Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rant

When did it become illegal to expect a lot out of people? When did it become even more illegal to expect a lot out of yourself? I'm asking because I'd really like to know.

I'm having a hard time at the church. Recently, I started choir rehearsals again for the Fall semester. And, in that time I've been told that I'm way too hard on the choir. That I expect way too much out of people. And that I'm no fun.

I've been told all of these things before, but I have reserved myself to the opinion that I have a passion. I believe in choral music. I believe that it creates community. I believe that it can be spiritual as well as fun. I believe that singing in a choir requires discipline and focused effort.

I try making this clear, but it doesn't seem to stick. I was asked very recently why I had to give the choir a handbook. In the handbook, I outline a very, VERY loose attendance plan. Basically, if you miss 8 rehearsals/performances, you'll be asked to leave the choir. Is this unreasonable? Out of the 16 rehearsals for the fall, I don't think that's asking too much. In fact, I would say, if you have missed 8 rehearsals, you should probably rethink where your commitment lies.

I don't have a problem with people having commitments elsewhere. I understand that there's family. There's soccer and piano lessons and archery and just plain "not wanting to go to church on a Wednesday." I understand these things. But is it too much to ask people to be accountable for these commitments? Apparently, it is.

When did it become easy to not commit or simple to not be accountable? When did that happen? I push myself to be the best musician I can be. Why? Because I believe that there should be a future for church choral music. How many of you can name one...just one religious piece of choral music that wasn't written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Okay, that's easy. How many of you can name 10?

And now, how many of you can name a single piece of classical choral music written in the 20th or 21st Centuries? Probably a lot fewer of you. Pop music and rock music have given way to really bad Christian rock and pop. Or my personal favorite, Christian rap. Will this music last? I can only hope it doesn't.

I don't believe in contemporary religious music. I don't think there is much worth in it. The Christian rock period is already coming to a close. A period filled with big praise bands and thoroughly boring praise choruses.

Along with the rise of contemporary Christian pop music came the demise of the church choir. Where did it go? It was run over by the drummers and electric guitarists. So now that contemporary Christian dreck is leaving us, we are left with a huge hole where church choir used to be. Those choirs are long gone.

I believe in keeping those choirs in tact and alive. That's why I push myself. That's why I require that other people that I work with on a volunteer basis strive to be the best they can be. Not because it glorifies me. But because if we make crappy music, that is one more reason to get rid of the already dying church choir. We recruit with excellence. We don't recruit because we have the most fun or give the best parties.

I'm sorry. It's been a tough day. It makes me want to scream or yell to the point that I can't do either anymore. Where is the commitment? Why can't we strive to be excellent? Why can't people want to be a part of something bigger than they are? And why....why do I have to spell out every chance I get, and defend myself because someone is offended because I handle things in a way they wouldn't?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

UNDER CONSTRUCTION


I just wanted to let everyone know (because I know you wanted to know) that this blog will be under construction until further notice. We are almost ready to launch our new church website, so I don't know if I'll be blogging here or elsewhere, but I will definitely keep you updated!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

At the church where I work we talk a lot about something Marcus Borg calls "thin places." This is where the ether of life becomes so thin that you can't help but to have a spiritual experience. This is a nice, left-wing, post-modern Christian way of saying this is when you feel God working in your presence.

I blogged yesterday about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I also was the devoter at yesterday's staff meeting. I usually think that these devotions are a waste of time. When I do devotions, I usually find some wacky holiday on the internet or on my multicultural calendar and talk about that.

Yesterday was different. I brought cookies to the meeting for my birthday, but I also talked about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I talked about my "thin place" that I had at the concert.

For me, I had a thin place during a song called "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Of course, you may know this one. It's the title of the MTC's latest CD and the arrangement they were singing (by Mack Wilberg, of course) is brand new. It's a moving piece of music.

The women sing unison, then in parts at the beginning. The orchestra plays an interlude and the men sing in 4-part harmony while creating a key change. The whole piece then comes together with the third verse begin repeated twice. The last time is a huge swell from the chorus and orchestra.

The last words of the hymn are "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above." This was very moving. Not in a complete break down, I'm crying in my seat kind of way. I would have just been embarassing myself sitting so closely to the people next to me. But I could tell that each of the 360 people in the choir and 110 people in the orchestra, as well as the (probably) 5,000 people in Wells Fargo Arena were all in the same place...their "thin place."

It was magical to say the least.

Question: When was the last time you experienced a "thin place" or knowing that God was there in your presence?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!


I must say that I have no idea what to write about today. I've thought long and with great strain about what to say about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I can't think of anything.


Don't get me wrong...they were superb. I can't think of a choir that can blend 300 voices together to create such beautiful music. But, as a musician myself, I can't think of anything to say other than that.


It bothers me in my line of work when people say, "Oh, your special music was pretty," or the stock compliment, "That was so great." I usually want to say, "Why?" Did it move you? Did you experience some sort of worship? I didn't really practice today, so I know it wasn't that great.


I can only say about the MTC that it was as close to perfect...musically...that I think you can get. The orchestra sounded great. The choir was spot on. But, then I can only ask myself, "Why?"


I spoke with my wife last night at dinner that we can't imagine rehearsals. But I can imagine it. I'm sure that these people (who are all volunteers, by the way) want to be in this choir. They WANT to be there. I'm sure they are quiet during rehearsals. I'm sure they sight read well, since they are an auditioned chorus.


Rehearsals probably come down to organization and planning. The director has to know what he wants to say and he probably has an army of a staff of people, as well as a team section leaders, that help him to do that.


The music they performed differed greatly. There were spirituals and folk tunes. There were masterworks and about 20 different arrangements of hymns by Mack Wilberg, their conductor. Each one was great. I have nothing bad to say about them.


I spoke to other people that were at the performance about production value. I told them that I don't think I could think on the scale that they do. But, then again, I think I could. There are 360 voices in the choir and 110 players in the orchestra. You have to figure that there are probably 100 volunteer tech people, who set up the stage, risers, orchestra seats, organ consul, sound and lights. Then there are the wardrobe people, the directors, the organists and the singers and players themselves.


In an article from the Des Moines Register, they state: "[the choir] chartered three jets and 11 buses this week for a Midwest tour." They also have an interview with a former Des Moines person where he says, "It just runs like a Swiss watch. Every single thing that you can possibly think of needing done, there's somebody who takes care of it," he said. "All you do here is show up and sing."


I could only wish for Swiss watch status in my job. How do they do it? I guess that's the better question for me to ask myself. "How?" not why did I think it was great.


hmmm... How did I think this performance was great?


Well, like I said, the production value was very high. I know that there is nothing perfect here on earth, and I know for a fact there is REALLY nothing perfect during a performance. There are always things going wrong, but to the audience that they were there to please, it appears to be perfect. It looks like everything is "working:" from the lights, to the singing, to the sound system, to the orchestra always following the conductor.


I think that's my answer and that's the what, how and why I thought the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was a wonderful experience. If you ever have the chance to see them...please do. It is worth it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finally Friday

I had every intention of posting this on Friday and completely forgot once I got to work! So, although it may appear that it's Saturday, just close your eyes and imagine it's Friday again.

Well, you can't close your eyes if you're going to read this. And you might not want to revisit your Friday if it wasn't the best day of the week. Hmmm...well, just think in the back of your mind that this post isn't late but that it has been mulled over and thought about for more than one day.

My week was pretty eventful. We had VBS this week: Sunday through Thursday. I was a helper in the craft room. It was a pretty good time. It was nice to take a break from being the "music guy" for a bit. My wife did the music with the kids, so that worked well.

I led two of the crafts: one was decorating a "rucksack" which is a simple canvas backpack. That one went pretty well. The kids used fabric markers to color all over their sacks. The 4th graders got to use puff paint, which wasn't so wonderful. We had to keep their sacks overnight to dry. I only mention that since we hadn't given them a craft to take home yet. All of them had been multi-process projects.

The second craft I led was the God's Eyes. That takes me back to sitting in an outdoor picnic shelter winding yarn around sticks. I don't know when the last time I made God's Eyes was, but that is how I remember it.

The craft, to me, was pretty simple. But telling the kids who had never done this before how to do it was quite difficult. It was hard to figure out how to communicate the steps without going too fast for them. It was a lesson for me, since that is usually what I have trouble with.

I didn't go to rehearsals for Hello Dolly this week and let me just say that it was liberating! I hadn't realized how stressed and angry those rehearsals made me. I knew they were bad and I knew that I wasn't sleeping because of them, but I have had many sleepfilled nights since I haven't been going!

I think I have to return next week, though.

Friday was a pretty eventful day and Saturday is shaping up to be the same. Friday I went to work and practiced with a kid for the Johnston Green Days celebration. There is a Bill Riley Talent Competition at the festival and I'm playing for a few kids I know from show choir.

Friday afternoon I sat at home, did some laundry, and worked on editing the Christmas program for this year. There were thunderstorms in the afternoon, which looked like they were going to put a damper on going to a charity Garden Party for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

The rain stopped, though, just in time to decide not to go to the Garden Party after all. This put me in a very bad mood. I wanted to go to the party, but my wife didn't seem to want to. Then after pressuring me to make the decision not to go, she was mad that we didn't. At least that is how I perceived the events.

