Announcing Drawn In

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my upcoming spiritual & creative leaders book, Drawn In.  Its designed for artists, activist, and Jesus followers looking for ways beyond the Right-Brain drain and culture wars of modern Christianity. I walk readers through emerging design thought and ancient practices using biblical and pop culture imagery. While utilizing design models its more poetic than didactic in its approach. It is my most exciting work yet toward expressing my passion that beauty and creativity can draw both the church and artists into deeper collaboration with God and God's kingdom!

Here's what folks are saying:

DI_front_cover

“...A book that combines the passion of the Wild Goose Festival and the creative insights of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, with a dash of “new monastic” spirituality and a pinch of Brueggemannian theological sensibility... Great exercises. Excellent for small group discussion.”

– David O. Taylor, editor of For the Beauty of the Church

“This fresh vision of God and ourselves draws us (rather than drives us) into a new way of being. Drawn In will introduce many to a gifted writer, reflective artist, and practical theologian sure to contribute much to the life of the church for decades to come.”

– Brian D. McLaren, author of New Kind of Christian

“This is one of the finest books on art, creativity, and the nature of God to date. It is no less than a manifesto: a call to co-create life at the grandest and most humble of scales. To make and remake the world with passionate and tangible love. Stunning, from start to finish.”

– Sally Morgenthaler, author or Worship Evangelism

“Troy Bronsink is deeply rooted in a seriousness about Gospel faith. He explores the recognition that faith cannot be held in the familiar categories of concept, proposition, rule or cliché, but is always moving toward new possibilities.”

– Walter Brueggemann, author of Prophetic Imagination

You can "look inside" it at Amazon, Paraclete Press, and soon it will be available on the redesign of my website.  Thanks everyone who helped bring this book to life!!!

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?

 

Hermeneutics

My friend Josh Case asked me to write what I think about "Hermeneutics" for this age

My operating hermeneutic is to encounter texts through communal practices that break our guessing machines and place us in postures of listening.”- me

Here are the four cats who've blown up this idea for me:

  1. Daniel Pink suggests that we are in a conceptual age where pattern recognition, play, story, and empathy are the new sought after leadership skills.  He admonished us to cultivate "high touch" "high concept" aptitudes. I think that churches can be overflowing with these skills if they trade out old “stand and deliver” practices for real life rehearsals, practices, drills, postures, that ask us to interpret with these emerging skills.
  2. Walter Bruggemann writes in Text Under negotiation:

"Our task is not to construct a full alternative world, but rather to fund-to provide the pieces, materials, and resources out of which a new world (from origin to completion) can be imagined. The place of liturgy and proclamation is "a place where people come to receive new materials, or old materials freshly voiced, which will fund, feed, nurture, nourish, legitimate, and authorize a counter imagination of the world."

3. And Jonny Baker writes:

“The goal of ritualilization is the creation of a ritualized agent, an actor with a form of ritual mastery, who embodies flexible sets of cultural schemes and can deploy them effectively in multiple situations so as to restructure those situations in practical ways”

These three thoughts make me want, not to write better sermons, but rather, to create ritualizing situations that feed fund and nourish a person’s participation in the new creation…  Such a church places textual authority ahead of herself, in the “yet to be determined” space of a promised future. Churches that design themselves for something shorter-sited than that have become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy– clanging cymbals, lost symbols, siloed on hills or under bushels. Leslie Newbigin wrote,

“The congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel.”

