Saturday, July 30, 2011

New List of TOPICS - Blog Edit

I really try not to take blogging too seriously. This blog has been mostly a clearinghouse for whatever is rumbling inside. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post on Super-Pop Worship and had lots of readers. And every writer/artist loves and audience. Any who say they don't are lying or confused. Of course it makes sense that anything on corporate worship would draw more interest since that is my main work. Of course it would take me five years to realize that I should focus more on this topic.

So, in the spirit of making this blog more accessible to readers who are more interested in corporate worship, I've simplified my Index and turned it into a list of TOPICS. I simplified the topics to help someone move beyond the less interesting ephemera of my life (ie. Updates) and the political drivel (ie. Banter).

Here is a brief description of each TOPIC.

'Urban' Life
Urban farming, vermicomposting, home craft/design...anything I'm doing in the home or neighborhood to avoid living a life of "quiet desperation." Urban is used loosely.

I'm a worship leader and a college professor, but I'm mostly a pastor of artists. I care mostly about creativity, creative people, creative living, creative thinking. Art.

A catch-all for anything that doesn't fit the other TOPICS. Earlier in 2008 I was writing lots about politics, but I've grown cynical and tired of that.

Recommendations and the occasional review.

Corporate Worship
Anything to do with liturgy, worship music and corporate worship music.

If I could do it over, I might have done a degree in film studies. A few reviews.

Good Quotes
Explains itself

Catchall for such related topics.

Mostly about independent music. Some on recording. Some reviews.

Ordinary Neighbors
My 'band," well my musical project with my wife.

We've gotten addicted to a few cable TV series. Recommendations and the occasional review.

Catchall for my life. I'm not going to get into tweeting ever. This is for those friends/family who want more detail than facebook can provide.

What Food Feeds Your Soul?
Because I'm always looking for ways to subvert gnostic practices. This one goes with 'Urban' Life.

What Music Feeds Your Soul?
A series that had pretty solid readers. I don't know why I stopped writing it. Some of the recent posts on corporate worship would fit. 

A few real publications and a few self-published. This will contain sermons and other public addresses.

As always, I love the interaction. Dialogue keeps me thinking and growing. If you don't want to post public comments, you can email me a bannerj AT

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eighth Day Farm Benefit Dinner - PLEASE COME!

I've mentioned before that I'm on the advisory board for Jeff Roesing's Eighth Day Farm. We are putting together a benefit dinner to raise money for the farm. You can see the invitation below. I would love it if any of you were interested in joining us on Friday, August 26th at the urban plot on the corner of 30th & Pine (The old Zion Lutheran Preschool). I'm close to confirming that some Hope students will be playing some bluegrass/folk music. We almost have secured the chef to cook the meal and are still looking for a few restaurants to offer some appetizers. Most of the produce will be provided by Eighth Day, but I believe some will come from other local CSAs like Groundswell and Eater's Guild. We'll have meat provided by Earl's Meats and it looks like we also have a deal with some local breweries and wineries for beverages.

There will be a silent auction with artwork that has been donated by a few area artists (Andy Krio, Emily Christensen, Billy Mayer). Susanna will be offering her two books and an hour of poetry writing lessons for children and/or adults. I'm putting up a complete worm compost bin with worms and personal guidance of getting started. I believe there will also be a really nice and easy to use composter. Jeff and Andy will also be auctioning two people/families personal planing and counsel for their home vegetable gardens. We are looking for more things to auction. If you have anything to donate, we can offer you a tax deduction.

We are especially interested in hosting anyone interested in food issues and community development. If you have suggestions of who I can make personal invitations to, please let me know (bannerj at

Jeff has put countless hours into this farm/community development project over the past two years without collecting a salary. We hope and pray for the community support to help Eighth Day move into its third year and for Jeff to start being compensated. Please consider joining us for this important event. To RSVP for the event (by August 16th), either send us an email through the contact for on our site or, contact Josh Hauch at 616-510-0606.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Comments? Writing = Exact Thoughts

Apologies to Nick or any others who might not have expected me to reply to their comments in a full blog post. I realized that I might have breached some trust in this "online classroom" I am trying to develop here. I'm just overeager to have interaction. It is like having a student raise her hand in class. Get the discussion going!

From now on if you've got something that you'd like to interact about and don't necessarily want to go 'public' please feel free to email me

If I am anything, I am a teacher. Five years in secondary ed. Five years teaching a few college courses. That is why it makes sense for me to be a worship leader at a college. I've got a huge classroom here. Mostly I hope this blog helps me interact with Hope College students more intentionally and thoughtfully. 

I spent three days earlier this summer reading with a student going into the 8th grade. I used to teach grade 6 language arts. I picked Touching Spirit Bear a book I used to teach and know well. He is a great kid. Very bright. A great reader with attention to details, but we talk about how hard it is for him to share his thoughts in discussion.

Here is my soapbox yet once again: we largely lack skills of conversation in our society. We are good consumers, but the only way for us to own ideas is to know how to take the thoughts bouncing around in our heads and put them into sentences. If it is helpful to say things out loud, it is even more helpful to write the thoughts out.

