Monday, January 30, 2012

Creativity And A Bucket Of M&Ms

Five years ago, "Creative Arts" at PCC meant that Brian and I sat around and thought up things we thought were creative, and then we scrambled to make it happen. These days, there are a lot more of us doing the thinking and planning, and we have a larger team doing the scrambling.

We plan ahead as much as possible, but to be honest, we have to leave room for spontaneity. Our focus is so intense for the current Sunday; once it's over, it seems like the coast clears and we can make room to really think through the message and the extra elements. A lot happens between Monday morning and 930AM Sunday!

Today's service was typical in many ways, but it was a little more....spontaneous than usual. Here's how the process went:
  • We planned the topic in a vague sense when we outlined the series, right around the end of the year. What that means is we jotted it down on a planning sheet and started thinking about songs, skits and other creative stuff. We finalized the topic with a short outline from Brian right around the first of the year.
  • Lindsay brainstormed a long list of songs that fit each week of the series; going off the idea that giving is a good way to live, we had a few good ideas to choose from. "Satisfied Mind" was on her list - the Jeff Buckley version. We knew there was a bluegrass/country version out there, too, and knowing that we had some great bluegrass resources, we tossed that song to Carlisle Bowling and asked him to put it together for us. We anticipated that as either the set up song or the closer. When Carlisle and his buddies came in today, they were short a fiddle player; their guy had fallen ill. We turned to Matthew O'Donnell and said, "Can you play fiddle?" Yes, he could - but he didn't have a violin with him. Tony Stoddard ran down to Powhatan Music & Sound, grabbed a fiddle off the display shelf and brought it back to Matthew. And voila` - we had a quartet!
  • We thought the topic would make for a great skit, and we talked through some options; the idea of playing of a Hoarders type show was appealing, and we took a look at a few clips. Christine Peyton helped come up with the idea of an old, stingy guy who couldn't let go of his stuff. We sent a few ideas and a summary to Chad Milburn, who wrote the script. Christine cast the skit, set up rehearsals and arranged for filming with Chauncey so we'd have a version for Westchester. Jackie Heberle and Christine put the set together, the actors learned their lines and somebody put baby powder in Matt Morin's hair to make him look old.
  • On Tuesday, we picked worship music. Somebody mentioned "Like A Lion", which has been in my "songs we gotta do" list since last September. Matthew loved it and we knew he would do a great job with the tune, so we programmed it. We were feeling the heaviness of a lot of sickness and illness in the lives of people that we know and love, and that led to a desire to do "Always" to start the service. I started thinking about set-up scripture and decided I'd open the service with Jesus' words in John 16.33. 
  • Brian wanted to find a different way to end than "Satisfied Mind" - we talked about the fact that we had used presentation songs for a few weeks to close the service. We wanted something that would allow us all to respond, react and participate; we picked "Surrender" and "Never Gonna Stop".
  • The band gathered Thursday night, rehearsed the songs and made sure we knew how they would begin and end. We  always leave rehearsal aware that we'll need more individual practice before we return at 730AM Sunday to connect the dots of the music with the entire service.
  • Late in the week, Brian filmed the message for Westchester. I helped with the graphics and listened to the message. After he told the very funny story about his kids hoarding candy in the theater, he said something like, "God could make it RAIN candy if he wanted to!" That line stuck in my head, and as we talked through the message when he finished, I said, "You know....what if we DID make it rain candy?" And off we went.
  • I talked to my engineer husband about the possibility "raining" candy literally with some sort of pulley system. He encouraged me to consider that this might be one of those ideas that we thought were good...but turned out to be a disaster. After input from Lindsay and another conversation with Brian, we decided to go with a bucket. I went to Sam's for M&Ms, Tractor Supply for a galvanized bucket and argued with Brian about whether or not the M&Ms would be salvageable.
  • We saw an email on Saturday regarding the new "Afghanistan Community Church" and knew that we had to say something in the service - it was so exciting! We decided Sunday morning to bring Brian out for the offering prayer and let him share this exciting news with crowd shots and a shout out to the folks on the other side of the world.
  • We went long in the first service and ended up cutting "Never Gonna Stop" from the closing songs on the fly. In between services, we talked about how to tighten up the time and seriously discussed cutting one of the opening songs. We work hard to honor the efforts our children's ministry team and parking team make to move people in and out of the service efficiently. When they loose 10 minutes of time, it makes a big difference. We elected to tighten up speaking parts, start earlier and keep everything as is; however, when we took the stage for the final song, we knew we'd have to cut the closer again.
Those bullet points list the planning and the decision-making elements of a fairly typical Sunday morning. Today was a little tougher for all involved, because we made several last-minute changes that kept the technical team on their toes. Add to that some challenging equipment issues that had Ginger Lewis building the graphics after the service had already started and it made for a day of scrambling.

