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For St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Green Worship Course,  the Institue of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies for Dan Wilt

I’ve been thinking about accessibility and cultural relevance…

In all of our working toward becoming more culturally relevant and accessible to more people, we sometimes become less accessible. Often, because our church community is our main community outside of work, we understand relevance more as it relates to Sunday morning than we do in a day to day context.

As worship leaders, we naturally want worship to be relevant in our Sunday (or whichever day) services. But in church as a whole, we can become naval gazers even in that. We no longer see ourselves as relevant in life, but try to be relevant in the church building. Our diversity goes far beyond what can be accomplished in one service, one day of the week. Or even in several programs or bible studies or events throughout the week that are hosted by the church.

I think this begins with something Dan Wilt said, “Expose yourself to other worship expressions going on in your city”.1 I would take this further still, and say “Expose yourself to other expressions going on in your city”. For any artist, exposure to different types of art is essential to development. Even though there are many denominations and church styles, for the most part we will always sing hymns and contemporary worship songs that have a similar sound. We have been saying this makes us accessible, and indeed it does make it accessible to a greater group of people. However, there will be those who do not engage in that style of music or art. For them to go to a folk concert or a blues jam or a punk show would be equally as beneficial as going to another church’s worship service. Whether or not the music is “Christian” is irrelevant to the fact that God can use any music to inspire and engage people to worship. 

As a dancer, when I began to lead dancers, I noticed that the “Christian” dance that was available was only liturgical and/or an extremely simple style of dance led by older women that didn’t have the ability to move well and wore clothes that covered themselves so fully that one couldn’t decipher in they were actually dancing at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love that people feel the freedom to worship, but is this all we have to offer? I began to take many classes of all different styles, including African, hip hop, and modern contemporary dance, and found that it was much easier to express with my body my worship because I had good training and a foundation of moves from which to choose. 

Mark Miller said, “if we are to have an outward focus and continue to grow, our worship must resonate close to current culture”.2 To know current culture, we must be in current culture. As as artist, this means getting out to art shows, seeing bands and choirs, symphonies and dance companies. Inspiration comes in all of these places. I want to be relevant in church services, but also in my artistic world outside the church. I want to be a respected presence in the artistic community. And as a visual artist, there may not be a place in my particular worship community to use my gifts in a Sunday morning if I want to be accessible to the majority who attend. However, at an art show, I can be accessible and culturally relevant while being Jesus in the midst of the city I am in.

I think it is so important to be relevant and accessible in our churches. My hope is that we don’t stop there, that church service does not keep us looking inward and instead becomes a springboard to move outward. When we move outward, we should be inspired again to move inward. We must be relevant and accessible in the world as well as in corporate worship. 

 

1. Dan Wilt, Inside Worship Magazine, Vol. 61, p. 11

2. Mark Miller, Inside Worship Magazine, Vol. 49, p. 8

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For The Institue of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values, with Dan Wilt.

“Intimacy, in any relationship, does not just happen when the lights are low and the music soft…Intimacy is a posture, a positioning, of one heart toward another.” 1

We have intimate moments when we sit together and weep and mourn, or hold one another in love, but that trust is built through days of laughing together and enjoying friendship together. 

So much of how I see God is formed in my relationships with others. Our community has always held high a standard of friendship, and I have learned much about love and intimacy in that. Two years ago, my husband and I came to a crisis in our marriage. I wasn’t sure, after only two years, if we would stay married, which was devastating to both of us. Our good friends, who we had worshiped with, led with, cried with, prayed with, and laughed with, came to our aid. We were able to be honest with them to the point of extreme pain. None of them knew the answers for our situation, but they all believed in us and our marriage and wanted to fight for us. They made the time to walk a horrible situation through, wading through my outbursts, my husbands fears, through all the layers of lies and misconceptions we had built in our lives, until we got to the raw and tender part of our hearts. This is when we started to heal.

I see God in those people. I know intimacy is with him directly through prayer and devotion and seeing him around us in nature and life, but I began to know him so much more intimately through our marriage. Seeing my husbands loyalty and unwavering devotion showed me a part of God’s heart I could never have otherwise known. I saw that God would never leave, no matter what I have done or how I’ve failed him. 

