Reunion Stuffs

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you’ll remember that in 2013, I was anxiously planning the first Schmitzer Family Reunion of my lifetime. I think back on those weeks and months leading up to the Big Hoorah, and there are so many moments, so many thoughts, so many conversations that were never recorded. So many tidbits began in beautiful fashion, with well-defined shapes and edges that sparkled and held us captive, only to melt away in the palm of our hand. We lose so much. So quickly.

A dear friend of mine named Liesl came to the 2013 Reunion as an honorary member of our Clan. With a good German family like ours, Liesl and I joked that if anyone asked who she was, she should just say, “Oh, Aunt Thekla! Don’t you remember me? I’m Johann’s girl!” And believe me, we have many Johann’s in the pages of our history. She looked the part, and if she’d played the part, no one would’ve been the wiser.

Liesl had a purpose, however. A woman with an impeccable eye and a habit of grabbing exquisite candids, she was there to capture the Reunion in photographs. And she did, quite well, I might add. When we arrived home, she asked me for a list of the names of everyone who attended the Reunion. She had been working on a lovely cross-stitch pattern depicting the cross of the Christian faith. As she continued working on it, she felt led to stitch a border around the piece, carefully spelling out the names of everyone who attended our first Reunion.

Blog Pic A

We framed Liesl’s beautiful work and I’ve been holding onto it, not sure where it belongs.

As we began really hunkering down on planning the 2016 Reunion, Mom suggested that we bring a photo of the group along with the framed cross-stitch as a sort of souvenir display of that first Reunion. As we talked more, we thought it would be nice, each year, to have one project or craft that commemorates the Reunion. I am sorry to say we didn’t do anything for 2014, but I may still have an idea–I’ll keep you posted on it. We didn’t hold a Reunion in 2015. And so we began poring over the interwebs to find a great idea for 2016. And boy, did we find it!

I stumbled into the idea when I was perusing Pinterest one evening. The original (found here) was used at a wedding, but I was so excited to apply this to our family heritage. I reached out to Jen, a friend of mine with amazing art skills, and she gave us a beautiful tree to adorn! The idea is to have everyone stamp their finger or thumb print somewhere on a branch of the tree, symbolizing our common heritage (the tree!) and ancestry (our roots!). I could tell you how it turned out, or I could show you and let you tell me how it turned out! I will say, I’m very pleased!

Blog Pic B

I would like some feedback from any friends or family or random passersby, however. This year, we lost two men in the family very close to the Reunion. I want to commemorate them, but it obviously doesn’t seem right to put them on a fingerprint leaf with everyone else. I thought it might be nice to do a few fingerprint hearts down near the base of the tree, and write in each one the name of someone who has passed on since our last gathering. I’ve made some on white paper just to set down and get an idea of how it would look. What do you think, gang?

Blog Pic C

And speaking of those we lost this year, I saw this memorial candle idea on Pinterest, also, and felt it would be a very comforting and appropriate way to honor not only the lives of those no longer with us, but also to recognize the sorry and struggle of gathering without them. As with most projects, I wanted to be sure that the sign had a personal touch to it, not a generic “I printed this ten minutes ago with TimesNewRoman font” feel. For this, I reached out to my amazing niece, Hannah Lynne, and asked her to draw something artsy but not over-the-top–just a nice sign to help us remember those we’ve lost. I dare say, she did a fantastic job. I’m very happy with how this turned out also, paired with an LED-candled lantern from W-mart (open flame candle in a beautiful, green, tree-filled park didn’t seem like a great plan).

Blog Pic D

I hope some of these ideas help anyone out there who’s planning a get-together. It’s so nice to have “props” to help tie everything together. We sometimes forget words, but images and tangibles help us with recall.

Pax,

semmie

 

 

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150 Days in the Psalms

Most of you know that I’ve been working on a Psalms Project for some time now. I still have quite a ways to go with it, and every time I think I’m making progress, I find that I have so much more to learn. The Psalms have always been my favorite passages of Scripture because of the musicality and rhythm; the longing and gutwrenching honesty; and for the deep, rich theology. But in the midst of my studying and reading and writing for the Psalms Project, I confess that my time has become more studious than intimate. It has been so long since I’ve read the Psalms with the intent of simply praying and communing with God. So when my friend, Nicole, mentioned 150 Days in the Psalms, I knew I had to jump in, face first.

The plan, from the Mercy Is New blog, is this:

Each Day:

  • Read 1 Psalm.
  • Write 1 verse from that Psalm as your focus & prayer for the day.
  • Pray through the Psalm.
  • Journal through the Psalm.

Seems simple enough! If you’d like to participate, let me know! We begin August 1, and this journey will take us through the end of 2016. We have a small facebook group started where we can encourage one another, share any insights or prayers that God is impressing upon us. I will gladly add you to the group!

And if you’re not sure what it means to “pray through” or “journal through” the Psalms, go subscribe to the Mercy Is New blog! It is packed with resources to help you learn how to pray Scripture and use journaling to grow your relationship with Christ. I am new to her blog myself, but I am loving it! She also provides a printable schedule for an easy reminder of which Psalm you should be on each day.

It has been so long since I’ve journaled Scripture. It has been so very long. I confess that I’m nervous about this. While I don’t think the journaling is mandatory, I want to really dig into this experience with all of my heart. It will be a good exercise for me after being so focused on the studying part for so long.

What do you say? Will you join me on this exciting journey?

Pax Christe.

semmie

 

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The RNC & the “is a vote for Hillary” Fallacy

Listen, I get it. I don’t want a Hillary presidency anymore than the next conservative. I hear the reasoning. I hear the concern in friends’ voices when they say, “yeah, but Hillary.” I really get it. I am there with you. And maybe the right thing to do is to vote against her. I’m open to that, but I’m sure not going to let that be my default position.

Over and over, folks have said that “a vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary.”

Uhm. No.

A vote for Hillary is a vote for Hillary. Voting one’s conscience should never be ridiculed because it doesn’t accomplish the agenda of someone (or a party) one cannot support. That’s ridiculous. Of course it’s not going to accomplish the agenda of the RNC if I vote Third Party! That’s exactly the point, America!

It’s like saying that if I don’t vote for Hillary, I am voting against a woman’s right to choose abortion. Well, uhm, yeah–I’m pro-life, so…I wouldn’t really align my vote with the Democratic Party’s agenda, there, would I?

The RNC has proven to me that it simply doesn’t desire my vote in the Presidential Election. Why is it my problem if they cannot, then, garner enough votes to prevent a Hillary presidency? That’s their problem, not mine. The very fact that I am considering a Third Party vote should clue-in the RNC to the fact that my agenda is not aligned with theirs. So if it’s their agenda to stop Hillary, go for it. Stop her. But don’t tell me it’s my fault if she wins, because my agenda, my conviction, is something far different than simply roadblocking a politician.

And I’ll note that the opposite isn’t true, either. A vote against Hillary is not a vote for Trump.

I understand. I really do. I am very aware of the fact that our Two Party system is not likely to see a Third Party in the White House any time soon. I struggle every day with the feeling that my vote will not affect any change. But it is change. It is changing. Our nation is changing, friends. And I don’t want my name to be on the wrong side of history with the changes we’re seeing.

So.

Whichever side of the aisle you find yourself on today, if you think your side has the moral high ground, I hope you have a life preserver.

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On Sorrow & Grief

It’s important to grieve.

It’s natural to grieve.

It is good to grieve.

Many (particularly Christians, for some reason) try to coax a premature joy in the midst of sorrow–from each other as well as ourselves. I am terribly guilty of this lately. I hear myself saying to my closest friends and family that “I just want to get back to normal.” It comes, I’m sure, with the best of intentions. But sorrow does not mean the absence of peace. Grief does not mean we have refused joy. And joy is not always something we can conjure. It is something that comes in its time–in its appropriate time.

