O Come Let Us Adore Him

As a worship leader, I struggle quite a bit choosing new music at Christmas time. It's hard to avoid getting into a rut and doing the same songs year after year. So I thought I would share this song that I arranged a while back.

It's my rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful. My goal was to take a traditional Christmas carol and arrange it into a more current worship song. I like building dynamics through repetition, and this arrangement clocks in at over seven minutes long. I modified the original chorus to lend itself more toward repetition, added some Alleluias, and here you go. It's a bit lengthy, and it starts out slowly. There's even a breakdown toward the middle with the original latin lyrics (Venite Adoremus). But give it a full listen and see where it goes from there. Hopefully, if you're like me, you will appreciate having a new option for Christmas music selections this year.

O Come Le Us Adore Him

Here's the link to the direct .mp3 download.
Here's the link to the chord chart in Word .doc format.

This particular recording was done on a benefit project for Emanuel Children's Hospital here in Portland. It features the ISing Community Choir and the worship band at Our Place Christian Church.

Love Your Enemies

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
Luke 6:27-28

Therefore, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,

Be patient with your enemies. Be kind to your enemies. Do not envy your enemies. Do not boast against your enemies. Humble yourself before your enemies. Do not be rude to your enemies. Do not delight in the evil of your enemies but rejoice with their truth. Always protect your enemies. Always trust your enemies. Always be hopeful for your enemies. Always persevere with your enemies. Never fail your enemies.

Who is your enemy? Are liberals your enemy? Are Muslim extremists your enemy? Are homosexual activists your enemy? Is corporate America your enemy? Is Fox News your enemy? Are evolutionary scientists your enemy? Are prosperity preachers your enemy? The list goes on...

Do you love them? Really??

Discovering The God Imagination

Jonathan Brink has a new book out. Check out the promo videos below:

The Woman Caught in Adultery

Here is my latest message, from John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

One Sonic Society - One EP

Just downloaded this album tonight. What a surprising offering. One Sonic Society is the new project of Stu G and John Thatcher, formerly of Delirious? The EP contains five tracks, as listed below:

1. Our God Will Come
2. Forever Reign
3. The Greatness of Our God
4. Burn
5. Meet With Me

I highly recommend this EP. This is the kind of stuff that translates SO well into a community environment. This is not an album of three minute pop songs. These are clearly and unapologetically worship songs. The production is a little safe, the songwriting perhaps a bit formulaic. But just a little; just a bit. In fact, this balance might be what makes the EP so great.

Let me say this: I spend hours listening through album after album of "christian music" and "live worship" looking for good songs, and I'm lucky to find one or two per album (if ANY!) that work for me. Call me picky, but lyrics and melody are important.

On this EP, I immediately hear four of the five songs working in public worship. Maybe even five out of five. Thematically, the lyrics are all the way there for me. Easy to sing, as if they were my own words. And from there, I can hear what I would do to make the music heavier and more powerful, what I would do to stretch the songs out and fill them in. There is a framework here that I can jump off from. Add a little here; take away a little there. This is what I do as a worshiper, and as a facilitator. Start with a foundation, seek my own voice of worship through it, and help others to find theirs.

One Sonic Society has succeeded in creating a collection of songs that are unobtrusive and unassuming. The songs are not overly written. The songs are not focused on themselves. They are purely worship focused, and are thereby a platform for worshipers. I found this refreshing and unexpected. Here are some lyrics from "Meet With Me" that bear this sentiment:

I'm not here to pretend, I'm not here just to sing
But I'm asking You please, meet with me.
I have felt You before, and I'm certain there's more
So I'm asking You please, meet with me...

Strip it away, strip it all away, 'til I am left with You
Break it away, break it all away, all I want is You

Here's a video from the band, about the band:

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, here's a few pics for those of you who are interested. Again, cosmetically she's not the prettiest, but the tone is all I could ask for.

Here's a close up of the head. Obviously a "brownface". Notice the Presence knob to the far right and the Pre-CBS company name "Fender Elect. Inst. Co."

