Songs To Pray By CD Release show

Thanks to the 60+ folks who came out to the show at Kavarna on Friday night!  Mondo Davis opened up for us and was terrific.  We had fun reinterpreting songs from the album! Justin learned/adapted various lead guitar lines written by Dan Ra, Jack Jirack, David Drexler, Mike Sink and even some flute lines.  Larry sat in for Will on Drums (which also means that Derek on bass slid to fit Larry's interpretations). And then Stacey and Derek figured out how to sing BGVs written by Kerstin, Sasha, Annie, David, Eric and others.

The kickstarters have been sent their special downloads and the CDs were sorted and boxed by Marybeth Bellinger and Stephanie Shackelford, hitting mailboxes tomorrow!  So now we can begin unveiling Songs To Pray By for public consumption.  Anyone can stream or purchase the entire album at troybronsink.bandcamp.com or by clicking music in the above menu.

Keep posted because next month we'll roll out a new entire site www.troybronsink.com and facebook page that will include Church as Art, prayby, details on my upcoming book Drawn In, a place to see my art/curation portfolio, and a place for you to interact with all the work. Music, lyrics, song sheets, and books will be available on the site too.

Thank you everyone for your help on making Songs To Pray By possible!

Kickstart Songs to Pray By

 

So as not to bury the lead: I'm raising some money, $10 for great music... come on, give it a try. :) Here's some background info:

When Neighbors Abbey began we decided it should be a part time job.  And so my other job was as a contract worship curator for City Church Eastside with my friend Scott Armstrong, who I had gotten to know through the Emergent Cohort.  While it remains part time, it has grown into a very life-giving collaboration! It started out while they were meeting in the community room at StudioPlex in Old Fourth Ward and 30-50 folks would gather.  I played on my own or with a bassist or mandolinist (is that a word?).  Eventually more musicians joined the ranks—folks who had been playing in indie bands around town.  When we moved into Stove Works facility (still in O4W) the large boomy warehouse space affected the songs and we found our voice with more ambient/explosion/radio-head-ish tones.

All along I've been asking churches to consider moving past the false choice of "traditional or contemporary" into culturally specific aesthetics (or in the words of my friend Doug Pagitt- moving from for to as).  But this venture with City Church has stretched further than I would have imagined into its own distinctive sound.  We still cover familiar songs but we reframe them to fit our voice.  For example we'll sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessings, with a 5/4 interlude like Sigur Ros or Come Thou Long Expected Jesus with the heavy tambour and pedal tones of In Rainbows. We've also written some songs together with monthly jam sessions (using some tricks I learned along the way from Todd Fadell).

Here's the Kickstarter promo video with some samples of band rehearsals (the whole thing was recorded from my iPhone4).

 

This project is an opportunity to demonstrate diverse theological collaboration, to create fresh expressions of church, make quality indie music, and to bridge the emerging community of the church with her fore-parents.  I'd love to hear what you think of the project as it unfolds and (of course) would love your help in making it happen through Kickstarter before March 18.  We need to raise all $5,000 or we don't get any of it.

Thanks for helping spread the word!

How Music works in Worship?

Recently my friend Bruce Reyes-Chow suggested I blog “How does music touch your soul?” He left it pretty broad so I’ll have some fun with this.  I’m going to unpack the use of music in worship and take it from a systems approach rather than a “everyone should sing because the bible includes songs and faith traditions invite people to sing” approach.  Not that I care to disprove the later, just that the former is more interesting to me.

Here are three thoughts on music/soul/worship:

  1. Beauty saves us
  2. When we sing we vibrate together
  3. Our selves are all we have

So First of all, how does beauty save us?  I know I’ll get some push back on this but before you do I want you to think of times that a favorite movie, a song, a concert, a painting, an elaborate meal, or the sun’s setting took your breath away.  Narrow it down to one example.  Can you recreate that moment?  Think of the time of day, the season of the year, those who were with you, the smells, the colors, the sounds. What comes to mind?  In what ways did your encounter with beauty take your breath away, reorient you, bring you in touch with or help you overcome your fears or anxieties?  Did you or those with you try to describe it in the moment, or just let it ring true?  If you did give it words, did they measure up to the experience?

