Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
It feels like 'House Death' - everything that made Hawthorne Ave a home has gone, the 'soul' has left the property, all that's left is the shell, and that will be sold soon too.
Last week I was contacted by Pat (not the person’s real name, and also conveniently gender neutral), because they were interested in singing in one of the small worship teams I co-ordinate. Interestingly enough they also talked to the Senior Pastor about their desire so he contacted me as well. Curiously it was Pat’s first Sunday at the church where I work so the request was unusual. Most people don’t try and get very involved in a church they are making their first visit at. Well over the next few days it seemed that I heard quite a few tales about Pat. It seemed that Pat wanted to get involved in many of the different ministries Chapelwood offers – which if they all said ‘yes’ would leave Pat very over committed.
So I arranged a Wednesday audition for Pat and waited with some nervousness because in my limited contact Pat had left me feeling uneasy. Pat arrived on time for the audition which was encouraging, but displayed some behavior that made me feel uncomfortable even before we began to sing. The group that Pat was auditioning for is a small one, and so personalities have to gel well together.
It was apparent as soon as I heard a few notes that there were some pitch and tone issues in Pat’s voice that would preclude being amplified in a small ensemble setting. I ran a few more vocal exercises just to be certain and then very lovingly explained why joining this vocal ensemble would not work at this time. I did encourage Pat to keep singing in the large choir at Church where the tone problems would not be so noticeable and where being surrounded by other people singing the same part would help the pitch issues.
I felt pleased about how I handled it…..and then Saturday came along. It seemed that Pat had a conversation with someone who was a friend of mine (although Pat didn’t know it). Pat told this friend of mine about the audition and said that I was rejecting a wealth of musical experience, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I was a ‘Stone cold Bitch’.
I was actually pleased with how I handled this – as my friend said “Peter, people around here know you, and they don’t know Pat. I know who I would listen too”. Years ago Pat’s statement would have really bothered me – I know that at times I care too much what other people believe about me. Over the last few years I’ve gotten a lot better (hooray for therapy!!!) I almost regard being called a ‘S.C.B.’ as a medal proving that I’ve finally made it in church music ministry J
So on to the ‘Heretic’ statement with relief that I don’t have to write in gender neutral terms any more!
Sunday morning Jerry and I led worship at a Presbyterian church – they wanted to offer a Contemplative Worship experience to their congregation in the hopes of getting something regular underway.
The communion liturgy was one that I had written that we have used at our contemplative service many times. (The bold parts are spoken by the congregation, the rest spoken by one or more Liturgists)
Open your eyes, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his beauty.
Open your hearts, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his forgiveness.
Open your lives, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his grace.
In the upper room Jesus gathered with his disciples for a meal. He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. He gave it to his disciples and said: "Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Remember me as you do this."
The disciples ate, but they did not understand.
They tasted, but they did not see.
When they had finished supper Jesus took the cup. Once again he gave thanks and then offered it to his disciples saying: "All of you drink from this. This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink and remember me."
The disciples drank, but they did not understand.
They tasted but they did not see.
Almighty God, help us awake to your presence here.
May these gifts of bread and wine, be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Help us to taste and see, to see and understand,
to understand and awake, to awake and live.
When Jerry and I were handed the bulletin that the church had printed they informed us that they had removed one line. “May these gifts of bread and wine, be for us the body and blood of Christ.” My first thought was that they had removed the line that was the key element in Communion. In the Presbyterian Church communion is purely a symbolic act of remembrance, there is nothing mystical that occurs. No Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation or even the elements as a means of grace. The reason for this is the Presbyterians grew out of the teachings of John Calvin, so in their eyes the line in the liturgy was ‘heresy’. What is interesting here to me is the fact that I grew up in a heavily Calvinist church and so years ago I would have espoused the same beliefs as them! As I’ve traveled and been exposed to other beliefs I feel that my understanding of Communion has become enriched.
When I take Communion now, I have the image of taking into myself the grace and love of God and, as the physical nourishment of the bead and wine is absorbed into my body somehow the grace and presence of God is experienced.
O.k. this is turning into a marathon blog post, so onto part three.
One of my new responsibilities this Fall is teaching the 4th, 5th and 6th Grade boys’ choir (that’s 9 to 11 year olds for you British readers). I feel inadequate doing this to be honest, I’m trying to do a diligent job and I am so appreciative of the volunteers who help. This past Sunday was ‘Buddy Night and Silly Hat Night’, so I lead the rehearsal whilst wearing my Russian Army Officers furry hat that I bought in Prague. Needless to say my head got very sweaty.
Just before the rehearsal I was given a wonderful sheet that had lots of great suggestions on how to teach the song we were working on. At one point in the song the melody moves higher and higher in pitch and the composer had also marked that the singers should slowly get louder (crescendo). To teach this the sheet suggested that you get the children to move their arms like an aircraft taking off. Smoothly getting higher and louder – a nice visual of what we were trying to achieve musically.
I thought this was a great idea and used it in the rehearsal, there was one problem though. All the children were holding their music in one hand so they only had one hand free for the aircraft impersonation. It was unfortunate that the woman who coordinates all of the children’s choirs walked into the room at the precise moment that the entire boy’s choir were on their feet giving me what looked like a Nazi salute while I cavorted in front of them like a mad Russian!
Well that’s my last few experiences at work, and when I haven’t been working it seems I’ve spent it in front of the T.V. watching The Sopranos Season 1. I finished it yesterday evening, so Season 2 here I come.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I don't know if I could do it, and I've no real drive to write a novel, but I think the idea is excellent.
Maybe they should have an Oratorio writing month.......Handel Wrote his Messiah in just over 2 weeks so there is precedence - and it's definitely something I'd try.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
".....T-Man challenges the concept of whether there really is such a thing as "Cheesy" Christian music. His point was directed at the notion that, if a person, wandering the Prodigal's Path, hears some old tune on KSBJ and it quickens his heart toward fellowship with the Father, and if all forms of music have that appeal to someone out there, then is it right to call that music "cheesy"?
I responded: "Is Barry Manilow's music 'cheesy'?"
His point being that all Christian music has value.
My point being, yes, even cheesy Christian music.
So the point now being, what is "cheesy", if it is not some subjective construct-- and the counterpoint being exactly that... it IS a subjective matter.
So now, reader, we enter dialog.
What is "cheesy" Christian music to you? What are some examples?"
And here is my response:
"Hmmm what is 'Cheesy Christian music'? That is a tough one. I could spend a long time just debating what is 'christian music' long before I start on the cheese question.
In my mind there is only good art and bad art - and of course that depends on what criteria you judge by.
Personally I think every act of human creation (song writing, cooking, storytelling etc) is made up of two components. 'Art' and 'Craft'. Painters have to learn color and perspective, cooks have to learn to beat egg whites and make pastry, song writers have to learn how to use rhyme and meter etc....
There are 'rights and wrongs' for the way any craft is handled. Yes people can make deliberate choice to break the rules, but they should learn the rules first so that the breaking is a concsious artistic choice.
That's my struggle with much 'Christian Music' and much other 'Christian Art' to be honest. In my experience because the creator somehow ties in 'Jesus' to his/her art it some how excuses them from working at their craft. And as an art consumer I don't do much better. I excuse (and have even purchased badly crafted art) because 'They are doing it for the Lord'.
Does God use broken art - of course He does, He uses broken people too. Does this excuse us from working at our 'craft' so we can give the best to him? Of course not.
So I guess what I'm saying is that for me Cheesy Christian music is usually a) Badly Crafted (I hesitate to give an example incase I offend someone's favorite song) or b) A song that was written in a specific time and culture that is now removed from that culture. Take for instance 'It only Takes a Spark'......this song was powerful in the 70s but now it seems cheesy.
Well that's my two pence for what it's worth."
When I reflect back on music I've written I see that my 'cheese factor' increases when I'm using trite and hackneyed expressions and also writing from a people pleasing place instead of a place of authenticity and honesty.
