Monday, February 27, 2012


One of the great things the church has to offer the world, in my opinion, is a place to participate in making music. There are no longer very many places in our culture where the average person can make music with other average people. Music has become such a commodity that we expect either to consume it by ourselves via iPods or to consume it in a concert hall--it's not something we *do* ourselves unless we are professionals.

Except in church.

At church, everyone can (and should!) sing. Everyone can clap or hum or sing at the top of their lungs. Together we make a joyful noise--sometimes more noise, sometimes more tuneful, but always beautiful in its way. A large part of that beauty comes from the fact that we are making it together, not simply consuming it. (Please note I'm not talking here about "special" music--music not meant for the whole congregation to create together--which is obviously different, though still not intended for consumption, exactly, it's also not a communal creation with every person participating--it's a communal creation of the choir or band or ensemble. I get that. I also get that it has other issues, which are for another post sometime.)

I love both old and new hymnody--I'm not one to shy away from a new hymn or a new tune or a new instrumentation (ask around and RCLPC and you'll probably find plenty of people who wish I would shy away a little more often!). But the reality is that the purpose of music in the church is for us to participate in it...which means that when we do learn something new, it has to be something we can all participate in, whether or not we can read music, whether or not we can remember a tune after hearing part of it once. It needs to be accessible. If it isn't, it's nothing more than an opportunity for the "professionals" to perform and the congregation to consume.

And this is exactly where we run into trouble when we start to have "contemporary" worship (whatever that means) or "new" music. I love a lot of the stuff being done by people in the church all around the world. But if you stand up front and ask people to sing along, it better be something we can all pick up on and join in relatively quickly (like within one verse...if it has verses...). Otherwise you aren't enabling people to worship through creating music together, you're enabling people to stand there while you play and sing for them, and that's not the same thing.

So today I was watching the live feed of the Next2012 conference opening worship (yes, I'm kind of a dork, but a friend was preaching and I'm a sucker for worship) and the musician, who was a seminary classmate of mine, was leading people in singing. I don't know for certain but I would bet that he is the author and composer of two of the songs they sang this morning.
Now, when I say this next thing, remember that I wasn't there so I'm going off what I felt and what I could hear through the internet streaming feed. It may have been different to be there--and I hope people who were there will chime in.

The two new songs I heard, and to a certain extent the two hymns he led, were not singable. They had random-feeling tunes with lots of skips and jumps and a range most of us couldn't sing, especially first thing in the morning. With only guitar and one voice (a voice often singing a descant or solo rather than the tune) to follow, it was almost impossible to sing along. At home, I definitely could not, and I couldn't hear many voices singing in the space either. (for comparison, when they were able to sing a verse of a familiar hymn, or say unison prayers, I could hear clearly the crowd's voice(s).)
It's not that I don't think the songs were great--I do. They were appropriate to the text, theologically sound, and musically interesting and beautiful to listen to. Troy is a great musician. But they didn't seem like songs for a congregation to sing together. They were songs for people who knew what was going on to sing, and people who didn't know what was going on to listen.
And at it's heart, that's the problem I have with "contemporary" worship--it seems like it's for people who are already in the know, and if you aren't then you can't be included until you know this secret musical language. It's not something you can simply join in and get carried along by the experience of making music together.

It is possible to find and to write music that is not a tune from 1743, not accompanied on the organ and still have it be singable. It's possible to find and write music that's led by a band and have it be simultaneously musically interesting, singable, and theologically sound. I know because we do it every week. (It's also possible to have an organist lead those tunes from 1743 and have them be spirit filled.) Now if only the NEXT thing in the church could be to strengthen our community building through music making, rather than simply making it another opportunity to perform.

*note: I use "contemporary" in quotation marks because, while it's often used to describe a particular style of worship, it's actually a misnomer. Since worship is happening now, it is contemporary, no matter what style it is. There are not good words to describe worship styles, at least not what we do at RCLPC--some of it has a band, some has the organ. Both include old hymns and brand new songs. Both involve congregational singing, prayer, silence, preaching, etc. The primary difference is in instrumentation. It's possible, people, I promise. It just takes work. But does the presence of a band at 830am mean that the worship at 930 or 11 is not contemporary? No. Hence the quotation marks.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!

Rev. Teri Peterson
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
Luke 10:38-42
26 February 2012, Lent 1B (off lectionary: Heart and Seek)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Last summer there was an article in the LA Times whose headline I have borrowed for my sermon title. The article was about the value of doing nothing—the argument was that idleness feeds our creativity and gives our brains room to have new ideas. In addition to the scientific evidence there was the anecdotal evidence of writers, musicians, and artists of all types. To do nothing, to just “stand there,” is an important practice without which we become cogs in the world’s often unjust machine.

The article didn’t touch on spirituality, but I think it applies there too. Without some space that looks suspiciously like just standing there, doing nothing, our spirits wither just as surely as our creative energy does. In fact, I would suggest the two are related, or even one and the same. Without time doing nothing, without mental and spiritual space, we find ourselves simply going around doing things, often mindlessly or simply because they are expected of us, and ultimately that can pull us off our foundation—and, as Jesus says, if we haven’t built our lives on a strong foundation, when the storm comes we’ll be tossed around and feel abandoned.

This story of Mary and Martha is one that drives many good Presbyterians bonkers, because it implies that sitting around is better than doing tasks. Many Presbyterians are do-ers, we like to get to work and get things done, to not just stand there but to do something…sometimes it almost feels as if we can save the world with our to-do lists. And if either mindless doing or saving the world is behind our doing, then we are definitely reading this story right, and it should make us uncomfortable—because compared to that kind of doing, it really is high time that we learned to sit at the feet of Jesus and just listen.

And in fact, I think it’s true—it’s time that we take some Sabbath, that we rest and remind ourselves that God made the world and continues to care, and our work is not going to save the world—Jesus is busy with that task himself. It’s okay to leave some things undone in order to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen and absorb and be Centered on the One.

(here the band will play I Meant To Do My Work Today)

We are so prone to concentrate on what we are doing or not doing. Please hear me—what we do and don’t do are important. But even more important is to remember in our doing that it's not all about us, but about God. It's about what God is doing and has done not only here and now, but in times long ago and in a future we cannot even dimly see.

Taking some time to just be in the presence of God, without any tangible results, is a big focus for the season of Lent. Lent is a time of examination and of turning back to God. We take time to intentionally, and with our whole selves—mind, body, heart, spirit—look for what God is doing in our midst. Often we church people engage in that seeking by having more events during Lent, but this year we’re trying something different—we’re having fewer events, hoping that a change in our usual way of doing things will offer space for the Spirit to enter and move, space for us to wander through thoughts and hear the call of silence, space to see and feel and hear and know God more deeply. We’re going to try a season of just standing there, and see what we notice around us. We hope you’ll share where you notice God moving in your own life and in the church—what is the Spirit saying to the church in this time and place?

As we practice this not-doing, this meditation and prayer, this listening, this sitting at the feet of Jesus, the ultimate goal is not to become a church full of people who do nothing but sit around. The purpose of this kind of practice is to learn to take the presence of God, the stillness, the peace, the joy with us into our tasks. So we aren’t simply doing things because it’s what we’re supposed to do, we aren’t resentful about the enormity of the tasks, we aren’t worried and distracted by many things—instead, we are focused and real, knowing that the things we do are what we're called to do, for the glory of God and not the glory of ourselves. Because it’s true that sometimes dinner needs to be on the table, or the laundry needs to be done, or the report completed. It’s true that the hungry need to be fed, the earth cleaned up, and justice done. But we want to learn to become a Mary-Martha hybrid. Not Martha who’s constantly thinking of all the things she has to do, and how little help she has, and going through the motions of what is simply expected—no matter who is in the house—while her mind races a mile a minute. Nor can we go on forever as Mary. But remember who IS in the house—not just anyone, but Jesus. Mary has the sense to focus her attention where it belongs. Can we take that focus, that mindfulness, into every task we have to do? Not if we don’t try out being Mary for a while. But if we do…

(here the band will play Holy As A Day Is Spent)

As we make some space for the Spirit to move, removing ourselves from at least some of our usual routines, for moments or for months, that change in routine and that space in the schedule can shift the way we see, give us new perspective. We begin to see our God-infused world, and our tasks as sacraments and prayers. And that new perspective is exactly what we’re going to need if we’re going to seek God—who is often hidden in plain sight, if only we would open our eyes to see.

May it be so.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lent and Food and other things

I have long suspected that Thai food was the thing to eat when you're sick. As in, if you think you're getting a cold, you should go get some Thai food. I'm pretty sure it has medicinal properties.

I'm also pretty sure that I read that somewhere, probably in a random historical fiction novel. That doesn't make it not true.

So anyway, yesterday I was eating Tom Yum soup (yum!) and looking up recipes so I could make it myself, and I discovered that, according to Teh Interwebz, tom yum soup is thought to have immune boosting powers that make it a good thing to eat when you have a cold or flu! So...score one for the historical fiction.

Anyway, I'm looking for a recipe for Tom Yum soup, vegetarian. Probably without tofu, because I'm so unlikely to do the work to make tofu delicious. But it can have other goodness, like mushrooms. One recipe called for broccoli, which I am skeptical about, but would try. once.

One of the reasons I need a recipe is that during Lent I don't eat out. Instead, I work hard to make sure that I'm prepared to cook and eat at home. Part of the reason for this is that I want to be more intentional about what I put in my body. The other part of the reason is that I want to make sure that I keep my work hours in check. It's so easy to work work work and then find it's 9pm and I'm starving, so I'll just run to Taco Bell. Or to think "well, I'll just run out for lunch and be back in a sec so I can keep on working." Or to not have time to cook. But I love to cook (though I don't love to clean). So during Lent I push the re-set button on the ways I use my time and energy, so I can be more mindful of my body and spirit and work and leisure.

So...any good recipes to share?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

down in the ATL

This week I'm at Columbia Seminary for the closing retreat for the S3 project--my peer group has created LiturgyLink through this program. LiturgyLink is an online collaborative worship planning resource. It's awesome.
Last year when we began, we introduced ourselves via a parody video.

This year, we introduced ourselves by writing new words for a song from the Book of Mormon and performing it for everyone at dinner last night.

Now we report what we did with money and time, and then we continue the work going on at the site.

In other news, a few of us CTS alums realized this week that we started seminary here 10 years ago this summer/fall. Holy Long Time Ago, Batman!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

video wednesday

It's not the end of the week, but it is the end of the alphabet...Video Wednesday. get it?

anyway, this is awesome. I love so many things about this. I love that the president is all "no, really, I mean it--move out of the way." I love that the kid says completely matter of factly "it shoots 172 feet at 30psi."

But most of all, I love that the president, on learning that the cannon shoots marshmallows and that it'll probably hit the wall, asks the most important question in the entire world.

"Will it stick?"

Way to support kids and science and being a real person!!