Monday, October 24, 2011

Creativity in Worship

Recently I started working with the worship team at our church, and I've been having so much fun.  I don't sing, and while I might be able to toot a tune on the ol' licorice stick, there isn't a whole lot of room for a clarinet in our contemporary worship band.  Unless we start playing songs from Fantasia.  So at first you might wonder what a tone deaf ex-member of the marching band is doing on the worship team.

We are blessed to attend a church that is not afraid to experiment.  On any given Sunday, you can expect to hear the worship leader say, "We're gonna try something different today."  Sometimes we have choreographed dancing.  Sometimes we have painting.  Sometimes we have flags.  We haven't brought out the snakes yet, but if the Spirit moved... well, we'd probably move to another church. ;)

Every week, the worship team talks via email or in person to start planning for the following Sunday, or a few Sundays ahead.  I love the intentionality, the enthusiasm, and the creativity that is permitted and encouraged.  I feel as if we are each given the freedom to use the gifts that have been given us, and it gets me just plain excited to be a part.

For those of you who are tone deaf, like me, but enthusiastic about worship and find yourself yearning for a way to use your gifts, talk to your pastor or worship leader and bring your ideas forward.  I've only been at this with our worship team for a month and a half, so I'm still learning lots of things, but it has been such a fulfilling experience that I can't help but share what I've learned so far.

Here are a few tips for bringing your creativity to Sunday morning worship:

1. Don't be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed by your creativity.  This is important and might seem like a no-brainer, but I know from experience that self-doubt and negativity can weigh in on you and convince you that what you have to offer either isn't good enough or no one else will understand/appreciate what you have to offer because you are too different/unusual/strange.  Every good gift is from above, after all, and what better way to use what yo daddy gave you than in worship? Be bold and courageous.  Do not be afraid, do not be terrified.  The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Even in front of the congregation.

2. If you write poetry, write a poem about God/faith/forgiveness/grace/mercy/love/prayer/fear/justice/etc. If you paint or sculpt, interpret a passage of Scripture.  If you dance, choreograph a praise song.  If you love to read, read a passage of Scripture or a story.  If you act, work with a writer in your congregation who wants to do a skit.  If you sing, by all means, sing a new song unto the Lord.  Whatever brings you joy and passion, bring that to worship, and not only will your worship experience be more meaningful and alive, your authentic worship will help others to worship too.

3. Be other-focused.  Your creativity is an act of worship, yes, but don't forget that the congregation is trying to engage in worship, and through your writing/dancing/painting/singing, you are leading worship, too.  So that poem with all of the literary and biblical allusions and cross-references and utter brilliance that leaps from one image to the next and requires several in-depth reads in order to fully understand... that one you might want to leave in the notebook. 

4. Talk to your tech-y people, your musicians, your video people, your dancers, your writers, your public speakers, and your photographers.  Collaborate with other members of the congregation and see if you can't approach a topic from several different angles-- some people engage with sound.  Some people with movement.  Some people are visual.  Some people are tactile.  Diversify your worship pallet to engage all of the senses, and not only will you help more of the congregation to connect, you'll build up each other as each of you continues to become the fullest version of yourselves in Christ.

5. Approach the throne of grace with humility, awe, prayer, shouts of thanksgiving, reflection, mourning, rage, distress, fear, and mystery.  Praise and worship is acknowledging God in every season, and it is good to lay before him the full range of our feelings and emotions.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this same element of worship in the corporate worship setting.  Sometimes we need to mourn and wail together.  Sometimes we need to move from wailing to dancing.  Sometimes we need to stand in awe.  Sometimes we need to be silent.  Our worship planning ought to be sensitive to the place of the congregation.

6. Listen to the prayer team, pastor, and elders of your church and pray over your worship planning.  The Holy Spirit knows better than us all what needs to happen in our hearts and minds, so make time to listen before you leap into all of your amazing plans, which are truly amazing, after all. 

7. Don't get too caught up in presentation and execution.  Remember that what you are doing is worship, too, not just a means for other people to worship.

8. Don't be afraid to fail.  Allow the congregation and the worship team to flex its muscles, strain and push.  Some weeks, what you thought would be awesome might fall flat on its face.  Other weeks, what you thought might seem hastily planned could be the most authentic worship experience your church has had in months.

