Tag Archives: worship

Making Manifest Giveaway Winner!

random generator - making manifestI’m so excited about how many of you responded to the Making Manifest book reflection this week. I wish I could give a copy away to every single one of you.

I counted 93 commenters when I excluded Dave and I. (Literally. I wrote all of your names down on my grocery list notepad to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. I’m sure there’s a plugin for that but I don’t have the technical savvy to figure it out.)

And the Random Generator of Awesomeness has spoken. The winner is Number 85 – Abi! Congratulations! Expect an email from me soon!

If you didn’t win, I’d still urge you to go pick up a copy of this beautiful workbook from Seedbed.

If you’re doing it with a group, there are bulk discounts that you can take advantage of over there as well. It’s such a great alternative for those of us who have done the fill-in-the-blank stuff too many times and just need something different.

I’d like to leave you with this beautiful thought from the book.

” […] To come close to saying what can’t be said or being what we can’t fully be, we have to choose to set aside time to meet this becoming, to respond to God’s incarnate invitation of full awareness. We need solitude in a world that wants to visit, quiet from a world that wants idle chit-chat, and steadfastness in a world where everything’s changing and transient. We need time to gather the little pieces of ourselves that scatter. We need time to write down our little lives.

The good news: your life is already poemia — a living breathing work of words. So with a little time and practice each day your bit of energy will become worship you make, not worship made for you. […] You can best worship God by accepting your words and giving them life, by owning them, and then giving them back; or, as Romans 12:1 says, to present them as part of your reasonable sacrifice — offering your words as part of offering yourself.”

May you find solitude, quiet and so much beauty this weekend.

Christian Concert – The Chris Tomlin Edition

christian concert - chris tomlinThere are two things that you should know to begin with:

  1. I love our church.
  2. I am not much for “Christian concerts.”

I was at one time. In the old on fire days, I was elbowing my way to the front to see DC Talk, my face red with the heat and energy.

I had a hoarse throat and the official band t-shirt, and I was right in the middle of all of it – faith and music and so much passion.

The first time I ever really danced it was at a Christian ska concert, and I know what that sounds like, but you should have seen it. We were learning to be ourselves, singing out loud, worshipping wild. We were young and awkward, but we were moving to the music, finding our feet strong beneath us.

It was where I was on Saturday nights. Christian concerts. I was one of a thousand screaming, Jesus-loving teenage fans, and we were looking for an anthem.

*

In the Mad Season, I gave up a lot of things from that old, evangelical world.

“Gave up,” is actually maybe too benign of a phrase. Threw across the room, is a little truer. Stomped on in rage is also good.

These things that used to define me are the things that I was most anxious to crumple, crush, throw away. I was angry and I was cynical, and what I needed was a little distance.

I needed to strip away the whole convoluted Christian culture in order to finally understand the heartbeat of grace. I needed to remove myself from the Loud of all that Christian rock and breathe in the quiet of my own desperation.

I didn’t listen to anything “Christian” for years. Then I slowly started adding back a few things. A couple of bands who sang words that felt true and honest. I rarely bought whole albums – but I’d download a song here, a song there. The ones that made me cry. The ones that managed to lift the sheet away from some covered-up part of my heart.

*

Several weeks ago, our church bought tickets to the Chris Tomlin concert downtown. Chris Tomlin is an evangelical powerhouse of a singer, and the concert was sponsored by the local Christian radio station. It is the kind of thing that I never go to. I cannot reiterate this enough.

But I also, somehow, really wanted to be part of it all. I wanted to be on that yellow school bus with the people from our church headed down to the city. I wanted to be crunched in, junior-high-style, driving through snowy April streets.

So, this time, Andrew and I decide to go.

In the packed lobby of the Target Center, there are a zillion people, and I realize immediately that Christian t-shirts still make me entirely uncomfortable. Even the fitted, clever ones. Even the mission trip ones.

I’m on edge when we walk into the auditorium because the last time I was in a place this big for some Christian Thing, it was a Teen Mania youth rally that was a lot about courtship and missions and being really awesome for God.

I came out of that whole experience with cracks rupturing imperceptibly beneath the surface of my soul. And at the steep edge of the second floor balcony, I feel it all over again. So I’m arms-crossed, on-edge, curled up in my stadium chair.

The lovely, brown-haired opening singer says, “Do you love Jesus tonight?” while she strums toward a new song. I offer a wry answer to no one in particular. “Not tonight,” I mumble, because the question feels silly and rigged for applause. But then she starts singing and it’s so damn beautiful that I want to hold my breath.

Chris Tomlin comes out, and I shake my head when his first song includes a line about “God’s great dance floor.” But a few minutes later, a rapper is reading something out of the Bible. It’s that part in Ezekiel when God made a whole valley of dry bones live again.

I am mesmerized by the way he says the familiar words. The ones I’ve read a hundred times. He says them and I feel them in my own dry bones like healing.

