Anyone who knows me more than about 5 minutes will hear about my wife Karen. That's not her pictured above, it's John Williams - will get to that in just a moment.
I know intellectually that she's not perfect, but she has to be close. I've checked her thoroughly (read into that whatever you'd like) and she is a good egg. In addition to being an amazing wife, mother and friend, she is a gifted musician.
When you normally hear that, it is true, but there are levels and then there are levels. She plays the harp for the Marine Band, also known as the President's Own. They are the music for the President and the White House and are the oldest continuously existing professional music organization in America. They are also the best concert band in the world. She is a top tier orchestral harpist and it is really fun for me to get to watch her do her thing.
When Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address, members of the Marine Band played him in. They have such a rich tradition, musically, historically and they are a wonderful example of an organization run with excellence, fraught with legacy and they sound great too. They honor the Corp., and everyone who hears them play.
You should check them out if you haven't already - they have regular concert series in the Spring and play on the steps of the Capitol and beside the Washington Monument on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the Summer. The concerts are free, but don't let that fool you. They are a premier orchestral group and what you hear will be amazing.
Because they are who they are, they attract the best conductors and composers to work with them from time to time. When we were dating, I asked Karen who some of her favorite conductors were and if she had any favorite musical experiences - she immediately mentioned John Williams. As many of you will recognize, he is one of the most famous composer / conductors of our generation, mostly famous for his wonderful movie scores.
Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Catch Me if You Can.
And that list could go on...
You get the idea... he's written some incredibly powerful music that, with the medium of the film, has ingrained itself into our culture and delighted millions of listeners. He was scheduled to conduct the Marine Band again a couple of years ago - and family members were allowed to attend the last rehearsal.
It might be one of the best things I've ever seen. It was musical. It was stunning leadership. It was awesome. Here are a series of observations in no particular order:
- Mr. Williams was a very soft spoken man, speaking in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper. It wasn't tentative, but you found yourself leaning forward to hear what he had to say... and not just because of the volume.
- He ran an incredibly tight rehearsal. Like a master artisan, he knew exactly what he wanted, he was incredibly prepared and he moved things along faster than you would believe. He would direct them to a section, measure 225, 1, 2 and off they went - then he would stop and adjust them, leaping into the next section.
- His adjustments were alarmingly good. You have to understand, these are musicians of the very best caliber and they can play a note or phrase with nuance bordering on the supernatural. Most of us have 3-4 tools in the tool box (i.e., louder, softer, faster, slower) but master musicians can bring things to life and make them breathe in ways that are delightful. They have 20 tools in the tool box for a given moment and Williams knew this. I heard things like, "ok, coming off the phrase in 240, it's a dotted eighth note - but don't make a meal out of that, exit it just a bit quicker and we will make the transition more cleanly.
That's ridiculous. Slice two 1/100's of a second off of the phrase and it will make things better. Uh huh.
The section they had just played had sounded really good to me.
But when they played it again, it was better. It was noticeably better. Even I could hear the difference. It was clear and it was a clear upgrade. It was night and day. It was like magic. He made great into virtuoso. Holy sonic cow batman, do that again!
So he did. About 400 times.
- He was remarkably consistent. Every thing he said, every thing he did made the pieces better. He didn't miss - not one time. For three hours he was Midas, every touch making more gold and I've never seen anything like it. He knew what he wanted, he was able to communicate it and he would instantly move on to the next thing with no wasted time or energy.
- He was encouraging. "That's it!" he would exclaim... "that's exactly right!" and the musicians just bloomed under his praise. Darned if they didn't get EVEN BETTER because of it. And he was so kind and gentle, while being exacting... that the entire room felt like they were part of his collaboration. It was never 'you're doing it wrong' - it was always, this change will make it perfect.
And he was right.
- His timing was godlike and inspired. He was doing pieces and medleys to a running video that he could see (and the audience could see) but that the band members could not. He had checkpoints where he would push them and pull them ever so slightly... but the music fit the visual we were seeing perfectly. And at the end of a 9 minute video with scattered scenes, it would build to a climax and the music would follow.
Every time, he dropped the finale and climax perfectly into the pocket - matching the video to the hundredth of a second. Do you have any idea how hard that would be to do? And to make that adjustment 2 minutes ago, 30 seconds ago, so it seems natural and seamless to the audience?
He did it the first time and the family members couldn't contain ourselves, we cheered and clapped!
Then he did it again.
It was unreal. How in the world a human could do that is beyond me. If he had flapped his arms and flown around the room, it wouldn't have been any more amazing.
- He brought real joy to the process. Like Prospero, in control of the Tempest in every detail and leading everyone to good things, he did his thing and brought all of us with him. A lot of William's music is brass heavy and clarinet heavy... and the Marine Band brass is the best in the world. Their clarinets are there as well, shockingly good to hear. And several times the Band would be playing something and Williams would turn to his second and his team of assistants and he would just grin like a little kid.
He was clearly delighted by the goodness they were bringing to his music and the extra power that the different instrumentation of a concert band can bring. He would look back and nod, as if to say, "how about THAT?" and smiling in clear joy and the music of the moment.
- He had so much credibility by the end of the session, that he could have asked for anything and they would not have hesitated. Stand on your head and bark like a dog - and I would done it without question. And, somehow, it would have made the music better.
I made some decisions that day.
1) Leadership can be gentle and kind and still be incredibly effective. The hard charging type A personality doesn't have to be mean about it.
2) The real beauty of his process was that it was his... he was not the stereotypical perfectionist and angry conductor. Be yourself, there is greatness to be found in true identity.
3) You can honor people and their time through your own excellence, communication and preparation.
4) People (even great musicians) are capable of more than even they realize.
5) Leadership can be a focusing principle that makes everyone better.
6) Trust is a powerful thing and can be strengthened by repeated success.
7) Joy and praise are powerful allies.
May God give us times where we fit our place perfectly: where we lead, where we follow, where we trust and where we shine.
I'm thinking we'll like what we hear - and so will everyone around us.
Host: “Welcome to ‘Meet a Theologian’, where we dialogue with people who are experts on God.”
GJ: “Excuse me, but I’m not a theologian.”
Host: “Um, what? But you said—”
GJ: “I said, ‘I am the logician.’ And that's just in my family! I can solve problems, like, where you need to ask directions at a crossroads from identical twins, one who is a truth-teller and the other who is a liar.”
Host: “Okaaay. But did you not blog about God and holy things?”
GJ: “Yes, but—”
Host: “Then you’ll do fine! In that blog did you not say that humans are the only holy things? There are survivors of death camps who might argue.”
GJ: “Whoa. I didn’t say that. I’m aware of perversion and wickedness. I’ve taught in middle schools!”
Host: “So in what sense are humans holy?”
GJ: “The deal with ‘holy’ is that God is holy. God defines ‘holy’ better than water defines ‘wet’. No God, no holy. Closer to God, more holy. Point two: Respect the holy. Actual theologians have argued which aspects of humanity if any show God’s image. Intellect? Creativity? Moral sense? I don’t know. But God has demonstrated respect for the human package He made in His image. He loved us even while we were sinners. Monsters like Himmler, Pol Pot, and Kony have that historical heritage just like anyone else. All creation deserves respect. Out of all creation, people were made in God’s image.”
Host: “So we should worship all creation, especially people?”
GJ: “No! Respect isn't worship. Only God deserves worship. Did you see ‘Avatar’?”
Host: “Yes. I liked those blue people way better than the Smurfs.”
GJ: “Okaaay... The blue people sometimes earnestly said, ‘I see you.’ We have a similar tradition on parts of this planet. You hold your hands together like this and say, ‘Namaste’. It means, 'I bow to you.'”
Host: “Doesn’t it also mean, ‘the god in me sees the god in you?’”
GJ: “I don’t know. A spiritual dimension seems what the Avatar movie had in mind, along with 'we are all connected' woo-woo. Regarding 'namaste', however, I doubt that billions of people for thousands of years intended much more than 'hello'. Maybe a little more. ‘Namaste’ with the little bow has always struck me as more polite than ‘wazzup’.”
Host: “Heh. So you think we should treat all people with respect, but not worship people?”
GJ: “Yes! And respect doesn't deny that there's evil in people, Can pro-God and anti-God dispositions co-exist in a person? I find for 'yes' in examining myself. Moreover, the presence of junk does not diminish my responsibility to the good part. People, even evil-doers, deserve more respect and more attention than things. God said so. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.”
GJ: “I wanted to believe that people whose actions disgusted me were intrinsically evil. Excluding myself, of course.”
Host: “You’d agree, ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’?”
GJ: “True. Including myself, of course. My view of humans is mixed: sufficiently depraved to fry, sufficiently holy to love, needing to trust God. Imago Dei—God’s image—encourages me in that long process of loving.”
Host: “Are you sure you’re not a theologian?”
GJ: “I can only aspire.”