Sir Francis Bacon: "Writing maketh and exact [person]."

W.H. Auden/ E.M. Forster/ Saul Bellow: "How do I know what I know until I see what I say?"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another comment on Super-Pop...'Ecumenical Taste'

Again, my response was getting long. So I'll just keep making these new posts rather than hiding them in the comment section. 

I dig it Nick. Great thoughts. Helpful feedback. And your words are kind. Don't worry about adding more expectation. I've known those expectations in many many forms for five years now. If I couldn't handle it, I would have already looked for other work! I'm always excited about a good discussion. The interaction is what helps me learn most...not just the writing. So, thanks.

I'm mindful here of the language Paul uses in Corinthians about all things being lawful but not necessarily profitable. I somewhat agree and disagree with you about my role in making the worship event 'happen.' Yes, there is a sense that certain leaders have a kind of gifting, what some call an anointing. I hope I have that anointing and want eagerly to grow in it. Yet, I'm leery of putting any leader on a spiritual pedestal. I don't like how high our stage is Dimnent. I don't like over lighting the stage or video projections of the worship leader's face. I believe we should be focusing on the corporate experience of singing and praying together.  I know too many worship leaders who seemed to be 'with it' spiritually, yet whose lives are a wreck...broken families, homes, sexual sin, deceit, greed.  This is typical of our celebrity cult and must be subverted. The people on stage cannot be seen as more spiritual and in tune with God. Much of what I want to do is be strong enough of a leader to frame the worship event and then get out of the way. There is of course much more to talk about just in this one section of the worship leader's role. I'll move on.

The greater role of a worship leader isn't necessarily his/her presence and leadership in the event as it is his/her stewardship of identifying what is truly 'profitable.' Songs at 130 bpm might be helpful for you. It may be very good for me to learn by stretching myself into this style, yet is a steady diet of only uptempo songs spiritually healthy? I don't think so. That is why I don't call the music we do "praise music," nor are the bands "praise teams." There are many other arenas of worship that God has called us to other than Thanksgiving and Celebration (I laid out some of the main themes of worship HERE). I just happen to be on a journey of joyfully rediscovering how to lead a congregation to "rejoice always...and again I say rejoice." That is why I'm thinking about super-pop worship, listening to it and trying to discern it.

A large purpose in my writing and teaching is to instigate a larger conversation about the kind of discernment a worship leader must wield when picking songs, arranging songs, putting a service together in order to best form the congregation of worshipers and then leading the service. There are black and white areas when we engage such discernment, but must avoid being prescriptive. This means that what might work at Hope College for our campus ministry might not be the best for the church down the street or across the country. I cannot prescribe what is best for every other ministry. Instead, a biblical and theologically informed conversation and discernment will help each of us work out questions of song selection, arrangement, public presence in our respective fear and trembling. 

My particular journey right now while I learn with Hope College students is how to get better at more uptempo songs. There are some super-pop songs that I will not lead and I'm bold enough to argue shouldn't be bothered with anywhere. BUT I'm discovering some uptempo songs that are delightful and nourishing. However, while I want to be teachable and stretch in doing more uptempo songs, I try to also work harder at introducing more hymns and am always looking for contemplative songs and especially songs written outside of North America. I like what you said about the need of diversity of sounds. Frank Burch Brown calls this "ecumenical taste." Harold Best claims that often when we say that we won't sing that song, what we really mean is that we don't want to sing with those people. Often what is profitable is something of a diverse diet of various worship themes and worship sounds.

This final topic which I won't elaborate on here in this post is that while I want to grow in ecumenical taste, a diversity of worship themes, sounds, tempos, pop rock, folk, bluegrass, global, choirs etc., we cannot be too worried about trying to cram all this diversity into a single worship service. We have in campus ministry two semesters to try many, many things. That is what makes my work both hard and exciting. I hope people can hear a bit of 'ecumenical taste' on this year's worship recording, Morning & Evening.  It is also available on iTunes now I believe.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Blogging would be boring if nobody offered their thoughts. PEACE

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Comments on Super-Pop Worship Music

WOW! Comments! FUN!  I've tried not to take this blog too seriously and to allow it to be a place for me to dump whatever I'm thinking or living. BUT, of course considering my ministry and teaching it makes sense that the corporate worship posts garner the most reactions. I started to write this in the comment section of the last post but it was getting long.

Ryan/Kevin, thanks for the particular band references. I was into DCT up to Jesus Freak and stopped there. I think that was my senior year of high school or freshman year of college? They just got too pop for me.

Kevin, I don't know if I'd recognize a Reliant K song if I heard it. I'll do some youtubing.

OKC Big D, your personal accounts are invaluable. I'd love to hear more next time we are together. Were you saying that the 'eschewing' of CCM artists is good or bad?

