Monday, May 7, 2012

Minor Adjustment? Can't I Just burn some stuff in a bonfire?

I went swimming today. I swim for exercise. I spent so much of my life in water from age 5 until 18 that now, nearly 20 years later, it still feels almost more natural to move in water than on land. I still retain habits and forms that were established when I was 14 or 15 years old.

I'm no terrific swimmer but I do like to try and improve. So today I realized that doing freestyle/forward crawl my left arm is far more efficient than my right. This is because I breathe on my right side and so my right arm doesn't catch or pull as deeply. So I worked on tweaking my right arm's catch and pull.

Making this minor correction took tremendous effort, mostly mindfulness. Decades of habit continuously threatened the slight adjustment. And will. For a long, long time.

Learning to swim wasn't nearly as hard as making this minor adjustment seems to be. It's not going to make me super fast or a winner. But it will probably make me a slightly better and certainly will make my stroke more efficient, ergo more energy to cycle and swim if it's triathlon time.

Minor adjustments are in many ways as difficult than major overhauls.

In his book Viral Len Sweet speaks about the power of story to transform. He says,

For some people, change is life. For some people, change is death. For all people, change is difficult. And for all people, change is mandatory. Our real problem has less to do with learning new behaviors than letting go of old ones.

And he he quotes Dylan, "He not busy being born is busy dying."

Change is hard. But we need to change.

We need to rewrite the scripts that keep us from being busy being born.

Just this morning I read Paul's lament in Romans 7 that he doesn't do what he wants to do but does the very thing he hates, culminating in this cry: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin" (Romans 7.24-25 ESV).

There a war on between spirit and flesh, between sedentariness and movement, between the old stroke and the new stroke. The minor adjustments are hard. It would be easier to just chuck something entirely. Quit swimming and take up badminton. Burn piles of "bad" stuff instead of having to discern and learn and grow. 

Change is hard, change is slow, change is worth it. And in Christ we are not alone. We have the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. That power can, as Sweet says, through the power of story and metaphor, "re-format" our brains, lives, behaviors.

Now if I can only remember that adjustment when I get back to the pool next time...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Appoggiatura & Affections

In this fascinating Wall Street Journal article we learn HOW music has power to create physiological responses. Through particular musical devices a musician can increase the possibility of chills, goosebumps, and tears. One of those devices is called appoggiatura and it's defined as "a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound."

I was immediately disturbed with how the results could be disastrous if this information fell into the wrong hands with malicious aims. Even into the hands of worship song writers who want so badly to have a "hit" that makes people's toes tingle.

Fortunately I proceeded to read Stephen Miller's Worship Leaders Are Not Rock Stars in which he comments on much of what was ailing me. He comments,

emotions are not bad in and of themselves. They are quite useful in engaging us holistically in worship. Consider how Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian and pastor, put it:
I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond the proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.
It is the job of worship leaders to raise the affections of the people we lead to the highest possible height with the truth of the worthiness of God in our songs. And yet, while emotions are helpful handmaids of worship, the emotional and even sensual nature of music can make it difficult to know whether we are raising the affection of our hearers with the truth or simply the thrill of the song. We may go for the emotional jugular and completely fail to exalt the character, holiness, and majesty of God. The music becomes self-serving.

The whole post is worth the read. An excellent word.

Music has tremendous power. We all know this. We've been moved emotionally by music. We are swept along by movie soundtracks adding increased weight to performances. We've experienced the chills from appoggiatura before we knew what it was. Music has a way of helping us experience the ineffable as does general revelation. We know that God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, are manifest int creation. But creation, and instrumental music, however wondrous and emotive, cannot reveal Jesus Christ. That has to be done through the specific revelation of Christ and him crucified as told in the Scriptures.

