Friday, August 28, 2009
This Sunday marks the end of the "summer season." That means it's our last Sunday with only one service, and it also means that Pastor will be finishing his sermon series on the Creed. Because of that, I'll be bringing back a prelude that I played on the first Sunday in June.
Over the course of the summer, I've played many composer's versions of the Creed. The very first one was composed by Samuel Scheidt, who was an early Baroque composer from Germany. He was a contemporary of Luther and a member of the generation that created an entirely new sound of German organ music. Of course, that style would flourish and reach its apex with J.S. Bach.
The piece itself, I must admit, is not particularly memorable. It's a simple three-part, fugal arrangement that is pleasant and meditative. I'm playing it not for its musical complexity but for the symbolism and the opportunity to pray and think back over the summer generally, and the Creed in particular. It brings us back full circle, and wraps up one season as we prepare for the next.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I was poignantly reminded of that fact by an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer a few weeks back about the future of the US Postal Service. On the whole, it is a challenging time for the organization. They are losing money and struggling to compete with traditional rivals as well as email, of course. The author of the opinion piece, however, noted that the profit motive was not the driving philosophy of the Postal Service. Instead, it was founded to provide an affordable service to every citizen. It was a democratic institution with high-minded ideals.
I can't help but notice the way that schools and churches - similarly idealistic public, democratic institutions - are also struggling because they don't turn a profit. In particular, music and art must work hard to justify expenditure during tough economic times. We don't fund these activities, nor do we participate in them, because they provide measurable, financial benefits. We participate because they enrich our lives and enhance the broader community.
I understand the need for balance, and we cannot waste valuable resources. I just hope we continue to recognize nonmonetary values can be just as important. If the Post Office shrinks or even closes, I will miss it, just as much as we would miss the music that fills our church. So this week, I encourage you all to write a letter and to sing out in church - even consider joining the choir! We had a good first rehearsal last night, and we'd be happy to see new faces next week.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
On Sunday, we gathered to sing the same text and tunes as every other Sunday this summer. ELCA churches across the country were singing the "ordinary" parts of the service: kyrie, gloria, sanctus, and agnus. The familiar texts unite us and reinforce the core tenets of our faith.
I couldn't help but notice the particular strength and enthusiasm of the singing during our communion hymn: "How Great Thou Art." It was great to hear voices unite on such a favorite old hymn. I hope everyone enjoyed singing it and that the sense of timeless community was as strong as I sensed it to be from the organ bench.
To put a spin on an old cliche: the congregation that sings together, stays together.
I also want to thank Mary for singing this past Sunday. It was great to hear some Bach and have an opportunity to accompany on the harpsichord as a change of pace.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Her sermon this past Sunday was a thoughtful meditation on the ELCA as a family, so similar to Pastor's message from our own bishop's newsletter. I encourage you to check out her blog entry at this link.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
The Rev. Katrina Foster, a pastor in the Metropolitan New York Synod, pointed out that the church has ordained woman and divorced people in violation of a literal interpretation of scripture.
Similarly, Kevin Roose in his book Unlikely Disciple discussed the problem of Jerry Falwell preaching not just religion but an entire slate of political and social views that must be accepted as the 100% literal, inspired truth. The Lutheran church has voted for acceptance and inclusion, a recognition that the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone. Now, let's follow where the Spirit leads us all together, recognizing that we can disagree but serve together in community.
''We can learn not to define ourselves by negation,'' Foster said. ''By not only saying what we are against, which always seems to be the same -- against gay people. We should be against poverty. I wish we were as zealous about that.''
A youth minister and one of the voting delegates in the minority of the final decision posted these thoughts on his blog. I think he eloquently points out that the church should work to retain communion and unity in the coming days:
"Some, both individuals and churches, will leave the the ELCA over this assembly’s actions, and I think that is unfortunate. On Twitter, someone said that, “The true Church is neither constituted or destroyed because of a vote. Where Christ is – there is the Church.” And I agree. With the vote today, there was no ontological change in the church catholic or the ELCA. This vote simply turned into “official” church policy that which was already taking place within the ELCA. Yes, there will be practical implications of this decision today. But Hope Lutheran Church, where I serve, can continue to preach with conviction our interpretation of scripture, to feed the hungry, to worship God, to minister to and with our youth, and every other good work of mission and ministry that we are already doing. At this point, we are not being asked to act contrary to our deeply held convictions, and I believe we should stay within this national church body."
