Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Worship Leaders and Stevie Wonder

So I made some exciting work/school-related discoveries today.

I found this site which has some mp3s from worship lectureships over the past few years. Yeah, Southern Baptists! I realize this wouldn't excite everyone, but for me this is good stuff.

I haven't been able to listen to many of them, but there are a lot of authors that I've had to read for school. I'm looking forward to using them on my ipod for drives/walks. I also think they could be potentially good resources for our worship teams at church.

I was especially excited to see a series of talks by the writers of some of my favorite worship songs: "In Christ Alone" and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us." However, as I downloaded the files, I thought, "They spelled his name wrong. They left a letter out!" Just to prove to myself that I was right and the Southern Baptists were wrong, I got out a songbook to check.

Turns out, Stuart Townend is the guy who writes great worship songs. Stuart Townsend dates Charlize Theron. My bad.

Anyways, I was listening to one of Stuart Townend and Keith Getty's lectures. They both have really fun accents (one British and one Irish). They had some great things about congregational worship. Nothing too revolutionary - but well-put nonetheless. Things like we should balance singing subjective truth by singing a good amount of objective truth. They said that if you write objective truth in a narrative form, people will sing it easily. Really that's what they did with "In Christ Alone." Also, as people who write or choose songs for corporate worship, we have to understand that a lot of people's theology is shaped by what we sing (for better or worse - and whether or not it should be that way). They sang some of their songs.

But my favorite part was when someone asked them who some of their musical influences are. Stuart talked a bit about stuff he'd been listening to lately: Norah Jones, Maroon 5, Coldplay, yadda yadda. But then he said he'd also been going back and listening some of his favorite classic music: Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, and......Stevie Wonder.

And I may or may not have said outloud, "YEAH Stevie Wonder!" So, I feel like I have a kindred spirit with Stuart Townend.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Everywhere I go I see You

I think that a person's surroundings are significant.

My apartment and office have not been the cleanest lately. This is nothing new; it's really just a reflection that I'm busy. I tend to clean in big bursts rather than little by little over time. I don't like that about myself, but it has just been a fact of my reality. I love my apartment (or pre-house if you will). However, when I'm busy and it's messy I don't get to enjoy it as much. It becomes that place that I sleep and keep soda cold.

While it seems superficial, I am starting to think about how the aesthetics of our surroundings can be a part of our personal worship. I had always thought of decorating my living/working spaces with things like functionality or personal expression in mind. People definitely abuse aesthetics - by using them to impress others or to only entertain themselves.

However, I was really humbled by reading a response to a survey from a woman from church about how visual art impacts her.

She wrote:
"Right now God is using incredible visual art: springtime in central Illinois, to illustrate His power, His beauty, creativity, resurrection, extravagant giving and many other themes. We’re made in God’s image and I think it’s natural and appropriate for us to do the same things as He well as we can, of course, which certainly doesn’t compare to how well He does it.

I have art in my house that makes me think of God. I try to make my home, both in the areas where I have intentional worship times and where I just live, attractive just as God has made our home, the world, attractive. Elizabeth Goudge mentions in many of her books the need for us to have beautiful things and surroundings: they need not be expensive or luxurious, but they need to lift our souls upward. I like to keep the windows open so I can see creation and that helps me worship. The bird feeder attracts many birds...sometimes it seems I’m living inside mobile art, like a snowglobe as big as the universe."

I don't know how that affects you, but to me it seems pretty profound. I want to continue to have my eyes drawn upward to God. Part of that is by raising my awareness to how He's already revealed Himself all around me (and yes, the nicer weather helps make that easier). And another part of that is placing things around me that point me back to Him.

What helps you look upward?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Monday Randomness

(I noticed that this isn't the first time I've used that title. I could make it a regular event...)

  • Small Groups Conference came and went...and pretty smoothly at that. Small groups are an interesting thing. A few take-aways: hearing some cool stories from friends about when small groups are at their best, getting to spend time with church people from around the area, being very proud of my best friend, and being challenged to invest in people more.
  • The big paper has been submitted. Feels pretty good. I still have to do a few other school-related projects, but having that one checked off is nice. I hope to spend much less time at the church after 10pm now - it gets really spooky.
  • To continue the theme of TV shows that cause emotional reactions, I would like to share the following t-shirt design (which is pretty much amazing):

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's so hard to see when my eyes are on me

Quick post (I shouldn't be doing this right now - but I'm so distractable!)

2 things:

1 - Had a weird thing with my right eye today. My allergies are around because it's so pretty and springy outside. I'm used to this. What I'm NOT used to is having a large bump form on my right eye. Not on the lid. On my eyeball. It was really weird, and after a quick call to my mom (she's a nurse, see) I decided to run to get it checked out. Fortunately, it is not a big deal - I have eye drops and my vision is still going strong.

2 - I am amazed at the way I continue to be really concerned with what other people think. Seems like I have to fight the self-centered battle every day. But my prayer is really that in the things I do that God would be magnified - and that I could just get out of the way.

Monday, April 17, 2006

If I start to cry

Apparently stress not only makes me want to eat ice cream, it also makes me slightly emotional.

Exhibit A:

A conversation over dinner

Me: So I was watching Extreme Home Makeover while I ate dinner last night, and I cried.

Friend: Really? Why?

Me: It was really moving. I always cry at that show - even when I say I won't.

Friend: Like, REAL tears, crying?

Me: I said I cried.

Friend: I don't remember the last time I cried at a TV show. Maybe the finale of The Wonder Years.

Me: OH MY GOSH! I remember that episode! It was so sad - the narrator voice talked about what happened to each character as they grew up. And Kevin and Winnie never did end up together...

Friend: Are you crying?

Me: Ummm....

Friend: (silence)

Me: We can talk about something besides TV.

Friend: Okay.

(Hat tip to Kari's Mike & Kari dialogue series)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Hymn for Holy Week

Go to Dark Gethsemane - James Montgomery

Go to dark Gethsemane, you that feel the tempter's power;
Your Redeemer's conflict see, Watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See Him at the judgment hall, beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the Gall! O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame or loss; learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary's mournful mountain clumb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished!" hear Him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid his breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; Savior, teach us so to rise.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lots of gospels...

I have been teased for reading Christianity Today online.
It's okay - I can take it.

Their weblog has had lots of stuff about the Gospel of Judas stuff that's been all the buzz lately. I have to admit, I was talking out loud to the newspeople on TV when they started calling it a document that could "shake the foundations of Christianity" and tell the story of Jesus from another perspective. Things I may (or may not) have shouted back could include: "This isn't really new information," "People have had jacked up ideas about that for a LONG TIME - it's called G-NOS-TI-CISM (say it with me now)," "300AD? THREE HUNDRED AD??" and my favorite, "Nuh-uh!" That, ladies and gentleman, is what a little bit of seminary gets you - a strong, though still somewhat naive, opinion. For a kinda funny, satirical look at the whole hoopla, check out the internet monk.

In their weblog today, CT has a bunch of links to different conversations and whatnot related to the whole thing. There's some commentary amongst the links, too.

However, the last part of their commentary was especially interesting:
"If you want to be really cool, though, tell your friends about a little-known document that's even more amazing than the Gospel of Judas. It's called the Epistle of Judas, and it makes some pretty wild claims. First, the document is reportedly older than almost any New Testament book, and it draws heavily upon non-canonical Jewish literature. It includes some odd stories like the archangel Michael fighting with the Devil over a corpse, and quite a bit of discussion about sexual indulgence. Unlike most New Testament books, the Epistle of Judas appears to be written in Judea itself. The book makes the dramatic claim that its author, Judas, was the brother of the apostle James (the first leader of the church). Judas apparently makes a subtle claim that he's Jesus' brother, too.

This Epistle of Judas includes some advice that may be applicable for those frustrated with all the hype over the much-later Gospel of Judas. "Have mercy on those who doubt," Judas wrote. "Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."*"

They have stuff on about other stuff too - like living the resuurection (but who would be nerdy enough to get really excited about stuff like that?).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

In current (consistent) rotation

(This is a review I wrote for our church's young adult e-newsletter. If you're subscribed to The Know, that was your spoiler warning. I don't know if it does the album justice, but it's the best I could come up with. When I get enamoured with a CD I want to listen to it again and again...and then I want to share it with everyone I think would appreciate it. So it's fun to be able to review an album I feel that way about. Although I'd much rather take a drive with you while playing and talking about the songs. However, since I can't...)

