A Note on Hymn/Song Language

I often use the term "love" rather than the term "God" to make my hymns more inclusive. Feel free to replace "love" with "God" (or "God" with "love" where relevant), or to make other textual changes to allow the hymns to speak to (and be sung by) as diverse a set of people as possible.

I strive to avoid ableist language. There are two kinds of language use that I have left in place after much reflection. The song/hymn Everything Remains refers to "our vision" but the phrase really addresses our calling rather than our sight, so I have kept the original intact. Similarly, my Christmas folk song Welcome to the Manger refers at one point to having new sight and finally being able to see something; since this refers to understanding rather than vision, I have left it in place. Several hymns (The Manger Is Stranger, Once Jesus Loved a Rich Man, Shake the Dust Off Your Sandals) refer to "having ears to hear." In this case, I have kept the original language in place because I believe that as Jesus used this phrase it was less about hearing in a strictly auditory sense and more about understanding, being open and receptive, and being willing to be transformed. Feel free to modify this language in your use of these hymns in ways that work for you. My goal is always to maximize joy, love, compassion, gratitude, and courage to transform the world; please sing these hymns in ways that make that goal meaningful for you. 

The Manger is Stranger has slightly different text in the score and the recording. The recording reflects the earlier language "wise men," which has been replaced in the score with "magi."

Hymn texts too often refer to "the poor" as though no one singing the hymn was poor; the same is true in many references to "the hungry," "prisoners," and people in other such situations. I am currently reworking some hymn texts to avoid this problem. One thoughtful response to this issue can be found in Christopher Grundy's worship song "Leaning In." Please click on the song title to see a YouTube video of the song, which includes lyrics.

I have been granted permission to share a beautiful document about using expansive language in the Mennonite hymnal Voices Together. Please consider reading it: "Expansive Language in Voices Together."

I encourage you to change the language in your traditional hymns to make that language more inclusive in any way possible (changing "men" to "those" or "all" or some other appropriate equivalent, avoiding hymn texts that treat darkness as equivalent to evil and light as equivalent to good, changing "Father" language to "Mother" language some (or much) of the time, etc.). This may be uncomfortable for people who have grown up with the traditional language, but this is a discomfort worth engaging in the spirit of solidarity with devalued people and as a way of following in the way of those prophets and spiritual teachers for whom discomfort was simply part of spiritual growth.

Finally, if you notice racist, sexist, ableist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise harmful language in any of the pieces on this website, please contact me and inform me. All of us have much to learn in this work, and many opportunities to grow. I will rewrite any texts that reproduce any form of inequality.