Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some Things I Just Can't Stop Thinking About

Maybe it's because 'Slumdog Millionaire' is playing in the background, even as I type.

Maybe because since seeing the movie, I've been addicted to the soundtrack.

Maybe because of the letter we received this week from Arpita Nayak, the little girl from India we sponsor through Compassion International.  The letter in which she details the story of the Hindu extremists chasing her and her Christian family out of their home, into the forest.  And how she spent the next few months in a refugee camp.  And how glad she is to be back in school, finally.

Maybe because I've been following this blog.  And this one.  And this one.  Anne, Pete and Angie are all in India right now, on a Compassion bloggers trip, seeing first-hand the impact of $32 a month on the lives of kids and their families.

I just can't shake this country.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let Your Name Be Lifted Higher

In light of everything we are experiencing and the way we see God moving in our community in recent weeks, it's important to remember some important things.

God is stronger.

Christ is risen.

You are saved.

There is hope.

There is a way out.

This song has gripped me since last night. I know it is a message we need to hear, a song we need to sing.

There is Love that came for us
Humbled to a sinner's cross
You broke my shame and sinfulness
You rose again victorious

Faithfulness none can deny
Through the storm and through the fire
There is truth that sets me free
Jesus Christ who lives in me

You are stronger
Sin is broken
You have saved me
It is written
Christ is risen
Jesus You are Lord of all

No beginning and no end
You're my hope and my defense
You came to seek and save the lost
You paid it all upon the cross

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

After Easter...

Wondering how you're feeling this week...

It's Tuesday, a little over a week past Easter.  Spring break is a mere memory, and the drudgery of routine has returned.  You're counting down the days until the end of school; you're holding out hope for a change in your circumstance; you're grinding your teeth through the patience required of you in these days.

You're waiting.  Existing.

Remember this, as you wait.

PCC's Got Talent!!!

Monday, April 20, 2009


In case you were late to church on Sunday (I was!) and missed 10B4 - here's what's up at PCC this week!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Double Dipping On A Sunday

Great day today.

Totally disengaged from the planning of a Sunday experience, I attended two.

After I slept until 8:30.  On a Sunday!!!  Woo hoo!!!!!

We headed first to Hope Church on Patterson Avenue in Richmond.  I was excited to walk in and see a) a fiddle player and b) a banjo player on the front line of the musicians.  Balanced with two electric guitars, bass, drums and keys, it was a great lineup.

It was a simple service.  The vibe of the entire place was terrific - the "official" greeters were well-balanced, but the "regular folks" in the hallway were most impressive.  When we walked up to the coffee bar (some of the best coffee in Richmond, by the way!  Very impressive for church coffee!) and responded to the "Free Cup of Coffee for Our Guests!", people responded to us with gentle introductions and smiling faces.   The building itself - the architecture, the decor, the colors - was really impressive and very, very comfortable.

Loved the music, the intimate feel of the room, the relational vibe of the teaching pastor, the media, the program.  We were led - quite comfortably - to the communion table, and it became a very holy moment for us.

Had a chance to chat with the pastor afterwards; walking out, I had a novel thought:  If I wasn't at PCC, I'd go here.  It just felt that good.

We scooted back to PCC to catch the second service, and had another terrific experience.  I was very disengaged this week, so much of the service was fresh for me.  The band was great, the production values were excellent - lighting, media, sound.  The message was striking.  It occured to me that from my perspective this morning, I got it.  No wonder people keep coming back to this church.  Brian's message - on a very difficult topic - was so undergirded with sensitivity and honesty and openness, without any churchy answers or platitudes.  The invitation that never came was implicit - you can trust us.  We get it.  We'll walk with you.

I was proud of my friends, the people I serve with day in and day out.  But I was thrilled to get a glimpse of how my church is functioning in the kingdom.

And now, back to real life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doing Church The Way God Called Us To Do It

Home.  Sitting in Panera waiting on results from a local show choir competition.  Here, engaged, but not really here....

Feeling convicted about my "Dear 21st Century Church" post.  Seems like I either didn't explain myself very well or there was something bitter running through the entire thing experience that leached through.  In spite of three edits, I didn't see it.  Still not sure what it is.

I don't want to offend or be a stumbling block.  I took the post down.

And then I read this today, from Perry Noble's blog, which is far more powerful than anything I could ever dream up to say about any other church experience.

"One of the things that I always teach here at NewSpring Church is that we do not have the corner on the market when it comes to a movement of God. We aren’t doing church “the right way.” We aren’t doing church a better way. We are doing church the way God called us to do it…and if another church is doing what God has called them to do and people are being reached, lives are being changed, sin is being repented of, the excluded are being included, teenagers are discovering their potential in Christ, marriages are being restored and children are learning about Jesus and so on…who in the world would want to criticize that? (Answer - satan…just in case you were curious!)" - Perry Noble

Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

I'm sorry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blessed Assurance

One last walk this morning....


Contemplating my 'take home' from these blessed five days, surrounded by brilliant blue seas, white sand and glorious sunshine, I kept chanting, "Glorious.  Glorious.  You make everything glorious.  Thank you, Jesus."

As a worship leader, I have noticed one of my habits is this:  During a gathering, overwhelmed by the privilege, the harmony, the rhythm, the Presence, the fellowship, I stop singing any scripted lyric and simply begin to say, "Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Jesus."  Not necessarily tearful, not rendered mute - just so overwhelmed, with nothing to say with any deeper meaning than "thank you."

Gratitude flowed from my mouth this morning, the crazy lady walking on the beach talking to herself.

After turning around and heading back, I found myself grateful for the real-ness of Jesus to me, the authenticity of relationship that reveals itself almost daily.  Since making a decision to follow Christ publicly some 20 years ago, since jumping headfirst into church life, I've always heard this bit about a "personal relationship".  Coupled with what I read in the Bible, I internalized so many things that were "for me."  Real.  Unquestioned.  Unquestionable.

"My grace is sufficient for you."
"Go, then, and sin no more."
"I will never leave you or forsake you."
"God so loved the world..."
"In all things God works for the good of those who love him..."
"Consider it pure joy when you face trials..."
"Wives, submit to your husbands..."

Et cetera.

(I forge ahead now without any certainty that this makes sense, but I have come to understand a subtle shift in the axis of my understanding that has, I believe, powerfully impacted my faith and the way in which I live my life.  Let's see if I can articulate it.)

In the past, much of my Bible instruction took every statement as fact.  Emphasis was on the inerrancy of the word, and so every statement meant just what it said.  Period.  To examine the context or the culture was frowned upon- it meant what it said, and it said what it meant.  Memorize it.  Paint it on your walls in your dining room.  Buy keychains and greeting cards emblazed with the words.  Believe it.  Don't dig around in the external factors.  Ignore the human part.  Learn the words.

To some degree, there is truth and power in this.  I have internalized so much of the Bible that it sometimes surprises me.  I have found comfort, peace, encouragement, wisdom, strength.

And yet...

In the past several years, I have been encouraged - and self-motivated - to read the Bible in context.  To ask questions.  To dig deeper into the discrepancies.  To consider the audience, the culture, the context.

To actually say, "This doesn't seem to make sense."

At the risk of sounding like I've discovered something rare and unusual that most of the world looks at and says, "Duh!", I'll just marvel at this for a minute.

Because I think that's the key to my joy, my wonder, my gratitude, my primitive conviction that this is true, real, personal.  That Jesus is, as the old hymn says, "mine".

Here's what occurs to me:   The context is humanity.  Our humanity.  To read without a clear understanding of the culture, of the underlying lessons, of the motivations, the larger issues at play is to accept words strung together as moral imperatives, catchy sayings, legalistic commands.  And, in the end, words strung together leave a hollow place in one's soul.

Without context, there's no grasp of the humanity that Jesus inhabited.  The context is us.

The context is me.

Maybe this is so much uneducated, I've-been-alone-too-long drivel.  But it meant something to me this morning as I walked.  

Still processing.

"God, you make everything glorious.  What does that make me?"

