Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Child of God, Will You Put on Christ? Will You - Follow?

Last word of this six week progression -

Nothing pithy from me. Nothing profound.

Just the question - Child of God, will you put on Christ?

Will you follow?

In our sanctuary at Saint John's - we have little banners that surround the nave with each of the words we've lived with during Lent. The word "Follow" completes the circle and is right there at the foot of the cross.

The teachings of Jesus - as much as they inspire and instruct - ultimately, they challenge us to live on the edge of who we thought we ever could be, but not for self - for "the other."

The call to follow Jesus, even to the cross, is among the asks us and to be motivated by nothing else than this - love and grace.

Of all the reasons, all the excuses we employ to be anything but faithful, to do anything but follow, I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Jesus from Gethsemane, who, in his moment of ontological angst, in the end, was crystal clear - "not my will God, but yours."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Always Tiger Blue

Thanks, boys.

Recording Project Update - from "Every Song Tells a Story" to "Under the Influence"

As the recording project evolves and moves toward production, so have my thought processes on what should be on it.

Originally conceived as "Every Song Tells a Story," now it has moved into a more focused thought. Each of the following tunes has a story in how the music touched me. Or, better said, how those who sang it did.

The clearer image that has come is "influence."

So, subject to some final changes that I don't foresee - here's where I'm going when I walk into the studio next month.

I am thrilled that Glad River is supporting me in this and will be contributing mightily on the project. I've even thrown out an invite to an original member of the band - we'll see if it works out.

I have friends from various parts of my life's story who are cheering me on.

Congregants and musicians from Saint John's are encouraging and will be helping, and I'm thankful for that beyond words. Most gracious, indeed.

So, here it is - a track list I just emailed out tonight to some folks playing on the project, and to Ashley, who is producing it.

Wish me luck -

I've made my last changes and they are in the sequence I see it unfolding.

Dylan and The Beatles were right there at the end, but I'm holding them for Volume 2!

Loggins is out, as are virtually all other overt "love songs." I figure I'll just karaoke a cd for my wife sometime down the road.

You will also note that the Gospel tunes are out. I think I could and should do those within the confines of a worship space. I can probably do all those at St. John's.

My methodology is as follows - Tracks 1, 2, 5 & 6 have particular stories for me as a boy that set the stage for me to want to pick up a guitar - sing and play.

The Godspell tune is from experiencing a travelling youth group sing that at Mayfield First in the early 70's and I was hooked. It was about the same time my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher told me I'd be minister.

7 is not really a tie to Jimmy, it is, rather a song of a time that was an important in my childhood. And, it rocks and has some pretty killer harmonies going on.

8-9 part of the catharsis of healing through Jimmy's death - 3 years on this April.

10 is a claim on the influences of the Wesley brothers to my life and faith, and, a contemporary treatment from one who is influencing the church even now.

12 talks about my propensity to hide inside myself when i don't feel safe or don't know where to go - the hope in that song, though, is that, through some perspective, and having finished a therapeutic course of treatment, it's o.k. to invite folks up on my roof with me.

You will note - Allentown is in - not as a fluke, but in keeping with influences, that's the first tune we ever played as a band. Seems right to me, and a social commentary of the time, as are many of these tunes.

Up on the Roof was out and back in - the lyric works great for a midtown church pastor.

Johnny Jeffords – Under the Influence

Influence – “to flow into” - These songs capture the various streams of the Spirit’s leading that have flowed into me over the years. These influences have awakened me to who I am, what I’m called to be, and the One on whom I’m most in need to rely as I take this journey seeking to be known, to be loved, to proclaim “Good News ” and, ultimately, to find home.
  1. I Can See Clearly Now
  2. One Tin Soldier
  3. Running on Empty
  4. Save the People (from Godspell)
  5. You’ve Got a Friend
  6. The Gift of Love
  7. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
  8. 100 Years
  9. Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)
  10. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
  11. Allentown
  12. Up on the Roof

Monday, March 19, 2007

Child of God, Will You Put on Christ? Will You Testify?

I've seen enough "Law & Order" in my day to know what it means to testify. Someone takes the stand, and at either the coaching or cajoling of the attorneys (depending on which side is trying to announce one's truth or discredit it), the witness recounts for all to hear the story they have to tell.

As a person of the church, I know what it means to testify. I've seen it happen when someone wants to give their "testimony." Someone wants to tell you, if not convince you of the work of God in their lives, and it's usually some unique and awesome way, and that, if you'd just accept Jesus, God might operate in such profound ways in your life, too.

I've always been suspect of those who seem to have an access point to God that to me seems so far removed from my experience and or imagination.

Those testimonies just seem a little over the top, too spectacular, and isolating in their own way the sense that someone ordinary like me could every know God and been known by God on such terms and with such seeming intensity.

Sadly, it is our tendency to dismiss out of hand those spiritual practices, if not disciplines, that might do us some good, because we've seen them mishandled and used as devices to manipulate a certain response. Testifying is one of those things, and this Lent, Child of God, it's time to reclaim it and live it.

To testify, as a child of God, is not to manufacture a contrived Holy meaning to the events of one's day. I also believe that to testify is not to announce how good God is to YOU.