And here's the tube chart. The "LA" stamp in the upper right corner means the amp was manufactured in January of 1962.

Jesus Manifesto

Just came in the mail this week. Finished two chapters so far...

If you are not already familiar with the book, it is by Len Sweet and Frank Viola. It just came out this month, but was actually preceded by a wordpress blog post entitled "A Jesus Manifesto." In its original form it was much shorter, and the old post has now been replaced by a short page of information about the new and now larger "Jesus Manifesto" book.

I wrote a response to the original manifesto almost a year ago, which you can read "here." In it, I criticized the authors for failing to give practical examples of how we as Christians are to give Christ the ultimate supremacy in our lives (although I very much appreciate them both and their work on a variety of topics). I am looking forward to finishing the new book and seeing if it improves on the original version.

And again, I am very much on board with the idea here. In my opinion, Len and Frank are absolutely right about our need to bring Jesus back to the forefront of our faith. I just hope that this time they will not shy away from telling us how we can do it.

Singability and Guitar Solos

What is this idea of "singability" in worship music? I've heard so many different points of view on this that I thought I would share my thoughts on the issue.

As far as music style, it is marginally true that some songs are easier to sing than others. The most significant variable that affects singability is familiarity. Hymns are some of the most difficult songs to sing when one is unfamiliar with them, due to the lyrical syncopation and accents that often run counter to normative diction (for example, the word "fortress" in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is sung in three syllables, requiring a sort of double tonguing of the first "r", not easily done unless you are familiar with the song, and one of hundreds of like examples).

And the debate on singability runs to and fro. Many who prefer hymns argue that choruses are "too simple and repetitive". And while modern/postmodern worship music is increasingly embracing hymnody and returning to values of complexity, intricacy, and depth in worship music, those who prefer simpler choruses argue for singability. And while there are good points to be made on all sides, in the end it truly boils down to taste and familiarity and circular logic. "I like what I know and can sing and worship to easily", "I can sing and worship easily to what I like and know", etc.

The idea that some songs are more worshipful or more conducive to worship than others is a truly flawed proposition. Worshipfulness is in the heart of the worshiper. Everything on the exterior is taste and familiarity. Hymns are not better or worse than Hillsongs in any spiritual way, nor are Hillsongs better or worse than Vineyard or SixSteps in any spiritual way. The only way they are better or worse than each other is in the way that they meet people's expectations and tastes, or put another way, in the particular language that they speak to particular people. You can read my post called "Music as Language" to learn more of my opinions on this idea.

However, I do feel that some songs, and especially certain lyrical styles, are better suited for leading worship. I believe that ALL music is worship. But not all music is best suited to lead others in worship. For example, I could write a song with lyrics about being addicted to drugs, and how I trust in God for deliverance... and when I sing that song, I would definitely be worshiping God with it. But it might not be the best song for me to use to lead others in worship. Certainly it could lead others to worship, and it would perhaps be awesome and powerful for those who could connect with it somehow and worship through it. But it would take a special connection that not everyone would have. So I see a slight difference between music that is designed and written for personal worship versus music that is designed and written to lead others in worship.

At the same time, during a church gathering there is definitely room for all kinds of music and worship styles. I have experienced great connections with God in personal worship through experiencing the talents and personal worship of others, even if I am not participating in it, but only watching it. When I hear an awesome guitar solo in church, it moves me to worship God all the more because of the amazing talents and gifts of creativity that He gives to us, and for the way that others use those gifts to worship Him. I don't have to participate in a guitar solo to be led in worship by one! But it is my personal choice to worship God for what He does. Some people might get distracted by a guitar solo, or be tempted to give praise to the soloist instead of the Creator who gave the soloist the talent. Some might make judgments about the soloist, assuming that he or she is looking for praise. Instead, I worship God for the talent He has given the soloist, and in my own way I join with the soloist in worshiping God. My assumption is that he or she wants to give God glory by soloing. That is AWESOME to me.

