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Saturday, July 26, 2008

No wonder Jesus shocked the world!

I'm on the slow plan on reading my Bible all the way through. I started a little over 5 years ago. At first I felt like such a failure that I couldn't rush through it in a year - after all, the books all say that's how it should be done. But I have persevered with my slow and steady pace and been stunned by how God has revealed Himself over the years. Today's revelation is not necessarily new, but I just understood it so much better than I ever had in the past.

Recently, I have been reading the minor prophets. (You know, the little books at the end of the Old Testament....Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and now Zephaniah.) The last few weeks have been quite depressing, actually. These prophets are very focused on God's judgement on the nations. Lots of "you're going to be destroyed, I'll pour out my wrath on you, burn, baby, burn"...You get the idea. Woven in amongst the judgement however, is a beautiful promise of restoration for God's people. A promise of rest and peace and beauty.

I have always been mystified by how the religious population in the New Testament became so hard and legalistic. But after reading all this, I've begun to understand why the religious people created extra rules that kept them from breaking any of God's rules. I mean, honestly, I don't want to be dashed on rocks, or destroyed by pestilence or famine.

This is why Jesus must have been such a shock. They expected a judgement bringer - a man of wrath - who would destroy the wicked nations of the world. After reading all the judgement stuff in the Old Testament, I could see why they might have this idea. Instead they found a man who said, "Love one another, Peace I bring to you, Blessed are the merciful." Jesus was not what the religious people expected. He was about forgiveness and mercy and freedom from sin. Because He did not fit their idea of who the Messiah was supposed to be, they could not accept Him. They could not wrap their minds around God acting differently than they expected.

Today, I better understood why Jesus was a surprise to the religious people when He came. And I want to be careful that I do not limit God to my expectations of Him. I do not want my limited knowledge of Him and his character to ever keep me from seeing Him at work all around me.

I am looking forward to that beautiful promise of restoration. When someday our relationship is fully and completely restored and not messed up by my sin and when I can see clearly all that God is.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Random thoughts from "Touch Me, I'm going to scream"

For those of you who are not music nuts and are not interested in my random thoughts about life from music and are sick and tired of me discussing the Paste articles I'm currently reading, this is not your lucky day! Do not attempt to buy a lottery ticket today!

For everybody else, here's the scoop. Last night I was reading the July issue of Paste. I was impressed with an article entitled, "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream", by Jay Sweet about a band called My Morning Jacket.
Sweet had several aha moments in this article. If you are short on time you may want to skip this post as I discuss this article at great length. I do tend to ramble, you know.

Sweet was challenged by My Morning Jacket to try to categorize them after their latest album, and this article is his attempt to say that they cannot be categorized by current genres as they continually push the limits and include a variety of music in their albums. I was reading along without much interest last night while I was simultaneously watching a bio about ABBA. I made it to the second paragraph before I started hunting my pen and making notes. Most of these quotes generated more questions for me than answers. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

"We live in fractured times. Never before in our history have we shared fewer unifying commonalities. Niche is king , and being friends on Facebook or texting each other - sometimes from across the room - passes for human interaction. Some of us find ourselves aching for connection, perhaps to even share some generally accepted cultural touchstones. From the earliest primitive drum circles and fireside chants to The Beatles and Gnarls Barkley, music has been a vehicle for this connection. But as music becomes a more solitary endeavor, experienced on computers in our cubicles, on headphones and in cars, something is lost." OUCH!! Who wastes tons of time on facebook? But, I spent a long while pondering this truth and its application to the church. People are disconnected, they are aching for connection, music was a past vehicle for connection - think back to tribes gathered around the fire, banging on the drum and telling stories. Is this not the role and importance of music in worship? To unite us as people and connect us with God? How can we capitalize on this need?

Now, the next quote that spoke to me - an aha about musical chemistry in a band - I'm not crazy after all. I've seen the way some of you look at me when I try to explain about the energy that exists between some musicians! "I tell ya, it's really magical to be playing with these guys," drummer Patrick Hallahan says. "Something about the energy - we don't mean to create it, and I don't know what the hell it is, but it's so human you can feel it." My question is - why do I have this energy with some musicians and not others? How do we create this energy with a worship band to push to higher levels of musical performance? Can the energy be generated or does it simply exist or not exist?