Rather, our testimony is to announce the reality that God is. And if we're careful, and just a little bit attentive, the profound miracle of grace is not the any of us have unique access to the Divine, but that we all do!

All we have to do is work on being attentive to what is universally offered.

Our testimony, then, is not about how blessed we are, or, how special we are, but that, through the dailyness of our being, despite how we feel, or what we think, we are not alone.

And then there's one more character to testimony worth mentioning. Not only do we bear witness to the truth that God is, but we are charged as Christ's own to announce who God is.

Isn't' that what Jesus did, even to the end? His life was not about himself, but a living testimony of the nature of the One who sent him.

And who is One for whom we testify?

The One, who, through Jesus

  • announces release of the captives
  • recovering of sight to the blind
  • sets at liberty those who are oppressed
  • announces the year of the Lord's favor as being right here, right now
  • finds life and meaning with those whom the religious establishment marginalizes and judges
  • declares forgiveness and reconciliation
  • confronts the principalities and powers of the world, and does so without fear

So, will ya - will you tell not only that God is, but who God is?

Child of God, will you testify?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hold On, I'm Coming

I've had a couple of folks who read me regularly comment that there's not been much "edge" to my musings as of late.

Did I give up ranting for Lent?

Nope - it's coming, and soon.

But if you want a preview, here goes.

Last week it was announced that former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, had one of his extra-marital affairs while he was front and center on the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton.

That's not the funny part.

He has the audacity now to proclaim his truth with the caveat that he is not a hypocrite.

Hey Newt, old man, you don't get to say whether or not you're a hypocrite.

Your actions do that for you! That's the point.

Child of God, Will You Put on Christ? Will You...Forgive?

If confession is hard, forgiveness is harder – but as we put on Christ to the full, each takes residence in our being as the norm of how we relate to God as expressed in our actions with each other.

And on this point we must be clear – it is far too easy to say, “if you are a Christian, then you confess and forgive.” Any statement that includes “if” and “then” is a conditional. Think of the many ways we use conditionals in our conversations. Conditionals are bargaining tools, they are leverage points to keep an advantage. Conditionals are not self-giving. They are not expressive of the agape’ love we know in God through Jesus of Nazareth.

To forgive, as hard as it is to accept, cannot be based upon conditionals. It just is.

“How many times do I forgive,” Peter asks Jesus. “Seven times?” – as if that ought to be plenty. “No, seventy times seven,” or, until you can no longer keep count.

See, there’s much at work in an act of forgiveness, and most of it reflects on the one being asked to forgive. Imagine you’ve been wronged – the power to forgive resides completely with you. You have to decide whether or not you’ll accept someone’s request for forgiveness. You have to decide if there are terms in order for forgiveness to be granted (here come the conditionals again). And you have to decide if you like the power you have over someone who is asking to be forgiven is greater than being grace-full.

If left to our own devices, sure enough, time and again we’ll dictate terms for forgiveness – and when we do, grace has nothing to do with it. That’s why putting on Christ matters so much – forgiveness is not based upon conditions – it just is.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Child of God, Will You Put on Christ? Will You...Confess?

How many of you like to confess?

How many of you like to tell the person you’ve wronged, by what you said or did, or, by what you failed to do or say?

My guess is that the number is comparatively low when juxtaposed to those of us who prefer to think that they're just fine and making significant contributions to Kingdom. But putting on confession is a central part of this Lenten journey.

It, in many ways, defines us.

For Protestants, we have so vitiated the character of confession as a over reaction to do anything other than what our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have done, that what we end up making a mockery of this spiritual discipline.

“I don’t need to confess to a priest to have my sins forgiven,” we say, “I just need to confess to God.”

What a sad theological perspective to adopt.

And, what a convenient excuse to keep us from being honest with ourselves and accountable to anyone else that we have the capacity, and sometimes the will, to do or say the most hellish things.

So, we'll just keep it between God and us.

Confession should never be perfunctory, but it should be.

And while an intermediary is not required for absolution, it is a crucial part of "coming clean."

Confession to God, to one another, to a trusted guide, pastor, friend, or confidant. There is something about being able to say out loud what only inwardly we’d dare ponder about our actions that brings us one step closer to healing.

Our sisters and brothers who are working the 12 steps know this better than most church folks. While that's to their credit and ultimately their healing and sobriety - our inability and unwillingness to confess unless on our own self-protective terms is to our detriment.

And why? Because we don't really believe we can be forgiven. That's the only true conclusion that we can draw.

Granted, it's a radical thing to forgive. In fact, is was the thing that drew the ire of the religious leaders of Jesus' time because he announced it was a reality in and through him.

One last word.

Confession isn’t only about admitting what we’ve done.

Confession is also admitting who we are – what is the stuff of our soul. It is an unveiling of our hearts for others to see. In American Sign Language, the sign for “confess” look like someone literally unveiling their hearts to let others look in at the truth of who they are.

As Christians, we are called to confess not only what we’ve done, but who we are.

And who are, will you admit it?

We are children of God who have put on this Jesus of Nazareth - he "who in the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."