Category Archives: emerging church

This Week’s Sermon: God is Good

Posts in the Sermon Prep: God is Good series

  1. This Week’s Sermon: God is Good
  2. God is Good, Good, Good. Mostly.
  3. God is Good: Sermon Audio

Yep. I’m preaching again on Sunday.

This week’s topic, “God is Good … So why is everything so f’d up?” I’ll probably modify the title by Sunday.

A little help please?

Next in series: God is Good, Good, Good. Mostly.

Music is Vast

(NOTE: Some of you already saw this on Facebook. I really wanted to post this here instead, but the server was just going nuts the last few days, so I couldn’t. These kind of thinky thoughts totally belong at the Roadhouse, not on that trashy whore Facebook.)

If you took Intro to Music Tech from me in a previous semester, the class probably started out with my patented “You all suck at music, and will likely end up working at Walmart” speech. While I stand by that speech, and think that it is largely true (especially for you, Brandon), I feel as though it may have set the wrong tone for my class.

Instead, this year, I gave a different speech. Addison Road-ites will notice several recurring themes from my posts here, wrapped up in a tidy 5 minutes diatribe on Music and Technology.

So here it is: my opening speech to the incoming freshmen.

Music is vast. It is so much bigger than you think it is. It covers more things, runs deeper, any grasp you have on it is always too small. It will always be bigger than your experience in it.

Music is vast. I call myself a musician, and in the last 4 months that has meant playing keyboards for a national commercial, writing a modern composition for trumpet, piano, and laptop, conducting a choral recording session for another piece I wrote, playing keyboards live for 100 awesome fans at Hotel Cafe, teaching a younger player how to set a tap-delay for a guitar tone, leading worship, singing backing vocals on a demo, writing two songs for a musical, and playing piano for a bad j-pop album. All of those things are music. That’s just one summer, for one person, and you should all know that I am nowhere near the top of the heap when it comes to this industry. Other people are doing far more work than I am. But all of that is music.

Music is vast. It runs deep. It reaches out and strikes the soul, and the whole body resonates on that pitch. It reminds us, like nothing else can, that we are more than meat and bone, more than dust. We are the breath of God, created in His image, and just as he sang the world into being, we create in imitation of Him. We are the immortal echo of the eternal, living for just a little while in these clay jars, and music reminds us who we are. If you haven’t ever felt that, then I honestly have no idea why you’re here.

Music is vast, and it is shared. Music is the exchange of ideas. Melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, vibe, tone, tension, resolution – music is about the trading back and forth of ideas. And language is, frankly, a very bad tool for exchanging ideas about music. There’s a quote, attributed to Frank Zappa but probably not his, that says, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Technology is the ink and paper of music. It is our best tool for exchanging ideas. If you have ideas worth sharing, and again I don’t know why you’re here unless you do, then technology is you best tool for capturing and sharing those ideas.

My goal is not to turn you into geeks and nerds; that will happen on its own. My goal is to turn you into musicians. That means being fluent in the language of music, which is, increasingly, the language of music technology. My goal is to help you learn to use technology so well that it lets you do what you really want to do, which is music. The technology should be transparent, it has to get out of the way, and let you be a musician.

Music is vast. It is broad and it is deep, and it’s way to early in your musical lives to start defining yourself in narrow ways. Don’t say, “I am this, not this” or “I do this, not this”. You have no idea yet who or what you can and will be. Be big! Be curious, be broad, be deep, be soul-ish and magnificent. Everything else in this world will conspire to make you small – don’t be complicit! Resist the urge to define yourself in small ways.

Be a musician. Be vast.

On Lazarus

Kyrie Yeshua

Even over death?
What of death come early?
death come in the midst of life

and passing by the body
and passing in echos
into every part of life

These echos of death
are theft of joy
and bind us too closely to feet of clay

These echos of death
make sharp our tooth and claw
to rip from the earth our daily meat

These echos of death
make me selfish
and base
and cold
and mean
they cause me to betray my sacred birthright

These echos of death
wrap fetid hand across the mouth of
breath of God and dragging down
make silent what should be
our chorused song of hope

Even over this death?
This death come in the midst of life?

From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

Here’s the audio from today’s message (not sure if the audio player is working, so I’ll just put a download link.

