Tuesday, May 27, 2008

moonbats for Christ

Okay, so here's a charming experience I had today:

I was sitting in a coffeehouse not far from my home, working through some deep, deep thoughts about worship and especially worship music. We are, as I have mentioned, bumbling through some fairly deep and radical changes to our community, and so occasionally I find myself in these one-woman brainstorming session, usually with an open journal and coffee getting cold in front of me, praying, thinking, taking the occasional break to bang my head on the table and moan quietly. These sessions are fruitful, and they are painful. Usually. It just takes some time to get through the noise and figure out what I really think - or MAYBE what God is trying to say - about a thing.

So I was thinking about church, and Sunday gatherings, and I was thinking about the uses of music and the things that get in the way.

And of course it practically goes without saying that one of the (many) things that gets in the way of the effective use of music in corporate discipleship is OUR CONSUMER CULTURE - the fact that people are in the habit of purchasing and consuming music rather than creating it, the performance paradigm, the fact that we have reduced art to entertainment and then outsourced it to "experts", so even if we wanted to create something, we'd likely feel unqualified. Our bodies cannot be trusted even to eeek out a praise chorus.

But of course, we long to be involved. We, everyone, has a drive to create, but since we've outsourced creativity, our finest contribution is: critique. Deciding whether we like it or not. How we feel about it. It's not just a habit, not just a cultural tic, not just an industry - it's pretty much a way of life.

And of course, God does care deeply about each person - their passions, their gifts, their problems. But how do we balance this with the idea that Sunday - corporate worship gathering - are not in fact all about me.

By the way, have you noticed how agitated I am? How long these sentences are? Can't you just hear me running out of breath, panting a little, as I go on and on? Keep that in mind.

So here's something that occurred to me: we have, over the years, worked very hard to "be good". I want very much to have good liturgy, good sermons - we've made our name, such as it is, on "good" sermons - and I'm pretty sure that everybody around church wants us to have "good music".

Everyone has a completely different idea of what constitutes "good music", and lots of them , frankly, could probably get sufficiently worked up to punch you in the head over it.

So here's what I think.

I think that most of the music we have done - over 25 years - is not "good".

You could go right now and download better vocals, more beautiful guitar solos, more perfect poetry, better melodies, and more thoroughgoing theology, in one minute, for free. If we wanted something "good", we could go out and buy it. Or our congregation could go buy it when they get home.

People in our middle class suburban congregation have instant access to EVERY CONSUMER PRODUCT ON THE EARTH. Any work of art that they might want to consume - see, listen to, read - is out here on the internet. Probably free. Or for money, but then you can get a free shipping upgrade and have it by Wednesday. Any kind of fun you might want to have, any sort of mental stimulation or emotional experience that can possibly be dispensed - you can get it. Probably instantly, and probably free, at home, in your underwear. Any time of the day or night.
So what can we, the local church, possibly give you that you can only get by being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually a full part of the church?

and (this is a separate question)

what can you get by coming to church, in person, this Sunday, that you cannot possibly get anywhere else?

Well, I scrawled a couple of columns of answers to that, and then I looked up and looked around the coffeeshop. Because I knew what I thought the answers were, but I wondered if I could get any ideas from, you know, regular people.

And this is where things began to get a little weird.

A young man named Doug had come in and ordered a frappacino. I fell upon him like a seeker-sensitive wolf.

Me: (after blathering on for a long time)...blah blah blah that you cannot possibly get anywhere else?
Poor little Doug: Um....Community?
Me: Yeah, okay, tell me what community means to you. I think that means different things to different people, and everybody SAYS it, but what does it really mean?
Poor little Doug: You know, um, personal contact. Like, the chance to meet new people.
Me: (wild-eyed) okay, okay, good, good, personal contact.

I blather on for a while longer. Doug, to his credit, maintains eye contact and does not seem to be looking for excuses to back away. I let him get an occasional word in. He asks what church I'm working for, and I tell him. He nods. I begin perceive that Doug is a church guy.

Me: You're involved in a church, right?
Doug: Um, yeah, a little.
Me: Where?
Doug: (names large and growing independant church nearby. One noted for its good programs and music. One that a couple - okay, several - of my friends are currently attending, having left the church where I work.)
I moan, hopefully inaudibly, and slap on a smile and we continue to talk for several more minutes. I thank him for his time and squeeze his hand before we separate. I am nauseous.

Okay, so, worst case scenario - Doug goes to his church on Sunday and says to his friend the church staffer "Well, I can see why ___________ is coming here these days. The staff at their old church is F-ING NUTS. Nuts like crazy homeless people. Driven barking mad by liberal theology."

Over the course of the drive home, I begin to see that this is actually funny.

If that's the worst that can happen, I can live with that.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ready for a Vacation - the revgals Friday 5

1. Getting ready for summer, do you use the gradual tanning moisturisers, or are you happy to show your winter skin to the world?
I got some (the Jergins product) last summer, and I liked the effect and found that I could bear the smell - mostly. What I lack, though, is patience - I am BY FAR the whitest person on earth (thanks a million, Scottish ancestors) and it takes multiple applications just to cut the glare. It seems like there's never a convenient time to apply, stand around til it drys, and then do it all again tomorrow and the next day. What I really need is a natural-looking, long-lasting tanner that works in one application and contains 50 spf. And smells like clean laundry. But subtley.

