Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

The family in River Park, October 2010
Hello, readers!
    As I (James) type this, I’m sitting comfortably on the couch on my weekly day off. The girls are napping and Christina is running a few errands. With some light rain and temps in the mid-40’s, it was very mild for a Wisconsin late-November, but the first snowfall made up for lost time, giving us 12 inches in three days, along with a big temperature drop and 50mph wind gusts.
    Time has seemingly flown a bit since our last letter, even though it was an atypical 18 months ago. I know I say this in each letter, but this year was even more adventurous, with more unexpected surprises. The good news is that we also have made successful strides toward a settled, normal life for our family. Hopefully, our next Christmas letter will be a lot more boring.
    When we last wrote you (June 2009), James had just graduated from seminary and was moving the family (Abby and pregnant Christina) to live with Christina’s parents in northern Delaware. Christina served as a substitute teacher while James transferred to a nearby Starbucks and continued his search for a church position. This search, while proactive, only resulted in second-round phone interviews and two visits (Virginia Beach and Denver).
    However, in November, Bill Heider, Christina’s former youth pastor and now senior pastor of local Crossroads Church, took interest in James’s qualifications and hired him as an intern. We were able to raise support (thank you to all who gave!) and even rent Mr. Heider’s mother’s nearby house (as she was on an extended vacation in Arizona). It was wonderful that we were able to house our growing family! We lived and hosted Thanksgiving, Christmas (’09) and church parties there while James worked three part-time jobs (Crossroads, Starbucks and TwoFish) and Christina regularly babysat. Though we were busy, we were able to have lots of fun family time and take advantage of our time on the East Coast (e.g. touring Boston and
Delaware beaches).
    On January 6, Kaylee Joy Gilliland was born in the same hospital as her mother, St. Francis in Wilmington, DE. After another overnight trip the hospital, Kaylee was born just 13 months after her older sister. She kept us up many nights, but her playful smile and energy is a blessing to our household.
    In March (’10), after James had updated his public resume and done some more networking, he was contacted by the Evangelical Free Church in Sheboygan, WI. After several phone interviews, James, Christina and 4-month-old Kaylee (who was cared for by visiting Grandma Gilliland) were flown from Philadelphia to Milwaukee as James was a candidate for the church’s new Pastor of Worship Arts. The Elders unanimously
voted to hire him the day we landed back in Philadelphia.  For the past six months, we’ve lived in a quiet and peaceful historical-downtown outside the city known as Sheboygan Falls.
    James has been busy at work, overseeing the production of three different types of services each Sunday (traditional, contemporary and evening) as well as special events (concerts, fundraisers and dramas). He’s attended conferences in central Wisconsin and in Denver, and has done everything in church this year from hospital visits to dancing a polka as Martin Luther. James has also made some more initiative with going on creative dates with Christina or outings with Abby and Kaylee. He also is trying to make more time for video games. Don’t talk to him about any of his favorite teams of any sport, though. He’s a bit crabby about them this year.
    Christina did very well to tackle head-on the daunting double-duty of pastor’s wife and mother-of-two. Both in Delaware and in Wisconsin, she’s connected with other other mothers, and here in Sheboygan, she’s initiated a weekly “play-date” with other young moms that’s familiarized some with our church community. Christina, in addition to being a good homemaker, also has started her own piano/voice studio (visit the site at www.mrsgstudio.com)! On the side, she’s joined the prestigious Lakeshore Chorale and has already gotten two solos. She also likes to read, and has enjoyed a variety of literature this year, from devotionals on the Sabbath to Ted Dekker.
    Abby just turned two years old, and stands at the 91st percentile height and weight. She is very energetic and independent. She loves fruits and vegetables, still likes to read, quote the TV shows she watches to herself (mostly VeggieTales and Winnie the Pooh) and is starting to form her own sentences when she talks. Abby also seems to have a strong liking of music (we did not prompt her in any way, we promise you!) and will sing, dance, and/or react positively to most any type of music she hears. This next month, she’s signed up for her very first music class at the local recreation department.
    Kaylee is about to turn one year old. She is very playful and extroverted. She’s on the threshold of walking, having taken almost five consecutive steps frequently. Her desire for something has seemingly pushed her into learning a consonant (e.g. she taught her self “pah” for puffs and “ba-ba” for bottle). She has almost four teeth, but can serve herself those fruit/vegetable/grain puffs with the best of them. Kaylee is still a crawler, but she curiously climbs everywhere, including the stairwell. She’s not trying to sing yet, but she does wiggle in a rhythmic fashion when music starts playing.

    Other adventures of our family this year include a ferry trip across Lake Michigan,  James playing a Christmas Eve service at a homeless shelter, our purchasing a minivan, Christina’s college house reunion in Malibu, lobster on Thanksgiving and a blizzard canceling church and almost stranding us our own house!
    We feel we’re finally on a road to getting settled and less adventurous. We do feel very much at home in Wisconsin, and back in the Midwest, only two hours from Wheaton, our alma mater. We do wish we could travel more, though, and see all of you! We’d love to hear from you. Hope you have had a blessed year from the Lord. Thanks for reading and a merry Christmas and a happy new year to you!

Grace and Peace,

James, Christina, Abby and Kaylee Gilliland

www.mommadaybyday.blogspot.com (Christina’s blog
has been reposted by EFCA Communications online!)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 3: “SMS (Shine)” - David Crowder*Band

A Christ-less Christmas?

