Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The Red Letters Project" Review

SUMMARY: Ambitious project fails to make music.

 As I worship leader, I was excited about the idea behind "The Red Letters Project" (despite, perhaps, the theological mis-step of highlighting certain parts of Scripture and not others, but I digress). I love "Scripture songs" and find that the closer a lyric is to the Biblical text, the more profound that songs tends to be. (For example, check out Psalm 62 by Aaron Keyes). So, if that had been the case thus far in my experience, why not for the “Red Letter Project” as well?

For those of who don’t know, “The Red Letters Project” was a project by Tyndale to take the whole of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew (NLT) and put them to rock music. Sound like a good idea? Sure, why not. Right? Well, the problem was that there was little to no artistic license with the songs. If the words of Jesus don’t happen to rhyme, neither does the lyric. If the words of Jesus don’t seem to have a particular rhythm to them, neither does the song.

You can begin to see the problem immediately.

What is the purpose of a song that doesn’t rhyme or have lyrical rhythm? I mean, even Eminem understands that! Perhaps this project is a meditation on “Christian art.” Though we may call a certain piece of art “Christian,” it doesn’t automatically make that art good. I mean, here we have the actual words of Jesus, every single one of them, and yet this projects fails to impact, it fails at its grasp for beauty.

Conclusion: I cannot recommend “The Red Letters Project” at all. It is unenjoyable to listen to and tends to be grating rather than graceful.

Zero Stars.

Check out more review of Christian media at http://viralbloggers.com/

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wait? You Mean God Can Refuse to Listen to Me?

While reading Isaiah today, I came across the very startling Chapter 58. Here we find the nation of Israel asking God why they have fasted and God has not answered, why they have humbled themselves before God, and it doesn't seem that He's noticed.

But then the prophet Isaiah points out that on their days of fasting and worship,

"You do what you want. You exploit your employees. Your worship ends in quarreling and strife and fist fights" (verse 3-4, paraphrased).

And then the really scary part:

"You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high."


God - speaking through Isaiah - has just let the Israelites know that they can worship wrongly. So wrong, in fact, that God actually doesn't even pay attention to their prayers. He outright tells them, "Don't even expect your voice to be heard in heaven."

It could be very easy to try to foo-foo this away. "Well, but, God has to listen to me. I'm a sinner, saved by grace, a child of God, so of course God has to listen to whatever I say."

But this is an awfully small view of God. In fact, we make God out to be stupid. Even (responsible) parents realize that we don't raise our children by listening (and presumably obeying) all of their requests. A kid who is throwing a fit in the toy aisle should not be rewarded by an ingratiating parent. Why? Because we're telling the kid by our actions that they're reprehensible behavior is, in fact, effective to get what they want.

God, however, wants us to get beyond the whole "want we want" thing. "Why have we fasted," the Israelites say, "and you have not seen it?" It is the equivalent of putting on sackcloth, covering ourselves in ashes, going on the church stage, and yelling at the top of our lungs, "Look how humble we are!"

Fortunately, God doesn't leave us guessing as to how we are to worship. Verse 6:
"Is not this the kind of fasting [or worship] I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
"Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Worship, it seems, should be focused on others. God, first and foremost ("Love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind, and strength"); our fellow humans second ("And the other is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself").

The point of fasting, the point of gathering together each Sunday, is not  to point at ourselves and say "Look how humble we are! Look how worshipful we are!" It is to point to the Lord's glory and by pointing at it, reflecting it. What God has done - breaking chains, untying bonds, setting the oppressed free - is what we are to be doing.

The words "if and "then" are each used five times in Isaiah 58.

IF you do away with the yoke, pointing finger, malicious talk
IF you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry; satisfy the needs of the oppressed
IF you keep the Sabbath
IF you honor the Lord's holy day
IF you walk in God's ways

THEN your light will break forth like the dawn
THEN your righteousness will go before you
THEN you will call and the LORD will answer
THEN your light will rise in the darkness
THEN you will find your joy in the Lord.

What does this mean? That you can refuse to obey all these things and God will NOT answer when you call.


