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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Corporate Worship: Blankschaen

Let’s talk about worship.

Worship is an issue so close to my heart–as a Believer, as a musician, as a struggling theologian, as a cultural observer. There’s so much overlap, yet so much disparity between these parts of my existence. But worship isn’t respective of our vying identities. It doesn’t require that we put on our “theology” hat only when we study Scripture, our “praxis” mittens only when we go to church, our “music” socks only when we learn a new song. In fact, worship almost demands that we don’t. Somehow, all of these pieces must come together and settle into congruence. If we’re honest about it, probably most of the struggles facing the modern Church on the matter of worship are birthed out of a lack of congruence on these matters–or a deference to one over another. And if you know anything about me, you know that I am a firm believer in that place where two opposing ideas overlap–the “middle ground,” if you will. A.W. Tozer deals with this far better than I, so I’ll encourage you to read The Knowledge of the Holy and move on.

This past week, two friends shared articles with me about the struggle of worship in the modern Church (and just so we’re all on the same track, I typically follow that little c means a specific church, like my church–Redeemer Lutheran; big C refers to the collective body of Believers, irrespective of the building where they gather on Sundays; also, that “modern” probably more accurately means “western,” as I’m pretty sure these matters aren’t quite so intense in some third world countries). The first article comes from FaithWalkers’ Bill Blankschaen, entitled Why I’m Still Struggling to Sing in Your Church–which is actually a followup to an article he’d written in 2012; the second article comes from fellow wordpress blogger Jamie Brown, who asks the question, Are We Headed for a Crash? Reflections on the Current State of Evangelical Worship. I want to address both of these articles, and will do so one at a time.  My hope is that we can move from knee-jerk reactions into something more like problem-solving, because–let’s face it–God didn’t have a Plan B for the world we live in. The Church is Christ’s Body on earth. If we’re getting it wrong, the results could be detrimental, both to the Body and to the world around us (and in some ways, I might argue, it already has been).

Let’s begin today with Bill Blankschaen’s article. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle Jamie Brown’s words. Then, dear friends, I do sincerely hope we can problem-solve together.

In full disclosure, I had read Blankschaen’s initial worship article in 2012. I struggled with the dialogue that followed in the comments, because there seemed to be a lot of remarks akin to “you don’t know how difficult it is to lead worship,” and “don’t blame the worship leader if you don’t like the musical style–they have to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.” Let’s just nip this right here: Worship has never been a matter of personal taste, nor has it even primarily been a matter of music. Let’s be clear: The words worship and music are not interchangeable, and we do the Body a great disservice by treating them as such. Therein, I believe, are the first two errors of modern worship. By not rightly understanding the true place and nature of worship (specifically, for this conversation, corporate worship), we risk the humbling and resultant edification that occurs in worship. We mistake our place, and we mistake God’s place. That, friends, is dangerous; that is why we need to dialogue about worship and music, and not about musical preferences.

Now, Blankschaen’s article (2016) strikes a chord with me for two reasons. First, it is apparent to me (and thus, I struggle to understand the comments from those who tell him he simply doesn’t like the style of music, etc) that–aside from a remark about a guitar solo–Blankschaen doesn’t make any claims about musicality or style or preference. This immediately tells us that we cannot answer his concerns by saying “find a church where you like the music.” There’s something more going on. Second, and perhaps more geeky interesting to me, is that Blankschaen says the same thing he said three-and-a-half years ago in the first article. His objections are the same. He’s still waiting for an answer, for address. How many Christians have left a church–not merely because of worship issues, but because of doctrine, because of character, because of disagreements with others that left them outcast, because of wounds that the church refused to acknowledge–and have never returned for lack of address? It’s time we stopped avoiding difficult conversations, folks. It’s time to be honest with one another about the struggles facing our churches. So let’s be honest. Let’s talk about the three things Blankschaen points to as the reason he’s struggling to sing corporately.

Blankschaen’s first complaint is that we have dumbed down worship. This is not an attack on choruses in favor of hymns. Worship does not require four part harmony, staff music, pipe organ, and Bach. Again, worship doesn’t primarily even require music. Read what Blankschaen says about this. You’ll see that he’s not even talking about the I-IV-V chord monotony; he is specifically addressing the lack of doctrinal and Biblical substance:

What most churches do is dumb down the lyrics to keep them accessible to everyone, thereby stripping the church of its deep doctrinal roots and preventing the people from understanding biblical truths they need to navigate the cultural storms ahead.

