Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HOLIDAY MEMORIES: PARTIES

I confess that I don't attend too many holiday parties. I would say it's because of my hectic schedule, but I know folks that attend three or four parties a night and still have time and energy to go to work, spend time with their families, and be productive citizens. So I guess I have no excuse.

But I do have some parties and gatherings under my belt, each one providing fun and meaningful memories. I don't always have detailed recollections, but more like snapshots of events.

Sunday School Move. I don't remember if I was in middle school or high school, but our small Sunday School class held our own Christmas party during class time. We had refreshments and music and a gift exchange. I liked Sunday School because it was one of the few places where the popular and the unpopular hung out together. And the holidays, with preparations for Christmas programs and caroling, were especially fun.

When we exchanged gifts, I received a model kit of a German roadster.  I laughed and said, "That's funny. At the school gift exchange, I got a model kit of a German bi-plane.  I wonder what it means?"

Without planning, the whole class said, "you should move to Germany." It was a funny moment that always sticks out in my mind (and yes, they were teasing).

Bible Study at Pastor's House. Back in Colorado, our Wednesday afternoon Bible Study moved to the Pastor's house on the week of Christmas for a special gathering (the Pastor in this case was me). We enjoyed treats, relaxed, shared, had a short, informal study, and just enjoyed each other's company.

Candlelight Fellowship. Our church in California rented a facility for Sunday Morning Services, so our other weekly gatherings were in homes. So, as expected, it was a tight fit for the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. But what we lacked in space, we made up for in fellowship. It was a party, really, with guests bringing refreshments, sharing, and laughing. We just sort of blended into the service, with music, Scripture, and then the candlelight ceremony (accompanied by Evie's "A Thousand Candles"). It was a time of love and warmth.

Day Care parties. Our church operated a day care center for a number of years. At Christmas, we came together to eat a meal, share treats, and exchange presents. Two things stand out about these parties: 1) The laughter. The stress and difficulties of the week seemed to vanish as we shared our stories and broke out in glee over the smallest things.  2) Jazz Choir. The local high school had a special group of singers that toured local businesses and events. We tried to make it a point to invite them each year to sing for us. To this day, when I think of "Santa Baby," I think of the Jazz Choir.

I haven't been to a lot of parties, but I've been to enough to have had a lot of fun. May you enjoy your own set of memories as you gather with friends, family, and co-workers to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

HOLIDAY MEMORIES: TRAVELING

I have a lot of special Christmas memories. Some are very detailed and specific. Others are like quick photographs, out-of-context images embedded in my mind.

Several of these "pictures" involve travel. During my college days, I went back and forth between Colorado and California via the goodness of friends or courtesy of the bus lines. It was the trips during the holidays that always stuck in my mind.

Music: Hurtling down the highway. It's dark and most of the passengers in our car have settled in to a quiet reverie. Except  for the few who are listening to Evie's "Come On Ring Those Bells" for the 20th time. Or the highly techno cover of the "Hallelujah Chorus." Or when our driver croons along with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", along with distinctive warble. Even today, when I hear some of these songs, I can hear the drone of the vehicle and see the landscape slipping past my window.

Fatigue: It sounds funny to list this as a memory, but plug a few college students in a car for a thirty hour drive and see if you don't remember it.  Not that there weren't moments of tension (getting lost has a way of doing that). But what usually comes to my mind are the jokes, the laughter, the time at the 24 hour diner, at which I am convinced there is a yellowing bulletin by the counter warning about us (ok, we laughed and joked a lot...we were a bunch of Christian college students, not rowdy bikers!).

Lights: All cross-country trips, whether in a car or a bus, have the same view of city after city, town after town, one right after another. Unless you stop for gas or meals, they all approach, pass, and fade out your window.  But at Christmas time, it was as if each burg brought out its finest to welcome one and all to their town. It was as if it was a shared party. And each year, whether with one or six or a bunch of fellow travelers, I always thought, "I know Who the Guest of Honor is!"

The Reunion: Most of my Christmas travel memories happened in college. When I got married, "home" was where my wife was. But one year, we went through a transition and a move. My family relocated to Oregon, but I had to stay behind in Colorado to wrap up lose ends. It was a difficult time and I feared that I'd never be able to afford to make it to Oregon (not that I could stay in Colorado either). But thanks to some friends, I was able to get a bus ticket to travel the week of Christmas. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me in the months ahead, but I knew that I was going to be with family...my family.

