Sep 24 2012
It's Time to Party

I didn't write this. Mike Yaconelli wrote this. And I realize this is the second blog entry in a row inspired by heroes of mine, both of whom died in car accidents.  I didn't do it intentionally. And I apologize if I'm breaking any laws by posting this. I had to re-type it all, because I can't find it on the web, anywhere. He wrote it years ago, in a now-defunct magazine, and I made a copy of it (another law violation?) and stuck it in a box in my garage. When I read it on the air today, we were inundated with requests to see it, so here you go.

I highly recommend Mike's book Messy Spirituality, by the way. He was a game-changer for me.

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It's Time to Party, by Mike Yaconelli

 

Recently, my wife and I were having our devotions and reading our favorite devotional guide, Cosmopolitan. In it was another one of those mindless quizzes.  (You know the ones: How Responsible Are You? How Sensual Are You? Do You Have ESP? Will Your Marriage Last?) One of the questions caught my eye. It said:

Which would you prefer?

a) a wild, turbulent life filled with joy, sorrow, passion, and adventure - intoxicating successes and stunning setbacks, or

b) a happy, secure, predictable life surrounded by many friends and family, without such wide swings of fortune and mood?

I thought the answer was obvious. Everyone, I thought, would choose the first option. I was shocked to discover that a good majority would choose the second option. And then it occurred to me: I have been working with adolescents for the past twenty-nine years. And, when I ask them to describe adults, one word always comes up - borrrrrring.

As I began to think about it, I realized that most adults I know are boring. They don't have fun anymore. Oh sure, get a few drinks under their belts and they act alive for awhile. But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about being and acting alive all the time.

The truth is that games are wasted on the young. Little kids don't know how to play games. Remember when you were seven years old and you played hide-and-seek? You'd hide behind a telephone pole with half your body hanging out. No, hide-and-seek isn't for children. It's for people like you and me. Now that I'm 46, I know how to hide. I'm a darn good hider.

I have suggested a game of hide-and-seek to many adult audiences and I am always amazed at the response. I see adults all throughout the group nudging each other, quietly discussing a great hiding place they just thought of, secretly planning a game with their children. It doesn't take much to make most of us realize that we have become too serious, too stressful. The result is that we hae forgotten how to live life. It seems like the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to enjoy living. It reminds me of a description of life given by Rabbi Edward Cohn:

"Life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time, all your weekends, and what do you get at the end of it? ... I think that the life cycle is all backward. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live twenty years in an old-age home. You get kicked out when you're too young. You get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You go to college; you party until you're ready for high school; you go to grade school; you become a little kid; you play. You have no responsibilities. You become a little baby; you go back into the womb; you spend your last months floating; and you finish up as a gleam in somebody's eye."

It's hard to imagine we were a gleam in someone's eye once. What happened to the gleam in our eye? What happened to that joyful, crazy, spontaneous, fun-loving spirit we once had? The childlikeness in all of us gets snuffed out over the years.

A.W. Tozer once said, "This society has put out the light in men's souls." He had it right. The more pagan a society becomes, the more boring its people become. The sign that Jesus is in our hearts, the evidence of the truth of the Gospel is... we still have a light on in our souls. We are alive, never boring, always playful, exhibiting in our everydayness the "spunk" of the Spirit.

The light in our souls is not some pious somberness. It is the spontaneous, unpredictable love of life. Christians are not just people who live godly lives. We are people who know how to live, period. Christians are not just examples of moral purity. We are also people filled with a bold mischievousness. Christians not only know how to practice piety. We also know how to party.

I believe it's time for the party to begin.

 

Sep 17 2012
Rich Mullins Died 15 Years Ago. He Was Like Us. But More So.

(I wrote this at the 10th anniversary of his death. I missed him. This week marks the 15th.  And nothing has changed.)

I was sitting next to Rich Mullins, and so I had to think of something cool to say.

"So...what artists do YOU listen to?  When you and Beaker are traveling, what do you listen to?  Do you have influences you like to listen to for songwriting inspiration?  Who do you listen to?  Just wondering.  Who do you like to listen to, you know?  I was just wondering."

Pause.

"I like silence."

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Man, I loved that guy.

Didn't know him, really, and the two times I'd talked with him, he was brusque.  But once I was talking to him while he was trying to tune his dulcimer, and then there was the "I like silence" episode.  Maybe I didn't hold it against him because I wouldn't want to talk to me, either. 

