Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hey Turlock People

Kent, Glenn, and Adam came for a visit. We went to Seattle yesterday.
On the ferry.
We fed the seagulls at Ivars.
And we stopped by Mike's office.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Things You Don't See (or, How the Christmas Eve Service Went from Sublime to Chaotic)

The setup
To begin with, the sanctuary was very dark. The only light came from a few candles, and a couple strings of white Christmas lights spread around the edges. In addition, a stand light was clipped onto the podium from which our readers would share the scriptures, and a piano light stood to illuminate the book out of which I was playing. All lyrics were projected onto the screen, so that nobody would have the need to read out of a bulletin or hymnbook.

Beginnings of a Disaster
It was my fault, really. One of the highlights of the evening was to be the Isaiah 9 passage scrolling slowly across the screen, word by methodical word, as the pensive and haunting "O Come" from John Doan's "Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past" played over the sound system. Only I had forgotten to get the powerpoint file of Isaiah 9, complete with transitions, to our display operator. At the last minute she asked me about it; I ran to my office, copied it to a flash drive and ran it up to her in the balcony. She loaded it and checked the title page, and all looked well.

The Disaster presents itself
Here was the problem. I had used a particular font for the main portion of the Word "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. . ." A font that looked beautiful on my laptop. A font that wasn't accessible on the computer used for projections. Thus, rather than seeing "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light," our people instead saw a series of empty boxes and jiggles and wingdings and such. The Scripture reduced to incomprehensible nonsense. The intimacy of Christmas Eve turned to confusion and humor.

But I'm trained to manage disasters.

I say something about "technical difficulties," and grab my Bible, making my way to the reading light, from whence I shall read Isaiah 9 in my best Prophet voice. I assume the powerpoint is turned off.

Only, as I read I can tell from my peripheral vision that the powerpoint is, in fact, carrying on. This, I think, could be confusing. By slide 2 and 3, the font is actually back to normal and thus is readable, but if my reading isn't lining up with the powerpoint, then people will be all the more confused. We'll be out of sync. All this goes through my mind as I continue to read. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . ."

Disaster hits in full
So I turn slightly, attempting to see where the powerpoint, scrolling behind me, is actually at. And at that precise moment, when my head is slightly turned to look behind me, while my voice is droning on "and he shall be called Wonderful. . ." it is in that rotation of my head, that my contact lens pops out of my left eye and flies into the darkness.

Into the pitch black of Christmas Eve.

My expensive, one-of-a-kind, highly specialized lens for my very rare corneal condition. Gone.

I read on, trying to see if it landed on me, or on my Bible, or on the stand. No luck.

I regret bringing up a Bible with very small print.

I consider that stopping to look for the contact would ruin the moment. That it would be something people talked about for years and years to come. So I press on.

And so, for the second half of the service, I'm completely blind in one eye.

It's very difficult to play the piano when you can't really see your music. And it's tougher to play when you can't really see your left hand, either. And it's tough to lead a group prayer when you can't really read the words on the projection screen, due to its oblique angle and my having only one good eye. And it's really hard to concentrate on the moment when you're watching people walk up to the front in the dark, and wondering which will step on and crush your one-of-a-kind contact lens, your lens which you won't be able to replace until sometime after the New Year. I was thinking about appointments and insurance when I should have been concentrating on the manger scene and all the people gathered around.

And Yet
And yet. . .when Heather read "Mary's Carol," by Walter Wangerin Jr., my soul was deeply stirred. And Ron's reading of John 1 goes down as one of the most powerful scripture readings I have ever been witness to.

And the a capella 3rd verse of Silent Night - it was as if the congregation left and a professional choir walked in, as if the angels joined us to sing along. It almost left me in tears.

The conclusion of the matter
When all was said and done, Doug grabbed a flashlight and helped me find the contact lens, still in perfect condition, on the floor beneath the reading station. And we all went out into a quiet, joyous Christmas, filled again with joy at the good news delivered to all people, that our savior was born to us.

I just keep thinking there must be a metaphor in all this, a good sermon illustration, but I can't figure out exactly what it is yet. Perhaps a kind reader might illumine the rest of us, showing us how God spoke through a mishandled powerpoint and the disappearing eyesight of the pastor.

Or maybe we just ought to get rid of all technology on Christmas Eve and celebrate a Luddite Christmas next year.

Oh My

I haven't been near a radio, television, or computer for three or four days. So I haven't really been paying attention to the news.

Until this morning, when I go online and read about
- tigers mauling young men in San Francisco,
- mass murder east of Seattle,
- assassinations in Pakistan

Seems like the Enemy didn't take a Christmas break this year.

Lord, have mercy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to all

And to all, a good night.

May the peace of the Christ Child fill your life with joy and laughter, hope and cheer, wherever you are.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And one more inspiring story

Last Sunday I announced that this coming Sunday's offering would be given, in its entirety, to a disaster relief fund at a sister church in Aberdeen, to help people who have suffered so much since the storms hit Washington a few weeks ago. After the service Sarah W and Sarah T, two of our more energetic and precocious junior high girls, came up to me and told me they wanted to do a fundraiser to collect money for disaster relief.

If you spend any time in ministry leadership, you get these all the time. People come with great ideas (usually when you're really busy) and expect you to jump on in and make their ideas happen. So most pastors learn the art of reflection: "That's a great idea. Why don't you make it happen and keep me informed." 90% of the time nothing ever comes of it (until they decide to fire you, claiming that you "never listen to our ideas!", but that's another story).

So imagine my surprise when Sarah and Sarah told me Wednesday night that they were doing a bake sale at the Peninsula Market, and could they borrow a table and coffee pot to heat up water for hot chocolate?

I stopped by and saw them on Thursday, following the men's breakfast, and there they were, miserably cold but laughing and goofing off as only Junior High girls can do. They had a table full of cookies they had made the night before. They had a huge poster announcing that this was a Disaster Relief Bake Sale. And they already had a bucket-full of money. Even local politician Al Yanity stopped by and donated to the cause.

This morning, Sara W.'s mom stopped in with the money they raised, which amounted to a little over $200. And they did it all of their own initiative. They did all the work. And I think they even enjoyed themselves.

That is the spirit of Christmas. Even more, that is the Spirit of Christ at work among His Children. Sarah and Sarah have been an inspiration to me this year, reminding me of all that is good about God's people and this community. So this is a public Shout-Out to the Sarahs (squared). You are wonderful, amazing young ladies who God has used to bless people who are suffering. I am proud of you, more proud than I can say.

Now, can I clone you two? With a few more like you, we could change the world.

I'm not sure this is what he meant

From time to time I am asked about the fact that America is never mentioned in the Bible. After all, the logic goes, the Prophecies in the Bible clearly spell out just how everything comes to a screeching halt at the End Of All Time. And if the prophets knew so much, then why didn't they mention America?

To some, this is a curiosity. To others, it's an existential crisis. How could God's Nation not play some vital role in the End Times?

To me, it's a non-issue, since I don't tend to hold to a strict, literalistic, dispensationalist view on the future. The prophets didn't mention America because, well, mostly because America didn't exist a couple thousand years ago. And also because much of what today passes as True Prophetic Messages of the End Times might just as well have been metaphorical interpretations of the times in which the authors were living. And, again, America was non-existent at that time.

But now all that might have changed. It seems some people have discovered that America actually is mentioned in the Bible. Or, at least, an American Interstate is mentioned in the book of Isaiah.

Here's the text:
Isaiah 35:8 "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."

And see, here's the genius. Isaiah 35. Isaiah begins with an I. Thus, it's really talking about I-35, a freeway that runs from Larado, TX to Duluth, Minn.

And upon such a strange hermeneutic is founded the "Light the Highway" movement.

(If you'd rather not read through their whole web page, you can read a summary in the news article here.)

