Friday, May 27, 2011

A Friday Rant About Authenticity

We've made it to FRIDAY FRIDAY and it feels great. However, I'm a little scarred this morning from discovering that the same folks who brought us FRIDAY FRIDAY have created another little gem called HOOKED ON YOU. It's surreal and bizarre and is another cultural indicator that we are, indeed, in the end times. It is disturbing. The kid looks cute, the video work is decent, the execution of the digital music tracks are spot on - but it is so fake that I find myself having visions of an Orwellian universe consisting of nothing but Hostess Cupcakes, frozen Bourbon Chicken in a Tyson's bag and instant coffee. And powdered coffee creamer. You know, fake stuff. Poor substitutes for the real thing.

I'm not sure why music like this becomes so popular - is there an element of our culture that really likes shallow lyrics and digital loops of meaningless chord movement? Or are we all just laughing at ourselves? Are we all in on the joke?

I hope so.

Along those lines, here's a piece of cultural observation that I think is brilliant. As disgusting as some of these photos and images are - and as much as I am embarrassed by and for some of these people - I can't help but watch this video and feel my heart swell with pride. Call me crazy, but only in America could you see this sort of thing in public.

I love this country.

And the reason why this video is entertaining and brilliant and gives me warm fuzzies, while Hooked On You and Friday make me want to barf?

It's real. 

Reality works. No matter how ugly or embarrassing, what is will work.

Want to make a clever cultural statement? Want to create three minutes of 21st century contemporary art?  Want to try to be cute and get my attention? Don't manufacture something sickly sweet and try to sell it to us as truth. You might catch my eye, provoke me to tell my friends and get 150 million hits on youtube, but it's empty and non-redemptive.

Show me a man in a skirt with a beer gut, passed out in the beer aisle at Walmart and write a repetitive, clever lyric about that.

I'm not sure it's redemptive - except to remind us all of our common, base humanity (which is the first step towards redemption, I think) - but brought into a rhythmic and melodic structure, it works. As art, it works. Nasty tattoos, a middle-aged man in a clown costume, women with insufficient fabric covering their rear - write a song about that.

Because that is real. It may not rhyme, it may be filthy, it may be beyond all comprehension, and you might not want The People of Walmart as dinner guests - but it's true. 

And truth trumps all.

Behold, on this Friday, a special treat: The People of Walmart.

And if this isn't enough for you, check out the People of Walmart website. But don't overdo it on American might be overwhelmed...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kids These Days

It's midnight. I heard some noise from downstairs. I wasn't in bed yet, but I wasn't sure anyone else was still up.

I padded down the stairs to investigate.

I found Elijah and Sarah, crouched over a computer in the dining room.

"Hey. What are you doing?"

The glanced up, sheepishly.

"We're listening to the audio Bible."

They were.

I looked shocked, and perhaps a little annoyed (because it's midnight) (and I wanted some chocolate).

"What, Mom? You want us to smoke some pot or something?"

Those darn kids.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Don't Bring Me No More Bad News

I can't quite find the right, compelling words to begin this post.

So I'll just say this: it is a heavy day.

Death and destruction in Joplin, Missouri.

Death here in our rural county, a friend of our church and a familiar sight all around this end of Powhatan as he rode his bicycle up and down Dorset Road - murdered yesterday, just a mile from where we live.

Sometimes I question the depth of the burden brought by news. Tornadoes in Joplin have wreaked tragedy, but I know no one who lives there. It's not personal.

I knew Robert in passing; the depth of our relationship extended to a wave on the road and conversations in the atrium on Sundays. Others will mourn his loss more deeply, and will feel his absence more intensely than me.

In light of my relative distance from both of these events today, it feels somewhat ridiculous to acknowledge that I feel so buried by sadness this morning. But I wonder if it is some indicator of maturity, advancing years, a marker of time gone by that causes me to feel such things as though they remind me of my very humanity.

We are all connected, in some way. We see our lives mirrored in the drama of others, and sometimes think, "There but for the grace of God..." Or we witness death and think, "My day is coming..." Or we just get a taste for how fleeting these days can be, how we are at the mercy of evil and nature, operating independently but wreaking similar havoc.

Or we are just sad, sympathy taking its natural course as we mourn and grieve our own or others' loss.

The end of our church service yesterday was powerful; Brian spoke of the gamble of faith undergirding the Christian belief in heaven. In the moment, we were reminded that our faith posits that one day we will see those who have gone before us. Brian called them by name: Randy, Bob, grandparents...and now Robert.

