Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Isolated rose

Our opening graphic is from the blog Abandoned to God

** Derek Webb, All Sons and Daughters, Robbie Seay Band, Charlie Hall, Shane & Shane and Shaun Groves are among the 45 artists on #SongsForWest, a fundraising album download for West, Texas with a suggested $10 donation.**

Here’s this weeks links:

  • Opening Link: A pastor and his wife in Watertown, MA are caught in the middle of a shootout in the wake of the Boston bombings. “We were trapped, with active gunfire on three sides of our home.”
  • Here’s another new movie to be aware of, opening in US theaters on Friday: King’s Faith
  • Watch (or listen to) a great sermon by Gary Burge preached midweek at Willow Creek a few weeks ago.  Check out Acts 11:1–18. Once you’re 5 minutes in, I guarantee you’ll want to finish.
  • An journalist who had originally interviewed Megan Phelps-Roper in 2011 before her departure from Westboro Baptist Church offered some additional detail and updates on her story.
  • This one is disturbing. Seems that people serving at Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church are being asked to sign some type of loyalty/confidentiality agreement, with legal consequences if you break the contract. Never criticize your pastor.
  • A Minneapolis preacher is still in the pulpit at age 105. “Noah Smith has no plans to retire — ever. He said he tried that once when he was 90 and it didn’t work out too well.”
  • Here’s how one church kid defines his faith. But if you’re in Christian Education or Youth Ministry, his response is somewhat disappointing
  • By contrast, here’s Greg Koukl at Stand To Reason with a 7-minute video describing an appropriate response to the question, What is Christianity? (He actually gets to it at the 2:40 mark.)
  • For those can’t enough of blogging, here’s the direct link to Faith Village’s Java Juice Blog House which we featured here a few days ago…
  • …And if you’ve got friends investigating Christianity or just starting out, here’s Faith Village’s Square One.
  • Pete Wilson’s Cross Point Church has a daughter church in India which he tries to visit as regularly as possible. Last week he suddenly learned his visa was denied, and he was summoned to India’s embassy in Washington, DC. Now he’s been granted a six-month visa, which isn’t quite the 5-year one he had…
  • …And here’s a 2-minute audio clip on YouTube of Pete discussing people who leave his church, or arrive from somewhere else because they weren’t being fed.
  • After ten years of keeping us aware on several social issue fronts, veteran Christian blogger La Shawn Barber moves on to other platforms. 
  • Your church needs to rethink tithing options in a world where nobody writes checks (or in some countries, cheques) anymore.
  • Our blog discovery of the week is Anabaptistly. Established in Spring 2011, recent activity includes a number of Eugene Peterson quotations like this one.
  • Another blogger notes audience reaction to the movie 42
  • The people who use GodTube sure like music reality show clips from X-Factor or [Name of Country]’s Got Talent. Here Simon Cowell is led to believe a man is going to impersonate a whole choir.
  • If homeschoolers aren’t already over-represented on social media, now they have their own theme song.
  • Yea! We made another Top 200 Ministry blogs list!
  • More links all week on Twitter.
  • Finally, in our Truth is Stranger Than Fiction department, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary is breaking all her own rules and going on a women’s retreat. Say it isn’t so!

A closing word from Francis Chan:

Francis Chan Quotation

March 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Jesus is the Light of the World

Regular readers will know this already, but I’ve never quite come out and said it: I find it somewhat snobbish when bloggers publish link lists where anything older than 2-3 days is considered obsolete. A true link sleuth will unearth some great material and won’t be concerned if the post is dated 30 days ago. If it was true then…