(Originally posted in 2005)

1962 Blonde Fender Bassman

OK, time for some more guitar gear stuff.

I just picked up an old Fender piggyback Bassman for $200. It was broken when I bought it, so I had it looked at by Bryan Sours at Soursound here in Portland. It ended up needing to be recapped and the speakers replaced, which weren't original anyway. Funny thing about it... someone had spray painted the head and cabinet black, which it turns out was not an uncommon practice after Fender changed their amps to black in 1964. People wanted newer looking amps! But the original blonde tolex was there underneath the paint and came out fairly clean after using hefty amounts of graffiti remover. It still looks old, but the discoloration and cigarette burns give it a distressed vintage vibe that you usually have to pay extra for. I'll post some pics when I get around to taking some.

I had Bryan order a pair of Weber Vintage Series Ceramics (12F150-A) to install in the 2x12 cabinet, and they sound perfect. The great thing about the amp is that other than the caps, power tubes, bias adjustment, grounded AC, and speakers, the head and cabinet are 100% original from 1962, choke, transformers, everything. It's a 1962 Blonde Fender Bassman, brownface (pre-blackface), with the original 6G6-A circuit. And boy does it sound good. All told I am in to the amp for less than $700, which is what the heads alone can sell for on eBay. Mine's not in the greatest cosmetic shape. But the tone is there!

This is my first true Fender tube amp. I got my first tube amp back in 1998, a used Laney 50w 1x12 combo. Since then I have owned a Marshall JTM310, Marshall TSL602, Mesa/Boogie Road King, Budda Superdrive 18, and a TopHat King Royale. I have been playing through the TopHat for a few years now, which is basically a Vox AC30 circuit in channel one and AC30TB circuit in channel two, modified but very similar. And I have really liked it. It cleans up pretty well when I roll back my guitars volume, but gets nice and crunchy when I open it up. And it definitely has a Vox vibe that is different from Marshall and Mesa. People like to call it "chimey", which isn't exactly how I would describe it, but it's close. It's hand built, point to point wired, and the craftsmanship is off the scale. It's a great amp. But perhaps my ears are tiring of the Vox thing, because this Bassman is really a much better sounding amp to me.

Until now I never really liked the sound I heard from Fender amps. I had a band mate once who played a HotRod Deluxe. I didn't care much for it, but it was a nice contrast to my Marshall tone at the time. And I've heard plenty of Twins and always thought they were shrill. But this Bassman is something different. It's warm, rich, and full. Yes, the clean top end can saw your head off if you're not careful. That's what Fender's do. But the 2x12 closed back cab has plenty of bass response. And I keep the treble knob right at about 12 o'clock, which is just right. Plus the old Bassman's have a presence knob, not a bright switch like later Fender circuits. So it's not an on/off thing, too bright versus not bright enough... I can dial in just the right amount of shimmer without getting too harsh.

I would say that the Bassman is not quite as dynamic as the King Royale. It doesn't crunch quite as hard, and certainly doesn't come close to the modern high-gain my Marshall's have. But it has a wonderful clean tone that beats them all! With the guitar volume rolled back just a bit it sounds like warm glass. And cranked up it does have a nice gritty bluesy classic rock tone. So there is quite a bit of range. Just not all the way there. It's a unique thing I guess. It does what it's supposed to do. None of my other amps sound as good clean or slightly pushed. Now I know why so many people swear by Fender's for clean and Marshall's for gain. Maybe a dual amp setup is in my future??

I am planning to eventually post some gear review videos, maybe do a shoot-out between a couple of my amps. Play a variety of guitars through them. Listen to the different tones they create. Maybe do a Fender vs. Marshall "clash of the titans" vid? I've been thinking for a long time that it might be fun... and educational at the same time! I figure I'll learn as much about my amps by doing it as anyone will by watching it. Maybe I'll have some time this summer...

Community Missions

Here is my message from last Sunday, about Community Missions. Ministry to the poor is not an option, it is an obligation. It is not a calling, it is a command...

Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy

Here's a thought. If I were forced to choose between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, I think I might choose on this basis:

I would rather act like Jesus and know nothing of Him, than know of Jesus and act nothing like Him.

I'm not going to delve too deeply into this right now. But I wonder what God would prefer? Is what we know about Jesus more important to God than how we live our lives? There are a milieu of Bible verses going through my head right now. I suppose it sort of comes down to what one believes about the afterlife. If you believe the goal of life is to go to heaven when you die, then maybe knowing Jesus but acting terribly is ok, because you are forgiven and saved and going to heaven and no one is perfect anyway? But if you believe the goal of life is to participate in growing God's kingdom on earth, awaiting Christ's return when we will all be perfected, then maybe how you act today matters a bit more?

I know, I know. "They're BOTH important" you will say. OK. Agreed. But which is MORE important?

Liberation Theology

What do you think? Is there some truth to what he is saying? With whom do you identify? The powerful or the powerless? Through whose eyes do you read scriptures? Through whose eyes do you see the cross?

A New Kind of Christianity, Part 3

I just finished reading the first section of Book 2, The Church Question: What Do We Do About The Church. At this point I am entirely fed up with much of the criticism that Brian has received over this book.

For one, this idea that Brian is trying to minimize the writings of Paul in favor of the Gospels is just ridiculous. Earlier in the book Brian wrote a summary and commentary on the entire book of Romans, and now in the church section he has done a full summary and commentary on 1 Corinthians. It seems thus far like he has written more about Paul than about Jesus. And this is no criticism. He has done so with the highest respect and regard for Paul, strongly and repeatedly championing the causes for which Paul wrote.

Secondly, critics seem to have this idea that Brian is attempting to create a Christianity with no need for a savior. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Church section, Brian asks:

"What one great danger do people need to be saved from, and more positively, what one great purpose do they need to be saved for? ...the church exists to form Christlike people, people of Christlike love. It exists to save them from the great danger of wasting their lives, becoming something less than and other than they were intended to be, gaining the world but losing their souls."

Taken out of context as I have it here, it might seem to the uninformed that Brian is suggesting some sort of health and wealth "your best life now" kind of church. But the entire Church section revolves around love, the sacrificial suffering kind of love that Jesus demonstrated, that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. As I already mentioned, Brian goes on to summarize and commentate the entire letter, giving us a vision for the purpose of the church through Paul's eyes, one where we stop bickering over petty things, over who knows what and who doesn't, where we stop acting like infants and put childish things behind us, where we live out lives of mature Christlike love that teach and inspire those around us to live and love the same. THAT is the purpose of the church.

And I could not agree more. In fact, our church adopted a new vision statement about a year or so ago: "Love God, Love People". That's it. It's that simple. And Brian has nailed it.

Next up, the highly anticipated "Sex Question". More of my thought to come.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Criticizes Brian McLaren

I just finished watching an hour long panel discussion on Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity. The moderator was R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and the panel was composed of Jim Hamilton, Bruce Ware, Stephen Wellum, and Gregory Wills. I found much of their criticism of the book to be pretty high level, and I would recommend you watch it for yourself. I must say that I found myself disagreeing with the panel on their characterizations of certain sections of the book. Many times it seemed like they either did not understand what Brian was trying to say, or intentionally took some ideas to their logical extreme in order to rebut them. At the same time, I did find myself agreeing with certain of their points, but not many.

What perhaps spoke to me the most from the discussion was Bruce Ware's admission near the end that Brian is actually right about something. Here's what he said:

"I think we, conservative fundamentalist Christianity, bear some responsibility in promoting a kind of legalism and a tight rigid fundamentalism that is repulsive. He's (McLaren) right about that. And I mean, we have sinned in this regard I mean (for) so much of our history. I grew up in a baptist church that was legalistic, and my goodness, 95% of the youth group that I grew up with is not walking with the Lord. They just rebelled against that legalism, the hypocrisy that was there. Well there's a fair bit of that that is true, that a person like Brian McLaren, William Paul Young and The Shack, Donald Miller... I mean in a sense they are appealing to that same audience of a younger generation that is fed up with fundamentalism in its legalistic form. Honestly we bear some responsibility in the fact that we have not done well at promoting true Biblical Christianity. And boy, God help us."