There is singing and lights. I listen to the guy on stage, but mostly I’m listening to a thousand people around me, all of them singing along. The woman next to me sings the harmonies and it’s her voice I’m most struck by – honest and quiet, beautiful and strong.

This morning in church, we gathered around her eight-month-old daughter and prayed for healing, and I can’t stop thinking about this baby girl as I listen to her mother’s voice sing the hard, beautiful truth of God’s goodness.

I’m caught off guard when they start singing that one song – the one that does something to my heart – and all of the sudden I’m singing too, my voice disappearing into the ocean of sound like one small wave.

And I would be lying if I say that the cynical part of my heart isn’t prone to cataloging every flaw, every cliché, every bit of jargon lasering through the room.

But also, I would be lying if I say that I am not moved.

This is where I am these days – both fractured and found. Stuck in the tension of my broken-mending faith.

I still have these hard places, but I have been touched by grace. And grace breaks the barrier between us and them. Between church people and cynics. Between all that we are and all that we hope to be.

And we sit in this stadium with all these different t-shirts, and there was a time when I was zoned in on the words people wore. But now, I want to stop with all that and look at their faces instead. I want to see smile lines and wrinkles and piercings and eyelashes. People who, in the end, are just like me.

*

At the Chris Tomlin concert it’s late and I’m tired, and this is not the kind of concert I go to. But he starts singing an old hymn, and I’m singing too, and I feel it all the way through.

I am one of the broken and beloved, and I have been all this time looking for an anthem. And the one we are singing is grace.

Anywhere, Anything: On Worship and Hyperbole

Photo by. Lucindy Garcia @ CreationSwap.com
Photo by. Lucindy Garcia @ CreationSwap.com

Sometimes on Sunday morning our worship team does the song Burn for You by Steve Fee, and it suddenly feels hard to be there.

I have a tentative relationship with my church anyway, but when they start singing this song, it’s hard for me to stay in that dark room with all the drumming and the lights and the raised hands and promises.

It’s a song with a lot of fire imagery and power words. There’s a fire in my bones, uncontainable, and it’s causing me to burn for You.

As a person who has burned for Jesus, who has been burned, who knows the destructive nature of fire as well as the cold absence of it, this is a loaded metaphor for me to begin with.

And then you get to the chorus:

I’ll go anywhere
I’ll do anything
At any cost for you my King

And I have to sit down in my seat so that I can’t see the words. I have to fold up into my own smallness and remind myself that I don’t have to earn the love of God.

*

It makes me think of that Bruno Mars song that the pop radio stations had on all the time a couple of months ago. The one with the chorus that promises:

I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya

It’s a song that annoys me for a couple of reason, the first of which is the word “ya.”

But also, it’s the audacity of those claims. The arrogance of them. The vague, unlikely promises that are easy to make, as chances are, no one will ever lob a grenade at her head.

When that song comes on the radio, I get irritable and start asking questions to my radio. Would ya do the dishes for her? Would ya change the dirty diapers for her? Pick up a box of tampons for her? Get up in the night with a crying baby for her? Would ya Bruno?

Would you listen? Would you stay if she failed you in the most unimaginable, heartbreaking way? Would you go to marriage counseling and sit there on the couch holding her hand, answering the hard questions? Would you do the work of forgiving, the work of being forgiven, in that moment where it would be easier to give up?

Because that’s love: not the proud vow that you would die for her if it came to that, but a hundred thousand little deaths that somehow add up to Life.

But, you know, who wants to sing about that?

*

The problem with hyperbole, with lofty promises, is that life is not lived in the grand gesture.

I have seen enough of my own dark heart to know that even though I might desperately want to believe that I’d do anything for God, go anywhere for Him, give up anything he asked of me, there is a breaking point for me.

I have been to the place where he has been silent and he has asked me to trust him anyway, and I couldn’t do it. I have been to the place where I have been lonely and hurt and instead of choosing faith, I chose tequila and denial and loud cynical anger.

Every day, I come to tiny little crossroads, places where I know what God wants from me and where I choose the exact opposite. Anger instead of love. Gossip instead of restraint. Bitterness instead of forgiveness.

So when they sing the song at church, I sit, because for me, it would be a lie. I sit and I try to remember that the God I believe in has already lived the hyperbole. He loves me to the ends of the earth, as far as East is from West, to the moon and back.

I believe that he pierced himself on the blade of my anger and sin and brokenness. That he gave it all and was not destroyed. That he loves me just the same, even when I fail miserably at loving him back.

*

I am trying this new thing.

Instead of promising God anything and anywhere and any cost, I am trying to stop in the moment and ask him. “What would you have me do here?”

I tried it at three in the morning when my son woke up whiny and needy and making demands like a little terrorist.

When he told me to put his blanky on his tummy and his sheet on his feet and his lion toy in a very particular spot on his pillow (NO, Mom. Not there. THERE!), I sucked in a breath, asked God my question, and heard the answer. Love.

When he screamed for me to come back and GET HIM A FRESH PULL-UP, I rallied, listened. Chose love one more time.