Gloria Gaither (one of my real-life heroes) once spoke about the need for memorization. I don’t have the quote offhand, but if anyone needs/wants it, I’ll gladly find it. In summary, she explains that we don’t expect children to understand the deep truths of scripture and hymns and literature–that’s not why we teach children great truths. We teach them great truths so that when they are in a moment of crisis, they have some hope to draw upon, things that are instilled in their hearts. For the past year or so, I’ve been working on a really ridiculous study of the Psalms (oh, I can’t wait to share it with you!), and one of the recurring forms I’ve noted is that psalmists (particularly David) don’t just cry out to God. There is this amazing moment where faith is professed–and then the psalmist cries out, and God hears. It works something like “The LORD is my strength, my shelter”–a somewhat general profession of what God is to the psalmist; and then a practical and specific cry “LORD, shelter me from the onslaught of my enemies.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not promoting a “name it, claim it” sort of theology or anything of the sort. What I’m suggesting is that when we find ourselves in trouble, our crying out to God must come from an intellectual and spiritual belief–some truth that we’ve already hidden in our heart, in our mind. That is certainly not to say that God cannot or does not answer those who cry out to Him in a sudden need, or a sudden realization of who He is. But the occurrence in the Psalms is one of professing, reminding the self of truth–and then crying out in hope and need, trusting it to be true. It’s the congruence and dissonance of believing a truth with the inner man and then also believing a truth in practice. Those are the moments–when the world is falling apart and we need to remember what our spirit accepts as true so we aren’t tossed about by emotions and immediate circumstances–when we draw upon the songs, the verses, and the doctrines of our faith. What I read in Blankschaen’s words are a concern that we have stripped our worship (our songs, in this case) to something so devoid of intellect that it won’t be of use to us when struggle finds us. And struggle will find us. It always does. I don’t want to disparage any songwriter by quoting any song here–because, as a songwriter, I know how difficult (and how easy) it can be to write something that works, something that is usable, something that is catchy enough to leave people wanting to sing it again (and I don’t mean that as ridicule).

But let’s be honest: This is happening in our churches. We are dumbed down for a lack of loving our own history. In the course of my lifetime, the words “tradition” and “ritual” and “religion” have become dirty words of judgment; they are our generation’s version of calling someone a Pharisee or a Sadducee. And yes–there is a danger in the mindless repetition, in the trusting of the intellect and the ritual over the spirit of God. But no–that does not negate the importance of ritual.

I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth and his words about corporate worship. He is speaking specifically about tongues and prophecy, and he says,

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:14-15, ESV)

The point I always come to with this passage is (again–congruence) one of accepting both sides of a truth: Our faith is a matter both of the spirit and of the intellect. No man can live (and die) for a “faith” he doesn’t intellectually accept as true. But that is where we are. We have focused so heavily on one that we’ve neglected the other. The point isn’t that we must be theologians or trained in exegesis or masters of Christian apologetics–nothing like that. The point, quite simply, is that our spirit and our mind must be in agreement about truth, or one will eventually undermine the other. The danger in relying solely upon our mind is that we never move from professing the truth to trusting that truth in our circumstances, as the psalmist did. And conversely, the danger in relying upon our spirit without our mind is that when we desperately need a truth to trust in, we won’t be able to draw upon one–because we won’t have one. The modern Church is a battleground of souls who’ve fallen apart time and time again because they’ve been taught to rely solely upon their spirit.

And what happens when your spirit is broken?

What happens when you are consumed with grief or despair?

What happens when there is no relief from your physical or emotional pain?

Do we have a truth to remind ourselves of? Do we have words of hope and life to cry out, or do we drown in an ocean of Christian music jargon?

It’s time to employ both our minds and our spirits in worship again–in teaching, in breaking bread, in song, in giving.

Blankschaen’s second struggle with singing in church is repetition. This is important, simply for irony’s sake. Bill says,

There is a place for repetition…once you go beyond that place, it just gets annoying and becomes a barrier to worship.

The irony is what I shared a few moments ago: Religion and ritual and tradition are frowned upon by much of this worship movement. The “vain repetition” that many traditional churches are accused of (and frankly, looked down upon for) is no different than the “vain repetition” of the newest three-chord song–yet one is disdained and the other is lauded as “of the Spirit.” I submit to you, friends, that this is an amazing hypocrisy within the Church.

As Blankschaen aptly points out, there is a place for repetition. There is a purpose for repetition. And I honestly don’t believe that there is anything wrong with private repetition in worship, as long as it, too, is done in the right place and purpose. There are times when I will be alone in worship, and I will play the same chord on my guitar over and over. And I’ll gladly share sometime why I do that. But I also know that there’s a particular danger in musical repetition in the setting of corporate worship. Music, if you didn’t know, is incredibly tied to emotion. Heaven forbid we mistake the emotional pull of the music for a moving of God’s Spirit. Heaven forbid we use the emotional pull of music to simulate a moving of God’s Spirit!

The purpose, I believe, of repetition (whether in music or speech, etc) is memorization. We repeat things we want to remember. We lead our children to repeat things we want to teach them. If our children are learning to repeat songs that (as pointed out previously) lack intellectual truth, then exactly what are we wanting them to learn? And what exactly will they draw on when they are older and face crises of faith?

Finally, Blankschaen’s third objection is that we’ve exchanged singing for performing. I will say that I don’t believe (and I sincerely hope I’m right) that this isn’t as big of an issue as it seems. What I mean is, there are definitely churches where this has happened; but I think of my own church, where the musicians during the contemporary service are set up in front of the congregation, and it has never once felt to me like they were performing for us or that we expected a performance of them. Frankly, our worship has never been about the talents of the men and women who play their instruments; it has never been about the voice of those who lead us in singing. It has always been about joining together in common faith and common love for Christ. So I suspect there are a lot of churches in the middle of discussions like that who need to not be lumped into either camp.

Here is what Bill says:

Performing, not singing…instead of singing together with one voice.

There is such a muddy ground between singing and performing. I daresay, many singers don’t realize they’re doing it. As a musician, it is important to me that music in the church is done well. That in itself is an act of worship (we give God our best, humbly and obediently–whether it is music, theology, science, literature, painting fences, digging ditches).

I want to urge you back to 1 Corinthians 14. At least a half dozen times in that chapter, Paul mentions “building up” the church. If there’s a theme to the chapter, to me, this is it. That’s why we gather. That’s why we worship. That’s the point of having a body. We come together as one and edify the Body. The gathering of Christians for worship is not the time or the place for an exhibition of skill or talent. Church is not a concert. We don’t go there to hear the songs we love. We don’t go there to hear the sermons that tell us how right and good we are. We don’t go there to edify our own self, our own desires, our own interests. We are there for the mutual edification of the Body of Christ.

If the mutual edification of the Body isn’t the purpose of corporate worship, friends, what is? Maybe that, in particular, is more to the point of the problem. Maybe instead of talking about the symptoms (ie: repetition, performance, and dumbing down of lyrics), we need to ask a new and pointed question:

What is the purpose of corporate worship?

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The Stuff of Legends

Every Family Historian has a few brick wills she will attempt to climb every now and again when the maze has confounded her. One of mine comes from my first Family History vacation in 2012.

After visiting and touring the church, after walking the length and breadth of the cemetery, we met with some of the family at Uncle John’s place. We sat in his man cave, sharing stories, drinking beer (for those of us who drink beer), laughing, remembering, swearing to not let so much time pass before our next visit. There is nothing as good as listening to uncle stories. There is nothing as wonderful as not knowing which stories are true, which are tease, and which are faded in between by the beer.

When we returned to the hotel that night, I typed the following, dated April 12, 2012:

 John remembered his dad talking about the Old Country. He told John the Schmitzers were a nomadic tribe, and they moved around quite a bit. At one point, he told John, the Schmitzers settled in Czechoslovakia. When John asked why they moved around so much, he said his dad answered him, “without batting an eye, without the faintest hint of a smile,” that they were always “one step ahead of the Law.”

