Lent Log Day 13: The Two Day Rule (or, perhaps, humanly imposed limits)

Turns out it’s a bit hard to keep up writing every weekday during lent. I skipped yesterday and was about to skip today but then remembered a video I saw on the “two day rule (note there are ads in the video).” It is born from the reality that habits are easy to start, but very hard to maintain consistently.

In my last post, divinely imposed limits, I talked about how sometimes in ministry we have to remember to stay in our lane, and not over extend or over invest with our time or energy or emotion.

But what about a humanly imposed limit?

A humanly imposed limit, (one could call this a “ritual” or “practice”) is something we hold ourselves to and live by, no matter how we feel at any particular moment. Rituals or practices are tools for building consistency and, as the video explains, are the antidote to procrastination, doubt, and fear (see this post on rock climbing, doubt, and fear)

Consistency is the antidote to the resistance of doubt.

The two day rule is simple: If you skip a day, it’s not a big deal, but once you skip two days, that’s no longer a habit but a one time job. For any habit you are trying to build, whether it’s working out, practicing the cello, reading the Bible, or (in my case), blogging every day in lent, not allow yourself to take off more than one day in a row.

Because we don’t want to be slaves to achievement and try to brute force our way into good habits. Going to the gym every day is hard if you’ve never gone before. The two day rule allows you to skip a day if you’re feeling tired. You can even skip multiple days in one week as long as you never skip two days in a row.

I think this is brilliant. Hope it helps us with our lenten (and life-long) disciplines.

Lent Log Day 8: Holy Water and Hand Sanitizer

I’ve always wanted to write a post about how some churches have a fount of holy water at the entrance and others have a bottle of hand sanitizer. Today seems like that day.

The former says the world is God’s – God made the material world for us to experience and enjoy and the raw material of water reminds us of his goodness to us (the dab of water on our forehead reminds us of our baptism). For more on this I commend Schmemann’s “Of Water and the Spirit” chapter from his book “For the Life of the World.” The fact that water is placed at the entrance to churches is in part to remind us of the ecclesiological (or, communal) significance of our baptism. It is an entrance into community – the body of Christ, and not solely an individual act.

The latter says the world is dirty –  that we need to protect ourselves and get rid of the germs of the outside world. It is practical, pragmatic, and on the surface theologically neutral – how is using hand sanitizer related to how I enter worship?

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. It matters. Everything we do shapes what we believe. The phrase speaks to the fact that all our actions shape our beliefs, and it’s a two way street. If we kneel in worship, our hearts kneel. If we check our bank account balance every morning, our hearts worry about money. If our hearts worry about money, we’ll check our bank account balance every morning.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against hand sanitizer and use it frequently when traveling. Obviously things are a bit different these days and I’m using it more often. But I’m actually really struggling with what the church’s response should be toward Coronavirus fears. During flu season, it’s often suggested that we refrain from handshakes during church, and with Coronavirus fears (and actual cases in the US) rising, we’re considering how to modify our communion practices to be more sanitary. Fortunately, for us Evangelicals, we are already well on our way to individual sanitary practices. We have those tiny plastic cups which are better than all drinking out of the same cup (though I learned that using a fortified wine such as port for its germ killing properties served in a single chalice is actually more sanitary and less of a risk than contamination from hands reaching into the same plate or loaf of bread. The mouth is cleaner than the hands.)

While I am concerned with how to best guide the church’s practices safely, responsibly, and taking advice from medical professionals, I’m also thinking about long-term affects on our practices and therefore our theology. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. I read of one church who changed from handshakes to waves and nods during the H1N1 outbreak in the 2000s, and the practice has by popular choice remained.

Shouldn’t we as Christians be the first ones to remain ‘in the world’ because we know that we are ultimately not of it, but belong to God? This is not to say we don’t exercise caution and common sense, listening to the recommendations from doctors and modifying our practices to be more hygienic, but if the world is living in a state of fear (and it seems like it is), perhaps we should open our doors to welcome the weary, not close them. We’ll also live-stream our worship service too :-).

