Early summer potpourri

Summer Camps
For two extended periods in my personal history, Christian camping played a very important role in my spiritual and social life.  I began my summer Christian camp experience as an eight-year-old at Camp Hunt, a fairly small camp in upstate New York.  I was stomach-sick that week and had a bad time, transferring the next summer to a much closer camp with burgeoning loyalty.

Camp Manatawny in Southeast PA always offered something to look forward to.  From age 9 through 17, I annually spent a week there as a camper, and I also served a few weeks of my later years as a staff member (dish washer and counselor).  In 1998-2001, I returned as an adult and counseled and led hymn sings and devotionals, forming some lasting relationships.  My memories include cabin devotionals, hymn sings, campfires with equally rich silly and spiritual sides, and girlfriends.  It was an athletic experience, too, actually:  I have a few athletic awards to my credit, notably including placing in the softball accuracy throw and winning the push-ups event at least one year.  I don’t think I ever placed higher than 4th in a track event.  Manatawny and I parted ways (arguably its choice, not mine), but I still have many fond memories.

I was pleased last year to learn a little of my nieces’ Christian camp experiences.  They are growing similarly at other camps.  Last year, my son Jedd went to a day camp at Camp Wyldewood and enjoyed himself.  This year, baseball and a theater camp are filling the first half of the summer for him.  At some point within the next year or two, I want to find a good camp at which he can grow relationally with God and with others.  I want to start him fairly early, not waiting until the pre-teen or teen years for this important part of summer.

Naming Rights
Academic buildings, dorms, and fields, etc., are often named with the largest donor’s name.  This practice has always bothered me a bit, feeling that the “money talks” principle could end up compromising academics.  The problem becomes more acute when it’s a church room or building that’s named for an individual.  I’m such a purist about this that I don’t even think church facilities should be named for one of the twelve apostles.  Of course, this problem doesn’t occur when a Christian group owns no real estate.  Keeping it simple is better.  And living rooms are more homey and comfortable, too.

Time was when more pro baseball stadiums were named for their teams (Dodger Stadium, Astrodome, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium).  A couple 1970s-built parks were named for their settings near rivers.  These days (see complete list here), only three stadiums use their teams’ names, and the rest appear to have large corporate sponsors that presumably paid for naming rights.  The ballparks now sport such names as Comerica, Miller, Citizens Bank, Minutemaid, and Target.  Having some knowledge of the Kauffman Foundation’s work in the Kansas City area, I don’t mind that the Royals stadium is named Kauffman, but I end up doubting the philanthropy of major insurance companies and banking conglomerates.  Incidentally, we’ve enjoyed one Royals game already and look forward to another.  Kauffman is my second favorite stadium experience, just behind Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, but Kauffman is easier to get to.

Kids’ baseball teams also have sponsors, and this scene is good for the community and for the kids.  Personally, I’m glad that my son Jedd’s team is sponsored by the River Cities Credit Union and not by a denomination or para-church organization like one of the other teams is.  I wouldn’t prefer to play a role in advertising for churchy business concerns.

Mulberries Revisited
The mulberries have just about stopped attracting the birds, which probably spend half their time now nesting in diabetic comas.  It is almost safe to park our cars in the driveway again.  See Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree for the backstory.  I’ve since learned that Mrs. Shuck did indeed have quite a Christian legacy, and that she passed from this life a year or two ago.

Summer Sounds
Time was when a friend and I attended a few Philly Orchestra concerts at the Mann Music Center.  One could often get cheap or free tickets to sit on the lawn.  Good times.

This year, I’ll again be missing the summer Concerts Under the Stars at the Garden Theater at UNC.   There is really only one UNC, by the way, and it’s in Greeley, Colorado, not in North Carolina.  Since I was a UNC grad student and was able to participate in one or two of said outdoor concerts, I’ve only been able to attend one or two other concerts there.  It’s always a nice time.  For some reason, I feel more loyalty to UNC than I ever did to my high school or to two other universities I had attended prior to my last degree.  I’ve never been a rah-rah type, but hey, “Once a Bear, always a Bear.”

Summer sounds in eastern Kansas have so far involved raucous, sporadically nocturnal neighbors who don’t handle the clock or their booze very well.  On the plus side, Jedd and I heard the Kansas City Symphony a few weeks ago, and I look forward to hearing a local jazz group and a children’s folk singer in July.

Bonus:  the Android “Gumdrop” ringtone sound
And now for a cool sound that has nothing to do with hot summer.  At some point while listening to this “Gumdrop” ringtone on my phone, I realized it included asymmetric meter.¹  I couldn’t resist writing it out.  For us rhythm geeks, the fun is built into the 7/8 bar, which makes it seem like the repeat comes an eighth-note too early.

Here is a recording, too.


¹ Since none of the first six WWW sources I found had a very good definition of “asymmetric meter,” here is my simple one:  a unit or measure of music in which not all pulses (beats) have the same duration.  

In the above case, the 7/8 bar

  1. contains one eighth note less than the 4/4 bars
  2. theoretically has a final, or fourth, pulse that’s only half the length of the others (one eighth vs. one quarter . . . or one quaver vs. one crochet, for the two Brits or British-trained musicians who might be reading this), but it
  3. would be conducted with three pulses (beats one and two are “simple,” containing an evenly spaced two eighth notes each; whereas the final pulse is “compound,” comprising three eighth notes, and requiring 50% more time than each of the first two pulses

Change: Adaptive, Progressive, or Regressive?

Change: Adaptive, Progressive, or Regressive?

Or, Was the 1st-Century Church a Helpless Embryo or an Ambulatory, Full-fledged Entity?

In terms of coming to understand and practice the authentic Christian faith, for me, it goes without saying that 1st-century documents carry more prescriptive authority than 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-century sources.  Said another way:  the later the writing, the more likely that undesirable/undesired ideas crept into it.  The last blogpost probed along these lines, even to the point of distinguishing among decades and developments in the 1st century.  Could some later New Testament documents have begun to veer from the originally laid out course?

This is not so much about a hermeneutic of authorization, i.e., that specific things were/were not authorized by God, and that such things were/were not codified in the writings.  I do not take that approach.  Nor can any careful NT reader ascertain that any particular 1st-century congregation—say, Antioch in the 40s or Philippi in the 60s—was iconic.  I do, however, wonder whether the letters to Timothy and Titus, attributed to Paul, might betray a relatively early adaptation of original Christian practice viz. the roles of church leaders (bishops/elders/pastors) and servants (deacons).  For sake of discussion, I am assuming that that “original,” however elusive it might be to us today, was a good thing, worthy of some later pursuit.

