A few of my favorite things…

18 05 2012

The Rabbit Room. The Beatles. The Bishop of Durham.

So many of my favorite things, in one place … this is genius…and a whole lot of fun! Click below to see Bishop N. T. Wright sing his own version of “Yesterday” in Nashville, Tennessee.


15 04 2012

Another video, because I was super proud of my youth today!!! Our youth band led music in our contemporary service and combined with the adult praise band for the song Manifesto, by City Harmonic.  (Sorry we didn’t catch it from the beginning. But take notice…we staid Methodists were actually raising our hands in worship!!!)

God of this City

2 11 2011

Love this song, and love this video created by students at a local high school.  As a youth worker, it’s a great inspiration to see juxtaposition of these “ordinary” images (as seen through a student’s eyes) with the lyrics “Greater things are yet to be done here….”

The Hills are Alive!!

14 12 2010

On Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to play with the Von Trapp Children in Marshall, Texas. These four siblings, ages 16-22, are the great-grandchildren of Captain and Maria von Trapp, of Sound of Music fame.

Going into the performance, I had no idea what to expect. Turns out I was one of just six musicians accompanying the singing group. The Von Trapps were running late for the second rehearsal because they had to drive over from Birmingham (after a performance with the Alabama Symphony the night before). And although they were the guests of honor, and we were happy to wait for them, they entered the convention center full of apologies. Sofi, the oldest, strode onstage, introduced herself to each of us individually, and thanked us for being there.

And that opening set the tone for the rest of the day. I was impressed not only by their vocal talent (which was PHENOMENAL) but also by their graciousness and genuine friendliness. Having traveled the world on concert tours, they could easily have come to Marshall with their noses up, deploring this backwards town and its less-than-virtuosic musicians. (And it wouldn’t be the first time something like that had happened!)

But in fact, they did just the opposite. They were excited to be back in Texas, where the weather was considerably warmer than their Montana home. They ate dinner with us backstage, and we had a wonderful time getting to know them a little bit better. And after the performance was over, they even asked if they could take a picture with us!

I shared this story with my Sunday School class this past Sunday morning, and Conrad interrupted. “It’s like Jesus, isn’t it?” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I hadn’t really planned to attach a moral to this story.

“Well, like, we should be getting excited about getting to meet God, and we should be wanting to have our picture made with him. But it’s just the opposite. Jesus came here to us, and wanted to get to know us.”

I was speechless. He was right, of course. What a great Christmas story!!

And here’s the (completely unsolicited) pitch: If you ever get the chance to go hear the Von Trapps in concert, please please take it!!! They’re 100% worth it. And if you just can’t wait until they come to you, go listen to them here

Winter Jam Review

22 03 2010

On Saturday night, we took a busload of kids over to CenturyTel for the annual Winter Jam concert.  The entire youth group had been excited about this show for weeks: when else do you get to hear 8 or 9 major Christian bands for just $10? It was a great deal, and promised to be a night of wholesome Christian entertainment.  But by the time intermission came, I was completely disenchanted by the whole thing and found myself turning to Jordan to ask, “When did I become so cynical?”

Maybe it’s because I’m saturated in youth ministry right now, or maybe it’s because it had been a really long week, or maybe the raging liberal is coming out in me…or maybe I’m just overreacting… but I was deeply disturbed by some of the messages that were being subtly promoted by this concert tour.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do believe that the organizers of this tour have the best of intentions.  And on the whole, the evening was great: the technology was well-done, the concert flowed smoothly, and I have a lot of respect for their dedication to making this Tour affordable for all.  But it is precisely because the concert was so well-done, because there was so much hype about the Tour, and because the Tour does in fact represent the heart of Christianity to nearly 350,000 teenagers across the country, that the flaws seemed so glaring to me.  So, if anybody affiliated with Winter Jam happens to read this, please know that I respect what you do and am making these criticisms in love.  In short, these were the problems that I had with my experience on Saturday night:

1. Racism, sexism, and homophobia.  Near the beginning of the concert, one of the concert hosts was talking about how you can use music as a form of outreach.  He used the example that you could give a Christian CD to one of those Asian women at the nail salons, because you can’t understand a word they say anyway.  Jordan and I looked at each other: Did he really just say that? Out loud? I really would like to believe that he walked offstage and hit himself in the head, wondering why those words had come out of his mouth.  However, I also know that the Bossier City stop was one of the Tour’s last, and everything was extremely well-rehearsed, even a bit canned.  He had obviously said those words many times before, during many other concerts.