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…

Psalm 46:1-2

One of our own missionaries remained in Liberia to care for people during the Ebola outbreak a few years ago. Many non-Christians would see this as irresponsible – the recommendation surely would have been to get out of the dangerous area, but he was celebrated here. In the early years of the church, during one such plague outbreak in AD252 Christians were known to be the ones that stuck around to care for the dying. While others fled, Pope Dionysus of Alexandria commended those Christians who remained, writing,

“The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.” (Source)

So I’m not sure what direction this current pandemic is going to go. Certainly let’s pray. Pray that doctors find a cure or vaccine quickly. Pray that Christians would know how to respond to this as disciples of Jesus. Pray that we would not fear. I will use hand sanitizer. I will also remember my baptism.

Lent Log Day 5: Feasts

Luke chapter 15 contains the well known parables of lost things – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. I always thought these parables were about how God seeks after us and finds us even when we are lost, but in my New Testament class last week (and in last Sunday’s sermon at TCC), I was shown that each story also ends with the theme of celebration. The shepherd calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate finding the one sheep, the woman does the same for the coin, and the Father throws a big party when his son returns home. The message of the parable is clear for the Pharisees and scribes (Jesus is telling this parable to them, see Luke 15:1-2)  – don’t grumble about the ‘unrighteous’ who are found by God. Don’t be like the older son, indignant that those who did right all their lives were not getting any special treatment but the “prodigal son” (note that Luke doesn’t use the word prodigal – that’s just the editorial heading) gets a feast with the fatted calf and a new wardrobe: ring, robe, and shoes. The parable is also for us – don’t just be glad for your own salvation but seek out those who have been newly found by God and throw a party. Bring our most lavish gifts to celebrate with any and all who want to celebrate. Not those who we’d expect to see at the banquet – friends and relatives, but the poor and social outcasts. Remember the parable of the Great Banquet was just the chapter before!

The theme of feasting, hospitality, and eating together is all over the pages of Luke’s gospel. Once I started noticing it, it is so clear that Luke really wants us to know that eating together is very important. It’s quickly becoming my favorite Gospel narrative. Because of its emphasis on eating together (Jesus eats with ‘sinners’), it shows that these simple actions are actually very important to God. I like cooking for people and because of passages like Luke 15, I am beginning to see the dinner party as a necessary spiritual practice in my life. So come on over for dinner sometime!

 

Five tips for your sound guys

This article is cross-posted at Seedbed’s Worship Design Collective. Check it out here!

I love our sound guys.  I love them because they are increasingly consistent, reliable, fun to work with, and eager to learn and grow. They respect me and the musicians, and they are always eager to help with additional services or projects. Though we are not a big church by any stretch of the imagination, we are privileged to have a team of 3-4 guys that give ~4 hours of their time on a Sunday to make sure we have excellent worship services.

Here are five qualities I encourage in our sound guys:

1. See yourself as part of the worship team. The person sitting behind the mixer has as much influence on the service as the worship leader. Remember that you are doing so much more than setting levels and muting/un-muting microphones. You are shaping the tone of the service, from prelude to postlude (or, from pre-service background music to post-service worship-team jam). The job of sound guy (or girl!) is not simply technical, it involves pro-active decision making, spontaneity, and creativity.

Take for example the rehearsal time. As the band is practicing the music for Sunday, listen to the form of the song. If possible, get a copy of the charts so you can follow along with the form of the songs. You should know when there is an extended instrumental section and consider boosting lead instruments as they carry a melody. If a song starts with just pads/guitar and boost those to support the congregations voice before the other instruments come in, then bring them back down to sit in the mix when the full band is playing.

Another example: If the service starts with a three-song worship set, try starting with the master fader 20% below unity to allow the congregation to settle into the space and hear their voices. By allowing the congregation to hear themselves as active participants you set an important tone for the worship service, our voices are important! As each song progresses, boost the master fader up with the energy of the song to encourage the congregation to sing out even more.

