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some thoughts on music

Friday, March 30, 2007
Today as I was driving around town this afternoon finishing up a bunch of things, my ipod popped up with The Beatles Let it Be. It reminded me of back in high school when our church youth choir sang that along with One Tin Soldier. Apparently we needed to sing some songs from the 70s, who knows.

In any case, as I sang along as I often do (and probably look ridiculous doing), I started thinking about that time, and about how the words of songs really affect me. I hadn't ever heard One Tin Soldier before, but it was amazing to me as we sang it, what power stood behind the message of peace.

I don't make it any secret that I don't like mainstream Christian music. Oh, I own plenty of it, but I generally don't like it. Mainly because I don't think that it is always telling a message. Worship is great, I love worship, but I want to be changed by the whole service, not just the message. I've been attending traditional worship again on Sunday mornings (for a long time I was going to the "contemporary" service) and I rediscovered my love for hymns. Oftentimes, I see hymns as ringing true to the heart, and not just being repeating stanzas of nothing that we just sing and raise our hands to because we are expected to. They aren't these kind of creepy love songs that in recent years have become so popular in worship.

When they aren't sung as dirges, and use more modern language, hymns can be a powerful testimony of the Kingdom of God here on earth. The vast majority are based solidly on scripture, which is more than I can say for a lot of contemporary Christian music. For me today, I experienced God while singing Let it Be. We don't have to have Christian music or other "Christian" labeled things in order to get a glimpse at the divine. We just have to be open to God speaking, and be ready to listen.

yay for reading!

Friday, March 23, 2007
I've been doing a ton of reading lately in between my prep for Bible study, work, and trying to keep up with my friends. Sometimes when I list all of the stuff that I do I am astounded that I have time to sleep. But I've even been sleeping better, so I'm doing everything at reasonable hours.

Since the beginning of March, I have read George Barna's Revolution, finished up Mike Yankoski's Under the Overpass, read Anthony Bloom's Beginning to Pray, and am almost done with Chloe Breyer's The Close and then will start Shane Claiborne's The Irresistable Revolution.

Revolution was one of those books that was good to read, but didn't really do much for me. It was from a more conservative perspective than my own, and talked about how Christianity is going to have to change for it to stop dying.

Under the Overpass was good but there was a lot I wasn't too happy about. Two college guys decided to travel around the country for 6 months to experience life being homeless. In the intro, the guy that wrote it explained that life on the streets was tough, and filled with colorful language and dicey situations. He had to leave this stuff out because it was a "Christian" book and his publisher wouldn't allow it. One thing I've learned about ministry with homeless people here in ABQ is that life isn't easy any way you shake it. Reality can be rough, but it is reality. I almost felt like the book couldn't really explain the difficulty because he had to leave out dicey situations. I'd love to see a reprint of the book under a different publisher that actually got into the nitty gritty pieces of life on the streets. A lot of people have told me that this book changed their life and understanding of homelessness. I say that you can't really change your life and understanding of homelessness unless you have friends who have been there or are there yourself. That is something I have come to truly appreciate in my time here, and not something I think I would understand from reading a book.

Beginning to Pray is a book that I think everyone should read. It moves prayer from being a spiritual discipline to being a way of life. I'm blown away by the whole concept and plan on reading the book again in about a month and see how I've changed since then. If you haven't read it and want to be more serious in your prayer life, read it. If you are baffled by prayer, read it. If you think that you are the best at prayer ever, read it. Basically... read it.

The Close was a free book, I got to hear the author speak when I was at Princeton at the beginning of the month. It is about life the first year of seminary and the struggles that one goes through. In a lot of ways, the struggles are similar to some of those I've already faced when I changed my major and when I decided to run off and go be a missionary. The book is good, but probably won't be one that I make people read. It isn't about deep theological ideas which is good, it is more about life and what goes on in life as far as being someone who is called to ministry goes.

