Midweek Music 12.09.15

“A Light” & “May You Find A Light” | The Brilliance

Lost and weary traveler
Searching for the way to go
Stranger, heavy-hearted
Longing for someone you know

A light shone down on us
A star of hope shines bright

May you find a light
To guide you home

Working in ministry, I typically begin to think about Advent and Christmas in August. It helps that this is my favorite time of year. I enjoy the decorations, the parades, the parties, the time with family and friends, and man do I love the music. It’s all wonderful but there is one thing that makes the season stand out to me, one thing that makes it something more than an enjoyable time of festivities. Hope. Advent is a time of expectation, it is a time of preparation, it is a time of celebration; Christmas is a time that our hopes are fulfilled in the form of a child, the picture of innocence, sent to save us from ourselves.

As I began to prepare the Advent music service for this Sunday, I found myself dwelling on the theme of light throughout scripture. I began to connect the beginning of light as God separated it from the darkness, the prophecies of a “new light” from Isaiah, Christ being personified as light in the Gospels, and finally the expectation that we should be reflections of that light into this world. John Arndt and David Gungor of The Brilliance wrote these two beautiful songs that perfectly captured my thoughts.

We are, all of us, searching for answers and we’re all on this journey together. We can rejoice that a star, a light, shone over Bethlehem signifying the birth of our God in the flesh, our Savior. This Sunday, December 13, we are having a special service of music in the morning services at University UMC. I hope you will join us during the 11:15am service where we will celebrate Advent, Christmas, and this light that is guiding each of us weary travelers home.


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

 

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An Open Letter: Starbucks and the ‘War on Christmas’

I’ll admit it: my first mistake was reading an article on Breitbart. I saw the headline and they got me, I fell for the clickbait.

“WAR ON CHRISTMAS: STARBUCKS RED CUPS ARE EMBLEMATIC OF THE CHRISTIAN CULTURE CLEANSING OF THE WEST”

For the record, I didn’t click on the article because I believed in any way that the headline would reflect truth nor did I continue to read the article thinking that I would have my opinion changed in any way. I dove in head first knowing that I was reading grade A bullcrap. I clicked and read because I am a person that tries (and sometimes fails) to follow the tenets and teachings of Christ and because, like Buddy the Elf:

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The article tries to disseminate the idea that because Starbucks’ annual red cups, which are meant to acknowledge and celebrate the holidays, aren’t festive enough; Starbucks is perpetuating, even advancing, the “War on Christmas”. Let’s just forget that Starbucks is an individual corporation free to market itself any way it pleases. Let’s forget that they don’t even have to make their cups red in the first place. Let’s overlook that they have a coffee roast that comes out every single year appropriately named, “Christmas Blend” or that they sell an Advent Calendar. Let’s ignore the idea that they are trying to be open minded and market to a wide demographic of people who prefer to celebrate other holidays this time of year or who choose not to celebrate any holidays at all. This is clearly a calculated attack on Christmas, and by association, Christianity itself.

The article itself is relentless. It’s unnecessarily critical of Starbucks products and the people who patronize the business. The author of the article openly mocks the baristas for misspelling an uncommon name in the Western world in an article demonizing the Eastern world (the part of the world in which Christ was born). He accuses Starbucks of “subliminally, (telling it’s customers) that this time of year is no longer about Christmas.” My favorite part is when he states “It’s a ‘holiday season'” with “holiday season” in quotes. Why is this my favorite part?

BECAUSE IT IS A HOLIDAY SEASON

Some Christians have this idea that December is exclusively our month and it’s been that way since (sarcasm alert) Jesus himself came over on the Mayflower and planted the first American flag straight into Plymouth Rock to commemorate the day of his birth (December 25) before founding Fox News to ensure Christmas would always have a righteous defender.

Forget that there is no evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ was ever actually born on December 25, there is simply no room for other holidays. There is no room to observe a holiday like Hanukkah with origins based long before the actual birth of Christ. I can’t believe that anyone would ever want to acknowledge a holiday that Jesus Christ himself celebrated in scripture.

I guess if we can’t call it a holiday season, there is no room for Kwanzaa which is cultural and doesn’t even conflict in ideology with Christmas. Forget Bodhi Day or Ramadan.

We can’t celebrate other holidays like the Feast of Saint Nicholas which is a Christian holiday on December 6. Don’t mention Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, or New Years Day which are completely secular in nature but recognized by Christians around the world.