In short, ride those faders! Listen, listen, listen, and adjust as needed.

2. Be the first (ok, maybe second) person to church. Remember: If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late…well, don’t be late! By arriving at the same time as the worship leader you can both get a head start on running lines and setting up microphones so that when it’s time for sound check things are ready to go.

Talk with the worship leader about time expectations for the morning. When is the band expected to arrive? Are the expected to help setup as well? By making clear expectations about arrival times and rehearsal start times, Sunday morning setup and rehearsal will be much more productive and everyone will be happier!

3. Think like a musician. Be creative, especially during rehearsal. Listen, listen, listen. Are the musicians balanced? Are the singers able to be heard but not overpowering? If it’s too “loud,” can you identify what frequencies are too loud? Remember that you are the only member of the band that can actually hear what it’s like in the house, so use your ears! You don’t have to be a musician yourself, but you do have to know music, and know what sounds good. Even away from the board you can think like a musician. When you listen to music in your car or on your headphones, think about the mi, the EQ, how amazing the kick drum sounds, and how you would achieve the same sound. Consider it all “sound guy practice!”

4. Communicate. Talk to your musicians. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to help you shape the sound. Ask for each musician to play by themselves while you set gain, EQ, compression, etc…

While they are playing, consider their performance and how you can help them achieve a better sound. If a vocalist looks timid, them down in their monitor and tell them to sing out. If a guitarist is strumming to harshly ask them to move their strums away from the bridge and towards the fingerboard. Check mic placement. There are so many simple ways to influence tone before it gets to your board.

Part of your job is to make the band sound as good as possible, but sometimes the ‘raw material’ leaves something to be desired! Maybe you’re trying to shape a song to have contrasting dynamics but the band is playing everything medium-loud. Feel free to (kindly and respectfully) offer suggestions regarding dynamics or articulation. If the bass is boomy and muddy, EQ might help, but so will a cleaner attack and quicker release from the bass player or dampening the kick. If you’re thinking as a musician, then you know there are often a number of ways to fix a given problem. Consider the musician – how this real human playing this real instrument before you reach for that EQ, fader, or compressor.

Of course giving advice to singers and players is a sensitive topic. Read more thoughts on communicating with musicians here.

5. Never stop learning. There’s always room to grow and improve your craft. Learn what every button, knob, and fader on your board and rack does. Learn about your tools: EQ, compression, reverb, gates, delays, and how to use them. Research new gear upgrades. Learn how to identify frequencies to nip feedback in the bud. Learn how our ears respond to sound pressure and how to make it sound “full” but not “loud”. Audio engineering takes decades to learn and master and there is so many resources out there. Not sure where to start? Check out blogs, listen to some live sound podcasts , visit other churches and see what they do, read lots of books and magazines.

 

I wrote a tune

Heart with Loving Heart UnitedA friend of mine I met at the spirit and sacrament conference gave a pretty compelling pitch for looking into some of the old Moravian hymns. With common themes of love, self-sacrifice, humility, and sincere commitment to following Jesus, they are a great fit for any congregation. One in particular that was suggested is “Heart with loving heart united,” a hymn about the Church’s fellowship led by Christ. The text speaks for itself:

Heart with loving heart united, met to know God’s holy will.
Let his love in us ignited more and more our spirits fill.
He the head, we are his members, we reflect the light he is.
He the master, we disciples, he is ours and we are his.

May we all so love each other and all selfish claims deny,
so that each one for the other will not hesitate to die.
Even so our Lord has loved us, for our lives he gave his life.
Still he grieves and still he suffers, for our selfishness and strife.

Since, O Lord, you have demanded that our lives your love should show,
so we wait to be commanded forth into your world to go.
Kindle in us love’s compassion so that ev’ryone may see
in our fellowship the promise of a new humanity.

