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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Book Entry #1

Yeah, it's been a while. Many of you know I have been spending most of my "journaling" time writing a book or two. I decided to take a break from blogging while gathering my book thoughts.

So, I have an idea.

I am going to post some of my "book thoughts" out here for you to read and comment on. I'd like to know what you are thinking and how you respond to the content.

Please send me any comments to john@westwinds.org or click on the comment link below. I'd love to hear your feedback. I will keep leaking my thoughts here. Please remember, since this is a book I am writing, I may post some things here that don't resolve any tension for you. I may save some of those things for the book. Your comments and response will help me in shaping the final product.

Thanks. Here goes the first entry . . .

#1 ROCK STARS ON A LEASH

Rock stars are allowed to screw up. They are expected to. They kick expensive amps; smash guitars, scream, rant, rave, and they just seem to get more popular.

A few years ago, The Dixie Chicks (who are arguably more Rock than Country) got into some hot water because they voiced some things about not supporting a certain president who hailed from the same state as them. The immediate backlash was really only a minor blip on the radar. Sure, they received letters. Some banned their music. Some radio stations boycotted the Chicks. And, there were death threats. But, not for long. Record sales soon soared once again and their follow-up album had a hit with the tune, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” They’re back. It’s hard for a rock star to screw up too bad. We forgive them soon enough.

I love going to concerts. I am in awe of it all—the visual spectacle, the people, the volume, the community. When I go to a concert, I feel like we are all in it together. We’ve memorized the lyrics and we chant them in unison.

We want to be like our rock idols to some degree—being loved for who we are—being loved no matter what we say or do. People want rock stars to tell it like it is. They are larger than life at times, but they are real people. Even with all the glitz and glamour they sometimes seem more authentic than the average Joe who needs to keep up appearances. We trust our rock stars more than we trust our politicians.

One of my favorite rock stars is Bono. I know, I know, he’s everyone’s favorite rock star. However, before you accuse me of jumping on the U2 bandwagon or becoming a fan after Bono decided to save the world, let me assure you I was a U2 fan before it was cool. As I type these words on my iBook, my Maltese puppy—Bono—sits at my feet. We are currently listening to “U2—The Best of 1980-1990” and I am singing the words out loud to the song, “When Love Comes to Town” (just in case you doubted my fan status) and I have my feet propped up on the table next to my “U2 by U2” book. My U2 fascination began when I was in middle school over 25 years ago (part of me doesn’t want that fact in print—the age part, that is). I know I have a problem so save yourself the trouble of emailing me.

The single greatest thing I have ever loved about U2 and Bono, in particular, is the honesty. I became a fan in the “October” era of the early 80’s and became more of a disciple in 1983 with the release of “War.” The lyrics were so much more vulnerable and honest than any music most Christians were producing at the time. U2 never went around parading themselves as CCM, but Bono certainly didn’t hide from his faith.

As a young man, I remember listening to U2’s live album, “Under a Blood Red Sky” and feeling a freedom and excitement in knowing that Christians could actually legitimately express their fears, uncertainty, frustration, anger and dismay, and their praise through their art. A careful student of the Psalms in scripture would realize this was David’s modus operandi. For some reason most of CCM, at that time, was what I sadly refer to as “mamby-pamby-milquetoast-bubblegum-Jesus is my boyfriend-music. A lot of the music did not accurately reflect the Christian experience in my opinion. For me, CCM was too happy, did not allow room for doubt, and blindly gave pat answers to problems. As a budding songwriter, I wanted to follow the example of King David and U2.

My pastor didn’t like U2. Neither did my parents. Neither did the other parents at my church. The band had too many strikes against them. They didn’t look like Christians. They didn’t “always” sing songs about God. They smoked. They sang a song about a “Party Girl” who went by the name of “Trampoline (you know what I mean).” And, to top it all off, Bono had a penchant for dropping the “F” bomb.

I am thankful that, in the past few years especially, many Christians have found it within themselves to forgive (ignore?) Bono for his language that I have recognized in my travels as distinctly run-of-the-mill Irish slang more readily accepted on the island. Whether sitting with politicians and discussing poverty and debt cancellation, organizing concerts to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis in Africa, or speaking out against the IRA, Bono has always been a risk taker and has managed to silence the nay-sayers by looking a lot like Jesus.

Bono is set apart as a rock star—though there are many others like him. Most rockers aren’t preaching for some kind of reform or speaking out against injustice. We can probably safely say that most of them are in it for the women and the beer.

Rockers are always under the microscope. BUT we don’t expect them to be perfect (unless they say they are Christ followers). We expect them to be screw-ups and constantly remind us of the human condition. And, somehow, it seems rock stars find some degree of freedom in our expectations. I wonder if they are more authentic because we allow them to be.

Pastors are like rock stars in many ways. We take the stage. If we are “good” we draw a crowd. We are adored by a few—some more than others. Some people buy our messages and music to listen to over and over again or send off to a friend who “needs to hear” a particular message. Some of us have a following. People want to hear what we have to say. Everyone wants to be our friend. We are under the microscope.

