Friday, December 25, 2015

A Star Wars Post

When I was a kid some well meaning Christian published a book called "The Force of Star Wars." The idea was to lead the reader past the rather lame religion espoused by the Jedi in the movie (not lame? Good and Evil in balance? What an idea. Nuff said.) on to an awareness to the Person from whom all power originates. I'm not sure how effective the book was. And I'm sure I don't want to try the same.

But I had an experience at this last Star Wars movie that might be useful to someone. Without venturing into spoiler-land I'll try to describe the scene. It's essentially the final duel. In the middle the young and emerging good character is given the obligatory offer: "Come with me and I'll teach of the ways of the Force." This was really the wrong thing to say. Our hero is suddenly aware of this thing that she has only recently begun to experience and all because the villain made the ill-considered offer to remind her. Of course that was the turning point.

But what happened certainly had some commonality with something I know about. She takes a breath, relaxes, and reminds herself what the Force really is. And suddenly the Force is all around her, guiding her and backing her up. And I went, "hey!" Cause that's where I go if I'm called on to pray for healing.

Admittedly, I wish more people would get healed when I pray for them. But I've got to say I love that moment when I remember (I mean really remember) who God really is...

(Disclaimer: this is my first post ever from just cell phone. Editorial quality may have suffered)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Smoking Gun

Premise: There are no original, universal or authoritative churches. There have only ever been indigenous culturally unique churches. Anyone who has moved from one church to another on the understanding that they have now found the one true church has been mistaken or worse, swindled.

Support for this view of Church history is comparatively easy to find. There are two such churches reported in the book of Acts, namely the Jewish church of Jerusalem, and the much larger Graeco-Roman (or simply Roman) Gentile church of the rest of the known world. From the beginning, these churches were equal but different. And the leaders at Jerusalem seemed to grasp this intuitively. When presented with the issue of Gentile believers, they did not talk as overlords with new subjects but as a first daughter, who has discovered she has a sister -- "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also." When asked for a ruling on whether the Gentiles were to be subjected to strict Jewish observances, the answer was a simple "No: why should they be subject to our laws?"

Over time it's evident that this collegiality between indigenous churches was forgotten. The Roman church started to view itself as Mother (note the capital M) instead of second sister. It's a cultural thing. Rome was big and pervasive. It was only natural that her indigenous church should think of herself the same way.

But she soon was not so universal anymore -- although she kept up the illusion to herself. Sure, her elder sister, the indigenous Jewish church, the same that had welcomed her as an equal, died off so she was able to claim successor-ship to her with no dissenting voices. But her Roman-ness, which drove her to organize and legislate and rule so assiduously, managed at length to alienate and spin off two other indigenous churches, namely the Assyrians and the Egyptians (Coptics) which are here to this day. And finally there was a territorial split so even the great Roman church became two. East and West.

Still, ironically, to this day both of the branches of the Roman Church maintain the idea that they are the true Mother Church and all true followers of Christ will be brought into their fold.

You'd think someone might have listened after the so-called Reformation. It wasn't a reformation really, it was a re-indigenization. Germans now had a German church, Scots had a Scottish church, the Swiss had a Swiss church, etc. Most of Europe, coming out into self-awareness from under the pervasive influence of the Roman universal ideal (kept alive by the Western Roman church) decided it was time to make their own choices about how and why to worship.

Unfortunately the Roman Church did not follow the same model as was laid out for them by their late sister. The Jewish Church had acknowledged the second sister as originating from God --"God has granted..." The Roman Church had a different idea, namely Succession: "If you aren't authorized by us who have been authorized by those in the past, you are not connected with the original church and therefore not really a church." So there was no welcoming of the new sisters, but condemnation for leaving the "original" church. Funny thing is, they had never been the original church.