I'm excited and scared to read The Irresistable Revolution. Mainly because everyone that I know that has read it has walked away changed. And I'm not talking an easy change, I'm talking about radical shift change. Hopefully that will be how I will come out of it as well, but asking for change is sometimes a scary feat.

So... if you read this, what is one book you can recommend that I read? Or two or three... I've got time.

yay for little friends

Monday, March 19, 2007

This is my friend Nora. She's the coolest 4 and a half month old that I know. I mean really, we hang out lots because I work with her mom, so how could she not be cool. I was picking out pictures for our newsletter and ran across this one and decided it needed to be shared. Not in the newsletter sense (because that would be weird) but in the blogger sense.

Pretty soon Nora gets to go to daycare, but for a bit longer she'll continue hanging out with me and her mom while we work.

Coming soon in baby picture blogging, I'll be an aunt at the beginning of April. There will probably be way too many pictures of her on here. The whole family is ridiculously excited about her arrival. We totally can't wait.

overrun by life

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Someone asked me today what all I've been up to. My answer was that I have been busy having fun. I've been hanging out with friends more than usual, which is a good thing for me, but has not left me with a lot of time to sit and think up clever things to say.

Today I started reading a book called "Beginning to Pray" by Anthony Bloom who was a Russian Orthodox Priest. So far the book is blowing me away and really forcing me to rethink the act of prayer.

The first major point of the book, found in the first chapter is about the absence of God. Who in the world starts a book on prayer about the absence of God? This guy does, and it makes it phenomenal. Sometimes, I pray and get no response (at least none that I am aware of), the lack of God's presence seems to be overwhelming in those times, and I often wonder where I can go to find God and reestablish this relationship.

So it struck me in this passage...
"If we could mechanically draw Him into an encounter, force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen the moment to meet Him, there would be no relationship, and no encounter.... A relationship must begin and develop in mutual freedom. If you look at the relationship in the form of a mutual relationship, you would see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for him, but what about the 23 and a half hours during which God may be knocking on our door and we answer 'I am busy or I am sorry' or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is."
Right to the heart there. This perspective is fresh. I've never been comfortable with genie in a bottle God. The one that we call upon when we need something and a rub of the magic lamp can bring it to us. Life just doesn't seem to work this way. But what if we can have that consistent mutual relationship? What if we can open ourselves up to 24 continual hours of communion with God?

Often I think people see that or hear that as a possibility and don't think about it seriously because they haven't been called into a ministry job. Sometimes people think that it would take some sort of monastic life to be that devoted and listen to God constantly. I think that this holy and spiritual communion can be something everyone can have. It can truly be an awesome part of our lives to seek to live this way.

So the next time I'm crying out, the next time I go to God in prayer for something I want, and I don't feel the presence of God, I will remind myself that it isn't God that is the problem, it is me. I love being on the 2nd page of a book and being confronted by something that is so powerful it really makes me do some self-examination.


Sunday, March 11, 2007
I have had one of the coolest weekends spent with friends doing some awesome things. I've been feeling so blessed this season of Lent that it doesn't even feel like Lent typically does for me. Usually Lent is very introspective, but I've got enough of that going on with trying to figure out what I'll be doing when August starts, so I figured I didn't need much more of that.

So I went out to dinner with my friend Leah on Saturday which was great because we haven't had a lot of time to just hang out lately. It was good to just sit and talk. We were going to go to a movie, but she was too sleepy so I went over and hung out at Jarrod and Whitney's house with Whitney and Chris, their roommate and a couple of other people. Jarrod was doing a lockin with his kids, and we just sat around and watched a few episodes of last season's 24. It was a fantastic way to unwind.

In the midst of it all, I was housesitting, and there is nothing better than coming back to a cat and a couple of awesome dogs. Saturday I got up and got going, and was at Billy and Tara's in the late morning to do some painting with Tara at their new house. We had a good time talking, and both agree that painting is somewhat therapeutic which is always good. That night I led worship with Tara at counterculture as well.

This morning I taught some of the social principles of the UMC to a Sunday School class. They loved me. And I loved teaching them. I've got 2 more Sundays of that, and then will have a curriculum to use to teach others. Awesome.

I came home, went out to lunch with friends, then went back to painting at Tara and Billy's. Then it was Lazer Tag time and other fun things at Hinkle Family Fun center. That was good times for sure. I had no idea how fun that was, but I am pretty sure that my team kept shooting me. It was a good night.

So, I was really busy all weekend and even managed to make it through losing the hour last night relatively unharmed. Hopefully this week is slightly more calm than last week. Lots of craziness happened at work. I do know there is some drama that I'll have to deal with this week, but hopefully it will all work out in the end. I just know there are lots of meetings in store for me in various areas of my life. And my general feeling about meetings right now is that meetings = one less opportunity I have to be in ministry.

Discipleship conference part 2

Thursday, March 08, 2007
Well I've discussed the implications of splitting Jesus up and each group claiming a piece of him. The problem with this sectarianism is that we fail to see the beauty of Jesus as a whole. Certainly I would think there are more than 7 different perspectives of Jesus. These are the ones that McLaren has seen but certainly there can be other views. I think we miss something if we concentrate too much on our own personal Jesus and don't see Jesus for who he is to other people.

Now where we can go wrong in this whole story is our understanding of the gospel. McLaren shared a story about a meeting with another theologian. This other theologian told McLaren that he had precisely no idea what the gospel is.

So what is the gospel then? And what does it mean?

When remember that gospel means good news, I think we can see that it also means the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke often about this kingdom.

I have to laugh a little about McLaren’s view of the contemporary gospel. It goes something like this

The gospel = How to get to heaven when you die
With a large footnote about personal happiness
Smaller footnote about character development
A Much smaller footnote about spiritual experience
And an illegible footnote about social and global transformation.

This reminded me of that whole post I did about moralistic therapeutic deism. We want to feel good about ourselves. But this isn’t really what God was trying to accomplish with Jesus I don’t think. I think there is more to it, I think there is some serious conviction in what Jesus has to say about what the good news actually is.

We have to remember that we are not the end users of the gospel and that this whole thing is about God’s love for the world. Why would God bother with it all if it was all about if we were happy or not? I mean, sure, I think that God wants us to be happy, but I don’t think that our faith should be based on whether or not we are happy.

I often hear that people choose a church because it of how they are fed by it. Is it important to be spiritually nourished? Yes. Should it be our sole decision for how we choose a church? Probably not…

But this is what we get when we dissect Jesus into 7 or more parts. We get this consumer idea of what Christianity can be, and we forget to be disciples. We forget that God calls us to be more than just consumers of the gospel. We pick and choose what it is that we believe about Christ, and then suddenly we can pick and choose whether we care about others and whether we are Godly. I think we dive into some dangerous territory when we have this consumer driven society.

We’re supposed to be disciples. A disciple is someone who is living out what Jesus commanded. It is something we have to work on, not something that we can just sit back and hope that it happens. It isn’t something we can pay money for, it is something that we achieve from walking so closely behind Jesus that we feel the dust from his feet on our skin. It is something that people just recognize when they look at you.

This disciple living isn’t easy. In fact, it shouldn’t be. It should be a challenge. I’m always learning more about what it means to be a disciple every day. Some days I fail at being what Christ has called us to, but I am thankful for the grace of God in those situations because it allows me to start over again. If I am not consciously making the decision to follow Christ every day, then I don’t get the reminder about what a sacrifice that Kingdom living truly is.

I am still being changed today from that conference a few weeks back, and I feel like I’ll keep getting insights from it. I’m looking forward to McLaren’s next book, and am grateful for my ability to attend the conference. God continues to bless my time here for sure.

VEV conference

Sunday, March 04, 2007
I probably have a couple more posts about the McLaren conference. I'm in this serious mode of processing right now. It seems like I hit some conferences at just the right time in my life.

Because it is so fresh in my mind and I am working on processing it, and I process through writing, I'm going to jump ahead in time and talk about the Volunteers exploring vocation conference I just attended at Princeton. It was a conference put on by the Fund for Theological Education to encourage young adults who are in mission to consider going to seminary at some point. I think it also served as a way for young adults from different traditions who are in jobs like mine to connect. I met some amazing Mennonites, Presbyterians, Church of the Brethren folk among others.

I also got to hang out with some other UMCers... case in point. Here are 4 of the 5 of us standing outside of Magnolia Bakery. I am not certain you can be a UMC young adult missionary unless you have a strong desire to visit Magnolia when you are within 10 blocks.

So then we've got a picture of me with Adam in Salt Lake City. We are the 2 US-2s that blog with some regularity so we thought it fitting to get a picture together. We met up on the plane as he sat a row behind me. It is kind of funny to know someone solely through their blog, so I wasn't sure it was actually him. Finally we established the existence of each other and both had our headphones on fast to try to drown out the screaming 2 year old 2 rows ahead of me.

It was good to have a travel companion while navigating the NJ Transit system and the Princeton campus that lacked street signs. We were late, but we met up with a girl named Emily at Princeton Junction, so we didn't feel it mattered too much.

Adam brings a huge amount of joy anywhere he goes, so it was good times when he was around. This is me filling space now as I told him I would write 3 paragraphs about him. Hrm. Let's see. We talked about Mountain TOP some, and the state of his class of US-2s. And other things. Adam's a cool guy, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

So after a long journey, we hit the ground running. Wednesday night we spent some time talking in small groups and in a large group about everything that was going to happen. We also introduced our programs and ourselves which was fun. There are some amazing young people doing amazing things across the country.

Thursday was NYC day. We started off early, catching the 9ish am train in and we were at Holy Apostles Episcopal church which runs the largest soup kitchen in the city. If only every church would remove their pews in order to have space to serve food to the poor... then we ran up and got cupcakes and made it up to Union to listen to another Episcopal priest and a guy who makes documentaries talk about seminary and about life. From there, we took a walking tour of west Harlem, (basically really close to the General Board of Global Ministries so I know the area well). And then tried to get taxis to get up to St. Crispin's friary.

This is where we went wrong. Apparently, you cannot get a taxi at 4 pm to the South Bronx. It only took us 15 minutes, but that is a heck of a long time to try to get a taxi. We then prayed the Hours with some amazing Friars who are mendicants. They served us dinner (an amazing act of humility for men who rely on begging and donations to survive). Then the group split up. Some of us ended up at a jazz showcase, some went home, some had an interesting experience on a ferry, others went to times square then straight home. I of course hung out in the village and listened to some jazz. We laughed a ton, and walked back to the subway in the pouring rain. It was awesome.

Friday we heard from different people in ministry and spoke with some seminary reps. It set my mind at ease about going to seminary eventually so that was a very good thing. In the afternoon we had free time, which was much needed. We also had an amazing worship service that I was blown away by that night. Candlelit, sharing with each other in the form of a ritual of witness, and blessing each other with a rememberance of baptism. I won't soon forget the music, some taize done differently, some African spirituals, it was simply amazing and a blessing.

Some of us went out and walked around Princeton afterwards, which was a whole lot of fun and kept us entertained. We stayed up talking until late about life, trials of being in service among other things. Hearing the stories is an amazingly powerful thing.

Saturday was all about reflection and a difficult journey for me to get back here. At first, I thought I was going to get stuck in Atlanta, but then they switched my flight for me, and then wouldn't let me on my plane. God was good and I managed to make it home 2 hours before I was supposed to be back, but it was a difficult experience with some frustrated airline workers and me in my exhausted state. Thankfully, I made it home.

This week is busy again, but busy here in town and not anything out of the ordinary really. We're asking for money from the United Way this week, so prayers are appreciated on Tuesday morning. It will be a task for me to get back in the groove of things, and even though it was a busy weekend, it was one where I truly felt the blessing of God upon my life.
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