Faith … and Doubt (sermon audio)

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, here’s the outline:

  1. Descartes was awesome, but misguided.
  2. The world has embraced Descartes’ definitions for “know”, “believe”, “rational”, and “faith”.
  3. The church, too, has embraced Descartes skepticism, albeit with differing results.
  4. Some try to meet the evidential standard, by mustering evidence to prove the tenets of faith beyond all doubt. The Christian Apologetics movement is a result of this impulse.
  5. Some concede that the standard of rational certainty can never be met, and allow skeptics to define faith as irrational. This also allows them the freedom to ignore any logical impediments presented by new scientific evidence, challenging passages of scripture, and to uncritically accept everything received by tradition.
  6. Both reactions are wrong, because they concede Descartes’ definitions.
  7. Faith is not irrational, and it is not the opposite of doubt.
  8. Faith is the commitment to something as true, on the basis of good evidence, but where certainty is impossible.
  9. Indiana Jones is awesome, except for the last movie.
  10. We don’t have to fear doubt. Everyone doubts. Everyone from Hebrews 11, everyone in church history, even me, even Mother Teresa.
  11. Three things we should do when we doubt.
  12. Keep worshiping (Matthew 28:17)
  13. Keep fellowship (John 20:26)
  14. Keep reading (John 20:31)
  15. These are all acts of faith. They are not irrational, they are not certainty, they are faith.

If you want the full experience (minus the actual experience!), you can download everything here:

Faith … and Doubt (manuscript)

Faith … and Doubt (keynote presentation)

Previous in series: 7 Days of Doubt

7 Days of Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

I’m reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 20, and he makes an observation that I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Doubting Thomas” story, 8 days pass between Thomas’ proclamation of doubt, and Jesus reappearance to confirm his resurrection. Henry’s interpretation is that the delay serves as a kind of rebuke to Thomas.

That’s not what struck me, though. Thomas basically calls the disciples fools, and says “Someone has duped you, but not me.” And yet, when the story picks up 8 days later, Thomas is hanging out with the 12 (11 at this point, sans Judas). He’s still part of the community, still in the fellowship. Imagine what those 8 days must have been like! What else would the other disciples be talking about, apart from the resurrection? It had to have been the topic at every meal, every gathering. The resurrection, what it meant, what they should be planning for the future. I wonder if, when the week had passed, Thomas had begun to hope that it was true, if he was prepared to believe it, or if he become cynical in the face of their foolish (to him) faith.

I like the precedent that this sets for the church and those of us who are doubters in her midst. There is space for puzzling through, without breaking fellowship.

Previous in series: Digital Art Photos

Next in series: From Descartes to Indiana Jones

The Third Rail – Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

A week from this Sunday, Chad and Erica will be leading worship at our little dutch chapel in Orange County, and I will be bringing the bible-thumping fiery rhetoric from the pulpit. You should definitely come check it out. Or, if not, you should at least help me plan my message.

I think I’m going to talk about the third rail of the life of faith: doubt.

Here, let me make it a little spookier:

DOUBT!

Topics on the table:

Doubting Thomas
Mother Theresa
Mark 9:24

So – hit me. If you had to put a percentage on is, what’s the ratio of belief to doubt for the things in your personal creed? How influential is the belief of others in reinforcing your belief? Do you feel the freedom to express honest doubt about fundamental things (scripture, resurrection, omnipotence) when you’re in the company of other believers? And most importantly, Doug, will I still have a job waiting when I get back? For that matter, Phil, will I still have a job waiting when I come before the faith interrogation high council?

Next in series: Digital Art Photos

Clergy love.

Disclaimer: My thoughts on the following topic are not my most articulate.  Please do not throw tomoatoes.

On New Year’s Day, a white BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer fatally shot a black man after a fight had broken out.  On Wednesday night, riots in Oakland destroyed the businesses of, ironically, black people.

The officer who shot the bullet resigned his position just before he was otherwise required to issue a statement.  One of many theories is that he thought he was reaching for his gun-shaped tazer.

My heart breaks for everyone.  The victims and the shooter.  When I read that dozens of clergy were willing to meet with the officer, I thought, That is a step in the right direction.  That guy needs some love.

Then I read that the clergy were outraged with him, “demanding answers”.  At that point, they were no longer “clergy” to me.  I could not distinguish them from “everybody else”.

One of my earthly heroes is Sister Helen Prejean.  She came to speak at St. Mary’s College when I was a student there, and she revolutionized the way I think about our justice system.  One idea she has shared is:  “The only way I know what I really believe is by keeping watch over what I do.”  She is beautifully and artfully able to entwine herself in complicated and tragic situations, loving the victims and the accused.  In my heart, she has earned the title “clergy”.  Clergy love.

