Some of you already know that I've been working with the talented Nigerian artist Tosing Ojuri and his manager Mayowa Osewa over the last several months. I'm excited to report that today is the day that the Yoruba/English version of my song "Shelter of Your Love" will be released across Africa, the UK, and North America. To hear all of the Holy Spirit inspired details of this unlikely partnership between Tosing and I, you'll have to listen to a radio interview or newspaper article, but let me just tell you that Christians in Northern Nigeria are being killed and their churches burned, so this song about God's sheltering love is very timely indeed. You can listen to and download the track here on Reverbnation or on Facebook, and once my new album is out with TMG later this year, you'll be able to purchase a CD or download the track from itunes as well. To God be the Glory! - Lisa
"Silence your body to listen to your words. Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts. Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating. Silence your heart to listen to your spirit. Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit."
Leave the many to listen to the One.
- Mama Maggie Gobran, Coptic Christian from Cairo, Eygpt and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me; I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I was disappointed last week. It was the kind of news that makes you question personal competence, calling, and the existence of Christian community; the kind of disappointment we all hope we'll never encounter as leaders, but realistically, will probably have to face several times over the course of our ministries. I know that it isn't the end of the world or the end of my service to the church. I know that God is working in and through this turn of events for goodness, not destruction. But it still hurts, even though I deeply trust the One who is peeling back another layer of pride and self-sufficiency, saying "Trust me, dear one. Keep your gaze fixed on me." One of my own lyrics reads "Hope is steady all the time, 'cause when it's darkest, faith can shine", and I still believe that this is true. My faith is shining, not shaken, though the earth is trembling around me, and things are looking pretty hopeless from a human perspective. I have had enough experience with these sorts of circumstances to know that this is exactly the kind of situation where hope is well-founded, not foolish. If the ground is shaking, the prison doors might be about to bust open! And even if they don’t, I’m all in. There’s no hedging of bets, no anxious plotting of alternatives if the whole Jesus thing doesn’t work out. I suspect that this single-minded intensity of focus makes me a freak, and if this is the case, I gladly accept the title. Lisa Waites, Jesus freak. Those are all the letters I need. Well-meaning friends have said that this rejection is for the best, that God has something better in mind for me. They may be right about that. Yet I doubt that whatever God intends will be comfortable. I tend to be a desert-dweller, as I am too uncomfortably truthful to hang out with the crowd for long. And perhaps what I have needed to learn (again!) through this experience is that God's design for my life isn't about my comfort, my preferences, or my plan; it is about His glory. Who am I to try to imagine what it is that I think I need, that I deserve? Why should it bother me when I am treated unfairly, or maligned for the sake of the gospel? I am a servant of the living God, and before my own master I will stand or fall. Hebrews 13:5b-6 comes to mind tonight, "So we say with confidence, the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" I have been struck down, but not destroyed; persecuted but not abandoned; disappointed, but not in despair. After all, God promises a safe landing, not a smooth flight. And as I was reminded a couple of weeks ago while crossing the Atlantic in a 747, when turbulence buffets the plane, the pilot climbs to a higher altitude, seeking a sweeter trajectory of flight. Similarly, O God, use this disappointment to propel me closer to you. Skilfully lead and guide me through this turbulence to a higher and sweeter knowledge of your heart, I pray. Shape my hands to serve, my heart to love, my thoughts to adore, and my voice to praise. In the name of Jesus Christ the risen Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God the Father, Amen.
I've been thinking and writing about sacramental music for about fifteen months now, and in the next few weeks, I'll be crossing the Atlantic to speak and sing on this theme in the UK. As I have been prayerfully preparing for the trip, it has become clear to me that for all of God's beauty and goodness that art can reflect, for all of the varied ways that it can dispose us as worshipers to receive a fulsome measure of God's grace, it does still have a point at which it is inadequate, where art finally fails. Even the purest and most excellent artistic creations that humanity can express are not adequate to convey the presence of true holiness. Dante knew this long before me, and wrote in Paradise Lost the following lines: "Thither my own wings could not carry me, But that a flash my understanding clove, Whence its desire came to it suddenly. High phantasy lost power and here broke off; Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars, My will and my desire were turned by love, The love that moves the sun and the other stars." We ought to sing and play sweetly, and compose well, and paint and write and sculpt and dance freely, joyfully, and in accordance with what we know of God's creative call in and through us. Yet I think we also must be prepared to acknowledge that this art must finally fail, that our best efforts will never be enough. That theological and artistic modesty would, I think, prepare us to receive and express a greater measure of God's love. And God's love, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13, never fails. We can sing this with complete confidence no matter what life throws our way. Love never fails. AMEN!
