Credo: A Call for the New Year

By Stephen Marshall-Ward

On Sunday, October 29, 2017 Seattle-area composers, Michael Austin Miller and Dr. Stephen Marshall-Ward, and reSound, a Northwest Chamber Ensemble, the Skyros Quartet, Kyle Erickson, Trumpeter, Steve Thoreson, Tenor, and Andrew Marshall, Sound Healer, came together to present a powerful concert around the themes of Reformation, Death, and New Life: "Reformed & Reforming, Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation" at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood.

I think the beginning of a new year is a great time to look at what is most important in my life.  You may feel the same way.  This last Fall I finished the Requiem project alongside my dear friend, Michael Austin Miller.  (The full title of our project is “From Death to New Life: A Requiem Mass for the Church.”  See the “Requiem project” link above and my other blog posts for more information.)  In this blog post, I want to lift up the Creed (Credo) from this Requiem project.  It is an attempt to bring us all back to what is most important.

I grew up with no recitations of any creed.  In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church we really didn’t have that tradition within our liturgy or our practice.  But when I became a student at Bob Jones University I was required, as all students were required, to memorize the university’s creed.  We said it aloud together in chapel every day, 5 days a week, and in church on Sunday morning.  It is a fine creed.  It does line out what they believe and, as with most creeds, it is an attempt to unite people around specific theological beliefs and practices.  The most common recited creeds within the traditional Church (meaning everything from the Catholic Church to the mainline Protestant denominations) are the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.  

Our Requiem project looks at the Reformation 500 years ago.  In it, we examine that that Reformation, with the leadership of Martin Luther, was an attempt to clarify and expose specific theological problems and problematic practices within the Church at the time.  But in so doing, I think most people would agree, the Reformation 500 years ago was a Reformation that ended up dividing the Church.  It became a time where distinctives were lifted up and it is one of the greatest reasons we now have so many divergent and distinct denominations and many more factions within many of those denominations, especially across America.  

Our Requiem project embraces the belief that the Church (worldwide) is now in its next major reformation.  When I read what people are writing and theologians are thinking, it seems to me that this next Reformation is a call away from distinctives and toward unity – focusing on what binds us together rather than what separates us.  In order to do that, I think we need to simplify things and get back to what is truly most important – what is at the core of Christianity.  

This is what we have attempted to do in the Credo in our Requiem project: call out two clear teachings of Jesus as most important.  His answer was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  These two commandments clearly put everything else in perspective.  When all other clarifications fall short these two concepts clarify and bring us back to what is truly Christian.  

In an effort to bring these commandments into the present, we call out some of the things that have separated us and have even marginalized groups of people within the Church.  Our proposed Credo, and our entire Requiem, calls these things out to say we will no longer be part of these marginalizations and these exclusions within the Church.  We are calling ourselves back to these two greatest teachings of Jesus that he called out as most important.

As we begin the new year, this Requiem – and specifically this Credo – is a call: a call back, a call to simplicity, and a call to unity.  It is a call to continue the reformation process by breaking through the exclusionary distinctives and divisive barriers developed as a result of the last Reformation.  This is a call to live out God’s love as demonstrated through the life and example of Jesus.  May it be so.

The text of our Requiem project’s Credo is as follows:

Lyrics have been adapted from the Inclusion Statement from All Pilgrims Christian Church, Seattle, WA

We are faith-communities (or we are a faith community) valuing and celebrating diversity.

Through God’s love and with Christ’s example,

we set aside all human barriers and divisions

and invest ourselves in the healing of prejudice, exclusion, and hatred.

We are open to, and affirming of, the full participation of all

as equal members in this one body;

people of all colors, ages, economic circumstances,

sexual orientations, gender or transgender identities,

physical and mental abilities, education levels,

and conditions of health.

We consider no commandment to be greater than this:

“We shall love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength

and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”  

Through God’s love and Christ’s example.

The Gift


As we begin the journey through the twelve days of Christmas (and as most of our culture celebrates the first day of Christmas and moves on), I wish you all a Merry Christmastide.

As I reflect on the recent blog posts I have written about the indictments within the Requiem, I am reminded of the December 1st post I wrote about the Church’s obsession with blood.  I would like to flip that on its head in this blog by saying the focus of this Christmas season is the gift – the gift that has everything to do with the life of Jesus, not the death of Jesus (see my December 1st post, “The Church’s Obsession with Blood”).

In today’s blog I want to celebrate that gift: God’s gift of life.  As we gather with family (birth and/or chosen family), I wish for each one of us a deeper understanding of the gift that has been given to all of humanity through the birth and life of Jesus.  No matter what you think about the Church’s teachings and dogma surrounding the life of Jesus, I remain hopeful most people can agree that the life of Jesus is a tremendous contribution to understanding what it means to be human and how we relate to one another.  

