Archives For art

June 13, 2014, Grace Free Lutheran Church, Valley City, ND. For my ordination service I sang “Sovereign” by Chris Tomlin.

Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

In your everlasting arms, all the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end, I will trust You
In Your never-failing love You work everything for good
God whatever comes my way, I will trust You
God whatever comes my way, I will trust You

All my hopes, all I need
Held in Your hands
All my life, all of me
Held in Your hands
All my fears, all my dreams
Held in Your hands

Last night I watched “Blue Like Jazz” for the first time.  It would be accurate to say I am a fan of Donald Miller, although I have to qualify that statement.  I appreciate the ART of Donald Miller because it is honest and insightful.  I do not look to Donald Miller for theological profundity.  Likewise I found “Blue Like Jazz” the movie to be beautiful in some ways, because it was honest and insightful, but not because it was theologically profound.

So people are asking me what I thought.  I’m conflicted.

Here’s what I like…

“Blue Like Jazz” tells the truth.  “Christian” art (a label I am rapidly liking less and less) doesn’t always do that.  In fact, much art slapped with a “Christian Art” label tries to paint a picture (in some case, I mean this quite literally) representing a sanitized world, safe for church people to enter without feeling too threatened or having their feathers ruffled out of alignment.  Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the poster-boy for this kind of art, which looks one the one hand to be deemed “safe” for Christian consumption, but on the other hand, is actually very dangerous in its “sanitization” of our condition.  In a brilliant critique of Kinkade’s work (read the whole article here), Daniel A. Siedell writes:

“The Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed ‘light’ merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.

Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home.”

This is a problem.  Art has power to disrupt and challenge, but the Christian marketplace comes with its own set of rules designed to protect us from offense.  Therefore, “Christian” art is almost never provocative to the degree that it might lead to actual life-change.  It sooner leads us to be comfortable, while reaffirming our faith.  And we need encouragement, us church people.

But don’t we also need to be disturbed and broken-hearted?  God is in the business of redemption through the ongoing process of death and resurrection.  The death part… it doesn’t look like a Kinkade painting.

Neither does “Blue Like Jazz” the movie.

In fact, “Blue Like Jazz” shows us the yucky side of churchiness without the transformative power of a life rooted and abiding in Jesus Christ.  It shows the carnality and brokenness and narcissism of young adult lives given over to the pursuit of pleasure and identity and meaning when God has been rejected wholesale.  The movie is dark and sad and tragic if you consider the eternal ramifications of the sea of lives surrounding young Don Miller.  If you are planning to see this and expect it to have the feel-good (albeit disquietingly “safe”) vibe of “Facing the Giants” or “Soul-Surfer,” you might find “Blue Like Jazz” disturbing.  Reed College is full of substance abuse and profanity and emptiness and sex.  Lots of it.  “Blue Like Jazz” isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but neither does it pull many punches.

I’m sick of Kincade.  In this, “Blue Like Jazz” was a refreshing change.  It shows brokenness.  It made me hurt for the broken people, and hunger to be bolder as an image-bearer for Jesus.  Broken people need Jesus.  I have Jesus.

“Blue Like Jazz” wasn’t written for the “Church” market, so if you are looking for a movie that is, consider yourself warned.  Instead, Taylor and Miller seem to be telling a story for spiritually curious people who want to know if God is real when the world is such a mess and the churches in many neighborhoods look more like social clubs for hypocrites than beacons of light and hope.

Here’s what I didn’t like…

“Blue Like Jazz” embraces a metaphor, woven throughout the narrative.  “My dad says jazz is like life, because it doesn’t resolve…”  Like much of Donald Miller’s theo-philosophical ponderings, neither does “Blue Like Jazz.”  And I understand that we are works in process, and that art is often more effective when it leaves some questions unanswered.  This leaves room for the consumer to wonder, and think, and search.  But it is unsatisfying in a movie that asks out loud, “Where do we find meaning and purpose in life?”

There ARE clear answers to many of the questions Miller and Taylor are asking, but it is cooler to leave them unanswered.  It is cooler to leave us to ponder on our own.

