LINCOLN’S “BUY TANGAWIZI A BED” FUND

This is Lincoln.

LincolneditedBW

Lincoln is my three year-old boy. He’s quick-witted, kind-hearted, and a pretty good break-dancer.

One of my goals for this year is to teach Lincoln to pray. We’ve prayed with and for Lincoln since he was a baby. But I’m hoping to teach him that he can talk to God whenever he wants to, and that God listens and responds. Like most three year-olds, Lincoln has a really inquisitive mind, and prayers usually range from “God, thank you for the light” to “Thank you for floors” to “Thank you for momma.” His interest in biblical studies mostly revolves around babies in baskets and trying to spot Jesus like a “Where’s Waldo” game. Teaching kids the truths of the gospel can be tricky.

Wednesday night, long after Lincoln had gone to bed, I prayed specifically that Lincoln’s inquisitive mind would lead him toward questions about God.

So yesterday (the next day) I get home from work, and Lincoln was talking about a picture of a boy he had seen that day. He was saying, “…the boy with the blankets and not many toys…” I had no idea what he was talking about. My wife explained that they’d been looking at Gabriele Galimberti’s moving photo project called “Toy Stories.” Galimberti travelled over a period of 18 months and took photos of children with their most prized possession. Not surprisingly, the kids all chose their favorite toy. So we sat together as a family and laughed at the cute pictures of the kids in their rooms with their toys. Then we got to the very last picture, and I realized what Lincoln had been talking about:

TangawizieditedBW

“See! The boy with the blankets and not many toys,” Lincoln said. The picture is of “Tangawizi,” a little boy from Kenya who looks to be about Lincoln’s age.

“That’s right,” I said. “You know where he lives? He lives in Africa, where some people don’t have so many toys. Some people there don’t even have food. And this boy looks like he doesn’t even have a bed.”

“Well then we have to buy him one!” Lincoln responded.

It was a proud moment for me, and I knew it was a direct response to my prayer the night before. I told Lincoln that was the right kind of thinking. Then I explained that maybe we could save some money and buy a bed for a kid like Tangawizi, through an organization like World Vision. A boy like him would get a bed, I explained, not realizing that answer was insufficient for Lincoln.

“No, we have to buy this boy a bed! Let’s go buy it right now from the store!”

So I made Lincoln a deal. I told him that if he could come up with the money to buy Tangawizi a bed, I would track down the photographer who took the picture, to see if we can find Tangawizi’s parents. I asked Lincoln if he was willing to use the money from his piggy-bank to by Tangawizi a bed? Yes. I asked him if maybe he’d be willing to ask other people to help donate money to buy the bed? Yes. Lincoln asked if we could fly on a plane to take him the bed. After a little explanation and brainstorming, he settled for just shipping him a bed. So it was settled. Lincoln has set out to raise the money to buy Tangawizi a bed, and ship it all the way to Kenya. Here is the poster my wife helped Lincoln make. Lincoln was adamant that she transcribe the poster word-for-word, so she did:

tanza posteredited

Lincoln is a naturally soft-hearted kid. He has a big heart for people, and when he’s not flying around the house, he’s mostly pretty kind with his baby sister. But I think that God, in no uncertain terms, was revealing something about His heart to me. It turns out social injustice doesn’t make sense in the minds of kids, just like it doesn’t make sense to the heart of God.

May we become more like God through the examples of our children.

If you’d like to donate to Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed!” fund, please email me at morrow_nick (at) hotmail.com. You can also help by “liking” or sharing on social media outlets. And Gabriele Gamberti, if you somehow get to reading this, please contact me. I’ve got a three year-old hell bent on buying your friend Tangawizi a bed.

UPDATE: Several people have already responded saying they’d like to help Lincoln. Here’s the most immediate way you can help: you can make donations via PayPal @ morrow_nick@hotmail.com. We’ll post updates as soon as we raise enough money to buy the bed and postage!

ANTI ROCK STAR INTERVIEW #2: DAVID SANTISTEVAN

After twenty-some years of churchgoing, I finally realized that what you do on Saturday night significantly impacts your Sunday morning worship experience. This might sound trite, but it’s a subtle truth that makes a huge difference. And it’s especially true for worship leaders and musicians.