But...I must confess, there are times when I crave a nice piece of cheese BLUSH
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
(To link to number three click here)
Well here is part two, it needs a little explanation to help it make sense though.
Every week at Mercy Street we have a section in the service called 'Celebrations'. During this time members of the Community can share about Sobriety Birthdays and 'Belly-button' birthdays. This time occasionally gets out of hand. Sobriety birthdays are normally celebrated on 1 month, 2 month, 3 month, 6 month, 9 month, one year, multiples of a year. However people seem to like getting applauded so often they will stand up and say things like 'In 3 weeks I will have 1 Year'. Now that is an awesome achievement, and if everyone celebrated like that we would have no time for the rest of the service! We've also had celebrations about bowling scores, baseball games and prayer requests of requests for sponsors disguised as a celebration.
Ultimately although this video is fun, we decided not to show it at Mercy Street. We didn't want anyone to feel that they couldn't share something. The intent in the video was just to laugh at ourselves, but not in a way that would be mocking or embarrassing.
Because we decided not to air this one, you'll notice it still needs a final edit because of one glitch in it. Hopefully it won't spoil your viewing pleasure :)
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The first verse of the hymn says:
Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that Thou art
Thou my best thought be day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.
That lyric got me reflecting over my last week. Jesus said "I have come that you many have life, and life to the full" (John 10:10). I began to think about the times in the last week where I have experienced that fullness of life - the joy of seeing a friend perform in live theater, the warmth of company over good food, the silliness of entertaining children, the comfort of intimate conversations. All this and so much more are places of 'Fullness' for me and I believe those moments are gifts from God.
'Waking or sleeping...', God is present in my encounters and in my dreams. God is present in 'Life to the full' and by grace God is also present as an 'oasis in the desert'. I don't wander around on some kind of spiritual cloud, far from it. But when I look back on my weeks; especially when I begin to redefine what the 'Presence of God' looks like in my life, then I find evidence of Divine Connection. All of the moments of our lives have the potential to be places where God meets with us.
What have been your moments of 'Fullness' this week? What have been your 'best thoughts' and where is God in that?
Bless to me my feet, O God, and my courage.
Bless to me my hands, O God, and my serving.
Bless to me my heart, O God, and my loving.
Bless to me my mind, O God, and my understanding.
Bless to me my ears, O God, and my hearing.
Bless to me my lips, O God, and my speaking.
Bless to me my eyes, O God, and my seeing.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Brad and I were asked by Mercy Street to create three videos that they would show in the run up to their 10th Birthday on Sept 30th. All three of them are parodies of the Budweiser 'Real Men of Genius' radio commercials. This first one is reflective of the number of Cell Phones that ring during worship.
To see No.2 click here
To see No. 3 click here
Saturday, September 15, 2007
This scene made me think about the final conversations I had with both my parents. The last ever conversation I had with my dad was powerful and I blogged about it here. The last conversation I had with my mum was as inconsequential as dad's was powerful.
The last conversation I had with mum was about nothing - she had just been put on morphine and was losing touch with reality. She spent 10 minutes telling me about how paper hankerchiefs are so much better for our noses than cloth ones. It wasn't exactly a benediction.
Dad blessed me just before his death, I think he was aware of the distance between me. But between mum and I no such distance existed so there was no need of a blessing to close the gap.
Dad's last words to me were 'You're lovely you are'. Dad affirmed who I was. Mum told me to use paper hankerchiefs because she cared about my health. Both of them loved me and wanted the best for me.
Sometimes a kleenex is as much a benediction as a spoken word.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
For some reason this rather sappy song makes me weepy and thoughtful. There is something about its simple honesty and hopefulness that for me shines through even though its a cheesy song sung be puppets!
Ultimately I guess I just like the message and the melody and the words fit together in a well crafted way.
Two things to help put the song in context.