Equally problematic, or perhaps even more so, were featured speaker Tony Nolan‘s comments during his message (and here I paraphrase because I did not write down his exact wording): Girls, imagine that you could own all of the clothing in the world.  Wouldn’t that be great?  Guys, we don’t care so much about clothing.  Or if you do care, well, then, I’ve got to be a little bit worried about you. (cue laughter from the audience)

Okay, I know those comments aren’t exactly at the level of Westboro Baptist Church.  But that’s not the point.  How many teens in the audience were struggling with their sexuality that night?  How many of them had already been marginalized or ridiculed by the church?  Why would you ever pass up the chance to show love to these teenagers and instead make a joke about it?  It is never okay to use people’s race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality as the butt of a joke…especially not when you are a leader in youth ministry… and especially not in a concert setting filled with thousands of impressionable Christian youth.  When you make the joke, then you are implicitly making it okay for them to go out into their churches and schools and make more jokes.

2. The Sinners’ Prayer.  This is more of a theological difference than anything, and I do want to be clear: it is not the prayer itself that I have problems with, but the hype that goes before and after it.  I take theological issue with the idea that salvation happens in a moment, but I also recognize that the organizers of the Tour probably have different theological leanings than I do, and that the inclusion of this altar-call moment was in keeping with their theology.  However, I take practical issue with the emotional and peer pressure that was put on students to “stand up if you prayed this prayer.  Come on, don’t be ashamed of your faith.”  About 30 seconds later, the speaker proudly proclaimed that several hundred  students had just made the decision to give their lives to Christ.  No further instructions were given to the students about what to do with their newly changed life, other than to stand and be counted.  I understand that they may have been short on time, but I believe they missed an opportunity to go a few notches deeper than simply “getting saved.”

3. The Mission Moment.  I would consider myself to be a pretty mission-minded person, and it takes a lot to make me criticize a missional focus.  I am all for creating experiences that challenge youth to get out of their middle-class bubble.  But I think there is a tendency in the Church to accept all things Christian as equally good, and that’s simply not the case.  As leaders especially, we must be discerning in what we choose to endorse and in how we choose to endorse it.

The featured mission organization was Holt International, an international adoption agency based out of Eugene, Oregon.  Tony Nolan spoke about his own experience of childhood abuse and said that he felt God was calling him to be the voice for children around the world.  His speech was well-done and moving.  Then, he brought to the stage his three-year-old child, whom he adopted last year, and let her speak into the microphone to say, “Help children like me.”  It was cute, for sure, but I do not believe there was any need for him to parade his child around and use her for his cause.  In 10 or 15 years, when she can speak for herself, that will be a different story.  But…maybe then she won’t bring quite the same cuteness factor onto the table.  Perhaps Tony is just a good salesman, but somehow I think I would have had less of a problem with the whole thing if he had just shown a picture of his daughter rather then handing her the microphone.

Then he asked the audience something along the lines of, “Do you believe God is calling you to be in mission?” (Who could say no?)  And the response was, “If so, then go down to Holt International‘s table and pick out a child to sponsor.  We’re trying to sponsor 200 children tonight.”  All these good, dutiful youth then streamed down to the table, ready to pick out a cute child.  Which is not the end of the world, I guess.  But I am puzzled by their choice of charities to support.  While I am aware of problems inherent in Charity Navigator‘s star-ranking system, I think it is worth noting that Holt International has only received two out of four stars and is not even included in several other ranking sites, such as the American Institute of Philanthropy.   Again, if Winter Jam is promoting excellence in all things Christian, then I believe they have the duty to think critically about the mission organization which they choose to promote.  And, I know this is just wishful thinking on my part, but I sure would love to see an event go deeper than “pick out a child that looks cute” and instead to engage deeper issues of philanthropy and mission.

