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A Vision of the Real Deal

As I was reading back a few posts on this seemingly abandoned and all but outmoded blog, I was struck by how my own worship journey has evolved and transformed in the last three years. In my post about the redirection of this blog, the words were almost prophetic in that even though I haven’t been writing about the deep and dark corners of worship, I have been living in them. It has at times (in fact, most of the time) been uncomfortable and unconventional.

It is common today to not tolerate stances that are between the lines, on the margins or in the grey area. It is popular to view issues as black or white, on or off. Folks are not allowed to struggle with an issue…they must have a conclusion and work it out in silence, only surfacing to awkwardly spout a worn-out argument that is the equivalent of a punchline to a joke. No buildup, no process. Just the end result.

Frustratingly, I find myself constantly in that intermediate quagmire…constantly developing the argument while not ever being fully satisfied with its potency (or legitimacy).

On the topic of this page, that quagmire is that of both personal and corporate worship. Much of what I read about worship doesn’t have a problem with the interpretation of Scripture but rather the application of it. The more I read the Bible, the more I understand it as a descriptive rather than prescriptive document. That is to say, it is not some guide book with rules laid out clearly. At least not mostly. Instead, I am more convinced that it describes the actions and revelations of God through the ages in concert with his people. Life on this side of Jesus is a lot like sailing mysterious and unplied waters. There are some basic guidelines for not capsizing, but eventually you are going to have to improvise. That is the beauty of a relationship; each one is unique and carries its own charm.

And so we come to this thing…this “w” word. Needless to say (but I’m gonna say it anyhow), it carries so much baggage in the Western Christian context that I almost hate saying it. It has been diminished, unfairly categorized, misunderstood and brutalized by so many for so long that I can barely recognize it sometimes. Not that it’s my job.

Instead of claiming, henceforth, the new definition of w…wo…worship in some grandiose pretending-to-be-humble statement, I’ll say with greater confidence that we just don’t get it. We don’t understand it…maybe we CAN’T understand it. Try as I will (and have), the art, science and mystery of acting out my devotion to God is so utterly beyond me that I am not even sure I am willing to try and understand it more.

Don’t take this to mean I am giving up. I mean to communicate the exact opposite. I revel in the mystery. It is the unknown that makes it so much bigger, and with much greater possibility, than we have given it credit for. Instead of studiously filling in the blanks on my worship application form (please be accepted, PLEASE be accepted!), I am content and actually elated to fling the outpouring of my soul to God off into space. Out over the edge of the waterfall with the rising mist obscuring its final destination. Let it fall where it may.

The truth is, anything I give him is filthy rags without Jesus. He is the one who makes things right. A perfectly planned set list with the list of ridiculous rules that come with it. The right prayer at the right time. The best sermon. Nice lighting. Good coffee. Suitable artwork. Filthy rags without Jesus.

OK, so how do we get Jesus into that stuff? Aside from how wrong that question is, I would argue that the best way to approach corporate worship is not to see to it that people are adhering to our codes of compliance, but rather look for and recognize that worship in other people and subsequently join them in their celebration. What makes something both corporate and wonderful is not the unification of multiple previously-divergent people under one rule. It is the embracing of differences with all of its difficulty and struggle and ugliness and allowing its chaotic beauty to overshadow all of those things.

Said much more simply, you are awesome. God made you that way. I am awesome. God made me that way. Together, we are two very different and very awesome molecules in the church. I will celebrate you for who you are, and by definition celebrate the creativity and wonder of God, who made you so awesome. Briefly go back to the common but unspoken way of doing things today. “Come join us, do things our way, join our culture, and nobody gets hurt.” That’s stupid.

If you are waiting for me to give you a punchline, an answer to the buildup and the pomp…welcome to the deep and dark corners of worship. There is no punchline except the following: Love God. Love others.

Remembrance Day and the Church

I’ve got to be honest…I have a deep conflict inside me when it comes to nationalism, patriotism, and following Jesus.

 

Specifically to the heart of Remembrance Day, I find myself in the awkward position of at first understanding and participating in Remembrance Day, only to later look at much of what it has become as a form of idolatry.