2.Beach, mountains or chilling by the pool, what/ where is your favourite getaway?
Beach, beach, beach - or else a trip to the big city, with shopping trips and matinees and museum junkets. But sitting on the beach is really the only place I can quiet the noise in my head.

3.Are you a summer lover or does the long break become wearing?
I do get antsy if I am away from work for too long. Also - the whole point of going to the beach is that it's pleasantly boring! Unfortunately, my husband takes several days to wind down - sometimes, by the time he's ready to start having fun, I'm longing to get back to work.

4.Active holidays; hiking swimming sailing, or lazy days?
Definately lazy and unstructured (unless it's the city whirlwind tour I mentioned above.) (Even on those, I want an open agenda so I can follow my whims and wander. This is not a travel style that's consistant with parenting a preschooler, by the way. Unless we follow his whims. Which today, just as an example, involved a 15-minute examination of a dead worm.)

5.Now to the important subject of food, if you are abroad do you try the local cuisine, or do you prefer to play it safe?
I love novelty, I love food, and I love having a good story to tell, so I always want to try the most exotic and weird thing I can. (I have a old friend with same urge, and so one of the pleasures of eating surprising meals is telling him about it when I get back.) But - even if you're not eating wildebeest and cuttlefish - WHY would you eat the same things you eat at home? (But then, I love novelty, and have been blessed with a very tolerant tummy. I know that everyone's so lucky.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

I am going out of town for a few days - a bunch of us are packing some small vestiges of civilization into our cars and driving out into the woods. TO THINK.


And so I leave you with Hugo.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

benefit performance May 15


My brother-in-law Johnny Anderson - racontuer, sculptor, swordsman, bowhunter, military historian, general wildass - was in a very serious motorcycle accident a few months ago. Repeated surgeries have left him with a long recovery, lots of pain, and medical bills that you can't imagine.

So, if you're in the DC area, come on out. Bring cash. A big stack of fives will probably do. (A really big stack.)

Eric once worked a benefit for a sideshow museum where a performer invited the audience to come up and STAPLE DONATION TO HIS SHIRTLESS BODY.

While I cannot promise that will happen at the Palace on May 15,
I'd say that chances are better there than anywhere else in the District.
Okay, anywhere in the midatlantic states.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What is the longing of my heart?
What do I want?

I want us to just be
Just be ourselves
But ourselves full of Jesus
overflowing Christ
Putting others first
Questioning everything
Holding on to what is good
Acting justly
Loving mercy
Walking humbly
Seeing God everywhere
Especially in the other
Having a bigger view
And a smaller one
To feel God beside you when you wash the dishes
When you play catch in the backyard
When you pick at your sandwich in the breakroom
When you go through the drivethrough
To really listen
To love creation
Including these bodies

To wonder what really matters – just to wonder, just to start to consider wondering
That would be plenty.
that would be radical enough.

(this came out after attempt #948 to write a set of responsive prayers for the coming weeks. I just want to slam my head in the car door. Too many words.

I have often thought, especially in church, that bad art comes from writing to order. You know how you occasionally hear a worship song, and it's just clunky and dead? I always think that's from a person who said "we need a song about justice?Let's see, I'm sure I can write a song about justice...Hmmm...." and what you get is something with unassailable lyrical content that sings like a national anthem. (Not ours. I actually like our national anthem, especially the later verses. Like some made-up national anthem extolling a list of selected virtues.)

Anyway, I was doing some very bad writing indeed, and so I took a break and wrote that. It has not cleared my head very effectively - its still rather buzzy and hot in there - but I might be on my way.)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

RevGals Friday Five: Wait and Pray

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
with others, I THINK. (Perhaps you should ask the others!)

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?
I have always been complete crap at waiting, whether its 'on the Lord' or 'for that order of pancakes'. I am far too anxious a person, and always pressed for time (I'm trying to change that.) The best strategy for me has been to schedule my waiting (and worrying) - I literally write a date in my calendar, and then I can tell myself "Ooops, I cannot worry about that right now - I've prayed about it, and I'll be worrying about it on May 15. Think about something else." Unbelievably, this helps me.

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?
Not sucessfully, that I can recall. (see above).

4. Do you prefer stillness or action?
Stillness and I are only glancingly acquainted. I have always thought that this meant I was spiritually shallow. I have a friend, a colleague in ministry, who has helped me loosen up about this.

5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to recieve?
Patience and long-suffering? Perhaps the ability to concentrate.
We have staff prayer once a week, and we take turns leading. It is not unusual for us to spend much of that hour in silence together. I'm sure I'm the only person in that circle who's brain is routinely hijacked by the theme song from Pinky Dinky Doo.
I am not the only one who has occasionally drifted off,