The trip on the bus had everything.  I saw city after city with lights. Theological issues aside, Salt Lake City knows how to deck out a town for Christmas. There was the drone of the bus, the weariness of travel, but the shared camaraderie of fellow passengers heading for holiday destinations. We even had music, as the bus driver valiantly attempted to lead us in "Jingle Bells."

And then, the day before Christmas Eve, a foggy day, I arrived "home" to my wife and three "tator tots."  And the destination made the long bus ride all the more memorable.

I have many Christmas thoughts and memories which I look forward to sharing. But those scenes of buzzing over the highway in anticipation to Christmas celebrations with family and friends stick in my mind and heart to this day.

.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

TIM'S TOP FIVE: DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT DISNEY COVERS


I like all kinds of music and genres, from rock to Gregorian chants. I especially enjoy music covers, when different artists perform an established song. And if they can do it in a different style or genre, all the better. It's cool to hear a rock anthem performed like a country ballad or a classical piece given a heavy metal twist. When artists have a different take on a popular song, I find myself listening to the lyrics more closely.

Today, I'm going to count down my top 5 different covers of Disney songs. Why Disney? Disney has had a big influence on music in our culture, and Disney songs have likely been covered hundreds of times by hundreds of artists.  I chose these particular tunes because of their slightly different approach to the songs.  Yes, this is a highly subjective list and there are no doubt many songs that could be included (if you have a favorite, list it in the comments below!). And who knows, next month or year I might claim a different list.

Another disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse the individual performers in these videos or do any extensive research as to their background, values, and political views. So please do not say, "hey, I heard that guy kicks puppies, so why is he on this list?" For now, just enjoy and evaluate the songs. If someone indeed is on America's Most Wanted, I'll write about that another time.

5.  "I'll Make a Man Out of You" (Mulan)  Jackie Chan (in Chinese). 
Martial arts star Jackie Chan shows he has some halfway decent singing chops as he performs this standard from Mulan. The video is full of Chan's martial arts moves, which are more than halfway decent.

4. "I Have No Strings" (Pinocchio) Ultron
This isn't strictly a cover, but it makes you think. It was featured prominently in the trailer to the hit movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, about a maniacal sentient robot who wants to wipe out humanity. By sampling Pinnochio and bringing in Ultron to some deep dark music, it is genuinely creepy and well done. (the folks at the pop culture parody sight How it Should Have Ended have a fun take on this in their video).

3.  "Let It Go" (Frozen) Daniel Taylor
"Let It Go," the song that launched a million covers, is an inspiring and motivational song. But enter this artist who uses numerous Disney characters to belt out the tune. His skill in transitioning from one voice to another is fun to watch.

2.  "Prince Ali" (Aladdin) Jonathan Young
Metal is not my thing, unless I can understand the words. In this video, we are given a hard, energetic translation of the "Prince Ali" song that allows us to hear every single word clearly and forcefully.

1.  "Friend Like Me" (Aladdin)  Bri Ray
When I first saw this video, I was stunned. Bri Ray is not only an incredible singer, but an actress whose facial expressions and body language fit this song perfectly. Yes, it reminds me of Robin Williams' original performance, but in a unique, fresh way that would suggest, "What if the Genie was a young woman?"  Seriously, it's that good.

What are your favorites? Suggestions? Rebuttals (be nice!)? Use the comment section below.

.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

USING WORSHIP DVDS FROM ONE WHO IS MUSICALLY CHALLENGED


I recently heard about a church official who had strong opinions about children's praise and worship DVDs. Upon hearing that one of the music leaders was looking to add to the children's department's DVD music collection, he said, "I thought we determined that DVDs were no longer allowed. It's just another video that the kids sit in front of." He promised to talk to the music leader and put his foot down, so to speak. In this official's mind, DVDs (and other media based items) constituted "passive entertainment" and were not worthy of the goals of Christian education.

And I agree: DVDs and other forms of media are, indeed, passive entertainment . . . if used passively!

