Monday, October 20, 2008

Writing Prompt 54

What role does or has music played in your life?
What could your theme song be?
Write about it.

What We Create Together

My church choir amazed the congregation yesterday. Five of us and our director pumped out the volume of thirty singers, blended into the voice of one, and saturated the sanctuary with the spirit of a thousand worshippers ecstatic for God. If we weren’t holding music, we would’ve lifted our hands as we sang, “and I lift my hands and pray, to be only yours I pray,” from Only Hope (Mandy Moore’s solo in the film A Walk to Remember). After our accompanist sounded her last melancholy note, there were Wows and a smattering of applause. We’re still waiting for a ruling on whether or not it’s kosher to clap after the choir sings––after all, we are definitely not performing.

I don’t intend to brag, but our choir routinely knocks the socks and support hose off the congregation. And to be truthful, we’re not that great. We’ll never cut an album. We do have some local talent–– you’ll find our choir director singing with The Dulcimer Girls; our tenor writes the occasional song and sings karaoke, as does our bass, son of a Methodist minister who grew up in a church band. One alto confesses, “I’m not very good” saying she has more enthusiasm than talent; the other sings mainly with her preschool class; I sang in school choir from fourth to eighth grade, but I never could read music. And, every now and then someone who likes to sing in the shower will join us for a few months. Put us together, and you’d expect to have an okay choir, a small group of middle-aged folks you’d smile at indulgently during worship, while you opened your Bible to prepare for the scripture readings, thinking They’re no Amy Grant and Vince Gil, but it’s sweet of them to try.

What we have instead is something radically unexpected. We amaze ourselves. Our choir director will get goose bumps, my scalp will tingle, I’ll feel lightheaded. Sure signs that The Spirit is present and has not only carried us away but has flowed through, magnified and united our breath and intention, creating an offering, an outpouring that not only blesses us in rehearsal and keeps us carving time in our busy schedules to scarf down a quick snack before Thursday night practice week after week, but blesses and refreshes the congregation during Sunday worship. Spirit drenched music pours into us, through us, fills the sanctuary and the people in the pews. God magnifies us, and in turn we magnify the Lord, as instructed by our ancient psalmists, who were, of course, song leaders.

The thing that transports and transforms our choir is more of that whenever-two-or-more-are-gathered miracle-working. It’s the leaven added to the loaf. It’s the sum being greater than the parts, which might be mathematical, rather than Biblical, but still true. It’s that Jesus, sneaking in unexpectedly, with answers to questions no one thought to ask, squeezing abundance from scratch when bread and fish were in short supply. My church choir is just one more invitation to the banquet. Take this bread and eat. I have a recording of yesterday’s Only Hope, of the soul sizzling beauty we created together with God. I can’t stop playing it. When we swell to double forte and my chest constricts as if Jesus is sitting on a ventricle, I ask myself––if our little choir can do that, is anything impossible with God?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm a Sticker

I have been doing a lot of reading for my graduate program, and I’m reading with various sets of eyes, as a reader, a writer, and a pastoral leader, thinking about what the words mean not only for me, and my craft, but also for my church community.

In an interview with The Writer’s Chronicle (Sep’t. 2008), author Scott Russell Sanders says, “No community can thrive without a substantial core of citizens who are committed to the long-term wellbeing of that place, nor can any business, church, school, or volunteer organization. Wallace Stegner observed that Americans tend to be divided between ‘boomers’ and ‘stickers’––the first kind ready to move on as soon as things get tough in one place…the second kind committed to making the situation they’re in…as good as it can be, or at least better than it was. Obviously a vibrant society needs both sorts of souls.”

Reading this, I thought about the history of my church, dating back to 1874 and those pioneers of Boulder Creek who were committed to this community, who saw many people come and go, loggers, summerers, clergy, etc. They didn’t just go when things got tough, they went on to the next place God lead them. I thought about the people who have come and gone in the 20 years I’ve been here, and how sometimes, I want everyone I’ve ever loved, known and cared for to remain here with me. After growing up in an ever-changing familial landscape (four divorces and five marriages between my assorted parents by the time I was 16) I have become a “sticker.” You just can’t get rid of me! That’s a good thing for me, and after reading Sanders’ interview, I understand it’s a good thing for my church as well, providing stability and a foundation, a “home” in a constantly changing world. But, as Sanders says, our society and our church need “boomers” too. I’ve always been intimidated by these explorers, people willing to take risks, to not only move to new states and cities, but to venture into new jobs, ministries, life journeys. Sounds too scary to me.

Yet, all of us, in some ways are both—we’re stickaboomers! We commit to what is foundational in our particular lives: God, family, profession, or place, and move in and out of—communities, relationships, jobs, churches, as we attempt to live the fullness of life God promises us.

What a launching pad Boulder Creek United Methodist Church has been in its long life. It’s not about amassing members and keeping them forever. It’s about filling folks with God’s love, wherever they might go. We continue to be a small spiritually vibrant church, and it is a privilege to play a part in providing the stability that encourages people to dream of possibilities, listen to God’s leading, and go forth into their passions. May this always be a place to return, welcomed with open arms, to be refreshed, renewed and recharged to “boom” God’s love into the world.