Friday, November 30, 2007

Quote for the Day

St. Irenaeus, a second-century church leader, said, "The glory of God is a person fully alive." Contradicting his vision, Christians are often seen as legalistic, uptight, literalistic, negative, repressed, less likely to celebrate life in God than wag fingers of disapproval at those whose lifestyle or doctrine seems alien to them. Hesitant to transgress, such Christian believers live out of restricted lives following traditional rules rather than moving into fresh, original, Holy Spirit-stirred thinking and living.

Religious fundamentalism of any variety tends to produce fear. Fear flows from the "fortress mentality," a protective, defensive "us-versus-them" attitude. Paranoia may result. Because of the stringent attempt to preserve orthodoxy, because of the fear that any belief that hasn't been spelled out and codified may in some way jeopardize the central tenets of our faith, any attempt to question the standard interpretation of a creedal statement is likely to be characterized as heterodox, a detour into liberalism.

Luci Shaw, in The Crime of Living Cautiously.

And thanks, Luci. I needed that right at the moment.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One more Christmas Offering

A decade and a half ago, Michael W. Smith blessed us with his first Christmas album. Departing from his pop/CCM vein, MWS moved into the arena of cantata, delivering an album full of choir and orchestra, with tender moments like the Amy Grant solo on "All is Well," and the excitement of the synth/brass pop version of "Angels We Have Heard on High." I had been a MWS fan before, but that album raised his credit with me.

Then he went back to pop music. And it was still good pop music, some of the best in the world of CCM, but it seemed as if he'd given us a glimpse of his potential, only to pull back into the middle of the crowd.

He eventually came out with a second Christmas album, which, while going in a different direction than the first, was also very good, and a staple in my Christmas rotation.

Through the years, though, he has moved in the arena of pop - drums, synths, electric guitars, even through a couple of decent worship albums. And it's all been good; it just never seemed to live up to the potential shown in his first Christmas album.

This year he released It's a Wonderful Christmas. It showed up in the Amazon box the other day.

And finally, all these years later, I think he's done it. He's gone back to the symphonic, choir and orchestra mix that made the first one so exquisite. While not entirely leaving the pop world behind, MWS has loaded this album with charging brass, lush strings, full choirs, bells and tympani, all coming together to create a gorgeous, hook-filled, exciting, tender, deep, rich masterpiece that runs like a soundtrack to Christmas. At moments it plays like the Nutcracker, at others like David Foster, and still at others it's the opening of your favorite holiday specials. It is powerful, it is deep, it is fun, it is, truly, amazing.

And it's all new. Which, as I mentioned before, is risky. How to add something to the collective consciousness of Christmas. How to write new music that fits in with the classics, yet adds something fresh and different. And MWS does it just fine, thank you very much. Yes, there are tastes of Joy to the World, and hints of other well-known standards. But mostly, it's brand new, yet classic enough that it seems to fit well into the Christmas mold.

Oh, and this. One of the criticisms MWS often receives is for his nasal voice, that works somewhat well in some pop, but doesn't mesh well with a more choral-driven sound. I admit that the only place I cringe in the first Christmas album is when, in the opening number, the choir swells into a great crescendo, and then gives way to MWS in solo, his voice clashing with the richness of the choir. But something is different here. It's almost as if MWS went out and got some voice lessons, or he's mellowing as he grows older. I don't know. He still sounds like MWS, but his voice is rounder, it blends better. He actually almost sounds like a decent soloist to be fronting this group.

In case you hadn't figured it out, I really like this album. And I think you will, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hail, Alma Mater

You know, I hardly ever mention my Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific University, on this blog. And I don't usually talk about soccer, as I'm just not that much of a fan. But I think I ought to mention that APU won the NAIA Men's Soccer National Championship last week, beating Concordia 2-0. Way to go, Cougs!

Currently Brewing

Our house is now filling with the heavenly aroma of Thanksgiving Coffee Company's Holiday Blend. Their website describes it this way:

A delicate acidity supports the complex flavors that unfold with hints of Nicaraguan flowers and the sweet aromatics of fresh figs and dried berries. These give way to a wide and deep richness of hazelnut, roasted quail, and caramelized carrot. The movements on the palate are hypnotic and the finish is long and lingering. One is left with the impression of edible flowers and wild honey as the terroir of Aranjuez and the Corrales family farm comes to life in your cup.

