NEW ALBUM: Lent Hymns by Paul Zach: Released this month, Lent Hymns by Paul Zach comprises twelve songs, a mix of originals and classics, with contributions by IAMSON, Jessica Fox, Sara Groves, Jon Guerra, and Kate Bluett. The LP is available wherever music is streamed or sold. Here’s an Instagram video that excerpts “Draw Me In”:
KICKSTARTER: New Porter’s Gate album: This summer The Porter’s Gate, an interdenominational Christian music collective, is gathering songwriters to write and record musical settings of passages from The Message, a translation of the Bible by the late Eugene Peterson [previously] that uses contemporary idioms and phrases. The project is in partnership with the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. I’m so looking forward to this!
>> “Вечірня молитва” (Vechirnya molytva) (Evening Prayer): A choral setting of a text from the Divine Service of the Eastern Orthodox Church, by contemporary Ukrainian composer Iryna Aleksiychuk. Performed in 2012 by the Female Choir of Kiev Glier Institute of Music, conducted by G. Gorbatenko. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things, and Giver of life: Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every sin, And save our souls, O Good One! Holy God, holy Mighty, holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.
>> “Bare and Bones” by Candace Coker: Trinidad-born, Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Candace Coker sings the title track from her new album, Bare and Bones, with her boyfriend, Josiah Charleau. The video is shot at Bamboo Cathedral, a thousand-foot stretch of roadway in Tucker Valley in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, where bamboo stalks bend toward each other across the road, creating a canopy.
>> “HigherHoly” by IAMSON:IAMSON is the artist name of singer-songwriter and music producer Orlando Palmer, based in Richmond, Virginia. He released this song as a single in 2020. The rap is performed by guest artist Marv (Marvin Hudgins II) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the animation in the video is by Kenya Foster.
>> “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (cover) by Mary Yang and Ger Vang: Mary Yang and Ger Vang are Hmong Christian musicians living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (The Hmong are an Indigenous people group from East and Southeast Asia.) Here they perform their bossa nova arrangement of this modern worship classic by Martin Smith of the English band Delirious?. Yang and Vang are part of the Fishermen’s Project, a band that releases mainly classic hymns translated into the Hmong language. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
American pastor, professor, author, and poet Eugene H. Peterson passed away on October 22 at age eighty-five. He’s best known for his idiomatic translation of the Bible, The Message, which has sold twenty million copies worldwide since its publication in 2002. He developed this translation over his nearly three decades as a Presbyterian pastor in Bel Air, Maryland, as a way to reinvigorate his congregation’s engagement with scripture. Its most quoted verse is John 1:14, describing the incarnation: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
The church culture I grew up in regarded The Message with disdain, as they thought it plays fast and loose with the words of scripture and lacks reverence. Nurtured on a KJV-only diet, I felt rebellious purchasing an NIV Study Bible in middle school, and although I no longer subscribed to the fundamentalism of my youth by the time I had finished college, adding a used copy of The Message to my checkout basket at the Montague Bookmill a few years later still set the “Unsanctioned!” bells ringing in my head. But I was finally ready to engage this translation (or as some would say, paraphrase) of which I had heard so much but read so little.
What I found was that Peterson’s scripture translation, while no doubt sounding very different than the translations arrived at by committee, is full of reverence—and joy, and play, and wonder. It takes the familiar words of the Bible and re-presents them in a new way so as to really bring out their tone and meaning. Take, for example, Psalm 96:4–7. The King James Version reads,
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
The Message has
For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.
God made the heavens—
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.
Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.
Now, I love the poetry of the King James Version. But I also love Peterson’s renderings. They enliven the texts. That’s not to say God’s word isn’t already living and active, but that sometimes it can grow stale in the ears of those who have been reading it for a lifetime. The jubilance of Psalm 96 in The Message is amplified by the use of contemporary expressions—Bravo! Encore!—to denote enjoyment and praise. As I read this, I am enticed to “join in the great shout.”
While I wouldn’t advise using The Message as your sole or even primary Bible (Peterson himself says as much in the preface), I do uplift it as a wise, fun, and spiritually nourishing supplement. You’ll see that I occasionally feature Peterson’s verse translations in Artful Devotions because they communicate God’s truth with such color and force (see, e.g., Ps. 19, Ps. 51, Rom. 8:6, 2 Cor. 4: 1–6, Eph. 2:1–10). His motivation all along was to expose a new generation to the beauty of the gospel. “Getting the words of the Bible into [people’s] heads and hearts, getting the message lived,” is what he characterized as the primary work of his life (preface, The Message).
When I think of Eugene Peterson, I think imagination. He exemplified that Christian duty not only in his Bible translation but also in his various other professional ministries: as pastor, professor, and author. In each role, he sought to awaken Christians to the goodness of imagination. Listen to him speak on the topic with On Being’s Krista Tippett, in a podcast episode recorded in 2016.
My pursuit of the arts has been indirectly influenced by Peterson, because he was a critical influence on and mentor to W. David O. Taylor, whom I have followed for some time and greatly look up to. An assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, Taylor wrote a beautiful personal tribute to Peterson the other week. “It’s one thing to be given permission to do a thing,” Taylor writes. “It’s quite another to be encouraged, and supported, and patronized, and inspired, and resourced to do a thing. Eugene’s one of those key people in my life who encouraged me to pursue the arts.”
Peterson was Taylor’s professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver. “He used the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the literature of George Eliot, Karl Barth’s theology and Frederick Buechner’s novels, Greek mythology and stories from his Pentecostal childhood as a way to help his students understand who God was and what God was on about it in this expansive vision of Holy Scripture,” Taylor says. “All of it felt immensely exhilarating to me; it still does.” I’ve come to Peterson’s other writings mainly through Taylor, who cites them with deep respect.