Host: “That’s it for ‘Meet a Theologian’. Next week our guest will be Francis Bentromo, who found Jesus in a tortilla.”
Good morning all! Here are a few announcements from The Surge!
- Spring Cookout, Sunday April 15th (Sunday) at 5pm... we have a lot of new folks coming with launch and this will be a great way for us to get together, see the barn and connect with people over burgers and dogs. Finalize the taxes and head on over!
- Next SAW Concert is Saturday Night, April 21st, check our facebook events for details!
- We're continuing our Margin Series today, talking about Scheduling Margin. If you're too busy to come, you Definitely need to be there!
- We had a great write up and blog review from one of our visitors, read all about it here
- We also had a wonderful blog post from our own Greg Johnson, if you're not following these, you should start! You won't regret it. We have a team of writers who are sending out some really wonderful posts
Welcome to The Surge, where the men are men, the women are women and the children meet upstairs in the Green Room after the worship set.
Good morning everyone! Welcome to The Surge blog and information center!
It's launch day! And we're very excited to be invading the State Theatre in just a few hours... here are just a few announcements!
- We had a great SAW event last night, special thanks to: Loralyn Coles, Marcy Cochran and Scott Malyska for a wonderful evening of music and friendship!
- Easter is in two weeks, so bust out the sun dresses and hats and meet us at the State! It's going to be a great Resurrection Day...
- If you come this morning, you'll probably have some questions as to why we structure our service the way we do - we'd love to talk about that! Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to talk.
- This morning we kick off our Margin series, talking about how we can really live in the way God intended, instead of just scrambling in the Tyranny of the Urgent... it's going to be a wonderful series of messages, don't miss it!
"You should not play that in this place!" I shouted. "Stop it!"
On the church piano my three 6th grade classmates were banging out "The Knuckle Song", "Heart and Soul", and "Chopsticks". Simultaneously. To me, these piano vandals had no sense of the sacred—nor of music.
Last week at church I asked a new generation of kids, "Is any thing holy today?" We had read the scary story in 2 Samuel 6 where an apparently helpful guy touches the Ark of the Covenant, and God zaps him dead, just like in Indiana Jones. The kids were unanimous.
"Yeah, there are holy things! Praying is holy."
"This place, this church, it is holy."
"This book here? 'Holy Bible'!"
"At school we have holy water!"
Such is youth, believing in holiness but not respecting it. Is that worse than adults who show polite respect but don't believe?
I got older, and for a time came to believe that nothing holy remained in this world. On entering a country church or the National Cathedral, I had the same glib remark: "You sure could put a lot of hay in here." I wanted the holy, but I couldn't find it. Paul Stookey's "Hymn" kind of spoke for my yearning:
Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.
I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
They passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was "I believe in You."
So I ask: Is anything here holy?
I'm not talking about merit a human confers on something, no holy hand-grenade. I'm not talking of sentimentality. I cherish certain favorite old shirts, but the shirts are holey, not holy. I'm not talking about "thin places", the Grand Canyon, or Gettysburg battlefield. Although I have a special feeling for February 29, no day really stands out as holy for me. Music and art often move me, but music and art are not necessarily holy. Exhibit A: The Knuckle Song.
A jovial rabbi once explained to me, "with the destruction of the Temple, we found that prayers substituted for sacrifices." I bit my tongue to suppress my disappointment at this convenient switch. I ❤ prayer. God hears and answers prayer, and so prayer can be holy. But praying does not make me holy, no more than running down the highway makes me a car.
By "holy", I am talking about what God Himself designates as set apart and dedicated to Him, where a person can reliably expect to meet God. Hard-core holy. I'm talking about a situation of unbearably frequent epiphany.
So, is there on this planet today anything holy?
Do you know what surprised me in this search for the holy? That I found it.
The holy that I found has the expected qualities of revealing God. The holy that I found can be very dangerous. The holy that I found can be very inspiring. The holy appeared where I least expected it.
A more articulate fellow than I spotlighted the discovery this way:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ ... is truly hidden.
People? In my life I did not need many bruises or a lot of study to come to view people as anti-holy. My own heart? Desperately wicked. Who has sinned? All. I stink, therefore I am. Sure, there's that "created in the image of God", but we lost that when Adam and Eve sinned.
Or did we?
Generations after Adam and Eve, after destroying most of the human race for its evil, in Genesis 9, God makes a big deal out of having made man in God's image: "Whoever kills a human being will be killed by a human being, because God made humans in his own image."
Even later, Paul does not hesitate to identify people as God's offspring (Acts 17).
James says you can't really praise God and then curse people who are made in God's likeness.