I don't know about roasted quail. . .but I do know this is a good cup of coffee.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A (slight) moderation on the previous post

About 12 years ago Van Putman put it this way: "Dan, you're a musical bigot." He was only 1/2 joking. I guess I do have pretty definite opinions as to what constitutes good music. Of course, 25 years of studying and playing, a music degree, and time spent playing some of the world's best music gives me perhaps slightly more authority on the subject than your average player of Guitar Hero.

But, in the end, it's still my opinion. If you like Selah, Celine Dion, Carman, and Kenny G, you're welcome to listen to it, and even enjoy it. You can argue with my high-fallutin' opinions on the comments section on any post I make. I'm man enough to take it.

I must also recognize this fallacy in yesterday's post. I was comparing the best of "the world's" music with some of the cheesier product out of the CCM world. In the interest of honesty, I should admit that I do have some "Christian" Christmas albums I like very much - Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God, Amy Grant's 1st Christmas Album, the first 2 Christmas albums by Michael W Smith ( I haven't heard the 3rd yet); there were parts of the Jaci Velázquez Christmas album that I really liked. And, of course, "the world" has produced its share of hideous Christmas albums. The $5.99 CD bin at Big Lots is full of these. Even at Borders the other day I looked through the Christmas display and realized I wouldn't want 75% of their product. Perhaps it's just the sheer numbers of albums that make it seem weighted. If "the world" produces 300 Christmas albums, there's bound to be 20 or 30 that are worth buying. Whereas, when the CCM industry produces 10 Christmas albums a year, and I find one decent one every 3 years, those probably average out.

So, for the moment, I'll be quiet about "the industries" and simply comment on the specific albums, and if you want to agree or disagree, feel free to do so.

BTW - on the 10th time (or so) through of the Mindy Smith, all I can say is I think it makes my all-time top 10 list, and makes #1 for this year. You really ought to get it.

And if you want to listen to the Selah album, I think I'm donating my copy to the church's library.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Christmas Music

Over the weekend I read an old article by John Fischer, in which he takes a swipe at the CCM industry. He essentially talks about how lifeless, so plastic, so un-original most of CCM turned out to be.

That article came to mind the moment I popped the new Mindy Smith album, "My Holiday," into the CD player.
Because it's that good. Because it's both fresh and classic. Because it's edgy yet traditional. Because she risks singing many of the standards (The Christmas Song, Silver Bells, What Are You Doing New Years' Eve? Away in a Manger) yet makes them her own, and thus makes them sound new again. And also because she includes new Christmas songs, a proposition always fraught with danger, yet they end up songs already sounding like classics. Because she stays true to the soul of Christmas, not pulling any "cute" tactics to try to make a quick sell, but also because she brings something new to the table.

In short - at the first take, I already love this album.

Back to the Fischer quote. It was on my mind because all last week I was listening to the Selah "Rose of Bethlehem" CD.

Somebody had recommended it back when I was looking for new Christmas music for our church. This was the 2nd to arrive, following the schmaltzy Hillsongs Christmas I panned a few weeks ago. And this one, well, at least it was better than the Hillsongs album. In fact, I'd give it a 5 out of 10. But in the end, it is still that pre-packaged, slick, glossy Nashville sound. It's the same formula, a studio-driven vocal group with whiny electric guitars and soaring string machines. The classic songs are overdramatized (I guess that sells big in Nashville), and the new ones just try too hard to be "catchy." And the theology is a little circumspect, especially the line "God predestined that his son would die, but he made man anyway." Why are we doing Calvinist theology in a Christmas album?

The big difference between these two albums is the question of soul. Mindy Smith's album has a soul, and everything on the album comes from that place. The Selah album is more like a Big Mall Christmas, with flashy lights and lots of eye candy to grab your attention, but with no real center to grab you once you've looked their way. In fact, I've probably listened to it 6-8 times in the last week, and I hardly remember anything about it. It's just. . .generic.

It's like there are two Nashvilles. The real one that produces Mindy Smith (and Allison Kraus, who sings backup on Mindy's Away in The Manger) and the Christian Nashville, that continues to spew forth bland, formulaic background music. So why is the Christian version always the cheesy, unoriginal, banal version?