Which brings us to the title of the post. What's the "smoking gun?" Quite simply, I'm looking for evidence that the Roman church is not the original church as they claim. And I believe that I have found it. Woven into the fabric of their teaching is something so ethnically Roman, so orthogonal to the general message of the Gospel, that they are exposed as just another sister or rather two sisters among many. All of us have cultural foibles which don't translate well into other cultures. To cling to such foibles marks you out as indigenous, not universal. And both branches of the Roman church have at least one such foible. The smoking gun to which I refer is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

Forget the argument over proof texts (Jesus had "brothers" -- no, the word is broad enough to mean "cousins," etc.). The burden of proof lies with the barest plausibility that a Jewish woman would even engage in virginal celibacy for the whole of her married existence. And there isn't any. Virginity and celibacy linked with religious observance just isn't a Jewish ideal. But it is a Roman ideal. The Romans had an priestly order of virgins guarding the flame of the goddess Vesta in Rome. And on the Greek side, there was a view that sex itself was evil, that necessary though it is, the act itself debases us. Put those together and you have a need to keep this emerging demi-goddess (I admit that's a worst-case version of sainthood) from ever having been stained herself this way-- a need to stretch the story past the unique birth of Jesus to lift her preternaturally high above the ordinary.

But even the maturing Roman church couldn't square the idea that Mary would, all on her own, have chosen this un-Jewish mode of being, so with all the industriousness of a Marvel screenwriter they created a backstory (it's called the Proto-Evangelium of James) to include the existence of an order of virgins at the Temple in Jerusalem, of which Mary was some time part. But it's a pure invention (actually, I am told the current word is retcon -- Retroactive Continuity). Ask any Rabbi; I've followed several such conversations on the web. There was no such order. It is precisely what it looks like. A order of quasi-vestals at the Jerusalem Temple fulfils a purely cultural need to impute perpetual virginity to Mary. And I submit to you that any church that entrenches such a mono-cultural need is not, and cannot be, the Mother of us all. Entrenching culture in your worship of God is an indigenous thing, not a universal thing. We all do it and so do you. You (actually both of you) are our sister not our Mother. Welcome home, to the sisterhood of indigenous churches.

I could leave it right there, but I won't. There are critiques arising from this paradigm of church history that need to be voiced. One, I've already alluded to. Namely if you have joined the Catholics or the Orthodox because they are the original church, you have erred. The original church worshipped in synagogues and did and believed things very different than you do. You joined your church, hopefully, because something about them appealed to you. You wanted to join-- you were not forced by realizing the truth of their claims. Unfortunately, to join, you had to also agree with them that they are Mother Church and so semi-shut the door on the rest of us.

Secondly, adopting all the early writings of the early Roman Church, and giving them a semi-authoritative place, calling them Patristic and viewing them as seminal for all churches is questionable. Returning to them as more true to the original design and appealing to them for support for your paradigm is not as valid as it is advertised to be. If you think they said something better, quote it and agree with it. But don't lean on it, saying that your view is more Patristic and therefore better. We're all seeking for the truth together and time and space don't matter. These are the writings of one of many equal sisters. Others have found different solutions to the same problems and though you may not like their solutions, don't play one sister against another.

Finally, presently, we are seeing tectonic shifts in how we view the Bible and the Atonement, and seemingly a host of other issues. I submit to you, though, that these shifts are not a final revelation of the truth or any such thing. They are simply a new culture asserting itself in the church and asking questions that didn't occur to other earlier cultures and getting answers that those earlier cultures don't like. The fact that both sides of an issue don't like each others' conclusions is more a comment on their starting place, which in each case is very different. Speaking as one who is sometimes of the former set, I'll try not to point fingers at you and say that you've strayed if you agree not to point fingers back at us and say how wrong we've always been. There are questions arising from my culture that are answered better by my conclusions, questions that are apparently not as important to you in your culture. Given enough time, there'll be other shifts that will bug you just as much.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The impoverishment of the Father idea.

