Songs About Getting Better

A Liturgy of Resurrection for Easter Sunday 2020

Response of the People (text taken from “Came Out Swinging” by The Wonder Years):
I came out swinging from a South Philly basement
Caked in stale beer and sweat, under half-lit florescents
And I spent the winter writing songs about getting better
And if I’m being honest, I’m getting there

It has been a long winter
This season of Lent has taken us through trials and tribulation
We have gone from a time of contemplation to a time of exile
Far away from those we love and a place we might call home
This isn’t what we expected from this time
We’ve seen our friends, our neighbors, our families put through a ringer
We’ve seen them lose jobs or get sick or maybe just wonder what they’re going to do next
And through it all we’ve been isolated, left alone
Even on this holiest of days we are apart
And we can know it’s for the best
We can have all the knowledge in our hearts that we are doing what is right
For the health and well being of all we might encounter
And yet it’s still very easy for our houses to feel like tombs
But do you know what happens to tombs on days like today?

Response

We’ve spent this time of exile as ghosts
Floating through some semblance of routine
Trying to make the most of this time where things have changed
And it’s felt odd, hasn’t it?
But honestly this has been a pure expression of Lent
We looked around and saw a world in desperate need of resurrection
We saw a world in need of hope and new life
And we contemplated where we could fit into that new world
We looked at how we could bring about this age of renewal
We saw the tethers that run between us
We saw how we are bound together in ways we thought unimaginable
We saw how much we need one another
We spent this winter of our discontent bringing our dream and vision for this world onto paper
Pushing a brighter pallet of color from our minds out onto the page to replace the grays that surround us
We began to write these songs about getting better
Of what we know is possible because the worst thing is never the last thing
Whatever fear and anxiety we face we can overcome together
Because resurrection is promised
Because the tombs are empty
Because life and hope and grace are on the loose and there’s nothing to be done about that

Response

So today we celebrate resurrection
Not just that of Christ but our own as well
I don’t know when the stones will be rolled away from our front doors yet
When we will get to experience the fullness of this brave new dawn
But the stone has already been rolled away from the tomb
And we know that we can overcome
And so I hope as we celebrate the resurrection
We know that this is not a passive act
It is not something that happens to us
A magic spell cast from far away that we hope lands on our shoulders
But it is something we have a part in
We leave our tombs
We come out swinging
We look at the world as it is and know that we play a part in making all things new
We may still have the musk of the grave on us when we leave it
The stench of sweat caused by worry and contemplation
But if we’re really honest, we can do something with that
If we’re really honest, we can acknowledge the work done in the tomb
We can take these hymns of praise and renewal that we have written in our time in exile
And sing a new world into being
Each note and brilliant harmony reminding us of how much we need each other
How much more beautiful the world is when we are all in it together
Resurrection takes work
But we have seen that it’s possible
We have seen that nothing will ever be the same
And so we sing that new song together
Because if we’re being honest, we’re getting there.

 Response

“Socks and Underwear” Liturgy

Commissioned for New Hope United Methodist Church in Enid

Response of the People: What gift can we bring, what present, what token?
What words convey it, the joy of this day?
When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing,
What song can we offer in honor and praise? (To the tune of Away In A Manger)

Leader: As we prepare for the coming of Christ we remember that this is a gift that no one expected The messiah shouldn’t look like this, shouldn’t act like this. We give thanks for the gifts that go beyond what we wanted.
Response

Leader: How do we respond to a gift we didn’t ask for? Do we reject it, ignore it, place it in some closet and hope to forget? How do we respond to the gift of Christ when we decide it doesn’t meet our desires? We give thanks for the gifts that challenge our hearts.
Response

Leader: Maybe it wasn’t about the gift itself and more what the gift would let us do. Maybe a tool chest isn’t exciting, but keeping our home from falling apart is important. Maybe socks aren’t the fashion statement we planned to make, but the warmth is irreplaceable. Maybe the gift of Christ and the gift of grace are one and the same, even when we don’t notice. We give thanks for the gifts that need a second look.
Response

