Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Musical Interlude (Selah)

The first draft of my new book -- topic: the Kingdom of God -- is finished, and is now resting quietly and comfortably until after Canada Day. Second draft will commence at that time.

In the interim, I'm polishing up the book version of Detoxing from Church, and sacrificing brain cells and bits of sanctification as I puzzle through all the hoops and hurdles of indie publishing (including e-publishing).

And, since I do almost everything with some kind of musical soundtrack, I am also listening to some great new music. Here's a sample of my musically diverse interests:

John Mayer's Born and Raised is a great listen in a roots-acoustic-rock style. Lyrically, it sounds as if Mayer has matured on a personal level, which makes the songwriting more credible. Standout tracks would be Queen of California, Shadow Days (with its musical odes to Bob Seger & the Beatles), Something Like Olivia, Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey, and the title track.
'And now for something completely different'...

A new album from Canadian rock icons Rush, Clockwork Angels, provides ample and convincing evidence that these three guys will not go quietly into that dark night of classic rock. This album is classic Rush without sounded dated. Crank it up and enjoy! Great tracks: Caravan, Seven Cities of Gold, The Anarchist, Headlong Flight, The Wreckers, and the title track.
Todd Agnew's newest release, How To Be Loved, is another great collection of personal reflections, worship songs, and new renditions of older hymns that Todd is known for. Musically, these songs are less diverse than some of Todd's earlier releases, but the resulting consistency is good. As always, the lyrical content is honest and transparent, and the new worship songs reflect that as well. Sounding great: The One You Want (personal favourite), Love Your Neighbor, Letting Go, God Undefeatable, House of Boxes, and Your Great Name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Burn the Stage

The Younger quickly sketched the image on a napkin with bold, confident strokes, eagerly outlining the thought he had just blurted out to the Elder.

The Elder watched him over the rims of his reading glasses, a steaming cup of black coffee -- 'the way God drinks it', as he liked to say -- cupped between his hands.

"There!" announced the Younger, finishing his impromptu sketch with a flourish; blue ink lines standing out clearly against the muted tones of recycled paper. He rotated the picture so that the Elder could more easily see it, as he continued with the thought that had inspired his brief artistic foray.

"Burn the stage", he repeated, jotting three ink-blue points on the napkin to emphasize each word. "I can't help but wonder whether spiritual gifts could be exercised in a much healthier, low-key, non-hype way -- if we just burnt the stage."

The Elder studied the crude drawing as he replied, "Well, I think it's equal to your earlier suggestion of 'cutting the microphone cord', although the image of something burning is much more evocative than a severed mic cord."

The Younger took another generous swig of his americano (which had fortunately cooled a little by this point in the evening). "Yeah, I just want to get the point across. What do you think? Would the exercise of spiritual gifts be healthier, if we didn't make such a public display of certain gifts, and put people on a pedestal -- excuse me, I meant to say, platform."

The Elder chuckled as he raised his mug to his lips, "That was no Freudian slip, my friend," he teased, "that was quite deliberate."

The Younger grinned in response. "Guilty as charged. But what do you think of my idea?"

"Well," began the Elder, placing his coffee mug back on the table, hands once again wrapped around it, "I think the backdrop for what you're suggesting -- which I think is a very good insight -- comes again from 1 Corinthians 12: 'Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.' As long as people keep in mind why we are given spiritual gifts, the gifts get less abused."

As the Barista began industriously polishing the counter around the espresso machines, the Elder continued, "Spiritual gifts are given to serve others. They are not to become our identity. They are simply tools the Spirit gives us, to serve. Until we use spiritual gifts with the same attitude that Jesus had when He washed the disciples' feet, we will miss something very important."

The Elder stopped abruptly, realizing that he'd begun preaching. "Sorry, sometimes I can't help myself," he said with a self-deprecating laugh. "I have very strong feelings about this topic."

"Strong enough to 'burn the stage'?" the Younger teased in return.

The Barista continued her energetic polishing of the counter, but the Elder couldn't help but wonder if her look of concentration was hiding her reaction, as she had clearly overheard the Younger's last comment.

"Let's just say," the Younger amended, suddenly aware that his voice had carried further than he had intended, "that if we could remove anything that would appeal to the ego, when spiritual gifts are exercised, we might see over half of the people who currently want to be on the platform, have to find their identity elsewhere."

