Might You Be

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When Mary held Jesus on that first holy night, I wonder what her thoughts and prayers might have been. I wonder what she imagined when she looked into the face of her newborn son, when she attempted to reconcile his sweet vulnerability with the angel’s message about his mystical identity and his role in the world’s redemption.

I wonder if Mary allowed herself to experience precious moments of letting go of the theological complexities that were embodied in her child so that he could simply be her little boy and so that she could simply be his loving mother.

I wonder.

This is a song about that wondering, a song about God traveling into human history through the vulnerability and comprehensive humanity of an infant. It is also a song about a loving mother and her newborn child.

I pray that you experience a joyful and meaningful celebration of Christmas.

Might You Be
(Words and Music by Eric Park—except the included portion of “What Child Is This,” lyrics by William Chatterton Dix, set to the tune of “Greensleeves,” a traditional English folk song)

Might you be Deity
Cradled within these human arms sleeping peacefully
Might you be Royalty
Sovereign without a crown trusting me completely
Might you be Jubilee
Come to redeem your people, come to bring liberty
Might you be Charity
Love breathing human breath lying here to save me

But the angel said as much to me
A peasant girl’s epiphany
Still, I’m left wondering were his words meant for another
But let’s let go the future now, we cannot see it anyhow
Tonight just be my precious boy, and I will be your mother

What child is this…

Might you be Prophecy
Words of the ancient ones fulfilled in your infancy
Might you be Purity
One day to bear the stain of our vain iniquity

But the angel said as much to me
A peasant girl’s epiphany
Still, I’m left wondering were his words meant for another
But let’s let go the future now, we cannot see it anyhow
Tonight just be my precious boy, and I will be your mother

 

It Was “Fifty” Years Ago Today

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Fifty years ago, in early June, 1967, the Beatles’ eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, made its way to American ears for the first time. Recorded over a four-and-a-half month period at Abbey Road Studios (formerly EMI), the album inspired both lavish praise and pointed criticism, not to mention a half-century debate over the album’s place in the history of rock and roll.

While I am committed to avoiding the kind of overstatements that often become bigger than the album itself, I remain convinced that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band represents a uniquely significant expansion of everything from recording technique to album art; everything from eclectic musicianship to innovative instrumentation; everything from evocative storytelling to stylistic experimentation. Whether or not one cares for the Beatles’ music, there is an excellent chance that, wherever one’s musical preferences lead, he or she will listen to many artists that have somehow been influenced by the impulses and musicianship embodied by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The songs, while strangely connected, take the listener to many different worlds. Some of those world are whimsical. Others are tragic. The creative musicality that holds the worlds together is what is most striking. It elevates the Beatles above other bands of the era (or any era) in terms of musical innovation and eclecticism. In many ways, it also elevates popular music to an art form.

While “A Day in the Life” is the song on the album that normally garners the most attention (no doubt because of its grand instrumentation and thematic creativity), my personal favorite is “She’s Leaving Home.” It is a haunting musical description of a young girl’s experience of running away. The melody line, more modal than tonal, beautifully captures the sadness and angst of the story. The sparse but poignant instrumentation heightens the sense of the voice’s isolation. The fact that both the girl and her parents “speak” in the song indicates a poetic complexity rarely embraced in the popular music of that era.

I invite you to listen to “She’s Leaving Home.” Allow it to remind you of a moment fifty years ago when a rock album intersected, artistically and truthfully, with real world dynamics.

“She’s Leaving Home” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

Wednesday morning at five o’clock
As the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more

She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside, she is free

She
(we gave her most of our lives)
Is leaving
(sacrificed most of our lives)
Home
(we gave her everything money could buy)
She’s leaving home, after living alone, for so many years (bye bye)

Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that’s lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
“Daddy, our baby’s gone.
Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly?
How could she do this to me?”