  • Essay of the week: Church Planting in Montreal. A somewhat typical couple has been living together for ten years but has never gotten close to having any kind of spiritual discussion. And that’s just one challenge. The Quebecois version of Hybels’ “unchurched Harry” is quite different from “Harry” in the rest of North America. 
  • Runner up: Remember that feeling when you were young and you came home from school only to find nobody home and you immediately thought everybody had been raptured?  Well, it happens to not-so-young college students, too.
  • Okay, so that video about how to write a worship song wasn’t the first time Jordan at BlimeyCow waded into Christian music criticism. Or church camp. And different types of churches
  • While everyone else on Sunday night was watching The Bible miniseries on History, one blogger was putting the final period on his review even as the credits rolled. I guess that way you get to say, “First!”  (The cable channel show beat all the big networks in the ratings.)
  • If you know people whose Christian faith is characterized by what they are against, may I suggest you copy and paste this article and email it to them.
  • For people who don’t know how to use a “table of contents” in a book, The Alpha Bible presents the Bible books in… well you know.
  • Given the success of The Book of Mormon, a Broadway production by The Foursquare Church denomination on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson probably seemed like a good idea at the time
  • The idea of gospel tracts probably seems somewhat archaic to most readers here, but the concision of these short presentations actual suits present attention spans. Now 31 Good News tracts are available on audio.  
  • Matt Hafer comes out of church leadership hibernation with five ways for pastors to tell if people are truly on board.
  • I know I often link you over to Christianity 201, but I really want you all, if nothing else, to catch this video.
  • In some ways connected to a link we had here last week, a Christianity Today women’s blog suggests a little bit of Christianese is OK.
  • As someone whose entire wardrobe was purchased at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, this is scary: Pat Robertson allows the possibility that those shirts and sweaters could have demonic spirits attached. (That’s why Pat buys professionally tailored suits, I guess.)
  • Once we know the name of the new Pope, the new Pope has to choose a name. Past Pope picks included these. (You remember Pope Urban, right?) 
  • How is it possible that this great song by the Wheaton College Gospel Choir has had less than 2,500 views in two years?  If this don’t bring a smile to your face, your mouth is broken. Watch, copy the link and share.
  • Jon Acuff finds himself in a prayer meeting with someone who gives a whole new meaning to the phrase too much information
  • If you missed it January, Shaun Groves shares songwriting secrets for worship composers. But ultimately, “I think worship writers have parted with standard songwriting practices because they’re creating with the live experience in mind. So their priorities are much different from those of a traditional songwriter.”
  • The people at Thomas Nelson flatly refused us a review copy of this, but I’ll be nice and tell you about it anyway. Jesus: A Theography is a new book by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola combining theology and biography with –[free review time expired]
  • …Mind you, that was already better than this guy’s review. “After a while, I finally put the book down and said enough.” (When you accept a free book you do agree to finish reading it.)
  • Remember Anne Jackson? Well she’s still kicking around, still writing, and apparently this Friday is a special day
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran with attitude, shares her struggle preparing to preach on The Parable of the Vineyard. (Open the audio link in a new tab, then click back to follow the text; the whole sermon is about ten minutes.) Actual quote: “…you’d think that I’d totally remember a parable where poop is mentioned.”
  • Meanwhile Steve McCoy’s kids, age 12 and 14, are taking sermon notes while he preaches.
  • On our fifth birthday, we introduced you to Derek the Cleric. We had a tough time that day choosing between two cartoons and thought we’d stretch the written permission we received to do just one more.

Derek The Cleric - Powerpoint

March 8, 2011

Swimming with the Dolphins

This past weekend I fulfilled a lifelong dream and participated in the extreme sport of church music, the gospel choir experience. The event was the 7th annual Power Up Conference presented by The Toronto Mass Choir (TMC). There were workshops and rehearsals culminating with an opportunity to perform in concert with TMC doing songs we had only begun to learn 48 hours earlier.

Basically, we’re talking about an opportunity for lily white folks like me to learn to how to sing and move their hips back and forth at the same time, which, if you know me, is a much greater task than say, sending a man to the moon and back.  In a era where saying “church music” implies the modern worship of Paul Baloche, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Graham Kendrick, Jeremy Camp, David Crowder, etc., with which 90% or more of us are familiar; this represents and entirely different genre.

The choir was started by Karen Burke, a woman who was trained in classical music but had a dream 23 years ago to bring the gospel choir sound to Toronto. The choir has been on a number of overseas tours and won a Juno Award in 2003 — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards — for best Gospel album.  You can read more of the choir’s history here.

Today, among her many activities, she is an associate professor of gospel music at Toronto’s York University, where, not so coincidentally, she also directs the York University Gospel Choir.  She recently presented, for the third year,  another weekend of the stage show, The Evolution of Gospel Music.  You can read more about Karen Burke here.

That said, I don’t think any biography would do her justice.  This is a unique individual who is a gift from God to the music community in Toronto.

So how can I describe this weekend?

First of all, Gospel music isn’t so much about musical style as it is about attitude.  The director’s passion and infectious joy quickly spreads.  My wife did this conference with some friends a year earlier, and the first thing she said when she returned was to comment about how positive the director and everyone else was.  Not about the songs.  Not about the band (which really cooks). Not about the rehearsal technique.

In Gospel choirs there are only three parts: Soprano, Alto, and Tenor.  Being more of a baritone combined with age and eventually exhaustion to produce some unintended results, but more on that later.

All of the parts are learned by rote, not note.  There is no printed music handed out.  Not even to the band members.  We were given lyrics sheets, but were not to use these at the final concert.  There was a fair amount to memorize in a short time.