I think we mistake joy for a flame we can produce, like striking a match. And maybe in some moments, in some regards, we can.

In the midst of grief, however, I think joy comes more like the sunrise, an undeniable light and warmth and life after hours (or days…or weeks…or months…maybe even years) of the cold, dark, loneliness of night.

And how does the sun rise?

Does the sun appear instantly in the day sky, like someone flipped a switch?

No, the answer is in the question: The sun rises.

In our experience, it may occur quickly or it may occur slowly, but it always occurs from an earthbound vantage as rising. It comes upon our world bit by bit, inch by inch, until it covers all we know in the revelation of daylight.

I think–though I’ll be the first to confess to you that I don’t have extensive experience with joy as most people would express it–this is how joy comes upon us. Sorrow and grief are the dark hours of the night, and there is no sense in arguing about where the daylight is. We may have other lights to help us, to guide us, to give us hope and courage–the moon, the stars, the aurora, the galaxy (and perhaps in this we could talk about the moon being a reflection of the light for which we long; I’m sure there’s something there to discuss)–but none of that satisfies our longing for the risen sun. And even as it comes, it is a process. It is a subtle change from black to deep violet; from deep violet to an intense blue and a few less stars; a blue to a soft green, waking birds and critters from their reverie; a soft green to an amazing orange and pink; and then–yes, then–suddenly, a brilliant day sky.

And in that moment, I think we have a tendency to say one of two things (or maybe, sometimes, both). The first is, “Thank God! I survived the night!” The second is, “Beautiful!”

Isn’t it funny? The thing that we so long for, that so eludes us in our grief, that seems such a distant dream we may never attain–that, itself, is something we call beauty. Beauty comes out of mess and struggle and sorrow. Don’t ever forget.

It reminds me of one of my favorite passages in scripture (and the reason, primarily, that I dared to begin my Psalms Project).

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8, NIV)

Morning and evening do not flip like a switch. Morning dawns. Evening fades. And where (not when, but where) those subtle changes occur, God calls forth songs of joy. This idea is repeated in the passage God showed me more than twenty years ago.

weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5, NIV)

Can we trust Him to bring us through our sorrow to that place where He fills us with irrepressible songs of joy? We can.

We must, friends. We must. For it is only in our sorrow, in our struggle, that we can recognize our deep need for His presence and joy. It is only in brokenness that we can yearn to be made whole. If we never experienced sorrow, joy would be our default; and while I grant you that this may be very nice, it would, I think, become so commonplace as to lose something in our estimation.

Maybe you view joy and sorrow differently than I–and that’s okay. I’m not here to judge you or say you’ve got it wrong. I’m here to encourage those who are grieving and who can’t yet find joy in the midst of it. If that’s you, if you’re caught in a struggle or despair that you can’t wrestle yourself out of, take heart.

Take heart.

Night does not last forever.

Joy is not a bird that flutters away each time you get close. It is a gift that is granted freely from a God who cherishes every hair on your head.

Sorrow may last for the night; joy comes in the morning. That is His promise–to you, to me, to all who love Him and are called by His name.

Do not fear your sorrows, for it is the blessing of grief that gives birth to the blessing of joy.

Pax Christe.

semmie.

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On the Loss of a Dear Uncle

One week ago, I grieved after my uncle’s funeral.

Two weeks ago, my uncle died.

Three weeks ago, I held his hand and whispered my love and goodbyes to him.

It happens so quickly and in such a blur that sometimes it doesn’t even feel like reality. It’s more like an alternate reality. It’s as if you are suspended but time is still passing, and you don’t notice the disconnect until the alternate stops and you’re thrust back into your normal life and routine. It is no easy thing, to lose someone you love.