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchased of God
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mad Church Disease: Overcoming The Burnout Epidemic

If you read a book on burn out, and realize that a lot of what you're reading seems very familiar, you pay attention.

Anne Jackson grew up as a pastor's kid in traditional church settings.  She's seen what church life can be like from a kid's perspective, and she's experienced her own personal challenges.  In Mad Church Disease, Anne writes very honestly about the risk factors, both external and internal.  She's frank about our tendency as humans - and particularly as church leaders - to lead extremely unhealthy lives.  And she's precise without being preachy about what it takes to get better.  She writes honestly about her own struggles and the unhealthy ways she chose to cope.

This book, along with John Burke's No Perfect People Allowed, really struck a chord with me. I'm still processing a lot of what I've read on a personal level; bits and pieces about manipulative tendencies, living out of false assumptions, codependency, confusion about my value outside of my work.  My belief that I have to work seven days a week in order for the world to keep spinning.  Lots of junk, just like the rest of us.

But then I read this:
"We cannot be dependent on ourselves and on God at the same time.  When we consider the practice of rest unnecessary, we will also inevitably lose sight of the necessity of God."  Anne Jackson
And I'm learning.

One of the greatest benefits of this week was the chance to walk for two hours today, down to the end of the island and back.  All along the way, I thought and processed and reflected on where I've been.  And where I'm headed.  I've read four books this week, and spent time reading the Bible, and thought and planned and contemplated.

I've thought about my personal life.  I've thought about my work life.  I've thought about my passion for the local church.

I can't say for sure what lies ahead.  None of us can. 

But I am certain that my path is covered, above, below and all around, by grace.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  Undeserved, unearned, a gift from God.  A privilege and an honor.

By the way, I'd recommend that anybody who serves a church in any capacity read this book. Anybody.  It's worth it, for the sake of that to which we are called.

Anne quotes Oswald Chambers in one of the most powerful parts of the book:
"If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on him, and he will make use of you every minute you live- yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of him." Oswald Chambers
Boy, I love that.

You can learn more from Anne Jackson and the work to which God has called her on her blog.

Less Clutter. Less Noise. Still Overwhelmed.

Finished book #3 of this study break; Kem Meyer's Less Clutter. Less Noise.  Subtitled "Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales", it's a look at how to maximize effectiveness of communication, focused on the church environment, in light of the information overload systems in place in our current culture.

Kem comes out of a corporate background, which gives her a ton of credibility.  She's not "churchy" at all, but a serious appreciation for the work of Jesus in her life underlies her book.

I was surprised to find a good bit of the book's content has a prior life on her blog.  It was good there, and it's good here - but I'd already seen and heard a lot of this.  However, it'll be a great resource to get into the hands of people working in communications at our church.

As I processed this info, one thing kept coming to mind:  I'm insane.  I'm trying to manage communications from a staff perspective - which really isn't happening at all, or at least in any way that seems cohesive.  And yet we've revamped our website and continue to dialogue about future improvements; we've altered the program and returned to in-house publication, saving stress and money; we've enlisted the work of an incredible graphic designer; we're trying to streamline our efforts.  

But this is a full-time occupation.  And trying to juggle musicians and service planning and production team and programming - whew!  Perhaps lesson numero uno from study break is this:  
Women Who Try To Do Too Much And Why They're Stressed
Well, regardless, here's some great info from Kem's book;
  • It's not what you say; it's what people hear.
  • Information is now so inexpensive and plentiful that most of it ends up being overlooked, ignored or tossed like garbage.  (True, this.)
  • People's needs drive their attention; they notice what will benefit them.
  • Get real instead of trying to appear real.
  • Everything you do (in communcations) is an extension of your story.
  • Simplify the problem - don't complicate the solution.
  • Every person in your church is a walking billboard.
  • Before you spend money on marketing, spend money on improving the people skills of your people (like reading the same book, training, vision-casting, etc.)
Kem says she wrote this book for the short attention span.  Initially, I found this really difficult. It's interesting to note that my approach to printed information in a book is different than my web experience; I don't want a book to be like a blog.  I want a more leisurely experience; I want a book experience.  Just another example of how people receive and interpret communicated information, I guess.