So, instead we ate dinner at home and went to a movie. We saw "Year One." I would highly recommend this movie. It's a little slow at first, and you think, "This will only make me chuckle," but before long you are laughing hysterically at Jack Black and Michael Cera, both of whom are playing themselves. Jack Black talks too much and Michael Cera is the bumbling, nice (but effiminate) boy. It was a great picture.

Now I'm sitting at church, doing sound for a conference about old people. I had asked my sound people if they would be willing to work this day, but understandably, nobody wanted to work for free all day on a Saturday, which is turning out to be the nicest day this week (and by nice, I mean not dreadfully hot and rain-filled).

I also have the Green Days festival that I mentioned before to play for this afternoon and after that I'm heading to Redfield to play for another talent show. It will definitely be a busy day. I wish I had more time to spend doing nothing, but as the weekends have been going, that won't happen.

I forgot, we bought half price tickets for the opera this weekend. We are seeing "Tosca" on Sunday. I'm very excited. "Tosca" is one of my favorites, especially because of the Act I Finale. The chorus is singing a classic Te Deum while the action on the stage is dramatic and depressing. It's a beautiful moment in music and opera.

We actually got the tickets because we follow DMMO on Facebook. They advertised to their followers that they had the tickets and we snatched them up. We even get to sit the very good middle section. Any of the other sections are all to the side, so these are prime seats! I'm very excited.

It will be refreshing to have culture back in my life. Culture that I don't have to create and be a part of. I feel drained because of creating so much culture at the church. This will be a great opportunity to recharge my musical batteries.

I think it proper to mention that we were going to try and stick one more thing into this busy week and that is the home show up in Johnston. They were going to have fully decorated multi-million dollar homes open for the public to view, but unfortunately, I don't think we are going to be able to swing it.

I hope you have a nice weekend!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

Okay, gang. Here's the thought of the day:


My cousin has twins that turned 1 today. That's so exciting and it reminds me that my own birthday is coming up. I'll be 27 on June 23. Unfortunately, it's not my golden birthday. This week at bible school, three of the adult organizers had their birthdays all on the same day! It was quite remarkable. There were pounds and mounds of birthday sheet cake everywhere!!

My thought is that as you age you become wiser. You become more comfortable with yourself. You probably become a completely different person than when you were younger. Which, in my mind is probably a good thing since as a child you probably threw tantrums. You probably had to wear diapers. And you probably couldn't reach anything on top of the counter without the assistance of an adult, older sibling or the crafty use of a chair.

Groucho Marx once quipped, "Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough." And with that in mind I'll stop talking about aging. But, I will say that birthdays are a reminder that we can look back and either live with what we've done or look forward and think of what we can and have yet to do. I guess it's a personal choice, but I would like to choose the latter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reunion Time


I just nearly had a meltdown right here at work. I'm on Facebook and I get invited to join a group called "Lawson High School Class of 2000 - Reunion." I'm tearful just typing it. And don't be fooled...these are not tears of joy.


Yes, this next May will be 10 years since I graduated from high school. My class, being full of slacker-like people didn't do a 5-year reunion. I probably wouldn't have gone anyway, but then again, that was way before Facebook. A magical thing happened once Facebook came around: you can see who has 43 kids, who has gotten fatter than you, and who is still hanging around the town you're glad you're not in.


A little background: I HATED high school. I'm talented now...I was talented then. I didn't fit in. I'm a pretty serious person with serious ideas and that didn't fit in. I wasn't popular. I wasn't a partier. And, you guessed it: I wasn't a jock. I "played piano...not basketball." Yeah, having your mom say that really gets you on the fast track to popularity.
I had my very small group of friends and I feel confident that I could call either of those people (yes, that means there were two) and still hold a conversation.


I don't want to go back and see these people. Not the two friends I had...but all the rest of the people. I know...there's always the laughing at people who didn't do anything with their lives and there's - again -seeing who didn't escape the clutches of the tight Lawson society. But all-in-all...won't the whole experience just plain suck?


I dont' know.


I joined the Facebook group. People have already written on the wall that this "is soooo exciting!" There's always the option of not going to the reunion just as there was the option to not join the Facebook group...but then you end up being "that guy." You know the one..."I'm too good for you all and I don't want to have anything to do with you."


Well, I may think those things anyway.


I'm sure that this meltdown in a passing thing. Perhaps closer to the reunion time next year I feel such collegial pride that I can't help but to return to the ole stompin' grounds. Plus, ten years is a long time. Popular and unpopular don't matter much now and people, I'm sure, are different than they were then.


So, here's the class of 2000. You can cue that stupid Vitamin C song now. And, yes, just in case you were wondering, that was played by our valedictorian during her speech at commencement. Oh, what a grand time.


Question: What is your favorite memory of your most recent reunion?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

I don't really have anything to blog and I've thought about doing this for a few weeks. I'm not asking for comments on this or anything, but this is a passage from a book called Pathways to Peace. This book was left in my office...not specifically for me, but randomly on the shelf. I've read all of the sections in it many many times. Needless to say, it's a short book. In light of yesterday's shooting at the National Holocaust Museum, I found this selection very poignant:

The Talmud includes The Torah and is the primary and most ancient sacred text for Jews today. Its readings on Jewish life and beliefs were compiled over centuries and codified around 350 CE.

When man appears before the Throne of Judgment, the first question he is asked is not, "Have you believe in God," or "Have you prayed and performed ritual acts," but "Have you dealt honorably, faithfully in all your dealings with your fellowman?"

(Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Commercial Grade



Yesterday, my wife and I were part of another I-Cubs Concessions extravaganza. It was fun and busy. I couldn't believe how slowly time went, though and, as before, my legs and feet hurt A LOT after the game.




But, this post isn't about all that!




I wanted to talk about commercials. Yes, they are always in the way when you are watching your favorite TV show and they always seem to be on the radio during the morning drive to work instead of music.




Commercials, just by nature, are quite annoying. But, oh, how important they are! Commercials are what let us know that we need to run out and get a large Coke in the middle of "American Idol" and that our air conditioner isn't running correctly during the nightly viewing of "King of Queens."




The local commercials, like the air conditioning one, are always the best. Not because they are well made or that they have a useful message, but because, at least here in Des Moines, they all have the same male vocalist singing their terrible theme song. But, those terrible theme songs are so darn catchy.




Who can forget: "We obey the rules to live by...Golden Rule, plumbing, heating and cooling." Or everyone's favorite: "Savor the TASTE and dining exPERience, Cosi Cucina." There is also the Thrasher Service theme song and the Anchored Walls song. All of which are sung, presumably, by the same guy.




I can still remember, well, part of a theme song from local Kansas City TV growing up: "Call 'hmm...hmmm...hmm...hmm...hmmm...seven seven', anytime night or day." Okay, so I don't remember all of the telephone numbers, but I know the melody and it sticks in the brain. I can even see the little white repair men and black bird on the navy blue screen. I wonder if that is still a commercial today? It's a classic, so I'm sure it is.




A commercial that I particularly like on TV right now is one for Arby's. Two men, one dressed as a baker and the other as a mariachi guitar player, are running towards each other in a field. The message isn't the funny part to me, but the choice of song: "Oh, sweet mystery of life at last I found thee..." Which, as anyone knows, is a song featured in the classic funny movie "Young Frankenstein", which is one of my favorites! Therefore, I have a connection to the commercial and it makes me want a new Arby's Flatbread Mexican...thingy.




There is a humorous commercial on the radio that always makes me think of my sister...it's a parody of the drug commercial "I learned it by watching you." Except, this is a commercial for Burger King in which the Whopper Jr. is looking at old ads of the regular Whopper (his dad) from the closet. The ads say that the original Whopper was sold for "less than a buck" at one time, so why can't the Whopper Jr. do the same. The dialogue from the father saying, "How can you think that you can sell yourself for a buck, Whopper Jr.?" and the tag line being "I learned it by watching you."




Commercials are annoying and, as I said, usually in the way, but I'm sure you can list a few of your favorites off the top of your head and I'm even more sure you have jingles going around in your brain at certain times during the day.




Hey, if commercials weren't so popular or important, we probably wouldn't have TV shows dedicated to them at the end of ever year...counting down the best commercials of the year. We probably wouldn't go to a Super Bowl party "just for the game." And we certainly wouldn't know that we need a ketchup dripping, mayonnaise spurting quadruple thick burger from Hardee's (or Carl's Jr. for you non-Midwesterners) at 10:30 at night.




Question: What is your favorite commercial of all time?




Monday, June 8, 2009

Lazy Summer Days


When did summer become as busy as the "school year"? I would like to know! I was completely busy during...let's call it the programming year, and now that it's over, I find myself even busier now that it's summer.


Last summer I had just started my job and it seemed that I was very bored a lot at church. I didn't seem to have that much to do. I wish for those days! I don't mind being busy. It means my mind is active and, for the most part, I'm alert.


