the baby and the bathwater

Christmas is coming
November 15, 2008, 7:57 pm
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At the moment we are preparing for Christmas at church. And this year we’ve called it ‘Wonder’.

Wonder is one of those characteristics of life that is in very short supply. It’s pretty much counter-cultural these days to admit to live with it. We live in a world where everything boils down to an explanation. It seems that as a generation we can’t rest until we know, until we can explain, until we have the reasons. We also can’t commit to anything we don’t understand, or have all the answers about.

One of the most quoted passages in the bible on worship is Romans 12 v1, where we are urged to be living sacrifices – wholly and pleasing to God, as this is our spiritual act of worship. Too often though we miss the word ‘therefore’ that starts this passage off. And in this case the ‘therefore’ is a response to Romans 11 that talks about the truly unfathomable, inexplicable, indescribable nature of God.

What we are being called to, it seems, is to worship someone – God – who we will never fully know, understand, explain. In short – we are to live in a place of wonder.

And for me, that is what keeps worship alive – keeps me searching, keeps me following, keeps me singing. The fact that I will never be able to fully understand, fully appreciate, fully comprehend God – who He is or why He does what He does.

We in our churches and in our ministries need to live in wonder. We can’t reduce our lives as worshippers to a set of procedures, creeds or profit and loss accounts. We need to linger in the cloud a little more – not try and explain it, manage it, control it, assess it. But pause in that place where things are mysterious and let the wonder grow. It’s what brings life alive.

Christmas is a time of wonder: but that wonder should never be confined to a few days at the end of December. It should stay with us from the cradle to the grave.

And well beyond.


Yes and Amen
November 13, 2008, 8:19 pm
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Thanks to Dave Gate for putting me onto this: it’s a blog article from a pastor in Belfast.

Now I detest being told the latest worship leader is in town and we should all go to see or hear him/her. I have not bought a CD for over ten years and strangely seem no worse off in terms of my spiritual journey. If anything I am even more energised about following Jesus than I have ever been. I deplore adverts to buy worship, competitions to see who has sold the most, worship concerts, launching a CD, and “they have their own sound”. Can you imagine advertising the sale of your pastoral care, having a chart with best pastors on it, a theatre where you could come and watch someone delivering the latest pastoral care, launching your latest best pastoral care phrases in multiple languages and having a manager and a tour. Preserve me from the madness that has beset us! Adrian Mccartney

Most of the worship industry is now doing the church a disservice. I for one am not just holding it at arms length, but purposely walking away from it. And as I do, I find myself financially worse off, but strangely richer.

Change Has Come to America
November 8, 2008, 4:07 pm
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Sometimes a single image can make a point so much more profoundly than many words:

The Serpent
November 6, 2008, 9:58 pm
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I came across this display on a recent trip to Derbyshire – it was in a great museum in a very old, Tudor house.

It talks about the use of an instrument in churches around that time, strangely called the serpent – clearly because of it’s shape. It says this:

Unfortunately, the prominence given to musical expression at the expense of liturgy and the generally unihibited manner of playing and singing was not for the most part to the liking of the clergy. A Suffolk clergyman expressed himself thus in 1764:

“The performers form themselves into a round ring, with their faces to each other and their backs to the congregation. Here they murder Anthems, chuse improper Psalms, leave off in the middle of a sentence, sing psalms of all kinds to new jiggish tunes”

These ensembles eventually fell victim to the introduction of organs and a more sober and respectable conception of church music in the Victorian period.

Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ has a secondary theme which deals with the supplanting of the traditional church band by the new-fangled organ: “Times have changed from the times they used to be. Barrel organs, and the things next door to ‘em that you blow wi’ your foot have come in terribly of late years. Time was when not one of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served some of the quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you’d thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, says I. Yet there’s worse things than serpents. Old things pass away, ‘tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the serpent. Clarinets, however, be bad at all times”

So let’s get this straight. The clergy were moaning about their musicians, musicians were playing badly, and organs were despised by everyone apart from the church choir.

Now where have I heard all that before?