** MINOR SPOILER ALERT **

Sure, by the end of the film the young, restless Don Miller comes to some kind of ambiguous belief that God is probably real, and this Jesus stuff… he buys it. But there is little power in his transformation, because it is very hard to see what this transformation actually looks like.  Except, of course, for a compulsion not only to ask forgiveness for his own hypocrisy and lack of courage, but also for the many failings of the Church, writ large.  That may be cool, and more palatable to the jaded (or wounded) spiritually-curious viewers.  But my heart aches for them to hear a better story.

A better story starts with an all-powerful and very present God Almighty, who is not only Sovereign and perfectly Holy, but full of mind-bending LOVE that obliterates our best attempts to understand it.  That perfectly pure One created every soul who ever lived to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him.  But we, the creatures, spat in His face because we thought we knew better what would satisfy.  We died that day.  And every day since, man clamors to find identity and meaning and lasting pleasure, but none of it really satisfies us.  Reed College exhausts us, and we feel the shame of it.

A better story would speak the truth of the Bible, that JESUS CHRIST came to save SINNERS, even the very worst.  That He offers HOPE and JOY that really is lasting and satisfies our longing for identity, meaning, and pleasure free from guilt.  This is THE true story the world needs to hear.

I don’t mean to saddle “Blue Like Jazz” the movie with the calling of the Church.  God did not call Steve Taylor and Donald Miller to use this movie to make disciples.  He calls me to do that, and you, too, if you love Jesus.  But I sense a missed opportunity here.  That’s all I’m saying.

“Blue Like Jazz” is smartly written, well acted, and cleverly rendered.  It works.  I see the need for movies and more art in general to explore faith while looking honestly at brokenness, although I remember the words of Paul to focus our minds and hearts on “whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)  In order to focus on what is true – on the life-transforming power of the GOSPEL – allow “Blue Like Jazz” to do the work it is intended to do.  Let it disturb you and stir compassion in you for the brokenness we live in.

Then get in the Word, read the Gospel, and do something.

Watch the trailer here…

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“blue like jaz” the movie :: thoughts and ponderings by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

In one of the greatest stories in our family lore is the tale of “Bob’s Beans.”

My wife’s mom, Gloria, has for years and years made a delicious baked bean, hamburger, and bacon concoction that redefines savory goodness.  It’s like Bush’s Baked Beans on steroids.  As far as I can tell, the family has been savoring said bean concoction for decades.

One year, as I understand the story, my Father-in-Law had made a batch of fresh salsa from tomatoes and peppers in his garden.  The details are a bit fuzzy, but it seems that some of said salsa was added to said bean concoction, and… well, it was a flavor combination made in heaven.  Apparently, these beans have ever since been lauded under the new moniker, “Bob’s Beans,” much to the chagrin of his wife.  In fact, I have no idea if there is any salsa left in the modern day rendering of this baked bean recipe, but we still call them “Bob’s Beans.”

I tell you this story because it has happened a million times.  A hundred million.  One idea merges with another idea and another and what comes out the other end is something new, different, and sometimes better.  For this reason if you flip through our recipe book in the Skogerboe kitchen, you will find index cards with labels that read “Joshua’s Buttermilk Pancakes,” “Joshua’s Chocolate Chip Cookies,” and my favorite, “Joshua’s Hot Fudge.”  Truth be told, I may or may not have basically ripped off my mother and made minor alterations to her best recipes and then given myself credit.  I’ll never tell.

GREAT ideas are often the result of bootlegging good ideas.  To quote the great Pablo Picasso once again, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Post-It Notes were developed when one 3M employee created a low-tack adhesive that wasn’t able to capture anyone’s attention in the company.  Then one of his co-workers thought, “Hmmm…  I bet I could make myself a nice non-stick bookmark for my hymnal.”  I know.  Unbelievable that they didn’t go with “Plan A” and corner the cut-throat Hymnal bookmark market.  Just think where 3M might be today.

But ideas evolve.  Thanks to 3m’s “permitted bootlegging” policy, allowing their employees to spend 10% of their time on pet projects, the world is far more organized.  Sticky note by sticky note at a time.  Now several other major corporations (such as Google) have similar policies.

Ideas are canvas.  They are seeds.  Don’t be quick to throw them away if your “Plan A” fails.  Write them down.  Let them stew.  Add some salsa.

