What are your core values?

A few days ago I was at a meeting at a church that is not part of my denomination. We were looking at how they use technology to enhance their worship. That part was interesting, but what really caught my attention was something the primary presenter said early on.

They want to make sure that the technology doesn’t become more important than the worship…that it is used to enhance the worship. And in order to ensure that, they have five core values related to their ministry.

  1. They value excellence over perfection. Perfection is not attainable by human beings–but excellence is. While I don’t think I’d thought of it in those terms, I’ve always said that if you are doing the best you possibly can, then you are bringing ministry.
  2. They value worship over performance. This one is a big one for me. When I’m sitting, and listening to someone sing / play / preach, I can tell whether the focus is on providing / leading worship…or whether it’s on “Look at me and what I can do / say.”
  3. They value engagement over observation. In other words, are members of the congregation taking an active part in the worship experience? Or are they being preached at or sung to?
  4. They value content over style. This one is an interesting one in light of so many battles that are fought today over whether a church should use hymns, praise songs, classical songs, etc., etc., etc. For them no style is off limits. If the content fits and speaks to the worship experience of any given service, then it’s usable.
  5. They value integrity over ability. At first glance, this one may make one go “Huh?” But for me, it’s tied in with the first one. When one uses a lot of volunteers–as this church does–they pair young people with adults who can help them learn. They provide practice materials as well as physical practice times–and they expect those volunteers to be committed to doing what they agreed to–and to practice so that they can do the best job possible.

There are a lot of different ways values can be expressed. My own faith tradition has what we call Enduring Principles.” These are principles that describe the “personality” of who we are…and they also provide the foundation for how we worship and–hopefully–how we live in community.

But I love these core worship ministry values and think that whether they were to ever be officially claimed by my faith tradition, they are still valuable for every individual involved in worship planning to consider and hold to.

And perhaps not just worship planners and leaders…but all of us in our attempts to build and live in community.

What are you thankful for?

In the United States, we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, the story we grew up on–the story of the shared feast between the Native Americans and the English colonists–has turned out to not be accurate. (Here’s a Native American perspective…one of several I found.)

However, the concept of expressing thankfulness and gratefulness is still a valid one–especially today.

So…what are you thankful for?

I’m thankful for family–biological family, but also “chosen” family…those who have become close through a variety of connections.

I’m thankful for the experiences I have had of sharing with individuals in and from different cultures and religious traditions. They have caused me to reflect on the wonderful diversity in our world–and how much that diversity has enriched us. They have also reminded me of how much we don’t know!

I’m thankful for books! They provide magic carpets to places I could not otherwise visit. They help me learn new information. They provide escape when I need it…and challenge when I am ready for it.

I’m thankful for music. It feeds my soul…and sometimes allows me to pray when I do not have the words to do so.

I’m thankful for pets who give unconditional love.

I’m thankful for those I agree with…and those I don’t. Those who support and affirm me help give me confidence–and those I disagree with challenge me to really think about what I believe and help me articulate it more clearly. They even sometimes cause me to change my mind or…at the least…look for those places where we can find common ground.

I am thankful to have a home to live in and enough food to eat. I realize how blessed I am to not have to worry daily whether I will have enough…or whether I (or family members) will be victims of violence.

I am thankful for those who have walked with me on my spiritual journey. Some have been members of my own faith tradition…others have shared from their perspectives. I have learned much from each of them–including how difficult it is for us finite human beings to understand the Divine Infinity. And I have been thankful for those who have walked with me through the dark nights of the soul, offering me care and hope, even when I didn’t see it.

Most of all I’m thankful for life, even with its various health problems and challenges. Each day brings new hope…new opportunities…new lessons…new visions.

What are you thankful for this year?

Paris is burning

The first time I ever heard those three words was in a slightly different order (Is Paris Burning?) when I picked up a book about Hitler’s determination to destroy the city during World War II. The city survived–and has flourished.

But today…

Notre Dame Cathedral

Today, the city…and the world…is in mourning. The beautiful historic symbol of faith and France–Notre Dame–is in flames, even as I type this. The spire has fallen, the roof has collapsed, evacuations are being ordered because of fears that the walls may collapse outward…

A building that has stood for 600 years as a testament to the power of faith…that has touched many with the art and music that has come from it…that has survived multiple wars and bombings…is now being lost to us.

It is ironic that the fire is occurring during Holy Week. Perhaps it is an irony that can cause those of us who claim Christianity to better understand the feelings of those early apostles during the first Holy Week.