“Poets are caretakers of language, shepherds of words, protecting them from desecration, exploitation, misuse. Words not only mean something, they are something, each with a sound and rhythm all its own. Poets are not primarily trying to tell us or get us to do something. . . . I do not have more information after reading a poem; I have more experience.” (Holy Luck, xiv)
“People who pray need to learn poetry, even if they’re not adept at it.” (source)
“Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us. Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself. Poetry grabs us by the jugular. Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal.” (Answering God, 11)
“We cannot speed-read a poem. A poem requires rereading. Unlike prose which fills the page with print, poems leave a lot of white space. . . . There is a lot to see, to feel, to sense. We sit before the poem like we sit before a flower and attend to form, relationship, color. We let it begin to work on us. When we are reading prose we are often in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control. . . . In prose we are after something, getting information, acquiring knowledge. . . . But in poetry we take a different stance. We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen. This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness. . . . Read it again, read it again, read it again.” (Subversive Spirituality, 180)
“It takes a while to get the poets. . . . It takes a while to get the gospel. . . . We have to quit getting in a hurry. . . . I think the besetting sin of Americans is impatience.” (source)
Though I never met Eugene Peterson, I am so grateful for his witness, and for the many ways he has blessed the church over the years. His words have tutored, and continue to tutor, my imagination and, yes, deepen my love for Jesus and his gospel.
A song of ascents comprising just three verses, Psalm 133 is assigned as this upcoming Sunday’s lectionary reading from the book of Psalms. It contains two colorful similes that liken brotherly unity to (1) oil running down the beard and (2) a heavy dewfall. The first one offers an especially sensuous picture of consecration, of divine blessedness, referencing the anointing ritual for priests practiced in ancient Israel (see Exodus 30:22–33). Attracted to the poetic quality of this image, Eugene H. Peterson wrote his own nine lines around it, imagining God’s blessings, like oil, dissolving the rust that had accumulated over his belief.
“Aaron’s Beard” by Eugene H. Peterson
. . . running down the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron . . .
Run down my red beard
Refracting sun warmth
In oil ooze
Flecks of stubborn rust
“Aaron’s Beard” is published in Holy Luck by Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans, 2013) and is used here by permission of the publisher. Reproduction of the poem without express permission from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is a violation of copyright.
Still wet behind the ears, he’s Spirit-pushed
up Jordan’s banks into the wilderness.
Angels hover praying ’round his head.
Animals couch against his knees and ankles
intuiting a better master. The Man
in the middle—new Adam in old Eden—
is up against it, matched with the ancient
Adversary. For forty days and nights
he tests the baptismal blessing and proves to his dismay
the Man is made of sterner stuff than Adam:
the Man will choose to be the Son God made him.
Mark dedicates a spare two verses to this initiatory event in the life of Christ: the forty days of temptation he endured immediately following his baptism: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:12–13, ESV; cf. Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13).
I’m intrigued by Mark’s use of the word driven (ekballō) to describe the manner in which the Spirit imparts motion to Christ. Whereas Matthew and Luke use the gentler led (anagō), Mark implies something more forceful: ejected, cast forth, hurled. In his idiomatic translation of the Bible, The Message, Eugene H. Peterson uses push: “At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild” (emphasis mine).
So the same Spirit who had just alighted on Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, presiding over God’s pronouncement that “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11), now pushes Jesus into the Judean desert, away from civilization. Why? So that in the quiet, he could get to better know himself and the Father, to better discern the task to which he had been called. This process necessarily involved doing battle with the prospects of other paths, other identities.
“Turn these stones into bread.” “Jump; let’s see if God saves you.” “Worship me; I’ll give you the kingdom of earth.”
Satan tries to draw Jesus from a messiahship of self-sacrifice to a messiahship of power. Performing miracles for his own benefit, to avoid any discomfort or pain in life; performing miracles for show, like a magician, to impress the masses; becoming an earthly king, with political control and dominion—these are all temptations Jesus would face again. Here he has the opportunity to confront them head-on in preparation for his imminent ministry to the Israelites. Over this period of forty days, Jesus solidifies his mission, rejecting the vision of himself and his life that Satan lays out for him. Instead of gratification, pride, and riches, Jesus chooses purity, humility, and poverty. Continue reading “Voices in the desert—whose blessing will we heed?”→
Entire Bifrost Arts catalog available for free download: For a limited time, the Christian music collective Bifrost Arts is offering all forty-eight of their songs for free download from NoiseTrade. Donations are welcome—100 percent of them will go to the Salt and Light Artist fund, which funds residencies for Christian artists in Arab countries, providing a platform for interaction with the local arts community.
Transforming a Protestant worship space into a Catholic one: The largest glass building in the world, the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California, has been undergoing renovations since having been sold in 2013 by the Reformed Church in America to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. “Our charge is to convert an open, all-glass Evangelical church into a great Catholic cathedral to serve its centuries-old sacraments and ritual processions, and to reinforce the centrality of the Eucharist,” write architects Scott Johnson and Frank Clementi. This article published in Faith and Form describes some of the symbolic, aesthetic, environmental, and technical challenges of this project and includes renderings of the new space, which is scheduled to reopen next year.
Top 25 films on mercy: I’ve been enjoying these top 25 film lists put together by the Arts & Faith online community—especially how they reach beyond the obvious choices, dipping into the silent era as well as non-American cinema. Here’s their latest, a list of films that “show us visions of a world so often lacking in mercy, as well as worlds in which one merciful act alters the landscape of human experience forever.” Click here to view their other lists: road films, horror films, divine comedies, films on marriage, and films on memory.