I’ve followed the worship leading blog of Davis Santistevan for a couple of years now. David’s blog has had a significant impact on the way I approach leading worship, especially in terms of preparation. There are two things in particular that I’ve always appreciated about David’s writing: (1) he writes simple, practical steps worship leaders can take toward growing their craft, and (2) those steps always include extreme dependency on God. Through his blog and his e-book, David consistently paints a picture of spiritual preparation, not just music rehearsal.

David is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s also an avid songwriter, and recently helped Allison Park release a worship album, “Undying Love.” 

santistevan arm raised

Despite his busy schedule, David was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti-rock star worship leader. I especially appreciated David’s thoughts on praying for the congregation and the idea of worship leading as a holistic daily approach. Here is the full interview:

Nick: You said in a recent post that “preparing your heart” is an important part of leading worship: “The more I lead, the less I feel I need to prepare. But the truth is, the better, more experienced, more effective I become, the more I need to prepare my heart. Otherwise, I go on auto-pilot.” What are some practical steps worship leaders can do to “prepare our hearts”? What does that phrase mean to you?

David: Spend time in personal worship well in advance of the “event”. You don’t want to just approach God a few minutes beforehand so he’ll bail you out of mistakes. Prepare your heart and your team days before. Pray out loud. Read Scripture out loud. These are the best ways I’ve found to prepare my heart. Simple but effective. 

Nick: What does your pre-game warm up look like? What do you do, along with your team and congregation, to come into Sunday mornings with a humble attitude ready to worship God?

David: We start with prayer and a quick soundcheck. Then, we spend 20 minutes in pre-service prayer getting our hearts ready. We pray for the congregation. We pray for our hearts to be right. We pray for souls to be saved. We own the whole service, just not our portion as a worship team.

Nick: How does Allison Park’s strategy in church-planting play into the way you lead worship? Does that change the way that you lead your team and the congregation?

David: Our calling to plant churches doesn’t necessarily effect our worship leading, but it does effect how we train and disciple new and young musicians. We invest in people so they become better. We give space for the “average” worship leaders to grow. We train musicians to flow. We give them opportunity to lead in our church plants. We give them feedback. Church planting necessitates raising up and releasing people to fulfill their unique calling as ministers. Never a quiet, dull moment!

santistevan closeNick: You have a pretty intense focus on songwriting. You’ve released a fair amount of worship music, written an e-book on worship writing, and Allison park just recently released a live worship album. How do you balance the tension of promoting these releases without “self-promoting”?

David: Promotion can be a sticky subject in church circles. My perspective is I promote the projects I work on because I believe they help people. I don’t do them to get recognized, famous, or praised. I want to be helpful. So if I release a worship album, I want people to hear it because I know it will enrich their walk with Jesus. If I write a helpful book, I want to get into as many hands as possible. 

I don’t have a problem with promotion. It’s important to just balance your own promotion with also promoting other people’s work and investing in others. Focus on being helpful and you can’t go wrong.

DEAR CHRISTIAN WRITER, ARTIST, MUSICIAN, MOVIE MAKER, ETC,

On the account of being a writer, I have zero credibility or authority. But here are a few thoughts to Christian writers, from a Christian reader, to take or leave:

1. Write things no one else is willing to write. Don’t write safe stuff. The Christian market is littered w/safe stuff. Write without a safety net. (Or write as though God’s grace is your only safety net.)

boldness-Philippe-Petit

2. Write something that you would read yourself. If it doesn’t hold your attention when you go back and read, it’s not going to hold ours either. If it didn’t make you laugh, cry, hug somebody, throw up, or think when you wrote it…revise it. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Edit yourself mercilessly!”

3. Write like you talk. I was studying creative writing in college and struggling to find a “voice.” A pretty girl (who eventually became my pretty wife) told me, “I like hearing you tell stories. Why don’t you just write stories exactly like you would say them out loud?”

4. Resist the temptation to make all your characters Christians, or make all your characters become Christians by the end of the story. Real life isn’t so nice and neat. “Machine Gun Preacher” was probably a lot closer to a Biblical redemption story than most Christian films. I’m not saying you have to go out and write the Christian version of 50 Shades or anything. It’s just that Scripture is full of ordinary people doing all sorts of shady things, but God’s grace remains the common denominator. (And let’s be honest. A Christianized version of 50 Shades would probably sell loads of copies. Somebody get on that. Zondervan, you’re welcome.)

