Tag Archives: Creative

Don’t Stop the Music!

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

This past week, Wendy and I went to a craft brewhouse in Des Moines. About three times a year they have an event called “Hymns at the Hall.” There was a large gathering of people that night. There were young families with children playing board games. There were older folks (I guess you have to start including me in that demographic). It was a fascinating mix of people who gathered to eat, drink, and sing the old hymns of the faith together.

Along my spiritual journey, I have experienced that music can be the subject of tremendous religious passion for some people. I grew up with hymns accompanied by a pipe organ and traditional choral music. I witnessed the emergence and growth of the “contemporary” music industry. Music within the churches I’ve associated has shifted radically in one generation. Most children today have never seen a hymnal or sung in a church choir in which you had to learn to read music and sing harmony.

So here’s the thing: I have lent my ears to friends who bemoan the changes as watering down and diminishing worship. I have witnessed heated debates over the theological implications of certain songs. My observation is this: music continues to change and evolve as does music’s place in worship. With all of the change, there are three things that are constant:

  • Our general discomfort with change.
  • Music’s ability to stir spirit, emotion, and thought (sometimes it does all three at the same time) in individuals and groups.
  • Worthwhile things that are discarded by culture as “dead and gone” are eventually resurrected to experience new life.

We are nearing the end of Nehemiah’s account of the return of the Hebrew exiles from Persia and the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, the people made a legally binding agreement to rededicate themselves to the law of Moses, the responsibilities of the sacrificial system, and the contributions required to keep Temple worship going. In today’s chapter, Nehemiah calls all of the musicians together from the region and forms two great choirs to march around the top of the wall in worship and dedication.

At the end of the chapter Nehemiah observes:

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

In other words, the music of worship and of the Temple had been silenced for many years. It had been silenced at least 70 years since the destruction of the Babylonian siege. It may have been silenced before that. Nehemiah was resurrecting a worthwhile thing of the past and breathing new life into it for the discovery of a new generation. The subtext of the statement feels as if Nehemiah is defending the action and explaining his rationale for those who are grumbling about the change (see my first bullet above).

As my friends and I shared our “Hymns at the Hall” on social media, we had friends and family who seemed to bristle at the idea of singing hymns and drinking beer at the same time. I quietly smiled to myself knowing that hymn writers such as Martin Luther and Charles Wesley often took melodies of well-known songs that were sung in bars and taverns and changed the lyrics. In the days of illiterate and uneducated masses, it was easier if they used tunes that everyone knew (and everyone knew popular bar songs). Ironic that the songs have found their way back home. As I sang I watched people being stirred. You can take the hymns out of the church, but you can’t take God out of the hymns.

In the quiet this morning, Alexa is playing Gregorian Chant and ancient choral music, which is what I prefer in my quiet time with God. Later in the day, I’ll switch to more contemporary worship music as Wendy and I work in the home office. This evening we might switch to Gypsy Jazz, blues, or the music of the Rat Pack as dinner is prepared.

I don’t get too hung up on music. For me, is not a “holy” or “unholy” “either, or” binary thing. Sure, any good thing can be coopted for profane reasons, but it’s easy to turn it off or tell Alexa to skip a song. For me, music is a “both, and” equation.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Decorative Details

Scottish Decorative Messages

Sometimes photo opportunities come from paying attention to details. While in Edinburgh this past summer I began noticing that many of the old buildings contained small decorative flourishes with a message. They were often Bible verses or a moral reminder. Once I started noticing them I began to take photos of them. Themed photos can make for fascinating collages.

The Gift of Music

itunes captureThese are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there. They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. 1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (NIV)

I have studied and taught on the subject of creativity for many years. I’m a huge fan of the arts across the entire of breadth of ways people choose to express themselves. God’s Message says that through Jesus all things were made, and that we were made in the image of the creator. To create and express oneself creatively is to be Christ-like.

I have explored a host of creative mediums over the years. I like trying new things when they strike my fancy. Acting, singing, song writing, play writing, fiction writing, poetry, painting, pottery, writing, guitar, bass, piano, and drums just to name a few. I may not be particularly gifted or good at most of them, but I find it interesting how each one works and how one medium of creative expression differs from other mediums.

I do find it interesting, however, that music clearly holds a special place in God’s heart. Today as we read through the family tree of the tribe of Levi, who were responsible for the temple and worship, we find that there is an entire branch of that tribe whose sole responsibility was music in temple worship.

Music has a special way of affecting our thoughts, our moods, and our emotions. When King Saul was having some sort of mental health episode, it was David and his harp that had a medicinal effect. My iTunes and Spotify playlists are largely broken down by the types of music for different situations and moods. I have quiet music for my morning conversations with God. I have hard driving, intense music for working out. I have feel good music for lifting my spirit in the drab hours of the afternoon. I have cool jazz for rainy days. I have baroque music for when I need to concentrate at work or study. I have hours of easy listening music for the background of dinner conversations.