Peter has no love for people outside his little group, until a voice tells him, "God has made these things clean, so don't call them 'unholy'!" (Acts 10).
Jesus makes the outrageous assertion that, "God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son."
Today I am not so upset with silly music, and create some myself. Other music can make me more aware of God, and because God participates in that, I call it sacred music. Some places are places where God works, and therefore for my concerns are holy places. But that sacred music and those holy places depend on people, and I tend to recognize their significance only after the fact. Despite the knavery and distractions humans present, the holiest items around me are people. Dangerous people, challenging people, comforting people, creative people, instructive people, encouraging people, and many other kinds. I admit that whereas I was often disgusted, now I am more often intimidated if not by how people exhibit God's image, at least by their potential to do so. A holy place attracts sentiment, but it will crumble. God has created human beings in his image. People are where God has declared that he wants to live.
Photo Courtesy of Vixen Vintage
Wife. Mother. Allied Health Professional. Wannabe drummer.
Some even call me crunchy granola.
Sometimes these hats get mixed up and shoved together and I find myself drumming with my daughter on my lap.
Or sometimes my crunchy insistence that I make everything from scratch requires too much of my time and we run out of bread, cereal, or laundry detergent.
Long ago we made the decision to follow my husband’s career, and it has taken us all over the world. I have always wanted to see the world. But make no mistake, we are following my husband’s career, not mine. And for someone who wants to keep her own identity, that can be tough to swallow.
Always starting over from scratch, fitting who I am into a new place with new people in a new situation can be daunting.
And although I have all these pieces of me that I juggle and organize and carry with me from place to place, there is one that will never change.
I am a child of God. I was created for more, yes even more, than being a mother, wife, therapist, drummer, or crunchy granola. The measurement of who I am starts and ends here. And the radical Jesus, who turned tables in the temple and frustrated the Pharisees beyond measure, is my model for living.
So when we move again and I start over again with all the many hats I wear, I find myself clinging to my true identity. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
I recently read an article by Margaret Wheeler Johnson. I don't know Margaret, at least not directly. But I do know her, in the sense that I too have more questions than answers. Her article is here, go ahead and read it, I'll wait.
Losing My Religion: If I'm So Done With Faith, Why Do I Still Feel Its Loss?
As I've recently said to a friend who doesn't believe, if I'm on the other side of that line (and I am)... it isn't by much. It isn't that I'm not secure in my faith or thinking... I'm probably too secure there to be honest. But my path has led me to conversation after conversation with folks who (for lack of a better way of saying it) want to believe, but don't feel like they can and be honest. People who look at the world and say, "God doesn't exist... or if He does...God is Good, God is Powerful, God is Wise... pick two."
Intellectually, I can understand that, even if I ultimately disagree. I don't think they are playing games there. I'm not convinced that their personal philosophy is a rationalization for things they want ethical permission to do beyond so called Christian morality.
If we're honest that may be part of it, but it's nowhere near that simple and it's unworthy of us to accept that as the only cookie cutter reason why someone doesn't yet believe.
God loves those folks. Everyone of them. Lord knows I do, and I'm weak and slow in the category of saint-like love. How much more does His heart break for Margaret? The God I know and follow isn't scared of tough questions, or people who are open but not convinced yet.
My prayer for many of my friends and for our writer Margaret is that He would send them a credible witness. Someone who they can respect and someone who loves deeply and without reservation. It may seem strange, but Margaret's article gives me great hope that God is doing something huge.
I don't have a lot of confidence in organizations, or marketing (yes you heard me), or process, or strategic thinking or clever plans or beautifully constructed arguments. Those things can accomplish a lot, just look around.
They will never reach up to God on their own. And no matter how powerful, funded or financed or loved... those things will be dust soon enough.
But a heart like Margaret's, that is honest, to some extent, broken... and longing for something real - that is a recipe for God to do something great. In spite of herself, or her intellectual misgivings, she finds herself reaching out to God... and in some way she feels His love in return. What would it take to launch her into a vibrant life of faith? Not more than God can do, I'm certain of it.
I want to be the kind of person, in the kind of church that Margaret would want to talk to... to have a tasty beverage with... to have a real conversation with... and to the extent we can - to take her heart into our hearts and let her see that a relationship with God can be more than the thing she walked away from. Don't be fooled by the graphics, or music, or sermons, or preparation, or cards or coffee or activity, by the launch plans and excel sheets and corporate non-profit status. To have a chance to really love and talk to the Margaret's in our area...
This is why we do what we do.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.