Thursday, March 26, 2009

I am a worship leader. (And so are you.)

While contemplating God's love letter to artists, and directly on the heels of a message at church last night about the ways in which Satan attacks Christians, I find myself staring directly into the eyes of some of the same old insecurities that have haunted me over the past few months. I'm ready to 'fess up about those now.

I have some musical talent. I think I can even offer a pretty objective evaluation of that talent:

  • I sing, but my voice is thin in higher registers and can suffer pitch control problems in lower ones. And, probably due to vocal abuse, the clean tone I could produce ten years ago is giving way to something more crackly.
  • I play guitar, but am self-taught, and have never invested enough into learning either the acoustic or electric guitars to move beyond competence and into proficiency.
  • I'm not such a fine songwriter. I'm lyrically uninspired, and melodically challenged. But I'm really good at taking another person's song foundation and enhancing it (with neat arrangements, harmonies, counter-melodies, motifs, and so on).
  • I can wield digital audio software skillfully, and have even developed some pretty neat sonic "tricks" that have served me well. But I can't seem to produce output that sounds quite like I envision. (A recent attempt at something Counting Crows-ish was referred to — behind my back, mind you — as "yacht rock", with an apparent Air Supply influence. Ouch.)

I think it's healthy for folks to be able to recognize what they truly can and can't do. Wouldn't you agree?

Then here come the demons. "Why, again, are you helping to lead worship at yet another church? You don't fit the mold. Real worship leaders have hip haircuts; wear trendy clothes; are 10 lbs. underweight (instead of 20 lbs. over); have at least eight stomp boxes and a sound engineer devoted solely to their rockstar groove; sing with perfect pitch, tone, and timbre; and can spew God-honoring utterances while ripping fingers-of-fury blazing guitar solos. With their eyes closed and both hands raised to the heavens. You are no worship leader. You are, at best, background noise."

Oh, man, that stuff stabs. Plunge. Twist. Gush. (It hurts even now, just thinking about it.) But that's okay — I figured out some time ago how to protect myself from those barbs. See, I've dealt with this in the past by simply denying that I was (or was attempting to be) a worship leader. I was "just trying to help with the music program", or something like that. After all, the Enemy can't beat me in a race I refuse to run, right?

Sadly, I was wrong: I am defeated because I refuse to run. My responsibility as a created being — the tax on my very existence — is to worship the Creator. But my responsibility as a human is to lead (by encouragement, example, or otherwise) my fellow humans to do the same. My roles as a husband and father, especially, demand this service to my wife and children. And how can I be seeking loopholes in the Covenant when I've failed to lead those who I would consider some of my closest friends to worship God with me? No, whether I accept the label of "worship leader" or not, the responsibility is mine. God's will begins with thanksgiving and worship.

I appreciate the perspective Geoff Janes provides on the search for God's will at http://geoffreyjanes.blogspot.com/2009/03/what-is-gods-will-for-my-life.html. I should consider myself fortunate to have discovered — through the talents God has given me and the discernment of trustworthy others — a piece of God's extended will for me at this time: demonstrating that thanksgiving and worship with a guitar in hand at Providence Baptist Church. It may only be for a season — that is not mine to know. But at any cost, I must therefore seek only to do that will, and waste neither energy nor emotion chasing the unattainable stereotype constructed by the Enemy. My skills are not worthy of renown. Fortunately, they weren't fashioned for that purpose.

So today, I reject as invalid the notion that leading worship isn't my job. I accept as valid criticism that I've not been particularly good at this in the past. I apologize to my family and friends for not living a life that consistently and convincingly compels you to worship, too — love demands better than that. And as for that background noise I'm ever-so-capable of? I'm cool with that. But may it be a joyful noise from this day forward.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

God's love letter to artists

Jon Acuff (of Stuff Christians Like) writes today about God's love letter to artists. Like Jon, I've overlooked multiple times the Artist Ordination Ceremony there in the book of Exodus. I especially appreciate Jon's challenge to those gifted artistically to use their gifts to "rebuilt the temple" — to improve the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of our fellow man. What better way to bring glory to God than to use the tools He has given to edify the objects of His greatest affection?

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Copying Isn't Theft", re-thunk

Over at QuestionCopyright.org, I noticed an interesting public challenge: take one woman's little ditty about how copying isn't actually theft (because it doesn't result in the loss of the original item), and play around with it musically. So this afternoon, I spent a couple of hours doing just that.

Here are the lyrics of the song, originally by Nina Paley, with minor tweaks to fit the cadence of my version of the song:

Copying isn't theft. Stealing a thing leaves one less left. Copying it makes one thing more. That's what copying's for. Copying isn't theft. If I copy yours, you'll have it too That's one for me and one for you. That's what copies can do. If I steal your bicycle right out from under you, You'd have to take the bus. But if I just copy it, making one into two, There's one for each of us! Making more of a thing — That is what we call copying Sharing ideas with everyone That's why copying's fun. That's why copying's fun. Copying is fun.

And here's the recording, in a couple of different formats:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Heaven and hell

I came across the following joke today in the comments section of a particularly good post on Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like blog. (Thanks Helen, whoever you are.) It's … er … something to chew on.

A man spoke with the Lord about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, "Come, I will show you hell." They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their arms that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible.

"Come, now I will show you heaven," the Lord said after a while. They entered another room, identical to the first - the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished.

"I don't understand," said the man. "Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?"

The Lord smiled, "Ah, it is simple," he said. "Here they have learned to feed each other."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today, I feel like a successful husband

Determining if you are succeeding as a husband probably involves some pretty unruly psychological calculus, but today I feel like a successful husband. Why? Did my wife express her love and devotion in some particularly convincing way? Was I presented a trophy etched with "Best Hubby 2009"? Is the Internet community hanging on my every tweet to find some sage advice on being an ideal mate? Not hardly. It's for much less obvious reasons that I feel this way.

Last night, as Amy and I left church, she had a huge smile on her face and she said, "I think I've found my place".

This was the first Wednesday evening service we've attended at our new church. After the service last night, Amy and I participated in practice sessions with the church's music team for the first time. The music director and pastor have graciously agreed to let us try to work to bring a slightly more contemporary flavor to the worship music of the church. So I added my guitar to the piano and keyboard sound already present, and Amy is donating her voice to the praise music and to the choir. It was the participation with the choir that had Amy so thrilled last night.

What has Amy's happiness as a musician to do with my success as a husband? Everything. I can rest well at night knowing that I have encouraged her to serve the church in any capacity she desires and feels gifted to serve. I have worked to arrange meetings with the pastor and music director so we can research this area of service. And I have consistently recognized, praised — and even constructively criticized, when necessary — Amy's wielding of her God-given musical talents. And someday, when God blesses her obedience and service to Him in this matter, I will be able to both share in her joy (three-point shot, nothing but net) and claim some of it for myself (the assist).

Could success as a husband really just boil down to using unconditional love to guide my wife toward the likeness and service of Christ?