Oh, except for this: Mindy Smith sings about Jesus too. She's just a Christian who eschewed the Christian Nashville promo machine, and we're better off for it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Speaking of Black Friday

I need someone with more tech savvy than I have to make a movie for me. It could be pretty short; nothing more difficult than what your average 15-year old kid posts on youtube.

It would only require two clips, to be played back and forth and back and forth 10 times or so.

Clip One: Lemmings running down the hill and jumping off a cliff
Clip Two: Shoppers rampaging the mall on the day after Thanksgiving.
Soundtrack: The Benny Hill Song

There you have it. Make that, and the point should be obvious.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We had a friend stop by. I think he was hoping for leftovers.

Sorry for the blurriness of the shot. I think we need a super-duper telephoto lens for Christmas. But you get the idea.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on Mars Hill

I'm no fan of The Stranger, but they ran an article on the firing of two pastors that I mentioned a couple days ago (which, by the way, brought more people to this blog than any other post I've ever written. Maybe there is a marketing strategy there. . .)

What caught my interest was this:

Things got even uglier in a September 30 sermon, when Driscoll—who’s been the face of the church since it was first established in 1996—stated, sternly referencing the two dissidents, that “There are a few guys right now, if I wasn’t going to end up on CNN, I would go Old Testament on ’em. There’s no, like, attorneys and blogging, just like I punched you in the mouth, now shut up. That’s clean; it’s simple.”

The article doesn't footnote the quote, so there's no way of knowing if it's legit or not. But Driscoll is known for his provocative, shoot-from-the-hip, confrontational style, so it very well could be true.

It's not my place to stand here and cast stones across the pond. . .but having been a victim of another charismatic, power-hungry pastor attempting to bend the church's will to his every whim, I've got to say it's all sounding too familiar. Setting off warning bells on my radar, if you will.

Way back when, after I got away from that particular pastor, I found this verse and decided that either it would define my ministry, or I'd get out of ministry:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)

It's that "eager to serve; not lording it over them" that pulls me up short and causes me to constantly question my motives. And it's a standard I often apply when attempting to discern the ministries of other pastors (well, that and the "not greedy for money," which would be totally different post than this one. . .). So tell me, accepting for the moment that the sermon quote is from Driscoll, how does it line up with Peter's admonition?

Shameless Child Story

#1 rule of preaching: don't use your own kids for illustrations, or you'll embarrass them and drive them away forever.

So instead I'll blog about my oldest.

On Monday we had our 1st parent-teacher conference of the year. Her teacher, Mrs. Brandt, made an interesting observation. "In some ways, Olivia is very mature. In others, she's still a little girl. And I love that about her." She went on to explain: Olivia has very concrete ideas and interests. She goes to the library and says "I want to learn about ancient Egypt." Then she checks out the books about ancient Egypt. Which, I understand, is pretty rare for 2nd graders.

On the other hand, Mrs. Brandt said, "she's just not into a lot of things that the other girls are. Which is stuff that no 2nd grade girl should be into, anyway." Apparently the other 2nd grade girls are talking about boyfriends. And at the moment they're playing the "who's the most popular" game. Mrs. Brandt says Olivia is blissfully unaware of this social game, and plays with whoever comes along. But it also means that, even at this tender age, other girls are excluding her.

And I know the reason. "That's because we don't have television in the house. And we're extremely careful what Olivia watches. It's Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie Island Princess for her, not Hanna Montana and that other Disney/Nick jr. garbage."

Mrs. Brandt seemed surprised. "Is that where it comes from?" Apparently she was unaware that the vast majority of 2nd grade girls are watching the Disney channel girlie shows, most of which focus on, well, boyfriends, looks, and popularity.

So here's the problem. We're choosing to raise Olivia outside of television's influence. Which will, in truth, make her an outcast at many levels. She won't understand why girls play the snotty game, why they obsess about boys in the 3rd grade, why they care what kind of pants you wear (at least, she won't get it until much later). And, knowing the cattiness of the playground, I have no doubt that she'll get teased for it.

But, as Mrs. Brandt said, "You have a definite plan and philosophy in your child raising, which is rare." Which, I would add, is also sad. Not that we have a plan, but that so few parents do have a plan.

So here's to my daughter, who's not playing the popularity game, who's not being influenced by Hannah/Ashley/Britney/whatever current Disney prefab is suddenly famous. And here's to parents who actually think about what they want their children to be, rather than allowing the media to define them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Week Note

Apparently one major store is opening at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, so Christmas shoppers can get a head start. And another major chain is opening at 4:00, as the banner ads on the local paper's website so proudly proclaim.

