Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,

and has not let our feet slip.

For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;

we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a
spacious place.

Psalm 66:9-12

Susanna has a gift of deep compassion, so strong and immediate that I often find myself confused, removed and dumb. An NPR report about the slain in Darfur, a Compassion International mailing with pictures of unsupported children, the documentary God Grew Tired of Us: the Story of Lost Boys of Sudan...these things leave her doubled over and in tears. In comparison, I seem callous. Am I so self-consumed? Or is this simply a gender difference?

Perhaps it does have something to do with gender, but to leave it at that would be denying the uniqueness of her special gift. Liberation Theologians call this "solidarity," a capacity to draw near to and share the suffering of others. Susanna wants to identify herself with the marginalized and the oppressed. I want to do this too. I'm just not that good at it.

Last summer Hope College asked her to prepare study questions on Tracy Kidder's book about Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains. All incoming freshmen were required to read it. All the First Year Seminar profs then used her notes and questions. She and I read Mountains Beyond Mountains to each other in our first year of marriage as part of a book club in Oklahoma. I was challengd and inspired. Susanna, however, found a mentor of sorts in Dr. Farmer. She has re-read the book three more times with students in her course, "Ideas and Practice of Social Change." Even though Susanna is now teaching at Valparaiso, colleagues in Hope's English department knew she'd have the best handle on the book.

One question she considers is: What do you make of Farmer’s interpretation of the Haitian proverb, “Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe,” translated “God gives but doesn’t share”? (79)

Sus and I have been talking about this proverb this week. It can be read two ways: a theodicy, a defense of God's goodness in the face of evil, or it can be read as an indictment against civilization, particularly an idictment of the affluent. Neither reading is exclusive, yet, my sense is that Dr. Farmer is more interested in the latter, that we have failed to take care of each other.

Paul Farmer and Liberation Theology are helpful if only to draw us into the heart of the problem. Most of the affluent are like me, blind, deaf and dumb to the crisis of world health and poverty. We need whistle blowers and bell ringers to break through to us. We need stories like Dr. Farmer's, a life so shocking in its zealous service that it conjures resonances with the likes of Dorthy Day and even Mother Teresa. However, to fully serve and sustain advocacy on behalf of the oppressed, we need a more thorough theodicy, a more developed sense of who God is than what the Hatian proverb offers us. Once again, here I am ringing my bell, that our actions arise out of our beliefs. As a person thinketh, so he or she is.

The Hatian proverb suggests that God is not actively involved in suffering. This caters to the modern mind. It rationalizes God. Our definition of God as a benevolent being makes it impossible for us to understand how he could allow evil to exist in the world. So, we blame humanity and not God. The Hatian theodicy is a soft way of separating God's goodness from the failures of humanity; yet, God is not separate from suffering. He is intimately acquainted with and involved with humanity, yes, even our suffering.

The cross of Christ stands in opposition to the rationality that God is separate from suffering. The cross is considered scandalous because it offends our modern sensibilities. It suggests that not only did God allow Jesus to suffer and die, God planned it! Yikes! Tough stuff! This is where we learn to let God be God, to be the infinite Other that we can't squeeze into our minds. I'm not saying we can't wrestle with suffering and the problem of evil. I'm not suggesting we put our questions in a drawer and hide them away. I am saying that there are fundamental ideas about the universe, about God in particular, that are too lofty for us to grasp. Here in this particular situation, faith leads us to believe that God is good in the context of suffering. God is good even though he is actively engaged in that suffering. He has purpose for suffering that we rarely can understand. A life of faith is not a silent resignation to God's higher purposes; it is a resolve to wrestle and pray through our suffering in a way that ultimately leads toward deeper and deeper trust in God. We don't need to be the dutiful student at the front of the class, blindly following the teacher, nor do we need to be the flailing, obstinate child at the back of the class.

As an aside, this relates to the spirit in which I've been attempting to write these blogs. When trying to talk about anything difficult (theodicy, prayer, politics, art, etc.), our dialogue requires a gentle firmness. Jesus calls it meekness; it is a tender strength, a loving confession, a "generous orthodoxy." There is a connection between the way we posture ourselves towards our neighbors and the way we posture ourselves towards our deepest convictions. If we have a white-knuckled stranglehold on our beliefs, most likely we will also have a white-knuckled grip on the people around us. Faith and love allow us room to maneuver without going astray. We can have a gentle grip because we participate in a faith so abundant, so powerful, that it holds onto us much more actively than we can hold on to it. This is our highest sense of the peace of Christ; he holds us, defends us, advocates for us; he keeps us safe.

Some may object here and argue the slippery slope. Room to maneuver? You may wonder. That will lead to abuse and heresy!

Perhaps. Perhaps it can or will lead to abuse, yet here is the freedom God has already given us, the very freedom that allows the affluent to ignore local and global suffering. However, the slippery slope is a logical fallacy for a reason. If A leads to B, B leads to C, and C leads to D, it doesn't rationally mean A automatically leads to D or even Z. Slippery slope is inspired by fear. Fear overtakes rationality; it clouds reason. Yet faith is not essentially rational either (even though faith can engage and participate with rationality--a whole other conversation) and I'm not arguing for rationality here either. Faith springs out of love. Love can be rational, but love supersedes rationality. You may have many good reasons for loving, but "love has its reasons which Reason knows not," proclaims Blaise Pascal.