What Africa Needs Now

An atheist ex-pat from Malawi writes about how important Evangelical missionaries are to the future of Africa. Not just the work they do, but what they believe. I read it from a position of ignorance, but I hope that he is right. Looking forward to discussing this with my brother-in-law Scott, a missionary in Tanzania.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the rest of the article here.

I know some the folks who hang out here have some unique insight into this issue, and I’d love to hear it.

10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

What an absurd celebration we have embraced to remember the incarnation.

We celebrate by filling up. Calendars, full. CD players, full. Gift lists, full. Credit cards, full. Belly, full. Every moment of this season is dedicated, months in advance, to being filled up. Not all of the filling up things are bad things – time with friends and family are good things, gifts given out of selflessness and friendship are always a good thing.

But taken all-together, the result is a season that is every moment filled up, without a second to breathe, and no time to think or reflect.

What an absurd way to celebrate the incarnation. I wish we could push all of that to Easter, the great celebration. Let’s move our Lenten fast to Christmas, and celebrate the incarnation by imitation.

Who, being in very substance God, did not consider his divine prerogatives as things to be gripped tightly, but emptied himself. Made himself nothing. Humbled himself.

This is the Christmas story that has captured me. The folding down of the divine person into the frail and corruptible human story, the setting aside of every perfect glory to take up this mundane flesh. All the redeeming that is to come begins in that moment.

Christmas is the great emptying out.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

And Mary danced before the Lord. Hands raised, head thrown back, spinning with the joy of the young, an innocent girl in the presence of a Holy God. And Mary sang.

His mercy extends to those who fear him
from generation to generation
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts
he has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones.

empty-throneThe last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The humble will rejoice. The proud will be brought low. We celebrate Christmas as the advent of peace and hope – but also as the emphatic statement of God’s intent to upend the established order. The Kingdom of God brings down rulers from their thrones. It raises up the humble. It gives voice to the voiceless, and makes a mockery of those who cling too tightly to this world.

When we read the Christmas story, perhaps we should pay more attention to the role of Herod. Christmas is the great subversion of Herod’s kingdom, and those who, like Herod, abuse their power. “Peace on Earth” is a rallying cry – peace is coming, and it will come on the backs of those who love violence and celebrate fear. For them, Christmas is the first rumblings of the coming revolution, the beginning of God’s culminating restoration and remaking.

Peace on Earth. But fear and trembling for those who love their thrones.

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

A Grateful Heart

I’m giving the message tomorrow night at our Thanksgiving service. I thought about giving a 12-part dissertation on the dispensational reading of Romans, with annotated commentary from the Darby Bible. Doug thought it might be better to focus on gratitude.

First, a little music to set the mood.
be-grateful-hawkins.mp3
Be Grateful by The Hawkins Family (not OUR Hawkins, different Hawkins)

I think gratitude is a powerful antidote for some of the diseases of the heart. Not actual heart disease – the cure for that is to quit smoking and lay off the television. But for the pervasive ills of the soul, gratitude is a strong prescriptive. If we choose to practice gratitude, there are some things that come along with it, some benefits that accrue to the grateful heart.

A Grateful Heart is Humble

It is impossible to be grateful and self-satisfied at the same time. It is impossible to be grateful and also arrogant. Gratitude takes humility as a prerequisite, because gratitude admits that we have been the recipients of generosity, have been given something we had no claim over. It acknowledges that we have relied on others to extend to us the benefit of their free will, used on our behalf. It recognizes the freedom and dignity of someone other than us, and places us in their debt.

When Paul builds his case against natural righteousness in Romans 1, he says that the cardinal failure of those outside of the covenant is not that they were ignorant of God; how could they be, with such manifest evidence poured out around them? He says that the cardinal failure is the failure to give thanks to the God that they know must exist. Failure to admit humility before him. Failure to praise. And, out of that failure, Paul gives a litany of crimes against humanity that pour out of the ungrateful heart:

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things with are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, unloving, unmerciful …” Romans 1:28-31

Those of us spending time with family and in-laws this Thanksgiving might take pause for a moment to see that “disobedience to parents” was included in such august company with the other mortal sins.

I’m going to hell.