Let me state three somewhat disparate thoughts:
1) Seeking righteousness, proclaiming the Name of the Lord, praying for your city and country, fasting and evangelizing and interceding are all good things.
2) This method of Bible interpretation, that would lead one to believe that Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's redemption is in fact speaking of Interstate 35, is completely, utterly wrong.
3) I truly wish I understood where these people were coming from. When I worked in Portland I found myself among the same sort of people. People who regularly had Prophetic Revelations, revelations that sounded biblical, prophesies regarding Portland's revival, or Portland's condemnation. And the people behind these revelations were so sincere, so passionate, so fired-up for Jesus, but it seemed like one huge internal reaction with no external impact. The prophecies never came true; but the people just jumped off into the Next Big Prophetic Thing. It was like a runaway chain reaction that kept these people bouncing around, that had nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Instead of doing the things Christ commanded (feeding the poor, visiting the prisoners, standing up against injustice) they breathlessly forwarded emails about prophesies, they went to parks and sang worship songs, they hiked down highways praying for "demonic walls" to come down. It all seemed like so much wasted energy.

But, anyway, that's not really what all this was about. Instead, it was to let you all know that America is mentioned in the Bible, so we can lay that misperception to rest.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hell for Advent

Throughout Advent, I've been reading a book on Hell. Four Views On Hell, to be exact. If you scroll down and look at the book list on the right, you should see it there (unless you are reading this a long time after I wrote it. . .)

It came about because of a discussion I was in a few months ago. A particular person attempted to make the case that to be "for Jesus," one must also accept the traditional view of Hell as eternal conscious torment. I tried to point out that there were, in fact, good Christians who differed on their interpretations of the doctrine of Hell. I was instantly labeled a heretic, and found myself defending positions of which I was only vaguely aware. Hence the book.

And this is how I like theology. Four authors give the basis for their particular understanding of the issue. Each author then responds to the works of the others, leading to a broad conversation covering the outlines of the topic, which allows the reader to see the strengths and weaknesses of each position and come to their own conclusion as to which rings truer than the others.

From my perspective, the real treasure is not so much the conclusion as it is learning about how people do theology, to see the author's various hermeneutics at play. You learn as much about how people interpret the Bible as you learn about the actual topic. You see how people think, you see their blind spots and their moments of genius, and with all that, you can decide who truly is speaking doctrine that fits the Biblical message.

And so we have:
- John Walvoord (1910-2002), former professor and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, presenting the Literal (traditional) view
- William Crocket, Professor of NT at Alliance Theological Seminary, presenting the Metaphorical view
- Zachary Hayes, Teacher of theology at Catholic Theological Union, presenting the Purgatorial view,
- Clark Pinnock, Professor of Christian Interpretation at McMaster Divinity College, presenting the Conditional (annihilationist) view

And you get this:
Walvoord, true to his Dallas roots, can't get beyond the word Inerrancy, claiming that any interpretation other than a literal one denies inerrancy, thus denying the Truth of the Word. There is no room for nuance or historical interpretation or theological extrapolation. God said it, I believe it, and that's good enough for me. And I'll ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Crockett begins to develop some interesting lines, being (in my opinion) truer to the intent of the text, getting away from wooden literalistic interpretations, recognizing the reality of metaphor in eternal language; in addition, he sees (unlike Walvoord) that the texts themselves are somewhat contradictory, here saying "fire" and there saying "darkness." In the end, though, for Crockett whatever hell is like, all the metaphors say it's pretty horrible.

Hayes, for whatever reason, goes off-topic and speaks instead to the issue of purgatory. His is perhaps the most frustrating chapter simply because it's not Biblical. It relies completely on tradition and philosophy and a few apocryphal writings. Even Hayes admits that there's really no proof for purgatory in the Bible. But being a good teacher in the Catholic Church, none of that matters, because Tradition teaches purgatory, and that's all that matters. Obviously, to non-Catholics, that is an extremely weak argument.

Finally, the Pinnock chapter. This is the real reason I bought the book, in that I'd been intrigued with annihilationism ever since I read about it in Randy Klassen's What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell? Pinnock has become a spokesperson for this viewpoint (as well as for Openness Theology, both of which have made him persona non grata with the Evangelical Theological Society). And I found myself somewhat frustrated, because Pinnock spends very little time laying out the biblical case for annihilation. Instead, he spends most of his pages working at undermining the more traditional position and those who hold to it. Pinnock has been savagely attacked for holding to a few non-orthodox positions, and it comes through clearly as he continually speaks of those who reject his own views as heretical. His pleas for open discussion and review of doctrinal positions is to be lauded, but I wish in the end he had simply laid out a stronger biblical framework and let that speak for him. To be honest, the 3-4 pages in which he actually did work on the scriptures are powerful and show how the annihilationist view should at least be considered, but they didn't make a strong enough case.

That's not to say I've been won by any of the other positions. I still think there is something to the annihilationist viewpoint; I was just hoping that Pinnock would build a stronger case (because there is a stronger case to be made) instead of taking potshots at his accusers.

However, I would recommend the book to anybody who wants to read more on the issue, who wants to read about other options, or who simply wants to see how theologians do theology.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Couple O Things

Classic King FM is streaming Christmas music 24/7. And you can bet that it's going to be quality Christmas music, based on the source. . .

Go to your Itunes song list, or your Windows Media Player song list, or whatever you use to organize your digital music files. Have it sort your music by song titles. Then tell me what song you have the most versions of.

I ask because my #1 song is Silent Night, of which I have 16 different versions listed.
- Bing Crosby
- Brass Mosaic
- City of London Sinfonia
- The Carpenters
- Harry Connick, jr
- John Denver
- John Doan (2 versions)
- Nat King Cole
- Sara Maclachlan
- Selah
- Thomas Moore
- Kathleen Battle
- New York Choral Artists
- Michael Pritzl/Jenny Gullen
- Tom Howard


Speaking of Christmas Music, does anybody want a free copy of Kathy Mattea's Christmas album, Joy for Christmas Day? I bought it a couple years ago and it just doesn't do anything for me, except for making me want to turn it off.


The intelligence of a child: On the way into Seattle last night, Olivia piped up from the back seat, "Daddy, I know how to spell YMCA."


Speaking of Seattle and Christmas music, last night was the Canadian Brass concert at Benaroya Hall. Olivia and I joined my brother Michael for a nice dinner, followed by the two hour brass extravaganza. The CB were superb, the musical selections were rich and broad, the night was a blend of high baroque art and typical CB silliness. Only 2 of the original 5 players remain, but the three who have joined are all very capable (if perhaps lacking a little of the CB quirkiness). From a cell phone ringtone medley to Frosty melting on stage, from Bach to Peter Schickile, the group covered a lot of bases, entertaining adults and kids alike. Truly a wonderful way to usher in the final week before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


So we've been having this little oil problem in the trusty Accord lately. As in, I've been putting in a couple quarts every few weeks.

Plus it was time to have the brakes fixed, and the suspension is squeaking. Into the shop we went yesterday.

Then cometh the phone call.

"You need a new motor in this car."

That, connected with the brakes and suspension problem. . .let's just say all told it would cost more to fix the car than the car is worth.

So, I think the family is going to be in the market for a new car very soon.

Here's what we would like:
- seats 6 or more
- gets great gas mileage and (hence) is good for the environment
- is capable of towing a pop-up trailer
- costs less than a year of college

Anybody have any suggestions?

Quick snapshot

It was back before music came over the internet, back before CDs came in jewel cases complete with extensive liner notes. Back when you had to listen to music closely to figure out the lyrics. For that matter, it was back when song lyrics actually meant something, back when lyrics were poetry and songwriters were artists.

Back before your average lyric was "oh baby shake that baby baby oh mm oh shake dance oh. . ."


My parents were those people who were usually the last to leave Church on a Sunday morning. They, the Danielsons, the Meyers (Hey Marcia!), the Golikes. . .they would all just sit around and, I don't know, talk or something. For what seemed like hours and hours and hours. And after a while, we kids would get tired of running all over the church while waiting. So eventually we'd go sit in the car and listen to the radio. If it was fall, then it would be the Seahawks game, but any other time meant great stereophonic popular music streaming through the factory speakers in the Catalina.