(Add on Christmas Eve) Leader: But maybe the problem was not with the gift but with our hearts. The gift that we’ve been given is something better than we could ever imagine, something beyond price. We have been given a savior. We have been given hope, love, joy and peace and have been asked for nothing in return. We have been given new life that we find in this unlikely yet holy place. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what our hearts have longed for, and what Christ gives to us over and over. We give thanks for this good and perfect gift.
Response

 

Text of the response is Jane Marshall’s “What Gift Can We Bring”

Roses in Deserts, Flowers in Concrete

After José Olivarez and Isaiah 35

The call goes out that the desert will bloom
And it sounds hopeful
That this inhospitable wasteland will turn into something beautiful
Something lovely
These sands with the heat that chokes out all life
Will become soil that nourishes a new paradise
That’s what we’re told, that’s what we’ll see, eventually
But what if the desert blooms and it’s still a desert?
What if this miraculous event occurs and then these lush carpets of flowers shrivel and die
Just like everything that came before?
What if it needs more than hope and desire for love to bloom in a wasteland?

Maybe it’s like the rose that blooms from the crack in the sidewalk
It’s once again the metaphor for hope, for persevering in the face of adversity, for overcoming the odds
And yet beneath the foot of the ruler walking by, it’s the same as the concrete around it
The flower and the stone feel the same beneath a boot
It’s easily ignored
Or worse, after all the work it takes to grow in such a harsh environment
Someone decides that the rose doesn’t belong
And plucks it up before it can be anything at all

Maybe we need to realize that it’s not enough to plant orchids in the sand and call it a miracle
Maybe we need to stop celebrating small signs and wonders as if they’re the end of the story
When really they’re a call to renewal, to a new order of all things
Maybe what we need to do is transform the sidewalk into a garden
To terraform the desert, rearranging it entirely so that it might hold paradise instead
That it might provide a home for those who have none
instead of drying out the hope of anyone stranded there
Maybe that’s what this season of preparation is for
Not that we might be ready to see something unlikely
But that we transform ourselves so that we might make the unlikely the ordinary
So that the desert blooms for more than a fleeting moment
So that the rose doesn’t just fight its way out of a crack in the sidewalk
So that we don’t just wait for God to show up
But we make the path that God takes through that wasteland that was once so imposing to get here
Lined on either side with roses in full bloom

Treasured

After the Annunciation
Did anyone believe you?
It’s hard to assume they did.
When you told anyone who would listen that the child growing in your womb was the Messiah.
You, an unmarried teenager, on the precipice of shame
“Does she really expect us to buy this?” they might have thought
“Yeah, sure. God did it.”
Did you feel lonely?
Even with God closer and more intimate to you than anyone else in history?
Did it feel like a burden to be the favored one of God?
Knowing that you were not just carrying God but the salvation of the world?
Was the weight of it too much?
I mean, even the one to whom you were engaged needed an act of God to stay.
Even as he had the best intentions in mind.
And yet you persisted.
Despite the stares, the whispers, the rumors, you continued on in anticipation of what you had accepted.
We might never know what happened if you didn’t
You held all of this in your heart, like a dragon hoarding treasure
Wrapping yourself in the warmth of what was to come
It was worth it.
We know now it had to have been.

And yet.
Despite the weight of all we know we see those who might remind us of you
And we don’t use that hindsight
We are the skeptics that we mock after the annunciation
Making calls about who deserves what
Leaving them alone, just as you might have been
We are content to let you carry God into the world
But we can just as easily make it more difficult for the world to continue to see what you have done
Maybe we’re waiting for the angel that tells us what to do
Maybe we’re hoping for the angel that says we’re doing the right thing
I don’t know if that angel is coming
I don’t know if that angel exists

So help us open our eyes
Help our memories
Heal our doubt
Restore our compassion
So that we might provide the warmth for those who feel the cold closing in around them
So that we might see the ones who remind us of the one who brings God into the world
So that we too might hold these as treasures in our heart
These stories of the unlikely that lead us to find the warmth of God

 

A Second Helping

Written for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Refrain: (Joey Purp, “24k Gold/Sanctified”)

If I walk in your steps, then I may see clear
As long as you’re near, I’ll have nothing to fear
If I walk in your steps, I can see clear
If I’ve lost my way, I’ve got nothing to fear

We began at the table
Not because we must but because we may
And yet what else could we do?
How else could this start
if not us gathered together around this table
to be nourished by grace
to see God made manifest in bread and cup
And yet we do not remain here.
The point of the table is to be bread for the journey,
Filled with the spirit to be Christ for the world
To strengthen us and send us out into a world filled with increasing uncertainty
But in this meal there is hope.
There is hope that with faith we will have another meal
That we will gather to share in the work of Christ once more
God, help us follow you to the table

Refrain

Just as we came to set this table
Bringing pieces of ourselves as we gathered together
Making this table a place where we share not just with each other
But with our creator and redeemer
So we take from this table pieces so that we might set our own
And invite those who are not here to share in this mystery with us
Take the bread, take the cup
But do not stop there.
Take a chair
Because the road that brings someone to this place may be long and fraught
Offer them a place to rest
Take a plate
So you can show them what we’re serving
Put grace and hope on display
Take a knife and fork
Because we know that sometimes
Just sometimes
Things need to be taken apart before we can take them in
Take this cloth
Because even the crumbs left behind
Contain the whole of who we are
Do not let them fall
Take this font
So that we might remember
The ones who taught us to make this meal
May they be with Christ a centerpiece of our being
God, help us set the table for others

Refrain

Take all of these things and make a place
For those you love
For those you’ve never met
For those who are crying out
For those who are in need of liberation
For those who would be a part of this story
For those who wonder if they could be welcome
Make a place where they can be nourished
Where they can be lifted up
Where they can see something they’ve never seen before
Or find something they thought long lost
And above all
Remember that we we re-set our tables
We do not set our own
We set THIS table
In our various communities
Different as they may seem
This one table is set before all of us
Drawing us together
Knitting together the body of Christ
Healing wounds
Bridging divides
We experience it all together
In this place where hope is found over and over again
Because no matter what we face
There will always be another meal
There will always be enough for a second helping
God, help us come back to this table

Refrain

I Am Rooting For You, Opening Band

Dedicated to Shortly, a band from Detroit I did not know existed before last night but nevertheless am now hopelessly devoted to

I’m not on time for a lot of things. Most people know that about me by now, adding a few minutes on to whatever time I say I’m going to arrive to get a better picture of my involvement in an event. There’s only two things I’m incredibly punctual for.
The first is the airport, for obvious reasons. Your friends might forgive you for being a minute or twenty late to the party but the plane will absolutely leave without you and never give you a second thought.

The second is less apparent. If a concert ticket says doors at 6, show as 7 I will be there as soon as I can.

I will never miss an opening band.
I refuse.
Somewhere hidden at the top of the card might be the next band I pledge my life to.
Maybe it’s the old critic in me that constantly wants to find my next love, something that I can share with everyone I’ve ever met.
And that band that plays at 7 when the headliner isn’t going on until 9:30 might just be it. I’ll never know if I’m not there.
And even if it’s not, every band needs someone to cheer for them, to dance, to be a part of the collaborative work of performing.
I’ve dragged friends onto the dance floor to save a band from playing to no one
I’ve had my heart broken as I can see a band make the decision to play their closer a few songs early to get off the stage
And maybe that’s because I’ve been that band too.
I’ve played shows where more people helped us set up than attended, and those that did looked like they couldn’t wait to leave.
I still remember the vacant stares as we kicked into my favorite one of our songs.
It was as if each side of that stage existed in a dimension without the other.

So maybe that’s why I’ll always be there for you, Opening Band.
You’ve made something you love and have taken it on the road to share it with the world
You’re taking incredible risk to even get to this show, driving through the night without the accessories of success.
You’re showing up dead tired to play for people who have never heard of you
Who for the most part aren’t there because they want to hear your songs.
And you deserve better than the roar of an uninvested few.

And so I hope at every show you reach at least one person who won’t stop talking about what they just saw.
I hope you turn into the show people lie about having been to.
“Oh man I saw them when they opened for…
There were like 5 people there. I couldn’t believe it!”
Or at least get to the point where a cult following loudly declares to anyone who will listen that they bought tickets for you, not the headliner
I hope your live show gets even better and that the best songs you write are still to come
I am rooting for you, Opening Band. I hope you know that
And I don’t think I’m alone.

This is a God Dream

The following piece was written for and dedicated to the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

If we’re going to call it a quest we should probably think about what that means
Because our words have more to say than the images they conjure in our heads
A quest is more than a fantasy of figures in shining armor returning triumphantly, a hulking beast laid slain in their wake
It often comes with a lack of direction
A time spent wandering, searching for anything that would lead forward
It means that above all, what makes this special is the beginning that leads to an end
All quests have the same starting point; we are offered a task and a purpose from God that we are willing to see through no matter what the cost

So that’s where we have to begin

We must realize that what is asked of us is much more than retrieving a goblet and bringing it back to a trophy case
We are asked to be the ones that help transform the world
Our quest that we embark on is at its core a rescue operation
We are sent to hear the cries of those who know there has to be something more for them
We are sent to bring hope and justice to those who feel chains tightening around them.
Chains of poverty, racism, discrimination and exclusion, an emptiness of spirit

We are sent forth as the heralds of the good news, that through Christ a better world is possible
And we don’t have to wait for it, we can begin building it now

So, we ask God to deliver us serenity
Deliver us peace
Deliver us loving
This is what we need today

And so, let the gospel be our map, our guide, our bread for the journey
Let this be our God dream, our imagination soaring to the limitless possibilities
Because we follow in the footsteps of the one who conquered death
The one who bends the impossible into reality
May we not quit
May we not settle
May we pick each other up when it seems like we cannot continue

But most of all may we never be satisfied to leave things as they are until we can truly and confidently say it is on earth as it is in heaven
May we be restless in our pursuit of the Kingdom of God
May we dream together with God to create a new thing
God, send us out to dream

Album Lyrics – Complacency

Here’s the link to listen: click here

The Plan

(Demetri Martin, from If I)

It was a crazy moment, to have a plan from eleven years old
Every choice, every summer: classes, extra activities, SATs, essays,
Leading to that one big goal, and then being that close to it and realizing,
“I made a huge mistake, I have to admit it, cut my losses, I’m out of here.”

And it was a total crisis, a total crisis of relevance.
Because I was now an adult – yes, okay, it’s cool to be quirky, maybe, on the side.
Do some puzzles, make puzzles, whatever, you learn how to ride a unicycle,
That’s cool when it’s on the side, right? And you have a plan.
What happens when you remove the plan?

Florida Coast

Take me through the everglades
Take me to the top of this mountain I’ve made

Keep your head above water
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water

I miss places I’ve never been
Got to stop thinking “remember when?”

Get Through

Maybe the sophomore slump will end soon
I thought I could be like Xaphoon
I thought I could write songs like songs “for emma” too
I can’t promise it’ll all be good
But I can promise you we’ll get through

Birds

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair
You’ll keep it up long enough
That’s not belief, that’s fear

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair

Interlude

I revolve around you
Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your tide
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your sky

Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is escape

Sacred Spaces

The places I love are scattered everywhere
They’re sinking and floating
Drowning, dehydrated
I don’t care
They’re sacred

The places I miss are scattered everywhere
They’re haunted and empty
A ghost like me can’t stay
I don’t care
They’re sacred

Reckless

There’s a vast blank wall up ahead
Useless and frightening
The clouds might swallow you whole
With an ominous flash of lightning

No longer staying silent
Your dreams have gotten violent
You tossed and turned last night
Fumbling and shaking
You panic and drop the flashlight

This is as reckless as you’ve ever been
Time and time again
There’s no way to win

I lay on my back
Dreaming of ways
To hide from prying eyes
I grew up under an endless sky
Where sunsets can last for days

Complacency

I could say that I’m happy
But that would be a lie
Under the oppression of a perfect blue sky

I’m trapped
By the light reflected in your eyes
I’m trapped
Under wishes and hopes
I’m trapped by childish fears
And the urge to keep chasing ghosts

