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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

paradise regained?


'sing with me!
na naa na naa
na naa na naa naa
na naa na naa
na naa na naa naa
louder!
(continues)

in harmony!
(continues)

with dancing!

(continues)

one two three four...


and in comes the band, hurling itself into the final song of the night.

this is a rich worship moment in a rather unlikely place...


the cover band i play with was winding up the evening at a local bar, and the crowd dancing and singing in front of the stage was, for the most part, not going to remember a whole lot in the morning. i looked at the dancers, smiles, arms waving in the air, hands open, voices hoarse from singing this wordless refrain over and over again at the top of their lungs, and felt a strange love and compassion that was, for me, a God thing... a moment of revelation.

in that moment i realized that leading worship can take place anywhere. as a matter of fact, i would contend that it must needs take place anywhere there are worshipers to be found.

and there are worshipers to be found everywhere.
we were all created for this.

not necessarily for singing and dancing and such, but for the celebration of life and love through community fellowship and service to one another. God is glorified whenever these things happen because, in my view, all good things are of God and all bad things are good things that have been somehow compromised.

singing, dancing and celebration of life and love is a good thing.
often when we think of the word 'worship' we default to ideas like singing and dancing and celebration of life and love.

now whether this worship is qualified or informed by knowledge or experience or even intention is probably a whole nother blog, but the notion that human beings can be engaged in the worship of God simply by partying is probably one that will raise (or furrow) some eyebrows unless i qualify it a bit.

see, every time i step onto a stage and strap a guitar on, whether it is at a church or a cabaret, there is this opportunity to lead others in musical worship. for me, it comes down to simply recognizing the opportunity to unite people rather than divide them, using this gift that has been entrusted to my care. i remember a lyric from a latter day larry norman song (scroll back a couple posts for more tribute to his wisdom and impact upon my thinking and believing) which states that Jesus is still the only reason I pick up my guitar.

that statement need not be cheesy... it could be a simple truth of intention, embraced and given open-ended expression.

don miller, on the last page of his book prayer and the art of volkswagen maintenance writes about a similar moment of revelation that arrested him while thoughtfully gazing at a sunrise:

These mountains , which have seen untold suns rise, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man's weak praise would be given God's full attention.

It is a great wonder that those exposed to such beauty forfeit their obedience in the face of this miraculous evidence.

indeed. Jesus echoes the same sentiment in luke 19.37-40. it appears that all of creation waits to sing the praises of almighty God, but God prefers to hear praises from humankind.

so why do we remain silent most of the time?
and why do we need to be half smashed in order to sing and dance without inhibition?

perhaps it is because we are still so self-conscious (not to be confused with self-aware) that we need some form of external social lubricant to get over ourselves enough to engage in a freedom dance without feeling awkward. i mean, after the fall chronicled in genesis 3, the first thing that the people in the story do is look down and fixate upon their own shortcomings!

(thanks for that one, david niven, 46th annual academy awards... google it)


it is from the fall that we have learned to live here
not in healthy humility,
but in unhealthy humiliation.

and again and again we see examples around us of situations where life on fallen planet earth is so characterized by pain, fear and failure that people need to deaden the feelings of these things significantly in order to relate, to connect, to even talk to each other- much less worship together. we have become so disconnected from God and each other through our own disobedience and stubbornness that the garden seems like little more than a distant dream- an idyllic paradise myth at best; a metaphor for either the loss of innocence or the awakening of metacognition at least.

but as i looked out from that stage at the dancers with the smiles on their faces, the hands in the air and the mouths open in song, i wondered if our local pub was not just another outpost of the rock and roll babylon franchise, but was in fact a twinkling glimmer of hope- or paradise regained- that, in this sphere, can only be embraced and experienced for many while slightly merry, but which will one day be the way of things once our fallenness has truly fallen away and we are left completely naked before God and man, having no shame- only freedom.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

when God winks


it was my pleasure to accompany my son's high school band and choir on their recent trip to disneyland in order to participate in disney's magic music days (google it- it is pretty awesome). there are times when serving your community is an incredible hardship, an exercise in well-meaning faithfulness and obedience. this was not one of those times... to be permitted to be included as a chaperone felt more like the smile of God than anything resembling service.

perhaps all service is supposed to feel like the smile of God. probably a whole nother blog.

in any event, as is my custom, i found myself on the flight reflecting upon things that had taken place during the trip. here is a journal excerpt, chronicling my thoughts on one event in particular...