Elaine Scarry describes beauty as (among many things) a “quickening” encounter, “it is as though one has suddenly been washed up onto a merciful beach: all unease, aggression, indifference suddenly drop back behind one, like a surf that has for a moment lost its capacity to harm.”(On Beauty and Being Just, pg25).  Instead of the mind successfully searching for precedents or names it is too filled with the present, “It is the very way the beautiful thing fills the mind and breaks all frames that gives the ‘never before in the history of the world’ feeling” (OBBJ, 23). Like Isaiah’s response to five chapters of wonder and glory, all of the mind is full and we respond, “Woe is me!” (Is 5.5).  Like the woman healed of hemorrhages who told Jesus her whole story, all our reservations are freed up (Mk 5.33).  Like the audience of new perceivers at the Church’s first Pentecost, when “Awe came upon everyone” because of signs and wonders, old “frames” are broken and new structures are suddenly created for living in the way of Christ (Ac 2.42-47).

I’m not arguing to replace the “Word made flesh, crucified and risen” notion of salvation.  I’m simply suggesting that we see more deeply how God’s accomplishes salvation in the way that beauty does, by drawing us into the new, awakening us to creation’s oldest song.

So music, uniquely pulls us into a place of appreciation, of awe, of love, of health.

 

Second, when we sing we are moving in a unified field. Music (and most notably music that we can feel coming from our own diaphragm sending air though our busy little larynx) is the travelling of waves.  Like we’re learning from quantum physics and theories like string theory, at the subatomic level all material things share properties.  We are less separate than we suppose.  Concerts of people singing together share a harmonic space. And when a bass drum is beating it is obvious, we’re shaken together as one material field through which the rhythm can travel.  Like a rock falling in the pond makes ripples, the music is the rock and the congregation is the pond.

Augustine is credited with saying that “when we sing we pray twice.”  Who knows all that he meant by that.  But in conventional circles, Christians site this quote to emphasize that the whole self—the whole body joins in the prayer.  Similarly to Yoga and other healing arts, song is something that involves more than the recitation of words or the intellectual concept.

When I coach bands and vocalists in leading worship I ask them to imagine an open tuned guitar and an oscillating fan blowing over the strings until they ring in harmony.  The musician’s job, and the leader of corporate prayer, is to bring the members of the gathering into harmony with each other, to ring together.  Like the spirit of God hovering over the waters, musicians have the responsibility to prepare space, to listen, to watch, and then to stir the winds.

 

Third, our material selves are all we have.  My friend Pete Rollins articulates this as well as any when he says “Christianity is nothing less than a material faith i.e. a mode of being that transforms ones material actuality”.  The longer I make music and work with people in community organizing capacities I am coming to believe that the so called “spiritual” world is not somewhere “out there”, but is instead known through the everyday, the here and now, the stuff of life.  Walter Brueggemann has written a prayer in which he invites us to be “rooted to earth, and awed by heaven.”  By this I think he’s pointing to the deeply integrated Hebrew tradition in which the God of the heavens is in our midst.

God is known, tasted, heard, in this world via material things of this world.  At the neurological level, everything ranging from the secret vision of a word from the Lord, to reading a paragraph of scripture, to appreciating a sunrise involves chemicals and electrical impulses travelling through your brain.  ‘Not to mention physical eardrums or retinas.  Just this morning on Morning Edition, I heard an interview with a neuroscientist whose research concluded that “music has some kind of privileged access to the motor system.” Songs uniquely utilize the senses and material world.  And like a familiar smell brings back an old memory, a song is capable of releasing endorphins and serotonins triggering inspiration, grief, or anger, or all these simultaneously.

Since music incorporates the material world, it befits congregations who seek to engage, bless, and transform the material world at their doorsteps.  And the breadth of musical tone, genres, and palates your congregation uses, the wider the range of applicability in the missional lives of the congregants.

When Bruce asked me about music and soul, the thought came to mind, “music is a window into soulfulness.”  Like the exiled Hebrews who loathed singing the wrong song in the wrong place, music has the unique ability to expose dissonance in any a context.  When bands play popular covers at bars that don’t sound like soul-felt words or tones, it leaves the experience wanting.  All to often worship music, seeking to “reach out,” to “be relevant” or to “validate” an underrepresented population group can do the same.  I think this has to do with the misunderstanding of the physical and somatic connections made with music.

 

With many of my African American friends, after a great concert someone leaves saying they just "had church."  I think this is due to the deep connections our bodies make between song and participation in worshiping God.

So, what do you think?  When have you "had church"?  And what are some of the best and worst uses of music you’ve seen in faith communities?

 

Advent songs of longing

Is it poor form to be sad that Advent is drawing to a close? Somehow the more maudlin honesty about longing, with the cooler air (though Atlanta has been uncharacteristically warm this December) and the bare trees invites me to a place of peace and deep beauty more than any other of the year. Not to be confused with the 25 day calendar countdown complete with daily chocolates, the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmastide originates in the Hebrew lament and apocalyptic traditions. The prophets and prophetesses of the Jewish people anticipated a day when their suffering would be reversed and when God would usher in an age of freedom, Sabbath, and reconciliation (check out Isaiah 27.6-28.13, or Handle's Messiah). Walter Brueggemann writes, "It is for good reason that prophetic imaging is characteristically done in daring metaphor, surprising rhetoric, and scandalous utterance, for to do less is to fall back into conventional distortions of reality." (Brueggemann, NYAPC, August 2006) Music has been a vehicle for that metaphor for centuries and folks like Bob Dylan and Curtis Mayfield brought it into the fore of pop music. Christmas season in the west is filled with the kind of longing aesthetic, just check out the #sadchristmas hashtag.

In years past songs like Tom Wait's Jesus Gonna Be Here, Joni Mitchell's  River, or U2's Wake Up Dead Man have been strong Advent soundtracks, but the two songs this year that particularly captured this feeling for me were Rory Cooney's Canticle of the Turning, and Paul Simmon's Getting Ready For Christmas Day .

My main-liner colleagues love the Canticle of the Turning written by Rory Cooney in 1990 (a GIA Pub). Cooney ties a Celtic vibe with the song of liberation starting from Mary's Magnificat to Hannah's prayer in the temple, and Miriam's dance after the escape through the parted Red Sea (here's his version). Usually these women's words are absorbed in the story but Cooney helps bring this theme of God's messianic shift to the fore. One verse goes:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;

In the last verse he roots the fulfilling Messianic work of Christmas in a creation theology:

This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, 'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

I have to admit, I was sorta hard on this song in seminary because it was always rendered with the aesthetic of a PBS special of The River Dance when sung to organ in straight 4/4. And it was a token song for youth-pastors-turned-MDiv students with djembes wearing indigenous shirts from past mission trips. But last year I heard Emmaus Way do it and then this year I was able to arrange it with the band at City Church Eastside and we landed in a more Joplin/Zepplin feel (or Blitzen Trapper for folks following current indie music) which is admittedly my own subcultural equivalent of indigenous shirts from mission trips. Anyways, the song's revolutionary tone and poetry came to life for me in this new setting. We began to joke that is was a song for 99%, but its probably more a song for the 2/3rds world (who's indigenous shirts are worn by ex-youth pastors).

This is all to say that songs, when deconstructed and rewritten by folks in your congregation can capture the imaginations of your community in ways that songs that with a educated "global" feel may actually keep at arms lengths. But I'll confess its hard to seperate my own subjective aesthetic from my argument, perhaps you'd have some better perspective to offer…

Someone who's appropriation of global and indegenous sounds has always felt more intergrative is Paul Simmon. A second song that has been working on me this Advent is from his most recent album, So Beautiful So What. The album deserves a post of its own because of his masterful poetry, clever delivery and outstanding folk/rock sensibility. But the first song on the album, Getting Ready for Christmas Day, is the one I'd love to share. The guitars are panned with a reverb going back and forth similar to T-Bone Burnet's production of the Krauss/Plant album, Raising Sand. Beneath the percussive guitars and drums you first single out the sounds of what could be party conversation but then you realize its a black church with the preacher and congregation in that unmistakable call and response. The cadence of his words are magical and makes me wonder if Simon wrote the song to fit with the sermon (but I'll bet the sermon was mixed to fit the song). The minister, Rev. J.M.Gates, was an Atlantan activist, Christian preacher, and gospel singer from the early 20th century and a pioneer of the new media of his time (its estimated that 25% of all sermons commercially released before '43 were his ). The sermon sampled in the song comes from shortly after the second world war. On Simon's web site he posts Gates' lyrics with his and it makes for a call and response of its own centered in the longing of Advent. Mike tweeted today that a conversation between a contemporary working class person hustling to live up to the acquisitive expectations of capitalism and an apocalyptic sermon about the brevity of life. Notice the interplay:

Paul Simon: From early in November to the last week of December I got money matters weighing me down Oh the music may be merry, but it's only temporary I know Santa Claus is coming to town In the days I work my day job, in the nights I work my night But it all comes down to working man's pay Getting ready, I'm getting ready, ready for Christmas Day

Reverend Gates : Getting ready for Christmas Day And let me tell you, namely, the undertaker, he's getting ready for your body Not only that, the jailer he's getting ready for you Christmas day. Hmm? And not only the jailer, but the lawyer, the police force Now getting ready for Christmas day, and I want you to bear it in mind

Paul Simon: I got a nephew in Iraq it's his third time back But it's ending up the way it began With the luck of a beginner he'll be eating turkey dinner On some mountain top in Pakistan Getting ready, oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day

Reverend Gates: Getting ready, for Christmas day. Done made it up in your mind that I'm going, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. I'm going, on a trip, getting ready, for Christmas day. But when Christmas come, nobody knows where you'll be. You might ask me. I may be layin' in some lonesome grave, getting ready, for Christmas day

Paul Simon: Getting ready oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day Yes we're getting ready

Reverend Gates: Getting ready, ready for your prayers, "I'm going and see my relatives in a distant land."

