Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

Encanto (lots of spoilers – beware)

We finally joined the millions of you who have already been singing about Bruno for months, and I wanted to spill some thoughts before they faded. I thought the movie was pretty great for many reasons, but as a pastor – one continued to buzz through my imagination: The Madrigal Family is a beautiful allegory (on some levels) for the Church.

The meaning of the word “Encanto” can mean “charmed” as in magical, but there also seems to be an element of alluring, charming, even grace that draws others in. Here is a family that – in their healthiest moments, exists for the good of their surrounding community. They are not given such enchantment only to enjoy on their own, but to be a blessing where they have found themselves dwelling. If they would lose their source of enchantment, they would cease to be a light to the city. Their community would notice, and be wounded without their presence. One question we often hear in measuring our effectiveness as a local church is: If your church closed it’s doors this week – would the community notice/be impacted? The allegory here brings another powerful question: If your church lost the power of the Holy Spirit this week – would your community notice? May we pray for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (& it’s fruit) to increase and bring the kind of revival Mirabel sings about as a new foundation comes at the end of the movie.

Another obvious connection seems to be the concept of “What’s your gift?”, and the over-emphasizing of the obvious/impressive gifts, over the inherent value of each individual as part of the whole. I don’t need to go too far down this road, as the connections make themselves. How often do we (hopefully inadvertently) communicate the importance of certain gifts over the greatest gift and power of being and living as a beloved and loving child of God? May we seek ways to empower and invite all voices & gifts into the ministry and liturgy of God’s gathered people as we seek to join Jesus together.

Once we open the door to such “gifts”, we begin to see some particulars revealed in the characters themselves:

  • Isabela – Some of these connections are painfully obvious in our Western culture of advertising and image-curating to make our churches (& people on stage) attractive/attractional. But this puts unhealthy pressure/emphasis on Isabela to appear perfect, and paints an photoshopped image that often distracts from genuine faith.
  • Luisa – This connects with both “spiritually strong” and “physically able”. Spiritually, we often rely so much on a small group of leaders within a church, not acknowledging that they feel vulnerable and weak at times too. Do we model and guide into healthy habits of serving and resting, inviting/allowing others to serve? Physically – often the less public, but highly valued (and often over-used) for their willingness to serve and give hours of devoted physical presence. Instead of relying so heavily on Luisa’s – what if we painted a picture (or built a ministry) of everyone owning and investing in the life and work of God’s people? Even if that means discovering some limitations (as it should).
  • Pepa – There are people in our churches who seem to “control the environment/weather” according to their mood that day/week. To Love them is not to empower them only when the weather is good, but to help them develop healthier responses (and spiritual fruit) to have & offer peace that is not dependent on their circumstances.
  • Camilo – So often we train (whether purposefully or de facto) Jesus followers to “be all things to all people” with good intentions. But what we sometimes get are people who seem like shape-shifters to a world that is already suspicious of inauthentic relationships. How well do we help people know themselves fully in the light of Jesus Christ – trusting that God has made us (& is forming us) each uniquely capable of revealing His Love to our world?
  • Dolores – She hears everything. Do we use her knowledge to manipulate situations and people to our advantage, even without realizing it? Or do we help her discover how to use her gift for discernment in listening well to the Holy Spirit for the sake of and in the lives of those around her?
  • Antonio – Has a gift and a special connection to nature/science. Do we listen to his understanding as a special revelation of our creator? Or do we deny what he brings to the table, afraid that what he says will contradict our previous/preferred understandings?
  • Bruno – The one willing to speak honestly about the trajectory of our “family”. Will we listen honestly and have difficult but necessary conversations about how we can better care for the elements that are causing our home to crack? Do we care enough about the community we exist within, and our mission as a family, that we can be honest and vulnerable about changes that may need to happen even deep down to the foundations/patterns we’d laid long ago? For many Christians, the song is right – “We don’t talk about Bruno”. But we should.

Finally, what commentary on “Encanto” would be complete without Abuela and Mirabel? This is obviously a church that (rightly) empowers and celebrates women in leadership, yet also honestly confesses that even women can mess up when they focus on blindly protecting the status quo over healthy vulnerability. It’s interesting that they movie doesn’t “beg the question” of what Abuela’s gift was…yet we’re never told. Often the local church operates under the assumption that we don’t ask questions about those “at the top”, when Jesus sure seemed to critique religious leaders heavily. May we never be so confident in our place of leadership that we forget our role as those who wash the feet of those we serve.

From the Abuela’s to the Bruno’s – may we see the gift of the intricately woven and living “whole” for the sake of the community/world, more than we emphasize the giftedness of any one servant who is only one piece of the mosaic…or as scripture puts it, one small part of the body. May we each discover new insights about how God invites us to actively join His activities – not just within the walls of the church building – but as the living Body of Jesus Christ that is sent (bearing the Bread of Life) as Julieta’s into a consuming world, in need of something that will actually bring/heal life as we consume it…

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

Advertisement
Posted in Different Learning, Different Thoughts

shortages

As we were living in Hungary, one thing we could not miss when watching international news coverage, was the fascination and humor most of the world watched with as the United States somehow panicked for the last remaining rolls of toilet paper. It was mind-boggling to us, as we’d never seen such a scramble for the white rolls of bathroom tissue. Surely it was just being over-dramatized, we thought. Perhaps this is just happening in the large cities. But as we talked with friends, and checked online, we saw that the strange phenomenon was happening widespread, even as most people confessed to being mystified by it themselves. Even as it was happening, memes popped up and late night talk show hosts made fun of…well….Americans who seemed to find comfort when facing the unknows of a pandemic with the dependable reality of knowing we could at least “take care of business” through it all.

Since returning to the US, it does seem like “Shortages” continue to pop up in the news. It doesn’t even take someone with a conspiratorial eye, to begin to wonder if many of these are simply well-placed advertising campaign strategies. But some legitimate shortages (most recently, Maple Syrup in Canada or Cream Cheese in the US) are still causing people and companies to think strategically, or to alter plans for consumption altogether.

Some might say that the reason Western Culture seems to notice “shortages” in ways that seem newsworthy, is that many of us have grown up or become accustomed to knowing that pretty much every “commonly-used” product we could imagine was readily available somewhere within a drive or an online order. It hasn’t taken long for this to impact our kids as they grow – with Christmas lists that often show no known limitations or boundaries. There are aspects of this we can be proud of – whimsical notions of “anything is possible” that we believe is healthy for our children as they grow. But it can also create a false sense of reality that most of the world still does not experience. Most places in the world continue to live with limitations, (and we do, if we’re honest enough to confess it), and that does not always mean a negative thing.

Now toilet paper is in a very unique category of “things I really hope we don’t have to learn how to do without.” But there is a sense in which limitations, and shortages, should be embraced a bit more readily as a positive path to spiritual growth as they come.

We live in a giant world with changing seasons, shifting climates, varying cultural backgrounds, many geographic features, and challenges as we tend to sowing and harvesting products in ways that justly care and provide for all of those involved. With so many variables, we should have limitations. We should have some foods that are only available in certain seasons. We should be thankful for what we can attain easily, and have a bit of wonder about what they have in other areas.

One of the beautiful aspects of Advent, is that we not only imagine what it was like to anticipate Jesus arriving for the first time, we imagine what it will be like when Jesus arrives fully. When Christ is revealed finally to be Lord over all things, and the Love of God swallows up all the cosmos, bringing together Heaven and Earth like never before – all things are made New. In those days (yet to come), there will be a growing shortage of shortages – as the full provision of God and His Good creation are revealed as enough (and also our hungers and consumption are brought into full alignment with His good and pleasurable ways).

In response to remembering this, we can celebrate in many ways. I would highlight two today:

  1. When possible, we can order/purchase something simple that doesn’t seem like it should be available to us because of season or location. Enjoy it on purpose, and share it with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or child – imagining with them the coming age when all necessary things will be available and provided by Lord Jesus right on time.
  2. Purposefully choose to limit yourself of something. Sure, it may be at the store – but it’s not technically in season, or you’re not sure of the just working conditions/pay for those who labored. Choose something that you purposefully will “go without” this year. If it impacts the lives of others, don’t get all preachy – but if it involves kids – explain to them why you’re choosing to go without. Talk about being purposeful in our anticipation of the day when all that we need will always be provided – and not only us, but those brothers and sisters all over the globe.