The strong foundation, the "YES!" I felt in that moment yesterday, is this morning replaced by the weight of the truth. Loss and pain and anger and frustration that life sometimes seems so ridiculously random. Two men shot down on a Sunday. A mile-wide tornado sinking down. Both brought destruction to what we see here on earth, and according to our faith, caught up these souls into the presence of Jesus.

The juxtaposition of such destruction and eternal life are not easy to reconcile. Not at the moment, anyway.

It is just a heavy, heavy day.
This song lyric makes me think of Robert and every conversation I ever had with him, every time I roared past him in my Big Red Suburban as he pedaled his bicycle. He always waved, to everyone. His light shown brightly.

And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

Friday, May 20, 2011

It Has Come To This

Friday night, chillin' at home.

And I can't stop laughing.

I'm not sure if my life is amazing or utterly pitiful.

Oh, wait. that's not true.

My life is amazing. And this is funny. Maybe not for two minutes and forty seconds, but long enough to make it a good Friday night.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lights Will Guide You Home

The slightest tweaks to my schedule can sometimes bring such life. We have moved band rehearsal to Thursday nights, and so for the first time in five years, I am free on Wednesdays. I had a meeting scheduled for tonight that fell through, so I ended up with an evening to myself.

It was so nice to pick up David from the music store, drive home, warm up dinner (generously and lovingly provided by a dear friend) and watch tv with my kids. We all scattered after the show ended; Travis went home, Sarah went to the piano to work out another Adele song, Shannon headed to bed, Syd is watching another episode of 'Criminal Minds'. The boys fell into bed early. Tony is spending another late night at the store.

Perhaps one day in the future I will remember this night. Something might trigger a taste of this family time, the easy way we are comfortable with one another. The way we tease and joke with familiarity, along with the tentative way my older daughters are testing their adult wings. It comes out now in the way they speak with me; sometimes I sense their protection, even. I can't really describe it but to say that I remember the season of my life when I thought I knew enough of the world to take over. I was probably more arrogant than my girls, who are strong and somewhat indulgent of me. But isn't it the duty of the young to rise up and take our places, to assert their own knowledge and energy and step into their inheritance?

Oh, I remember those days. And now, 30 years later, I occasionally taste true wisdom and discernment and recognize how truly naive I was. But that naive energy provides the fuel you need to change the world.

Listening to Coldplay's "Fix You", and remembering a small, silly but brilliant film of Nathan Lee and Stratton Glaze (of Maida Vale) lip synching to this tune in a car headed from Florida to Virginia. They were probably being silly, playing with iMovie; I doubt they even kept the snippet of digital creativity. But I will never forget it. Their intensity, as they wrapped their faces around the lyric. Two young men, traveling across the country with relatively few cares. "lights will guide you home/and ignite your bones /and I will try to fix you"

A song from the young to the old, from the strong to the weak. From the naive to the cynic. From the future to the past the dreamers to the doers.

Funny, the older I get, the more moments I have to delight in the staggering energy and life of my family, the deeper is my acceptance. I will be ready for that hand off.

But til then, I get to do a lot more dreaming of my own.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's My Birthday

Today is my birthday.

I am celebrating me.

That sounds so selfish, but I'm indulging myself. I'm doing what I want to do. I am enjoying every single one of the Facebook wall posts from people who only know it's my birthday because it came up on their news feed page.

It's 11AM and I am still in my pajamas, reclining in my bed, moving music from my computer to the iPad, reading, feeling the luxury of not having to do anything today unless I want to do it.

When people have wished me "happy birthday" in person, I have replied, "Thanks! You can get me a present if you want!"

My husband wrote me a two-page letter and left it for me. I'm a words girl, so that (and the fact that he turned off my alarm and let me sleep through the early morning get-up-for-school routine is a great gift) (although he lets me sleep in a few days a week) (which is like an ongoing birthday gift) (he's awesome).

Where was I?

Oh, the birthday letter. Love it. My brother and sister-in-law sent a great card with a gift card for yummy food.

Most interesting to me today: phone calls from my mom, my uncle Dave and my brother. These are people who have known me my entire life.

I'm just stuck there today. These people, among others in my family, have known me through every stage of who I am have been. Things that I have forgotten, they remember. In my very late 40's, trying to figure out what it means to be me in this season of life, my mom and my uncle and my brother know who I have always been.

And they called me today to remind me that they loved me, and that they thought I was cool (my interpretation, anyway). And I am taking that one step further to count on the fact that they'll stick with me, whatever comes.

