Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Five: Seasons Change

It's Labor Day weekend here in the United States, also known as Summer's Last Hurrah. So let's say goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn. (People in other climes, feel free to adapt as needed.)

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!) I had a really great summer, so it's hard to find just one highlight. But, I'll mention our vacation in Watercolor Florida, riding bikes everywhere we went. Here's a picture

We loved riding bikes around so much that we bought new bikes when we got home and now I ride my bike to work about 3 or 4 days a week.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not? Yes because I miss all the various choirs and musical ensembles that only meet during the school year. I have to admit that it's nice to have a break from all the evening rehearsals during the summer, but I'm ready to give up my Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights again. Now, If I can just convince the ABC to air the new shows of Grey's Anatomy during the summer and reruns during the school year, I'd be a happy gal :)

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall. I look forward to playing for chancel choir and directing our handbell choir, Evensong. I also look forward to the completion of the application portion of my thesis. Though the intense 3 months of writing that will follow I'm not looking forward to.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach) In a normal year, the end of summer is usually celebrated by attending Bloys Campmeeting down in Ft. Davis, TX. This is an old cowboy campmeeting, that began in 1890 by Rev. Bloys, a traveling Presbyterian preacher. He would travel from ranch to ranch to minister to those many ranchers who could not come to church on a regular basis. If you know anything about West Texas ranching, you know those ranches are HUGH, and back in the 1890s traveling to go to church was a long ordeal. So, they decided that one week a year all the ranch families would get together for a revival. Well, jump ahead nearly 120 years and that campmeeting is still going. There are about 4000 - 5000 people who go, mostly descended from those original 10 ranching families. Church meets 4 times a day with Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Disciples ministers rotating the services. I've been going since 1990 when my mom was hired to be the pianist. Now, my dad is also the song leader, but the past couple of years he and I have been sharing the job. I just couldn't go this year because of the thesis, so I'm having a bit of trouble adjusting to the fact that fall is here. It's like going one December without Christmas! Seriously!

5. I'll know that fall is really here when __________________________________. When you can smell it in the air and you stop wearing sleeveless shirts. There's nothing quite like that fall crisp smell to the air. I don't know what it is, but every season has its own smell, and I just love the smell of autumn.

Image is The Four Seasons I by Pham An Hai (More info here)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

3 down, 3 to go

So, after each of these sessions, I'm amazed at how well they each have gone. For this particular lesson I felt the least prepared, but it really went beautifully. First, I must tell about our worship time. As part of their homework last week, I asked each person to tell the gospel story in their own words (or painting, or sculpture, or drawing, or dance or song, etc.) and that they would get a chance to share it this week. Our worship time centered around those stories. The telling of these stories was framed by the reading of 3 psalms - Psalm 95:1-7; Psalm 42; Psalm 118:1-7, 15-18, 28-29. For the first reading, we all stood with our arms raised in praise as the early Christians might have done. Then the first group of people shared their gospel stories and taped them to or laid them next to a big wooden cross. Then we listened to Psalm 42 read as we knelt in a posture of humility and repentance, as this was a psalm of lament. Then the next group of people shared. Finally we closed with a group responsive reading of Psalm 118. I had printed up the psalm in 4 different versions and everyone was instructed to read the bold lines on their page, which resulted in 4 different groups reading different lines. Sometimes it was 3 groups, sometimes it was 2 groups. And I asked them to be just as dramatic and emphatic in their reading as the other two readings had been. And they were! We closed with prayer.

The great part about this worship time was hearing the many different gospel stories:

One person had written a poem and printed it up on a large piece of paper - apparently she and I were both at Kinkos late last night :). She said that she felt it was kind of a 4th grade poem, rather sing-song-y, but at the same time, she felt that 4th grade was about where she was at with her faith. I would differ with her on that - for someone who has come to faith later in life, she's more mature than many life long Christians I know.

Another person designed a quilt that she plans on making. It is a picture of a fruit tree, with it's roots in good soil (faith), the sun shining on it giving it life (Jesus), the wind blowing through it (the Spirit), and I can't remember what represented God. But anyway, the fruit on the tree is the Fruit of the Spirit, but she explained that you don't just get the fruit right away, but by living a life rooted in faith and in the ways of Jesus. Also, the fruit falls off, and that shows how we have to continually be growing and renewing in faith to continue to bear fruit.