At the time, I dismissed it as “too much beer.” It was so far-fetched and so random–and there had been mention of our ancestors being horse thieves (to be honest, I think the expression was “Czechoslovakian horse thieves”). I mean, really. Horse thieves?

But the truth is, I’ve learned enough about Family History to know that Family Legend comes from somewhere. When we tell family stories, we don’t just make them up. Usually, there is some element of truth to them–whether big or small. And so, despite the fact that my gut tells me the Schmitzers did not descend from Czechoslovakian horse thieves, this Legend remains one of my brick walls. Every now and again, when my research has left me asking “what next,” I turn around and try to scale the wall. As of yet, I’ve made no progress connecting the Schmitzer clan to Czechoslovakia or horse thievery.

Two years ago at the Schmitzer Reunion, I was blessed to meet the amazing daughter of a woman who served as Secretary on the Reunion committee for a number of years. She graciously gifted me a brown paper bag which had held its treasures for years apparent. The giving itself humbled me speechless. The contents astounded me.

Journal entries of each Schmitzer Reunion detailed who attended, what monies were paid out, who would serve on the following year’s committee, and anything noteworthy that had been discussed or presented for the family’s benefit. Births and deaths, marriages and graduations, names and addresses often grouped by Clan, and a random photograph of my own handsome grandfather in his young adulthood–these are the rare jewels of which Family Historians dream! I guarded them dearly, eager to come home and sift through it all. And here, two and half years later, I have still not completed the task.

Last weekend, I pulled out the sturdy box where I’ve stored these treasures, and I tackled the stack of letters. Yes, letters. Oh, how my heart lifted! Notes written from family members who couldn’t make it to the given year’s reunion were (as I understand) either read or made available for everyone to read at the reunion. Therein, I have stumbled upon two amazing finds. The first, a letter written by my grandmother the year after my grandfather died. I’ll share more about this another time.

But the second was a letter stuffed into a plain, non-postmarked envelope with the word “Important” underlined on the front. And on the inside? A treasure from the real Family Historian! As if it isn’t enough to read a letter from my great-uncle Alois, to work through his post-script notes on the family history, I stumbled upon a brick from a wall I’ve been unable to scale:

I want to say that what Uncle Martin said and Uncle Albert denied about Schmitzers migrating from Czeck to Germany is most likely true.

German clans were fighting and killing each other during the 1500 and 1600 hundreds, some other civilized groups were also involved I guess. Anyway, they did not have enough men to work and run farms and businesses, so they offered Czecks, Italians, and Swiss opportunities to come. Zehnders came from Switzerland and some others. Also, I found out some came from Italy. Bavaria, Italy, and Czeck borders are all close together or were at that time. Later Austria took over some of Italy’s northern border.

Letter from Alois Schmitzer, dated 19 July 1972.

But is it true?

It may be, and it may not be. It’s going to take an amazing amount of time and research, and it may end with no more certainty than I have at this moment. Still, I now have two relatives relaying similar Family Legend. No doubt my Uncle John’s story came from his father–my grandfather, who was Alois’ brother; and no doubt Alois and Grandpa heard it from their uncles, who seemed to have some disagreement about the matter in a manner publicly enough that folks at the 1972 Reunion would know what Alois letter was implying.

Are you intrigued?

I am totally intrigued.

Wish me luck!

 

 

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Isolation

There’s an old lyric from Caedmon’s Call:

I love anonymity and I love being noticed–just the same as anybody else.

Years ago, I told you how I love to be alone; these days I’d be perjuring myself.

I’ve loved these words for years, because I think it’s true for many musicians, many artists. We grow up feeling totally out of place; we long for solitude to make sense of our art; and after years of being the wallflower who observes life all around, we yearn for the intimacy of being in the throes of life’s squall. The process may be different for each of us, and maybe it happens more than once (maybe it’s cyclical?…oh dear Lord, I hope not…) or in different patterns, but there exists somewhere in our creative mind a place that affirms the juxtaposition: I love anonymity; I love being noticed.

Recently, through an amazingly odd turn of events, I found myself with access to an empty house.

I was elated.

