Historically Used In an Exclusive Sense, This Blog Aims to Explore What God's Up To Inside & Outside the Institutional Church

Music

Mr. Bumbleworth Ponders…

statesman

I come across church ads that boast of their “authentic worship” –

In distinction to what  – “inauthentic worship” ?

And how is that defined?

Inquiring minds want to know!

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Out of Step

fox trot

My first official dance lesson was a rite of passage as well as part of 1970’s grade school tradition. It was exciting as well as scary – the female of the species seemed to have lost their “cooties” and taken on a strange alluring, magnetic attraction. Our teachers acting as chaperons kept a close eye on the proximity of our hormone laden bodies that seemed to have the instability of nitroglycerin. The awkwardness of physical contact eased after repeated attempts to get in step with the instructions of the teacher & the rhythm of the music, eventually, 2 pairs of adolescent feet found an uneasy synchronized pattern. Missteps and falling out of step were often but given the simplicity of the Foxtrot getting back in step was easy along with an awkward smile. After time, the fox trot became routine, the watchfulness of the chaperons relaxed, and as music changed keeping in step gave way to circulating in proximate orbits of movement.

Keeping in step was easy for the fox trot but it has rarely been so for me in regards to anything else. Bandwagons have had little appeal. I tended to be the one who in the midst of a wave of group think raised his hand and asked “but what about…?” which is usually as popular as a skunk at a picnic. Having tried to be an institutional, denominational pastor for over 20 years still hasn’t changed me that much. Movements, revolutions and reformations run out of steam, money or hype. As it seems to have turned out most of us were not history makers or nations changers. Having tried to pastor for over 20 years still hasn’t changed me that much. I still let ecclesiastical bandwagons pass me by – these days they look all too familiar – recycled with a fresh coat of paint that doesn’t look like it will hold out under the bright sunlight or a heavy rain. I’ve seen this part of the parade before and it usually leads to the same end – distracting detours, deceptive dead ends and doctrinal disasters.

 room-for-jesus

As far as I can tell, Jesus was never concerned about dancing to the tune of his generation. When it comes to faith, it’s easy to get side tracked. Peyton Jones, in his book “Church Zero” calls the mistaken priorities of the church as a dance with 5 easy steps:

1) Get more people

2) More people = more money

3) More money = more toys

4) More toys = More ways to get more people

5) Get more people (rinse & repeat)

That’s like replacing an entirely different dance with different steps – you end up a tangle of feet or dancing alone. However, there are a few things I recall from my early dancing days that correspond with which tune church dances to today and the missteps that are possible:

1) It’s not about the building – Dance lessons were not in a mirror lined studio with polished wood floors but in the school lunch room, with the tables pushed to the side and the aroma of that day’s lunch of tater tots and mystery meat lingering in the air. So much for ambience and atmosphere! But it didn’t matter. We didn’t need a lot of techno-wizardry or designer dazzle. That wasn’t what we were there for.

2) It’s not about the music – I remember some of the bands such as “Bread, “The Guess Who” and “America” and even some of the song titles that were spun on the 45 rpm record player. We listened to the same tunes on the radio at home. That’s not what we were there for.

3) It’s not about getting more feet in the door or on the floor – We weren’t keeping count. We were on the look out for that special someone to dance with and more bodies just got in the way.

What were we there for? For the encounter – to be with the other -even if for a few moments – even a choreographed one – with the person of our desire. Most young men in their early teens wouldn’t be caught dead expressing an interest in dance for dance sake. But this was different. We were willing to be stretched out of our usual comfort zone, to even look like clumsy fools simply for an encounter with that special other.

lindy-hop

A dance has basic steps that form the pattern for movement. Faith does as well. Faith is more than knowing certain facts or performing certain actions. First and foremost faith is an encounter with the Triune God. Being a disciple of Jesus means first and foremost not following principles but a person. Preachers of another age used the term “experiential” or “experimental” because faith involves an interaction with each member of the Trinity. Patristic theology uses the Greek term “periochoresis” (to dance around) to describe the interrelations and interactions of the persons of the Trinity. Peter Leithart points out that the word’s verbal form, besides providing the root for the English word “choreographed” was also used as a metaphor of how the members of the Godhead dance around and with one another, what St. Maximus called the “eternal movement of love.”

Through the sacrifice of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father has made it possible for us to join in their relationship in a way that is beyond metaphor – to join in the divine fellowship. In John 17:21-13, Jesus prayed for his disciples that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” This is a unity in which the uniqueness of persons is not absorbed or erased but allows them to interact with one another in genuine communion or “koinonia” and with one another. A holy, circling dance is a fitting image.

georg.0

I know for some that dance is not going to be a popular or appealing picture especially if you hold to the old-time adage “the praying knee can’t belong to a dancing leg” (of course thankfully, Miriam & King David did not know that!). Other metaphors of the spiritual life that focus on warfare or conflict or battle are far more appealing especially to the male of the species especially when fueled by images of “Brave Heart,” Gladiator” or those who think the church’s confession of faith should sound like “THIS IS SPARTA!”

God’s not asking us to stretch our awkward frames into pink tutus but we are commanded to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 16) which speaks of following the lead of the 3rd member of the Trinity. If I as a pastor or leader or believer am trying to dance to the tune of my or another generation or the demands of institutional priorities or the expectations of the current cultural despisers of the faith then I am not following the right steps. I will be moving to a foreign tune that will be out of step with the Holy Spirit.

The Triune God has made it possible for us to join in his eternal movement of love. It also means we join with other believers as part of the divine choreography as we encounter the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s worth staying in step with.


 

Our new praise band tuning up for their big debut as we do our best to remain trendy & competitive in the crowded religious franchise market!


Songs for Turkeys

Top 10 Favorite Songs about Thanksgiving

10. “I Want to Hold Your Yam”
9. “These are a Few of My Favorite Wings”
8. “I Can’t Get No Second Helpings”
7. “Give Peas a Chance”
6. “Red Butter Ball”
5. “Cranberry Fields Forever”
4. “Feelin’ Gravy”
3. “Take It Greasy”
2. “We’re Off to See the Gizzard”
1. “Inna-Gobble-Da-Vita”


Songs for the Flock

By Eddie Eddings


Woops! Your Theology is Showing

Ever since the Lord told Moses to make a tent of animal skins, David wanted to build a house for the King of Heaven, Peter wanted to make a place to camp out with the transfigured Lord or Paul met in a hall or rented space for debating, believers have been shaped by the physical structures they gather in as much as they have shaped those structures themselves. While repugnant to many spiritual purists, ecclesiastical iconoclasts and architectural docetists, it remains that the how & what of shape, form and design is loaded with symbolic, spiritual and theological meaning and significance whether a gathering is in  Chartres Cathedral, a main street store front or a living room with bean bag chairs. In the past a focal point has been the altar:

or the pulpit (such as this at Sinclair Seaman’s Presbyterian in Belfast):

or the cross:

Now it seems to be the drum set:

What might we conclude from this drum set (on steroids) claimed to be the largest drum set in the world by a church in New York state?

And are those lava lamps?


Bah Humbug Awards (Deja Who?)

I know its the Christmas season ’cause every musician/singer with talent or no talent is trying to massacre Christmas songs in some sort of “new-creative-fresh approach” that end up more grotesque than over-boiled asparagus.  I’d rather listen to cats howling at midnight in a tin shed. My second “Bah Humbug Award” goes to all those singers who should have left well enough alone, such as:

Stevie Nicks (whose version of “Silent Night” does sound like cats howling in a tin shed)

Bob Seger (Little Drummer Boy?)

Lynrd Skynyrd (Santa Claus is Coming to Town!?)

James Taylor (Jingle Bells ?!?)

Ted Nugent (Deck the Halls !?!?)

and Willie Nelson, Guns N Roses, The Kinks, R.E.M., Queen and yes, even Father Guido Sarducci

The list goes on. To that I say,


All together now!

Controversy and conflict are nothing new to the church. Some controversies make mountains out of molehills. Others truly matter. In an age when charm, slick looks, ticket sales and manufactured authenticity pass as the fruit of the Spirit, its helpful to recall the genuine controversies of truth from other times that are still crucial for our own. Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification “the article of the church by which it stands or falls.” John Gill adds with it “the church is in a well-settled and prosperous state; but if it loses ground and is rejected, it is in a ruinous one. It is the ground and foundation of all solid joy, peace, and comfort in this life and hope of eternal glory hereafter.”

So while I’ll sing “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” tomorrow, here’s a little ditty beforehand to remember when Martin Luther is said to have posted his theses against the sale of indulgences on what was the social media of the day, the door of the Wittenberg castle church October 31, 1517.

“The Reformation Polka” by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh…
Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!” Oh…
(Chorus)

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand,
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…
(Chorus)

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting “George” as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…
(Chorus)

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!



The Gospel – Short Version

G.O.S.P.E.L. from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.