Amen to that.

You can watch the video of the discussion in its entirety at this link:


How Do I Love God?

...By loving people. I began this with a post and discussion about this idea. I gave a message to our church on it. Here it is:

Those People...

You know the ones. They're usually poorly dressed, with a backpack at their feet. The sign says "Will work for food", or "Homeless. Please Help". Maybe you see them on your way to work? Or while running errands? You pretend not to notice them. You avoid their glance. Yeah, those people.

Have you found yourself annoyed by them? How dare they stand there everyday and beg you for money. They're probably liars, scam artists, just out to make a quick buck. Or they're addicts and will just waste your money on drugs and alcohol. Whatever it is, you know there is no good reason why they don't have a job. They're obviously lazy. Let's see, what other assumptions can we use to make ourselves feel better about ignoring them.

My goodness, if you were to give some of your spare change to everyone that asked you, why that would add up to... uh, let's see here... 50 cents per day times the guy at 5th and main plus the kid downtown... carry the one... Well, TOO much, THAT'S for sure. And besides, you tithe to your church and give money every year to the homeless shelter. You're doing you're part, right?

So why can't you look them in the eyes? Why do you have to pretend to be on the phone? Why can't you roll down your window and say hello?

"Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:10-11

This was originally posted in 2005.

A New Kind of Christianity: Part 2

Now at 35% read, I have just finished the question "Is God violent?" In it, Brian continues his idea that the Bible should not be read as a constitution, but as a library. He goes on to propose that we view the books of the Bible chronologically, and in so doing discover a progressing evolution of and improvement in our understanding of God.

In the Old Testament, we see a violent genocidal God, who destroys all life on the planet with a flood and who sends the Israelites to destroy neighboring people groups. Brian advances the argument that the OT books were written by a people whose understanding of God was primitive, and so their writings reflect this primitive understanding (again, not a new idea). And as we move further along in the library time line, we see humanity's understanding of God improving. By the time we get to Jesus in the Gospels, much of the old understanding of God is turned on its head (love your enemies instead of hating them, etc.). Brian suggests that this is not God changing, but our knowledge of him changing, his revelation of himself to us expanding.

In the book, Brian plots a line through a scatter diagram that shows a trajectory of our understanding of God, beginning in the early OT books and moving forward through the NT. The line travels upward, into higher and higher understanding. Then Brian adds points to the diagram to represent OT prophecy about the future, placing them higher still on the trajectory line. Finally, he places Jesus at the top of the chart, as the point through which the line finally travels at its highest position. In doing this, he attempts to give Jesus the highest place, to make Jesus, and understanding Jesus, the bearing marker which should guide our quest for a new kind of Christianity.

But I have a problem with this.

First, what Jesus are we talking about here? For this to work, the Jesus at the top of the trajectory has to be the actual Jesus. It can't be the Jesus that was revealed to us in the Gospels. That Jesus was made known to us through primitive peoples nearly two thousand years ago. Just as the God revealed in the OT was an incomplete and somewhat inaccurate picture, to be improved upon in later writings (according to the theory here), so too must the Jesus of the Gospels be somewhat incomplete and inaccurate. I don't understand the basis for Brian's assumption that the Gospels of 2000 years ago are somehow the complete revelation of Jesus. Such an assumption, while I tend to agree with it, does seem to fly in the face of the rest of his proposition.

So where do we turn to find newer and more accurate revelations of the true Jesus? People have proposed a lot of options for this. Islam claims to be a cleansing or repairing of the corrupted understanding of God we find in the scriptures. It came roughly 600 years after the Gospels were written. Could Islam be an evolved and improved understanding of God? Mormonism also makes the claim of a Latter Day revelation of Jesus. Are we to accept these as possibilities? If not, to what or whom do we then turn to find the Jesus that Brian places at the top of his trajectory? According to Brian, we cannot turn to the NT letters for this, as he makes clear that the letters should be seen as pointing back to the Jesus of the Gospels. To what then? To Jesus himself?? How???

The only way this makes sense to me is if the Jesus at the top of the trajectory line is the real Jesus, not the picture of Jesus painted in the Gospels. If God is revealing this Jesus to us even now, as Brian says, "even as we read these words", how do we determine the validity of these personal experiences? Brian seems to claim that we do this by looking backward along the trajectory line and see if it follows the correct course. Sounds good. But I think Islam and Mormonism then have a legitimate claim to being accurate revelations of God. Perhaps they are? Is this what Brian is saying? So far he has not made that explicit yet.

But there are a couple upcoming sections that may further address these issues, specifically, "Who is Jesus and why is he important?" and "How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?" More good reading ahead!

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

A New Kind of Christianity

According to the new Kindle App for Blackberry, I have now read the first 20% of this book. I considered waiting until I finished before posting my thoughts, but then decided I couldn't wait.

I love this book so far. I'm going to try not to gush, but it will be difficult. Although I am only about a fifth of the way through, I find the book is meeting me exactly where I am. The ideas have been written about before. Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt have broken this ground with The New Christians and A Christianity Worth Believing, as have many others. A New Kind of Christianity comes across to me as sort of a "Part III", a conclusion to the trilogy. But I don't mean a conclusion in the same sense as a closing. This book is more like a distillation.

In the book, Brian asks us to consider ten questions. And this is the essence of what I mean when I say distillation. For many years, people have struggled to explain and understand what it means to be an emergent christian, what it means to be in the emergent dialogue, and it has caused a lot of confusion. People want definitions, they want doctrine, they want black and white answers to essential propositions... What Brian has succeeded in doing, at least for me, is to summarize what it is that I'm so uncomfortable with. These are the questions. This is what I am asking, what I am wondering. These are the conversations I am seeking. These are the ten things:

1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2. How should the Bible be understood?
3. Is God violent?
4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?
5. What is the Gospel?
6. What do we do about the church?
7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10. How can we translate our quest into action?

Brian points out early on that he is not proposing "answers" to these questions, but rather "responses" that are designed to encourage further discussion. In describing his approach, he uses the metaphor of a tennis match. His responses are not meant to be smash serves, with lots of topspin, intended to win a point and create a loser... but rather more like soft lobs, easy to return, intended to keep the game going.

And as I am only just getting started with the book, I have yet to really delve into his responses and understand them. I have finished the first two questions, and I found myself saying "yes!" over and over again. This is what I have been thinking, what I have been blogging, what I have been questioning and studying in my own personal journey of faith and belief.

I especially related to his responses in question two... "How should the Bible be understood?" He proposes that much of history has seen the Bible understood and used like a constitution, with theologians and church leaders playing the role of attorneys, quoting the Bible to create legal precedents. But Brian suggests that maybe the Bible ought to be seen more like a community library, a collection of books by a variety of authors, all with unique experiences and points of view. Perhaps the books of the Bible were not meant to be read together as a whole, like a constitution, but read individually, browsed through and gleaned from, like a library?

An interesting thing about this book is Brian's repeated use of the word "we". As someone who self identifies as emergent, I found myself reading the book as if Brian were talking to me, or talking to "us". And I found that satisfying. I was happy to hear him speaking to me and at times for me. But yesterday I was reading a few sections of the book aloud to someone else, and I found myself feeling like the person I was reading to was not part of the "we". I felt like when the book said "we", when I read the word "we", that I was talking about "us" to someone who is "them". That was a strange experience. "We" is an interesting word choice here. Brian is talking to two groups at the same time. He's talking to us, and he's talking for us to them. And depending on which group you are in, you will undoubtedly hear his words differently.

I will likely post more of my thoughts as I get deeper into the book. I have not been this excited about a book since Surprised By Hope. It surely has created a lot of controversy recently (canary fliers!). I would encourage everyone to read it for themselves.