But there's no question it was a powerful day for our community to be together. I believe we experienced the presence of God as we worshiped through song, and I know we heard truth taught from the platform. We worshiped God for who He is through the attention of our minds and the affection of our hearts. And we have an image of cascading M&Ms that is seared into our brains. Someone said, "I'll never look at M&Ms the same way again."

And that's kind of the point. PCC exists to reach people who are far from God, untouched and unaffected by traditional churches. We worship Him passionately and authentically, because we believe He is worthy - and we seek to lead by example in that worship. We strive to find creative ways to capture your attention and imprint God's truth on your heart.

And we'll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

So - if you attend PCC, or if you watch online, know that that one hour of "church" represents hours of planning and praying and preparation. It's crazy ideas and careful contemplation. It's hours spent memorizing words and chords and scripts. It's hours spent moving furniture and making a living room. It's 20 hours spent wrestling, praying, researching and writing for a 25 minute message. It's a team of incredible volunteers who show up on Sunday ready to be flexible, to smile at last minute changes, to cheer one another on and lift one another up.

When you say, "Service was awesome today!" my hope is that you walked out of the room somehow different than when you walked in. Our prayer is that we create an environment that enables you to connect with God - emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. We believe God will do it - and he does. We work to simply craft the room for you to experience Him.

 If it takes a bucket of M&Ms, so be it. Whatever it takes.

If this sounds exciting to you and you'd like to investigate being part of our team, get in touch with me - beth {at} pccwired {dot} net.
If you missed the service, you can watch it here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nightline Nightfly

I was in college when I found it.

One night, after the regular 10PM newscast (that's Central Time; I lived in Texas, where prime time began at 7 and the news came on at 10), there was Ted Koppel and this news show, Nightline. The show actually started in 1979, when the Iran hostage crisis began. When that event ended, the show lived on. I never stumbled upon it until I went away to college in Lubbock, Texas in 1981.*

I remember sitting a a round table in a tiny apartment, surrounded by friends, catching this guy on the news talking to us like it was normal that we were still awake. He was sharing news - interesting, relevant information, and it was for normal people.

I've always been a Nightline fan. And I loved CNN when it started because it was news all the time. So I could feel normal any time, day or night. Because most of the time, I don't feel so normal when it comes to my work schedule, my life rhythm, my energy levels.

It's 11:13PM and I just started a load of laundry. I function best at night. I'd like to stay up until midnight or 1AM every night and sleep til 8.

These days, life won't work that way because I have a 6th-grader whose bus pulls up at 6:45AM.

Which is just wrong, I think. WRONG.

But anyway - I don't function like that today due to school schedules. But someday, that will change.

(Insert happy dance.)

In fact, part of my "Future Plan" includes how many more years I have to get a kid on The Early Bus. (Two and a half more years, if you're counting. And I am. Since I've been doing it since we moved here, eight years ago.) 

When I can, I wonder if I will. Stay up late, that is. And sleep until I get eight hours. I'm not sure I'll ever feel like I'm not about to get in trouble. From my mother.

Time will tell. 

