Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cross-cultural Heaven

On Thursday of our northeast tour, we visited Bill and Barbara Edgar in Philadelphia. Bill has been encouraging me to write a book, even though he and I know that there are a lot of books out there on worship and music.

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

Tour Highlight #2

I played a concert two Sundays ago at Abbott Memorial Presbyterian Church. Old friends Steve and Mary Smallman were there. The concert was sponsored by Pastor Paul Warren, and he did a fair amount of promotion to other area churches.

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.
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.

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

Our first Marriage Seminar

Last Saturday Beth and I attended our first marriage seminar. Beth suggested it as part of the sabbatical, and we found a Gary Chapman seminar online called "The Marriage You Always Wanted" and we registered for the Fredericksburg, VA weekend since we would be in that area on the 17th of October.
We're really glad we went! At right was a book we won, and do you know why we were the recipients of this drawing?! We were the longest married couple at the event. It was astonishing, since there were several couples there that were obviously as old as we. I guess it is an indicator as to how many remarried couples there are.
We are now on chapter 3 in this book and it has been very helpful (I won't say...stimulating.). One thing it recommended was that we share our sexual histories, and we talked about our childhood, our parents attitudes, our teenaged awakenings, and our college courtship. We laughed at our similar books in high school that amounted to romance novels.
We are thankful that, for all the awkwardness of the WWII generation on the subject of sex or even public display of affection, our parents obviously enjoyed one another outside the bedroom. One of the important ways to have a mutual enjoyment of sex is to have a strong relationship in other areas of life. How our parents behaved prepared us, for better or for worse, for our own view of sexuality.
Dr. Chapman is a pro. Every moment of the seminar was used wisely and thoughtfully with good video support and ample reference to his many books for further study. His most famous work is "The Five Love Languages." Neither of us knows what ours is, but it's probably going to come out in our conversation now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


We are churning up the east coast on the second trip of my sabbatical. I planned and planned the stops to make, the places to stay, and the mode of transportation as well as the approximate cost. Fortunately, there were two performances that each paid $500 which will help with the expense.

What a blessed time! From the beauty of the Shenandoah autumn leaves, to the quaint history of Dover, Delaware, we have tasted of the grace in quiet times, stimulating times, and spiritually envigorating.

On Sunday we worshipped in the AM with Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, home to Bob Kauflin, music director, and C.J. Mehaney, founders of the Sovereign Grace Churches. Bob and Julie welcomed us to their home where we caught up on our lives as musicians. We have been acquaintances since the 80s when Bob and Julie travelled with GLAD.

The worship service had a very young band, and the songs were contemporary praise songs in the style of the dominant culture. The noticeable thing about Sovereign Grace songs is the content-- much more theological than, say, Paul Baloche. After the service, Bob met us and took us to the store where he loaded us up with books and CDs.

The next day, we met for lunch at the inner harbor in Baltimore with Bob. We talked about many things, but mostly the idea and the logistics of getting New City's music up online. Bob said that was first funded by the ministry, and now pays for itself. His albums cost $15,000 to $30,000 to produce. It was very encouraging, especially his interest and obvious respect.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thoughts on Hair Pieces

So I'm thinking about being bald as a man in my fifties. I had thick hair when I was young, and up until I was forty or so, I wore my hair full, even with a receding hairline. Now I wear it very short like Jason Statham, and I find it to be a natural part of my life cycle to be bald. I use Jason Statham as an example, because he does not have his head shaved like bald men do, who want to be hip looking.

Which brings up the subject of hair piece wigs for men. What does a man have to think to get a hair piece? Is he advised to do so by a secretary or publicist who says that his face will be stronger and more effectively framed by a clear hairline? Is he trying to look younger? Some men with hair pieces have gray or salt and pepper hair pieces (wigs). Does that make one look younger? Have these men gone to shrinks or counselors who have told them to get a wig to feel better about themselves and to be more confident?

Well, I feel confident because I don't have a wig. I believe that a bald man, with his hair cut trim, shows greater confidence in the normal genetic fact of hair loss, and confidence that being bald is a normal part of aging and growing more mature, and finally, that it is a God-given part of one's appearance. To wear a hair piece is to contradict the shape of one's face, one's age, and one's very physical appearance.

What is it like to wear a wig? Do you have to powder your head first? Does it fit very snugly so that it won't fly off? Does it make you sweat? Does it become a natural feeling like wearing glasses or a woman wearing a bra?

Do you take it off at night? Do you worry when you have to go out on a windy day? Are you concerned when you might be put in a position of revealing your baldness, like when you're going camping with friends? Is it maintenance free, or must one wash it daily and dry it with a soft special towel? Do you keep it on a styrofoam head on your dresser?

Is the feeling that someone is looking at your head and staring at your false hair a source of anxiety or do you wear a wig because you don't care what others think?

Now, I know, everyone would rather keep their hair. I was in the entertainment business, and I saw my hairline receding with dismay and disappointment, while friends of mine who were accountants kept tight, strong hair lines. Why did I have to lose it when having a youthful appearance was obviously important in the pop music business? I knew two members of Petra, a rock band, who got wigs, including the founder of the group.

Well, I guess I'm not a candidate for a hair piece. "Ah, but you're thinking about it, so you must be considering it," you say. Uh, nah.

Ten Cool Things I did ths week:

1. I got a haircut.
2. I actually mowed the back lawn. My shoulder is at the place now where I need more activity to build it up.
3. Beth and I went to see Dr. Shah, my rheumatologist, and I let him draw some fluid out of my thumb joint. Just the thought is kind of cool.
4. I bought a 29-key keyboard to go with my new slim laptop that NCF gave me right before the sabbatical. With music software on the computer, I can do MIDI work anywhere with the Axiom 25.
5. I fixed one of my gutters that was hanging low.
6. I drove to Saint Louis with Beth and we visited Kirk and Sarah and their kids.
7. In Saint Louis, we went to see the arch and pretended to have races in the grass with Sam, Kirk's boy.
8. We went to NCF-STL Sunday morning and I played keys for Kirk's praise band.
9. Sunday evening was a brief concert set at Covenant Presbyterian Church. The music director, Kathy Chappell and I had talked about having a choir as part of the set, and some 50 singers showed up! She conducted two of my choral pieces, "Who Can Separate Us," and, yes, "Death is Ended." "Separate" was not soulful, but rich and smooth. Kirk played, too, and we were compensated generously!
10. We had lunch with college classmate, Tim Belz. Tim is a constitutional lawyer and he took us to Citygarden, a new terraced area downtown Saint Louis with multiple sculptures.
11. I continued to read "The Gift" and to dwell on the esoteric life of being an artist.
12. I reformatted Windows XP on Beth's computer and reloaded her drivers and software. Now she's got Adobe Flash!

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.