Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don't Laugh...It Could Happen

Stumpy Worship

I recently attended a half day conference on worship and leading worship. It was conducted by a well known worship leader and musician (or perhaps he was a musician and worship leader). I say "well known" but that really is a relative sort of thing. That is to say he is well known in certain praise-and-worship-leading worship leading circles. Yes...I meant that sentence to read that way.

I suspected that I was in for something less than stellar, but I went into it saying that I was not closed to his message. I really was "openish" to what he had to say. I must say that I was not disappointed.

His initial message, about an hour and fifteen minutes of expounding on 2 Chronicles 29 was actually pretty good. Not earth-shaking, but a reasonably solid sermon on how YHWH calls us to worship Him and how he uses worship to shape us. Then we went to the Q&A and this is where we began to part ways. Every question and every answer was about music. The underlying assumption was a basic equation: music=worship. The reflexive property applies and it is an exclusive relationship. Worship is music and only music. There was no discussion of the reading of scripture, sermons and homilies, coporate prayer and confession, or even of sacraments. In his explanation of the text, he focused on sections like this:

As the offering began, singing to the LORD began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played.
Yet he completely ignored these sections, and their implications for Christian worship:

They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven male lambs and seven male goats as a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The king commanded the priests, the descendants of Aaron, to offer these on the altar of the LORD. 22 So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests took the blood and sprinkled it on the altar; next they slaughtered the rams and sprinkled their blood on the altar; then they slaughtered the lambs and sprinkled their blood on the altar. 23 The goats for the sin offering were brought before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. 24 The priests then slaughtered the goats and presented their blood on the altar for a sin offering to atone for all Israel, because the king had ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.
It was as if all that other stuff, the altars and the utensils and the blood and the animals and the sacrfice...that's not worship. It's something else.

Of course, Jesus is our sacrifice. We make different kinds of offerings than Hezekiah's priests, but our offerings ought not be limited to the musical kind. At one point, he even said something like, "I led them in worship for about 30 minutes, and then Paul preached..." I managed to not scream -- but just barely.

It's all just too truncated. Not wrong really, because music is and can be worshipful. But it is like playing basketball without any arms, just legs. You can do the running around part, but there are huge sections of the game that are simply missing. It would be easy, if you didn't know better, to think you were actually playing the game, because you could certainly still get all sweaty and out of breath from running around on the court, but it ain't the real deal. It's just part of it.

When worship is singularly about fuzzy feelings and the buzz you get from loud instruments played too high for too long, then it is so limiting. The scripture makes it clear that the apostles dedicated themselves to prayer, reading the scripture and the breaking of bread (communion). There is no mention of music. How did we get to the point where we have gone to the polar opposite of the Church of Christ and those old school orthodox Presbyterians that actually banned instruments? Now we don't ban music, it's ALL about the music.

The seminar section was followed by a 2 hour "worship concert" where his band performed lots of the music they had written for worship. I kept a rough count and I would estimate that about half the songs were actually about Jesus, using biblical images and wording to sing about God's character and work. The rest tended to be songs that expressed the singer's love, passion, commitment, dedication, etc. Nice songs, but dangerous because they sound like gospel, but they are not. These "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs did not dominate, but they were certainly a significant part of the repertoire. I can't condemn them entirely, because there is certainly an element of this responsive lyricism even in the Psalms. Yet it seem perilous to repeat them so often because the lead us to think that we can impress God if we are passionate enough, committed enough, or love him enough. Safer, I think, to repeat songs and stories about what God has done and is doing. Dead men can't sing, but Jesus can raise the dead and give them new voices.

One of my colleagues spoke in his defense to say that in the area from which he comes (Belfast Ireland) and in which he ministers, he almost certainly is reaching people who have been too long chased from the gospel by the church. I allow that this is almost certainly true, and is a perfect example of how God's grace can and does reach across our shortsightedness and incompetence to draw his people to himself. He meets us even in the stumpy awkward sessions we call worship services and his gospel prevails -- in spite of what form or shape our meetings take.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Zahl and the Promethean Overturning of History

This is one of the best explanations of the biblical (from an evangelical point of view) response to the current conflict rising around the question of the church's acceptance or rejection of homosexuality. The post is from InternetMonk, one of my go to blogs, and he quotes at length from a talk by Rev. Paul Zahl, and Episcopal minister. Here is a taste:

I shall begin this brief keynote address summing up the actual reasons why traditional Episcopalians are opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson and are also opposed to the blessing in the church of same-sex unions. I won’t harp on this, but feel the reasons need to be acknowledged, publicly, and theologically. It is not fair to call people on the traditional side “homophobic”. Of course homophobia is possible, but it is also a terrible slur in the contemporary context. It is like the word “anti-semitic”. It halts all discourse. Full stop. And it destroys people and careers. Homophobia and anti-semitism are real things. But as words, they are used overmuch today to tar and dismiss voices that may in fact be sincere and liberal.
This is such an important point. It seems that on this topic, there is no room for reasonable disagreement. To do less than totally and unreservedly accept the position that homosexuality is normal and acceptable and healthy is "homophobic." The H word is the new N word.
The second “theological” argument traditionalists want to use is the hermeneutical one. I myself think this is second in importance to the theological “domino effect” I have just tried to spell out. The hermeneutical objection to the Robinson consecration is very important, but it is not decisive in quite the same way the argument from anthropology is. Nevertheless, we believe the plain and unexceptioned meaning of the Bible is against the practice of homosexuality in all cases. We cannot get around this. And I am grateful when folk on the other side acknowledge and do not try to weasel out of the “fact on the ground” of the Biblical voice against their idea. Yes, I realize there are wholly inclusive implications to Jesus’ and Paul’ s Gospel, but they stop at the Rubicon of homosexual practice.

I'll stop quoting here, but go and read it. It amazes me how the leadership of The Episcopal Church has set themselves so boldly in the role of teacher and scold, set to bring the rest of Christendom kicking and screaming along with it, for it's own good. The arrogance is breathtaking, all the while accusing the traditionalists (for lack of a better term) of being the arrogant ones. It all feels a little like That Hideous Strength.

While I have not really ever been in agreement with the basic arguments of the promoters of the homosexual agenda, I have often found myself sympathetic with their desire for inclusion, love, and acceptance. Every person wants these things. I can certainly appreciate what it feels like to feel locked out, excluded and disregarded and why it is important to help people so afflicted to find relief. For this reason I have had a hard time articulating how to reconcile the two sides in my own mind. These paragraphs have gone a long way toward at least helping me articulate my disagreement without resorting to ad hominem. I am not yet clear on how to solve the problem of exclusion in any complete and zpractical way, but I'm pretty sure that inclusion ought not be based on overturning what the church has always believed. As Zahl says, it feels promethean.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things Ferrous

Sweat is my friend, and sore muscles are my trusted companions. I don't believe in working out, but I am a huge fan of playing hard. It just so happens that I like to play with large chunks of iron, and I like to play with them in rather non-conventional ways.

Now at the start of this year, I launched on a fitness program called P90X. It's created and marketed by a company called BeachBody (that name just says sooo much, don't it?) and it's a DVD based program that you can do in your own home using basic weights (dumbells), resistance bands, a pullup bar, etc. Pretty old school in a lot of ways. I never really thought I would like working to a DVD, but this program is terrific. I love it. I ran through two 12 week cycles -- although the second cycle was pretty messed up by a demanding work schedule that forced me to train only 3 times a week much of the time. I like to go 6 days a week and use Sunday as a free day/rest day. I won't say a lot more about p90X here, except that if you seriously want to get stronger, faster, and/or thinner, this is a most excellent place to go. If you want to know more, contact me. I actually an an Independent BeachBody Coach and can sell you this program. But...that's another story.

After 6 months in front of the TV, the weather was warming up nicely and it was time to go outside to play, so I returned to an old strength tool of mine that I've been playing with off and on for a couple of years -- the Kettlebell. For those of you unfamiliar with the Kettlebell, it is a large iron ball with a loop shaped handle. Mine is a standard 16 kilogram -- about 36 lbs of solid iron. That's it. It's pretty simple.

Yet...as such things go, the kbell is a fiendishly wonderful device for building strength, stripping fat, getting fit, and just having a ball doing it. Rather than increasing the weight that you lift, the idea is to find creative ways to move the thing around that are in and of themselves increasingly difficult. This forces your body to respond and adapt and become strong and hard. Because the weight is actually centered some 6-8 inches beyond your hand, the force generated to moving or manage the weight is increased. The Kettlebell has been around for many years, used my many of the old time strongmen for their development. It's lineage seems to be Russian -- at least that's is where it has been most commonly used until recently. Many of the movements have a dance-like, fluid quality to them. It's very playful.