First thing’s first. I am truly grateful that I grew up in two countries that both enjoy a great deal of freedom and civic liberty when compared to much of the world. To that end, I can appreciate some (not all) of the conflicts and sacrifices made on my behalf.

What needs to be made abundantly clear is that my true nationality is not of this earth. My King bears the title “Friend of Sinners”, and any battle truly worth fighting has already been won, long before the advent of the United States or Canada.

Now you see my conflict. On the one hand, we have great physical freedom here on earth in large part because of what our soldiers have done. It took bravery on a level many of us do not know.

YET, compared to the fight won at the cross…it is nothing but a catastrophic loss of human life to expand our rights in a merely temporal way. Our REAL freedom cannot be bound by any power on earth. If I am to boast, celebrate or proclaim about anything, let it be the victory of Christ.

If there is one thing that armed conflict should really be remembered for, it should serve as a poignant reminder that we are just dust, and that in order for our already short lives to mean a thing, they should be devoted to the real freer of captives and champion for the oppressed.

With Fear and Trembling

When I was younger, like many families, my siblings and I had chores to do with at least some regularity. When we were directed to do those chores, whether by the white board in the kitchen or by our parents, there was this sense of diligence. Not all the time did we do the job up to snuff, but there was this sort of healthy nervousness that was there to make sure that it at least TRIED to pass muster.

This is similar to the “fear and trembling” that followers of Jesus are told to have when we are directed to “work out our salvation”. That healthy urgency is something often missed in this passage (Philippians 2:12-13 if you are following along) and replaced with a sort of cowardice or form of terror; there is a sense that God, the omnipresent bedroom inspector, is going to ground us if we don’t measure up. We need only see the entire counsel of Scripture to know that this does not aptly describe our God.

To work out your salvation, generally speaking, means to demonstrate it or engage it actively. Salvation is coincidentally an instantaneous event and an ongoing effort or task. From the moment one believes in the person and sacrifice of Jesus and confesses it, their name is written in the book of life, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit. Done deal. Salvation is theirs to lay claim to. However, there is still life to live, and a purpose to participate in.

That’s where the demonstration of your salvation takes place. In life. Were the book of James written today, the author might say “So you’re saved, right? Prove it”. Faith that has no action to demonstrate its reality is dead. Faith with works is alive and reproduces itself.

Further into Philippians 2, we read that it is in fact God working in us that causes such good outcomes as producing fruit (in this context being people coming to know Jesus in part because of your willingness to tell them all about it). This doesn’t mean we sit idle, but rather the result of your efforts don’t belong to you, nor do your motivations. It is God who is “effectually” showing Himself in you, causing you to succeed in your actions. Effectually really is the right word, because it implies influencing, guiding and directing to produce a certain result.

Throw yourself at this thing called salvation with diligence and that healthy nervousness you get before you take an exam or fly a plane. Know that while you do that, the result belongs not to you, but to God.

Part two is coming soon…

What a morning. I got to basically run the show this morning. Did the music, put together the presentations, arranged announcements, offering, corporate prayer…and preached!

“It’s the JUSTIN show!” (cue music)

But really, aside from it being a somewhat stressful morning, great things happened. Here was the set:

I Saw the Light (if only I could play the banjo…)
The Hope of All Hearts/How Great is Our God medley
The Wonderful Cross (it should be noted that buddy drives me bonkers with his hands in his pockets…but I’ll get over it)
The Doxology, which we sang a capella, but this is still really cool.

It kinda hit me by surprise that the first song had the most to do with what I preached on…but more on THAT in the next post😉

Eirenicon

An eirenicon is an idea or proposition that tries to find harmony among discordant ideas. I have one of those.

I want to open an honest, no-pulled-punches discussion about emotionalism. I’ve seen a lot of talk about it pop up recently, especially in the context of the “worship experience”. It does apply elsewhere, though.

On the one hand, you’ve got people who basically don’t know how to worship God in their prayer closet by themselves. There needs to be a crowded room with a rockin’ band and a plethora of E minor chords. There needs to be “that” song or “that” singer or “that” speaker. They are what I will not-very-tactfully call hyper-emotionalists. They seek an experience that comes on quickly, satisfies in the moment, and leaves in a hurry. False worship, given what we know about experiences with God from His Word. A lot of hype, seriously lacking in substance.