Brian Doerkson says the whole story of God and the Bible is relationship. 2 And although in the Old Testament especially we see a direct connection between man and God (Moses on the mountain, Abraham and Isaac, etc.) in the New Testament there is a community building that is showing God to each other. Jesus made that relationship human.

I don’t want to make the mistake of supplementing my time with God alone only with human relationships. I think our community in it’s fervor to build friendships with one another at times lacks the desire to relate to God on a vertical level as well. I have seen the phrase “worship is a lifestyle” misunderstood to mean that corporate worship takes a back seat to conversations about God. I never want to talk about God more than I talk to him. However I know I fall short in this area often.

Integrity walks hand in hand with intimacy. When we are intimate with our creator and with those around us in honest and accountable relationships (which I believe only come through friendship) we are confronted with integrity at each moment. When we are intimate, we cannot be fake, we can’t hide behind a song or a dance. Those around us know our hearts and see through our gestures of falsehood, whether or not we even know ourselves that we are hiding. 

I have always worn my heart of my sleeve. I do not hide much, although I have had to learn to be wise in that, too. But for the most part I don’t find value in keeping my soul hidden. I am who I am, and the more I can be open, the more others can be encouraged to be open as well. 

This is my desire. To be a people who aren’t afraid to trust, to bare our hearts and souls, and know that someone is there who isn’t afraid of knowing us at that deepest place.

 

1. Dan Wilt, The Values of Intimacy and Integrity, Essentials Green, 2009

2. Brian Doerkson, Intimacy, Video, Essentials Green, 2009

Here is a song I wrote about Intimacy

For St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Red Course, Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship, Dan Wilt

 

Finally my final project is done. Sorry for the lateness…I had great aspirations to do a mosaic for this, but it slowly turned into a total disaster, which turned into a painting, which turned into another disaster and made it’s way into the trash for pick up. So now at the 11th hour I decided to write a song, since that is what works for me. 

It is called Immanuel and is a song for Advent. I love the Christmas season so much and have really valued the teaching from Ancient-Future Time by Robert Webber on Advent and the meaning of the season. I took his ideas on the three “comings” that make up advent  to create this song. The three main focuses are:

1 – our expectation of Christ’s return and the renewal of the whole earth at the end of history

2 – our longing for Him to come into our hearts and for us to be aware of Him on a continual, daily basis

3 – His coming to earth incarnationally to eventually bring redemption to the world

 

Ultimately it is the Kingdom theology always coming into play. The Kingdom is the now and the not yet. Christ came, is coming now, and will come again. This song hopefully depicts those events. 

Here are the lyrics:

 

Immanuel

In this advent time we look to your coming once again

We wait with expectation for our Messiah to return

Immanuel, Immanuel

 

Your kingdom comes

As You come to us

Jesus the Son

Revealed to us

 

We light a candle for you, so we remember that your birth

Has brought us all redemption through incarnation come to earth

Immanuel, Immanuel

 

We desire for You to renew our faith in You today

To turn our hearts toward You, to be reborn in us each day

Immanuel, Immanuel

For St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course, the Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, with Dan Wilt

 

Our gorgeous church building where we were married. It was important to me to have the ceremony in a place already full of beauty.

Our gorgeous church building where we were married. It was important to me to have the ceremony in a place already full of beauty.

 

 

In thinking on the role of art and music in the church and larger culture throughout history, I am once again astounded and excited to see how important God has made art in representing who He is and what He has done.

Right from the moment of creation, the beauty of Eden and it’s inhabitants, God said it was good. Then he created man and woman in His own image, full of creativity and the glory of their creator. Since the fall of man, we have been trying to recreate that beauty, that imagery of perfection and fullness. This is not an empty aim, as along the way we reflect the personality and loveliness of God. (1) We may never reach perfection in this life, but we can certainly strive to represent Christ in the best way we know how.