(connect the dots. . .)

Which is the first place my memory went when I head that Dan Fogelberg died over the weekend. Sitting in the front seat (the bench seat) of the Pontiac, trying in vain to figure out the line from Leader of the Band that I would later learn goes "Living out the life I've chose and grown to know so well."

Let's be honest. Dan Fogelberg is one of those guys, like John Denver, and Barry Manilow, who everybody secretly loves but is too afraid to admit it, for fear of being "uncool."

So let me state for the record - I still can't watch the Kentucky Derby without thinking of The Run for the Roses. If I'm flipping around the radio dial and here Same Old Lange Syne I have to listen to the end. Listening to Dan Fogelberg makes me happy, in a melancholy sort of way.

There, I said it, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Just a thought

One perfect reason to deny the possibility that the human race is evolving upward toward some New Age of Peace, Harmony, and Universal Intelligence, in which we all achieve Spiritual Consciousness and Bliss


Just one more example that the world is actually becoming dumber by the minute:

The simple fact that anybody would actually pay money to go to a Spice Girls Reunion concert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Good Ol' Boys

Last summer they logged the 15 acres to the north of the church and parsonage. The forest that bordered us disappeared, almost over night.

For the last few days, they've been slash-burning the remnant. While I hadn't seen anybody up there, at night we were blessed by visions of massive piles of glowing embers sizzling in the winter rain.

Today, the next-door neighbor called and asked if I wanted to meet the guys doing the burning. I wandered over to her house and we walked up the hill together.

There I met Phil and his buddy. They've lived in the area their entire lives. Phil's family has been in the same cove for over 100 years. They're the kind of people you might describe as "earthy." The kind who smoke cigars and drive tractors and say "hell," only to realize they're talking to the preacher, so they wince and say "sorry - heck!" They're the kind who tell you about the time the Burley hit a sand bar and overturned by the Lakebay dock, way back in the 1930s. They're the kind who remember grandpa gettin' his leg busted up when his horse team was startled by a Model T. They talk about "the old Ulsh place" and they actually remember the people who lived there. They remember Lakebay before "The Highway" went in. They know stories about the anarchists in Home. And they'e the kind who don't mind pulling up a stump and telling you all about it. The kind who don't put on airs, who sit in old pickups and watch the fire burn out while cussing and smoking and drinking and laughing.

And I thought, This is the coolest part about my job, meeting people like Phil Johnson, who even now is up on the hill dumping more wood on the fire.

Oh, and Phil told me he'd move some of the choicer pieces of lumber over the bushes into my yard, to make sure I'd have plenty of firewood. "Not a problem," said Phil.

Life in the country can be pretty amazing, if you just decide to get out of your office for a bit.

Friday Random 10

Christmas edition

Nice to get some standards (#2, 6, 9, 10) and some not-so-traditional (#3,5). #4 is from my days at Azusa Pacific, arranged by Barrie Gott, the APU band director who recruited me. He was a trumpet player, which may explain the horrific trumpet parts we had to play in that one. As to #8 - how did this one album, this one TV special, become one of the iconic Christmas sounds? It's so simple, lacking flash and fireworks, and yet it says "Christmas" like nothing else America has produced.

  1. Fredericka Von Stade and the American Boy Choir – Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, from “A Carnegie Hall Christmas”
  2. John Denver and the Muppets – Deck the Halls, from “A Christmas Together”
  3. Steve Tyrell – The Christmas Blues, from “This Time of Year”
  4. Azusa Pacific University Choir and Orchestra – King Jesus is His Name, from “Celebrate the Child”
  5. Choir of King’s College – Blessed Be that Maid Mary, from “Noel: Christmas at Kings”
  6. Jim Brickman – What Child is This?, from “Gift”
  7. New York Pops – Christmas Fantasy, from “Christmas in the Country”
  8. Vince Guaraldi – Skating, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
  9. Bing Crosby – Silent Night, from “White Christmas”
  10. Brass Mosaic – Away in a Manger, from “A Brass Christmas”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Way Early Promo

I had lunch today with a couple other pastors from the Key Peninsula. We've been meeting for the last year or so, and have decided to form the "Key Peninsula Ministerial Association." Which basically means we have lunch once a month and we have a name.

It looks like we're going to combine forces next March and do a series of Community-Wide services for Holy Week, rather than each church doing their own thing. So we'll have a Community Maundy Thursday service, hosted by the KP Lutheran Church. And a Community Good Friday prayer vigil facilitated by the Longbranch Community Church. And a Community Easter Sunrise Service at Penrose Point State Park, hosted by Lakebay Community Church (that's us. . .).

I'm excited about the opportunity to worship together with all the fine folks from the various churches, as well as the chance to send the message to the community that we're really all the same church; we just meet in different buildings.

Look for a flyer soon. Well, after Christmas and Epiphany, anyway.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dan's Desert-Island Christmas List

In no particular Order:

- Andrew Peterson, Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ
The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin
Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas
The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait
Diana Krall, Christmas Songs
John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
George Winston, December
- Kenny Loggins, December
John Rutter and the London Sinfonia, John Rutter Christmas Album
Mindy Smith, My Holiday
Thomas Moore, The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic Music Celebration
Sarah Maclachlan, Wintersong
John Doan, Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past
Michael W. Smith, It's a Wonderful Christmas
- David Willcocks and the Choir of King's College, Noel: Christmas at King's

Just to make something clear,

Referencing yesterday's post, I'm not necessarily trying to debate Mormon theology. That could be another post for another day. What I simply want to point out is that Mormons want it both ways. They claim "we're not heretics, we're Christians just like all the others! We believe in Jesus, too!" But when you peel away that veneer, you find that the gulf is much wider indeed. You find that they do ascribe to some of the greater heresies out there.

Now, we could debate whether the heresies are actually the Truth, I suppose. Mormons could say "when the Church made such-and-such decision at this-and-so council, they were wrong." And I would assume that, within the halls of Mormon-dom, they must actually say those things, since the Council of Nicea clearly declared heresy the teaching that Jesus and the Father are NOT of the same substance (which is a basic Mormon belief). But in public, they are guilty of doublespeak, claiming to be "just like all the other Christians" while holding to beliefs that are not just different, but heretical.

The question for the day is not whether their beliefs are right or wrong; the question is whether or not they'll be forced to go more public with their differences, bringing their beliefs into the spotlight for all to see. Then we would at least be able to have a level conversation, discussing the real differences and the validity of the Mormon viewpoint. We could better understand Mr. Romney, and perhaps even respect his willingness to be transparent in his beliefs before all the world. Instead, it feels again like the plumb saying "I'm an orange because I grow on a tree just like oranges!"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Curious about Mormons?

One of the things I've learned from my (granted, somewhat limited) experience with those who call the Mormon Church home is that they are gifted at misdirection. They play like smoke, shifting and dodging in order to avoid the tough questions, hoping to win you over with their good values and nice personalities. Often, after attempting to have extended conversations with Mormons, I've felt that old adage "style over substance" applied very well. Not that they weren't sincere. And I don't even think they were truly lying to me. It's just that they realize some of their cherished beliefs are somewhat controversial, and they'd rather not bring those things into the public eye.

So when you challenge them on the Book of Mormon's validity, they respond "The Book of Mormon isn't on trial here. . ." But when you ask for proof as to the historical validity of Mormonism, they point you to the Book of Mormon.

When you attempt to point out the massive gulf between Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology (heresy?) they'll say "We're not here to prove this to you. You just need to read the Book of Mormon, pray that God speaks to you, and see if you get a Burning in your Bosom." And then there are the times I've challenged Mormon missionaries on Mormon doctrines that they themselves were unaware of. Perhaps they even keep their own people in the dark about certain theological positions they hold.

Mormons want to be seen as mainstream, as just another branch of Christianity, and they present themselves as such. Yet they never really want to get into the nuts and bolts of things, where they are truly quite far away from historical Christianity. Reference the article I reviewed a few weeks ago, where a Mormon elder went to great pains to say "we're not heretics!" only to espouse some of the oldest and greatest heresies ever rejected by the Church.

So now Romney has delivered what may come to be known as his "Mormon" Speech. And I have no doubt about his sincerity, or the passion with which he follows his Mormon faith. I'm also not convinced that his Mormon faith automatically disqualifies him as a candidate I would vote for (note: I'm not planning on voting for Romney, but for reasons other than his faith).

What I am curious about is how all this publicity will affect the Mormon Church. They are getting the light shown on them, perhaps like never before. For an organization that tends to work in the shadows, this is a coming-out party for them. So far, the smoke-and-mirrors still seems to hold sway. They aren't dealing with the substance of Mormonism; instead, people are simply lauding Romney for sticking to his convictions (One Southern Baptist said the speech was "Kennedyesque"), or rejecting him because those religious convictions stand against their own agendas.

At some point, will somebody actually bring out the substance of what Romney is giving credence to? Will somebody point out that to accept Mormonism means to accept the fact that we all pre-existed as spirit children, that our souls were deposited into our fleshly bodies when we were born, and that if we live good Mormon lives we get to spend eternity populating another planet with our good Mormon spouse(s)?

In other words, will the conversation reveal the unsavory aspects of Mormonism, bringing it all into the light of day?

Or, will Mormons be forced to rethink their more "interesting" beliefs in this new light, perhaps rejecting some of them and moving ever more closer to True Christianity?

Or, will Americans never ask those tough questions, because they're too excited about the Spice Girls reunion tour?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wednesday musings

It occurred to me last night that the concert I mentioned yesterday - when I saw the Canadian Brass in Calgary 20 years ago, was a turning point in my life. Or, at least, it began to nudge me in a different direction, opening up a gulf that has yet to be closed, and, in the process, causing me to lose some of the innocence of my youth. All because I went with some college friends and faculty to see five guys in tuxedos and hightops play some excellent music.

It all came about because of one song, The Saints' Hallelujah. The story the Brass told was that they were playing for the Queen of England and only had time for one song, but they wanted to play two - Hallelujah! from Handel's Messiah, and When the Saints Go Marching In. So they took the two and made one song, mashing them together into a whimsical, fun little medley in classic Canadian Brass fashion. They played it for us, and I loved it. The playing was superb, and the cuts were hilarious, leading to laughter and smiles throughout the auditorium. I suppose anytime you can pull off Hallelujah in Dixieland style, you're doing something right.

So the show ended, and we all headed out into the cold winter night, walking toward the school van for the hour-long ride home.

I was gushing, excited, thrilled at what I'd seen and experienced. I was inspired to go home and play my trumpet. I wanted to talk about all that we'd just heard and seen.

"Wow, that was incredible," I said to Paul.

"Actually, I was offended by it."

And that - that moment a crack appeared that exists to this day.


And it all came back to that song.

"Hallelujah is a sacred word. It has to do with God. How can they treat it so lightly? I thought it was atrocious."

And I was soon to learn that the majority of people in our group agreed. The Canadian Brass had made a joke of a sacred word. I heard the word "sacrilege" thrown around. Nobody wanted to talk about the antiphonal Gabrielli motet, or the Barber adagio we'd just heard. Instead, the conversation revolved around the CB "laughing and lifting their hands while singing 'hallelujah.'" "Don't they know that that is worship!?!?" So everybody was offended.

I, on the other hand, couldn't figure out why. It was just a fun song. And Hallelujah is, after all, just a word. It's a word that is in our common vernacular, not necessarily imbued with magical powers or anything. And so I tried to argue, but I was quickly shut down. You can't after all, easily convince an offended person that their offense is misplaced, especially when you are a college freshman dealing with upperclassmen and faculty.

It didn't ruin the night for me, but it sure put a damper on it. I also began to realize a few things that night.