But, while there are many similarities between pastors and rock stars, there are plenty of differences. There is a whole separate list of expectations. Here is my top three.

Rock Star vs. Pastor Observation #1

For starters, congregations don’t want pastors to possess nice things—not too nice anyway. Cool clothes, nice cars, and eating at fancy restaurants may garner too much attention.

A few years ago, we needed a reliable car. We saved our money until we scraped up $2,000.00. My wife and I agreed we would not spend more than what we had saved and we would not finance a vehicle because we couldn’t take on a car payment. We hunted for months.

One day, we stumbled upon a yard sale where a car with a For Sale sign was parked in the driveway. We didn’t stop to look at the car—it was out of our league. It was the bike rack leaning against the garage that caught our eye. But, truth be told, I loved the car. It was a white Mercedes sedan with incredible wheels. It had leather interior and what looked to be an incredible sound system.

I starred at the car for a couple of minutes. Even though it was an older model Benz, I guessed it was probably about three times as much as I could afford. I walked away. No big deal.

I ventured over to the bike rack. As I was doing some measurements in my head and guessing if it would fit on top of my minivan, the owner of the house came outside. I recognized him from church. Mike had been attending our church for quite some time but I had never been to his home. “Looking for anything in particular pastor John?” I told him I thought the bike rack may fit my van but I wasn’t sure. He told me it would probably work for the van but it really worked nicely on top of the Benz. “I saw you checking out the car from inside my house,” Mike said. I chuckled and told him the only thing I could afford on this particular day was the bike rack. “Well, you can just take the bike rack,” he said with a smile. There was friendly banter back and forth and I walked away with a free bike rack.

As I was pulling away, Mike ran after me waving his arms. “You may think this is really weird,” he said, “but I feel like God wants me to ask you if you could afford $2,000.00 for the car.” My heart jumped up to my throat. “It has to be worth quite a bit more than that, Mike.” “Yes, it is worth more but, I have the gift of giving,” he said with a wink. I told him that strangely enough I have the gift of receiving. We chuckled and he told me to take it for a spin.

I loved it. It was a cruiser. I drove it home for the kids to see. They told me it was “pimp.” I learned yet another re-lexiconing of popular vernacular and understood that “pimp” meant they approved and not that it looked like something Huggy Bear would drive (Ummm, that’s a Starsky and Hutch reference). Mike signed over the title the next morning and I had three times the car I thought I would have for my measly budget.

Then the mocking began. I was accused of having a televangelist ministry on the side. People halfway jokingly said things like, “maybe we should rethink how much we tithe if this is where our money goes.” I saw the stares. Some of the stares came from people driving $40,000.00 SUV’s. It had nothing to do with what I actually paid for the car that got people riled up. It was the appearance of decadence and their perception of how I spend my money (and how much money I make) that bothered them.

The car served me well for years. I ended up selling it to a friend for less money than I could have sold it for. I figured it was time to pass on the blessing to someone who needed it more than I did at the time. Mike’s giving spirit, a comfortable and reliable vehicle, and the opportunity to help a friend in return will go down in my book as one of the biggest blessings that has ever happened to me. Sadly, many people will never hear this story and will live with the idea that one of their pastors is either doing something shoddy, is a poor steward of his resources, gets paid too much money, or just plain did not get the memo about the pastoral vow of poverty.

Rock Star vs. Pastor Observation #2

Pastors, unlike rock stars, need to be aware of perceptions with the “show.” Rock stars can go all out with their aesthetic and dramatic presentation of their message. Yet, for the pastor, some believe our “performance” should be free from bells and whistles because those things are shallow—if it looks like a rock show it is sometimes suspect. The screaming people usually seen at a rock show? Not appropriate for some. Don’t use too much volume in the church either.

I have spent most of my professional ministry career as the music guy. I have done my fair share of speaking, leadership development, counseling, and the likes but I am known in most circles as the music guy. Music guys or gals (artists, songwriters, performers) can jump up and down, wear rock star clothes, and play guitar solos just about anywhere and it will be accepted—anywhere but the worship service.

Now, I understand the difference between the rock show and the worship service. Worship is not about me. It is not about drawing attention to myself. It is not about showcasing my talent with the worship service as my platform for self-promotion. But, what is a music guy (leader) to do when his conscious is clear and his motivation is Jesus yet perceptions of his motivation are contrary?

When I was barely 30 years old, I was leading worship in a church in California for a congregation of about 800 people or so. The exact number of attendees is not important. What is important to know is the position was relatively high profile. It’s also important to know I have never been accused of being withdrawn or introverted.

The church had a common practice of taking comments and suggestions. Sometimes they were very helpful to us. Most of the time they were not. The good comments were often empty flattery that gave us big heads and the bad comments were usually rude and sometimes in the guise of a prayer request in order to somehow soften the blow or justify the anger. “We are praying earnestly that so-and-so begins seeking the heart of God and stops acting in an ungodly manner.” “I am praying that the pastor understands the volume needs to come down because God is not deaf.” “Our prayers are with pastor x that he will start acting in a way more fitting for a follower of Jesus.” To make matters worse, most of the mean ones didn’t sign their name.

