Monday, February 27, 2012

Pearl Jam Pastor

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
I loved the music of the 90's.

Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins changed music over night from hair-bands and ballads to crunchy guitars and flannel.

Interesting enough, most of those bands did not set out to be famous.

The "Grunge" movement was counter-cultural and these artists were in it for the music not the fame.

“We didn’t write to make hits. But those fragile songs get crushed by the business,” Eddie Vedder frontman for Pearl Jam told Carmon Crowe in an interview for Rolling Stone.

They just wanted to have integrity and make great music.

As a Pastor I struggle with the need to be famous.

I want to have a mega church.
I want to write books that sell millions of copies.
I want to speak at large ministry conferences.

It is frustrating that even myself and ministry can get sucked into the "Fame Machine."

The other side of the "I wants..." leads more out of my heart than my ego.

I want to be a good family man.
I want to have integrity in my craft.
I want to serve my church and community.

This is the place that I want be, but the culture of the day pushes me to not be happy, to want more.

Despite the pull to be bigger and have more it is the small that fuels America in business and in the church.

A recent study by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy counted 26.8 million businesses in the United States.

Of those, 99.9% have fewer than 500 employees and as such are considered small businesses. This means that only one-tenth of one percent have more than 500 employees. Yet, more notable is the fact that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 98.2% have fewer than 100 employees. And if you are impressed with that number, you may be amazed to learn that in the same report it states that 89.3% of the businesses in America have fewer than 20 employees! Bear with me for just a moment more as I drive this point home. Even more amazing is the fact that 78.6% have fewer than 10 employees and 60.8% have fewer than 5 employees.

A recent study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported 300,000 Protestant and other Christian churches (excluding Catholic Churches) in America.

Of those, 94% have fewer than 500 worshipers and are considered a small church. And to break that number down even further 59% of churches have 99 or less worshipers on a given Sunday.  The Mega Church that is considered to have over 1000 worshipers makes up 2% of the churches in America. The Joel Osteen and the Craig Groschel churches of 10,000 worshipers or more make up .01% of the church population in America.

I may never get that book deal, because quite frankly I am not a good writer, or speak at an awesome church conferences like Catalyst...

but I love my family.
I love my church.
I love what I do
and that Rocks.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Soundtrack the Bible Pt. V: Ecclesiastes - Lamentations

One of the hardest things to do is understand tone from text.

How often do you misinterpret an email or a text message because you cannot hear the inflection in a persons voice?

The same can be said about certain books of the bible, especially Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon.  Two books that are definitely not on the Junior Bible Quiz reading list.  The content is deep, poetic, and mature;  and yet, insightful and true.

The songs that cover this collection of books play out like a 90's movie; complete with grunge and classic rock soundtrack.  It was music that was misunderstood, but music that gave a generation a voice.

20. Ecclesiastes- Loser: Beck

You cannot be more straightforward than, "Meaningless, meaningless everything is meaningless."(Ecc 1.2)
In relation to Beck's chorus, "I am a loser baby/ so why don't you kill me."  The voice of Ecclesiastes is a very wealthy man (almost beyond wealthy) at the twilight of his life in contrast to the voice of "Loser" who is young and very poor.  Ecclesiastes was a book Hebrews used for instruction; to find significance when the world can make you feel insignificant.  Beck's anthem did the same for Generation X. 

Both are often misinterpreted.
Both are speaking of time.
(It's interesting that song will find it's way to be a voice of another generation of "losers")

21. Song of Songs- Crash Into Me: Dave Mathews Band

I remember discovering this book of the bible as teenager and it was probably one of the first times I actually got excited to read the bible, and quote some scripture.  The picture of love and beauty is raw, graphic and yet also poetic and enchanting; without being pornographic  Dave Matthews Crash follows the same tension of desire and love.  Crash was the song that began the genesis of thought for this blog series.  When I hear this song or read this book, I see a love story.  

The meaning of Songs of Songs has been highly debated, but great art often does that very thing.

22. Isaiah- Dream On: Aerosmith

The first in the series of four books labeled Major Prophets, Isaiah is a haunting and prophetic book.  The two fold message of judgement but also promise of a Messiah.  The language is poetic but also has a bite, challenging the nation of Judah to live right. "Dream On" by Aerosmith originally released in 1973 was the blueprint for power balleds to come.  Is it a love song or is it something more? "Half my life
is in books' written pages/Lived and learned from fools and from sages/ You know it's true/All the things come back to you."  This song is as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago.

23.  Jeremiah- All Apologies: Nirvana

Often called "the weeping prophet," because he is one of the most persecuted characters of the Old Testament.  Jeremiah's contemporaries cursed him, beat him and even threw him in prison (Jer 15, 20, 32, 37).  Kurt Cobain's troubled soul is similar to Jeremiah's struggles to know God's plan for his life.

The refrain "I wish I was like you/ Easily amused" echo's Jeremiah's anxiety.  Underneath the unwanted label of the leader of Grunge, Cobain often struggled with the artistic vision of Nirvana be misunderstood.  It is bittersweet to find that Jeremiah never got to see his prophesies come to fruition; and Cobain's life cut short before he could see the influence of his music on future generations.