9. It's not your job to carry the congregation.  It is the Holy Spirit's responsibility to move in the members of your church, during worship and beyond.  You might be a catalyst for that experience, but surely the Holy Spirit will be speaking into the hearts and lives of those he knows are ready to hear and be so moved.  Worry less about how the congregation is going to respond to what you've prepared and concern yourself more with approaching God humbly, executing your part of the plan to the best of your ability, with grace and attention, as part of your act of worship.

10. You are part of the body of Christ, and every limb and nerve ending of the body doesn't need to be in motion all at once in order to be active.  Let parts of your worship team and plan take a break from time to time.

11.  Be intentional.  Just because you have the ability to do sound, lights, video, reading, full band, flags, dancing, communion and candles doesn't mean you should do them all at once.

12.  Do not give up meeting as some are inclined to do, but keep communicating with the members of your worship team and listen when someone volunteers or even hints at wanting to contribute, and follow-up with those people.  Sometimes us creative folk need an invitation, or several invitations, to come forward.  And if you are wanting to get involved, don't wait for an invitation.  Your desire to contribute is an invitaiton from God to get involved, so go with it.

13.  Encourage one another regularly.  Just because Joe has been leading worship awesomely for months doesn't mean he believes he's got this thing nailed.  Sometimes all we need is one or two attaboys to keep the energy up.

Above all else, come with love and grace.  We're all working toward completion and wholeness, and we're all going to screw up some time or another.  The beauty of the body of Christ is that we can hold each other up, forgive, heal, and be restored.  I'm not sure exactly how this last part applies to worship and creativity, but surely we can put love and grace in everything.

So bring your gifts to the altar and let them shine!  The whole church will grow in faith and praise alongside you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Apples to Apples

A few weeks ago I decided to try my hand at making homemade applesauce. Unfortunately for my pot, I forgot that the apples were boiling down on the stove, and I burnt the bottom - both inside and out, since I'd allowed the darn thing to boil over.  For ninety minutes.  The pot might be done.

In spite of the burnt bottom, the applesauce still turned out great, so I can't imagine how a batch I don't burn turns out.  I have a 10 lb. bag of locally grown apples waiting for me start peeling and slicing.  Let's see if I can ruin another pot.

A week or two ago, I started trying to feed Henry rice cereal.  This posed a small challenge, because Henry won't drink formula, and I'm sorry, I just won't pump breastmilk to mix with rice cereal only for him to eat a teaspoon of it.  I love my kid and all, but that's too much work for too little reward.  So for starters, I mixed the rice cereal with water.  I'm a little surprised to report that he actually ate it. 

Now that we have the hang of the spoon and the opening and closing of the mouth, I wanted to find something to mix in with the rice cereal to give it a little bit more flavor.  I don't know why I'm so apprehensive about these things, or why I rely so heavily on the internet to grant me permission to try new stuff, but anyway, I sat down and googled "introducing new foods to baby" and discovered a wealth of information on when and how to introduce fruits and veggies, etc.

Now with Lydia and Elvis, as soon as they started eating solid foods, we might as well have bought stock in Gerber.  It might be the culture we're raised in, being inundated with ads and coupons and convenience every five seconds, but up until a few days ago, the thought of making my own baby food sounded prehistoric (see "a whole lot of work for little reward" above).  When someone tells me they make their own baby food, I picture dozens of glass jars lined up on the counter, three pots stewing various vegetables and fruits, mysterious preservatives and canning equipment, aprons, house dresses, and tidy little buns.  I'm intimidated.

But lo and behold, "making baby food" is not that complicated (all you crunchy moms out there can start "I-told-you-so"-ing now)!  First of all, how much solid food does a five-month-old baby need, even my gigantic five-month-old baby?  A few spoonfuls?  Yep.  And guess what?  You can prepare baby food at the same time you're making lunch for the rest of the family!  Hello, mashed banana.  Hello, applesauce.  Hello, real people food.  If you can puree it, you can make it happen.  Why, WHY did I think that the only acceptable food to put into my baby's mouth needed to come pre-packaged and with another cute little baby face on it?

I'm really excited about this for some reason.  Maybe because I bought three containers of Gerber baby food today for convenience/travel sake, and they each cost around a buck, when I can use one-half a banana and cover Henry's solid food consumption for the day. 