I took last week off from blogging because I had so much to do. So, for you followers, here's a quick recap of last week's happenings:


1. Hello Dolly! is still going. It still irritates me, but if I stick it out, perhaps in the future I can have a larger roll in the production, not that being repetiteur is small potatoes, but I would really like to get into directing sometime.


2. Meatless Monday was only halfsies last Monday. I was meat-filled for lunch because of time constraint and meatless for dinner. Today isn't looking so good either. BUT, after posting about it, I did get some nice comments and did look into the reason for Meatless Monday more. It makes sense to save some cows and greenhouse gasses.


3. I've had meetings out the wazzoo. Is that how you spell wazzoo? Is that even a word? Well, anyway...wazzoo or not, I've had a lot of them. I have a lot of them this week too. In fact, I have 3 today. One of which is the annual meeting for a choir that I briefly accompanied for this year. They are going to talk about disbanding because of lack of dollars. I'm kind of hoping they will. This may sound malicious, but I'm going to try to start a community chorus of my own and it would be great if I could get these people too. So...malicious...yes.


4. Church yesterday was okay. The service was pretty basic. The congregation was quite noisy at the beginning of the service. I'm not sure what that was about, but they were so noisy, it was to the point you couldn't hear the pastor over the sound system!


5. Movies: we rented "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" and another movie, that at the moment I can't remember, so obviously it wasn't memorable. Miss Pettigrew was a great movie and I would recommend it to anyone. There is nudity, so perhaps not children...but all in all the movie was very good.


6. Youth choir update...still only had two kids. One of them was different than the first week, but still only two. This makes me frustrated...but, two is better than none and this week I've been promised that I will have at least 4 if not 5 or 6. So, we stay positive and keep moving forward. As Dory says is "Finding Nemo" - "just keep swimming...swimming...swimming."


Well, I think that's the recap for the week. When I put it on the screen it doesn't seem like that much, but I guess when I have something going on every night it seems like a lot, especially if I'm missing SYTYCD.


I hope you have lazier summer days than this and get your fill of food, movies and tv. See you later!


Question: What's been keeping you busy this summer?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Go Cubbies!

I am at work WAAAAAY too late today. Why? Duh! I have to blog about my week!! I know you couldn't live your weekend to its fullest without knowing what I did alllll week long.

Well, I'll go backwards, just because I can remember better that way. Yesterday was a long day. I got to get up earlier than normal because I was helping out at an I-Cubs game for our senior high youth work trip.

As one of the big fund raisers, the senior high youth do concessions at the ball park. This was a completely new experience for me, but I have to say, although my legs and feet were KILLING me, I had a great time.

There weren't actually any youth there for this one because school is still going on, but I got to meet some of the youth's parents...people who I've never seen at church. I thought it was great that they were willing to take the day off and come and help out.

I worked at one of the registers. I had heard this was a slightly difficult job because you have to deal with people, but I'd also heard of burning disasters making hot dogs. So, not wanting to be forever tatooed with the shape of a hot dog on my arm, I chose to do the register. It was actually very enjoyable.

There were a lot of kids there...end of the year field trips, so the beer wasn't quite flying out of the tap, but the candy was! It's funny to see all the different kinds of people. I know...what a sheltered thing to say, but like I said, I hadn't worked at a baseball game before. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can count the number of baseball games I can remember going to on one hand.

So, we had to be at the ball park at 10 in the morning and the game started at noon and after clean up was done we didn't leave until 3:15. It was a long day on my feet. I was tired and just wanted to take a nap. Then my wife got home and the cat was hyper and the nap didn't happen. Instead we talked about our days...which I'm sure was much more interesting that sleeping.

After dinner I had a rehearsal with the big jazz band at church. We are doing a song called "Church on Fire." It's a real "hands to Jesus" sort of song. Of course, that won't be happening in the Methodist church, but I hope the congregation at least gets the song. The text is nice...about sharing love and showing your burning love for God. Plus, Sunday is Pentecost. What better day to talk about fire?

The rehearsal was a little rough. I'm nervous for Sunday. I pretty much lost my voice screaming over the playing to try and keep a tempo going. I'm sure it will work out and be fine. But, who knows!

As I blogged before, Wednesday night I had my first youth choir rehearsal. I had mixed feelings about the outcome. I had two girls, both sang alto. I was excited because two is more than zero, but I was disappointed because it was just two.

Hmmm...

I know of two boys that will be joining this next week that just couldn't be there last week, so that will give us four. I'm hoping to send out a note with a little bribery for coming to the next rehearsal. Hopefully they will see that it is pretty darn fun and stay for the next rehearsals.

As for "Imagine"... I was appaled to find out that the two girls that were there had never heard the song. I had built the whole repertoire around this song!! I couldn't belive it. But, they did like "What A Wonderful World" and even knew that it was from "Good Morning, Vietnam." I've never actually seen that movie. Some of the things these kids don't know confuses me...but that's an issue I don't have the brain power to figure out.

Monday and Tuesday I had the days off. They were very restful and Monday, as I've blogged before, was a nice day to spend with my wife. I did go into work on Tuesday because I had to send about 50 emails. Maybe that's an exageration, but not by many!

This weekend looks like it's going to be the nicest weather we've had all year. I'm excited to spend a lot of time outside and inside. I have many hours of "Hello Dolly" rehearsals coming up. I'm looking forward to being about to coach singers and direct chorus that isn't at church.

Speaking of, I forgot to mention that last Sunday was my first Summer Choir. This church has never had a choir during the summer, but I thought as a recruiting tool, I would start one. I had some regulars, and some poeple who used to be in choir, but couldn't do it this year, and some people who weren't in choir at all. Total, I think I had 18-20 people singing. We did a super easy arrangement of "He Is Exalted" and it was quite successful.

Things are happening and a lot of those things happened this week. I hope this is a forecast for how the summer will be. I'm excited to learn more and do more. I hope you all have a great weekend and enjoy the nice weather!

Question: What is something that you've done recently that was new to you?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Youthz


So, I'm definitely putting off work by blogging today. But isn't that what this whole crazy thing is all about?! Oh, yeah, and sharing info about yourself....and I guess getting replies so you can learn about others.


Well, whatever. I'm still putting off work.


I have a new program starting tonight. At least I hope it starts tonight. I am starting a youth choir at my church. It was really what I was hired to do, and it's only taken me a year to get around to doing it!


I'm really excited to have some high school age kids singing in my company. It's what I really went to school to do. So, it seems more exciting when I get to use my knowledge that I'm now paying a small mortgage for and will be for the next 80 years.


The centerpiece of the songs I've picked out for the choir is "Imagine." That old John Lennon song just kept coming back to me whenever I would think of the youth choir. I really like the words and I think they are relevant to what's going on in culture and in the world today. I think it's also a message that the youth could really sell when singing.


To quote: "Imagine no possesions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man." I think those two phrases are great. First, because I work in a church in a very affluent area. West Des Moines is where the money is. Johnston is where there's even more. I have kids from both cities coming here. I think it's important to remind ourselves that giving things up is really worth it.


Especially if giving "things" up would cure two things: greed and hunger.


A lot of the service projects that my church does have to do with hunger. I've never been more aware of hunger than I am now, working here. We give to the food pantry with monthly selected items. For instance, this month is spaghetti and sauce. We raise countless dollars for food banks around our area. We took part this year in a 3-month project called "We Can" sponsored by DMARC (the Des Moines Area Religious Council).


This was a challenge for many churches in our area to produce 29,000 cans of food all together. Why 29,000? Because the World Health Organization said in 2008, that's how many children die each day of hunger.


The congregation here raised 2,000. There was a moment the week before the final celebration of food that the head of this project thought they weren't going to raise enough cans. They exceeded their goal and had 31,000 food items donated!


I've definitely left my topic of youth choir, but I think that the youth choir is a great way to instill those social justice topics and interfaith alliances that we promote at Walnut Hills so much. Back on topic, I hope that the youth choir goes well tonight. Even if there are two kids, I am hoping to still keep it going. Wish me luck!


Question: What have you given up lately for charity?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oprah Strikes Again


So after watching an episode of Oprah the other week I got it into my head that my wife and I should try a new thing. I have no idea what the episode was about. Perhaps about saving the planet or something, but really I can't remember.


There was a man on Oprah, through Skype, which she now uses for everything, saying that he and his family have a Meatless Monday. This isn't to lose weight or to become healthier, although they apparently have. It's to make them away of all the food they eat that has meat in it.


So, after a few weeks of thinking about it, I thought, "We could do a meatless Monday thing" and by jove...yesterday we did it. We had Boca burgers for lunch and spaghetti without meat in it for dinner. I was so proud of us. We also went to the Des Moines Botanical Garden and played two rounds of mini golf.


I felt like the latest Nutrigrain commercial: if you haven't seen it, here's a brief description: it shows a person going through their day, eating whatever and drinking soda and going to bed late at night. Until one day they decide (you never see the person's face, only their hands) to have a Nutrigrain bar and their whole day is magically better. They drink more water and go to bed at a better time. They even brush their teeth before turning in.