On the other, you’ve got anti-emotionalists. They quell emotion within themselves the moment it is felt, laboring not to show or deeply feel…well…anything. After all, emotion can distract from or obscure the truth and lead you to false worship. To be overcome by emotion of any kind is to forsake truth in the moment, and to be carried off into la-la land where unicorns and flowers that taste like gumdrops abide. (That doesn’t sound half bad, actually.)

In the middle somewhere lies the eirenicon. That concept that points out that the opposing sides are both right, yet both wrong.

Here are some key points to understand:

1. Scripture describes on a number of occasions the emotions of God (all 3 parts of the Trinity, no less), many of which cannot be accused of “anthropomorphism”, or the attributing of strictly human traits to something not human. Some examples: Jesus wept in John 11:35. The anger, indignation and wrath of the Lord are mentioned in Deuteronomy 29:27-28. Sin is something that grieves the Holy Spirit, a la Ephesians 4:30. And don’t forget the many positive attributes of God that, if not outright emotions themselves, are closely linked to emotion. Think mercy, forgiveness, grace, compassion, etc.

2. The nature of God is such that these emotions do not arise on a whim, but rather are appropriate responses to various situations based on His character. In other words, emotion does not control or change God. His nature and character dictate His emotions. Anger at injustice, compassion for the poor, jealous for your affections.

3. The nature of us as humans is that these emotions CAN (but do not necessarily) control or change us. They can cloud our judgement and cause us to act differently than we otherwise might.

You can already see what the eirenicon looks like. This is a call to be reasonable. Understand that you were designed to feel emotions…POWERFUL emotions at that! They can be very good motivators, and they attract a lot of attention. If sin does not grieve you, injustice doesn’t anger you, testimony doesn’t cause joy and happiness, the thought of the crucifixion doesn’t give you pause…I would suggest that there is something very unhealthy in your view of emotions and their place in your life.

Concurrently, examine yourself. Why did you cry during that song? Why were you shaking uncontrollably during that last sermon? Why were you brimming with excitement? Nobody is saying that you can’t experience those things. Well, some are. But don’t listen to them. You can…but are they rooted in God’s truth? Is there a clear reason for your emotional response? Does it mimic Godly character, or earthly chaos? Answer these questions truthfully. Ignoring them means that at the end of your time on this earth, you might well hear Jesus say ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’. You might be too busy worshiping yourself and your feelings to see what God actually has in store for you…

…much like the anti-emotionlists.

Funny how that works.

I have some amazing news.

Our church held a capital campaign for this exact project. We have the money. We bought the material. We are doing it this coming Thursday. There will be pictures. And rejoicing. But before that happens, you need to know more of the process that we went through to get this project off the ground.

First, we got professional consultation. It was decided that we should get the pros in our building to both vet the work that I had done as well as provide their own expert opinion. At first I was a little ruffled, having done so much work and research. Luckily that was quelled in short order by my simple desire to get it done. The good news is that the logic and research in the document I had produced was spot on…always good to know your sources aren’t out of whack. The bad (not really) news was that my proposal called for a VERY aggressive treatment, making our big room sound like a coat closet. Not a bad idea for accuracy, but not a good one for natural sounding acoustics.

We hired Pacific Audio Works, who came in, blew some sounds out of a speaker and basically drew up a digital readout of our room and its various problems. They tried out some different treatment options in the digital world to find what would work best, sent us the report, and…voila! We had a working model for what our treatment should look AND sound like.

Before we get to the diagrams they gave us (in the next post, that is), I should make an important announcement. These guys at PAW are amazing. Being in the same room as them makes you smarter. They made it very very clear that building your own panels can be the start of a long and painful road (not to mention expensive). You don’t get support, expert advice or installation when you do it the way we are. That means that A) We are doubly accountable for the money spent on this project and B) We have nobody to cry to when it doesn’t turn out the way we want it. For anyone wanting to do this kind of thing either at your home or at a church…know the risks. Even going the cheap way, we are cruising through nearly $2,000 to do this.

