Beth Brawley Stoddard is writing today’s summer blog mixtape post. “Manifesto” is a great song written by some incredibly talented Canadians in a band called The City Harmonic. The writers are Elias Dummer, Eric Fusilier, Aaron Powell and Josh Vanderlaan. You can find Beth on twitter at @bethbrawley and read her blog at www.graceeveryday.com.
I grew up attending a traditional Methodist church in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The physical structure was imposing; the heavy stones, sharp-edged turret and high rounded dome inspired my younger brother to dub the place, “Fort God”.
Within these stone walls I learned the books of the Bible, receiving colored ribbons as prizes for my accomplishments. I proudly carried my little children’s Bible with me every Sunday, crammed full of ribbons. Captivated by the competition, I memorized the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. And earned more ribbons.
And yet somehow, in spite of the memorized verses and choir practices and handbells and VBS and Sunday School and Youth Group and Youth Sunday, I missed out on the notion that underneath all that activity was, presumably, a relationship with God. In my early twenties, when pushed to give assent to the idea of Jesus being Lord, I found I couldn’t do it. All my ribbons, all my memorized creeds and four-part harmony from the hymnal didn’t mask the emptiness of my religion. I had no relationship with Jesus.
Eventually, I ended up in a Baptist church. No creeds, no liturgy, no passing of the peace; we heard fire and brimstone and hearty shouts of affirmation from the pews; we had long prayer meetings and even longer invitations. Spiritually I came alive in a new way. And I came to know Jesus.
And now church is my vocation. We program no creeds in our contemporary, seeker-sensitive services. We sing the psalms and embrace passionate declarations of grace, but we do not memorize declarations or recite the Lord’s Prayer together.
My pastor, a very creative fellow, sent me a link a few months ago. “Check this out. GREAT song!” Pounding rhythm, a repetitive arpeggiated riff on the piano – sounded like Arcade Fire. Loved the vibe. Loved the guitar.
And then came this declaration:
We believe in the one true God
We believe in Father, Spirit, Son
We believe that good has won
And then the shout; not a whisper, not a plea, not a quiet thought, but a loud, undeniable declaration:
We sing this song now. We have embraced a creed, and we claim it with power and passion. In the bridge, we recite the Lord’s Prayer in a crazy rhythmic cadence and we cannot catch our breaths. And then, again, the shout: AMEN!
So be it. This song has captivated our congregation, seekers and believers alike. It is fresh, and yet it has an aroma of nostalgia for anyone with a liturgical or creedal history in their spiritual journey. It gives voice to the foundation of what we believe – or even what we hope to believe.
We sing this powerful declaration of worship and I clutch a handful or ribbons to the sky, grateful to the God who allowed me to come full-circle and rest in the foundation of my faith and the hope for my future.
Beth leads the creative arts team at Powhatan Community Church in Virginia. Follow her on twitter at @bethbrawler and read her blog www.graceeveryday.com.