When God instructed Moses to build the tabernacle, He was extremely precise in the way it was to be done.(2)  So precise that no lay person would be able to construct what was required. Skilled craftsmen were needed for each part of the tabernacle: weavers, metal smiths, carpenters, incense and oil makers, potters, and more. It is a statement of God’s perfection. Not of our perfection, but of our submission and the use of our ability to demonstrate God’s perfection. 

Again in the early church through the middle ages we see the importance of architecture and the value of art pieces in the buildings where Christians gather. Any town in Europe will reveal at least one cathedral, built to last and full of artistic pieces in the way of stained glass, stone works, carpentry, etc. What has impressed me most about these buildings is that the life span of those who worked on them was not long, especially in the middle ages. The larger cathedrals, such as the Strasbourg Cathedral in France, was

Strasbourg Cathedral - too large to get a full shot of it from the square

Strasbourg Cathedral - too large to get a full shot of it from the square

built over 200 years, meaning it took several generations to finish. This speaks not only of  the determination to build something awe-inspiring and strong, but also of humility. The humility of passing one’s own work onto another generation not knowing what the finished product will be, or if it will be anything like the original design. In the case of the Strasbourg Cathedral, it changed designs entirely three times. I question whether I would be able to devote my own life to an artistic expression that I believed in, knowing that at my journey’s end another person would complete the task to their own judgement and visions. 

 

These great buildings were made to inspire and awe and “lift the hearts of people to remember and celebrate the living, resurrected Lord”.(3) We have in many ways drifted so far from this experience in our architecture. The Reformation certainly played a role in this. While many things were good and necessary in this time, the extreme nature of the sermons of men like John Knox in Scotland and England incited riots and the destruction of much liturgical art and objects for worship, seeing them as idols. This idea has seemed to hold true in Protestant circles even until now, although it seems to finally be moving back to the intended use of the arts. Art itself is not to be idolized. But the One who the art points to is to be adored. 

This break has come not only into the liturgical aspect of art, but also the daily life of individuals. I recall instances where I have heard that dancing is sinful, and therefore children are not trained in a beautiful expressive art. This art that Jewish people have celebrated with since the beginning of time. I have also been a part of discussions that we are not to mix with unbelievers with our music, because we need to be separate from the world and holy. But Christ himself sat in the homes of tax collectors. And if we are to be light to a dark world, how can we do so unless we are in that world. In it but not of the mindset of it. This is where art can move beyond buildings and into spaces that have not known worship before.  

In our postmodern age where our world is also full of new technology and constant changes, we still must hold to our faith, but the expression of it has become even more vast. I still long for beautiful spaces to worship, but now worship is on video, online, in every city in different ways. We have media arts in our services and on youtube. I think the church has come to fear in some ways the moving forward of technology. We tend to either embrace it and live on the “cutting edge” of technological worship services, or we refuse to have any part in it at all. I have been thinking on this often lately, and I think time itself and the development of technology is not good or bad. It simply is movement. We have nothing to fear in this. But we must cling to truth in every age, in every space, with every art. 

The tabernacle became a synagogue. The synagogue became rooms in houses. Rooms became cathedrals. Cathedrals became churches. In all of these places lives the Spirit of God. But if we can learn from history, our artistic expression is valuable to the development of our faith, to the deepening of it. I think we can embrace technology, but I still think the strongest impressions are made in person, in community, and in art. If we would release our artists to create, we would see beauty come alive in our objects of worship (the cup of wine, the altar table) and in our places of worship (the buildings) and in our cultures (the pubs, the coffee shops, the art galleries, the theatres). 

God speaks through art. Let us not limit His voice.

 

The entrance to our sanctuary (I love that word)

The entrance to our sanctuary (I love that word)

 

 

1. N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, Harper Collins Publishers, 2006, p.40

2. Exodus 35-40

3. Dan Wilt, Essentials In Worship History: The Language of Space, 2008, p.2

For the Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt

 

On reading about the Christian Year, and of all the sacraments celebrated or not celebrated, I was struck by our constant return to community.

 

According to James F. White, “The Christian community needs to assemble in order to worship and this act of coming together may be the most important single activity of the congregation.”1 Over and over as I have read through this book and specifically the value of Baptism and the Eucharist, I understand it all as a corporate event. Communion with Christ and the purpose of knowing Him cannot take place outside of the church as a whole.