The fact is, many churches do not have a band, musicians, and song leaders that can effectively do live contemporary children's praise and worship. I don't have enough technical knowledge to tell you what distinguishes modern kids praise music from adult or even teen music, but there is a difference! And so several companies have attempted to bridge the gap with music videos that have music, words, and even motions. It's like bringing in a band to help lead your music.

But music DVDs are a tool . . . and like most tools, they have to be used properly. If you stick in a DVD and tiredly expect the kids to sing along, you will likely get tired results. But even the musically challenged among us can get good results using the tools in the right way. I am not a singer and I probably lack certain motor skills to do complicated choreography (although I've got a little game). But in my years in kidmin, I've learned some principles in working with DVDs.
  • Look at the kids, not the screen. There are two reasons for this. One, it keeps you from having to contort your back and neck to look over at the screen for the lyrics, and second, with your attention on the kids, you can pick up those subtle signals that every children's leader needs (like the two fifth graders who are sitting in the corner with their arms crossed).
  • Interact with and use the music. By knowing the music and words of the DVD, you can interject prompts ("a little louder now!") at the right spots, or take advantage of longer musical gaps to insert a quick devotional thought ("and Jesus loves you too and you can love one another, so let's sing it together..").
  • Move it, move it #1. Clap your hands, try the moves, shuffle back and forth . . . do something! If you can't pull off all the moves, try to do the major ones. You may not be able to get those fifth graders moving, but you can virtually guarantee they won't move if you won't move.
  • Move it, move it #2. Recruit some kids to help with the moves. Be on the lookout for the children who are into the music and motions and bring them up to help. Kids love seeing other kids in action. You can even try bringing the two fifth graders up and ask if they would be willing to help lead songs (they might just surprise you with their enthusiasm).
  • Transition smoothly. Try to eliminate that awkward time when you are switching songs. Have something happening while your sound guy makes the switch. Or if you are your own sound guy, designate someone to do an announcement while you work controls. Better yet, have all your songs lined up and ready to go in a "mix." One of the more recent innovations is the availability of songs on MP3, where they can be mixed and lined up seamlessly on a computer, which sure beats cuing up VHS tapes (yes, I am that old).
  • Put the songs in context. Relate the songs to the lesson or theme when possible. And that requires advance preparation, not just loading a DVD in the player that morning.
Sure, live music is best. You can do things with live musicians, song leaders, and a praise team that you can't do with a DVD. Even a talented, on-fire guy with a guitar can get a group of kids going in ways that electronic media cannot. But if you don't have those things, children's praise and worship DVDs can be just the tool you need.


Does your church used contemporary children's worship DVDs or other media, or is your music live? What resources do you use? Feel free to respond in the comments below.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SEVEN TIPS TO FILL THE RUTS IN YOUR CHILDREN'S MINISTRY

Frowny kids? Stressed-out volunteers? Directional anxiety?

Have we got a solution for you!  These seven things are absolutely guaranteed to transform your children's ministry from grump to up!

Okay, not quite. Like any anything involving children, there is a host of factors involved. And the reality of ministry is that sometimes you can do everything right and still get bad results.

But if you need a little injection of "different" and "happy" in your weekly routine, or you just want to take the edge off some ruts that you're in, these are good things to start with.

1.  Smile. A lot!
One of the first things that vanishes when we're rushing around trying to get things done is our smile. Kids respond to smiles, adults respond to smiles, and even you will respond to your own smile (don't believe me? Look in the mirror and make the silliest grin you can and see if your mood doesn't improve.).

2.  Take the time to hang out with parents.
Politicians affectionately call what they do "grip and grin." Why do they do it? Because the few moments they spend shaking hands and engaging in a few moments of conversation makes a big impression. So too, it pays to connect with the parents. If your church has a foyer where people mingle before and after the service, go visit there. Take advantage of fellowship opportunities with other grown ups.  Make a connection.

3.  Do a funny voice.
Seriously, do it. While you're teaching the lesson, suddenly deepen your voice. Or make it higher. Or strange. Or break out into Minionese.  Kids love the unexpected.