And that is as it should be, I suppose. The enormity of grief is a testament to relationship. Or perhaps more accurately, grief is a testament to love, for it is very well true that one may grieve for a person with whom she did not have a close relationship. I think, in particularly, of children who have estranged parents: There may be an unquenchable grief at losing a parent in such a case, simply because–though they loved one another–the relationship was broken and left unmended. Such a grief is likely greater than I can imagine. I do not envy it, and so I take this moment to remind myself and my friends: Do not leave wounds unmended; we only have so many opportunities to forgive.

My relationship with my uncle was one that grew out of my own brokenness. As a child, I didn’t know my mother’s family well. We didn’t see or hear much from them–and vice versa–because we were geographically removed. Her family thrived on a closeness of proximity, and that was something we lacked. I wrote to him, honestly, not desiring a relationship with him so much as I desired to know more about my grandfather who had died several years before my birth. I’m not sure I recognized it at the time, but I was greatly struggling with my identity–who I was, where I belonged–and somehow, he reached through all of those questions and touched my heart. “You belong with me,” he assured me over and over by his actions. And the amazing thing is, I believed him. I absolutely believed him.

There has not been a moment of my relationship with him when I’ve questioned his love for me. There has not been a moment when I’ve questioned whether I could call or write or show up on his doorstep and cry all over his shoulder. There has not been a moment when I’ve questioned whether he believed in me and my dreams. He brought hope and joy and laughter to a gal who was hurting and lost. These are the gifts of love. These are the gifts I will cherish and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

It doesn’t erase the sorrow of losing him. I suspect it never will. It does, however, allow a clear, obvious, logical, and satisfying resolution to a beautiful piece of music that has permeated my life. When we leave a relationship unmended and we lose the person, it’s like being cut off in the middle the symphony. We are left without a sense of finality, without the final chord that resolves all of the tension that has been slowly building over time.

In a couple of weeks, my family will be gathering for our Reunion. It is a time I always look forward to sharing with my dear uncle. It will be difficult for many of us, to be sure. I hope, however, that it will also be a balm to us, to embrace and remind one another that we are family and we love one another and we grieve together.

In the meantime, dear friends, remember that it’s okay to grieve.

Pax Christe.

semmie

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Compassion Writing Stationary

For those of you who sponsor kids through Compassion, here are some great letter writing templates! I am always on the lookout for new ones, but I don’t like really busy ones. I like ones that allow me to actually write a letter. I’m loving the purple with the heart!

 

Source: Compassion Writing Stationary

 

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Corporate Worship: Brown

Let’s talk about worship some more.

Yesterday, we began with Bill Blankschaen’s article, Why I’m Still Struggling to Sing in Your Church. I shared my own thoughts regarding his concerns. Today, I’d like to write briefly about Jamie Brown’s article from 2014, Are We Headed for a Crash? Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship. If you haven’t read my post from yesterday, I’d encourage you to go back and begin there.

The title asks a pointed question, and the article gives a pointed answer. Brown seems to think that unless we can navigate the tumultuous waters of modern worship, we are headed for a crash. But I keep asking myself what that means. What does a crash look like? Are we talking about the mode of worship, specifically, or the church (or the Church) crashing? What is really at stake here?

Brown’s article is in common with the third point of Blankschaen’s article: Performance.

Pause for a moment. To my knowledge, these two men did not write their articles in tandem. Blankschaen wrote about this in 2012, then rewrote about it in 2016; Brown wrote about it in 2014, and from the look of his blog, has written a trove on this and relating issues. Each holds a position of ministry, both in church and online. Each comes to this dialogue with a unique perspective. The fact that they independently key in on a word as strong as “performance” says something to me. It says that this is a matter worthy of our time and consideration, even if we disagree with one another.

the theme of performancism. The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.