[Aside:  calling attention to the relative timing (early vs. late) of Christian writings begs the question of how undesirable these blogposts of mine might be.  They are, after all, about as “late” as I can get in terms of authorship!  Here, I only intend to be comparing the canonical apostolic scriptures and the works of the so-called church fathers, not even distinguishing between the Antenicene fathers and the later ones.  Moreover, there are always exceptions to a general rule; many helpful and/or worthy passages will be found in later writings.]

If something is just born, is it only to be pitied as a helpless creature, not fully formed?  Some might think here of the long-observed “progression” from movement to sect, and from sect to denominational institution, but that is not really where I’m headed.  Larry Hurtado has recently offered a corrective to the idea that a newly born anything is necessarily to be seen as a baby.  I agree that a sense of early Christian faith and practice is crucial, and I do not relegate the nascent first-century movement to “helpless infant” or “cute toddler” status.  There is no call to apologize for, say, documented aspects of Christianity in the year 48 or 57 or 62.  Hurtado sees mid-1st-century Pauline literature as viable:  Paul, in writing his letters, presupposed that Christianity was at that time “adequately formed and fully appropriate.”  Hurtado has his “historian” hat on as he assesses this way, and the hat fits well.  It is good for later observers not to superimpose value judgments (“well, Christianity was little more than embryonic then”) that cloud or falsely view the realities of historical scenarios and changes.

Hurtado goes further in suggesting that observed changes are not necessarily “deviations from a ‘pure’ and ‘original’ form.”  Sometimes, changes may merely be adaptations of a neutral original.  To question the existence of an original ideal is admittedly uncomfortable for me, restorationist and neo-protestant that I am.  In the ecclesiological sphere, I am typically suspicious of changes that occurred well after the launching of the movement—so this bent would affect my reading of Origen, Eusebius, and Tertullian—although generally supportive of changes in organizational methodology in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Without delving into specific reasons for this apparent inconsistency, I think there are some fairly good reasons for it, at least with the types of changes I have in mind.

I affirm that changes do not necessarily imply progress.  Sometimes, change may be regressive; in other instances, merely adaptive.  Take the Windows PC platform (now perhaps more a fortress than a portal from which to see out and do one’s work) as an example.  Windows 3.1 was quite functional and seems to me to have been well tested, with little performance concern.  From the end user’s perspective, Windows 95 “progressed” yet had serious issues, some of which were fixed in Windows 98.  I found Windows XP to represent a more helpful progression, whereas Windows 7 and Windows 8 were beset by issues.  The successively opaque versions of Windows might be alternately assessed as progressive or unwisely adaptive to demand.  Somewhat similarly, while some ecclesiological adaptations of the first century were arguably progressive, the eventualities that led to the Roman Catholic institution are for me adaptive departures from the original ideal.¹  From the cultural and “market” perspectives, some changes that occurred in, e.g., the 4th century or the 6th were understandable adaptations, while others were misbegotten and fraught with apostasy.

As a historian, one should not, as Hurtado points up, arbitrarily overlay value judgments on changes.  As an idealistic Christ-ian, though, I long for authentic, pure faith, untainted by decades of darkness and centuries of clouds.  I see the composite picture of the early church as presenting a better, more viable ideal than any ecclesiological reality manifest in any later centuries, despite the sincere efforts of various reformers through the ages.  And yes, these are value judgments.  I admit it.

To read Dr. Hurtado’s blogpost, click the title below.

How We See Historical Changes


¹ For instance, I should think the Apostle Peter would be spiritually indignant if made aware of what transpired over a period of centuries with regard to his person and legacy.  Those changes might be viewed as regressive or progressive, depending on one’s viewpoint, but they were in any event substantial departures from the original ideal.

Over-emphasized (?): church roles in 1Tim and Titus

Over-emphasized (?):  Church Roles in 1Tim and Titus

Or, The Aging and Negative Development of Christian Thought

The letters known as First Timothy and Titus are typically the first points of investigation for anyone wanting to explore biblically based roles for elders/pastors/shepherds and deacons/servants.  Other, possibly related bits may pop in from Acts 6, Hebrews 13, and other spots, but 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1 appear to house the most extended treatments of these roles.

It is not my intent here to examine the veracity of this or that document (as though I could).¹  I merely want to suggest a possibly altered view, sort of wondering out loud.  Could it be that the probable later writing of Timothy and Titus compromises how we should see them?  Do they suggest specific or rigid ideas about the church elder/pastor and deacon roles?  Put another way:  could it be that Paul’s and/or his trusted companions’ thoughts on these topics became crystallized, over-codified, or even obscured over a period of decades?

Earlier this week, I heard a fine Christian speaker put forward the idea that Paul must’ve been so proud of a church’s health because it had progressed to the point of having elders and deacons.  From an institutional standpoint, I get that.  But my negative view of hierarchies and most letterhead-designated roles has me doubting that cause/effect relationship.  A movement may be responsive to developing needs in a cultural context, and the existence of recognized elders and deacons at Ephesus or Philippi might well have signified something positive.  Still, the presence of designated leaders who have certain traits (or “qualifications,” preferred by some) does not necessarily imply progress, let alone proving a singular reason for Paul’s joy.

I myself feel gladness in learning of a church that has multiple leaders instead of a single pastor-in-charge, but an oligarchy is only a slightly better model for a church than a (human) dictatorship, no matter how benevolent.  Mutuality and general Christian influence, a la Paul ⇒ Philemon, are more to be relied on than positional authority and power.  Practically speaking, leaders will arise within groups, to one degree or another.  Leadership has various faces, including some agreeable ones.  The real problem is when one person, by virtue of a title and/or a position, has (or is seen as having) comprehensive or absolute authority.

In probing these things, I might ultimately reveal a bias toward original intent in terms of what church was to be, and how it was to go about its business.  Whether we can accurately determine original intent or not, I should think Jesus’ and Paul’s and Peter’s (and James’s and Barnabas’s and Philip’s, etc.) ideas are inherently more valuable than the ideas of church leaders in the 3rd or 10th generation.  I’d further assert that it may be observed, no matter one’s organizational, theological, or ecclesiological bias, that things changed notably by the second century CE—and even more so in the succeeding centuries.  By the time of Constantine and Theodosius in the fourth century, important moorings had been sacrificed, and as the Dark Ages began, much light was lost for centuries.

Assuming for the moment the reality that things and situations do change over time, and further assuming that entropy plays a role here, would it not be rational to think that Paul’s ideas on “church governance” (for lack of a better term) could have gotten just a little over-codified or over-emphasized by a well-meaning person who collected some sayings and put together a document from memory, a decade or even a century after Paul’s death?