"Martin Luther himself remained within the Roman Catholic church until it was clear to him that his ability to proclaim the gospel was being hindered by remaining within that body. I would admonish those in the ELCA who are now on the side of the minority on this issue to do the same."
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Of course, our musical heritage has always acknowledged the influence of John and Charles Wesley. The ELW includes 10 hymns with text written or at least translated by Charles, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Jesus Christ is Risen Today."
When I read verse 5 of "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" I had to wonder what took us so long to reach full communion. What could be more Lutheran than this text?
Look unto him, your savior own,
O fallen human race!
Look and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace!
It's fantastic to recognize shared aspects of faith. Let us hope that the delegates and the church at large can carry that attitude forward through the rest of the week and beyond.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
We sang several of those hymns this past Sunday, including "The Church's One Foundation" whose third verse could not be more appropriate:
Though with a scornful wonder this world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
Foundational hymns of faith of that quality can stir optimism even in the darkest of times.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Today, they discussed the malaria initiative, among other things. One issue may be dominating the headlines, but the church is doing so much more, so many things that we can all support. We can only pray that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do God's work while facing the challenges of modern life. Bonhoeffer certainly understood the forces of evil in the 20th century, but he wrote this hymn while in the concentration camp where he died:
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning,
And never fails to greet us each new day.
And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
We take it thankfully and without trembling,
Out of so good and so beloved a hand.
First, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has been doing a daily article that has drawn plenty of comments online. The latest one I've read can be found here. Here's a recent article from The Washington Post, and the Plain Dealer has gotten in the action only by quoting the AP from what I can find.
MPR's Midmorning show (once hosted by the brilliant Katherine Lanpher and now by the superb Kerri Miller) will devote an hour to the issue of gay clergy in general, with an eye obviously toward the ELCA votes this week.
I know some people may accuse me of pushing an agenda this week, but please note that I'm not telling anyone what to think. Furthermore, I'm fascinated by many of the issues before the Assembly. These meetings are as close as we'll ever come to one of the ecumenical councils. We aren't hammering out the language of the Creed, but we are passionately discussing aspects of our lived faith. No matter how you feel about any particular issue, that must be worth following.
Monday, August 17, 2009
One blogger whom I respect (but disagree with) is Pastor Zip. Check out his take on Assembly issues at this link.
You might also be interested in Mark Hansen's Monday afternoon sermon. It's generally non-controversial, but just as I think it's important to hear multiple musical styles from multiple sources, it's good for the soul to hear or read different sermons and perspectives. The Assembly should feature some of the best preaching around, so keep checking back for more examples.
In the back of my mind amid all the divisiveness tonight is the hymn we sang the other day: "We All Are One in Mission." There is so much that unites the church, and music so often expresses it. The Assembly has daily services to remind people of communion and unity, the important fact that there are so many more doctrinal issues on which we agree than those few on which we disagree.
Considering the Creed this summer (and the power of the Holy Spirit) is one great example of doctrine that unites us. The hymns this past Sunday are another example. I loved hearing the congregation sing so strongly on the communion hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together." The sound of voices in unison singing about joining together - what a perfect expression of unity in the midst of diversity.
I've become quite addicted to the Twitter feed from the convention center. The church has done a pretty good job of making news available. It's a great example of the use of technology to link the world together. You can get up-to-the-minute reports and commentary, rather than waiting for the traditional media to report on it.
For anyone else who is interested, here are some of my favorites tonight:
Churchwide Assembly blog - This is being updated by upstate New York voting members
Official ELCA blog - This seems to be the "official" ELCA blog
ELCA multimedia - This site has audio, video, pictures, etc from Minneapolis
Last, but best, is the Twitter feed. Tonight was the first time I had followed a Twitter feed, and I am completely addicted. I encourage you to check it out #CWA09
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It actually makes me a bit sad that he would think church music requires anything akin to doctrinal purity or perfect faith or anything of that sort. I highly doubt anyone in the church who would claim to have a full and complete understanding of God. I think that healthy skepticism and doubt should spur reading, study, and discussion. We are all part of an imperfect creation, on a quest for understanding. In my opinion, being a church musician requires technical skill, an understanding of basic theology and how music can enhance it, and a desire/work ethic for high quality music.
