Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shift: A Summit for Progressive Christian Music

Shift is a gathering of passionate, creative people who are going to explore progressive Christian music. That's right, music that is both faithfully Christian and overtly progressive. Such music is rare. And such music done well is even more rare. We just wrote an album, On The Way, because it was so hard to find - and it was needed. Thankfully there are people out there like us - and you - who are beginning to write and/or find good stuff. Progressive music is going to be important for new churches, the renewal of established churches, and the soundtrack for the emergent/progressive movement. On July 27th-30th in Ripon, Wisconsin, there's going to be a summit for anyone who wants to be part of the conversation, exploration, and collaboration. There will be plenty of time to hear, share, and play new music. Come and be a part of this exciting movement that will shape the future of worship.

Here's an interview with Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, one of the organizers of Shift:

How do you define progressive Christian music?

Hey, thanks for the opportunity, Brian! I appreciate it. Though my three SHIFT colleagues may have other opinions, I'll speak for myself here.

That elusive term "progressive" is one of the main reasons for the event - to invite conversation around what's happening in the wider church and just what we think God is doing in what some have called a movement. Personally, the word itself may not be so important as what it means to people.

Right now, as Bryan, Andra, Christopher and I each travel, we hear from people that they want music geared to peace, justice, community, and active compassion. People say they want alternatives to what's on the radio. Which I guess means theology tipped less toward Nashville Baptist (not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Baptist...) and more toward the "liberal protestant" slant. I just made air quotes when I said that there.

Seems like many of these folks call the music Bryan, Christopher, Andra and I are doing "progressive" for one reason or another. I suspect it has to do with theology, but also what I'd call a sensibility. An underlying intention that the songs be singable, inclusive, meaningful and serve a particular moment in worship really well.

Part of the SHIFT event will be offering alternatives, sharing songs that serve worship and also empowering local writers and musicians to step up and create!

Bryan Sirchio has a great start to the conversation about what "progressive" might possibly mean on his blogsite which people can access at the PCAN (Progressive Christian Artists Network) Facebook group. All are welcome.

What genres of music will be important for progressive Christian music?

Good question. All genres. There is no musical style that is universally progressive. (Except of course, hardcore death metal bagpipe polka music. That'll never die). I just think there is nothing normative about worship music style; it's all community culture. What's good is based on your context.

What's cutting edge for your church may not work down the block, and certainly not a few states away.

One of my pet peeves is the classifying of faithful worship based on personal musical taste. If anything, the Jesus of the gospels seems to call people to give up their preferences for the sake of Love. Besides, anchor your "faithful" worship on the hot trends in music now and it will be rotten and smelly in 18 months. Trends are just that, trends. Here's the thing, though: Though our music may sound like anything you can dream up, our groundedness for worship is ancient. And that's where the difference is in the evaluation of what's excellent for worship.

I personally hear what I'd call great "progressive" music afoot in the realms of rock, techno, country, folk, choral, neo-classical and 21st-century chant. I've even discovered some mind-blowing stuff happening in the genre of Finnish-American folk music. kaivama.com

What place, if any, does contemplative music (e.g. Taize) have in progressive music?

Songs from Taize, France and from Iona, Scotland are among the most powerful songs I've ever sung with a community. Any song that serves the moment can be "progressive" if it invites an encounter with the Living God. One of the marks of the progressive movement may be that we are open to the most excellent music, whatever style.

Maybe one could ask: "What does a great contemplative song allow or invite a community to experience?" or "What does a great rock song evoke for a community?" or "What does the moment of Offering in a worship service call for in us? And what style of song would best serve that moment?"

What kind of shifts will you be talking about at Shift?

The evolution of the interpretation of our tradition over the last 500 years. A shift in how people of God understand Bible, revelation, religion, politics, sexuality, technology, economics. A change from being consumers to being producers, as Rev. Nadia of Colorado says. A shift in what we require of people for faithfulness, perhaps. We'll talk about how the local church looks now compared to a decade ago. We'll talk about the fear of change and what that means for the local church.

I just met a pastor at a wedding last weekend who loves change. "There's energy and hope in change," he said. I think he's probably special.

Have the people of God over three thousand years changed the way we think about faith? In some ways. We don't discount what is ancient, that's for sure, but in worship we don't pretend we don't have cell phones and Wiis. We honor our heritage, but we also don't imagine reality as a three-tiered universe as ancient scripture describes it.

An interesting question might be: Is there something at stake if we do Not change?

What kind of workshops are you going to offer?

Juicy workshops, that's what kind. Delicious and juicy.

Two giant areas: worship design and worship leadership. Whether you're a musician, a pastor, a guitar player in the band, or a choir director or a liturgist, these are the two essential realms to understand. We'll offer tools we use to plan worship, from selecting songs using online resources to templates for worship flow in a variety of settings. On the leadership side, it's about how to lead songs in an animated, engaging way without coming off like a performer. We talked about one called "The care and feeding of your worship band" but we won't have time in the schedule.

We're also excited about introducing a load of new songs to the community that will gather. And there will be time dedicated to people sharing their own songs, which will be amazing! Really looking forward to that.

What do you hope people walk away with after Shift?

As a leadership team, we are convening the SHIFT event because we hear the need for it wherever we go. We hope people will experience their own open heart and a renewal of their love for good music and engaged worship.

We want people to leave feeling connected. The people who will come are the ones that care deeply about music and worship. We are designing this event so they will be energized and refreshed for their work.

We also hope people will connect with one another in worship, as well as in brand new networks for creative endeavors like co-songwriting.

We hope people come away from SHIFT with a sense of hope. This is an interesting time to be the church. That may be a useless thing to say because it's probably always been true, but it's clear we need to be sharing with each other and encouraging each other.

How can new music best be spread in congregations and seminaries?

Good question. It's one we are posing at the SHIFT event. Some people have approached us about starting a kind of alternative progressive publishing house

As with anything worthwhile, there will always be grass-roots movements offering evocative stuff as well as scholarly material.

Bryan, Christopher, Andra and I are writing up a storm all the time because we are passionate about what faithfulness sounds like.

What brings you joy?

Chocolate, autumn, blue, reading to my son, a great song at the right time, and an interview well done.

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