Time was the one thing that we didn’t have, but instead of launching into each of three rehearsal sessions with wild abandon, Karen chose instead to take some time to explain the spiritual foundation for each song.  She told us to sing “with our faces and with our eyes.”  It’s all about communicating a message to the audience.

But you can’t do that and not be affected by it yourself.  My wife and I attended a concert years ago by a large American gospel choir, and so I’ve known the energy that this music conveys.  In the course of producing a radio show, I amassed a collection of Christian vinyl albums of all kinds, including a fairly large — by Canadian standards — selection of mass choir music.  Still, nothing prepared me for the transformation of actually singing the material; having the lyrics embedded in your mind and soul.

Twenty four hours later the songs — especially the lyrics — are still looping in my head.

There were some major challenges for me with this event.  The first was the range of the music.  The first day of the conference started with seminars and then after supper we practiced until 10:30 PM.  I felt I had damaged my vocal cords singing in a range to which I’m not accustomed.

We got checked into our hotel around 11:30 and had to be on the road by 8:00 the next morning.  I’ve said this before, but music ministry in the modern church is increasingly a young man’s game.  This was a workout that left me exhausted, which I would pay for later.

Then there’s the challenge of lyrical associations.   When we sang,

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;

Everything within me wanted to sing,

The righteous run into it and they are safe;

Instead of the correct line which was,

Just call on His name you’ll have the victory.

Then there was the problem of wanting to position myself next to someone who I could ‘lean on’ musically.  While there were a few TMC people scattered around the group, a lot of the people where I was seated were neophytes like me, some of whom with decidedly less musical training, and some actually hampered by extensive classical choral training.

And then there was the challenge of distractions.  There’s an obvious spiritual analogy here:  Keep your eyes on the conductor and you won’t get lost.  But what do you do when, as in the dress rehearsal, a baby carriage starts rolling backwards down the center aisle toward the communion table?  The amount of concentration and focus needed to sing this style is truly more than you might imagine.

…My greatest fear was screwing up in the concert, and I was not to be disappointed; although the way it happened was unforeseen.  I figured I might blurt out a line in an inappropriate place or sing a note completely off pitch.  Instead, it happened on the final note of the third of four songs, an arrangement of the hymn Jesus Saves.

We were supposed to hold the note for about four beats and somewhere between beat two and beat three, my voice just gave out.  Between the lateness of the hour (it was closing in on 10:00 PM when the Power Up group combined with TMC), lack of food (we hadn’t eaten since noon and were subsisting on the sugar in fruit candies), or just the formula of age-plus-exhaustion; I ran out of air on that last high note and instead of just fading out, my pitch dropped not unlike the Doppler affect one hears when a truck passes on a busy road.

Actually forget trucks.  It was more like a train wreck.

I considered the possibility of who might have heard this:

(a) Just me — most unlikely
(b) Just me and the two guys next to me — that would be nice
(c) Just me, the two guys on either side, and the director — sadly, she doesn’t miss a trick
(d) The entire audience — entirely possible, it was a sustained chord for both choir and band
(e) Me, the people around me, the director, the entire audience and every music teacher I have ever had — that’s how I visualize it.

For the final song, I combined the despair of the previous song into the mix of challenges and didn’t do the greatest job I could have.  My only consolation is that having heard some things and talked to some people in the rehearsal, I am sure mine was not the only mistake that night.  But it’s a small consolation when all your musical training is about excellence.  When you’ve spent your life as a “music guy” who plays almost every instrument and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, it’s humbling to find out there’s something you really can’t do.

Gospel choirs are an entirely different paradigm from the church music I grew up with.  The music is up-beat and joy-filled.  I have a new respect for the people who compose the arrangements, teach the songs and perform the pieces; and I’ll never listen to it the same way again.

But it’s also, to some degree, an endangered species.  With church choirs replaced by worship teams, and Christian radio playing a steady diet of Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, Casting Crowns, Third Day, and anyone else who fits that formula; it’s easy to see a new generation emerging who will simply never be exposed to the mass gospel choir sound, either live or recorded.

I am so thankful for an opportunity to not only enjoy it this weekend, but learn how the pieces fit together.  I’m glad I got to swim with the dolphins, though I need to warn you; they are excellent swimmers, they were born to swim, and they swim all the time.  Still, it’s fun to splash around in the same water, even if you make a bit of a mess of it!

…To watch videos of the four songs we learned, performed mostly by the original artists, click on the comments section of this article.

Footnote: If you ever see an advertisement in your local newspaper with the words “mass choir” or “gospel choir,” just quickly order tickets.  You’ll be glad you did.

Footnote: The concert we performed in also featured Greg Sczebel, an artist from western Canada who the MC described as a “nerdy white guy” who reminded me of a performer from an earlier generation, Bryan Duncan.  Check out his music.

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