice: should we flee from this violence, as friends and the government would have us do? or should we continue the missional work to which we have felt called, even though there is a good possibility that this will mean death?

Each of the brothers must struggle with his fears, his calling, his struggle to trust God, his loyalty his brothers, and the desire to make good and well-considered decisions about the future.

This film is powerful and heart-wrenching. The words of Scripture and of the chants envelope and saturate the film, as they saturate the days and nights of these monks struggling for discernment. Through meditating upon the teachings of the Bible, through their love of one another, the monks finally embrace a decision. The performances wonderfully present the monks, not as somehow aloof or super-human or removed from reality, but deeply human and sympathetic characters, "folk like us" (which you don't always see in portrayals of clergy or members of religious orders in movies).

But they do have some wisdom and insight as well. Brother Luc offers a great line, that truly encapsulates what I believe God has been trying to teach many of us; he says, "I do not fear death. I am a free man."

I recommend this movie for your contemplation. And, shockingly, you can rent this foreign-language film from redbox.



Prayers in the UM Hymnal

As I may have mentioned before, I went to a United Methodist Church as a child, where I was also confirmed. Throughout high school and the beginning of college, I attended other churches, mostly Baptist and independent evangelical churches. From these evangelical churches I learned most of what I know about the content and nuances of the Bible, and caught from them a desire to know God's book as well as I could, chapter and verse. During college, however, I got involved in St. Alban's (Episcopal/Anglican) Chapel and also fell in love with the beautiful, wise, and deeply-rooted liturgy of The Book of Common Prayer.

Knowing that the Anglicans were somehow connected to or similar to the Methodists I had grown up among, I eventually decided to attend the cathedral-like First United Methodist Church in downtown Baton Rouge, to take another look at Methodism. Imagine my delight upon attending a service and opening the hymnal to discover a variant of the same Anglican liturgy I had discovered at St. Alban's! This was a part of how I found my way back to the Methodist tradition of my childhood.

In my first year or so back in United Methodism, I made it my point to carefully study the Methodist hymnal and the liturgy. I had been using The Book of Common Prayer as a source for devotional material and hoped to use The United Methodist Hymnal (with the appropriate subtitle: Book of United Methodist Worship) in much the same way, and so I made careful comparisons between these two worship books.

I discovered The United Methodist Hymnal to be one of the richest worship books you can find anywhere in Christendom (and probably one of the more under-appreciated): here you fill find evangelical revival hymns like "The Old Rugged Cross" and yet here you will also find the classic liturgy of Word and Table in the Anglican tradition; here you will find many prayers and hymns from many saints (even a pope or two) from across the Christian tradition, both East and West, yet you will also find the works of reforming figures like Martin Luther as well.

One resource I eventually created to help me use this wonderful and truly "catholic" worship book (drawing from the WHOLE church like none other), was a chart or index of the prayers found in the Hymnal that I could draw upon for personal and group use. There is a similar index found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (the UMC's other major worship book, p. 497-8), but whereas that chart is alphabetical this one below is arranged topically, which I find more helpful.

I found it useful to put this list into two columns on one page, print it on adhesive paper, and then stick it in the back cover of my United Methodist Hymnals. I hope it may be useful to you. If you would like me to send you this stuff (already in 2 columns) in a Word file, just email me and let me know.


Some Prayers of The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship

Prayer - Page/Hymn number

The Christian Year:

1 Advent - 201*
2 Christmas - 231
3 Epiphany - 255
4 Baptism of the Lord - 253*
5 Transfiguration - 259
6 Lent - 268
7 Ash Wednesday - 353
8 Passion/Palm Sunday - 281
9 Holy Thursday - 283*
10 Good Friday - 284*
11 Easter Vigil of Day - 320
12 Sundays of Easter - 321
13 Ascension - 323
14 Day of Pentecost - 542
15 Trinity Sunday - 76*
16 All Saints - 713*
17 Christ the King - 721*

In Worship:

18 Collect for Purity (Opening Prayer) - 6*
19 For True Singing - 69
20 Bread and Justice (Eucharist) - 639
21 Post-Communion Prayer - 11
22 Apostolic Blessing (benediction) - 669
23 Prayer of St. John Chrysostom - 412*
24 Praising God of many names - 104


24 For a New Day - 676
25 Listen Lord (morning prayer) - 677
26 For Help for the Forthcoming Day - 681*
27 Morning Thanksgiving - 877


28 Evening Thanksgiving - 878
29 At the close of day (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) - 689
30 For protection at night - 691
31 For a peaceful night - 693

For Knowledge of God through Scripture:

32 For the Spirit of Truth - 597
33 Concerning the Scriptures - 602*
34 Prayer for Illumination - 6
35 Come Divine Interpreter - 594
36 Whether the Word be Preached or Read - 595

Confession, Assurance, Pardon:

37 We have sinned against you… - 890*
38 We have erred and strayed… - 891*
39 We have not loved thee… - 892
40 Litany of Confession - 893
41 New Rite Confession and Pardon - 8
42 Classic Rite Confession and Pardon - 26*
43 Psalm 25 - 756
44 Psalm 51 - 785
45 Psalm 90 - 809
46 Psalm 130 - 848
47 Psalm 139 - 854