Here’s the thing: tolerating someone’s ability to believe something different from you doesn’t mean you’re accepting their belief, it just means you’re not being a jerk about it.

Ask anyone, I’m a Christmas nut. I’m that annoying guy who starts listening to Christmas music in October and has a Christmas countdown on his phone so he always knows exactly how far away the most wonderful time of the year is. I tell people “Merry Christmas” every chance I get starting with the day after Thanksgiving. Sometimes they say it back, sometimes they say “Happy Holidays”, sometimes I’ll get a response related to another specific holiday, and sometimes they say nothing back at all. The response makes no difference to me. The intent is what matters. My intent is to spread a little cheer while acknowledging that my thoughts, my beliefs and I are not the only things existing on this planet, Christmas is not the only holiday in December, and Starbucks red cups are not a subliminal nor purposeful attack on anyone. If you think otherwise, you’re just kidding yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Midweek Music 10.07.15

“Ave Maria” | Franz Biebl (performed by Chanticleer)

 

Exceptionally beautiful text honoring the mother of Christ set to exceptionally beautiful music. When I heard Chanticleer perform this for the first time, I wanted to cry, and I’m not a crier. I had the privilege of being a part of a small ensemble of University of Montevallo alumni who sang this at the the wedding of two of my best friends. I want to cry then too and I still wasn’t a crier. This week, a group of which I am a part will sing this in concert. I’m sure I’ll want to cry then too and I still won’t be a crier.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. That we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

My Ecumenical Christmas

Yes, I know it’s January 27 and I’m posting about Christmas. I started writing this a while ago and had planned to finish it the week after Christmas. When that didn’t happen, I thought I’d just not write it but I just couldn’t make myself trash it. So here it is, one month and two days after Christmas.

Last year, as Christmas approached, I found myself without Christmas Eve plans for the first time in my life. Growing up, we always had a “big-family” Christmas party with the entire side of my dad’s family. It was always one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. As my siblings, my cousins, and I all got older, got married and had kids (myself not included on the kids), the party started becoming harder and harder to organize until it finally stopped.

It was during the same time (my college years) that I started working for churches as a paid musician so my plans switched from family Christmas parties to singing in Christmas Eve services. I enjoy church so it wasn’t anything I dreaded, actually I enjoyed it quite a bit. After college I started working my first “real” job in ministry at Christ UMC in Plano, TX. CUMC is a large church, large enough to warrant having seven services on Christmas Eve. So for the last three years, I spent my afternoon and late evening performing various tasks and participating in the services. I would also always take out a little time to attend a Christmas Eve party with some dear friends, a party that became very special to me.

This year however, I found myself with no plans. No Christmas Eve parties, no responsibilities to fulfill at the churches for which I now work, nothing at all. At first I didn’t know what to do. Then one day the week before Christmas, as I was looking at some old photos, I came across some pictures from a church performance during my old youth choir’s tour to Chicago. We sang at a predominantly African American inner-city church on the west side of Chicago and the atmosphere was electric. I remember thinking how awesome it was to watch two groups of people with very different socio-economic, political, and theological backgrounds come together to worship. That’s when I decided to have my ecumenical Christmas.

I decided to visit 4 churches around Birmingham representing a wide range of the theological and political spectrum. The night of Christmas Eve, I set out with my step-sister to visit Mountaintop Community Church (Non-denominational), Bluff Park United Methodist Church, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, and Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal). My goal was to experience various styles of worship…to gain an understanding of how different people choose to celebrate Christ’s birth. I thought it would be a nice evening filled with pleasantries associated with my favorite holiday. What I got was a renewed spirit.

There was something so sincere about each place I visited. Each church worshipped in different ways…some used guitars, some used organs, some used projection screens, some used hymnals, all had sermons and all had candles. What I found was that even though they chose different styles with which to worship, it all came down to the same thing: thankfulness for a God who chose to take on human flesh, bear our sins, and save each of us.

So much of the church’s energy is spent arguing things like who God loves or doesn’t love, how to get to heaven, how to avoid hell, what is a sin and what is morally appropriate, do we choose God or does He choose us, is it wrong that I used “He” to refer to God…the list goes on and on. But this one night I visited 4 very different churches and left each one feeling a renewed spirit about how the all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present Creator of all things and time itself took on human flesh for each person I worshipped with that evening. He took on human flesh for each person worshipping around the world that evening. And He took on human flesh for each person NOT worshipping around the world that evening.