For purposes in the church, music must be utilized in a way that communicates powerfully the ineffable qualities of God but also reveals and glorifies Jesus Christ. To have the former without the latter lends itself to emotionalism or even manipulation under a demagogue. We might say that a good combination of powerful music and solid theology looks something like worship in spirit and truth.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Stephen Foster & Charles Wesley Help Put Children to Bed

Both of the following Foster and Wesley songs tap into a deep longing for my children to be safe and secure. But the reality is that I cannot keep them totally safe and secure. I can do what I am able but ultimately I have to trust that God, who loves and cares for them more than I ever could (which is hard to imagine), will take care of them for their best and His glory.

It's hard for me to say, and it is a teaching moment to me when I say it, but God's greater love and care is why I've been sharing this blessing with them each night: I love you big but Jesus loves you best. 

Songs like these that can be "sung over" our children teach us to love them but hold them open-handedly relying on God as provider and protector. 

Stephen Foster may be the quintessential US American songwriter. Oh Susanna, Camptown Races, Hard Times Come Again No More, Beautiful Dreamer, My Old Kentucky Home... Several years ago a compilation of Foster songs by some excellent Americana artists was released called Beautiful Dreamer and it is terrific. It appears that maybe you can't get it new anymore? That's a tragedy if it's so.

Anyway...Allison Krauss sings Slumber My Darling on Beautiful with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor accompanying. This song is crushingly beautiful. There were many a night when I would rock one of the girls to sleep with this song playing and weep because of the stillness and beauty. This song also appears on the album Appalachian Journey and it's still available. 

Slumber, my darling, thy mother is near,
Guarding thy dreams from all terror and fear,
Sunlight has pass'd and the twilight has gone,
Slumber, my darling, the night's coming on.
Sweet visions attend thy sleep,
Fondest, dearest to me,
While others their revels keep,
I will watch over thee.

Slumber, my darling, the birds are at rest,
The wandering dews by the flow'rs are caressed,
Slumber, my darling, I'll wrap thee up warm,
And pray that the angels will shield thee from harm.

Slumber, my darling, till morn's blushing ray
Brings to the world the glad tidings of day;
Fill the dark void with thy dreamy delight--
Slumber, thy mother will guard thee tonight,
Thy pillow shall sacred be
From all outward alarms;
Thou, thou are the world to me
In thine innocent charms.

Slumber, my darling, the birds are at rest,
The wandering dews by the flow'rs are caressed,
Slumber, my darling, I'll wrap thee up warm,
And pray that the angels will shield thee from harm

Charles Wesley wrote somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 hymns in his lifetime. He wrote hymns about pretty much every conceivable topic. He wrote over 50 just about his courtship and marriage to Sally Gwynne. He wrote this wonderful lullaby-ish hymn called "For the Evening":

Saviour, Thou hast bestow'd on me
   The blessing of the ligh,
And wilt my kind Preserver be
   Through this approaching night.

Evil from me far off remove,
   That, with Thy favour bless'd
Beneath the shadow of Thy love
   I in Thine arms may rest.

Thy gracious eye which never sleeps
   Is always fix'd on man;
Thy love the slumbering children keeps
   From sorrow, fear, and pain.

Wherefore I safely lay me down,
   And trust myself to Thee,
The Father's well-beloved Son,
   Who ever pray'st for me.

Let's bring back the mix tape. Or at least this facsimile of it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Take My Life and Let it Be | Live recording @newcitycincy 4/15/12
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise, 
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move

At the impulse of Thy love;

Take my feet and let them be

Swift and beautiful for Thee,

Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing

Always, only, for my King;

Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee, 

Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;

Not a mite would I withhold;

Take my intellect, and use

Every power as Thou shalt choose,

Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart; it is Thine own;

It shall be Thy royal throne, 

It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.

Take myself, and I will be

Ever, only, all for Thee,

Ever, only, all for Thee.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Covers of Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know [VIDEOS]

A few years ago I heard of this artist Gotye and had to download his album Like Drawing Blood from some online mp3 site in Russia because it wasn't released in the US. Don't worry. I paid for it. And as best I can tell it was legal.