Imperfection is the norm, and no amount of practice will ever overcome it. The church exists to minister to the imperfect, just as Christ did, and it's important that we don't impose a double standard on church employees.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I want to thank the many people who worked to make everything go so smoothly. There were many volunteers that I can't even begin to name, because I was too busy with my own work even to see who they all were. I do want to thank Norm in particular, though, because I know he was there early, helping me find power cords and setting up tents and chairs. Plus, I think I spotted him later mixing lemonade and tending to the grill. It seemed like he was a part of everything! Of course, since it was a pot luck lunch, everyone there had a part in it. So thanks to everyone for a great worship service and lunch.
I was thinking about Pastor's metaphor of the pot luck and everyone's individual contribution leading to a great meal. In the same vein, this past week I built a small retaining wall in my lawn. It seemed like every brick in the store had some flaw, and I was constantly struggling to keep things as close to level as possible but knowing there were tons of minor issues. The end product, though, is something I'm quite proud of and enhances the yard.
Both examples are analogous to a choir (or to a congregation singing a hymn). For instance, while I can carry a tune, no one will ever sign me to a recording contract or ask me to sing at the Met. But when I was at St. Olaf, I was fortunate enough to sing in the annual Christmas Festival concert every year. Choirs don't require perfection from each member. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as the cliche goes, but the more parts (the more voices) the greater the sum.
Monday, August 10, 2009
At the picnic this past Sunday, I hope you all enjoyed not only the diverse styles of music, but also the diversity of sounds from the keyboard. I know sometimes it seems like the church has more instruments than one person could ever need with a pipe organ, a piano, a harpsichord, and the keyboard. They each have their uses and properties, however, and I strive to make use of each of them on a regular basis.
This past Sunday was an opportunity to feature the keyboard. The church's Roland Fantom allows for multiple sounds at the same time, so on some hymns you were hearing piano and woodwinds and pipe organ sounds. I could play the tri-fold Amen on a pipe organ and the Mozart variations on the piano - now that is a valuable resource for outdoor worship!
When the keyboard is indoors, it is actually linked to the organ with a midi interface. That means I can supplement the organ with any of the keyboard sounds, a huge boon to creativity and flexibility from the organ keyboard.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I'm bursting with a little bit of pride right now, for two reasons. The first, is that this humble little blog has now had three weeks in a row of more than 100 hits. I hope all my visitors enjoy what they find and keep coming back. Your participation is always welcome as well, of course.
Second, my friend Liz (a college classmate, all-around wonderful person, and mother of the cutest baby boy ever, in my unbiased opinion) drew my attention to the July/August issue of "Seeds for the Parish," a resource newsletter for ELCA church leaders. A significant portion of the issue is devoted to online ministry, and they kindly included this blog in their list of Lutheran blogs. (If you're a first-time visitor who read the article, I'd love to hear from you in the comments or by email!)
It is so important that all churches seek to connect with multiple aspects of people's lives. We've all heard the cliche that the Internet is like the American frontier of the Wild West - a free-wheeling place of immorality, crime, and vice. That may represent the early stages of development, but I think it's time to extend the metaphor. As soon as the frontier towns were settled and families began arriving, churches were built to minister to the community. The newsletter does a great job of reinforcing the idea that churches need to be online, reaching out to people in that familiar environment and engaging them in a modern way.
I'm so glad that my little effort can enhance the outreach mission of Bethany as well as give me an outlet for my Lutheran church music geekiness.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
What was the first book published in the American colonies?
You've probably guessed it's related to church music. In 1640, the Puritans published their tome "The Whole Book of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre." It was text only, with a musical leader expected to "line out" the Psalm tone so the congregation could sing it back. Our basic technique of singing responsively hasn't changed much since that time. However, we tend to focus on smaller excerpts from the Psalm. According to some accounts, the Puritans would spend as much as 30 minutes singing Psalms.
It's an amazing tribute to our American forebearers that they felt the need to publish a hymnal so early in their settlement (and found a certain little college by the name of Harvard to train their ministers as well). They had faith that God was guiding their venture; they prayed for his blessings; and they praised Him for their success. A good example for us to follow - and a good Trivial Pursuit or Jeapordy tidbit, perhaps.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I'm writing this post a few days before our Sunday picnic, and the weather forecast is still not entirely clear. It looks like a hot weekend, with a chance of rain. Let's all cross our fingers and pray that we get a beautiful morning for our outdoor service.
Since I'll be playing a keyboard and not the organ, I'll get to play some of my favorite piano repertoire. You'll hear music from three centuries and styles. First, Mozart's Variations on a Theme of Duport from the 18th century. Second, Schumann's Fantasie in C Major will represent the romanticism of the 19th century, and third, I will play the 12th of Ginastera's 12 American Preludes.
