Sunday, October 30, 2005

A. Vacation: Reply

I'm confused. This person, who is not a believer, attends a Christian worship service. Despite being an admitted liberal who listens to popular music (such as Van Halen), she criticizes the music of a Christian choir for not being conservative enough? I don't follow the logic of her statement.

You got all the details right but didn't listen to what she said.

  • Yes, Sarah Vowell is profoundly liberal.
  • Yes, she's not a believer (in fact, she's essentially turned her back on church/God, which she does get into at other places in the book).
  • Yes, she thinks the CCM mid-tempo pop ballad is insipid (she's not alone on that one).
  • Yes, she wants music that feels root-sy & authentic...

...which is her point (and mine). We in the church often assume that we KNOW what seekers want - but we don't actually listen to seekers to find out. Much of what the emerging church has done right is because they've tapped into the authentic desires of folks seeking a real & vibrant faith, rather than simply creating our own Christian subculture hermtically sealed against corruption.

But I've gone off-topic - you questioned the logic of her statement. Being a political liberal does not define your musical tastes, any more than being a theological conservative does. What she expressed is a desire for gospel music - that to her, like many of the senior adults in my congregation, there's a particular sound that rings true to them as "professing Christ".

I'm not saying that every church should do Johnny Cash's "Man in Black" each Sunday (though it wouldn't hurt if we played One Bad Pig's cover of it every once in a while). :-) But I think we must listen carefully to those in the culture around us to hear how our attempts at communicating the most important message ever is coming across. Not so we can change the message (cue dope slap) but so we can make sure the way we're communicating doesn't speak louder than the truth of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Assassination Vacation

If you're an NPR junkie, you know who Sarah Vowell is... esp. if you like This American Life, which is offbeat, liberal, and a majorly intriguing way to use radio to re-examine the familiar. (I still think the This American Life show on a youth mission trip should be required listening for every church leader...)

Chances are, though, the only time you've heard Sarah was in the role of Violet in Pixar's The Incredibles. (Not my favorite Pixar flick - that's Monsters, Inc. - but it's very, very good.)

What all of you may not know is that she's also a fine author... just finished her book, Assassination Vacation, in which she combines travelouge, history, political commentary & personal journal into a compelling mix. Her fascination with history (and esp. dead presidents) is a jumping off point for a very interesting read.

Now, don't say I didn't warn you: she definitely did NOT vote for George Bush in the last election. If that's going to make you grind your teeth, stay away.

Whether you go & read the book or not, do finish this post... I'm typing an excerpt on her view about a evangelical Easter sunrise service (from a decidely non-believeing perspective) that those of us in "professional" Christianity need to listen to...
...I get a look at the choir. Thirty singers and from where I'm sitting it looks like only two of them are black. It's not like I'm saying suburban white people shouldn't sing. Because I love Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher." But as I suspected, at six-thirty sharp the choir does stand up to perform the first of their competent renditions of generic, mid-tempo pop ballads that sound like they were written by a computer using a database of Easter vocabulary. In fairness, I should mention that other people here love the choir. The crowd is clapping & swaying and raising their arms. For me, however, where gospel music is concerned, my taste is more conservative and narrow-minded than a Reverend Falwell commencement address at Oral Roberts U. Unless it's an old holy-roller hymn Johnny Cash would have learned from his mama back in Arkansas, I'm not interested...
Question: how much of our musical choices are driven by people outside the church? If music communicates deeply to people's souls, then shouldn't we make sure it's connecting with people who need the love & grace of Jesus Christ?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gulf Games: Sunday

This is majorly weird, recapping this weekend in late July here now in October, what with the devastation that was wreaked on New Orleans. For more on my jumbled mind about Katrina, see a previous post, so succinctly named Jumbled.

Actually, it feels better to have waited this long to do this - I'm now enjoying the memory of my time with the Gulf Gamers rather than worrying about if they're still alive. (Sigh.)

Sunday morning always starts for me with a non-denomational prayer service that I lead - we've done it in a number of places, my favorite still being in the ballroom bar in Birmingham. (I actually sat on the bar to lead the service.) In New Orleans, we used one of the alcoves leading to the pool and gathered chairs around to share life & God together. As usual, a primo experience.

From there, I asked Joe Huber to teach William & I
Pompeii. This game got negative early response when released last year - but I think much of that negative response was the All-Consuming Devil of Misplaced Expectations. This is not a slow, deep game of wise placement & movement... this is Midnight Party for adults. (It also has a lot in common with Escape From Atlantis/Survive... either way, the game is primarily about running while screaming from the lava and/or cutting off your running/screaming opponent with lava.) We had a great time playing and in the end, Joe & I tied, but he had less guys in the volcano, which won him the game. BTW, I'm on the prowl for a copy of this... it's growing as a game people enjoy and is getting more difficult to find.

Next, I taught the Schloesser's & Shanna
Konig Salomons Schatzkammer which I had played earlier in the weekend. I liked it better with four players (less downtime, a bit easier to plan) but it's not one I'm going to run out & buy. Shanna smoked us.

Sunday morning means a lot of "catch a quick game before I have to load up" and that's what we did with Jim Fairchild & Leon Hembee. This time, it was Knizia's
Jumbo Grand Prix, a quickie filler card game that really is a filler. I've always likened it to Lost Cities for Multiple Players, but it's not even really that deep.

The scores were amazingly close, however - I won with 56, Leon was at 55, Jim at 53, and William (the newbie) managed 51.

Next up was the much-touted Oltremare (whose new high-quality production just released looks mighty nice). The early buzz sounded like it was Bohnanza with teeth... in reality, it reminded me more of Meureter with trading added. Either way, it's a solid game, but it didn't light my world on fire. I wouldn't refuse to play it agina, mind you - I'm just not having the Pavlovian "must-buy" response.

It was, however, the only game Anye Sellers & I got to play together, which was a highlight. So was finishing in front of Derk. (Anye won, I was second.)

More new games for me (since I've been out of the "new game" loop, what with no Gulf Games or Gathering for the past two years)... I got to play
Ingenious (aka Einfach Genial). Whoop-de-honkin'-doo. The production is very nice, but it's just an abstract game you can play with 4 people. Play - count yer points - wait while others play. Sigh. I'm not understanding the love that's been lavished on this game.

It probably didn't help my opinion that Jay Bloodworth BLEW the rest of us out of the water. 3 points from a perfect game. Well-played, but it holds no interest for me.

My run of new-to-me games continued with Pickomino (aka Heckmeck am Brautweck... am I the only one who thinks the old name sounds cooler?) It's a pretty simple dice with some fun decisions, a major bit of "take that", and cool components (the worm "dominos" are tres nifty.) William actually won this, but we all had fun.

The same crew of William, Peter McCarthy & Eddie Bonet got in my last "official" game of Gulf Games as we dragged out the Haba classic, Karambolage. Cross billiards with Carabande and you've got a rough idea of how the game works. I was doing great (in fact, almost ready to win), but choked, and Eddie passed me by.

And that was it for Gulf Games. William & I went to Mother's for Po Boys (extremely yummy, highly recommended) then headed back to the hotel for a night of gaming ourselves: the Game of Life Card Game, Samurai, Duell, Crazy Chicken, Coda, That's Life, and Galloping Pigs. Man, I love having a nephew who loves games almost as much as I do.

Don't know when I'll get back to Gulf Games - but I certainly do miss it. And I miss my friends there... which are as important as the games.

Surely, You Can't Be Series, Us

Yes, I am... and stop calling me "Shirley".

One of the best things about subscribing to Netflix (shameless plug for which I do not get paid) is the ability to watch entire seasons of TV shows in great, glorious whacks of TV viewing. No cable here in Easton (you either buy a dish or go with the old fashioned antenna thingie), so I would have missed Band of Brothers entirely without Netflix. (Say what you will, but I'm not plopping down $90 for a series I've never seen...)

The latest series I'm enjoying is Veronica Mars... I'm only eight episodes (two discs) into it, but it's odd & charming & intriguing. (And PG-13 in it's content - this one's not for the kiddies.) Best as I can describe it:

1 part teenager show (think Everwood or The O.C.) + 2 parts Buffy the Vampire Slayer (minus the supernatural stuff) + 1 part Alias (minus SD-6 and the constant running through corridors)

Anyway, I'm having fun. Nobody spoil it for me by telling me how the season ends, ok?

Tuneage For A Postmodern Pastor

Here's what's been in my CD player... the links, btw, go to Amazon where you can actually hear samples!

Actual Miles - Don Henley (greatest hits)

He's a cynical son of a gun, but I love the grooves he lays down and the intelligence of his lyrics. Favorites include "Sunset Grill", "New York Minute", "I Will Not Go Quietly", and, weirdly enough,"Garden of Allah".

Voices From Heaven - Soweto Gospel Choir

Heavenly voices singing gospel music with a decidely African vibe... first heard these guys on NPR and promptly drove around looking for the album. A couple of the songs are in English, but most are in a variety of South African dialects.

Slow Burn - Kaiser/Mansfield

Acoustic blues with a decidely faith-based tinge... and when I say "acoustic", I mean guitars, harmonica & stompin' on the studio floor. Very root-y... it feeds my soul. Glenn Kaiser is one of the"grand old men" of (I hate this term) Christian rock'n'roll - Resurrection Band's first album is 1973, and the dude is still recording music. (If you like solid 3-piece Chicago blues, the Glenn Kaiser Band is an excellent blend of rock & blues.)

Classic Disney Volume 1-5

Braeden is seriously into the Disney music, as is his old man, and these collections are primo. The later discs (4 & 5) are a little weaker, drawing more from Pocohantas (only good thing about that movie was the music) and other "slight" films, but they're a great overall view of Disney classics. There's a good smattering of theme park classics ("Pirates Life For Me", "Grim Grinning Ghosts", "Main Street Electrical Parade"), some crazy old stuff ("Monkey's Uncle", "Let's Get Together", "Ugly Bug Ball") as well as odd new stuff ("Oogy Boogy's Song", "On the Open Road", "I Will Go Sailing No More").

Extra points for identifying which songs go with which movies... :-) [withOUT looking at the liner notes...sigh]

Monday, October 10, 2005

Over My Head

First, thanks to zionred that I even know this song. And, in case you're wondering, I do realize that "Over My Head" is off Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, but I like Faith Hope Love better. So sue me.

over my head i hear music in the air over my i hear music over my head it's loud and clear it's going to my head music music i hear music music i hear music music music oh! oh! oh! lord music over my head i! i! i! hear it so clear i! i! i! hear it so dear i know i know i know i'm not crazy it's going to my head grandma used to sing grandma used to sing everynight while she was prayin' over my head over my head i hear music oh lord

Interesting how the world works, eh? I'm sitting here in my office, totally overwhelmed by what's coming up in the next couple of months here at my church, and my brain shifts over to Kings X.

It's really a two-step process... the first is a kind of stream of consciousness brain explosion that runs something along the lines of:

The Get in the Game capital campaign starts Sunday and I'm freaked out by the responsibility of asking for $300,000 from our folks without being a total guilt-inducing jerkweed and I'm not getting enough time with my family but that isn't likely to clear up for the next six weeks... and then there's the associational meeting I promised I'd speak at on Saturday as well as attending Braeden's last soccer game and helping get Aaron moved into the new house and spending time with Shari & the money we're wasting on Netflix because we're holding onto DVD's too long because we don't have time to watch them...

Really, it's lovely being inside my brain. Join me, won't you? :-) What flashes through my overloaded synapses is that I'm in "over my head."

The second step is to go from "I'm drowning in my responsibilities" to humming "Over My Head" by Kings X. (This is the same brain function that had me spending 1/2 my time during worship this weekend at Promise Keepers trying to figure out which U2 riff they were ripping off.)

And then, to do this post, I looked up the lyrics again - and heard the voice of God. More than my circumstances drowning me, I'm swimming in the music of the goodness of God. And that's all right.

Or better.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Pig Quotes

In The Tale of The Pig, I told the story of The Pig & his autograph book. Just thought I'd share with you some of the other signatures & some random thoughts.

Hokus Pick

To The Pig,

We are more than excited to start this book for you. You better behave because we really like bacon.


Hey Pig,

Keep God #1. Love His Truth!


When Ricky realized that exactly what The Pig was, he complained to me that he'd really signed the wrong thing. "I coulda been funnier!"


Cleanliness is next to godliness. But that's not actually in the Bible. So stay dirty!



P- Peace of God

I - God is incredible.

G - God, God, God, God, Good.


Steve Taylor

To The Pig,

I think you're gonna be a big, big star...

Your friend, Steve Taylor

This is one of two Steve Taylor autographs I own. The other is on a postcard he sent the youth group after we sent him a copy of a music video we did of his song, "Bannerman." It reads: "You guys have a great future in film and/or in jail."

DC Talk

To a smelly animal, that has no style.

Michael Tait

I was privileged to spend an afternoon with Tait in Chicago... what a classy guy. And walking through a hotel lobby with him gave me a closeup look at the scary nature of being a celebrity. He was stopped at least 4-5 times for autographs & pictures... dude, how would ever have time to yourself?

Adam Again/Lost Dogs

Hey, it's The Pig!!!

Gene Eugene

This one is pretty poignant... as Gene died a couple of years back. I remember thinking how short he was. And how it was cool he stopped for a minute and took time to sign the book for me.

Renee Garcia

To The Pig:

How about putting an apple in your mouth and making a home in my oven? See you at the dinner table,

Renee Garcia (of Bliss Bliss)

I'd always liked Renee's "Living in the Vertical" album, though I thought the stuff from Bliss Bliss was so-so. What I really loved about Renee is the way she took time with 2 of my junior high girls after a concert in Houston (she opened for David Meece) and spoke into their lives.

DeGarmo & Key

To The Pig,

Thanks for being so ugly! It makes me feel good about myself.

Eddie DeGarmo

God bless "The Pig"

Stay out of Memphis in May.

Dana Key

This was on their final acoustic tour... these guys had been around a long time (15+ years) by this point and were kind of like elder statesmen for CCM. Yet they were the least egocentric musicians I've ever been around.

Live It Up

From one Ham to another,

Where's the beef?

Sir Loin, Loiny Donoho

Lanny Donoho is the head honcho behind a series of camps & events in the South that I loved to use... his heart for God is only slightly larger than his insane sense of humor.

Next Time I Fall In Love

To The Pig,

You are my hero - round, a whiner, and a perpetual runny nose. May you bring bacon to my table, and ham to my hungry soul!

Chap Clark

Chap was one of my youth ministry heroes... and a very funny guy. He & his wife, Dee, led a youth ministry & marriage seminar that made for some major breakthroughs for Shari & I.

Sixpence None The Richer

To my sleak pink fuzzy little friend I've never met - May you never find yourself on a Grand Slam Double Plate at Denny's.

Matt Slocum

True to form, Matt wrote more in the autograph book than he said to me in person. Watching him talk & play guitar, I finally understood the term "shoegaze" music.

Audio Adrenaline

To The Pig,

Take care, and take it easy. (P.S. Stay away from that breakfast table.)


Pig Rules!


To The Pig,



To The Pig,

Man, I hate bacon!!


Geoff Moore & The Distance

To Pig-O-Rama


Oink On!


I love ham


Don't cast your pearls before swine!


Ham & bacon rules


I'm not sure Geoff understood the whole Pig thing, but the band hooted & hollered.

Rebecca St James


Hope you're on fire for God!


Rebecca definitely didn't understand it... still, I remember seeing her at an industry showcase before her frist album came out. Her DAT tape broke and she just kept singing - strong voice & all. She nailed it. At that point, I knew she was going to be a big deal.

The Tale of The Pig (and How His Influence Still Touches My Life)

Many moons ago, I was a youth pastor. (For those of you who need more precise numbers, I resigned my last full-time youth ministry position in March of 1997, so it's been eight & a half years ago.) While I never particularly liked lock-in's (the idea of staying up all night with a bunch of highly caffienated youth still sends shudders up & down my spine) or some of the other unpleasant duties that went with the territory in the traditional church I served (searching the Sunday School classrooms during evening service to make sure youth weren't hiding out), I loved assisting teenagers in growing closer to God.

And playing with them - man, I loved playing crazy games. Jenn & Aaron played "Ultimate Octopus" with our crew here at NewLife a few weeks ago, and I found myself grinning ear to ear. (For the uninitiated, "Ultimate" is a high speed cross of basketball & soccer usually played with a Frisbee. Instead, they used a six pound dead octopus. Hilarity ensued.)

It wasn't the best game I ever came up with, but we decided to play touch football on a retreat with a pigskin - in this case, a fluffy pink stuffed animal pig. About 1/2 way through the game, his tail was ripped off during an aborted pass attempt. We laughed and played and went on with the retreat.

Well, as often happens to youth pastors after retreats, all of the leftover junk, debris, and lost & found ended up in my office, with The Pig perched on top of the pile. Sort of as a joke (and I'm not sure whose idea it was anymore), we made The Pig our youth group mascot. One of the youth sewed up the bad spot where his tail had been and he began traveling with us to youth events & concerts. His usual position was in the church van, rolled up in a window with 1/2 of his body sticking out. He even was featured prominently in our music video of Steve Taylor's "Bannerman."

Enter Mark Pittman, my odd but wonderful friend who worked for interl'inc, a Christian company that connected youth ministries with Christian musicians. It was his delightfully hare-brained idea to get The Pig his own autograph book. When we'd go to a show, rather than have our youth work so hard to get autographs that they'd lose and/or idolize, we send a group up with The Pig and his autograph book... presto, instant silliness.

The Pig stayed behind when I left youth ministry... I have no idea what happened to him. (He's probably in the organ loft at Dalewood Baptist... that's where literally everything else ended up when someone didn't know what to do with it.)

OTOH, the autograph book came with me. Over the three years that The Pig went to concerts, he managed to collect some pretty great autographs: DC Talk, Sixpence None The Richer, DeGarmo & Key, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Church of Rhythm, Joy Electric, Geoff Moore & The Distance... basically a "who's who" of mid-nineties CCM.

I still have very fond memories of the very first night we took the autograph book to a show... a group of 10 of us headed out on a school night for the middle of nowhere TN (the name of the town escapes me, but it's where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place) for one of the best concerts I've ever attended. The headliner was Steve Taylor (one of my favorites), with Hokus Pick (another favorite) and Guardian opening.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of all this. (Sometimes, I wonder why you people are willing to read my ramblings - but, you do. So I'll keep writing!) While I was a huge Steve Taylor fan (and still am) and saw enough Hokus Pick shows that the band knew me on sight, Guardian was just a group of guys who played loud metal-derived rock'n'roll. And then they signed The Pig Book.

Pig, you'll make a great BBQ sandwich.
To The Pig, I love how pink you are!
The Pig - God bless you! Thanks for being the other white meat.
Tony Palacios

So, it was meeting them and glimpsing their sense of humor that allowed me to slow down and really listen to their music.

And that brings me to a song that's been running through my head this week: "The Lion's Den".

Once upon a time in churches of old

The velcro age had yet to unfold
Flannel was king and Sunday School knew
How to make those Bible heroes stick like glue
How to make 'em stick with you

Flannelgraph lions, mounted and mean
The prophet Daniel in between
Head toward heaven, sturdy and true
A man of God who did not fear the gods of men
He didn't fear the lions' den

Every age at every stage
Lions rage
Pray, stand your ground
They'll lie down

Dumb struck, I was shaken and stirred
He wouldn't kowtow, he kept God's word
Teacher said, "Son, this could be you
If you put your trust in God and not the praise of men
You won't fear the lions' den"


And if we play by lions' rules
We start lionizing fools
God wrote the book, he'll fortify
And like the eagles we will fly
We're gonna fly

Late one night in a fever dream
The prophet Daniel came to me
"Sir," I said, "I've lost my nerve
I lip serve God and put my faith in Godless men
I fear the lions' den"
Then he said, "Who says I'm not a feline-phobe?
Who says I wasn't ready to wet my robe?
Faith is tough, boy, but God gives grace
So take deep breath, head up, set your face like flint
And stop being a wimp"

words: Steve Taylor music: Tony Palacios & Jamie Rowe copyright 1995 - from Guardian's album "Buzz"

"Faith is tough..." Gosh, it's good to hear that this week. It's "all too easy" (props to Darth Vader for the quote) for me to buy into the lie that faith, if it was "real", should be easy. That if I was really a "good little Christian", my feelings would fall into line and I'd be relentlessly & digustly cheerful in the face of everything that comes my way. Kind of like, for those of you who got forced to read Voltaire in college, Candide, only with an iPod filled with tunes by Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith.

Instead, faith isn't about how easy my life is... or how good I am at faking a complete lack of fear & anxiety. Faith is based on the goodness of God, not the goodness of me. And that's incredibly freeing. (Even typing it makes me feel better - like saying it aloud makes it more real.)

So, a shout out to The Pig (whatever dark closet he's hiding in at Dalewood Baptist). Thanks to your fluffy pinkness, I'm reminded again of God's power and love for me in the midst of stuff that feels like it's gonna eat me alive.

Obviously, I'm not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ's servant.
Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

This post originally appeared in the 10/5/05 issue of The Grapevine, a publication of NewLife Community Church.