I think he nailed it.  And since first reading that I’ve found this to be true in encouraging and discouraging ways:

  1. A congregation’s method (its polis) is the “news” it spreads: Have you ever tried to explain Google or Wordpress without referencing internet or open sourcing…  These companies organize differently because the world in which they live acts differently.  When we believe that gospel is physical and relational, in a “conceptual age,” in its affect and its MO, then we too start to organize differently.  Recently a good friend came to a worship gathering of Neighbors Abbey and she was not allowed to be a spectator, not allowed to “church shop.” She was placed in a position of reflecting through prayer and discussion.  This moved her in an incredible way.  Moved her past what she expected for a church visit.  This was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ penetrating her defenses for the first time in years.  A speech, no matter how well prepared, would have never made it past her guard.
  2. A congregation’s way of being with its neighbors determines the most about its being “good or bad news” to its neighboring host culture.  An innercity church in determined that building a large elder-care complex would be best for their ministry to the poor and best for their community.  They did not, however, listen for the community’s desires.  They came into community meetings demanding to be heard, and demanding quick action.  This posture hurt their ability to show/share/be gospel with their neighbors.  It’s unfortunate, but they were the hermeneutic of the gospel- few, if any, voiced arguments against “what” this church proclaimed, or how this community views scripture or revelation.  Their actions speak loudest at alienating themselves from the good news that is breaking into their neighborhood.
  3. A congregation that engages its local issues makes room, again, in people’s imaginations for the possibility of a God that has something good in store for the world. Recently at a party a person pointed to a local church leader and said, “he’ll makes you believe there is a God.”  Now this leader is not an apologist. As best we could tell, he’s never tried to convince her or others “about” anything.  Instead this Jesus follower lives real life with the others in the community.  This person is not a “seeker” for the church leader to attract. This person is already receptive and listening for the revelation of God, ears ready for goodnews.  It just takes people being that good news around her. The Post-Denominational Willow-Burberry hermeneutic is not a faith statement or a preaching style, it is the the courage to practice in real time, out there.

For a few centuries, at least, hermeneutics questions have allowed people to stand on their shoulders and argue “about” revelation.  I say, lets spend a few centuries joining creation as humble incarnation people, open and listening together for God’s revelation.

Connecting...

So, Tom Livengood and folks at The Living Room took the initiative to help people connect to their neighbor in Atlanta. They started by listing agencies they knew of in the atlanta area on a google map. Trey Tucker with Roov.com designed artwork for a re:connect page. And then one of the TLR peeps, Amy Anderson, built this site to facilitate the google map and to introduce folks to Roov.com. "Thank you, Tom, Trey, Amy and others."

www.re-connect.us

The Re:CONNECT weekend was an invention of Nate Ledbetter, Melvine Bray, and Leroy Barber and myself. We wanted folks in Atlanta to meet other people doing justice and to learn about justice/social community work. The weekend rocked! We had a panel discussion on Friday night and the panelists included (I'll add more as I have their blogs):

Rusty Prichard : Evangelical Environmental Network

Mark Anthony: Pastor, Jesus for Justice

Carlos: Mentoring and Public Speaking

Daniel Hombrich: INnocence Atlanta

Nate Ledbetter: Charis Housing

Deborah: Mothers and children

Chris Capehard: ROOV.com

They described their work and they answered questions including:

  1. How do others’ passions contribute to the reach and focus of your ministry?
  2. How do you meet Jesus in doing your work?
  3. What has your work taught you about engaging civil government?
  4. How do local neighbors and the contexts of individual neighborhoods play a roll in the kind of ministry you do?
  5. How do church congregations help or hinder the work you feel called to?

J4P crowds

jay and scott

shane’s stump speach, complete with the revolutionary’s bullhorn

The next night we had Shane Claiborn, Chris Haw, and Scott and Jay from The Psalters come and perform "Jesus for President." It was an unbelievable synthesis of narative theology, liberation theology, political imagination, and John Howard Yoder with some deep country Tennessee thrown in. I felt like I was simultaniously at a Tom Wait's show, a Toni Morrison poetry reading, Walter Bruggemann seminary class, and post modern theatre. My friends Ryan and Holly Sharp also known as the Cobalt Season, were the artists behind the book design and the multimedia support- they nailed it!

The whole weekend was a huge success. The AJC wrote about it, we had folks from Auburn and Columbia, SC. And we had a huge crew of volunteers from the Atlanta Emergent Cohort, Marietta Presbyterian Church, and Mission Year.

If you're from the ATL go to Re-CONNECT.us and keep the movement going!