I know that it’s January 27 and that this post has been mostly about Christmas but as I think ahead to the rest of this year, I find myself wanting to keep those feelings alive. As I prepare for Lent and Easter Sunday, I find myself thinking about the initial choice God made to come to Earth in human form. Christ knew His destiny was to end up on the cross. He knew his destiny was to take on all the suffering of this world in the most painful act of love ever displayed. Yet he made the choice to come anyway.

I think about all the different people I worshipped with that evening. I saw a wide variety of social, economic, professional, political, and theological backgrounds. I saw males, females, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, blacks, whites, asians, hispanics, and ethnicities I would not have been able to identify without asking. I saw many different people coming together to glorify God for the greatest gift ever given and it gave me hope.

It gave me hope that the church universal would return to love. It gave me hope that the church universal would preach a gospel that is never contained by any parameters of a person’s identity. It gave me hope that the best is yet to come. It gave me hope that the church would, in the same way that the candles illuminated each building that Christmas Eve, do it’s job of shining the light and life of Christ to a dark and dying world.

 

“Christmas means you don’t have to be afraid of the dark ever again.” -Pastor Doug Ferguson (Mountaintop Community Church)

“The people most attracted to Jesus were those who could recognize their own inabilities best.” -Rev. Andrew Pearson (Cathedral Church of the Advent)

“We live in a world where everything is a problem needing to be solved when the real solution was laid in a manger 2000 years ago.” -Pastor Gary Furr (Vestavia Hills Baptist Church)

“Christmas is a time to trade in our pessimism and receive the life changing gift of joy everlasting.” -Rev. Mike Holly (Bluff Park United Methodist Church)

Music Monday 12.21.14

“O Holy Night” Adolphe Adam

I’m a little obsessed with this song and I think it speaks for itself as to why it is and always will be my favorite Christmas song. Here are a few of my favorite arrangements.

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Music Monday, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Music Monday 12.08.14

“White Winter Hymnal” by Pentatonix

I’ve been obsessed with this song since it was introduced to me a couple weeks ago. It’s originally written and performed by Fleet Foxes which is a great song in it’s own right but I can’t get over Pentatonix’s arrangement. Not much to say about it, it’s just fun. Enjoy!

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Music Monday, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Happy Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:18

 

Being thankful is not always easy. It’s something I try to practice on a daily basis as I pray and think on the blessings I’ve received but not something I always accomplish. Of course, there is usually an emphasis on it around this time of year as Thanksgiving approaches. However, it seems this year there is more emphasis on what is wrong with the world. There has been a harsh focus for the past week on political and social differences with little focus on what is good and right with the world. I wanted to share with you some things for which I am thankful. I hope it encourages you to spend some time considering all you’ve been given.

Christ, Mom, Dad, Denise, Tori, Griff, Brittany, Addison, Logan, Jordyn, Korban, Lawson, Becca, Bradley, Maria, Goggy, Grandad, Kay, Scott, Ashlyn, Natalie, Lauren, Nathan, Clark, Jeff, CUMC, Matt, Zach, Pat, Joan, Berk, Michael, LPYC, Jim, Amy, Sarah, FUMC-Trussville Youth, Bluff Park UMC, ministry opportunities given to me, mercy, grace, the cross, music, and Advent Conspiracy.

This is just a small list of things currently on my mind but there are so many other people and things that I could share with you. I have lived a blessed life, even when I maybe wasn’t able to see it or realize it.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving Day.

Music Monday 11.17.14

“Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre (performed by the Westminster Cathedral Choir)

I loved being a member of the University of Montevallo Concert Choir. I have many fond memories singing with this ensemble and built many friendships through my participation in this group. During my first semester, we sang what has become one of my favorite choral Christmas pieces, Lux Aurumque. It was the third time I’d ever sung an Eric Whitacre piece and he’d already been a favorite composer of mine before then. The text, the music, the phrasing…combine it with some signature Eric Whitacre cluster chords and it’s a hauntingly beautiful way to capture the spirit of Christmas. I know that not everyone is a fan of “classical” or choral music, but I don’t know how someone can not be mesmerized when listening to this piece.

Lux,
Calida gravisque pura velut aurum
Et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.

Light,
warm and heavy as pure gold
and angels sing softly
to the new-born babe.

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Music Monday, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

A Different Kind of Gift

I really enjoy giving gifts. There’s something exciting to me about picking out a gift for someone and giving it to them to celebrate a holiday, commemorate an occasion, or just brighten their day. That’s just another reason Christmas is exciting to me. (Side note: I feel like all my recent and near future posts are about Christmas but meh, ’tis the season). I spend a good deal of time thinking about the gifts I give in hopes that they will be wanted, practical, and appreciated.

