Monday, May 25, 2009

Scotland: Drama in Lochee

Somewhere, deep in the Dundonian labyrinth that is the neighborhood of Lochee, half our team spent our afternoon and evening with thirty local kids - playing games, singing songs, doing crowd control, talking about Christ, doing more crowd control, etc. It's one of those mixed blessings to throw out your voice on the afternoon of the first big day trying to sing over thirty rambunctious youngsters without a microphone, and then to have God give you the ability to continue singing on into the even times. We shall suffice the medical assessment to say my throat hurts. But, to grander things we go.

The highlight of the evening, for me, was finally getting the kids quiet enough to make rain. I think this is something Rich Mullins used to do at his concerts (sort of in the "Hallelu, Hallelu" format), but my friend Nathan showed it to me and I've enjoyed the time ever since. If you're ever due to be in front of a crowd with time on your hands, ask me about making rain. The most interesting part was that, after our meeting, some kids pointed out to me that - almost whimsically, I think - it was actually raining. Thank God, the jokes on me.

We did a couple of our dramatic sketches, and I'm still a bit in the dark on how I feel about that. Drama itself is a tool, so we know that it is indeed fallible. I'm not really certain of the Scriptural parameters surrounding drama in corporate worship. I keep leaning towards a biblical study on worship, but I know that twenty people will instantly recommend fifty books to me on the subject. It is a short list indeed of people whose literary recommendations I follow. Ditto with films. Those books might have to go on the stack of must-reads - somewhere beneath a good novel. Wind in the Willows and Gilead, I think.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Scotland: Riding The Train

"Nobody tells you, when you get born here
How much you'll come to love it and how you'll never belong here."

How much can one drink in with one's eyes? How long can you keep open those two windows we are all born with?

Lindsay and Iain were apologetic that I had to take a train from Glasgow, that no one was there to pick me up at the airport. But their apologies fell on the ears of a man greatly blessed. How can you describe a countryside where you feel that you cannot widen your soul enough to take in all its beauty, where you feel as if every stone, every blade of grass, every patch of dirt, every drop of water, is pregnant with significance beyond the stuttering conveyance of any human tongue? I turned on Andrew Peterson in my iPod and glued my face to the window on the southern side of the train.

The wind raced us over the lowlands past astonishingly yellow fields of rapeseed in bloom, past a young roe buck wandering the tracts of a farmer's field, past rabbits that lolloped in meadows wiggling their ears and noses in their secret language. And in the distance between Perth and Dundee, rainbow after brilliant rainbow fell from wandering storms that scattered the impossibly cerulean sky, ringing of the colors of that final ephod, affixed with the stones of the tribes. I had to work to keep from weeping in front of the other passengers.

What contrast, that hearts so bleak can reside in lands that so profoundly call one to wander the lonely road to Love - lands on both sides of the Atlantic. It was my prayer that I would be given eyes to see the beauty in souls (including potential beauty) as I so quickly see it in lands that will one day be swept away. O, God's great love of beauty! If that which is visible and will be destroyed is so great among creation, how much more that which is invisible, how much greater that which is indelible. May we have eyes in our spirits to see that "which will never pass away," and in the midst of a land where "not one stone will be left upon another," to be diligent in laying up treasures "where moth and rust do not destroy."

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Enemy's Schemes

“There is nothing new under the sun.” 1

If I chance to leave the confines of my house, or look at the flyers persistently adorning my front door, or happen to peruse Craigslist in pursuit of musical jobs (hint, hint), I am greeted with ubiquitous announcements that there are new churches starting. They convene in warehouses, abandoned storefronts, coffee shops, buildings borrowed from other churches, and virtually any space that can accommodate a stage-and-audience arrangement and be cheaply appropriated. This is wonderful in terms of the Gospel being sown over wider and wider fields. Yet, what Gospel do we sow when our claim is upon something new? To be frank, the Gospel itself is older than time. It is the music and the models and the slapstick efforts at what is often termed “relevancy” that are fancied as new.

There is much danger to be encountered in attending church because of an interesting type of music or a clever way of ordering the service. There is probably even danger – greater danger, if we are honest – in attending church because of an engaging sermon. Is there anything wrong with any of these? Certainly not. They are tools and vehicles. They are supernatural two-way roads that lead us in one direction or the other. The danger is when we, as we are so apt to do, lose the perspective on our wandering hearts. We forget to ask for wisdom and discernment. We forget to ask the Father to “Show [us] if there is any offensive way in [us], and lead [us] in the way everlasting.” 2 Music and sermons and surprises are powerful emotional vehicles that are more tangible, in our fallen state, than is our God. When we do not meditate on the character of God as these things hold sway over us, we are hastily prone to give the praise stored up in our hearts to that which is seen or heard or sensually experienced, as opposed to him whose “worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 3 That is how music becomes “a clanging cymbal.” 4 That is how sermons become “rules taught by men.” 5 We cannot blame the musician or the preacher for what our hearts do with what our ears hear. These men and women are fallen as well, but “the soul who sins is the soul who will die.” 6 “Above all, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” 7

As a sometime worship leader, I am probably more prone than most to give credence to songs instead of to the Creator of music. I must be distrustful of my heart – that lump of flesh within me that beats life into my limbs, that seat of cataclysmic emotion that is “deceitful above all things.” 8 That sounds rather harsh, especially when all the world would tell you to follow your heart. Indeed, “the desires of your heart” are laid there by God himself when you are surrendered to his will. 9 But, here again, we must be clay in his loving hands, thrown again and again upon the hard stone of the potter’s wheel, thinned with water and warmed with chastening friction until we are supple and ready for beauty. Therein, beyond the crumbly iron fringes of our human wills, is a beauty that sits rightfully at the feet of the One who is himself Beauty.

1 Ecclesiastes 1:9
2 Psalm 139:24
3 John 4:24
4 I Corinthians 13:1
5 Isaiah 29:13
6 Ezekiel 18:20
7 Proverbs 4:23
8 Jeremiah 17:9
9 Psalm 37:4

Monday, May 04, 2009

Andy Vandergriff, Action Bowler

behold, ninja turtle forearms

Friday, May 01, 2009

From the Writer's Almanac

I try to make a habit of listening to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac whenever I'm near a radio at ten till twelve on weekdays. Today's serving of poetry was so iconic and pointed, that I had to put it here for you. It's a poem by Anne Porter, widow of the late American painter, Fairfield Porter.

    by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

Bur there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.