For the Love of Music

As you probably know if you’ve listened to my sermons, I love   music. I often have to “pull back the reigns” when writing my sermons to keep from making umpteen musical references that I find resonating with the text. I was just telling Neva King this morning (she is in the  hospital, so keep her in your prayers) that our wonderful music ministry is one way that I can “plug in” and be in worship myself as the one  leading us through worship. She and I were talking about Easter       Sunday, and how she knew that it is difficult for the minister to “let go” of all the “management” of the service and be present in worship on “big days” like that. It is true, but I told her I had always found  myself being “present” as a worshipper along with the congregation, in large part because I can be transported by the music of our choir, handbells, and organ. We truly have a gift in Dan and Kathy Call and the choir and handbells that practice so diligently and with such a spirit of fun and meaning. What they have in store for us during Holy Week is always a highlight of the Christian year.

  Popular music is also a way I find sacred meaning. The experience of listening to and enjoying music often helps me focus in on what I’m trying to say. When I write, I often listen to music without words, such as the Pandora station I’ve built around Django Reinhart “gypsy jazz guitar” I’m listening to as I write this article. If you drop by my office, I likely have my Pandora station on Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or roots reggae, because I find it nice to work to. Sometimes at home, we like spinning records while we make dinner. I enjoy        exposing the kids to different kinds of music, and learning what they like about things I like. If I have to, I’ll turn the radio to the pop station for the girls and Madden, but we can usually agree on the Hip Hop Channel or    classic rock. As you see, my music tastes are varied. I enjoy different things about different things. A couple weeks ago when Carole Minter preached for me, I was down in Houston with Myranda and my sister and brother in law and 80,000 other people listening to Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and George Strait at the Houston Rodeo. It was a great concert, and George gave it his all,    coming back out for an encore including 4 songs! I told Myranda that I often hear the congregation seeming to want an encore when I’m    wrapping up my sermon, so I pack another mini-sermon into the joys and concerns or benediction.    😀 Just kidding!

  I just listened to a report on NPR that is part of a series they’re  doing called “American Anthem: Music that Celebrates, Unites, and         Challenges” that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” endures as a classic “American anthem” even though it is often misunderstood as being a “Rah-rah USA” song when it is actually a protest song, telling the story of a Vietnam veteran who feels ignored and rejected by his society. I remember having this realization during a Bruce Springsteen concert back in the 90s when he played “Born in the USA” solo on an acoustic guitar without the refrain. It was a new insight that made the song even more powerful for me.

 Music can be misunderstood, and sometimes when       musical artists make their opinions known about social and political matters, they might lose fans who want them to just “shut up and sing.” An acquaintance of mine from Hendrix, where I went to     undergraduate school, recently wrote about this experience. He’s a well known country/folk/Americana artist named Hayes Carll, and wrote “If I May be as so Bold” for, the journal for roots music. In that essay, he says,

 “We had an agreement, a part of my audience and I.  We never    exactly spelled it out, but now I can see the terms. I would play   music, make people laugh, cry, and dance, but be vague enough in my songwriting and in my persona to allow them to overlook anything that didn’t jive with who they wanted me to be. In exchange, they would buy tickets to my shows and use my songs in the soundtrack to their lives. Our relationship would be entertainer and consumer rather than artist and audience. I would only present palatable parts of myself to the world and I was mostly okay with that. Until I wasn’t. When I started to speak my mind about certain issues, some of that part of my audience with which I had an agreement decided to let me know that I had broken it. That forced me to look at how we had made it and whether or not I wanted to keep it….

When anyone gives their opinion they are making themselves a target. But I’ve decided I would rather be criticized for the things I believe in than be embraced for the things I don’t. To have the strength of character to speak my mind when I feel it is needed and to not live in fear of the repercussions of that:

That’s my new agreement.”

  Do we “make this agreement” with people in our social spheres? Of course we do, but sometimes we need to be encouraged to speak up, especially when injustice or harm is present. John Wesley  instructs us to “Do no harm, Do Good, and attend upon the ordinances of God.” As the Ben Franklin quote that is the signature on my email says, “As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.” Sometimes, harm is done not by what we say, but what we leave unsaid. Martin Luther King would later say, “In the end, we will  remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We must be willing to “always be ready to give account for the hope that is within us” as Peter instructs the church. (1 Peter 3:15)  I want to better prepare you for giving account of the hopeful message I hope we radiate at UUMC based on our scriptural and faith-based convictions. The world needs to hear the kind of hope and grace and love that is evident in our church—let’s make it more apparent. Let’s turn up the volume! Let’s make the message clear and unconfused! 



Disappointment in General Conference and “Not Losing Heart.”

I write to you, church, filled with the same disappointment and frustration that I’ve heard many of you voice over the weekend. Our General Conference concluded their assembly by refusing the leadership of the Council of Bishops, who had recommended the “One Church Plan,” which would give more latitude to context in deciding to offer…

Rooted by the Water, Loving Enemies and Judging Not: General Conference 2019

The Revised Common Lectionary is a calendar of scriptures used by many churches that follow the liturgical calendar. Each Sunday, the program includes an Old Testament Text, a Psalm, a Gospel text, and a selection from the Epistles. The lectionary is meant to give a sense of unity and comprehensiveness to the church in general….

Nature’s evangelists

It’s the time of year when all my Arkansas friends begin posting pictures of the beautiful foliage. This one (pictured, right) is from my former secretary in my first appointment in Waldron, Arkansas. It certainly is gorgeous, and you have to give it to Arkansas for autumn drivesseeing the picture was enough to cause me…

Celebrating St. Francis: The Dynamic Kiting Spiderling

In honor of our annual blessing of the animals, inspired by the ministry of Francis of Assisi, I’ll first share with you a poem I wrote around 7 years ago and first shared in a pastor’s perspective back in 2012: I wrote this a couple years ago as I sat watching a spider fly into…

Rich Church, Poor Church

I’m reading a book that Rev. Bill Moorer suggested to me to prepare for our stewardship season this fall. We’ll fill you in on more details about that campaign next month, but first I offer this review of the book written by a pastor whose church I attended in seminary, Rev. Patricia Farris. That church,…

Welcoming Children

In the month of August, the attention of parents of school aged children (like myself) is turned to preparations for the school-year. Since University UMC is situated where it is, this is typically one of the “high holy seasons” of our particular church, and I’m excited that with a rehabilitated courtyard, some of our practices…

Port, not a Fort

I was looking back on some past Pastor’s Perspectives, and this one from 5 years ago seemed to speak to me again for this time of year. I hope it has fresh meaning for you too!   In my recent letter of transfer to notify Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi of the Oertel…

Sexuality, Grace, Acceptance, and Leadership.

[News was just released that the Judicial Council found Bishop Karen Oliveto’s consecration as Bishop to be against church law, but refrained from any consequence of that “breach” of law. She remains in good standing. I haven’t yet processed what that means, but meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and publish what I wrote earlier this week…

Where God Lives

A couple Sundays ago, I placed a picture I had taken in 2003 on the communion table face up but unseen by the congregation. I used the picture as an illustration for Scott Bruner and Cindy Hartman, whom I had invited to “come and see” where God lived. I had been preaching on the last…

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