***

after lunch and a little bit of time spent at hermosa beach feeling conspicuously canadian amidst the perpetual tans of those who probably spend every sunday afternoon there, it was back to church...

the crystal cathedral was a place where God ambushed us with a rich outpouring of divine favour and presence. i will admit that going into the place i wore a bit of a smirk on my heart, in that what i saw was a big fancy building erected by the tax-deductable donations of many a feelgood-fixated, positivity-leads-to-prosperity predisposed, tvchurch-going, right wing republican, socially disconnected religious person... however, i repented of this pride upon being given a glimpse of God's sense of humour here.

(for more on what i think God's sense of humour looks like, go to
http://northvus.blogspot.com/2005/03/laughing-god.html)


the choir was slated to sing in the crystal cathedral alright- in between services while the cleaning staff vacuumed in another part of the church; in the south balcony- the cheap seats, as it were- with no cameras running but our own and none of the faithful in attendance apart from a handful of tourists and those we brought with us.

my smirk remained- i can be such an arrogant little jerk sometimes.

yet the kids were encouraged to embrace the experience and so i noted that the cathedral was very big, very bright and very beautiful, housing the fifth largest pipe-organ in the whole white world.

the choir moved into place, as did its attending fans. as our cameras rolled, swells of harmony began to touch the many corners of the room, warming them, sticking to them, colouring their glassy surfaces with the rich sound of a bunch of school kids who had begun singing together as strangers to each other as well as to their directors, but who had been united by countless hours of practice and performance and who now experienced a sense of fellowship, belonging and identity that would survive even the imminent closing of the school that had brought them together.

there was something deeply redemptive and passionate moving behind the rich sound of these teenaged voices from this terminal public high school singing praises (in many cases uniformed and unqualified by any type of personal or professed faith relationship or experience) to God.

the beauty was both transcendent and innocent;
both luminescent and reflective...

and it had nothing to do with buildings built by human hands- neither the school building and name, so often given perhaps more credit than warranted; nor the nearly empty church of glass that now resonated with the sound of community.

and this community continued to grow.

among those in attendance was a russian family visiting from sacramento... what a delight it was for them to hear, from somewhere in the south balcony, the sound of ave maria (the sergeii rachmaninoff version) sung in their mother tongue- the very same version that had been part of their provincial church services so many years ago.

also moved to join in was the organist and music director of the crystal cathedral who had happened to be passing through the big room... greeted not by silence or the sound of a vacuum cleaner in the distance, but by a rich and unexpected vocal polyphony. so delighted was he that he was prompted to interrupt the music with a blast through the majestic pipes... a choir like this should be singing from the choir loft in the morning service, not from the south balcony to a nearly empty room, he said. perhaps there was something more meaningful to the statement than a simple complement. whatever the case, the choir found themselves invited to sing from the choir loft with accompaniment by the 8000-some pipes of this incredible instrument.

and on the final 'amen' of the Lord's prayer, God winked.

tears flowed as performers and audience found themselves in a moment of inexplicable, spiritually profound import, united in worship and communion with each other and the divine, afforded a glimpse of heaven perhaps... or to at least hear, with our human ears, that which we imagine to be the sound of it

many in the room will spend the rest of their lives trying to make sense of what they experienced that moment in spiritual terms; others will default to deeply satisfying aesthetics... but this is for certain: although many will interpret it differently, no one present will dismiss it.

certainly not i. there was a sense that this was the purpose for which this big glass room had been built- for celebration of life and love, grace and holiness- and that we had been afforded the opportunity to participate in the realization of this purpose.

this was
God's house and
God's song was being sung here, so
God responded. so it goes when
God decides to be playful
in a house made of glass.

local newspaper coverage of the same can be found at
http://www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost/news/story.html?id=ecd7c339-3d62-4fe3-80e4-cf220b6e90db&k=39538