Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hillsong...Worship From One Generation To Another

The year when I put down the football I picked up a pair of drumsticks changed my life.
It was that year for Christmas my parents finally gave in to all of my ceaseless cries for a drum-kit and delivered with the 5 piece instrument under the tree.
(I seriously bugged them everyday.)
Everyone in my neighborhood knew I got a drum-kit that year.
My cousin and I would jam on the weekends to 90s grudge and classic rock from the 70s. We thought we were legit. I think I played every song with the same beat, but we didn't care we weren't just weirdo high-schoolers anymore we were Rock Stars! (There is till a mix tap floating around somewhere).
In High School sometimes being in a band is just as cool as being on a sports team.
My annoying antics didn't just stop with parents I got to my Pastor too. 
I wanted to play drums with the worship band. I had some miss-steps before with wanting to play drums, but only my Pastor and I know about that moment and that is all I will say about that.
But that is just the thing I loved about my Pastor growing up was that he believed in second chances but more importantly believed in me.
The up coming Youth Day that year in 97' was my second chance to prove my self.
Youth Day at Evangel left an undeniable impression on me that I will never forget, especially the Pastor’s wife waving her arm in the back of church signaling me to slow down.
I loved playing the drums!
I loved playing the drums to worship God!
Being involved with worship team helped me to become more connected to my church, to my Pastor, and to my God.
I think there is something about being involved in your local church that really enables one to grow.
Pastor and I got pretty tight during those years.
There are certain people you click with in life and Pastor was one of them. 
He helped me develop a love worship music, especially Hillsong Worship. Pastor would get so excited with every new release. We were always learning new Hillsongs and working them into the set lists and we had fun playing them together too.
And for the first time in my life I was a part of something that was meaningful. 
As a Youth Pastor I have had the privilege to help raise a new generation with a love for worship.
I remember being at a Winter Youth Retreat years later and the worship band was playing these songs that were absolutely brilliant. I asked who wrote these cool songs, they said it was Hillsong United, Hillsong's youth band.
The first time I heard the opening guitar riff of "Salvation Is Here" I was hooked in big way!
The arrangements Hillsong United had were great but it was lines like "The art of losing my self in bringing you praise," that really struck a chord with me.
We started learning the songs in our youth group and I saw that same sparkle of inspiration in the students eyes that I had when I was there age playing at Evangel.
Now I was the one like my pastor who couldn’t wait to share a new release by Hillsong with the students in the worship band.   
Nothing was like the night when we introduced the song "Take It All" to Third Lane Youth, the students were actually singing the chorus in the church parking lot. (Funny side note a parent thought they were singing "Take Take Take It *Off" um you had to be there).
The latest effort from Hillsong was released recently.
Joel Houston (of HillsongUnited) has taken the mantle from Darlene Zschech (who wrote Shout to the Lord and other great worship hits from the 90s) to lead Hillsong into a new chapter of worship.
It reminds me of how that love of worship was passed from one generation to another, from my Pastor to me and onto my students.
I don't know where my life would be if I never got hurt and didn't play drums for Evangel.
Playing worship music helped me develop a love for Jesus and call for my life.
I will be transitioning to plant a church and August 22nd will be my last sunday with my students from Third Lane Youth in York PA.
The last Sunday during worship we had four students playing in the adult worship band that morning.
There wasn't much worshiping from me that Sunday, I just watched the students worship God with their talents and started to cry, but it was a good cry.
Maybe I am a little nostalgic.
Maybe sometimes you don't realize how blessed you are until it's time to say goodbye.
Maybe what it is all about is passing on a love of worship...of Christ, from one generation generation to another.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Week Without Social Media...It Was Kinda Tough.

I've always enjoyed technology. I loved my Atari 2600 in all its pixalated glory it. Before the Nintendo, those graphics were bad and blocky and brilliant and I loved it!

I remember when my dad brought home our first family PC in 95'. It was a Gatway with those hidious cow boxes it came in. A time before pentium and before Mac's got cool we rolled in a 486 baby!

Enough of my geekyness coming out...AOL is what made that computer unforgettable. The sound of dialup and the bing of the instant message. It was cool. Chat rooms were not, but that's another blog for another day.

I still have the same email address from when I was sixteen. I still have it and love it and use it. There is just something about getting connected thru technology, now with the advent of Facebook as the new AOL and Twitter as the new instant message with benefits, it apart of my life.

However... maybe I was alittle too connected to FB & Twitter...to technology.

I wouldn't spend hours on FB but I would update my status alot, esp thru my phone.

I would start to think in statuses.

I would feel pressure to comment back at any moment, even sometimes while driving.

I would get addicted to that sensation of long ago with those three little words... "You've Got Mail," but now its comment replies and mentions that had my ears and thumbs buzzin'.

I had an epiphany of sorts when I was visiting my wives' grandparents and I was on my phone (tweeting not talking) and my wife would ask me to get her a drink and I would be delayed in my response because I was so engaged.

I was so engrossed in my phone her dad got my wife a drink before I could...or would.

Something had to change. I had to change.