Fortunately for us, the second half of the concert made up for the shortcomings of the beginning.  Tenth Avenue North was excellent, both in their music and their message.  Their songs all seem to speak to a deep sense of grace and healing, and I have continued listening to their CDs this morning :).   And the lead singer of Third Day came across as surprisingly authentic, recognizing the overwhelming consumerist nature of an event like Winter Jam while attempting to go deeper and challenge the audience to see into the heart that inspired their music.

As we left the Century Tel center and headed toward the bus, we were surprised by snow!  I guess, on the eve of spring, Winter Jam brought some winter weather to Louisiana!

Here’s some of our group on Saturday night:

Missionaries of Music

23 09 2009

A Time magazine article from Dec. 3, 1979, tells the story of Sister Anne Marie Bickerstaff, an Episcopal nun who had moved to Haiti in 1951 to teach at a missionary school.  Over the years, she worked with her students to develop their musical abilities, and eventually raised enough money to fund an orchestra, concert hall, and music school (among other things.)  Very, very cool.

I actually discovered this article tonight, after reading the first chapter of Taking It to the Streets: Using the Arts to transform your community, by J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early.  In the foreword to the book, Tony Campolo recalls his reactions to the Haitian orchestra project (side note: I assume the above-linked article is referring to the same orchestra that Campolo mentions below, although he does not give enough details to know):

“I was somewhat shocked.  When I considered the incredible poverty of this poorest of all nations in the Western Hemisphere, and when I thought about the massive malnutrition that plagues the children of the capital, I instantly concluded that the money would be better spent on things other than music.  That was before I saw the symphony orchestra perform in an outdoor sports stadium…As I watched the impoverished populace react to the music, saw the ecstasy and pride in their faces, and the sense of dignity that the music generated among these people, I realized that the nuns had done the right thing.”

Orchestra (of Christ…)

17 09 2009

February 2005. Reno, Nevada. National High School Honor Orchestra.

Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid orchestral suite opens with a serene piccolo solo, evoking a sense of the open prairie from which the story emerges. Throughout the National Orchestra Festival, we spent seven hours a day (at least!) in rehearsal, preparing for our final concert at the end of the week. Our piccolo player consistently botched the solo, his instrument cracking on the high note. High schoolers that we were, we giggled at the sound, and then as the week went on, we rolled our eyes. (Will he ever get this right??)

Our conductor looked at us sternly and said, “You are an orchestra. During this part of the piece, the piccolo might be the only one playing, but we are all in this together. You all need to be hearing the song in your head and envisioning the melody beforehand. And when we start to play, I want you to give him your undivided attention and silently cheer him on. No matter what happens, we are in this together.”

Four and a half years later, I remember that speech clearly. I remember taking his words to heart and holding my breath at the opening of the song. I don’t, however, remember whether or not the piccolo player nailed his solo. I guess it didn’t matter.

UNC Orchestra

As I played in the Cobb Symphony Orchestra last week, I couldn’t help but marvel at what a wonderful thing it is to play in an orchestra. In what other context can 100 people come together so singlemindedly to create such beauty? There is a certain kinship — a camaraderie — that arises from playing music together. We speak a common language and are bound together by what can sometimes become a transcendent experience. For that reason, although I definitely missed the familiar “Shreveport circuit” musicians, I felt more at home last week than I have so far in Atlanta.

