Songs of Justice
These days we’re connected to people all over the globe. The Internet and other electronic media allow us to be as “plugged in” as we want to be: websites and e-news blasts provide us with up-to-date information on what’s happening in the world (see sidebar).
As Christians, this awareness informs our personal devotions and our corporate worship whenever we intercede on behalf of those suffering from injustice in our own communities and around the world. It’s a natural step to put those prayers to music so that they may be sung by God’s people.
In the hope of adding to the repertoire of such songs, Reformed Worship, the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship sponsored a song contest. All the texts were judged on their theological and biblical accuracy, the way in which they handle important issues, their fittingness for congregational worship, and their effective use of language (such as quality of poetry, imagery).
We are happy to announce the first- and second-prize winners. First prize went to David Landegent for “Let Justice Roll Down/With Justice, O Father.” Second prize went to Heather Josselyn-Cranson for “We Cannot Know What Worship Is.” We are pleased to share their winning texts here.
Judges were Emily Brink, former editor of RW, Bert Polman, chair of the music department at Calvin College, and Greg Scheer, director of worship at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Let Justice Roll Down/With Justice, O Father
The repeated phrase that makes up the title of this song comes from Amos 5, which includes the prophet’s scathing rebuke concerning the worship of the Israelites: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals. . . . Away with the noise of your songs!” (vv. 21, 23).
Landegent addresses each person of the Trinity separately in the first three stanzas before addressing the triune God in the fourth. Each stanza begins with a testimony about how that person of the Trinity has worked against injustice and invites us to join in the fight. The text is also an honest acknowledgement that we have often failed to act against injustice—or worse, have been party to it. Despite our sinfulness we continue to strive for shalom, believing that one day it will come, not because of our own power but because God lets “justice roll on like a river” (Amos 5:24).
We Cannot Know What Worship Is
This text, though it does not quote Amos 5, seems to echo many of the same sentiments. Our worship is repugnant to God if our actions do not fit with the words we sing and confess. Sometimes we profess our faith because we believe, other times we do so in hope that we will come to fully believe. We worship and listen to God’s Word proclaimed not because we are perfect, but precisely because we are imperfect and desire to become more like God. We need to continually strive to look at the world with God’s heart and eyes and to respond as God would respond: with compassion and care, and at times with harsh words and actions.
Josselyn-Cranson is not suggesting that we forgo worship until we live perfect lives; like Amos she is calling us to make sure that our heart’s desire is more about the other than ourselves.