Worship Music: Where’s the line between evocative and manipulative?

First, this video is a brilliant piece of satire (you may want to watch it before reading my comments below). Check it out:

So I watched this video and found it to be hilarious – and once I stopped laughing, I found it unsettling. Awesome satire, it does an excellent job of critiquing the emotionally-manipulative/shallow aspect of feelings-based worship music. And here’s what it brings up for me: while the music I lead is a little different in style, I fully intend for it to be emotionally evocative, that it will hopefully cultivate an atmosphere of intimate encounter with God and community.

So here’s all the stuff I’m chewing on…

When does emotional music (or, for that matter, prayer/litanies/sermons) cross the line to emotional manipulation?

Is there a point at which our cultivation of the atmosphere of worship (sound, space, ritual) becomes coercive and/or exclusive of those who encounter God in other ways?

How do worship leaders know that we are approaching these decisions ethically?

I welcome your thoughts, wise friends.

Learning to Exhale: Breathing as an Act of Surrender

(Cross-posted at The Inward and Outward Journey.)

Confession: When it comes to Sabbath practices, I am so bad at this!

This was most recently evidenced by the fact that, for the umpteenth time, I stayed up too late last night.

It wasn’t the first time this year, or even this week. It was just the latest iteration of what for me has become an undesirable and frequent pattern: I get stressed out by day, then stay up late worrying by night. This, of course, becomes a vicious cycle: I’m stressed, so I stay up late, so I get less sleep, so I’m tired the next day, so I’m less efficient, so I feel more overwhelmed, which stresses me out, so I stay up late…

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now that the coffee has kicked in and I’ve had a little time to reflect, here’s part of what I think is going on for me: refusal to exhale.

Our scripture this week is very timely:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

On page 5 of Wayne Muller’s amazing A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, Wayne notes that in the original Hebrew, the word for this rest can be read as “And God exhaled.” And Wayne goes on to pose the question: When do we exhale?

When I’m stressed out, when I feel like I’m holding a lot of stuff, I feel physically tight. The muscles in my neck and shoulders become tense. I feel emotionally tight as well. My mind races from one thing to another, as if I’d drop all the things if I spent too much time thinking about any one of them. And I feel spiritually tight – it’s hard work trying to maintain all this control, you know? Who has time for spiritual renewal when I’ve got so many things to worry about?? I hardly have time to breathe!

…And that’s what I mean by refusal to exhale: physically, emotionally, and spiritually refusing to breathe…

or open

or widen

or relinquish

or release.

I gain something out of refusing to exhale: the illusion that I ultimately have control over all these things I’m worrying about. But the utterly terrifying – and liberating – truth is, I actually don’t have control over the things that give me the most stress. And so for me, stress management isn’t about somehow seizing more control, but rather the opposite: letting go of my desire to control those things. In spiritual language, this is the discipline of surrender.

A curious thing happens when we breathe deeply: our bodies relax. Our heart rates slow down. Our thoughts become clearer. We become more attentive to the things around us. We gain the ability to sustain our focus on one thing at a time. Viewed in this light, breathing itself is an embodied act of surrender: Inhale: allow the oxygen into my body, and hold it there… Exhale: …then surrender it back out.

In the coming days, as we explore the practices of physical, emotional, and spiritual Sabbath together, let’s please be sure to take time to breathe… and relax… and let go of that which we cannot control. Let’s try to do this not only in our designated “Sabbath times,” but when the stress is at its highest points. I’ll keep you posted about how that works out on my end…

Breathe with me?

It gets better: Christianity is (slowly) getting better too

God is not a homophobe.

On theological exclusivity

…truthfully, I find Roman Catholic exclusivity no more appealing — nor convincing — than that of Southern Baptists, Mormons, Muslims, or nondenominational Christian fundamentalists. With all due respect, y’all start to sound the same to me. Either just one of you is right about God’s exclusivity, or none of you are. Based on my own experience with God, I’m betting on the latter.

Read the rest here.

Just thinking out loud

Jesus created a church out of the most marginalized people in society, while opposing to the end the entrenched civic and religious structures that would eventually collude to kill him. We find Jesus today, as with yesterday, among the most marginalized people in our midst. And for those of us who find ourselves among the most powerful civic and religious structures should never assume that the just God of the powerless is smiling down in assent to whatever we do.

Where does Jesus show up today? Who’s with him? And what is he saying to me, in the face of all of my squandered privilege?

Speak, Holy One!! I am listening as best I am able, but I do not often hear your voice over the calamity of my life.

Our world is careening into chaos, there is brokenness and suffering wherever people abide, and the most compelling religious discourse throughout America is whether or not two dudes can get married?? What utter fools we are.

Speak, Holy One!! I cannot say if we are listening, but we need your living Word.

When did the church of the “least of these” get fancy projector screens and glorious organs and gorgeous pianos and professional bands and huge gymnasiums and spacious parking lots and unnatural waterfalls and ornate plates and solid silver chalices and individually packaged McEucharists and high pulpits and low taxes? But more importantly, did we give up anything in return?

Speak…!!

Thanks.

Just got an email letting me know that this blog has been featured at onlinechristiancolleges.net, in a compilation of the “top 55 pastor bloggers”. I appreciate the inclusion among some great company. Check it out as a good annotated resource of some of what else is out there.

Good things in small packages

I know I was touched by God Incarnate this morning.  It was awesome.

Today we had a special healing service after the two usual ones at church.  There was laying on of hands, anointing with oil and some good praying and music.  I played and sang a couple chants on piano.  It was free-flowing and simple, leisurely yet concise.  It was rather unlike our usual weekly white Protestant fare, in which church is a more individual endeavor (though not nearly as personal).

Since I was playing piano, I did not go forward to be anointed with oil during the healing service, but I wanted to be anointed afterward.  Those who had helped officiate (a pastor and a few ‘Ministers of Care’) were scattered about the room,  so I turned to the closest other person, a short, cute kid certainly no more than 4 years old.  I called him over and said, “I didn’t get any oil for my head during the service.  Would you help me?”  He nodded.

I picked up one of the bowls of oil and handed it to him, kneeling down to his level.  He dipped his left index finger into the oil and slowly, deliberately traced it down my forehead – then across, in order to complete the cross.

His mom then came over and helped him say a prayer for me.  She told me he really likes church.  I told her, maybe he’ll end up getting stuck here too.  I hope someday, particularly if he does end up going into ministry, I can find him and tell him this story.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”  I’ve been exploring the idea that Jesus is, among other things, an ongoing, at-any-moment manifestation of God Incarnate, one who shows up in others (and maybe even me? Whoa…) from time to time.  Today, I’m convinced that Jesus showed up personally to me and blessed me at the hands of this awesome little kid.  Thanks, Ethan!