I can’t help but wonder if the orchestral experience is perhaps one of the truest expressions of the body of Christ? Allow me to take a little bit of liberty with 1 Corinthians 12:

Now the orchestra is not made up of one instrument but many. For if the whole orchestra were only made up of percussion players, then where would the melody be? Or if the whole orchestra was just a trumpet player, what would happen after the fanfare finished?

But God has placed each of the players within the ensemble, just as he desired.

The violinists cannot say to the clarinetist “We do not need you.” Because who will take her place for Rhapsody in Blue? Nor can the tuba players make fun of the piccolo player when he misses a note.

On the contrary, the old adage is true: An orchestra is only as strong as its weakest player.

God has composed music for this ensemble, orchestrating the melodies to weave in and out through the various sections of the orchestra, so that each part is essential to the whole. And if one player makes a mistake, the whole orchestra suffers with him or her. And if one player nails a particularly difficult or beautiful solo, the whole orchestra applauds.

You are each individual musicians, and together, you are the orchestra of Christ.

Dance Upon Injustice!

13 09 2009

The church we attended today is nestled in a small, historic building, right in the midst of Midtown.  They keep the door open throughout the service for anyone passing by, and the walls are thin enough (or perhaps the music was loud enough) that we could hear the first verse of “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” as we we were walking in.  After we settled into the pews, the words really sank in for me, in a new way:

“Open up the doors and let the music play.
Let the streets resound with singing.
Songs that bring Your hope, and songs that bring Your joy,
Dancers who dance upon injustice.”

With the door behind us flung wide open, I suddenly had this vision of the church spilling open onto the streets, with the sounds of our worship resounding all around us.  This is exactly what “creative theology” is all about: an idea, a vision, for the kingdom lived out through music and dance (among other things).  Dancing upon injustice.

Sometimes the music and dancing is literally just that: music and dancing.  And sometimes, it’s the songs of our lives, our ministries, our stories, all coming together in kingdom-work onto the streets and into the city and into the world:

Do you feel the darkness tremble?
When all the saints join in one song
And all the streams flow as one river
To wash away our brokenness

And we can see that
God You’re moving
A mighty river through the nations
And young and old will turn to Jesus
Fling wide you heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord

By Your Grace

22 08 2009

A song I’ve been playing around with for a while. It has no tune yet (I think because it’s so wordy), but I’m working on that. Just wanted to share:

You know what we desire before we kneel to pray
We cannot add to what you are by anything we say
Everything we give, Lord, we first received from You
So I wonder what our offerings are for…

Still we come to Your altar, bringing what You require
That through our worship, we might know You more.

By Your grace, You accept our offering of praise
You accept our lives as a humble sacrifice
You give us reason to be holy, and then You make the way
In all these things, O Lord, we thank You for Your grace.

We pray that You’ll be with us, though You’re already here
We fail to see Your glory whenever You appear
In Your steadfast love, Lord, forgive us when we falter
We long to know Your truth and be renewed.

So we come to Your altar, with our hands held high
Imperfect though we are, we worship You.

By Your grace, You accept our offering of praise
You accept our lives as a humble sacrifice
You give us reason to be holy, and then You make the way
In all these things, O Lord, we thank You for Your grace.

Grace & Piano Recitals

21 08 2009

While in the midst of preparing lesson plans for my first violin students next week (yes, that’s right—students with an s!!!), I ran across this great post about piano recitals by Michael Raburn.  Although it will be quite some time before I know what it’s like to be the recital parent, I imagine it feels somewhat similar to be the teacher.  After all, the teacher is the one who has been guiding their hands through these songs, teaching techniques and (hopefully) inspiring some sense of musicality.  But when the students get on stage, they’re all alone… and you’re left sitting in the audience, hoping they will play their hearts out and knowing that you will applaud proudly no matter what happens.  And my experience with good teachers has been that, whether they’re teaching beginners or virtuosos, they will accept you exactly as you are, help you fix your mistakes, appreciate the progress in each small step, believe in your potential, and continually cheer you on.

And for all of us, making music as we go along in the world, that truth is the ultimate good grace of an even greater God!