I take as a given that popery is a skewed manifestation of “church leadership” and that its appearance resulted in a centuries-long blight.  [I also take as a given that there are some very sincere believers, some of whom I have been privileged to know, that remain attached, mostly for reasons of family history, to the Roman organization, but that is beside the point here.]  I further assume that all highly “clerical,” hierarchical leadership patterns are more or less antithetical to principles of New Testament scripture.  There are degrees of variance from the original, whatever the original was, but no de facto or de jure structure that employs positional power can be a good thing in the Lord’s eyes.

We are dealing here with substantive concepts around the nature of scripture, God’s sovereignty, and how God’s Spirit works in the ekklesia (called-out people who profess faith, i.e., the church).  I believe in the reality of an open God who allows for human free choice.  So, for instance, when I question how “original” and how important the 1Tim 3 description of a bishop/overseer is, I am necessarily dealing with the nature and provenance of scripture, but I am also assuming a sovereign God who chooses to allow changes and developments among His people.  I’d actually prefer to put the nature of scripture and canon and God Himself on the sideboard, intending instead to place this question on the table in plain view:   Could the elapsing of time have compromised some of the principled undergirding of various Christian writings, given that some documents were authored as early as 15 years after Jesus’ death, while others were not finalized for several decades?  More specifically here, does Paul (and does Jesus?) expect that every growing, mature church will have such designated leaders as bishops and deacons, as described in two letters that were written into specific historical and cultural situations, sometime between 60 CE and 160 CE?

In general terms, I find that we may observe a negative impact on the status quo during the passage of time after the first and second generations of Christian believers.

B. Casey, 5/21/17, rev. 6/7/17


¹ The letters purportedly from Paul to Timothy and Titus are letters of disputed provenance.  They might not have come as directly from the mind or dictation or pen of Paul as did Galatians and Philemon and 1Thessalonians and Romans, for example.

 

Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree

I don’t write vignettes very often, and I don’t think I’m very good at it, but maybe this little piece will interest a few folks to whom my normal fare doesn’t often appeal.

~ ~ ~

She was what you might think of as a “little old lady,” and she lived diagonally across from me, through the backyards.  I suppose she was 75 or so when I met her, and she’s presumably passed from this life.  Her first name was Pauline, but I called her “Mrs. Shuck.”  I could see Mrs. Shuck’s back porch from mine.  And I crossed paths with her over a mulberry tree in my yard.

I happened to be renting a two-story brick house from a landlord whose memory and judgment I had some reason to suspect at that point.¹  He was new at the business and didn’t know how to handle some things.  I later learned that I was probably on the upper end of his clientele, and my house, being owned by his parents, was sort of ancillary to his normal operation, so it wasn’t always on his radar.

Let’s rewind for a minute to pick up the mulberry trail. . . .  After springtime Sunday school in Wilmington, Delaware, we young kids would make our way to the little hill that bordered the property on the north.  There was less rush in life then, and families hung around longer, giving us kids plenty of time to play under the willow tree or to roll grapefruit-sized “monkey balls” down the hill.  We also picked and ate the mulberries from a tree on that hill.  Fresh berries are always good things!

Now back to my rental house and a rejuvenated phase in my own life.  The Heartland sky was big and beautiful, and the surrounding farmland, as charming as it was productive.  I can still recall the fresh, local cucumbers from that first summer in Kansas.  And when spring kicked into gear the following year, I was delighted to find that my backyard had a mulberry tree.  What could be better than fresh, free berries?  Just like on the hill across the parking lot at Cedars!  I wasn’t exactly a kid in a candy shop, but I remember picking and eating while mowing the lawn.  I don’t think I baked a mulberry pie, but I probably put some berries in my fridge.

Enter the villainess of the story.  [Cue mock-sinister music.]  At some point I became aware that Mrs. Shuck didn’t like the mulberry tree.  She groused about the robins pooping purple on the fresh sheets she had hung on her clothesline.  Well, maybe use your dryer, I probably thought.  Sorry, but the tree is 50 feet away from your clothesline, and it’s not in your yard.  I was busy in a new teaching job, and more or less forgot about the issue, unaware that my landlord was seriously entertaining this lady’s complaints.  One afternoon when I returned from work, though, I found that the tree had been cut down!  I called to find out what was up, and the landlord confirmed that he had indeed cut the tree down in response to Mrs. Shuck’s complaint.

I was miffed.

This was before I had developed an abiding cynicism about people with clout, but really . . . who was this meddlesome woman who had the clout to get into my business and rob me of the fresh mulberries?

Within a day or two, realizing that fruit of mulberry tree was not written into my lease, I cooled down and wrote a note of forgiveness to Mrs. Shuck.  I had been mad, and I guess she knew it.  I delivered the note to her door, and she received it graciously.  She explained and apologized for the offense, and we had a little get-to-know-you chat.  She later wrote me a note of her own after attending a concert in which I performed, and she wished me well.

I vaguely remember that Mrs. Shuck was a Christian of some stripe, but I don’t remember her church affiliation.  And whether she was or wasn’t doesn’t really matter in this context.  (I’m stupid but not stupid enough to think that the Jesus-follower’s forgiveness ideal is applicable only to interactions in which both parties are Christian.  No, it’s more of a mantra—an M.O. for every interaction.)  At first, I think my forgiveness toward Mrs. Shuck was through gritted teeth, as it were.  (Remember Stephen Keaton of the old Family Ties series as he uttered the name of Mallory’s questionable boyfriend Nick?)  But at least I tried to act my way into forgiving her for robbing me of mulberries, and she appreciated it.

Now, I again have a mulberry tree in my yard—next to my driveway, in fact.  Poetic justice, you might say.  And now, my little pickup truck is almost as white as Mrs. Shuck’s sheets.  The bird poop stains on both vehicles are abhorrent little masses of disgustingness.  My neighbor acknowledges the nice shade but also wishes this tree had been cut down years ago.

Mrs. Shuck, I understand better now.  And I forgive you better now, too.

~ ~ ~

In anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed.  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matt 18:34-35, NET)

Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  (Col 3:13, MSG)


¹ In signing the rental agreement, I had made sure the fireplace was operational and eventually bought some wood in the fall.  I checked the flue carefully, and it was open.  I started my first fire, but smoke billowed into my family room.  After throwing water on it and opening the windows, I called the landlord.  He had forgotten that the chimney had been bricked in—completely closed at the top!  A few other, minor things occurred in the first year there, indicating that my landlord was not completely on the ball, but I left on very good terms.

Conductors: my most admired two

This post is a continuing tribute to influential conductors in my curriculum vitae—literally, my “life’s course.”  The first post is here, spotlighting several conductors who influenced me to one degree or another.  In concluding that essay two months ago, I purposed to offer some more detailed praise of my two most admired conductors.  By way of commentating on the one I know less about, I’ll comment on her impressive concert offered at the recent CBDNA conference.  That concert was a shining example of gesture (among other attributes) that is at once beautiful and distinctly connected with sound.  First, some important background.

