Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pressed, but not Starched

What a month January has turned out to be! Gone, I guess, is the January "down time," the post-Christmas respite, the short break between the two grand celebrations of the church year.

As is so often true, at some significant level, I have only myself to blame.
  • Reluctant to hibernate, I keep up a cycling routine through the winter, with a coached indoor workout twice a week. That's one night out, and one morning, through mid-March.
  • Eager to finally take a course that I have heard so much about, this semester I am auditing "Biblical Theology of Worship" with Dr. Daniel Block at Wheaton College. That's another night out each week, through April.
  • These two nights out are "lifeline" commitments, one physical the other spiritual and professional. But they are 2 nights out each week.

It's instructive how two voluntary, self-inflicted commitments can press the season. I generally keep a pretty open calendar, with plenty of margin in it. Maybe more margin than I should, but at least I am not normally stressed in January! So, I am pressed right now, but not starched - I still am easily wrinkled. So my tight schedule forces me to rely on God's grace for graciousness.

The days fly by with 3 nights committed weekly - I haven't even mentioned directing a choir rehearsal, which of course has occupied one night of my week for almost 24 years now. (And the singing commitment a full decade before that!) The days fly by, the nights are short, and the weekends precious. Well, um, except this weekend, with its "command appearance" at the men's retreat. I love men's retreat, so it is one of those commands which make the heart glad. But it does mean that - oh, let's see, the next night I will stay home is 7 days away. Yikes!

Well, it serves as a reminder to guard time while redeeming it. And to trust the Eternal for grace and resources in the Now. And to be thankful that I have all these options and opportunities, and leisure to enjoy them, and a vocation to which I can apply them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another milestone

If only we knew what the final distance is, we'd know how close we are. We know where this is supposed to end, and we can identify important points along the way. But, how many more will there be? When will "we're here!" become "we've arrived!"?

This week we are bearing down on another significant milestone in our hymnal project. Ed, the musical editor, is just a few pages away from finishing all the texts and tunes he has been delivered. I have just a handful of texts still to pass along. Then we have some holes to fill. It is not unreasonable to believe that by the end of January we will be distributing the first draft of the hymns in 3-ring binders, for review by all sorts of people.

That's where this gets scary again. Or, rather, where I have to decide how - and how much - to listen to people who will begin to read and evaluate the compilation. Are the contents up for discussion again (still)? On what basis will we re-visit any given item? Whose votes count, and whose vetos?

Readers at this next stage will include:
  • a quartet of excellent sight-readers who will sing through every stanza of every hymn, looking for typos, musical discrepancies, etc. Fun, but ... wow.
  • a graphic designer to tweak the look on the page, and to suggest the overall look of the book.
  • a retired professor couple (music and communications) who will give the whole collection their own proof-reading.
  • senior pastor, other (but not all) staff, elders (but not all elders)
  • a short list of the congregation at large

And we will start to sing especially the new hymns, and the hymns with new or different tunes, in small hymn-singing groups. Market testing? Well, I guess that's what it is.

And with all this going into motion, work on the compilation of indexes also begins.

A milestone, with a vista, but I'm not sure we actually see the end, just yet.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Don't tell my in-laws, but when my wife and I visit them, we take whatever they want to give us ... then bring it home to toss or re-cycle or donate. It's our way of helping them do what they won't do themselves: clean out their cluttered later years and reduce the risk of them falling over stuff! Over Thanksgiving weekend we came back with a few surprisingly apt and timely "gifts," including a locally self-published Advent devotional booklet.

It would not have survived the re-cycle bin as a devotional resource. I had already started the excellent book by Walter Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus. About which, more anon. No, A Labyrinth of Wonders, while an arresting title in itself, has little to commend it: it is not attractively bound, is poorly laid out, and the devotional reflections are unevenly insightful at best. No, what grabbed my attention long enough to look at it - and then to read it through Christmas - was the sub-title: "Advent Meditations on 17th Century Poets". Hey, I love those guys!

The major names are well represented: John Donne, George Herbert, Robert Herrick. John Milton. Nahum Tate was a nice surprise, and Ben Jonson. I am pretty sure the name Henry Vaughan rang a bell. But my familiarity with the century did not include Francis Quarles or Sidney Godolphin; Joseph Beaumont? Edward Taylor (Puritan?)? Well, you get the idea. Maybe these are all known to English Lit majors, but their inclusion guaranteed that I would be reading some new poetry while preparing for Christmas.

What put me off a little was the apparently random order of the poems. And especially since the poetry is not all, strictly speaking, Advent, but rather covers Advent through Epiphany ... though not sequentially. Well, happily I had Pastor Wangerin to do that for me, so I could just enjoy a 17th century poem each morning while my wife's tea steeped and coffee grounds soaked in my french press.

The following poem appeared way too early for my liturgical sense and taste. I'm sorry, but December 9 is nearly a month too soon for a poem dealing with the Magi. In my church setting, maybe we'd use this in the final days before Christmas - I'd try to push it to the 1st Sunday after, myself, at the earliest. But that doesn't diminish the poem itself or its devotional impact. And I am thankful for this funny little "Advent" book and the rich poetry it introduced to me this past month.

So, here, in its time, is
Royal Presents

The offerings of the Eastern kings of old
Unto our Lord were incense, myrrh and gold;
Incense because a God; gold as a king;
And myrrh as to a dying man they bring.
Instead of incense, Blessed Lord, if we
Can send a sigh or fervent prayer to thee,
Instead of myrrh if we can but provide
Tears that from penitential eyes do slide,
And though we have no gold, if for our part
We can present thee with a broken heart,
thou wilt accept and say those Eastern kings
Did not present thee with more precious things.

Nathaniel Wanley, 1634-1689