It's become a popular thing to remind people over and over that God is first and foremost, a loving Father. The object seems to be to distance the speaker from the judgmentalism and legalism (so distasteful) of the past and  welcome them into the non- condemning now. And how could I disagree with such a statement? I don't. But when Jesus introduced the idea, it had a context that we are now missing. Those to whom God was first revealed as Father, were already very cognizant of him as Creator, Judge and King. It's those other essential roles, so faint in the current picture people want to paint, that make his offer of Fatherhood so precious. He's under no obligation to be father to us. It may be in his nature, but like the returning prodigal, it's not our place to presume on that. Yes, once welcomed in, we would do well to humbly receive the robe, ring, sandals and fatted calf he lavishes on us. Continuing in condemnation is so obviously not his program for us. But forgetting what else he is besides Father is liable to cause us to lose the intended eternality of gratitude due him.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Zahnd, Brown and Bernoulli

Sunday night (on to Labour Day Monday, you'll understand) I stayed up rather late (2:00 AM: yes, it was that good) to watch this. It was most instructive. On one side you have Brian Zahnd, proposing a view of the atonement that is either novel or a return to earlier ideas, depending on your perspective, and on the other side you have Michael Brown rebutting that with a view that is either traditional or a Calvinist innovation, again depending on your perspective.

Really, I found myself in sympathy with both views, which supports my idea that all such debates are rooted in different sets of cultural values that the Christ event can legitimately be viewed through and, if it results in the viewer following Jesus, be equally valid. (And yes, I admit there is a bit of hubris involved in watching a debate and declaring myself the winner.)

Monday morning found me running as usual. On one of the legs of my journey, there was before me an upside down styrofoam plate with rounded sections for different parts of the meal. And I imagined a wind blowing over it and sucking it up into the air in the manner of an airplane's wing. And suddenly it came to me what a parable it was for the debate I had just watched.

It's like this. Every child (in my country) with some science training is aware of the operation of Bernoulli's principle upon the shape of an airplane's wing. The classic diagram is a cross section of the wing showing the air above being forced to travel faster than the air below, and based on that differential and the resulting differential in air pressure, lift occurs. The plane is literally sucked into the air. But is it? Actually Bernoulli's principle accounts for only a percentage of the lift. Most of the lift comes from the air deflecting off the bottom of the wing as it tilts slightly upward against the air rushing past as the thrust from propeller pulls the plane forward. That's called "angle of attack."

So which is it? "Bernoulli's Principle" or "Angle of Attack?" Well the story is not complete without either. The plane doesn't generate enough lift without both. But the thing flies nonetheless. So with theories of the atonement. Somehow, no story is really complete. And from one side of the wing, so to speak, you feel that yours is the only story and every other story is an offence. But if you can manage to try the other side there's a whole new paradigm awaiting your arrival. But ultimately, no matter how it works, it really does work.

Friday, June 12, 2015

In Love with Love


The Church is struggling to have a voice in this increasingly strange world. I get that. Morally, we are very unsure of our message. People have great difficulty with being told what is moral or righteous and being measured against a standard of morality. We in the Church, on the other hand, are not as sure of what is right and wrong any more. It used to be so obvious. Things that used to be right are now wrong and things that used to be wrong are a matter of someone's rights. The difficult events in the Old Testament have become more difficult. What we used to look on with "There but for the grace of God, go I." we now condemn as genocide. God used to be understood to know best in these things. Now we want to distance ourselves from the idea of God who, at need, punishes whole nations.

I think there is a reason for this confusing state of things. I think we've gone out on a limb for the word "Love." We've made a God out of "God is Love." We've drunk the Kool-aid of our own marketing. Contemporary worship songs are symptomatic. Over Easter, I heard one that described Jesus' resurrection as some kind exertion of Love. What happened to the triumph of Life over Death? What happened to the triumph of Righteousness over Sin? I guess that kind of thing is passe.

But who is going to speak against Love? It's the ultimate Motherhood-and-Apple-Pie issue. And tagged to this present out-of-focus focus is another biblical catchphrase, "God is light and in him is no darkness at all." And we've brought to the table our contemporary ideas of what constitutes darkness and said "God can't be that." We've forgotten that sometimes, light burns. It used to be that we would look at the difficult parts of the Old Testament and say, "God knows best."and walk away with a healthy fear of God -- which Proverbs tells us is the beginning of [true] wisdom. Now we judge everything we read -- and say that it all must have been based on a distorted view of God and walk away without any moral compass at all.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Re-Discovery?

Lots of noise is being made these days about the Church rediscovering the truth about the atonement, about the faith, about the nature of God. I've made noises earlier in this blog about the magic word "Patristic" and how it seems to be used as a golden ticket to selling your views especially when presented over against a more recent view. After all it's Patristic...

But I'd like to take a bit of a swing at the whole rediscovery thing. And the first thing to be made clear is that this is not like the story in Kings, where the Book of the Law had been lost and now it has been found again. This is one view, expressed chronologically earlier than another view expressed more recently. The assumption that that the one marketed to is expected to take on board is that the earlier view is 'of course' right because it's earlier and the later 'of course' wrong because it's later. But it all depends on how you tell the story. One way is to say that this was lost early on and now, thank God we've found it. The other way is to say that our understanding is now evolved and the newer idea has superseded the old. Can you see the problem? There's no way to tell which is the true tale. Which means no re-discovery has taken place. We've merely found something we like better than what we had. And we're willing to depend on a bad sales job, namely, what C.S.Lewis used to call chronological snobbery, to assure ourselves that it's the right one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Unpopular Jesus

Much is being made these days of Jesus words, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father." And the thrust of this always seems to be a repudiation of the Old Testament view of God. Now I believe I've blogged this elsewhere, but I think it bears repeating, that if you don't have the Old Testament, you don't have Jesus. His ministry and Messiahship are rooted in and validated by the Old Testament. There's been a change after Jesus' coming, no doubt. But whatever we learn of God from Jesus gets integrated into the whole of what the Old Testament teaches, and does not cancel it out because if the God of the Old Testament is false, then he can't bring forth the Christ. But that is not what this post will be about. I think that there are enough examples in the Gospels themselves that amply demonstrate that God as revealed in Jesus still carries with him the unpopular traits that the church these days finds so embarrassing, but without which he is truly the 'tame lion' alluded to by C.S.Lewis.

Jesus the Law Giver

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a go at the law. And in every case, he validates the existing Law by strengthening it. Everything is now not merely about action, but motivation. This is very significant. By strengthening the law, he makes the offence against the law a much bigger deal than it ever was. When we examine our actions, we might say they're better than someone else's, but when we look at our motivations we are rightly ashamed.

Jesus the Severe

Examine how Jesus speaks to those he admonishes. Frequently he warns of extreme consequences if his words are not heeded. "Whoever denies me... I will deny..." "It will be more bearable for the region of Sodom than for you." He does it with a wonderfully unadorned style. He's not portrayed as rageful. But the consequences remain and are spoken of frequently. Even more significant are the God-figures in his parables. Kinglike, they bless the good and just and severely punish the evildoer.

Jesus the Judge

Much is made, and rightly so, of the tempering of justice with mercy. The converse is also true. Jesus freely admits that the people he calls are sinners, even while he implies that the righteous are worse off because they are not being called. But while we recognize the reversal -- the righteous are not actually righteous because they deny their need -- let's not forget that the ones who come are acknowledged as sinners, that is, those deserving punishment, to whom the offer of mercy is actually meaningful.

Jesus the Descriminator

"Not everyone, who says to me Lord, Lord..." "The knowledge of the Kingdom of God has been given to you but not to them." "Depart from me, I never knew you." These are just three examples of a theme that no one likes exploring, because it makes us terribly nervous, but that is throughout all the Gospels. The idea is that in end some won't be in after all. They might think they are just great, but they will have been deceived. Ow.

Jesus who calls it as he sees it.

Look at how Jesus treats his own friend Peter. "Are you still so foolish?" "Get behind me Satan" etc. There are obviously times of no mincing of words, no gentle remonstrance. Are we open to being talked to like this? Even more cutting language is levelled against religious leaders. (try the choice phrase "twice as much a child of hell as you" about the Pharisee's disciples.)