But mostly, I think, it's because I would've been disappointed if he were anything but interesting, anything but intense, anything but flawed, anything but -- as one Rich-friend put it -- "like us, but more so."

I want me to be quiet, too.  He's like me, but more so.

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I'm tired of the word, "Christian".  It was originally something of a put-down, something applied to followers of The Way by outsiders, now adapted, awkwardly, proudly, by the followers themselves. 

I confess to wondering sometimes, "Why am I doing this...?" and then I hear the first few notes of "Peace", and I remember.  Oh -- yeah.  Of course. 

Jesus.

Rich Mullins reminded us that we worship a God who came in the form of a homeless man.  I can love a God like that.

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I got the impression the beautiful, righteous-seeming people in the music industry really didn't want him crashing their party.  I may be wrong about that.  True, he was given a "Best Artist" award in the Christian genre -- eight months after he'd been killed.   He was, at times, embarrassing.  Wonderfully embarrassing.

A friend of mine told me about hosting Rich's band, the Ragamuffin Band, at his home near St. Louis one summer before a concert.  He said they got in a fistfight in the swimming pool.  I remember thinking, "Now, THAT'S a band." 

If you can't picture a band getting into a pool fistfight, well, that's not a real rock band.  The Police?  Yes.  Simon and Garfunkel?  No.  Ragamuffins?  Yes.  Philips, Craig, and Dean?  ...no.  The Gaithers?  Oh, yeah.  Heck, yeah.

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I'm from Illinois, raised in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, so you know I saw Rich Mullins a lot.  First in 1985, when my then youth minister (a very cool Hoosier who reads this blog) just had to take us to see him at Lincoln Christian College, the regional epicenter of our denom -- ahem -- non-denomination.

I'd love to say U2 has been my "life's soundtrack", but I won't, because it's kind of indulgent, and it's not true.  They're from Ireland.  Rich Mullins is it.  It was Rich playing in my '81 Ford Mustang, while I sat on the side of the road -- my Mustang's natural habitat -- waiting for a tow truck.  It was "If I Stand" that I sang, a cappella and off-key, at my brother's wedding. 

U2 is the coolest.  But Rich?  Rich was midwestern, socially awkward, a "born dissenter".  Rich was my people.  And I don't think I'm special for saying so. 

I think a lot of people reading this right now would say the same thing.

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My former youth minister, ironically, has changed his views quite a bit.  In fact, he says Rich Mullins is practically his only connection to Christianity right now, besides this blog (both terribly honoring and terrifying) and I can sure understand that.  Except for the blog part.  Lord have mercy.

But he's got his doubts, and I've got mine, and, thank God, I know Rich had his.  It's a nice little club, the three of us, separated, by culture and miles, and a gulf between us and Rich that we can't traverse for now.  I sometimes wonder how we can.

But, from what I hear, there's a wideness in God's mercy, I cannot find in my own. 

Aug 12 2012
"Why Aren't There More Songs Telling Us Not to Sin?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a question from Facebook: "Why aren't there more songs telling us not to sin?  There's lots of the happy stuff, God loves you, etc. but the Bible is full of warnings not to sin, so why aren't there more songs like that?"

A fine question.  I'll try to answer, and then guess what the responses would be, based on years of conversation about this very stuff with Christian radio listeners.

Q: Why not have lots of Christian songs that are telling people to stop sinning?

It won't work, for one thing.

Q: Ah, you mean it won't sell!  People just want the happy-encouraging fluff stuff, and so when we take a stand for truth, it just won't sell. That figures, because our culture is just so messed up.

Nope, that's not what I mean at all. Oh yes, it can sell. There's part of us that WANTS to feel guilty. We'll hear something and think, "Wow, that's spiritual. What a moment. I'm so convicted."  I listened to a Steve Camp album years ago, and he was big on that. Honestly, it made me feel kinda good about myself to sing songs about how disgusting we all are, how ashamed we should be. Weird, but true. I'd feel so sorry for my sin, and then keep sinning, and feel even worse about it, and I felt like feeling worse about it somehow made God happy. There's a huge market for "I'm-not-doing-enough" in books, too.

Q: But shouldn't we use music to correct people?  Maybe musicians and radio stations just want to take the easy way out and avoid speaking to Big Issues, and confronting people.

