Friday, September 18, 2009

Reading, Writing, and Computership

I seem to have skipped a week of my sabbatical; I should have made an entry last Monday, and it's Friday night. But it's been a good week and a half of getting some reading done, writing two songs, and working on Beth's laptop to get it up to speed.

I had the special experience last Sunday and Monday of preparing for a recording session by finishing a new song I had an idea for, but the session on Monday made me sit down and work on it with the intention of completing a recordable, presentable tune for my children's album.

This song is tentatively entitled "That's What I want to Be" and is a series of verses about professions that kids would identify with. First verse, "I want to be a firefighter," second verse, "I want to be a veterinarian" and third verse, "I want to be a ballet dancer," and so on. Each verse then includes some short phrases summarizing that job's experience.

As my grandchildren grow older, I see them responding to my music-- my playing, but also to my songs. I want the song to take the listener through a series of jobs with the goal of being what God wants me to be. Some of the jobs are performed in front of people and others are quiet, unassuming jobs like a high school crossing guard. Ultimately, the children will sing "I want to be a lot like Jesus."

Songwriting is easier now in some ways-- I have written enough to know how to craft one, but it's harder in that I am no longer writing for concerts or recordings. If I were in Nashville, or at least tied into the publishing business, I might be writing songs for other people. Finishing the sketch of this new novelty song was envigorating!

I hae also been working this week on revising my course for Westminster Theological Seminary's winter term 2010. The course is called "Music and Worship in the Changing Church" and the church is definitely changing!

When I started teaching this 5 day, 2 credit course, the two major renewal movements of recent years were Charismatic worship, springing out of the 1960s and 70s Jesus Movement, and then the Church Growth trend started by Willow Creek Community Church and Bill Hybels in the suburbs of Chicago in the early 80s.

Then the return to liturgical worship was defined by Robert Webber in 1984 in his book "The Canterbury Trail" in which Webber describes why a
more Anglican approach to worship had captured the yearning of so many for authenticity. The last time the course was taught it included a brief discussion of Orthodoxy and the music of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.

But now, there are two major new branches of worship to be addressed in our concise course and they are looming large in the minds of seminarians far more than Willow Creek. One would be the Emerging Church, and the other would be the PCA's own phenomenon, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. Both are fascinating, and both have strong artistic treatments in their forms of worship.

Then the continuing maturing of contemporary hymnody through the ministries of RUF hymns, and the examples of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend has encouraged so many in the Reformed tradition and beyond.

This course is getting bigger, and needs to be streamlined!

Finally, the church gave me a laptop to take with me on my way out the door in August, and now I can sit in my Lazyboy with a computer on my lap, and write in my blog like my daughter does! I've been trying to figure out what is wrong with Beth's 5-year-old lap top, since it won't load Adobe Flash Player, and no videos show on her machine. I'm about to embark on the dubious task of reloading Windows XP and starting over with her HP pavilion zd7000. Sigh.

Cool things I did this week:
1. I have been very successful with my physical therapy, and I have regained 90% range of motion.
2. Beth and I went to visit Dick and Debbie Blackman, and got to laugh, read and pray with them.
3. We bought one of Maria Cardillo's photos at the Clotheline Art Show.
4. I started "The Art of Worship" by Greg Scheer.
5. I had breakfast on Saturday with Gary Hicks and we talked about his new challenge of being let go by Christ United Methodist Church

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Few More Years

This past week brought a unique opportunity to record with another Christian musician. It reminded me remotely of the days of making albums in Nashville, and hiring various players to make cameo appearances.

This time it was Buddy Greene, pictured at left with Dana, my local friend and engineer, and myself.

Buddy has never been a friend, only an acquaintance, with whom I have had brief contact when he recorded my song, Rock of Ages, on an album of his a couple of years ago. When Dana and I were talking about the song In the Stable on my current children's project, I was wondering where I could find a harmonica player, and Dana suggested I call up Buddy. He was enthusiastic and even respectful, calling me one of his "heroes."

