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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Early Thanksgiving Morning, November 26, 2009

It's just dawn now. The crib is mostly quiet, filled with sleeping daughters and friends. Tricia is in the kitchen beginning the climb to the sumptuous feast we will have later with the rest of the family including grandchildren. I am a little sleepy, but will wake up soon with a morning walk around Northampton.

Mostly, I am thankful for the cornucopia of unexpected/undeserved blessings God has showered on me. I am rich with a fullness of life I barely comprehend. Let me show you:

I have Jesus for reasons only he understands fully. I know God and it was at his invitation! What?

I have an astounding eternal future free of tears, pain, regret and chronic selfishness. How can it be so? Yet it is!

I have an astounding eternal future full of joy, freedom, completion and fulfillment light years beyond my best imagining!

I am loved by one of the most extraordinary women in the world who graces my life with gifts I never expected. Her complete beauty and grace has humanized me.

I have 3 gifted and unique children, a daughter-in-law who is immeasurably more than I could have hoped for, and two (soon to be three) of the most beautiful grandchildren a grandfather could wish for.

I live in a weirdly alive place called Northampton, full of quirk and nuttiness where I get to be about the King of King's business everyday . . . I am entrusted with a treasure I hardly know how to open some days.

I am around bright, courageous Jesus-followers who are willing to sacrifice the good life to help people find REAL LIFE. They inspire and comfort me.

I have been able to play one of the most challenging and exciting instruments in the world for 45 years. To say its has been a joy and gift cannot voice the wonder of it for me.

I have had the exquisite blessing of living a creative life and being around extraordinarily creative people who opened me to dream.

With all my brokenness and sin God has been patient, kind, gentle and lavish in grace and love. He is my Abba, my friend, and my Lord. His goodness has unlocked my heart many times.

I have not lived under cruel subjugation and tyranny. I have not lived in crushing poverty. I have not had my spirit squashed, my livelihood stolen or my freedom revoked.

I have been given untold opportunities, countless invitations to life and more kindnesses than I recognize or appreciate.

I am blessed, saved, ennobled, privileged, enabled, unfettered, found, invited, welcomed, called, accepted, graced, filled and loosed.

Happy is the man who has gained what he could not find and been given what he could not take.

I am one of those happy men this Thanksgiving Day, 2009.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

In the Walking Forward, There Must Be the Remembering.

Yesterday, Tricia, our son, Dan, and I went to the Barn in Simsbury, CT to attend the funeral of a long-time and dear friend of ours, Dave Ross. We met him and his wife, Phyllis, in the early '80's when we were living in Winsted, CT and attending Bakerville Methodist Church together. When we moved to Simsbury, they did as well and we attended the Barn together. While never enough, we spent many hours together over the years eating, laughing and sharing our challenges and insights as Jesus-followers.

As I sat amidst his family, and friends we had not seen much since we left the Barn in the summer of 2008, I was struck by this thought: in the midst of walking forward with the birth of imagine/northampton with all the time and effort it takes to see it through, it is critical to remember the inestimable treasure we hold in family and friendships, in people who have accompanied our lives and we, theirs'. While I know the thought of stopping to note and relish the people we know and love has been examined ad nauseum, it still caught me up short for a minute. It felt as though insight paid a visit.

In being with Dave's family and getting a chance to catch up with old friends, especially some of the guys on the Worship Team I played with for years, I realized that in the birthing process we currently undertake, our focus is constantly fixed on looking forward, creating and becoming. We gaze ahead and what could be takes center stage.

Ultimately, we are being formed by the birthing; it is leaving an indelible mark on us and keeps forming who we are.

But, occasions like a funeral, or a wedding or party with old friends also help us remember how we have been shaped by people who left a mark on us as well. Such experiences:

1. Recall warm memories of life lived together with laughter and tears such that we were left changed. We see their influence afresh and rejoice or reflect.

2. Help us remember how graced our lives have been because of these people who drew along side and added to or transformed something in us for the better. In remembering, gratitude has a chance to refresh our hearts.

3. Bring to mind regrets around opportunities for friendship lost or hurts sustained. They are bittersweet in the remembering, but offer hindsight glimpses into what could have been done differently, or might still be done differently.

4. Let us see our history and life journey in the fresh conversation with people, who while growing older, still feel that we have known them and they us. The familiarity lingers and we feel safe.

5. Remind us of the mystery of persons, the profound sacredness of human being infused with God-breathed life and sentience. We see these people who populated our lives; we remember those who have left for home with God and, if we let them, even for a few moments, wonder and longing seep up from inside us and whisper joy.