1) This clip is taken from the Muppet Show Tribute to Jim Henson (creator of the muppets and the voice of Kermit). Fozzie has been put in charge of organizing the tribute but the Muppets don't really know much about Jim Henson until they begin to read some of the actual letters sent in by fans. The point where Kermit enters is the first time you see him in the show and the first time he is voiced by Jim Henson's successor.
2) The song itself is originally from the musical 'Snoopy'. It's the big closer at the end of the show
Sunday, September 09, 2007
1. We put Caution Tape across the front of the Chapel.
Breath Prayer is a spiritual discipline that I often use and I find it very helpful.
The second thing we did was something that occured to me as I walked up to start the meditation.
2. Pew Kicking!
As I shared the story of trying to lead worship with construction noise happening outside it occured to me that Experience is better than Information. I wanted to find a way to make a distracting noice and all I could think of was to kick the side panel of the front pew! It worked rather well :) I must have given it about 15 kicks during the meditation - all as a way of illustrating the point of the distracting nature of Construction and how God is really in that place with us.
3. Tape Ripping!
We had to get the tape down to be able to serve the Communion Elements. We kept the tape up during the Consecration and as the Minister held up the bread and broke it, I broke one tape and allowed it to flutter down. As the Cup was held aloft I held up the second tape in a similar manner and also broke it. It was a nice connection to the Communion Symbolism.
People seemed to connect what I was sharing this morning - and I felt good.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
So here is what I made: Salmon on Shitake Mushroom and Leek Risotto, en croute!
Step One - I made a leek and shitake Mushroom Risotto and allowed it to cool.
Step Two - Roll out some Puff pastry into 4 squares (I pre-bought the pastry, I may love to cook, but making Puff Pastry is a very long drawn out labor of love)
Step Three - Pile on the Risotto and place a salmon fillet on each pile.
Step Four - Fold the pastry up over the filling - it won't totally fit, but don't panic.
Step Five- Place another square of pastry on top - fold around packet and seal with egg glaze.
Step Six - Glaze packets with an egg wash and bake for 30 mins. (I put the packets on my Silpat to stop them sticking. It's an incredible invention and saves lots of clean up!)
Step Seven - Serve with veggies and a Dill Sauce made with Creme Fraiche, Clam Juice and White Wine.
Step Eight - Sit down, cut into it and enjoy!
It was a great meal - esp as I served home made sticky toffee pudding for dessert! The packets look impressive to serve but are really easy to do, and because the salmon is wrapped and surrounded by so much other food you can serve the cheaper farm raised salmon without people noticing that it's cheaper quality. BONUS!
Friday, September 07, 2007
This past Tuesday the Chapel had no electricity so we moved staff worship into the Sanctuary. Now the church Sanctuary here is huge, so it makes having an intimate worship experience for 20 people a challenge. To help make things easier we sat the the staff in the choir loft so they were close to the piano and could feel more connected to one another.
Everything was going well until we got to the silent reflective prayer section.
Outside the Sanctuary they were finishing up one area of construction. The noise of the workers talking, and the sound of tools echoed through the stillness.
needless to say my mind wandered.
When we reached the 'Share what God has laid on your heart' section of worship I made the almost flippant comment about how difficult it is to be prayerful when you are under construction - both externally and internally.
Somehow I'm now speaking on this topic this Sunday at the Contemplative Service!
Fortunately some other thoughts have been resonating with me about this very topic. I'm re-reading "Everything Belongs" by Richard Rohr at the moment (an absolutely incredible book which I highly recommend). In it he makes the comment 'All Spiritual Disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present'. Spiritual Disciplines are about Construction - a tearing down of false walls that separate us from our true selves. This construction seems a distraction from the presence of God, but it is in the very place of construction that we find the Divine. This Construction; which for most of us is mainly Destruction, is not a distraction from the Spiritual Life. It is the Spiritual Life
Richard goes on to say 'The edges of our lives - fully experienced, suffered and enjoyed - lead us back to the center and the essence'. It is in the ragged, raw and dirty places that we encounter God. When we deny those places we deny the work of God in our lives.