5. Don’t be the hero. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all probably closer to villains anyway. Trust me, telling people how awesome you are (no matter how good the illustration) is always cringe-worthy. In one of his recent posts, Seth Godin encouraged people to communicate “Not (with) the arrogance of, ‘I am right and you are not,’ but from the confidence/certainty of, ‘I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it.’” Be passionate, honest, and transparent about your shortcomings, and the “converts” will take care of themselves.

6. Write from the gut. Go with your instincts. Lean into the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and don’t be scared to show us your dark parts that needed God’s forgiveness.

CS Lewis-17. Don’t believe the myth that nonChristian people don’t read Christian stuff because it involves Jesus. Too many authors and artists (Anne Lamott, CS Lewis, U2) have proven this isn’t true. In general, non-Christian people don’t get into Christian art/music/books because it’s not interesting. (When was the last time your non-Christian friend cranked up some K-LOVE jams?)

8. Don’t feel like you have to solve all our problems. I understand this temptation. Guys especially like launching into super fix-it mode and have answers for everything and everyone. Sometimes we just need to ask good questions, tell a good story, and start the conversation. Lectures have a tendency to end the conversation. Instead, consider giving us something to talk about for awhile.

These are just a few suggestions. What should be added to this list? What would you want to see more of from Christian writers, speakers, artists, etc?

ANTI ROCK STAR INTERVIEW #1: JAMIE BARNES of SOJOURN MUSIC

Last week I wrote a few thoughts about what it looks like to be an “anti rock star worship leader.” This week I’m excited to introduce you to Jamie Barnes from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Jamie is the worship pastor for one of Sojourn’s four campuses, and writes extensively for Sojourn’s worship albums. Many of Sojourn’s artists and musicians are leading voices within the Louisville scene, including Jamie. Sojourn focuses on creativity and collaboration, blending the gospel with a relentless pursuit of innovative art and music.

jamie staring

I first met Jamie at a songwriting workshop given by the always-wise Bob Kauflin. We had a brief chat and Jamie humbly offered, “If there’s anything we can do to serve or help your church in Columbus, let me know.” In my interactions with Jamie, he’s been a great encouragement in creating quality music and leading the church in worshiping God.

I asked Jamie a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti rock star worship leader. Jamie shared a bit about his beginnings as a worship leader, discipling musicians, and how the gospel informs our worship. Here’s the whole interview:

Nick: You recorded & toured as a singer/songwriter way before you ever thought about leading worship. You’ve said that you were somewhat reluctant to start leading worship when worship pastor Mike Cosper first approached you. What was that transition like, and how is leading worship different from performing and touring? Practically, was there ever a tension for you between worshiping and performing?

Jamie: I was reluctant because of the background I came from, which was the brand of Church of Christ that worship with no instrumentation. I had only played music in clubs, theaters and various other venues – but never in church and I had no formed philosophy or theology on what it meant to lead a body of believers in corporate worship. The difference is very vast – because my goal isn’t too wow people with my art, it’s to clearly portray the truth of the gospel and help people participate. In clubs, I’m trying to bowl them over …envelop them. In the gatherings of the church, I want to invite them.

Fast forward 6 years later and I’ll still feel the weight of the tension of leading versus performing. I keep a constant reminder before me on what my overall goal is when I lead on Sundays, but there is still the civil war of the soul raging on within me of selfish ambitions. Thankfully, grace covers my sinful pride and our worship isn’t accepted by God based on our purity of intentions, but by the mediating blood of Jesus. Remembering the truth of the gospel always helps to get my heart aligned.

sojourn jammin

Jamie with the Sojourn band at the 930 Art Center

Nick: Sojourn has a pretty liturgical way of conducting church, and yet you guys are about as hip as churches come. The last time my wife and I attended a service at your Midtown campus (when it was still at the 930 Art Center), it was like a Holy Spirit rock & roll revival. How does the balance of liturgy and rock & roll inform the way Sojourn conducts worship services?

Jamie: Ha. The idea of hip is becoming increasingly strange to me as I get older! We like a sense of being rooted in church history, a traditional liturgy where the Gospel is central and formative, but we also want to remain true to who we are here in the present, while looking forward with hope to the future of who God has called us to be and is shaping us into.

The rock ‘n’ roll side of it is just us being true to who we are. This church was founded by a lot of artists and musicians who found a lot of our identity (for better or for worse) in the music we played and listened to. It’s just the voice of our context, not an attempt to be hip or be someone else. I’m sure our gatherings would look and sound different had Sojourn been planted in a different part of the commonwealth rather than in the artsy-fartsy part of Louisville.

Nick: You guys have a pretty intense focus on mentoring and discipleship at Sojourn. How does that affect the way the musicians look at themselves and other musicians?

Jamie: We try to do this, though sometimes we aren’t great at it. I think it helps artists/musicians see more of a role they can play than perhaps the church has historically allowed them to. Since the age of the Puritans, the Church at wide has had a love/hate affair with artist types and I know for my generation, it’s often hard for certain guys who think/dress/emote a certain way to think they may ever have anything to give to the local church other than filling in on guitar on the weekends.

We have a huge desire to raise up pastors…arming folks with guitars in one hand and shepherd staffs in the other. I don’t think we are being innovative with this, but rather just Biblical. We see a pattern in scripture of living life together, pouring into one another and helping each other grow in Christ.

Musicians aren’t exempt from that type of discipleship, in fact, I’ve seen them thrive. Instead of looking at our gifts in an individualistic way, this helps us think about the community at large and leveraging our gifts together as a family for the sake of those inside and outside the church. The musician is tempted to see his identity solely through the music he or she plays. We want to see our music servants embrace who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the living God. This truth will influence their art, rather than the other way around.

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Nick: How can congregations help to combat the “worship leader rock star” mentality?

Jamie: Prayer and keeping the Gospel central. Fight for God being the biggest personality of your gatherings. Sundays are not the time for musicians to shine – it’s a time to serve. We use the language of “servant” a lot when we talk about our gifts and the music team at our church. It’s a constant reminder that we are there for the sake of building the body of Christ, and not to sell records or build our band’s following.

I believe it was Michael Card who used the imagery in one of his books that musicians help “wash the feet” of the church with their gifts. This symbolism established by the service of our Savior is a great way to talk and think about our own ministry.

 

THE ANTI ROCK STAR WORSHIP LEADER

Cleaning_toileteditedA few years ago, I met my buddy Steve at church early on a Sunday morning. We were going to scrub toilets. We were leading the worship music that day, and he’d asked me to meet him there about a half an hour before practice. Steve proposed this idea of scrubbing toilets, thinking it might help us approach our role as worship leaders from a perspective of servanthood.

Out loud I said, “That’s a great idea.”

In my head I said, “This is a terrible idea.”

But Steve was right. The church has developed an unhealthy trend in turning our worship leaders into rock stars. And we musicians usually make matters worse. One look at my Twitter feed tells me that young, well-intentioned worship leaders often talk more about their own careers than they do about Jesus. As a fledgling musician myself, I can relate. Seeking the warmth of the spotlight is a real temptation, and a real danger.

Think about it. Do we look at ushers, parking attendants, and elders like celebrities? They’re the real rock stars of the church, if anyone. But I probably couldn’t even list the elders at my church. I’m convinced we’ve given way too much ground to the unhealthy cultural phenomenon of worshiping celebrities, even within the church. It’s the most ironic form of idol-worship.

photo(11)Don’t get me wrong, I love rock stars. I love going to shows and being entertained. I used to want to be a rock star (Exhibit A: picture to the left), and my little brother sort of is one. I say this because if worship leaders treat their jobs like entertainers, we’re going to seriously miss the point of worship for ourselves and for our congregations.

The social dynamics of leading worship can be tricky. How does a person, on stage in front of a few hundred (or a few thousand) people divert the spotlight off themselves, and onto Jesus? Leading people to follow someone else seems like a bit of an oxymoron. So what makes the difference between truly leading people to worship God versus leading a self-centered-group-sing-along-rock-show with some Jesus sprinkled in?

It’s really tempting to blame the setting. The stage, the lights, the sound, the drum riser. I used to get really wrapped up in these externals. I used to think that churches who used big lights and sound were pretentious and really into being rock stars. You know, the whole “Jesus didn’t use big lights and a fog machine, so we shouldn’t either” sort of thing. But then, I saw some guys lead from the “big stage” with deep humility. And I also saw some guys who led in a small room with no sound system who were trying to be rock stars. When it comes to worship, the setting is mostly irrelevant.