I think because we were thinking about having a Meatless Monday, then we made better, more active choices throughout the day.


Unfortunately, Meatless Monday wasn't the best thing ever. I wouldn't have leaked it to VH1 for "Best Week Ever" nor would I put this on the top 10 smartest things I've ever done. I added up my calories at the end of the day to see if not eating meat was all that and a bag of chips.


3700.


Yep...that's my calorie count for Meatless Monday. That's not rounding. That's the actual number of calories I took in yesterday. Then it hit me like a frozen bean patty...I need to not only cut out meat on Mondays, but also some serious calories. I mean, it takes a lot to keep up this physique...and I definitely shouldn't be proud of that.


If I were rippling and thin, and THAT took a lot to keep up THAT physique...I'd be proud, but I'm not, so I'm not. Oh well. I'll keep trying.


Question: What do you do to easily cut calories?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finally Friday

Okay, so after reading way too many people's blogs I've decided to start my own fun theme. I'm going to call it "Finally Friday" and it's just a recap of what I've done this week. The highs and lows, the sunny days and the cloudy ones and...okay, who am I kidding, it's basically what I can remember from the week. Sometimes that isn't a lot. So...here we go!


So this week has been pretty hectic. I think as the phrase goes, "When it rains, it pours." It has been pouring this week. Last night, for instance, my wife and I tried a new recipe courtesy of my sister. We made cheesy potatoes and baked chicken. While the potatoes were in the oven, my choir accompanist called and asked if we wanted to go to dinner and sit outside some place over a few drinks. Ugh! Of course we do!! But then we can't eat cheesy potatoes.


This all happened before I had choir practice to rehearse for a wedding this weekend. We have an event called Walnut Hills Has Talent and the choir was "up for bids" as Drew Carey would say. We were won by a member of the church for her son's wedding. I'm a little put out by this because the process of getting the songs picked and then rehearsed has not been worth the outcome. But, it will all be over tomorrow after the wedding.


So, after a pretty fun choir rehearsal where I gave out prizes like duct tape, toothpaste and old t-shirts, all of which I found in a cabinet in my room, we went home and watched the last hour of "So You Think You Can Dance."


SYTYCD can only come too soon since American Idol ended on Tuesday. And, boy, what a finally. I told my wife that the show was going to have to go on hiatis for a year after that huge KISS performance. I figured the show is bankrupt after all those effects. I was happy with the outcome. Many people pointed out reasons for Adam not winning, which was an upset since he is clearly the far more talented of the two, but as my wife pointed out Kris would have faded into the background if he didn't win. Adam will do well no matter what.


Of course, it was also pointed out to me by someone at my church that perhaps Adam didn't win because he was gay.


This is where the record squeeks and I say, "Whaaaaaat?!"


That is a rediculous reason. First of all, how do we know? So he wears a little bit too much eye liner and paints his nails. So...big deal. I think they call that "Emo." It was also pointed out that his voice is just soooo high. Therefore, woman-like.


Second time...here we go...Whaaaaaaaat?!


Seriously?


I'm going to move on. You can draw your own conclusions of how that conversation went.


So, back to Thursday. SYTYCD is BACK!!! Unfortunately, three things were weighing against watching it: 1. Mary Murphy drives me nuts. I think her voice is like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer has seisures every time he hears a certain woman's voice. That's how bad her voice drives me crazy. 2. The Ugly Betty season finale was on. Now if you don't watch Ugly Betty...shame on you. Such a funny, sarcastic show with lots of heart. We haven't been too faithful to the series this year since choir is on the same day, but we've tried to catch it whenever we can. 3. 30 Rock was on. Crap!!! There are too many options! How to choose. Luckily for 30 Rock, it was a rerun so we only scanned over to NBC a few times, just for some giggles.


As for work, everything has wound down. Preschool is finished, so no more Peanut Butter song until next year. Thank goodness. My programming is ending for the year, although I have started two new things for the summer: Youth Choir, which I HOPE HOPE HOPE is a success and Summer Choir, which is already looking like it's going to be a success.


Emerging worship is actually looking like at some point it might happen. Of course, that may be in 2012, but at least we're talking about it and moving forward. We had a meeting this week and I did the agenda. We actually stayed a little more on task. It's an odd meeting because all of us in it are "leaders" (I use the term loosely) of our own programming. So, in this case, I'm not really sure who is leading the meetings. I've kind of taken on the leadership role and I like it.


The Ad Council met this week, which is always a frustrating time. I wasn't at the meeting, but they decided that the programming people needed to come up with more "stuff" to do during the summer months to keep people connected to the church. Really? Becuase I'm pretty sure my summer is my time to work on next year's music and catch up from this year....not to plan more stuff for nobody to come to during the summer.


Well, I think that's all that has happened this week, at least that I can remember. Really, it's a journey through what I watched on TV this week, but like I said, it was a big week. I hope that everyone has a great weekend and enjoys their holiday. Hopefully, it won't be too rainy here. Join me next week for Finally Friday!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A New Blog Post


Okay for so long I couldn't figure out how to put a photo into my blog. I know, "That's childs play" you say. And yes, I agree. I should have been able to figure this out. I don't think I've mentioned that technologically I'm not that quick. I can usually figure something out, but not too fast. So, here is my first blog post with a photo. This is the beginning of a whole new blog, picture-filled and all!!

Conductoritis

I was just recently directed by my sister to a blog by Michael Hyatt. Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, which is the publisher of my favorite book: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.

While reading Hyatt's blog I scrolled down to one post entitled, "8 Things Leaders Can Learn from Symphony Conductors." I thought, "What providence. I am a conductor and I try to be a leader. How pleasant."

Just as a side note: isn't that always the way we find something? We are hooked by something that sounds like something we do. And then we HAVE to read it or watch it because it has to do with us. Two cases-in-point: GLEE, the new television show. I play for a show choir now and I enjoy myself immensely. I have to watch and enjoy Glee because it relates to me. The other point: Shawn Johnson winning "Dancing With the Stars." Of course, the news was all over this one. There is always a connection to Iowa, but this didn't disgust me, but made me want to know more and say, "I live in West Des Moines, just like Shawn Johnson."

Anyway, I digress...

The article (if you can remember back to the topic of this post...if not, scroll up) was to compare the conductor's roll to that of a leader. For instance, a conductor recruits the best players, is visible, leads with his heart, focuses on what he can do, keeps his back to the audience, and shares the spotlight.

One of these points jumped out at me more than the others: the conductor leads with his heart. At a summer music camp that I accompanied for at Simpson, a choral conductor said to the choir, "You have the hard part. I have the easy part. I'm directing this piece because it's what my heart feels. You have to follow me." I've always remembered that and I use it in my rehearsals. I used it in the directing part of my interview for the job I have now!

I try to direct from the heart as much as possible. I've been taking a different direction with my choir recently. I've been trying to lead them to the conclusion that they aren't "just" the choir, but are worship leaders. This has changed the group, not only their sound (which is much improved) but also their outlook to the worship gathering. Before, they came in and sang their song and then left. This perturbed me. Now they actually lead worship from the front of the Celebration Center.

I've shown them to lead with their hearts too. At least I hope I have. I'm a very organic person when it comes to finding new music for us to perform. I like to try and fit the theme for the week. If I can't then we sing something that moves me. In all reality, we usually end up singing something that moves me!

I find it harder to lead with heart than I do to conduct. With conducting it's very easy to find an emotional connection to a piece of music. You can't always find that with people. I find it difficult, even though I've read more than once "Winning With People." Another book by John C. Maxwell.

I'd like to point out "The Patience Principle" which states that "the journey with others is slower than the journey alone." This is what catches me up. I'm usually a pretty fast moving person. I don't like to wait for others nor do I like to wait for them to catch up. There are times when getting out of the car my wife moves too slow. Very slow. I get irritated because I don't like to wait.

But I'd also like to point out "The Partnership Principle," which is one I have to keep in front of me a lot: "working together increases the odds of winning together." I think that the only way to work and win together is to lead with your heart. You can't work with other people for long if you lead with your head. Well, you can work with them, but they'll probably usually get pretty mad since you'll be bulldozing over them a lot.

That's really hard NOT to do. But, I keep trying!

Yes, because everyone else does it, here's a question for you:
How do you lead? What makes you successful with your leadership?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death of the Church Musician?

I received an email yesterday from a Music Director at the West Des Moines UMC. It stated very clearly that the church would not be having its annual concert series this summer. This was after a nine year long presence in our community. The email then went on that the music director who sent the email was being let go as of the end of May. He even said that he was surprised to get this news.

First of all, I think that really stinks on the church's part. I think there should have been some kind of warning to the music director. Perhaps there was and his email was a little more dramatic than the situation should really be. Musicians...dramatic? No...

Second, I could only feel bad or sorry for this man. He had been in this position for nine years. And he was being fired because the church has no money! The email also pointed out that the church was going to be remodeling their sanctuary this summer. And I know what you're thinking...these monetary items are two different and separate things. I know...I know. But the unfairness still seems to be there.

I know of another church here in the metro, Westminster Presbyterian, who is also losing their music director. This is a different case entirely, though. Their music director is leaving by his own accord to travel to Thailand. Unfortunately, the church has decided not to replace him.