    I’m not, normally, someone to openly complain about how commercialism and the general goal of “non-religiosity” in the public square tend to downplay or even omit the true history of holidays. (Technically, even the word “holiday” should be in the crosshairs of, for example, the ACLU because it’s actually a compound word of “holy day,” which smacks of the pulpit). I’m in favor of “keeping Christ in Christmas,” not because of an argument about the Christian heritage of this nation, but because it seems, in my opinion, that the meaning behind holidays (even beyond “Christian ones”), that may have been influential and memorable, are now fading out of sight amid the blinding glow of commercialism’s politically-correct billboard.
    I think it’s because I’ve tried to imagine, this year, in my own mind, a Christmas without Christ.
    American Christmas traditions and commerce have done well, sadly, to achieve that. None of the “top 25” Christmas songs on the radio or billboards really mention Christ, and even in carols, some beautifully-written and densely-packed with crucial theology and “controversial” Truth, singers and listeners alike just let words like “Christmas” (literally, “Christ’s coming”) roll off their tongue without any thought, as they probably have been doing for years. To a strong degree, organizations that want non-religiosity in the public square can take a break. Christ’s name is in Christmas, but His presence isn’t in many hearts and minds.
    Still, myself, I find much difficulty getting into the “Christmas cheer” with a mindset where Christ is replaced by Santa, holly and sales. It’s hard to listen to the words of songs. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Why? Cold weather can be miserable. Family reunions, if they’re pleasant, happen several times a year. I get more gifts on my birthday and can buy peppermint and eggnog year-round. Say ‘hello‘ to friends you know and everyone you meet. And ignore them until the next year?        
    The American traditions of Christmas are getting more and more substantive, but it still seems like a shell of significance as compared to the event upon which it’s based.     The main way we can keep Christ in Christmas in our hearts is to understand what is biblical and what is tradition, because we all have such traditions. In and of themselves, they are not wrongful, but should they be placed above or against what is biblical, a red flag should be raised.
    I’ll go first.
    When I sing carols, what fills my mind? Is it the poetic wording of God’s gift of His Son to a hurting world, and my longing to be nearer to and imitating of such a wonderful God? Or am I thinking about how this song brings me back to my youth group’s caroling days, and how I got a Super Nintendo that year? Good times. Or am I thinking about how this particular arrangement and delivery could really use some more lower treble, and if they’ll go for the cool high note at the end? When I sit down to eat my Christmas dinner, will I approach the table as an opportunity to celebrate the family and blessings God has given me as He gave Christ, and how I can give as He gave? Or will I be secretly missing the taste of my grandmother’s delicious Swedish ham and meatballs? 
    Even harmless traditions and distractions, when over-prized, can make a Christmas Christ-less in our hearts. Let’s try to avoid that this year.

“SMS (Shine)” by David Crowder*Band

    I’ve recently come to enjoy the work of David Crowder*Band. It’s rare for me to have any type of favorite, and I’ve just written about Hillsong United achieving that. DC*B (for short), this out-of-the-box electric rock band, is a comfortable number 2. They actually, in my opinion, outdo Hillsong United in general creativity, both in their musical style and lyric-writing, but the cost of this creativity is that their songs are less “sing-able” by congregations. Instrumentally, their songs are hard to execute for many worship teams. They also don’t quite have the stage presence of worship leadership as much as Hillsong United, and this leaves them on the fine line between functioning as a band that writes songs that congregations sing, or a band that writes songs that congregations listen to. In any case, they’re talented, and their work is irreplaceable. 
    I was surprised to find out that, despite all their years in the field, their Christmas output was just one song, a rendition of “Feliz Navidad.” Until now. This song is not technically designated as a Christmas song, and the music video takes on a different theme, but the lyrics speak otherwise. The song “SMS (Shine)” features a “just-right” electric and balladic groove, with not quite enough tenderness to be a slow-dance song, but not quite enough oomph to be a nightclub beat. In the lyrics, David Crowder writes of his heart feeling overcome, and how he longs for “a sign, a hint” from God. Verse 2 and the bridge read:

“You sent a sign/the hint, oh whisper/human, divine/everyone is listening/death laid low/quiet in the night is stirring/all around the rush of angels/oh, the wonder of the greatest love has come”

    And the last chorus reads:

“Love has come, what joy to hear it/He has overcome, He has overcome”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Some fun observations from the Women’s Brunch:

1) Humor columnist Dave Barry once recalled a family Thanksgiving dinner, where the kitchen was filled with the family’s women. All kitchen duties to prepare the big meal were delegated, and the cooks were diligently and intensely working in a eerily choreographed fashion. Dave Barry said he’d feel more comfortable walking into the control room of a nuclear submarine. After stopping by the kitchen to drop off my lunch while the Women’s Brunch meal was being so prepared, I know what he meant.

2) While working on Friday, the office bathroom was occupied, so I ventured over to the men’s room by the gym. It had been declared a second ladies’ room, but I was still allowed by one of the nearby ladies to go inside. This former men’s room was decorated a bit more and very fragrant, but the urinals were untouched. Later, I talked with some of the event coordinators, asking where I could go, should nature call while I’m providing jazzy ambience on the piano during the brunch. The women directed me to some abandoned bathrooms on the other end of the facility on the lower floor.

3) Did the women not know that the candy on some of the tables was not just for decoration? I knew, and maybe some of the bussers did, too. Delicious selection.

P.S. I spent some time conceiving (and I guess I’m not the first) a Men’s Brunch. Probably wouldn’t start until at least noon or 1pm. No servers necessary, as it’d be a generous buffet, filled with scrambled eggs with cheese, omelettes with peppers and onions (probably the entirety of the vegetable portion right there), brat sausages, chocolate covered waffles and strawberry cheesecake (for fruit nutrition). There would be no need for people to wait for equal shares before anyone got seconds. Tables would be decorated last minute with car parts and empty soda cans, and guests would be surrounded by flatscreen TV’s airing sports. Dressing up would be NOT encouraged. Speaker would be Kurt Warner, discussing how the new Batman Begins movie series addresses spiritual warfare. I guess I’ll have to pass this along Larry and Rob . . .

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 2: “And On That Day” - Phil Keaggy

Loving and Lightbulbs

I was doing some work from home this morning while my daughters watched VeggieTales: The Star of Christmas. I’m a huge supporter of the creative and ministerial duo that is Phil Vischer and Nawrocki, but this wasn’t my favorite of their Christmas repertoire. However, this time, I overheard a line from the dialogue that really stuck with me.

In the basic premise of the story, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber play Cavis Appythart and Millward Phelps, two musical playwrights in late nineteenth century London. It’s Christmas season, and they’re struggling to produce a blockbuster. Meanwhile, a nearby church is producing a Christmas pageant, featuring a special relic known as the Star of Christmas. The church is unknowingly making itself a competitor and finding itself in the crosshairs of the two aspiring playwrights, who successfully steal the Star of Christmas. (More spoilers ahead). It was the day before opening night, and it seemed the playwrights’ desperate actions were fruitful. But then a technical mishap started a fire which burned the theatre to the ground, and the two were arrested for their theft.