I was preaching on Matt 5:13-20 on Sunday, and a particular illustration that I used by the theologian John Stott has continued to irritate me. I use that word in a positive sense; I'm irritated because he asks such good questions, and I wonder if you might have answers to share from the context of your various music ministries. Here is his comment, which I've adapted slightly. "You know what your own country is like. I'm a visitor, and I wouldn't presume to speak about North America. But I know what Great Britain is like. I know something about the growing dishonesty, corruption, immorality, violence, pornography, the diminishing respect for human life, and the increase in abortion. Whose fault is it? Let me put it like this: if the house is dark at night, there is no sense in blaming the house. That's what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, 'Where is the light?' If meat goes bad, there is no sense in blaming the meat. That is what happens when the bacteria are allowed to breed unchecked. The question to ask is, 'Where is the salt?' If society becomes corrupt like a dark night or rotten meat, there's no sense in blaming society. That's what happens when fallen human society is left to itself and human evil is unrestrained and unchecked. The question to ask is 'Where is the church?'" So, my fellow musicians and thinkers, "Where is the church?" This challenging question has troubled me for a number of days now. What are your thoughts on the subject? Send me a message so that we can do theology together! Blessings, Lisa
T.S. Eliot once wrote "For last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning." Whatever your circumstance at the end of 2010, I pray that on the eve of this new year, you will make a beginning that is saturated by God's grace and voiced in the language of God's love. Keep pressing on toward the goal! Lisa
"Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes, But ring the fuller minstrel in. Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good. Ring out the old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand years of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace. Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be." Merry Christmas to each of you, and thank you for sharing my "year of holy boldness" as I have sought to ring in the Christ that is to be. Only God knows what 2011 will bring! Blessings from snowy Canada, Lisa Waites
What is the purpose of Christian worship? What is it that we are doing when we gather together on Sunday morning to return our praise to God? Does it even matter, or are we just filling time before the sermon? Many pastors, authors and scholars far more capable than I have attempted to answer these questions throughout the history of the church, and have preached eloquent sermons, written instructive books and advanced effective arguments that have helped and informed many believers through the ages. Nevertheless, after sitting through (or leading!) many worship conferences over the years, making popular Christian books on the subject part of my daily reading diet, and more recently, engaging worship academically, I am left with the impression that we still need a clearer vision of what New Testament worship is, and how we fit into its shape and purpose as postmodern Christians. I think William Dyrness comes close to being right in his description of worship as “the conscious participation of believers in the communication of God’s glory to and in the world, while engaging in these (liturgical) practices as an anticipation of the final revelation of God’s glory at the end of history.” This definition overcomes the longstanding debate about denominational or musical preferences. You can categorize yourself as a Catholic or Protestant, Evangelical or Mainline, Liberal or Conservative Christian, and still understand what you practice in your congregation as a conscious participation in the communication of God’s glory. Hymns or choruses, spritely or solemn tempos, simple or complex musical textures, pipe organs or drum kits, soloists or mass choirs; each of our varied expressions of musical worship can be terrifically participatory, or terribly alienating, and how we determine what makes “good worship” good or “poor worship” poor is not as much about the technical skill of the performers or the aesthetics of the repertoire as it is about representing and participating in God’s glory. (See more in parts two and three, this blog forum only allows 4,000 characters per post, which is not nearly enough!)
Now, I’m not recommending that we abandon the pursuit of musical excellence or beautifully creative expressions of praise! But I do think that our musical offerings can be more affective in the body of Christ, more faithful, more powerful, if we better understand as composers and worship leaders what it is that we are actually doing. Scripture describes at length the life and character of God, and our participation in that Divine life and character happens through our union with Christ as believers. In worship (which is much more than a frivolous pre-sermon diversion!) God is not only remembered by the people, but is actually present in the people’s praise, mediated through sensory, embodied actions that we as humans can identify with and understand. Our worship practices lead us into the life of God. Cardinal Godfried Danneels writes that Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit worships the Father, and thereby sanctifies the people. He also warns us that if we think that we are in control of worship, we’re misunderstanding or forgetting the properly Trinitarian nature of Christian praise, and have abandoned true worship in favour of an idolatrous exaltation of the human leader or the celebrating community. I’m sure you don’t need me to say that this is NOT GOOD, and not what worship is for or about! We must not worship our worship practices, but rather use our embodied worship practices as our material method of worshipping God! What we elevate is not the things that we do in worship, but rather, the One for whom we gladly do these things. Indeed, Christian worship is not really about our ideas at all. It isn’t something that we think up for ourselves to round out our program or fill some of our pews. It isn’t meant for our entertainment. It actually isn’t meant for us at all, but exists for God, who graciously includes us and nurtures us in its expression, which is a sort of godly side-effect of our worship. To participate in Christian worship is to be enfolded in a dynamically relational cycle of gathering, listening, communing, and sending that finds its basic structure in the Trinity itself. We sing the glory of God, through the mediation of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit! We are perpetually drawn into this joyful relationship as worshippers, and in and through this saturation of ourselves with God we are transformed and blessed. Our faces shine with God’s glory; God’s compassionate tears flow down our cheeks at the sorrows of our broken world; our hands faithfully work for God’s shalom in our global neighbourhood; and these things are possible for us because God’s redeeming love beats in our hearts. We bear witness to God, but we also share in the very life of God. The temple veil has been torn, and we are invited into the holy of holies. As Stephen Merrick reminded me last week, we the church must not put two heavy oak doors between us and God, feeling comfortable only if we worship God from a safe distance, artificially separating ourselves from the Holy One who has written His name in our cellular structures. We are designed to worship. We exist to delight in God, to enjoy God forever. This is why God made us; that we might share in God’s love, adding our human voices to the choir of praise that the whole universe was created to sing. (See the conclusion in part three, the next blog entry).