Sunday, January 28, 2007


Once again the three-ring circus that is the Symposium on Worship has concluded. After six worship services, a dozen presentations, and countless encouraging and stimulating conversations with people doing and teaching and loving worship, Debra and I are both exhausted.

One of the best parts of Symposium is that because so much is going on, it is a hot house for serendipitous connections: connections between gospel music and liturgical dance; between the cruciform glory of God and alternative worship practices; between old and new friends.

Some of this year's highlights included a fun Friday night at a local brew joint with a collection of our favorite Fuller folk (and honorary Fuller folk): Clay Schmit, Fred & Dottie Davison, Luke Hyder, Todd Farley, Chuck Fromm, Mary Hulst, and Eric Jacobsen. Whatever else you say about folks in California, manifesting the eschatological joy of the kingdom (i.e. partying) comes a bit easier to them than it does to us dour and frozen Midwestern Calvinists. We don't really deserve to enjoy ourselves, we think.

Deb presented on her/our recent work on words in worship; I presented on developments in the emerging/alt church.

I think my presentations went well, but suffered from their context. That is to say, the fellow presenting just before me was Doug Gay. His topic was similar to mine (he's one of the authors, in fact, of the book on alternative worship, titled Alternative Worship). Add to this the fact that he was brilliant, charming, tall, and... to top it all off, Scottish. So he spoke brilliantly and charmingly from on high about "Altairnative Woarship" while I followed him speaking competently, if nasally, a bit closer to the ground, about "Alternutive Wuurrship." Fortunately, I had a lot of pictures in my presentation.

Even more fortunately, Doug had some free time when Symposium concluded, so he came to church with us yesterday morning, and then came over for brunch. Another serendipitous connection between two practitioners and thinkers that is now a connection between friends.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nerd Squared

I had a wonderful lunch meeting today with a friend of mine, and fellow worship-wonk, Sue Rozeboom. We talked liturgy pedagogy and Ph.D. work and all sorts of other stuff, continuing a conversation we'd begun a few weeks ago while in a minivan on the way to Toronto for NAAL - the conference of the North American Academy of Liturgy. It was during that conversation, that ride up, that I came face to face with my inner dweeb (again), and during the conference that I really owned it. Sue and I and our companion, John Witvliet, were talking about a particular Swiss liturgy of some centuries ago, and one of us made a joke -- I can't even remember the details now -- a joke about whether or not that liturgy had a "split epiklesis." And we laughed. In our defense, we did then laugh at the fact that we laughed. But still.

No, if you're wondering; split epiklesis is not suggestive, it's just dorky.

"Huh." I said to myself. "I am far gone. This Ph.D. thing is doing it, I think. Maybe Mia (my daughter) is right about me. Perhaps I belong in the abyss of utter and hopeless nerdiness."

I discovered at the conference that in that abyss are some wonderful people. But they are odd. Odder than most academics. They have the mild-to-severe social awkwardness of your average "smartest kid in the class" types. But these are liturgy wonks. So you have to factor in the "church nerd" component (increased not by simple addition, but by an order of magnitude), and it turns out these folks we folks are off the charts. So yep: I belong.

Further proof: the "worship wonk" annual academic conference this year was held in early January in TORONTO. Brrrrr. (Ok, to be fair, last year was in SanDiego; but still -- Toronto?! Ever heard of the Bahamas, people? Or some choice island in the South Pacific? Doesn't anyone want to do a study of liturgical hulu dancing?)

Further proof: one of the best practical conferences for folks like me is held in late January in Grand Freezing Rapids. But more on that in a few days.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Don't miss it -- tomorrow night (that's Friday, January 19) is the premiere of my baby sister's new TV show, Ms. Adventure! It's on at 9:00 p.m. on Animal Planet. Since we don't have cable, we're going to a big party my folks are hosting to celebrate.

We've been watching rough cuts of the episodes as she sends them to us, and the show is funny and informative and just plain entertaining. Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Recollection of Genius

Yesterday's post about drum circles reminded me of a funny song lyric written by our genius friend Andrew Burnett. He wrote it for the comedy show we started together at PTS in 1992, Theologiggle. The lyric doesn't mention drumming explicitly, but the reference is there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

The opening skit of the show was a spoof Gilbert & Sullivan musical number, "I Am the Very Model of a Princeton Seminarian." It consisted of a handful of seminarian caricatures each singing a verse introducing themselves.
  • there was the brown-nosing, nerdy super-student, who sang: "I've memorized the dates and times significant in history/but the other kind of dating, I'm afraid, is still a mystery."
  • the insufferably arrogant Old Testament Ph.D. candidate: "I gladly share my knowledge of the sources extra-biblical/That show the Hebrew scriptures for their time were pretty typical."
  • the crunchy-granola eco-feminist: "I've done my best to rescue the rain forests of the Amazon/in winter I turn down the heat and put my wool pajamas on."
  • the pragmatic, about-to-graduate senior: "I've got new glasses, done my hair to make my image glossier/I've heard it's the first thing they look at your dossier."
And the theological adventurer, whose whole verse goes thus:
I am the very model of a Princeton Seminarian.
When I arrived, it's true, I was a boring Trinitarian;
Confined within the constructs of my heritage confessional;
But now I can equivocate just like a real professional.

I've known the tension and the angst of circles hermeneutical;
My quest for authenticity has been so therapeutical;
I've been a fool; thought I was cool for being neo-orthodox;
But now I've seen the light while dancing naked at the equinox.