6. Let us see once again it is in relationships past that we were formed and made ready for new relationships in the birthing and growing of a church. We have become who we are and give away who who have learned to be, in part, because of the folks we have known.

These days I am caught mid-stream in birthing imagine/northampton, chasing down "what-if's" and following God into a future he is creating. It has my full attention. But once in a while, I get to glimpse into the past in the presence of someone who filled a part of it with me, and left me different because of it.

Saturday reminded me it is good to linger there once in awhile.

I am glad I did.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When the Speed Forward Saps the Longing.

I will never forget when I was a young man playing drums in one the first, if not the first touring Christian jazz group, the frustration I felt because the longing I had to see the group attain a larger audience nationally never materialized. My longing was palpable, even physical. It was persistent and strong. It screamed at me sometimes. Other times it just moaned.

Every day when we were off the road, and there were many toward the end, I would wait for news of gigs. I would walk to the band mailbox to check for inquiries about booking a date. I would wait for James, the "famous" one in the group to tell me about a phone call that would open doors. I was miserable most of the time because of the interminable wait and diminishing opportunities over the months.

I have realized over the years that my wiring lends itself to longing especially about what could be, what might be, if only . . . I exhilarate in new beginnings, starting-from-scratch hints of something alive and wonderful, or creating from nothing and seeing new birth. I want to experience the intelligently novel, the startlingly insightful or clever. I want to taste the delight of heaven's freedom and freshness even now. I long for the "you mean it can be this way?" I love being surprised by ingenuity that transports me to a world beyond and awakens my longing for more and deeper and more real.

Longing also hints at justice and making things right too. It is not merely concerned with pleasure and delight. God-breathed longing wants the good and true to prevail. Longing says "I have a dream." If it is aimed at important things it can launch the trajectory of an entire life and save or heal many others.

So when I am most myself, I am longing.

The problem is: so much of life involves waiting and struggling to turn worthwhile longing into reality. Creation is subject to frustration because of sin. Frustration sidles up to longing and gradually saps its life if one is not vigilant and tenacious. Headway is made or thwarted, and often, if headway is painfully slow, longing becomes anemic or eventually abandoned. A vision dies, sometimes even a God-sent one.

I have found beginning new ministry, ala imagine/northampton begins with vigorous longing and dreaming. It's exciting, even intoxicating to a degree. Life abounds in the idea and almost overwhelming potential of it all. The vision is grand! But you soon learn you need to keep your feet on the ground because the way forward will be tough, strewn with obstacles, frustrations and rabbit-trails galore . . . or just plain waiting to see what God is going to bring into being. Patience will need to be of the one foot in front of the other varieties, and it will feel sometimes like climbing that last 100 feet of Mount Everest with little strength and oxygen left.

In founding at least 5 new ministries, I have seen that for energizing longing to prevail you need a "one-day-at-a-time" perspective.You keep the longing simmering by patient persistence, not expecting too much progress, but not despairing of any either. You notice the steps forward, no matter how small and you expect the progress to be modest, unless God does the unusual. You are in for the duration, and you never stop longing for what could or must be. Gratitude for the smallest openings helps as well.

If the speed forward saps one's longing to trace levels over time he or she will need to take stock with God and let him opt them out or re-fire them.

Ultimately, longing turns dreams into reality when the person entrusted with God-sized longings never lets the progress of today sap the promise of many tomorrows lived in " a long obedience in the same longing of worth." Cheesy, I know, but true.[

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why We Want to Re-tool Our Worship

Before I explain what I mean by "re-tooling," I should say what I do not mean. I do not mean we will change our worship in a way that it has no identity as worship. It will not morph into something unrecognizable. We will not try to make it merely an expression of cultural hipness or relevance to increase our favor with the surrounding community. We will not strip our worship of biblical truth, or present a tamed and impotent god. We will never compromise the essentials of historical, biblical Christian faith to make them more palatable to people. We will be sensitive to those who have no Christian culture, but not at the expense of what God has revealed as the ultimate Real underlying all of life.

The following are my thoughts, not necessarily everyone's on the team.

Re-tooling might mean the following for us:

1. Using music, art, drama and dance that is unfamiliar, might not be "Christian," at all or is neither based on hymns nor contemporary Christian songs. The art forms may be provoking, uncomfortable to look at, or challenging to experience. They will always be about truth, and at the very least, hint at redemption.

