Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I am happy this morning after a refreshing and different weekend off. My pastor gives me 8 Sundays off during the year, and this was one on which I did not do any gigs, but Beth and I took a day trip to Nashville, 125 miles up the road.

There was a large craft fair in Centennial Park, and we spent the afternoon there. Craft fairs are pleasant interactions with people like us-- entrepreneurs who have a talent in some artsy field like jewelry (there was lots of jewelry), fabric or clothing, glass work, or wood.

I look at the craftpeople and evaluate their outlook on life as I walk past. Some have an earthy, hippie look, others are biker types with black tight clothes and tattoos. Some appear to be like us-- conventional in appearance, but obviously committed to a lifestyle of art and independence. They have invested in tents, dispay materials, beautiful backdrops, and photos to make their products appealing. They have a passion for selling their work far more than I ever did when I was touring.

In the evening we checked into a nearby hotel-- it's always nice not to have to drive home late at night when you are tired-- and then went to City Church of East Nashville. This is a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America that I have visited before, but it was a couple of years ago. Their band was top notch, and the group was mostly young adults. We were pleasantly surprised to see Brian Terpstra, whom I had recommended this church to, and we also saw a new friend named Chioma, whom we met last month at a music symposium at our church. She is in Nashville doing her physical therapy internship.

I had recommend this church to both these folks, and Brian especially has cast his lot with this church, joining a small group led by the house drummer, and he told me this congregation was a "confirmation" that God was leading him to Gallatin, TN and his new job in the Nashville area. For Chioma, it was her first Sunday there, but this church is a lot like her home church in St. Louis, New City Fellowship.

The message was on crime in the city and the Christian's response. After the message, the preacher opened the floor for Q and A. There followed maybe 30 minutes of interactive discussion in a congregation of maybe 125. People brought up all kinds of angles, including personal stories and dilemmas.

Another thing I appreciated, because of my walk with God right now, was a time of confession and assurance of pardon. This is a Presbyterian tradition that our church does not feel necessary, but as the one who plans our services, I was intrigued as a worshiper by the impact of this liturgical event.

Much the same as when one prays, the confession occurs early in the service, but after a praise song and call to worship. This church uses a printed prayer in the bulletin and a printed response, but a song could be used as the response, making the confession part of the music.

Thank God for times of refreshment in our journey. We come back to our same lives and concerns, but we see them differently on the other side of worship and and forgiveness.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Failure is understood, forgiven, and does not disqualify me." from Lessons, Prayers, and Scripture on the Faith Journey by Pete Hammond.

It is hard to recognize weakness in oneself, and to identify areas for improvement, and to still be buoyant and confident. I have realized that I must change my behavior in an area of my life, and it is making me pensive and wary. What happened to my breezy cheerful wry humor? Well, it seems to have been blunted by the disappointment of human failings, both mine and others.

So I'm running back to the Father today, and asking for his righteousness to cover my sorry rags. But even before that, I repent of the sin in my life that has brought me to this point. As Pete Hammond says in the above quote, failure is understood. I see it, I identify it, I don't just feel bad because things have shifted away from mindless habit. But, look! Failure is also forgiven. I can stop groveling and look up at the smiling face of Jesus, who says "my grace is sufficient." I am so thankful for forgiveness as I look around at the broken pieces of my life and my work, which I have clumsily dropped in my effort to keep 6 balls in the air.

And finally, it does not disqualify me. In the Kingdom of God, we are not on the bench just watching the action because we couldn't play ball right. We are still on the field, sweating, kicking, and passing the ball. I am still going to work today with tasks and duties and relationships to be received with gladness.

There is no metaphor that accurately describes this, except God's own Word-- he is our father, and the perfect parent with no blind spots or weaknesses. How can a child or brother or sister be disqualified? How can a son or daughter be put out of the family?