24. Lamentations- Long December: Counting Crows

Jeremiah's writings are elegantly dramatic, much like Adam Duritz prose style of writing with Counting Crows.  They say misery loves company, and you can picture them both merry in their melancholy.  It is unfortunate that in the American translation loses the aesthetics of an acrostic poem covering his pain and sorrow "literally from A to Z" in the first four chapters. 

Long December was written during a time when Durtiz spent many nights in the hospital visiting a friend who was hit by a car.  This song came out of that experience. "The smell of hospitals in winter/ And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls/ All at once you look across a crowded room/To see the way that light attaches to a girl."

There is comfort in knowing that someone understands your pain. That is the hope Lamentations and the hope in the music of Adam Duritz, "like a lot of songs on the end of an album it's not about everything turning out great, but it at least it is about hope... and the possibilities."

What are some songs that bring you comfort in the midst pain?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part IV

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew.  In that culture collections of books were organized by theme not chronically as cultures in the West prefer.  The next five books in this post transition from the Historical books of Nehemiah and Esther to the Poetical books of Job to Proverbs.

The Poetical books of the bible are just that poetry, they are not commands.  They should be read with the filter as one listening to good advice or a beautiful song.  It gives wisdom.  It encourages.  However, people have a mind of their own and do not always listen, and what happens in love songs does not always happen in real life. 

It's refreshing to find the Bible not just about facts but also about emotion, passion, and love.  

If the historical books are the mind of the Bible the Poetical books are the heart.

15. Nehemiah- All Along the Watchtower: Jimi Hendrix 

Originally written by Bob Dylan All Along the Watchtower  was penned after his motorcycle accident.  The track was part of the album John Wesley Harding that featured a number of songs that had biblical allusions.  Inspired by the birth of Dylan's children and marking a new phase in his life this song mirrors the nation of Israel, as they were also turning the page and starting a new chapter.   Nehemiah focuses on one man's passion and drive to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem.   The book is perfectly balanced between the spiritual and the practical with verses like "We prayed to our God and posted a guard (4.9)".  The Jimi Hendrix version is the most popular for his spirited guitar solos that echo the dramatic structure of the song written without choruses. 

16. Esther- Lady Gaga: The Edge of Glory

The book of Esther rewinds back to when the Jews where in Exile under the Persian Empire. Written in a short-story style similar to Ruth where the main protagonist is also a female. The word "God" is never mentioned in the book however His presence is felt throughout all the drama and intrigue as Esther risks her life to become Queen to Xerxes and save her people.  Lada Gaga's soulful anthem Edge of Glory was inspired by the death of her grandfather and the life of Rocky.  She says the song is about "looking at life directly, with the feeling that he or she is a champion," and that is exactly how Esther lived her life. 

17. Job - Comfortable Numb: Pink Floyd

The book of Job is one of the most well known stories of the Bible, and possibly on the oldest as well.  The story unfolds over 40 chapters filled with vivid imagery, poetic laments, and dynamic confrontations to address the question of suffering.  The Wall by Pink Floyd, which Comfortably Numb climaxes the double album, is also grand in scale.  Thought to believe that the song was about drug use, David Gilmour says, "this song can be divided into 2 sections, dark and light. The light are the parts that begin "When I was a child...," which Gilmour sings. The dark are the "Hello, is there anybody in there" parts, which are sung by Waters."  Job is a tale dispelling the fallacy of sin equaling suffering.  It is a story of Light overcoming Dark, it is story of God believing in us to prove the Devil wrong.  (The imagery during the live performance is breathtaking especially at the 6.30 minute mark when the Wall breaks to become a bridge.)

18. Psalms - Bohemian Rhapsody: Queen

The main author of Psalms is King David (total 73) writers also include Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and anonymous contributors as well.  The range of emotion is vast from sorrow and joy to anguish and peace.  It is comforting to the reader knowing these words come from the Saints of the Old Testament.  The rock-opera Bohemian Rhapsody is a complex pop song that matches the emotional range of Psalms as well as the variety in arrangement.  Freddie Mercury never said officially what the song was about, but guitarist Brian May shared some insight, "Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song." The 150 books that make up this musical and artistic work are more about expressing one's feelings than searching for doctoral meaning.

19. Proverbs- Blowing In the Wind: Bob Dylan

Proverbs is more than the fortune cookie of the bible filled with pithy sayings.  The wisdom is deep.  The topics are wide.  The advice is timeless.  Proverbs is a book of maxims written for a young Jewish audience, with truths compacted into a few lines scripted in an indelible fashion.  Bob Dylan's Blowin in the Wind is also a song that transcends generations with powerful truths layered upon verse and chorus.  Dylan played the song for Pope John Paul II in 1997, upon being greeted, the Pontiff said this,"You say the answer is blowing in the wind, my friend. So it is: but it is not the wind that blows things away. It is the wind that is the breath and life of the Holy Spirit, the voice that calls and says, 'Come!'"

The next part in Rock of Ages will focus on Ecclesiastes to Lamentations.