2. The worship "service" may not look like what people are used to experiencing: there maybe be no sermon or message, or no music. A group "object-lesson" activity may be the only thing we do when we gather. There may be be just a drama with a reflection, or a presentation with prayer. The entire gathering might be about praying together.

3. We will make more time for interaction, participation and spiritual formation-type reflection. It may be silence and quiet reflection after the message, or a group activity that expresses a concept we are working on as a community.

4. Worship may be liturgical, or spontaneous and free flowing, depending on what God wants to do on a given day.

5. Maybe worship will be about debating an issue of concern to the community and how Christian ethics, morality and principles shed light on it.

6. Some Sundays might be about a service project together in Northampton.

7. We will change the atmosphere of the worship space from time to time to reflect what God is doing. We might add reflection "stations," creative expression labs, and prayer zones.

8. Perhaps it may be an open-to-the-community meal and celebration together.

So we are looking at how we do everything regarding worship. We want freshness and aliveness to be in evidence when we gather. We really want to follow the Holy Spirit into a fresh way of worshiping so people's imaginations are enticed and opened to the God beyond their imagination. If it all becomes so predictable, people eventually tune out and sit there passively. They expect little but predictability. They are satisfied with sameness, but deadened to wonder. Or they become cemented in only one way to worship (the way we do it here), and stay closed to other ways God might be inviting then to enjoy him.

We hate that!

Re-tooling for us is the chance to create worship that will spark people toward following him with vitality and creativity in their lives. It should refresh and refocus them because they find something new and wonderful about God each time they worship him together. It should make them want to bring their friends who want little to do with him or those who say follow him. The "hour on Sunday" should be more than an obligation or a "might was well go." We believe and are searching for how to make it a reality at imagine/northampton.

May the Holy Spirit grant us favor in finding such worship.

Pray for us!

Notes from imagine/northampton's Very Second Worship

Let's begin with weirdness: the Wednesday previous to our very second worship my back went into serius spasm. Periodically over the years it has done so. The weirdness derived from the day after the worship: it unlocked with little fanfare. The day before, I genuinely feared I would not even be able to show up on Sunday, much less set up and play my drums. Worse still, I would be of little use in schlepping and setting up any of the other pieces to our "travelling roadshow." While much of that turned out true, I was able to play my part no the worse for wear and drawing no attention to myself.. I also received generous help borne of compassion from team members.

What worked/hints of encouragement:

1. While we knew we would have fewer folks the second worship, we had 50+ with some new people.

2. We had more people to set up and take down the stuff (we have to turn an empty space into a worship space, including the imagine kids room). In being able to do so, we then could have adequate time for the worship team to run through the set without pressure and confusion.

3. The music was tighter and better done. The potential of the team was evident. People worshiped even when the style was unfamiliar at times. We controlled the sound problems in the room a bit better.

4. We communicated announcements better.

5. We were able to get people interacting more effectively during the sermon. Jim got them talking.

6. The imagine kids room was less chaotic and there was more help for Karen and Ophelia. They had a ball.

7. The room looked beautiful. We reconfigured the set-up so the worship team was off the stage and in the nearer the people. The seating was in a u-shape and facing west rather than north as the month before. It felt a little more intimate.

8. Tricia's reflection drew people to ponder the coal which touched Isaiah's lips and the nail that pierced Jesus's wrists.

9. The food and hospitality was wonderful.

10. The coordinating of all the pre-worship logistical details was spectacular!

11. Jim's talk was clear and efficient.

12. The team of people and smattering of volunteers (some who even belong to other churches), we have to work with are wonderfully gifted and dedicated!

What still needs improving:

1. The acoustics in the room still need to be controlled better.

2. People must have the chance to participate more, so there is less a spectator worship environment.

3. No one from the town came. There are still 99% Christians in attendance (don't get me wrong, we are grateful they are with us). The "service" still addresses mostly believers and has a "churchy" feel to it. No real innovation is evident. The structure is just like what virtually every church does. More about that in my next blog.

4. We need to get better at "directing traffic" to the Northampton Center for the Arts, including places to park.

5. We need to get the word out to the town more effectively.

6. We need to do the offering more effectively so that people know our real needs.

7. We need better videos to use; perhaps even create our own.

8. The entire service was a half hour too long; we must tighten it.


All in all, I'd give us a C, maybe a C+. Average is ok, but not in line with our core value of excellence. We have a way to go, but there is a growing, solid foundation to work from.

Please pray we have the resources, courage, strength, wisdom and humility to actually become imagine/northampton as God sees it . . . nothing more, nothing less.