One person had printed up a series of symbols, and I can't remember exactly what they were, but they were really cool. Apparently he started with symbols that some early TV doctor used to write on a chalk board (obviously, this show was before my time) - Man, Woman, life, death, and infinity. Then he changed them - Man, Woman, life (a sunburst) and death (a lower case t cross) were the same, but then, he added a simple cross representing grace and finally a celtic type cross (I can't find an example of it) whose lines are completely connecting that he said represented eternity.

One of my favorites was from an artist who painted 4 miniature canvasses. I'm going to ask her permission to scan them and post them here. They were beautiful, and I can't even begin to describe them.

For the rest of the class, we tried to cover 2000+ years of history in 45 min. HAHA. I just touched on a couple of times and places to give them a kind of over arching picture of the history of the church. As we talked about each one (an early house church described by Justin Martyr, 4th century worship with description of Augustine, the Catholic church by the 1500s, the reformation in very brief form [we were running out of time] and finally the worship renewal movement of the past 40 years since Vatican II) I had them sit or stand in a similar way that the church we were discussing would have sat or stood to worship. So, for the house church, we sat on the floor, for Augustine, we stood, men on one side, women on the other, etc. Finally to talk about the worship renewal time, I had them all sit in a tight circle and as I described how each tradition seems to be learning from the other (the catholic church with it's renewed focus on the Word; the free church traditions beginning to incorporate ritual and sacraments in their worship, etc.) I gave each person one end of a cord. The cords (one for each person) were different colors and sizes and materials. As I talked I took the other end of each of the cords and began to twist them together, pointing out how they are becoming a stronger cord, but each cord still shows its own color and texture. I said that perhaps this is an idealist picture and maybe we wont really see this kind of convergence until the New Heavens and New Earth, but that perhaps we are starting to move this direction, and who knows what may come in this postmodern era, and whatever era is to come after that. (well, God probably knows :) I tied this picture back to the picture they had created with their gospel stories and the myriad of stories that make up the bible and how each of us sees a different facet of the diamond, a different cord color/texture of the big rope that all make up this beautiful thing called the Body of Christ. Ok, go ahead, call me an idealist, it's true.

Good class! I'm blown away by this group of people and their creativity. I know those gospel stories will show up again sometime. I don't know how or when, but they will.

Finally, I want to add a prayer that one of the team members shared with me after class. It was a prayer that formed in his mind as he observed the lunar eclipse this morning (did you see it? It was quite beautiful!). I've asked Matt's permission to share this prayer. May it be a blessing to you as it was for me:

Lord, we witnessed a magnificent visualization of your creation this morning. As the glorious Earth we inhabit passed between the sun, which sits at the center of our solar system, and the moon, which perpetually encircles us, it created the wonderful spectacle of a lunar eclipse. Let it remind us that so too does your son sit at the center of our own journey of faith, and that your love encompasses us forever. As the moon, which has always been a fixture sitting high above us, briefly faded from our view this morning, let us reflect that although we may sometimes struggle to see your presence, you are always there to bring us out of the darkness into your light. Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cultural Friday 5

This Friday 5 looks like a lot of fun and is brought to us by Sally at Eternal Echoes.

I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.

For each of the following name one that has helped you/challenged you on your spiritual journey.

1. Book - Just one book? I've read so many books in the past 3 years for this degree that I my head spins when I try to think about it. Laurence Hull Stookey has written a trilogy of books: Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church; Baptism: Christ's Act in the Church; and Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church. I have read Calendar and Baptism, and Eucharist is on my list. It's hard to say what exactly about these books has been formational for me, but Calendar and and Baptism have been instrumental for the development of my own general theology and theology of worship. Baptism especially really helped me to understand the amazing depth of meaning and mystery available in this sacrament.

2. Piece of music - well, it really depends on what is singing in my head. I can think of a couple pieces that jump out at me immediately - The Brahms German Requiem is a big one. It's hard to pin down exactly what about it has been influential to me, but the words and melodies resonate in my soul, especially when I read the Scripture passages quoted. Frequently I'll hear in my head "How Lovely are Thy Dwellings" or "For All Flesh Is As Grass." Hymns and other congregational song are so important to me and I believe to the life of the church So, I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of my favorite hymns: Love Divine, All Love's Excelling - this is a wonderful exposition on the Trinity. Fred Pratt Green's God is Here - a beautiful picture of the church. A Mighty Fortress - a sermon unto itself. All in All is a favorite of our congregation and our children led the congregation in singing it on VBS Sunday. Those children truly led worship!