The press. The snatch. The clean. The jerk All basic olympic weight lifting movenents. Add to these such fun moves at the Tactical Get Up, the Windmill, The Bent Press, The Circle Clean, The Figure 8 to Hold, and Wood Choppers. I have invented a few of my own including the Good Morning Row, and The Side Swing. I have worked out 5 different sets of exercises for myself that each take about 1/2 hour to do and leave me completely blown out when completed. I don't intend to explain or document the entire workout process here, but I sure am having fun. I regularly prowl the Kettlebell sites and YouTube looking for new ideas on different moves to add to my repetoire. I came across one video that I just had to post here. It is just too terrific. The music alone is makes it totally worthwhile. As one of the commenters posted, this music should be required for every Kbell workout. It stands as a most delightful contrast to most of the workout videos which feature some kind of wall-of-sound metal music. Too much like work. These guys are having fun.

Oh...and that's the other great part of this video. Doesn't that just look like a blast? They are tossing 36 lb iron balls. I can tell you from personal experience that it is indeed fun. I have not reached that level of juggling, but I have managed some of the basic moves they show here. I'm working up to the behind the back toss. I'll let you know when I get it.

I'll also post soon on my forays into barefoot running.

Friday, July 17, 2009

3 Films

We have recently struck it rather lucky with three most excellent films. I recommend you immediately place them in your Netflix queue, or run right out to your local video store and rent them up. Each is quite different, but all three are smartly directed, sharply written, delightfully acted, and just generally good, in the good sense of the word good.

In Miss Pettigrew, I especially loved the direction that reminded me of stage direction (or the best screwball comedies of the thirties), and the occassional perfect line that had meaning on three layers at one time. Beautiful.

Bottle Schock is a story of passion, hope and hard work. It has a smart and funny edge to it, a very American sensibility that looks on europe with suspicion of a very different kind from the suspicion felt by Europeans toward America. Again, tight story telling of a story that is fun, with lovely cinematography. Some of the love triangle action rang a bit false to me, but I could overlook it.

The Big Night. Oh....just a delight. A sacramental experience. The final scene with the fritatta is one of the finest scenes I have ever witnessed on the screen.

The Apostles' Creep

I guess this is probably self explanatory.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Everything You Know is Wrong

Stewart Brand sets out some new ideas to me in this video.

1) Cities are good. The growth of mega-cities and urbanization of our world may be a net positive. What we see as slums and cesspools of human castoffs are actually hugely energetic engines of human social growth and advancement. Sure they are messy, but they are fermenting capitalism and upward mobility from a ground level -- and fermentation always smells a little funky. The migration to urban centers also reduces birthrates, and allows rural areas to recover from the ravages of subsistence farming. These are new perspectives I had not considered. Pay special attention to his video of the train.

2) Nukes are good. Energy by nuke is the new green option - no carbon footprint, and with new technology, very little nuke waste for the energy released. Safe and quiet. I had thought this for some time, especially with the advent of micro reactors and distributed grids. I want one.

3) GMC's are also good. He makes a case here, but it is slight and needs development. He completely ignores the counter arguments, some of the most powerful have more to do with the way the owners of the technology are marketing and licensing the technology, rather than the crops themselves. I am not convinced that GMC's are the unmitigated evil that seems to be the prevailing wisdom, and I remain equally unconvinced that they are an umitigated blessing.

4) What the heck is geo engineering? Is he serious?

boB Goes to Iceland

In 1996 I walked from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. People are often amazed at this as if walking was a difficult thing to do. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy actually.

I spent much of my time on that stroll with Paul Palm aka Bachelor boB. After completing the AT, boB did a stint playing the trombone for the U.S. Navy. Apparently during his hitch working for Uncle Sam he saved up all his pay and spent none of it, except to go hiking in various places around the Pacific Rim. He has been out for several years now (probably a good thing for the the Navy and for boB). Last year he spent some time walking in Patagonia (in South America, not the clothing company). This year he is apparently going to Iceland. I got this email yesterday.