The thought of having this space to myself for any given amount of time was an amazing thrill. It is every artist’s dream to have an empty space to fill with the stuff of their practice and creation. And it just so happens, for this songwriter, it is more than empty space; it is wooden floors and high ceilings and wide open spaces kind of empty space (wide open spaces?…there’s a Psalm about this). It is an acoustic heaven.

One night, as the sky settled into starless night, as the neighbors all shut down and drifted to sleep, as the words of a new song meandered about me like a fog that cannot lift, I felt it: Isolation.

Solitude is a blessing, right?

Except that it isn’t. It cannot be…unless it is balanced by the commotion of fellowship. When it lacks balance, it is no longer solitude; it is isolation.

Yes, another fence-post from Sarah. You must accept the two things which seem contradictory, or you forfeit them both. Perhaps you come to a different conclusion, but for me, the only answer is to accept the contradiction. Tozer writes about God’s justice and mercy in this regard. If we were able to remove God’s justice, there would be no need for His mercy. And if we removed His mercy, justice would simply be cruelty. They are balanced inclusively with one another like dueling sides of a mountain.

The moral here is not so much a moral as it is a plea.

From one artist to many others.

Please…

…don’t let me isolate myself.

I am sorely tempted as of late. I am hurting and confused and frustrated by many events of the past year. I am heartbroken and grief-stricken and overwhelmed by sorrow. I know it is a season; I know it will pass; I know that nothing stays the same forever (except the Changeless One). But if you think of me, please reach out to me. Even if I don’t respond (which I am prone to do), I promise–I notice. And I appreciate. I save those texts, those voicemails, those emails, those cards. I hold them dear like treasures a child finds at the beach on a beautiful summer day.

They are balm to an weary and wounded soul.

Pax Christi.

Sarah

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The Search for a Presidential Candidate: Part I

The Search for a Presidential Candidate: Part I


On Thursday, August 6, 2015, Fox News partnered with Facebook to host the first Republican debate for the 2016 Presidential race. I won’t lie: I was enraptured by the event, even though it’s been years since I considered myself a Republican. With seventeen candidates, the debate was broken into two tiers, the Big Leagues debated at 9pm, EST, while the JV aired at 5pm, EST. I won’t bore you (or myself) by listing each candidate, giving commentary or play-by-play, et cet. If you haven’t done so, please go back and read A Prologue so you know what I’m looking for and at in this election cycle.

I categorized the candidates into three groups that made sense to me. The first group were those that I just don’t see as plausible candidates, either for the nation, or for my conscience. This group is Too Little, Too Late. These candidates, I thought, were just trying to maintain a position, and I have nothing to say on their behalf. It is unlikely I would even consider casting my vote for these candidates. The second group is Great Expectations.  These candidates were the ones I expected to really connect with, candidates I want to get behind and cheer on. Three candidates fell into this group. And finally, the Come Have Sunday Tacos at the Moore House group. These were the candidates that I really connected with based on their presentation at the debate, and only three made it to this group.

Today, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about the three candidates I carefully placed in the Great Expectations category.

Senator Rand Paul is the first (and obviously first) choice for my Great Expectations Group. He is probably the most blatant (and perhaps the only) Libertarian choice, if you couldn’t tell with all of that “Fourth Amendment” stuff he pummeled against Christie. I expected, by reason of Libertarian Solidarity, to be amazed and impressed by him; I simply wasn’t. While I totally agreed with his Fourth Amendment pummel, I thought his demeanor was a bit “I’m louder than you.” This is not how an argument is won or a debate is decided; more importantly, it is not how hearts and minds are persuaded. It doesn’t mean cat-poop if he “beats” Christie at this debate if people walk away shaking their heads at “two more politicians fighting about who can be louder.” The irritation and volume Paul exhibited is concerning to me for that reason.

I do appreciate that he is willing to say things that are controversial and unpopular (ie: The Fourth Amendment; calling Trump out on splitting the vote; et cet.). And I appreciate his Libertarian views. I did, however, find him very “I need to be your candidate!”

The next time I hear Paul speak, I want to hear about his tax proposal–I’ve heard rumors of glory, but for all his noise this week, I’ve heard nothing about his infamous tax proposal. I also would like to hear him express why it is important to talk about the Fourth Amendment. Look, Americans (particularly Republicans, I think) have this idea that sometimes we need to forfeit a little freedom in order to maintain safety or economic security or fill-in-the-blank. There’s a serious danger in doing so, and instead of getting into a shouting contest with Christie (and face it, you’re not going to “win” a shouting contest with a man that loud and bully), take this opportunity to remind the American people of that danger.

So yes, Paul–you’re redeemable at this point. Please. If I have to move you from one group to another (and I do; you’re not allowed to stay in the same group forever), I’d rather move you to the “Taco” group than the “Too Little, Too Late” group.

Senator Ted Cruz is the second candidate on the list. I wish I had much to say about this man, but I just don’t. I have exceptionally high expectations of him because Beck seems to like him. He seems to be relatively consistent with policy, which is good. Cruz is obviously both well-spoken and intelligent. So why did I land him in this group? Two reasons. First, there was all of this monkey-business last week about him calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a “liar.” Now listen–dishonesty is dishonesty. If McConnell lied, someone ought to call him out on it. I honestly don’t even know the context in which the L-word was used, or to what it referred. So it’s a precarious question mark for me: How do we balance the need to call one another to honesty without being the bully I referred to in A Prologue? Does calling someone a liar make Cruz a mud-slinger? Not necessarily. It made me step back. To be fair, however, the few times I’ve heard Cruz interviewed, he has graciously turned the topic back to the issues facing our nation every time the media has tried to corner him with a “gotcha” about one of the other candidates. So I do think I have to be careful not to disregard Cruz just yet.

My second issue with Cruz is probably more important. I appreciate an intelligent, articulate person–and Cruz is definitely both of these things. I wonder, though, where his convictions are. I often wonder what politicians are passionate about. It is probably easy to get caught up in the humdrum of political life, and forget that holding public office is (and should be) about serving the people who elected you. I don’t mean to imply that Cruz has forgotten this; only…that I would really love to see him get riled up about something. Not riled up like Paul or Christie or Trump; but riled up like a man who knows that the actions (or lack) of the next president are going to make or break us. Again, maybe he feels passionate. As a candidate, I want to hear it in his voice. I want to see it in his eyes. I want to sense it in his body language and his address.

So Cruz? I want to have you over for Tacos. But Tacos at the Moore House are very high honor, and you’ll have to convince me that you can handle it. I sincerely hope you do.

Finally, and with a still unconvinced heart, I offer Dr. Ben Carson. Carson has been my candidate from the first moment I heard him speak–long before we were ever discussion this election. His tone, his manner, his conviction, his respect, his humility and even keel–these won my affection early on, and continue to win me. I have an amazing amount of respect for Carson, and the diligence he exemplifies. So why am I putting him in the Expectations group?

Oh, Ben. I wish I didn’t have to.

The first question addressed to Carson was very poignant, and I found myself feeling that my feathers were ruffled a bit on Carson’s behalf (which is why you never want to vote for me–for anything). Nonetheless, Carson answered the question better than anyone could have, I think. His point was brilliant, that our Founding Fathers were not career politicians; they were thinking, working, reading, philosophical men. And I do feel that having and using a brain is a better item for your resume than your years in office.

This just…isn’t it. There’s a place in the course of history for this man–mark my words. Maybe he is a future president; maybe he is an ambassador; maybe he cures cancer; maybe he is Secretary of State; maybe…who knows? But right now, at this moment…I’m just not convinced that this is the moment or the role. There are very decisive things that need to happen under the next presidency, and I’m not sure Carson is ready to do them.

I would love to be wrong. I invite you, Carson–to show me that I’m wrong. I want to get you into that Taco group.

That’s all for now, friends. I’ll share the Taco group sometime this week. In the meantime, is there anyone you’d like to see step up their game?

Pax,

Sarah

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The Search for a Presidential Candidate: A Prologue

The Search for a Presidential Candidate: A Prologue


There are three things I want to be forthright about before I delve into my thoughts about the candidates.

Number I. I consider myself a Libertarian. I find that I am not quite as Libertarian as most of the Libertarians I know, and this frustrates both them and me. The likelihood, at any rate, of me voting for a True Blue Democrat or a Red Handed Republican is gone with yesterday, never to be seen again. My feeling thus far is that the Democratic party will not have any candidates to tempt me. I am, however, open to any new faces that come to the show.