She
(we never thought of ourselves)
Is leaving
(never a thought for ourselves)
Home
(we struggled hard all our lives to get by)
She’s leaving home, after living alone, for so many years

Friday morning, at nine o’clock
She is far away
Waiting to keep the appointment she made
Meeting a man from the Motortrade

She
(what did we do that was wrong)
Is Having
(we didn’t know it was wrong)
Fun
(fun is the one thing that money can’t buy)

Something inside, that was always denied, for so many years
She’s leaving home, bye, bye

Bridge

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About a month ago, I woke up at 2:15 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I knew that it was going to be one of those nights–or mornings.  For some reason, in those restless moments, I was thinking about “The Bridge,” our new weekly worship experience that launches this Saturday, May 6, at 7:00 p.m. “The Bridge” is open to all, but it offers a particularly attentive welcome to those individuals and families that are currently accommodating the struggle of addiction or the journey of addiction recovery.

My mind was flooded with both deep concerns and desperate hopes in the hours of my sleeplessness.  “Will people support yet another worship experience in our church and in the city of Butler?  Have we rightly heard the voice of God on this?  How will we sustain this service for the long haul? Do we have what it takes? Do I have what it takes? Will God raise up a congregation that sees the urgency of gathering each week simply to sing praises and to pray and to declare that the Lordship of Jesus holds authority over the drug epidemic of our community? What about the adults and young people of our community who are feeling crushed by the burden of addiction? Will they dare to believe that a place like the the church has a loving and hopeful word that is specifically for them?” Questions. Lots of them. My mind was racing.

Realizing that a return to sleep was nowhere close, I quietly made my way into our basement and sat at the electronic keyboard that we keep there. (A piano or keyboard is often where I place myself when I am confronted with things that are difficult for me to process. I think it helps me to pray.) As I allowed my hands to play some seemingly random chords, a pattern developed.  Then a melody. Then a rhythm. Without really knowing what I was doing, I began to mumble these words to the music, quietly and clumsily: “Grant me serenity, to accept the things I cannot change.” When I paid attention to what I was mumbling, I realized that I was giving expression to what has come to be known as “The Serenity Prayer.” Written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1930s, “The Serenity Prayer” is still used by millions of recovering addicts and alcoholics as a spiritual doorway into prayerful surrender. In my sleeplessness, I was thinking about my addicted and recovering sisters and brothers and praying the same prayer that is so often upon their lips.

By 4:00 that morning, additional words started to form in my consciousness as I sat at the keyboard. By 5:10, I had an entire song. Songwriting does not often happen that quickly for me. That morning, it did.

So, as the launch of “The Bridge” draws near, it is on my heart to share with you a very rough version of the song that I wrote in those hours.  I recorded the song hastily this morning on my iPhone.  Please pardon the poor quality of the recording and my pitchiness. I felt a sense of urgency about sharing the song with you just as it is, even in its unfinished and unpolished state. A better recording will come in time.

I hope to teach this new song to the Bridge congregation this Saturday night at our first service. Perhaps it will will give to people a musical way to call to mind, not only a familiar prayer, but also the truth that Jesus is the most trustworthy bridge upon which a person can stand.

Thanks for listening. Here’s the song:

Bridge (words and music by Eric Park)

Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Grant me courage to change the things I can
Grant me wisdom to understand the difference
Grant me strength to stand upon that bridge

You’re the bridge that leads to holy ground
You’re the bridge for captive souls unbound
You’re the bridge across a wildly raging sea
You’re the bridge into a serenity

Grant us patience to live one day and then the next
Grant us mercy, that sins will be made clean
Grant redemption, that life will be as you intend
Grant us grace to travel on that bridge

You’re the bridge that leads to love that heals
You’re the bridge that holds what God reveals
You’re the bridge that sets a lonely prisoner free
You’re the bridge into eternity

It’s a bridge we know will never fall
Come and see, there’s room for one and all
We will hear the call and come to take our part
Jesus is the Bridge to God’s own heart
Jesus is the Bridge to God’s own heart

 

 

 

 

Last Words

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On this Good Friday, I offer this musical meditation upon the cross and the transfigured moments that Jesus experienced there.

