December 21, 2012

Illuminate 2012 Vignettes

This Advent, as we do every year, our church put on an event called "Illuminate," which is an evening for families of all ages (aka "The Church"); food, games, activities, and of course, music and art in two parts. Part 1 took the form of a program, the evolution of what used to be a "Cantata," a story told through singing and monologues. The choir features prominently in this, and we also include a children's choir and small modern band. Part 2, of course, was pure chaos, but was fun - all the activities, games, food, and a live walk-through nativity were held in this part of the event, following the program.

My iPad is probably one of the best tools I've ever owned for what I love to do. If you don't own one, it's your loss, though I do know they're expensive. If you do own one and have never used the app Paper by FiftyThree, then shame on you - you're missing out on probably the best visual art app in the entire Apple library.

The reason I bring this up is that this year, for our program, we decided to tell the story of Christmas a bit less traditionally; what would it look like if it happened in contemporary Kansas City? Who would Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds be? Where would they live? What were they doing when this all went down? And to tell the story this way, I used Paper to draw our scenes, and iMovie to turn it into three vignette videos with voiceover. The first bit of the first two vignettes was actually live-action on a couch in the sanctuary, but for the purposes of post-event sharing, we recorded the whole thing as a voice-over.


October 21, 2012

See the Marks

A very personal sermon for me, as much about my own spiritual journey as about that of Thomas the Apostle.

October 15, 2012

The Hunters

Once upon a time, a group of men went out to hunt. They were good at it, and used their gift of hunting to provide lavishly for their families. Each day was spent combing the forest trails for game, and as they were able to fell deer, elk, rabbits, and the like, they treated the meat so it would not spoil on the journey back to their village. Each night after the hunt was spent around a campfire telling stories, enjoying each other’s company, caring for their weapons and tools, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. It was a good life.

One day, one of the hunters fell ill, and stayed behind in camp to get well again. Several weeks went by, and while the other hunters swore he looked fit enough to hunt again, he insisted he was still unable to handle the strain of hunting. Another week, and while he felt better, he insisted he must now hone his tools again, as they had become worn. Another hunter began to stay behind with him, hoping to convince him to hunt again. But after so many weeks out of practice, the one convinced the other it might be best just to let him tend the camp. The second agreed, and decided it might be best that two stayed there, as a camp can easily fall into disrepair.

 One by one, the hunters began to find excuses to stay back in camp. After all, they had quite a bit of game already, and decided to live off of what they had already obtained.

Months passed, and one day, a woman stumbled into camp, looking weary and famished. The hunters welcomed her in, and offered her venison, but she refused. “I come on behalf of the families you left behind,” she said, “while you sit here and enjoy your meat, we sit in our village starving. Why have you not come home with the food you promised to provide?”

The hunters began to give her their reasoning, but after a while, she held up her hand to silence them. 

“You do not deserve to be called hunters,” she said, “you say you hunt, but all you do is sit around telling stories of past hunts. You are quite right, a good camp is a necessary thing. But what good is a camp if you do not use it as a place to rest after the hunt? What good is it if you do not prepare to hunt again? And what good is it if you do not leave it each day to do the very thing with which you were tasked?”

May 27, 2012


This weekend was Pentecost, that time of year when we celebrate the birth of the church and the coming of the Spirit to aid us. As far as I’m concerned, that deserves a little pomp, or at least some festivity. Cake would’ve been nice, but we didn’t think of that at the time. But after seeing a friend's idea for ascension Sunday, we thought say “hey, balloons would be cool.” And so a dream was born early in the week to make our sanctuary look a little bit party-like, with orange and red and yellow balloons to symbolize both tongues of fire and the birthday-like holiday we were celebrating.

We inflated a LOT of balloons!
I spent a few hours searching Olathe and Shawnee for a place to get everything together, but ended up getting helium from two different Walmarts in their party section (self-contained helium balloon kits, though the balloons were pretty lame inside), and then the packages of balloons from a party store. I managed to convince a few friends in the church to help get everything set up the night before, so we set ourselves up in a room with a relatively low ceiling (don’t let those things go in a room that’s too big, you’ll never get them back) and inflated roughly 130 balloons with helium. These were tied into bunches of six (arranging the balloons at different levels in the bunch to give a teardrop shape) and then a weight was put at the end of the string.

We staggered them on either side of the aisles in our sanctuary, making sure our live-feed camera still had a clear shot of the stage, set the stage lighting to matching colors, and went home exhausted but excited.

The original vision was supposed to look like this
Then I got to the church building this morning.

Not a happy sight this morning
It turns out I should’ve read the boxes a little more closely. Apparently, latex balloons are only meant to last about 5-7 hours when inflated with helium, depending on the quality of the latex. In other words, not enough time to last a night.  The balloons were laying in little heaps on the floor next to each pew, though a few (I would wager these were over-filled the night before) were barely floating above them, and even these were on the floor by the end of the morning.

Our little balloon puddle
I'm not gonna lie, I felt a little queasy when I saw this whole thing. Here, a group of volunteers had put in hours of their time to make something beautiful and before we could use it, it was ruined.  I had to sit down for a few minutes, then went in search of our youth pastor. Lacking any other ideas for how to salvage this little conundrum, Tom and I dragged the balloons back into the choir room. Then, before our modern gathering, as I related my morning to one of our creative team, she suggested pooling the balloons at several places on stage.  It ended up looking rather nice, though not quite as I’d envisioned the whole thing in the first place.

The End Result
The moral of the story, I suppose, is make sure you read up on the whole process, even if it’s a last-minute idea. Still, I learned a bunch, particularly that there are people willing to help with setup for some of this stuff - to you who helped, thank you for your efforts!  I will say this; the space ended up looking beautiful, and people were still together to worship the Creator.  It's a good reminder to me that it wasn't my efforts, but the Spirit we were celebrating, Who makes worship possible.  Not an easy thing to learn, and a lesson of which I seem to need regular reminders.

There are, of course, always the little things that help us.  One of our creative team texted me later to say "I've got it, it's all a wonderful representation of the Holy Spirit descending from heaven to earth."

It made me feel better, at least.

March 26, 2012

Worship Connect: Angry

I'm really tired of feeling angry; are you?

Question: how do you and your church engage justice in the context of your worship gatherings?  New post on Worship:Connect.

March 21, 2012

ECC Worship Connect: Room of Requirement

I'd love to read your comments on this post from my good friend Jo Anne Taylor over at ECC Worship Connect. Come join the conversation!

February 29, 2012


So I'm kind of excited, but I'm sort of published ... it's our denomination's website, but they asked if I'd let them re-post my latest worship connect article on their website.

Obviously I said yes.

Pretty psyched.

February 24, 2012

Worship Connect: A Paradox

Here's the latest post from Worship Connect, the Evangelical Covenant Worship blog. Since I wrote this one, I really hope you like it, but even more, I really hope you'll contribute to the conversation that's already started in the comments section. A short selection:

Is it defined by what is available to us or is it defined as something we have to obtain? Can we obtain it at all, or is it given? Is it done at all or is it simply the way of things?
Is it silent?
Is it deafening?

February 18, 2012

Worship Connect: Contemporary Traditional

It would be highly worth your time to head over to the Worship Connect blog today and have a read ... and then join the discussion in the comments section. Jo Anne, a friend of mine, wrote an insightful piece about how churches grow based on our discussions at the Better Together Facebook Forum over the course of the past few weeks.
"What attracts young people to church? Sometimes, it is the style of music, but more often, it is the recognition of an authentic desire to be more like Jesus in all we do. When our worship expresses our love for God, for one another, and for the world around us, it doesn’t matter much whether we’re singing Chris Tomlin songs or Nils Frykman songs or hymns by Charles Wesley. It does matter that we participate fully in offering our best selves to worship our God, instead of passively watching a performance by professional musicians whose skill level surpasses our own."