Gathering with birth family members can be a bit challenging and yet can also be a great opportunity to live out the message and teachings of Jesus as we endeavor to open our hearts to understand, accept, and celebrate one another – even amidst our many differences.  My prayer for myself is that my focus can be what I perceive the focus of Jesus’ life would be: love.

On this Christmas day, throughout this Christmas season, and as we enter the new calendar year, my prayer is that Love will win in each of our lives and the lives of all those we love.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

The Church’s Obsession with Suppression, Oppression, & Fear

By Stephen Marshall-Ward

The fifth indictment in our requiem is,  “When the Church permits pain, suffering, and death through suppression, oppression, and fear, God creates peace, hope, and joy through justice, freedom, and light.”

Where each of the previous indictments bring various emotional responses in me, this indictment hurts my heart the most.  It is tied to deep wounds felt not only by me but many people – people like me and people very different from me who have been experientially hurt and damaged by the actions of organized religion, specifically Christianity.  The Church’s obsession with suppression, oppression, and fear for the sake of control has caused much pain and suffering for many people.

My life is filled with people who have been hurt and even damaged by the actions of their faith communities.  Most of those people share when their life plummeted to the very bottom – where they were even suicidal because of their feelings of despair by virtue of everyone they loved and everyone they had ever known being ripped away from them because of some value system that disallowed the people in their lives to love them.  Often, this was because of their sexual orientation, their gender identity, who they love, how they love, and with whom they associate.  For people to be ostracized and oppressed and caused to live in fear for any of those reasons seems counter Christian to me.  

I don’t know why we feel the need to cause pain.  Fully developed and functional love should not cause pain.  If we truly love and truly understand 1 Corinthians 13, and we endeavor to live it, then I think we will simply care for each other in the most loving ways.

I think back to what it felt like as a young person to sit in my community, the only community I had ever known, and feel so completely alone.  I had no safe place to communicate my struggles and I felt if I did I would be immediately misunderstood and/or oppressed.  This caused me great fear.  The few times that I did reach out and try to get help from within my faith community those fears lived themselves out in ways much worse than I thought they would be.  Regularly, I watch people who are still living through such experiences based on the Church’s obsession to control them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel wholeheartedly that the scriptures, and specifically Jesus, teaches us that we should be held to a higher standard as we are “called out” to be different from the rest of the world.  But I think we often get it wrong.  Sometimes, I think we miss the mark completely.   I believe that much of the Church has missed what Jesus meant.  Jesus did not come to cause pain and suffering amongst his children.  He came to show us that God loves us and that we should love each other in the same way – and that love is inclusive, not exclusive.  What we know from Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels is very clear and very different from how so much of the Church postures itself toward people.  Jesus and God are One and Jesus’ greatest prayer for his disciples was that they would be one as He and the Father are One.  The parables teach us that we are to be people of openhearted acceptance of each other – realizing we are each on a spiritual journey independently and together.  As a fellow pilgrim on that journey, I see my primary role to open myself to respect and honor everyone else on that journey, realizing we are all in different places on that journey.  I stand a very good chance of learning something from other people on their journeys that will benefit my journey if I open myself to them instead of posturing myself to judge them.  

I prefer to approach people assuming they want to do the right thing.  Each person’s actions might be motivated by significantly different understandings.  For me to make a judgment call against them based on one or two scripture verses that may or may not be taken out of context and then throw those scripture verses at them, ultimately making an assessment that these people are no longer fit to be part of my community seems incredibly arrogant and presumptuous to me.  I don’t know what those people’s pilgrimage is like.  We are all human and none of us is walking a perfect path.  I cannot possibly know what each person is experiencing or what it is like to walk their path.  It is their path to walk – not mine.  So my goal is to leave myself open – open to learn, understand, and be supportive in their desire to find their best path.

This is my goal: to honor and respect everyone I meet in an endeavor to get to know why they are the way they are and why they have chosen the path they are walking.  By doing so, I might learn something.  I think the Church should be an example to all of us in this regard – taking a position of openness, understanding, and grace.

My husband and I are watching a series on Netflix called The Crown.  During one episode young queen Elizabeth is faced with her sister’s desire to marry a divorced man.  She makes it very clear to her sister that as Elizabeth (her sister), she wants to grant Margaret the ability to love the person she wants to love.  But her further processing unleashes the following proclamation, “As the Crown I cannot allow you to do this because we have rules.”  And those rules are founded in church and rooted in scripture.  The Crown had to be an example and couldn’t go against the teachings of the Church.  But I believe that, when we get right down to it, what we are talking about here is people – who they love and who they are “allowed” to love.  Decades later, Queen Elizabeth allowed her divorced son to be in relationship with another woman.  How time, openness, understanding, and grace can change things!