Leading with humility starts with the worship musicians themselves.Every step, breathe, and note on and off the stage sets the tone of worship for the congregation. Effective worship leading begins and ends with the quality of our spiritual lives. And we can’t have quality spiritual lives without deep humility. Worship leaders must become the anti rock stars.

The trick, it seems, is to somehow inspire people but remain “transparent.” To lead without being distracting. To get the ball rolling, get out of the way, and allow people to worship their Creator. C.S. Lewis famously said that “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” I’d say the same goes for the “perfect” worship leader.

At this point, I have more questions than I do answers. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be interviewing some worship leaders who lead from a “large” stage & platform, digging in to the details of what it looks like to be an “anti-rock star worship leader.” But for now I wanted to start a conversation about this cultural phenomenon, and how it affects the church.

How do we fight the rock star mentality within the church? It’s one thing to point it out, but what practical steps can we take toward humility?

What results come from treating worship leaders like rock stars? How can we reverse this trend?

TAG TEAM, BACK AGAIN

tag team My family was one of those families who only listened to Christian music when I was a kid. My folks didn’t listen to much music. So because they hardly knew who any artists were and wanted to make sure their young children weren’t listening to N.W.A., they decided to make a rule that we only buy our music at Christian bookstores. The first tape I ever remember asking my parents for was by this cheesy Christian rap group. They took me and my brothers to the Christian bookstore (which is where Christian music is sold, in case you’re wondering.) I marveled at the massive array of collectable figurines that looked like my mom’s Precious Moments collection. Being three, six, and eight years old, my brothers and I picked a tape by the group that looked the most like Vanilla Ice from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze.”

We took the tape home and wore it out, making up funky dances to each song and driving my parents crazy. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t allowed to watch “Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire” at the time, because then I would have realized that the group aped their sound off of its theme song. (Although I did notice a striking resemblance to the group’s music and the theme to “Hangin’ With Mista’ Coopa’.”) Somehow, I got the idea in my head that my peers at school might also enjoy this music.

In gym class, my teacher Ms. Law would play rap music while all the kids did warm up exercises. When Ms. Law hit the pause button, everyone rotated groups: sit-ups to jumping-jacks, jumping-jacks to toe touches, toe touches to push-ups, etc. Ms. Law said that anyone who wanted to bring in their own tape could and we would listen to that, rather than her worn-out copy of “Jock Jams,” for warm-up stations. So I decided to bring in my Christian rap tape one time.

Things quickly got awkward, but not for the immediately assumed reasons (ie: third graders don’t like hearing “hip-hop-hooray-hoe” replaced with “Jesus.”) The reason this instance got so incredibly awkward was that this Christian rap group had a song about sex, how they wanted to remain abstinent until marriage and whatnot. And as soon as the song hit the chorus, with all the white rappers shouting emphasis on “NO SEX!”, Ms. Law’s face turned as red as the rocket mascot on the wall. If I remember correctly, I didn’t get in any trouble for it, she just gave me a “what kind of Christian tape is this?” stare and quickly flipped the tape over while we were switching stations. Ms. Law didn’t say anything to me about it, but I certainly got the message never again to bring in a tape where white Christian dudes with lines shaved in their hair sang about “I don’t want YO’ SEX FO’ NOW!”

As if the no sex song weren’t enough for poor Ms. Law, another warm-up-stations-tape fiasco permanently sealed the deal on my never ever supplying the jams for gym class again. What happened was, I got a copy of Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is” on tape. But because I was well aware that swearing rappers were strictly prohibited at our house, I made my own edited copy. The problem was, not only was I very concerned with deleting the cuss-words so my parents didn’t hear it, but I didn’t know the words very well either. So naturally, I deleted about five to ten seconds around any time I thought there might be a cuss-word. I ended up editing out like half the song. (Which was really too bad, because I’m afraid I deleted the “I produce, AKA: the undertaker. You want to come down to the underground, old school? Here’s a shovel can you dig it, fool? Can you dig it? We can dig it!” part.)

Being a little kid and not being able to put one and one together, much less two and two, I took my freshly edited copy of the Tag Team’s smash single to Ms. Law for gym stations. I figured after the no sex fo now incident, a classic Jock Jams tune would surely steal her heart. So stations began, and after a minute or so the tape stopped without Ms. Law hitting pause. Mayhem ensued. The first time it happened, she was only thoroughly confused, wondering why her tape deck was being screwy. But the second time it happened and she realized this was the “Whoomp! There It Is (Christian Kid Gym Class Edit)” version of the song, Ms. Law’s hands flew up in the air and she shot me the “what have you done?!?” look that can ruin an elementary school kid’s reputation for an entire week. Surprisingly, she didn’t pull it out and unravel all the tape. She just handed it back at the end of class, and with a quick and gracious reprimand, glared at me long enough to where I understood my gym tape days were over.