So I promised my wife and myself that I would not use social media for a week to gain some perspective back and some brownie points :-)

It wasn't to hard at first. Actually it felt pretty good. My morning routine of checking the Philadelphia Daily News (online) and checking FB and Twitter status was alittle different now.
I would read more during my morning devotions. I would find myself reading books that I wanted to finish. Just felt like I had more time now.

Then things started happening.

I was missing events in the global conversation.

Like something that only happens every four years...

Epic World Cup comebacks by the USA team to win the group stage for the first time since 1930.

The marathon match of unmanageable proportions at Wimbledon between the American Ishner and the Frenchman Mahut that went 3 days over 11 hours 138 games in a tiebreak.

This was great stuff and I felt like I was missing out.
I would even get people texting me to tweet or get on Facebook to join this social media conversation.

I was good. I stuck to my word.

I love sports but I also wanted to tweet about my personal life highlights too.

Weddings of a former TLY Staffer that got married this weekend. So happy for him and his new bride.

It was Tweet-worthy stuff.

Some great times with TLY students, awesome and unforgettable moments from the weekend at grad parties. Our worship team reuniting with returning college students for an impromptu jam session that left me pretty emotional.

Probably the main reason for the nostalgia was because I also announced this weekend my transition to my church family at York First Assembly, of God calling me and my family to plant a church in Towson MD.

No updates.

No comments.

Just moments.

I found myself more engaged in the here and now not in the FB news feed or What's Happening on Twitter.

I was present.

I was engaged.

I found myself to be more thoughtful with my wife. A better conversationalist. A better husband.

This week I plan to go back into the digital world that I love, but maybe with a little more wisdom and balance.

I plan to take a day each week where I will be totally disconnected.

I am going to try to be a husband who listens more and tweets less.

I think the status I will focus more on will be my marital status.

She is always what's happening.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview With Author Jason Boyett

One of my favorite new authors and Christian satire personality is Jason Boyett. I am big fan of his "Pocket Guide..." series for his fresh and comedic take on the Christian culture. If you mix together some Johnathan Stewart and Anderson Cooper you would get Jason Boyett. He is funny and informative without being forced and contrived, a hard task for a Christian these days.

Well enough of the bromace I have with Mr. Boyett, check out my interview I had with with him about his latest book "O Me Of Little Faith." Enjoy.

1. OMOLF is a different style from your previous work, was there a moment or a conversation that inspired you to take your writing in a new direction?

Back in 2007, the pastor at my church was going to be out of town one weekend and asked me to speak in his place. I agreed to it, but had no idea what to talk about. In situations like this, a typical approach for a message is to discuss what God is doing in your life, or what he is teaching you. I ventured down this introspective path...and there was nothing. Because, at that point in my life, God seemed pretty absent from my life. I was in a season of doubt. So, in a burst of either brilliance or desperation, that's what I spoke about -- about my struggles with doubt. I admitted there were days I wasn't sure God even existed. I talked about how I was learning to follow Christ despite those doubts, and about how faith and doubt worked together.

I thought maybe I'd get booed off the stage, but after it was over, I heard from several people how much they appreciated my honesty, because they were in the same place. Only they never felt it was safe to talk about doubt, especially in church. That's when I knew I was onto something, and I began working on a book proposal.

So it wasn't something deliberate like "I need to take my writing in a new direction," but rather the recognition that this was a topic that needed to be discussed, and the best pathway through that discussion was by telling my personal story. And that kind of thing didn't fit too well into my Pocket Guide template.

2. I really enjoyed chapter 9 "Faith with a Kung-Fu Grip" so ...GI.Joe or Transformers?

I never got into Transformers. I was a Star Wars figurine guy more than anything, but beyond that my brother and I were totally in the G.I. Joe camp.

3. You mentioned that you have gone thru different aspects/denominations of Christianity, from seeing and experiencing different church services, what are some things that you think churches are getting better at...what are some things churches need to work on?

Well, it totally depends on the kind of church. There are so many types and styles and denominations that you can find just about anything you like and anything you hate. And if I think a church is getting better at something, there's another guy who sees that as proof that the Church is on a speedboat to Gehenna. So, anyway, disclaimers aside...I think the churches that are making a conscious decision to take an ancient-future approach to worship are on the right track. There's a lot I like about modern worship and kickin' praise bands and cool lighting -- it feels great, in a pep rally sort of way -- but it's flashy and shallow. Churches that are able to take some of the good parts of modern Christianity and blend it with ancient liturgy are, I think, making the right steps not only to engage younger generations in a relevant way but also to draw them deeper.

It's hard for me to identify one single thing that churches need to work on, because every church is flawed just like every person is flawed. But since this is about me and my new book, I'll say that churches need to become safer places for doubters. Whether consciously or not, our culture promotes getting "cleaned up" for church. You want to look good and fit in and make a good impression. Asking hard questions pushes against that tendency, and the result is that doubters like me aren't comfortable being fully honest at church. We tend to disguise our doubt behind proper Christian behavior...or silence. Because it's easier. The Church doesn't do well with hard questions or uncertainty, and that's a shame.
4. In the chapter "The Weight of Absence" you wrote that you play drums, met too, who are some of your influences and some bands your into today?

