“Performance Art” a poem inspired by Isaiah 58

Lord we have fasted, we have prayed

Come near to us

We have sung our songs of praise

Come near us

We seem to love your ways

Come near to us

 

Your light reveals us as comfortable

Wearing the benefits of oppressors

Like our favourite shirt

Chilled out on a couch

Cushions stuffed by slave labour

Bemoaning our own “oppression”

Making up wars on Christmas

 

Our worship is performance art

Shiny guitars and 80s retro

Flashing LEDs to hide the homeless

We share pretty polished

polite white words

While first peoples are boiling water

 

Pissed off cuz the music man

Won’t play our favourites

“YEAH THAT’S INJUSTICE”

Yelling loud enough not to hear

gunshots 

going from blue towards black and brown bodies

 

Why can’t you hear us God

Didn’t we do it all right?

But nothing about this is

ALRIGHT

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Worship INC part 4: theory becomes reality

I never intended on writing a part 4.  However, something happened a couple weeks ago that really brought home the problem of the centralization of worship that I discussed in part 2.  As the bio says, I work as the worship arts director of a lovely little mainline church.  This church is in a period of transition as it moves towards some modernization of its worship songbook.  That process has involved inserting some diverse voices into the liturgy but also looking to modern worship songwriters for material.  While in the midst of that, I came across the following tweet:

I have more than a few parishioners who are either part of the LGBTQ community or have family members that are LGBTQ so I felt compelled to follow up on this.

What I found was this:  Bethel Church (of Bethel Music fame) is currently marshalling resources and leading a campaign to fight California’s attempt to ban gay conversion therapy.

For those of you unfamiliar with conversion therapy or “ex-gay” therapy just know this:  Conversion therapy has been roundly condemned by the scientific community.  It is incredibly damaging and has left a trail of addiction, suicide, and mental health issues in its wake. (you can read the World Health Organization report here).  Even major  proponents of “reparative therapy”  have disavowed the practice and apologized for the damage they caused.

After doing the research and searching my own heart I arrived at the following conclusion:  How could I in good conscience allow any of the church’s licensing fees go towards funding an initiative that will do direct harm to LGBTQ people?  Especially since I worship with LGBTQ people and their family members on a regular basis.  It would be wrong.  And how could I ever ask them to worship through material that sends royalty money into the war chest of an organization that is actively fighting against the well-being of the LGBTQ community?  As a consequence of this knowledge, my church has decided that we will no longer include Bethel Music in our services and will continue to do that until Bethel decides to cease this activity.

So church peeps, I want to leave these thoughts with you.

Even if you minister in a non-affirming space, odds are you have LGBTQ parishioners.  I’m sure many of you either know some LGBTQ folks or count a few as your friends.  I would urge you to consider if you want your licensing dollars supporting harm to people like them.

Autism Awareness Month

April is autism awareness month

My encouragement to you is to do the following:

Special education programs suffer from a chronic lack of resources. Tell your elected representatives that better funding for education for kids w/ autism is important to you.

Instead of stereotyping, use the Google to expand your knowledge on the subject. It is a spectrum and no 2 peeps w/ autism are the same.

Also, our society tends to ascribes value only in correlation to their ability to be “productive” in an economic sense

This type of ableism often leads to people w/ autism being seen as “less than”

Our economic and social systems are predisposed to view people w/ autism as a “burden” rather than as human beings w/ innate worth.

Do the emotional and intellectual work required to be able to see people w/ autism as equals.

Value and honour their personhood.

Come alongside them in their advocacy for their right to dignity and meaningful participation in society.

Allow awareness to move you towards transformative action.

“I am an orphan in the church of the empire”

I recently had the opportunity to share the story behind my song “Orphan” with the students & faculty at my alma mater (Ambrose University). It’s challenging and nerve wracking to choose vulnerability but it’s my hope that the heart behind these words is evident.

These keys

Finding my heartbeat again. This right here is a necessary part of my contemplative spiritual practice that I’ve neglected far too often. Putting my fingers on these keys grounds me in a way that few things do. I meet God here and I find myself again.

Often I can play the things that I can’t get out with words. And the click of the keys, the sound of the hammers hitting the tines acts as a bridge between this temporal reality and the deeper ultimate reality.

How Dueling Pianos Made Me A Better Worship Leader

For those unfamiliar with dueling pianos, the concept is as follows:

People request songs and then the pianists/vocalists encourage them to singalong, stand on chairs and engage in similar frivolities.  I’m not sure about your church, but that certainly isn’t my experience of Sunday morning.

I’ve worked as a dueling piano player going on 10 years now.  In this job, I’ve played in multiple different contexts and performed for wildly disparate groups of people.  Some of them are familiar with the concept, others are being introduced to it for the first time.

So what’s the connection?

Well aside from the fact that both can drive you to drink, here’s the main thing:

In church and in dueling pianos I continually put my preferences aside in order to help people have an emotional and spiritual experience.  Example:  I care very little for “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey (at this point, I’ve played it so many times that I’m a Journey-specific atheist).  However, it’s my responsibility as a dueling piano player to make sure that people in the venue connect with that song as it will likely be the high point of their evening.  If people are not scream-belting by the end of that tune, I have not done my job.

So much of worship culture shames pastoral musicians if they don’t have a visceral emotional connection to the music they’re playing in church services.  But, to use the parlance of my other job, that’s not the gig.  As a pastoral musician, you are there to facilitate an emotional and spiritual connection for the people in your congregation.  Sometimes that will involve using music that you love.  Sometimes it will be material that you might not care for or necessarily connect with personally.  That doesn’t make what you are doing “less spiritual.”  It’s being faithful to the people who you serve.

It’s been a long learning curve but the biggest skill I’ve gained from my time as a dueling piano player is learning how to find those emotional and spiritual connecting points through material that, frankly, I don’t really care about.  I’ve learned to find more meaning in facilitating than in feeding my preferences.

p.s.

in terms of “best practices,” please make sure that you are feeding your soul with stuff that cuts you to the quick.  But taking the pressure off your pastoral gig to do that for you will be super helpful.