 

For all the controversy over modes and purposes of baptism, they all take place in the context of the church, at the very least in the presence of family and clergy. As White states, “Initiation is a communal act, and the community must be present. The whole congregation is a sponsor.”2 No matter the procedure of baptism, it is notable that it was considered always a part of initiation into the church body. The Eucharist is also done as a whole body, each one taking a piece of the same bread and often sipping from the same cup. We acknowledge Christ and His death and resurrection together as a family from whom we draw accountability and comfort.

 

As our culture moves toward an even more individualistic age, how can we retain the importance of community? Will access to information via computer and television lull us into becoming alone? I wonder while we have access to so much more in light of the computer age, how much personal contact and social interaction has been lost? Can we build the same kind of relationships online as we can living face to face?

 

When looking at the early church, and how important meeting together was to them, I believe we have lost some of the importance of this personal contact. Those believers had daily communion with one another, they were able to encourage and instruct, and learn together. How often in our society do we go through an entire day, even week, without giving an encouraging word (or receiving one)? How long can we be left to our own thoughts before being instructed or enlightened by another person who knows us?

 

The more I read on the sacraments, the more I am inspired to act these out on a constant basis with the people in my own community, beginning with my husband. I do not want to become so digital in my learning and experience that I forget the feel of being underwater, or the touching of a hand as I break bread with someone. I want to ensure the meaning of the sacraments stays strong in my life, as a representation of who Christ is, what He did and will do, and how we as a body belong to that life.

 

Baptism and the Eucharist are not only about the celebration of Christ, but of us in Him. They are  of  the entire church, our families, communities, denominations, and world. We all belong.

“We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.”3

1.James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, Abingdon Press, 2000, p.86

2.James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, Abingdon Press, 2000, p.226

3. Ephesians 4:4-6, NLT

I woke up this morning at 5:30, too early for me. And now I can’t go back to sleep. It’s amazing how the mind just gets rolling and can’t stop sometimes. I have no idea why, but I got thinking about emails and messages I have been receiving from people on my facebook and it stirred me up.

In the last two days I have received messages regarding petitions that have been made to rescind Morgantaler’s Order of Canada, and to rescind Obama’s status of President-Elect because of his alleged lack of proof of citizenship. 

My first reaction was to sigh and roll my eyes. I was exasperated. And then I had to stop myself and ask why that my initial feeling. These are important issues to people. Especially since both of these men have something to answer for in terms of legalizing abortion. I fully believe that life is the most precious thing on earth and would never ever wish even for any life to be aborted. However, this was not the first thing that popped into my head.

I felt like this was just one more thing that Christians are up in arms about and flailing around. And I am tired of petitions! I feel the same way about the issue of gay marriage. I know this makes me a very liberal Christian but I just don’t care if gay people get married. I mean straight people aren’t staying married no one seems to be up in arms about that. Please hear me – I am not condoning a homosexual lifestyle nor do I condone abortion. And I’m not completely against petitions. It’s just not the real issue to me. The real issues begin long before laws are formed about these things.

We can be such a reactive people. Which speaks partly to our sense of justice: we see injustice and we stand up to defend the weak, which is good. Sometimes we defend an ideal, or just a tradition or a truly righteous way of living. But we have become known as a reactive people.

What if more of us banded together to be proactive? To create change before something becomes an issue of the day. In the issues I have already listed, I think the real problem is not the law, but it is our ability to love people and care for them through their hurts. If we took care of those who have been abused and walked out healing with them, we might have a lot less gay marriage to think about. If men in our world were Godly fathers who loved their children and respected women, would as many people turn to the same sex to fulfill what they have missed in the abuses of their childhoods? If we taught people that sex is about love and not a desperate desire to be wanted, if we made others feel a sense of belonging and worth from a young age, would we even have an issue of pre-marital sex? Can we walk through healing with a woman who has been raped? Are we willing to call people to a higher moral standard in their families and therefore prevent some of these things later in life? Or have we in the West become so individualistic that we fear confrontation of this kind?