Jesus the Inscrutable

Sometimes Jesus does things that would tend to offend us -- with no explanation. Why did he curse that fig tree? In the narrative, no real explanation is given.

etc.

One of the prophecies (Isaiah 11) about Jesus says that he will delight in the fear of the Lord. I think that we need, even while we strengthen the message of God's love for us, to recognize that we are still in the presence of one who has every right to treat us severely and even harshly if he deems it necessary. As he extends love to us, let us receive it gladly because he has not "treated us as our sins deserve." Let us not try to sugar coat either our situation or God's righteous judgement. If we truly believe that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father, then we must be willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable parts of the Father that Jesus reveals along with the parts that bring us relief.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Failure of Radicalism in the Church

I don't know about you, but I think that the effort of the primitive church to recreate Old Testament religion is nothing short of monumental. To read some of the New Testament, especially the Gospels and -- what I am starting to think of as part of the Gospels because it's from them that Jesus' Messiahship receives validity -- the Messianic prophecies, you might get the view that everything was now changed. The Spirit was to be our guide because the Laws of God were to be written on our hearts, we were all to be equal, the temple worship was to be subsumed into our new communion with the Father through the resurrected Christ, and the works of Jesus would be a commonplace (though revered) occurrence among us, because Christ's "not of this world" kingdom is breaking into our present reality. But their legacy is quite different.

For any number of reasons we now inherit the following: a new Torah and Talmud -- the Canon, Patristic writings and Canon Law, -- a hierarchy of priests, temples and ceremony and a varying experience of the miraculous, where either in their lifetime or after, those who experience the miraculous are considered more meritorious -- to the point of sainthood-- than the unwashed masses or written off as frauds, depending on your tradition. The pinnacle of this recreation of the Old Testament world was of course the unexpected success in the political arena. This not-of-this-world kingdom now could bask in the patronage of, exult in the new ability to influence, and languish under the equal and opposite force of control of the most powerful administration on earth. I'm sure they found it addicting.

The whole process looks very much like a slow motion sell-out, which is of course, not quite fair. The big picture that I am gleaning from the New Testament, especially from the Gospels, just wasn't at the fingertips of those who were doing the original work of spreading the word. Much of the material just hadn't been written yet and after it was, it took some time to disseminate. The hierarchical models of Church polity were what they had at hand. It was culturally relevant. Who can fault them for starting that way? But their successors should maybe have pondered Jesus' words in Matthew 23 which shout 'Equality!' or those so ready to excommunicate based on doctrine might have spent some time with John 14 where Jesus us gives the idea that "in" or "out" is dependent rather on obedience. Already ingrained practices could have been reworked. Instead, the practices remained and the words of Jesus ignored or explained away.

And the emphasis seems to have been on regimentation and control. After all, the government was now involved. Issues might have headlined like "Who's in and who's out,"  "Cornering the market on Grace,"  "Creating a new Torah" -- which was done mostly out of letters addressed by one us to specific groups of us suddenly pressed into service as letters by God to all of us. And the New Testament was highly important as doctrine and heresy increasingly came into the centre stage. If tenets of belief determine in and out, we must have a document to base the correct tenets of belief. So the church congratulated itself on the excision of the Nestorians and the Arians etc. And as time progressed, this church of "all brothers with only one Father" transformed into a hierarchy centered around increasingly arcane and intricate ceremonies which now could only be performed by clergy (those higher up in in the higher-archy) in beautiful temples. Nobody asked what had happened to the simple meal it was based on.

By the time of the Reformation, some were crying foul. The simplicity of Jesus' teachings had so obviously been traded for intricacy and convolution. Some kind of radical rework was necessary. And so the reformed church and the free church were born. Results varied, but the intent was the same, that being an attempted return to what the church once was or ought to have been.