Yesterday was a day of celebration…the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Towards the end of the week, the faithful will be being reminded of the dark days when it seemed that everything Jesus stood for was lost…that there was no future. I am sure that is how many are feeling right now as they watch the flames.

And yet…something new arose from the ashes of that first Holy Week. And that same faith can continue to cause us to hope that something new will arise from these ashes. It’s far too early to know what that might be…but faith does not die because a building is lost.

Faith is a trust…a belief…in something that cannot be seen. It is more than hope. It is more than buildings. And so, even as we mourn this loss–just as the disciples mourned the death of Jesus–we trust that a new day will dawn…that something new will arise from the ashes.

Shingles suck!

No, not the kind of shingles you put on your house. The kind that is a second version of chickenpox–and generally shows up as a band of blisters on your waist.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my doctor for my yearly wellness exam. I had had the original shingles shot several years ago, but she suggested I look at getting the new version, since they’ve apparently discovered that the earlier one tends to degrade over time. The new shot is difficult to find, so I was going to need to call pharmacies to see who might have it available.

That was on a Tuesday. By Sunday night I was in the emergency room with pain so severe I couldn’t find any kind of comfortable position. After an IV of pain medication and a CAT scan, I was eventually sent home with the probable diagnosis of a kidney stone. Yay!

I had a follow-up with my doctor the next Tuesday. As she was checking things out–and saying that the kidney stone diagnosis didn’t make sense with the symptoms I was having–she lifted my top…and found the rash. Shingles!

Okay, I knew there were challenges with shingles, but she was going to put me on an anti-viral and some pain meds…so I figured I’d still be able to take part in my denomination’s conference the next week. I had committed to playing the piano and organ for several events during the week, and my doctor had told me I’d be non-contagious by then.

Things didn’t work out that way. I was in enough pain that I eventually decided I needed to back out of my commitments and give time for replacements to be found. I didn’t want to–I haven’t missed being involved in a conference for 50+ years (earlier they were held every 2 years, currently every 3). But I didn’t want to wait until the last moment either.

I’m glad I did. I’ve spent the week of conference lounging on the sofa or in bed…napping…trying to distract myself with reading or coloring…and sharing in the conference through the webstreaming that has been available. There is no way that I would have been able to honor my commitments.

The rash is well on its way to clearing up. The sensitivity to touch is still pretty intense–and the pain is currently bearable…most of the time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t be in the small percentage that has post-shingles pain…and I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t trigger an exacerbation of my MS.

Asking for help is not easy for me–but I’ve been blessed by the folks who have stepped up to cover for me. And I’ve been blessed by those who have been supporting me in prayers and warm thoughts from a variety of backgrounds.

So yeah, shingles suck…but there have been blessings through it all as well.

RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Music…sacred time

This last weekend was busy. There was a funeral visition, a baby shower, watching the news coverage of the “March for Our Lives”…and I attended three concerts in three days. Not something I normally do, but  the music just happened to fall that way.

They were three different concerts. The first was an organ concert on a new organ. The second was a symphony concert with Yo-Yo Ma as the guest soloist. And the third was a choral concert of film music.

All three were enjoyable. All three had moments that touched me.

But there was one moment that reminded me that music can create sacred space and sacred time…and brought me to tears.

One of the selections in the symphony concert was by Leonard Bernstein, whose music I enjoy. However, this was music of his that I had not heard before–“Three Meditations” from Mass, arranged for cello and orchestra. The conductor gave us some background, both of Mass and of these specific pieces–that are the reflective times as the mass celebrant is struggling with a faith crisis…when all he has known / believed is being shaken.

They’re powerful pieces–and Yo-Yo Ma presented them with soul and passion.

But…and this is the sacred experience…as the last one quietly ended, leaving questions hanging in the air, there was a moment, a breath, and then the ‘cello began the “Prelude” from Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Minor .

There was a hush in the hall…a sacred hush.

When the piece ended, I think everyone recognized that we had experienced something special…a sacred time. And it somehow seemed sacrilegous to break the silence with applause…although we eventually did.

We shared in moments of questioning…of, perhaps, our own faith crises. We had seen young people asking–no, demanding–help in creating safer places. Much of what we have known in the past doesn’t seem to hold true any more, and there seem to be questions…more questions…and yet more questions, perhaps without answers.

Yet in that sacred time in Helzburg Hall in Kansas City, Yo-Yo Ma and Bach acknowledged those questions–and responded with a prayer…the music of hope.