Not sure how this song of his new album Making Mirrors became THE song to cover, make a video of, and post it on the interwebs but's a fantastic song and these are some stellar covers. Check out Gotye's stuff.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Worship That Kills

In preparing for this semester's essay on ethnodoxology and hymnody in the DMin of Semiotics and Future Studies @ George Fox I am revisiting Marva Dawn's seminal Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. Dawn comes from a particular tradition and somewhat curmudgeonly perspective, which I appreciate and amuses me tremendously, and has much to foster constructive dialogue amongst those involved in preparing and facilitating worship.

Of the myriad of things to provoke thoughts here are two in particular:

(1) Worship ought to kill us. This is the title of a chapter and here's a little excerpt:
God's word, rightly read and heard, will shake us up. It will kills us, for God cannot bear our sin and wants to put to death our self-centeredness...Once worship kills us, we are born anew to worship God rightly.
Worship ought not just tickle our ears and tingle our toes. There ought to parts that we hate because, as a Purpose Driven Life knows, it's not about us. Whatever IT is, it's not about us. We don't come to a gathering for corporate worship to get entertained, or get anything really, but to GIVE. To give God worth, to confess our sin, to receive God's grace anew, to die... When we turn over our allegiance to our King and his Kingdom we are most certainly killing ourselves in the best possible of ways.

(2) C.S. Lewis' thoughts on liturgy. This section from Lewis' Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer is fascinating and stirs up all kinds of thoughts.

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value And [believers] don't go to church to be entertained. They go to USE the service, or, if you prefer to ENACT it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best - if you like, it "works" best - when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
 But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping...A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant...It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I'd wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep, not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.
Thus my whole liturgical position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity...But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. 
Every time I encounter this quote it jars me and challenges me.  I am pressed on my insatiability for novelty. Worship ought not feed my lame desire for novelty and giggles. It ought to guide me, kill me, help me transcend, walk me through the old, old story, help me enact the gospel.

What would it be like to be so killed by worship that I didn't even notice the service/order/liturgy and wasn't entertained but was wrecked by the whole experience?

Liturgy literally means "the work of the people." Every worship gathering has an order. But when a gathering devolves into feeding novelty or looking to tingling toes or creating giggles I'm out. Come on worship, kill me. So that I might rise again. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Gospel is Bloody Business

I don't deal well with blood. When Eden, our then 2 year old, took a dive into the coffee table splitting her forehead open I was fine until we got into the room @ the ER and the survival mode, adrenaline rush wore off. At that point I got my own nurse when I turned pale as a ghost and nearly fainted. Manly. I know.

Good Friday is a bloody day. Every year I mean to go back and watch The Passion of the Christ again but I just can't bring myself to do it. It's too hard to watch. Intense, bloody business.

There are volumes and volumes worth of possible rabbit trails to explore this idea of blood and sacrifice and probably a need to rediscover and plumb it's depths for meaning for today. Consider this a call to the medical profession to explore the metaphor of the importance and weight of blood in light of what we know now medically and scientifically. But suffice it for this blog to look at these verses from Revelation and William Cowper's hymn There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
            . . .
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”  (Revelation 5:9-12 ESV)

Ransomed by blood. A payment made with blood that ought to have been mine. Innocent life given in my guilty stead.
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day; And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away. Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away; And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more. Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more; Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save, When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave. Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave; When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be, For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me! ’Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine, To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine.
I get a little queasy and sweaty from the images in this hymn but hey...the gospel is bloody business.  Thanks be to God on this good, good Friday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Listening Lord [SERMON AUDIO]

I had the privilege to preach at New City this past Sunday on Genesis 21.8-21. You can CLICK HERE to listen to the audio of the message.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A 10 Year Quest is Coming to an End with these Broomsticks

About 10 years ago I was at a show and the drummer was playing with these fat, natural grass broom looking sticks. I was enthralled and proceeded to try and find them. To no avail. I just figured he made them himself as percussionists are wont to do.

Last week Len Sweet posted a video of Sarah Macintosh's song Current. Fun instrumentation.