Most of the non-art-music world comes to have a shallow view of the conductor as a musician.  TV and movies that depict conductors almost invariably use actors who may have little sense of what a conductor does (and the producers seem never to bother to call in experts to help).  Some even appear in caricature.  Other professions or cultural subgroups may receive more negative treatment, but that is beside the point.  The point is that few people whose worlds do not include ensemble music appear to have much idea of a conductor’s training, abilities, or activities.  The sometimes-arrhythmic waving of arms in nonstandard patterns in the movies needs a corrective, so I’ll offer one in two sentences:

A good conductor’s gestures (and other nonverbal signals) are not only in time and in style, using conventional patterns and cues.  Beyond those attributes, what a conductor does should also be in the music to such a degree that the nonverbals play a major role in evoking group sound—sound that turns out to be connected directly to the composer’s musical creation.

“In time,” of course, denotes solid rhythmic connection.  Most Western large ensemble music needs a conductor to help keep players together, and this factor demands the use of standard gestural “beat patterns” and other conventions that are executed at specific points in time.  Beyond tempo and patterns, and surpassing the other qualifier I used above (“in style”), “in the music” is all-encompassing.  To be “in the music” is to comprehend—and then authentically to elicit—the musical content of a given musical work.  A conductor “in the music” will of course be in tempo, and in style (for instance, not using accented gestures for smooth, flowing music).  He will also be so wrapped up in the musical content at hand that every gesture, every change in facial expression and barely perceptible move of the eyebrows, and every explanatory word offered will serve a faithful recreation of the composer’s musical work.

In the previous post on conductors, I had spotlighted three conductors as particularly strong examples of impressive, beautiful, controlled gesture, well connected with sound.  Steve Davis, Cynthia Johnston-Turner, and Jerry Junkin have all struck me as inimitable leaders and strong musical interpreters.  Their conducting manner and other leadership expressions are passionate (at times Bernstein-esque!), engaging, and infectious, but sometimes less than efficient and not always connected to dynamics.  Of course there are many conductors in the world that I’ve never seen or heard in action, but of the 1000+ I have observed, these six are some of the very best.  I would travel many miles to listen to them talk about music or to be present for a rehearsal or concert.

There are yet two conductors I consider my most formative and/or most deeply admired conductors:   Mallory Thompson, of Northwestern University in Chicago; and Allan McMurray, recently retired from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Mallory Thompson
Mallory Thompson

Several years ago, I observed Mallory Thompson demonstrating rehearsal technique in a clinic and was impressed.  It was not Thompson’s impressive CV (including an Eastman doctorate) that made the difference.  No, it was actually what she did as a teacher, ensemble leader, and conductor—as well as how she did it.  I have never had the opportunity to be directly taught by Thompson, so I cannot say much in personal terms.  I will merely say that her ensemble’s concert at the CBDNA conference in Kansas City was the most nearly perfectly conducted concert I have witnessed.  I don’t remember a single moment that called for criticism, and that in itself says a lot for a natural critic like me.  Her convincing programming was comparatively simple, with an introductory work (by Richard Strauss, 1864-1949) and two more extended ones (by living composers Carter Pann and Joel Puckett).  The program showed shape and balance in terms of style and musical depth.  The Pann work, a programmatic symphony laced with intense human feeling, required a special combination of mature control, serene sensitivity, and sustained awareness of musical direction and the approaching points of “arrival.”  Throughout the program, Thompson’s gestures kept my eyes riveted, yet I was peripherally aware of various players.  My ears were enthralled not only with the gloriously expressive ensemble sounds, but also a precise, focused, almost inhumanly perfect connection between the visual and the aural.  My own view was from about 10 meters directly above the vantage point from which this shot was taken during this very concert:

A Northwestern University follow-up article about this concert is found here.  Reading just the first few paragraphs provides a good overview.  Should I ever have opportunity to seek more training/mentoring from a more seasoned artist-conductor again, I think I will first seek it from Mallory Thompson.

Of all the conductors from whom I have learned first-hand, Allan McMurray has topped my list since the summer of 2000 when I first submitted myself as a conductor-participant in a symposium at CU-Boulder.  The next two summers involved similar but increasingly rewarding experiences.  Allan’s teaching collaborators at these symposia were strong, too, but none so captivatingly, pedagogically on-point every time—in terms of both overall musicianship and conducting.  It would be a gross exaggeration to say I entered into a “discipling” relationship with McMurray, but following in his footsteps from afar has been something of a goal, and an ongoing teacher-student relationship of the apprentice type, unrealistic in my life, was something I nevertheless desired.

In my experience, McMurray is a sterling, relational teacher who goes to great lengths to help each student move to the next level.  While a student-conductor works with players through a musical passage, McMurray will stand off to the side or in the back, taking everything in.  He allows the music to proceed for a good length of time, then comfortably engaging the student in dialogue, imitation, or merely another attempt, as appropriate.  There is always a sense that nothing is important at that moment except helping this one conductor to progress in his/her ability to conduct that particular music better.  McMurray is not likely to call attention to his own masterful technique with long Image result for Allan McMurraydemonstrations, rather choosing to show something for a few seconds, patiently assisting the student to catch the vision, emulate the gesture, or embody some other conducting ideal.  I have not yet been able to part with VHS recordings of my own work in these workshops; they are priceless to me.  This brief video shows just a bit of Allan McMurray in his natural teaching habitat—possibly with his own graduate students—but cannot do justice to his teaching method and manner.

I distinctly remember a moment during the third or fourth day of a five-day symposium, probably 15 years ago.  At this point, I was playing horn when one of the other 19 conductors was on the podium leading the rehearsal ensemble.  We were nearing the lunch break time, and there was some question as to how to spend the next 15 minutes since all the scheduled conductors had received instruction for the morning.  Feeling we could all use a sort of synthesized lesson, I took the step of nearly begging McMurray to conduct us in a demo of an entire movement.  Unassuming as he is, he was difficult to convince, and I can hardly remember whether he actually did engage in conducting for 10 minutes or not.  I only remember the feeling of the moment:  (1) deeply wanting to be shown how by this master—through an extended example of his abilities to lead willing musicians, evoking sound with gesture and eyes and posture and all the rest—and (2) his humble spirit in the face of the public request I made.

Here, McMurray and CU colleague Matthew Roeder discuss an upcoming concert in a 3-minute video, providing insight into thought about music and programming.