Though the now-imprisoned Appythart’s ethics and intentions were questionable at best, he still was making a soliloquy in his cell about how he had only hoped to “teach London to love.” The playwrights‘ cellmate, a longtime prisoner, inquired of them. When they told him of their production goals, he laughed uproariously and said, “You’re teaching London to love, with lightbulbs?”

It was a hard thing for me to realize in my studies to be a pastor in music. All the music, art, technology and general pizazz of a church have their limits. The resourceful Willow Creek Community Church well-developed the method of such an “attraction-al” church to grow its attendants and increase its ministry, but (as they probably will agree) it seems that approach has passed its prime. Ironically, as I’m serving in ministry now, I feel like I’m having to help people unlearn the consumer-like tendencies which the “attraction-al” church era had fueled so well.

All I want to do is teach London to love. And lightbulbs are useless.

But I learned a while ago to see beyond the lightbulbs of Christmas and into its true meaning. Christmas (literally meaning “Christ’s mass” or “Christ’s coming”) is God’s gift of love, and Christ commanded us to love definitively for Him (John 13:34-35). In essence, we are to “teach London to love.” Maybe not London, per se, but our neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). But lightbulbs won’t do that. We need to live and love by example.

Lightbulbs are pretty. Music can sound angelic, but if we don’t have love, it all turns into resounding gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Maybe that’s one way we can model the original Christmas, by teaching love.

And On That Day - Phil Keaggy

I remember one day my Christian elementary school was having a little book sale, and I spotted a Christmas collection two-disc set and snuck it into my mother’s shopping bag. It’s since become the prominent Christmas musical listening tradition in our family. This song is track 2.

While endorsements from Jimi Hendrix may be an old wives’ tale, Phil Keaggy is widely praised for his guitar skills. However, his technical skill doesn’t show so much in this track as does his devotion and gentle passion as a singer and songwriter. His voice is gentle, and his words avoid much “Christian-ese.” My favorite line from the song is:

“And on that day was put in motion/the means of our redemption”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gilly’s Christmas Playlist ’10 -- Track 1

Really, How Should We Celebrate Christmas?

Why and how do we celebrate Christmas? Each year, how do we acknowledge the unprecedented notion of love and connection that a God would step down from the sky into human flesh to help His people?

We all have an answer, sometimes a proud one, and the answers are very diverse. Even in a society that has long allowed workers and students to stay home to celebrate this certain holiday, there is deep disagreement on the basic questions of how and why. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be, for example, bumper stickers that read “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Last year, the musical fad was Andrea Boccelli, as he brought his rich voice to a very unoriginal yet gaudy production of Christmas carols, from the poetic meditations on Christ’s birth (which few understand or appreciate) to shallow and playful songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which he sang on PBS while surrounded by a bunch cute winter-bundled lip-syncing kids with braces.

More interesting last year was the seeming assault on the staunch materialism of Christmas in our society. I was then involved in a church plant, for example, which was going through the materials of Advent Conspiracy, an international movement looking to restore Christmas again to be “world-changing,” challenging the materialism and stinginess of typical Christmas giving and encouraging Christians to give compassionately as Christ (in his birth, life and essence) would give: to the poor and needy (in all forms of the words).

This idea was not limited to the church. Starbucks gave an increasing portion of their proceeds to help the AIDS crisis in Africa, and gave a free CD with any purchase of $15 or more. Talk show host Stephen Colbert wrote and performed “Another Christmas Song,” lyrics of which are a brash parody against how the commercialization of Christmas has jumbled or ignored its history and tradition and even blinded us to the Tiny Tim’s of the world. The bridge reads:

“Young ones starving on a dead-end street
Taped up tabloids on their frost-bit feet
Hear what they carol as they huddle for heat”

I think this theme (rightfully) should somewhat return this year.

In our strive to be like Jesus, if we were to model our celebration of Christmas based on the original event, the beginning of Christ’s physical presence on earth, what would it look like?

We’ll go further next week.


“The Wexford Carol” - Yo-yo Ma & Allison Krauss

I actually found this song two years ago from a “free iTunes pick” redeemable card. Ma uses his well-recognized cello skills to achieve a Uillean pipe-like tone, along with some guest instruments, to bring the tune back to its Celtic roots. Allison Krauss steps out of her typical folk and country self and brings her substantive straight tone to the table. The lyrics are a poetic delivery of the narrative of the Christmas story, and they open with a seeming call to worship for any Christmas season:

"Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belov├Ęd Son."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ode to Chai

I haven't yet sent an application to The Food Network, but my primary (actually, only) area of (remote) connoisseurship is that of the chai tea latte. In the past half-dozen years, it's risen from a mere curiosity to my first-choice purchase at a coffeeshop, should they have it . . .

Living on a college dorm floor that was brimming with proud traditions, I was first introduced to chai in a little live music and coffeehouse setting on my floor known as Chai Lounge. It was in raw teabag form, black, hot and homemade, and very disgusting. Still, under peer pressure and wanting to honor my dorm floor's tradition, I forced myself to finish the whole cup.

It was actually because of the working man's need for caffeine that I further acquainted myself with the chai tea latte. With few exceptions, I don't acquire taste, which is why I struggle to gulp all forms of alcohol and coffee (yes, even after working at Starbucks for three years). Nonetheless, I needed a source of caffeine to energize myself for those 4am shifts at Starbucks and to prevent the headaches that would likely follow. Chai tea lattes to the rescue.

I prefer my chais with a complementary flavoring. Cinnamon, caramel and nutmeg help to make the chai concentrate, so additional flavoring would accentuate. Peppermint and toffeenut do well to tag along with chai's little tang, whereas vanilla, hazelnut and white chocolate tend to over-sweeten. Chocolate and coconut are love-it-or-hate-it, and fruit syrups or juice blends have never worked for me.

Stores vary greatly on how many or few options for chai are available. Tea bag? Latte (with tea bag or concentrate)? Blended with ice? Mixed with fruit juice? Unsweetened or only sweetened? I've yet to go to many stores, but I've been to a few. Here are some reviews:

Starbucks arguably has dominated the tea market among chain coffeeshops, primarily due to their business with the popular tea manufacturer, Tazo. Also, being my longtime employer, I've had a lot of exposure to their chai. It seems that the non-resale concentrate Tazo delivers to Starbucks is better than any other chai Tazo produces (e.g. the concentrate available in boxes at Barnes & Noble). It has become my standard for the right balance of sweetness and tang in the taste of a chai tea latte.