A Grateful Heart is Content

This was one of the 16 points in my epic 96-minute sermon from earlier in the year. The short version, which was definitely NOT the version I used during that sermon, is that gratitude shakes us free from focusing on what we lack, and refocuses us on what we have been given. “Things We Lack” is an infinite category, and like all good infinite sets, no matter how many things we take out of the set and add to the category “Things We Have”, the infinite set is still infinitely vast. (In my previous message, I skipped the whole 20-minute side lecture on number theory and the irrationality of actual infinites. Looking back on it now, that’s probably why so many people complained. Note to self: next time I preach on contentment, include more math-based proofs.)

Gratitude is incompatible with the twin symptoms of discontentment: greed and envy (both make an appearance in Paul’s notorious list in Romans 1). Greed feeds on our fixation with the future, and envy makes us competitors to those around us. Gratitude wrenches us away from the future and places us in the present. Gratitude restores our unity with those around us. Both are the hallmarks of contentment.

A Grateful Heart is Joyful

Gratitude often travels hand-in-hand with joy. The Psalmist knew it. Check out Psalm 100:

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his ;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

A Grateful Heart is Generous

I grew up in a strand of Protestantism that valued states of mind. Faith was a certain way of thinking about things, salvation was a certain state of belief about God, redemption was the renewing of the mind. The purpose of the church was to impart, defend, and celebrate certain states of mind. It was never articulated in quite that way, and if you stopped to talk to the teaching leadership in the church, they would likely protest. But the force of expectation and participation was all intently focused on that one aspect of being: the ideas and perspectives that we held in mind.

In coming to possess my own faith, I see the poverty of that perspective. Ideas, at least the kind of cherished by people of faith, are not static, and cannot be contained by the mind alone. They are ideas that compel, they are states of mind that pour out into actions. Gratitude that begins and ends with a state of mind is not worth celebrating.

Real gratitude expresses itself. It responds. If someone is generous to me, my gratitude provokes me to be generous with others. As God has been supremely generous to me, and if by faith I am filled with unspeakable gratitude toward Him, I will respond. My posture toward those around me will be generosity.

It will be a generosity propelled by humility, contentment, and joy.

Polytonaly Yours, With Love

The opening lines of “It Is Well” don’t normally include clashing polytonality and inscrutably rhythmic patterns. I took a creative risk this morning. Note clusters. Non-functional harmonic groups. Painting with colors that are so far outside of our normal 3-chord pop-tastic worship that at one point I was screaming inside for a 3rd hand, so that I could fully realize the Eb / D(6/9) / Dbmaj9 stack that I wanted. I know. Using chord notation at that point is just gratuitous. You get my point.

And then, because I like my church and enjoy my current level of employment with them, the crashing cacophony resolved down into notes that made sense, notes that made happy, notes that made me fairly certain that I will be welcome back next week. But for a little while, it was glorious.

I blame Alex Wen, my ne’er-do-well teaching assistant. That kid causes me more trouble. He has a frustrating habit of dropping by, serving up some canapé of intriguing speculation, and then leaving me to process and re-process for the remainder of the week. I enjoy it so much that I don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s supposed to work the other way around.

This week, it was on the role of music in worship. Alex was talking about the use of aggressive and difficult music, modern compositions that will not yield easily to passive listening, but that richly reward the engaged.

Which left me thinking about the role of music in church. Not just in worship, but in the institution at large, the cultural and social phenomenon that the gathered people construct around themselves.

Music is nearly gone from public education. We recruit our best musicians at APU either from secluded art-intensive high schools, or from other countries that still consider a musically literate public to be a worthwhile expense. The musicians who grew up in the church come to us either as butt rock guitar strummers of the most parochial kind, or as power-pop vocalists. Some are very good, but good only in the narrowly confined musical space that is useful for corporate worship. Good at dreamy delays and 3-note gospel harmony. Good at ripping off Coldplay. Good at dropping out after the bridge to build up to the final chorus.

Can we do more? Should we do more? Should we, as the church, be elevating the musical language of our congregants? Should we be force-feeding them dissonance, poly or even a-tonality, and complex musical ideas until they know how to understand that rich language of tension and resolution? Should we give them musical meat that is not yet useful in worship, until it is? Can we move to repair some of the musical poverty caused by our federal abrogation of all non-testable educational outcomes? Can we train up young players to understand and appreciate music that is just beyond them, until it isn’t? Should we bring in talented artists capable of transforming and elevating the congregation’s perception of what music is? Can we set them loose to play things that are not trite rearrangements of popular hymn melodies?

