You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2009.

Someone recently asked me if I was interested in the NWLC. I wasn’t sure what that was so I Googled it.

Was he wanting me to join this? I suppose I could stand to learn more about women’s rights.

Or, was I being invited to this? Umm. I really hope not.

Finally, I came upon this. Certainly makes more sense. But, I probably won’t be attending. It’s right before I go to Europe and besides… it’s in KANSAS.

I think there should be a copyright on acronyms. Once one is created, no one else can use it.

Advertisements

Just finished writing my devotional entry for the 2010 CRM Lenten Devotional. It is due on Monday. I know we are currently upon Pentecost, but perhaps you never really reflected properly during the 2009 Lenten season. Here’s your chance, slacker!

Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

In 1998, I was exiled. I was violently expelled from my home against my will. All my applications for re-entry were denied. I was stiff-armed at every border.

Exile for me equaled pain. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of me and I was stuck in that moment between the impact on my chest and the refilling of my lungs. Here, my spirit was nearly consumed.

In 586 BC, the people of Jerusalem were exiled. Babylonian forces starved, ravaged, and brutally murdered many of the city’s inhabitants. The walls were burned. The survivors, led away.

Lamentations is a collage of sketches from the incident that initiated the scattering of the Jews and came to define Israel as a people exiled from their own land –

Giotto's Angel of Lament

Giotto's Angel of Lament

a home given to them by their God. This brooding book projects images of starving children who upon their death are eaten by their own starving mothers. Women are brutally raped. Once called royal ‘queen,’ Jerusalem is transmogrified into a filthy whore. The LORD, himself, is so angry he is portrayed as a pitiless “enemy” ravaging those with whom he is supposed to have an everlasting covenant.

The onslaught of degrading snapshots and wretched descriptions rarely stalls as it plows from one chapter to the next. Even the final verse of the book leaves open the terrifying possibility that God has ‘utterly rejected’ his people who are now beyond restoration.

But there is hope for all exiles.

Almost exactly in the middle of this desert of lament we locate an oasis. While the other four chapters each stop at verse twenty-two, the middle chapter launches a meditation on hope in its twenty-second verse that continues on for several stanzas. It begins: Because of the Yahweh’s great love we are not consumed…

The word consume means to ‘take in’ or to ‘use up.’ As purchasers we consume cars, toys, clothes. As living organisms we consume food and drink. As human minds we consume books, ideas, philosophies. Consequently we, ourselves, are altogether taken in and vacuumed up, indiscreetly swirled together with all we insatiably invite into our lives. At this point, the consumer becomes the consumed. The purchaser is bought and owned. The eater becomes the eaten. Our own consumption leads to our own consumption.

What is our salvation from the consumption of us and by us?

We are finally saved by divine compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin compati, literally meaning “suffering with.” When the LORD chooses to enter our suffering (of which Jesus’ incarnation is the prime example) there is absolutely no possibility we can be overwhelmed either by what we take in or what takes us in. For, it is in God’s taking in of us – the orphan, widow, exile, misfit, sinner – that the circle of consumption is finally broken. We are consumed with him alone.

My divorce nearly ruined me. It was only God’s limitless compassion, renewed daily that kept me from being sucked up with my pain into oblivion.

Israel was nearly ruined, too. It is only the LORD’s unfailing love that has sustained them through exile, pogroms, and holocausts and prevented their disappearance as the people of God.

We need not over consume nor be consumed over our circumstances. God has set aside the perfect portion for those He loves. He is our portion. He is also our consumer. And so, we wait patiently to be taken up and in to his peace.

QUESTIONS:
What is it that threatens to consume you?

In the past, when you have been surrounded by potentially consuming circumstances, how have you responded?

How might you begin to put unhealthy consumption to bed and awaken yourself  to God’s compassion?

My son Asher is almost nine months old. He really likes music. I know that all children have that ‘musical gene‘ or whatever it is that is programmed into them that makes them gravitate toward organized sounds. Asher is no exception.

Usually, when I carry him into the living room where our stereo is, he looks right at it and sometimes even grunts a little. All I have to do is carry him in the direction of the speakers (which are not yet on) and he begins to get excited – kicking his feet, shaking his legs, and a moving his arms all around. Once I select some music and hit ‘play’ he smiles and wants to ‘fly’ in the air, his body members in quivering vibration.

Today, I chose to put  a music video on the TV instead of just playing a CD. We haven’t yet exposed him to many movies or video, but I have noticed that with the choice between a children’s TV show and a musical performance video he seems to prefer the latter. I realized this when he was in his bouncer a couple months ago and I had the live performance called From the Basement by Radiohead playing on my iPod. Though he was at least five feet away, he was mesmerized by the tiny 2.5 inch (diagonal) screen and all of the musical action taking place on it.

This morning I put on Sting’s “The Brand New Day Tour” video from 2000. Asher sat in my lap for about five minutes straight watching the musicians play. A dynamic feat for one his age (his attention span is only about 2 minutes shorter than mine).