Caribou, for those unfamiliar, is growing chain of coffeehouses based in the Minneapolis metro and expanding to the Midwest and West. Their appeal is their more laid-back atmosphere and lodge-themed and serene interior design, contrary to the trend where quiet and peaceful coffeehouses become quick, loud, come-and-go fast-food joints. I find their chai a bit disappointing, however.

Below is a growing list of places where I've had a chai tea latte. Reviews are available upon request, as rare as requests may be. Operators are half-heartedly standing by.

Atrium Tea Room (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
Daydream Cafe (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
American Club place (Kohler, WI)
Weather Center (Sheboygan, WI)
Panera (national chain)
Chocolate Chicken (Egg Harbor, WI)
Brew-Ha-Ha! (regional chain, DE)
South Bend Chocolate Company (South Bend, IN)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Underlying Hipster-dom and How It's Not What You Think

Recently, Christianity Today, a magazine I’ve long respected and read, released a cover story on hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken. My wife was able to read through the article before I was, and, before I started reading it, she told me she felt we were very much “hipster Christians,” in terms of what we value.

After I read through the article myself, I realized that, strangely enough, we only fulfill less than half of the ascribed stereotypes in the article. Sure, I have a goatee and a Mac, and I like to work and meet in coffee shops (I only drink tea, even), but we have two little daughters and are settled down in an otherwise seemingly non-hipster lifestyle. What gives?

Having read other reviews, McCracken’s very definition and understanding of hipster Christianity is actually seen as incomplete and disorganized (is it a matter of style or belief? He doesn’t seem clear). I’m far from a sociologist or cultural analyst, but I feel that, while McCracken was able to give surface-level caricatures and some possible interpretations of “hipster-dom,” he did not accurately (or positively) portray much of an amount of the underlying values of a Christian hipster. Many of such are the values with which I resonate, based on my journey in ministry and my experience working with fellow hipsters.

Same as Always, Cultural Packaging is Bad

The driving question of Brett McCracken’s earlier book on hipster Christianity is: “[A]s messengers of Christ, are we to let the message speak for itself or must we adapt and package it for a specific context?”

What’s annoying to me is that this is not a new question. It was asked when Bill Hybels began Willow Creek’s “seeker”-oriented approach. It was asked when the pioneers of Christian rock music like Larry Norman and Petra emerged decades ago. I imagine this question could be traced back through many cultural shifts and ministerial innovations. It perpetuates because those who ask it fail to realize the following reality. “Packaging” is inevitable.

Jesus himself used parables dominated with agricultural metaphors and similes, knowing that his audience had a vast majority of farmers or those who understood the proverbial ropes of farming. Was He, then, guilty for “adapting and packaging” the message for a specific context?

Every delivery of the Gospel comes in a package. Even if you strip the packaging as much as you can by, for example, walking up to a complete stranger on the street and reading them the “Romans Road,” the message is still packaged by the translation used, the overall context of your delivery, your personality and self, etc. I could go on.

Yes, if the core message of the Gospel (not any cultural or theological addenda) is being compromised in the process of said packaging, then red flags should be raised. But packaging, in and of itself, is not wrong.

The question, actually, can easily reveal dangerous bias. Missionaries, for example, will utilize ethnomusicological studies to help put sacred text, liturgy or Scripture to the indigenous music of their mission field (which perhaps was previously used, by the way, for pagan rituals). Their ministry instantly becomes more effective. Christians in the States are very supportive of that method overseas, but when local believers seem to do similar for the sake of a subculture of a musical style which makes many uncomfortable (because of the actual musical approach and/or the philosophical/cultural connotations, as people often have trouble separating the two), there is little-to-no support. Rather, this typical and timeless question gets asked, biases are revealed and, as I’ll get to later, the very core intentions of those trying to fulfill the Great Commission are cynically questioned.

When you have two different packages delivering the Gospel without compromise, to assume one type of package (perhaps a longtime or familiar one) is “letting the Gospel speak for itself” and the other is wrongfully “adapted and packaged” only reveals one’s own preferences and potentially shows a belief in an en-cultured Gospel.

Just Trying to Be Cool and Rebellious?

The aforementioned doubting of intention has also been a common thread in all criticisms of “rebellious” movements within the Church.

It’s all a marketing ploy.

Just like all the other movements, this is just an effort to make church “cool,” completely submitting oneself and identity to the consumerist culture, “rehabilitating” the face of the church to fit an image more likable by disgruntled churchgoers and those they’re trying to reach.

Really? To virtually generalize the background of Christian hipsters, belittle ministerial intentions, and reduce their whole approach and philosophy into sounding like a selfish marketing strategy is a bit insulting, to say the least.

As a pastor and a service producer, I need to clear the misconception that there’s a fine black line between church outreach/evangelism and marketing/advertising. It’s actually a very gray and muddy line with overlap. People use marketing and advertising techniques when conceiving outreach initiatives and even sermons, and that’s okay. Where it crosses out of bounds and into the strive for “cool” is measured by intention. As McCracken himself estimated in another ranting article (this from the Wall Street Journal), the generation hipster churches are trying to reach doesn't “want cool as much as [they] want real.” And again, intentions are cynically (and unfairly) doubted.

Again, I can’t speak for all hipster Christians, and there are churches out there that do, in fact, callously dedicate their resources and energy to appeal and attract, all the while arbitrarily disregarding all church heritage, association, and biblical values, also letting the core of the Gospel and deep relational discipleship to be shallowed and watered down. Those churches need to heed some of McCracken’s allegations. But to consolidate, over-simplify and stereotype all culturally and philosophically dissenting movements (not just hipsters) within the American Church since the Baby Boomers into one box of rebellion, immaturity and ulterior motive is highly inaccurate, judgmental and unnecessarily divisive, and it’s what McCracken seems to do.

(I once remember reading a submitted complaint in Campus Life magazine, claiming that the Christian latin/rapcore group POD simply dressed in black, etc. to “attract” the secular crowd. It didn’t occur to this reader (and many others) that POD was not, in fact, home-grown clean-cut Christians “converted” to a certain culture (which is what McCracken seems to assert for all hipster Christians). Their frontman, Sonny Sandoval, for example, grew up in the gangs-and-drugs street life of San Diego. His musical preferences, lyric-writing, appearance and testimony are not an act. They’re all very real.)

In defending intentions, another reviewer of McCracken’s book (a writer for Wunderkammer Magazine) put it this way:

“ . . . it is not apparent whether these themes among younger Christians testify to a longing to be cool or indicate maturation. For example, McCracken devotes one chapter to social justice because ‘Christian hipsters’ have an ‘activist core.’ But does their interest in justice have anything to do with being a hipster? Or is it evidence that young Christians are rediscovering the importance of being a voice for the voiceless and taking seriously Christ’s call to be his hands and feet? Are young Christians reading Thomas a Kempis, Flannery O’Connor, C. S. Lewis, Henry Nouwen, and Marilynne Robinson because they are hipsters? Or do they read because they are hungry for beautiful and wise works of literature that will nurture their faith? Are young Christians demanding a more nuanced understanding of art because that is what hipsters do? Or is it that they are coming into a fuller appreciation for the complexities of the gospel and how they relate to creativity?”

Hipsters do have ministerial intentions, and their approach could also be out of a type of cultural celebration, not adaptation. And maybe Mark Driscoll could be talking about sex from the pulpit because he believes it’s something the church should further address, not because it’s a shock tactic to help fill the pews or rack up the website visits. The historical Church made great strides in evangelism when they hopped on board with the Romans’ roads, Koine Greek, and the printing press, but now parts of the American Church are doubting the productivity in the use of Twitter and Facebook.

Words That Shouldn’t Exist

McCracken also seems to have a particular pet peeve regarding buzzwords.

Yes, I would describe myself as “missional.” And I would describe the services that I produce and the sermons I write as “relevant.” I don’t like these words, though, and I wish I didn’t have to describe myself as them. I wish these words didn’t exist. They shouldn’t have to, but they do.

When a preacher, teacher, or any Christian looks at the revelatory, ingenious and transcendent essence of Scripture, is there really any effort at all necessary to “make it relevant” and applicable to people’s lives? From the poetry and stories of love and hope in the Old Testament to the stories of healing, rescue and commission in the New Testament, isn’t Scripture inherently relevant? And aren’t churches supposed to be inherently “missional”? Isn’t that part of their denotation and purpose? To me, the phrase “missional church” sounds redundant.

My Journey to Hipster-dom (Which Didn’t Happen as McCracken Would Guess)

Like hipsters, I have roots in a Christian home. Like McCracken, I have roots in the Midwest and an alma mater at Wheaton College. But I don’t feel that my journey to hipster-dom actually consisted of a conversion to hipster-hood.

I was a musician before I was a Christian, studying composition at Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music, ready to dedicate all my energy to the excellence and diversity of a worship arts department. The studies at Wheaton in philosophy of the arts, ethnomusicology, church music history and the general feast of music inspired me toward a musical holistic form of worship, hence what many see as my atypical taste in music and worship (with no particular fondness for Ancient-Future worship, Over the Rhine, Sufjan Stevens or anything necessarily “different” as stereotype would have it)..

Discarding my previous and immature (for me) vocational dreams of Christian rock stardom or film music composition, I felt called to bring my love for and training in music and the arts to Church. I felt, to better be qualified for serving the Church, I would go to seminary to learn more about theology, church history and practice, philosophy of worship and, of course, a deeper study of the Word.

God used my seminary experience to imprint the mission of the Church in my heart. I was so inspired, particularly, by the stories and ministry philosophy (not so much the liturgy and music, as stereotype would have it) of the apostolic fathers. I was awed by how they were able to change countless lives, despite governmental oppression and false teaching, in an ancient and larger version of Las Vegas. Their aggressive compassion, charity, social work and martyrdom-willingness fueled their evangelism like gasoline to a wildfire.

In essence, my “new” vision for ministry didn’t base from a rebellion, rather a rediscovery of the ways of old, arguably a renaissance.

Call to Unity?

Having been trained also for church planting, having served in church plants and emerging churches, I know my story is not a rare one among whom McCracken would describe as hipsters or those with hipster values. Many such hipsters, upon sharing this adventurous and biblical vision for ministry, face, for whatever reason, a lack of support from churches and feel (ironically, as some would think) betrayed. Some hipsters break off from the Church in their association (hence some rebellion). Others stay and try to seek unity (hence me).

St. Augustine is famous for his purposefully paradoxical quote, “The Church is a whore, and the Church is my mother.” I’ve seen dissenting churches and movements only acknowledge the former, while those who they seem to rebel against only acknowledge the latter. The mature Christian will acknowledge both, and not stop people from driving out demons in Jesus’s name (Mark 9:38-41).

As a pastor, I strongly value the cultural transcendence of the Gospel, cultural engagement in ministry, and aggressive charity and evangelism, not so much relying on political clout but God’s empowerment. Outer appearances and other characteristics don’t stereotype me as a hipster, but do these biblical values distinguish me as such?

My hope is always for unity under the common purpose and value: the cause of the Gospel. It’s the words of some hipsters and McCracken that only seem to divide.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Glory from Dishonor: How I Worshipped While Playing the Bad Guy

My college’s choir (myself included as a bass) once had the great experience of singing George Handel’s Messiah, arguably the most famous work of sacred choral literature, in a professional setting. The conservatory where I was a student pulled out all the proverbial stops (bringing along all the choirs and the esteemed orchestra) and our very own renowned baritone was a soloist among the three other soloists who had traveled from outside the country, taking time away from their involvements in operas and other opportunities. The conductor was a famous alumnus who had brought along with him a few friend professional string players from his home in Paris.

Now, one wouldn’t have to be a nerd, per se, but if a conservatory student didn’t have at least a strong appreciation for the intricate details (theory, history, etc.) of classical music, it would have been a very boring curriculum. This being a Christian conservatory, many were also finding it to be a worshipful experience. Never before had many of these young followers of Christ participated in such a large professional ensemble working on a well-written yet complex musical interpretation of the life of their Savior. The finished work, as an act of worship, was arguably a taste of the grandeur of what some might think music sounds like in Heaven.

Myself, I was pouring through the text throughout rehearsals. It is pure Scripture, verbatim, and learning the various connections to the Old Testament and other interesting aspects of Charles Jennens’s libretto made this quite the devotional experience. I’d encourage anyone to look through it before and/or during a listening.

So, what was the most powerfully moving or worshipful portion of Messiah?

Perhaps, for some, it was the opening chorus of Part II, the glorious introduction of Christ as ultimate savior, as announced by the outspoken and feisty John the Baptist in John 1:29b.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

For many, it likely was the chori that spoke of Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:4-5.

4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

After all, it was barely a year after the headlining and controversial film by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, had reached theaters, so many singers and instrumentalists still had those gripping but historically-accurate images of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in their minds.

For me, it wasn’t the ever-so-popular Hallelujah Chorus, although our college had an annual tradition to sing that during the last chapel session before Christmas. The grand finale chorus that quotes Revelation 5:12-13, giving the highest glory to Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb and His freeing work, actually came in a close second.
It was rather the chorus where a suffering Christ seems to echo the poetic theodicy of the most Israel-famed member of his own genealogy, King David. There are several connections between Psalm 22 and Christ’s passion, and Messiah included Psalm 22:7-8.

7All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “8He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

Verse 7 is a tenor solo. Verse 8 is the chorus that we were singing, and the theme of ridicule with which the soldiers and scoffers plagued Jesus during his physical torture.

That’s right. My most worshipful movement of Messiah was playing the musical role of the outright cruel and sacrilegious. Why?

Messiah, to get a bit technical, is a narrative, which, other than a musical or an opera, is the most musical form of story-telling. The prophets’ in their foretelling, and the actual people who were involved in Jesus’s life and the portion that wrote about it are the characters. My role was the villain.

Playing the bad guy gave me a powerful glimpse into the hostility and suffering that Jesus faced on our behalf, being tortured by these men. No doubt Jesus could see the passionate and energetic fire of Satan in their eyes. Satan was doing what he’s always done: instilling painful self-doubt and discouragement to anyone holding faith and taking action in God’s purposes. For me to not give this role justice is undermining to Handel’s work and downplaying of the suffering that Christ went through. Playing this role well was seemingly an act of worship leadership.

For him to overcome such emotional and physical torture, what strength! On our behalf, what love!

My assignment to seemingly sing against my Lord turned, actually, into an unexpectedly deep and meaningful worship experience, as it was for those watching all the actors play their respective roles. It was a lesson, for me, that God was seeking from me a more holistic type of worship. A worship that better understands God’s identity and will by seeing Him through different perspectives, and by operating through different mediums.

For once, playing the role of the devil’s advocate was honoring to God.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Top Ten Things We (as Big City Metro Folks) Like About Sheboygan County:

10) “Rush hour”? “Congestion delay”? What's that?
9) It smells like a pleasant lakeside camp resort, all the way to Falls.
8) The low price of milk. I suppose there’s an abundance.
7) There’s always at least a few cows or horses to point out to our children from the highway.
6) The passionate sports fans. Oh, how I’ve missed taking part in rivalries with class. (P.S. Are you really going to let the treachery of one good player alter a 90-year-old rivalry?)
5) Lake Michigan scares away many bad storms.
4) Food. Especially if it had any connection to a cow.
3) All-around access . . . to the Lake, Milwaukee, Chicago, Door County, Green Bay . . . not that I’d want to visit the latter.
2) We didn’t have to give 5 proofs of address and ID and a pint of blood for library cards. Oh, there’s the Lake again. Isn’t it beautiful?
1) The welcoming small-town values community!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Freedom, Like All Gifts of God, Must Be Generative

“I am an American.” I still remember the months after September 11, when the Ad Council released the message where Americans of all nations, regions, customs and accents proudly make that self-statement. At the end, the screen shows the Latin phrase “E pluribus unum,” translated, “Out of many, one.” Some say that it was a message to unite in light of the terrorists' attacks, but I thought it was also a reminder of the vision that the founding fathers had for this country all along: a land of freedom and justice for all, where basic human rights are not denied. People that haven't fought for freedom or tasted and experienced a lack of freedom have trouble understanding the beautiful essence of that vision.

I feel I've grown to know a lot more about my heritage as an American in the past few years, learning more about that vision. I first learned about American church history under Scott Manetsch, and last year I was delighted to become familiar with the works of David McCullough. Despite the mistakes in our imperfect humanity throughout history, I've come to more appreciate the freedom I've been given in this country, and for the vision.

I think the proper response goes further, though.

Last summer, my wife and I came to know the work and words of Randy Singer. Being a lawyer, an author, and a pastor in Virginia Beach, he's quite passionate in his work and words when it comes to all types of freedom and justice for all. In a recent sermon he delivered on a July 4 weekend, he opened by saying, “When it comes to freedom, many Christians here in the U.S. think that their job's done.” He went on to talk about how many other peoples in other parts of the world still have yet to experience the freedom we have.

This past Memorial Day, I posted, “perhaps the best way, as a Christian and an American, to honor and thank those who died for our freedom is to seek the freedom of others.” It was “liked” by a variety of people. It's debatable to an American whether or not it's our business to seek the freedom of other countries, but it seems plain and clear to me as a follower of Someone who continually frees me: the job's not done. I need to seek the freedom of other individuals.

Freedom for all those in China who can't proclaim or even know Christ for fear of the government.
Freedom for the little grammar-school orphan girl in Romania who, in a developed response to mission work and charity from a team I served with, offered herself sexually.
Freedom for all students and scholars in Canada, where Christianity's designation as a religion continues to threaten and debunk its accreditation.
Freedom for all those in Port-au-Prince, who were oppressed and impoverished even before the earthquake arrived.
Freedom for all the single mothers in Uganda, who usually lose their home, their money and all their children's hopes for education due to illegal property seizures.
Freedom for the growing number of teenaged prostitutes in the United States.
Freedom for all the villages across the globe with contaminated drinking water, as water-borne illness fatalities have now surpassed that of all wars.
Freedom for all the poor children in India, forced into sex trafficking.
Freedom for all the spiritually-confused in South America and the Middle East, and freedom for all the spiritually-dead in North America, Europe and Japan.