Last week, Buddy was driving through to Atlanta for a gig, and stopped off for a couple of hours to add his part. He does not read music, and had to learn each line by ear. He played a chromatic harmonica which enables one to play more like a jazz or soul musician. I was really pleased with the result! The song turned out like a light samba, and Toots Thieleman has recorded a couple of Brazilian albums with harmonica as the lead instrument.

Buddy gave me a copy of his current release, A Few More Years. It seems to be on his own lable, Rufus Records, but it is packed with great musicians and singers from the Nashville scene. The content of the album is much like my Blue Believer release from the mid 80s. He recently lost his father and another close friend, Jerry Reed. The songs are all about heaven, hard times, and God's grace for the struggle. Looks like I have a new friend!

Ten cool things I did this week.

1. I bought a new watch, finally.

2. I finished a song for the Distribution called "Mama Don't Cry." We'll rehearse it Wednesday night and I find out if they like it.

3. I did an SATB arrangement of "Child of Bethlehem" for the Cono Christian School choir. They have recorded several of my songs, and the director, Andrew Belz, asked me to arrange that one specifically.

4. I have all but finished D.A. Carson's book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I wanted to read up on the latest renewal movement in the church in preparation for teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia next January. This book could take up an entire blog entry.

5. I got a haircut, finally.

6. I put together a large order of CDs for our web customers. All 13 of my albums are available on our web site, and when folks order one of the vintage CDs, I burn, print, and assemble each one. Tedious, yes. But without current recordings and touring, this is a way I keep the artist fires burning and keep profiting personally from my art. We recently changed web masters, and the new site is getting lots of hits and orders are flowing, recession or not.

7. Beth and I went to Franklin, TN on Sunday to attend two churches there. It was cool to get in the car and drive through beautiful Nickajack.

8. We visited "The Gathering," an ostensible emerging church that meets in a movie theater. I say ostensible because the service included the following conventional worship elements

  • praise band with praise songs
  • opening prayer
  • announcements, ugh.
  • an OFFERING.
  • a 30-minute sermon with bulletin outline

The speaker was older than us, and the crowd at the 9 am was mostly senior-aged (meaning our age). Although he had a shaved head and groovy goatee, he used a standard thematic preaching technic, with proof texts and everything. He has apparently been a guest on national TV, and has a book. Woo-hoo, emerging schmerging. Nice things about the Gathering

  • very comfortable seating, with cup holders, and Starbucks
  • the band was very good, c'mon this is Nashville.
  • the message was relevant, well conceived
  • friendly

9. We went to Christ Community Church in Franklin for their 10:45 service. It was fascinating to attend two contemporary churches with trendy leadership in one morning, and to see slight variations.

  • CCC makes no apologies about being a local body with ecclesiastical and koinonea goals.
  • The Gathering was super-inclusive. You could go there and not have to do anything.
  • CCC's band was twice as good and the songs were tear-eliciting joyful passionate expressions of worship and grace
  • Scotty Smith used a thematic approach, too, but he spent the entire sermon on a major question of Apologetics, "Why do Christians claim to be the only way to God?" It was very well done.
  • CCC attendees were young families, mixed with boomers. Kids everywhere.

10. We went to Sunday dinner with Bob and Laticia DeMoss, who are members at CCC. Bob has been a friend since the 70s, and is now a writer. Times are tight for them-- for sale sign on the house, Bob is limping with a bad hip, having had one replaced already. They have 4 children and Laticia is a joyful trophy of love and grace. Bobby is a lucky man to have her and the fam God has given him.

11. We started reading the Bible and praying after supper. No schedule, no duties, why not?

12. This morning we trimmed back one of the overgrown bushes in front of our house. The weather was warm, the job was manageable, and it is good to be using my arm again for physical labor.

So my sabbatical is giving numerous opportunities to breathe deep the breath of God. That is one reason I wanted to blog it. Sometimes we intensely motivated people want to see that we are accomplishing something with the time we have been given. It is extremely helpful to look back over the week and see all that we have been able to do and to be.

About Me

My photo
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.