I could give a million examples.  A hundred million.  But I am inspired this week by one song that I can’t get out of my head.  See three very different and equally compelling renditions below.  The first video is by the original artist.  The next two are variations on the theme.  These guys make me want to write.  And maybe steal someone’s good ideas, and make them better, and label them with my name on a Post-It Note.  Or maybe I’ll work on creating something altogether NEW that you will make brilliant one day.  It’s all creativity, all part of the process.  When we create, we reflect our Creator.  Long live good ideas.  And long live bootlegging those good ideas to make even better ones.  Long live Bob’s Beans.






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“somebody that i used to know :: bob’s beans, post-it style bootlegging and the creative process” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I always want to be a better dad.  When I finally achieve “best dad of all time” staus, I’ll still want to be a better dad.  Today’s post is meant to inspire us dads to be intentional in our dadliness.

My friend Carlos Whittaker (known in the Twittersphere as @loswhit, father of viral video star ‘lil los, and the uber-creative behind ragamuffinsoul.com) continues to be inspiring on so many levels.  But I gotta give him props for this one as a top five on the all-time greatest dad moves of the 21st Century.

I don’t have girls… I’ve got my own hockey team of boys, but no mascara, barrettes, no pink, no lip gloss.  However… if I were a dad of girls, I’d be all over this stuff.  Carlos’ daughter just turned 8.  As a Taylor Swift fan, she wanteded to host a Taylor Swift party.

But in the words of Carlos, “if you know the Whittakers, you know that did not mean Taylor Swift cups and plates from Walmart.”  No sir. They invited a pile of her friends over and produced a video, complete with make-up and hairstyling, lighting effects, plenty of dancing about and general frolicking in wee cowgirl boots.  Dads, whether your home is full of Barbies and ballet slippers or cluttered with baseball gear like our home is, we can all learn something from Carlos here…

Don’t wait for the moments.  Make the moments.  Amen.

If you want to drop Carlos a note about this, find his original post here and check out ragamuffinsoul.com often.  He will inspire your faith, fuel your creative energy, and encourage you.

May we dads be intentional in our parenting.  A little planning goes a LONG way, guys.  God bless you and of all our kiddos.

 

Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church?  And if so, how much is too much?

The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:

Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship.  My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.

Whoa doggie.  That right there is loaded.  I agree with Robert Webber.  And I don’t.  Let me es’splain…

Culturally driven worship?  What does that mean?

This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church.  Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority.  Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.

While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive.  In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word.  (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him.  (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him.  (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place.  And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth.  All to His glory.

I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message.  I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel.  I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…”  But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of.  He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”

Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.”  And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”

Robert Webber is wise.  There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.

To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber.  It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Maybe less swearing…

If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends to the neglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.

Not with a fox…  One example:  Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field.  Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch.  And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them.  Makes sense.  But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad?  How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner?  Culture is about image.  The Church is about love.

Not wearing sox…  I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!”  While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels.  My point has little to do with fashion.  It’s about reverence.  Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove.  But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling.  We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word.  Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church.  Culture is about looking like we fit in.  Church is about becoming set apart.

Not in a box…  Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming.  As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top.  I’ll admit… I love it.  In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond.  This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”

The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow.  Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value.  We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment.  When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.

So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?

Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t.  Look at his quote again.  In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches.  In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him.  There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.

Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender.  It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD.  It is the essence, not the form.

However, this is a babies and bathwater situation.  I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services.  To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction.  To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.

Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it.  Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it.  Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.


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“culturally driven worship? :: not with a fox, not wearing sox, not in a box” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wow. This one is close to home. This one has actually set up shop in my living room and is enjoying a sandwich on my couch while wearing my slippers.  That close to home.

The truth is… church music is terrible.  And that’s not to say that it isn’t sometimes incredibly moving, effective, and inspiring.  But often… it’s kinda… bad.  Thankfully the work of the spirit and the sacrifice of worship does not require great music.  It requires an honest heart before God, and grateful submission to a personal Savior.  These are spiritual concerns, independent to some degree of the quality of the art in our local church.  Great music in church simply is not required for deeply personal worship.

But great music might help.

As a worship leader for the past 17+ years, I’ve been a part of some powerful high-level artistic experiences, and several musical expressions that should not be labeled art at all.  I’ve led with far better musicians than myself as well as rookies in the field.  Sometimes we have produced beautifully crafted art.  Sometimes we have produced something not so beautiful.  I want to keep the bar high – to either obliterate or redeem the phrase “good enough for church.”  I try to lead the MUSIC as best I can, but our focus remains primarily on the heart of the lead worshipers on our team.  I am far more interested in leading artists who are in an honest, growing love relationship with Jesus than in signing up the best local rock star.