Great information, though.  This woman is a gold mine.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Creating Culture

Just finished my second book of the week, John Burke's No Perfect People Allowed.  Great book, full of grace-filled stories that made me cry more than once.  Burke is the lead pastor at Gateway Church in Austin.

I took a few notes but was drawn into the book more holistically than I expected, so the note-taking was minimal.  Initially I was underlining passages with glee - until I realized that this copy belongs to someone else.  My pastor, actually.  I hope he doesn't mind that I wrote all over the first chapter in his book.

A few salient points from my reading:
  • Burke quotes Barna in a profound statement about the church's role in today's world:  "(...the role the church must play is) that of a loving, authoritative, healing and compelling influence on the world."  Boy, I love that - loving, authoritative, healing and compelling.  Sounds a lot like Jesus.
  • Truth has become relational.  That's why our stories matter so much.  Jesus manifests His presence through His work in people's lives.
  • We are dealing with a generation of chaos, often a result of a lack of trust.  So many people have been damaged by families and relationships - how can they easily trust in God?
  • People resist arrogance - one of the questions they will ask when they look at Christians is, "Do I want to be like you?"  If the answer is no, we have a problem.
  • Burke says "Nothing has been more difficult for me than to watch people react in destructive ways to brokenness."  Acting out of brokenness - even as a believer - can destroy you.  The church must be a lighthouse of hope.
  • Burke says, "Statements like 'Christ died for your sins' and 'God so loved the world' have been leached of all meaning for today's seekers."  They won't believe it until they experience it from those who claim to follow Him.
  • "To create a culture of grace, a leader must first experience grace - then give it out liberally."  (Excuse me for a moment while I thank God for this, which has been my experience and which has been the impetus for my present situation.  For which I am thankful, and by which I am overwhelmed....)
  • Give up trying to fix people.  Accept and love them in order to reconnect them with God. 
  • In order to lead others, you have to willingly follow God.
The book's most compelling section is titled Mental Monogamy:  Creating a Culture of Sexual Wholeness.  It's a fascinating, honest look at the way culture interprets and internalizes sexual behavior.  Burke quotes Mike Starkey, who says, "Ours is a culture crying out for intimacy, but only able to conceive of accessing it through sex."  It's a great discussion of why God's wisdom and ways bring life, and how that applies to our sexuality.  Burke focuses on helping people become rightly related to God and truly willing to follow Christ, then guiding them to the freedom of following his ways.  He says, "If we try to force people to morally approximate the gospel before they have the source of life-giving water, we spiritually dehydrate them."  It's a great examination of why and how God's plan for sexual wholeness comes with the mandate for sexual intimacy to be within the confines of the marriage bed, and how the church can create a culture for restoration and sexual wholeness so that God's spirit can change hearts and heal lives.

Good stuff; lots of inspiration here for ministry, for our church, for the future.  Burke's book is incredibly moving, with powerful stories from real people who were turned off by Christians and by the church, but drawn to into relationship with Jesus once the cultural clutter was cleared away.

Lots for me to think about and process.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stunning Revelations

Some things I learned today:

  • When I don't have to cook for a family, I can use one plate.  And one fork.  And just wash them over and over.  Wow.
  • After two days alone, I've begun to talk to myself.  Quite a bit.  I also spoke harshly today to a large pot.  Left alone, to my own devices, I will undoubtedly turn into a crazy lady.
  • Twitter - especially Tweetdeck - is bad for me.  Having it off for two days has led to some blessed relief.
  • My natural rhythm is bed at midnight, up at 8:30.  This has not changed for most of my life.  I sort of thought I'd grow out of it.  Hasn't happened.  That's my normal.  
  • I like garlic.
  • I'm sure of three things in my life:  the work I do, the people I love and my devotion to my kids.  It's been a journey to get here - on study break a few years ago, I was questioning two of the three.  Now, there's no doubt.
  • I'd rather watch 'Biggest Loser' than 'American Idol'.  Study break or not, I'm not missing Tuesday night with Jillian.
  • I like yoga.  I did yoga with FitTv today.  It was really cool.
More spiritual/work stuff later.  Lots of great stuff going on.