I am not afraid to say that I recommended that we go pro, which would cost about $7,500 for the same level of treatment. It was just one of those moments of disagreement, and it wasn’t a hill that I was willing to die on.

That warning aside, the next two posts will contain some of the documentation they gave us to show you the problems we have and how they can be fixed, as well as some construction pictures. I’ll also include a cost breakdown once it is all up and we can take stock of what we have left over.

Feel free to ask some questions about the process.

This post has two purposes. Firstly, it is the kickoff of this blog’s participation in the larger community of worshipers writing about their Sunday music experience. Secondly, it gives me the excuse to take a particular song out of the list and encourage you with it. Before that, here was the intended set list. Forewarning…I try to find the most accurate videos according to what kind of arrangement we do, and the visuals, predictably, can be corny. Here they are:

Shout for Joy
Happy Day
Your Love Never Fails
He Knows My Name

We wound up not doing that last tune and instead repeated Your Love Never Fails, since the message rested very heavily on the later verses in Romans 8. That, for me, was a mini revelation. I had preached and prayed in mid-song before about Romans 8:28 as it relates to this song. Here is the Scripture, and the part of the song that talks about it.

Maybe it was my lack of attention to the REST of the song, or maybe the Holy Spirit showed me something new, but just look at how well the rest correlates to the later parts of Romans 8!

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That verse is the crux of the entire song. Even as the song opens, it says “Nothing can separate, even if I ran away, Your love never fails. I know I still make mistakes, but you have new mercies for me everyday, Your love never fails.”

Granted, these particular phrases can be found elsewhere in Scripture, but once tied to the line “You make all things work together for my good”, it becomes clear what part of Scripture inspired this song.

Let it be known in your soul…nothing you do or anyone else does can separate you from the love of God. There is but a single unforgivable sin, and that is to resist the call of God in this lifetime. Understand that Jesus paid the highest price for you, believe and live knowing that he is your rescuer from sin. Do that, and every wrong thing you have done or will do will be removed from you. You will be declared righteous, and made into a saint.

“No power in the ‘verse” can stop the love of God.

http://www.theworshipcommunity.com/sunday-setlists-210/

A Course Adjustment

Just an FYI for my few readers out there. This blog has alternately been alive and dead for a long time now, but it still serves as a great outlet and a great platform for discussion topics and the like as it relates to worship arts. I’ve had posts on gear, leadership, theology, team dynamcis and other assorted ideas. I think those are great things…important things.

But.

What has been burning in my heart for so long can be summed up in an something that appeared (very curiously) in David Crowder’s “A Collision” album. In the track titled “A Conversation”, David responds to a question about the significance of the album art, which was a scientific drawing of an atom. He relates that the atom drawing is an incomplete picture of what an atom really looks like, and our picture of worship is much the same. Whether it was meant as a joke or not, I tend to agree.

Our picture of worship is tremendously incomplete. It is not helped along by people who are desperate for the picture to stay the same. You know who those people are…especially if you are one of them.

The course adjustment for this blog is in response to that idea…our picture of worship is incomplete. From this day forth (incomplete post series’ notwithstanding), the topics in this blog will deal largely with the struggle to explore the dark and undiscovered corners of how we worship our God through the arts, as well as the simple act of worship from a 50,000 ft view. As a part of this change, here is what you can expect to see:

1. Content from other people and websites.
2. A LOT more visual and audio content. We are talking artwork and experiments with sound.
3. A healthy amount of far reaching questions about what is acceptable and desirable in worship.
4. An unhealthy amount of risk-taking.

That last one is intentionally ambiguous. Visit the reworked “About” page for a clear picture of what this is all about.

In Search of Accessibility

One of the core values at our church is accessibility. It basically means that we don’t speak in Christian code, one doesn’t need to know the handshake in order to come in, and we don’t filter attendees based on things like behavior.

As this distinctive, as we call it, was being out in place, I had chosen the song “Days of Elijah” as one of the songs for the week. I like that song…great encouragement, easy to play and sing, and a lot of people know it. And as I was speaking with my pastor (also my bass player) about the list, he said something profound.