Fast-forward to today. There is now a movement to return to the church that the reformers left, or if not that church, the eastern version of the same, all in the name of coming home to the true inheritors of the primitive church. It's an ongoing event that continues to trouble me. After all, the reasons we left haven't gone away. Worship and polity in these churches are still entirely unlike and largely impossible to derive from anything in Jesus' teachings or practice and what does correspond seems hopelessly embellished. (The same charge could be levelled against us that what we do is not very like Jesus' ministry. The only difference is that we don't view our ceremony as vital to salvation itself.) But the underlying reason for this re-exodus must be that the radicalism of the reformation has failed. Five hundred years or so later, we are in essentials the same as that which we left -- we're just a poor imitation. We kept the new Torah and built up our own Talmud around it. We've replaced images and symbols and icons with well, actually, more images and symbols and icons and... preaching, lots of preaching. Eventually one wants something different. And the claim of the 'ancient' churches to being the original, true, version of the church is hard for some to refute.

So where did we go wrong? I think it's a failure to recognize that keeping the new Torah as that which all truth must be built upon was a mistake. No, I'm not throwing out the New Testament. I'm just wanting us to recognize a few things about it. Firstly, it was written not by those somehow above us, but our equals (see Matthew 23). Secondly, there's no doubt about its inspiration (read it!) but this is the Church. Inspiration ideally abounds among us. To look back and say this is the only inspired writing is surely an offence against the promise of the Spirit's presence. It's akin to other cessationist positions, exalting the past over the present in despair, ignoring the picture of the ever more victorious church that Jesus paints with his allusion to 'greater works.' I would like to reform the Bible to include in the New Testament an index of ALL Christian writings that follow -- as a way of recognizing that the Spirit has not stopped communicating and that all Christians are part of the conversation. Thirdly, we need to have the simple right to disagree or at least take a grain of salt with some of what we read as we already do with other teachers and leaders today. The male chauvinism of some passages for example, is ingrained in the culture of the writer, and we need not spend the monumental effort some have spent to explain it away in the name of preserving the "inerrant Word of God." We have to realize that what is today, is more of the same of what used to be. The early apostles were not qualitatively different than we are. We sometimes make inspired statements which have a certain slant and so did they. Therefore, to forever use their words as the only starting point of our theology is a mistake. I think only Jesus' own words have that place.

I also think that we erred in carrying on the practise of judging "in" or "out" based on theology. An atheist sacrificing to do right by those for whom he is responsible might be closer to God than an idler whose theology is impeccable because the atheist is actually doing. According to Jesus, actions, not theory, are central. But for us, theology is the in or out determinator. Those leaving for the 'ancient' churches have been conditioned to put themselves in and others out by dint of their choice of theology. And now some cannot even take communion with brothers and sisters with whom they have previously laboured side by side in the kingdom of God. We can't blame them for such foolishness. It was taught them by the churches they are leaving. But is there not room for many different takes on the Christ event? And I mean takes that need not use the Epistles as a lens for the Gospels, but that look at the Gospels themselves first. Can we not take our equal place along side the apostle Paul, who, just like us, wasn't there to travel with Jesus on the roads of Palestine and see him die? Can we not, like him, gaze on the event and inspiredly speak of its meaning? And still not deprecate and denigrate other brothers and sisters who see other meanings..?

And where ought our radicalism have taken us? Well actually, our birthright is being where John the apostle spent the Last Supper. As close to Jesus as we can get. Intricate ceremony is to celebrate that which is distant. Formula, symbols and symbolism are of that which is barely accessible. Contemplation is about that which is not here. And the need for interaction with other mediators, such as priests and saints emphasizes how far we have strayed. But Jesus said he is with us always, and that we his sheep, hear his voice. What could be simpler, until our perception is that he's not and we don't? That's when it gets complicated. That's when you resort to ceremony.