"Come ye, blessed of my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I am happy to write that yesterday went pretty well with my work. My associate, Michelle Higgins is very talented as a singer, choral director, rehearsal director, and has a good work ethic with daily tasks. I prepare a memo each week for her to follow, and she chases every chore to its furthest conclusion.
Sometimes, though, we get sidetracked in our planning meetings, and end up singing or hamming it up, which I expect to happen in a music department. After all we are wired to entertain and perform just about every 20 minutes! But it is in this context that there is sometimes some inappropriate conversation about people in our department and opinions we have or things that have been said. I think I need to tighten up this part of our ministry, and be extra vigilant to protect the personal reputation of every one who works with us.
Then we had staff meeting under Randy's direction. He is a masterful and humble interpreter of the scripture, and sometimes he walks in, sits down in his place at the table, and briefly scans a scripture passage. After an opening prayer, he thens proceeds to conduct a deductive Bible study in a discussion format with the staff.
After 5 years of teaching at Chattanooga Christian School, I learned how to prep for a discussion from the guidelines for teaching, and sometimes our pastors would benefit from this approach. They can put the staff in an intellectual head lock, like, 'no, that's not what I'm looking for' and it becomes juvenile sometimes.
But yesterday, Randy chose Psalm 127-- 'unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.' During his discussion, I could hear Randy using the poetic language of my song, "Consider the Lilies" and sure enough, he asked that we sing it at the end of the meeting.
Singing a song is not unusual at the end of staff devotions, but "Consider the Lilies" is rarely sung at out church anymore, and the staff does not know it. So it becomes a performance of the song by Randy and me!
During the study he asked the staff to talk about ways that we felt inadequate to do the work of building God's house. Numerous struggles were mentioned and written on the board. I was touched by the common feelings of the staff, and how articulately they expressed a need for God's presence and oversight to accomplish anything at all. Of course, in my own discouragement, I heard God speaking to me through my colleagues. I am very thankful for these weekly studies.
But what follows the studies is a discussion of staff events and planning. This is one of the low points of the week, because Randy proceeds to conduct a meeting with a blend of fact, issues, and his own vision for the church. He is an incurable visionary who seems to get up in the morning thinking about something new that you could be doing in your program. Of course with 10-15 staff members, you only get hit once every 2 weeks specifically, but every week in these sessions. A couple of years ago, I began to realize that I should not say much, if anything in these meetings. It always seemed like Randy would cut me off or rebuke me for some typical excess in my delivery (see the entertainment every 20 minutes above). Now, I only speak after raising my hand, and I usually bring a list of specific points. The random chattering during this part of the meeting is tedious, and he doesn't seem to cut the others off. I think our years together has created a relationship that is more sharply defined.
Although I pray every week for the attitude of submission to the ones in authority over me, I am frequently frustrated that I never take time to think about my own goals and vision for my work, so the vision of our music department is defined by the pastor. This is one of the greatest struggles of my job.
But in the evening, we had our Tuesday choir rehearsal and we had a good number turn out. There was laughter, 3 pieces rehearsed, and generally what is supposed to happen at a rehearsal. It always leaves me thinking, "all right, this is what I am here for!" I only had to apologize for my excessive antics only once, to a new choir member who is not used to my loud arm waving.
Music performance takes so much emotional and physical energy, that we usually feel that we have done significant work just to do our regular job. There is interaction with people, thinking about musical and mathematical detail, and vigorous singing, clapping, swaying, and talking. I wish my boss could come and experience just 1 month of our department's work before he thinks up another project for us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Today I am beginning this journal in response to my first counseling session. I am thinking today about the work I need to do in my department at church to restore joy and excitement in praise. Right now I have several folks who are spiritually troubled, and it tends to cloud the atmosphere. I don't know if it is responsible for a diminished willingness to participate fully, but I hope to find out, by God's grace.
Having people that I know in various degrees of spiritual turmoil or brokenness leaves me feeling sad and melancholy. I want to help them, but I am afraid of all the tension, confrontation, and anger I may encounter. It almost always is a reflection of some other problem, which I will then have to turn my attention to.
It seems like this job is less and less about music, and more and more about spiritual battle. When I left college, I went straight into performance music-- booking myself, recording albums, writing songs, and doing solo performances. Beth and I were happy that way, and I had minimum relationships to maintain. I was also not employed by Randy at New City, but I was free to come and go, as time and performances would allow. Now I am locked in most weekends when others are relaxing, going out to eat, going to movies, or leaving town for quick trips. Not that I want to do all those things, but it is still a feeling of restriction.
This week I will get Sunday off, and Michelle will be in charge. I'm thinking of visiting City Church in Nashville if Beth is willing to take a trip.

About Me

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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.