I cannot relate to you how devastating this is to the metro's church musician ministry. Westminster is one of the largest churches in the area. They have a huge...and I mean HUGE...music program and fine arts series. I can only see both of these things being tossed to the wayside because this position isn't being filled after the current director leaves. It makes my heart sink.

Des Moines is not quite like Minneapolis, which is a very art-full city. They have opera and theater and museums out the wazzoo. Des Moines has all those things as well, but on a smaller scale. But that doesn't mean that Des Moines is a bunch of hicks in an art-less void. We DO have strong arts programs. We DO have many community choirs that are quite strong. We DO have a world class opera company (I know, I've worked for them). We DO have museums and poets and...plain and simple...artists!!

Why are the church musicians dying? Or better yet, being killed off? This may sound like a dramatic or desperate attempt to feel sorry for myself. But I promise you, I'm really not. I feel very bad for the church music directors and the church musicians being cut because of this finincial downfall.

The arts are always cut first in times of struggle, whether that be in churches, in the community, or in schools. We all know that. I feel so strongly that this tide of losing church musicians will only hurt our future generations.

When I first started at WH, I bought a book: "How to Start a Fine Arts Academy in Your Church." One of the opening paragraphs of the book states:

"In the 21st century, the relationship between fine arts and the church is much different. No longer is the church the influential leader it once was in the fine arts. Instead; 1) the consumer, not the church, is now the primary patron of music, 2) the leading composers of today are not church musicians, and, 3) Christianity is no longer the dominant topic and focus of the arts."

The book also gives a great quote from Tom Fettke, a very large presence in the church music area. He is a prolific composer and has written many large works as well as single pieces of music for the church. He says: "Schools, public and private, are not (for the most part) doing a good job of Fine Arts training...the Church must assume the responsibility if quality music and other Fine Arts are to survive."

These two points really make my heart ache for the loss of these two music directors in my area. And these are just two people I know of...there are probably others at much smaller churches. The churches, who in some opinions, need the music the most.

I hope that this economic downturn isn't the end of church musicians. I hope that we can all bounce back and become a huge force in the world of music and arts again. I hope that the churches and people finding themselves without jobs or artists will find something better to replace the voids the church has created.

I hope for the best for the Fine Arts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meetings are the Silver Bullet

I used to think much like the writers of the "West Wing" that education is the silver bullet. Education could keep people out of jail. Education ends violence. Education would even help to eradicate disease. Now I've come to the realization that meetings, not education, are the silver bullet to all of the world's problems. The only problem with that is, most meetings are really dull, boring, and unproductive.

I just read on John C. Maxwell's Twitter that he thinks "When a meeting is good, it's never long enough. When bad, it can't end soon enough." We've all sat through countless meetings. We were sitting in meetings even before we knew what meetings were. We had parent/teacher meetings, or an appointment to meet with a doctor. We've been meeting our whole lives and didn't even know it. You meet your soulmate. You meet your enemies. You meet new people and reaquaint yourself with old friends by meeting them on Facebook.

Of course, the meetings mentioned above are on your terms and are, presumably, of your own will. Meetings in the business world aren't of your own will. We are all forced to sit in droll meetings that seem to go on and on and on and on. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on these meetings.

An article published December 5, 2007 in The Onion tried to poke fun of meetings. The article stated, "Our meetings have become disorganized and sprawling, and far too much time is lost to non- actionable items." The article, being from The Onion, had a funny spin to it. The writer proposed having more meetings to solve the meeting problem. This seems to be what we all do.

I've been to almost 100 meetings in my time at this church (only a year). That's one meeting every 3 1/2 days. Not that I'm counting! But I can't relate to you how many minutes and hours I've spent having my time wasted by people being late to the meetings. Or people bringing "non-actionable" items to meetings. Or people just rambling on about something that doesn't pertain to the meeting or the people in the meeting.

Sometimes I sit across from the clock in our meetings. It's interesting to see who uses the most time in meetings talking. It's just as interesting to see who interrupts the most in those same meetings. Do you think that the people talking the most and interrupting the most are the same? You bet they are!

I have read many times a book called "Death By Meeting" by Patrick Lencioni. The book is subtitled "A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business." That says it all...and includes all of our thoughts about meetings.

The book is a fiction story about a man who runs his own business but has terrible meetings, which is hurting his business and morale. Until a young business-minded new guy comes in and changes all that. Without a doubt the book ends happy and everyone is successful again. The book also outlines the proper way to have meetings.

One point the book makes is about meeting times and different kinds of meetings. Staff meetings are weekly and therefore should be strictly kept to an hour. Staff retreats are all day-long events. Planning meetings are once a month and can be three to four hours. Then there are the daily check-ins, where whoever is there gets together to let everyone else know what they've been doing. The daily check-ins only last five minutes! I can't imagine having a meeting for five minutes...but how refreshing!

Another point the book makes is the one minute briefing in the weekly staff meeting. Each person has one minute to say what they want to talk about at the meeting. The leader then makes an agenda. Then you follow the agenda. You don't necessarily go around in a circle, in the same direction every week. And everyone doesn't necessarily get to say everything they need to.

BUT...and this is a big one...BUUUUUUUUUUUUT the leader can choose topics that will engage the whole group. The leader is able to mine for conflict. Because conflict creates results. You don't get results from everyone just by letting the topics pass them by.

I'll admit, I'm a very passive person in our weekly staff meetings. I don't usually pipe up for any reason until it's my turn. And even then I keep my comments to the bare minimun. Ocassionally, I will leave out topics that I would like to cover just because I don't want to hear what people have to say about them. But, that's part of not being engaged and not wanting to stretch out an already overly-long meeting.

How dare me. So hypocritical. But you can see that although I know the secrets to having a good meeting, I don't live by them, becuase living by them is difficult. But if we were to get past the difficulty, then we could solve all our problems...or at least the one's the leader has chosen for us.

There is no "i" in team...unless you spell it phonetically: [tim]. No, I'm kidding, but only because I'm reminded of something from John C. Maxwell's book "The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork." The first law is the law of significance and states, "One is too small a number to achieve greatness."

This to me says what the old Chinese proverb says, "Behind an able man there are always other able men." But...again, another but...I take the second part of that proverb seriously. There has to be those people behind the first that are willing and able. During meetings we've all been up against negativity and skepticism. Those people aren't able or willing, but what if they were engaged during the meeting? Would they then be more willing to look at your idea instead of stifle it?

I can't help but look again at "West Wing." Such a great show, but during the show there were so many meetings held. I can only think that perhaps the real White House runs with so much energy and forward flowing movement. Meetings were the place where problems were solved. Each person had the opportunity to weigh in. People disagreed, but were on each other's side in the end.

One instance I remember is a meeting with the President playing chess with his head of communications, who had just made a huge public blunder. I don't remember exactly what was said, but words were exchanged and yelling happened, but in the end all was forgiven and the problem was fixed.

Now, I know that we can't all live in a television show. Sometimes problems are just big and harry and ugly. But I would implore anyone reading to engage yourself in your meetings and to cause that conflict with positive results. I would like everyone to bring only actionable items to their next meeting and challenge yourself to keep your personal agenda and needless goings on to a minimum.

I'm willing to give it a shot, even if we don't play chess during it and even if we don't meet for the five minute check in. It's hard to do, but I'm sure we can solve this "meeting problem" when we meet next time here on my blog.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Movie Marathon

I know...two posts in one day. What will the blogosphere think of this? Especially from someone who has missed blogging for almost two weeks. Never fear, this is just a quick, drive by review of some of the movies I've seen lately.

We'll start about three weeks back when my wife and I went to the theater to see "Adventureland." First off, let me say GREAT movie. I thought it was smart and very very funny. Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live is hilarious, although her part is quite small.

The story is about a recent college grad named James. His parents were loaded and now they aren't and can't afford to help him go to grad school. James has to find a summer job. After the family moves, that seems darn near impossible, but lucky for James - and the movie goers - he finds a job at a local theme park called...you guessed it, Adventureland.

Relationships with the not-so-hot, but interesting and elusive, girl ensue. I'd like to interject here that it seems that movies "like this" (and by like this I'm thinking of Juno and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist...movies where it seems that more drugs were done that you care to think about while filming) seem to be casting a different kind of leading girl. She's not quite pretty, but she's quick and funny. She isn't the Hollywood norm. I don't mind this casting choice for any of these movies. I would rather watch someone who's funny and interesting that someone who isn't.

Anyway, I digress. There is a lot of on screen drug use in the film. A lot of swearing, of course. You can't have a coming of age story without it. What I really liked about the film was the subtlety. There were a lot of penis jokes, whether being kicked/punched in said penis or hiding something that just "came up." But they were subtle and not so Euro Trip or Harold and Kumar. The humor was dry and I would guess that not everyone would get it.

For example, we were sitting behind a row of guys who I would consider unsavory and rather douchy. Guys who probably would have beaten me up in high school if I wouldn't have had a protective older sister and been abnormally tall. You could tell they liked to party like they were in college and probably drank at the Hooters down the street every Wednesday. I feel quite certain that these people didn't get the movie. They didn't get the humor.