Last Words (words and music by Eric Park)

Woman, now behold your son
Son, behold your mother here
Soon my journey will be done
My last breath is drawing near

It would ease my broken heart
If a family has begun
No need now to be apart
Woman, now behold your son

Man beside me, dying too
Penitent with your last breath
Hear now what I say to you
There is life beyond your death

Let me heal your broken heart
Let me set a captive free
I will gladly take your part
Come be in paradise with me

And the soldier that day
When he witnessed the way
The way in which Jesus did breathe his last breath
The soldier stood by
Wiped a tear from his eye, and said
“Surely we’ve beaten God’s own Son to death”
“Surely we’ve beaten God’s own Son to death”

Why have you forsaken me
Warmth of blood upon my brow
There’s no comfort on this tree
There’s no sense of your love now

It would ease my bitter pain
If you’d make your presence new
I thirst for water, fresh like rain
But even more I thirst for you

Father, now forgive this land
Unaware of what they do
They do not yet understand
By killing me they’re killing you

It is finished, life is done
My spirit’s in your gentle care
May the victory now be won
Bring me home, embrace me there

And the soldier that day
When he witnessed the way
The way in which Jesus did breathe his last breath
The soldier stood by
Wiped a tear from his eye, and said
“Surely we’ve beaten God’s own Son to death”
“Surely we’ve beaten God’s own Son to death”

It would ease my broken heart
If my work were not in vain
Let my spirit now depart
Bring redemption to this pain

Eighth Avenue Place

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Do you ever wake up with an impulse on your heart to pray about something in particular?  That happens to me sometimes.

This morning, I woke up at 4:45 sensing that it was important for me to pray for a ministry that is dear to my heart.  The ministry to which I am making reference is called Eighth Avenue Place.

Located in Homestead, Pennsylvania (in the heart of Pittsburgh’s “Steel Valley”), Eighth Avenue Place is a unique Christian community in which people living on the streets have coffee with suburbanites; in which people with divergent narratives and diverse racial and ethnic identities find themselves at the same table, worshiping and breaking bread; in which marginalized, disenfranchised, and addicted people often find themselves drawn more deeply into recovery, healing, and authentic relationships.

That is Eighth Avenue Place.

Through its professional counseling ministry, its addiction recovery ministry, its care for the homeless, its work in community development, and its dual commitment to Christocentric piety and holistic social justice, Eighth Avenue Place creates an always-welcoming “sanctuary” in which unique but interrelated souls might worship, pray, seek, weep, laugh, love, and be loved.

The ministry of Eighth Avenue Place is overseen largely by my friend and colleague, Pastor Keith Kaufold, and his wife Monica.  In ways he probably doesn’t even realize, Keith always leads me to a deeper place through his sacrificial faithfulness, his willingness to laugh heartily at life’s absurdities, and his prophetic vision for Gospel-related transformation.  Together, Keith and Monica (and those who lead and serve alongside them) are helping to build and sustain a desperately needed ministry of Christ-centered community in a time and place where trustworthy community can be difficult to find.

So, today, even as I type these words, I am praying for Eighth Avenue Place, its ministry, and its leadership.  More specifically, I am praying that the Holy Spirit will be so dynamically present at Eighth Avenue Place that the transforming and life-giving presence of God will be experienced in every conversation there; in every cup of coffee consumed; in every moment of laughter, weeping, insight, and prayer.  I am praying also that Keith, Monica, and all those involved in leadership there will experience a fresh and energizing joy, accompanied by a renewed sense of divine calling.

A few years back, Tara and I recorded an original song that represents our best effort to tell just a small part of the story of Eighth Avenue Place.  I listened to the song this morning, and it led me into a more attentive experience of prayer for this ministry where “the suburbs intersect the streets,” where Jesus changes lives, and where servanthood is  practiced in some wonderfully engaging ways. I hope that the song falls meaningfully upon your heart today.