I'm still packing when my departure is less than 12 hours away, as usual. This is just a test/first mass e-mail. If you're getting this it's because, a) I think you'll probably want to hear about my 4-week hike across Iceland, b) you already know of my hike and want to hear about it in order to confirm that I'm still alive, or c) you already know of my hike and want to know as soon as I croak so you can come collect some of my goodies.
Having survived my 6 weeks in Patagonia last Xmas, including the solo (and nearly gearless) crossing of Viedma Glacier and the crazed/failed attempt to hike around Tierra del Fuego, I think I'll be fine in Iceland. All I really need is for nothing to erupt during my time there. Famous last words?
Anyway, e-mail will either be far more rare or more frequent than from Argentina/Chile, depending on whether I truly head across the island (coast to coast) or opt to ring the coast (flatter, greener, populated areas). I'm more itinerary-free than I've ever been on a trip, so I don't really know which it will be yet. Reading guidebooks on the flights and seeing what others at the first hostel are headed for will point me in a direction. It's an island, so any direction will ultimately work.

I'm glad to see the boB is learning to live spontaneously. Of course, he made plans when he hiked together as well, but usually chucked them about 2 minutes into the day. It looks like he has rather given up the practice altogether in favor of just striking out. Interesting enough when the trail is all blazed for you. Should yield some interesting results when there is not trail.

Today I get a follow up:
Not very auspicious beginnings. The flight from NC to Philadelphia was delayed for hours, which would have caused cascading flight misses. So I flew to Charlotte, NC instead, then Charlotte to Boston. The Boston arrival was later than my original from Philadelphia, but my tension was unwarranted, since check-in took about 1 minute and the departure was later than my foggy brain recalled.
The problem was Boston to Iceland. A five hour flight that covered 4 timezones. We landed when my brain felt 2am, but the sun here says 6am. (Of course, it gets light here around 2:30am.) PLUS, never underestimate the endurance of a 2 year old. They can bounce on a seat, yelling in excitement for 2 hours, then scream in misery for the next 2. All while they should be dead asleep, since it was 9:30pm-2:30am to their brains. I searched, but couldn,t locate the eject button for their seats.
So, my initial idea was to leave directly from the Int,l airport and walk straight across Iceland (west to east), with no resupply, for nearly 4 weeks.. After reading books, maps, and websites, even I decided that that wasn,t a workable plan. (Still no set plan; that,s today,s to-do.) Well, guess what the guy sitting right next to me on the flight is doing?!
Exactly that. He walked away from the airport with 26 days of food, which fills *two* packs: a full pack on his back and a day pack worn backwards on his chest.
My pack, with 21 days of food, but no water, weighed in at 48 lbs. I then added my camera bag and the bag of clothes I will wear. Not counting the shirt, pants, and shoes I was wearing, the scale said 60.5 lbs. I,m gonna die. Oh, the 48 lbs. is about 22 kg. This guys, pack was 26 kg. He really may die. And he,s well smaller than me. We swapped contact info to see what happens. For once I have firsthand knowledge of someone doing something nuttier than me. I,m feeling both unprecedented relief and envy/rivalry.
So, while some of you are just waking up and others not yet up, I,m trying to defeat jet-lag by just skipping a night (which the flight abbreviated to 5 hours anyway). I,ll buy maps, fuel, etc., set-up camp in Reykjavik,s campsite, and try to come up with a 4-week plan. Something not too strenuous, since my 21 days of food is only 1,150 kcal/day and I,m already feeling hungry.

You may have deduced that boB is single, and has no children of his own, thus little sympathy for either the parent or the child on the plane. Also, that he is a first class and very artful complainer of a high order, but never lets any of that stop him from doing anything. In fact, half of the fun of walking with him was just listening to the sheer erudition of his complaints. I'm not sure what the other half of the fun was.

Of course, for most hikers, complaining about pack weight and lack of food are the two mainstays of existance. Of course, if you think about it, they generally run in inverse proportion to one another, so that a skilled hiker NEVER runs out of something to complain about.

Then later today, this:

Oh, I forgot to mention. Iceland looks like the Moon, but with moss, lichen, and flowers. Not very foot friendly. Those 12-15 km/day estimates may be more accurate than I thought. Looks like slow-going terrain.

As far as I know, he has never been to the moon, but who knows...

And just for reference, 60 lbs is a lot of weight. Soldiers do that and more, but nobody claims it to be easy. I currently carry about 30 lbs for a 5-6 day trip. If I spent some money on lighter gear I would be at about 20 lbs. But still, with 4 weeks worth of food at one shot? It would be hard to get away with less than 40-50 lbs. I think a sled, a travois, or even a wheeled cart might be a good option. Don't think boB hasn't thought of that.

He usually takes lots of pictures. It used to be ONLY 35mm slide film, but that was back then. Goodness knows what he uses now. If I can get some, I'll keep you posted.