Thursday, 31 March 2011

Livin’ in a box, livin’ in a Perspex box

As you may, or may not, know I am a drummer.  It’s not my profession; it’s more like a syndrome.  I am constantly tapping anything that will make a sound, making drum noises with my mouth, playing ‘air-drums’ as I wander around the house and from time-to-time I do also sit on a drum stool and hit drums with sticks.  I’ve played with a wide variety of people in all kinds of church settings and enjoyed some of it a lot and some of it less so.  There’s a couple of worship leaders (and I’m not especially comfortable with that term but it’ll do as a readily understood short-hand for now, I may blog about that another time) who I absolutely love playing with, the first is Godfrey Birtill and the other is Rob Cresswell.  I’ve played with both of them many many times over a number of years and its comfortable and exciting and fun and challenging each and every time.  There’s an easy connection and a ‘flow’ that feels natural and makes it just work when we play.  Some might spiritualise it and call it an anointing, some might just chalk it up to lengthy experience.  I think it’s a bit of both.  However there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to ruin the experience of playing together and that’s when the drummer is put into or behind a Perspex box.

Aside from making a professional quality recording there is no technical reason whatsoever for putting the drummer behind a screen.  Churches are the only places where the drummer is boxed off like that!  Have you ever seen a live band in any secular setting put a box around the drummer?  It doesn’t matter if the band is playing the O2 Area, Madison Square Gardens, the local community centre or a tiny back room in a pub the drummer’s connection to the band, especially the bass player, is immediate and personal and vital.  It’s also not a genre thing – the music can be jazz, rock, soul, funk, reggae, country, folk or anything – the drummer is still not hidden behind a screen.

The reason, or indeed often excuse, for this strange behaviour by churches is almost always ‘The drummer is too loud’.  This could be because (a) he really is so much louder than the rest of the band that he’s drowning them out or it could be (b) some people just think he’s too loud because they can still hear him! 

If you’re in point (a) then then most churches first and only course of action is often to buy  a Perspex screen and plonk it between the drummer and the band – this is like noticing the volume on your TV set is too loud and immediately deciding the solution to this is to put the TV in a different room!  You are tackling the symptom rather than addressing the problem.  If your drummer is genuinely too loud then the leader of the band needs to work with the drummer to teach him to play more sensitively.  It is possible to play quietly when required.  I can – and I’m an extremely average drummer. Try positioning the drummer in a better place so he can see the band leader properly and ensure a good fold-back unit is used, where appropriate, so the drummer can hear properly at the right volume level so he can pitch his playing correctly.  Your drummer is NEVER EVER going to develop sensitivity in their playing if you stuff him behind a screen and rely on the PA to control the sound.  The PA is simply there to ensure everyone in the room can hear what’s going on – it should never be used to control the sound.  The band should control the sound themselves and that requires communication, honesty and humility.  If your drummer is arrogant and insists on playing too loudly despite repeated conversations about the problem then the solution is NOT a Perspex screen, the solution is that they’re not allowed to play at all until they are prepared to do it with the right attitude.  If your drummer is a beginner and struggles to play sensitively then again the Perspex box is still not the answer – he needs practice, encouragement and feedback on each song.
And if the drummer is too loud occasionally, or the singers hit the odd bum note or the guitarist plays the wrong chords from time to time and they get flak for it then frankly those who have a problem with this need to get a grip and realise musical perfection is not the point in worship!  Expressing joy and delight in our heavenly Father is the point.  As Godfrey says “We’re all in the band” – so stop slagging off your band mates and get your focus on Jesus and not the music.

If the criticism is more point (b) then you have an easier problem to deal with.  People who think the drums shouldn’t be heard at all probably don’t want anything other than a 400 year old pipe organ in church so you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to accommodate that attitude.  If we’re only going to use ‘biblical’ instruments then all we can have is crashing cymbals (would they like that?  I doubt it!), a few flutes, primitive trumpets, the odd harp maybe but certainly no organs, pipe or otherwise, guitars or pianos let alone the evil of the drum kit! Western European diatonic scale melodies would also be out so clearly we’d have to just sing using the ancient Hebrew musical tradition!  If they just want ‘traditional’ English church music then they need to be reminded that the church persecuted those that wanted to replace the plain-song sung only by Monks with the congregational singing and the religious choral style that they now consider to be correct! So what you should do with these people is this: ignore them completely because they won’t be happy whatever you do!

So set the drummer free from the evil tyranny of the Perspex box!

This one is bad...

This one is ghastly...

But this one is PURE evil...

All of these were seen in churches where I've played.  (Didn't use the bottom one - we asked for a second kit to be put out on the stage - this one was nicknamed 'the garden shed' and it was in America!).

