Monday, August 18, 2008

Sometimes it takes more than a spark

So as part of trying something new this year, Light of the Lakes and Park have been offering monthly worship services around the campfire, one Sunday evening a month. This month the theme of the worship service was Pentecost. In order build the spirit and the mood for the worship service we decide to start by reading Acts 2:1-3 and then lighting candles and from those candles lighting the main fire. The idea was to show what those "divided tongues as of fire" could do to start a real blaze, to demonstrate what is alluded to in the hymn "Pass It On" that it really does just take a spark. Unfortunately, while we have been blessed with gorgeous whether every month, there was one flaw last night, it was windy. It maybe took a spark to get the first candle lit, but in order to keep that candle lit and to light others it took far more than just a spark. Eventually the candles were light and then from there the main fire, but it was not the dramatic chain reaction we had in mind when we planned the service. The "tongues of fire" did not just jump from one candle to the next to start a blaze. Instead it required people huddling together, people using their bodies and hands to block the wind, and more than a little help from the trusty propane lighting stick that is a staple of most worship leaders.

It often seems from a far that the Holy Spirit works like a California wild fire, certainly it seems to in other churches. As I was watching the coverage of the Civil Forum at Saddleback I was thinking about how easy Rick Warren makes it look. However, at the same time it made me wonder, how often does the story look more like what our experience last night was like and not the romantization of converting a community? How often does it really involve a lot of huddling against the winds of doubt as we click away trying to maintain that flame of faith in our lives enough to spread it to others? Other people seem to be blessed with a light and spirit in their lives that blazes enough to set alight a whole community, but looking at my own faith, inspite of how strong my belief is, it much more resembles that small lighter, clicking away and working hard to start a blaze in others and fighting a lot of wind to do so. The reality is Pentecost was one awesome event, but the rest of the story is about how hard the Disciples and in turn their disciples worked to keep the fire going through the winds of time.

Monday, August 11, 2008

How do you like your Grace?

So a conversation the other day spurred this question in my head, how do you like the song Amazing Grace? Since I was young, which given my age means since I was a child I have loved Amazing Grace, in my early years it was as song by a good choir, in particular I enjoyed an African-American one, probably because of a special on the song I saw parts of on PBS as a child. By middle school my favorite version of Amazing Grace was one done on the bagpipes, which they had played at Hamline UMC as part of our fall Rally Sunday worship.

Recently my father introduced me to the concept of Amazing Grace, done to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun." A good version I have found along those lines is by the Blind Boys of Alabama. At the same time I was given a burned version of the song done by Ani DiFranco. Rather than simply trying to sing the song as written she puts her own unique spin on it, adding her own unique, dare I say angsty flare which gives the lyrics a greater depth of meaning.

What stirred up this question was yet another version of Amazing Grace that we learned at Vacation Bible School this year, which was basically simply a sped up, child-friendly, peppy version, that worked really well, moving from slow and spiritual to up-beat and praise-filled. Last night I heard Amazing Grace sung as part of a story of about grace. This time it was sung with the passion and feeling of a country gospel singer. In my various excursions onto iTunes I have noticed that a wide variety of artists have done their own version of Amazing Grace. Many are simply the attempts of great singers to perform the song as technically perfect as possible. Others take the song and sing it in a way that is natural and authentic to them. Amazing Grace with a twist of Country, a dash of pop, or something in between.

As I think about all these versions of Amazing Grace I love the song all the more because of its versitlity. I have heard different statistics about how times various Beatles songs have been covered or "Stairway to Heaven" (which is best done as a classical music piece), but the beauty of Amazing Grace to me is that it is so simple a song and yet so rich in meaning that all of these different versions have the power to move, the power to speak to us. There is no one way to sing such a song of grace and love, except the way that comes naturally to each of us. So I ask again, how do you like your Grace?