And here is a rare find:  a video of a McMurray rehearsal with another university ensemble in his own rehearsal hall.  I would doubt that McMurray made any special preparation for the production here, but polish and glitz are not the point.  For him, music-making and connecting with real people playing real instruments are as natural as walking.  One deceptively significant practice I learned from Allan was the value of referring to the player by name in rehearsal:  e.g., “When Jacqueline enters with her line” instead of “When the 1st oboe starts playing.”  In the above-linked video and this one (part 2 of the same rehearsal), one might notice such aspects as McMurray’s complete, memorized command of the composition’s musical expressions and their “in the music” evocation, and his natural, unforced charisma.

Watching that rehearsal instantly took me back to the same room and the three extended symposia in which I participated there, plus a couple other times that Allan graciously allowed me to sit in for an afternoon even when I wasn’t a participant.  Far better players than I would also return, summer after summer, just for that unique, communal music-making experience.  I miss that kind of music-making, that kind of leader, and that kind of conducting in my life.

Allan, I am glad you are still active in your early retirement years.  The rest of us still need you. I didn’t presume on your time when I saw you in Kansas City, because twenty others probably wanted to talk with you at the same time, but if I had approached you, I know you would have received me with warmth.  I am grateful for your early patience with me, and your encouragement as I developed.  Your influence is extensive and has extended through many years.  As you often pay tribute to your teacher Bob Reynolds, I am paying tribute to you.  I am but one of many, but I will long remember your examples, your long-lived constancy as a musician and as a conductor-model, and your ability to make students know that you are genuinely interested in guiding, in helping each one move to the “next thing.”

Image result for Allan McMurray

Effectiveness and “making a difference”

Effectiveness and “Making a difference”

Or, Ineffective Interviewers, Political Activity, and (sometimes) Prayer

On a Netflix special that consisted entirely of an interview, I heard a master interviewer¹ interviewing another interviewer-become-interviewee about a project that involved hundreds of conducted interviews.  (You might have to read that sentence again.)  Near the end, the interviewee was asked why she did it all.

“Because I believe we can make a difference.”

And then—as though she knew those words were empty, and being unaware that adding the next part would actually weaken her statement—she appended,

“I really believe that.”

No matter how much I might sympathize with her cause (and I happened to have been tipping about 72% in her direction), I didn’t “believe that” at all.  I don’t believe that her thoroughgoing efforts, her passion for the subject, or the resultant documentary about her interviews will make any noticeable difference in the reality of the situation.  They will ultimately be ineffective.

~ ~ ~

More than one Facebook friend believes the current U.S. presidency (or another one—it really doesn’t matter which) has a chance of making a positive difference.  Many also feel otherwise.  Whatever their vantage points, they all really seem to “believe that.”  I’m not necessarily able to discern these matters very well, but I myself haven’t observed much presidential effectiveness.  I suppose several presidents of yesteryear could be said to have been effective in one or more ways.  I’m not about to sing “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again” here, but it does seem that there’s a slim current-era likelihood of much good effect from major political figures in this country.  I highly doubt that petitions, bills, resolutions, and documentaries (no matter how interesting and on-point) will ultimately be effective.  Political gangings-up, whether by the liberal-biased media or the conservative-biased evangelicals, aren’t going to be too effective in working good, either.  None of it will make much difference, or if it does, it will be short-lived.

~ ~ ~

My wife notes that certain consumer product markets have changed in good ways in the last decade, based primarily on the demand side.  Non-GMO-label products have proliferated, and artificial coloring has disappeared from many items, for instance.  While regulations have not followed suit, i.e., government lags reality, some health advocates and activities have arguably made a difference.

~ ~ ~

James said the prayer of a righteous man is effectual.  (OK, I don’t actually know the words James used, or whether they were first penned in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek, but “effectual” in the KJV is a richer word than “effective.”  I can do without the subsequent “availeth much.”)  Most people I know would say “prayer makes a difference,” but I have for years preferred to put the emphasis on God, not on the activity or the words of prayer per se.  Prayer is not some elixir or magical incantation that is effective in itself.  No, it is the One prayers are directed to that must make them “effectual.”  My own “prayer life” (a Christianese phrase not found in scripture) was once in a time of relative plenty, but it is now in a time of famine.  The prayers I’ve eked out in recent months/years haven’t seemed very effectual.  They just haven’t made a difference.  Not so far, anyway.  That is discouraging.

~ ~ ~

My dad recently wrote me a personal reflection about a prayer in his own life.  His words were transparent, humble, and rich in personal history, and he experienced the “effectualness” of his own prayer.  I am grateful for him and his experience, and I am also envious.  May I be simultaneously encouraged for him and discouraged for myself?

~ ~ ~

A couple weeks later, I participated in a small group study of the last part of James chapter 5.  That passage of text has some interesting translation-interpretation issues (e.g., healing/saving, the connection with anointing, righteous/just, and others).  Beyond those matters (which do intrigue me), I keyed in early on the word “anoint” and began to wonder about possible allusions here to King David’s sin (2Samuel 11).  Could it be that this entire, concluding section of James’s epistle was intended to lead the predominantly Jewish audience to hark back to times of old?  Below, I have divided James 5:13-20 into three sections and made a few observations on the right.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up – and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.  

This section can be taken as relating to emotional and spiritual health as well as physical.  See especially v16 which may be connecting the two.  There may be dual “healings” here (v15, v16)—both spiritual and physical.

17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest. This section provides a clear, emphatic example of the effectiveness of praying.  Here, it is physical, but the earlier part of the Elijah story (1Kings 18) dramatically connected both the spiritual and the physical.
19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, 20 he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

 

Elijah and David would have been quite familiar to James’s audience.

It is really only the anointing in v14 above that caused me to recall and look up David’s repentance story.  If my hunch is correct that there might be an echo here of Nathan and David, the import of 5:13-20 could be to say to the Jewish audience, “Pray for one another’s deep needs.  Remember:  praying was effective in Elijah’s case and also in David’s.  The physical side may or may not be changed, but the spiritual will be.”  

In any event, the praying James is encouraging focuses on spiritual results.  

Doubtless, Jewish believers in the middle of the first century CE would have known well the story of David and Bathsheba, even though it was 1,000 years in the past.  Perhaps when reading James’s suggestion of anointing the (spiritually?) sick one with oil, the Jewish reader would have called to mind more than one anointing in their history, including David’s anointing of himself, connected with his own spiritual healing, as recorded in 2Samuel 12:20.  The appeal to Elijah is inserted as a central testimony to God’s responsive action, and then the curious James 5:19-20 concludes the letter.

So, what to make of verses 19-20?  If—and I do say if—I’m onto something with this recall of King David, then verses 19-20 could be alluding, in rabbinic remez² fashion, to the work of the prophet Nathan.  In other words, the ideas of (1) turning a sinner from his ways and (2) the resultant covering or cancelling of sins could have led a Jewish Christian to remember that Nathan effectively spoke a message from God for the sake of a sinner.