This is a terrifying quote. If you’ve read Brown’s article (which I strongly urge–please do not take my word on his convictions), you know that this isn’t just a word he pulled out for his blog one day after feeling overshadowed or undermined by the newest, most impressive musician at his church. This came to him at a conference. Brown had gathered with other worship leaders and church musicians for a worship conference and–while not speaking critically of the group that held the conference, which I appreciate–he came away with a sense that the thematic change in modern worship towards performance was going to be detrimental to the Church if left unchecked.

I do want to acknowledge something totally aside from the issue, and yet it really brings more weight to Brown’s perspective. In discussing Blankschaen’s article yesterday, I tried to impress upon you my feeling that musical style, genre, instrumentation–these things were not the focal point, they were not the matter of objection. I mention it today because Brown brings it to light, and it illustrates two key ideas. In discussing the conference, Brown talks about the variety of music and style and presentation.

It’s good for worship leaders to experience this kind of wide-exposure from time to time

This is such an important point. First, because every musician is strengthened and challenged by experiencing how others do music. Second, because every church body is made up of individuals who will respond to different musical approaches, and as Brown points out later, it is important to draw as many people into corporate worship as possible.

The reason I want you to think about this, though, is because of how Brown perceived each of the differing styles and traditions as having the performance theme in common. That is astounding…and astoundingly frightful. What this means is that a worship leader cannot simply change the song list, change the ensemble, change the volume, the key, or the tempo. He cannot exchange hymns for choruses, or choruses for hymns. The matter is not particularly one of substance, it seems, but of where we focus.

How can I say that, when yesterday I seemed to agree with Blankschaen that much of our worship has been dumbed down? Simple. A dumbed down lyric deals more with the immediate, in my experience–how I’m feeling, how I’m longing, how I’m seeking; an intellectual lyric tends to be more doctrinally about the Godhead. Don’t mistake me–there is an importance and a place for worshipful expression of emotion. It is right that we should allow God to effect us emotionally! But consider this: No emotion is common to every person in a gathered body. No matter how common our experience, we feel uniquely. Truths about who God is, on the other hand, are things that we share. When we speak them and sing them corporately, the body gathered is strengthened and empowered to continue the work of Christ. Again, that is not to say that emotion does not belong in worship–it certainly does. But our professions (which is what we are doing when we sing together–we are professing in song) should rather be formed by the truths we agree upon than by the emotions of the person who penned a lyric.

My words may be a strong stance, and many worship leaders may disagree with me–I accept that and welcome the dialogue. But I suspect that if we pushed the matter, Brown would agree, at least in part. As he closes the article, he gives us a paragraph of ways to keep our focus where it should be–on Christ–and to hopefully curtail some of this performance that’s swallowing our Body. One of his suggestions is:

Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology.

If performancism can be thwarted–even in part–by strong theology in our lyrics, then we can deduce a connection between songs devoid of theology (ie: dumbed down) and the focus turning away from God. I know, I know. Again, this is not a popular idea, and many will disagree with me here; but if performancism is as big a problem as Brown expresses, ought we not to look seriously at what is turning the eyes of the Body away from our Savior and onto a musician?

In writing fiction, you often hear that you cannot be afraid to “kill your darlings.” The idea is that you may really like a character, or a chapter, or a scene, or a sentence–but if it needs to go to advance the story, then you cut it. Or you edit it. Or you rewrite the whole thing, eliminating it. You deal with it. If you leave it where it doesn’t belong, it undermines the strength of the story.

It’s the same in worship. We cannot be afraid to kill our darlings. I remember a song I used to sing at my AoG church almost twenty years ago now. It was a hymn, actually–but we had fun with it. I absolutely loved it. And I was heartbroken about fifteen years ago when I realized the doctrine was something to which I could absolutely not attest! There was this awkward phase where I didn’t want to give it up, even though I knew I couldn’t sing it with a clear conscience.

We have to be willing to let go of anything that detracts or distracts in worship. We have to be willing to let go of anything that encourages performancism.

if this current generation of worship leaders doesn’t change this theme, then corporate worship in evangelicalism really is headed for a major crash.