So I wrote the tune above! Let me know what you think in the comments:

 

 

Why I’m excited about our upcoming art exhibition

Several months ago I began a conversation with Nasser K., the director of ArtsWayland, a nonprofit org. that seeks to promote artistic expression in Wayland and Metro West. After a few conversations in person and over email, a partnership began to materialize. We decided to launch our first “call for works” for an exhibition at TCC.
My vision for artists at TCC is to be culture-makers in Metro West; to be a tangible witness to God’s beauty, grace and love; to show how God is “making all things new;” and to use art to build relationships with non-Christian artists in our city (Not to mention, to share our beautiful building with the community!).
I hope this excites you as it excites me. Though I am not myself a visual artist, I want to be the supporter, encourager, and cheerleader for our amazing and talented artists. I want to help the artists in our community help us as a church worship Jesus more deeply.
Art Exhbition with ArtsWayland @ TCC
Opening Reception January 9th, 2015 – 6PM
 
Here are some details:
– 2D and 3D works (no theme – artist’s choice) may be submitted.
– The exhibition will have an opening reception on January 9th @ 6PM.
– The art will remain up for one month (January 7 to February 7, 2015)
– This is a juried show – ArtsWayland and TCC will collaborate for final art selections
– Art may be sold at the end of the show through ArtsWayland (not through TCC)
– Deadline to submit work: December 1, 2014. Entry fee of $20.
More info, and submission page can be found here:

Theology, Watches, Competing Liturgies, and why James K.A. Smith is a baller and a scholar.

Remember this post? In it I wanted to discuss the undeniable fact that apple stores look like and effectively function as religious shrines for the faithful consumer. Well 3 years and 3 iPhone models later, I guess its time to blog it up.


 

Theology of Space. Every place tells a story.

How do our public spaces tell stories about humans and what we desire? How do our churches tell us what is important in life, and where to direct our attention and focus during a worship service?

These and other questions make us realize that no space is a neutral space, and that every space both explicitly religious (a church) or not (an apple store) are pointing our hearts towards things to love (and in the same breath, worship).

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these pictures from the latest apple press conference (aka the iFeast day) and see for yourself…

apple1 Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.15.09 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.08.14 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.15.13 PM

And you thought it was a cult before… these iconic, monumental, yet strangely familiar spaces (there’s one on Boylston St. and one in the Natick mall) invite in the faithful apple junkie to gaze upon the newest objects of worship, bathed in light and set apart from the darkness or chaos from which you enter. In the center, the emblem and icon of the fruit – no Eden reference intended but I’ll bite 🙂 – reminds us who is behind all of this, and who will receive our offering when we purchase the things for $649 for the 16GB-model–without–a-2-year-contract-thank-you-very-much-t-mobile…

Competing Liturgies. Who (or what) do we love?

But the connection to religious doesn’t stop with their stores temples.

I’ve been reading James K.A. Smith’s fascinating analysis of competing liturgies in his book “Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation,” which makes 3 basic claims:

  1. Human beings are oriented and defined by desire (what we love).
  2. Human beings are influenced and shaped by practice (by what we do)
  3. Some practices or rituals communicate a specific vision of “the good life” (Smith categorizes these as “liturgies”), and compete for first place in our lives.

In short, the church is not the only liturgy in our life, and it is not even the loudest or most effective.

Smith then exegetes competing liturgies in our 21st century western culture. Consider his first analysis.

The layout of this temple has architectural echoes that hark back to medieval cathedrals – mammoth religious spaces that can absorb all kinds of  different religious activities all at one time. And so one might say that this religious building has a winding labyrthinth for contemplation, alongside of which are innumerable chapels devoted to various saints. As we wander the labyrinth in contemplation, preparing to enter one of the chapels, we’ll be struck by the rich iconography that lines the walls and interior spaces. Unlike the flattened depictions of saints one might find in stained-glass windows, here is an array of three-dimensional icons adorned in garb that – as with all iconography – inspires us to be imitators of these exemplars. These statues and icons embody for us concrete images of “the good life”. (Smith, 21)

If you haven’t guessed it by now, Smith is describing, albeit from a unique tongue-in-cheek perspective, any suburban mall. His evocative depiction of a “full worship experience” at the mall, complete with all the “smells and bells” needs to be read in full to be truly appreciated, as his depiction of the mall as a cathedral pilgrimage site makes unfamiliar the familiar, and makes us truly stop and think about just what kind of liturgy we’re competing against. As Smith states, The mall understands humans as desiring creatures.