One friend wrote Susanna and me an email in the wake of the 2008 election that asked whether we have room in our hearts for a friend who didn't vote for Barrack Obama? I must have failed to write in a way that meekly asserts my convictions. I'm trying to be strong in way that opens conversation, that gives room to readers, and I guess I didn't accomplish this as thoroughly as I have least for that friend.

Getting back on the topic of suffering, I offer that it is possible to hold civilization accountable for its failure to take care of the weak, further I'll add that it is possible that God is more than permissive of suffering, that he uses it for his purposes, and finally, that God's purposes for suffering push us to concieve a kind of love that far transcends what makes sense to our minds. If we are left with our own resources of love to respond to the enormity of global health crises, we will drown. In retrospect, God's active participation in our suffering gives meaning to it. By faith, what seemed senseless emerges with sense, a trust in the eternal goodness of our divine Father. On this side of heaven, we may not be able to understand his good purpose; it is here that we begin the agonizing soul-work of faith.

What Susanna offers me, in the context of my triumphal hope of God's eternal and global plan of salvation, is the opportunity to learn how to put on sack cloth and ashes, to go between the porch and the alter, to weep and to wail, to groan with all of Creation for the revelation of the children of God, for the final things. This itself is a witness of the church that God is not standing idly by. We, his children, are his vice-regents testifying to the truth that as Julian of Norwich has said in one of Susanna's (and T.S Eliot's) favorite sentiments:

"All shall be well,

and all shall be well,

and all manner of things

shall be well."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sick and Tired? How to Get Out of Bed

Zicam. Dayquil. Nyquil. Sinus Rinse. Airborne. Mucinex. Theraflu Day and Night. Sudafed...etc etc. I've been taking it all for seven days now and I still feel like hammer dog doodoo. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. At least Susanna is home and the semester is finished!

After watching several TVs shows and movies this week, I find my restlessness only getting more intense. Here are some things that inspire me to want to get the heck out of bed:

I found this website and blog attached to David Taylor's site when looking for updated news. I've got dibs on contacting this artist for the Ordinary Neighbors CD artwork. It is refreshing to dive into someone's creative world, to see her drawings and clothing designs. This makes me want to get a website up for Susanna and me soon.

This is an article about the "urban homestead." Much of me is cynical about the green revolution, the marketing and trendiness of it all, but deep down there is something right about the impulse to want to live closer to the earth and to do it creatively. These folks have a cool blog that they've been keeping for awhile about their lifestyle. Our friends, the Shattucks, just got a goat. I'll post a pic when I get the chance. And we saw a moveable chicken coop for sale at the farmer's market with my cousins in their hometown of Vashon Island, WA. I don't know if I could personally handle any more on my "to do" list, but it is fun and inspiring to see what other people are doing to live deliberately. We've subscribed to ReadyMade magazine off and on. My favorite section in each issue is the expose of different kinds of artists all over the country. I'm haunted by the story in one issue about a few friends who bought an old high school in one of the Dakotas for something ridiculous like $50,000 and how they rent out space for artists to have live in studios.

This little video helps me put the whole blog explosion in perspective. There is a really funny clip here of John Stuart giving Arianna Huffington a hard time about what is so important about blogs. Yes, there is a proliferation of BS all over the internet, but there is also some very exciting interaction going on between people that bypasses conventional, advertising money driven media. Look at how it is helping affect younger adults in Iran. Blogs are as democratic as the revolution of home recording. We have so much more junk to sift through, so much bad indie music, so much posturing, so much chicanery, but there is also so much more access to originality and expression, the things that make life full.

Other good news that makes me want to get out of bed: I've been very encoruaged by feedback from a handful of people on my essay/chapter for this book David is editing--the one I mentioned in the last blog. Thanks to Dustin, Wendy, Lance, Joel and Dad!

Now, if only I can feel good enough to sit upright and get out some glue. I want to try my hand at making some lanterns like the ones I put up in the Backroom so long ago.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Seattle and Other Recent Pics

I went to Seattle over a month ago with Susanna. She had to attend a Lilly conference. I walked around by myself and discovered some good spots.

This was the best Americano I've ever had in my life. Top Pot cafe. They make their own donuts too. I returned there two days in a row, walked 25 minutes to get there, to work on an essay I'm submitting to David Taylor to be included in a book on Pastoring artists. Being in that coffee shop made the labor somewhat romantic. I mean, what could seem more exhilarating than writing about the arts in a Seattle coffee shop? It'll be more exhilarating if the thing actually gets published. Either way. It was a great memory. I'm going back.

A really bad pic of Top Pot from outside.

This is a view on one of my walks in the morning. I wish I had a good camera. Ours broke.

Sus forcing a smile at Pike Street Market. I made her do a lot of walking. I prefer to walk and discover a city rather than following a guide book. Besides, I know Seattle pretty well. I'm not a fan of exercise, but walking through a city is nice.