My favorite unsigned comment I have ever received was a crude stage diagram complete with stick figures of band members and a reworking of the current stage layout. The diagram suggested a new arrangement of people and instruments so that attention was not on the band but instead on God. The bottom of the comment card had the words IT’S ABOUT JESUS! !!! The stick figure representing me was in the back corner of the stage.

Thanks for the help. I’ll take that into consideration.

Rock Star vs. Pastor Observation #3

And, here’s the biggie: unlike rock stars, self-disclosure for the pastor is moderated—too much is perceived as unhealthy and compromises our position.

When I was studying interpersonal communication in college, I heard a story about a guy who was fired from his church for disclosing form the pulpit that he (like every red blooded man in his church) sometimes lusted after other women in his church. Maybe it wasn’t smart to admit that in front of a congregation. Maybe it was risky. Maybe even tacky. Ladies in the church started wondering if it was they he had the hots for. I felt bad for him. The difference between him and every other pastor is he actually verbalized it.

No one would admit it but people want their pastors perfect. If you don’t believe me, ask if you can be part of a pastoral search committee some time in your life. Our strict guidelines, our fears, and our spirit of religiosity would probably keep us from hiring men like the Apostle Paul, King David, Moses, or many other biblical heroes. Though our biblical celebrities have been elevated to rock star status in many ways, their resumes are tainted by a few things— murder, adultery, pride, lies, anger, rage, bad marriages, etc. Truth is David could not be an elder in my church.

I don’t know when we drew a line in the sand and made new rules for pastors. I don’t know who decided the degree of acceptable self-disclosure and deemed some everyday shortcomings as unacceptable and inappropriate for a pastor. But, here we are.

I want to be a rock star. Not really, just kinda. I love that rock stars sometimes say the things I am thinking. I just love that they can be themselves. Something inside me wants to know that if were ever to kick a hole in an amp in my own garage (and I have felt like it at times) that my job wouldn’t be in jeopardy. I would like to think if I yelled and my neighbor overheard it that I wouldn’t get stares because pastors shouldn’t do that sort of thing. I want to believe that if I were to say something really dumb from the stage that I could ask forgiveness and be forgiven. I want to know that if my kid makes a mistake neither one of us would be looked at differently (we’ll talk about the PK—pastor’s kid—thing a little bit later in more depth).

I am not advocating rudeness or callousness or decadence or anything of the sort. I am not looking for an excuse for my thoughts or behavior. It’s just that scripture gives a list of general qualities of an elder/pastor and perfection is listed nowhere.

I want to be me. Not the me people want me to be. Not the me people think I should be. Just me. I have a story to tell—a story unique to me. My story is full of mistakes followed by forgiveness. Devastation and redemption. Bad choices that bring deeper insight and maturity. I am a failure and a victor.

When I am me—full of blemishes and war wounds— I am closer to my friends who want to be themselves as well. When I am me—open about my failures and lessons learned— my kids talk to me and feel like they can be themselves. When I am me—with my laundry list of “been there-done that” screw-ups— I can offer some great advice to the people who were me five years ago. When I am me—honest about my fears and struggles— my wife respects me and trusts me. When I am me, I sleep better at night. When I am me, my neighbors want to know about my faith. When I am me, acquaintances ask about my church. When I am me, God does great things through me. When I am me, God pours grace on me. When I am me, I have great conversation with God.

2 comments:

Megan said...

John! It's so good to read your latest entry. I am a Westwinds partner (I say AM because in my mind Westwinds will always be my home church) that, in August, moved to Frankfort, Kentucky for a job.

I've been going through Westwinds withdrawl, trying to find a church that fits what I need in my spiritual maturity (does that sound too self-absorbed?).

I've been attending a church in Lexington that "feels" like Westwinds, but falls short with some of it's "churchiness." It was soooo good to read your blog today ... have I mentioned that already? :)

Most times, I think I'm probably a little off center in the way I view what God is like ... what He "commissions" as good and acceptable, if you will. Perhaps this goes back to my conservative Baptist roots that I fight constantly. Westwinds was the first time/place in my life where I heard my thoughts and theories about God validated.

While I'm okay with the church down here, I miss the values of Westwinds. I miss the stuff Coriolis and the leadership team put up on the HIGH VALUE pedestal.

Your blog was a breath of fresh air for me while I plow through the church struggle.

Hugs ... Megan

Chris Rallens said...

Dude....I wandered onto your site today because we have a worship team leadership meeting this Friday...It is not your typical meeting, it was called because we received a letter. I don't know the contents of it yet(will find out Friday) but I get the impression it didn't say that we RAWK!

This made me think of you, and the battles you endured here with letters from people. I was pleased to read your thoughts, and I feel confident to attend this meeting now. I love the fact that you are real, and I think God is proud of you!
I continue to try and be myself @ Church and everywhere I am, but I do fall victim sometimes to try and fit myself into the small square box in the middle of the Church Stage, where lines are feed to me via pre-service preparation, or after the first service, where I get the "maybe that wasn't apropriate....let try this for the next one...." speech!

Thank you for being Honest!!!!
I Love you man!

Chris "Goldie" Rallens