I guess it's time for my annual reminder:Brought to you by the Fine Folks at

Where the Conversation Breaks Down

On Sunday, someone handed me an article from the November 12 U.S. News and World Report, in which they interview one of the Mormon Church's Council of Twelve Apostles - the LDS governing body. Its tied in with the discussion relating to Mitt Romney's Mormon Faith. In the article, Elder M. Russell Ballard answers a series of questions posed by USN&WR reporter Jay Tolson.

In reading the interview it's easy to see why dialogue breaks down so quickly between Christians and Mormons. Whether Mr. Ballard is disingenuous or clueless is tough to tell, but his answers to the questions show that he just doesn't get it.

- He quickly denies the "heresy" charge, and then glibly states that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are separate entities (read: not one Triune God). It's interesting to read how he spins it: This is what most people think anyway. Of course, not those theologians, but average people think just like us!

- The scripture question gets posed, and he quickly spins it by saying they don't deny the Bible, they just add the Book of Mormon. I've never head this one before, but he mentions that "the Book of Mormon has more references to Christ and his teachings and his words than are in the Bible."

- And he works really hard to convince us all that Mormons are Christians, just like the rest of us (well, except maybe they're even better Christians because they are true to the apostolic church).

The point here is not to debate Mormon theology, nor the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon. We could do that another place. The point is that Mr. Ballard makes these claims: Mormons are Christians, Mormons aren't heretics, and Mormons use the Bible as a sacred book. Then he denies some of the most basic tenets of Christianity, he espouses heresy, and he glowingly speaks of a book that flatly contradicts the Bible.

This, I think, is why we have such a hard time talking to one another. They keep saying "but we're Christians just like you!" and then they cavalierly spout off anti-Christian beliefs. And when Christians try to point these things out, they have their list of bullet points as to why they actually are Christians just like everybody else. As if shouting it enough makes it true.

It's like saying to a squash "you're not a potato" and having the squash reply, "ah, but I am a potato!"

So what I wonder is whether they are simply great at spin (as in, do they understand the power of marketing), or do they truly believe they are Christians Just Like Us, and have to resort to all this spin just to make sense of their own worldview?

Mr Whipple

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trouble in Mars Hill Land

The Seattle Times reported today that two pastors have been fired from Mars Hill, the uber-hip, always controversial mega church headed by Mark Driscoll over in Seattle. The firings have caused a certain amount of dissension. The Church says they were fired for "displaying an unhealthy mistrust of Church leadership" and "verbally attacking the lead pastor." Some people in the congregation think the two were fired because "they challenged proposed changes in church structure that . . . would consolidate power in the hands of top church leaders."

One of those pastors is Bent Meyer, who has been with the church for over ten years. Bent led the youth program at our church when I was in high school. He was the last youth leader I had before heading off to college. I went to his daughter's wedding down in Southern California (In fact, she was my date at one of my college's formals). He is still a good friend of my father's. And I've always known him to be a man of integrity and humility. Certainly, I can't imagine the church's accusations to be true of him.

So, it could be a simple matter of misperception. Or the water just might be getting muddy over there. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just because everybody else is doing it

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

The Season of Our Discontent

If you are the praying type,

Since October 18, we've had at least one person sick in our household. More often it's been two or three sick at the same time. For a brief moment, it was all four of us who had it. Olivia has missed about 10 days of school in that time. I think the girls have made it to church once in the last month. And it just won't seem to go away. They come almost all the way back. . .and then wake up coughing and hacking, or with ear infections or swollen throats.

And, it appears that Humby the Happy Goldfish is in his last day with us. He's doing the floating-upside-down, sinking-to-the-bottom, listless-shaking, death-throes thing. He's been with us since long before we left Turlock, making the drive up to Washington in the back of the Jeep, keeping Scottie and me company along the way. So he's pretty special to Olivia.

We could use a little health and encouragement at the moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Absolutely Tasteless

You know, there are a lot of things out there that are sold in the name of Christianity that I wish would just go away. Why Christians go for the cheese factor I'll never know. I'm thinking of things like my Jesus Nightlight ("Let His Light Light Your Way"), Testamints, christian T-shirts, and Carman. And everything sold by the Oriental Trading Company.