We need to open ourselves to what is most important.  Is it really most important that we exclude people based on some cultural construct that we feel controls everyone’s behavior in some “positive” way?  Or is it more important that we allow love to flourish wherever love is discovered?  I believe the teachings of Jesus would say the latter is most important.  

I want to be a follower of Jesus who “errs” on the side of love.  Such a posture does not allow me to exclude someone based on some ancient dogma.  

It means I want to be loving to all people – gracious and generous in my approach to everyone, respectful and honoring in how I approach them and respond to them, never usurping myself as some sort of authority but only as an open agent of grace and love – not in spite of my faith but because of my faith.

Does the follower of Jesus (and the institution of religion) have a higher calling? Yes.  Are we called to be different from the world?  Yes. But in what way?  

I believe our greatest calling is to show the world how much we love each other – how we celebrate and champion love.  

The Church's Obsession with Blood

By Stephen Marshall-Ward


The fourth indictment in our requiem is,  “Where the Church exalts the cross through Jesus’ payment for our sins, Jesus exalts what God has done gifting life and grace through birth and resurrection.”

My thoughts about this indictment are some of the most challenging thoughts I have about the traditional theological posturing of the Church.  This indictment, as I presented it to various people during the formation of the Requiem text, was the one that people kept getting stuck on.  People wanted to enter into a discussion with me and debate what it meant and what it means and why I wanted to include it.  There were two extremes in those discussions.  One was, “Why are we even talking about this? The Church has moved on from this archaic theology.  Why do we even need to bring this up?” The other extreme was, “This is so incredibly offensive.  Of course Jesus dying on the cross to save me from my sins is the most important tenet of our faith. Take the blood away and we don’t have a faith!”

To be truthful, I’m not one hundred percent sure what I think about this particular indictment.  Sometimes I think I know… but I am not sure.  But, then again, that admission in itself is one of the most important statements of this Requiem: that it is ok to not know.  It’s ok to posture yourself in a place of continual learning – not dogmatic theological stance.

Most people reading this blog will be somewhere in between these extremes (though I expect to hear from people on the extremes).  It’s not popular and potentially offensive to say, “I know you believe your sins are forgiven because God loved you so much that God sent God’s Son to the world for the sole purpose of shedding his blood so that your sins would be forgiven.  I know you base your whole faith on it.  But I am here to challenge that.”  It’s not very winsome.  But in reality that fundamentalist/evangelical theology doesn't make sense to me.  It never has.  Even as a small child, listening to my father preach about it, I would find myself thinking, “that's all fine and good but it sure doesn't make any sense.”  It’s like saying, “I love you so much that I am going to sacrifice the thing most precious to me, the very incarnation of myself, to prove to you how much I love you.”  And then add to it, as is customary with the people who believe it, if I don’t accept this gift of love (the blood and death of Jesus) in just the right way, with just the right prayer, with just the right content, in just the right church, God will still send me to hell forever all because he loves me so much.  I’m sorry, it's just bizarre.

Whatever you believe about the blood and death of Jesus, this indictment is about what God was showing us in Jesus.  His birth was God’s gift to us.  The life of Jesus was God’s gift to us.  Not the death of Jesus.  And when humanity rejected that gift and killed it, God said, “I’m still going to show you my gift – which is Jesus alive.”  Hence, the resurrection.  A summary statement is as follows:

No matter how much we continue to mess things up as human beings, no matter how much we bring death to God’s wonderful creations, God will continue to intervene with hope, resurrection, and new life.

I am asking the question: Did God really plan to kill God’s Son and shed Jesus’ blood for our redemption?  Or was that just humanity messing it up?  If it was humanity messing it up, all God did was use that mess up to prove once again God’s intent:  not death – but life.

The shedding of blood as some requirement of God is in question here.  I get it, I know the scriptures, I don’t even have to quote them here because most of us know them.  They talk about the blood and that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.  

The gift of God is eternal life.   “The wages of sin is death” – that’s a humanity thing, not necessarily a God thing – but God’s gift to us is eternal life and God showed us that eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus.

When we talk about the blood I think back to a situation when I was teaching at a college and the students in the worship band were preparing for chapel and they were singing a contemporary setting of traditional hymn What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.  I stopped them and said, “I have a question about the theology related to this: is it really about the blood of Jesus?  Does the blood of Jesus really wash away your sins?  I’d like to propose that it is really the love of Jesus, the love of God, that washes away your sin.”  So it was changed to What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the love of Jesus.

My former student, Alex Johnston, re-texted and recorded his own version of Nothing but the love of Jesus. You can listen to it here: 

The final point I’d like to make in relation to this is the more I understand about scripture and the relationship of God to humanity within them, the more clear it becomes that God continually tries to reconcile – reconciling over and over again – not killing – not shedding blood – but reconciling.

The scriptures are full of lessons about what God truly desires from us and it is not first and foremost the traditional sacrifice.  What God wants from us is obedience and love. God wants you to know God.  There are so many stores in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, about God demonstrating to us that what God wants is our hearts, not our religious actions.  The position will always bring us back to life.  

God wants our lives to be full of life and love – not violence – and certainly not death and blood.

The Church’s Obsession with Exclusivity

By Stephen Marshall-Ward


The third indictment in our requiem is, “Where the church has created divisions and barriers through isolation, God creates communities and completeness through inclusion and compassion.”

I have so much to say about this indictment. What I have written in this indictment is very personal.

I grew up in a segment of the church that had exclusion and isolation down to a science.  Part of their distinctive was to be exclusive.  To be “better than”.  They based this on the scripture that says we are to be called out and to be separate:  “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”  (2 Corinthians 6:17)  

At Bob Jones University  (you might find this hard to believe, but it’s true) there were discussions amongst the students and faculty about “degrees of separation.”  If I knew you and I found out that you had associated with or had any level of friendship with someone who was behaving in a way that I thought was inappropriate then I needed to separate from you even though you hadn’t done anything wrong yourself.  You associated with someone who did something wrong.  Because of your association with them and my association with you, I could be excluded from the community.  As a result, I needed to make the decision to separate from you before your associations can negatively influence me.  There were even people who bragged that they had reached such a high “level of separation” in that they had separated from people by eight, nine, or even ten “degrees of separation”!  At the time, all I could think was how exhausting this all must be.  The ultimate result was massive amounts of exclusivity and a community living in “perfected” isolation.  

Bob Jones University is primarily an Independent-Baptist institution, though originally Methodist (founded by Bob Jones, Sr. – a Methodist minister), while most of its student body comes from Baptist and/or Bible Baptist circles.  We were not allowed to associate with or be part of the Southern Baptist movement in any way (they were far too “liberal”).  There was a large Southern Baptist Church directly across the street from the main entrance of Bob Jones University.  Along with all other Southern Baptist churches and institutions, it was “off-limits” for all BJU students.  If you were caught going there for any reason, you could be kicked out of Bob Jones University.  

Exclusion and isolation was a science.  It was a culture that was built to “protect” everyone from any thinking that was different from what we had espoused to be (whether by personal choice or communal force).  

This personal experience is an extreme example of what the church has done for centuries.  Through the Crusades, the Test Acts, and so many other examples throughout history, the Church has systematically excluded in an effort to control the masses and maintain the “purity” of the institution.   Many modern day churches and church-related institutions continue to put people out.  When marriage equality was ruled by the highest court in the country as an approved institution, I witnessed some evangelical churches in the Seattle area requiring their staff and employees to sign a statement affirming their personal belief that homosexual marriage is a sin and that they would uphold that belief or they would be asked to leave that community.   

Exclusion and separation for the sake of dogma seem to hold a significant place in the history and current structure of the Church.  Yet the Church continues to struggle with the fact that exclusivity and separation can also be considered quite counter-Christian.  

God creates communities and completeness through inclusion and compassion.

Throughout Christianity today, “inclusion” has become a hot buzzword.  There is a great deal of discussion about what this means.  All one has to do is google “exclusion by the Church” or inversely “inclusion by the Church” and thousands of articles will instantly arrive on your computer.  I came across a very interesting article by Rev. Jeff Hood that provides valuable insight into this very question, possibly returning “inclusion” to its highest level: invoking the actions of Jesus as exemplary.

My understanding is that within God’s family, within Christianity, and as followers of Jesus there is room for many ways of thinking.  This should be a part of the distinctives that make us Christian.  Thinking, questioning, growing, developing, and understanding each other is what makes the fabric of our diversity so valuable to the whole.  Inclusion and diversity do not have to be liabilities.  They can make us better.

