This poem uses memories of a person I’ve known all my life, a person who showed me what love is like, and therefore what God is like.  That person is my mother.  So sometimes, I pray Psalm Twenty-Three this way: not The Lord is my shepherd but The Lady is my mother.

The Lady Is My Mother

The Lady is my mother;
   I shall not want.
She tucks me in between clean sheets;
   She reads me a story.
She cleans the cut and binds on the Band-Aid;
   She combs down my hair for our name's sake.
Even though I tremble and cry out in darkness, I will waken with relief,
   For you are with me; your hand and your voice, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me with macaroni and cheese
      in the presence of my siblings;
   You set fresh milk on the table, and only gently scold me when
      My cup runneth over.
Surely love and generosity shall sustain me all the days of my life,
   And I will dwell in the house of the Lady for ever.

I will be performing for “The Gathering”, the annual retreat of the UCC Women of Michigan, at the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Michigan, on June 12, 2015.  My playlist is still undecided, but I’ve promised to do “The Buddha Kicked My Butt!”  It’s a weekend event; my concert will Friday evening.

Contact Sallie Anderson at (989) 732-9001 for more information about The Gathering.

The Kindle version of my new book, The Inn of God’s Forgiveness and Other Hymns for the Progressive Church, is now available from Amazon.  On most Kindles, the music pages themselves will be too small to read, but you can always access the pdfs here for printing.

I made this Kindle edition myself using Jutoh from Anthemion Software.   The software worked well for me, and when I reported a problem in the way footnotes were working on the Kindle Paperwhite, Julian Smart  (technical director of the company) was a huge help.  He quickly made and sent me a beta-test version of Jutoh (2.21.0) that solved the problem.  I can’t recall ever getting tech support like that before, anywhere!

If you want to know, the problem was in the strange way the Kindle supports pop-up footnotes.  I use footnotes rather heavily in the book — sometimes for bibliographic references, sometimes for brief digressions.  I want them to pop up on an e-reader, so the person reading the book won’t lose the main thread.  Kindle does sometimes decide to display footnotes as a pop-up.  But how it decides which part of your document is a pop-up-able footnote, and how it decides where that footnote ends, is arcane and (as far as I can tell) completely undocumented.

Anyway, I hope this Kindle version gives satisfaction.  May God bless you, and may all your footnotes pop up!

cover

I’ve just published a new book: The Inn of God’s Forgiveness and Other Hymns for the Progressive Church.  It’s a collection of eight new hymns, each with a chapter about the theology it expresses.  The hymns in the book are free: they may be downloaded at this page, or copied from the book, and they come with a Creative Commons license that allows unlimited copying for non-commercial use.  There are also some spiritual exercises in the book, which may likewise be downloaded and copied at this page.

I wrote these hymns because the hymnals and other collections available to me didn’t have enough of what I wanted: singable hymns that reflect a progressive Christian theology.

What do I mean by “singable”? It’s a very subjective thing, of course, and differs from one congregation to another. I wrote these hymns to be sung in my own congregations. Those congregations were, on the whole, quite elderly, and if socially progressive, were musically conservative. If I introduced songs with any syncopation—if there were any odd chordal progressions—if the tempo was more than moderate—if there was any rhythmic complexity, even so much as a rest on a downbeat—the congregation was half lost. Of course, not everyone in a congregation will sing at all, but I wanted our singing to be as inclusive as possible. I didn’t want to leave the weaker singers (who are, often, the oldest singers) feeling embarrassed or left out. So I tried to make these hymns harmonically and rhythmically simple. They’re also rather repetitive: for example, many of them have refrains, which help timid singers build confidence.

Then, what do I mean by “progressive”? When people ask me what I mean when I call myself a progressive Christian, I tend to offer a list of things I disagree with. For example: I do not find the theory of evolution offensive or even particularly controversial. I do not believe that the Bible is infallible, inerrant, or literally true in all its parts; it is not, to me, the word of God. I do not judge people based on their sexual orientation, and I don’t think God does either. I do not think God’s judgment takes the form of punishing sinners with eternal torment. I do not think that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins. I do not try to make converts of people who are being well served by other religious traditions. And so on—and as I speak this way, I find that I am defining progressive Christianity by listing the aspects of conventional Christianity it rejects.

