Sunday, August 31, 2008

Peculiar People

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)

The word "peculiar" here probably means, "set apart" or "particular" people- those who are God's own. But I find that our contemporary meaning rings true as well: God's people are peculiar; as in, "strange" and "unusual" people- especially when they're praising Him.

This is a topic close to my heart, and something I've wanted to write about for a while but haven't made the time. As a worship leader, I know perhaps better than many how "peculiar" God's Church can be when they "show forth [His] praises."

Every evangelical church that I've led worship in, no matter how big or small, how charismatic or traditional, how old or young- every church seems to have the same un-usual suspects:
  • There's the stoic gentleman who usually sits off to one side (rarely in the center section, unless it's on the extreme aisle). His job is to examine everything that's done in the service through a theological or philosophical lens and ask "why" questions after the service.
  • There's the pact of senior citizens who, bless their hearts, just want to see and hear something familiar. They sit together in the back (so the music won't hurt their ears) and center (so they can see the pastor).
  • There's the high school student who was dragged out of bed five minutes before the service started. He and his family sit in the back and off to one side because they're usually late.
  • There's the charismatic hand-raiser and somewhere behind him/her is the reluctant hand-raiser. The first chord hits and the charismatic's hands are in the air ready to praise God while the reluctant hand-raiser begins to break out into a cold sweat as he prepares to overcome his fear and raise his hands- a warm-up process that will take 2-3 songs.
  • The girl who dreams of being a pop star and styles everything she sings with Mariah Carey trills and slides.
  • The compulsive harmony-singer. Usually this is a girl, but I've known some guys too. They love harmonies so much they'll add them even when they don't belong.
  • There's the defiant man or woman who disproves of "contemporary" music and so makes that known by crossing his/her arms, stares daggers at the leader, and refuses to sing. For some reason (to make a statement?), nine times out of ten this person sits front and center.
  • There are the sing-loud-and-proud-even-though-I'm-tone-deaf people who are distributed equally throughout the room (and we love them for it).
  • The weepy worshiper. This person wears his/her heart on their sleeve and sings through tears each and every Sunday, blotting his/her eyes during instrumental breaks.
  • The opera-trained worshiper. They come in both male and female, but they could be a block away and still out-sing everyone else in the room (including the people on microphones). When there are hymnals involved, their eyes are glued to the page as they perfectly execute the four-part harmony written for them.
  • There's the sincerely broken and hurting person who's just lost a loved one, has had a hard run in life, or is otherwise downcast. They cry in worship not because they're a weepy person, but because it's the first feeling of comfort, safety, and hope they've felt all week.
  • There's the family with young kids who struggle to make it to church on time because of the mile-long "kid checklist" they had to accomplish on their way out the door (everyone's brushed, fed, wearing all items of clothing in the appropriate places, etc). Their singing is faint and tired because they feel like shipwreck survivors before church even begins.
  • The junior high love birds, holding hands during church. They don't hear a thing all day... but they're there and sometimes their lips are moving to the lyrics.
  • The sign language lady. This is sometimes a man, and almost always a charismatic congregation, but this non-deaf person worships with their hands, signing every word as they sing, much to the fascination of everyone within eye-shot.
  • There's the gigging musician in the congregation who thinks about issues related to showmanship, sound engineering, and production during worship. He's the guy who sits halfway back and worships while he watches like a hawk every chord the leader plays on the guitar.
  • There's the lovable but strange guy who is so awkward in worship that he often makes a scene during the music portion of the service (but those who know him don't even notice after a while). He has a deep love for the Lord and a big heart, just no self-awareness.
  • There's the comatose worshiper (who is easily confused with the meditative worshiper, below) who looks like he's about 3 seconds away from death. He either doesn't sleep on Saturday nights or he has the personality of a wall. Tip for worship leaders: nothing you can say or do will shake this guy up, so it's best just to leave him alone.
  • The meditative worshiper is the guy (or girl) who stands perfectly still with his eyes and mouth shut; he looks like he's asleep but you know his heart is meditating on the Lord by the occasional eyebrow furrow (he's thinking, not sleeping).
  • The worship leaders in the room are basically a conglomeration of all of the above. Ironically, we're probably the worst people to have to lead in worship because we're aware of all of these things going on around us (which you can imagine makes it a little hard to focus).
Peculiar people is an understatement! Church is full of crazy people who express worship to God in such bizarre and diverse ways. It's a cacophony of sounds and personalities; a melting pot of expressions and style... but... it... is... beautiful.

I've tried to quit worship ministry twice in my life (the grass is greener; pride; tired of confrontation and other reasons typical to ministers). Both times the Lord gently broke my pride and called me back, but do you know what He used both times to bring me to that place of breaking?

Take a look:

That's 1,000 voices singing to God Almighty, in all of their peculiar ways, with all their quirks and craziness- brokenness and all- opera singers, harmony singers, tone deaf singers, and all the rest. God used that very sound- the sound of his children worshiping- to break me and affirm my calling to this ministry. It's beautiful. There's no other sound like it, and I pray I live and die with its echo in my ears.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bon Iver

It's been a while since I've written a legitimate blog post. And there are at least a half dozen things I'm waiting for time to write about, but this one will be quick...

A new (at least to me) underground/indie artist caught my ear this morning. His name is Bon Iver. If you're a fan of mello acoustic guitar, raw, imperfect but soulful indie artists (perhaps in the Glen Hansard vein), Bon Iver might be your man. Check out the two songs on his myspace page:
and see if you agree.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steve Martin and Michael Caine co-star in this classic comedy about two con artists who schmooze wealthy and corrupt women in order to take them for all they're worth. Each have separately made a fine living off of stolen pearls, cars, and cash, but when both cons begin to prowl in the same French Riviera, fierce competition and hysterical comedy ensues.

The ever-so proper Lawrence Jamieson (Caine), is a master of con artistry. He has no time for chasing smaller victims; his eyes are roaming for extremely wealthy and wounded prey. When he finds such a woman, he plays on her compassions, telling her that he is a prince from an impoverished country and only- say $50,000- will save his people. In tears of sympathy, the woman gladly serves the greater good and helps his cause. Now $50,000 richer, Lawrence simply picks up and moves on to the next town.

Freddy Benson is in the same line of work, but is far less suave. He's more a hustler than an "artist." He's satisfied, for a while, with smaller game- a free dinner here, $20 there; but when chance leads him to the same wealthy town as Lawrence Jamieson and he sees the British con-artist making 10's of thousands of dollars, his appetite changes.

Knowing that Lawrence is the far superior con, Freddy asks him to be his mentor. Lawrence, unhappy with the new competition for his turf, decides to take Freddy under his wing with the secret ploy to drive Freddy away to greener pastures. "Perhaps," Lawrence thinks, "the best way to rid myself of this nuisance is to bring him closer." And so the training begins. Freddy learns to slick his hair back; to glide in his walk; to suavely tuck one hand in his coat pocket while the other hand raises a glass of champagne to the sapphire moon... And again, comedy ensues....

But sooner than later, it becomes clear to Freddy that Lawrence is taking advantage and not treating him with fairness. When working a "victim" together, Lawrence schmoozes the lady while Freddy is forced to play the mental monkey-brother, Ruprecht (see youtube clip on sidebar).

So, their feud will be resolved, the two decide, by a not-so-friendly competition: after agreeing on a woman, both will go to work trying to win her affections (and her wallet) while pretending not to know each other. Whoever gets her will be declared the winner. Freddy approaches their target as a paraplegic war vet who's grandmother is on her death bed and in need of surgery money. Lawrence, playing along, becomes the renowned German psychiatrist who alone can cure Freddy of his disorder, emphatically stating that Freddy's is a psychosomatic, not neurological, paralysis. So a battle of wits begins as the two cons try to out-con each other in order to win the prize.

(Warning: the next paragraph will spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it and plan to)
After continually upping the stakes and nearly destroying each other, the two cons arrive separately at the same airport where the woman has fled. Both come with a different story about why the woman they've been chasing is now getting on a plane and about to take off. By the time the two cons realize that the woman they were chasing had been playing them from minute one, the plane was already in the air. She had spun them around to dizziness and proved to be the better con.

It's a great comedy with a surprising twist (well, now that I spoiled it, maybe not so much). But it's definitely a classic 80's movie in my book- well worth owning on DVD.