Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recent Reads and Reviews

I've been able to get back to my "usual" amount of reading over the summer months, but it's been a while since I wrote about what I've read.


Viola rearranges the events and letters of the NT to tell the story in chronological order.  The reasons behind each NT epistle is brought to a new light (sometimes it's easy to forget that they were letters, after all.)  I'm sure that I'll be using this book for a while whenever I want to study a specific book of the NT in more detail.  It's a relatively easy-to-read book, and I recommend it for anyone who's wanted to study the NT's story as a whole.


Wow.  Unfortunately, most of the time we (myself included) tend to read books that only reinforce our deeply-entrenched views of the world.  I am glad to say that this book did not fall into that particular category.  It kicked my butt from the start, and it continued to do so long after the back cover was closed.

Boyd's book discusses the idea that we (meaning the Church) frequently speak of the need to "bring America back to God."  According to Boyd and his arguments, this can never be possible because the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of the world" will never be able to reconcile either in principle or in practice.  

I don't feel that I could ever do this book justice by trying to describe it.  All I can say is that it has continued to stick with me three months after I read it, and I recommend it to anyone who feels that the Church is not designed for political power (anyone care to talk about the Middle Ages?)

A word of warning:  you won't feel comfortable signing a "patriotic" hymn in church ever again after reading this book.  I speak from experience.

UNDER THE OVERPASS by Mike Yankowski

What an inspiring story.  A college student from the 'burbs decides to see if his faith is real and if the Church is really doing anything to help the poor.  He and another guy spend five months in five different U.S. cities as homeless men in every sense of the word.  They take only a backpack, sleeping bag, Bible, journal, and guitar with them.  They play guitars on the sidewalk to get money to eat.  They sleep wherever they can, mostly out-of-doors or . . . you guessed it . . . under an overpass.  

The really exciting part of the story (if such a word can actually be used) is the fact that they do encounter people along the way who are literally referred to as "Jesus" among the homeless community because of their love and compassion for those whom society has long forgotten.  They meet strangers who bring pizza and soda into the middle of a city park for anyone who wishes to come and eat.  They meet various "professionals" who live out their Christian faith by buy lunch for these two strange-looking young men.

The heartbreaking part of the story is the fact that they also encounter "Christians" who do nothing to help them.  The worst story, I think, is the one where they spend Saturday night sleeping on the steps of a church.  When they awake on Sunday morning, they discover that a couple of dozen people have walked right by them into the Sunday morning service without stopping to offer any kind of love to them!  

"I'm sorry.  I don't have time to help you right now.  It's time for my scheduled hour of worshipping God."

This book reads really fast but will stay with you for a while.

So, in a nutshell:
A good book for rethinking the story of the New Testament.
A good book for rethinking the church's quest for political power and for examining an individual's heart concerning their own desire for authority.
A good book for rethinking an individual's attitude to the homeless in the U.S..

Currently listening to I AM THE BLUES by Willie Dixon.
Recently watched 28 WEEKS LATER.
Getting ready to read THE NEW MONASTICISM by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Searching For a New Church Home

About seven weeks ago, we decided that it was time for us to find a new church home.  The reasons for that decision are not the point of this blog, but I will say that we felt the leadership of our church was contrary to the teachings of the New Testament in both organization and practice.  It was a very painful experience, because we love so many of the people in that congregation, and we felt so vested and involved in that church.  It wasn't an easy decision to make, that's for sure.  

For a couple of weeks after that decision, I would play guitar as part of the worship team and then try to slip out quietly so I could pick up Ashley and Elliott as we headed to another church's gathering.  It felt a little weird to be doing it, but there have always been other people who had to leave early to go to work, etc..  

Then, about three weeks ago, the pastor of the church resigned, and the church has been temporarily disbanded by the denomination's headquarters.  (My experience with this church has been my only experience in this particular denomination, and I wasn't aware that the denomination's headquarters could/would do such a thing.  I have been out-of-town for about half of that time since.  I haven't heard further developments.)   At the last Sunday in our space, I let a couple of people know about our search for a new church, and some were interested in joining us in our search.  

So . . . for five out of the last seven weeks I've worshipped with another church in town during their "contemporary" service.  (Can we get past this "traditional" vs. "contemporary" divide yet?  Oh, sorry.  That's for another blog.)  It's a denomination with which I am very familiar, and the church seems to follow the New Testament's teaching on church leadership and structure very well.  The weirdest part of the church-shopping experience is to show up and not be a part of the worship team at a new place.  Being a part of the team and leading the church family in worship was always my favorite part of the week, and I've missed it so much.  I've met with the worship leader for the church we've been visiting, and he and I seemed to have hit it off pretty well, but I have yet to play with the band.  

