Category: Teaching


Losing My Song

I have lost my song, as you can tell from the nearly 2 year break between the last post and this. In re-reading, I think I was on to something…and perhaps I will come back to it. But it’s a process, and one I’m not sure I want to take.

In the two years since I last posted, I went to a new church where I worked for about 8 months. When I was summarily dropped from the praise team, it really hurt–no one seemed to notice I was gone.

Ultimately, that’s what life on planet earth really comes down to, but it made me realize that I probably could never work at another church again. It doesn’t mean that my ideas for creative worship are gone. It just means I no longer have a place to express them.

Not sure what is next. Is there a reason to keep this going? Should I remove it all and imagine it as never having happened?

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“One of the reason sinners are so eager to be at the table is because they’ve been excluded. What if inclusion is what makes transformation possible.”

If unity is going to be possible, it will only because we love. I’m so thankful for this sweet, southern lady who came to us and spoke truth today. I will allow her words to speak:

“Saving is God’s business. Loving is our business.

“Your personality is not who you are. What if we focus on the personality of the church and miss who the church really is?

“Forgive your brothers and sisters so that we can all come to the table as brothers and sisters.

“Clergy, we need your help.
Layity, the great gift of liminal space is that it teaches that we can survive not being in control.

“Clergy, preach the gospel for goodness sakes.
Layity, quit getting mad at them when they do.

“Clergy, be as holy as you can be.
Layity, let this be your definition of holy: Holiness is having an open heart and pure intentions. I thought “shoot, I can do that.” I was wrong again!

“We are all of us experts–it’s OUR church! let’s allow something new to emerge. We are going to have to be patient and work together.”

If dualism is indeed as bad as we claim, perhaps we should find a scriptural way to define what it is that is better. It seems plain to me–that solution is “unity.” And I was very glad to find that at least one of our conference speakers understood the importance of returning to this idea.

Brian’s lecture was titled “Unity beyond dualism…” Yes, elipsis and all. For the first time all day, we took a peek at what we all actually claim–faith based in a certain canon of scripture. No matter how we interpret or view that document, it is the starting point of all the rest of the agreement or debate.

Brian talked about how Paul had to learn, from Jesus’ teaching and example, that dualism was completley unacceptable in this new paradigm. But he didn’t do it by bashing those who disagreed with him (take note, Richard Rohr). He did it by simply pointing out what scholars love to philosophize today: that differences don’t really exist! (scholars would say that the differences we perceive are constructs. Aren’t you glad I went to grad school?)

Paul, the most black and white thinker in the history of the early church, wrote these shocking words in the letter to the Galations

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But he didn’t just say it once–here is what he told the Colossians:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

But this conference is all about the “how”, supposedly. And Brian asked that very question. If we are going to reach this beautiful unity–a unity that is not “colorblind” but fully colorful and diverse–how do we do it?

The answer, Brian says, can also be found in scripture. Try 1 Cor 13, the so-called “love chapter.” Although this is read at every wedding in the history of evangelicalism, it was actually written to the church as a guideline for unity! Who doesn’t understand that? And yet, we see vitriol and lovelessness throughout the church and in all its guises.

If you haven’t read this chapter in a while, I recommend it very highly. Read and reread. Think carefully about what each line says, and compare it to those words from Galations and Colossians. Brian had us sing-chant the entire chapter and I’ve recorded a small sampling for you. It was lovely and heartwrenching and convicting. Let’s get back to this simple basic.

Oh my goodness I am going to pee my pants.

Yes, I am a little embarrassed to admit I was laughing like a five-year-old. Ted Swartz, one of the fabulous actors of the group “TheaterWorks” joined the conference yesterday and brought a new twist to some of the most over-sermonized stories in scripture.

He began as God, a hugely approachable being completely delighted by the possibilities of his latest creation. Next he portrayed Paul, an angry man still reeling from his experience on the road to Damascus and a bit shocked at his new calling. (side note: between this portrayal and Brian McLaren’s loving presentation of Paul’s writing, I am willing to give this commentator another chance. I haven’t read Paul in several years.)

Next Ted played Peter at the wedding in Cana. Oh, the Peter we all love…opening his mouth and inserting his foot. Peter who wasn’t actually invited, but was “called”…not so funny when you describe it, but absolutely beautifully rendered in comedy.

And then Ted was a cow. Standing in a field. Or perhaps a meadow. Eating, ruminating. Because, you see, we are all cows in a field. Meadow. And faith is like the hay and the grass. “Chew it up and pass it on.”

Sometimes we need to laugh–at ourselves and our idols. Sometimes our doctrines qualify as the latter.

Lest anyone misread, I want to clarify:

I wrote the last post at the end of a long day, but I was inspired to get something down. When I came back this morning and re-read it, I was a little shocked. Here is what I did not intend.

I did not intend to imply that I am or ever was some sort of super-pastor. Nor did I intend to imply that God doesn’t care when we are tired, hurt, or less than whole physically or emotionally. Oh my sweet Lord, that is so not the case!

What I hoped to say, and failed, was that I don’t have to “praise God with my whole heart” as the song says. He is just as willing to accept the praise of my un-whole heart.

It is also important to me to note that most of those examples represented times when I did not feel very worshipful. I often had a very bad attitude about having to go to work to do this job to which I was called. The beauty of worship, though, is that it transcends me. God almost always used us most powerfully in corporate worship when we were sniping at each other behind the scenes, playing the music poorly, making mistakes in presentation like the wrong slides with a song, or so tired or sore that we were practically phoning it in.

Every time that happened, I was humbled. The lesson I learned, and the one I wanted to communicate on Monday, was that I could still worship and lead at worship when I wasn’t at my best. I didn’t have to wait until I felt like it. God feels like it all the time, and that’s more than enough for me.

(Aside: I hosted a simulcast of Spencer Burke’s MONOTATION Creative Workshop in Albuquerque yesterday. The experience has left me wanting to once again embark on this thought exercise we call blogging. I hope, with help, to make this a useful site.)

When I was a kid, I was so mentally quick I was always frustrated with other people. Somehow I became obsessed with efficiency, and my mother would say, “You can’t be impatient with people. You have to give people a little grace.” For my 8th birthday, one of my presents was a button that read “God give me patience – RIGHT NOW!”

Well, life has a funny way of teaching us patience and that story is not going to take up space in this blog. But here I am more than 30 years later realizing, as I often begrudgingly do, that my mother was right about something.

Things don’t always work. Yesterday’s workshop was a study in “things not working.” I couldn’t find a hotspot, Spencer couldn’t find a hotspot, one of the video cameras’ batteries started dying, I didn’t receive the text message from my group telling me they were running late…and yet. And yet, when we got the web cast going, it was a very fun experience. When I went out alone with my camera, I had a wonderfully worshipful experience in spite of my inability to take a good picture. When I finally connected, after 12, with the folks who I was supposed to meet at 11, they extended a great deal of grace to me.

It is in both the good and the bad that we worship. It’s not a schedule on the church’s bulletin, nor is it music, nor does it relate to our physical location in a church building. It’s the moment when, walking through Old Town plaza I hear a joyful laugh and know that laugh belongs to someone I’m meeting, even though I’ve never met that person before. It’s getting to the hamburger joint and realizing they don’t take plastic just to have the youngest and quietest member of our group offer to pay for us all. Worship is the woman sitting in the park meditating, and the kids playing basketball, and the elderly woman whose car is leaking anti-freeze.

Worship is opportunity. It is active, participatory, every-day life. It can happen in the midst of complete silence, and in the throes of utter chaos. All we have to do is recognize the opportunity when we see it.

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