Then there's the lyrics in My Morning Jacket's new song, "If you touch me well, I just think I'll scream, cuz it's been so long since someone challenged me and made me think about the way things are, made me think about the way they could be." No Kidding! We get up, go to work, come home, bathe the kids, go to bed, get up, go to work.... With very little time for thinking or contemplating the big questions in life.

Here's another quote that really applies to my blog about "sit and soak", "You can only get comfortable for so long before you become stagnant." This is definitely true in music. I have to be pushed past the limits of what I am able to do in order for true musical growth to occur. Growing musically is rarely comfortable and safe. It tends to be risky and unsettling. "Once music stops being surprising to you, or stops being weird enough and becomes obvious, then it loses its purpose. If the music doesn't have the tension-and-release or doesn't have a common thread of connectivity, then it's ultimately disposable."

The other interesting thing that I've noticed now about several bands is the talk of going on retreats to the middle of nowhere together. Just hanging out. "It's important, as a band, that we all feel vested in each other," Koster says as he watches a zookeeper play with a cougar. "So if Jim's mind is opened up to some new music, or Tommy discovers some new tone, then organically it will find its way into all our playing. We are still developing our friendship, which is important for a band." Maybe we should make a bigger effort as worship bands to hang out - maybe that helps create that unexplainable musical energy that makes good music great?

So there are my thoughts on this article - questions mostly. How can we apply the things that are working for secular bands into the worship world to improve our playing and performance?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Katie Herzig - Hologram - God's voice in a song about a screwed up relationship

Before we left town for Aunt Bea's funeral, my new edition of Paste arrived. It was from July - which apparently comes after August in the music magazine world - since I've had the August issue for several weeks? Anyway, I hurriedly downloaded the CD onto my IPOD so I could check out the new stuff on the long trip. Overall, I was pretty disappointed. It was quite a let down for me after the international issue, much less diverse and fresh and more predictable.

However, one song in particular really captivated me. Katie Herzig's "Hologram" was vocally intriguing. It is rare for a vocal to really grab my attention since I tend to pay more attention to instrumentation. The last female vocal to really snare me as a fan was Norah Jones - honestly - how sexy can a voice be? Katie Herzig was intriguing and interesting, but not in the sexy Norah Jones style.

"Hologram" is a song about an absolutely screwed up relationship. Some of the lyrics go like this, "I'm gonna let you down, toss you around.... Oh, if you don't want me, though, I fall in love with you more....I fall in love with hard to get... It's a virtual reality....I'm in a love affair without a love song....I'm in the habit of having what I don't want....I'm just a hologram."

So I'm listening to this the second time when God showed up - talking in my head like a music critic hanging out over a cup of coffee at the local coffeehouse show. "Don't you identify with that?" My incredulous response, "Are you serious? I've been faithfully married my entire adult life." God, the music critic, "No, that's not the truth that's in her words that I want you to hear." So I replayed the song a second and a third time before I heard the truth that God was talking about. Katie Herzig is singing about a messed up love relationship - but her words are easily a very apt description of our pursuit of the American dream. (Yes, I know it's a leap, but that's the way God and I work. - that's why the blog is called "my random thoughts".)

Follow me here - "I'm gonna let you down, toss you around".....sound familiar to anybody? Does life ever do this to you? "If you don't want me though, I only want you more" - Does this not describe our constant quest for the approval of the people around us? "A virtual reality" - that's what we chase after - the "Good Life" ....The next line is where God broke my heart, "I'm in a love affair without a love song." Millions of people are loving things and people and are totally empty and dissatisfied because they do not know the only Love Song, the Savior. "I'm in the habit of having what I don't want." We get new stuff, then want something else. "I'm just a hologram." empty - needing the Love Song to fill us up - to overflow out of our life.