There are parts of me that I don't like, well the truth is actually I like them and I think that I shouldn't. I want those parts to go, but by continuing pouring hate into them I feed them and give them more power. I deny the construction God is wanting to do in that place instead of finding God's presence there
No, I'm not going to give a raw honest example of what I mean - just a parallel
I love bacon. I love to eat bacon. I know it is bad for me to consume vast quantities of that delicious swine flesh, but I often do it anyway. Trying to create a change of behavior in my life around my 'Bacon Addiction' by trying to persuade myself that actually I hate bacon really isn't going to work. By denying the reality of my passion I give it more power
I watched the movie Garden State last night. In it the main character says to his father "For the first time, let's just allow ourselves to be whatever it is that we are
I guess that's what I'm trying to communicate here. Fully accepting our reality - including embracing all the construction and destruction is the beginning of us touching our uniqueness, the uniqueness God created us to be
It takes a conscious effort to find God's Presence in the midst of Construction, but denying that the building work is taking place doesn't help. As the main character in Garden State says in a deleted scene "Breathing is all it takes to be a miracle."
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
1. How did you find out about God?
___ Book of Mormon
___ Other Book
___ Divine Inspiration
___ Word of mouth
___ Dead Sea scrolls
___ My mama done tol' me
___ Near Death Experience
___ Near-life experience
___ National Public Radio
___ Burning Shrubbery
___ Other (specify): _____________
2. Which model God did you acquire?
___ Just plain God
___ Father, Son & Holy Ghost (Trinity Pak)
___ Zeus and entourage (Olympus Pak)
___ Odin and entourage (Valhalla Pak)
___ Gaia/Mother Earth/Mother Nature
___ None of the above; I was taken in by a false god
3. Did your God come to you undamaged, with all parts in good working order and with no obvious breakage or missing attributes?
__ Yes __ No
If not, please describe the problems you initially encountered here. Please indicate all that apply:
___ Not eternal
___ Not omniscient
___ Not omnipotent
___ Finite in space/Does not occupy or inhabit the entire universe
___ Permits sex outside of marriage
___ Prohibits sex outside of marriage
___ Makes mistakes (Geraldo Rivera, Jesse Helms)
___ When beseeched, doesn't stay beseeched
___ Requires burnt offerings
___ Requires virgin sacrifices
___ Plays dice with the universe
4. What factors were relevant in your decision to acquire a God? Please check all that apply.
___ Indoctrinated by parents
___ Needed a reason to live
___ Indoctrinated by society
___ Needed target for rage
___ Imaginary friend grew up
___ Hate to think for self
___ Wanted to meet girls/boys
___ Fear of death
___ To piss off parents
___ Needed a day away from work
___ Enjoy organ music
___ Needed focus on whom to despise
___ Needed to feel morally superior
___ Graduated from the tooth fairy
___ My shrubbery caught fire and told me to do it
5. Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in addition to God? Please check all that apply.
__ Self-help books
__ Tarot, Astrology
__ Star Trek re-runs
__ Fortune cookies
__ Ann Landers
__ Psychic Friends Network
__ Playboy and/or Playgirl
__ Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll
__ Jimmy Swaggart
__ Crystals (not including Crystal Gayle)
__ Human Sacrifice
__ Wandering around in desert
__ Burning shrubbery
6. Have you ever worshiped a false God before? Is so, which false God were you fooled by? Please check all that apply.
___ The Almighty Dollar
___ The Conservative Right
___ Mick Jagger
___ Bill Gates
___ The Great Pumpkin
___ Ronald Reagan
___ A burning cabbage
___ Other: ________________
7. God employs a limited degree of Divine Intervention to preserve the balanced level of felt presence and blind faith. Which would you prefer (circle one)?
a. More Divine Intervention
b. Less Divine Intervention
c. Current level of Divine Intervention is just right
d. Don't know - what's Divine Intervention?