Speaking of liability, I give one more example:  When I was working at a Methodist Church for quite some time, they decided to go through a discernment process around the “issue” of homosexuality, and whether or not homosexuals would be allowed to be fully engaged in the life of that particular congregation.  Near the beginning of this process, I came out.  The pastor and church leadership supported me as we continued through what became a three-year discernment process.  The end result was that, while they agreed to include openly gay people in the life of the church, “gays” could only be in leadership roles up to – but not including – ordination.  To them, that was a huge progressive step forward toward inclusion.   I appreciated the progress and what it took for them to get there.  But as a person who is gay, I wanted them to understood what they were really saying to me, and people like me.  I perceived it as something like this:  “We fully accept you as a second-class citizen within our faith community.  Isn’t that great!?”  While I could remain as their Director of Music and Arts Ministries, I was given no rights to follow God if God might be calling me to the highest levels of leadership in that faith community.  What I heard them saying to me was, “You are welcome, but you have to sit in the second row.”  Fortunately, that particular congregation has progressed further and is now one of the few fully Reconciling Methodist congregations in western Washington state.  While I felt very much like a liability while there, they have done the hard work to realize what inclusion means for them.

Exclusion and isolation is built on the premise that somehow we have to, as God’s children, cast judgment on others in order to control all  behaviors within our community.  I would argue that the role of the Church is to create communities (and one large community) of compassion, understanding, and inclusion so that we can all travel this journey together.  

It’s about a spiritual journey, it’s not about a list of beliefs or a certain way of behaving.  It’s about embracing each other’s spiritual journeys.  It’s about a faith strong enough to give space for open dialogue, a compassionate desire to understand, and living into a gracious way of loving.  

A growing number of faith communities are beginning to understand what this means.  When they say they welcome all, they truly do welcome all.  Unfortunately those faith communities continue to be the exception.  I hope many more faith communities will continue to grow into what it means to become truly inclusive, engaging,  and compassionate.  

The Church's Obsession With Sin

Church's Obsession.png
The second indictment of our requiem is, “Where the church struggles with sin and shame,  God redeems through forgiveness and love.”

The other day I came across a prominent evangelical website.  I couldn’t pull myself away.  I kept reading article after article – many promoting different ways that the world is so sinful.  The articles were focused solely on certain public figures, celebrities, politicians, actors, and athletes, and how they had done something horribly wrong and how we should do better.  Then they would focus on how other famous people have turned toward God and away from their sin.  If these people have come over to their side then they were going to highlight them, to idolize their transition.  My past came rushing toward me.  This is the world I grew up in.  Everyone was focused on how the rest of the world, except for our community, was on their way to hell.  We became students of everything there was to know about everyone else’s sinfulness  and then we sensationalized it.  From a psychological perspective it is like saying, “Don’t eat the carrots.” and then hanging carrots in every doorway, window, and over one’s bed – just within reach.  

In much of that culture, there is an obsession with sin:  an obsession to know all about it AND an obsession to refrain from ever participating in it.

The inherent struggle created by virtue of that dichotomy is quite significant.  I remember living in that reality.  It was a constant struggle because you’re constantly reminded about all the people doing all these “horrible things” but then you’re told not to do them.  

A better approach might be to focus on forgiveness and love instead of sinfulness and shame.  

As a student at Bob Jones University I constantly felt beat over the head with a spiritual bat – and the bat was shame.  We were taught that we are all sinful, we are all going down the wrong path, the world is behaving very badly (many specific examples followed), and if you don’t repent and stay on the “right” path (feeling  horrible about yourself along the way), then you will go straight to hell with the rest of them.  

It seems to me that when we look at the teachings of Jesus, though he certainly talks about sinfulness, he focuses on mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  On a very personal level his relationships with the people around him were all about forgiveness and love.

It’s not that we should ignore or excuse sinfulness but how much better is it to follow in the way of Jesus and to focus on forgiveness and love.  If we take a global look at the life and teachings of Jesus – his ministry and his followers – the only people that he really brought down and condemned as sinful and shameful were the religious leaders of the day that were imposing their laws and rules on everyone else.  They were trying to control the masses through their religiosity.  

...Something to think about.

Reformed & Reforming: Discussing the Text


The world premiere of our latest composition project, “Reformed and Reforming: From Death to New Life – A Requiem Mass for the Church” was last weekend, Sunday, October 29th at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood.  A few recent blogs and future blogs will be explaining the texts, especially the indictments a little further.  The first indictment was addressed in my previous post, “Does the Church Know Everything?”  

You can find out more about our project at

For now, I present the texts as they are:



Only partly reformed, the Church has spread fear-filled judgment through the worship of its dogma. But Jesus persistently teaches with expansive courage and open questioning toward perpetual reformation through the glory of rebirth;  from death to new life.


May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer.



Requiem aeternam dona nobis, Domine.

Et lux perpetua. Luceat nobis.

Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion:

Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.


Dear Christian people all, rejoice, each soul with joy upraising.

Pour forth a song with heart and voice, with love and gladness singing.

