Thinking Out Loud

March 27, 2021

Outgunned by Talent and Tech

I was walking through the room we used for coffee and fellowship when I heard it. Lee (or perhaps Leigh) who was a 15-16 year old member of the youth group was sitting at the piano playing the theme song from The Simpsons.

I was the music director. Actually, that’s not true, I was the entire music department. No worship band. No vocal team. Just me. And if you came back the next week, it was me.

The Simpsons theme has an interesting melody and there are some adornments to it which go beyond basic chording. It requires a bit of keyboard competence, whereas my goal with the worship at the church was to keep it singable and engaging, and to use simple chords.

I realized that if this was a sample of his playing, Lee (or perhaps Leigh) was a better pianist than I. But the likelihood of getting him to do something on a Sunday morning was small, and the one time I did get him to do a postlude once. The congregation, instead of heading for the exit in spirited conversation, as they normally did, sat in absolute silence staring, while he turned a shade of red I didn’t know was humanly possible. I think he was traumatized, and he never did do anything else at that church.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing the same thing in another church. Very little talent to draw on, except for Martin, an oboe player. Looking back now, if I had not been juggling so many activities, it would have been nice to write him some actual ‘parts’ for some of the songs, but I was too rushed to consider that.

Again it was me. If you came back the next week it was me. For two-and-a-half years. A recipe for burnout if ever there was one.

Then I found about Dave. He was a classical guitarist. The music he was able to make on his guitar — any guitar really, including a cheap beat-up one that might be laying around — was incredible. It would have added so much to a Sunday morning. But he wasn’t interested in doing anything that would be considered “church music.” Sigh!

There were people with so much talent, so why was I up there, week after week?

These days, I have decided not to try. I’m not so much intimidated by the Lees and the Daves as I am by the technology. Not the simple microphone and mixer stuff, I was after all, the audio technician for a national Christian television show once.

No, I mean the more recent access people have to studio software that allows you to sit in your basement and create multi-layered tracks, add special effects, get friends to do a solo on the bridge and send it to you in an email, and sync the whole thing to a video presentation.

We could only dream of things like that, or pay someone $80 an hour for studio time.

Talk about blogging in your underwear, people can make amazing things under similar conditions. (For the record however, I am wearing shorts and a pullover as I type this.)

Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the tech. A year of virtual choirs has only shown me how much I don’t know, and trying to read tenor and baritone vocal parts (in bass clef) have demonstrated the degree to which my sight reading has atrophied and my vocal range has diminished with respect to high notes or holding notes for a long 12-beat ending.

I tweeted a few days ago something to the effect that today, ‘he who controls the tech controls everything.’ Or she. I no longer feel that I can contribute anything meaningful with respect to instrumentation or vocal harmonies or song selection because I’m a hands-on person who likes to be part of the entire process, and these days, I have to take a back seat to those who are technically more proficient.

And of course, we’re living at a time where all the worship music anyone wants to sing is coming from either Hillsong or Bethel Worship (even the Elevation songs’ publishing is Bethel) and nobody is interested when I talk about a classic hymn, or a metrical Psalm or even a song I heard on YouTube by City Alight. I just don’t have the same passion for what’s being created currently.

If I were parenting a young child, or advising anyone with kids, I would encourage them to get the kid to obtain proficiency on one instrument, but also be spending 25% of their music education time learning all they can about the emerging technology, and how they can take the sounds they produce and build upon them to create things which have heretofore not existed, and get them online to reach people around the world they will never meet in person.

I do sincerely envy those who have mastered the tech. Covid-19 has created a tremendous learning opportunity for those in music ministry, and those skills will still apply long after the masks have been folded and placed in a drawer.

 

 

January 22, 2021

Maintaining Our Position

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:00 pm

In a symphony orchestra or string orchestra there are more violins than anything else.

Why should orchestras be censored?
There’s too much sax and violins.
(Sorry about that one.)

There are actually two parts written, 1st Violin and 2nd Violin and players are generally paired to share music, with each pair called a desk. So if I tell you someone is playing 2nd Violin, 2nd desk, you know where to look for them.

When it comes to playing the violin, I recognized that I was never going to amount to anything. My bowing technique was wrong, and I could never find a shoulder rest (pad) that I was comfortable with, meaning I was somewhat supporting the thing with my hand. That’s not how it works. Ideally, the player should be able to support the instrument with their chin and if you apply some downward pressure they ought to be able to resist that, within limits.

Plus, I was always dabbling in other instruments. For me, the violin was a ticket to learn more about music in general, orchestration, rehearsal techniques; and a ticket to go on the best school trips ever, including London and Paris. I played the Bb Baritone in a junior band at church and because it uses the same clef and the same fingering as a trumpet, also played my dad’s trumpet at home. Dad also had a Hawaiian (steel) guitar, and owned a number of mouth organs. My best friend in my late teens and early 20s was a bass guitar player, and every time he walked away from the instrument at his home, I would pick it up and began teaching myself.
(I was destined to be a music generalist, not a specialist.)

I ended up playing viola in the church orchestra — and this was Canada’s first and only megachurch, so a pretty decently sized group — because they short players. The viola uses the alto clef (which looks like a letter “k”) so I taught myself to play in 3rd position, move over one string, and pretend it was a violin. I did a summer of cello. I took an option at school and learned guitar. I know the positions to play a scale on a trombone. I was one of the first people to buy a Roland Synthesizer when they became available. (We just learned, when my son took it apart, that it was the #22 produced instrument in its model.)

My lips have never touched a woodwind instrument.
(There’s a whole other essay in that somewhere, but it will have to wait.)

My friend Mark in high school was much more studious when it came to his violin playing. I think he ended up being concert master (1st Violin, 1st desk, outside position; it’s a pretty big deal) but I’m not 100% sure of that. He supplemented his high school music with private violin lessons from the same person I did, but I’m sure that teacher would have gladly substituted my weekly visit with Jehovah’s Witnesses or an Amway salesman.

Mark’s mother would always say, “The boys need to work hard to maintain their positions.” It got repeated enough times that it worked its way into our home, and my mother would say, “You need to work hard to maintain your positions.”

The idea is that you had to keep practicing, or the next time the seating arrangements were shuffled, you could find yourself pushed back a desk or two, or worse, transferred to the 2nd violin section.
(Canadian/UK readers: Think federal or provincial cabinet shuffle. It’s not dissimilar.)

“Work hard to maintain your position(s)” became a mantra.

At this point the devotional writer in me wants to invoke a Bible passage comparison, but I can’t decide between

Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short. (Heb. 4:1 CSB)

or

For it is impossible for those…if they fall away, to renew them again… (Heb. 6:4,6 NLT, severely cut and paste edited for the purpose of proof-texting)

Here’s the point.

When you get older things from your younger days come back to haunt you, and I find myself repeating Mark’s mother’s words, “We have to work hard to maintain our position(s).” Usually when I’m saying this I’m just blathering on because I’m socially distanced from everyone, under a stay-at-home order and the only time the phone ever rings is someone trying to sell us air duct cleaning. (For the record, we use electric baseboard heating. Just sayin’) 

But we do need to persevere or we can slip backwards in the things that matter most.

Maybe a better verse would have been:
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (I Cor 10:12, NKJV)

Anyway, I just thought someone needed to read this. Or I needed to write it. Or something.


Related music: Steve Taylor and Sheila Walsh singing “Not Falling Away” (studio version, 7:43) 

Actual devotional link: Each one of us at any given minute, hour, week, day, month, year… is either moving toward the cross or moving away from the cross.

February 6, 2020

Beholder

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:27 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

It was hot.

I was tired.

That’s my excuse.

Late night, mid-summer. I was at camp, volunteering for the week and relaxing on a bench outside the main meeting room. The hall was well lit and I sat in darkness under an open window. Perfect for a little eavesdropping.

Staff were slowly coming and going as they found free time, but two in particular caught my attention. They were at the piano facing the open window by which I sat and their voices carried out to me. His camp name is Meatloaf. I have no idea why. He was senior staff that summer and played and sang in the praise band each morning. Her camp name is Joy for reasons which are obvious immediately on meeting her. She is legally deaf and wears two hearing aids that allow the rest of us to talk with her without having to learn her second language, ASL. Her experience of music is as much felt as heard and its expression more signed and danced than sung.

He had his guitar slung over his shoulder and had placed a chord chart in front of her as she sat at the piano. He showed her the names of the keys and told her to hit each note as he sang the word that was beneath it. They slowly progressed, haltingly, clumsily. He strummed a few bars, then stopped to show her which key to hit. She hit each in turn and held it ‘til he showed her the next. They worked through the song a couple of times, then laughingly gave up on it and he had to leave.

Joy stayed at the piano and began to play random collections of notes. No tune, no chords, just sounds. Then she started to sing. “O God, I love you! I worship you! Jesus, you are wonderful! I praise you, Lord!…” The notes she sang bore only occasional and coincidental relationship to the ones her fingers played. Her loud words carried the slur of the deaf speaker.

It had been a very long, hot day. I was looking for peace and quiet. I wasn’t enjoying what I heard, and began to wonder how long she was going to keep it up—“the noise,” as I thought.

That was when God smacked me on the back of the head, as he sometimes has occasion to do.

She’s not singing for you,” He whispered. “You don’t know what she sounds like from here.”

____

That half hour sitting in the dark has stayed with me because I learned two things:

The first: What grace looks like. Here were two people showing each other grace. Two people approaching common ground from vastly different directions. Two people with hugely divergent experiences and expressions of one and the same thing, trying to join forces to do something they both loved. Granted, what they produced was not going to hit the Top Ten any time soon, but as they patiently and graciously tried–as they gave each other space in a place they both occupied–it was beautiful.

The second: What worship sounds like. Joy wasn’t singing for me. She wasn’t singing for herself. She was singing because God has placed in each of us the need and the means to express what he’s shown us. Granted, the music I make when I play or sing should be my best. God deserves no less than that. But when I think that’s best isn’t as good as mine, I have forgotten that I don’t know “what it sounds like here.” Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder. Joy is in the heart of the Listener.

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.

 

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:


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