Believe me, I'm grateful for the freedom I've been given as one born in America. My wife's late grandfather was one of the brave souls who stormed the beaches of Normandy and brought home some sand in a jar. The fact that I can proclaim what I believe as a Christian without fear of prosecution or arrest is a wonderful amenity to one who feels called to be a pastor, as well as my inalienable rights. These are privileges that our founding fathers (of the Church, not our country) didn't have, and they still brought the freedom of Christ to many lives.

But I can't help but also think of the freedom that Christ gave me with His death on the cross and His redemptive work in my life. We can all name the various metaphorical slave traders of our modern day. We ought to continually seek our freedom and the freedom of our modern day slaves.

Faith is a gift from God. Once we receive it, we're called to develop it in others. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Feeling loved by God, we're called to love others. (John 13:34)
The best form of leadership is the type that develops other leaders. (1 Timothy 4:11-15)
Having been given freedom, we're called to seek the freedom of others. (Prov. 31:8-9, Gal. 2:10, Jas. 1:27)
Like the old hymn says, “You want to pass it on.” (1 Peter 4:10)

This Independence Day, I'll be counting my blessings as an American Christian and renewing my vows to preserve the vision of our Founding Fathers. But I'll also be celebrating my freedom. All of it. And I'll be contemplating how I can seek to share it with those who still need it.

Because the job's not done.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hillsong United: Worship Music for the Future?, pt. 2. . . The Sound

This past summer, Nancy Beach, one of the authors and creative pillars of Willow Creek’s resourceful and resourced movement in American churches, was the unofficial hostess of their annual Arts Conference.

It was the second session. Hillsong United had just led the attendants in worship, and now Joel Houston (their rhythm guitarist and lead worshiper) and Darlene Zschech (worship pastor emeritus of Hillsong Church) were the featured interviewees. Joel sat there on his bar stool, casually, with a winter hat, claiming to have had a bad hair day, as Nancy Beach asked Joel and Darlene questions about worship and service production.

Then came the turn for questions from one of Willow Creek’s worship leaders. Once this young man had the microphone, the audience could tell that this was a prepared and pressing question for Joel: “How did you guys [Hillsong United] come up with your sound?”

No doubt the sound separates Hillsong United from others. They’re comfortably in the heavier side of pop rock. The band that’s currently traveling is armed with a pair of electric guitars, one acoustic (Joel Houston), two instrument-less singers, drums, bass and keyboards. The acoustic guitarist, one of the electric guitarists, and the two instrument-less singers take turns leading songs.

Joel Houston, who admitted his felt mere adequacy in singing, leads many songs with a commanding voice, both taking the stage inserting his gentle acoustic guitar input with grace. Jonathan (an instrument-less singer) and Jadwin (an electric guitarist) with their slightly more substantive voices, lead with energy, while the versatile Brooke Fraser (an instrument-less singer) sings with both the gentle agility of Sarah McLachlan and the loud passion of Pink.

The instrumental sound gives many nods to the foundational pop rock structure of U2, but they use their additional instruments and resources to take it another step with further involvement of distortion guitar and diverse synthesizer input, thereby adding touches of alternative and modern electric rock. Hillsong United’s chord progressions are often unpredictable and their melodies often walk the line of sing-a-bility, setting them more apart from the rest in the worship music genre.

To return to the opening story, Joel honestly answered that their sound somewhat evolved from their compilations of ideas, seemingly that the “end product” sound that many worship leaders admire was more and better than what they had in mind. Hillsong’s sound is not encompassing. It doesn’t expand into nods of different era, genre or ethnomusicology and wouldn’t fit well into a service of strict “blended service” preferring congregants. The main aspect of Hillsong United’s sound alone, though, that helps them live toward the second part of their own name, as I’ve said, is their professionalism.

But their music is just one pillar. Their lyrics are another . . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A New Father's God-given Perspective

As a child, I was particularly jealous of every mother on each Mother’s Day and every father on each Father’s Day. They seemed to get the royal treatment: breakfast in bed, special recognition in the morning sermon, lots of nods and applause on the TV, big time discounts in retail stores and local restaurants, and, of course, generous gifts and affirmations from friends and family. Certainly not that they were undeserving, but I perhaps envied that different style of celebration. In response, I invented my own holiday, Brother’s Day, held on the second Sunday of each August, where myself and my two little brothers would buy gifts for each other (as for getting the rest of the aforementioned royal treatment, I was working on that). It started out well, as my little brothers were too young at the time to have gainful employment, so the task of buying gifts for me was naturally given to my parents.

Here I am, fifteen years later. I’m a father, already slowly turning into the hard-to-buy-for dad I tried not to be. If one of my little girls followed in my footsteps and proposed the existence of a Sister’s Day, I’m not sure what my reaction would be. (Sadly, Brother’s Day never got off the ground, and I never heard back from Hallmark on it, either).

I would think that the biggest thing that fatherhood contributes to your relationship with God the Father is perspective. Now, you might think that my purporting such an analogy in which I represent God is nothing short of prideful. On the contrary.

It’s very humbling.

Once I knew that I was, in part, responsible for the upbringing of a clean-slate human being, all my flaws, hypocrisies and my potential future mistakes surfaced in my mind. How can I be a dad? I wouldn’t wish my mistakes and some of my experiences on anyone, and now it could happen to the very people I’m called, both by God and by state law, to nurture, through my bad example and influence. Though I felt ill-equipped and even hazardous, I was a role model to a human being.

As my first daughter learned to crawl, I could at least comfort myself in what I knew I could teach her: the basics of not to touch the stove, knives, electrical sockets, etc. Beyond the normal desire to explore, our daughter is like her parents in her self-driven independence, for better or for worse. And it’s amounted to a few daughter-parent conflicts and episodes of tough love where we have to remove her from reaching a potentially harmful toy or leave in her crib to “cry it out.” She really doesn’t understand that we know better than she does what’s better for her.

And then there’s rebellion. Last night, in fact, she refused to go to bed. She stood up at the end of her crib for almost an hour, shouting, almost waking up her younger sister. Our occasional scolding visits seemed futile, as she just smiled and giggled after we forcibly laid her back down. It can be hard to keep your love for a child unchanging when they’re defying, inconveniencing or even hurting you, but your obligation to them is unchanging as well.