Give thanks to God, our Lord above, thanks for His miracle of Love!

Dearly He hath redeemed us.


Exaudi orationem meam.

Ad te omnis caro veniet.

Requiem aeternam dona nobis, Domine.

Et lux perpetua aeternum.



Where the Church struggles with sin and shame, God redeems through forgiveness and love.

May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer.



Kyrie, eleison. Lord have mercy.

Christe, eleison. Christ have mercy.  Kyrie, eleison!


God spoke to His beloved Son With infinite compassion,

"Go hence, my heart’s most precious One, be to the lost Salvation;

Death, his relentless tyrant, stay,

And bear him from his sins away with Thee to live forever!"


Kyrie, eleison. Christe, eleison.



When the Church has created divisions through exclusion and isolation,

God creates communities through inclusion and compassion.

May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer.



Lyrics have been adapted from the Inclusion Statement from

All Pilgrims Christian Church, Seattle, WA


We are faith-communities valuing and celebrating diversity.

Through God’s love and with Christ’s example,

we set aside all human barriers and divisions

and invest ourselves in the healing of prejudice, exclusion, and hatred.

We are open to, and affirming of, the full participation of all as equal members in this one body;

people of all colors, ages, economic circumstances,

sexual orientations, gender or transgender identities,

physical and mental abilities, education levels,

and conditions of health.

We consider no commandment to be greater than this:

“We shall love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength

and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”  

Through God’s love and Christ’s example.



Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth!


Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee,

though the eye of sinful man your glory may not see.

Only thou art Holy, there is none beside Thee,

Perfect in pow'r, in love, in purity.


The Son came saying, "Cling to me, Thy sorrows now are ending.

Freely I give myself to thee, Thy life with mine defending;

For I am thine and thou art Mine, and where I am there thou shalt shine,

The foe will never reach us."


Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Domine Deus,

All Your works shall praise Your Name in earth, and sky, and sea.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Merciful and mighty,

Perfect in pow'r, in love and purity.



Where the Church exalts the cross through Jesus’ payment for our sins, Jesus exalts what God has done gifting life and grace through birth and resurrection.

May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer.



Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecata mundi, dona nobis requiem.  


[Jesus] “To Heaven again I rise from hence, High to my Father soaring,

The Master there to be, and thence my Spirit on thee pouring.

In every grief to comfort thee, and teach thee more and more of Me,

Into all truth still guiding.


Agnus Dei, quitolis pecata mundi, dona nobis requiem.  Sempiternam.



[Jesus] “What I have done and taught on earth, Do Thou, and teach, none dreading;

That so God’s kingdom may go forth, And His high praise be spreading;

And guard thee from the words of men, Lest the great joy be lost again:

This my last charge I leave thee."



When the Church permits pain, suffering,

and death through suppression, oppression, and fear,

God creates peace, hope, and joy through justice, freedom, and light.

May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer.



Lux aeterna luceat nobis, Domine.

cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es.


Shine light upon all people, God, On souls of ev’ry time and space.

And teach us how to heal your world With holy love, mercy, and grace.

Forgive the weak and feeble mind, and hardened hearts of humankind,

and shine your light through us.


Lux aeterna luceat nobis, Domine.

cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es.

Requiem aeternam dona nobis Domine,

et lux perpetua luceat nobis, quia pius es.

From Death to New Life...

By Guest Writer Michael Austin Miller


When Stephen and I began to sharpen the focus of our project, we asked ourselves, “If Luther were alive today, what would his ‘theses’ be?”  In our work, From Death to New Life, A Requiem for the Church, we offer five statements that we feel move us forward in the work of re-forming today’s church.  As we've developed these thoughts, I’ve found it difficult at times to be bold.  Perhaps Luther did as well.  As the church we must continue Christ’s mission to love God with all we have and our neighbors as ourselves.  As we continue to reform, we must be willing to speak out.  We must be willing to say with Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”    

I grew up in the “Bible Belt” of South Carolina where my family belonged to St. Timothy Lutheran (ALC/ELCA) Church.  In my home church, I felt safe, secure, and significant.  There I was surrounded by friends, family, and a whole host of surrogate grandparents.  Most importantly, I learned of Christ's love as each week the pastor preached on the themes of love, grace, justice, mercy, and humility.   Sadly that message was not the primary religious narrative found in the region back then — nor is it today.  Instead of sermons about a God who lavishes love on the little, the last, the lost, and the least, the pervading message in that culture has often been “Turn or Burn.”

