In our society, what works and produces profit is what we value. While we hunger for a post-modern identity and story, the structures, all around us scream utility, conformity and results. Money rules. This might even be true in our houses of worship as we may have unintentionally turned business metrics on our expression of worship. The question is this: do we value utility more than beauty in our worship? The answer is that our culture-infused church in modern America apparently does.
I have enjoyed being part of worship and music ministry in the local church since the days I used to develop Kodak Kodolith slides projected over a cyclorama curtain. The changing colors and the sharp, crisp slides were all in analog, including the spelling errors! The Saturday night ritual of developing in my darkroom-closet was quickly terminated upon the purchase of our church’s first digital projector. Then, the horrors of PowerPoint as applied to congregational singing commenced.
Old stories such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” were meant to put fear into children. Lessons such as Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” were likely to prevent a child from basically ringing the fire alarm for fun. Fear is a motivator. It works. Fear of losing your job can be leveraged to keep you and your coworkers from offering legitimate grievances and used in turn to add hours and workload without additional compensation. From TV news to Facebook posts about the ending of the world, fear sells and gets our attention. Our fight or flight chemistry is amped to the max. It's a science and it works.
From the first note to the last, what is played musically in church matters. Music is one of the historically prominent and powerful vehicles for our Christian worship–today as well as in the past. Whether the worship is expressed on a Fender strat or sung by a choir in full robes the music matters. Like the beams of a building need competent engineering, the execution of our music leadership requires skill. You can compensate all you want with automated loops, tracks and auto-tuning but in the end polished bronze is still bronze. Gold is the real thing. Just because something is shiny does not make it valuable or worthy in the long run. Is what we are offering as valuable as we think it is? Good musicianship and the several components that it contains matter.
I don't usually do this, but if you want to win a free copy of the movie American Sniper, simply let me know in the comments and in the comment thank a vet you know personally. I thank my friend Adam who served his country faithfully. His story inspires me in what he has overcome both in battle and in the life afterwards.
This movie is important. Why? We need to consider the cost of war, for one. Secondly, we must honor and tangibly value the lives of those who serve us in the armed services. Besides that, it is a very good film.
On Friday, I will randomly select a winner. I will contact you via email.
At least two extremes exists when describing the role of the worship leader. Today, we ask for rockstar-monks to lead us in worship. I have heard an influential leader say repeatedly at conferences, “Your role is more important than mine as the preacher.” Really? This made me feel important at the moment, but reality says something else. As a worship leader we prepare people to hear the word, lead them in prayers, but how is that more important than leading and forming a congregation spiritually through preaching? As a worship leader, my role is surely significant as I serve the whole congregation and have a part in the spiritual formation, but not a superior part. I am simply just a part. And, to put that on me or any worship leader is to raise this role to monk status.
We want to be relevant with our worship music and need to have spiritually vibrant worship. A church itself is described by many leaders by the musical “ style” offered. There is traditional, gospel, contemporary, and modern as some words to describe just a few of the menu options. Music itself appears to how we brand our worship.If we brand worship as a music style what message does this send? I may have bad news for those who would be so pragmatic. We want something that works. Would we rather have something dumbed-down that we can control, or something that actually is culturally relevant, powerful, or engaging? In a discussion about styles of music in worship, we have to ask about the intent. Why do we want to be germane with our music? My point is clear. It’s complicated.
I will be periodically posting a series of essays this year: "How We Worship Matters: Essays on the Worship Battles We Should Fight."
As human beings, we live in the physical world. Our spirituality is connected to this and there is nothing like the Incarnation to give us a picture of how this mystery exists. Jesus is fully God and fully human. What did Jesus display to us? Spirituality is housed in people, not in stone temples or in only one physical spot.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost only amplified this by entering the life of every believer on the planet. We can now pray in concert with people all over the world because of our connection with the Holy Spirit. Our worship is empowered, no matter at a mountain campground, warehouse turned house of worship, or country chapel.
There are two types of creativity needed as humans. We have presented issues that need addressing and to be creative in this case mean people work to solve what needs to be solved. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Things that are “needed” get the resources, the cash, the spotlight. This is true in our spiritual leadership, as well. Culturally, we are locked into a love affair with making things “work” which is not entirely a bad thing. The problem comes when the other leg of creativity is neglected and even denounced. You see, aesthetics are hard to justify as expenditures when your only vision of creativity is one of utility. This modernist thinking clashes with our souls, yet we still in our leadership worship "what works."
We all need signs. Where am I? I love the arrows on maps that tell me exactly where I am and the context. Real life scares us because rarely are signs this clear. When it comes to faith, signs were sought by many of our Bible heroes. Whether I am praying and leaving out the fleece at night or putting my fingers into the holes in the hands of Christ, it is all the same. I need to see. Those that truly saw God like Isaiah wreathed in the fetal position. Honestly, I may ask for a sign, but may not want the real deal. If God truly shows up, it seems I might have to change as anyone is “undone” in his presence. This is the reason why Christ came as a baby. God knows we just can't handle it.
Real life is never lived in a straight line. In fact, it's the turns and bends that teach us about who we really are and reveal the Creator’s intervention. I confess that often I forge out straight into the gauntlet, hoping the speed of a dash in the right direction will get to the destination. I might fail as badly as Halo’s Master Chief would if he were to run--outnumbered and out gunned-- directly into the “zombie-fied” flood. Unlike in a video game, there is no replay in life. Or, the replays are very limited. That straight line tactic simply does not work.
I was introduced to new terminology—trailing spouse. This is the marriage partner that is uprooted from his or her job when their spouse moves for work. They are the individuals whose job or career is secondary to the other’s and willingly break what in some cases may be very rewarding work and relationships.
Memories flood at times when a scent arises–catching you off guard. Bacon does this for me. The sacramental experience of our dad’s Saturday breakfast event unfolds for me. With five boys eager as chicks in a nest to feed, our dad would make from scratch his waffles or pancakes, mountain-piled plates of bacon, and potatoes. At times, he even made his own recipe of brown-sugar syrup. The bacon-fat haze in the house was a welcome sight after delivering the local San Jose Mercury newspapers earlier that morning.
There has been a lot of dialog in the Evangelical world in recent years about a war on Christmas. The cry was to say “Merry Christmas” in defiance to something like “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” Regardless of the words we use, the war on Christmas is fed from law suits to remove civic-sponsored Nativity Scenes and school prohibitions about mentioning the Jesus of Christmas. However problematic the external forces of our society press against a Christ-centered Christmas it may be our in-house disregard of Advent that sets us back. Could our fight for Christmas be a fight against Advent?
The twice Grammy-nominated Small Town Poets are a Georgia based alternative rock group. This is their second Christmas release and the quality and musicianship still shines on this their seventh studio recording. The blend of pop/rock hooks, original songs, and ancient Christmas carols offers a surprisingly cohesive project. Christmas Time Again is something that will not annoy the holiday cynic while delighting the biggest fans of Christmas.