Wen, ironically my brief time with JMM made me want listen to his record. Such a stink about "sloppy wet kiss." It took me some time to get past that too but there is so much in his record. He is about as earthy as I've met in the contemp worship scene. Yeah, the vids will probably bewilder me though. I wonder how much control he has over such things. He is a fascinating example of what is happening with Christians worship and art. I asked him if being on Integrity was a good fit. I think they used to distribute all the old Vineyard cassette tapes I listened to.

Regarding what we might think about JMM in 50 years: I'm seriously getting to a point where I don't know if it is possible to use the litmus test-of-time to judge much of anything in worship or music for that matter. It is a standard in my gut that I want, but I'm struggling to apply it when honestly considering what is happening now with worship music and the internet and music distribution. As a historian, you have to acknowledge that the 'canon' of hymns, is really a farce when you look cross denominationally. There are thousands and thousands of hymns and that was when we had such limitations in terms of publishing. On one hand a good song should somehow become classic and stand the test of time. On the other hand, isn't it good that many many of God's people are responding to him creatively? Yes stand the test of time, but time for which people group? Music and art is not denominational any more, it is tribal in its many independent manifestations. Lots more to think about on this question though. Thanks for your response.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Super-Pop Worship?

I don’t know how I remembered: Linkin Park? There was a whole wave of pop rock bands that got big shortly after I graduated from college in 1997. In the five years that followed, I was securely snug into Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City.  Many of us were writing our own worship tunes. And we didn’t listen to the radio, so we missed Linkin Park.*

When I took the position at Hope College in 2006, a year had passed since (according to wikipeida) Linkin Park had reached international fame. Yesterday I pulled up a few of their videos on youtube and now so much of the super-pop worship music makes much more sense to me.

And another: Newsboys. Again, we weren’t listening this band in my church either. Their worship hits began hitting CCM radio in 05-06.

I made a definite effort last summer to find a few songs that were over 112 bpm…maybe even 115. Halfway through the school year one student asked me why I didn’t lead any uptem-po music. I mentioned the few songs that we’d added, and he responded, “no…I mean really fast…like over 130 bpm.”


He ended up emailing me a link to five songs ranging from 130-144 bpm. I confess it is only till just this past week that I looked up the songs on youtube.

My first obstacle is watching people worship. I don’t understand the need to video the arena worship rock event. The lights and the rest of the visual production don’t draw my attention to God. My attention is fixed on a spectacle.

My second obstacle is the lyrics. Lyrics that fit such fast tempo tend to be overly simple. Of course, there is nothing wrong with simplicity. Some of the simplest things can be the most profound. There is nothing wrong with rehearsing the core truths of the faith. Merton said we will always be beginners—all of us.

The question is if the simplicity serves a consumable good or a transcendent reality. This is where the subjective responses to the songs is apparent. Who I am and how I’m made as a musical creature makes it hard to listen to these super-pop worship songs on the internet and discern if or how they could ever serve my campus ministry. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though. I remember “Trading My Sorrows” from a long time ago. When did I become too cool to sing and dance to that song? In the right context at the right time, perhaps that song could still be very helpful for my spirit and worship. Likewise, with the right leadership and the right context perhaps any of these super-pop worship songs could move us closer to the presence and likeness of Christ. Perhaps!

The great fear is sentimentality. Milan Kundera’s definition of the kitsch is synonymous with sentimentality: "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

Sentimentality, then, is an emotion about having an emotion. Thus my concern about the spectacle of the video performance: is our emotion a reaction to God, his truth and revelation or to the A/V production? But you say, so much good music and film is made with vast amounts of production. Surely Bach’s cantata’s were an enormous production? Again, the question between manipulation and formation is whether the production draws us into the revelation of God, or if we become distracted by the gadgetry of our technology.

The jury is still out for me on the matter of super-pop worship. I confess cynicism and elitism. I want to be a leader who loves his people. My realization is that much of the difference between what the aforementioned student and me is age. If he is 20 years old, that means he was born in 1991. When I was 16 I was listening to Rich Mullins and REM. When he was 16 (only four years ago), he was maybe listening to Linkin Park and the Newsboys’ worship records or some derivations. It is hard to believe that I am a veritable dinosaur…just when I was starting to love playing the electric guitar.

Here is the next layer of the issue at hand: Kundera’s other famous quote about Kitsch: “Kitsch is the inability to admit that shit exists.” Many of my counterparts, leaders my age, have moved beyond anything above 90 bpm in order to avoid kitsch and sentimentality altogether. Yet the Psalms call upon us to shout to the Lord and even to dance and clap our hands. How does their music lead their worshipers into this biblical worship expression? Yes, pop music can be awkward, a prickly pear of an issue. However, we are called to redeem our culture and that means wading into the proverbial shite. At least I know that is what I am called on in the love and service of God and these college students.

U2 is on tour this summer. I'm not a huge fan myself, but another way of getting at my musings above is by asking how many of my college students would even want to go? I know of at least two who did. Another student a few years ago really hit me between the eyes when he referred to U2 as "dad-rock." I'm not a huge fan, but still...I feel old.

*I admit that I may have missed the other, real bands that have affected the sound of super-pop worship. Anybody have suggestions?