It isn't the cost-savings that has me motivated, though.  When I peeled, cored, and sliced the apples a few weeks ago, allowing them to boil down in my (now-burnt) pot, eating something I prepared, with my hands, from a local farmer added something intangible to my burnt applesauce.  Mixed in with the mashed apples and cinnamon was satisfaction, delicious and palatable.  Yes, baby Henry, your mama just mashed up this here banana into sweet creaminess.  I get the same satisfaction from breastfeeding--I am making something valuable and nutritious for my little man and he can only get it from me.  You can substitute formula and bottle-feeding, and I have with Lydia and Elvis, and get similar warm-fuzzies from holding that cute little person as they guzzle down their bottle, but nothing compares with that tug and pull, that quieted-down, instant gratification of mama and her milk.  Oh how I'll miss it when it's time to stop breastfeeding.  (These are words I never thought I'd utter.  "Utter" makes me think of "Udder".  Ha. Ha. Ha.)

This growing baby is really excited about his bananas, and I bet he'll like the applesauce, too.  And when we're on the run, Gerber and its pre-packaged goodness will do just fine, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Table of No Return

I just finished going through the stack of papers that have accumulated since Thursday on the table of no return.  Surely you have one of these--it's the counter/hutch/bureau/table/drawer where the mail, bills, newspapers, checklists, kids' drawings, homework, and other stuff that needs your attention goes when you need to clear off the dining room table to eat, or just regain sanity for thirty minutes or so.

There's a guilty satisfaction in sweeping up all of the papers off of the table and dumping them in a neatly shuffled stack on another hard surface.  They look organized, all tapped into a rectangular packet of Scholastic order forms, Market day, school pictures, and permission slips.  Breathe it in, yes, you are accomplished.  Yes, your dining room table is clutter-free, yes, yes, you can eat without worrying about spilling water and crumbs on your daughter's homework, and yes, it's true, you will forget about the forms so strategically arranged on the hutch.

Tonight's table-of-no-return surfaced a field trip permission slip, a moms and muffins invitation stapled to a book fair flyer, a school pictures order form, an evening event registration form for Lydia, and Lydia's homework.  And that was just the stuff that needed my immediate attention, never mind three newspapers no one read, coupons I meant to snip and take with me grocery shopping this weekend, a new hotel rewards card for Brandon, fifty sketches of our family in varying colors and sizes, a dozen oversized Handy Manny coloring book pages, papers with L-Y-d-i-a and M-O-M and y y y y y y y y y y y (Lydia needed to practice her y's), an old invoice for afterschool care, a checking account statement, three unopened envelopes, the Y schedule and the Kroc Center schedule, and a newsletter each from Lydia and Elvis's schools. 

Since Lydia started school, I have been experiencing minor anxiety attacks each week (i.e. SOCCER! Ah! LUNCH! AH! Pick up Lydia! AH! Soccer pictures! Ah! Library books! Ah! Gym shoes! Ah! Pick up Lydia! Ah! SOCCER! Ah! Soccer! AH! Lydia! AH! Brain! Ah!).  Does this end?  Someone tell me, will there come a day in the next twenty years of our lives where we do not panic that we've forgotten some minor yet critical component of our children's lives?

I should amend that last sentence - where I do not forget some critical component of my children's lives.  Brandon does not seem to have this problem.  Brandon remembers to pick up his daughter from school and remembers to remind me if I need to pick her up.  Brandon texts me from out of town to pack up the soccer mom van.

People, something needs to be done about the table of no return.  It's a reflection of the state of affairs in this house, and I'm feeling rumpled up and crinkled around the edges.  Every sheet of paper seems to shout MOM!!! LOOK AT ME!!! WE NEED YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS OR ELSE YOU WILL BE CONDEMNED TO THE OUT-OF-TOUCH PARENT CORNER!!!  ATTEND THIS EVENT!!!  CHAPERONE THIS FIELD TRIP!!!  BUY THESE BOOKS SO YOUR SON'S CLASS GETS MORE BOOKS!!! THEIR FUTURES DEPEND UPON YOU, MOM!!!

Table of no return, it is Sunday night.  You are empty.  The forms that need my attention have been strategically relocated to the coffee table of immediate action, next to my wine glass and a pen.  Let's get to work.  There are future shelves of no return to fill with extra wallets of a goofy preschooler and a series of Fancy Nancy books.  Better to buy them now than to pay to have them on-loan for all of eternity from the library.