But in the end, that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to say what you reject; you must also say what you claim. Hymn-writing turns out to be a good discipline for this. Perhaps any theological writing that is strictly negative is inadequate—but any hymnody that is strictly negative is obviously inadequate. You have only to imagine trying to turn the previous paragraph into a song to feel the flaw in it. You might perhaps turn it into an amusing series of negative verses, but those verses would be begging to be answered by a refreshingly positive refrain.

So the hymns in this collection are my attempts to express aspects of a positive progressive theology. They are not meant to give a systematic statement of that theology; there are plenty of topics unaddressed here, and there’s plenty of room for a sequel. These hymns are, in the old sense, occasional pieces. They were written for particular occasions in my spiritual journey.

I hope they will be a blessing in yours. If you find the hymns interesting and/or useful, please support this work by buying the book.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

This is how it works.
After a long indwelling,
shape awareness comes—

kenning what must be
the shape of the solution,
if any exists.

Once that shape is felt,
reason, a sculptor's chisel,
frees the shape from stone.

Thus the solution,
though seeming artificial,
is not made but found.

No mere invention,
no child of human reason,
QED came first.

My next album is in manufacturing now and will be shipping within a week or two.  It is entitled As a Deer Longs, and contains eleven original songs, including two instrumental numbers.  My wife, Kelly Autrey-Webber, provided backing vocals for several songs—wherever you hear an angel singing, that’s Kelly.  She also sings one song (“Fear Not, Said the Angel”) with me as a duet.  The CD will ship with a 12-page booklet that includes lyrics.  All the photographic artwork for the CD, case, and booklet was done with great creativity and sensitivity by Robert E. Pierson.  Rob and I have dedicated the album to the students, faculty and staff of the Earlham School of Religion, which rashly graduated both of us.

I wrote the music for this album over the last five years or so.  (It might properly be subtitled, “A Soul Slogs through Seminary”.)  Some songs are better, and some songs are worse; some songs are reverent, some the reverse.  But all of them are from the heart, and it means a lot to me to be able to share them at last.

The album will be available through various conventional channels, with CD sales on CDBaby.com and download sales through with iTunes, AmazonMP3, Rhapsody, Napster, and other e-tailers.  I’ll write about it again when it’s shipping.

My father, Howard Webber, has published a long-awaited book: To Hear the Falconer: Song and Prophecy for the Time of War, Want, and Warming.  It is an epic poem—song, prophecy, and prayer—crafted using many scriptural quotations and allusions.  I remember him working on this manuscript when I was a child, and I hear his voice in every line, so I cannot help but love it.  But I’ve also heard praise of it from other, more impartial readers.  It’s rewarding to read, and prayerful to read aloud.

You can find it on Amazon, read the author’s page about it, or see the author’s short video introduction.

The annual Celebration of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ will be held at the  Double Tree Hotel in Oak Brook, Illinois on Friday, June 8th and Saturday, June 9th.  I am an “energizer” for the conference—yes, really—and as such I will be leading a workshop at 10:15 on Saturday morning.  It’s session B-3.

Here’s my description of the workshop:

Surprise!  Our God is a still-speaking God, a God of surprises, a God who says, “See, I am doing a new thing.”  When people come to the door, this is an aspect of the Spirit that is moving in their hearts.  No door is fully open if it is not open to surprises; no extravagant welcome can be complete if it does not say, “God’s surprises are welcome here.”  We use music and dance in creative ways, in liturgy and in preaching, to help extend this spirit of welcome.

Well, that’s what I said I was going to do.  But the truth is that I’m not sure yet.  I’ve written a hymn for the event, and I’m trying to think up something else surprising (and perhaps even energizing) to do on the day.  We’ll see.

To register for the Illinois Conference Celebration, see the Illinois Conference web site.