When he went into full meltdown mode ten minutes later because he wanted his turtle, a small plastic toy that could be buried at the bottom of any one of the 18 boxes of toys in my living room, I heard God say love, love, love, love, love, and I said, All out of love, God.

And then I went into Crazy Mode and shouted DANE. IT IS FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING! MOMMY IS ANGRY! And I called him a little shit under my breath while I went stomping into his bedroom to deal with the situation.

We try and try and then we fail. We cannot do the big things or the even little things, and God is well aware of it. In my failure, I am enough for him, and in my victory, I am enough for him too.

God’s love is big and small, more extreme than the greatest hyperbole, more concrete than the tiniest need. And wide enough to cover all of it.

When “Worship Service” looks like a Festival

Worship Service: Synonym for church service.

Welcome: We leave for the Festival of Faith and Writing at five in the morning, coffee, coffee, coffee as we slip through pre-rush-hour Chicago and into Michigan farmland and sunrise. We talk the whole way there, even when it’s much too early for that.

The last time I came to this conference was 2006. I was fresh from that year in China, taking my first MFA class, wading back into my own writer’s soul. Since then, I have accumulated: two babies, a deep wrinkle between my eyebrows, a diploma, this blog, stretch marks, and a sheaf of papers that I call a manuscript.

When we pull up to campus, everything looks exactly as I remember it: sun-dappled and lovely, tulips tall in the soil. The girls in the green Festival t-shirts look young to me as they hand me my name tag and the thick conference schedule. Welcome, they say in their sweet, college-girl voices, and it begins.

Call to Worship: It’s okay, here, if your way to God involves a pen, paper, poetry. If someone is sitting in a sunbeam with her notebook, she is left graciously alone.

The language, the poetry, the tables of books, the quiet writers filing off toward various sessions: it’s a holy landscape, God-soaked ground. We leave each other alone to take our shoes off, to kneel, to write.

Greet Your Neighbor: I begin to see them everywhere: my people. The ones who write in this pocket of the internet about their own faith in ways that speak to my soul.

First: Ed and Steph sitting on the edge of the fireplace; then, one by one, the others. Kristin and Suzannah. Dave at the Antler booth, who is tall and excited and looks like Seth Rogan. Micha, who shows up unexpectedly in the women’s bathroom: an awkward place for that first can’t-believe-I-get-to-meet-you hug.

They look like I imagined them, and also not like I imagined them. Height, for example, cannot be communicated through Twitter avatars, and neither can the beautiful complexity of a face. You can capture many things in a picture, but not recognition. Not love. Slowly online friendships are incarnated: face-to-face, hand-to-hand.

Sermon: The list of speakers is compelling, each session written in a way that makes you feel it might be essential for your soul. You make impossible choices between good and good and great.

They are speaking about a number of things, but at the heart of it, they are all speaking about that deep, mysterious place where faith and writing intersection. They are throwing the whole complex writing process into the stark relief of God’s beauty, and we are bent over our notebooks, scribbling it down as fast as they can say it.

Their voices are distinct and wonderful. The poet farmer with the bestselling book. The old skinny guy with the long, silver ponytail. That social justice spokesman with his homemade clothing and his waist-length dreadlocks. Poets and memoirists and everyone in between, and there is a place at the table for all of us.

And the women! They are beautiful, smart. They say things like, Good News requires a new language. (Ann Voskamp) They say things like, Learn to hear the call of the moment. (Marilyn McEntyre) No one questions their right to speak, to teach men and women together. We are instead at the edge of our seats, waiting, pens poised for what they’ll say next.

Communion: There are tables at restaurants all overGrand Rapids, and we sit around them. Over wine and root chips, I get to know my blogging friends. They ask, “What are you working on?” They ask, “How can we support you?”

I talk with strangers about art and excellence in the loud upstairs of a noisy bar; there’s a quiet morning cup of coffee with a beautiful new friend in a coffee shop. They are my people, my tribe. I speak my heart aloud, and they understand.

We are passing the flatbread pizza from one to another. The fireplace throws warmth and light over us, and outside the rain falls, and I am happy down to the very bottom of my soul.

Response: The man at the literary magazine booth has a poem—a song—both…he can’t decide, but he knows it’s from God. He fingers the glossy covers of the books as he says it.

I am wandering this room also because of my book, my manuscript. I am trying to be brave, handing out business cards, trying to say with confidence the things I don’t truly believe about myself.

We are a thousand different writers. We hear the voice of God and we respond to it on a million pieces of paper. It is its own kind of worship to create your very best thing and then throw it out in faith again and again. It shatters, you remake it. You are rejected, you get up again.

And in all this breaking and breaking and breaking, hopefully you come away with something like beauty, art, offering.

Benediction: We leave the Festival at three in the afternoon so that she can catch her flight. We talk. We are silent. We talk. We are silent. We are processing, full to the brim.

The quiet fields disappear into city, and we merge quietly into life.

^
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