I am so grateful for this time.  It is a gift beyond measure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Creating Magic

Day one - didn't fare so well with the technology fast.  But I'm happy with the results.  I have NOT been enslaved to the computer, and that's been a very good thing.

Had a great time in the eleventh chapter of Matthew; I continue to be fascinated and enthralled by the man that I follow.  Finding myself constantly astounded by what feel like new revelations; I've been in church ALL my life, been a committed Christian for twenty years - and yet it seems that every single day, something new and different appears.  It was a source of wonder and joy today, and gratitude.  I'm sure it's a combination of experience, time, circumstances and situations - all wrapped together by the active and alive mystery of faith.  Way cool.  It was great to have some time to just soak in all that today.

I found myself crying a lot this afternoon, moved by music, by words...and I am not quite sure what to make of that.  Again, there are pools of gratitude all around.  It's not necessarily sorrow, but some emotional release.  I imagine I'll have some understanding before the end of the week.

It is really, really cold here - at least in terms of what you might think of as "beach weather".  I walked today and found myself quite miserable.  No sun, either.  But I'm not complaining....

Major in-depth work today was in this book; written by Lee Cockerell, Creating Magic is his "10 common-sense leadership strategies from a life at Disney".  Much of it I find very familiar in terms of what has evolved into some intuitive practices in my own leadership.  Much of it is exciting, and a great reminder of what really matters.  Frankly, I'm a bit surprised at how much I like this book - and how endearing it is.

Here are a few bullet points that I found particularly intriguing or affirming:

  • Leadership starts with respect for all people.
  • Effective leaders work hard to create democratic, participatory environments (sounds like a church volunteer structure to me).
  • Achieve leadership excellence by spreading responsibility and authority throughout the organization; anyone at any level can exert leadership and make a positive difference.
  • Leadership means making the right things happen by bringing out the best in others (alot like being a mom!).
  • Authority is nothing without good relationship skills.
  • Virtually every problem or conflict in the world can be traced to a leadership failure.
  • Everyone matters and everyone knows he or she matters.
  • One vital question:  "Is there anything else you think I should know?"
That's just the first bit.  I've a ways more to go, but so far, I've found this to be throught-provoking and encouraging.  Our church is growing, as our my responsibilities.  Structural change (another topic Cockerell addresses, which I'm still processing) is on top of us.  I want to be ready and be effective.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Study Break, Part One

I'm on study break this week.

Tomorrow - Monday - is planned as a technology-free day.  That means no internet, no tv, no cell, no twitter, no nothing.

However, there are a few things as yet undone that have to be tidied up in order to preserve my mental sanity for the remainder of this week.  So I might have to aim for Tuesday for my fast.

Here's some of what I hope to accomplish this week:

Ha.  Go ahead, laugh.  But I can't wait to dig in.

By the way, I had an incredible moment during my five hour drive.  It's been a long time since a piece of music moved me to tears.  Now, I've been pretty amped up for the past five days, so I'll grant that it might be more about my hormonal state of exhaustion and perhaps just a need to cry.  (If you're female, I know you understand that.)

But I popped this cd in on my drive, and as it unfolded, I just couldn't help it.  My heart was just torn to bits.  There's something so authentic and genuine and raw about these songs; I want the entire world to hear it.  

So pick up a copy, willya?  I can't afford to buy it for everybody.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Let's Fight.

Holly Furtick wrote an incredibly powerful blog post last week.

You should read it.  Especially if you are part of Powhatan Community Church - or any church - you should read this post.

And, after you're done reading, do something.

And leave a comment and let us know what you did.

Here's an excerpt; the emphasis is mine.

I'm just saying - this is truth. I have experienced it this week.  Maybe you have, as well.

Let's fight. 

" I think that there are forces in this world that want to attack and/or distract us during a time of year when many many people will come to church for the first time (or maybe first time in a long time). Absolutely.