I can't say this fact with complete certainty. It's not like I was holding some sort of scientific experiment and these are my findings, but they didn't laugh at the "funny" parts. They laughed more at the crotch jokes and the pot smoking.

Well, to make a long story short...too late...Iwould recommend this movie. It's funny and sweet and will make you wish you had this experience coming straight out of college.

The next movie my wife and I saw we rented from the RedBox. Rachel Getting Married is another indy film that we thought would be good. In the past, we've had great luck with indy films. One of our favorites is Y tu Mama Tambien. But this was recommended by a friend on Facebook and I thought, "I like that person, so I'm probably going to like this movie."

Boy, was I wrong. I suppose you could talk about the fact that it was very "real." You could talk about the toasting scene at the wedding rehearsal dinner. The real time shots of people giving toasts and the awkwardness of waiting for the dysfunction to come out. I suppose you could talk just about the dysfunction. I think my family puts the fun in dysfunction, but not like this. NOT like this.

Maybe the movie was too "real" for me. It could have hit too close to home, dealing with addicts at family gatherings and ignoring the pink elephant in the room, but behind their back holding your nose because the booze are just too strong. Maybe.

I don't know...perhaps you would like this film. It's a little depressing and maybe in the right mood you would enjoy it, but as for my opinion, I did not.

The next movie we saw was also from the RedBox...and at the recommendation of my sister: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. Also, a cute movie. I would agree with what's been said that the plot is about the journey, not the destination.

I thought the acting was great and I really enjoyed all the twists and turns that you were taken on as the night progressed. I will admit, though, that getting gum and phone out of a puky toilet was not my cup of tea. If that ruins the movie for you, just deal with it. You'll be glad you had fair warning.

The movie follows two teens around New York City as they search for a band that they both like. Along they way they meet up with ex's and lose a friend (which is where the puky toilet comes in). There are those supporting characters that don't really have any back story, but are helpful to the plot...like fairy godmothers.

All-in-all, I would recommend this movie, but you don't have to take my word for it! Take it away Lavar Burton.

The final movie I've recently seen is Religulous. This definitely isn't a movie for everyone. Bill Maher takes a film crew around the world to find what people think about religion, whether that be good, bad, funny at the person's expense, or whatever.

I enjoyed this movie. I thought it was really funny. There were three parts of the movie I'd like to point out: first, in the Truckstop Chapel, after a man had been so overcome with anger at Maher asking questions about faith, he leaves. I'm not pointing out the leaving man, but the men who stayed to talk to Maher. They weren't evangelizing, but just answering, what I thought were respectable questions about faith. At the end of this segment, Maher asked the men to pray for him, which they did, as he observed them praying. He was just asking questions, without the intent of making people mad, but yet tempers were flaired.

The second segment is one that has been talked about at my church as well as on movie review shows...the old man in St. Peter's basilica. The man is the highest priest at the Vatican, second to the Pope. He spoke quite openly that the Bible is just a book. A good book that should be taken seriously, but still just a book. The church is trying to work internally at getting people to see that there is more to religion that killing in the name of God, or using God's name for ill.

The final point I'd like to show light on is the good Dr. segment. Bill Maher sat down with a man that is named Rev. Dr. something. As he was being seated, Maher asked if he should call the man Reverend, but he said, "You can just call me doctor." Across the bottom of the screen was flashed..."He isn't a doctor." Then, "He has no degree whatsoever." And, his first name wasn't doctor either. So, don't try that one on me. The conversation turned to the man's fine clothing that had been funded by his congregation and the discussion that Jesus fought FOR the poor, not taking money from them. The good doctor couldn't understand that his clothes were paid for by the poor.

There are many memorable segments, I'm sure edited from many bad ones. There is Bill talking to Jesus at Bibleland, being kicked off of the Mormon Temple's lawn, being taken on an illegal tour of the highest Mosque in Jerusalem, or sitting down with Jesus Miranda...you know, the second coming of Christ.

Again, I thought this was a funny movie. Would I recommend it...eh...not sure. It depends on who you are. Do you want to be mad about religion? Then, sure. Rent it and laugh. Are you up for defending your religion to a movie and a person (Bill Maher) who can't hear you through the tv? This is the movie for you. If you aren't any of these things...I wouldn't waste the money.

Sopapillas

I haven't blogged in so long, and I apologize for that. After the Easter cantata was over I just crashed, including my brain and indeed, my computer.

My computer at church had always been a bit slow, but I attributed that fact to the large music writing program Finale being loaded onto my very tiny hard drive. I'm not even sure my hard drive had MB after it's number. It may not have. I came into work on the Tuesday after the cantata, even though Tuesdays are my day off, and turned on the computer. After about an hour it just died. No power, no warning that it was going to commit computer suicide...it just died.

Anyway, it's been a little turbulant since then. I don't have my contacts for my emails. I don't have people's correct addresses from my paper version of the church directory, so even if I wanted to take the address from there, I couldn't. I feel lost or detached or behind...perhaps all of the above.

On the up side, choir is winding down. We perform once more. A really touching song called "I Carry You in My Heart" based on the writings of Paul and the e.e. cummings poem. It's a tear jerker, but what do you expect on Mother's Day and Senior Sunday (not for old people, but for the graduating people). I've also ended children's programming with not much success throughout the year. And I'm starting the Youth Choir this summer, so that should be interesting.

I've already started Christmas music for the choir. I have everything (adult-wise) picked out. The adult program is going to be HUGE! I have yet to get to the youth/children's program. That's right: I'm doing two Christmas programs. I had so many complain that the children weren't involved last year that I feel obligated to try and do something just for them. Of course, the people complaining weren't volunteering to help, but that's the way the church works...or at least this one.

Sorry for the rant. I don't know what came over me. Perhaps Christmas is already putting me in a slightly more "on edge" mood. It always does. And now, working in a church, it's one of the biggest holidays we "do." But that's a blog for another time...maybe later in the year, like around Halloween when all the Christmas decor starts to appear.

Turning again to another happy thing: my wife and I went out for Mexican food to celebrate that great American holiday Cinqo de Mayo. We talked of one of her friends who is in Mexico at the moment and his comment that we invented Cinqo de Mayo just to have another holiday to drink.

At dinner, living up the tradition, we both got a blended strawberry margarita. Mmm...it was tasty. We ate at On the Border, about as non-Mexican as you can get. Not that it was bad. They have a new menu with many new items. Good stuff.

One new item on the new menu were sopapillas. Most people outside of my immediate family don't know what sopapillas are...and you are, in fact, lesser because of your lack of knowledge. Yes, that's completely snobby, but at least I admit it and accept it.

Sopapillas are puffy pastries that are fried and then doused with cinnamon and sugar. At On the Border, they served them with honey (yuck) and melted chocolate. I had never had a sopapilla with melted chocolate. Let me tell you, as a professional sopapilla taster, this only improved my dining experience. The chocolate was bitter compared to the cinnamon and sugar, but still divine in every way.

Sopapillas, I can say with great certainty, made my day yesterday. If you'd like more information about sopapillas and why I extol their magical, tasty powers, please reference my sister's blog: givinguponperfect.com. My sister will tell you that we have been going to a divy place called Don Chilito's since before I was born. It's a terribly unsanitary looking place, but the food is delicious. Including a giant tub...yes, I mean big, metal lined, you could be baptized in it if it held water sort of tub...full of sopapillas.

I hope that one day you all have the great joy of knowing the puffy sopapilla in a completely infatuated and religious way. They are definitely worth it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not wearing shorts

Have you ever noticed that there are always more people outside when it's warm? You're saying to yourself..."Duh! It's warm, so they want to be outside." This may seem like a stupid observation, but I really don't think we notice how MANY people are outside when it's warm.

I only point this out because today I almost ran into two people on bikes! They weren't anywhere near each other, they were separate incidences. I was on my way to my "other" job, which is playing at a school, and out of nowhere a bicyclist nearly became one with my car hood.

Driving along a little after that, and closer to the school, another person - dressed in their tightest clothes and wearing those fingerless gloves that are all so attractive, as well as bomber sunglasses and a very sleek and pointy helmet - nearly ran into my car as well. I only mention this second person's attire, because unlike the first person, this moving target looked like they should know what they are doing.

Maybe they didn't know what they were doing and just wanted to look cool. There's nothing wrong with that...unless you are planning on getting your self smashed on the roadside!! I shouldn't complain. I should be thankful I didn't hit either person.

I can't help think that both close encounters were perhaps my fault. I wasn't day dreaming, as one can so easily do when driving a familiar course. I was looking ahead of me, but of course both riders came up from the side. I am a bit tired, but that's nothing unusual. I'm tired most days and don't nearly hit random bikers.

Perhaps it wasn't my fault. Perhaps they were day dreaming or not looking ahead. Perhaps they were more tired than me. Although, I will say that streamlined biker seemed to have plenty o' energy. Hmmm... well, like I said, I'm thankful for not hurting anyone and for everyone being alright.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Well, I don't mind agreeing to disagree. It's how the world works and goes on. Unless you are one of those people who disagrees even with your agreeing...maybe that's how we end up with worldwide wars. I don't know.

