Thursday, December 30, 2010

Free Gifts & Punitive Punishments

Ever paid for a gift someone gave you?

Huh? No!


Because if money exchanged hands--by definition, it would not be a gift.

Oh. So why do people say, "Free gift?"

Probably because they heard it on TV commercials written by monkeys.

I'm picking up on some sarcasm. Why don't we just stop using that phrase?

That's a great idea. I'll blog about it. I'm sure that will solve everything.

I can't wait for the ripple affect this will have on our culture!

Me too.

Oh, what about "punitive punishments?"

I was being...never mind.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Music

I know my friends. I know what kind of personality they have. I know what kind of music they like...except at Christmas.

This weird phenomenon occurs. Otherwise hip, cool and edgy personalities embrace holiday songs sung by the likes of: Neil Diamond. Perry Como. The Carpenters. Bing Crosby.

I actually heard a popular local D.J. say in earnest, "Wow, that Perry Como has some powerful Christmas music."

Although I am now laughing at what I just wrote, this post is not a slam of sappy Christmas music. Because we are all guilty of having a soft spot for at least a couple sappy Christmas tunes.

The music we heard as children has a lot to do with this. (Why else would a 30-something listen to Karen Carpenter?) The holiday music we like is attached to so much more than the artist. Those old tunes take us back to our days before we had adult sensibility and responsibility (and musical taste).

Those songs are mysteriously attached to everything that is warm and attractive about our childhood; the best parts of our parents, family and our home. It's not just about Bing, Elvis, Karen and Jose. They are just the musical tour guides to our own unique and prized past. We won't be visited by four spirits tonight; recording artists of yore will do just fine.

Music was such an integral part of our home growing up. My father was a pharmacist by trade, but a jazz musician and aficionado by passion. He played the upright bass and my mother played her baby grand piano that was in the living room.

So Vince Guaraldi and other jazz musicians were our Christmas music. My bohemian beatnik parents laughed aloud at the traditional white bread holiday tunes. (There was no Perry Como in our home.) And so that influence is the wiring pattern of my Christmas music gene.

Which means I like jazzy holiday music: Vince, Ray Brown Trio, Diana Krall, James Brown, to name a few. And I like whatever is off the beaten path: Barenaked Ladies, Jars of Clay, Sister Hazel and a favorite CD called "Maybe This Christmas."

These are not things I chose. This is the holiday music taste given to me by my parents; two hep-cats that liked to march to a different drummer.

But there is another type of Christmas music that was part of my childhood. I sang it during elementary school Christmas programs. I heard it in seasonal TV shows...

Christmas Carols.

I can remember singing and hearing songs like, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Come All Ye Faithful, and The First Noel. For a young boy growing up in a family that never went to church, these were my first glimpses into something Holy and hopeful.

I can remember at times fighting back tears that trickled at the impulse of these lyrics--not knowing why or fully understanding it. Yet, moved by the truth of them.

To this day--the carols that celebrate Christ's birth are perhaps the most profound to me. They still make me want to weep. Certainly that's attributed to the truth of them. And then another part is perhaps attributed to my deep-down knowing--that the power of Christ started creeping into my unchurched godless home--through these songs.

It's so ironic. This non-conformist opinionated musician--the child of beatnik elitists--rocked by the oldest and most traditional of Christmas music. Indeed.

Here's to you and whatever old sappy Christmas music that moves your soul this holiday season. Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's in a Box?

I had the most profound Christmas experience this morning; my family delivered Red Ribbon Christmas Outreach Boxes for the Kokomo Rescue Mission.

Please hear no self-promotion in this whatsoever. My hat is off to the staff of the KRM and the TONS of volunteers that it takes to make this happen.

It's so simple: drive your car to get some directions, then take some boxes to people in need. It is so much more profound than that simplicity implies.

There must have been 300-400 people in a building donated by General Motors. I loved it--300-400 people got out of bed at 6am, went out in the freezing cold to do this. (I'm sure some volunteers were going much earlier!)

A few simple directions were given from a few rungs up on ladder in the middle of the industrial gray room. Then we all sang one simple chorus each of Come All Ye Faithful and Joy to the World.

I have to confess I was fighting back the emotion as these 300+ Carhardt-wearing people loudly sang in this echoing block building. They were the "faithful" who had come. They were about to load "Joy" into pickup trucks and minivans. Yes, I cried a little. If only I were man enough to cry as much as my soul wanted to.

Our four stops on Kokomo's north end weren't warm exchanges where recipients cried and asked us to pray for them. They were a little awkward. We awakened a few--literally wiping cobwebs from their eyes as they opened the door.

They appreciated our visit but didn't really want to have a chat with people they'd never met; people who only knew of them, that they were in need. I would probably feel the same way. And their reaction is not what this is about anyway.

I was thankful to have had the means to fix the transmission in our minivan so we could haul four boxes. I was thankful that Sandra had challenged us to do this as a family. I was thankful that Meghan and Slater willingly came with us. I was thankful to sing of faith and joy with people I didn't know (and some I did). I was thankful that a Child in a food trough still spurs people to make a difference in the lives of people they do not know.

Merry Christmas, friends...and those whom I don't yet know.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas & Xmas.

It's that time of year again. Click here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Confessions of a Church Musician Part II

See Part 1

Perhaps an appropriate recap of Part 1 would be: “Church changes and that means sometimes roles do as well.”

I’m writing this series to help artists navigate this change and to give people the freedom to discuss this in the clarity of conversation, rather than within the often murky confines of the artistic mind. (Or maybe only my mind is murky ;-)

I’m not trying to change the new paradigm, but rather, helping artists transition well into the next chapter.

Why talk about this? Change the play on an accountant and that’s cake. Change the play or paradigm on an artist and let’s just say it’s somehow less clearly-cut than opening a new spreadsheet ;-)

So what now?

Re-surrender. When church changes artists must re-surrender their talents. When there’s a great fit between your gifts and what the church needs, honestly there’s not a lot of surrender going on; you’re feeling like you’re doing the most natural thing possible. But when the church changes and your gifts are’t the match they were, it stops feeling natural. One now needs to re-surrender.

This is what re-surrender looks like in a prayerful dialogue:

“Lord, thank you for how You have gifted me. My abilities comes from You. How do You want me to use these gifts today? As the expression of Your church changes, how and where would You like to use me in Your church? Lord, help me not be self-centered in my giftedness and serving. Lord, if there is self-serving junk driving me, shine Your light on it and root it out. Help me be fully surrendered to You and Your church. Lead me, Lord, and I will follow.”

Pray along these lines and initiate healthy conversations with healthy Christ followers. Do NOT have “shadow” conversations or “discussions in the bushes” about how unhappy or disgruntled you are.

I’ve thought about the person who has phenomenal tile or building skills. For the run of constructing our current facility their gifts were a perfect match; but then the building was completed and so was that specific kind of serving opportunity for them. Their serving had to look different going forward, or until that skill/gift is needed again. Church changes and we have to along with it.


Maybe God wants to use your artistic gift in a different area of the church or in a different manner. Maybe it’s ministering to a different audience within the church. Maybe it’s helping younger artists develop and mature musically and spiritually.

Maybe God wants your artistic gift to become more missional; using it outside the walls of the church, influencing the culture and cultivating relationships with those whom you’d never meet inside the church. Maybe God wants…?

Re-surrender and begin to ask Him how He wants to use your gift; where, when, how and for whom? Maybe God will start something that’s now only possible because you have more time to use your gift in this new way.

Words for churches and their arts leaders

One of the most profound things I learned at the AND Conference was that leadership has to start the dialogue about change as soon as they sense change is afoot.

This is messy because on the front end of change, leaders do not have it figured out. We leaders usually don’t like talking to teams when we don’t have answers. But when changes happens without a dialogue that’s instigated by leaders, the followers often feel lost or left out.

(I am in no way “sticking it” to Oakbrook or any church’s leadership here--we have GREAT arts leadership. I am in leadership at Oakbrook—this is simply the clarity that I have in hindsight.)

This is what transitional leadership looks like:

“We don’t have all the answers…where don’t exactly know where this is going…we do know we are transitioning into a more worshipful (or fill in the blank) paradigm…we are leaving a more performance-oriented paradigm…we don’t know how this will affect personnel but it probably will…we want to keep an open dialogue…”

Further along in the process as more clarity naturally happens, it will be apparent that some people will be used more and other less. That’s the time to initiate one-on-one conversations. Help guide those being used less to navigate the change. Tell the truth in love. God moves, God changes things and leaders are His mouthpiece.

When it comes to church leadership, much is talked about and written about when it comes to team building. But when it comes to team restructuring or team retooling, I’ve heard or read very little about this topic.

But for churches who are standing the test of time, leading transitions is par for the course and crucial. Because we don’t want to turn away blue chip volunteers that we’re using less—we want to help them transition too!

When a team transitions, people must transition. And the people need led in the process, much like they were led onto the team on the front end. If a football team chose to change their makeup to a more run oriented scheme, the coach would talk about how this new change is going to affect the current roster.

Fortunately for the church, we don't have to cut players, but rather help them transition within the team of the church as a whole.

I think this is the end of this series…I think…maybe...depends on the feedback ;-)

December Funeral


I am uncharacteristically dressed in suit and tie in the middle of the week; a telltale sign of the funeral I will officiate in but a few hours.

I imagine what most people are focused upon today: work, crossing things of a list, Christmas shopping, worry about what's for dinner, coming up with a witty tweet. But today I will help two parents bury their thirty-seven year old daughter.

I said to my friend, Sam, just this morning that I enjoy serving a family in this kind of a way; and truthfully, I do. But as I write this, I wonder if my soul secretly appreciates how a funeral redefines for me, what's most important.

I've been stewing and chewing on restless thoughts lately. But being the storyteller at the close of one's life makes me see how petty my unproductive thoughts have been.

I did a funeral last December as well. It's hard to view a December funeral apart from Christmas. It's the back drop for everything that happens this month--even funerals. There are the Christmas cards with the words, "Peace on Earth." Cards with a manger scene on a snowy night and the word, "Hope."

For the family laying a loved one to rest, hope, peace and the presence of the Christ Child come off these cliche cards and manifest themselves as profound truth and intersect reality.

At least I pray God will use me to that end today. And I pray the poignancy of this funeral will stay with me through the holidays.

Peace on Earth. Peace to this Christmastime.