It can also be so with the Jesus-follower in the new age, when he, too, will speak for God to a sibling who is sinning.  A few people have attempted such a “turning” effort with me; their concerns were well-intended and appreciated but not entirely on point.  I’ve probably needed it a lot more at other times, and I’ve neglected doing the same for others way, way too much.  Maybe I just didn’t believe it would make a difference.  And that is on me.

B. Casey, 5/2/17 – 5/27/17


¹ I know of only a few who could rightly wear the label “master interviewer,” but I’m sure there are many others who just aren’t known to me.  Barbara Walters has been known as a master interviewer, but the interviewer in this case was Oprah Winfrey.  I myself would like to interview Oprah to ask if her parents didn’t look up how to spell “Orpah” before naming her.  And then I would like to discuss the biblical account of Orpah, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz with her.  Somehow I think Oprah probably already knows of the story, but we could discuss it with some depth, and I imagine she would be intrigued by the details of the Hebrew narrative.

² Remez is briefly explained here (“Remez is one of the methods that Jesus used quite often when he quoted scripture, which is a teaching method by which the teacher quotes a verse from the Bible but the point he is making is from the verses surrounding the one he quoted”) and also here, and here.

MM: An inviting invitation (musical settings of Matt 11:28-30)

[This is an installment in the sporadic Monday Music series which deals with topics related to Christian music.  Other, related posts may be found here.]

In mid-2016 and again in early 2017, I was invited, in a manner of speaking, to reconsider an invitation from Jesus’ own lips, as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30.

Even if it didn’t possess an intrinsically openhearted quality, this passage would stand out because it has been memorized a lot.  It was also “my” passage to recite during my college chorus’s scripture-and-hymns program, performed every evening while on tours.  At the time, despite my sometimes having to stutter out the initial plosive consonant on “Come to me,” I was complimented on my delivery and the perceived match of my vocal timbre with a preconceived idea of the Jesus behind the saying.  Now, however, I have negative associations with a couple of people from that time, and I definitely had a less mature understanding of the text back then, so it’s with mixed feelings that I recall the experience.

At some point, I became acquainted with the Leonard Burford song “Come Unto Me.”  The legally blind “Brother Burford” was director of the chorus at Abilene Christian College and had studied at Juilliard.  This song is available in only one of my hymnals.  I suppose it was sung in only a very few churches and would hardly be known now.  It is an inviting, near-choral-type setting and is of good technical quality (speaking musically and poetically), but it seems to excel in terms of musical form and harmony more than in communication of a text (and context).  Here is a sample:

Another setting, used several times a year in the church of my youth, was more accessible to large, untrained groups.  Both of these songs employ a good deal of repetition, but the latter is more approachable and singable.  The stanzas below, written for soprano-alto duet, are only indirectly related to the text.  The men’s voices enter emphatically at the chorus, which was the actual setting of the Matthew text.  This version, in my estimation, is somewhat better than the Burford one.  Given its era, the quasi-instrumental-accompaniment setting of the refrain here was effective.  The textual emphasis at primary cadence points (ends of lines 4 and 6) seems to be on “rest for the soul.”

It might even be supposed that the writers of many other “invitation” or “altar call” songs had Matthew 11:28 in the backs of their minds—loosely and implicitly if not explicitly.  I think here of the likes of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home,” and “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling.”

Years transpired after my college choral days, and I became less interested in choral music.  Incidentally, I became increasingly averse to the whole churchy “invitation” thing during that time.  Nevertheless, in 1996, I wrote my own “Come To Me,” tied more directly and strictly to the passage—and specifically spurred by Gary Collier’s book The Forgotten Treasure:  Reading the Bible Like JesusA sketch history of this song goes something like this:

At what I might say was just the right time of my life, I read The Forgotten Treasure.  Bothered as I was by what I took as legalistic, un-grace-filled approaches to people within certain churches, I felt a deep impact from much of the book and keyed in on the middle of Matthew (including chapter 11), based on Gary’s emphases and structural suggestions.  Compelled, I wrote the song and shared it with the author of the book, having been in touch with him through a Bible discussion e-mail group.

A group called Lights, audiowhich I directed and sang with through the 1990s, was available to me, and I naturally went in the direction of a musical arrangement that played to that group’s strengths and resided in its comfort zones.  Lights ended up using the song in performances at youth events, church retreats, etc.  Lights made two recordings, and both recordings strike me now as acceptable, given what I had to work with, but dated.  A bass voice is heard on the solo, and my younger sister’s voice and mine are heard in countermelodic bursts in the final chorus of the recording stored here.  I am still pleased that the overall demeanor of the song is different from that of the run-of-the-mill, more churchy appeals the Matthew text with which I had been acquainted.  This song is more targeted, more insistent . . . and even the conclusion is a comparatively forceful invitation, with a half-cadence that suggests the Son of Man’s unending, energetic interest, not a namby-pamby “just lie down and go to sleep with gentle Jesus.”

I moved on from Lights, but I never forgot the song and still periodically turn to it for personal devotional use.

Last summer, a conference was held, organized in connection with the Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation.  When the theme was announced as centering in Matthew’s gospel, an obvious opportunity arose to revisit my song that had also been based in that document, so I did just that.  It turned out to be the 20th anniversary for my “Come To Me.”  Having become largely disenchanted with the a cappella medium of the first version of the song (excerpt shown here)—and particularly with the accompaniment style I had used for the Lights performance group—I knew it was time to abandon that approach.  Few really sing that way anymore, and the group was perhaps even in a time warp during part of its history, too.  In trying to function within the niche-world of a cappella church music, Lights appealed to some but perhaps outlived our usefulness.  I digress.

Looking back, I’d say the song is conceptually and creatively among my 10 or 15 best.  (There were many others written during that decade—some, barely mediocre.)  Gary’s book had pointed me in a focused way to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus, so I think the song carried an authentically scriptural, strong message.  Since 1996, my understanding of Matthew (and of texts in general, and the newly inbreaking reign of God, and more) have grown immeasurably.  Here are sections of the sheet music for the updated version of “Come To Me”:

A home recording of this version is here, for what it’s worth.  It might need to be downloaded before playing it, depending on your setup.   The pre-recorded keyboard part is 5-10% too fast, and my out-of-shape voice is found wanting.  (A more in-shape female solo voice would have been better on this song!)  This 2016 update incorporated several minor musical and lyrics changes—plus adding a bridge that solidifies and significantly strengthens the whole, I think:

Hear and learn from the Master.
Understand the reading of the Old and the New.
Go and follow the Master of mercy!
He brings the Kingdom into view!