For one, I realized how far away from these people I truly was, which didn't bode well for the future. How can you trust your college faculty to teach you anything, when you come to see how goofy their opinions are?

I realized that night that there are many Christians who go out of their way to be offended. Who will ignore the wonders of art and music and friends all because of the smallest perceived slight. Who will pass the opportunity to actually enjoy themselves because their worldview is based on fear and suspicion.

I realized that I'm not meant to spend much time around fundamentalists. They tend to ruin everything in their opinionating, in their accusing, in their constant harping on every little detail that doesn't line up with their view of "how the world should be."

I also realized that many people spend their life being offended. Name the subject, and they'll be offended by it. And then they'll be snarly about their offense. The world offends them. Sinners offend them. Society offends them. Breaking any of their myriad rules offends them. They just can't enjoy life because life offends them.

And, finally, I think I realized I had to live life differently. Jesus entered into this world, he enjoyed people, he went to dinners and parties, he spent time with saints and sinners alike. It seems that the only thing to offend Jesus was Religion's propensity to be offended by "the least of these." And so I had to jump into life, choosing to embrace it rather than be offended by it. I wanted to be surrounded by good music and interesting people. I wanted to make music, to read books, to have conversations with all sorts of people, seeking to find the Divine Spark rather than being offended by the stain of sin.

In many ways, who I am today began on that cold Canadian night, as many walked away disgusted in their offense, while I entered into a trajectory that sought life and love and laughter (and humor), instead.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Got my tickets

Tuesday night, December 18.
Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA
Canadian Brass Christmas Concert

Handel: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon
Giovanni Gabrielli: Canzona
J.S. Bach: Concerto in D major
Barber: Adagio
Peter Schickele: Horn Smoke

The world-renowned Canadian Brass quintet returns to Seattle to celebrate the sounds of the season! Featuring traditional holiday tunes, selections from the quintet's High Society album and a Glenn Miller medley!

I first saw the Canadian Brass 20 years ago, fittingly, in Canada. They performed Barber's Adagio that night as well. And any night that includes a Peter Schickele number has to be good. Plus, what is more fitting for Christmas than live brass?

One Crazy Weekend

This was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, since Andy Larsen was visiting. That meant no sermon to write, no Confirmation Class to prepare for. A nice holiday break.

Then I ended up leading a funeral on Saturday. It was, if I dare say, a fun one. Not that funerals are fun, mind you, and I mean no disrespect to those who are grieving in these days. I just find that funerals are more enjoyable when, in one moment, the Gospel is being presented, and in the next, people are telling stories about the deceased starting street brawls, and saying "he was a great S.O.B." Things like that keep life in perspective -we're all part-saint and part-sinner, and God alone is righteous and holy. Yet God loves us in spite of our warts and foibles. So I appreciated the opportunity to step into that place on Saturday and preach the Gospel to some people, many of whom are far, far away from knowing the power of the that Gospel.

Of course, as many of you know, the weather played a factor, too. I was slowly making my way through the day when Olivia ran out of her room to announce that it was snowing. That precipitated a mad rush to get out the door, in case the drive over to the cemetery took longer than expected. Sure enough, snow was falling hard and heavy most of the way, but combined with the Christmas music I was listening to, it made for a very pleasant drive.

And then, Sunday it just kept coming. Our worship leader's car in a snow-filled ditch. Andy slipping and sliding on his way over from Bellevue. Based on attendance numbers, it appears more than a few decided to stay home, rather than face the snow. But it was still a good morning, filled with wonderful stories of what God is doing among the Muslim people through people such as Andy. And for those who have been here for more than 2 years, it was a good reunion with Andy, since he had served at this church in the year before I came. In spite of the weather, it turned out well.

And for those far and near who have been watching the news, people to the north, south, east, and west of us were hit hard by the rains yesterday, but we seem to have been spared out here on the Key Peninsula. I did see one tree across the road over by the brand-new Costco in Gig Harbor. Other than that, it was just another rainstorm for us.