"Ouch," protested the Elder, grimacing as though in pain, "that's a little harsh, but sadly, probably true. Allow me to word it just a little more positively:

"Humility and the gifts of the Holy Spirit must become inseparable.

"Take away the stage, or the microphone, or whatever metaphor you wish to use. Gifts are for serving others. Period."

"Hear, hear", the Younger raised his mug in tribute, and finished off the remainder of his americano.

The Barista, for her part, busied herself with her own routines behind the espresso counter.

Monday, June 11, 2012

No School like the Old School

Once upon a time, Wendy and I owned a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, with all the fun, trials, quirks, and enjoyment that that implies. No, the car wasn't perfect, and yet we still remember it quite fondly.

Likewise, the churches that we grew up in weren't perfect, either, and yet there are nostalgic elements that we look back on with great fondness to this day.

I'm thinking primarily of community, which has become something of a rallying cry in the early 21st century. Prior to the Lord's Day Act being declared unconstitutional in Canada during the mid-1980's, everyone -- religious or non-religious -- could look forward to having one day in the week where most of the country's population had a common day off. (Exceptions included hospitals, gas stations, and anyone who lived on a farm.)

My memories of church life as a youngster included the almost iron-clad tradition (or tremendously good habit) of having people over for lunch after church. Hardly a Sunday would go by, when we would have guests in our house -- and my mom would make the traditional and mouth-watering family favourite (handed down from my grandmother): 'chicken 'n' herbs' -- or we would find ourselves guests at another family's abode.

And if your church was like ours back in the day, and had an evening service as well, it was quite common to repeat the hospitality-fest all over again.

Old Man #1: "Ya see that? That's the way to do it. That's old school."

Old Man #2: "Yeah. No school like the old school."
(The Incredibles)

Of course, the blame for this changing cannot be laid solely at the feet of the abolition of the Lord's Day Act. Sunday shopping changed the playing field, but it didn't have to affect hospitality. Surely, with a bit of creative intent, we could have found ways of preserving the table-fellowship community that once typified many churches, not that long ago.
For all those who lament that church gatherings cannot possibly qualify as adequate 'community', perhaps we could stop expecting 'the church' to do everything for us, and take the initiative of opening our homes again?
I'll admit to being a little 'retro' at heart. I'm not blindly nostalgic for "the good old days", but I do enjoy kicking things 'old school'. For example, I'm one of those stubborn curmudgeons that brings my Bible to church. Yes, I know it's all on the powerpoint anyway, but seriously -- why do people look at me like I'm a freak for bringing a Bible to church?

Last night, an eclectic group of thirteen gathered on our carport deck for mountainous plates of nachos: Baptist, Mennonite, Vineyard, Reformed (pastors, no less), and Charismatic. (The beer was provided by the Baptist, and the Calvinists supplied the wine.) Obviously, we weren't even all from the same church, yet there was a genuine sense of table-fellowship and camaraderie. And we briefly, in between the laughter and story-telling, reflected on the missing jewel of old-school, after-church hospitality.

I think some old-school traditions may find the dust being shaken off.

There's no school like the old school.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writer in Residence

Wendy -- my beautiful, talented, and sagacious wife -- is, with a great deal of regularity, the source of much wisdom and timely input into my life. Shortly after I began writing as my primary focus, she threw two insightful ideas my way that have paid off in spades:

  1. Because I am a "people person", she kicked encouraged me to do most of my actual writing outside of our home. And I discovered it's true: Writing in a public setting -- surrounded by real people, real conversations, and coffee not of my own brewing -- is an ideal creative space for me.

  2. Wendy also suggested that I write primarily in one location, and -- if the owners of that location were amenable -- that I become the 'writer in residence' there. Basically, becoming part of the "local color".
After wandering nomad-like around town, writing in various different possible locations, I finally settled on doing about 90% of my writing at the Lake Country Coffee House, a converted butcher's shop, attached to an art gallery that showcases local artists. It has that elusive combination of good coffee, friendly staff, an organic food menu, and a certain je ne sais quoi ambiance that I've come to love as a creative writing space.

And I've become familiar enough to the staff that when I returned from Mexico recently, I was greeted with exclamations of "where have you been?!?" And as I've become somewhat of a fixture here, I've learned that several of them are among the artists whose work is displayed in the coffeehouse. and the adjacent art gallery.