Things weren’t much better in art class. I remember bringing in the same Christian rap tape (apparently, I was a fairly persistent kid) because I knew the teacher would let us listen to the radio. When the corny song where the white rappers spell “love” with an “L-U-V” came on, my best friend started laughing and making fun of me. By this time, I was mildly confused as to why my Christian rap tape wasn’t receiving the same general acceptance as Coolio. My friend was into Smashing Pumpkins at the time. Maybe I should have listened to him.

I also remember seeing this certain book at my church once about how rock and roll is sinful. I think it was called “Hells Bells.” I remember asking someone what the book was about and being really scared of it, like I’d go straight to hell if I touched it. I think it said something like: “because the lyrics are often fast and indistinguishable, rock and roll singers usually take advantage of this fact, knowing that adults cannot ascertain the lyrics, and sing about raping angels.” Or something like that.

There was also this series of video tapes that the church had for the youth pastor, one tape for each sinful topic: “Sex”, “Drugs”, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (because at that time. people still spelled rock and roll with an ‘n.’). You can’t make this stuff up. A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine who interned at the church found that “Rock ‘n’ Roll” tape and, figuring it might very well be the funniest thing he’d seen since “Caddyshack”, watched it. (He was right). Apparently, whoever made this tape series seemed to believe that The Cure, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode were all part of some conspiracy to promote promiscuous activity and get kids to kill themselves. Which is odd, because I thought all three bands were part of a conspiracy to make teenagers write terrible emo songs fifteen years later.

Amusing as all these stories are, none can top what might be my very first memory of music:

Once when I was really little, before I even liked music or wanted to buy any, my dad brought home a Color Me Badd tape and it’s lyrics. For some very bizarre reason, he thought it might teach us a lesson to know what songs like “I Want to Sex You Up” were about, so he read us the lyrics. I remember feeling more awkward in that moment than ever before. At the age of three or four, I had ever even heard of Color Me Badd, much less wanted to sex anyone up. Every time my dad got to the chorus (and I think he read the entire song, repeat choruses included) I wanted to cry, as if I were being accused of molesting the puppy or something. The only swerve I was getting on was in the cul-de-sac on my tricycle.

The funniest thing about that story is that, to this day, my dad has no idea why he did it. My parents definitely had their set of preferences, but they were far from legalists. Sure, they took our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles away after they realized that the Cowabunga dudes were vaguely associated with Vanilla Ice and rock music. But they, like any other good set of parents, were just trying to do what they thought was right. There wasn’t a guidebook for things like this, so they had to make up their own. Neither of them was very big into music, and our family CD collection consisted of Kenny G’s Breathless and a few Steven Curtis Chapman albums.

One Christmas, my dad bought my mom The Eagles’ reunion CD, Hell Freezes Over. They had been my mom’s favorite band during her teenage years, and he thought it might be a nostalgic gift she’d enjoy. Needless to say, we were all a little shocked when my mom opened it, turned the volume up as a joke, and we heard Don Henley defiantly sing “I’d like to find my inner child and kick his little ASS!” Not that we hadn’t heard the word before (we took the bus to school, after all.) Just not from the speakers of our own stereo, and especially not at full volume. It didn’t help that he’s says “bitchin'” in the next chorus. My mom pretended to be shocked. But what do you expect from a band who wrote songs like “Life In the Fast Lane”?

Right, wrong, or indifferent, that moment was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. I think that may have been the moment I realized I wouldn’t go to hell for liking “the chick-a-cherry-cola song” and that song where the fat guy plays harmonica and raps at the end. The floodgates of “secular music” had been opened, and I had a get-out-of-jail-free card to to fill my brain with all the pop radio I wanted. Non-Christian music was on the loose at our house, and from that point on there was no stopping it. For me, that moment marked the beginning of the tension between Jesus and music that I actually liked. And that tension continues to this day.

(To be continued…)

Do you have any funny stories about Christian music from childhood? Please share in the comments section! 