*Are you one of those people who grab a date - like "I went to college in 1981" - and begin to do the math? "Hmmm....if she was 18 in 1981 when she started college, and it's 2012 this year, two minus one is one and 11 minus eight is three, carry the one, that was 31 years plus she was 18, so add those together and then she must be in her late forties...." 

Yeah, give it up. I'll be 49 this year.

**I'm one of those people. 

And for your listening pleasure:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trying To Be Second

I had the immense privilege yesterday of leading our staff through a short devotional time. My instructions were to make it "inspiring, vision related, relevant and concise".

At least the parameters were clear.

I love assignments like this; I think the primary buzz I get is in the wrestling through the creative process. So many things had been swirling through my mind, and I started to jot things down, re-read blogs and circled book pages, find notes from recent sermons...

And I threw it all on a screen and started to edit. Keeping in mind the call to be inspiring/vision-related/relveant/concise", I was also compelled to be authentic. So, the end result of what I compiled has a lot to do with where I am residing these days, spiritually speaking.

Here's just a snippet of the place I landed. Perhaps you will find some relevance to your own life today.

Angie says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God (Psalm 51.10)

Proverbs says, "Who can say, 'I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?' " (Proverbs 20.9)

Eric says, "In a very real sense, following Jesus begins and ends with humility. Do I enjoy being reminded every morning that I need a clean heart? And that I need to ask someone for it?" 

Paul says, "Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2)

In whatever work we do, however we advance, whatever vision we pursue - if we fail to humble ourselves, seek a pure heart, pray for others and identify with Jesus' willingness to serve, we can easily miss the mark. In all my doing and going and busyness, when I skim over this call to humility, I am rendered less-than-capable. An easily quotable scripture I've heard all my life is from Paul's writing: "When I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12.10)

This whole idea of kingdom-living is whack. Crazy. It goes against the grain.

We're called to be second. That doesn't come naturally. And how weird is that - trying to be second? Working towards humility?

Interesting paradox. And worth the pursuit.

This is one of the reasons I am passionate about being a Christ-follower. It is no easy thing; it is not the stereotype of believing dogma and following rules. It is the wrestling with the essence of our humanity, in the context of our community, following the example of a Prophet. That's just for starters.

Am I the only one who struggles with this notion of truly, authentically, really valuing others above myself?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Journal Entry

I am sitting in a hotel room, alone.

I long for these moments. I had big plans for reading, working, writing...but now it's 1130PM and I just want to crawl into bed.

Which I will do.

All my plans slipped away. Snow is falling here, and it is beautiful and mesmerizing and lovely. I found the anemic fitness center and did something good for my hormonal levels with 60 minutes of cardio work.

And I came to the computer, with visions of words floating out of the chaos of my head and onto the screen in some coherent string of sentences, full of meaning and sense and the tying of things together. So much of my thinking needs to be organized, and I do that best with the wrapping of the words around a paragraph form. Tying it together.

I am thinking of my children - my daughters, particularly, as two of them are together here. One happily settled in college life, hours full of challenging things to learn and heart full of beautiful friends she has come to love. The other investigating her future, trying to imagine herself here. Or somewhere else.

Another daughter is giving up her entire night - as in all night, overnight - to invest in a gathering of local kids. This comes on the heels of a plant-based diet, a new, disciplined lifestyle of eating, a renewed intellectual and spiritual pursuit that is as inspiring as it is delicious.

I am, often, in awe of my kids. My girls fascinate me. My boys do funny things to my heart.

I think, "I am their mother." That has defined me. For twenty years, that has been the biggest, busiest, most real me.

But things are changing. I am changing. They are changing.

Lately I would tell you that I am desperately clawing for purchase on the side of a slippery slope, a tunnel smeared with slickness. Time, slipping away. Dreams, deferred. Vision, cloudy. Life, altered. Me, changing. And in all likelihood, over thinking it all.

But in the midst of all that motion, I'm feeling less of that desperate need to slow things down and a bit more acceptance. And a willingness to enjoy the ride.