How do I fight? Well first of all I am aware. I see a negative attitude that rises up inside me as an opportunity for there to be a tension in my marriage. I am sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I try to spend more time meditating and praying as I go throughout my day.

I am also not going to bring up a conversation that may cause a disagreement...If the enemy cannot get at my marriage through a moral failure, he is going to attack through the seemingly small.

You may be reading this post and think, this is not for me. I am not in the ministry. This post is for everyone.

If you are in the ministry, open your eyes. Be aware, be sensitive, be prayerful.

If you are not in the ministry, be in extra prayer for your church, your pastor, your church leaders and for their families. Pray for smooth services, functioning equipment, plenty of volunteers, good health, the list can go on and on.

This is a fight worth fighting because people's lives are at stake. Put up your dukes."

You can read the entire post here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Boy

I'm so proud of this kid.  David is having a great year at school.  His teacher, Monica Gerow, is outstanding.  Between his natural maturation and her incredible skill, she's managed to unlock the key to his head and his heart.

Not too long ago, David struggled to read.  Tonight, as he whipped through his earth cycle study guide, I got all emotional.  He zipped through the whole thing and retained almost everything he read.

My baby is growing up.  Not such a baby anymore.  I'm very proud of him, very grateful for teachers who invest their lives in our children, happy that he has three big sisters and a strong older brother who love him and push him to be his best - to be "A Brawley".  

And I'm honored that God picked me to be his mom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Life On God's Terms

Some random stuff...just because...

Shannon was inducted into the National Honor Society today, carrying on a fine family tradition.  It was extra special, because I always play a little "mood music" for the tapping ceremonies.  For a few years now, I find myself sitting at the grand on the stage and playing appropriately-semi-formal chord progressions, with a dash of Pachelbel and Bach and the occasional old hymn.  I enjoy it, and I usually tear up as I watch my kids' peers join a rather elite group.  Shannon finally gathered the credentials to get in, and today was her day.  She was announced and subsequently tapped by her sweetheart, hugged by her dad and stepmom, and then I got up from the piano and skipped across the stage to give her a hug myself.  It was very cool.  I am very proud.

On that note, the entire household has A/B honor roll grades, save for one pesky little C in a statistics class.  I'm extremely pleased with my kids' efforts.  Unfortunately, the two carrots that dangled in front of the boys for straight A's are still dangling - maybe next nine weeks. 

I'm getting ready for a one-week study break next week.  The kids are going with their dad for spring break, and I'm going to hunker down, disconnect and get some reading and forward planning done.  I am really, really looking forward to this with great anticipation - and not because I'm tired.  I am eagerly awaiting the chance to work, uninterrupted.  I know God's messing with me, and I'm ready to do some wrestling.  I have a ton of books to read.  I have a date with God.

Still reeling from the impact of last Sunday's service and the implications for our community.  Life is messy.  Community is messy.  Churches sometimes make it messier.  It's a challenge.

The girls are full-swing into raising funds and planning for their summer mission trip to Macedonia.  I am incredibly proud of them.  They are focused and excited.

Sarah has finalized plans to spend the summer in Germany with our cousins.  She'll care for their kids and live as a big sister to their family for about 8 weeks.  I'm thrilled - and petrified.  Learning how to let go in a major way.  I find myself wondering what, exactly, I was thinking when I said, "Yes!  What a GREAT idea!!!"  But it is, indeed, a great idea.  My head knows that.  I've got a few weeks before my heart believes it.

Every time I turn around, something else musical is going on.  Friday night, Sarah's playing with the band she has half-way committed to - The Half Jeffersons - at a club in the city.  A guy from our small group is playing a swing band show that same night.  Our PCC band is playing cover tunes at The County Seat Restaurant here in town on Saturday night.  Another PCC group is playing a prayer breakfast on Friday morning in Midlothian.  Of course, there's Easter coming up - lots of music and a choir to boot.  The girls just got a call to play and sing at the upcoming Relay For Life event.

We're busy.

We're broke.