When I worked for a christian bookstore I was continually amazed at the stuff that we had to sell in the name of Christianity. It seems you can slap the name "Jesus" on anything, and that makes it good for Christian Consumption. And if you can come up with a catchy phrase like "Jesus Makes Me Beary Happy," then you truly have a winner.

But I saw this yesterday, and this. . .this beats them all. I have labeled this the Absolutely Worst Idea Ever:

They are little mints, shaped like crosses, in a little tin can made to look like a Bible. I can hear the promo now: "The Cross: instrument of terror, the most devious torture device ever invented, and now it freshens your breath, too!" Or "The Cross: It saved the world, and now it saves you from bad breath!" Or perhaps you could get really creative: "Bothered by the demons of bad breath? Frightened by the evil forces of foul smells emanating from your mouth? Then use the power of the Cross to be cleansed and protected again! Cross Mints - Your Salvation from Social Anxiety!"

I mean, really. Who thinks up these things? Who decides this is a good idea? And who actually buys this crap?*

Remember - the cross was not cute. It was terrible. Death by crucifixion was not clean and quick. It was by all definitions cruel and unusual. Those crucified peed and pooped on themselves, they bled for days. They felt the pain of nails hammered through their hands and feet, they hung under the sun all day, they felt the humiliation of hanging naked for the world to see. And the Romans did this to people over and over and over again to make the point: don't mess with us, or this is what you'll get. Nails through your wrists and ankles, legs broken with 2x4s, and one long, slow, excruciating death.**

The cross then became the instrument of the salvation of the world. All our hope goes back to the cross and resurrection. The cross is the singularly most important moment in human history. The cross is at the center of all we say and do and believe as the people of God. The cross ought to be approached with wonder, awe, terror, and joy at God's love portrayed there.

But, no. We're going to turn all that into a mint and sell it to unsuspecting Sunday School teachers to give to their classes. The word "desecration" comes to mind. It certainly is utterly demeaning to Christ's Victory won there. And it sure confuses the little kids who eat these things - how ever will they take the cross seriously when we treat it with such superficiality?

So there you have it. #1 on my list of "Worst Ideas Ever." It would be funny if it weren't so supremely sad.

* I realize that the usage of the word "crap" may offend some of my more sensitive readers. However, in this context, the word is not used flippantly, but is the best word to describe the utter nonsense of turning crosses into mints. Strong situations call for strong language.

** For a more culturally relevant feel for this, imagine if they made mints that looked like trees with nooses thrown over the branches. Or mints that looked like electric chairs. Or mints that looked like concentration camp gas chambers. Imagine the outrage if that happened.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Advent Suggestions

Some books I have in my library, which I have found helpful as devotional guides through the season of Advent:

Watch for the Light

"From Johann Christoph Arnold to Dorothy Day, from Madeline L'Engle to Karl Barth, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Meister Eckhart, this unparalleled anthology offers wisdom beauty and spiritual nourishment from a wide spectrum of classic and contemporary sources.

Containing a selection for each day of the Christmas season, from the last week of November through the first week of January, Watch for the Light can be read through times of leisure or as a guide to daily devotions. Either way it will give new meaning to the phrase 'holiday preparations.'"

The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent

by Calvin Miller

"The Christ of Christmas" invites you and your loved ones to thirty-one deep experiences with God this December, complete with devotional readings and Scripture. These devotions paint the familiar in all its amazement, yet bring its beauty so close to home, you can sense its joyful celebration in everything you do and everywhere you go."

Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom

by Walter Wangerin, jr.

"In this advent and Christmas devotional, best-selling author Walter Wangerin jr. takes you day by day through the major events and characters leading up to the birth of Jesus. Preparing for Jesus offers a refreshing perspective on the meaning of Christmas, from the first glimmers of Jesus' expected arrival clear through to the visit of the wise kings from the East."

Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours

by Phyllis Tickle

Not a devotional per se, this is a collection of prayers and scriptures, or more precisely, an Order of Prayer, to be read and prayed through the weeks and days leading up to Christmas and on to Epiphany. This is not "devotional reading" or "story-telling," these are prayers to be said by the people of God seeking guidance through the frenetic holidays.

In the Days of Angels: Stories and Carols for Christmas

by Walter Wangerin, jr.