And yet my ears are tired.

I remember reading a post not too long ago from a blogger who generates broad discussion amongst the worship leader community.  He asked us what songs were really “connecting” right now in our churches.  I read through the 100+ responses, realizing that for many of us, our playlists were almost interchangeable.

Crowder, Tomlin, Hillsong, Passion, Sovereign Grace, Maher, Brown, McMillan, Hughes, Redman, Gateway…

It was interesting.  And kind of sad.  I wondered what God must be experiencing as he hears our worship team singing “Mighty to Save” again.  I realized that at the exact same time there are probably 400 other churches in America singing that song.  I still wonder that today.  And I realize when I hear other churches leaders crank up their rhythm sections… my ears are tired.

Are God’s ears tired?

This post isn’t meant to address worship style, per se.  I just hunger for something fresh in church music  that moves my heart and inspires greater love of God. It isn’t about needing “new” songs all the time.  And it isn’t just about the technical aptitude of the players, either.  Christian radio, playing studio-polished recordings of passionate and gifted artists often has the same effect on me.  Unease. There may be some new things happening in me, or maybe a discontentment growing for what feels too familiar and too easy.  It made me think… What is about “church music” that is so… so… uninspiring sometimes?

I found a possible answer in Psalm 33:3

“Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.”

I see three important elements here.  Freshness.  Skill.  And Fervor.

Do you know when music in church is most effective for me – when it inspires God thoughts in me that lead to worship?  If you thought I was going to say, “When the music is presented with fresh language, or when it is skillfully played or led, or maybe music that is passionately honest about the truth of God…”  You’d be almost right.

Replace “or” in the statement above with “AND.” Psalm 33:3 is a command.  God wrote it.  He did not say, “Sing a new song… or play skillfully… or at least make it passionate.”

He said (my paraphrase), “Don’t just repeat the songs you like to sing because they ‘work,’ make sure you include songs that inspire people with new and surprising poetry and beautiful melodies and harmonies that reflect my creativity and my beauty.”

But God asks for more. The whole Bible is full of exhortations to bring our BEST lamb as a sacrifice, to offer the FIRST and the BEST to God, and for artists to “play skillfully, sing skillfully, craft skillfully” when our art is in service to the King.  God asks for a new song, but he doesn’t want us to bring something half-baked.  He wants us to play skillfully.  When a Worship Team plays instruments that are out of tune, or when singers miss entrances, or when the organist plays a wrong chord, our attention is on the Team, not on the Lord we are singing to or about.  Artistic skill doesn’t need to be “showy.”  In fact, the most skilled and Spirit-led musicians sweep us into the presence of God and practically disappear… our focus on the Audience of One.  Humbly wielded, artistic skill in the service of the King is a powerful tool for use by the Spirit.

And yet God asks for more. YES, we must create and present NEW songs to the Church and to the Lord.  YES, we are commanded to play skillfully – to bring our BEST lamb as an offering out of love for God.  But we are also exhorted to shout.  LOUDLY.  Of course, there is a place for quiet reverence, as well.  But I think this has more to do with our fervor than it does with volume. How often have we as Worship Leaders phoned it in?  How often have we just moved the church through our songlist, hearts disconnected from our faith?  God hates vain repetition, but looks to strongly support those whose hearts are fully devoted to him.  As artists and leaders in the church, we must have a transparent, contagious, firey love relationship with God.

Freshness.  Skill.  Fervor.

The problem with most “church music,” in my view, is that I rarely see all three of these qualities present at the same time.

I have seen passion on display without much skill, and it can be painful.  I’ve seen skillful players who seem to be more interested in their music than their Lord, and it can be distracting.  And so often Worship Teams are slow to create, slow to adopt new expressions, slow to use their imaginations.  Skill and passion can only go so far the 94th time your church sings “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

Freshness, Skill, AND Fervor.  Three elements that would go a long way in making our artistic leadership more effective. They are not suggestions, as if two out of three are good enough. They are commands.  Remember… God wrote Psalm 33:3. Often I see one of these elements, or two at a time, but to see all three at the same time is rare.  And that’s part of why “church music” often leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Can you relate?

If artists in the Kingdom of God would commit to bring fresh artistic creative juice to their art, to work hard at their craft and bring their BEST offering to the Lord and His church, AND to sing and play with passion, “church music” might have an entirely different connotation.

But there is something even more important to me, more soul-stirring in me, something that is a non-negotiable if art in the Church is going to move me to worship with freedom and gratitude.  Something beyond a new song played well by a passionate artist.

It is a artist who knows the Lord intimately and reflects that love relationship in their art.

The trump card.  The non-negotiable.  The single greatest factor that will help artists in their local church break hearts and usher in space for the Spirit to interact with the souls of the congregation. It is the power of a life truly devoted to Jesus.  And although many, many church musicians profess a personal faith in Jesus, it is rare to experience true depth of personal devotion to Jesus IN THEIR ART.

I’ll end this with a story.

One afternoon several years ago an elderly gent from our congregation asked if he could sing a song for the church.  He admitted he didn’t have much musical ability, and that he’d be more comfortable without an accompanist so he didn’t need to stay in one key.  Out of concern for him and for our church, I asked if I could hear him first – before we had him sing for a service.

Stan agreed, but he admitted that even just singing in front of me made his knees knock.  How would he feel in front of 300 more?  Yet he felt that he should to do this – to express his love for Jesus.  One hurdle at a time, I told him.  Stan and I wandered into the big, empty sanctuary. And I took a seat about 5 rows from the front.  We prayed together.  And Stan sang.

With a cracking voice he started in on the first line, eyes closed, hands trebling.  “I come to the garden alone…”

My heart broke. For the next three minutes tears flowed freely down my cheeks and dripped onto my collar.  It was maybe the most moving piece of church music I can remember.  Stan sang an old song badly.  But it was so honest, and so deeply rooted in his love for Jesus, it catapulted my heart before the throne, and I worshipped.

Stan played the trump card. Jesus meant everything. More than polish.  More than art.

So, artists in churches all over the world, I exhort you with the authority if the Word of God, to bring NEW expressions of worship to your congregations.  I exhort you to NEVER settle for “good enough for church” mentality, unless that means your bar is set very, very high. And I encourage you to let your music be full-throated and played with zeal.

But above all, express an honest and deeply rooted love of Jesus.  Some of you may need to stop producing art for church until your heart is overflowing.  Then, out of the over flow… Sing a new song to the Lord; Bring your BEST offering… and make it loud.

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“church music is terrible :: how to make it better” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This is a poem and a sermon and a reminder and a painting and a song and a promise…

Love means dying, and being reborn. Before her, I stayed out of the minefields and I ran from the storms. But this new life with Amy is something else. Don’t give up on me, Amy. When the shadowlands come, I’ll remind you whose you are, and I’ll ask for God’s help to be who I am.

I’m in love with my girl, and I thank God. Everyday.

I was practically a professional choir tour bus rider for most of the nineties.  Oh yes.  I know of which I speak.

I did the math.  I figure between 1987 and 1997, if you count all of the musical tours of varying lengths cross country I have endured in a bus of one kind or another, I came up with between 25 and 30 tours of duty.  Granted, it’s been more than a decade… but some things are timeless.

Tomorrow at noon, as the Association Free Lutheran Bible School Choir steps aboard their mobile home away from home for the next two weeks, I thought that my vast experience may edify the uninitiated.  I bequeath unto you the following tasty bits of road-savvy wisdom… 

TOP TEN THINGS YOU GOTTA KNOW about BIBLE SCHOOL CHOIR BUS TOURS

(10)  The FIRST (and I mean FIRST) thing that must be done is to storm the coach bus with plywood, duct tape, warning signs, and some sort of electrified deterrent, and barricade the bathroom shut.  That’s right.  Because what smells like Lysol and citrus fruit and Purell on day one will, by day three smell like… NOT Lysol and citrus fruit and Purell.  I think bus drivers have to stop every six hours or so by law anyway (ask Leon), so man up, Sally!  You can hold it for another four hours in the back of a bouncy bus.  Yes you can.  I believe in you.

(9)  BEWARE the RACHOS HUEVOS.  I’m just saying.  It seems out of my 25+ tours of duty, at least half of them rolled through Tejas or the Southwest somehow.  I never kept track of where we were…  I just got on the bus along with my fellow singing sheeple, and we seemed to get by OK.  But EVERY church in the south that served breakfast (and most of our host families) would greet us with a “G’mornin’ y’all!”and some variation on the following theme… “Since y’all are from Minnesohdah, we reckon you’d like to try one of our southern specialties from around these parts… RANCHOS HU-WAY-VOS! C’mon up now while the vittles is hot.”  OK… they probably didn’t say “vittles.”  But we DID get A LOT of Ranchos Huevos.  Let me just say that it is a cruel joke to serve 60 Norwegian teens a combination of scrambled eggs and spicy salsa and then make them ride together on one bus.

(8)  CARRY CONTRABAND SNACKS to your home stays.  You never know what’s coming.  At one church where my wife stayed with an elderly lady, the pastor actually slipped her $20 to sneak off and get pizza.  Sure enough, they were served warm milk, Saltines, and room temperature green beans in some sort of gelatinous substance… still in the shape of the can.  Protein bars, maybe an apple, some tortillas and a jar of peanut butter go a long way when facing gelatinous green beans.  Trust me on this.

(7)  If you have never before seen “The Sound of Music,” do NOT admit this on a bus full of musicians for any reason.  I’m not saying I was that guy, but if I HAD been that guy, I would have had to endure “The Sound of Music” DVD being played over the bus video system while 23 chicks watched me watch it.  AWKWARD.  I mean, if I had been that guy…

(6)  Twizzlers are the best bus snack food of all time.  I don’t even want to talk to you Red Vines people.  Have the elders at your home church anoint you with oil and pray for deliverance.  That’s all I’m saying.

(5)  Leon Ritter is the best Choir Bus Driver of all time.  His heritage with AFLBS goes back more than 20 years now.  When he is not driving the bus, a small cadre of attendants must follow him around with tasty beverages, fresh fruit snackery, and a willingness to burst into song or fresh dance moves for his entertainment.  Ooohh… better yet:  Can you guys rig up one of those cool chairs on poles so he can be carried around by the Bass section?  He’s just that awesome.

(4)  Romance.  Listen, I went on choir tour… and then I married Amy.  I went pretty much like that.  While I know the students of today are FAR more mature and mission-minded these days, don’t think I don’t know you don’t think I know you are already thinking about those long bus rides… just hours and hours of meaningful conversation over the steady hum of the diesel engine.  Oh yes.  Sharing headphones = good.  But ONE blanket PER PERSON.  Capiche?

(3)  By day 9, your resolve may lessen regarding use of the on-board bathroom.  Surely someone will be deep in giggly conversation after a gas station or lunch stop, board the bus with a small gaggle of like-wise giggling friends, only to realize with horror that they forgot to use the bathroom as the bus begins to pull away and onto the open road.  This is when your mettle will be tested.  For the sake of the greater good, do not do this thing you are considering.  Compassion is for the weak.  I’m sure that’s in 2 Thessalupians Chapter 4 somewhere.  You must find a team of heartless strong men (or altos) from within the group to block the bathroom door – willing to lock arms and take all comers.  If you are tempted to feel empathy for the weak of bladder, please refer to point #10 above.  You’ll thank me later.  And as an added bonus, it will be a real growth opportunity for the distressed and uncomfortable among you.  As I would have learned in the U.S. Marine Corp., had I ever been a Marine, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”  It’s win-win.

(2)  Dudes… can I call you dudes?  Because this one is for you, Broseph.  While the lady folk may very well come on the bus in the morning smelling of cantaloupes or mountain breezes… whatever their perfectly acceptable lotion of choice from Bath and Body smells like… it will fade into the ether soon enough, leaving little more than a pleasant reminder of their friendship and general happy disposition lingering behind.  You, on the other hand, do no one any favors by liberally applying Drakkar Noir at 8:23 in the morning.  Do you know what the best smelling guy on the bus smells like in the morning?  Neither do I.  That’s how we want it.

(1)  When you sing – hearts will break, and people will be healed, and the Church will be reminded of how beautiful and awesome God is.  Heaven will visit people – and it will surprise them.  Never in your life will you get to experience the compound joy of making music this glorious and believing it so deeply in sync with the people alongside you.  THIS YOU HAVE TO KNOW.  These are some of the most wonderful days of your life.