I hadn’t watched this performance for a while and I noticed something that really bothered me. Sting had three ‘back-up’ vocalists on that tour. Apparently, they also existed as their own music group called Scream (though, I can’t find a link anywhere to this group). The producer of this program – not sure who that is – had these three women dressed identically in extremely tight-fitting, brown-sequined, mini-skirt dresses. They danced (maybe this is the wrong verb) in perfect mechanical unison, swaying their hips sensually from side to side in an almost figure-eight motion. They did not deviate from this action for as long as they were on camera – for numerous songs in a row.

The performance of these ladies was reminiscent of a Robert Palmer video, about a decade and a half previous. (Incidentally, I’ve always thought Palmer looks like he’s trying to stifle a belch in between each phrase on this video… “When I took… (look away, belch)…/You out… (look away, belch)…, etc.”

My point is, the women – who are at least real musicians in the Sting video – have been reduced to mere automatons. This is boring. It is boring and it bothers me. I don’t like it because this choreographed reduction of personality limits the contribution by these ladies to the larger whole. It not only makes them appear nearly useless as musicians, but depreciates Sting’s overall performance, as well. Ironically, Sting may have been the very one who pushed the Palmer-esque dance routine idea for his 2000 tour.

I realize that Sting (one of my very fav musicians by the way) is a different generation from me. He was “Born in the 50’s” as The Police song says. I am part of the “Unplugged” generation. My idea of an interesting music performance to watch includes musicians in a stripped-down (at least theatrically) environment where each performer is free to emote – both physically and musically, and above all – naturally.

This does not necessarily mean each performer in this kind of environment would act rhapsodically. But, I would expect at least some variation in facial expression from person to person and minimized pre-sychronization of movement.

I realize, those who are fans of dance might argue that synchronized movement is just as artful as synchronized music performance. However, in the context of a concert, this kind of action communicates uniformity rather than creativity as it involves the contribution of the individual performer.

All of this may just be preferential musing at this point. But, when one considers how this kind of choreographed music presentation has influenced contemporary church music, I think we can arrive at a critical conclusion.

While authenticity in artistic expression may not be a preferred quality that spans generational gaps, authenticity in musical worship – it can be argued – must necessarily be presented with utmost genuineness. This is because the kind of performance undertaken in worship leading is not the kind meant to impress with synchronized hip swaying (not to mention the potential sexual insinuations contained in these actions) nor is it meant to ‘wow’ the ‘audience’ with the latest costumes and greatest light show.

The most impressive thing that musical worshipers can put forth involves a real presentation of music that originates in the depths of their spirit and is expelled through truthful (read: authentic) action and sound.

I haven’t asked him yet, but I’m pretty sure Asher feels the same way. Or maybe his generation will have an altogether different idea of legitimate musical stage presence, inside and outside the church.

Prophets are misunderstood in America today. I don’t mean that what they say is confusing. I mean that our modern conception of what a prophet is and does fails to live up to the traditional definition of prophet as revealed in the Old Testament.

There are two dominant ideas about prophets today. The first sees prophets as mainly ‘future-tellers,’ mostly of scary things to come relating to Jesus. The second view prevalent today imagines prophets not as those concerned with the future, but rather ones ‘righteously indignant’ about social injustices abounding in the present.1

According to one contemporary theologian, neither of these diverging visions truly articulates the biblical conception of the prophetic role. Instead of acting as harbingers of end-times doom or conversely angry church politicos, Walter Brueggeman claims that the

[t]ask of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousess and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.2

According to Israelite tradition, prophets were all about ‘evoking perceptions’ about reality. How did the prophets do this? In ancient Israel, they often used passionate words to convince the hearers about the way things ought to line up in God’s economy. Some prophets took action (in the case of Ezekiel very strange action) that metaphorically and tangibly conveyed an alternative perception of reality for all those who were witnesses to the prophet’s life and ministry.

If the above critique is true, who then are the ‘real’ prophets of our age? We could assume it is the religious pundits and preachers who purvey their visions of God’s reality before eager ears. This may be accurate in part. However, our world no longer deals exclusively in word-driven communication.

Technology has turned our society away from being a culture of words. Our world – now brimming with videos, sounds, pictures, computer screens, movies, the internet, and more – is not one of words alone, but of multi-media language.

I believe that today’s prophets are the ones with mastery over today’s media language, who at the same time understand God’s ‘alternative’ to the popular consciousness. These are the ones with the powerful potential to “nurture, nourish, and evoke” a new and true vision – a vision of the real kingdom of God. I am speaking of the twenty-first century artists–of-faith.

The artists-of-faith are precisely the ones in whom I am investing most of my time and energy. While continuing to ‘help churches worship better’ (since 2003) I am adding a new aspect to my ministry through Church Resource Ministries (CRM). I am gathering women and men to start Arts Collectives. These are simply groups of diversely gifted individuals who invent new and culturally saavy ways to inspire spiritual dialogue among their neighbors.

This task is significant since almost 100% of Christian artists are currently only using their skills for church services.

Instead, I am calling artists who are worshipers and leaders out of church to not just lead believers, but to lead culture.
————
1 Walter Brueggeman, The Prophetic Imagination (Fortress Press, 1978), 12-13.
2 Ibid., 13.