Once we move beyond music as marketing, music as useful, music as emotional scripting, is there a role for music in the church qua music?

Non-crappy Bible Study

This message was sent to me on a BBS forum I frequent. I asked the other person if I could post it here, to get your input on her question:

Hey Michael, I’m hoping you might be able to help me with something. The background is, there’s this woman in the neighborhood who I have recently become friends with, and she suggested that the two of us do a Bible study together as part of hanging out with our collection of babies during the days. For a variety of social reasons, there’s no way I can politely get out of doing it.

The problem is, I have spent my adulthood avoiding Bible study groups like the plague because, at the risk of sounding hopelessly arrogant, most of them are SO PAINFULLY INSIPID. It is not enjoyable or interesting in any way to listen to someone say, “I think what he’s saying here is [insert some synonyms for exactly what's on the page],” and then everyone nods sagely. I find large portions of the text to be really, really self-explanatory, and somehow these always seem to be the ones that get focused on in Bible studies. The last time I was in one, in fact, I got in a lot of trouble because I actually said in frustration, “Come on, it’s not like it’s Shakespeare.” Yeah.

So on the occasions where I am obligated to participate in such things, I’ve generally learned to just keep my mouth glued shut and practice my sage nodding. But that’s not going to work when I’m one of only two people in the room. So my question is, are you able to perhaps recommend a set of materials that are meatier and more interesting than your typical “See, here’s how we know God loves us!” kind of thing? She wants me to pick the subject, which is good because I have a chance to make sure it doesn’t suck, but is bad because… well, I’ve kind of been operating on the assumption that they all suck. I know there must be some smarter ones out there, but I don’t know where to find them.

So, any suggestions?

Your Will Will Be Done

I’m working on a new composition, a setting of The Lord’s Prayer for slovenly pirates and bellicose ne’er-do-wells. Or, I guess they just go by “Men’s Chorale”, but you get my point.

The Lord’s Prayers (the Matthew version, which all the cool kid use) is traditionally understood as 7 petitions:

“Our Father, who is in heaven,

  1. Make holy your name,
  2. Bring your kingdom,
  3. Manifest your will on earth, as in heaven,
  4. Give us our daily bread,
  5. Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors,
  6. Do not lead us into temptation,
  7. Deliver us from the Evil One.”

In writing this piece, I’ve been thinking about the theological implications of composition. I know, I know, make fun of me later. For now, just smirk to yourselves and read on.

I’m working out the 3rd petition in the piece right now, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is no great mystery to the songwriters in the crowd, but that phrase can be sliced and diced and setup across the music in dozens of ways, and each one shifts the weight around on the ideas contained in the phrase. The words are the words, and they carry their own meaning, but the shades of emphasis are mine to play with.

If I make your a pickup, and land the word will on the downbeat, the emphasis moves. If I shift the phrase over, and begin with your on the downbeat, again, the emphasis moves.

When Albert Malotte write his well-known setting of the piece, he chose to put a strong divide between be done and on earth. I think that one choice has made a permanent shift in how most English-speaking people understand the prayer. Malotte made “on earth as it is in heaven” a descriptive supplement to “thy will be done.” In his rendering, there is almost an implied “(so that it will be) on earth as it is in heaven.” It makes the petition wistful, almost mournful.

Matthew’s greek text does not have that same grouping. It places the break (as nearly as we can tell; this kind of thing is always a bit subjective) between on earth and as in heaven. With that reading, the emphasis is on the present, immediate manifestation of God’s will, here, now, on earth, in this place. It’s not a far off vision of some future transformation, it’s a call to arms for the establishment of the Kingdom (in line with the first 2 petitions).

I’m sensing, as I write this piece, the power of setting words to music. There is actually the ability to shift theological meaning in the mind of the listener, and the performer, based on choices we assume are merely aesthetic.

It’s the mind of the performer that’s been heavily on my own mind as I write this piece. This is not a pretty piece of music. It’s an epic, Fortissimo! final judgment, second coming kind of piece. It emphasizes the prayer as an eschatalogical petition, a subversive rendering of the Hebrew Kaddish to invoke the overthrowing of the world, and the establishment of God’s Kingdom. It’s a call to arms.

The men’s chorale that will be performing it has a special place in my heart. The conductor has made it a workshop for turning awkward boys into godly men. They come in, adrift and insecure, cut loose from family and friends and home church, and are thrown together on campus with 10,000 people they don’t know. Men’s Chorale becomes a band of brothers, a sanctuary, and a training ground for how to grow up into a man. The way they sing reflects that.