I sat down at this desk and glanced up before I began to write. I saw my face, and for just a moment I was struck by the strange disconnect between what I feel and what I see.

And I wonder if the corner I turn now is one that carries this new me, this older person, this mother-of-grown-children (and two more still coming behind them...let's not forget...) towards a new direction. I wonder if it's possible to allow the lines on my face to represent a wisdom that has been earned (in some cases) and generously given (in others).

I wonder if maybe I might like this woman just as much as I liked that girl.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Chief End Of Me

A few days ago, I wrote a post detailing my despair.

First world problems, for sure. But it is what it is, and I am in the middle of it.

I've had helpful conversations; I've sought fresh perspectives. I dedicated most of my day off to some much-needed self care.

And I had this thought one morning, unbidden, as I drove west on the highway that splits our county. Well, a fragment of a thought, really.

The chief end of man is....
....enjoy Him forever.

I lost the middle part, but the beginning and end were clear. Like so many things lately, I couldn't quite recall what I knew was buried in my brain. I thought, "John Piper? Is that Piper? Didn't he write that? And what's the middle part?"

I really didn't think it was Piper, but I knew it was something I needed with me. So, as most good Americans do when faced with challenging issues, I acted swiftly. At the next stoplight, I pulled out my iPhone and googled it.

It is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and if fully reads as follows:

The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.

John Piper begins one of his books with this statement, and since I'm not well-versed in catechisms of any sort, I knew that the refrain of these words were buried in the time I spent in that book. Which book? Well, I still haven't googled the results of that lost memory, but I got what I needed.

I mulled that over a bit, and before getting bogged down in whether or not that truly is the chief end of man, I contemplated whether or not I was effective on either count.

Glorify God? 

Oh, I pray I am found faithful there. I strive to that end and I spend most waking moments seeking ways to do that, not only personally but in my vocation(s).

Enjoy Him?

That requires a bit of contemplation. From the pit of self-pity and despair, I don't see much enjoyment on the map - not of God or life or anything else. It certainly was something to think about.

A day later, I was driving - again - and in burst another thought. Again, unbidden, but I trust that it swam up from the depths of my subconscious because I needed it. It had to make itself known.

To paraphrase, I heard myself speak to myself, and it went something like this:

"Yes, you are going to die. Life is short. 
So how about you just have a good time from this point forward?"

It was my grandmother's voice, spoken with love and a twinkle in her eye. It was my mom, being matter-of-fact and truthful. It was Bob, with a hearty laugh and that gorgeous smile. It was my husband, with tenderness and love.

This is certainly no new revelation, and undoubtedly many of you readers made your way to this truth long before it stumbled its way into my brain. But the mere fact that the thought appeared helped me understand a bit more of what I was feeling. And thinking.

And fighting.

I still mourn the loss of my dear friend, Bob. I don't even realize it until the grief sneaks up on me and I find myself crying, or simply soaking in sorrow.

I miss my grandmother, too. I regret every day I didn't have with her because I was in the midst of a busy season of babies.

I still mourn the loss of my marriage to my kids' dad - even though its death brought life and new relationships and many, many good things. It is part of my history, and there are days when I am reminded of some of what was lost.

I mourn the loss of my kids' childhoods. It has happened so unbelievably fast, and now they are flying all over the country and driving cars and working jobs and planning lives and leaving.

And I think I am mourning the loss of my younger self; because deep in the midst of all this first-world angst, I believe there is a hormonal sea-change surging in me. I've never been one to write off bad or inexplicable behavior to hormones, but I've a strong suspicion that I am at the mercy of those changes. I think it's about that time.

With all these things, there are two sides. The yin and the yang, the good and the bad, the joy and the sorrow. And I wonder if that's the lesson of this season; that the sum of a life is in the coexistence of all that it's made of. I'm seeing things differently, from the New Year's Eve party to my role in my job to my parenting.

And there's room for it all.

So how about I just have a good time from this point forward?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mundane Grace

The following is a rather mundane blog post.

I woke up this morning, got dressed, went to work. Met with one of my favorite people and talked about her job, her life and all the cool things ahead of us. Met with my boss and realized that when you have a pastor as a boss who is also a friend, you can't ignore the potential counseling opportunity. Over chicken soup and catfish there were many words, a liberal amount of tears, and some interesting revelations.

Honest conversation is good for the soul. At least it was for mine.

An appointment at the Genius Bar of the Apple store turned into a wonderful win. Their customer service is incredible, and they are fixing a problem that I was willing to live with because I doubted I could afford the repair. For free.

A few moments at home, leftover pizza, band rehearsal, Food Lion and then towards home. A quick stop at the neighbor's house to give her the mail that our mailman stubbornly refuses to put in the right box. She invited me in, showed me around, honored me with some good conversation. Then into our home, noting the new roof and the wonderful progress on the addition. On the couch to watch the end of Grey's Anatomy  and share a carton of hummus with my daughter, while the other daughter washed the dishes.

A glimpse of some gorgeous photos; it's amazing what Sarah Brawley can do in a basement with a sheet and a few lights. You'd think you were on an amazing theatrical set.

I'm ready to call it a day. And I'm reflecting on the things I received today that I tried to push away, that I didn't deserve.

Invitations to talk, to say irrational things and let their power diffuse in the light of friendship.

A repair of a broken device, free of charge.

A beckoning to cross the threshold and visit a while.

The beauty of my family, under one roof, being themselves at their best. Sharing pretzels and hummus.

The simple things reduce the noise. I'm glad I can see clearly tonight.

Grateful for the grace of invitations, repaired computers, welcoming neighbors and the love of my children.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Holy Fire Of Love

I have blogged recently about Behold the Lamb of God. The experience of inhabiting and interpreting the music was one of the finest of my musical life.

Much of it had to do with the material. I am so impressed by Andrew Peterson; his lyrics move me, the melodies sing to my soul.

I so need that.

He has a cycle of songs called Resurrection Letters.

I so need this.

I've felt the holy fire of love
Been burned by the holy fire of love
Made clean by the holy fire of love

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Perishing And Stumbling

image by Katie Rusch
We kicked off the new year with a staff meeting today. I love the people I work with, most of all because they are real. There's not a one that I don't look at with some measure of awe - not so much because of all the amazing things they do, but because of the authentic ways they live and do life. It's such a privilege to be surrounded by these people, every last one.

We take turns leading the meeting each week, but today the Big Kahuna was in charge. Brian is an exceptional leader, most especially when it comes to casting vision. He is healthier and more focused than I have seen since I've been working with him, and that's exciting. We prayed, and he shared a few thoughts and then got specific.

He cast some vision, listed some things that he was dreaming about. Big things. Things that only God can do, things way beyond our abilities or resources. Exciting things.

And then he asked us for our lists. What were we dreaming about? What's on our list?


Crickets for a few moments.

And then a few people began to share. Good ideas, brainstorming, thoughts and musings. Very cool thoughts.

Those moments are right up my alley. I love to dream and brainstorm, to think up big things and talk about them, to catch a vision and then turn around and cast it. For most all of my life, big things have caught hold of me and propelled me into places I never thought I'd go, doing things I'd never imagined. It's part of my skill set, my gift - one of the things that I've always believed made me an asset.

But not today. My dreams? My list?


I had nothing. Every thought that came into my mind was met with a cynical, sneering caricature of my internal self - quickly articulating a reason why anything I might think up would never work.

A big choir? Nah, you tried that once. Didn't work. You can't do that.

Our location and building as a center for the arts? Seriously - who is going to lead that? Like you need one more job to do...

A big Easter production? Right...have you noticed that it's January? And you got nothing? There's not enough time. It'll never happen.

Performing arts classes for kids? Remember your deficiency in administration? Yeah, that's a GREAT idea. No way.

