How I Used Dahlia's Favorite Toy to Lead Worship at TVC Yesterday

From time to time I lead worship at the Village Church in NYC. It’s mostly like emcee-ing the service (in the way that I’m introducing different segments and making announcements), but there are two portions of the service where my speaking duties are weighty enough that I like to have some thoughts prepared.

Below is one of those remarks that I felt went particularly well for our Call to Worship (Saturday Night Live fans think: “cold open”).

Isaiah 52:8-9

8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The watchmen of whom Isaiah is speaking were set on towers, posted at intervals to give the earliest notice of the approach of any messenger with tidings. The emphasis of the text here is—as James Fausset Brown puts modestly—more forcible, exclamatory even, in the Hebrew.

But, we’re sophisticated New Yorkers, so we don’t get elated about, like, anything. Earnestness in this city is a sign of weakness, that you haven’t got it all put together.

Well, I find my children instructive because they lack my useless sophistication.

Last Christmas, for example, my daughter received a gift that was to her the apogee of awesome—bringing together her three great loves: bath time, dolls, and princesses—a princess Ariel mermaid doll whose tail, when you poured cold water over it, changed color from green to purple.

After I pried Ariel loose from the wire ties and cardboard packaging, Dahlia immediately wanted to try out the color change. We went into the bathroom, ran the cold water in the tub and Dahlia tossed Ariel in. Sure enough, to Dahlia’s delight, the tail changed colors.

This experiment elicited one of my most treasured moments with Dahlia: when she saw Ariel’s tail change color, she hopped up and down next to the bathtub and shouted without restraint, “I have a new Ariel doll!”

This is the kind of elation the Isaiah is proclaiming. Coming at the end of a long, awkward, almost desperate silence.

Have you been watchful for the Lord? Has the grit and dust of your week made you search the horizons for hope?

Then be comforted, for you have been redeemed, dear Village Church. We come to rejoice in the salvation of Jesus Christ that we have seen, are seeing, and will see. This is the Ariel doll in the bathtub. Let’s stand and burst into songs of joy together.

Hope for a Deeper Prayer Life in 2011

I had mentioned to a friend a few weeks ago that I was running dry on inspiration. She told me to run, not walk, to pick up N. T. Wright’s The Lord and His Prayer. When it was finally available in digital format on Google Books, I did.

It’s spectacular.  Wright is refreshingly pastoral, rather than airily instructive. Here’s a clip from the first chapter.

How do you set about praying? From our point of view, there is a fairly obvious order of priorities. We’re usually in some sort of mess, and we want God to get us out of it. Then we’ve usually got some fairly pressing needs, and we want God to supply them. It may strike us at that point that there’s a larger world out there. Again, we probably move from mess to wants: please sort out the Middle East, please feed the hungry, please house the homeless.

But then, once more, it may dawn on us that there’s not just a larger world out there; there’s a larger God out there. He’s not just a celestial cleanerup and sorter-out of our messes and wants. He is God. He is the living God. And he is our Father. If we linger here, we may find our priorities quietly turned inside out. The contents may remain; the order will change. With that change, we move at last from paranoia to prayer; from fuss to faith.