Thinking Out Loud

September 14, 2017

Practical Advice for the Aspiring Actor, Poet, Playwright, Singer, Songwriter

Good news for the aspiring artist: You don’t have to starve. Furthermore, Jeff Goins believe there are four financial paths an artist can follow, with poverty and starvation being simply one option!

Real Artists Don’t Starve isn’t the usual type of book we cover here. Because I review books for HarperCollins Christian Publishing, it’s offered through their distribution system. I asked for a copy so I could read it for my son — an aspiring actor and writer — and then pass the copy on to him.

Author Jeff Goins is someone I ran into years ago in the Christian blog world, and he himself got some early mentoring from Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson. Some of you will recognize his name from the cover of the 2015 NIV Bible for Men, hence the inclusion here, but for the most part, he’s followed the trail to writing business and marketing titles, albeit from a Christian perspective. His catalog includes The In Between (Moody Press, 2013), The Art of Work (Thomas Nelson, 2015) and now Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Surviving in the New Creative Age.

The book is divided into three sections, (a) developing the right mind-set, (b) approaching and understanding the market, and (c) the thorny issue of money; getting paid. In each are four chapters and overall the book is well-crafted reading.

Goins relies heavily on both anecdotal accounts from artists alive and well and historical biographies of artists from past centuries, the latter mostly from the visual arts. (I would have liked more composers in the mix, but that’s my only criticism.) Some of this was accomplished through regular research, but he also was able to obtain a number of face-to-face interviews to give this project much original content.

So what’s his advice?

Some of it flies in the face of what the non-artist might conclude. Be original? Goins says it’s okay to steal, though he does qualify that. Be good at one thing? Goins says you need a diversified portfolio. Be generous just to get your art out there? Goins tells artists never to give their art away for free. Find a Patron? (Or Patreon, but he doesn’t say that!) Goins suggests it’s a great way to go, but you might have to be your own patron, at least at the start, earning income through regular work that supports you and your art.

In other words, this is realistic. But he also says that there are steps you can take so you don’t starve.

Unable to wait to send my son the book, I sent him a few excerpts:

Starving Artists wait for their Big Breaks.
Thriving Artists become apprentices in their crafts. (p.40)

[on Zach Prichard]  But let’s not misinterpret what happened here: talent did not do this; tenacity did. If you want to see your work succeed, you must be stubborn. You must be willing to keep going, even in the face of adversity. On the surface, stubbornness may look like a liability, but in creative work, it can be an asset.  (p. 65)

Once we have mastered our mind-sets, we must tackle the market. Here, we cross the threshold from being creative to doing creative work. This is the place where we become professionals and learn how this works in the real world. This is where we network and advertise our talents to the masses. And if we do this well, people will not just pay attention, they will also pay us. (p. 69)

All creative works need influencers who will vouch for them to an audience who doesn’t know them yet. But it is not enough to meet a patron; you must cultivate one… If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate — a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. (p. 75)

We hold in our minds a certain picture of a professional artist as a lone creator, some solitary genius who executes a vision all by himself, slaving away at the work with only his thoughts and brilliance to keep him company. But this is a gross misunderstanding of how real artists get their work done. As creativity researcher Keith Sawyer says, “You can’t be creative alone. Isolated individuals are not creative. That’s not how creativity happens.” (p. 110)

Those are all from the first half. I don’t want to give too much away here. But the book is full of many, many nuggets of wisdom like this. And yes, I did finish the book, all 232 pages, even re-reading some sections at the beginning after turning the last page. (Sidebar: The way the bibliography was set up — almost conversationally — was absolutely brilliant.)

To be clear to regular readers here, this isn’t “Devotions for Artists.” Jeff Goins is a Christian writer, but the book is published under the Nelson Books imprint. Again, it doesn’t conform to my usual reading habits, but it was interesting and edgy enough to keep me turning pages. Reading it through my son’s eyes made a lot of difference as well.

 

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March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 27, 2017

Loss of Church Leadership Position is Like a Death

It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.

They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.

But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”

I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.

One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”

They’re wrong. Completely wrong.

Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”

Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.

The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”

That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.

And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.

Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”

As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.

I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.

After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:

I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.

But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.

All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.

And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.

I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.

Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?

(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)

There might be a few things at play in their response.

First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.

Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.

Which is all another post for another blog.

But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.

McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.

He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.

Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.

To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.

Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.

Which might be just as well.


To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.

Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.

Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.

There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events. 

Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.  

It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.

July 1, 2016

The Music That God Likes

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favorite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fiber of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

 

~Ruth Wilkinson


Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

October 4, 2013

Creativity Block

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:28 am

One of the four summers I worked at a Christian summer camp there was a management team that was considered by many staff to be particularly oppressive. People coped with them in different ways, but generally there was much dissatisfaction and unrest.

CreativityWhen it came time to leave after ten weeks, I got in my car for the two hour drive home and instead of turning on the radio or CD player — back then it would have been a cassette deck — I started singing. Some of the songs that came were things I was making up on the spot, and by the time I arrived in Toronto two hours later, I had written and memorized three complete songs, which I quickly wrote down as soon as I could find pen and paper.

As I later explained this to a friend, he told me that all that creativity had been locked inside while working at the camp, and as soon as I was physically free of the place, the creative juices started flowing like a river…

…I mention all this because over the last few days I have felt a creative block where Thinking Out Loud is concerned, but I realized later that this is only because I have been trying to write more original articles at Christianity 201, instead of harvesting them from other sites.

You can only be creative on so many fronts at a time.

Thinking Out Loud started shortly after I finished a two-year stint of leading worship every Sunday — solo — in a local church. I worked hard on those weekly worship sets, including stringing together medleys of songs from a variety of musical influences in order to give worship opportunity to a broad mix of generations.  Some Sundays the song list incorporated fragments of up to 17 songs.

I could not have done that and done this at the same time. The creative energy to create Thinking Out Loud only happened when I stopped being creative on another front…

…Years ago I heard a story about a man who had never written an original song in his life, but then he became a regular on a Christian television show that was broadcast regionally in Canada. He discovered that while radio stations play royalty based on a partial sample of station playlists, television is (or was at the time) done so that royalties are based on a 100% audit of music used. The money turned out to be significant.

So he started writing songs. While I can’t applaud the motivation, and I doubt that any of those songs had the staying power to be used anywhere today, the point is that the creative resources were resident within him, but had been untapped.

So what’s your creative gift or talent that you’re not using to fullest? What abilities lie untapped for whatever reason? I encourage you to put yourself in a position to find out.

October 8, 2012

Guest Post: The Music That God Likes

Filed under: personal, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:17 am

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favourite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fibre of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

~Ruth Wilkinson


— Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.–

September 23, 2010

The Congregation as Seen by the Worship Leader

This is something my wife came up with a few days ago.   Have you ever wondered what the congregation looks like when you’re standing at the front leading?   Fortunately, the ones you notice most are people really entering into worship; but if you look more carefully, it probably looks like this:


July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


March 31, 2010

“Out Like a Lamb” Link Day

Except that I don’t think March rolled “in like a lion;” at least it didn’t here.   And why does this phrase borrow the Biblical “lamb and lion” imagery anyway?

There’s something unsettling in the contrast of having April Fool’s Day directly adjacent to Good Friday.   Perhaps with that in mind, I thought we’d lead off with this picture:

She looks real, doesn’t she.   This “cybernetic human” can act surprised, or angry, or any other emotion you want to program her to express.   Unveiled in Japan on March 16th, you can see more robotics at Boston.com’s Big Picture site.

And then there’s this picture, source unknown, of the “Love Chapter” from I Corinthians expressed as a tattoo:

Not sure which translation this is, but then again, that raises the question:  Are there King James Only tattoo parlors?   If not, someone’s overlooking a major market.

Which brings us to this T-shirt:

But I’m getting distracted; we really should move on to the links:

  • John Piper’s unexpected seven-month leave of absence — starting May 1st — was probably the story of the week in the Christian blogosphere.   How will the multitude of his followers get by without their weekly dose of J.P.’s encyclicals?    Read the official announcement at Desiring God.
  • Speaking of the Pipester, here’s his rant on the whole Emergent church movement, which he figures is due to implode in about six seconds from now, with some additional commentary at Tall Skinny Kiwi.
  • Theological finger-pointing at the Emergents continued over at Harvest Bible Chapel in NW Chicago on a recent Friday night Q&A session with a Moody Professor speaking for the anti-Emergent side while to balance things out they had… nobody.   JR looks at this rather one-sided presentation in this report.
  • Blogger Michael Krahn becomes a guest columnist at Canada’s Christian Week website; suggesting that all that technology has convinced us that we can’t sing.   I wish this article was a bit longer, because there are implications for church worship that might have been considered in a longer piece.    Check it out.
  • And speaking of things from my home and native land, I want to totally show off Canada’s national Christian magazine, FaithToday.   They’ve just started doing digital issues and if your internet connection is up for it, here’s a look at the March/April edition.
  • One of my favorite authors, British humorist Adrian Plass joins with Jeff Lucas — who pastors on both sides of the Atlantic — are joining together for a new book, Seriously Funny. “Made up a letters between the two, ‘Seriously funny’ is an honest look at life, love, book-signings, Christian ‘celebrity’, church…”   Check out the announcement at Christian Today.
  • Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s piece here on foot washing.   Only this one, from last year, was a drive thru foot washing.    Seriously.
  • With all the interest in the Twilight books and movies, the Christian Post decided it was good time to interview former vampire-genre writer Anne Rice.   Actually, they were promoting the I Am Second testimony website.
  • Mark Sayers — whose DVD The Trouble With Paris was reviewed here — is up something big with this mystery project, Bordertown. You’ll have to sign up for the e-mail announcement.
  • I usually lose patience waiting for their web server to keep up to speed, but for what it’s worth, GodTube is back.   Apparently, like New Coke, the brand switch to Tangle didn’t take.  John Scaddington reports.
  • Described as “a little free-will humor;” the image below is from the blog Mockingbird.

  • Our cartoon this week is from For Heaven’s Sake; reproduced here not because it’s anything you haven’t seen before, but so that you can copy and paste it to that person in your e-mail list who needs a not-so-subtle prod.   Be tactful.   Okay, maybe there’s no way to be tactful and send this out at the same time…

  • Finally, the I Can Has Cheezburger (aka Lolcats) people have a new site, My Food Looks Funny. Maybe if the western world only ate as much as the person did who carved this, there would be enough food for everybody!



March 19, 2010

Recurring Death in the Family – Guest Post

Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family.   We’ve been going through that loss for the past two weeks now, but because of our long history with the place, we’ve gone back several times for another run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend, and nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog.   Although it’s longer than many of my own posts, I wanted to kick off the discussion with her version of it, and then come back tomorrow with an objective discussion of some of the other issues her meeting raised.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself. (more…)

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