Friday, March 30, 2007

A Moment in the Sun

I haven't posted for a while here because I've been busy preparing for, flying to, and then fulfilling my obligations at a speaking engagement in...

wait for it...


I think this makes up for that whole worship wonks don't know when and where to meet thing.

Then again, the conference wasn’t for worship wonks. Sponsored by Hawaiian Island Ministries, it's an annual gathering for church leaders of all sorts, with all sorts of interests. But they did have a handful of specialized tracks: a “youth” track, a “ministering to military” track, a “parenting” track, and the worship track. It’s a really well-run show, featuring some outstanding people – and I don’t just mean the speakers, but the organizers and the attenders, too.

And everything they tell you about Island hospitality is true. The Hawaiian Convention Center is a spectacularly beautiful building; the people are warm and friendly – where else do you get introduced to speak by someone who gives you a hug, a kiss of peace, and then puts a floral garland around your neck? I think we should adopt it in all the churches of the mainland: the liturgical lei.

I gave three related talks on worship, and found my sessions well-attended (and well-received, I think) by some earnest, eager-to-learn people. Many came in without having been intentionally reflective about worship before, and found their circuit-breakers popped by rather simple ideas (e.g. worship is more than≠ music; or that a “congregation = audience; leaders = players” mindset reinforces an alarmingly God-free picture of what happens in worship). At the same time, they knew more than they thought they did, and offered some spiritually insightful responses when I asked them, for example, why they came to worship each week.

Though I made use at times of material developed by or for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, I was actually brought to Hawaii under the auspices of the Brehm Center at Fuller Seminary. So in addition to the three general talks I gave, my colleague Ed Willmington and I led a cohort of a dozen or so students in some more intensive training as a first-step on their way to receiving, 18 months hence, a certification in Worship, Theology and the Arts from Fuller.

I think programs like this are important. In so many churches, especially evangelical churches, those who are the worship leaders have no theological training, and a subtle sub-cultural anti-intellectualism ensures that they won’t be going to seminary to get any. But they have a holy fear about what they do, and are very appreciative of the opportunity to deepen their own understanding and practice of worship. I know our cohort will be going back to their churches eager to see what God will do with some of the tools they acquired in our time together.

But now the conference is over, and I have one free day to spend in this tropical paradise – Palm Sunday among the Palms. Think I’m going snorkeling with some sea turtles and dolphins. Hosanna and Aloha!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We CAN'T Be the Only Ones to Think of This

HOLLYWOOD, CA -- As the TV phenomenon American Idol enters the exciting countdown-to-the-winner phase of its sixth season, FOX network announced today an inevitable development: a spin-off, set to begin airing next winter. Evangelical Idol will search from coast to coast for America's next great worship leader.

"We're looking for people with a heart for God, who know how to bring worship to the next level," said Louie Giglio, recently hired by FOX to produce the show. "It's not enough to be a great vocalist. We're looking for star power--people who know when to close their eyes or raise their hands, when to make their voice break, when to modulate up a step. It takes the whole package to praise with passion and power week after week, to bring the Spirit of God in the house."

According to a FOX press release, the judges for the show have already been signed. With the Randy-Paula-Simon formula so crucial to the success of American Idol, it's no surprise that the three judges for Evangelical Idol correspond obviously to their secular counterparts.

In Randy Jackson's seat will be Texas musician David "Our Love is Loud" Crowder, who will bring industry savvy and gen-x grunge cred after years of experience in arena worship settings. Unlike Jackson, Crowder will be unlikely to call anyone "dogg." But according to show insiders, he could easily come out with "Dude, keeping it real... I just didn't feel the Spirit this time. It was just OK, a little pitchy in places. But here's what I love about you...."

Multi-platinum recording artist Amy Grant will bring to the judges' table wisdom (and modest sex appeal) culled from a bygone era of Christian music. Grant is expected, like Paula Abdul, to supply the quasi-maternal voice of compassion and encouragement. Grant blazed trails as a recording artist in the 1980s, raising the profile of the female evangelical artist with her crossover success. With the worship scene still dominated by male guitar messiahs, Grant is expected to help pass the mantle to the next generation of female trail blazers.

Filling perhaps the most difficult role--that of simultaneously beloved and loathed curmudgeon Simon Cowell--will be former Christianity Today columnist Andy Crouch.

"Andy is perfect for this role," stated a FOX network spokesperson. "He has tough objectivity, authoritative manliness, the ability to deliver the prophetic truth. After all, he's not only going to have to tell people they can't sing. He's going to have to tell them that, no, God is NOT calling them to worship leadership. But Andy's got the other half of the Cowell equation, too: the powder-puff heart deep inside."

Crouch will not be leaving his current post as director of the evangelical think tank Culture Makers. When asked about his new role on the show, Crouch stated, "How can I get closer to the heart of culture-making than this? This is where it happens, baby. The worship leaders of today will create the culture of tomorrow."

Crouch also admitted to brushing up his personal image for the show. "I'm scheduled to be fitted next month for tight, black T-shirts. Actually, I think I look pretty good in them."

The network announced an ambitious audition schedule beginning next fall. The crew will hold auditions on megachurch campuses in ten cities across the country, including South Barrington, IL; Colorado Springs, CO; Houston, TX; Lake Forest, CA; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Nashville, TN; and Grand Rapids, MI.