4.  Educate yourself.
I'm not just talking about self-development resources, such as books, magazines, articles, and conferences.  I'm talking about educating yourself in what kids are involved in. In point #3 above, I mentioned speaking "Minionese". If you have no clue what a Minion is, then it's time to get on Google (or ask the kids!).  I remember a little girl coming in with a lunch box featuring the Power Puff Girls. I asked her what her favorite Girl was: Blossom, Bubbles, or Buttercup? Her eyes grew wide and she looked up at her mom and said, "He knows who they are!" Even just knowing the name of someone on the child's t-shirt will set you apart from most of the grown-ups.

5. Turn distractions to opportunities.
One of the kids brought an action figure to church. As he played with it during the lesson, it became more and more of a distraction. I could have confiscated the figure and warned him never ever to bring it again or else. Instead, I asked if I could borrow it to help teach the lesson. The boy hesitated for a second, then handed over the toy. I incorporated it into the lesson and the kids seemed to be paying more attention (maybe to see if I would keep it). But I learned that sometimes, distractions can be springboards to better opportunities. When the little girl wants to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in worship time, it's a great opening to talk about the Creator of the stars. Restless older kids can be transformed into helpers. Tune in to the vibe of the kids and see if there might be ways to channel their distractions into opportunities for greater ministry.

6.  Always, always, always lift up the team.
Whenever you have opportunity, encourage your volunteers. Compliment them, thank them, pray for them. And if you don't have opportunities to do this, then make the opportunity. No matter what your level of leadership in your children's department, you don't do it alone. Consistent affirmation of volunteers translates into joyful energy in the overall ministry.

7.  Take your children's service seriously.
 Don't ever justify a half-way effort by saying, "It's just for kids." Plan, prepare, pray over each and every Sunday or mid-week service. It doesn't mean you can't be flexible, but it does mean that children's ministry deserves the same quality and attention to detail that the adult service does. Kids are important, so it's important to treat them that way.

What things do you do to add a little fun, energy, and positive vibe into your children's ministry? Please share in the comments below.

Friday, June 26, 2015

THINKING THROUGH MY KEYBOARD: SCOTUS & SAME-SEX MARRIAGE (breaking news)

June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court has struck down all laws banning gay marriage.  The President has made a brief statement. The analysis has begun, but if the mainstream networks are any indication, there is much rejoicing over this landmark ruling.

So here I am, thinking through my keyboard again, and wondering, "What's next?"  Before I get to my random thoughts, just a couple of disclaimers:
  • These thoughts are random, and raw, and unrefined. They are initial thoughts as they come to my mind. I'm sure some in-depth analysis will follow later, so please be gentle, especially if you disagree with me.
  • These thoughts are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of my church, its leadership, its members, or those of my friends, or neighbors, or associates. As always, if pregnant or nursing, do not take...ooops, sorry, got carried away with the disclaimers.

Here we go

1. The Supreme Court is not Lord, Jesus is Lord.

2. What will change for the church?  Nothing. We will still meet, we will still pray, we will still study God's Word, we will still tell others about Jesus. This has been true of the church throughout history, regardless of the political environment in which she has lived.

3. We are still commanded to love our neighbor. I know we haven't always been good at that. I think one of the takeaways of the SCOTUS decision is that the church will have some serious discussions on how to love our neighbor in word and deed, while not rejecting our Biblical convictions. The critics say we can't love the members of the LGBT community without surrendering those convictions. I think it would be cool to lovingly prove them wrong.

4. I still can't find an example or commendation of same-sex marriage in the Bible. There's a ton of stuff about traditional marriage, but nothing on same-sex marriage.  Just pointing it out, folks.

5. I'm not a slippery-slope, "the sky is falling" kind of person. I rejoice in being a Christian in America, where I still have the right to believe and practice my religion the way I choose. That being established, is there anyone out there who does not think this ruling will have both subtle and profound political and social implications on "religious freedom" in the future?

I know some of my friends and readers may disagree. That's fine. Keep the disclaimers in mind as you comment.  And remember, disrespect, foul language, overt hostility, and so on will likely result in a deletion of your comment. I love smart people who disagree with me, but I've had my fill of the spew of cranky critics.