8. God also attempts to maintain a balanced level of disasters and miracles. Please rate on a scale of 1 to 5 God's handling of the following:
(1 unsatisfactory, 5 excellent):
1 2 3 4 5 flood
1 2 3 4 5 famine
1 2 3 4 5 earthquake
1 2 3 4 5 war
1 2 3 4 5 pestilence
1 2 3 4 5 plague
1 2 3 4 5 AOL
1 2 3 4 5 Republican Congress
1 2 3 4 5 Jerry Lewis
1 2 3 4 5 Dubya
1 2 3 4 5 my last relationship
1 2 3 4 5 rescues
1 2 3 4 5 spontaneous remissions
1 2 3 4 5 crying statues
1 2 3 4 5 water changing to wine
1 2 3 4 5 walking on water
1 2 3 4 5 stars hovering over towns
1 2 3 4 5 VCRs that set their own clocks
1 2 3 4 5 clear and competent statements by the President
1 2 3 4 5 my present relationship
9. Please rate the following on a scale of 1 to 5 (
1 unsatisfactory, 5 excellent):
1 2 3 4 5 God's Courtesy
1 2 3 4 5 answers to your prayers
1 2 3 4 5 Are your spiritual needs being met?
1 2 3 4 5 How are your shrubs doing?
10. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions for improving the quality of God's services? (Attach an additional sheet(s) if necessary.)
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
For some reason maniacal geniuses always work in heavy thunderstorms.
The storm hit Houston at 1:50pm on Labor Day.
Up till that point it had been a day like any other. Two types of Hummus (Kalamata Olives and Roasted Garlic with Tofu) had been measured and mixed – all ready for the Tuesday ravenous hoards to descend. I had been reading cookbooks creating a new dinner party menu. I was half way through testing a new side dish – roasted beets in a buttery dill glaze.
“I can’t serve this to my guests; I want them to enjoy dinner!”
At that moment did I hear the eldritch laughter in the storm, or was it just the wail of a satanic car alarm?
Thunder rolled, as thunder always does.
I abandoned the beets in disgust. One question remained. “What do I do with the left over tofu?”
Evil. Evil from the dawn of time awakened in my soul.
Dr. Frankenstein crossed the boundary into madness in his castle during a thunderstorm. How willing was I to push forward the limits of the culinary arts? After all, somebody had to eat the first egg – “Mmmm this fell out of a chicken’s ass, I wonder how it tastes!” And somebody fried the first kidney – “This organ filters animal waste and creates urine, I bet it would be delicious with bacon!”
Rain pummeled the earth.
The line between the genius of the fried egg and the madness of fried kidney was washed away.
As the storm raged on I melted butter in my skillet. The lights flickered as I stir fried the diced tofu. Somewhere a hound of hell howled into the darkened sky as the cubed roasted beetroots was added to the pan. The purple tinge of the beets spread like a blood stain across the purity of the butter drenched tofu, tarnishing its soul.
“But how to serve this new creation?”
In the flickering light my eyes glanced upon a half opened package of garlic herb tortillas. And so, in that raging storm, in a small apartment in Houston, Texas, the world’s first ever Tofu and Beetroot Burrito was born.
This Vision of Possibilities lay on the plate awaiting the final frontier. Till now I had remained cool and detached from my creation, but now, like Dr Jekyll before me, I must take the final step across the line. The Scientist must become the Experiment.
The hint of purple juices.
Beetroot and tofu exploded on my taste buds and my eyes were finally opened to the bitter purple truth.
Some food is not meant to be consumed by mortal men.
As the gagging subsided my experiment tumbled from my hand. The storm abated leaving only a sour taste in my mouth. Evil crept back into the darkness as a calm evening in front of the TV. beckoned.
And in the final roll of thunder an echo lingered, a promise.
Monday, September 03, 2007
The 'Warp' are the threads that are fixed into the weaver's frame (or God in my metaphor). The 'Weft' are the threads that are woven through by passing the shuttle up and down the line (me in my metaphor)
Well it turns out that another term for the 'Weft' according to Wikipedia is 'Woof'. So this blog could be called 'The Warp and the Woof'. Given how warped and how hairy I am this strikes me as an amusing coincidence!