God bless you guys.  I believe he is going to use you to grow His church and encourage the saints all the way from here to California and back.  Give Leon a high-five from me.  We’ll see you when you get back home.

-Joshua Skogerboe (AFLBS Choir Alumn, 1990-92)


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Hello. Um, is this thing on?  I’m Joshua…. and I’m an adrenaline addict. (Hi Joshua.)

I remember the day  in vocal pedagogy class at Northwestern College we discussed a very real issue plaguing many performing artists… adrenaline addiction.  The basic idea here is that those of us who spend time as artists performing in front of crowds of people get “hooked” on the rush of adrenaline that goes along with the risk of performance.  It’s a bit of a chickens and eggs deal here, meaning, do the adrenaline-addicted seek out performance opportunities to feed their habit, or do performers get hooked on adrenaline in part because of the spotlight?  Either way, Mr. Sawyer discussed the way this “need for the rush” can manifest itself in daily life…

Procrastination. Risky behavior.  Perpetually running late. Trying to beat deadlines in the nick of time.  Relational drama and emotional instability. All of these are almost stereotypical problems among really artistic people – especially those who are often “in the spotlight” as performing artists.

How does this manifest in my life?  Confession:  I never leave enough time to drive from wherever I am to wherever I need to be.  I’m 6 minutes late to everything. (Which is an improvement.  I used to be 8 minutes late to everything.)  I’m not proud of this, by any stretch, but confession is good for the soul, so I’m getting it out there.  I still remember Mr. Sawyer talking about the adrenaline-junkie tendency to leave a few minutes late for their appointments… and then get exasperated by the 80 year old woman in her beige Oldsmobile who is simply driving the speed limit… in front of you.  (Yeah.  Bulls-eye.  Guilty as charged.)

What about you, artistic people? Do you suffer from adrenaline addiction?  How does it raise its ugly head in your life?  Maybe you just need a new hobby. Meet Jeb Corliss…


“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  -Helen Keller

OK then!  I’m buying what you’re selling Helen! Either you and Jeb are enabling me to remain in the co-dependent grip of a raging toxic adrenaline addiction, or life really IS mean to be lived out loud.  YES.  From now on, my suburban reality will be punctuated by more car chases, and my Friday evening strolls by the lake will look much more like Mountain Dew commercials, full of rugged outdoorsmanry and encounters with dangerous carnivores.  Bring ’em on.

I was so close to kicking the habit.  What was I thinking?!  I can manage this. It’s  not that big a deal.  At least I pledge, from this day forward, to leave ample time to drive for my appointments.  Adrenaline addiction?  Nah.  I can quit any time I want.


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“helen keller is an enabler :: adrenaline addiction, the artistic temperament, and my new wingsuit habit” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’m not linking to a hundred blog posts.  I’m not starting another op-ed column.  Because this post isn’t about Rob Bell.  Or Hell.

If you haven’t seen for yourself what has the Christian subculture all stirred up, watch this…


So Rob Bell’s upcoming book may or may not suggest that there’s no Hell. Or nobody is in Hell.  Or they won’t be.  Or not for long.  We don’t know. The book comes out March 20 something.  But his publisher (HarperOne) says that Rob is (among other things)… “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

Justin Taylor responded.  John Piper tweeted.  Boom.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell. To the point then.

Culture shifts.  It swings like a pendulum. I often find myself looking at the pendulum of cultural ideology with a mix of fascination for the psychology of it all (like watching people you don’t know in the airport) and concern for souls (like watching a family member get on a plane to fly somewhere far away… maybe for a long time).  I carry a mix of modern-age cultural realism and heart-ache-inducing care for souls.  Always there. Watching culture swing.

Watching Rob Bell, whom this post isn’t about, I was reminded again… and then again by the Twitter explosion last Saturday… and again and again by a dozen and a half bloggers in rapid response…

One thing this current parabolic shift in Christian evangelical sub-culture has embraced that we can be sure of is… we can’t be sure of anything.

I don’t mean to use hyperbole.  We might embrace mystery.  Wonder.  We might say we just seek Jesus.  Or we want to live like Him.  But we don’t really want anyone to tell us what that means.