At this point in the game, that's a pretty powerful thing. It's steadying and sure and it grounds me.

On this day - my birthday - I wish this for you: Remember who you are in the eyes of somebody who has known you forever, who is still rooting for you. And think about how powerful your support is to someone who you have known for all their days. Maybe let them know that you think they are pretty cool today, even if it isn't their birthday. Send them a message, pick up the phone.

Share the love.

And you can get me a present, if you want.

Me, as I am: un-adorned, un-washed, un-combed. Feels pretty good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guest Blogger Sydni Brawley

Following is a post from guest blogger Sydni Brawley. Sydni is my daughter, the "middle child", a 16-year old student, actress, babysitter, singer, sister, daughter and all-around hard-working young woman. Her passion for life, music and helping others drives her daily. She is one of the most passionate, committed people I know. I love her, and not just because she's my daughter. She's just a compelling, charismatic arresting people you meet from time to time. I've no doubt Syd's going to impact her world in an important way.

 Some people are pros at asking for money - and they become politicians. I am not one of those people. Which might explain why I am currently a week away from my Macedonia funds deadline with a $1,000 deficit.

Three summers ago I went to a national mission trip in Nashville, TN called M-Fuge. It was here that I learned about the Roma people for the first time and about the awful oppression they face in Eastern Europe. There are two sides of this story, on one a political struggle to obtain equality for the Romani people, and the other, a spiritual struggle. It was at M-Fuge that I was introduced to the Roma and in Belmont University’s auditorium that God broke my heart. Shattered is a better word. Never before had I heard God speak so clearly as that night He told me to serve the Roma people.

I returned to my tiny country town in Virginia with a massive passion. Every opportunity that I could find I told people about the Roma. I began researching their history and the possibility of a mission trip in Poland, where there are large communities of Romani people. One of the people I told was Jackie Heberle, a missions coordinator for PCC’s youth ministries and a missions leader for International World Changers. God moved through Jackie, and the next thing I knew a trip to Skopje, Macedonia was being planned for the summer of 2009 and I was going to work with the Roma.

Incredible spiritual and financial support made it possible for my older sisters and me to go to Skopje the first time. I will never forget this trip for as long as I live. It was my first plane ride and I was flying across the Atlantic Ocean! From a massive plane to Vienna, Austria and then to a miniature plane to Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje, Macedonia, we eventually arrived in a beautiful mountainous country.

For ten days I worked alongside nineteen other PCC team members running a day camp, which was on a simple fenced in blacktop. There we played Four-Square (that was a new game to the Roma, but they picked it up quickly!) traced each other in chalk, soaked one another in water relays, painted nails, presented puppet shows, taught dances, drew tattoos, and played guitar. We laughed and hugged. We got to love and be loved in return. And that was the point. In Macedonia, it is illegal to share about Jesus (which includes saying His name, handing out papers and Bibles and having conversations) without permission from parents. At the day camp we were running most children came alone without parents so getting that written permission was impossible. So my passion became to simply show the unconditional love Christ has for each and every one of those kids who had been treated like they were nothing by society. These beautiful children who because of their skin color and culture are refused equal opportunities in education, politics and other facets of life deserve to know what I take for granted everyday. That God loves them.

Two years ago I saw God working in the slums of Skopje, Macedonia without the 20 American missionaries ever saying His name. This summer we will be returning, working with families, speaking directly about God and His Son and I could not be more excited. Two years ago we were God’s hands we were able to plant seeds in the Roma people. This summer God has given us another opportunity to be his hands, this time to cultivate those seeds. If you can help, I'd be grateful.

Thanks for being part of my journey.

Sydni's life is a whirlwind. She trusts that things will work out somehow, and I invited her to share her story with my blog and FB readers. If you'd like to partner with her in this journey by contributing financially to her trip, she'd welcome your contributions. Mail to Powhatan Community Church, P.O. Box 834, Powhatan, VA 23139 with 'Sydni Brawley' in the memo line.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Resting In Grace: Mother's Day 2011

What a day. Church was terrific this weekend. I always enjoy our weekend gatherings; good things happen when the church gathers. This weekend was extraordinary, as it saw the return of two of my favorite musicians. Sandy Moore, home from Delaware for the weekend, and Kevin Salyer, leading worship again thanks to a freer schedule and a new season in life.

We've been friends for many years. We know each other well. Making music with people you care for, you trust and you know is a unique experience. Personally, we gave all of ourselves as musicians and worshiper leaders today. In emptying, we are filled. I came home feeling full. And grateful.

