weekend worship: reflections on the west memphis 3 rally

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Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

weekend worship: reflections on the west memphis 3 rally

sunday night, we had one of my favorite worship gatherings to date at eikon church. there was a good energy, the music was unquestionably the best it’s ever been and i think we really tapped into the heart of what it means to be a community of people connected by jesus. it was truly a beautiful night of worship.

and then there was that other worship gathering.

no, not the one i attended on sunday morning. and no, not some other church event i participated in some other time during the weekend.

i’m talking about the one saturday. at robinson center music hall.

yeah, that one.

you know, the one where eddie vedder served as the worship leader. the one where reverend thompson murray opened with a prayer of invocation. the one where natalie maines executed the liturgy and where patti smith offered a stirring benediction.

yeah, that one. the “voices of justice” event to rally support for the west memphis 3.

worship happened.

now, before that small, vocal contingency gets up in arms about my usage of worship, lets unpack the term a little and examine the nature and purpose of the event.

worship simply means “to ascribe worth to something”. we can, of course, worship anything. in fact, most—if not all—of us worship many things beyond our religious perceptions of a deity on a daily basis.

in this case, we’ll keep things simple and just stick to god.

so what does it mean to ‘ascribe worth” to god? what does it mean to worship god?

maybe it means singing. maybe it means praying. maybe it means reading scripture. it does, in fact, mean a lot of things.

but maybe it also means tapping into, celebrating, venerating, honoring and acting upon the things that are closest to the heart of god. the things that are god.

like grace. and love. and mercy. and compassion. and sacrifice. and humility. and letting go of self. and equality.

and, yes, justice.

and that was the theme for the night. the night even began with rev. thompson murray, pastor of quapaw united methodist church, laying out the intent of the evening: to create a spiritual space in which god’s command to let justice roll on like a river is honored and celebrated and lived out in this corporate space.

you see, when we engage in the songs and dialogue and heart-spaces of the things that are nearest to god, we worship.

and god is justice.

justice for the oppressed israelites who wandered through the wilderness. for the blind man who laid by the pool for almost 40 years. for the naked woman who was drug out in public alone to be stoned for adultery. for our jewish brothers and sisters who were carted away to be engulfed in flames by an evil tyrant. for our brother martin whose dream is still ringing true despite the bullets that rang out in the memphis sky so many years ago.

and for 3 innocent men who spend their lives in cages made for someone other than them.

you see, justice is at the heart of god. and so are our brothers damien, jason and jessie.

and so on saturday night, we listened and we sang and we joined together in stirring the rolling rivers of justice.

worship happened.

not celebrity worship. not merely the worship of a principle or worship of a moment, but the ascription of worth to the god of justice.

one of the central notions of worship—particularly in the west—is the sermon. we’ve all sat through our fair share of them. some have been good, some have been bad.

worship happened saturday night and in fact, included a sermon. whereas it was brief, it was one of the best sermons i’ve heard in quite some time, and it never even specifically uttered the name of god. eddie vedder delivered the sermon on behalf of brother damien. a february letter from damien read,

One thing I’d dearly love to have is an hourglass. Or a whole collection of them- some that measure minutes, some that measure hours, some that measure the whole day. And grandfather clocks! And pocket watches.

The thing I like most about time is that it’s not real. It’s all in the head. Sure, it’s a useful trick to use if you want to meet someone at a specific place in the universe and have tea or coffee- but that’s all it is- a trick. There is no such thing as the past. It exists only in the memory. There is no such thing as the future. It exists only in our imagination. If our watches were truly accurate, the only thing they would ever say is “Now”.

jesus said the kingdom of god is here. not in the past. not in the future. but now.

the time for justice is now. not in the past. not in the future. but now.

now is the time to free damien echols, jason baldwin and jessie misskelley. now.



it’s hard to really get a vibe for the night without being there. it was truly magical and beautiful.

i did, though, manage to shoot some video (on my iphone). it’s pretty inadequate to truly capture the essence, but you can at least see some of the epic performances.

natalie maines: death’s got a warrant & if i had my way

natalie maines: i smell a rat

eddie vedder & natalie maines: golden state

eddie vedder & johnny depp: society