Pail Simon: Getting ready, getting ready for Christmas day If I could tell my Mom and Dad that the things we never had Never mattered we were always okay Getting ready, oh ready for Christmas day Getting ready oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day

What songs bring Advent home for you?  Will you miss this season as much as me?

Clayfire... failed pot?

So, what is Clayfire, and why would anyone care if its gone (here's the closing announcement)  ?

Their tagline, "reshaping worship together" sums up what I think they/we were after.  But they also needed to figure out how the reshapers or users of "pre-shaped" worship were going to access the designs... and in the world of Planning Center Online and various denominational worship resource companies, Clayfire never figured out how to break into the industry.

About two years ago at Christianity21 event in Minneapolis I met Linda Parriot and got reacquainted with Sally Morganthaler, they were beginning a project around worship that would combine resourcing churches as well as catalyzing artists who design worship and art experiences. The project would be both an affiliate of Augsburg Fortress Press' new imprint, Sparkhouse, and a sort of online resource store.

I joined up with the team as they were commissioning original content for the online resources.  Sally and a few others moved on around the same time because they were more committed to the catalyzing and collaboration than to an online resource site. I enjoyed working on a fresh collection called "God's Grand Work of Art" with friends like Tim Omara, Aaron Strumple, Todd Fadel, Josey Stone, Margaret Ellsworth and my brother, designer Jonathan Bronsink.  The collection was one of dozens designed by artist who not only lead worship music, paint, or preach, but who design worship as formational practice of missional life.  Influenced by the work of Mark Pierson, Clayfire coined this practice as "curation."

Then last summer I met up with Jodi-Renee Adams, Eric Heron and Lilly Lewin to plan a worship gathering at the Wild Goose Festival.  Eric had been leading a blog discussion on this for quite some time, and many of us had worked together before. But working at the goose was a chance to welcome other artists into the conversation and introduce this line of worship design thinking to pastors and missional leaders. Here's a picture of an experience curated that included the use of yarn passed between participants as a symbol of shared  prayers.

Then, this fall I had the chance to work with Mark, Jodi, Shawna Bowman (in the pic above) and ephemeral artist and Methodist campus minister, Ted Hatten. We co-facilitated a seminar in Chicago called The Art of Curating Worship (after Mark's book by the same name). In that space I really grew to trust the vision and focus of the Clayfire organization.  While they did need to make the business start up work (and the actual online subscription program had to roll back to beta because of so many quirks) they had carefully connected the success of the business and the online resources to the re-imagining of worship.  Not enough could be said about the courage to try that!

So, this Monday, when I learned that Clayfire would be unplugged I was sad but not surprised.  It was at once a struggling business venture and a burgeoning group of theologically nuanced creatives who could (and still might) reshape the practices of church.  For sure, these theological-artist and others were doing this before Clayfire, but nevertheless this was a rallying point and I met great people because of it.

In the art of throwing pottery, the potter often discovers that the clay just doesn't want to become what she had in mind.  If, in the middle she forces it one way or another the entire vessel collapses and throws slag and bits of unfired clay over the potter, the wheel, and the room. Sometimes potters luck out and an unexpected work of art emerges.  And then sometimes the pot seems to be done but it just doesn't feel right... it ends up sold at a discount because it never fits...  Sometimes its not until they are fired in the kiln that pots fail, because the slip and scoring weren't strong enough for the handle to hold or because the glaze bled.

So the question is what do we make of Clayfire? A failed business idea, or an early iteration in a host of ways forward in congregational formation and worship arts?  I'm sure that there remains more to be seen from the world of worship curation and I hope that Clayfire's legacy will play a significant role in whats to come.

What do you hope for the future of worship shaping, and what organizations, groups or networks have you found most supportive of this kind of work?

Mike Crawford

If you don't already know Mike Crawford and the Secret Siblings, you should.  He's an old friend of mine that curates worship at Jacobs Well in Kansas City. Check out this video: Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings from josh franer on Vimeo.

And then here are two lead sheets to his songs that he has allowed us to share on Church As Art.  You can buy the tunes or the whole album from iTunes or Amazon.

Center My Heart Key A

These are words to build a life on

Enjoy!

Keep Singing!

