Posted in Different Moments, Uncategorized

S’more.

I sit back in my generic blue camping chair, admiring the flames as they begin to crackle. Their orange tongues just barely flicking up the surface of the larger wood now. Within a few minutes, the logs are completely engulfed in fire, preparing the logs for the process for which they’ve been set ablaze – s’mores. But everyone knows you don’t cook a marshmallow on a raging fire. You cook it slow, roasted while carefully hovering over the surface of the coals that have seen enough fire to whisper their memories to the sweet sugary fluff suspended over their heads.

For now, we wait and we watch.

We listen to the sounds of cicadas bellowing overhead, inviting us to incline not only our ears, but our eyes in their direction. So up we look, gazing into the overarching umbrella of the upper leaves, swaying to and fro with the evening breeze. The cicadas, are there tens or thousands? Loud enough to drown out the worries of an earlier hour, and yet also loud enough to keep you from thinking clearly about tomorrow. All we are allowed to be aware of is this present moment. The sunlight flickers from some distant dusk still trying to promise it will return again tomorrow, but the light is too quiet to hear above the shadows of this moment.

We take a deep breath, and close our eyes.

Sight becomes unnecessary for now, as the sting of the smoke begs us for some brief respite. We smell the fire, and think for a split second about the need to do laundry later. We push such thoughts aside – they are not helpful here. Exhaling slowly, eyes closed, in this moment we’re able to enjoy the cool breeze tempered by the rising flames nearby. We feel warmth, even as we are cooled. The cicadas screaming such a noise that anywhere else would be instant annoyance, and yet here and now it is a late summertime symphony, with front row privileges.

We turn our attention again to the flames.

The wood is dry enough to embrace the fire quickly as family, welcoming the flames deep within, and crackling in ways that evoke a thousand previous campfires all at once. A sound that in many other moments would stir fear and rising anxiety – here in this place, finding a glad reception as memories of gathering close to beloved friends and family are stirred. Turning through pages of mental Polaroids, the album turns to reveal bales of hay with more friends than should be safely balanced, somehow comfortably positioned with smiles warm enough to make the pumpkins seem spiced.

As time passes, the mature coals beckon to be used as God intended.

I load the marshmallows, fatherly skills expertly developed for such a moment. They are loaded one at a time, two, three, four for this round. I watch the youngest child too excited to let dad help, plunge her mallow straight into the flames, with shrieks of delight. She doesn’t care for culinary perfection – she wants to see the flames, taste the burn among the chocolate graham, and return to playing with fireflies in the grass. Her older sisters have learned to trust their father, and the value of a well-roasted marshmallow. Turning my tines slowly, almost too far from the source to be perceptively active in my endeavor – nevertheless, heating from the outside in. Showing no external signs of heat absorption, time passes. The white turns slowly as I consider the source of heat actively. After a time, you notice the mallow begin to droop, until it seems destined to fall right off the metal fork. Dipping dangerously close to the heat, I caramelize the exterior just enough to give a roasted identity before offering one to each of my girls who stand nearby, plates ready. S’more one. S’more two. S’more three. One mallow left, and no more plates beckoning to be filled. Smiling, I gently remove the expertly roasted marshmallow myself – no graham or chocolate required.

I’ve discovered my mouth is large enough to fit an entire roasted Jet-Puffed Marshmallow safely.

I enjoy the thin shell-like exterior on my tongue, before closing my mouth slowly. The gooey center oozing in every direction, I examine it slowly to satisfy my pride. Yes, I determine. It was roasted fully to the center, leaving no solid center behind. I smile, slowly enjoying the sweetness until all has been swallowed. The cicadas are now singing a song of appreciation for such adept roasting abilities. The sun has disappeared long ago, and the bats are now noticeable in the dancing light of the flames still leftover. I place another log on the fire, breathing slowly while the smoke flows momentarily in another direction. Tomorrow there is more to do.

But for now, I believe I’ll have s’more…

Posted in Uncategorized

At the Passing of Vivian Dake

A poem written by Rev. S.K.Wheatlake in 1892, in memory of Rev. Vivian Dake, who died while serving in Africa. It seems a great poem to be read at the untimely passing of anyone serving the Kingdom of Jesus…

He fainted on the battlefield,
Secure behind Faith’s trusty shield;
With Armor on the warrior fail,
Unsmitten by the darts of hell.

He fell beneath meridian sun,
At noon a full days work was done.
No more he treads the battleground,
No more the cross – he wears the crown.

No more he’ll join us in the fight
Against the wrong for God and right.
Close up the breach in which he stood,
Be bold to strike or die for God.

Oft we were blessed, ‘mid battle roar,
To hear him shout his victories o‘er,
And when his sword flashed forth the light,
We waxed more valiant in the fight.

Gird up your loins. No longer weep.
God giveth His beloved sleep.
Soon far beyond the battle fray,
We’ll meet on coronation day.

But Hark! Hear ye that battle cry,
Stand firm, the hellish foe is nigh;
With Spirit’s sword and victor’s song,
Quit you like men. In God be strong.

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.”