I stumble back to my opening remarks. This scares me, because I don’t know what it means. I doubt, quite honestly, that Brown could tell us what it means, either. It is not easy to see where this ends, or what the lasting effects of it will be. What we can see, thankfully, is that it doesn’t need to end this way. We have a choice.

Brown offers several practical suggestions on how to just refocus our worship. If you are in a position of leadership in your church body–and particularly if you are a worship leader–I would encourage you to prayer over his list. Maybe all of the ideas aren’t appropriate or applicable to your church. Maybe there is one thing you can do to ensure the focus of your worship is squarely fixed on Jesus. Maybe there is something you can do that isn’t on his list. Maybe the first step is being willing to acknowledge that we are sinners, all, who–left to our own desires–will ten times out of ten choose the glory of man over the glory of God. Maybe it’s time to “kill our darlings” in modern worship.

 You’re reading the heart-cry of a normal guy who’s worried about what worship leaders are doing to themselves and their congregations. People are tuning out and giving up and just watching.

Let’s ask ourselves two questions.

What are worship leaders doing to themselves?

What are worship leaders doing to their congregations?

The second question is, I think, the easier of the two. As expressed by both Brown and Blankschaen, congregants are tuning out. When a worship becomes a performance, not only are individuals uninvolved, they are leaving. I’ve heard so many people say, “if you don’t like the way your church does worship, leave! Find another church!” There is enormous danger in this mindset. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve known who’ve left a church because they didn’t like the worship and have never found their way to another body. And honestly, our first reaction to not liking something should never be to walk away from it–especially within the Body of Christ.

If you are reading this and you attend a church where the performance theme is trending, I would urge you to begin praying. Pray, pray, pray. Ask God for wisdom and for courage and for a tender love for your congregation. Talk with your pastor, humbly expressing your concerns and giving specific examples of what is shifting the focus of worship from God to performance (ie: the light show is distracting to the point that I don’t remember what words we were singing). Ask your pastor how you can be a part of a solution that doesn’t trample or crush anyone’s spirit. Acknowledge the hard work and service of your worship leader/team. But in all of this, seek a solution that is best for your congregation–don’t default to “leaving.” Leaving a church should almost always be a last resort. Because let’s be real with one another–if it isn’t worship, it’s the Bible study groups; if it isn’t the Bible study groups, it’s the lack of welcome to newcomers; if it isn’t the lack of welcome to newcomers, it’s the Sunday School program; if it’s not the Sunday School program, it’s the community service; if it’s not the community service, it’s…ad nauseum. Don’t allow yourself to believe that any other church is without obstacles. Some may be more serious than others, and it’s important to be connected to a strong and healthy congregation, but no church is perfect. Not one.

The question of what worship leaders are doing to themselves is more difficult. I have been out of worship leading for awhile now, and I honestly have no desire to return to it–and I don’t think the performance issue was quite as bad when I left as it has been in the last few years. Even at that point, it was tremendous burnout just to lead. Add the performance factor, and you have the potential to really crumble the spirit of an individual. There’s also an immense danger in becoming “too big”–too big for correction, too big for repentance, too big for weeping, too big to allow anyone else to lead worship, too big to admit that it’s become a performance. This is so important, because if it destroys one person in the Body, it will–in the end–destroy everyone. And if we, as a Body, are willing to allow one person to be destroyed for the sake of a good show…then shame on us. We deserve the resultant crash.

Do we really want to go down this road?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

Are we willing to be changed? Are we willing to admit that maybe we don’t always know the best way to do worship? Are we willing to stop all the fuss for two seconds and just ask God to shift our focus and work to keep it locked there? Are we willing to let go of our worship darlings? Are we willing to put the needs of the Body before the ego of a few?

Or is the performance so good that it’s worth whatever may come?

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