This one is at the top of my pile. While not set up as "devotional readings," this collection of stories, poems, and songs has spoken deeply into my heart time and again. Often I pick up a book about Christmas and hope it stirs my soul, more often than not, I am disappointed. Not so with In the Days of Angels. Instead, it dives deeply into the mystery of in incarnation, of Emmanuel, and connects that mystery with the pains of modern life in powerful and evocative ways. While all these books are good, this one is a must.

Accompanied By Angels: Poems of the Incarnation

by Luci Shaw

Last month I heard Dave Kersten say "Every pastor needs a favorite poet." Luci Shaw is my poet. This is a collection of poems she has written over the years, all somehow connected into the life and ministry of Jesus. "Beginning with the joy, terror, and wonder of the annunciation, Shaw leads the reader on a poetic journey through the birth, life, and death of Jesus the Christ, culminating in the joyous and unexpected wonder of his resurrection. Her subjects run from the mundane to the sublime, from birds in flight and waiting old men to fiery angels and storm-ravaged ridges."

Somewhat disappointed

Some time back, the church I worked for subscribed to a worship magazine, one that came with a CD of new worship songs about 4 times a year. Eventually, I came to realize that of the 12 songs (or s0) per CD, only a couple were even suitable for our church, and of those we might use one or two a year. Some of their selections baffled me in their poor quality, bad theology, and general cheesiness.

But, it's been 7 or 8 years, so I decided to give them another shot. I sent away for the free trial magazine and CD, after which I could decide whether or not to pay for a yearly subscription.

And they sent me a Kid's Music CD. Which isn't helpful in the slightest. Both because it doesn't help me in my decision whether or not to pay for a subscription, and also because most of these songs are unusable. I know it's kid's music, but the cheesiness factor is as high as ever (why do we feel that synthesized bands are a necessity for children's albums? Are there no Real Musicians who can play on these songs?).

So anybody out there use the Song Discovery Service? Is it worth the $60 per year? Based on this edition they sent me, I'm leaning away from it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bluegrass Sunday

Sometime last summer I hit upon the idea for our current sermon series, "How to Grow a Church from the Ground Up." As I sketched out the various topics, this Sunday's was one of the subjects that made me pretty excited. However, a lot of that excitement is because of the worship that will revolve around the topic, as much as it is about the topic.

We're talking about Healthy Churches being Hopeful Churches. No matter the circumstances, the trials, the tribulations, the struggles, the pain, God's people have hope because they know the end of the story. The know that, in Christ, we've already won.

Much of the sermon will be about heaven - maybe not specifically what heaven will be like, but figuratively, that we have a home with Christ waiting for us, a home where there will be no more loss, sickness, pain, death, or suffering.

From a musical standpoint, we're going back to a lot of the old songs that the church used to sing about this hope. One of the points I'm planning on making is that the church used to think about heaven a lot more than we do now. They lived through the Dust Bowl, the Depression, a couple of world wars, major disease outbreaks. . .and we suffer because our television is three years old. So, it turns out, we tend to think about God blessing us here and now, while our grandparents used to think about God blessing them in eternity. (truthfully, as in most things, I think we need a healthy balance of those two. . .)

So the church used to sing a lot of songs about heaven, and we're dusting them off again. I'll Fly Away, In the Sweet By and By, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, When we All Get to Heaven, Soon and Very Soon, and a couple others.

And, to do it right, we've got to sing them hopefully, not like the dirges some hymns become with age. Which means we need to sing them upbeat. With a little "boom-chick." And probably a lot of mandolin.

In other words, we're going gospel, bluegrass-style this weekend.

Only without the hay bales.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Worship Evangelism a Bust

Sally Morgenthaler, a mainstay of the contemporary worship movement, and author of the book Worship Evangelism, has done an about face. She writes about it in an article here.

Some excerpts (emphases mine):

In [a friend's] view, Worship Evangelism had helped to create a "worship-driven subculture." As he explained it, this subculture was a sizeable part of the contemporary church that had just been waiting for an excuse not to do the hard work of real outreach. An excuse not to get their hands dirty. According to him, that excuse came in the form of a book—my book. He elaborated. "If a contemporary worship service is the best witnessing tool in the box, then why give a rip about what goes on outside the worship center? If unbelievers are coming through the doors to check us Christians out, and if they'll fall at Jesus' feet after they listen to us croon worship songs and watch us sway back and forth, well then, a whole lot of churches are just going to say, 'Sign us up!' "

The upshot? For all the money, time, and effort we've spent on cultural relevance—and that includes culturally relevant worship—it seems we came through the last 15 years with a significant net loss in churchgoers, proliferation of megachurches and all.