The mistake that we of the reformation churches make is that we are free from all that. We're not. The church outside of revival must always eventually fall back into formula, until we "humble ourselves and pray" and he "hears from heaven." But now our formulae are tainted with the commercialism of the worship music industry and the book tables of the conference circuit. Can you blame someone for making the mistake of searching out other formulae? (I say "mistake" because really, it should be obvious that a change in formulae cannot possibly be the answer.) Especially when they offer such apparent authenticity and what they've come from is now so lame?

If I had to think of a way out of this mess I'd say it's got to have something to do with simplicity. I think the most important theological statement anyone can espouse is found in that famous Hindi gospel song (and yes it was written in Hindi first!) "I have decided to follow Jesus... No turning back." And somewhere in the mix, revival must come. A sudden increase of God's presence would bring a clarity that we are missing just now. One can only hope...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guest Post: To worship band members

The following came to me in an email and I asked the sender if I could use it as a guest post.

Unless we've played together, you don't know me. And no, this isn't an American Express commercial. And that's okay.

By trade, I am a software developer. By passion I am a learning addict. My main interests are, well, everything but all that is by the by for the moment. By habit borne of talent, persistence and passion, I lead worship. I do so on my own in whatever home group I've joined, if it suits what the group does. I worship at church when I'm not part of the band, but I'm part of the band pretty often and willingly: in bands large and small, high-profile and unknown. And I've been doing this for 30 years and maybe a bit more. In that time, I've gotten more opinionated -- and perhaps, just perhaps my opinions have become slightly more worth sharing.

If you're involved in worship in a church setting, the key question you need to know the answer to is this: "Why are you there?" Worship leaders great and small -- especially the worship leader you serve under -- are ready to give many and diverse answers to that question, and in the words of Huckleberry Finn, they "tell the truth mostly." Still, if you're normal there'll always be this nagging doubt that the things they say are at least partially self-serving: they want to fix you in place, to serve their interests, to prop them up. Since the heart "is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who [even a worship leader] can know it?" there's just the possibility that that's the case. So, I thought perhaps there's some sense in me, that you'll probably never see in a pulpit -- certainly never headlining a band "coming soon to a stadium near you" -- outlining what I've come to see as answers to that question, true enough to make you as effective in that role as you can be; as Papa wants you to be, for his own sake, yes, but just as surely for your own.

You, indeed the whole band and the worship leader are there for one primary reason -- and it's one that a worship leader I served under a long time ago highlighted repeatedly: It's like John the Baptist said when his disciples were disgruntled that Jesus was gaining more followers than he was in John 3:30: "He must become greater, I must become less." How much more should I say than that? But I will say a bit more on this and a few more points.

Whatever you do, your goal should be to draw attention to Jesus' beauty, to his glory. Go ahead and play the best licks, riffs and vamps that you can manage -- within what works for the arrangement, more on this anon -- but do whatever virtuosity you can manage with the heart of a kindergartener bringing home his crayon drawings of "Daddy at work", and do it in such a way as to make focusing on Jesus and to make deeply expressing love, honour, awe, praise, thanksgiving, supplication toward him easier for everyone.

Some modicum of modesty is indicated (ask yourselves, sisters, what would your granny approve of?) but probably not the narrowest definition ever (we are under grace, not Torah or Shari`a) -- walk this one out as your conscience and local scruples balance out.

Some level of physical expression is probably a good idea: break dancers would be distracting in many settings but triumphal notes and rousing words, such as the repetitions of "There is no God but Jehovah" in Robin Mark's "Days of Elijah" becomes comical when the worship band is as animated as zombies. You can find some balancing point between those two extremes in your own setting, so do so; something appropriate to the lyrical and musical content of the song being used and the congregation you're serving.

Serving, yeah... That's not just a nice religious word, it's what you're doing. And if you're not leading worship with serving in mind, then you're probably heading off the rails soon if you aren't already in the ditch. Whom are you serving? Primarily God, of course, but in your context, the band is serving the congregation (or the individual leading in a homegroup is serving the, um, homegroup) and you as a member of the band are also serving the leader and your fellow team-mates. So, sniping is out. Competing for spots is out. Ignoring the arrangement the leader said he wanted to follow is out. Even, ignoring the arrangement the leader is actually using is out. If the music says "A major" but the leader keeps playing "A minor" in that one place, and you notice it, following the music too closely is out. Do what he/she says (or does, in a case like the wrong chord) or the result will be distracting from the primary purpose: corporate worship.