In many evangelical churches today, sermons are still riddled with fear-filled references to fire, hell, and damnation.  Such churches teach that every thought or action can be categorized into right/wrong or black/white.  There are no shades of grey in such narrow-minded theology.   Similar to the days of Levitical Law, there remains a code of Christian conduct that, if sinned against, would result in one begging for mercy to a wrathful God on Judgement Day.

Conservative belief holds that to be a "Child of God," one must say the Sinner’s Prayer, or be baptized, or affirm one’s faith, or take communion, or be "washed in the blood of the Lamb" - whatever that means.   Fortunately, one of the growing reforms seen in today’s church is the recognition by many that there is no such being as an “orphan of God,” and there are no deeds one must do to win God’s favor.  We are God’s creation.  We are God’s children.

Unfortunately, grace-oriented mainline denominations rarely make the news with their message of Love and at times when loving and cooler heads should prevail in our world, the silence from many mainline denominations has been deafening.  Meanwhile, conservative/evangelical theology seems to eek its way into the headlines and governmental issues in some form or another nearly every day.

The world desperately needs to hear grace-oriented messages to counter the long-held image of a vengeful, spiteful, Old Testament God who seems to encourage, ennoble, and enable abhorrent belief and behavior.

Twenty years ago, I was living in a small South Carolina town when Ellen Degeneres publicly admitted that she was gay.  One prominent church was bold enough to post, “Come Out of Sin - Not the Closet” on their roadside reader-board.  Regrettably, I saw NO churches willing to respond by publicly affirming her or others who’ve been marginalized by the church.

It seems that there are not many who are as bold in their faith as the man for whom the Lutheran church is named.  And, as we are currently witnessing by the actions, or inaction, of some political leaders:  SILENCE EQUALS COMPLICITY.

Ephesians 4:20-24 (The Message)
“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”

Does the Church Know Everything?

By Stephen Marshall-Ward


When I read Socrates’ statement, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”, I think about how this statement is the antithesis of how the church often presents itself historically.  One of the greatest distinctives of the Church is that it is the authority regarding spiritual things.  I could see how we could argue that is a good thing, an important thing, even a “God” thing – but I’m not convinced.  The more I learn the less I feel I believe much of what the Church has taught.  The Church would teach us that, at this point in the discussion, we need to look at the life and teachings of Jesus.  If we do that, I’m even less sure that it is right for the church to position itself as the all-knowing spiritual entity.  Within Christian denominations throughout America, even around the world, is the supposition that what we know and what we teach is truth and is not up for debate.  For these fragments of the Church, it is as if they are saying, “Now we’ve arrived – so now we can stop thinking.”  More progressive church teachings would suggest that as individuals we shouldn’t ever reach a point where we act like we know everything, but instead that we should be learning.  And yet still some of those very institutions still lift themselves up as the all-knowing.  Just look at the mainline denominations in America and how long and arduous a process it is to change anything.  When seeking truth there needs to be a system of balance, and therefore debate – I get that.  But I wonder if there is a better way.

The question that I am proposing is this: is there a better way to think about even the Church as an all-knowing and truth-bearing institution?  This is a question I have not answered for myself.  

I’m simply asking: does the Church know everything?  Well, the church is made up of people. Does an individual person know everything?  No.  I think it is safe to say that no individual person knows everything.  If that is true, one could also propose that no singular institution knows everything either.  

Some might say is that the more collective our understandings the better chance we have at getting to the truth.  I suppose this is why some churches discuss or even debate issues.  So, if we know that individuals don’t know everything and individuals would do well to learn from others so that a greater truth is understood, wouldn’t this translate to institutions who are made up of individual people?  

Why wouldn’t the Church, as an institution that lifts itself up as a truth-bearer, be equally open to a posture of openness, learning, seeking, and changing as one of its primary “dogmas”?  

Is that possible?  Are there pitfalls within that posture that would bring it all down?  This would beg the further question: would bringing it all down be so bad?  I am proposing some difficult questions.  I am certainly not the first person to ask them.  As a student I am very interested in answers – but even more interested in the discussions.  One of the most important transformations in my spiritual life was when I finally reached the place when I was able to say, “I’m ok with not knowing.  I don’t have to know everything.  The important thing is to open myself to continually learn.”  It was when I reached that point that I had freedom to become everything I’m intended to be.  I wonder if the same can be true for the body/institution we call the Church.

This relates to the setting of the Requiem Mass that my colleague, Michael Austin Miller, and I have just completed.  In this Requiem, among other things, we present five indictments against the Church. But rather than just leave them as indictments, we have attempted to propose answers we think might be associated with God’s better way.  These answers might require some openness to change.  

The first indictment is as follows:  “Only partly reformed, the Church has spread fear-filled judgment through the worship of its dogma.  But Jesus persistently taught with expansive courage and open questioning toward perpetual reformation through the glory of rebirth -- from death to new life.”

If we are going to be reformed people (people always learning) we have to be continually reforming – always learning, always willing to change.

Is it Dangerous to Question?

By Stephen Marshall-Ward

I have been thinking a lot lately about the concepts of learning and questioning.  I’ve been talking to a lot of people about what it really means to explore and question ideas and teachings we have always accepted.  The traditional fundamentalist, evangelical, and more orthodox churches in America hold a basic teaching that it is wrong to ask questions.  To many of these groups it considered sinful to study and learn beyond what is already known and accepted as truth.

I think back to when I was at a Southern Baptist Seminary doing Ph.D. work for the first time.  I was called in and told I didn’t make a very good Southern Baptist because I asked too many questions.  I was on a quest to learn and understand, to make sense of everything.  But so much of what we were studying wasn't making sense to me.  So I asked questions.  And the questions I asked pushed the boundaries of accepted teachings.  As a result, I was no longer welcome.  Soon after this meeting my time at that Southern Baptist institution ended.  They recommended I try Presbyterianism because they thought I might be happier there -- a suggestion that was, at the very least, interesting.   Though I did try the Presbyterian path for the next six years, the memory of that recommendation still makes me laugh.  

I was talking to a wonderful friend this past week about her church Bible study group and how she is beginning to question a lot of things and how the other members of the group might think.  She believes they most likely would disagree with her desire to seek information outside their circle of existence.  She is questioning and they might find that threatening.  That goes right along with what I was always taught growing up: that you should never read books or listen to people outside of your circle of shared belief.

Before I left the Southern Baptist Institution I asked the question, “So, what do you expect me to do at the Ph.D level if I don’t understand something?  I shouldn’t ask?  I shouldn’t inquire?” and they said, “No, you are here to learn from those who are appointed by God to teach you.”  This was the same thing we were told at Bob Jones University.

I remember the day clearly.  I was sitting in a chapel service where Dr. Jones was preaching.  He was upset at the students for having a debate between students in the dorms between Calvinism and Arminianism.  He made it very clear that such debates among students are inappropriate and even sinful because our only job as students is to learn from “God’s appointed instructors.”  I remember my knuckles turning white holding onto the arms of my seat in the chapel.  All I wanted to do was  get up and scream at him, run out, and never come back.  At the time I felt that path wasn't an option for me.  So I held onto my seat.   I think about what I would do in that same circumstance today.  I would not hesitate to stand up and make it very clear that he has no right to tell us who God has appointed to teach us.  I would emphatically explain how good teaching actually creates the opportunity to ask question.

So I offer the question, “Is questioning dangerous?”  I would say yes, to some extent it is dangerous -- maybe risky is a better word.  But I think the alternative -- the way I grew up and was expected to “learn” -- is significantly more dangerous.

Questioning is risky because you are opening yourself up to all sorts of options.  Maybe that is why God gave us minds capable of learning.

There are little pieces of truth everywhere.  I think the greater good is to discover truth and to find truth.  It’s like sifting for gold.  You have to go through a lot of material to find the nugget of truth.  And no matter who's teaching it, there is usually a lot of useless material amongst the truth.  I think it is incredibly valuable to have an open mind for learning so we can become better people.  We learn from each other.  I have always thought it was incredibly presumptuous to suppose that somehow we have a corner on truth.  My understanding is limited to my experience and I have only been here for about half of a century.  There are so many people who have been here much longer and who have experienced things I never will.

The friend in the Bible study recently lost her husband.  Previously, she thought she knew what women went through when they lose their husbands.  Now that she has gone through it herself, she realizes she had no idea what that experience was really like.  Now she realizes that anyone who has not gone through that experience cannot fully know what it is like.  She realizes there are many things in life she has not gone through -- that she can’t pretend to understand.  She has to depend on someone else to help her understand.  She has to open her mind and heart to understand them, even though it is outside of her comfort zone.  I think questioning comes from just such a desire to understand.  Such a posture for learning opens up worlds of truth we wouldn’t otherwise know.

Do we want to have our lives confined to the accepted experiences of those who are “to be trusted” or do we want to understand more and more about life, experience, relationship, and truth?  Dangerous or not, I choose the latter.  

This concept of learning and opening ourselves up to learning is a theme that keeps emerging out of the concert we are doing on October 29th:  “Reformed and Reforming: The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.”  It is about the Reformation, and a posture of reformation is a posture of learning.

Through this concert, we will challenge the Church to continue learning and never suppose that it has reached a complete understanding.  The Church as an institution and we as individuals need to be constantly reforming and therefore constantly questioning and learning.