Number II. About a year ago, I contemplated how to best use my vote in this election. I don’t want to waste a vote, you see? I hear so many Libertarians and mid-road voters say that to vote Third Party would basically be throwing a vote away. I want to be clear: I disagree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. Wasting a vote would be casting it for a man or woman whose character and policies contradict my own. So how do I spend my vote wisely, seeing as I only have one? I set a standard, that’s how. And what is that standard? For me, it is twofold.

First, it means that I’m not going to spend my support and vote on a mud-slinger. That’s right. The money that is wasted in this country on smear campaigns is ridiculous and offensive to the needs around the world. It offends every fiber of my being. So candidates who are spending money to disparage other candidates? Candidates who employ a name-calling, loudest-voice-wins-the-argument, bully tactic? I’m sorry, but how you speak of another human being tells others more about you than it does the other. Honestly, we’ve had enough of that nonsense in our governing offices.

Second, it means that when a candidate speaks, I’m listening for content and not advertisement. Listen, I understand. With seventeen candidates aching for the Republican party nomination, this first debate was a big deal; It was a defining moment, whereby many candidates were going to sink or swim. It was almost necessary to have a thirty-second blurb that you could revert to when you had a moment to speak, otherwise you may never have another moment to “sell yourself” to the voter. I get it. But don’t you think we’ve had enough of slogans and sales tactics? This nation doesn’t need the best price, the best deal, the newest model. We are seeking a Leader, not a Used Car Salesman. And for that matter, I’m not interested in promos and political promises. “This is why you need me in office” doesn’t cut it. “I’ll defund Planned Parenthood” is a vain promise or threat, depending on your stance. How about substance? Give us some meat and keep your dainties for when you’re entertaining the political elite.

Number III. I don’t often write about politics. Quite frankly, if there’s one sure way to scare off my three blog viewers, it’s to wax political (hm…wax political? Wax politic? Anyone know the proper way to say what I just attempted?). In fact, I’m not sure what is stirring in me that requires writing about it here, but it definitely does. Please understand that my words are, in no way, an attempt at persuasion: I value the society that allows men and women to freely think, speak, and disagree with one another. Neither are my words a vain endorsement: It is much too early in the presidential race to avow myself to any candidate. Again, I want to be absolutely clear about this fact: I am not a political blogger. I am not a political anything. I’m just me. I’m just a mid-thirties gal who is trying to be informed and involved in the issues facing this nation and this world. I know it’s almost cliché to say this, but I sincerely believe that we are living at a precarious moment in history. It’s time for Americans to be awake and aware of what is happening around them, not to simply throw themselves at the mercy of a candidate or a party or one solitary conviction. That’s right–I don’t think we’re at a place in our nation’s history where we can afford to vote solely the abortion issue. It’s time to expect more of men and women and accept less of the status quo.

If you’ve read this far and your head hasn’t exploded, I encourage you to stay tuned. Tomorrow morning, I will share my first blog about the Presidential Candidates.

Pax,

Sarah

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A Few Ends

I thought I’d share a few snippets of what I’ve been working on so y’all don’t think I’ve totally neglected writing. I hope you find a line or a phrase or a word or a meter that you appreciate.

One for Amy…

Oh open your heart, love

To imperfect lives, love

Sometimes true beauty shines

In how we give

Of our time, love

And all that we are, love

You’ll never find another heart like her

And how about this…

You can smell it–

If you Breathe in slowly–

The cool and the crisp

Of Superior.

And if you silence your heart–

And you silence your phone–

You can hear Her soft whispers of love

To the shore.

One for the guy who doesn’t love me…

I’m  so aware

Of your whiskers and eyes

Your fingernails and

Your guitar.

Your warm, gentle fingers

So treacherously close

It takes all of my will

To keep mine where they are.

And one for a friend we made in Eau Claire in May, who is now eight months past her brain tumor removal…

Miracles happen every day

Every breath you breathe, every step you take

And every beat of your heart

It echoes the very heart of God, the steady pulse of Love

Each day is a gift

What will you do with it?

Pax, yo.

Sar

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