Now, of course, none of us have arrived. None of us individually or corporately or have reached perfection in our worship. We are still learning, walking the way of pilgrim, growing, and changing. The majority of the Gospels is the narrative of a perfect Jesus walking with a bunch of imperfect (and, at points, imbecile) disciples. And when they messed up--Jesus kept walking with them.

The Lord is slow to anger and rich in love. But He is calling us to grow, to be reformed and yet reforming; saints already, yet called to be saints (1 Cor. 1:1). So may we never stay at the "look at our humbleness" part of our worship; may we move beyond the "I got so much out of worship" part of our Sunday Gatherings; may we become worshipers that give to God and give to others.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Moving Worship Outside of the Sanctuary

 One of the things I've been thinking about recently is how to help people realize that communal worship (what happens most obviously Sunday morning around 9:30) can happen outside the walls of a church. More and more often, Christian communities are meeting in smaller and smaller spaces. House churches, small groups, like minded people gathering in cafes. Even families are (or at least should be) getting into this. As they should; if our children see us only worship one day a week, what habits can we count on them having? Anyway, these groups usually have the desire to engage in worship of our God in one way or another, but it can be difficult to see ways to do this in such a small setting.

Now, clearly, worship is more than singing (and Scripture reading and praying). Worship involves the whole of our being and of our lives. So I think it should go without saying that these smaller, outside-the-church-building Christian communities should be involved in some of the other actions of worship: community service, fighting for justice in our communities, and of course personal discipleship--study of Scripture, mediation on God and His Word, etc.

But I don't think there's anything wrong with these smaller communities--the dispersed church--wanting to just sing in worship as well.

Two obvious resources come to mind immediately: 1) someone with a guitar; 2) the iWorship DVD's from Integrity Worship.

But what are some other good resources that you are aware of or can think of that can aide in helping small groups, classes, etc. worship? How can we creatively extend worship-by-singing outside of the Sunday morning sanctuary?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Fantastical Conference

 In many ways, David Crowder*Band's Fantastical Church Music Conference was not at all what I was expecting. The first thing we realized was that it was smaller than what I thought: only 2,000 attendees. I know that sounds like a lot, but when you consider the venues that these bands and speakers usually are at, you realize that 2,000 is pretty small when next to 20,000 (it's like a whole extra zero or something!).

Anyway, I think in some ways I almost expected the conference to be a bit fluffy and predictable. That the large group gatherings would be kind of "rally style," in that the bands would play songs we all already knew and the speakers would be more inspirational than educational.

But--fortunately, I think--we were wrong. The first session immediately challenged both Emily and I in the fact that we didn't know the songs. We didn't even know the bands. And that takes a lot for me because I know a lot of worship music. It's kind of my job. So, each session had a band and songs that we didn't know, couldn't sing along with, couldn't as--dare I say--thoughtlessly, effortlessly "enter into worship" (whatever that phrase means). And so, just from the songs, we were at least subliminally reminded that worship shouldn't be thoughtless, effortless. Just because we didn't know the songs and could shout them from the top of our lungs didn't mean we couldn't worship.

The speakers were equally as challenging. Francis Chan gave the very difficult message that singing without repentance is worthless. No one likes to hear this. No one likes to be told that God actually can refuse to listen to our prayers. We can pray, sing, and worship wrong. Badly. Poorly. In a fashion that God can say, "Take this noise away from me," (see Malachi 1, Isaiah 58, Isaiah 59). Jesus said that before we give our gift at the altar, lay it down, go reconcile with our brother, and then give our offering. Repentance and confession is important to God and it should be important to us individually and as congregations.

Rob Bell spoke about the importance of words and creativity. In the New Testament, we see the writers (and Paul in particular) engage multiple metaphors about what Christ did on the cross and through resurrection. We see language of sacrifice (religion); adoption (family); slave-redemption (economic); reconciliation (relationships). A very silly question then would be "Which one is the correct one?" Well, obviously, they are all correct. That is the point. The New Testament writers knew that what Jesus did couldn't be summed up in one nice theological word; it had to be explored and shown in many different ways. "It's kinda like this. Oh! You don't understand this metaphor. Then, then it's kinda like this."