The 100-year-old congregation that's down to 43 members and having a hard time paying the light bill doesn't want to be told that the "answer" is living life with the people in their neighborhoods. Relationships take time, and they need an attendance infusion now.

It's an interesting article, challenging many of the underlying philosophies guiding the Church Growth movement over the last 20 years. In the end, she gets it. Worship is an outpouring of praise by God's people as he moves in their midst. But the church isn't supposed to stay there. It's supposed to get outside the walls and actually interact with people. "If you build it, they will come" just doesn't work. And it was never the plan of Jesus for his Kingdom. The incarnation alone ought to teach us that.

So go read it. Sally's still on the journey, but she's moving in a good direction.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The compassion of a Child

Perhaps by now you've heard the story of the couple celebrating their one-year anniversary who were almost killed when a cow fell off a cliff and onto their minivan. It happened right here in Washington - one more thing we can be proud of.

This morning it was on the 8:00 news on our local radio station. Olivia sat quietly and listened to the report. I asked her if she understood, and then explained it again for her.

She showed me how much she really cares about these things:

"So was the cow okay?"

And not a word about the people.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Did you vote? And other Tuesday morning thoughts

As Olivia and I drove up to her school this morning, I saw the "Vote Here" sign out front. I'd almost forgotten there was an election today, since I mailed my ballot off a couple weeks ago.

We didn't even get to vote on what is arguably the biggest issue in the area - the King/Pierce County Transit bill. Billions of dollars in taxes to fund light rail, replace bridges, add new highways, and pour more concrete onto the land.

I read somewhere that, even though we live in Pierce County, we've been exempted from the issue, since everybody over here is already paying for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Seems like politicians made the right call on that one, although it took away from us the privilege of voting on the infamous Proposition 1.

And, of course, there were a couple other contentious issues out there that we did get to vote on, so I'll take satisfaction on that.

One more thought: this means we are now 1 year away from the 2008 presidential election, and, as of right now, I have not a clue who I would vote for, other than perhaps "none of the above."

My response to the big TV Writer's strike that's making all the headlines: Maybe with all the reruns showing, people will turn off their televisions and do something that is actually productive. Maybe some day we can thank the television writers for helping us to see how meaningless most of television is. Maybe we can thank them for breaking us of the "must-see-tv" addiction.

Wishful thinking, I know. But 20+ months into our TV-free life has got me convinced. We're so much better without it.

Finally, at the men's breakfast on Saturday we talked about the changing culture around us. I spoke to the fact that we are now in an age when a lot of people truly have no clue what churches do, what they believe, and how they worship. I tried to make the point that we offer a lot for "churched" people, but what to do with the people that wouldn't even think about entering our building, or, if they did, would have no idea why we sing, why we stand and sit, why we pray, why we listen to that guy up front go on and on about the Bible.

Then I read Lori's account of her co-worker who had no clue who Billy Graham is. And had no idea what an evangelist is. Of course, her excuse is classic: "I'm only 26."

I think that story needs to be told at every church revitalization seminar, just to help us get a grasp on how far the divide has opened between church and non-church folks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What to do when ministry meets competition

It's an interesting question. For a number of years, Lakebay has held a Trunk-or-Treat every Halloween. People line up their cars in the parking lot and give out candy (and chili this year) to the kids (and adults) who come by. Inside the church we have games and activities and lots more candy and cupcakes and cookies and (this year) Krispy Kreme donuts. Out here on the Key Peninsula this sort of thing works especially well, since there aren't a lot of neighborhoods where kids can go trick-or-treating house to house. Most parents aren't comfortable with letting their kids wander down long driveways to dark houses hidden back in the woods, so they all come by the church and do their candy-gettin' there.

I hear that for many years this was one of the most successful community outreaches we did. Hundreds of kids and their parents, a full parking lot and fellowship hall.

Now others are getting into the act. The elementary school held their own trunk-or-treat. Another church up the street did a harvest festival with games, activities, and candy. Another group held a similar event at the Civic Center. And our attendance was down significantly from previous years.