Recording a cd with our band? With original music?'ve been talking about that one for years. Obviously that's not going anywhere.


My heart broke, right then and there.

It's a long-running joke that we often have some intense conflict in our staff meetings; on a weekly basis, Brian threatens, "I'm gonna make you cry!" But today, I didn't need any help. I couldn't open my mouth; there was nothing to say. The tears lurked just beneath the surface, and I just prayed that nobody asked me to speak.

They did not.

I'm not sure what's going on, where my head is, why my heart is buried. Why I am afraid to dream. Why I feel so defeated. If I'll feel this way tomorrow, and the next day and the next. Or if this is a momentarily thing, a situational lapse of permission to think beyond myself, to believe God. I just don't know.

I do know this, and I believe it: Where there is no vision, the people perish. Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it: If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves.

I need to rescue my dreams. I need to see.

I need rescue.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve 2011

It's been a long time since I rang in a new year from someplace other than my couch. Or my bed. I'm not much for going out.

But I said goodbye to 2011 this year out in public, and it was more fun and more meaningful than I ever expected.

Local band Nick Reams and the Moonshiners have been around longer than I've been alive. Nick was headlining The County Seat on New Year's Eve, and while renting a PA system from Powhatan Music & Sound, he punched a winning ticket and got a bass player to boot. With my husband signed up to be a Moonshiner, it was pretty clear where I'd be on Saturday night.

Turns out most of the band members have been playing together for decades. Or they're kinfolk. Or both. Nick, Harvey and Pat are all related, and their musical bloodline was obvious. They know the same songs, the same way. They share that unique resonance that only happens when the band shares the same blood.

Turns out about half the crowd was kinfolk as well. That made for lots of hugging and kissing.

I met some wonderful people, just sitting out in the audience watching my husband. I must add that I was grateful for that vantage point; it's not often I get to sit out in the crowd and watch him. I really enjoyed it.

The band got cranked up, with great versions of "Gonna Find Her" and "Brown Eyed Girl", and even a cock-eyed version of "My Ding-a-ling"(bringing back my own unique memories; I actually owned that 45. Chuck Berry's version.) The empty space in front of the bandstand quickly filled, and initially I was amused. The median age seemed to be 68. The crowd was old. I saw familiar faces - some of the same folks who frequent The County Seat at breakfast and lunch time, local business owners. A few kids, home from college. The occasional waitress, boogieing her way across the dance floor with a pitcher of water held aloft.

Here I was, out on New Year's Eve, with the geriatric crowd. Woo hoo.

I nursed my goblet of water and watched the folks in front of me. The "old people". And then slowly but surely, I started to see them.

I saw a beautiful woman, easily on the other side of 70, nose to nose with her husband as she mouthed the words along with the band.
You'll never, never know 
The one who loves you so 
No, you don't know me
A man closed his eyes and remembered, as he clutched his wife close to him and swayed along to a Bee Gees song.

The entire crowd, laughing, smiling and carefully throwing their hands up as they sang, "You make me wanna SHOUT!"

A couple easing onto the dance floor, finding an obviously familiar rhythm, their feet moving in perfect tandem.

These folks knew the band; they knew each other, and they knew the songs. I watched as 2012 drew closer and realized I was witnessing more than just a party. A bit of history passed right before my eyes, as the crowd responded to the music, connected with their memories and let themselves respond.

I found out later that many of the people in the room had followed Nick and his band for years. As in forty years or so. He cut his teeth on the east coast dance hall circuit playing music. At seventy-two years of age, he led his friends and family into 2012 with a great gift; the opportunity for people to remember, to relive the past, to revel in the ingrained melody and rhythm of songs that undoubtedly connected each one to unique places and times in their own lives.

I was connected last night, if only as an observer. I saw the evidence of lives well-lived, of treasured relationships, of aged romance. There is something to the enduring legacy of a community gathered around a common love of a good time.

I daresay it was one of the best New Year's Eve I've ever experienced.

And I got to take the bass player home. Epic win.