The Far Country – Andrew Peterson, 2005

Andrew Peterson just might be one of the best Christian artists you’ve never heard of. While his distinct voice takes some warming-up to, his songwriting abilities are very solid, and he is definitely worthy of the many comparisons to Rich Mullins that have been made by various reviewers. His 2004 Christmas CD, Behold the Lamb of God, ranks as one of my personal all-time favorite CDs. (If you’ve never heard me rave about this CD, ask me sometime; just make sure you have about a half hour to spare. It’s amazing. Go buy it. No, really!) Peterson always manages to combine thoughtful lyrics with acoustic, organic music.

Peterson describes his latest album, The Far Country, as “a joyful album about death.” While this sounds potentially contradictory, AP explores topics like death and heaven with honesty and quite a bit of hope. The overall message of the album is this: We are living in the far country; heaven is our real home. One of the stand-out tracks for me is “Lay Me Down,” which makes statements like, “When you lay me down to die I’ll miss my boys, I’ll miss my girls; lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world. You can lay me anywhere, oh but just remember this: when you lay me down to die, you lay me down to live.”

The musical style of the album as a whole is upbeat, even when dealing with serious themes. Peterson stays true to his acoustic sound (guitars, harmonies, and an occasional hammered dulcimer) that has served him well for many albums. However, several tracks (most noticeably the title track) groove with a bit more driving electric sound.

Though the majority of the songs stay within the overall theme of life after death, Peterson offers several solid songs on other topics. “Little Boy Heart Alive” celebrates the child-like wonder of Peterson’s sons with lots of literary and spiritual allusions. “For the Love of God” is a song about marriage written for the wedding of a friend who was notoriously bad at relationships. “Mystery of Mercy,” originally recorded by Caedmon’s Call (though written by AP), sings about the grace of God that goes far beyond what we deserve or understand.

Lyrics for the whole album, as well as several music clips, can be found at Andrew Peterson’s website.
For a review (by a real music reviewer) from Christianity Today, click here (The Far Country was also named as one of Christianity Today’s top albums of 2005). [Why do I feel like Reading Rainbow right now? “But you don’t have to take MY word for it…”]

As I have listened to this album over the past month, I have found a great deal of comfort and a widened perspective. While life has its challenges, because of Christ we can have a hope that goes beyond what we can see.
As AP sings on “More”:
“There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more.”

Monday, April 03, 2006

Life (and death) perspective

It's interesting how sometimes when I'm most frustrated with school - and the seemingly impractical nature of studying the things I do, I get surprised at how much I need to hear the very things I'm studying.

Some context:
I've been pondering death a bit lately. It's been a reality for some people around me - in some painful ways. Funerals, especially for the young, are never easy.
I've been listening to Andrew Peterson's newest album, "The Far Country," to try to write a review of it; it's mostly about death. (Fortunately, that album has been a huge comfort to me.)
And I've been working hard on my paper on the Resurrection - and why it's important for us as Christians to talk (and sing) about it on a regular basis.

And in the process of all that - I think that I'm being shaped.
Tonight - in a surprising place (Alexander Campbell's hymnal) - I found so many songs that articulated all of these thoughts that have been spinning in my head. I think we need more songs like this to sing.
Here's one (I apologize, I can't find the author.):

"WHEN we the sacred grave survey
In which our Saviour deign'd to lie,
We see fulfill'd what prophets say,
And all the power of death defy.

This empty tomb shall now proclaim
How weak the bands of conquer'd death;
Sure pledge that all who trust his name,
Shall rise, and draw immortal breath.

Our Surety freed declares us free,
For whose offences he was seiz'd;
In his release our own we see,
And joy to view Jehovah pleas'd.

Jesus, once number'd with the dead,
Unseals his eyes to sleep no more;
And ever lives their cause to plead,
For whom the pains of death he bore.

Then, tho' in dust we lay our head,
Yet, gracious God, thou wilt not leave
Our flesh for ever with the dead,
Nor lose thy children in the grave."