“Days of Elijah isn’t accessible.”

Really?

I examined the words…sure enough, he was right. The words were true, telling us that the God that did amazing things in the times of Elijah, David, Moses and Ezekiel is the same God that lives in us today. What a fantastic message! But without extensive knowledge (and even with it, for some folks) of those times and what events the song is referring to…it is like we are singing in code. It isn’t, in our context, accessible.

So I dropped it, saving it for another, more exclusive event like a conference. That wasn’t the easiest decision…after all, it was a handy “free song” for those weeks when a gap needs to be filled, I know it well and can lead it fairly easily. It was comfortable.

But “comfort” is not a distinctive of my church. Being accessible is.

What kinds of concessions have you had to make, or should you make that you’ve been putting off? Do you find yourself speaking “Christianese” sometimes?

The Best PA System Ever

…for churches, that is. See, churches tend to have wildly different requirements for good audio equipment than the rest of the world. Some facts to back that up:

1. Churches tend to be driven by inexperienced and under-educated (for their ministry), if well-meaning, volunteers.
2. Churches are restrained by extremely tight budgets.
3. Churches require very versatile equipment. It has to do live music, video and speech, sometimes all at once.

What do those things mean for companies looking to capture a growing market share? They need to make equipment that is:

1. VERY easy to learn and use, with good results.
2. Cheap and reliable.
3. Multi-role.

Disclosure time. I do not work for any music company of any kind, nor do I work in sales of musical equipment. I am not paid for anything I say (I do accept donations, though). I just really like the product that was released at NAMM 2012 by Line 6. Here we go…

The StageScape M20d

The quick: Imagine a touch screen mixer that shows you a virtual, color coded stage environment that you can interact with simply by pointing and dragging. Now imagine that mixer with total dynamics, EQ and FX control PER CHANNEL, including smart feedback suppression, all tweakable via an X/Y graph style interface instead of twisting virtual knobs. Now imagine that mixer with multi-channel recording capability via USB to your PC or Mac OR portable media, like a memory card or thumb drive. Now imagine that mixer with total recall capability, and a deep edit mode for the engineering freaks to do their fiddling. On top of all of that, make sure to remember that your inputs AND outputs automatically detect the equipment at the other end as you plug it in, and customize that channel for its use. Oh, and it can be remotely controlled via an iPad.

Keep all of that in mind.

The StageSource L3t and L3s

Speaker cabinets in a live sound setting can take many forms. Main PA speakers, acoustic and electric guitar amps, reference monitors, movie/music playback speakers, and keyboard amps. Each project sound differently for their use. Enter the L3t, which can (and does) digitally alter crossover points, frequency response curves, and then adds some modelling wizardry on top for certain applications. All at, you guessed it, the push of ONE button. 1,400 watts, tri-amped (2 cones and a central horn). Yes please.

Self powered.
Basic mixer and effects fully integrated.
Orientation and mounting sensors (for such things as virtual tiltback, since it knows whether or not the speaker is elevated).
“Flyable”.
Feedback suppression.

The L3s is the accompanying subwoofer, with more ridiculous flexibility. It can be used as a PA reference sub, with the option of more punch from the bass drum. It also has an additional 2 settings specifically for DJ applications, further bumping frequencies into the abyss of human hearing. Push-button polarity switching and your choice of 4 crossover points make for one flexible subwoofer.

But we’re not done yet. Each component can be connected with L6 Link, a digital connection through an XLR cable that allows each device to talk with one another. I think the word you are looking for is “synergy”. That is, of course, if you can wipe the drool off of your silly looking face.

Please refer to the above church criteria.

Now understand that for one mixer, 6 L3t cabinets (2 mains, 4 monitors) and 2 L3s cabinets, your cost, before taxes are applied for your area, is $11,700.

Seem like a lot? You forgot that you don’t need power amps, rack equipment of ANY kind (that’s EQs, compressors, effects, crossovers, etc) or a lot of training to use it all. Add it up folks…this is a bargain.

You’re welcome.