Relevant Magazine (giving voice to the twenty-something generation at the intersection of Christian faith and real life) just published their list of “50 ideas that changed everything.”  Number 19?  Yep.  “Nothing says FAITH like DOUBT.” Then they sucker-punched me in my email inbox with this excellent article about “Why Doubt isn’t a Dirty Word.”

One of the many blogs that was sent to me on the whole “Hell” debate, which this post isn’t about, was from thirty-something faith-life observer and Christian sub-culture Pocket-Guide author Jason Boyett, whose latest book is titled “O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling.” (Which, by the way, I think you should buy for the cover art alone.  Genius.)

In the Christian realm of conversation “relativism” is frowned upon, even by those of us who have grown up steeped in post-millennial stew.  We know enough to reject “relative truth.”  Right? I mean… right?  I think the postmillennial babies that are now emerging (some pun intended) in the life of the Church as young adults believe that there are some things that are just unshakably true… if they are pressed.  But we aren’t supposed to press, as far as I can tell.

The truth is, doubt is cool right now.

In fact, doubt is seen as a sign of true humility, honest faith, open-mindedness, reasonableness, approachability.  Questions are hip. The guy this post isn’t focusing on asked 25 of them in his two and a half minute video above.  But that’s OK.  Questions make people think.  It’s just that while questions foster exploration of the possibilities, clear statements made with conviction don’t leave that kind of creative space.  Conviction communicates faith in absolutes. And absolutes are exclusive because they rule out other options.  And if you’re reading this right now, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… exclusive, absolute, clear-cut conviction… I’m asking the question today:  why is that?

Somehow, conviction has become equated with haughty self-righteousness and narrow-minded mean-spiritedness, pride, vulgar stubborn offensive…  conviction is a lesser value.

My heart breaks.

Who will write the book, “My Faith is Strong, and I Know in Whom I Believe”?  What has happened to the William Wallaces, crying “FREEDOM!” against the odds?  Is it no longer admirable to take a stand for a belief, or is it only admirable to take a stand for somebody else? I know, that’s a false dichotomy.  But it has some teeth.

I think the next generation Church would readily embrace the poor and broken and marginalized in our communities – take a stand for LOVE – and that is commendable.  New passion to be Jesus-with-skin-on in a way our parents often weren’t.  In a way I haven’t been.  God bless those who LOVE in Jesus name.

But will this generation also take a stand for TRUTH?  Is it admirable anymore to hold to ideals even when those ideals may be unpopular, or uncomfortable?

If someone you love is on a self-destructive path, what is the most loving thing to do?  Comfort does not equal compassion. the Bible isn’t clear about everything.  But many, many things are ringing with clarity and urgency.  There is a life and death reality that follows every soul, every heartbeat.  Even among the hostile and the apathetic.

Church! For Christ’s sake – decide what you believe!  Stand for it. Live it out.  Doubt is acceptable as a process – a pathway to further understanding.  But I don’t believe it is a virtue as a perpetual excuse to substitute personal experience for higher ideals.

Doubt may be the new faith, but I have greater respect for those who can humbly, respectfully, but unflinchingly demonstrate that they believe something to their core, and they are willing to rise or fall on that conviction.

Now to the passionate, to the men and women of conviction, the the truth-tellers and safeguards of Biblical inerrancy… please love people. It is rare to see someone stand for the Word with an iron will and the patience to engage in respectful discussion.  We have a responsibility to be Christ-like, which is impossible.  So I ask the Holy Spirit to keep shaping me, that I can be a man of great conviction and great humility.

There is this huge part of me that wants to tell you what I think about Rob Bell.  I know his book isn’t even out yet.  Certainly the world will be in a better place to have that discussion freely after four hundred bazillion of us buy his book on March twenty something.  Congratulations HarperOne.  There’s this part of me that wants to talk about hell – about the hundreds of references to this place of darkness and pain and fire spoken of in plain language in the Bible from cover to cover – and laced through Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom like a stubborn thread… making people uncomfortable.

But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell.

It’s about the value of CONVICTION.  And the necessity of HUMILITY.

UPDATE: A reader reminded me of the connection to another post that touches on the topic of speaking with conviction. If you’re curious, and you want a good laugh, check out this VIDEO and a few thoughts that follow… >> i believe, like, you know? :: in defense of the declarative voice


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