This extends, especially for the older and/or more educated and/or more skillful members of the band to further issues. Sometimes the arrangements suck. For whole sets. Sometimes the songs suck. It's what the congregation loves but you're finding it cheesier by the week. Sometimes the same lame chord progression is used for the whole song. Including the chorus; AND the bridge. Sometimes secondary key signatures are introduced in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. Sometimes the theology of the lyrics is weak -- even bordering on heretical. Like "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" implicitly denies the resurrection. Like why are we singing about absolution? We're not Catholics or anything -- and I'll bet they wouldn't even use the word that way. Like how do you "walk upon salvation"? Tim Hawkins has highlighted some lovelies here. Do yourself a favour and look for him on youtube -- all I can say is "I can only eat margarine."

So what do you do? Step one is not "I quit." In fact, "I quit" doesn't show up on the list of things to do at all. You know that saying about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear? That's what you get to do. At least, sort of. The truth is, no worship leader's arrangements, songs or set -- unless the worship leader is about to be sacked by others for other reasons -- is really a sow's ear. But even if it were, we're working in the Kingdom Dimension now and it is Jesus' promise that every gathering of two or more of his loved ones will be graced by his presence, not just those that feature a "perfect" song set. So if it all sucks, suck it up, princess, and play your best for the Audience of One, in support of the ones around you, so that they, too, will be able to do their best in the same endeavour. It may leave you cold. You may long for something better to happen. But in the meantime, the Body will be blessed and that's what the job's about. Remember point one? When Jesus becomes greater and we become less, that's when the Body is most blessed.

Sure the worship leader likes every song to start in the same ways (or in too different ways that seem to jar when you play the set). Sure there are rhythm and/or tuning problems but the best response from YOU in that situation is to stay loyal to Papa's side in the fight, which for that moment means pulling together with the ones you're serving with.

Your day to dictate what should happen will come -- or maybe not. And whether it does or not (as it really hasn't for me; probably never will) God will use you to extend his kingdom in big and small ways. And please believe that whatever reason others might have for saying that, I at least am not saying this to keep you down. I'm saying it because this set of attitudes has blessed and sustained ME in my in-again out-again, up-again down-again career as a volunteer member of worship bands wherever it has been my privilege to contribute. And I'm sure they will be of benefit to you even if you never hear me say it in person.

Sometimes you'll be involved on the platform -- or even in a homegroup -- more, sometimes less. And maybe the changes will happen because of the carnality of the worship leader, like David was delayed in getting to the throne by Saul. So be more like David than like his son Absalom -- Tale of Three Kings, there's another book that helps outline what kind of a heart you should have within a worship band. Only not just in a band but in life generally: see to it that you're more like David away from the platform, too. To put it another way, live like Brother Lawrence did (skillfully re-set by David Winter in "Closer Than a Brother" if the medieval sounding translation of "Practice of the Presence" is too crusty for you): Jesus' presence is available to all of us individually. Speak into the silence when no one else is listening and wait. Answers do come.

Be skillful; be as skillful as you can be -- don't short-circuit that for anyone. It takes just as much skill to play well one way as another. It takes another set of skills to select from your toolbox things you don't typically choose to do because the setting demands it. Wait and look for opportunities to contribute your ideas when arrangements and sets are being developed, sure. But be even surer that the worship leader you serve with is correctly confident that whatever he does, even if it veers away from what he or she said would be done, that you'll do your best to follow so as to make the result sound as good as possible: again, not for anyone's aggrandizement but so that there should be a minimum of confusion in what is played so that the attention goes where it belongs: our beloved bridegroom.

There. Now I'll be like the rich man in James and "fade away, even while I go about my business..."