3. Work of art - One of my professors, Reggie Kidd introduced me to Georges Roualt and his depictions of Christ and other people (and the blurring of lines between Christ and other people) will not soon leave my imagination. I can see them so clearly in my minds eye.

4. Film - Hmmmm.... Well, I loved all the Harry Potter films and books and I'm not sure how they might have helped me or challenged on my spiritual journey but they do resonate some unending truths about life with each other and our own responses to all that is in us and outside of us. I'm just drawing a blank on any films right now...

5. Unusual engagement with popular culture - Well, I think any engagement with culture, popular or otherwise, usual or unusual, shapes who we are. We cannot be immune to change and influence from our surroundings.

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why? ABSOLUTELY! For me, engagement indicates more than just an outward involvement (going through the motions, if you will) in whatever activity, in this case, faith, but a commitment and involvement of the heart. Intentional engagement, I guess is more what I'm trying to get at. Oh, I'm not coming up with anything succinct and deep right now so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts during a staff meeting

I know that title just gets you all excited. Isn't staff meeting where you all have your best thoughts? Actually, most of the time I'm either fighting to keep myself awake, or fighting to keep my mouth shut lest I deafen the rest of the staff with my screams of frustration. Well... maybe it's not that bad. Because today, I actually connected the dots on something that's been bothering me lately.

On Sunday, our pastor, Bryan, had preached on Romans 5:1-11, focusing especially on the passage about rejoicing in our suffering. He made the point that God doesn't usually take us out of our suffering, but walks with us through it.

Today, we were having a special 'visioning' staff meeting and Bryan described the process we needed to go through as a 'tunnel of chaos.' God wants us to work our way through this chaos - there is no easy answer for this. God works through our sufferings, through our chaos to help us grow.

So, I was contemplating how every bit of this thesis has been hard won for me so far. I'll start out a time of study with prayer, asking for God to help me do this, cause I know I can't do it myself. But inspiration rarely comes at that point. Then, I proceed to bang my head against the wall, pulling my teeth out as I try to study (I'm easily distracted). I'll get down to the wire and hit my panic button (bless my dear sweet husband for putting up with this process). Then - then, on my knees because I have nowhere else to go, I really really pray "Dear God - I can't do it, you have to write it for me." Then, miraculously, I have a break through. And, I hit myself upside the head and wonder why I didn't think to ask for that earlier, and why, once again, I didn't trust that God would guide me.

So, my big light bulb moment came when I realized that just because I pray for help doesn't mean that God's just going to drop the information (or whatever else I need) in my lap.
I really have to do the hard work, as much as it pains me so. Otherwise, I just won't learn what I need to learn. Unfortunately, as revelatory as this light bulb was for me, it didn't really make me feel any better. Oh yeah, I know I can trust in the Lord. I can trust that the Lord is going to walk with me through the suffering... ok, maybe sometimes God won't be walking with me - God will be dragging me, kicking and screaming through the suffering.

Hmmm... perhaps the suffering wouldn't be so bad if I didn't fight it so much... Nah! I really am quite good at kicking and screaming.

Class #2 down 4 more to go

Once again, this morning went a lot better than my nightmares let on. It was a bit more difficult than last week for everyone. Today's class and next week are both difficult to make interactive. Today was Biblical foundations and next week is Historical foundations. So, the majority of the class time entailed listening to me yap my jaw and look at power point slides.

However, since for part of the lesson we were looking at the various Hebrew words associated with worship, I figured I'd make them do at least one of them. So, as part of our worship time, I taught them a very simple call and answer song, and then explained that the Hebrew word "gil", which is usually translated "rejoice" actually means dance. So, we danced :). I told them that the advantage of meeting at 6:30 in the morning was that it was highly unlikely that anyone would walk in on them dancing, so they could really get into it and REJOICE!! So, they really did get into it. I was, once again, quite surprised. And then, once we finished dancing and singing, someone pointed out that the video camera had be rolling the whole time :) Hahahahaha! I have evidence that Presbyterians can dance and raise their hands in worship!