So, if Paul felt the liberty to use the world around him to explain Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, shouldn't we be just as creative? The fact of the matter is we don't do a whole lot of blood sacrifice and slave-redemptions anymore. These metaphors are important, perhaps crucial, to understanding Jesus. But they aren't the only metaphors out there. So how can we as worshipers--artists, songwriters, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, technicians, congregants--how can we as worshipers be more creative and more in tune with the culture around us in communicating the message of Jesus Christ.

So, overall the conference left me with a lot more questions than answers. It wasn't a prepackaged experience that explained "And THIS is how worship ministry is done." No, instead it prodded me into thinking of how we can reach more people; think more critically of why we sing; concentrate harder and how we can be better at what we do. Not for our sake, but the sake of Jesus' here-and-coming Kingdom, for the sake of His fame and glory.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our Trip to Texas

This is going to be a long one folks, so you have been warned!

Anthony and I made it safely back from Texas! We had a lot of fun, and it was a wonderful week. Plus, we got to extend our summer for a little bit :) Here's the story of our week:

Part 1:
We spent the first 3 1/2 days in Huntsville with Anthony's brother and sister-in-law and their family. We arrived at 3:30 am Monday morning partly do to our flight getting in at a late hour and partly because we underestimated the size of Texas. Anyways, we had such a good time with them. Justin, Anthony's brother, works at a big Christian camp in Huntsville, and we were able to spend a bit of time there seeing what he does. We also got to go canoeing! It was my first time, and it was a lot of fun! Most of the first part of our trip was just spent relaxing with their family. We got to know our niece and nephews a little better (ages 3, 1.5, and 7 weeks). We played some cards, ate a lot of food, and played some basketball. I'm so glad we had a chance to visit and spend time with them.

Part 1 1/2:
On our way to part 2 (the conference in Waco), we stopped by College Station where a friend from college lives. We met up for lunch and got to catch up a bit. Thanks Katie for meeting us and showing us around a little! It was good to see you!

Part 2:
We spent Thursday - Saturday in Waco, Texas for the worship conference. I must admit that I am still processing the conference. It was great, but it left us with a lot to think about. Not to mention they had so much packed into 3 days. The speakers were amazing. Rob Bell was by far the most challenging speaker of the event. Though I was given a new respect for Francis Chan, and you really can't go wrong with Louie Giglio. The music was probably the most interesting part of the conference. It was not your typical worship bands playing your typical worship music. David Crowder really wanted to bring in some different bands and different genres of music with the goal of exposing worship leaders to different styles. This was great, but not necessarily the most emotional worship experience, if that makes sense. We heard everything from liturgical to post modern rock. All good stuff though. Oh and of course Hillsong London was there (!!) and David Crowder Band which gave us some of more familiar stuff. We also attended 3 workshops while we were there. Anthony was able to learn a little about sound equipment, and I chose to attend a workshop on hearing God's voice. Then we attended a workshop together about incorporating liturgy into conptemporary worship.

All this to say it was a packed, but wonderful event. It was on the small side (about 2,000 attenders) which gave it a more intimate feel. The end goal of the conference was to get worship leaders to be thinking about key questions such as "Why do we sing?" It might seem simple to answer, but in reality it goes much deeper. The conference didn't necessarily provide the answers, but instead offered a lot of insight and asked more questions. All good stuff.

Oh and it was at Baylor University, so it was fun to explore their campus a little. And do they have a beautiful campus! Plus, they have Chick Fil-a on campus, which Anthony and I took advantage of *cough* twice.

Part 3:
As soon as the conference was over, we hopped in the car and drove down to Austin, Texas where my Aunt Sherry lives. Though we weren't able to spend too much time there (only a day), I still feel as though we got some good visiting in. We were able to have some yummy Texan BBQ and have dinner with my cousins. Then we explored a little of downtown, which included seeing a huge (1.5 million) bat colony emerge from a bridge downtown. Mostly, we were just able to chat and catch up. Sunday morning we packed everything up and drove back to Dallas to catch our plane home.

It was a whirlwind week. But also a wonderful one. Strangely, it felt relaxing, though we were always moving from place to place. I must say though, it's good to be home. Though it's a little colder here than it was in Texas :)

That's all for now. Maybe if you're lucky Anthony will take some time to blog so you can get his perspective on things.