A responsible interpretation of Matthew 11:28-30 must not merely take some poetic expressions and make them sound sweet in a song.  One ought to consider those words of “invitation” apart from the “altar call” or “invitation” dynamic in traditional congregation settings.  Further, one ought to pay attention to Matthew 11:28-30 within the striking contextual arrangement of Matthew’s gospel.  No song could succeed in every detail, but in pursuing such a biblical text contextually, in this way, what Matthew’s gospel says about the Master can become clearer.

Whatever its strength or weakness of this song, I hope that you are taken further, or maybe just a little differently, into Matthew’s riches and Jesus’ invitation.

He’s 8 today

My first blogpost was a year prior to our son Jedd’s birth, and I began blogging in earnest when he was born.  I’ve noted a few other numeric milestones on this blog but semi-intentionally passed by post #1500 recently.  Jedd’s 8th birthday, a milestone for him and for us, seems a good time to document a bit of his life on this blog. . . .

~ ~ ~

No one set Jedd’s alarm on Sunday night, so I woke him up on Monday morning. Three days before his birthday, I told him he was officially 7-point-99 years old!  He is a morning person, and he smiled right away.

Jedd has had more than his share of sniffles this year but is generally a healthy kid and hasn’t been to the doctor since he was two or three.  He is a little shorter than average (like Karly) and has a sweet spirit (like Karly).  He likes all people (even more than Karly) and has friends of various ages—including adults.  He actually asked me two days ago about planning a “date” to Pizza Hut with a little girlfriend, but we’re passing that by for now.  Jedd’s first friends in western NY were mostly college students, and that doubtless contributed to his strong vocabulary, communication skills, and love of people.  Due in part to interim faculty positions I’ve held, Jedd has lived in five states already and has traveled in 22.  He has seen the Gulf of Mexico, and he has breathed thin air at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies and felt a “polar bear wind” in Wyoming.  He’s traveled through Bald Knob and Bennington, Corpus  Christi and Cookeville.  He has lived in Allegany County and Atchison and has seen Anderson and the Atlantic Ocean.

He thinks his 2nd grade year has been his best ever.  He reads at a level that can make it problematic to find reading material that’s challenging but age-appropriate, and I think he reads aloud better than some 5th or 6th graders.  He seems to understand arithmetic “strategies” quickly.  He likes surprises and says “Oh, yay” when I offer him just about anything, including going exploring on a country highway, running out to a store, or giving him a pop quiz on math while we drive.  “I love questions,” he says.

Jedd has played baseball, basketball, and soccer on organized teams.  Of the three, he is best at baseball (starting his 2nd year now) and seems to like it the best, too.  He has learned some things on piano, thanks to my mother, and I should probably be capitalizing on his interest in piano and brass instruments soon.  Within the previous two or three days, he had expressed his typical enthusiasm for multiple things, including pizza, Bible history, digging holes, earthworms, baseball, and pretending to set up a store to sell rocks (testing for any meteorites first), and practicing solfège syllables.  An older friend who’s known him about 1/3 of his life once took Jedd fishing, and just last week, he went again and won a fishing rod.  He still loves trains and construction vehicles, just as he did when he was two (although Thomas has been out for several years).  He points out cool-looking classic cars as quickly as we do.  He loves animals, but it takes him a minute to get used to jumpy, intrusive dogs (since he was bitten once).  He plays free games on our tablet and watches sitcom reruns on Netflix, but he likes playing outside even more.  He rides his bike and his scooter, and he loves my motorcycle.  He likes to build forts with cushions and chairs and blocks and sheets, installing temporary lighting so he can read in there.  A clip-on reading light for his bed was quite possibly his most used gift ever.

We are of course interested in his spiritual development (and are not contributing directly to it as much as we should).  He has always loved going to various Bible classes and “children’s worship” times in various churches.  We feel it is good for him to be part of “Christian family” experiences, including various small group Bible studies and informal talks.  A few times in the last couple of years, we have included him unobtrusively in communion observances although he has not made a profession of faith or been immersed.  We had some matzah in the house recently, and it was he who wanted to use them in reenacting the “Last Supper,” so we did just that.  He also expressed a prolonged interest in watching a video we have of Matthew’s gospel.  Jedd has assimilated a lot of facts and has a great deal of acquaintance with the Bible (and has three Bibles of his own).  We are working on his memorizing half a verse in Greek to “perform” for his school’s talent show next week, and he commented recently that some of his neighborhood friends believe in God but that’s about as far as it goes.  He feels some personal sadness when he does wrong, and that could be the most important thing in this sphere at this point in his life.

Tonight we are surprising Jedd with a trip to the KC Royals game with a friend from school.  In about a week we will head out to see his nonagenarian great-grandmother in DE, and she’ll be thrilled to see him, watch TV and walk with him, and see him throw a baseball.  He has another summer treat coming right after that.  It is time for a new bike, but we’ll hold off on that for a couple more months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some tidbits just 1% as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.  Jedd is a neat kid.  His first name, by the way, comes from Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”), which was another given name of King Solomon.  His middle name is a form of his paternal grandfather’s name, Gerald. (Jedd is the only one to carry the family surname.)

Happy birthday, Jedd Garrett Casey.

Karly, Jedd, and Brian, May 19, in the hospital
3 Generations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Automated phone systems and surveys

Customer service units of large companies seem almost universally to operate on the assumption that they can handle a large number of customer inquiries (and pay fewer employees) through Automated Call Distribution and Interactive Voice Response systems.  While the dollars and cents may make sense, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to use the systems.  Customer frustrations can run high while on hold, and the options available rarely if ever include the one I, for one, am looking for.

In an earlier life, I was forced on a few occasions to sit in an “agent” seat using predictive dialing software for a bank, and I quickly came to view such software as a public nuisance.  (Civil penalties ought to be increased fourfold when it’s a telemarketing enterprise.)  This societal problem was eventually mitigated somewhat by regulations, but it’s still a problem—and especially for those who maintain landlines.  In the above case, I found that it was pretty silly to have just four or five people “dialing” at a time; when the numbers are low and/or the ratios are improper, there will be more calls dropped than connected.  Incoming call centers are not as bad as their outbound cousins, but those who perpetrate or operate any call systems ought at least to be aware of the numbers of agents needed to use the systems effectively.

Now matter how well thought out the call-routing decision tree is, on the customer side, almost invariably, an experience with an automated phone system goes something like this for me:

  • I listen to options, tune out because it sounds the same as every other phone menu, including the omnipresent “please listen carefully, because our menu options have recently changed.”
  • I choose the option to replay the whole thing.
  • At some point, realizing there is no option that relates to the reason for my call, I choose 0 (or 0-0, or ***, or some other punctuational gibberish that feels like cartoon cursing).
  • I am placed on hold because, of course, I have called during a time in which all available agents are busier than normal.  (Do they ever staff the phone lines according to need, or are they always intentionally understaffed to save on wages?)
  • The convenient on-hold message is played every 60 seconds, telling me I should go to the website.  I ignore that because I already tried it, and it didn’t provide the answer I needed.
  • Sometimes I have to start the call all over again first.  Finally I connect to a real voice, but the agent transfers me, and I must revert to the original recorded message and go through the above steps again.

If it is a non-native English speaker I eventually reach, my odds of getting the needed info are about 50-50, and if it’s an English speaker, about 90%.  And I wonder how much money was spent on the hardware and software to support the system whose sole purpose, in effect, has been to occupy me until one of the humans becomes available.  All these companies should quit viewing conversations with humans as “escalations” to be avoided.  I like quickly handling things with a few clicks and keystrokes on a web page as much as the next guy, and it’s a treat when you can get your business done on a website.  When I call on the phone, though, don’t give me canned responses.  Perhaps more companies who feel the need to outsource should use outfits like Hastings Humans, with a 70-year history and representatives all located in Austin, Texas.

I rarely take the time to complete digital surveys of any type, feeling that they are likely created mostly in order to allow customer service vice presidents to report to executive vice presidents and corporate boards that their departments are actually doing something to improve customer service.  (Maybe a secondary purpose is to give jobs to survey-creation people.)  The corporate resources  expended on automated phone systems would be better utilized actually doing customer service (and hiring native speakers who can speak intelligibly and understand what customers ask and say).

Here is a snippet from a texted customer survey I did complete recently:

Survey question:  How easy was it to get the help you wanted using our automated phone service on a scale of 0 (very difficult) to ’10 (very easy)?

Response:  1

Survey question:  Did you manage to achieve what you set out to using our automated phone service on a scale of 0 (not at all) to ’10 (completely)?

Response:  0

Survey question:  How satisfied are you with the way our automated phone service is organized on a scale of 0 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied)?

Response: 2
Comment:  Never ever is an automated phone service sufficient for real people and real questions.  Your personnel are good, but automated service never will be.

Simple/organic church ideas and ideals: a collection

A couple of lives ago, I would sometimes wonder about individuals who looked comatose during assemblies, and I would try my best to be an energizing force as a public leader.  At the outset on a given Sunday, my hopes and efforts might have been expressed in “Again the Lord of Life and Light Awakes the Kindling Ray” or “We Shall Assemble on the Mountain” or “This is the Day,” or in prayer words or public readings—and the intentional, typically selective choice of others to lead with me.  It might have been specifically chosen words of welcome, or songs designed to “get you going” or to speak to one another, or a reading (scripture or otherwise) purposed to center the congregation in deep worship before a hymn such as “Lord of All Being” or “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.”  Most of what I planned and did had the aim getting everyone to feel engaged and energized and purposeful during our corporate time. 

I’ve known for decades that the way my particular group (in Wilmington or Rochester or Greeley or wherever) “did church” wasn’t obligatory; furthermore, I’ve known down deep for at least one decade that it wasn’t working well for me and probably for others.  I can’t know exactly why John or Sally looked disinterested and didn’t seem to participate, but I do know now that “doing church” can dull the senses and stupefy the soul.  It doesn’t have to, but it can.

These days, most assemblies at regular, established churches leave me discouraged and robbed of most of the energy I’d had when I walked in.  I have become one who appears lifeless most of the time during a gathering.  And so I long for something else, something to quicken the spirit. . . .

There is another way.  I read about it and think about it often, but I’ve only experienced it in short bursts so far.  In this post, I’m sharing a collection of others’ thoughts on simple/organic church.  Whether you are a “done” or are edging toward “almost done,” or well sensitized to those tho fit those labels, you and other thoughtful people can find rejuvenated purpose here.  I led this piece with reflections on assemblies in a relatively traditional pattern, but not all these ideas are related to gatherings.  They describe realities and dynamics that are more or less distinct from established church patterns, focusing more attention on discipleship.  As Roger Thoman says in one essay, it is about “no longer thinking of the church as an event or place to go, but realizing that we, his people, really are the church everywhere and every place that we go.”  This is no great revelation; most with any degree of biblically based upbringing will find that last sentence eminently palatable.  For my part, I continue to think Christian gatherings are of great importance, but how they appear in my life is shifting.  However they appear in all our lives, the challenge is to promote the “be the church” ideal to the higher level.


Here are some words of someone who once didn’t get why anyone would want to keep meeting with a house church “when larger churches with exciting youth programs, riveting preachers and spectacular worship music” are available:

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2016/08/house-church-not-real-church.html


This post deals with the intended reality that every person is a minister/servant.  It’s not just a Monday-through-Saturday concept; it works at Sunday gatherings, too!  

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2017/05/every-person-a-minister-when-we-gather.html


Here’s a piece by Thom Schultz of Group Publishing, in which he refers to author Doug Pollock encouraging us to be comfortable asking “wondering” questions (and not depending on the “sage on the stage” or  “master fisherman” on Sundays):  

https://holysoup.com/talking-about-god-without-being-a-jerk/


“The Church as Industrial Complex is a resource-driven form of church that has a gravitational pull that unintentionally turns spirituality into a product, church growth into a race, leadership into a business and attendees into consumers.”  – JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr.

20 Truths from The Church as Movement (Christianity Today)


  1. Love God. Love People. Make Disciples
  2. Disciples Make Disciples Who Make Disciples
  3. Embody the Gospel Where You Live
  4. Church Isn’t a Destination, It’s People

http://www.6wordlessons.com/six-word-lessons-to-discover-missional-living.html


“It is interesting to note that simple is reproducible. Simple is able to be passed along. Simple can become viral. Keeping things simple can reduce the temptation toward creating religious structures and church institutions by encouraging a simple, basic listening/surrendering relationship to Jesus whom we love and follow.”  – Roger Thoman

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2016/10/keeping-it-simple-beautiful-reproducible.html


This quotation puts the emphasis on daily discipleship:

“For me, the paradigm of simple/house/organic church is not about a way to do church but a calling to continue to find Jesus in the stuff of life, follow Him, and pursue His adventurous calling while refusing to get boxed in by anything that wants to pull me back into the lazy boxes of yesteryear.”  – Roger Thoman

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2016/12/toward-his-highest-and-best.html


“It is a vision of no longer thinking of the church as an event or place to go, but realizing that we, his people, really are the church everywhere and every place that we go.”   – Roger Thoman

“[I dream of a] church, which does not need huge amounts of money, or rhetoric, control and manipulation . . .”  Wolfgang Simson

http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2017/04/catching-the-vision-of-church-as-it-can-be.html