I'm a self-taught drummer -- coming from a background with piano, guitar, and hammered dulcimer -- and so I pretty much only play by ear. I got the job because the regular drummer moved away and we needed someone to take his place. I'm technically sloppy and real drummers will notice this right away. So I can't say I'm terribly influenced by much other than desperation. But stylistically I find myself falling into something that's a cross between the floor-tom tendencies of U2's Larry Mullen, Jr., and the bombast of Coldplay's Will Champion. This might also have something to do with the fact that I've been a U2 fan since I discovered pop music and that I think Will Champion has the best name ever.

5. It was interesting your take on Liturgical Prayers (which I thought you brought some good insights about)...do you always pray like that?

When I do pray, yes. I'm a dad with youngish kids, so most of my public prayers are with them at night or meal-time, and I pray at their level. When I'm praying personally, though, I'm almost exclusively praying something from the Book of Common Prayer or just the simple Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner"). I'm afraid that, without the help of these words, I wouldn't pray at all on my own.
6. Some of your authors who influenced you were Manning, Nouwen, Beuchner, Capon and Mullins (which my wife plays on a Yamaha CP-70 that was Mullins) who are some authors today that you respect and dig their work?

I love Scot McKnight's work, and N.T. Wright. I'll read anything Philip Yancey writes, and the same goes for Parker Palmer. And though we're approaching Christianity from different perspectives (I'm in, he's out), I respect and appreciate Bart Ehrman's work as a popularizing New Testament scholar. Though it can be challenging to our faith, I think all Christians need to engage with textual-historical biblical criticism.

7. Why do you think American Christianity/Jesus is different from other nations view on Jesus, or do you see it the same today...and as a historian, as a whole is Christianity that much different from the past?

I'm not sure I'm too qualified to answer such a broad and insightful question. I may be a "historian," but I'm a fake historian, like a guy who dresses up as an old schoolteacher at Williamsburg or something. Anyway, because we're so enamored of individualism here in the U.S. -- the self-made man, the successful entrepreneur, the cowboy -- we tend to approach Jesus in the same way. We look at him as a superhero. We focus on whatever trait best fits our personal need or area of focus. What can he do for me? So we think of Jesus as either a manly man or a friend to sinners or a hippie peacenik or a pasty white guy with blond hair and a well-kept beard. The Jesus we love is the Jesus who meets our needs, who makes us successful, who gives us our best purpose-driven lives now! And in the process, Jesus becomes a one-dimensional cartoon. He gets tamed. I don't know if that makes our Jesus any better or worse than the Jesii of other nations or cultures, but I do know that it makes the American version of him incomplete. And an incomplete Christ is less powerful than he should be -- and so is the Gospel.

8. Do you think if Justin Beiber gets saved it will have the same impact on the church as when Bob Dylan got saved? (jk jk)

I'm still waiting for the impact of Stephen Baldwin's conversion to kick in. And the Jonas Brothers are already on the Jesus team. Why are we even concerned about that Beiber kid?

Thanks Jason for the interview. You are an awesome guy. Keep the commentary coming.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Take On: O Me of Little Faith by Jason Boyett

I have been a fan of Jason Boyett ever since I got my hands on his "Pocket Guide to the Bible." I remember picking that book up on a whim at Barnes & Noble and could not put it down and found my self laughing out loud and getting many stares from fellow Barnesy folk.

Boyett's latest confession "O Me of Little Faith" also was hard to put down, and definitely made me chuckle quite often.

It also made me think, process, and look at my belief in God with brutal honesty.

The tagline for the book is "True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling," and there is something very refreshing with someone who is honest in their struggles. It is like holding your breath as long as you can and as soon as someone else lets out a big exhale you feel released to exhale too. You laugh, you smile and say things like, "man I don't think I've could've held my breath any longer," and are glad you finally can let it out too.

This book is like that, when it comes to faith. I think we all struggle with our faith, wrestle with it...and hold a lot of our questions in to ourselves.

"I'd rather have a faith that makes me ask too many questions than a faith in which the questions have easy answers." (pg 220)

That is what I love about Jason he lets out his tough questions in one big breath and we all can breath a little easier now because we are not the only ones holding stuff in.

Interesting thing about Boyett and his spiritual musings in this book is that he claims to have a weak faith in God, but seriously this book is loaded with scripture references and quotes from other notable authors. I kind of dig that because other books I've read in this type of style had little or any scripture or any reference material at all. That can be a bit indulgent.

Thanks Jason for being credible in your writing. (Incredible would have be the next book..jk jk)

I found myself nodding to myself, laughing to myself and going hmmm many times as I read "O Me of Little..." Boyett's style is brilliant and conversational. Reading his work is like sitting with him over coffee and just talking and having a bromance moment.

Whether your faith is strong or weak, whether you believe in God or not, there is something for you in this book, and I think that is what is really cool about Boyett's approach, and what makes his latest work absolutely approachable and worth checking out.