Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Except for time at home, and with family, and when we can get it, with friend, I am finding myself on the "outside" during these weeks of sabbatical.

Enjoying grad school, I nevertheless recognize that I am not only a "non-traditional student" but also that after this one semester full time, I will again become that phantasm - the part-time, occasional student. By the time I'm done with this program, I think everyone in classes with me this semester will be long gone from Wheaton College!

Long nourished by any gathering of the American Choral Directors Association, I just didn't "connect" with this year's national convention here in Chicago. Yes, partly because I was not there the whole time. And partly because of my focus this winter. Partly too, it might be said, because I'm not sure how much the glories of choral music will be welcomed, embraced, or included in my future work. In other words, I love choral music, but how much of what I hear at ACDA will make its way into the public worship of which I have a part?

Two weeks ago I had my first contact with FMCS - Forum on Music in Christian Scholarship. Sort of a throwback to my long-gone days in the world of musicology, it was a well-organized, collegial, very academic meeting with interesting papers, well presented. And I thought, "I don't really belong here anymore."

The one thing I can say about this feeling of displacement - I sense that my vocational calling to serve the church is being re-affirmed. I just wish I had a more clear (or fun?) sense of what that means!

Meanwhile I am enjoying study and reflection, and have just come up for air from a couple of days of good work on a term-paper for "Modern World Christianity." More on that later.

One highlight, though: an outing in which I was very, very much at home. The Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki conductor, sang the Bach Mass in B minor in the Resurrection Chapel of Valparaiso University. This was pure pleasure, music-making of the highest order, and worship of the deepest kind.

I wanted to embed a video of the Collegium with Maestro Suzuki conducting. But that link is disabled at YouTube. So, here is a link to a good look at them (it is not from the Mass). From there, explore the options on the right ... it looks like you could pick your way through the Mass!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Being a student, pro tem, it was both natural and self-indulgent to take a spring break trip ... to some place warm. Meanwhile, many of my (younger, poorer, more dedicated) classmates - stuck in northern Illinois in March - made significant progress on their term papers.

Also, the time away (as much a gift to my long-suffering Karen as a self-indulgence) meant I would not attend most of the national convention of choral directors, held the same week here in Chicago.

Which upon reflection heightened for me the strange tension of this sabbatical: how will I spend my time? Music, or Theology? What is my greatest need in this study break, and what will serve the church best?

So, this was rolling around the back of my mind yesterday when I had to go through the church office. I meet weekly (away from church) with a young intern who is now part of the interim music leadership team. After our meeting, I was to speak briefly with my pastor. On the way through the office I stepped into "my" office to say hello to the other half of that interim team - a peer, colleague, contemporary - Dan, who is also a runner and cyclist.

(More on these excellent men, another time!)

I had run to my meeting with Jordan, who then gave me a ride to church. I would run home from my meeting with pastor Josh. In other words, I was not in office attire. Dan could not miss the attire, and we chatted about the beautiful day for running, and he asked about my marathon training. "I'd rather be on a bicycle today," I replied, truthfully. To which Dan said, "Oh no, you've got to keep your focus for that marathon."

And it turns out, that was the real reason I had to go through the office yesterday. Of course, Dan's comment is simply true at the level he meant it: if I am going to be ready for the May 1 marathon, I have to prioritize running over my preferred sport, cycling. I have to stay on the training program. I have to go the distance in every respect. I have to focus.

And that is a word, too, for my theological studies during the sabbatical. They may not be my preferred mode of learning and stretching and growing. But they are what I am doing now, and I have to prioritize them for the time being. I have to stay on program. I have to go the distance. I have to focus.

Which reminds me ... those three term papers don't seem to be writing themselves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I began a sabbatical on January 10, and thought I would take a little time each week to post here. Here it is, 9 weeks into this season, already.

For now, just surfacing to note that I am no less busy than when I'm at my "day job." I am a full-time graduate student for the semester - historical theology -  and reading like crazy. My Karen and I took a spring break trip last week, and now I am on the back side of the semester. Just (of course) as the Illinois weather is starting to improve and what I really want to be doing is cycling! Yep, I should have written those term papers in February. If only.

So much to write, and I hope to get at it ... a little bit at a time.

The concept of a "sabbatical" is of course biblical, but it is exercised almost without exception on an academic model. "Deny yourself and do no work?" Well, I guess that doesn't have to mean "be unproductive." My goal in formal academic study is to focus on some theological questions and issues related to worship. This is hardly a new theme for me, nor a new discipline. But I am reading and thinking uninterruptedly, with a sense of urgency, and (for a change, a welcome change for now) guided by others. It is expanding my thinking, opening my horizons, and I believe it is equipping me for the 15 or so years I have left in full time vocational worship ministry.

Time will tell. For now, it's back to the books.