Archive for September 2010

The Song Must Go On

September 23, 2010

I hope you will forgive the personal nature ofmy sharing this week. I first want to express my deep thanks to so many of you who prayed for my family and me during my hospitalization and for those who sent cards, emails, called, and came by the hospital to visit last week in Jackson.  The Lord was gracious and responsive to your prayers on my behalf.  It is always good to hear doctors use words like “miracle.”

Last Sunday night I participated in a Pastor Installation Service for a dear friend, Justin Wainscott who was being formally installed as Senior Pastor of a church that is very dear to my heart, First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.  The two charges of the service were delivered by two men who I love and respect as much as any two men in Baptist life, Dr. Todd Brady and Dr. David Dockery.  I had been anticipating this glorious service for some time for a variety of reasons.

A late afternoon rehearsal with choir and instruments had a sense of reunion for me since I served the church as Minister of Music for nearly eight years back in the nineties.  Following a quick lineup in the choir room and pre-service prayer, the service began.  The first choir and orchestra anthem took place between the messages, the charge to the pastor by Dr. Brady and the charge to the church by Dr. Dockery.  As the anthem progressed I noted a growing numbness in my left hand and arm.  It was bothersome enough that I was slightly distracted from the music by the end of the anthem.  As I made my way to my chair I dropped music and Bible from that left hand.  I was able to pick the items up and settle into my chair, though I suspected something was wrong.  As I sat and listened to the beginning of Dr. Dockery’s message to the church I recognized my trouble was growing and I prayed not to become a distraction to others.  I remember thinking how glad I was that the next   anthem was Cindy Berry’s At the Name of Jesus, because it was a familiar anthem to me.  The hymn that followed was The Church’s One Foundation.  As the hymn began I struggled to maintain a sense of my own presence in the setting.

Thankfully there were church leaders and medical personnel who recognized something was very wrong.  They assisted me from the platform into the vestibule and longtime friend and choir member, Dr. Ron Kirkland, had already called for EMT from Jackson Madison County Hospital.  Though I lost consciousness soon after entering the ambulance, Ron’s presence with me on the short ride was deeply comforting as was the fading memory of the church being asked to pray.

The diagnosis was a stroke accompanied by a seizure.  I received excellent care from the neurologist and cardiologist who treated me.  The events were frightening enough to revisit thoughts I had two years ago after experiencing a stroke following surgery to implant a pacemaker.  Those thoughts have to do with facing my mortality and recognizing what a blessed gift every moment of every day is from our Lord.  The contemplation in this instance has taken on new directions, but one line of thinking and meditation was born in the very hymn the congregation was singing when this episode became full blown.  We did not make it to the final verses, but we were headed toward that expression of the Church’s destiny to complete her vision and to become the “Church vicotious” and the church “at rest.”  I admit I have prayed fervently that the Lord would allow me to continue here on earth to serve Him, to sing and participate in the Church’s song of worship and witness here.  I have prayed urgently that He might allow me to live more days with my family.  I have asked that I could spend more moments teaching the songs of faith to my grandchildren and share in more services of worship led by Tennessee church musicians bearing bold witness of the Gospel of Christ.  At the same time I am reminded how important it is that regardless of what happens with me, the song must go on!  In fact, that is a central reason for all of us to continue to sing, teach, and lead the songs of the Gospel.  Our Youth Project theme verse helps to place the principal in perspective:

“Let it be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”

                                                                                                –Ps 102:18

 I sing for I cannot be silent,

Paul

Football Time in Tennessee

September 7, 2010

IT’S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!  Our new exec ended his weekly email to staff with that line, but messed it up by following the phrase with a few dots and then another statement, “Roll Tide!”  (Johnny Coggin will probably increase his Cooperative Program gifts).

I got to banter back and forth a bit via text messages with threats of “Rocky Top” in chapel and so forth (careful if you ever threaten your boss).  Good hearted fun and a refreshing indication of our new exec’s sense of humor.

The phrase that Randy used in his email provided some food for thought.  Non-football fans, bear with me.  (Bama fans relax, I’m talking about the first phrase, “It’s football time in Tennessee.”) The phrase was an introductory trademark of the “Voice of the Vols,” John Ward who announced Tennessee football games from 1968 to 1999.  Ward had other trademark phrases and his unmistakable voice inflections helped many a football fan locate a radio station of the “Vol Network” on any given Saturday in the Fall.  Any of you who have ever been to a UT football game (even if you were wearing the wrong colors, Johnny) know something of the unrelenting traditions, the Vol Walk, the parade of the Pride of the Southland Band, the “Power T” and the repetition of “Rockytop” with every Tennessee touchdown, field goal, and impressive defensive stand.  The holiday weekend provided me an unusual opportunity to listen to the Derek Dooley show (DVRs are great).  It was especially fun to hear him share impressions from these great traditions and even to reintroduce a tradition that had been lost in recent years, the volunteer.  Dooley modified the “Vol Walk” to include gathering at the circle for the team to be reminded of the spirit and attitude exemplified in the volunteer, a torchbearer statue on the campus.  The Dooley era has begun.

Pardon the analogy, but there are some parallels for worship gatherings.  The traditions of sports teams and the universities they represent develop and become an integral part of the experience through repetition.  I am certain that every repetition does not carry equal levels of passion and intention, but the repetition comes nevertheless.  This is clearly ritual.  Interestingly, I never have heard of anyone saying, “Let’s start a contemporary ‘Vol Walk,” or “I get tired of standing every time they score a touchdown.” 

Let’s make the jump to Christian worship.  There are announcement phrases in worship that indicate the beginning of a season in the repeated telling of the story of Christ.  There are songs and phrases and a book that are referenced and become familiar refrains.  The sounds of worship are familiar to the point of being unmistakable.  Even when we are scanning radio channels we can hear familiar refrains and sounds that tell us “that is worship,” whether a band, a choir, or a soaring pipe organ.  There is a richness in the ritual of Christian worship that needs to be reintroduced from time to time by a leader, whether a new leader who brings fresh eyes, or an older leader whose eyes have been refreshed.  We need not fear repetition in worship for repeating allows our passion to be expressed in familiar strains.  In fact repetition can actually make our environment more hospitable to newcomers who need repetition in order to hear and understand, much less join the refrain.  Perhaps we need to revisit some former, if not ancient, practices that have dropped along the  way in worship, but may have merit to reinvigorate our ritual today.  I recall that when I was a child there were certain songs that were part of the flow of worship.  They were sung every Sunday, part of the repetition:

            “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple”

            “Gloria Patri”

            “Doxology” to OLD 100TH

            “God Be with You ’til We Meet Again”

            Sevenfold Amen

Those expressions were included in the hymnal as “service music,” aptly named.  Ancient church phrases and ritual might serve us well in our postmodern age of spiritual interest and longing for community.  What if we rediscovered:

            The Invocation

            Prayers of illumination

            “The Lord be with you” . “and also with you”

            “the kiss of peace”

            “words of institution”

            “prayers of the people”

            Old Testament reading

            Epistle reading

            Gospel reading

            Benediction

What if we had freedom to practice different worship postures through the flow of the service; bowing, kneeling, raising hands, embracing one another, without the level of self-consciousness that has robbed us of such practices due to conflicts that arose over the years. 

Saying “it’s football time in Tennessee” does not make football happen, it is said because it is happening.  Proclaiming a “call to worship” does not make worship happen, it is a reflection that it is happening.

May the Lord help us to engage in the repetition of His Story through our worship in such a way that reflects Him and His glory!

The Lord be with you,

Paul


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