Thursday, August 26, 2010
Today I am in my 8th year of directing a church music program, and the question of my calling is constantly before me. I am in a very supportive environment, and people are used to my doing well, so that's not it. Rather, there always seems to be another line of musical work that seems more romantic, more creative, or more satisfying.
Well, last week I realized that I was where I should be. Our church music department sponsored a music conference for cross- and multi-cultural music ministers. We started a year ago contacting other like ministries, and focussing on the other churches in our immediate orbit, the New City Fellowship churches. From direct promotion to the creation of a songbook, the initiation of a web site for NCFMusic to the planning of the event itself and the creation of materials and a line-up of seminar leaders. The pastor, Randy Nabors, was supportive but not directive. He attended the plenary sessions and gave a morning talk. The pastor of NCF-East Lake also gave a passionate homily on Friday night about the throne of God and all kinds of people approaching it together.
The conference was successful on several levels. Attendance is usually the first thing people think of in reference to success, and we had 60-70 attendees at a 2-day event. Some came from as far away as Phoenix, Miami, and Atlantic City. Others were local walk-ins responding to a self-created radio spot on a small AM black gospel radio station.
But attendance is not the only measure. The excitement of praise is a powerful reviver, and we had strong, sustained praise sessions without apology or unnecessary rationalization. ( I hate it when music conferences talk and talk about praise!) I was struck by the limits of our facilities at New City, and I made an effort to lay out the Fellowship Hall to invite fellowship and musical interaction. We set up a band of stage gear and mics, and the folks took over all the time. It was cool.
The racial mix was nearly perfect. The churches were mostly conventional denominational congregations, and this was not a charismatic event as such although I've been to charistmatic churches that didn't dance and shout like we did.
I could go on, but I also spent some time writing out a speech to give to the group. "Musicians not Magicians" was a challenge to us a church worship leaders to be realistic with our talents and resources in cross-cultural music because we can't just make a yellow silk scarf red, musically speaking.
I felt fulfilled, useful, creative, and I felt like I was doing something that is not mainstream yet, but promises to be a growing need in the US as people of color continue to grow and the the dynamic of racial divides becomes more and more defining. I felt like a person of faith who looked for a city that God is building, not the culture.
I am thankful to God for giving us a strong time together, structured but not limiting and definitely spiritually envigorating for all.
I still dream about doing other things; I may even do something different in the next decade. But this week I was doing what I have been called to do.
Oh, and we even made money.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Paul is an old friend from CCM days, who now lives and works here at his own business, Path of Palms film and audio production studio. http://www.pathofpalms.com/
Long story short, Paul has shown a desire to work with me on my vintage products and he is also acting like I should record some new material. My master tapes are all here, and he is going to show us some remixes from Mourning Into Dancing this week. He has also already digitized my Faith Takes a Vision album, and that is what you are getting when you buy it from http://www.jameswardmusic.com/ or as a download at http://www.amazon.com/ or itunes.
And speaking of my web site, Paul and his staff rebuilt the site and made it a Google Checkout store now. It has improved our sales noticeably. The video performance of "I Belong to You" found on my new site is one that was shot by Paul at a Church of God convention in Atlanta 2 years ago.
So Paul is slowly becoming my most active business partner. Which brings me to today's entry title. I have so many good ideas, so much good music, strong emotional and spiritual support from my employer, NCF, so much talent to draw from, and so little money.
I remember hearing about my fellow musician friends doing daring and risky financial moves in order to advance their careers. I have read and talked about grants that are available for art and music projects. I have even already gotten a grant myself for a worship conference I directed.
So with God's help, it's time to go after the coins.
I'm going to talk to Paul today about the church's music web site and the potential for sales there. I'm going to apply to the Institute for Christian Worship for funding for NCF's cross-cultural music resources. And I'm going to stop acting like I can't do anything without money.
We'll get the money.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
As I have been outlining the book I would write, I have thought about the title, "I'll take you there: Diversity in Music and Worship". The line from the 1972 Staples' Singers song kind of sums up my experience in a cross cultural church, where the worship service brings together many of the elements that make us so. In a sense, it is the calling on the musician to take the congregation there.
So few churches in this country are committed to cross-cultural worship, that I am thinking and outlining the arguments for such a congregation. There are the familiar ones about unity, reconciliation, and justice. But the one I hear said when a black church comes to visit our church with choir and pastor pulling up in a charter bus is simply, "this is the way heaven's going to be."
That statement is based on the passage in Revelation 7:9, "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."
If this is true, why are not more churches striving to be inclusive in their music and worship? Is it just too hard to blend here on earth with all our cultural differences? Or is there actually going to be layers of sound around the throne, with each culture praising God in its own way, but none actually singing the same thing?
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, paints a picture of heaven where everything is strong, and substantive, and plain people are beautiful. Don Piper, in his book 90 Minutes in Heaven tells of singing that blends together all styles and eras, but he didn't see different races and ethnic groups in his vision of glory.
I live in Tennessee; maybe cross-cultural worship is common in, say, San Francisco or Boston. Uh, I don't think so.
I know a place
Ain't nobody cryin'
Ain't nobody worried
Ain't no smilin' faces
Mmm, no no
Lyin' to the races
Help me, come on, come on
Somebody, help me now
I'll take you there
Monday, October 26, 2009
The church is located in an old neighborhood in Baltimore that has characteristic urban atmosphere-- old buildings, bumpy streets, graffitti, and almost empty churches. Paul and his wife Phyllis have been at Abbott for 12 years, and the congregation finally believes they are serious. They have fixed up the manse next door where the Warren's have been living ever since they came.
The concert was in a dignified classic sanctuary on a really nice Yamaha grand piano that the church purchased shortly before the concert. The turn out was modest, which I remember from years of travelling and doing Christian concerts in the niche market of a niche market. I know Paul was probably disappointed that more old friends didn't pack into the house, and he planned a benefit offering for brother Andy's AIDs ministry in Ethiopia. www.abbottchurch.org/ethiopia/letter-from-andy-warren/
But this evening reminded me, and not really negatively, of the rich experiences touring the US, Canada, and parts of Europe, playing night after night for crowds just like this.
We went to Steve and Mary Smallman's for the night, and they are an intriguing family. Steve is a good musician, songwriter, and teaching elder in the PCA. But right now, he is doing, yes, film making. http://www.15four.com/
Steve seems to be having the time of his life, and success is written all over his face. Mary and he have two gifted sons who are in college, and Mary and he are the closest of friends. Steve flies to interesting places with film crews, and is currently employing 10 scruffy young computer and camera geeks. It warms my heart to see committed Christians doing art on the cutting edge, and doing it for the kingdom, too.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
- I am a person who is perceived as youthful, although I am in my late 50s. I play and sing music, and it tends to keep me in the culture, like a lot of young people do. I am a "high I" on the DISC Behavioral Test, which means I'm optimistic, enthusiastic, a team player, and I motivate others toward goals. I don't like exercise, but I have a high metabolism, so I don't tend to be overweight at this time in my life! I have recently been doing moderate exercise and physical therapy for a shoulder condition.