Still, I'm not sure if this church is the place for us.  The reason why is the music.  There are a couple of things about the worship team at this new church that seem odd to me:

1.  The music itself is . . . well . . . boring.  This makes me feel extremely carnal, but music is such a huge passion in my life, and it's one of the gifts I feel given to share with the Church.  I know from experience that not everyone dances to the beat of the same drum, but it would be nice to be able to relate to at least one song out of five.  I believe that we all speak our own musical language.  While I enjoy giving the gift of speaking to people in their own musical style, I believe that I need, as a worshipper, to be able to speak the worship language that's authentic to me.  

2.  The music seems detached from the congregation.  It feels like I'm at a concert watching someone on stage rather than being involved in a worship experience.  I think part of it is the song choices (a.k.a. The lack of sing-a-bility by the congregation.  Today I only noticed the congregation singing aloud on two of the five songs.)  I think part of it is the lack of interaction with the congregation on the part of the worship leader (In fact, I've yet to hear the worship leader do anything other than sing or read a scripted prayer aloud.)  

Am I being silly?  Is it wrong of me to want to look elsewhere even though I like everything else about the church experience except the music?  Is it okay for music to be such a driving factor in my life?  Is it possible that a church exists that follows the New Testament's teachings, is active in social justice, and expresses worship in a way that I can relate?

As I've been searching local churches online, I've noticed an interesting trend.  None of the churches that seem interesting to me have Sunday night gatherings.  That makes it harder to search, since they're all meeting on Sunday mornings only.  The main reason seems to be that most of these churches are using rented spaces (school auditoriums, gymnasiums, etc..)  However, even the churches that own their own spaces seem to be getting away from the Sunday night gathering.  I wonder why that is.

If you're reading this and you have an awesome church family, please don't take them for granted.  Pour yourself into them.  Give to them.  Bleed for them.  Cry with them.  Live for them.  

May we all find our family.  May we all find our home.

Thanks for reading.

P.S.  I recently read the latest issue of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine, and I feel like a spoiled American in complaining that I can't find a church home that I like.  Perspective is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Music in Worship

For those who don't know, I play "lead guitar" with the (insert your favorite term here:  worship team, praise team, worship band, praise band, etc.) for our wonderful little church family.  Recently, our Worship Leader has started using Youtube if she wants us to hear a new song before we practice it.  I've enjoyed using Youtube because I can then link to other videos by the artist or other versions of the song, etc.  

Last week we played a new song by Misty Edwards.  Corinna (Madame Worship Leader) sent us a video of her performing the song live, and all was well.  As I watched the video again after practice, I decided to check out the comments, and I found that several were negative.  Some people just didn't like the song, and that's fine.  (Personally, I really liked it, and I thought our church responded to the song.)  I then noticed that some people were decrying the style of music itself.  (It was far from being a hard-rockin' song, but it did have a nice groove and electric guitars.  Gasp!)  One person even went so far as to say (my paraphrasing) that since our "spirit" is the opposite of our "flesh," then any style of music we might personally enjoy (in our "flesh") is not what God requires of us in our worship of Him (in our "spirit.")

Um . . . what?

If this is the case, then how can we, as humans, ever create music that is worthy of worship?  When Jesus and His apostles sang a hymn after celebrating Passover, was it a song that they hated?  If we ever dig up the sheet music to the Psalms, will we find the sonic equivalent of nails on a blackboard?  If that commenter is correct, I suppose we have to sing nothing but dissonant yelps with every instrument playing in a different key.  Better yet, we'll invent new keys and have every instrument play in a different new key.

I can agree with the spirit of that person's thought.  If I'm more interested in the music I'm playing than I am in leading my church family into the presence of Adonai, I am not correct.  If I'm more interested in nailing that solo than I am in playing my heart before God, I am not correct.  If I look at a moment of worship and decry it's value because it doesn't "rock" enough, I am not correct.  Unfortunately, those are all things of which I am guilty.

But the poster's  way of thinking just doesn't . . . seem right.  The Psalms seem to me to be filled with exhortations to praise God, and the word "joy" is even used.  Doesn't it make sense, then, that a person would joyfully sing praise in the manner that is most natural to them?  For example, the hardcore Christian metal scene has "gorship," the practice of using brutal hardcore metal to praise God.  Does God despise that?  I've been able to witness people using that music to worship the Creator in what appears to be spirit and truth, and I can't see God turning His face from that.

But just in case Mr. Commenter is correct, I'm tuning my guitar to Zilg-Minor-7th this Sunday.  Bring your earplugs, Vineyard Community Church.  We're going to worship the right way.

Any thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

Currently spinning in the truck:  Iron Maiden "A Matter of Life and Death"
Currently spinning on iTunes:  Run Kid Run "Love at the Core"
Most-recently read:  THE REGULATORS by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King)
Most-recently viewed:  DUCK SOUP

The Blog About The Blog

So here it is.  I am officially blogging on an actual blogging site.  No more Myspace nonsense.  No more trying to turn a Facebook "note" into a blog.

No turning back.