Devotions from New Orleans: “Eyes Wide Open”

Well, today is our last day of the Gathering. We’re getting ready to receive our benediction back to our everyday lives — whether that’s school or work. The hard part about leaving a place like New Orleans and experiences like the Gathering is keeping the momentum going. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had some considerable highs this week when it comes to our faith and our time together as friends and as children of God. So how do we keep that momentum going? Today’s song can hopefully help us with that.

The line that continually sticks out to me in this song — and it’s the prayer I have for us as we come home — is this:

“God, bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground, that we might move closer to love.” 

I think our everyday lives can be so polarized by who we are and who we want to be. We live in a very dualistic society. Democrat or Republican. Christian or non-Christian. Cool or uncool. Rich or poor. Gay or straight. The list goes on and on. But the prayer that keeps echoing for me as we prepare to leave this place and go home is that God would bruise the heels that we’ve dug in the ground against each other. Against our neighbors and against our friends.

Because the only thing worth moving toward is love.

What are the things that keep your heels dug in? What are those issues or those things that keep us from loving people? How can we loosen the grip our heels have and move closer to love?

These are the questions we’re pondering today. May it be so.


Devotions from the Big Easy: “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place”

Today is our peacemaking day at Gathering. We get to spend some time in the interaction center and do a bunch of different activities. It’ll be a bit more low key than our previous couple days, but I’m sure it’ll be just as great of an experience. Our song for today might be a bit of an unusual choice, but I think the message is so significant for us as we explore more of New Orleans, as well as exploring more about the Biblical story. Check out today’s song.


That refrain of “we found love in a hopeless place” is, I think, the ultimate Easter refrain. I think that if the gospel were re-made into a hip-hop musical (can we all just take a second to dwell on how awesome that would be?) this song should warrant strong consideration for what the two Marys sing as they run away from the empty tomb. We found love in a hopeless place is the ultimate proclamation of Easter morning.

It’s also a spotty proclamation of a place like New Orleans. For a period of time after Katrina, New Orleans, as almost any disaster area, was a relatively hopeless place. People were starving. Homes and lives were destroyed. But in the midst of this chaos and disaster, there are small glimpses of love in these disasters. We find stories of neighbors — strangers even — helping each other.

The proclamation of our time in New Orleans is the same as the entrance to the tomb.

We found love in a hopeless place.


Devotions from the Big Easy: “Some Nights”


“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for — Oh, what do I stand for?”

Yesterday was our justice day out in the communities around New Orleans and now today we are getting set for a day of discipleship with the churches from our synod and then out and around the city. The devotion we had this morning was the newest of the songs that we are using. It’s a really catchy song and has some good food for thought for us as we are down here in New Orleans… But I think it asks some good questions wherever you are. Take a listen to it.


 How freaking catchy is that song? I thought it was a revamped version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”. Sounds a bit like it. I think this idea that some nights we feel like we’re going one way and others we’re going another.

Some nights we feel really good about ourselves. Some nights we don’t.

Some nights we believe. Some nights we doubt.

Some nights we feel like we can take on the world. Some nights we feel really beaten down and vulnerable.

Some nights we’re saints. Some nights we’re sinners.

We’ve all felt that pull. We’ve all felt those feelings. This is part of life as a disciple. If we think about some of God’s last nights on Earth — gathering with his friends around the table, laughing, joking, being with each other. That was a great night. The very next night would be something completely different. The life of being a disciple is about taking the good nights with the bad nights and still following all the more.

There’s a line in the end of the song that, I think, marks the proclamation of a disciple.

you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from some terrible lies

That’s what we proclaim today on discipleship day in New Orleans. That’s what we stand for. What do you stand for?


Devotion from the Big Easy: “Oh My God”

Last night the Youth Gathering started down in New Orleans, which means we have the beginning of our devotions. One of the songs I’ve been thinking about a lot since we got down here is a song by Jars of Clay called “Oh My God”. You can listen to the song right here.



The song is essentially divided up into 3 sections. The last one is the one that gets me. It’s the one that’s supposed to. The way it crescendoes and becomes increasingly intense and graphic leads us into a swelling of emotion. It’s heavy. Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of Jars of Clay writes about that last verse,

This is the rant.  This is why I, in that season, spoke those words.  I did not deliberate over these lyrics.  The song was only sung once in the studio.  These words were only written within seconds of singing.  This is a gut level grouping of words.  And it was a way of bringing the questions I had been storing up and forgetting about and remembering and fighting, to amplification.  And so it ends with questions, just as it started.

In the song is a grappling with the big questions that we ask as humans. Why am I here? How should I live? It’s the questions that keep us up at night. It’s the questions that make us call out to God in our distress.

In Psalm 18, we hear these words,

“In my distress I called upon
the Lord, I cried unto my
God. He heard my voice out
of His temple, and my cry
came before him…”

So when you are distressed and when you get cynical about this world… what are the things that you lament? What are the things that make you cry out to God? Is it homelessness? Is it hunger? Is it economic injustice? Is it issues of race?

Today, we don’t focus on answers. Just questions. Particularly, what makes you cry out to God? Feel free to comment and join our conversation.


Devotions from the Big Easy

So right about now, I’m down in the bayou that is New Orleans with a bunch of young people from Our Savior’s, as well as about 35,000 other Lutherans from around the country for the ELCA Youth Gathering. Over the next week, we’ll get the chance to worship together in the Superdome, get out to parts of New Orleans to learn and work with the community, and build relationships along the way. It’s going to be a pretty transformative time we’ll have together.

One essential part of our day will be to gather together for a devotion. Each day we’ll listen to a song that has to do with different components of our time in New Orleans — discipleship, justice, and peacemaking. And you’re invited to do these devotions with us!

Over the next few days, we’ll hear from bands like Jimmy Eat World, Rihanna, Jars of Clay, and the Flobots about what it means to be on a journey toward justice. We hope you’ll come along for the ride. Each day for the next five days, I’ll post the song and a little bit about what we’re talking about while we’re there and I would invite you to think about these songs — and these issues — along with us.

I hope you look forward to taking this journey with us. I know we’re excited and ready to go!

For more info on the Youth Gathering, check out their website here.


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