A Pilgrim’s Hymn Chord Chart #PYT13

I am truly touched and grateful for all the responses to my song A Pilgrim’s Hymn (free download here) after my friend Jorge introduced it at Presbyterian Youth Triennium this past week. I’m not lying when I say that your feedback has been every artist’s dream.

Several folks have asked for the chord chart, so I put one together. It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike, so you can remix and share to your heart’s delight.

If anyone wants to transcribe it as sheet music, send me a digital copy and I’ll happily post it here.

Here you go!

A Pilgrim’s Hymn Chord Chart

You don’t need another commentary

Artists everywhere know that it’s not the tools that make the Art. Tools just help them get the job done.

Sure, a painter can use a cool brush, and a writer can buy a new pen, but the Art is made by simply showing up and doing the work.

Don’t believe me? This man used a toy camera to make amazing pictures:

It’s a new year, and you have a nice, fat book allowance to spend. You’re probably trolling Cokebury right now looking for that commentary on Luke that’s gonna blow Year C wide open. If you can find that one good set of theologians and biblical scholars spilling their wisdom, you’re sure to set the world a-fire for Jesus.

It ain’t gonna happen that way, and – deep down – you know it.

You don’t need another commentary. You don’t need another blog post that’s going to give you the insight that will spark this thing.

You need to write. You need to dig deep, and recall that experience of Jesus that knocked your damn socks off.

When they reacted to Jesus’ teaching, they often said “He speaks like no one has ever spoken before.” They were amazed because something deep inside of him welled up and blew their hair back. He didn’t quote other rabbis like he was giving a book report. He had the word of God written on his heart.

You do, too.

You don’t need another commentary.

Of Saviors and Superheroes

My earliest memories were in church.  Life began and ended there.  My life began there, and, some would say, my “real life” as a child of God began there too.

We went to this remarkably big church for a while in Broken Arrow, OK, which is just outside of Tulsa.  It was your typical early to mid-eighties Charismatic church.  There was singing and dancing galore – holy rollers to be sure.  I have a vivid memory of that church because, apparently, that’s where I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”

“Accepting Jesus into your heart” was a big deal in my family.  It seemed like every moment of your life your family would look forward to you “getting saved.”  It happened to me when I was five or six.   To be honest, it never really was that big of a deal to me (the getting saved part, not the being a Christian part) and apparently it wasn’t that day either.

The band at the church had been pumping for what seemed like an hour (in that church it could have been) and the pastor kept saying that “the Holy Ghost is obviously in this place.”  I took as evidence of that the fact that people were running around the freaking huge sanctuary like they were at a track meet, dancing in the aisles, on the seats, banging tambourines, and clapping like Jesus was, literally, on his way back to pick them up.  It was a riot.

But to my little boy sensibilities, it was not a riot. I was intrigued at the total abandon that people were able to experience.  I was amazed to see grown men and women flailing their bodies about.  I was always too embarrassed to do it.  To this day, I have a difficult time dancing in front of other people, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that dancing for me has always been equated with religious fervor – a fervor I have struggled to understand my entire life.

I’m not sure how it happened but after a while I was up on my feet.  I don’t know what was different about that particular Sunday, but I needed to move.  Of course I thought it was the Holy Ghost coursing through my veins (and it may have been) but all I knew was that I needed to move my little body.

So I began to run and run and run and run.  The music was frenetic and exciting and triumphant and I was like a little Christian Rocky Balboa taking the spiritual steps of Philly.

After a while the music seemed to calm down a bit and I landed on the front steps of the stage.  An adult came down to talk to me and, almost without thinking, I told him that I guessed I wanted to be saved.

Now I knew that I was not a perfect little kid, and I never really claimed to be.  I’ve gotta say that I wasn’t really scared of hell – hell wasn’t even a thought in my mind.  All I knew was that it felt good to be there and to run and dance and sing and if that was what having Jesus in your heart was about then I was all for it.

It wasn’t about Jesus for me.  It was about me.  I’m not ashamed of it, nor do I think that it’s wrong or unique.  In fact I would be willing to bet you that if you asked any group of little kids why it was that they “got saved,” they would most likely tell you one of two things: a) because Mom and Dad told them they should or b) because they wanted Jesus on their side.

It was the second for me.  I wanted Jesus on my side.  If what the pastor said was true then it seemed to me to be a pretty good option for me to have the kick ass King of Kings in my corner.  This Jesus he was talking about is the one that told the Devil to shove it, cast out demons, and walked on water.  Oh damn – he walked on water!

To be honest that was the coolest freaking thing about Jesus to me: the guy had superpowers.  Now, we were taught to call them “miracles”, but, let’s be honest, these are superpowers were looking at.  Raising people from the dead?  Healing people of diseases?  Lame to walk?  Deaf to hear?  This is straight outta the comics folks, and I wanted to be a part of every bit of it. But, whereas superheros live in the comics – I’ve got Jesus in my heart.  Take that, Stan Lee.

So this guy asks me if I want to have Jesus I my heart, and I say yes.  Then he asks me if I’m sorry for all my sins.   I have no clue really what I should be sorry for, but I say yes. And he tells me to repeat after him, and I do, and now I’m saved.

Kind of a let down.  You’ve got the most powerful entity in the universe, who can kick the shit out of anything, and all I had to do was say “come in”?  Fine by me, if there’s nothing more to it.

Later when we were standing outside of the sanctuary with another family my mom told me to “Tell so-and-so your exciting news.”  I was puzzled.  Exciting news?  What the hell was she talking about?

My own mother had to prompt me to retell the story of how I had just gotten myself saved from the fiery pits of hell.  All I wanted was to have a superhero for a best friend.

Top 5 things I’ve learned from 6 months of being nobody’s pastor

About six months ago, I left the congregation I had been serving to begin service to a regional level of my denomination. This is the first time in almost 10 years that I’ve not actively served a local congregation (in some capacity) on a regular basis, and a few things have brought themselves to my attention.

I’m a firm believer in the Pareto Principle. Most of us know it as the “80-20 Rule”, and it states that 80% of the output is the result of 20% of input. I look at everything this way, constantly trying to pare down the things I’m doing to what is actually effective and beneficial.

Naturally, attending other churches with the kind of insider knowledge I have means that (for a while) I’m looking at what can be improved upon and what is working well. For six months I have been given a perspective on congregational life that few pastors get. And so, in hopes that it will be helpful, here are the Top 5 things I’ve learned about church in the last six months:

  1. Preaching matters. A lot. I’m not saying you’ve got to be Anna Carter Florence or anything, but if you half ass the sermon, shame on you. This is your number one job.
  2. If the folks you serve don’t know how to be hospitable, it’s over. And the bigger you are, the harder it is. Think about it like the way you want a server at a restaurant to behave: attentive to what you need and willing to get it, but not too chatty that they smother you. It’s a fine line and it’s hard to find, but that’s no excuse.
  3. Casual or informal worship is fine. Unintentional and watered down is not. Plus, anything that smacks of a performance? Boo.
  4. All things to all people just doesn’t work. There are a gazillion churches out there. Not everyone is gonna love the kind of stuff yours offers and that’s okay. Do what you do, do it well, and make it easy for folks to get involved. This is particularly applicable to Christian Education programs. Multiple offerings is fine, but come on – Some of us are ridiculous.
  5. Every congregation needs a mission project to rally around. Of course, given my belief in open source methodology, congregations should have a culture of experimentation and permission, but a lot of people are not “starters” and need something to latch onto.

These, in my opinion, are the 20%. They are not earth shattering, but in this changing landscape of whatever church is and is becoming I have to admit that I was surprised by a couple of these.