Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: "On The Verge"

On The Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson is a book that explores ways to grow churches. Unfortunately, many of their ideas have already been stated by a plethora of other authors and speakers. Plus, their basic paradigm is still based on the idea that self-reproducing mega-churches are the wave of the future. Therefore much of this book felt like reading warmed-over church growth theories from the 1990s. It felt very dated. To make matters worse, the authors made their points by using pop theology, corporate slogans, circumstantial evidence, generalized theories, cheesy charts, lists of lists, and an onslaught of out-of-context quotations. All of this made the book difficult to enjoy reading. Was there redeeming value in the book? Sure. There were nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. Unfortunately, these nuggets are buried in a bog of distracting neologisms, graphs, and stories. Clearly this is a negative review. Clearly there are positive things I must have missed. Clearly I have found other books to be more helpful.

Here are 5 related books that are much more helpful:

(1) Transforming Christian Theology by Philip Clayton
(2) I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church by Paul Nixon
(3) Unbinding The Gospel by Martha Grace Reese
(4) Transforming Congregational Culture by Anthony Robinson
(5) The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox

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.

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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review (2): Sara Kay // On The Way

Charlie Rod's review of Sara's album On The Way:

Life is full of compromises. Do you need a car with more room or one that gets better gas mileage? Do you want to immerse yourself in your job or devote yourself to family and hobbies? Root for the Cubs or enjoy postseason baseball? If you think you also must choose between infectiously listenable Christian music and theologically grounded lyrics then Sara Kay would like you to listen to something.

On the Way is a brilliant blending of music you can't stop humming with lyrics you can't stop thinking about. This is not music to listen to with your arms raised and your eyes (and mind) closed; this is a conversation about life with God carried out with a charming dinner partner. Come along with Sara and agonize with Eve in the Garden, walk with Jesus as he stands alongside those who need him most, and watch the world nurtured and tended by God's hand.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Sara Kay // On The Way

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan's review of Sara's debut album, "On the Way":

In some ways, it’s solid church music. In other ways, Sara Kay’s new CD, “On the Way” is a bit subversive.

Sara’s debut CD contains 15 original songs offered up with a stripped-down coffeehouse mix, true to Sara’s personal music. Take your time with your Earl Grey and take in Sara’s voice simply accompanied by acoustic guitar and piano and you’ll feel like you’ve been in worship. In a good way.

One can’t help but imagine Sara Kay as a presence in worship, able to read the flow of the ancient liturgy and also invite a fresh expression through her lyrics. Seasoned with all kinds of references to her tradition, Sara takes great care to imagine moments like the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, the Magnificat and several Psalms as opportunities to break open post-modern possibilities for the emerging church. Theologically, you’ll notice her incarnational emphasis: God’s work is happening here and now and we are all part of it. With ecological imagery spun through many of themes, she is in good company with the emergent worship movement that weaves the human story and the earth story inextricably into the Divine story.

Melodic and lyrical, Sara’s songs seem as comfy in a living room as in the nave. Musically, her hands reach for uncommon chords, indicating her experience as a writer and performer.

But here’s the thing. Though her voice is lovely and sweet, her ideas faithfully and strenuously stretch the tradition in the same holy way that Jesus himself did his own. The songs are pretty but the content disruptive. You may be surprised at how Sara’s music will have its influence.

Click here to listen to the CD.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Truth About the Economy

Robert Reich explains what's happening with the economy in about 2 minutes. It's a great video. Here are the major points:

- The economy has doubled since 1980, but wages flat.
- All gains went to the super rich.
- With money comes the political power to cut taxes for the rich.
- The result is huge budget deficits that require cuts to important programs.
- The middle class is divided. Buying and borrowing slows down.
- Anemic recovery/economy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Playing For Change

Playing For Change is an organization that brings together musicians from around the earth to "inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music." They used a traveling studio to record musicians in their hometowns, playing their actual instruments. Then they mixed the various musicians and singers together into some awesome recordings. This project is a testament to the uniting power of music. Check out two of the samples below: