Archive for January, 2009


Essentials Blue, Week 3: To be human…

January 31, 2009

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

So, our question to ponder this week was, “What Does it Mean to be Human?”  I know, leave it to theology teachers to keep it simple.  It’s a fair question, I suppose.  Job asked it, when he wished that he could have been a lesser animal so that God (Satan actually, unbeknown to Job) would have left his life alone (Job 7:17-19).

I’ve had a number of conversations in recent days with persons from all ranges of the faith spectrum who asked “how dare we ascribe ourselves [human beings] this universal greatness that we feel, by our mere existence, we deserve?”  The basic presumption among these folks is that, at best, we’re lucky animals, the product of a good spin of the evolutionary wheel of fortune. At worst, we [humanity] are a virus to the earth that could probably stand to be thinned out a bit for the good of the world (twice in the last month, I have heard that exact “virus” sentiment from separate people).

So, I have to ask myself, what about the human being is truly unique? And if I believe, as I do, that we are different, somehow, than the animals that roam the earth (like the dog that roams my kitchen) or the cancers that destroy our bodies, then how do I account for that belief?

Many things struck me about the course materials this week. We read a lengthy article on celebration that captured the human triumphant spirit [1].  But celebration isn’t unique to humanity. The staff at our dog’s daycare facility (yes, our dog does enjoy the occasional day of doggie daycare) will tell you that they have rarely seen celebration like that of our dog when my wife comes to pick him up. He makes new sounds and dances every time they are reunited. [2]

Communication and relationships aren’t necessarily human functions either [3]. But what has most struck me this week is our unique ability as subcreators [4], who are ultimately charged to use our creativity for the betterment of the world. Dan Wilt and Ed Gentry spoke at length about the call to “right-relatedness” [5]. We have the unique place on earth to not only relate to God, each other, animals, the soil, quite literally everything. But human beings contain the potential to render each of those relationships to beauty, tragedy or even the redemption from tragedy.

Ed says
“Our welfare as humans is tied up very tightly to the welfare of the planet.”

Certainly, a swarm of locusts can have far-ranging effects on a local (and perhaps, in theory, a global) ecosystem. But they can’t consciously maintain or repair those effects. Locusts do as locusts are programmed to do, for good or for bad. But humans, we have nearly the full range of destructive or redemptive power in our relations with our ecosystem as the God who created it and turned it over to his subcreators. The same applies to our human-to-human relationships. We can destroy or beautify our interconnected lives, all according to our God-given use of creativity.

All of this has huge implications for our worship lives as we seek to better connect to the perfect heavenly Giver of creativity, as we use that creativity to find new ways of repentance for the damage of wrong-relatedness with ourselves, our neighbors and our world, and as we strive to rightly bear the unique image of the sovereign God of the universe.

[1] Morphew, The Restoration of Celebration (Inside Worship)
[2] Cheesy YouTube illustration
[3] Cheesy YouTube illustration #2 (sorry, couldn’t help myself)
[4] Dan Wilt, Online Studies in Worship Theology and Biblical Worldview, 28
[5] Wilt/Gentry (Podcast: Two Brothers on Righteousness)


Oh the humanity

January 30, 2009
"I never wanted to be a green dog."

"I never wanted to be a green dog. Get my car!"

I’ve been transporting Mack home from daycare on the bus lately.  He’s not a fan, despite the number of people that love him.  He always breaks a couple of souls out of their individualistic “iPod” bus rides to say hi and at least mention how good he is.


January 24, 2009

Good thoughts here from Dana, one of our worship pastors.  There is massive spiritual value in people “engaging with each other during worship”.  And frequently we don’t explore that social spirituality.

I feel like I’ve seen both sides of this.  When I was leading worship for a big youth ministry program, I would sometimes feel sad that there didn’t appear more individual connection to God (if one can even gauge such a thing).  The students LOVED worship.  They got down, singing at the top of their lungs and creating dances and hand motions to Chris Tomlin and David Crowder songs.  Worship was always, always, always fun in that group.  It was a big communal celebration.

I felt like my most challenging task was to “hyper-spiritualize” the moment by slowing it down every now and then and guiding prayer through slower, more contemplative songs when they came up.

Perhaps, our task in the opposite setting is to get worship participants to (as Dana’s title suggests) break out of their individual shells and bond with each other.  Dana, you’re right that “God’s got a blessing”ish songs do a good job of it.  I always feel like you and Chaline have a good thing going with songs like that!

Come to think of it, I feel like the best moments of this at the Vineyard are when the children come in near the end and you see parents dancing with their kids, picking them up and swinging them around.  It’s a moment that always brings smiles to Suzy and me.  Immediately we’re engaged by and with the community (even if we don’t know the parents or kids)!


Week 2: This Weary Earth (song)

January 22, 2009

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

All week, my mind has been drawn to this “Kingdom of Heaven” notion of of God restoring everything some day just as Jesus was resurrected fully and more so.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about how much of our planet requires restoration.  A coworker of mine, after seeing An Inconvenient Truth, told me that he’s convinced the planet is beyond repair and that any attempts we make to turn the tide of climate change would be feeble and futile.  The earth is going to die and humanity with it.  “We are a virus to the planet and the Earth needs us to die.  It’s inevitable”, he said.  I find this more and more difficult to reconcile with my faith and I wonder how large a share of this restoration work God is hoping we’ll try and shoulder.

Some quasi-poetic phrases came to mind yesterday and I started writing.  By the end of the day I had a song:

This Weary Earth (click to hear my hastily assembled recording).