Is it easier to sign a petition than to love our neighbor?

Not only that but instead of only making our voice known when we are angered at something, what if we started writing letters to our government leaders about what they are doing right? What if instead of (or as well as) a petition, we also wrote a thank you for our health care system, for our arts bursaries, for a police service that protects our homes and lives? Could this make us a more fair people? This plays out in all industries that we live in. I recently read a book called “Behind the Screen”  about Christians in the film industry in Hollywood. I was strongly impacted by a paragraph in which they write:

“I sympathize with viewers who are disgusted with foul language and sexual content on many television shows…But viewers who never tune into NYPD Blue because of the controversy over its subject matter missed out on one of the most redemptive (and specifically Christian) story lines on TV. Think of the impact that could have been made if ABC and the producers of the show had received as many compliments for that story line as they did negative letters and threats of boycotts when the show first came on the air.”1

I want to make my voice known. Not only about injustice, but about justice. About what is going right in the world. I want the people in our government to know that I appreciate when they do something righteous and good. If they know that we wholeheartedly support some of the choices they make, then will they not continue to make choices in that same vein? 

Maybe I could call it a “pro-tition”.

 

1. Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture,  Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi, Baker Books, 2005, p. 16

For The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St.Stephen’s University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt

On the outskirts of the Advent season, I was inspired to throw myself into the meaning and understanding of the season. However, when I discovered from the first moment that it would require searching my heart and repenting of sin, I have to say I wavered.

Until now, Advent has simply been a calendar with a picture of the Nativity or Santa on it from which I could retrieve chocolates at will, simply closing the little doors so no one would see if I was cheating the dates. It was a countdown to Christmas. A word I heard but of which I had no understanding. My ignorance was blissful in the way that I needed not put any effort into this, no soul-searching, no intellectual or spiritual process. All that was required was the last-minute gift shopping, a trip to Wal-mart and the taste of waxy chocolate. 

With knowledge comes responsibility, though, and with responsibility can also come a great wealth of understanding and beauty. I now have the opportunity to become blissful in my understanding, and I am going to enjoy it fully, whether or not I have to repent.

The first thing I needed to know was what advent actually meant. So I looked it up. The definition is “a coming into place, view or being. Arrival”1 This clearly has nothing to do with shopping. It does have everything to do with the coming of Christ. And what found most enlightening was that is is not simply a season of remembering what was done at one point in time, but it is also a time to anticipate what is ahead. In identifying with history and the future, God comes into view in the present moments of redemption and conversion.

We are not simply remembering His coming once, but His continual entrance into our everyday moments of our lives. It is not just thinking toward His second coming for all the earth, but His redemption of our sin each day and hour. It’s the Kingdom again – the now and the not yet. The immediacy of the incarnation in our lives. 

We long for the Messiah to come, and to break through our lives, just as He did 2000 years ago. 

I was struck by the part that Isaiah plays in this. The message that he send to repent and turn to God, that the worship of Israel was empty and dead. 2 How often have I been frustrated when sitting in a worship service (or more often leading one) and wondering why the words seem so empty. Some days it is simply what we do together, and that is the reason I sing. But my desire was never to sing songs, but to worship with my whole self. As Isaiah is reminding Israel, I need to be reminded that when I turn to Him, He will bring deliverance. Of course, this is where repentance comes in. 

No one wants some Isaiah or John the Baptist calling them a brood of vipers. So in this case, repentance on my own initiative seems a good idea. In this I know that I am asking God for a breakthrough. I am now expecting Him to come again in this season in my life how He has always come into time. And I expect that He will change me if I let him, and continue to change me as I remember Him and anticipate Him.

I have never known this season with such exquisite beauty as I do now. As Webber says, “Christmas spirituality acknowledges that your life in God is a gift of union with Jesus Christ and the calling to bring your life into His life.”.3

That is a gift I would rather receive over any other thing. Especially cheap, waxy chocolates.  

 

 

 

 

 

1.advent. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/advent (accessed: November 14, 2008).

2. Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time, Baker Books, 2004, p.41

3. Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time, Baker Books, 2004, p.71