Eighth Avenue
(words and music by Eric Park; recorded by Tara and Eric Park and Rick Witkowski)

Streets replete with untold stories
Buried dreams and hidden glories
Some hearts warm and others broken
Some prayers voiced and some unspoken
We are joined in our addiction
Some to wine and some to fiction
Scattered lives in search of center
Drawn to depths we rarely enter

The suburbs intersect the street
In this haven of commingled souls
And nothing ever tastes so sweet
As sacred food in simple bowls
Poverty and privilege meet
On common ground of what’s perceived as true
Unlikely saints, we now retreat
To respite on 8th Avenue

Black and white and every label
Gathered ‘round a common table
Funny how a truthful vision
Builds a bridge across division
Summer’s heat and winter’s coldness
Make the streets a place for boldness
Open door to those who travel
Open heart when lives unravel

The suburbs intersect the street
In this haven of commingled souls
And nothing ever tastes so sweet
As sacred food in simple bowls
Poverty and privilege meet
On common ground of what’s perceived as true
Unlikely saints, we now retreat
To kindred on 8th Avenue

Save the city, save its soul
We are broken, make us whole
On hardened streets
On satin sheets
We are broken, make us whole
We are broken. Always broken.

Streets replete with desperate voices
Fragile hopes and bitter choices
Open door to those who travel
Open heart when lives unravel
Wonder if they’d hear me screaming
Through the rainfall’s steady teeming
Wonder if they know I’m praying
Or care about the words I’m saying

The suburbs intersect the street
In this haven of commingled souls
And nothing ever tastes so sweet
As sacred food in simple bowls
Poverty and privilege meet
On common ground of what’s perceived as true
Unlikely saints, we now retreat
To respite on 8th Avenue
To kindred on 8th Avenue
To Jesus on 8th Avenue

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Half a Century In

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About nine months ago, I shared with some of you a very rough version of a song I wrote to mark a personal milestone–my 5oth birthday.  Today, I am sharing an updated version of the song that is a little bit clearer and better produced.

It is a song fueled by both nostalgia and navigation; both whimsical remembering and earnest introspection; both reflection on the past and acknowledgment of a growing up that is still taking place .  In short, it is a song about life.  My life.  Your life.  All life.

As you listen to it, I hope that you are inspired to hold in your thoughts the nature and the nuances of the human pilgrimage–its beauty, its fragility, and, certainly, its brevity.

I am grateful that all of you have been part of my first half century.

Half a Century In (words and music by Eric Park)

Feeling not so young
Feeling not so old
Seeming less high strung
At least that’s what I’m told

Looking toward the past
Covers ample ground
I guess I got here fast
And I’m glad I’m still around

The year I joined the race
Silent were the sounds
Trekking into space
Soldiers on the ground

History has a way
Of wearing different skin
That’s how it looks today
Half a century in

Half a century in
Half a century in
Upheld by a steady grace
Half a century in

Tender are the thoughts
Prone to reminisce
Connecting all the dots
Through souls I dearly miss

Laughter shapes the joy
Grief refines the pain
A man with shades of boy
A journey to maintain

Half a century in
Half a century in
Grateful for the wonderment
Half a century in

Sweetness of parental care
Hymns to Jesus sung
Reborn through love and quiet prayer
Getting old, but still so young

Covenants and wedding bells
Two lives are intertwined
The story that our marriage tells
Is how my life’s defined

None of this deserved
None of it was owed
Like a banquet served
A feast of grace bestowed

Looking now ahead
Wondering what will be
Grateful for the threads
And the woven tapestry

Half a century in
Half a century in
Transformed by the pilgrimage
Half a century in

Half a century in
Half a century in
Saved by grace and growing still
Half a century in

We’re An Us

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On the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary (January 18), it is my honor to share this beautiful song, written by the woman I married 25 years ago, Tara Rivetti Park.  As you listen to it, I hope that it inspires you to become more attentive to your most precious relationships and to the everyday moments in which love is tenderly nurtured.

Us  (words and music by Tara Park)

After all this time
When you walk by
It’s still a catch-your-breath kind of love

You and I
Always been
You and I
Always will be
You and I
We’re an us

Sometimes life gets rough
Crashing down and crushing
It’s still a got-your-back kind of love

You and I
Always been
You and I
Always will be
You and I
We’re an us

Coffee and calm early morning
Laughter and Letterman late at night
Inside jokes that are ours alone
We’ve built a life
I love our life

You and I
Always been
You and I
Always will be
You and I
We’re an us