Now, I am aware that Katie Herzig probably had no intention of any of this, but God certainly used her words to convict me of the emptiness that fills our world and the desperate need to live a life filled with the Love Song and to share Him with our friends, family, and neighbors.

For you other music fans, and those of you who also subscribe to Paste, some artists I was also interested in on this CD:

*The Boxmasters - yes, I do not like country - AT ALL - And really - Billy Bob Thornton - please... put me out of my misery...but the song, "The Poor House" made me laugh - the whole working on a plan to pay the bills - and screwing it up every step of the way - absolutely!

*My morning jacket - "I'm Amazed" - worth a second listen.

*My Brightest Diamond - "Inside a boy" - unique

*Hayden - "Where and When" - a nice horn interlude

*Priscilla Ahn - "Dream" - my 2nd favorite on this CD - I really liked this one.

*Daniella Cotton - "Bang My Drum" - I did listen to this one the 3rd time awhile ago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lessons learned from a polyester leisure suit and big hair.

Late Monday night, we received word that Shawn's great aunt Bea had passed away. If you are not from Arkansas, you need to know that is pronounced "Aint". Aint Bea was in her late 90's and had been in poor health for about a year. We are sad that she is gone, but certainly happy for her that she is no longer in pain.

With Aint Bea's passing, I have been reflecting on her life and on the beauty she added to my life. Our first meeting was quite interesting. Aint Bea was a small, skinny woman who never let her hair go gray. She dyed it dark, jet black. It was teased and combed up to about 40 times its natural height. When Aint Bea was going out, she wore thick, heavy make-up - she was especially fond of white powder and FLAMING red lipstick. The first time I met her, she was wearing a bright, lemon-yellow, polyester leisure suit. With bellbottoms and high heels. Now, I have been in the Kemp family for a little over 15 years. Let's do the math - she must have been at least 80 when I met her. She wore that outfit with pride - she knew she looked good.

Aint Bea was a strong woman. She lived alone - the story was that she was engaged to a man who died in the war and she never loved again. I have never been able to confirm this for truth. Maybe it was just a rumor in a small town to explain why a woman would choose to live alone in an era where everyone married. She did not have indoor plumbing until about 20 years ago. Oh - and the plumbing only went to the kitchen. She never had a toilet in her house. She thought that it would be disgusting to do your business in your home and preferred her outhouse in the backyard. She was an immaculate housekeeper, and her yard was cleaner than my kitchen.

Aint Bea was not a woman to be crossed. She was one of these elderly ladies that thought that old age earned you the right to say whatever was on your mind. "Goodness gracious, LaRissa, how much weight DID you gain after that last baby?"

As I reflect back on Aint Bea's contribution to my life, I realize that she taught me some important lessons about life.

1. Fashion is all about what makes you feel good about you
Polyester? Big hair? Heavy make-up? Other people's opinions are not as important as what I think about myself when I take a long, hard look in the mirror.

2. I don't have to have all the latest stuff to be happy.
Who needs a bathroom when you already have an outhouse? I can make do with less and live simply and enjoy a great life.

3. Working hard builds great appreciation for your stuff and improves your character.
Aint Bea always looked for something to keep her busy. Laziness is never an option.

4. Speaking your mind can have great value.
Not so much the whole weight comment, but I have heard her say the difficult things that no one else had the courage to say to people.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know a very unique person and be influenced by her. I hope that I can become a woman of great individuality and character.

**Just a note to those of you who are faithful readers - and are waiting in front of the computer every day for me to post new material - or try to hide from your boss so you can check to see if I've added anything new - You know who you are. (Don't worry, I'm not going to name you online and get you in trouble since I love you girls sooo much, and you recently bought me coffee.) Don't expect any new material until at least Friday since we will be tied up the next several days with the funeral. Seriously, you made my day today telling me your stories about reading the blog. I am deeply humbled that God is using it in your lives and allowing you to use it to share your faith with your coworkers.

Not sure about Habakkuk's songwriting!

Okay, those of you who never laugh uncontrolably when you are reading the Bible should probably skip this blog to avoid being offended. I am about to be pretty irreverent.

