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My freshman year of college was filled with icebreakers. You know the ones–those obnoxious little games meant to help a group of nervous underclassmen become a little more familiar with one another.  Generally, these games center around “interesting little tidbits,” those odd facts or strange confessions that are individual to that person. Rarely are the useful questions like “If you could be any Golden Girl, which one would you be?” or “If you had to be knee-deep in any condiment, which condiment would you choose?”  No. Generally, there were more mundane: “How many siblings do you have?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”

That last one was always a problem for me. If you asked, “What’s your favorite movie?”  I’d be likely to respond “What kind of movie?”  I’ve got a lot of favorite movies. Favorite cartoon?  Probably Beauty and the Beast, followed closely by Shrek. Favorite musical? (I’ll admit, this one normally garnered a look that screamed “Have you met me?”) The Music Man–a film I’ve watched at least 30 times with my Dad alone. Drama? Amadeus. Or Dangerous Liaisons.  Comedy? The Blues Brothers. See? That’s the problem. I can’t pick just one.

The same is true when I’m asked which hymn is my favorite (which as a former music director and as a pastor happens fairly regularly). When I’m asked, “What’s your favorite hymn?”, I almost always think “Which kind?”  The truth is, I’ve got lots. Hymn of comfort? It is Well.  Easter Hymn? Up from the Grave (but only when it is sung properly by slowing down the verses, the speeding up the refrain). Hymn of faith? There’s within My Heart a Melody. Hymn about that Great Cloud of Witnesses? For All the Saints. Hymn about being in it together? March to Zion.  You get the point.

Unlike my movie quandary, the truth is I do have a favorite hymn: How Can I Keep from SingingIt’s a powerful hymn. It’s lyrics remind us of our life in faith, that whatever we come up against in Christ we have reason to keep singing. And not just reason to keep singing. Our faith calls us beyond that–to the place where we begin to wonder even in the face of our hardest trials, how can I keep from singing? How can I not sing of all the wondrous things God has done and continues to do in my life.

Go ahead, pause your day for just a couple of minutes and listen to its beautiful words.


This song kept popping in my mind last week. It’s no secret that it was a hard week for our country and for many individually.  But in the midst of that hardship there were two videos that filled my eyes with tears. The first isn’t even from our country. The issue of gay marriage isn’t just up for debate here.  New Zealand has been having the same discussion we’ve been having.  Their governing body just voted to approve gay marriage, and here’s what happened in their parliament:



The user posting the video offers this description of what happened:

As the votes are announced in the New Zealand Parliament that affirm the Definition of Marriage Amendment (allowing equal marriage rights for the gay community), spectators in the gallery break into a Maori love song which most of the Members of Parliament then join in with. Quite touching.

For my American chums who want to know more about the song being sung: “Pokarekare ana.” Unofficially it is New Zealand’s second national anthem. It is believed to have been communally written by Maori soldiers in training camp during World War I.

Stormy are the waters on restless Waiapu
If you cross them, girl, they will be calmed

Oh girl, come back to me, my heart is dying of love for you.

I have written you a letter, and enclosed with it my ring,
So your people can see how troubled I am

Oh girl, come back to me, my heart is dying of love for you.


Beautiful, no?  And then, for a second time, tears filled my eyes. After last week’s horrific events in Boston, this happened at a Bruins game:

Music is indeed a power unto itself. It has the ability to unify and to point us to deeper truths about what it means to faith–faith in whatever it is you have faith in.

Nearly 5 years ago, as my mother lay dying in a hospital bed in Georgia, I found myself singing to her: Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand… In those five long days that we waited for her death, songs and music brought us comfort. I’m confident they brought her some comfort too.  Even as her condition deteriorated and she slipped into a coma, the familiar songs of her faith eased her breathing and seemed, even if just a little, to remind all of us of the faith we shared in that hospital room–that what we were swiftly approaching (and too soon) wasn’t the end of the story.

All of that to say, even in the midst of the heartbreak of the last week’s bombings (and the celebrations of last week’s advancements), we find music central. We find that creating music together, singing songs together, is a testament to God’s creative power and a unifying force in times that seem to grow more divisive day by day.

So I suppose this is really an invitation. It’s an invitation to sing, to invite others to join our singing. And with our voices raised, we will be reminded that there is something more that connects us all–that there is something deeper that holds us together.  And, at the risk of being cliché (too late, it seems!), the One who holds us together is far, far greater than the one who strives to tear us apart. May we be held together and in all we say and do and encounter, may we continue to wonder how it is that we can keep from singing.

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