Tuesday, July 21, 2020

So, what are you reading these days?

As I enter my seventh year teaching full time (seven? how is that possible?) I am  returning again to the "music and worship" part of the cycle. My role at Trinity International University is a niche that suits me well -- and I hope the students and College, too -- with an academic background in music history and historical theology plus three decades of full-time pastoral music ministry. I teach a three-semester sequence in music history, and a two-semester sequence of core courses for church music and the College's new BA in Worship. This is my "worship year."

My current summer reading stack is about six books deep (all in progress) with a few others in line. I don't think I'm going to get through them all by the start of the semester. Books in both stacks fall into two categories:
* Books that are new, or at least new to me.
* Books that I started by didn't finish, or that I bought and didn't start.

Books find their way to my list by various routes: reviews in publications, publisher catalogs, recommendations or citations, and random free copies. I guess I am not a systematic reader-scholar . . . this may (almost certainly does) explain why I do not have a doctorate!

So, what is in my current stack?

Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime

Evelyn Underhill, Worship 

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical worship from the Garden to the new creation 

Greg Scheer, Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders

Gerardo Marti, Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation 

Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling language for faithful ministry 

Still to be cracked before the fall semester:

Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrind, and Life--a Systematic Theology 

George Ellis ande William H. Schubert, eds., Reflections from the Heart of Educational Inquiry 

Kathleen S. Smith, Stilling the Storm: Worship and Congregational Leadership in Difficult Times 

These lists do not include a tall stack of books that I need to keep fresh as I prepare for the year ahead--textbooks I have used and that I am re-evaluating, recommended reading lists, supplemental material for my own presentations and to recommend to students, and so on.

As I read, I often consider the privileges I had serving as a worship pastor. In earlier posts I have reflected on my bookshelves. These days I ask myself, "will my students acquire books, develop a core working library of wisdom, inspiration, and practical ideas? Or will they rely on the quick access of the internet--blogs, YouTube, online courses, eBooks--as admittedly I also find myself doing? What should my approach be to the future pastoral musician in regard to lifelong learning, exploring the past as well as living in the present?  Among the students I have worked with over the past few years, a surprising (and, to me, encouraging) number still say they prefer to hold and read a physical book; there are those who purposely are building up their ministry library. At the same time, they live in the digital world--they hold dual passports to learning.

I probably don't have many years of full-time teaching in my future. While I'm at it, I continue to enjoy the books I have (read, to be finished, and to be started), look for more books to read, and pray I will be a good steward of the reading I am privileged to engage.

Monday, December 31, 2018

I've Fallen: a song for aging worship leaders

I think I've had too much time away this season.

This title struck me yesterday, and I wondered whether it was more apt for a new Rolling Stones release/tour, or a worship song for likewise aging worship leaders. Since I don't think I could write lyrics for the Stones . . .
I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

Verse 1
My life was stuck in miry clay
            The net they set for me had sprung
            I lay there till the break of day
            And then, O Lord, you loosed my tongue—

            I’ve fallen (fallen) and I can’t get up [repeat]
            I’ve fallen (fallen) and I can’t get up without you.

Repeat V1 and C

            Lift me up
            Fill my mouth
            Set on me a crown of gold.

Verse 2
            I thought my foot had nearly slipped
            And then I tried to catch myself      
            If not for you I’d break a hip
            And put my life-plans on the shelf.

Repeat Chorus
Outro [ortho]

Chuck King 30 Dec 2018


Monday, October 8, 2018


It was flagged by a string of “on this day” Facebook memories. Otherwise I might have missed it. No, rather I would not have anticipated it. On the day it was marked in my Bible—in the Psalms and Proverbs readings: “Oct. 7, 2012, last day at College Church.” And so there it was, my first date and day anniversary, Sunday,October 7.

Six years ago today I began life apart from full-time music ministry. Twenty-seven years of Sundays, with up to four services per Sunday; twenty-seven years of weekly choir rehearsals, planning, meetings; twenty-seven years of joy and disappointment, successes and failures, kudos and brickbats.

I thought I would take a year off to finish a master’s degree, probably return to church work, and jump into a Th.D. program somewhere, somehow. I had no idea. But then, I’ve never had any clear idea—never successfully predicted—what “the next thing” would be!

So, this seems like a good time to reflect, to be grateful, to consider the grace that has filled the past six years.

Finishing the MA in Historical Theology at Wheaton Graduate School was a thrilling year. Not since my graduate work at Northwestern had I been so satisfied and challenged intellectually. A year of reading and writing, of classroom interaction and hanging out with people a lot smarter than I am . . . yeah, that was great. And during that year, Karen and I again learned what it means to not really know how our finances were going to work out; we re-learned that no one really knows what each day will bring, and that for decades we had just acted as if we did know. It was exciting to again know that we were living by faith.

Writing my MA thesis was a dream come true. And whilst completing that work, I was surprised by an invitation to interview, then accept an offer to teach music history at Trinity College, Deerfield IL.  What I thought would be my life, back at Northwestern, was creeping into my life all these years later. A year as adjunct was followed by a year’s appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor, renewed a few times, and then this past spring turned into a three-year renewable appointment. Teaching—long a dream—has been hard and challenging and fun and rewarding. A year ago I was honored to be handed the baton for the Trinity Concert Choir. Which is above and beyond all that I could have asked or imagined six years ago.