Today, I’m simply thankful for music and appreciative of our Creator for this gift of expression that is such an integral part of both life and worship.

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Some Things Bear Repeating

Gnomeo & Juliet
Gnomeo & Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My heart, O God, is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music with all my soul.
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 108:1-5 (NIV)
[and Psalm 57:7-11 (NIV)]

Wise King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We are always taking what has been and repurposing it, recycling it, or building on it anew. It’s part of the creative process God bred into us when He, the master Creator, molded us in His own image. For example, consider Shakespeare’s famous romance Romeo and Juliet. One does not have to search far to find countless adaptations of the Bard’s timeless story:

Adaptations and regurgitations aren’t inherently wrong or bad (though some of them are certainly poor reflection of the original). The truth is that some things bear repeating. As children we hear our parents repeat the same things over, and over, and over. As parents we repeat the same things to our children over, and over, and over. It often takes us hearing the same message repeated ad nauseam before it finally sinks in and gets applied. As an actor, I repeat the same lines over and over and over again as part of the memorization and rehearsal process. It never ceases to amaze me how often I will say a particular line countless times, but find new depth of understanding and meaning after hundreds of repetitions.

When reading through the collective lyrics of the Psalms, it’s easy to feel like we’re reading the same thing over and over. That’s because, in some cases, we are. The opening verse of Psalm 108 is an almost word-for-word repeat of the last verse of Psalm 57. Likewise, the third verse of Psalm 108 is a repeat of last verse of Psalm 60.

Some things bear repeating, and some do not. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

A Lesson in Asaph’s Unique Lyric Style

But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done;
Psalm 75:9a (NLT)

If jazz is playing in the background and I hear Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, I know it. If an electric guitar solo is being played by Carlos Santana, I can tell it’s him. Walk into an art museum and I can tell you immediately the Picasso from the Matisse and the Rothko from the Miro. Ernest Hemingway’s voice as a writer is so distinctive that there’s an annual contest to see who can best parody him, and Woody Allen used Hemingway’s own words to humorously establish the character in his movie Midnight in Paris [see video]. Artists, musicians, and writers have distinctive styles that mark their work. God is an artist, and making us in His image He gave us the gift of being able to express ourselves uniquely. Just as each of our DNA is unique, so our creative expressions (when we honestly express ourselves) is unique.

Psalms 73-78 are a grouping of songs penned by Asaph. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 75 the phrase in the line above struck me: “But as for me….” That sounds a lot like what I read the past two mornings.

  • But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Ps 73:28
  • But you, O God, are my king from of old.” Ps 74:12
  • But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done.” Ps 75:9a

As with all artists, Asaph had developed a personal style. He likes to set up a scene with his lyrics and then drive a stake in the ground establishing his faith in contrast to all that he sees around him. It’s effective. It causes me to think about my own personal faith and my belief system in contrast to the world around me. Where do I place my own personal stake in the ground?

  • I see a lot of brokenness, but I believe God redeems broken things.
  • I see a lot that I don’t understand, but I believe God is telling a story that will someday be complete and all will come into context.
  • I see many who give up on the faith journey, but I am going to press on.
  • I observe many self-proclaimed believers who differentiate themselves by what they piously and religiously don’t do, but I want to differentiate myself by being loving, gracious, and forgiving.

“Ham Buns and Potato Salad”: Shipped

So, I’ve written this play entitled Ham Buns and Potato Salad. It’s kind of been in the works for a couple of years. It’s the first full-length play I’ve written and it’s been a fun labor of love.

The play is set in a small Iowa town. A tragic accident has taken the lives of a local couple. Their son, Thomas, is coming home for the funeral. Thomas left home immediately after high school graduation in the midst of one of the small town’s biggest scandals. He went to school in New York, found unexpected success as a writer, and never looked back. Now, he returns home for the first time and the town is literally buzzing with anticipation and curiosity. All of the unanswered questions from the old scandal begin bubbling back to the surface at a full boil with both funny and touching results.

The play is about small town and all the lovable, quirky characters who make up a rural community. It’s about facing our past and choosing our future. It’s about death and life, love and loss. It’s about grace and forgiveness.

Last year I was part of a small creatives group with three other artists. Our mutual mantra to one another was to “ship” our work (i.e. don’t just work on your song/play/book/CD – get it done and “ship it” out). So, my goal was to finish the first draft and have an initial table reading of the script, which was accomplished last summer. I finally got the rewrite done and had a 2nd reading last weekend. More rewrites this week.

It was time to ship.

There’s probably more work that needs to be done, but I suddenly felt that it was time to send my baby out. So, this weekend I’ve submitted it to a handful of theaters, contests, and workshops. I have no idea where it will go, if it will ever be published or produced.

But, it’s shipped.