This morning I finished reading Habakkuk. The third chapter in Habakkuk is a song - to be accompanied by stringed instruments. There are some beautiful verses in this chapter. I love the part about "even though the fig tree withers, I will praise the Lord". I love some of the descriptions of God in this chapter, "amazing, His brilliant splendor, powerful, rescuer, savior, my strength, etc." I love the description of the ocean "lifting its hands to praise the Lord." What a beautiful picture of waves!

However, here's the irreverent part. I began to kind-of sing Habakkuk's song out loud, making up the tune as I went. I was picturing it done in a worship service. When I came to the part that says, "Pestilence marches before Him; plague follows close behind." I began laughing and could not stop. I pictured our amazing, incredible worship leader, surrendered in worship singing those words and just thought it was absolutely hysterical. Then there's this part, "You crushed the heads of the wicked and laid bare their bones from head to toe." That's not something you hear everyday in worship music.

Seriously, Habakkuk chapter three contains some of the most beautiful passages I've read lately about God, his power, his mercy, and creation's response to Him. It is interesting to think about how culture has changed over the centuries, that we no longer include God's judgement as a characteristic worthy of praise. I love that songwriters throughout the ages have used music to praise God and lead people into His presence. I love that centuries after Habakkuk, we are still creating music about God's character, about how amazing is the God we serve.

Today, I echo Habakkuk's song, "I have heard all about you, Lord, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things you have done. In this time of our deep need, begin again to help us, as you did in years gone by. Show us your power to save us."

Monday, July 21, 2008

How I was kidnapped and lived to tell about it.

It came from nowhere, totally out of the blue. One minute I am working up a new song with a friend, and the next minute someone is yelling at me to hurry up and get my shoes, we're going to the movies. Some of my close friends planned out this escapade with Shawn. He joyfully babysat all four kids, while I went with my friends to see "The Dark Knight."

To fully understand how awesome this was, you have to know that these three girlfriends who kidnapped me are die-hard chick-flick fans. Yet because they love me, they sacrificed because I am not so much a chick-flick kind of girl. They planned in advance what movie we were seeing and allowed no discussion. It was all about what I would like the best. (Some of them had not even watched the last batman movie.)

This is a measure of true friendship - loving someone enough to plan a surprise that you know is perfect for them. Even when it's not your favorite. I am certainly blessed to be loved by women like this.

Oh yeah - and we went to starbucks, too. They bought me my favorite coffee - huge treat - church planters don't buy starbucks coffee - it's way too expensive. Then we just hung out and visited for awhile - with no kids yelling or competing for my attention. WOW!

Now - just to have a deep thought - "The Dark Knight" was stinkin' awesome. I was very impressed by the development of Harvey Dent's (Two Face's) character. It was such a powerful reminder to me that we are all just a moment - just a few choices away from darkness. Even the best among us have potential for great and horrible evil. It is God's presence that prevents the darkness from swallowing us all. I am reminded to be thankful every day for my sanity and my deliverance from evil.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who wants to sit and soak?

A few years ago, a wise friend was explaining to me that as believers when we "sit and soak" in church week after week, we become apathetic and sour. I was convinced that she was right because she was usually right about spiritual truths. And I could think of some examples from every church I had ever attended.

Entering into church planting has given me the opportunity to put her theory to the test. I have never seen people working so hard. They put in countless hours of hard work and do things behind the scenes that no one ever knows about. And I have never seen so much excitement about church.

The team is excited about outreach, they're excited about setting up for services, and they're excited about people entering into a relationship with Christ. Now, I am realistic enough to know and understand that there is always a certain level of excitement in new activities. I also understand the importance of guarding our team members from burn out. However, after seeing what it looks like to be involved in church planting, I am pretty sure that I will never again be content to "sit and soak".

It is a beautiful thing to see people united behind a single purpose - to reach people with Christ. It is awesome to walk beside people who are willing to do whatever it takes to be on mission. I am honored to call this team of believers my friends.

Thanks to all of you who are putting in the long, hard hours, the late nights, and the time in prayer and hard work! Without you, this dream would be impossible. Glad you're not "sitting and soaking."