When I finish this piece, I will hand it over to them, and they will learn it. Any given audience will hear it once, but they will sing it dozens of times, they will memorize it and perform it with passionate intensity. The meaning of the words will not be lost on them – I talk to these men frequently, and they are thoughtful and articulate. They chew on things.

As I spill ink on this new composition, I’m very aware of my obligation to these men, to take care for the ideas I hand over to their repetition and consideration.

Charlie Peacock on the Future of CCM

Charlie Peacock wrote a piece for the final print issue of CCM Magazine, on the future of Christian Music. Well worth a read:

In the future, young musicians will think that all Christian music is dated and boring, and they will create something they think is current, relative and exciting. They will say things like: “We just wanna show people that you can be a Christian and have fun, too.” Or, “We’re not gonna hit people over the head with the Bible. We’re not Christian musicians; we’re musicians who are Christians.” Or, “We are totally sold out to Jesus. We don’t write vague, sugar-coated lyrics.”

It will be nothing but retread hubris though. I will roll my eyes and grumble that history is hell-bent on repeating itself.

Read the whole thing here.

(ht: The Black Nail)

New Music From The Dailies – Signal Chain

Well.  I wish to assure Mike and Corey that I have not slunk off anywhere.  All of the bittersweet couplets are already written.  

This past week has been very, very busy.    Anyways… here is something new for you all to hear.  I will again send you to The Dailies website to hear it.  This one’s got a little fundie-bait in it, not to mention a pretty sweet bass part.  :)

Click here and enjoy!

To Listen, and Not To Speak

This week is Spring Break at APU. I know some of you went to heathen and ungodly places for your education, where Spring Break was nothing more than a week-long episode of “Girls Gone Wild”. At APU, our students spend the week either in prayer and fasting for the peace of the world, in Mexico helping homeless children knit foot warmers for stray dogs, or practicing viola for their Senior Recitals.

A handful of students stick around on campus, usually working to finish up projects or prepare for recitals. It’s another one of those weeks between, those egalitarian times when I’m not “The Professor”, and I can have conversations with students that aren’t transactional. Everyone has a little more time, and breathes a bit easier.

In talking with students, I’m trying to practice the habit of just listening. To listen, and not to speak, until they are done speaking. To allow them room to develop their ideas while I provide simply an attentive silence. To demonstrate restraint when I want to advise, correct, cajole, or critique.

I’ve found myself in a few conversations recently where a student is working through some problem that is miles outside of my experience or knowledge. I think sometimes they believe that I have some secret fountain of wisdom that I can draw on to pour into their lives and situations. The only secret fountain I have access to is the faculty bathroom, and the only wisdom to be found there is on the sign warning you not to poop, because their is no ventilation fan. And, while that is some very valuable wisdom, I just don’t find it widely applicable.

“I got a call to play a 4 month tour, but I’ll have to miss finals and probably come back for another semester to finish school. Should I do it?”

Does the tour bus have poop-ventilating technology?

“My boyfriend is really pressuring me to get cranked on meth with him, and go killing hobos. I really prefer smack. What should I do?”

Well, don’t use the faculty bathroom to get your junk on, because there’s no fan to cover the noise.

So, as you can see, the options for application are rather narrow.

It’s intoxicating to feel like you have this secret well of wisdom to draw on, but I don’t, and so I’m left with two other things of value that I can give them. First, I can share with them my own doubts and fears, when applicable. I get to draw them further in to adulthood, and show them that striving for success in music, and in life, is not a process of silencing doubt and fear, but of overcoming it, of progressing in spite of it. That’s a valuable perspective that I get to share with them.

But, I think the more valuable thing I can give them is a few minutes of attentive silence. Not silence while I wait for them to finish so I can jump in with my own thoughts, not silence while I formulate counterarguments, or plan my day, or fidget anxiously. Simple, attentive, silence. The kind of attentive silence you give to someone when they are communicating important ideas. And, of course, to treat someone’s ideas as important is to treat that person as important.

I know this is a simple idea, and most of you have probably nodded off, or headed off to more interesting blogs. But for me, it is a very difficult thing to remember, and to do. I live in an academic world that has such clearly drawn lines of respect and authority, and the impulse to raise up a student (in their eyes) to “my level” by respecting their ideas, it doesn’t come easily. It takes a measure of humility that I’m still struggling to grow into.