I don't mean to brag, but Lauren and I were at church last night setting up for the week's activities and watched American Idol on the big screen with the projector and huge surround sound. It's a completely different show at that level!

We were a little stunned that the show was only an hour. I guess I didn't read my TV guide close enough to see that it was supposed to get done at 8:00. We watched Adam, but I don't know...I like him and think he will win, but I didn't think last night was my favorite. I like it when he does crazy stuff, like "The Ring of Fire." I know that everyone knew that was funny and kind of a blow off performance, but I like to look at the arrangements. I think it's great when the singers do them themselves (even tho I know Ring of Fire wasn't Adam's arrangement).

We like Kris Allen too. He is just too nice to get past Adam though. Not that Adam doesn't seem likeable, but Kris is more like someone I would talk to, rather than someone who is already a pop star like Adam.

Allison is growing on me. I don't think she'll go much further, but I really didn't like her at the beginning, but last night's performance was really good...the Bonnie Rait song. We missed Danny Gokey (who's wife died) but his recap clip didn't sound too impressive. And Lauren and I both are ready for Blind Scott to be gone! Sheesh!! He's made it too far already.

That's all I remember from last night. Are you coming up for my Easter cantata? I had the first orchestra rehearsal last week. I'm super stressed about the whole thing, but the rehearsal was really good so that makes it a little bit easier to tolerate.

I'm not really sure if I would do such a big production again (even though in the grand scheme of things, this really isn't THAT big of a production, but since I do everything myself, it seems a little bigger than normal).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I appreciate your comments. That's why I write. I like to see what other people are thinking, but, not to toot my own horn, because it's not a huge following, I do have people on Facebook comment about my blog, they just aren't "Followers." I was surprised by that, since they didn't "follow" me so I didn't know who was reading it, but apparently some people are. Mostly church people.

I guess the biggest thing that I want to say, is that, no, this wasn't directed at you personally. I commented on the book because I'm reading it. If I wanted to direct it at you, then I would have said it. I try not to be underhanded, although I know that the underhandedness is another one of those "ingrained" things.

I'm, in fact, glad that you recommended this book. Like I said, that one paragraph threw me off a little because the rest of it is pretty good. I agree with most of it and I'm glad I'm reading it.
What I say about being saved I still stick by. I had been questioning that for a while. I'm sure that's nothing new. I've learned here at this church - whether called a cult or delusional groups of people led by our free-wheelin' liberal pastor - I do believe that the Bible, although a beautifully written tool isn't something to be taken completely literally.

If I say that I'm divinely inspired to write another chapter to the Bible, could that be taken literally? That may be blasphemy to some as I say that, but that's exactly why we believe it...people that lived who knows when were "divinely inspired."

This is a lot of what the book "The Heart of Christianity" by Marcus Borg talks about. No, you won't agree with a lot of it (or most of it), and there are parts I don't agree with, nor understand. Such as the season coming up: Easter.

If we aren't to take the Bible literally, then how are we to believe that our religion, which is founded on the sole belief that Christ rose again from the dead to "save" us all, then how are supposed to believe in the religion at all?

That's one of the questions that I'm willing to ask, and maybe it was my bad writing skills and possibly confusing wording that led you to think that I was saying NOT to question. I think we should question. Like you said, it leads you deeper into your faith, whatever that may be.
And as for the Muslims, and, yes, I'll include the Jews too, I don't get why we are to demonize them. They believe in the same God as we do. Perhaps they don't believe in Jesus as the Christ, but they believe in God through a different path and are on a different journey. Why is that wrong?

The Bible may say that the only way to get to God is through Jesus, and if they don't believe in Jesus, then they can't get to God, but that's exactly why I agree with the Borg book and the theology taught here at this church that the Bible isn't to be taken literally. Are we to demonized Hindus and Buddhists and Taoists and Wickens and any other religion that doesn't agree with us? I think that's why there are "extremists" and holy wars. Where has that gotten us?
And the Moromons...I really don't know anything about them, only that I remember one thing from my friend Chris Gillett at Truman, while trying to defend Mormonism said that they too believe in Jesus and God, but as I understand it, again, through a different path and on a different journey.

Finally, you can't lecture me for assuming such things about what you think or believe in if you are going to assume such things of me. I try not to assume, but I know what I've lived with for 26 years: you and Mom. Although you probably don't see it this way, but I feel that "religion" was crammed down my throat. I don't feel guilty about not attending church for most of my college career, unless I was taking a pay check. I needed a break to question and look inside myself to find whatever it is I'm supposed to find. Maybe it's Jesus...maybe it's God. Maybe it's Buddha or whats-his-name Smith looking into a hat. But whatever I'm supposed to find is for me to find.

And no, I know we don't talk about faith or religion ever because it's "hot button" but I do enjoy talking about this. Like questioning, I think it can make a deep impact on your's and my faiths. (that is a terribly, grammatically wrong sentence, but I'm sure you get the gist.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Renewal

I don't know what makes a person sleep better one night and then not the next. I will be the first to admit that I'm not smart enough to know anything about the brain. I guess you could say that you wouldn't want me to be wielding a knife as you slip into a drug induced sleep as you prepare for brain surgery. But, I still wonder why this is.

Yesterday, after church and after snarfing down a quick lunch from Arby's and after setting up the Celebration Center and after getting mad at my wife, then getting over it, then directing an hour and a half orchestra rehearsal, then after striking all of the stuff that I had just set up, then wielding questions from the orchestra members, then going home, then eating dinner, then watching TV I had a good night's sleep. Maybe I was just exhausted.

My wife had a migraine, which she says she hasn't had one like this since she was in middle school, so we went to bed at 9:00. I read for a bit, of course. I am reading "The Kingdom Focused Church." I'm not sure about the book. It was recommended to me. I read a paragraph that I can only paraphrase because I don't have the book in front of me. It said: we have to tell people that Christ died for them so that they don't get sucked into New Age religion or Islam or Mormonism or other false religions. What?!

First of all, how do you define "false religion?" Although I do believe in Christianity, I also believe that there is merit in questioning your faith. After all, if you don't question, how do you learn? Secondly, who ever said that Mormonism and Islam are two "false" religions. I don't know much about either, but I do believe that Mormons still believe in God and Jesus, just through a different pathway. How is that false?

Second...well, as I sit and think, I don't have a second point. I was taken off guard by this statement in the book. Can't people believe in what they want? I know that part of the Christian faith is evangelizing. I think it says that many times in the Bible...in Acts and the letters of Paul. But when did it ever come to the point that we should evangelize because we believe that all other people who aren't Christians will "fall away from the the fold" if we don't strike them over the head with holy water and pronounce them "saved?"

I don't believe in being saved. What are you being saved from? The big, black, dark pit of despair that God will send you to after you've done wrong? I don't believe that God created such a pit, since God is all about love and compassion. God IS love. God is good. Plus, how is that supposed to change you? Poof...now you believe in a God, so life is great and peachy. Here's your certificate of savedness.

A history (not a philosophy or religion) teacher I had in college said, "God is wanting you to love him. God is wanting you to follow the 11th commandment that Jesus laid down at the last supper: Love one another." I'm not sure, but I don't think it says anywhere that we are supposed to toil and, because of working for God, hit rock bottom just to get into Heaven.

I digress, of course, because I'm talking about renewal. The pastor at my church has been doing a sermon series all through Lent using the word "new:" New Name when speaking about Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai), New Covenant when talking about the promises God has made through Noah and the flood, etc. He has been saying that Lent is a time of renewal...a time to quiet our "insides" and be with God. A time to follow the journey of Lent and end up with Jesus on the cross, being killed by Rome so that he could rise again and we can have renewed life.

Iowa, yes the state, is entering a period of renewal. The Supreme Court just passed a law stating that same sex couples can be married in Iowa. I read about it on the internet since I wasn't around a TV to watch it. I did watch the news when I got home. There were people crying because they had waited a long time to get married and have the same rights as straight people and there were people crying because it is against the laws of God to have same sex couples.

This makes me ill, to watch people use the name of God to say that others are bad for living the lives that they were born to live. Disagree with me if you must, but I don't understand how a pastor, on the television, on the news, where thousands of people can see him can say that God will strike the people down responsible for this travesty. I don't understand.

But it seems that in this state, we are renewing our laws and definitions of what marriage is. I applaud the state for being so bold. I applaud the state for giving same sex couples who love each other the option to have the same rights as straight couples. I think it's a renewed day in the state of Iowa.

I like having a period of renewal, whether it's because of a good night's sleep or because of the decisions of other people affecting your life. Renewal refreshes us and leads us to clearer thinking and working. I hope that you all find renewal soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

50 minutes to go

I haven't written in a few days, so I thought as an obligation I should. I only have 50 minutes before I need to leave to pick up my wife from subbing, so this may be long, depending on how fast I type, or short, depending on how slow I think.

We have a cat that lives in the apartment with us. Her name is Luna. We got that name because my wife wanted to name the cat something like Starshine or Sunkist. I don't know why, but I decided in my husbandly benevolance that Starshine sounded like the fish of a 13 year old girl named Brittany and I just couldn't have that. Then my wife threw out Moonshine. I think we can all see the problem with this. I'm not against embibing, I just don't think our pets name needs to reflect that. So, we took the "moon" that my wife wanted to name the cat and made it a little classier and now call her Luna.

Well, that's not completely true. Usually we just call her kitty. Or, in a moment of disgust or anger, "CAT!" with an extra sharp "t" at the end. We got this cat from a friend while we lived in our other apartment. We had the cat illegally since we didn't pay the deposit to keep her in the living quarters. We had to smuggle her out under the cover of late evening to make sure our landlady didn't see the cat.

She's a pretty smart cat. Luna knows when we are mad at her for, say...pulling the table cloth off of the table, or getting up on the counter at 2:00 in the morning and knocking cups off of the counter. She knows when we want her and click our tongues like some secret African language that we all speak. This clicking signifies that we want her to come to us, which she usually does.

Luna has a habit of sleeping on my wife's head at night. She curls up right on top of my wife's hair and goes right to sleep. This morning, my wife had left for work and the cat stayed on the pillow, in a shape that would be perfect for a head to be cradled.

The cat's nice to have around. She keeps me company on my day off, when I'm all alone in the apartment. Of course, I have to try extra hard not to get in her way, since that is HER domain during the day. I open the vertical blinds as soon as I get up so she can sun herself and bathe.

Recently, Luna has developed another habit: licking the sliding glass door. She didn't used to do this and it's only been happening since winter when the doors would freeze over so there would be a layer of ice. We figured that she was thirsty. After all, my wife sometimes forgets to give the cat some water. But now that the weather is warmer, she still goes to the same spot and lickes the glass. We've cleaned the glass with Windex. There shouldn't be anything tasty on it. I'm not sure why she does this.

Of course, the cat may think that we are weird and there are things she's not sure why we do them. We have to shower in the morning. The cat doesn't have to get a bath except once every 6 months. Of course, the cat also licks our legs when we get out of the shower. Maybe she's dehydrated and that's why she acts the way she does.

Luna stretches a lot. I've been told that this may be early signs of arthritis, but I'm just hoping that it is a sign that she's comfortable with us. That she just wants to relax and be in our apartment.

I think the cat can give us a lot of insight to how we deal with others. She goes and sleeps in the guest bedroom when she's mad at us and she hides under the bed when she's scared. I think we all do that: push those that care about us the most away when we are hurt. Why shouldn't it be the other way around? We should be closest to those who care about us when we are down and out. Why do we shut down? Maybe it's genetic.

We didn't know the cat's mother. Like I said, Luna was given to us, spayed and ready to go. Unfortunately, she wasn't declawed. She still isn't declawed and the free couch and chair that we got when my wife and I moved in together are looking a little sad.

We've looked at getting new furniture before, but then I think, "Well, the cat will just tear it up." Then I think, "Crap, now I sound like my dad." Not that that's a bad thing. But it's the prinicple of the matter.

I come from a long line of cat raisers. My parents have always had cats. My sister and her husband have cats. In fact, my parents just got a new cat to replace one that died. The cat they replaced was on her deathbed for years, I think. Her name was Minny...like Mickey and Minnie. She was all black and squeaked instead of meowing. Her brains were sucked out when she was a kitten by a dog. Of course, you may be thinking...that's impossible. Of course it is! But that's what happened.

In all reality, I have no idea what happened to this cat, but she licked her tummy bare (and as a black cat, this was rather noticeable) and apparently had allergies. She was skitish and didn't like to be picked up. She wasn't the most cuddly cat. Her legs went stiff when you did pick her up, like she was a dog. But, to make a long story short, she was wierd and died.

I haven't met the new cat that my parents have, but apparently it's a black cat just like Minnie. Minnie was a black cat that replaced another black cat. Can we say that we don't like change? Yes, I believe we can.

Which is odd to say. I like change. But from the time I was in 6th grade on, my parents have had a black cat. I know we could say that they are the ones who don't like change, and believe me they don't, but I think that is ingrained in me too. Which, again, is odd to say.

If I had the money I wish I had then I would move all the time. I like the feeling of being anxious and nervous and then settling in to a new space. On a smaller scale, I like moving the furniture in our apartment. In the old apartment I moved it at least every other month. Unfortunately, in this apartment, the way the walls are shaped pretty much determines where everything goes. In one formation.

I like to cook, but I don't like to cook the same thing over and over again. But then again, I don't really like to try new things, yet another testament to not liking change. I remember a broccoli fiasco that still has me hesitant to eat little green trees. I've actually gotten out of the habit of cooking because I just don't want to cook the same stuff we've been eating. But when it comes to going to the store we buy the same foods and same packages.

I've changed a lot in my job. Physically I've changed my room. I had the walls painted and a new desk bought. I moved the layout around and cleaned the carpets, which are now a different color because of that cleaning (ew!) I've changed rehearsal techniques and times. I've tried to start new programs, which usually fail and that makes me think that the church doesn't like change either.

They were skeptical but okay with me painting the walls. I had the choir help do it, so that made it seem fun. But when it comes to doing something new, there is fear and trepidation. Why? Why do I fear change? I DON'T KNOW! That's the scary part. Maybe it's the opposite reason the cat gets excited every time she hears our door open. Somehow she always knows it's us walking in and runs into the entry way. She's excited to see something new. Like I said earlier, maybe we should emulate the cat more.

Well, I have 20 minutes to go, so obviously my typing has been quick. And, after sitting and pondering for a few minutes, I have nothing left to say for now!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading

It seems that I've been reading a lot. Of course, this can only be a good thing. I think it's been said somewhere that reading feeds the mind and as we all know, if you don't feed the mind it dies. So...I've been reading. No, I'm not saying that I feel like my brain is dying, I'm just trying to up my learning curve.

I never planned to go into church music, although there are those who will say that I have no say in "the plan," but I really don't believe that. I believe that life happens. This position became available and I took it. But I digress...this isn't theological today.

Since I wasn't planning on working in a church, I didn't study churches, church culture, or church music in college. It's not like I didn't have the opportunity. I went to a private Methodist college. And I was there a looooooong time. Opportunity and time were on my side. It wasn't something that particularly interested me.

Now, because of my position, I have to have an interest. Well, I don't have to, but I want to do well and have an excellent program, so I do have an interest. In this vein I've been reading a lot...as I mentioned, to up my learning curve.

Just last night I read "The No Complaining Rule" by Jon Gordon. GREAT book! I'm not a fast reader, unlike my sister and dad. They both seem to read millions of pages a week while I've had this book on my coffee table for nearly six months. I finally decided to pick up this book last night since there wasn't anything on the TV. Well, mainly "Brothers and Sisters" wasn't on...and if you haven't watched this show....WATCH IT! It's good!!

Anyway...I digress again. "The No Complaining Rule" is about exactly what it says: no complaining. Not cutting out complaining completely, but cutting out mindless, negative complaining and keeping useful, positive complaining that can help yield results and action.

I really liked this book. It wasn't very long and I finished it in 2 hours. A pretty big feat for me, since I prefer to read for comprehension instead of for speed or leisure. A big part of the book was laying out a plan to implement the No Complaining Rule and how to deal with complaints.

Even before reading this book I've tried to curtail complaining in my programs. For instance, in my biggest choir, we sometimes listen to our performance from the Sunday before. I ask people to think of how this could have been a better performance, but to also think of solutions and something positive. This usually weeds out the people in the group who are just looking for an outlet to complain about how flat we are, or how bad we sound (even when we don't sound bad at all!)

Unfortunately, I find personally I complain a lot. I complain to coworkers. I complain to family. I complain to my wife. If I were the other person, I would have already told myself to shut up. Or I would have just cut ties with myself. Either way, a negative outcome.

I try not to complain, but sometimes you just can't help it. At least that is what this book is saying. You CAN help it. You can still complain...rather I can still complain, but only if I accompany those complaints with positive action to get positive results. Complaints are a barometer (it's said thermometer - for you Seinfeld fans) and show that if something isn't working, then there is obviously something wrong. The pressure valve is complaints. That's when they can be used in a positive way.

This book recommends you try doing a "complaining fast" for one day, then a week, then a month, then forever. I think I'm going to try it. In fact, I would challenge anyone who reads this that you try it too. Write down all the complaints you have for a day and see how many you actually have. Then see which of those complaints you control and which you don't. The ones you don't control can just be "let go." The ones you do control...try to think of positive solutions to those complaints.

I know this seems silly, but perhaps no complaining is part of the answer to having success and happiness. I know I don't like to be around people who complain too much, so this is my positive solution...to spread the No Complaining Rule to all of you.

On a side note, another great Jon Gordon book to read is "Death By Meeting." This book goes through a plan to make meetings more successful and bearable. It has a lot more steps to it and is a lot more complicated, meaning you almost have to be in a leadership position to implement it, but it's still a great theory and well written book.