For The Church:

48 For Unity of Christ’s Body - 564
49 For Renewal of the Church - 574
50 Litany for Christian Unity (Pope John Paul II/the Great) - 556
51 Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola (discipleship) - 570

Fullness of Salvation, Holiness, and life with God:

52 An Invitation to Christ (St. Dimitri of Rostov) - 466
53 For Illumination - 477
54 A Covenant prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition - 607
55 Prayer to the Holy Spirit - 329
56 An invitation to the Holy Spirit - 335
57 Prayer for a New Heart - 392
58 For Holiness of Heart - 401
59 The Prayer of St. Francis - 481*
60 Three things we pray (St. Richard of Chichester) - 493
61 For True Life (St. Teresa of Avila) - 403
62 Freedom in Christ - 360
63 Finding Rest in God (St. Augustine of Hippo) - 423
64 Sufficiency of God (Dame Julian of Norwich) - 495

Prayers for various occasions:

65 God is able - 106
66 For overcoming Adversity (Savonarola) - 531
67 A refuge amid distraction - 535
68 For Direction - 705*
69 For Guidance - 366
70 For Grace to Labor (St. Thomas More) - 409
71 For our Country - 429
72 For Courage to do Justice - 456
73 Serving the Poor (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)- 446
74 The Serenity prayer - 459

75 For the Sick - 457*
76 In Times of Illness - 460
77 For those who mourn - 461

Life Events:

79 At the birth of a child 146
80 If Death my friend and me divide 656

See also:
The Lord’s Prayer: 894-896
Liturgical Psalter (100 selected Psalms): 735-862
Creeds and Affirmations of our Faith: 880-889

*Indicates a prayer inherited from The Book of Common Prayer

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Thoughts on the clergy from a new DS

In recent days I have enjoyed reading the Kyrie Eleison blog of Methodist pastor Sky McCracken. Rev. McCracken was recently appointed to be a district superintendent (or, "DS" - a helper of the bishop who gives oversight to a particular part or "district" of the bishop's episcopal area). Because our bishops have oversight of so many churches (my bishop has more than 400) the district superintendents are a vital part of our system as it is currently structured.

Rev. McCracken recently had a post called "Learnings of a new district superintendent" which discusses some of the (mostly light-hearted) things that he has learned in his new role. However, he does have some sobbering remarks as well about the spiritual depth of some of our clergy:

We have pastors who have little or no spiritual depth, yet are appointed to churches to serve as spiritual guides and leaders - and laity are noticing. Emmaus Walks, Academies for Spiritual Formation, SoulFeasts, and other such venues of opportunity for spiritual direction and formation are helping folks grow in their spiritual walk and discipleship. But they are also helping folks realize how much many of their pastors are neglecting to teach these basics of the faith AND, more to the point, have no spiritual depth or discernment of their own. It doesn't help that more and more clergy surveyed (anonymously of course) only read the Bible for sermon fodder, and rarely for devotion. In all of the consultations that I did this year, not one church asked me to send them a good pulpit preacher. But I did hear "Send us a praying pastor" more than once.

As I've noted before, while we are now having a great deal of discussion about renewing and restructuring the United Methodist Church, I believe we need to have a deeper conversation about the spiritual training of our clergy. Though I don't believe the "Call to Action" report emphasized this, it is clear to me that the current reform efforts need to focus on our seminary training, and perhaps some sort of post-seminary spiritual apprenticeship as well. Our clergy need more than academic credentials and participation in social justice projects. Our clergy need to be thoroughly trained as spiritual shepherds of Christ's flock.

On the front of spiritual direction, I believe some of the Roman Catholic clergy who belong to religious orders are light years ahead of us, because they have been formed in the classic traditions that are so rich and deep. As I continue to strive for growth in this department I plan to begin reading The Book of the Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great in the next few days to engage with the ancient patristic wisdom for pastoral formation.

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Independence Day

On this 4th of July, I commend to you again the wonderful quote by G.K. Chesterton regarding the US Declaration of Independence, which was signed this day in 1776, and which I like to try to read each year around this time.

One thing I have been saying from time to time is that we ought to designate a more singable (and perhaps, less war-focused) song as our national Anthem. Maybe "America the Beautiful" or perhaps better still, this verse, the final verse of the song "America" (much more commonly known as "My country, 'Tis of Thee"). Like the Declaration of Independence itself, the logic of the song holds that the only foundation for believing that there truly are such things as "natural rights" is the law of Nature's God, so this verse also looks to God's natural order as the source and surety for our liberty and rights. It also reminds us that above and before the transitory vox populi of our democratic government is the eternal vox Dei of the Kingdom reign of God, expressed in the natural laws of creation which must be our foundation if our political systems are to be just and good and ultimately life-sustaining.

Our fathers' God, to thee,
author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright
with freedom's holy light;
protect us by thy might,
great God our King.

[Pictured is the Grand Union Flag the very first flag of The United States. It was in use from 1775-77 and was thus was the flag being used when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Even as the Founding Fathers were declaring their independence from Great Britain, their chosen flag gladly acknowledges our British cultural heritage. Still popular for display, it symbolizes the values of the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in particular, and is available at Amazon and other flag-sellers.]