So, in conclusion, shame on you all for clicking on the “Girls Gone Wild” link, and don’t poop in the faculty bathroom.

On Beowulf and Yoga

After last Friday’s discussion of MoCap, The Uncanny Valley, and 3D filmmaking, I thought it was worth a follow up to discuss my impressions of “Beowulf,” as I saw it in 3D later that very day.

Oh, and I’m going to talk about Yoga, too.

First, Beowulf. Beowulf will go down in history as a film unlike most, in that I loved it and despised it at the same time. I want to go see it again, and I never, ever want to see it again. It’s been a long while since I’ve been so totally transfixed, awed, and downright stupified by the immersion experience of a film… oh, and also hated it.

The look of this movie is done a total injustice by it’s previews, which struck me as only moderately interesting. Visually, the only word that describes Beowulf is “Stunning.” I was wishing they would rewind the opening animated logos for the production companies before the thing even started.

The opening scene is a celebration in the mead hall of King Hroogar, played by Anthony Hopkins. I found myself dashing around the screen, trying to take it all in. The depth of field created by the 3D presentation means that a virtual “prop” like a goblet can be seen in utmost clarity as it reflects the light of a virtual fire roasting a virtual pig.

To get right to one of the questions we posed last Friday, which is, “Do the MoCap characters look better then they did in The Polar Express or Final Fantasy,” and the answer for me is yes and no. For some reason, elderly characters looked “right” to me. Perhaps its the flaws in the skin that make it so.

Anthony Hopkins’ capture is one of the marvels of the film, for my money, leading me to ask the question that Jeremy can perhaps answer, which is, how much, in the brave new world of MoCap, does a great actor influence the final, rendered and realized portrayal? Is Anthony Hopkins just that much more skilled then Ray Winstone, or Robin Wright Penn, that his facial muscles just give more interesting information to the computer?

So, have I painted a picture for you? Remember the first time you saw, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Jurassic Park, or more recently The Return of the King, and you just thought to yourself, “I’ve witnessed something wholly new and groudbreaking?” It’s like that.

So why’d I hate it? Well… first of all, Beowulf is one of the most relentlessly violent, downbeat, depressing films I’ve seen a a long while. The PG-13 rating is totally disingenuous. If this film had been live action, it would have been rated a hard R for violence. Limbs ripped, eyes gouged, chests opened, organs cut out, all in the aforementioned crystalline clarity of digitally projected 3D.

But oh no… it’s not just the gore. It’s just… sad. George McFly’s Grendel is awful to behold, in every way. The cast-off bastard son of a demon witch and a drunkard king, murderer and eventual victim of mutilation and violence. Grendel’s Mother is momentarily sympathetic in her grief over her freshly dead spawn, until that is she gets a whiff of Beowulf’s man-scent or some such thing and then I guess she’s cool… or something. We’re subjected to Beowulf himself, in all his masculine emo discontent.

Bleh!

This film is made for teenage boys, and lowbrow teenage boys at that. Calling it an animated film for adults is a mistake, as butt, dick, boob, and even midget jokes are present in spades. Hey look! Beowulf is naked, and a sword is perfectly placed to cover his junk! Get it? Here it is again!!! GET IT?!?!?!?!? DO YOU EFFING GET IT?!?!!?

Yes. I get it.

Our “Hero” is a one dimensional warrior in a three dimensional world. He’s all balls and no brain, and he pays the price. I cared not what happened to him. In fact, the only character I actually cared about was his sidekick, Wiglaf, played by the wonderful Brendon Gleeson. However, the film is such that, quite literally in the final frame, we are robbed of something resembling a completed story arc for his character.

Even the 3D effects danced on the edge of immaturity.  For every shot that could be described as lyrical, there was a shot that screamed, “Hey!  Look at me!  I’m in 3D!”  Hey, filmmakers!  No more spears in the face, right?

Then there are these two really strange bits of dialog dealing with the spread of Christianity through Europe that left me sort of scratching my head. Odd Line #1 – John Malkovich’s character to Anthony Hopkins early in the film, referring to the priests praying to Odin in the wake of Grendel’s attack:

“Shall we also pray to the new God of the Rome, The Christ?” Interesting, I thought.

Fast forward to the 2nd act of the story, set 20 years later, and outta nowhere comes Odd Line #2 – Beowulf to Brenden Gleeson’s character as a band of marauders attempt to invade Beowulf’s kingdom, something like:

“No heros left in the world, the Christ God has killed them all.”