I know I've been MIA, here's the latest and some of what is brewing in me... We're preparing our house and family life for our second kid, due September 28. I'm cultivating the early years of Neighbors Abbey's work in SW Atlanta and the emerging church planting that is a part of it.  Joshua Case and I have been teaming up on some Church as Art emerging worship coaching projects for this fall. I'm still working with the Village Counsel of Emergent Village as we live into our being a Village green. And I'm in the middle of curating worship for Clayfire, writing a chapter for an upcoming festschrift by Ryan Bolger about hyphenated emerging projects, curating music for City Church Eastside, and writing my first full length book for Paraclete Press about the intersection the Aesthetics and God's Mission. This book (provisionally titled, "Getting Drawn In") is about the creative nature of God's mission, and our own awakening to God's calling as we step into creative and intentional lives. In researching all this I came across an old book of poems called The Singer by Calvin Miller referred or given to me by my friend Ty Saltsgiver in the 90s. In it I found this chapter XII entitled"In hell there is no music—an agonizing night that never ends as songless as a shattered violin":

"Sing the Hillside Song" they cried. There were so many of them. He wasn't even sure he could be heard above the din of all their voices. He walked among them and looked them over. In his mind he knew that the Father's Spirit wanted each of them to learn his song.

Someone in the sprawling crowd stood and handed him a lyre. "Sing for us please Singer—the Hillside Song!"

"Yes, yes," they called, "the Hillside Song"

He looked down at the lyre and held it close. He turned each thumb-set till the string knew how to sound, then he began:

"Blessed are the musical," he said, "for their's shall be never-ending song."

"Blessed are those who know the difference between their loving and their lusting, for they shall be pure in heart and understand the reason."

"Blessed are those who die for reasons that are real, for they themselves are real."

"Blessed are all those who yet can sing when all the theater is empty annd the orchestra is gone."

"Blessed is the man who stands before the cruelest king and only fears his God."

"Blessed is the mighty king who sits behind the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities."

"Earthmaker is love. He has send his only Troubadour to close the Canyon of the Damned."

Then they broke his song and cried one with one voice, "Tell us Singer, have you any hope for us? can we be saved?"

"You may if you will sing Earth- makers's Song!"

"Is there another way to cheat the Canyon of the Damned?"

"None but the Song!"

The beauty of Miller's language here, to me, is that there is a song that wants to be played. There is a way out of loneliness and despair, that comes with willfully listening to the song within...  And that you can't short cut that listening pathway with some kind of formula or group membership.  We have to keep listening, and singing.

Lyrics for songs

I just finished a great weekend at the Montreat College Conference playing with Rea Rea (Clemson) on Bass and Jason Peckman (Athens) on drums.  They put up with a lot of seat-of-the-pants direction from me, and made it a far better weekend than it would have been were I just a guy with his acoustic guitar.  Ellen and Audry (from Emory) were great vocalists, Donnie (Athens) a mad soprano saxophonist, and Jefferson (Northern Alabama) with some sick chops on the piano. We taught a lot of new songs as well as new arrangements I've been working on.  Here are lead sheets for three of those songs.  More to come.  Oh and if you were at the conf and wanna hear some of my singer-songwriter stuff check out the music link to iLike. Wildest Imagination (Bass)

Wildest Imagination (Guitar Capo2)

Oh Blessed God

Bring Forth

GENERATE magazine

I'm excited to be collaborating with Paul Soupiset, Tim Snyder, and Makeesha Fisher, among others, on this long awaited project. I will be editor of visual and performing arts.

HERE'S THE SCOOP...

GENERATE Magazine has been an open, collaborative project in the works for more than six years now. And after many casual conversations — and the 2009 convening of an editorial team — we are ready and eager to involve you, the larger community, in helping realize this dream with us.

The seeds for GENERATE Magazine were sown sitting around a fountain in San Diego in 2004 — a few writers, poets, artists and designers explored and dreamed about launching a print publication that would embody the ethos and tell the stories of the growing, generative conversation that some have called the emerging church conversation.

Again at the 2007 Emergent Gathering, another planning group was convened to discuss logistics, bring some leadership to the dream, and get things rolling. GENERATE Magazine is the fruit of many months of their planning.

VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS?

Art provides resistance and lift to what the Spirit of New Creation is generating. The beauty that artisans fashion, sing, and perform can testify to what is possible and evoke imagination for what is yet to come. We are drawn to paintings and songs that put us "in play." GENERATE aims to fashion a synthesis of such works of art, and to celebrate the lives of their creators, in order to put our readers in play as well.

WHY GENERATE?

GENERATE exists as a forum to retell the stories of the grassroots communities and individuals who are finding emergent and alternative means to follow God in the Way of Jesus. We hope to create an artifact of this historical conversation. These stories will be transmitted through narrative, works of visual art, documented performances, verse, fiction, non-fiction, essays, and interviews.