Anyway, it went really well. Yippiee!

Class #2... here we go

Ok, in less than an hour Class #2 will begin. This one has been a hard won battle. I mean really, how am I supposed to give a Biblical overview of worship in less than an hour?!?! Not to mention that it's 6:30 in the morning and everyone's still asleep. We'll see how it goes. It won't be as interactive and 'postmodern' as last week. There's just so much information to disseminate, so it's mostly lecture style. I tried to spice it up as much as possible with visuals and such. I was going to post my class notes here like I did for Class #1 but that will have to wait until this evening. I have to clean a couple things up and make sure I credit the right people and whatnot before publishing on the web.

If you're awake, say a prayer for us.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Review of the first meeting

Tuesday went really well. I had nightmares about it all night long. You know the kind - everything that can possibly go wrong did go wrong. In my dream I ran screaming and crying out of the room after about an hour and a half of futile attempts at starting the class. It was awful. And then, I woke up. I've never been so happy to wake up in all my life.

My dear sweet husband, Jack, offered to film each of the classes so I would have a good record of what happened each week. After starting the coffee, setting up the chairs and getting the power point up and running we began right at 6:30. Amazingly only 1 person was late! And, I kinda expected her to be late :).

First, we had a time of worship. We started with a short responsive call to worship, followed that with a responsive reading of Psalm 23. This was the text for worship last Sunday, and worked wonderfully as a beginning text for our class. We sang My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, one phrase at a time, interspersed within the reading of the Psalm. Then, I said a few words about the text, relating it to Bryan's sermon from Sunday - about how God desires to be with us, and how we will begin our time together asking for God to be with us throughout this process.

Then, we had an extended time of prayer, which went so much better than I anticipated. These are tried and true frozen chosen Presbyterians who don't pray out loud. I was a little nervous about how they would react to the prayer I was asking them to participate in. I had a large piece of butcher paper spread out on a table with a bunch of markers. The paper was divided into 4 headings: Praise, Presence, Petition and Thanksgiving. I began each section, offering a sentence prayer (a word of Praise, then a statement about God's abiding presence, next a petition for what I hoped to accomplish in this process, and finally a word of Thanksgiving), and after saying it, I wrote it down on the butcher paper and invited everyone else to do the same. Everyone! Participated! And, without apology or having to be prodded. They just jumped right in with both feet. But what was especially beautiful about this was how the majority of the people wrote their words - in decent and orderly lines :). They were willing to step out of their comfort zones, but remained true to their presbyterian roots. What a delightful surprise.

Finally, we ended our worship time by singing Be Thou My Vision.

After a short break for coffee and donuts, we sat down, I passed out binders that I had prepared for everyone. I was going to add a picture of the binder cover my husband designed, but since it's in PDF form, Blogger won't let me display it as a picture. If I figure out how to do it later, I'll add it in - I'm quite proud of it (Yeah Jack!)

On the top of each of their class note and homework pages I had included an image of the Alpha and Omega that I found in this book: Visuals for Worship by Elizabeth Steele Halstead. This, I explained was to remind us of God's presence and how we must begin and end with God, putting God's will first and not our own.

We had a lively discussion about what worship means to each of us, what participation means, and what participation in worship means. Then, I gave them about 8 min. to recall a corporate worship service that had a strong impact on them, reflect on what that impact was, and then draw a conclusion about worship based upon that reflection. We had only time to discuss 3 or 4 of them, and then I had to close out the class, describing their homework for the week, and let them go.

Before they did, I had them sign up to provide breakfast for one of the remaining 5 weeks. I explained that it did not need to be fancy - just prepared with the knowledge in mind that by bringing food, they are taking part in nourishing this team and that nourishment will help to draw this team of people in closer communion with each other.

We closed in prayer, and that was it. I was quite pleased with the level of engagement of each person in the group - 14 people total. So, now I'm in the library all day today and tomorrow to prepare for this coming Tuesday - Biblical and Theological Foundations for Worship.

Speaking of which.... back to work for me :)

Friday Five: Word Association Redux

Here's another Friday Five from the RevGalsBlogPals ring. This one's a short and sweet version:

This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita:

Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story.