Huh? What? Is there something you’d like to share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry? Aside: if anyone outside of my immediate family gets that obscure dialog reference, you get a gold star.

Beowulf will not be a runaway hit, because Robert Zemeckis is a boy, and he had new toys, and boys with new toys (even boys who are brilliant filmmakers) do not always the wisest decisions make.

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For some reason, this exercise in masculine excess crossed paths with another train of thought in my head, which is that of Yoga, and they both happened to fall on the same weekend.

I’ve been stagnant in my weight loss for weeks. It’s been terribly frustrating. I up my running. No change. My knees ache and pop. No change. 7 miles. Yes, for those of you who knew me as a cheeseburger snarfing lard-ass, 7 miles. No change.

ARGH!

In desperation, Friday morning I followed Erica to the Yoga class at our local gym. I had tried Yoga before in a class setting a few months ago, and I made it about 10 minutes before I bailed. Feeling like a clumsy pig on ice is not my idea of weight-loss recreation. This time, I was desperate. I knew that I simply was not going to finish losing this weight the same way I started, and I was determined to see it through. I stuffed the mental protests from my conservative evangelical upbringing, took off my shoes, aligned my chakras, and went for it.

I loved it. By the end of the hour, I could feel every muscle in my body. The next morning, I REALLY felt every muscle in my body. They felt elongated. I felt as if I had been tested, and passed, albeit with a fair amount of sweating and near-falling. For anyone who thinks that Yoga is for hippies and soccer moms, I’d like to challenge you hold a Warrior 2 pose (considered basic, FYI) for 30 seconds and see how macho you feel.

Yesterday, Monday, I went again, by myself. This time, I wore longer shorts and a looser shirt so that I wouldn’t worry about revealing my junk to the instructor. (I didn’t have a conveniently placed CG sword handy, you see.) I came earlier, so that I could stretch my muscles instead of leaping right in like I had before.

I sat on my little mat for 5 minutes listening to the ludicrous plinky-plunky music and relaxed and prayed. It was the first time in awhile that I had taken 5 minutes to just pray when I wasn’t in immediate need of something, I’m ashamed to say. I think I had forgotten how powerful Jesus is, because He came to meet me in the group classroom at 24 Hour Fitness in Thousand Oaks. He’s cool like that.

Somewhere in between my prayer and the beginning of the class, two young college-aged Beowulfs walked in the room, swords a-clanging, if you know what I mean. They had clearly come upstairs after spending some time lifting weights and ravishing maidens. Their gym shoes squeaked in the erstwhile quiet, and their “Whispers” were audible to all. One of them was clearly dragging the other, who was mocking the whole endeavor. “It’s not as easy as you think…” was the last thing I heard before the instructor started talking to us about finding our center and becoming one with the earth.

“This is going to be awesome,” I thought to myself.

Sure enough, even as I experienced a phenomenal growth from one session to the next in terms of balance and flexibility, our young Beowulfs grunted, strained, squeaked, and cursed their way through the session. I think the rest of us were blessed with a delightful mixture of pity and smugness. No one grew discernibly agitated at them for their disruption, even though the instructor had to spend a majority of her time correcting their poses so they didn’t tear a hamstring. I think they were actually trying, which is always an endearing quality.

They made me feel like I was Madonna. I was centered over the earth. I was balanced in my space., or some crap like that.

Yoga is teaching me something, but I don’t know what. I don’t care that the teacher is a new age, post-modern, post-Oprah, fortune-cookie philosopher. I don’t care. Her spine is straight and she has an appropriate amount of body fat. She can touch her toes.

My spine is still bent at the top from all those years of carrying around a hundred extra pounds. I can see my toes now, but I can’t touch them. My right shoulder is slightly higher than my left. I’m a mess.

I’m reversing two decades of poor physical decisions, and I don’t care that a Hindu meditation art is going to play a part in that process. Jesus is cool like that. When she says find your “self,” I think, “Find who God made you to be.” When she does the relaxation thing at the end and gives a quasi-space-age-sermonette about not letting your family negatively impact your energy over the holiday season, I think, “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” and, “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies.” When she starts talking about modified plank pose, I think to myself, “Oh, the burning!”

You get the idea.

Dear readers, I don’t really have a way to link these experiences together for you in anything resembling a coherent thought, but they’re all connected in some sort of ironic, existential, spiritual cluster – eff.