Life with Karen gets richer and more fun all the time. But during these six years both of her parents have entered their eternal reward. She (and to a lesser extent, we) spent a lot of time back and forth between our home and her parents’. She was with each of them when they passed. Her parents’ generation of family is gone: a sobering reality as we entered our sixties.

I have learned some things about myself (chronicled elsewhere) that have put in perspective aspects, memories, and challenges of my past.  Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that some of my perceived failures were lifelong patterns related to depression; and that others were not in fact my weaknesses but the fault(s) and result(s)—intended or otherwise—of spiritual leadership. Owning my own problems, and recognizing where I have been wronged, is making my late-life career much more manageable and fun.

But the bottom-line (for now at least) is that I am truly done working in the church on a full-time basis. While I deeply miss the weekly church choir rehearsal, and the privilege of contributing to the weekly morning service, there is nothing else I miss about church work. Emphasize nothing. So it has been a special blessing to have had two small church choirs, accounting for nearly three of the six years I have been away from College Church. I have been able to work with that special beloved breed—the volunteer church choir—without the complications of church staff life. I have missed the privilege of choosing congregational music, but for my psychic health and simply as a reality of time available, these have been perfect brief godsends. Of course even now I qualify that bottom-line. Because I will not presume to know what God has in store for Karen and me; not presume that there isn’t some circumstance in which it will become obvious that I belong back in the church. I have not relinquished that part of my identity by which many still know me: pastor. But I am content, and eager to get back to campus today!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

All Psalms All the Time

Well, not quite all the psalms, and I don’t know how long this resource will be available.
A subscription to Spotify Premium is not only a self-indulgence, it is good for my mental health (the Spotify ads make me angry) and it keeps me exploring and learning new music. It is also—it turns out—good for my soul. (Though, full disclosure, as I write this I am listening to an Enrico Morricone playlist of western movie soundtracks.)

Weekly and monthly playlists show up in the many “Genres & Moods” categories. I always look at what’s on offer in the Classical Category. (For a brief post on the amazing Symphonies playlist, see my other blog.) Right after Thanksgiving a new playlist appeared: 150 Psalms in Classical Music. Brilliant! With my pattern of daily psalm readings, this is how I would engage the psalms through December.

And what a playlist! It includes Gregorian chant, Anglican chant, and newly composed chant. Genevan psalms and German Baroque settings. Settings in Latin, Hebrew, English, German, French, and more. Tracks lasting barely two minutes, and pieces up to fifteen minutes. It is a rich resource of the splendid variety of musical engagement with that most musical heart of the Bible.

Was it well curated? That’s a tough call. I came to terms with it by acknowledging that it is not called “The Complete Book of Psalms in Classical Music,” nor “All 150 Psalms in Classical Music.” Not least because of course musical settings of every complete psalm is a lot of music! Think of Psalm 119 alone—golly. But as to its including all psalms, where there’s the catch.

Because the curator of this list apparently did not take into account that the Latin Bible—while numbering psalms 1 through 150—numbers the psalms differently from the Hebrew and Protestant Bibles. (Long story there, and an interesting one, and I have to say that the Latin numbering has a supportable logic to it.)

So, for example, the list includes multiple versions of some psalms, noting only the numbering used by the composers, and in the process skips over psalms that got lost in the cracks. For example (the first one I noticed) Psalm 19 (Latin: Exaudiat te Dominus) is the English Psalm 20. So, the list has the same text in Latin and in English, but does not have a musical setting of the Hebrew/English Psalm 19 (the heavens declare the glory of God—of which there are many excellent musical settings). I won’t list the many cases; you get the point.

And in any case, even though I am a bit OCD about lists like this (“geez Louise, how hard would it be to get this right and make it complete?!?”) the playlist was such a gift to me that I would be an ingrate to find fault with it. Bravo, Spotify! Thank you! (Also, how do I get a job building Spotify playlists?) A very brief list of the composers I was surprised to hear includes Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Krzysztof Pendercki. I was delighted to hear psalms recorded by a friend, and a psalm commissioned by an organization I admire. I loved seeing the albums from which the psalms were selected (that alone will provide me many hours of exploring). The sheer variety of musical diversity within the broad category of “classical” is refreshing, stunning, and challenging.

Two takeaway thoughts about this list and the experience of listening through it. (In my OCD way: sequentially, five psalms a day. Some things don’t change.)
1—Someone at Spotify seemed to think there is enough interest is classical sacred music to warrant this playlist. Not to be snarky (really) but I wonder if it is even possible to find all 150 psalms in contemporary Christian musical styles? It would be interesting to attempt—but I leave that for someone with a higher tolerance than I have. Only, let such a list be psalm settings, not musical settings of random verses from the psalms. That is the challenge.
2—Over and over through December I was struck with the paucity of psalm singing in the churches I attend. While much of the so-called evangelical church debates what are hymns and spiritual songs, and what should be their balance in services, hardly anyone is faithfully, diligently, respectfully, historically attending to the first part of St. Paul’s injunction: sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .