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Sunday Playlist – The Challenge of Racial Tension

Here are the songs I’ve picked to reflect some of the themes of this week’s scripture from Acts chapter 6 and some of the ways this scripture speaks in to our current context. I hope you find them helpful.

‘Hymn of the Holy Spirit’ by Pat Barrett

It’s interesting that Luke writes the apostles chose seven men who were ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ to fulfil the task of administering the distribution of food to widows. Why did they need to be full of the Holy Spirit in order to carry out what, at first glance, seems like a simple administrative task? 

Perhaps, the question reveals more about the tendency to see preaching, prayer and evangelism as the ‘really spiritual’ tasks and serving food and drinks as somehow less important? 

The apostles didn’t delegate because they saw it as being less important but because they knew that they couldn’t do everything; that the community has different gifts in order to serve God’s mission and the common good. Some are called to be preachers, some prayer ‘warriors’, some mercy givers, some administrators etc.

The distribution of food to the needy was one of the main foundations of the Christian community but it wasn’t a new thing; it had always been there in God’s law and the Old Testament prophets often criticised Israel for fulfilling their religious duties but neglecting the poor. This is hypocrisy and it is offensive to God. 

I chose this simple song because it is a prayer that our attitudes and actions will be guided by the Holy Spirit. I want to be ‘full of wisdom and full of the Holy Spirit’! It’s a prayer we should never get tired of praying. 

Holy Spirit, guide my vision
Help me see the way You see
Always Jesus, ever Jesus
Christ in all is Christ in me

You’re the light, You’re my path
You’re the shepherd of my soul
All I am, All I have
Holy Spirit, lead me on

‘No Outsiders’ by Rend

There are so many in our society who may feel like outsiders; those on benefits, the BAME community, the LGBT community, the elderly, the disabled – the list goes on. 

In this week’s small passage of scripture, it was the ‘Hellenist’ widows (the Greek-Speaking Jews). Not only did they have to rely on the handouts of the Christian community but they also felt they were being given less than the ‘insiders’; the Aramaic speaking widows. It was a precarious situation which could have really damaged the reputation of the church and the integrity of the gospel message. Thankfully, the apostles addressed it by delegating responsibility to a small group of believers who would ensure long-standing prejudice didn’t win the day. 

This song reminds us that, whatever our life circumstances, we too were once ‘outsiders’, alienated from a God who longed for us to come in to a relationship with him. And, it took the invitation of a Christian, an ‘insider’, to help us cross the threshold in to the community of faith. Thank God for those who played that role for us and may we do the same for others. There are no outsiders in God’s family. 

There are no outsiders to Your love
We are all welcome, there’s grace enough
When I have wandered Lord, your cross is the open door
There are no outsiders
I’m not an outsider to Your love

‘Vagabonds’ by Stuart Townsend

This is one of those rare Christian songs which I can imagine being sung in bars as much as in churches; it’s infectious rhythm and swaying groove which makes you want to stomp a beer glass (or a communion receptacle – depending on your preference!) and its sing-a-long melody draws you in. It’s the lyrics though that really hit home. Stuart reminds us that God’s welcome should include ‘accusers’ and ‘abusers’ as well as those just searching for meaning in life. It’s a picture of the richness of God’s kingdom but it’s also a challenge for us to ensure we extend the warmest of welcomes to those society might rather ignore. 

Come those who worry ‘bout houses and money,
And all those who don’t have a care in the world;
From every station and orientation,
The helpless, the hopeless, the young and the old.

Come to the feast, there is room at the table.
Come let us meet in this place.
With the King of all kindness who welcomes us in,
With the wonder of love, and the power of grace.
The wonder of the love, and the power of grace.

‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan

Following the week where Marcus Rashford has helped bring the issue of hunger poverty back in to the spotlight, as usual, the critics have taken the opportunity to respond with insensitive and spiteful comments such as people should ‘budget before they breed’. Apart from the hurt some of these comments can cause, they reveal an ignorance and a blindness to the fact that any one of us could be plunged in to the mercy of others by one change in their circumstances such as the loss of a job or, like the widows in this week’s scripture, the death of the main ‘breadwinner’ in the house. 

Bob Dylan’s classic tells that story; the story of someone who sneered at the poor and judged them until, they found themselves in their shoes, having to look in to the eyes of another homeless person and ‘make a deal’. 

It’s so easy to judge and stigmatise others who are living a life we haven’t lived. Marcus Rashford knew what it was like to go hungry as a child, despite his Mum working full time on a minimum wage to try and put food on the table. He has ‘walked a mile in those shoes’. 

May God help us to understand the plight of others and to show the grace and compassion he did. 

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People call say ‘beware doll, you’re bound to fall’
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

‘Still Human, Still Here’ by Ian Peacock

Saturday the 20th of June was ‘International Refugee Day’ and reminded me that, whilst the mainstream media is currently focussing on other issues, the plight of asylum seekers and refugees hasn’t gone away; in fact, it’s worse than ever with many still couped up in camps where conditions are perfect for the spread of Covid-19, on top of all the other diseases caused by malnutrition and poor sanitisation. 

I wrote this song when I was volunteering for The Boaz Trust which opened up my eyes to the way foreigners who have sought refuge in the UK are treated. Not only do many of them bring with them the scars (physical and mental) of the places they have fled but they arrive to find they have no support, no benefits and no opportunity to work (in spite of what some newspapers claim). They become like ‘living ghosts’; here but not really here, living but not really living. How do we offer hope to people like that?

The mandate of the church is not only to spread truth and love but also to stand up for justice and to challenge prejudice. The problem is, we need to challenge our own before we start pointing the finger at others. 

Still human, I’m still here, still living with my fear
You might wish I’d disappear, I’m still breathing, I’m still here
Still human, I’m still here, still drowning in these tears
And though freedom is so near, I’m still shackled, I’m still here