Lo and behold, one of the percussionists had my long sought after broomsticks!

After a cursory search of the world wide interwebs I found...nothing.

So I emailed my "sales engineer" at Sweetwater and he came through! They are on order and ought to arrive sometime this week.

"I don't want to work. I just want to bang on my drum all day."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Worship gathering as neither concert nor lecture but FEAST from the Gospel Coalition

A Wasteful, Beautiful Faith

Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper. A woman poured expensive perfume on his head as he reclined at table. The disciples were indignant at this act. They said, "Why this waste? This stuff could have been sold for a large sum and the money given to the poor!"

Jesus' response? "She has done a beautiful thing to me. You'll always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me."

Jesus lauds this woman's wasteful, extravagant, prodigious act and says it will be told whenever and wherever the good news is told. And adds that it is in preparation for his burial. The burial talk took this wasteful, beautiful act to a very different place than the woman intended. She certainly didn't intend this as an act that would be attached to the gospel for thousands or years or mean for it to be a pre-burial rite. And yet this beautiful, reckless, wasteful act had significance beyond her intention.

The Christian faith is a reasonable faith. But it also ought to be a beautiful, reckless, wasteful faith.

In his book So Beautiful Leonard Sweet writes
We have so few resources in our experience for sensing the bursting forth of what God is doing. We don't have a sensing organism or discernment process that happens even in small groups of people. Sad to say, the only thing we know is a prayer meeting, which is all too often the corporate presentation to God of our list of things for God to do or get taken care of for us. 

We need to live out our faith with an eye keen to beauty for that will help us sense what God is doing.

Wasteful, reckless, beauty. Beauty is compelling. Beauty is magnetic. It's why we stare at paintings and drive to the Grand Canyon and get swept up in a powerful piece of music. If we can bring ourselves to waste some beauty on Jesus we might do something with significance far beyond what we intend and who knows, someone might be talking about our wasteful actions in a couple thousand years.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Billy Sunday re: Sin

I'm against sin.  I'll kick it as long as I have a foot.  I'll fight it as long as I have a fist.  I'll butt it as long as I have a head.  I'll bite it as long as I've got a tooth.  And when I am old and fistless and footless and toothless, I'll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Describes Triathlon. But it leaves out "fun." From the wavier...

"I understand and acknowledge the physical and mental rigors associated with triathlon, duathlon, or other multi-sport events, and realize that running, bicycling, swimming and other portions of such Events are inherently dangerous and represent an extreme test of a person's physical and mental limits."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

C.S. Lewis, Plainly, On the Church

People already knew about God in a vague way.  Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet He was not the sort of man you could dismiss as a lunatic.  He made them believe Him.  They met Him again after they had seen Him killed.  And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before.
            C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pope John Paul II on Consumerism

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards 'having' rather than 'being,' and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.  It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sabbath (from Abraham Joshua Heschel)

“He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.  He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life.  He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.  Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.  The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.  Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

“Not only the hands of man celebrate the day, the tongue and soul keep the Sabbath.  One does not talk on it in the same manner in which one talks on weekdays.  Even thinking of business or labor should be avoided.”

“Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

John Wesley on Spiritual Life (particularly of pastors)

Following Jesus may not be easy but it may very well be just this simple.  As trite as the daily "quiet time" might seem, there is absolutely nothing more vital for spiritual transformation than interaction/dialogue with God in prayer and the Bible every day.  Stop depending on other stuff to "feed you," feed yourself.  We don't live on bread alone, after all.
John Wesley, the eighteenth-century founder of the Methodists, wrote of his own spiritual disciplines and his daily time of solitude at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.: "Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here, in his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven." In the letter he wrote to a pastor 250 years ago on August 7, 1760, Wesley clearly stated the importance of soul care for pastors: "[This is] what has exceedingly hurt you in times past, nay, and I fear, to this day ... Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way ... Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer."  (From the article Soul Care & the Roots of Clergy Burnout by Anne Dilenschneider)

CLICK HERE to read the full article in the Huffington Post.