I try to take the same approach when people ask me what I want for Christmas. A few days ago, as I was thinking about who I was buying for this year, what I was buying them, and what I wanted, I was shown a video for an organization called Advent Conspiracy.

Numbers can be very shocking…and the fact that Americans spend $450 billion a year on the holiday season is hard to swallow even without taking into consideration the fact that $10 billion would solve the worlds water crisis. Here’s another shocking fact: that video was made in 2008…it is currently estimated that Americans spend close to $601 billion on the holidays. $601,000,000,000.

There is another organization called Sole Hope. Sole Hope was founded by friends of a friend to provide shoes for children in Uganda who otherwise wouldn’t own a pair. Not only do they have to walk around barefoot in rocky dirt, they have to encounter jiggers that live in that dirt (Jiggers, not chiggers). It only costs $10 to provide a pair of shoes for child. $10. I own a pair of Cole Haan wingtips, they are my favorite shoes and they cost $250. The cost of those one pair of shoes could literally put shoes on the feet of 25 children.

Now, this is not meant to be a guilt trip. I don’t feel bad for owning my Cole Haans, I don’t feel bad for buying Christmas gifts for my loved ones and I certainly don’t want you to feel bad for it either. My goal is not to get you to give up everything for Christmas and give all your money to solve the world water crisis or put shoes on the entire continent of Africa. However, imagine with me for a second what could happen if we just cut back. Instead of spending $100 on a Christmas present, we spent $50 and then gave $50 to Advent Conspiracy. Instead of spending $1000 on Black Friday, we spent $500 and gave $500 to Sole Hope.

I’ve decided to cut back on my gift giving and holiday spending this year and I’m asking anyone intending to buy me a present, to donate instead. I’ve chosen Advent Conspiracy and Sole Hope for my own purposes but you can donate to whatever cause you see fit to be best served with your money. For every dollar I spend on a Christmas present, I’ve chosen to put $2 towards one of these two charities. I live within a budget as do most people so I simply can’t spend what I might normally spend on presents, I have to cut back…but it’s something I believe can make a difference.

I don’t know, maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m too hopeful, but there is something incredible about the idea that I can make a difference just by cutting back. If we’re just willing to adjust our lives slightly, together we can change someones life.

 

Make a difference by donating to Advent Conspiracy or Sole Hope.

Merry Thanksgiving and Happy Christmas

It’s no secret to anyone that I love Christmas. I mean love it. The music, the movies, the decorations, the tacky sweaters…it makes me happy. For one reason or another, some people seem to take offense to my love of Christmas extending to before Thanksgiving and even Halloween. To these people, I say: get over it.

I love Christmas and I want it to last as long as possible. You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. Feel free to wait until the Friday after Thanksgiving if you want. Feel free to wait until Christmas Eve if you want. I’m not going to fault you for celebrating Christmas the way you want to and I expect the same from you.

Here’s the thing: being pro-Christmas isn’t being anti-Thanksgiving. I like Thanksgiving. I like the idea of our families coming together to be thankful for our blessings from throughout the year and football. Just because I begin listening to Christmas music or talking about Christmas before Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean I hate the holiday. I’m not going to force my music on you so don’t get upset with me for choosing to listen to it.

I’m not going to lie, about four months ago, I dreaded the thought of Christmas this year. The Christmas season has always been important to me and it was a big deal to me and my ex-wife. It was something we both shared…and the thought of having to go through the season recently divorced honestly scared the hell out of me. I thought I would only be able to dwell on the lost memories and therefore be depressed. Instead, my mind has been more clear than ever before of the “reason for the season”.

Christmas is a time to celebrate a God who, for our sakes, loved us enough to take on human form and come down to a dark world with the sole intent of enduring the cross and sanctifying us with his sacrificial death. Why am I supposed to wait until after Thanksgiving again? It’s cliche but I don’t care because it literally is the greatest story ever told. It is the most perfect gift ever given.

So if I want to sing “O Holy Night” on November 1st or watch Charlie Brown Christmas on November 12th, don’t be upset. You celebrate how you want and I’ll celebrate how I want. Neither my wanting to celebrate early or you’re wanting to celebrate later is greater than the other, it’s just different perspectives that ultimately achieve the same goal of recognizing the beginning of a great sacrifice. I hope you enjoy this holiday season, I know I will. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas.