Last year I was sharing a Christmas song at a concert with a slew of other musicians. It was a lively night with jazz, folk, southern gospel, show-tunish carols and then, me & the piano with my rendition of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. My little offering was quite simple and quiet compared to the rest of the show. I felt a bit less-than. Afterwards, my friend David Tolley took me aside and encouraged me to think about doing a Christmas project- a cd of exactly what I had done that night. Simple, quiet, hopeful and beautiful music telling the story of God breaking into His creation in the most radical way never imagined. The beginning of 2010 brought a live recording with my best friend, Sarah Higgins. We were joined by some of our musically gifted friends (Jim Zartman, Chris Westra, Gary Jorgenson, Don Smith) for a night of lovely, haunting soul-folk. Sarah and I have talked about doing “our” music together forever. We’ve always had the context of leading worship together, but finding the time and energy to do our own project had always escaped us. So, we finally got our act together, scheduled a date and got inspired by an actual deadline. We recorded 7 original songs (which can be downloaded on www.itunes.com or www.cdbaby.com) and released our first ep in August. It is titled “Alright”. So, most of my extra time during the spring was taken with finishing off that project and getting it to the printers. Late in the spring I started seriously considering David’s encouragement to do a Christmas cd. I’ve always loved Christmas- the mystery and humility and promise. The last few years of the season have felt like more of a battle against the push of our culture. Noise and greed and stress. Very anti-good news. So, I started reading the gospels again. The voices of Anna and Simeon were loud and clear. Mary and Elizabeth. Angels and shepherds. I started writing songs and digging out old ones I hadn’t sung in a decade. The end result is that I spent the summer recording 12 songs for the advent season. I tuned up my old upright and sang my heart out. 1/2 dozen are traditional favorites with my own arrangements. 1/2 dozen are originals or re-imagining of ancient carols that I wrote my own music for. My dad contributed a song (yeah!) which was really special. My kids sang on the finale. It’s been a joy to create. In the coming weeks I plan to write the stories behind my original songs and post the lyrics/chords for those who might like to play them on their own. As Sara Groves says… “My off-line life is full, but my online life is anemic”. I’m paddling that boat too, so forgive me if my posts are not as timely as hoped for.
You know that time of morning, when you really need the mirror to get un-fogged so you can finish your hair or put eyeliner on the right part of the eye and it seems like it takes forever? And then, it seems like the mirror goes from cloudy to clear in a second? I had one of those moments for my brain about a month ago. I guess it is my version of “through a glass darkly”… because for a time the fog has lifted. So I’ve been part of worship and music pointed toward God consistently for half my life- which sounds really dramatic, but really, 15 years means something to a 31 year old. I’ve been in a lot of different situations- “congregations” big and small, churched and unchurched, american and rest-of-the-world-ian. I’ve learned under leaders good and not-so-good, I’ve followed terrible advice and ignored wise and sometimes, thankfully, done the opposite. But, I’ve found lately that I’m hungry…waiting for something else. And then I got this question in my head about a month ago. How do you know someone is a carpenter? Is someone a carpenter because they have tools? A. No, my 3 year old has tools. Definitely not building anything at this point. Is someone a carpenter because they know how to use tools? A. No. The gal who wrote the manual might never have actually used the tool. It’s not really a trick question. You know someone is a carpenter because they build things! And I had this little picture in my head of us worship leaders as little wanna-be carpenters. With really blinged out tool belts and nothing built. My little carpenter/lead worshipper analogy is opening up a load of questions in my heart. Hopefully the right ones. Have I been so focused on the tools of worship and ministry and arts that I’ve never really built much of anything? Does it please God that we can figure out exactly how to reach each demographic by style and volume and aesthetics and number of songs and racial diversity and coffee brands…but we might not ever actually know any of the people our tools are intended to build up? Is God maybe a bit tired of our talk about how to use worship and change worship and be cutting-edge and excellent and relevant and everything to everyone, because maybe He sees that our worship is usually not married to a life of justice? What would it look like if we stopped looking at our tools and started looking at what we are building? Are we building anything? Do our beautiful songs have the impact they could have if they were coming out of a life building into people- which we’re taught is the real church anyway? Amos 5 (Message version) I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice- oceans of it. I want fairness-rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. Crap. That is just a terrifying scripture…and I want to live a life where that reprimand is not aimed at me. So for me part of living out justice in the world was adopting a child orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. The decision and the adoption were the easiest steps in comparison to the daily living out- parenting our child in a way that takes a totally different approach than my other 2 kids need- an approach and response and humility that takes everything I have and more (which is where that amazing grace stuff comes in). So, my true worship is only true when it is married to the real life of living out justice in the life of my child. Loving my son changes me, and humbles me, and burns out a lot of the ego that comes in too much time playing with shiny tools. When I fail I feel the falseness of worship offered from a heart that can’t even love my own family unconditionally- let alone God. Bummer, eh. Well, the good news is that what God wants is pretty simple! Not easy, but simple. So, I’m asking the questions of myself, and anyone else out there that wants to be asked. What are you building? Are your tools being used to build up people…spreading out justice and dishing out fairness? Does our life (all the hours outside the actual “ministry times”) match our musical worship? Do the situations and people that break the heart of Jesus break ours too? Do our songs come out of that? If not, how can we move that way? Is it good enough to just require musical ability and church membership from our lead worshippers… or do we need to literally marry justice and worship. Play in the worship band, serve soup in the soup kitchen. Sing in the choir, raise money to combat human trafficking. Be a christian rock star, use your platform for poverty initiatives.I’ve got a long way to go…but I feel like the fog has lifted for now and I’m ready to build something. I know there is a generation already working on the foundation…?