But I'm not anxious about it.  Considering this: 

If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you'll lose it, but if you let that life go, you'll get life on God's terms.  - Luke 17.33

Yes.  In spite of my tendency to grasp and cling, that's what I want.  I'm learning to let go.  I do believe that in the end, life on God's terms is better than the melted mess left in my hands.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunday Setlist 4.5.09 Unity Service

Last summer, a young man in our community was murdered.  Teen-aged sensibilities, cars, drugs, insults and guns; a devastating combination.

The boy who lost his life was black.  The kids who shot the guns were white.

During the trial a few weeks ago, tensions were high.  Folks were looking for justice, for answers.  Tension that has simmered below the surface of the friendly faces in the community began to erupt.  The subsequent jury verdict of involuntary manslaughter caused a great deal of grief for those who felt it unfair, unjust and biased against the African American community.  There were peaceful protests and marches and a lot of media coverage.  The hot story for the media was, of course, the racial tension simmering in Powhatan county.  

Not long after, some idiot planted KuKluxKlan literature throughout the county - surreptitiously, of course; stuck in mailboxes and yards, inviting folks to join their organization.

(Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth, just a little.)

Several pastors got together last week to talk about what the local church community could and should do.  The silence thus far had been deafening; and so, plans were made, and in four short days, we organized a community Unity Service.  And new relationships were formed.

Last night, after worshiping in our own churches on Sunday morning (still, the most segregated place in our community), we came together.  Since we currently worship at the high school, which was to be the host site (thanks to the generosity of the Powhatan School Board), PCC was very involved in most of the practical aspects of the gathering.

We threw out an "all-call" for anyone who wanted to sing in the community choir, and scheduled a 4:00 rehearsal.  We had no idea what to expect, but we'd put together a few song ideas and decided that we'd do what God's artists do - we'd create something.

We ended up with about 75 folks in the community choir - with huge diversity.  Black, white, Baptist, Pentacostal, Mennonite - it was a jumbled mess of humanity.  And, oh, did we sing.....

I've never witnessed anything like this in my life.  We sang loudly and it was glorious, all those voices.  From the stage, we looked out over a crowd that represented every color, tons of churches - and many folks with no church affiliation, who just came in search of peace and unity.  We estimate that around 900 folks were in the room last night, and it was an incredible surge of energy and positive power, reflecting the incredible depth of strength God provides when we humble ourselves to one another, submit to Him and just get together with one simple purpose:  to say that we are His people.

We got news coverage, and it was positive.  The reports did not flash back or focus on the negative - they showed a community commited to grasping hands and declaring that things could and should and would be different.

At the end of the service, all the area pastors were called onto the stage.  Representing black and white churches, all of whom worship and minister in different styles, our leaders stood together to demonstrate something far beyond anything we could have manufactured.  I still have no words for what I witnessed.

But I'll tell you that what I heard was more magical and beautiful than any music I've ever created.  The simple sound of voices singing together - minimal rehearsal, no assignment of parts, just instructions to sing - it was.  absolutely.  stunning.

I'm thinking that an eternity of worship doesn't sound too bad.

On the practical side, here's the way the service went:
You Are Good - Most contemporary chuches know this tune.  We rocked the house.  It was a GREAT declaration of the goodness of God, and an incredible way to launch the service.
At the Foot of the Cross (Greg Ferguson/Willow Creek) - This song has always been a challenge (for me) in it's format.  There's something about it that has never quite held together in a way that's comfortable.  But the message in the lyric is brilliant and was a perfect fit for the night.  

Five pastors then spoke, each on a different topic:  Love, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Comfort and Unity.  They each had five minutes - and of course they each went over, just a bit.  Hello - they are pastors!  But it was worth it.  Each speaker was followed by another pastor representing a different church or race, whose role it was to pray.  Beautiful stuff.

We showed A Thousand Questions, a film from Willow Creek that is absolutely stellar in quality and content.  If you haven't seen this, you should.  If you haven't used it, you should.  (You can purchase the dvd from the WillowCreekAssociation.)