Actually (I love being "Actually Guy") there are few things EASIER than "confronting people" with books, or speeches from a stage, or on the radio. Telling people they oughta do this, oughta stop that right now, oughta be better, oughta pray more, oughta be MORE RADICAL RIGHT NOW, or oughta quit lusting or whatever?  Easy. 

It's not relational. It costs you nothing.  And, in an affluent Christian culture that often welcomes it, it can actually help you GAIN things.  Like notoriety, respect, and money.

Yes, there needs to be loving correction, and even loving confrontation, in the church. We need to encourage people to put off the things that slow them down, and tie them to their old lives.  But let's quit replacing the hard work of actual relationship with hoping a guy with a guitar on the radio does it for you. 

Q: But bands have done it before. Why, I remember back in the early days of CCM, they took a STAND every night, every concert.

And then went on being humans, often cursing each other, getting in fistfights with each other, and then trotting right back on stage to do a scripted altar call. And many made good money doing it. When you don't know the people on the stage, when you don't really see into their lives, into their families, they risk nothing in telling you what you ought to do. But when someone from your actual life, your actual I-see-this-person-in-real-life actual life dares to do this, well, that person is risking something. 

In many cases, the very fans who loved that the artists were taking "stands against sin" were battling the exact same sins in their own lives, and wondering why they can't just work up the resolve to get past them.

Q: What about taking on a prophetic role?  You know, like the Old Testament prophets, who told people to quit sinning?

I'm not sure you would like that. The prophets spoke into the religious culture of the day, and blasted the refusal to give their hearts to God, in the interest of selfishness, money, control...

I do think that would be entertaining. I was just reading in Micah today, about how religious leaders would support people as long as those people were under their control, but the minute someone questions them, they'll turn on them. I do think that would make a great song. Or later on, where God's angry at how Israel's priests will only do their thing if they get paid, all the while talking about how "dependent on God" they are.

Jon Foreman from Switchfoot did "Instead of a Show", borrowed directly from Isaiah 1 and Amos 5, about how God hates our religious meetings and festivals and talkfests, when we're so slow to actually be merciful and pursue justice. That makes for an interesting listen. I know other artists do this kind of thing, too.

I like that he sticks with the Biblical text, both letter-and-spirit. The danger: It's really easy for those of us with chips on our shoulders to consider ourselves "prophetic".  But honestly, when people say, "We need more songs about sin," I suspect they don't mean songs about corporate sin, or songs challenging a religious establishment.

Q: Well, if we can't sing about sin, we're missing the point of the Bible.

Oh, we can sing about sin. Many of our artists do it, but they tend to start with their own. This said, though, amazingly, sin is not the point of the Bible.

Jesus is. 

He's the first Word, and the last one. He's the point. 

I hear people saying, "Yeah, yeah, I hear about 'all this grace stuff', but we need some real Bible-preaching, and..." - and I'm amazed. Like we've all absorbed "this grace stuff". Like we've mastered it. Like it's just a bit part of a larger story, and just a way to help us get our acts together.

Like it's all just about us.

Like grace is the "milk" part of the Gospel, but the real "meat" is more law. Like Heaven - the Kingdom in its fullness! - will be about more rules, just doing them right-er this time. Like we've so conquered the challenge of extending grace and mercy to people, that now we can move on to the better-and-higher stuff, telling people to stop doing stuff they already know they shouldn't be doing.

Plus, let's face it, "Stop doing that!" isn't an awesome hook for a song.  

Q: But good songwriters could do it.

Good songwriters go for the heart.  Heck, good art goes for the heart.  But moralism does not. Moralism never gives poeple goosebumps.  Grace does. Moralism is a mask; grace unmasks.

Grace makes for a great song. This isn't surprising, because it's His love that brings us to Him.  No wonder people are aching for grace.

Q: But don't songs that tell people not to sin help people stop sinning?

I was very convicted by Steve Camp's music. Over and over and over. And I kept sinning. If our message can be boiled down to "stop sinning", we'll wind up in one of two places:  Despair, or delusion.

Q: So there's no hope.

Now we're getting somewhere.  It's almost like we need someone to step in and save us, huh?  Someone to stand between us and the wrath of God.  Someone to cover us.  

There's something wonderful about reaching the end of your resolve, reaching the end of your hope that you can get your act together.  Something incredibly humbling, incredibly freeing, and - most shocking - incredibly not about me.  

It's about Jesus.  Here's to songs that remind us of that.