Today, I was able to share in the joy of one of the baristas, as she sold her very first painting just three days after it went on display. A few days earlier, another barista -- who refers to me as "that writer who always comes here" -- casually mentioned that she is an aspiring book editor. I introduced her to a friend of mine, a published author of young adult fiction, who just happened to be looking for an editor. Hopefully, that will work out for both of them.

All in all, this writer in residence gig is turning out to be a very rewarding one, creatively and incarnationally. Which proves, yet again and to no-one's surprise, that Wendy's input is a very valuable and appreciated aspect in my life (thanks, sweetie!).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Setting Up Shop

The door opened slowly, with a noticeably hesitant movement, as the two friends peered inside. The environs possessed the classic coffeehouse vibe, which was recognizable and reassuring to both, although neither of them had ever stepped foot in this particular establishment previously.

"Looks kinda like our other place," the Younger cautiously opined, looking over his friend's shoulder as he followed him into the café. The Elder, several inches shorter and a good number of years older, preceded his companion into the warm and welcoming embrace of the atmosphere within, also glancing left and right, as he took in the new location.

The Younger, always restless and energetic -- as if he had already ingested several espressos -- schooled himself to not push ahead of the Elder as they moved deeper into the shop. The Younger, partly due to his youth and the rest due to his natural impatience, was more inclined to choose a table or booth as if he were on a 'search and destroy' mission. The Elder, in almost perfect counter-point, was completely at home taking his time, surveying the sights, breathing in the ambiance, and then -- finally -- making his selection after what seemed (to the Younger) to be an eternity.

Looking up with his easy-going smile, the Elder turned abruptly to face the door they'd just come through, and settled into a booth roughly two-thirds of the way into the café, placing his battered old leather satchel beside him on the padded bench. "I think this will do fine," he announced, looking appreciatively around the booth as the Younger slid into the seat opposite him. "I can only hope that this particular booth will be available on a regular basis."

"And I must say," he continued, gently placing both hands palm-down on the table, as if for emphasis, "the name of this fine establishment bodes well for our continued theological ramblings, don't you think?"

The Younger was still soaking in the welcome aroma of the espresso machine, as he also continued to gaze about this new discovery of theirs, albeit from the opposite direction of the Elder, facing the rear of the café as he was. "I don't think that the name, or the location, or the clientele could really stop us from having one of our usual discussions," he laughed, leaning back and hearing the slight creak of the wood behind him. "If there's one thing we're known for, it's for getting into some pretty intense discussions over pints of good ale -- or lattes, as the case may be."

The Elder was still looking above and beyond the Younger, taking in all the new sights with scarcely contained anticipation. Folding his hands in front of him, tapping his thumbs together in restless energy, he finally made eye contact with the Younger.

"Well," he conceded, "after so many years at the other blog, I'm just enjoying the fresh start, especially in such a quaint café. I have a very good feeling about our future discussions here."

Looking around once more with a hearty sigh of appreciation, he continued, "I like this place -- this 'Genesis Café'. I think it bodes well as symbolic of a new chapter in our notoriously animated conversations about all things faith-related."

The Younger grinned lop-sidedly as he ruefully recalled some of their earlier adventures, especially with the Crusty Irish Barkeep at their favourite pub. "Well, unlike the pub, nobody here knows us well enough to bring 'the usual' to our table, so let's go order some lattes, what do you say?"

"Of course, of course," responded the Elder, pushing himself out of the comfortable booth with renewed energy. As they made their way across the café towards the black-clad, multi-pierced young barista behind the counter, he looked around once more, nodding in satisfaction. "The 'Genesis Café'," he repeated with a smile in his voice, and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I just know we're going to like it here."

The Younger threw him a questioning look, fumbling with his wallet as he took in the array of available beverages, under the watchful eye of the young Barista. She has no idea what she's getting herself into, he thought to himself, unable to repress a small smile, but she will. Probably before the end of her shift.

The Elder was already ordering his coffee -- "black, the way God drinks it," as he liked to say -- and the Younger quickly made his decision (an americano, with a shot of caramel to bring out the subtleties of the espresso shots). Looking around the café once more, he felt a breath -- almost like a literal wisp of breeze -- of the same sense of anticipation that the Elder was clearly reveling in.

Yes, the Younger thought as he handed his credit card to the Barista, it is good to be back.