This weary earth doth groan for care
and rescue from her keepers’ war
which rages, lustful in its aim
extinguishing life’s dimming flame

While sovereign God, in sadness toils
to soften hearts with healing oil
Earth’s kingdom heaves a dusty sigh
awaiting heaven’s grand reply

Were angels charged to tend the earth
then thrive, she would, e’er since her birth
Yet, fallen, we in violent form
have wrought our home it’s greatest harm

O beauty, rest resplendent thus
and God, restore in man your trust
to render heavenly design
redeemed as ours as we are thine

Criticism is invited and welcomed.  It’s been quite some time since I’ve put some original artistic expression into the world for others to see and I’d cherish feedback.

[1] Dan Wilt, Online Studies in Worship Theology and Biblical Worldview,  9-10


Wholly Yours

January 16, 2009
a hallmark worship project if I must say so.

A Collision by David Crowder Band: a hallmark worship project if I may say so.

To those in Essentials Blue who might be following this blog, I thought I’d share that I’ve been incredibly fond of the David Crowder song “Wholly Yours” this week in two ways that are directly related to our Essentials work.

1) I’ve always considered this song to be particularly rich in theology, going much deeper than many worship songs.  I think it stands as a great model to what can be created when a songwriter is intentional about communicating big truths about God.

2) Wright’s echoes (well, God’s echoes articulated by Wright. No need for blasphemy I suppose) are illustrated both implicitly and explicitly in most all of the song.  One could say (and I will) that the song is saturated with the signposts to God.

Here are the lyrics:

I am full of earth
You are heaven’s worth
I am stained with dirt, prone to depravity
You are everything that is bright and clean
The antonym of me, you are divinity
But a certain sign of grace is this
From a broken earth flowers come up
Pushing through the dirt

You are holy, holy, holy
All heaven cries “Holy, holy God”
You are holy, holy, holy
I wanna be holy like You are

You are everything that is bright and clean
And You’re covering me with Your majesty
And the truest sign of grace was this
From wounded hands redemption fell down
Liberating man

But the harder I try the more clearly can I feel
The depth of our fall and the weight of it all
And so this might could be the most impossible thing
Your grandness in me making me clean

Glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah

So here I am, all of me
Finally everything
Wholly, wholly, wholly
I am wholly, wholly, wholly Yours

I am full of earth and dirt and You


End of the Myth

January 16, 2009

Emergent Village posts this interesting (and perhaps troubling) thought about future theological sources as we trek further and further into the internet age.   If you’re in Essentials with me, I found the post and it’s comments to be a fascinating supplement to Dan’s “Analog/Digital Theology” musings.


I want in!

January 16, 2009

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt

The first week of our essentials course has got my head swimming with positive energy! And most of that optimism is around the idea of those who choose to worship Jesus deepening their understanding of God; a deepening that can be ignited and fueled by specific theological intentionality on the part of the lead worshiper.

One of the things that drew me to the Vineyard movement in the first place is the embracing of the heart’s innate longing for God, particularly in a personal, relational way. N.T. Wright suggests that a human desire for relationship is a “signpost for God” or the “echo of a voice” that belongs to the Almighty [1]. And I believe that we are constantly searching for the perfection of our limited human relationships, a pinnacle to be found only in communion with God.

So much of the body of songs that the Vineyard movement has contributed to the world’s greater hymnbook allow for a deep and prayerful entrance into that sort of relationship that Wright suggests all of humanity is searching for. What excites me is that greater possibilities could exist as the creative personalities behind those songs deliberately engage with theology, church history, current landscapes of faith and life and the hopeful future of Jesus’ presence in the world.

Already, more than one hundred of us have started this in our own way and several themes emerge as we dialog over our prescribed readings. We notice gaps in our worship lexicons. We see themes that we long to express better. We stretch our minds and emotions to absorb new ideas and rich God-thoughts that have emerged in a classmate’s blog post or facebook discussion. [tangentially, I’m incredibly proud of the Institute for pushing us to dig further into internet social networking. It’s been a long-held belief of mine that the church should be shepherding people into fostering healthy and enriched internet lives, a world that is both potentially beautiful and dangerous.]

When all of these influences stir the hearts of creative people, the entire world benefits as the church as a whole is engaged by the results and brought to life in new ways. Dr. Peter Davids says this about the worship leader’s intentional study of scripture, for example:

If one sets out to study the scripture with a heart intention of knowing God better, one often ends up encountering God in a way that goes beyond rational study.” [2]

And if the songwriters, the performers, the painters, sculptors, liturgists, photographers, dancers, the lead worshipers are encountering God more, so by extension, I may hope, is the rest of humanity. Art inspires the mind, hands and feet.

Consider the film industry. How many films in the world inspire, through their content, stronger feelings of love between a couple after watching a romance? Or a greater fear that there is evil in the world? Or a better hope for the future of the world? Or a more intense feeling of sadness for the past? Or an inspiration to go and do something (save the whales, serve the needy, reconcile a friendship, drink Pepsi)?

So when a church violinist is more engaged with God, as she stands on the deck of an inspired symphonic offering of praise, built upon her soul’s truly enlightened encounters of the sacred, echoing forth an intertwining of divine beauty and truth, she is further leveraging her influence over the congregation to become, themselves deeply engaged. Oh the communal beauty!

As for what happens at that point, who knows? But I believe that God is one who acts powerfully and that we are vehicles for the divine intent for an enriched world. I want in!

[1] N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006)

[2] Dr. Peter Davids, The Importance of Scripture Study for Modern Worship Leaders (Inside Worship Magazine, Issue 48, October 2002)