1. vineyard: trees and wasps

2. root: abega

3. rescue: miners

4. perseverance: making it through this thesis

5. divided: a house will not stand

(Each of these appears in one of the readings from this Sunday's lectionary.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One class down, 5 to go

Well, so far so good. We had our first class meeting this past Tuesday morning. It went very well. In fact, it went much better than what my nightmare the night before showed me. It's an amazing group of people that God has amassed for this project. Of course, now, the bar is set very high for the rest of them, so I've got my work cut out for me. I'm in the library right now getting ready for next week, so I really should be doing that instead of blogging. I will post later tonight a brief summary of Tuesday's meeting and my plans for next Tuesday.

thanks for all you who are reading - even if I don't know who you are, it's encouraging to know that there are people out there cheering me on through this process.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I Love to Tell the Story...

'twill be my theme in glory.
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and His love.

This evening, my husband and I had an opportunity to see a show called Once On This Island. It was a beautiful story that is similar in theme to The Little Mermaid.* But much deeper and more lasting that a cute Disney story. The show is told by a group of peasants as a fairy tale to a little girl, a story of how love is stronger than the earth, the water and even death. At the end of the story, the cast sings to the little girl about why they tell the story. She begins to sing the beginning of the story again as the cast sings this final song of the show, "Why We Tell the Story":

And this is why we tell the story:
If you listen very heard you hear her call us
To come share with her our laughter and our tears
And there's mysteries and miracles befall us through the years.

We tell the story, we tell the story!

Life is why we tell the story,
Pain is why we tell the story,
Love is why we tell the story,
Grief is why we tell the story,
Hope is why we tell the story,
Faith is why we tell the story,
You are why we tell the story,

So I hope that you will tell this tale tomorrow
It will help your heart remember and relive
It will help you feel the anger and the sorrow
And forgive

For all the ones we leave
And we believe
Our lives become the stories that we weave.

As I was sitting there in the theatre, completely enchanted by this beautiful story, that last line hit me like a ton of bricks! I've said it a million times, but this time I really understood it even more - our worship tells the story. We re-live the story together, the story of God's salvation history, and by telling the story, acting out the story, re-living the story, we become part of the story ourselves. Our lives become the stories that we weave.

Bob Webber talks about the story of God that we tell and live in our worship. He talks about it every chance he gets - almost as much as he talks about the narcissistic culture that frequently invades our worship.**

And I saw the Resurrection story written all over this delightful musical. Just like I see the Resurrection story written in many great stories, like Harry Potter for example. As Leigh McLeroy writes in a blog entry on Common Grounds Online***:
"I don’t know what J.K. Rowling believes, but here’s what I believe. Harry Potter is a tremendous character, Rowling is a master storyteller, and Harry’s story is as redemptive and rich as they come. And that redemptive richness – its tensions between darkness and light, good and evil, love and jealousy, and its honestly-constructed characters who never, ever hit a false note – resonate with the Great Story, the Gospel Story. Because all the best stories do, whether they mean to, or not."

So - As part of the Worship Planning Team training time, we're going to tell stories. One of the first homework items I'm going to give the class our first week is this: write THE STORY in your own words - be as creative as you want. Then, the next week, during our worship time, we will each share a portion of our stories, and then take the written stories and combine them in a kind of visual collage, that, all put together, tell THE STORY in a rich, tangible, visual way.

I'm going to be thinking and praying over the next few days of other ways we can tell the story. Or, perhaps one of the 'lecture' times will not be a lecture or discussion, but a story-telling-time. Do you have any great ideas for how to tell the story, how to teach a group of frozen-chosen-presbyterians how to tell a good story?

Don't be shy, tell me your story - I need your story too! We have to tell the story together, the old, old story of Jesus and His love!

*I have to admit that there was a time in my life where I had the entire movie memorized and would sing the whole thing for you at the drop of a hat

** For a good laugh at our Culture of I, check out It's All About Me: The Bob Webber Narcissistic Un-Worship Song written by one of the IWS students, Rob Still. Go here for the lyrics.

***Common Grounds Online is a great Christian blog, with many wonderful contributers. And, interestingly enough, the sub-heading for the blog is "Learning and Living the Christian Story."