But, oh, do I love to brag about her. My oldest is only nineteen months old, but she can already sing songs, dance and count to ten. You will never (aside from her younger sister) find a more intelligent, artistic or beautiful little girl. You can’t ever persuade me otherwise. Maybe I’m biased, but she’s my little girl.

God the Father, on the other hand, given His holiness and purity, is quite the sufficient role model. God the Father, given His knowledge, experience and perspective, knows a lot better than we do what’s better for us (I tend to have trouble with that one). God better tolerates and unconditionally loves us despite our most disrespectful rebellion. And, oh, does He love to brag about us.

This regularly gives me some proper perspective.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Personal-ism vs. Individualism: a quick thought

As with all expository (non-topical) studies and messages, you look upon a passage of Scripture and you end up scratching the surface of a lot of topics, potentially opening up many cans of proverbial worms. Even just a single passage of Scripture can't be confined into one "moral of the story." Such is the way with it being of God and it being the also the voice of human experience.

This was certainly the case with Pastor Dr. Gary Hylander's recent message "The Critical Question," based on Mark 8:27-9:1. It's a very remarkable point in the life of Jesus and the story of the disciples' development. One could easily use this passage, as Dr. Hylander did, to at least give a nod to:

-the Church's relationship with culture
-the deity of Christ
-the social and political climate of the time
-the Messianic expectations
-philosophy of evangelism

and . . .

-the personal nature of one's faith and relationship to Jesus

It's the most recent I've been thinking about, because I recently read this article in Christianity Today. Certainly, there has been a strong push for individualism in pop culture, and it's somewhat reflected in the contemporary worship scene.

I've been thinking about how there's a balance between how God's love is extended to the individual, but we still need community. We need to be personal and individual, but not selfish. Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hillsong United: Worship Music for the Future?, pt. 1

It’s a seeming tumultuous time for music in modern history, both for the music industry (as disc and download sales continue to decline) and the philosophical evolution of the arts (as it still processes postmodernism’s explosive impact and commercialism’s epidemic). Many worshippers in American churches, likewise, have followed the consumerism of music in their weekly Sunday services, choosing for themselves from a great variety of “worship styles.” The invisible lines of division created by the “Worship Wars” still exist, pulling communities apart. Contemporary Christian worship may have become its own invested sub-genre within the past few years, but it’s continually losing its appeal to new generations, and as much as I personally enjoy the music of Indelible Grace, I doubt its approach has the allure and substance to fare in such a diverse jungle of a musical world.

How Christian musicians, pastors and all those concerned about the above could, should or likely will respond to such problems can be the topic for a thesis that I’m probably too unqualified and lazy to write, and I also see, right now, no ultimate solution. I do take a lot of comfort, however, in the works of some self-dubbed “guys and a girl from Australia,” known as Hillsong United.

Before I talk about Hillsong United, I need to introduce my former self. If there ever was a snobby cynic to draw the sword against contemporary worship, that was me five years ago. I was a conservatory student studying music composition, and I had a hobby of leading myself in worship in front of cyberhymnal.org and my guitar (many floor-mates often joined me). I couldn’t have cared less about contemporary worship, as it generally seemed to have 1) low musical standards (pop rock that still hadn’t moved on from the 80’s), its boy-band-like vocals (otherwise it would have appealed to more guys), teeny-bop lyrics (far from the theological richness and poetry of hymns and spiritual songs), and the one-track emotional theme (happiness and praise, even if in denial of burdens, etc.). Keep in mind that while, now, I regularly and sincerely worship at “contemporary” services, the aforementioned are criticisms that I haven’t redacted. In college, I was seeking a higher stand for worship in musical excellence, lyrical and poetic truth, and in the conversation one has with God during the experience.

My stubborn and stark stance on this issue was a topic of debate between my girlfriend (now my wife) and I. I couldn’t bring myself to the same point as (insert author here), as my studies in church music history revealed similar musical and philosophical flaws in hymnody. Studying world music and the philosophy of the arts developed in me a miniature vision for a type of worshipful unity of believers achieved by celebrated and true excellence and diversity in the worship arts. For this vision, I found a little bit more interest and a lot more capability from the “contemporary” or “blended” crowd, of course, when they were willing to bravely deviate from the above consumerist compromise.

So why would I, seeking to holistically worship with musically holistic means, like a mediator dove in the line of fire, so wholeheartedly recommend Hillsong United?

The attempted answer is in pt. 2.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prelude and Invocation

Hello all readers,

My name is James. I have the great privilege of serving Sheboygan eFree and the rest of Sheboygan County as the church's Pastor of Worship and the Arts. As I launch this blog, I will soon be living in the Sheboygan area with my wife and two daughters.

This blog will serve a few purposes that I have in mind. The primary function is to be an outlet for my meditations and writings. I like to think, and sometimes my thinking is a bit random, so the topics may be a bit diverse. There will be a strong theme, however, in the integration of God, culture and the arts. This blog is appropriately titles "notes, overtones, and resolutions," not only for its musical double entendre, but also for three corresponding reasons:

notes - I may be a leader, but I am also a student . . . in God's lifelong curriculum toward holiness and righteousness. This blog is not so much to be seen as an imparting of wisdom, inspiration and academics from a retired veteran of worship leaders. Rather, it's to be seen as a journal of someone sharing your journey. This isn't necessarily what I would submit for the final exam in life. It's just notes.

overtones - I'm not an overly talented or very passionate research writer. Nor would I enjoy using allotments in cyberspace to tell you elaborate and menial details of my day using few capital letters, punctuation, complete words or sentences. I may have an occasional opinion, but it's delivered with tact and spunk, and it will never be unbiblical.

resolutions - The basic end to all my thoughts, as perhaps earlier implied, is a resolve and a step forward in the journey of holiness and righteousness, giving glory to God. This is done, whether in sadness or joy, in an act of poetic and sincere praise.

Hence, the hybrid of a psalmist and a columnist.

I'm starting this blog's chapter and coverage of this journey by posting some oldies (I don't want to call them "goodies" just yet). There will be some new additions soon (e.g. a Facebook page, a playlist, etc.), but please continue to read my notes, overtones and resolutions.