Friday, June 12, 2015

THINKING THRU MY KEYBOARD: THOUGHTS ON THE DUGGARS

You've no doubt heard the story of Josh Duggar from 19 Kids and Counting, how at 14, he inappropriately touched his younger sisters and how his parents dealt with it in house, not notifying the authorities for 16 months (and after the statute of limitations had expired). And now that a magazine has obtained previously sealed records and exposed it for all the world to see, there are cries for 19 Kids and Counting to be cancelled. At post time, TLC has already temporarily pulled the show from its lineup.

To think through this, let's agree on a couple of basics:
  • Child abuse is never okay. It's never justifiable. It is wrong.
  • The parents should have reported it immediately.

While the overwhelming majority of reasonable people will agree on the root-level basics, the water gets a little murkier when we get into the details. Sadly, it seems, anybody suggesting some alternate viewpoints on the murkier details is liable to be flamed themselves. I'm going to trust that my friends, colleagues, and those who know me will understand that I'm stimulating discussion, not justifying abhorrent behavior.

  • At 14, Josh Duggar touched his sisters inappropriately. He did so on three occasions. As we already established, that was wrong. But there has been no indication that he has ever done it again. In fact, there is no indication that it was ever an issue in the Duggar household past that time. So is it fair to call the 14 year old boy an "evil monster" or "horrible predator" and demand that he fully disclose and carry that label with him for the rest of his life?
     
  • The parents were negligent in not reporting this to the authorities. Yes, I agree. But being familiar with Child Protective Services (or whatever it is called in your locality), I can understand their hesitation to let the state step in. This would take a whole series of blogs (and I'm still collecting some data), but CPS is not always just and fair in their actions. And sometimes, Christian families get hit the hardest. Please don't shoot me and start demanding my evidence for that yet (this is a work in progress!), but it's not hard to imagine Josh in jail, the parents prosecuted, and the kids scattered to foster care by a crusading case worker (and in a late breaking development, a 9-1-1 call has surfaced from a social worker who was allegedly denied access to a Duggar child. Social Services will not comment, but why a visit now?)
     
  • What is an appropriate punishment for the Duggars? After over a decade, comments have suggested anything from imprisonment to castration for Josh, prison for the parents, and forced restitution to the victims. There is outrage that they "got away with it" and therefore, there needs to be punishment. Which leads us to the next thought....
     
  • This is a theological point, for Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God: does Jesus love Josh Duggar? Is there no grace or forgiveness for the likes of him? Or did he commit an unpardonable sin, for which he will forever be damned to hell? Is there no healing for the girls or are they required to go through the rest of their lives as "victims," as if their forgiveness of their brother and their moving on with their lives is a bad thing?
     
  • A lot of people hate the Duggars. But something I noticed is that most people who hate the Duggars, hated the Duggars before this scandal was revealed. Like the Duck Dynasty family, the Duggars have been blasted for their Biblical worldview, their social/political views, and their lifestyle choices.  And I think this is telling: reading the comments, there is almost an "Ah hah! Gotcha!" glee that has nothing to do with child abuse. A dear friend of mine inadvertently made this point when she said that members of the Christian right would not hesitate condemning this if it was somebody we already hated. Yes, that's right. And with this scandal, haters of the Duggars jumped all over it.
    To be fair, some researchers have serious and well-thought out Biblical disagreements with the Duggars' particular brand of Christianity. I respect that. But often, the critiques of the Duggars start with statements like this: "Fundy Christians with lots of kids...that's bad." "Fundy Christians who denounce liberal ideas...that's bad." "Fundy Christians who are  uneducated hicks from Arkansas, no less! That's bad."  Haven't our liberal/progressive friends taught us that referring to "those kind of people" is the worst form of stereotype? Criticizing 19 Kids and Counting for a variety of reasons isn't new, we just need to be honest as we comment.

Let me state again: child abuse is reprehensible. And failing to report abuse is wrong. But there are answers we still don't have and questions that need to be asked. And like any controversial issue, we must often examine our own biases, our own values, and our own world view before trying to work through a very sad, very tragic, and a very explosive situation.


And once again, let me remind those who comment that name calling, foul language, and excessive ad hominem arguments are not allowed. I love smart people who disagree with me, and civility, sound reasoning, passion, and maybe a touch of humor are preferred.