As the video ended, we asked folks in the room to gather round for prayer - to find somebody of another race, from another church, and pray together.  And the choir began to sing I Need You To Survive, directed by the amazing Aleisha from Little Zion Baptist Church.  We moved into a creative version of Jesus Never Fails, with a call and answer from the choir that was stunning and so powerful - and rich for me, because I was able to just stand in the choir and sing.

We closed with Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and I swear, I felt the heavens break open and the angels sing with us.  

What a night.  There's little more to say, but my heart is full and will never be the same.

Read one pastor's perspective on the night here.

Catch some of the media coverage here.

And here's A Thousand Questions.  Go buy this vid and show it to your church.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Setlist 4.5.09 - Putting The Palm In Palm Sunday

I need to try to process this day; not sure how. 

I keep typing various superlatives; "stunning".  "Amazing".  "Powerful".

None are adequate. 

So, just the facts.

This morning, our 'Palm Sunday' service.  We have never been traditional in our approach to much of anything, and we've never done much about putting the palm in Palm Sunday.  But this year, we did.

But with a twist.

We handed out palms at the beginning of the service.  Started with the 10B4 video announcements, and as it ended, the action started in the back of the room.  Marc, Elijah and Jenn - drumline kids from the high school - started a beat, and they came down the aisles rocking.  They hit the stage, and in a demonstration of extreme coolness, they riffed for a few minutes.  It put me over the top - it was AWESOME!  Elijah cued Matt with a nod of his head, and in came the guitar opening for Here Is Our King (Crowder).  It was a GREAT opening - first time we'd done it at PCC, too.

We mixed things up a good bit, because our pastor came out after that song, gave a push for tonight's Unity Service (more on that later) and another event, and then launched into his message.  He explained the scene in Jerusalem on that day - how Jesus entered town on a donkey, a humble king, and the resultant celebration - the "hosannas", et al.  He spoke for about 15 minutes, and then led us right into a few celebration songs.  We did We Stand (Lee McDerment) - which is a deadly awesome worship song, if you've got a great guitar player with great rhythm and a great crunchy tone (we do!) (Learned that tune at Unleash, by the way - thank you Tony Morgan and Perry Noble and NewSpring!)

Went straight from the energy of We Stand into You Are Good (Houghton), my favorite song EVER.  Whooosh.

Offering prayer led into Hosanna (Fraser), another first for us.  We struggled a bit in first service, but at 11:00 we found the groove and it was a good tune. 

Then Brian came back to transition to part two of the message.  Let me preface this by saying that we do not do any other services during holy week - for us, this is it until Easter Sunday.  So, we addressed the aftermath of Palm Sunday today.  Brian did a wonderful job explaining the "quickest slip in approval ratings in history", digging into the changing attitude of the crowd towards Jesus.  He walked off the stage, and Sandy sang How Deep the Father's Love For Us (Townend), another first for our church.  It was very clean and simple - her (amazing) vocal, piano, a little synth strings and light percussion.  During the second verse, our stage hands brought up a 10 foot wooden cross and mounted it center stage, still in shadows.  After the third verse, Brian reappeared - center stage, in front of the cross - and talked about the necessary death of Jesus for our sins.  He directed the crowd to walk forward and exchange their palm branches for a nail; a black cloth stretched across the stage, and large nails were scattered across the length of it.

It was a somber crowd that moved forward to take a nail in each hand, and as they moved, Sandy sang the second verse of How Deep; the band (still just keys, synth and percussion) played over a droning bminor chord.  We added evocative touches of other chords to create a powerful mood - sort of creepy, sad, overwhelming.  Elijah had some sort of bizarre sound effect on the Motif - it was weird, but it really set the mood.

Sandy sang:

Behold, the man upon the cross
My sin upon his shoulder
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

She repeated the last line a few times, and words from Mark 15 came upon the screen:  "And with a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last."

And Brian came back out and gently, quietly, sent everyone home; with a reminder that next week, we celebrate.

We kept the lights dim, and John played some beautiful celtic music.

It was a moment.  More than a moment.

And that's just the MORNING service.  Tonight, we hosted a Unity Service for our county.  

I can't even begin to process that one yet.

This post is part of the bloggy carnival fun at Fred McKinnon's blog.  Check it out!