Maybe that’s dramatic
I shouldn’t be so dire
But sometimes it feels like I’m the last one
Standing up to the empire

I could be quiet and call it maturity
I’d know that it’s complacency

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

Invisible

At the supermarket checkout
A sandwich and a bottle of tea
I’m tired and awkward
But she stares right through me

Standing on the bus I pull the stop
The driver doesn’t hear, I know
I should say something
But we’re already past and I’m too slow

I glance up and he looks away
You walk out when I want you to stay
Maybe I’m invisible today

Late night at work
I walk to the car in darkness
Nobody pauses, nobody steps aside
I’m not bothered, through the crowd I glide

Put on those headphones and press play
They’re staring at me but I’m far away
I know I’m invisible today

#TrustTheProcess

Sam Hinkie was innocent.
Or at least as innocent as someone with that much control over someone else’s livelihood can ever be
Imagine training your whole life to be good at this one particular thing
And the only person who wants you to use your gifts doesn’t want to actually do well with them
Hey pal, I’m trying to lose as much as possible to cheat the system and I think you’re our missing piece”
Do you take that deal?
Do you make the tacit admission that you’re better than most but among the best of the best you’ll only ever be a space filler?
At best the answer to a trivia question?
And yet Sam Hinkie asked over and over for people to say yes to this offer.
He told them to trust the process
To know that they must be bad so eventually someone can be good
It just might not be you.
It probably won’t be.
Sam Hinkie remains innocent because he never pretended to be anything else
But this is what the process demands
The churn of those who were never all that remarkable and who no one will remember

The worst day of my life came with a greeting card
It’s hard to really articulate this particular brand of misery
Of going to finally accomplish something for which you’ve been working for half your life
Of taking the last step to obtain something that you believed was your purpose, your reason for being, the means by which you got out of bed because you believed yourself remarkable
And then a small group of people in an ever shrinking room tell you you’re not special.
Not only are you not special, but you may as well be worthless
You were a fool to think that you belonged here.
You are made to endure the slings and arrows of those who have never met you for far too long
You leave that room broken. You might never recover.
And then you go home, wait a week or so, and check the mail
And those people who have told you that you are not good enough, that you have no value, have the audacity to send a card
A serene nature scene adorns the front, and on the inside is just the names of those who destroyed you, and a simple phrase
Trust The Process
As if that is supposed to bring comfort
Sure, you have fallen down the stairs, but you got to the bottom SO FAST
As if I needed to be torn up to become anything of value

Trust the Process
It is a cousin to the watchwords of the well-meaning but unhelpful
Everything happens for a reason
It’s all part of God’s plan
Trust The Process


It is hard to climb out once you have resigned yourself to being a part of the churn of the unremarkable
It is hard to see that you are not as broken as they said you are
It feels like defeat to attempt to join in the process that crushed yourself
It does not always get better.

But what I have learned from the bottom, I carry with me
If this is a process, it means this is not the end.
There are still things in motion
There is still hope that might be waiting
There might be brighter things coming
I reject the processes that aim to add to that great churn
But there must be a process by which we drag ourselves out of it
We will make something worth remembering
We will become remarkable
One step at a time.
That, I can trust

Aliens Exist

The government says they have alloys from another world

I have no clue what that means or what those would look like

They’re probably just something that seems a little different from what we’ve got already

But a little difference is all it takes for something to be “out of this world”

I hope that what it all means that it’s a little less weird for me to be convinced that aliens exist.

Because they have to, right?

How arrogant do you have to be to look at all there is, all this undiscovered, uncharted, unexplored space and say “No, actually, it’s just us. It always has been”

There’s no wonder to that, no longing to venture into the unknown to discover something that may have always been just out of reach

Or even better still, to meet that hand that has been stretching towards the infinite for God knows how long

To give it something to hold on to, a welcoming embrace

A chance to hear what it means to be something else entirely, and share our own existence in return

Maybe we don’t have to look all the way to the outer reaches of space to find that

Maybe it’s just comfort to believe that somewhere above that star-spangled blackness, someone is looking back

Maybe I look to the stars so when I feel small it can be by design