We/you are the conversation; our art, our lives, our hopes and failures all meet up with God’s approaching dreams for creation. We converse and in doing so spread the news that we are not alone — that joy is found in our generative friendship.

GENERATE Magazine is a grassroots-organized, independent publication affiliated as a friend of Emergent Village, but not affiliated with any publishing house. We are currently exploring ways to distribute GENERATE Magazine via the Emergent Village Cohorts and wider friendships. More on that in the days to come.

no bad news

I think Daley turned me on to Patti first

I don't need none of your bad news today You're a sad little boy, anyone can see you're just a sad little boy That's why you're carrying on that way Why don't you burn it all down, burn your own house down, burn your own house down Try to kill your own disease And leave the rest of us, there's a lot of us, leave the rest of us Who wanna live in peace to live in peace

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way We won't be afraid to be alive anymore And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us Till there are no strangers anymore

Don't bring me bad news, no bad news I don't need none of your bad news today You can't have my fear, I've got nothing to lose, can't have my fear I'm not getting out of here alive anyway And I don't need none of these things, I don't need none of these things I've been handed And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and Coming in for a landing

love and silence

I've subscribed to Image journal for several years and don't always get to read the whole thing. But I love the work of Image's chief editor, Gregory Wolfe. So I recently picked up the book, Intruding Upon the Timeless, with selections of his contributions to the journal between its beginning in 89 until 2003. So I'll drop snippets of my readings as we go...

I'll be speaking in October at an Atlanta event organized by Progressive Christian Cooperative, called The Beloved Community: From Formation to Action. I met Kimberly, the inventor behind this, through the Emergent Cohort and have begun to learn from her passion to bring innovative practice of spiritual formation into the human right advocacy circles as well as advocacy into spiritual formation circles. So, though the event is in October our conversations this summer and my talk are simmering on one of my back burners along with what I've been reading by Wolfe.

In Wolfe's article "Silence Cunning and Exile" (quoting James Joyce) I was stuck by the fellowship between beauty and suffering. Almost in a vin diagram sense, these two vivid themes, beauty and suffering, overlap in the costs to access them and the effect the evoke. They have an admission and an affect. They both beg a question that is never answered until the spirit/body s t o p s and in silence hears/feels/knows LOVE. Eyes to see and ears to hear...

And so beauty and suffering, the teleological signpost of the artists and the prophet, are met in silence. These are not "the ends" they are the signs. But signs are how we see, they are the things that compel us when we see through glass dimly, when we only have a lamp for our feet and light on our path, while death valley's shadows remain. No activist can afford to stay plugged in at every movement to her iPhone, and the ticker at the bottom of CNN, and the moving messages of injustice and need outside the MARTA window. No artist can afford to stay transfixed as a doer, maker, striver. Artists and activists both require love. Their trades, sans love, will CLANG worse than a bad drum track. The access to an inner rhythm, to beauty that does not tare you away from humanity in endless pursuit of nirvana, to a righteousness that rolls down mountains in liquid inevitability–the access to this ineffability requires us to s t o p and listen to...

It is in silence that we hear our belovedness. And silence, like white space, is also a place, it is the spacial environment where our imaginations are taught/shapes/formed. Silence, though, is not a commodity to be traded. Like manna it will turn to worms should you return to it apart from an open receptive posture (maybe this is why acquisitiveness, self-aggrandizement, or scarcity rarely characterize true artists and activists). Artists and activists are shapers, whether pragmatic or romantic, we move real things into new places and lop off the corner of one thing fastening something to its other side until a new thing emerges. We are shapers, and it is in silence the we let go of our brother's heel, and unbuckle our holster, and lay down our birth-rite as shaper... and we climb up onto the easel, the wheel, into the kiln, and place our necks under the callused fingers to be shaped by...

Love.

Here are a few of Wolfe's lines and citations that have shaped me today...

There is nothing behind [silence] to which it can be related, except the Creator Himself (sic.) -Max Pickard, The World of Silence.

Out of silence emerges the creative act, both in the 'sub-creation' of the artist and in the creation of God. but there is also a sense in which the created artifact itself is something set into silence...

The space that Christ gives us to respond to him is similar to the space the the artist must give to us to respond to his or her work...

The art that emerges out of silence–the art the experiences human life and our fallen world as a place of exile–forces us to ask the question "why." -Gregory Wolfe

There can be no answer to the 'Why?' of the afflicted... The only things the compel us tot ask the question are affliction, and also beauty; for the beautiful gives us such a vivid sence of the presence of something good that we love for purpose there, without even finding one. Like affliction, beauty compels us to ask: Why? Why is this thing beautiful? But rare are those who are capable of asking this question for as long as a few hours at a time...