I used to think in black and white my doctrines Calvinistical;
But now I know to claim absolute truth is egotistical;
I thank thee, God, that I am not like Hodge predestinarian,
I am the very model of a Princeton Seminarian.

It's pretty cold in Michigan on March 21, but I make no promises about where I'll be that night. Especially if there's a full moon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Own the Groove

As I mentioned in the last post, Deb got me a wonderful Christmas present this year: a beautiful djembe drum. It's hewn from a solid piece of Indonesian mahogany, and has great decorative carvings on the side. Deb got it from a far off (and far out) guy in California who spends his days surfing and tending to his, er…., exotic herb garden. But he also plays and skins and tunes and sells drums. And he carves messages into the bottom of them.

One could reasonably wonder: On what occasions could a pastor and Ph.D. student in worship possibly make use of a drum? More than you'd think, as it turns out:

1) I played in a drum circle on New Year's Eve at the home of our good friends the Keeleys. Around the hour of our arbitrarily designated transition moment from one year to the next (because of small children we don't wait for midnight), we made a small drum circle -- me and Bob and Bryan and Meredith's boyfriend Calvin, and whoever else picked up some sort of percussive noise-maker. The movie here is from early in the night; later on Bob found a great groove in 5/4 and we worked that for a while. It's a much better way to spend New Year's Eve than getting smashed on champagne and kissing whoever happens to be close by at midnight.

2) Then this past Sunday I played in our church, for the first time as designated percussionist. I've played guitar and clarinet and recorder before, but this was quite different. While everyone else was trying to hit or tune the right notes, worrying about the key modulation on verse four, or just finding their place on the page -- I sat there with an empty music stand at my side, and a drum in my lap, trying to find the groove. I'm not so worried about owning it just yet. Just trying to find it.

A djembe is great to play because it's so versatile, with both a deep, resonant boom when struck in the middle, a sharp snap when struck towards the edge of the drumhead, and lots of other sonic possibilities in between. Helping me find the groove Sunday was my colleague Greg Scheer, the music pastor at our church. Like me, he enjoys inventing the fun onomatopoeic words percussionists use to describe the sounds we want to produce. The shaker, for example, makes a "shukka shukka" sound. And, as he told me Sunday, when you use nylon brushes on the djembe, sliding and slapping them on the drum head, you might be looking for a groove that sounds like this: "whooka sh-sh thuuk thuuk, whooka sh-sh thuuk thuuk." (This phrase © 2007 Greg Scheer Music, ASCAP).

3) It turns out Greg is also the leader of our church's drum circle, which meets this week Thursday night. I can't wait. Now, I know all the jokes about drum circles and male bonding. After all, I went to grad school in the 90s. I know about Robert Bly and feminist backlash, the myth of Iron John (or Iron Ron) and the news stories that tell, in a chuckling sort of way, about male-bonding retreats: gangs of sweaty and hairy men, dragging their sons into the woods at astrologically propitious times to howl at the moon, tell stories of the hunt, and bang on goat-skin drums. But Greg tells me the church drum circle is not like that. Our drum skins are sheep, not goat.

Anyway how cool is it that our church has a drum circle? We are about as far from "alt" worship as you can find, but the last time I did a drum circle in church was in L.A., at a very emerging congregation called "Tribe." One of the unique things about Tribe is that when they worship on Sunday evenings, everyone gathers in a large circle in a dimly candle-lit room, and grabs a drum. (The worship leader is a professional percussionist).

Though there is a bit of an electronic keyboard providing some harmonic structure, it is the rhythm that channels and focuses the congregation's energy Godward as they drum and sing their praise and prayers and Psalms during the first 20 minutes of worship. It's visceral and different, and exactly right for this congregation. I don't know if I could do it every week, but it was pretty great a few times last year.

So thanks to Deb, I now own the drum. And thanks to Bob and Greg and others, I may someday own the groove. Right now, I'm enjoying just leasing it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Catching Cold, Catching Up

It's not surprising that over the holidays the whole family fell prey to whatever flu-like illness is going around this year. Once the pressures of school and work let up, our bodies' immune systems pretty much collapsed without the constant adrenaline reinforcement. (Skeptical? Here comes the science). It lasted 24 hours for me, a bit longer for the kids, and a stubborn strain laid Debra low two separate times, leaving her weak during the intervening week. Thankfully, after a massive surge of homemade turkey soup, emergenC, and prayers for healing, it appears as though we've finally got the bugs on the run. And so, time to once again blog instead of bluurgh.
While not being sick these past weeks, various members of the family enjoyed doing typically seasonal things -- including a visit to the reindeer at Meijer gardens, a wonderful Christmas worship service at CoS, a gourmet meal prepared by my nuclear radiologist brother-in-law, lots of fun conversations with uncles and aunts, an afternoon of bowling with cousins (it would have been sledding, except for, well, global less-cooling, I suppose), and the sorry embarrassment that was the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Of course, there was also our only moderately reluctant ritual participation in the pagan Santa cycle of acquisition/consumption/disposal (thanks, Dell deChant). It yielded a Lego Star Wars ship for the boys, an iPod Nano for Mia (see her next year depicted here), a book of Roz Chast cartoons for Deb, and a Kalimantan mahogany djembe for me.

We can hope that by doing our dharmic duty we have once again appeased the gods of the Economy. But I'm not taking any chances when it comes to divine retribution: I'm playing my djembe in church on Sunday. That way, I sound my gratitude to the God of the Universe with the instrument of my placation to the god of the economy. If either is the appeasing kind, that should do the trick. Don't know how Deb and the kids can swing something like that with their gifts. Let's hope they don't incur some sort of punishment. Like getting sick.