Now, let me be clear. The main focus is creating safe spaces for children to enjoy themselves, so multiple opportunities for fun and candy is a good thing. We don't own the corner on Halloween parties, nor should we. We rejoice when other churches rise up and offer events in the name of the Kingdom of God, and we are glad our community is making the effort to give kids healthy and fun activities.

The question is, what do we do now? Those that came to our outreach had a great time; a lot of candy was given away; I saw many people enjoying the activities and conversations. But, again, many chose to head over to the school's event rather than ours. And that is a trend that will probably continue. We're doing the same amount of work, but getting significantly reduced results.

As I see it, here are the options:
- cancel our event next year, and join in with the school's event as a way to be involved in our community. Perhaps it would be a good thing to show our support of the school, and to serve the greater community by partnering with the school system. On the other hand, last year at least two girls prayed to accept the Lord at our trunk-or-treat. Should we partner with the school, a more direct witness would be lost.
- maintain ours next year, and just accept the reality that it will be smaller. We may touch fewer people, but we can make it obvious Who we are serving as we serve the community
- cancel ours and stay home with our families

It is an interesting conundrum. One of the guiding questions when seeking to serve your community is "what needs are there that we can meet in the name of Christ?" Then you form your ministries around those needs. But what do you do when suddenly everybody else is jumping in to meet the same needs? Do you find something new? Or carry on? Or join with them?

Please - don't hear me complaining that others are jumping into the Halloween fray. I'm glad to see so many who care and who are doing something about it. I'm just wondering what our place will be in the years to come. In Turlock, we were the only church who ran a Fall Festival (Halloween party) for a couple of years, and we had a great turnout. Then one year something like four more churches held them (including some of the much bigger churches who could throw parties we could only dream of) and our attendance dropped significantly. So the next year we threw a Fall Party out on a farm and just enjoyed each other's company.

I think the feeling in Lakebay is that we continue on with our own trunk-or-treat, but the landscape is changing. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

In the meantime, here's a picture or two, just to show the loving atmosphere we've developed at this event.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Odd Random Coincidence of the Day

I just checked in on the Tacoma News Tribune's website. One of the lead articles was about a local group making a bid to buy the SONICS back from Clay Bennett, in order to keep them here in Seattle. Right below that was an article about a reunion of the 60s rock band from Tacoma, the SONICS. And right below that was an article about a new weapon coming to Ft. Lewis, and the concern that it might bother the neighbors because it causes SONIC booms.

I wonder if their editor noticed that?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On the internet and civil discussion

I belong to a worship discussion board, in which I participate with great regularity. I also read many of the message boards on one of the local newspapers (although I don't post much) in order to keep a read on how people are thinking, feeling, and responding to the issues of the day. In addition, I read a blog or two that become discussion boards as a variety of people react to the recent blog posts, sharing their opinion on the subject matter at hand.

In all three cases, it usually goes something like this:

Person A posts a thought.
Person B disagrees with the thought.
Person C jumps all over person B for disagreeing with the thought.
Person D blames it on George Bush
Person B comes back and blames it on the Liberals

And on and on it goes, with a bunch of name-calling and mud-slinging.

Now, truthfully, the worship forum isn't quite like that. Usually George Bush is left out, but the Liberals sure are eviscerated with some regularity. And the name-calling and mud-slinging is pretty much restrained, although you can read between the lines as certain people categorize others and begin to attack them ad hominem.

The point, however, is this: I can't think of one time in any of these groups when anybody has actually said "wow - I never thought of that before. I think I'll change my position on the issue." The sides are so quickly drawn, and then victory the only outcome, so that it all becomes about undermining the other position and showing them for the idiots they are, rather than actually listening to others and learning from them. It would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

I'm always hoping to learn from others. And I'm hoping somebody might learn something from me. Instead, any and every opinion is dissected, labeled, attacked, ridiculed. . .but never actually engaged. Even in the worship board. Sure, some may get ideas for new songs and ideas on which amp to hook up to which effects processor. . .but when it comes to theology or underlining philosophies, it's pretty much the same. I'm still waiting for somebody to say "Wow - thanks! I never saw that before!"

So my question - is this simply the nature of internet message boards? Or is this true of society in general? Does the internet somehow cause us to lose a learning spirit? Does it by nature draw people who are wise in their own eyes? Or have we as a culture reached the place where people refuse to accept the possibility that they might learn something from someone else?

Anybody have an opinion?