I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures who’s being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they “get it”: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures–creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret. (Smith, 76)

The mall (or marketplace) is of particular interest considering Apple’s press coverage today. I think Apple’s brilliant marketing, design, and a knack for grabbing our hearts fits in perfectly with Smith’s analysis.  They even have their own saint…

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 6.19.50 PM
from the homepage at abcnews.com

These pictures tell a story. Combine that with insane apple fanaticism, monumental media attention, and a half a billion “followers” (apparently there are 500,000,000 iTunes subscribers), and you have a religion. A religion that tells us what is good, what we need, and what we’ll buy as soon as we are able to.

 

 Where do we go from here?

In part 2, “Desiring the Kingdom”  James K.A. Smith offers a counter for the church to paint the picture of “the good life” through our Christian practices of worship based around the teachings of Jesus. We cannot simply shun consumerism – we need to offer a replacement. The result of the fall was not that we stopped loving, but that we began loving the wrong things. It’s up to the church – the hands and feet of Jesus – to re-orient our desires to what they were intended for and the only thing that will bring ultimate fulfillment. Lord help us. More on that after I read part 2, and even more on that after I read his second book: “Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works“. Unfortunately I have to save up for my iWatch so it will be a while until I can afford paper books again.

 

Family Polyphony Vacation [new recordings!]

St. Francis de Sales Church, Phoenicia, NY
Nestled in the Catskills – Phoenicia, NY

I’ve been doing a lot of singing lately. When two conductors marry each other, family vacation means driving to a festival and putting on a concert. A few weeks ago I got to sing with a stellar ensemble of 11 voices at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in upstate NY. The festival is mostly centered around opera so we are definitely the black sheep choral group, though after 4 years now, we’ve gained a bit of a following from festival attendees who look forward to hearing us every year.

This year’s festival theme was Spanish music, so Rachel and Matt put together a program of music from the Spanish Renaissance, centered around Morales’ Missa de Beata Virgine. The mass is a superb piece of music, particularly the final Angus Dei. Our program was aptly titled “Heaven’s Paradise on Earth: Music of the Spanish Renaissance“. Indeed, heavenly music!

Check out our recordings here:

9 Observations on Singing New Songs

Singing a new song? It’s more than meets the eye! Good words from cardiphonia

Cardiphonia

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I’ve had a couple of people mention to me Jamie Brown’s recent set of blog posts reflecting on his time at the National Worship Leaders Conference (DC). IN particular they were questioning his thoughts on introducing new songs in church.  This is a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot in the various churches I’ve worked for so I thought I’d share my gathered wisdom.

1. A New Song is his Name…but don’t wear it out.

When the Psalms (in particular) speak of ‘singing a new song’ they are specifically foreshadowing the incarnation event.  The early chapters of the gospel of Luke show us in spectacular form that Christ is the cause, inspiration, and embodiment of the ‘new song.’  Our ‘new songs’ are simply reflections of that One eternal never-ending, never sick of ‘new song.’  i. Try and make your new songs more of a reflection of the new songs of Luke…

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Ben Keyes’ “The Last Laugh,” and why you should buy this awesome album

A few months ago I had the pleasure of creating the album artwork for Ben Keyes’ (rhymes with “skies”) first solo album. Ben is one of the members of  Ordinary Time, a folk acoustic trio from Vancouver, Canada, and is a member of TCC Wayland, where I work. The cover (in my completely unbiased opinion) reflects the bluegrass/gospel roots of Ben’s music. Check it out!

Continue reading “Ben Keyes’ “The Last Laugh,” and why you should buy this awesome album”