Monday, 28 March 2011

Rob Bell

Rob Bell!  There I’ve said it.  It seems everyone is blogging about him, tweeting about him, being interviewed about him and  talking about him – well since his new book ‘Love Wins’ was announced anyway.  Here’s my take on the whole ‘Is Rob Bell a Universalist?’ debate. 

I don’t care.

I read a few web articles out of curiosity and some made some interesting points both pro and anti Bell’s book but I’m not going to link to them here or promote one over another because what does it matter what he believes?  Nor am I going to buy or read his book or engage in the debate any more.  As my, very wise, wife pointed out to me this morning it’s not like he’s altered the Bible!  Is God diminished because Rob Bell believes something I believe to be heretical?  No.  Is God enhanced because Rob Bell has a wonderful truth to impart to me?  No.  Am I a part of Rob Bells congregation?  No.  Are you?  Unlikely, if you’re reading this blog!  So what does it matter to you what he says, believes, writes or teaches?  If Rob Bell's ‘stuff’ brings life to you and helps you in your walk with Jesus then enjoy it, if it doesn’t float your boat then don’t engage with it. Listen to someone else’s teaching or ‘horror-of-horrors’ actually read your Bible for yourself more and ask the Holy Spirit to give you some fresh revelation!

As my friend Godfrey has noted in the past the ‘spiritual police’ are often around in our meetings – checking stuff out to see if it’s right or if it’s wrong.  Sadly those ‘spiritual police’ are sometimes not the modern day Pharisees and legalists, they’re us!  We have this crazy urge to judge everything and decide if it lines up with what we believe and then get all huffy if it doesn’t.  We get especially wound up if the person is successful, influential and, dare I say it, American!  We British often like to feel smugly superior with our, often, cynical world view and think things like ‘I would never have fallen for all that style-over-substance nonsense’ or ‘those na├»ve Americans will believe anything if it’s slick and flashy!’.  We justify our criticism by feeling like we’re part of some low-rent Christian team of ‘X-Men’, saving the church from the heretics and deceivers.  “I must quickly nip into this phone box and change into ‘Heresy Man’ – I fight untruth and dodgy-doctrine wherever it may be found”!  Nonsense, our responsibility is to love one another in the same way as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, not to nit-pick over the beliefs and teachings of someone 4,000 miles away leading a congregation we’re not even a member of!

Again as Godfrey has said “Let’s hand in our home-made ‘spiritual police’ badges - we made them, God didn’t give us them.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if in our attitudes to other parts of the church, part of the bride of Christ, it was actually true that ‘Love Wins’?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The guilt trip

Fear, guilt and shame, the three great manipulators. I’ve been wondering about these three in the last couple of days and especially why guilt seems to be so prevalent in the church, so here are some of my thoughts.

As a Christian we are told not to fear, to be courageous, to be very courageous. If we are to fear anything or anybody it is God and even there our understanding is limited as to what that actually means. We are very familiar with fear and can experience it in relation to the future, the past and even the present. We have endless things to fear and worry about but we also know without a shadow of a doubt that fear is something to be conquered. It is something bad and not part of God’s plan for us and so we work on trying to deal with our fears. We pray to be released from them, we look for root causes and try to dig them out with various techniques and we ask for help facing our fears. It is all part of being victorious and living in more freedom. As a manipulation tool of control it is excellent. It can keep us locked down, make wrong choices and cause us to be suspicious of others, ensuring that we huddle together for safety.

So is fear always bad? Not necessarily, I think it is an emotion given partly to protect us from harm, to heighten our awareness of a real danger not a possible danger. It certainly is not there to control our decisions and it must always be subject to the spirit of God that is within us. We have not been given a spirit of fear but of sonship. If fear is being used to manipulate us we should always deal with it by using truth. My own view is that fear can only be dealt with by truth; it is not a process or a technique or about digging out something. It is slam-dunked through belief in what God says about us. He tells us to be courageous because he is with us. Can it be as simple as that? Can we deal with all our fears through simply believing the truth that God is with us? I think so, simply believe.

Shame we also recognise as something not to be tolerated. We know it is linked to the fall, at their creation Adam and Eve do not feel shame; they eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and become the first to feel this emotion. They don’t appear to be ashamed of their behaviour in disobeying God; they feel shame because of their nakedness. They rapidly sew fig leaves together to cover it. We know that God does not want us to feel shame in any form. He has rescued us from the fall and any experience in our life that causes us to feel shame needs to be looked at, prayed through, forgiveness needs to be forthcoming – either accepting it or working through forgiving others. If someone can make you feel shame about your actions or your person they can manipulate you. I think there is a key to overcoming shame shown to us in the garden. Shame needs to be covered but it is not by our own efforts, it needs to be covered, not with fig leaves but with the blood of Jesus. Allowing him to cover our shame with his blood is I believe, the only way for it to be gone forever, for it to be dead and buried and not to haunt us and used against us. Even from the beginning the shame needed to be covered by a sacrifice!! Again it is for us to believe the truth over and above our experiences.

We know that fear and shame can be used, to restrict our freedom and therefore we know and are taught to control these feelings/emotions and to keep them from causing us harm. My thoughts have wandered to whether the same applies to guilt. As Christians are we taught with the same gusto to deal with guilt? Could it be that guilt is such a good manipulator we want to keep it in the church or do we believe guilt comes hand in hand with being a Christian, as it helps us to identify our sin? Making congregations feel guilty, as a control tool, is not unheard of and I think is pretty rampant. It is can be used in most churches to make people turn up, tithe, follow the vision, contribute and behave as a good member of the church as long as we follow the set rules. As we are so familiar with the feeling of guilt, and possibly even believe that feeling guilty is ok, we can be manipulated really easily and therefore controlled really easily. If we can put somebody on a guilt trip they can be manipulated into believing they are doing a service even if it is detrimental to them and possibly their calling. How many Christians have been manipulated into doing things that they really don’t want to do, feel guilty for not wanting to do it and then out of a sense of duty will do what they have been asked or is expected of them?

If we believe that we have been given guilt as an emotion to help us identify sin we will not deal with it in the same way as we do fear and shame. We will not want to annihilate it from our lives and in fact will be suspicious of people who say they don’t feel guilt. Whilst Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, we still think that only applies once we have confessed our sins and only for a very short period of time until we sin again. I’m satisfied that condemnation and sin go together but I’m not convinced that we should be in a constant battle with sin and condemnation/guilt. Paul is drawing out in Romans the difference between life under the law and life in the spirit and in Romans 8 it is clearly stated that there is no condemnation for those who live in the spirit. For those believing in the gospel of grace and not under the law, that did condemn, a life without condemnation is a possibility. The gospel sets us free from the law, into a life of the new covenant where all our sins are forgiven already, where now we choose to sin rather than being controlled by a sinful nature and we can choose not to sin. We can remove guilt from our choices and whilst some of those choices may make people unhappy, we are not responsible for others reactions and this certainly cannot be considered sin and therefore warrant guilt. I don’t believe in being sin conscious which leads to guilt conscious which makes us susceptible to manipulation through guilt. I do believe in God consciousness which leads to freedom from manipulation.

From the moment that we are dead to sin we are dead to guilt. To simply believe that this is true may make us a less easy target for manipulation in any setting. I think the answer to manipulation in any form is to simply believe the truth.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

What if...

Rob Bell, John Crowder and Rick Joyner walk into a pub.....definately a good joke in there somewhere......
Rob buys everyone in the bar a drink, he’s very inclusive
John asks for an empty glass, he’s already drunk.
Rick doesn’t need to order as he met the bar tender in a dream and told him what he’d want.
The Calvinist walks into the bar and thanks God he’s got that out of the way.
The Puritans walk into the bar – don’t be silly!
Brother Lawrence walks into the bar and heads for the kitchen.
The Pope walks into the bar orders a large glass of red wine, drinks the lot and wipes the glass with his hankie.
Some Sadducees walk into the bar, have a good drink and start singing Imagine.
Some Pharisees walk into the bar and check if everybody’s hands are clean before they order a drink.
St Paul walks into the bar with a friend, they check everyone has a drink and then orders a carry out.
Jesus walks into the bar, changes all the water into wine, starts a sing a long and calls for a lock in.
Rob Bell, good communicator but not sure what he is actually saying, John Crowder, preaches Christ crucified whilst 'toking the ghost', Rick Joyner the pursuit of the supernatural and a knight of Malta, Martin Luther the great reformer - unless you're a roman catholic, Paul the great evangelist but not too good with relationships - the list of ‘spiritual’ leaders who have got some things we might consider right and some things that we think we should stone them for goes on and on. We love to debate other people’s theology, prodding it here and there to see if it lines up with scripture and even there does it line up with the NIV or the KJV.
If we lived 2000 years ago would we be any different listening to Jesus? Or if Jesus lived today and we heard a few things he said via the media, maybe looked him up on YouTube or Google, see what end times prophetic were saying about him. Is he popping up on the Elijah list? Does he have a podcast we could listen to? Would we be getting on a plane to go and see him personally? Would we even know about him even if he lived today, he seemed to avoid wanting publicity. He possibly wouldn’t be a PR guy’s favourite customer.
I like some ‘teachers’, I don’t like others. The one’s I don’t like, I try and avoid. I put it down to style mostly, sometimes the content or lack of it, will make me pull a face, get a bit wound up, but hopefully not reach for my bag of pebbles. If we are going to believe that love is the centre piece of our lives then I suppose that must include those teachers that get on our spiritual nerves. I doubt those we are trying to introduce to Jesus care about our disagreements other than to note that we don’t really love each other so how can we say we love them.....