Ginastera is likely an unknown composer for most people. He was a major 20th century composer from Argentina, whose early work often integrated Argentine folk sounds and whose later work tended to be more abstract and contemporary. The American Preludes were composed in 1944 in the middle of his career (he lived until 1983), and the music reflects both aspects with a rhythmic, dance-like motif in the bass and broad dissonant chords around it. The music may stretch your ear a bit during the offering, but I hope you enjoy the change of pace.
The sound is always different outside. There's no reverb and less sound from the organ than the keyboard. In the different setting, you'll hear yourself and each other in a new way. Don't shy away from it! Confidently sing the great hymns we've chosen, including a great spiritual "My Lord, What a Morning." Then stick around to enjoy the picnic!
"...there's almost too much stimulation. The stage lights, the one hundred-decibel praise songs, the bright purple choir robes, the tempestuous bellowing of Dr. Falwell - it's an hour-long assult on the senses...It's Church Lite - entertaining but unsubstantial...And once the novelty wears off, once the music becomes familiar and the motions of praise become pro forma and mechanized, you start to relaize that all the technological glitz and material extravagance doesn't necessarily add up to a spiritual experience."
This excerpt points out, as I've often argued, that much contemporary church music lacks the depth of meaning and purpose that can be found in our best hymns. Too much Christian rock is like a musical sugar rush - a simple lyric repeated over and over that can get stuck in the listener's mind, but ultimately conveys little meaning.
Contrast that with some lines from the ELW. The well-known hymn "Holy God, We Praise Your Name" (ELW 414) gives an introduction the doctrine of the trinity:
Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, three we name you,
Though in essence only one;
Undivided God we claim you
And, adoring, bend the knee
While we own the mystery.
Many Lutheran hymns also quote or paraphrase key passages of scripture. For instance, the great Easter hymn "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" (ELW 373) refers to 1 Corinthians 15:55 in its fourth verse:
Lives again our glorious king!
Where, O death, is now your sting?
Once he died our souls to save;
Where your victory, O grave?
These texts and tunes are both simple and profound, easily learnable but worthy of reflection. They can enliven our spirit during the service, and also sustain our faith for a lifetime.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I can think of nothing more unifying for a congregation than to sing together. When I think back to Luther Crest summer camp or my time at St. Olaf College, the most vivid memories all seem to involve music. Consider, too, some of the most famous families in literature: Laura Ingalls Wilder's family sings together as do the characters in Little Women. There's a touch of nostalgia and simplicity in joining our voices in hymns - simultaneously listening to each other and proclaiming our faith. I hope everyone keeps singing loud and proud, as our closing hymn said: "Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring!"
One of my favorite points is that he strongly makes the case for church music and music participation several times in the book. For one thing, he enrolls in a class where he is required to name the books of the New Testament in order. When he complains to a classmate about how difficult a task it is to memorize, the friend responds that it should be easy: just sing the song! If you made it through Sunday school without learning to sing "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Acts and Letter to the Romans..." then you missed out on one of the great powers of music: to help us memorize basic facts and tenets of faith. That's a simple example, of course, but Luther and other great Lutheran hymn writers set tenets of our faith to music so that we could easily learn and memorize it, and even enjoy that learning.
I also enjoyed the fact that when Roose wants to understand the Thomas Road church and the appeal of Falwell, he doesn't simply attend the weekly service. He joins the choir. Now that is committment to the subject of his study! It shows that getting the most out of church means a full commitment to the experience - the prayers, the music, and the fellowship.
Of course, you can predict that everything doesn't go smoothly when a non-evangelical spends a semester at Liberty University. I'll get into more of the book in my next few entries, but I want to encourage you to check it out as an intriguing summer read and a meditation on faith.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Of course, popular culture is a mirror of the politics and moods of a people, because it originates from the artists' daily lives. However, no one would dispute that the media shape opinions, moods, and actions. (Isn't that what advertising is for, after all?) Of course, the repetition of most media also creates a sort of running mantra or placebo effect.'
What does this have to do with church music? Well, I was thinking about how singing hymns of optimism, hope, and contentment can affect the lives of worshippers. It isn't that different from the studies of aging nuns and other studies that try to demonstrate the health benefits of faith. Whether your favorite hymn is "Shine, Jesus, Shine" or "A Mighty Fortress" or almost any hymn in the ELW, it will in some way address God's love, omnipotence, and steadfastness, as well as hope and joy in daily life. Singing such songs can only improve physical and mental health.