He who is capable not only of crying out but also of listening will hear the answer. Silence it the answer.

The speech of created beings is with sounds. The word of God is silence. God's secret word of love can be nothing else but silence. Christ is the silence of God." -Simone Weil

The Beloved Community is the nexus of action and formation. We are formed in the silent act love. And we act as ones (in)formed into lovers. This mutuality between God and creation begats mutuality between humanity in our creative ventures, in response to both beauty and suffering.

songs to know

I'm going to start posting about songs and albums and songwriters that I love. The first is a CD that Kelley has been chomping at the bit for us to get for months now:

Raising Sand: a duet album of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss produced by T-Bone Burnett

In a very short review: the album needs to be played loud. Its one you need to listen to more than twice and then it will haunt you. At first, Plant sounded less Zeppeliny than i expected but after a while you recognize the violins of Krauss, her haunting shrills and Plant's mood building swells as part of the old Zepplin greatness. And Krauss' willingness ot bring her whole self into rock-feeling songs like Let Your Love Be Your Lesson, is unmistakably what makes the album work. Two unlikely paired together to remind us why we love them both and to host an entirely different project. But the real flair is Burnett's ability to pull the best repertories for these two.

Here's some lyrics from my favorite song writers who's songs are covered by these two legends:

Passing the hat in church It never stops going round

You never pay just once To get the job done

What I done to me, I done to you, What happened to the trampled rose?"

from trampled Rose by iconoclastic jazz great, Tom Waits. Waits can make anything haunting, but who would have guessed that sweat Alison's voice could be mixed to match Wait's bowed saw and rake.

Standing in my broken heart all night long Darkness held me like a friend when love wore off Looking for the lamb that’s hidden in the cross The finder’s lost…”

from Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us by California female songwriter Sam Phillips (also known in old CCM circles as Leslie Phillips).

Being born is going blind And bowin’ down a thousand times To echos strung on pure temptation

Sorrow and Solitude these are the precious things And the only words worth remembering…”

from Nothin’ by Texas songwriter, Townes Van Zandt

if you have not heard it yet you need to! And if you don't know these two great songwriters, stay tuned I'll post more of their stuff.

Aperture and Wendell Berry's "Sonata at Payne Hollow"

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/99/286251424_f86a9a3a36.jpg?v=0 In Wendell Berry’s "Sonata at Payne Hollow," Harlan and Anna are deceased lovers speaking to eachother in the present as ghosts. Anna comments to Harlan about the river that he’s “never seen enough of,” he keeps gazing upon it even after generations have come and gone. Harlan replies:

It never does anything twice. It needs forever to be in all its times and aspects and acts. To know it in time is only to begin to know it. To paint it, you must show it as less than it is. That is why

as a painter I never was at rest. Now I look and do not paint. This is the heaven of a painter––only to look, to see

without limit. It’s as if a poet finally were free to say only the simplest things.

Wendell Berry: from Given Poems, "Sonata at Payne Hollow" (pg 43)

http://johnwmacdonald.com/8005l_night_lights.jpg

Writing “perfectly clear” theology, as with all other arts, is like stopping the river of God’s work. Comprehensiveness and clarity are always in tension. Theology likes to be comprehensive. otherwise theology requires a slow shutter speed letting in light from all sort of angles. Theologians must choose between the benefits of darker swirling light “night shots,”like the one above ove the Ottowa River Parkway by John C. McDonald or the benefits of those surreal smoky looking shots of rivers in motion like the shot above of the Rupert River By Ian Diamond. Theology is to be done along the way, utilizing the material on the ground, fraught with its own weakness, leaving the imperfections that make each experience unique, it is to be a transitory prayer- a song of assent. Consider the evangelist John’s long, loose, time-lapsed takes:

What has come into being in [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

To choose a pretend “captured” portrayal of God, as a snap shot, with 400 speed film and quick shutter speed, and small aperture is to avoid the exposure to the scorching-brilliant glory of God. ‘To be like the children of Israel sending someone else up to Sinai. To cover our eyes, to resist light is to attempt mastery of it, to contain it, to domesticate it. To choose a pretend “still life” portrayal of God’s creativity is to make life what it is not. Such a choice explains away life’s rhythm: death and resurrection caught up in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, awaiting the revelation of the Children of God. To theologize is, as Wendell Berry describes painting, to “show it as less than it is.” In this case we can learn that both the personal nature of God and the created nature of God’s work is like the Word of God, it is dynamic or “living and active,” as the writer of Hebrews has sketched.

Thoughts on transitional institutions

My friend Ken, is in a place a lot like me, in Washington State.  He wrote this great email to me recently and I want to post it and respond:

Other than installation [recent formalization of relationship with congregation] things are going well.  Our membership is down from 76 when i started to 57 now.  We used to have a 6 elder session but now only have 5 because so few people are willing or able to serve.  A forty year member just left the church over what he considered to be apostate moves of the GA.  And someone just drove do-nuts on our side lawn of the church in an attempt to spray mud on the church.  they did a pretty good job.  i tried to see it as a Pollock type art work but our grounds guy didn't see it quite that way.  as i said, things are going well cause i try not to pay too much attention to numbers. 

we are in the midst of trying to hire a part time youth worker.  I've been more involved in some community organizing and our group is trying to move towards starting a community newspaper.  also, i just finished a retreat where rick ufford-chase led about 20 ministers in our presbytery through some good discussions.  he really is an impressive guy and his passion really provides some hope for a denomination that is sorely lacking for passion over anything not related to relationships with too many y or x chromosomes.  our presbytery is coming up on a big vote in regards to a response to the GA's actions and I'm not excited about it.  however, i was asked to give a few minute speal on why I'm Presbyterian after the vote to try to offer some hope in the midst of the struggle.  I'm thinking about starting my testimony with Maryanne's quote, "our system is the worst one out there accept for all the other ones."  what do you think about that?  I've found that quote oddly comforting until i saw how the Amish responded to the tragedy inflicted upon them.  man, i would love for my kids and our people to respond with the same forgiveness of that community and the same boldness as that little girl who offered her life in an attempt to save the other girls.  now that is a community that realizes what it means to really belong, body and soul, in life and death not to themselves but to Jesus Christ. 

Seek first the kingdom.  Not a self-righteous way of seeking but an integrated way of loving more than the church as a reason to stay “in” it.  I think you could do much with this in response to the PUP. 

Like you, I'm sure, I’m so tired of church renewal language or neo-(fill in the blank) or post-(fill in the blank).  Already, 8 weeks into designate pastorate, I am struck at what we all want the denomination or brand-institution to pour into that blank for us.  We want it to leave something behind for us, to guarantee for us, to deliver us from, to give us...  Who in the 2/3rds world has such a “right” to church?  Where in the bumbling emergence of the early church were they shown a self-preserving institution/faith-statement.  I think that "our system is the worst one out there accept for all the other ones" does get at this but fails to really answer, why any of these?

I’m struck by a helpful metaphor from (surprise surprise) art... It came to me when we were were starting an emergent cohort here in ATL, a friendship/conversation-based ecumenical theological discussions (except evangelicals come too). 

We realized it is like a guild, a place for artists to practice and hone their trades and, at times, to share resources out of a love for what the trade becomes- for the beauty of it all.  This is not to say music can be separated from the musician or that the only reason people write and perform is to deposit a disembodied “song” into space.  No, musicians like singing, we like writing, and we love what we make.

The reforming guild of the connectional church: Any connection of practicing congregations would benefit from a similar appreciation of (1)what we are (co)creating- the beauty of the kingdom of God, and (2)some common agreement of practices/disciplines/concepts that contribute to the generation of such beauty- shaping and being shaped.  What beauty do we seek?  How do we shape our sacramental life by the gospel narrative to becoming embracing people and, visa-versa, how is knowledge of the gospel narrative inter-penetrated by our sacramental life lived in this not-yet-fully embracing world.

Metaphors like this make space for disagreement, concessions, and preservation but organize all these virtues around an eschatological hope, they root the reason for church in something bigger than our own self-security and assuredness.  This PC(USA) might be just as good as any other game in town but only insofar as it can equip the sent community to go. 

Here's a quick sports analogy (I'm weaker at these, I admit): Rallying under "our team can ball too" is not the same as "lets take the game seriously enough to value this team and make much out of it."  This breaks down, of course, when you realize that our definitions for "game" have hardened since our team's heights in the 1600s and the 1950s.  But that does not mean that simply forming a new team or forever downloading new skins or pod-casts until you have your very own self-serving definitions of teams and games frees you from the real task of relearning the game week after week, generation after generation.

Here's the test for Presbyterianism, and the jury is still out for me.  Can this institution of Presbyterianism –or Presbyterianism at all– function in a semipermeable way.  Can definitions of the church's participation in the kingdom of God mature or are they necessarily law?  Do they serve, forever, as only a tutor and prisoner (Galatians)?  If so, then we need to reform- with gratitude, beyond our parents' best efforts, into another yet-to-be-reformed definition of the team... For the sake of the game  For the good of God's creation redeemed in Christ.