The show's producers also made public a list of potential themes for the last weeks of competition, when competitors will have to lead the studio band in worship songs of their choice from categories such as "Substitutionary Atonement," "Hymn 2.0" (rocked-out versions of traditional hymns), "Christmas Covers," and "X-treme Intimacy with Jesus."

Special guests already signed for the first season to work with the competitors include Worship Leader Magazine editor Chuck Fromm, British songwriter Matt Redman, Down-Under worship diva Darlene Zschech, former members of the Christian metal band Stryper, and professional Christian opinion-giver and bow-tie wearer Martin Marty.

While initial plans had the show airing in the cable ghetto of TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) a chance meeting at a Burbank, California, AYSO soccer game got FOX people involved.

"FOX is already hip to the mighty spending power of evangelicals. Given our past success with the conservative demographic, we immediately saw the opportunity here," said a FOX network executive, who asked to remain anonymous.

"If the show catches on, we're looking at great potential for brand extension. Preliminary talks are already underway for a Liturgical Dancing with the Stars. We've approached Fuller Theological Seminary President Rich Mouw as host."

CAVEAT: This is a joke, OK? Just for laughs. Call off the lawyers. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gaudiamus Igitur

Consumatum est. I took my Latin final today.

How'd I do?

Let me just say: veni vidi vici bootay (or would it be declined boot-am? Well, quem cura.)

We're thinking of having a toga party this weekend to celebrate, based on a friend's dictum. Crank up the tunes! Gaudeamus Igitur!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Poor Mia. About two weeks ago she was playing around with the soccer ball after a practice, and she somehow lost her balance, landed funny, and turned her ankle. I ended up carrying her out to the car it hurt so much.

X-rays revealed that there was nothing broken, but she did have a severe sprain. The doctor said to recuperate she should simply use a warm compress regularly and rest it well.

She's been resting, and we do treat it while she does homework or watches TV -- using a tube sock filled with microwaved dry rice. (Now that's a yummy smell!) It's been two weeks, and she's only now trying to hobble or shuffle around without the crutches. The swelling has gone down some, yet the bruising still mottles all the way up her calf, looking pretty tragic.

This whole experience poses many difficulties for Mia: she has trouble getting around at school, which confounds her sense of easy competence. She absolutely hates asking for help, but she really has no choice. The worst part -- at least for the rest of us in the family -- is that she is so dependent for her psychological well-being upon those endorphins that vigorous exercise produces. No exercise, no endorphins = a remarkably less sunny daughter. Actually, she's been very brave about it all.

Of course, none of us are feeling very sunny here in Michigan. March is here but spring is nowhere to be seen. According to the AccuWeather people, there is a "fast-moving Alberta Clipper system" bringing 3-5 inches of snow to the area tonight. And plenty more clouds. Maybe by the time Mia's ankle is better we'll again be familiar with that golden orb in the sky.

Anyone with experience rehabbing an ankle successfully is welcome to post suggestions and advice.

Or bringing spring any sooner.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Somatic Memory

Our bodies know things that we don't know that we know. Our brains, happily, forget lots of stuff, and what's lost is often gone forever. Who sat three seats in front of you in second grade? Your brain says: Not important. Buh-bye.

But somewhere - in your muscles, your nerves, your guts -- your body remembers what happened to you when you were eight. That's why you can, as the saying goes, "never forget to ride a bike." Even if it's been years since your last two-wheeled trip, you can just hop on, start pedaling, and you're good.

This phenomenon is called "somatic memory." My students don't always believe it when I tell them about it.

I tell them that when they are in a dark building, sitting on cushy seats, surrounded by energetic music, watching something up front (e.g. a large screen on which are projected fast-moving images), they have learned in their somai-- in their retinas and cochlea, in their bones and in their butts -- that they are to be rather passive observers of a bit of entertainment. Their brains may tell them that they are at church, and that this experience is one in which they are to participate fully, consciously, actively -- giving their worship to God. Their worship leaders may even say "come, now is the time to worship, now is the time to give your heart." But their bodies tell them -- based on years of Saturday night movies and hundreds of thousands of hours of television watching: "You're not going anywhere, or giving anything, dude. Kick back and enjoy; this is for you. By the way, wouldn't some popcorn be good right about now?"

Admittedly, this is a rather contentious example, and I can see why some of my students would be hesitant to accept the truth to which it points. So here's a more benign example:

Last week, I'm in a bathroom at a New Jersey church. I go to wash my hands, and notice, under the sink, a small trash can with a foot-pedal mechanism that opens the lid. I push the pedal a few times, just to… I don't know, test it or something. Then I turn my attention to the sink, and -- even though I see the knob right there in front of me, another part of my body overrides my rational function and I push the pedal on the trash can, expecting thereby to turn on the water. Why? Because my body remembers something about using a foot pedal to turn on the water in a washroom. It remembers that lesson from second grade. And third grade. And fourth grade. And so on.

All of which is not to say that we should never worship, or can never worship in the dark building on the cushy seats, etc. But it is to say that we ought to be careful about what somatic memories we invoke in worship. We can correct mistaken ideas. We can't correct our somatic memory -- we have to work with it, or against it. But to do that, we need to know about it. We need to know what we don't know that we know. You know?