The legendary, Bop Street Records several people on the street told us about. It really is records, vinyl that is. We had to take a bus way out to get there, then when I realized that it was all vinyl, I felt bad. I've not gotten into the turn table nostalgia yet. Some 300,000 LPs, so says the owner who I talked with a bit. It was cool to be in a store that Thom Yorke frequents when in town. I bought my boss, Trygve, a nice copy of Stan Getz/ Joao Gilberto's bosanova for his birthday.

This is some settings on the new Audient console that we installed in the chapel studio. I'm getting used to mixing through the console instead of just with the computer. It sounds great so far. I've got a lot more to for Christmas break.

These pics are of the setup for Rob Kenagy's band, Ganges, that we recorded over a weekend. Well, actually, I helped setup and tear down. Andy, my audio intern, ran the sessions and Roman Bolks did most of the creative direction. It was our maiden voyage with the new console and the wiring that connects to this classroom next to the studio. Roman really captured the sound of those rooms and hallways. It's going to be a great little CD. I can get some of Rob's tunes out of my head.

I don't know if I get more excited about anything more than recording, but alas I get such little time to actually do it! Hopefully when I finish my Masters degree (only two more classes!) I'll have the whole my summers. I feel sick every time I think about the Ordinary Neighbors record that still isn't finished.

Here are some students who dressed up to be Trygve, me (note the guitar, he was singing "Beautiful Infinite God") and Paul for Halloween. They rang our doorbell. We didn't have any candy, but they led a little service right there on the front steps. This picture was taken through the front door screen.

Litourgeia: The Work of the People

Here is a little piece I wrote for our publication, Perichoresis that is distributed to students at our Sunday evening service. Originally written 10/30/08


One of the most challenging aspects of my work as Minister of Music and Art here at Hope College is finding ways to plan services that can serve a wide variety of people. Hope College is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America, yet we have faculty, staff and students who come from many different kinds of church backgrounds. That means that we all know different sets of songs and prayers and different ways of singing those songs and organizing those prayers into a worship service.

This organization of prayers, readings, songs and preaching is called the worship liturgy. In common usage, some refer to Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox worship services as well as Lutheran, Presbyterian and the other Reformed worship services as liturgical. In these “higher” worship traditions ministers usually dress in vestments; their worship space is often adorned with religious symbols, and the worship texts follow the church calendar. If you were to attend one of these churches, you would be handed a small booklet with the order of service so that you can follow along with the readings and responses and know when to stand, kneel, sit, pray, sing or meditate silently.

Baptist, Mennonite or Anabaptist churches, Assemblies of God, Vineyard along with the many other non-denominational churches, in contrast, are often referred to as “low church” and are on the surface comparatively less liturgical. These churches still have structure to their services; it is just simpler. Community announcements, singing, a sermon and prayers comprise the core portions of these worship services. Pentecostal and charismatic churches are even more simple in the way they value the freedom to spontaneously respond to the movements of the Spirit.

So, you can see that trying to plan a worship service at Hope, where so many of us come from different worship experiences, can be tricky. My hope is to make our worship ecumenical, meaning that I intend for our worship to include as many worshippers as possible. Planning this kind of universal worship is easier said than done. How is it possible, as in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “to be all things to all people” in the context of worship? When reciting the Nicene Creed we confess together that “We believe in one holy catholic [universal] and apostolic Church.” Yet, how does that actually happen here, now, on this side of heaven? We are finite, particular beings with subjective tastes in music and preaching and liturgical styles, yet we are worshipping an infinite being, the creator of the heavens and the earth who sent his son specifically with the mission of drawing all people, all nations, tribes and tongues to himself. Whew!

Fortunately, I don’t have to figure this all out on my own. We have an historical “Great Cloud of Witnesses,” a host of worshippers who have gone before us who have much to teach us, much that we hope and rest in. By looking at a historical meaning of the liturgy we are able to get a better perspective on worship.

Liturgy, in its most basic and original definition, means “the work of the people.” The whole of a church is a “litourgeia.” In fact, it is impossible for any church, even the most spontaneous, not to have a liturgy. Theologian Alexander Schmemann, explains that liturgy is the notion that we become something as a corporate body of believers that we cannot be alone as individuals. Liturgy begins in the morning when we wake, clothe and feed ourselves, put our coats on and head out the door, walk or drive, and go about our daily movements—movements that eventually lead us to gather at our Lord’s Table to remember his death and resurrection. In this broader sense, all of life is liturgical, all of our activities are preparation for worship if they culminate in our gathering around the body and blood of Christ.

This original meaning of liturgy is not so concerned with what I do in my planning as worship leader. It is not so much an issue of guitars or organs to play, hymns or praise choruses. Liturgy is the work each of us does to prepare ourselves for corporate celebration. It is our modern, consumer culture that teaches us to think otherwise, that we come to church to be served by the preacher and the musicians, as if those of us in front were more important to God.

Think on this: what is it that you can do in your daily rhythms to prepare your heart and mind for chapel and the Gathering?