And it's Mother's Day, of course. The blessings of this day were many. A son who grew in stature as he owned responsibility and managed a difficult conversation. A daughter who prepares an entire meal with ease - a delicious meal. Another daughter who manages the shopping and the prep work. Another who can clean and organize and did so with joy. A son who knows the value of Godiva chocolate.

I came by motherhood almost by accident, it seems. I never thought much about having children. I assumed I would one day, but I never planned it. But after marriage, it seemed that one of the things we were really good at was making babies. In hindsight, I'm not sure how I ever managed when they were younger. But here we are today, and they are simply amazing people. I look back at the woman I was before becoming pregnant with Sarah, and I see how the entire course of my life changed with her birth. Motherhood was the one thing that stopped me in my tracks. My tendencies towards selfishness and self-absorption were tempered by the needs of my babies. I thank God that he used such a beautiful gift for my good.

Becoming a mother changed my life for better, for always. I am ever grateful. Today is a day of gratitude for me. After a loud and energetic dinner conversation  and a slow winding-down of the day, I am resting in the goodness of God and family and grace.

Every day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Quickest Path Between Two Points Is a Diagonal Line

They're home. They're all here. They're all together.

My kids, under one roof. Gathered around one table at Italian Delight for the post-Alice In Wonderland celebration meal. Pizzas and water and incredible stories and conversation.

Tales of their experiences with Tony and his passion for rescuing (and releasing) turtles; they tell one another these stories while he watches and listens, his story being woven into the fabric of the family. They talk about "broccoli knots" and tell tales about their experiences at Italian Delight with their dad.  They tell the truth about what happened while I was out of town and Tony took care of everything (hmmm...)

They talk on top of one another and interrupt one another constantly. They eat pizza and laugh and talk and laugh and laugh. And Shannon says, "No! Wait! Listen to THIS!", launching into some story about one of her best JMU friends and a moldy piece of bread. We laugh and finish the pizza and cram all seven of us into the five available seats in the Suburban, because we haven't had time to unpack Shannon's stuff from Harrisonburg. And then they laugh about my driving and Tony's driving and somebody asks about the quickest path between two points, and somebody answers, "Uh - a diagonal line?" and then the hooting starts up, with the weak defense being, "But you know I'm not good in math!!!"

I laugh, and deep inside wells up this mighty wave of something like joy and peace and happiness and delirium all at once. It's maternal and it's social. It's this awareness, this external observation, a still, small voice that notes,  "Wow! These are just such amazing, funny people!"

Home, and Sarah's working out the chords for an Adele song on the piano. Daniel drums, and David watches a basketball game. Shannon calls Travis and Syd tries to wipe the red hearts off her face from the play. The house is full.

I can hardly get a word in edgewise when they are all together. They take on a life of their own, and the dynamic is incredible. It is like something living, active, morphing in and out of joy and sorrow and anxiety and compassion and astonishment, swirling around five distinct personalities. I sat in the restaurant tonight and just watched - and laughed - and watched, with this huge knot in my chest. Some mixture of pride and joy and even some sorrow, for the memories, the nostalgia...

I am never prouder of my kids than when they are together. They have done amazing things - terrific accomplishments and performances and efforts of artistic, scholastic and athletic brilliance. They've done good things. But when they are together, they are a family. They are for one another and with one another in a way that cannot be duplicated. They possess a rare and unique thing in the relationships they have with one another, and as they grow older, I think they begin to sense it and value it more and more.

I just sit back and watch. I am so grateful, and quite taken aback.

But most of all, content.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Need The Facts

After a few days away from my family, I gain a clearer perspective. Some years ago, I heard Andy Stanley talk about the challenges facing those who work for churches. He passionately encouraged us to prepare for the opportunities to 'cheat the church', because the reality of ministry is that most often, we cheat our families.

Too many evening meetings. Too many preoccupied minds. Too many car rides filled with long phone conversations.

In my case, I drop the ball on basic family responsibilities. The house is cluttered and unclean. Meals become anything tossed on the table that hasn't passed the "best if used by" date. We eat pizza, pizza. And more pizza.

Sunday night, we had breakfast for dinner. That's a standard operational procedure for us. Bacon, eggs, yum.

Monday night, chicken strips with homemade gravy and rice. And biscuit. Unfortunately, we forgot to cook a vegetable. But whatever - it was homemade, hot and tasty, and we managed to eat before small group started arriving.

Tuesday night, steak stir-fry. Made up for the missing Monday vegetables. Egg rolls.