No matter how we respond to Advent in particular, may we Christ-followers be leaders of the Way when it comes to responding to product shortages with peaceful confessions of our limited resources. We should not be surprised, and should be among those who generously seek community-beneficial adaptations when such shortages impact those around us.

May the peace of God who has already begun providing everything we truly need, fill and dwell in our hearts – and arrive through us as we share life together in community…both this Advent, and into the new year…

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Posted in Different Thoughts, Uncategorized

on worship & music.

Growing up, I remember standing and enjoying a good extended refrain of “Victory in Jesus” with our old Nazarene worship pastor Calvin Kring.  His joyful countenance, and excitement to lift the name of Jesus were infectious.  I didn’t know everything God wanted to do in my life, but I knew if I could infect others with a love for God like his, that’d be a good start.

Throughout high school and into college, worship in song happened both in church through hymns and worship chorus, and in concert-type atmospheres of “youth gathering” type events.  In college, my love for music and gifts for singing gave me privilege to lead thousands in worship, travelling the Midwest in a couple different bands.  I loved the sounds of music that could fill a room, and creatively express God’s beauty in increasingly new ways.  But even in the midst of this, I encountered many who equated “new ways” with “better/more genuine ways”.  I’ll admit, there were even moments where I believed them.

Fast forward many years.  I’m serving as a pastor of a church in an area with hundreds of churches.   There are as many musical styles in our various “sanctuaries” as there are musicians.  Even within a congregation, there will be seasons of styles, based on who or what instruments are available to assist in the music that week.  I’ve seen people drawn to the love of Christ as they’ve connected with music in His presence.  I know it can be a powerful draw to new attenders, and some pastors feel the urge to put a large emphasis on it for that reason.  I also know many of us are returning from “COVID-induced” breaks from in-person gatherings with singing – and we’ve missed it.  I believe we are shaped in important ways, as we join in song together.

In his book, “Life Together”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us his 2 cents on singing:  “Why do Christians sing when they are together?  The reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time; in other words, because here they can unite in the Word.  All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn.  The fact that we do not speak it but sing it only expresses the fact that our spoken words are inadequate to express what we want to say, that the burden of the song goes far beyond all human words…..

..The purity of unison singing, unaffected by alien motives of musical techniques, the clarity, unspoiled by the attempt to give musical art an autonomy of its own apart from the words, the simplicity and frugality, the humaneness and warmth of this way of singing is the essence of all congregational singing…..

..There are some destroyers of unison singing in the fellowship that must be rigorously eliminated.  There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing.  There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere.  It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the word and tone.  There is the bass or the alto who must call everybody’s attention to his astonishing range and therefore sings every hymn an octave lower.  There is the solo voice that goes swaggering, swelling, blaring, and tremulant from a full chest and drowns out everything else for the glory of its own fine organ.  There are less dangerous foes of congregational singing, the “unmusical”, who cannot sing, of whom there are far fewer than we are led to believe, and finally, there are often those also who because of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship.”

Long ago, I would’ve considered Bonhoeffer’s words here ancient.   Obviously he was limited, and way too conservative with his views on worship through music.  Even still today, I’d counter that there are some beautiful things that a gifted instrumentalist or vocalist can add to the experience of a song.  But I can’t help but find some important truths in what he’s saying there.  He had been raised in an aristocratic family with a deep love for music.  They would spend a large portion of their family time learning or performing instruments, and offering these gifts in honor of God.  Dietrich himself was a highly skilled pianist and lute player, and his family thought he might go into music performance as a profession.

All of this to say, I’d much rather join in genuine unison singing on a Sunday morning with no-part-harmony, and no instruments playing with my family of believers wanting to praise the name of God in words beyond words, than a world-renowned worship band that was focused more on presentation and polished emotional manipulation.  Thankfully, I think many of our “normal churches” have something pretty genuine going on.  I pray we never get so amazing at worship that people begin the pack the pews because of our talented musicians (or great preaching, for that matter).  But I also pray we never get so comfortable in our humbly sung Words that we stop allowing them to impact our heart and life.

May we continue to be a people who worship “..in Spirit and in Truth.”