Worship

Weekend Musicking: Seven-String Goodness

The author and the object of his affection: the seven-string guitar.
The author and the object of his affection: the seven-string guitar. Image courtesy of Tripp Hudgins.

It's been a very musical weekend.

Pictured at left is a Foster 7-string guitar. It's just like a traditional 6-string acoustic, but with the added rumble of a low-b string. It's an interesting beast to play. Lovely, really. I like that extra resonance in the low end, plus, if truth be told, I like singing with it. Here is a little recording from Soundcloud. I recorded the file below on my phone. Any tinnyness is purely because of the phone.

Is the Future of Church in Fantasy Faith Leagues?

Football diagram, Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com
Football diagram, Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

I used to be in a fantasy league, but the fanaticism of the whole thing wore me out. The guys would gather online for an evening-long draft event, debate rules ad nauseam, and haggle over trades through the wee hours. I considered myself to be a fan, but these guys had practically made, well, a religion out of fantasy sports.

I was reading a piece today by Bruce Reyes Chow about what we Christians might learn from fantasy sports, and it got me thinking. One of the most interesting things being in the fantasy league did for me was that it totally changed how I watched the games. I would turn on games I never would have had interest in before, just to see how my selected running back performed. I even found myself rooting against my own favorite teams once in a blue moon when it served my fantasy team and didn’t affect the outcome of the actual game.

The whole experience drove my wife crazy, partly because of all the time it took, but also because the way I engaged sports was so different that, even if we were watching the same game, it was as if we saw two completely different things.

We’re in the middle of a similar kind of shift in the west with respect to organized religion. While folks within the walls of church may be intent primarily on keeping the institutions placed under their care alive, a growing majority of people outside the doors don’t really care about the denominational logo over the entryway, the name inscribed on the stone sign by the street or the long, rich history of all the congregation has meant to the community.

Does Megachurch ‘High’ Explain Their Success?

Worship concert, rehoboth foto / Shutterstock.com
Worship concert, rehoboth foto / Shutterstock.com

Maybe religion really is the opiate of the masses – just not the way Karl Marx imagined.

A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

An Indie Call to Worship

IN THE 17TH century, Thomas Brooks published the devotional Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, which he hoped would serve as a “salve for sores” and a “remedy against malady,” to provide those who face hardship with nourishment, support, and cheer to continue God’s work in themselves and the world.

It’s no coincidence that The Welcome Wagon borrows Brooks’ title for its second LP. In unsettling economic and political climates, the married gospel-folk duo of Vito and Monique Aiuto write songs that offer a balm of spiritual medicine to heal their congregation and wider audience.

Before the Aiutos gained a musical presence, Vito worked at a Presbyterian church in Manhattan and was a minister to students at New York University. Six years ago he helped found Resurrection Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Brooklyn, where he and Monique continue to serve a young, diverse congregation.

In their ministry at Resurrection, they released their first album in 2008 (Welcome to The Welcome Wagon); close friend and indie music icon Sufjan Stevens helped record and produce it. The album was met with high acclaim and sounded like a natural extension of Stevens’ own catalogue. With a popular musical ally and an overtly spiritual foundation, The Welcome Wagon yielded an unlikely coupling: the hip and the religious.

In a New York Times article titled “A Congregation in Skinny Jeans,” Vito confronts this, saying that while he may fit the “cool” bill, it’s an unhelpful way to describe a church community. Despite his tweed jacket and gentleman’s cap, he’d prefer to be known for his personhood and for speaking honestly.

This is where Precious Remedies steps in. Far from a show of hip pretension, the Aiutos write music hoping to spur a connection between people and God. The album resembles a worship service, revolving around a liturgical structure to provide spiritual wholeness.

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Wild Goose Heaven Is Our Answer to Hate

Frank Schaeffer speaking last week at the Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

The second Wild Goose Festival has just ended. I left a piece of my heart in the hills of North Carolina. Ahead is the third WG fest at the end of August in Portland OR. And then there will be next year and the next... The White House sent the Rev. Derrick Harkins (faith outreach director for the Democratic National Committee) to observe and talk with some of us this year. So I guess WG got noticed.

Last year's WG was the first and there were about 1,300 of us there. This year we were closing in on 2000-plus. And now WG is West Coast bound too. The names of the speakers Jim Wallis and all the rest (I spoke 3 times) added up to a "draw" along with the big name musical performers. But the heart of the festival wasn't in the events but in the conversations.

For me the highlight of the festival was the fact that there was no wall of separation between us speakers and performers and everyone there. I spent 4 days talking with lots of people from all over America and other places too, about ideas but also about very personal subjects. I met Ramona who was the cook at the Indian food stand and found she is ill and has no health insurance and I was able to connect her with a friend who knew a friend at the WG fest locally to help her get the full checkup she needs. I could do that because the festival was full of the sort of people who help, love and care so for once there was someone to call.

And I watched the sneak preview of the movie Hellbound that will be released this fall. It happens that I'm one of the people interviewed in the movie but that's not why I say it is one of the best films I've ever seen. We watched it at 11 PM and talked until 2 AM. People were just stunned.

Drive-Thru Prayers to Drive-In Church: Is Religion Lost?

Drive Thru, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com
Drive Thru, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

I talk to folks a lot about what role the church should have in contemporary life in serving people. There’s the trend of “third space” ministry, getting out of the four walls of the church building and meeting people in different, typically “secular” contexts.

One defining trait of postmodern life is the blurring of previous boundaries. Just like work now can go with us beyond the cubicle, people think about faith in different terms than just sitting in a sanctuary on Sunday morning. There are entire ministries that do all of their work online, broadcasting services, or recording them for people to view on demand. There are blogs (like mine) whose authors consider what they do to be a ministry, though not in the typical sense of the word.

A New Hymn for Holy Week: Jesus’ Ways for Peace

"The Agony in the Garden" by Paul Gaugin, 1889. Via Getty Images.
"The Agony in the Garden" by Paul Gaugin, 1889. Via Getty Images.

Holy Week and Jesus’ Ways for Peace

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday and the week that follows — Holy Week — are times for Christians to remember and share the biblical stories of Jesus’ teachings and actions for peace. These stories encourage us to pray and work for peace, especially in light of those who are now threatening a new war with Iran. “Nine Years of War in Iraq: A Sojourners Retrospective” is a powerful reminder that churches need to do more.

Last year Sojourners posted a new hymn for Palm Sunday with peace themes, “Lord, What a Parade!” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.

This year the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina commissioned Carolyn to write a new hymn about Jesus’ nonviolent actions and compassion at the time of his arrest.

Encircle the White House Nov. 6 to Stop the Keystone Pipeline


On November 6, I will join Jim Wallis, staff members from Sojourners, and 15,000 others in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Park to tell President Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline project.

If approved by the Obama administration, the pipeline would transport non-conventional tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, 1,700 miles south -- through the American Heartland -- to the oil refineries in Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.

News: Quick Links

"Where my feminists at?" on #OccupyWallStreet. Test your global hunger knowledge. Race and OWS. Poverty in your backyard. How to be a "1 Percenter." OWS to march on banks. Romney embraces climate change denial. Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as little more than "hocus-pocus." Catholic University sued by Muslim students. And faith, political leaders find out how far food stamps actually go.

Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Five, Heading Home

The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.

The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.

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