A PRAYER FOR MLK DAY

mlkOne of the early Christian church fathers said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seeds of the church.” The same can probably be said about civil rights. May Dr. King rest in peace and joy with his long-awaited Messiah!

God, we come in solemn remembrance. We thank you for the work of Dr. King today. Thank you for the American Civil Rights movement that brought down the monster of hatred that clouded our country for way too long. May the monsters of hatred and bitterness continue to fall. May the seeds of murder stop polluting the soil. Give us the Spirit of courage that Dr. King had. May our words and deeds continually bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. In the name of Jesus the Peacemaker, amen.

 

NEW MUSIC: “OUR FATHER”

OurFatherA couple years back, I started reciting the “Our Father” prayer every day. I would get up and stumble out onto the jogging path, and begin repeating Jesus’ words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” My combination of NIV and King James was foggy at best, but all the same I began to internalize the meaning of the prayer.

I wrote this melody because I wanted a way of teaching the prayer to my children. It was a particularly proud moment when my son woke up the other night from me recording vocals in the next room. He asked to listen to what I was singing, and a smile came across his face as he listened to the playback. Download the song for free here, or stream it on the player to the right.

May this short tune perpetuate the kingdom and the power and the glory of God in your life.

Our Father in heaven
Holy is Your name
Let Your kingdom come
Let Your will be done
On earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread and
Forgive us as we forgive all debts and
Lord lead us not into temptation and
Deliver us from the evil one, for
Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory
Forever, amen.

Please feel free to leave a comment or reflection on the “Our Father” prayer.

“LOOPER” & THE TRUTH ABOUT VIOLENCE

looper

My wife and I watched the film “Looper” the other night. Most folks have seen the trailer or know the premise: It’s the year 2042, where time travel has been invented. Joe is a “looper,” a hit man who kills mob victims from the future. One day Joe’s future self shows up as his victim. Joe hesitates. Joe’s future self runs. Whoops. Joe is faced with the dilemma of killing his future self in order to save his present self.

That’s the back-of-the-box explanation anyway. I admit it sounds dorky in a sci-fi, “Back to the Future” meets “Terminator” sort of way. But I promise its cool. And beneath the guise of science fiction lies a beautiful story about ending cycles of violence.

The beginning of the film shows a montage of Joe’s daily routine: blowing victims’ brains out with 2042’s version of a sawed-off shotgun and disposing of the bodies. Joe is a self-centered murderer with seemingly little conscience. Killing-for-hire by day, abusing futuristic drugs and banging showgirls by night.

But when Joe’s time-warped future self shows up as his victim, Joe is posed with a series of moral dilemmas. Future Joe aims to find and kill his murderer 30 years in the past, he can live a life of peace in the future. (Think Marty McFly with a tommy gun.) The problem is that Joe’s murderer, in 2042, is a four year-old kid. Young and old Joe alike are faced with the dilemma of killing children as desperate attempt at self-preservation. The movie unfolds as an interesting commentary on preemptive and redemptive violence.

It’s alarming how easily violence is justified in most Hollywood films. Redemptive violence in particular usually carries a certain nobility. We cheer whenever the underdog comes back and starts taking names. Thankfully, “Looper” takes a different approach. It underscores one of my favorite quotations of Christ: “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” The movie makes fewer judgments about whether violence is right or wrong, as much as it points out the truth about violence: violence is cyclical. Those who actively engage in violence tend to meet a violent demise.

I also appreciate that “Looper” doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen the horrific effects of violence played out in movies like “American History X” and “Harsh Times.” “Looper,” on the other hand, gives us the redemptive alternative to cycles of violence: sacrifice. The film’s anti-hero, young Joe, morphs from a man who sells out a friend for money to a man who sacrifices himself in order to save lives. Whether or not director Rian Johnson was leaning on Christian philosophies for this screenplay, I don’t know. But the film’s ending certainly winks at history’s conquests over violence (Ghandi, MLKJ, etc.)

Joe’s closing lines in the film probably sum it up best: “Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it.” I hate to break it to the superheroes of the world, but the way to wipe out violence is not more violence. Like a bad feedback loop, violence just creates more violence. “Looper” somehow keys in on a truth that even the best governments in history have failed to grasp, and offers a hint at the solution.

I love a good film discussion. Feel free to post thoughts about the film’s themes in the comments.

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