And family - those of us that were home at the time - sitting together at the table, sharing the meal. I hate that I often feel as if I am cheating the church just because I carved out time to prepare dinner - but I do. Which makes me think I am just a tad bit unbalanced.

Best part of the time together for dinner? This:

DAVID (looking at his egg roll): What's in this?
ME (trying to avoid the word 'vegetable'): Just stuff. It's good. You'll like it.
DAVID: But what do they put in egg rolls? What is it?
ME: Sometimes meat. Sometimes vegetables. Just stuff. It's crunchy. You'll like it.
DAVID (quite exasperated): But what is in it? I need the facts!

The facts are this: there's nothing better than the time we spend together, over dinner, talking. Seeing. Being a family. I am grateful for this.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Worship More Than Singing

Upon returning to my regularly scheduled duties at PCC, I was met with some conversation and some important decisions to make.

This is an area that, frankly, I hate. It's not easy. It's not something that I seem to be getting better at. I dread it. It's the least favorite part of my job.

It's about money.

We've got some challenges ahead of us in the Worship Arts area. Worrying over it drives me crazy, and the meetings and discussions we have to have can be fraught with tension and challenges. We have to prioritize, and putting some things above others means that we aren't able to do all that we feel God's called us to do in certain areas.

It makes me anxious. It makes me nervous. It wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't trust God - I do. Personally, I have no issues with believing and acting as if God owns it all. He does. Every bit of my personal finances that I release allows me more freedom in the reality of my life. Believe it or not, it really works that way. And I do believe that God will provide everything we need at PCC, as He does in my personal life.

I believe it. I want you to believe it and have an opportunity to be a part of it.

So here's what you need to know:
  • Because we are reaching people each week through our online campus (yay!) we are now paying a licensing fee to make sure that our services are compliant with copyright law. We want to honor the law and be good stewards of the creative content of our services. That license cost $1000. Other licensing fees that we pay cost upwards of $1500 per year.
  • If you attended the Powhatan campus recently, you might notice that the right screen in the room looks slightly different than the left. At 15 months in, one of our projector bulbs (guaranteed for 12 months, expected to last a good bit longer) burnt out. That's a $600 replacement part. Ow.
  • In order to finalize some DVD footage (particularly of some recent memorial services and other special occasions), we need to purchase two pieces of equipment. The cost for both adds up to around $1000.
  • The computer we use for projecting lyrics and images on the screen has a few issues, as does the software we are using. As we contemplate a planned expenditure for upgrades of hardware and software, we are trying to evaluate where, exactly, our limited funds need to be applied at this point. What matters most? The projector bulb? The licenses? The new equipment?

We are working feverishly to recondition and re-purpose older equipment. We do everything we can to work with what we've got. We are blessed with volunteers who invest thousands of hours into making weekend services at the Powhatan and Westchester campuses effective. But the bottom line is this: Other than the exceptional talent and skill offered by those who serve, everything costs money. From the cages from the Wild Goose Chase series to the recent rocks formed into a cross, to the short films used in service to the drum heads recently purchased for the (donated) drum kit that we keep at the Powhatan campus - it costs money.

I believe giving financially to support the work of the local church is an act of obedience. I do it because I believe God calls us to do so. I do it because the impact of the church on my family. I do it to pay the salary of the leaders of children and student ministry at PCC. I do it because I believe in what my church is doing to make a difference in the community.

If you give, thanks. You're making a difference. If you're giving all that God's called you to give, awesome. If not, know that adding a bit more will make a huge difference in what happens in our weekend services.

I was thinking about the online service, for example. At this point, we usually have an audience of 40-50 people online. If those 50 people each gave $10, we'd cover half of the license we purchased to make that service happen. If those 50 folks gave $20, we'd be covered completely.

There is POWER in community. Many hands make light work. We can make this happen!

If you're not giving, but you appreciate and value what the local church does in your community, consider this: part of our spiritual formation includes trusting God for everything. If you think you can't live without 100% of the funds that come into your household, you might be in a great position to learn something new about yourself, your finances and God's provision. Give. If not to PCC, that's fine. But give somewhere.

And if you do give to PCC, know that it will help us do what we're committed to do each weekend, so that you can have an authentic encounter with God, free of distractions. So that you can continue to check out church without pressure. So that you can invite your friends and family who "don't do church" to experience something different.

So that you - and the world - can be changed. Listen to this.

Aaron Niequist

How can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing
And live out redemption’s melody?

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Bring change, friends. Bring change.