The Bible tells a Grand Story about how God creates this world with people to reflect his image, how we all rebelled and continue to rebel, and how he restores us to relationship with him through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. At the Village we often sing words that come straight from this Grand Story. Villagers write many of them as a way of telling their stories with Jesus and expressing the experiences of the Village with God. We connect our stories to this Grand Story found in the Word of God. We immerse ourselves in these words to find truth, hope, comfort and direction.
I’m pulling together writings and writing about these song-stories. We sing “Philippians 2” on Sunday so I’ll start there.
Philippians 2:5-12 (Listen on Spotify)
Music and Arrangement by Emily Lewis and Joel Cepin
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ
Jesus, who though existing in the form of God
Did not consider his equality with God something to cling to
But emptied himself and took the form of a slave and became like you and me.
So, recognized in appearance as a human being he humbled himself,
And became obedient to death
Yes, death on a cross!
Chorus: Let this mind be in you,
Which was also in Christ Jesus, who
Though existing in the form of God
Did not consider his equality with God
Something to be grasped
God, therefore, has lifted him on high,
Has given him the name which surpasses every name
So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow:
Of those in heaven, of those on earth and of those under the earth
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!
Consequently, my beloved, just as you have always
Obeyed, not when I was with you only,
But even more now that I am absent from you,
Cultivate your own salvation, with reverence and trepidation.
Let this mind, Let this mind…
In the early days of the Village Church in Tucson, Emily Lewis and Pastor Eric’s brother Joel Cepin were in the band. A beautiful part of Emily’s worship is that she sometimes opens the Bible and sings the words as they are written. At one band practice, she opened Philippians 2 and began singing. Joel played along with his guitar and backup words and the rest of the band joined in. We happened to record this impromptu song. I loved this song; I listened to it and played it for others. The Village later recorded a CD “Rough and Uncut” (on Spotify as the “Skeptic Chickens Live Volume 1”). Considering songs to put on the CD, I suggested this song that had never been written down or performed. It was a spontaneous recording never learned by the people who created it. I transcribed the words and Emily and Joel sang it on the CD. Later we began singing it as a community.
Health issues, depression, mania and anxiety are an on-going, rotating experience for me. Some things I am called to do to help with these: self-care, medications, connecting to others, counseling, etc. However, when it comes to it, I want to fix myself, get over it, pull myself together, free myself from all the unpleasant things that I face in this world. This adds a layer of shame, self-contempt and other-contempt to whatever mental, emotional or choice-based condition this is. Shame moves me away from the very things I know can help me and leads me on a path of despair.
This song arrived when I was paralyzed by depression and anxiety; a young mom with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis; a believer in Jesus, struggling to make sense of my abusive story. I’m older and my kids have grown, but I am still wrestling with the same things. The world is broken. The world is not as it was created to be. I am in exile. If I can’t do it myself, I want Jesus to end my exile now. I vacillate between shame and contempt that I can’t fix myself and anger and despair that no one is helping me.
Immersed in Philippians 2, I found Jesus coming to suffer alongside me as I wait for the completion of God’s Grand Story. In his life, death and resurrection, I saw him in exile with me. He cried when his friend Lazarus dies. (John 11:35) He asks, “Can you change the plan, so I don’t have to suffer death?” (Luke 22:42) and “Why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34) These bits of the Story show that Jesus entered time-based suffering WITH us. He grieved and feelt pain and hunger and death and separation from God because he stepped out of forever into the broken time of this Story.
“Though existing in the form of God he did not consider his equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself and became like you and me. So, recognized in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself and became obedient – yes, death on a cross.” Death on a cross in Jesus’ time was about shame, guilt, humiliation, disobedience, powerlessness. He defeats shame, guilt and death by submitting himself to it. In his resurrection, we find hope of being freed from our wounds, shame, guilt, disobedience.
For now, we are still in the time-season of the Story. When I pile shame and contempt onto my suffering, I am denying the gift that Jesus has given me. He offers me compassion in my suffering and grace in my “not pulling it together.” There is a kind of shame that leads us to claim this gift, but often I return to contempt and shame because I think I should handle this life myself. I should ignore the fact that I am in a time-story and pretend that the resurrection means that we shouldn’t grieve like Jesus did. Alternately, I blame and shame those who are in this Story with me instead of inviting them into this gift.
The good news is that when Jesus enters the time-story, it intermingles with the forever story. We begin to see God’s Kingdom (where everything is put to right) spilling over into our stories. People are healed. Sins are forgiven in a new way. Jesus has paid the price for our rebellion from God in time with a forever impact. No more shame. God looks at us through the story of Jesus and declares us righteous. We grieve over our pain and rebellion in a new way that leads to hope instead of despair.
After Jesus cries for his friend Lazarus, he brings him back to life and rejoices with his friends. Living in time brings suffering and rejoicing. I have had seasons of pain and seasons of joy. Listening to and singing “Philippians 2” reminds me not to pour shame and contempt onto my pain, but to grieve and know that Jesus grieves with me and has walked this path to bring me into God’s eternal plan of freedom from sin and pain. I will experience miracles in exile and rejoice. I look to freedom from exile when Jesus returns to make all things right.
I would like to gather song-stories of the Village into a book-like-thing. Have you written a song or found truth, hope, comfort or direction in a song we sing at the Village? Please share it with me in conversation or writing.