This is a place for me to share and document personal interests such as music, technology, and other writing. Please enjoy; I love to receive comments and hear back from you! And if there is something you'd like me to record or a tech question, please let me know!

beautiful savior

We sang this in church this morning for Ascension Sunday.

"Beautiful Savior" - by Stuart Townend

All my days I will sing this song of gladness
Give my praise to the Fountain of delights
For in my helplessness you heard my cry
And waves of mercy poured down on my life

I will trust in the cross of my Redeemer
I will sing  of the blood that never fails
Of sins forgiven, of conscience cleansed
Of death defeated and life without end

Beautiful Savior, Wonderful Counselor
Clothed in majesty, Lord of history
You’re the Way, the Truth, the Life
Star of the Morning, Glorious in holiness
You’re the Risen One, Heaven’s Champion
And you reign, You reign over all

I long to be where the praise is never ending
Yearn to dwell  where the glory never fades
Where countless worshipers  will share one song
And cries of “Worthy!” will honor the Lamb
Chorus 2x

the reach of love (good friday)

I wrote this song with my buddy, Gerrit, a number of years ago for Good Friday. In order to post it for Holy Week, I thought I'd try my had at a "lyric video"... I realized that while my audio software is quite cutting edge, my video editing capabilities are very limited. I found Windows Move Maker on my old WinXP machine and managed to put the lyrics in. Ideally I might have used pictures of Jesus' suffering and crucifixion, but that takes a while to do well (and to honor copyrights and such)... so I used some nature photos I had taken that were on the same computer. Mainly, I wanted to share the lyrics (by Gerrit) and music that mean so much to me!

the temple song

Today I preached on Jesus clearing the Temple (twice)... I used this song to "unpack" the account in John 2. The words were written by my friend, Gerrit Dawson; I wrote the music back in 2000 or so and we used it as a "sermon-song" as I did this morning. It was written on piano, which is how I've always played it (you can hear that in the middle of the sermon audio linked above). But for tonight's "Sunday is for Songs" I decided to try it on the guitar. It's a different feel (and a little rough), but I kind of liked it. And yes, those are my Christmas jammies. :)

republic wireless vs verizon

I previously wrote comparing iOS7 and Android. This was prompted by my move from an iPhone to the Moto X phone. In that post I mentioned that the move was prompted by the high cost of cell/data service from Verizon and the prospect of adding new lines for teenagers. Now the specific needs of every individual and family are different when it comes to mobile voice, text, and data, and I'm not going to cost out every scenario (in fact, just my own); BUT, I think the savings will be evident for just about any configuration and if you are looking to reduce your monthly bill, I'd recommend checking into Republic Wireless. (I should also add that I priced the other major competitors - AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile - and some pay-as-you-go options; Republic knocked it out of the park for me, cost-wise.)  Final disclaimer: if you ONLY need cellular voice/text and have no interest in internet apps on your phone (even for 'free' data), you probably can find a better deal elsewhere.  Having said that, I'll note the Republic prices for that scenario. Just to compare oranges to oranges, I'll price out the Moto X on Verizon (which is the phone Republic requires*). Note that all new plans seem to be unlimited talk/text, so I'll just make distinctions on data plans. VERIZON (family of 4) So the basic pricing structure and plan is their new "more everything" plan. With a 2-yr contract you can get a basic phone for free and a Moto X (the model we will price out with Republic) for $50. After that the monthly fees are as follows: $40/month for smart phones and $30/month for basic phones. Then, you purchase shared data for the family (10GB is $100/mo and you can adjust up or down in 2GB/$10 increments - so 8GB shared is $90/mo; 12GB is $110/mo, etc...) Here are the two scenarios we were considering... 4 smart phones: Cost after 2 yrs. - $6200 (avg. $258/mo)!!
  • Moto X, new 2-yr. contract: $50/phone x4 = $200 up front
  • Monthly line access: $40/smart phone x4 = $160/month
  • SHARED 8GB data; mobile hotspot included = $90/month
2 smart phones, 2 basic phones*: Cost after 2 yrs. - $5140 (avg. $214/mo)
  • Moto X, new 2-yr contract: $50/each x2 = $100 up front
  • Basic phone, new 2-yr contract: free
  • Monthly line access is $40/smart phone; $30/basic phone = $140/month
  • SHARED 4GB data; mobile hotspot included: $70 
    *Part of our consideration was that the teens had 5 yr old iPod touches (smart wi-fi devices) that are dying, so we were interested in some semi-mobile way for them to continue connecting with internet apps; made sense to consider all-in-one devices; replacement iPod touches are approx $220 (16GB) - $300 (32GB) each. REPUBLIC WIRELESS (family of 4) So the basic pricing structure and plan is not over how much data, but HOW FAST you get it; it's all "unlimited." You can get wifi-only data )$10/mo), 3G data ($25/mo), or 4G data ($40/mo). And you can switch between plans up to twice a month - like if you were traveling or had a need for more or less data. You do have to purchase the Moto X at full price up front ($300); this has been the only phone Republic Wireless uses, though they just announced a lower-cost Moto G ($170) coming in April 2014. All plans are "no contract" - i.e., get out at any point. There is a 30-day full refund on the phone and plan if you want to try it out. And even if you quit, the phone will still work as a wifi device (like an iPod Touch). Phone cannot be used on another carrier. 4 smart phones: Cost after 2 yrs. - $5040 (avg. to $210/mo) (this is the 'fastest'; not what we needed, though)
    • Moto X, no contract: approx. $300/phone x4 = $1200 up front
    • 4G unlimited data (no mobile hotspot) = $40/month x4 = $160/mo
    4 smart phones: Cost after 2 yrs. - $3600 (avg. to $150/mo) Here's the high end of what we will eventually land on (after our last Verizon contract is up)...
    • Moto X, no contract: approx. $300/phone x4 = $1200 up front
    • 3G unlimited data (no hotspot) = $25/month x4 = $100/mo.
    4 smart phones: Cost after 2 yrs. - $3240 (avg. to $135/mo) Here's where we may end since two of our family would fit well with the lower cost Moto G
    • Moto X, no contract: approx. $300/phone x2 = $600 up front 
    • Moto G, no contract: approx. $170/phone x2 = $240 up front
    • 3G unlimited data (no hotspot) = $25/month x4 = $100/mo.
    *LOW-COST Plan: Cost after 2 yrs. - $390(avg. to $16.25/mo)
    • Moto G (8GB): $150 up front
    • Wi-FI unlimited data = $10/mo (and you always can 'turn on' 3G or 4G if you need it!)
    FINALLY... that all was enough for us to switch and not look back, but a significant bonus for us was the "hybrid calling" feature --> when in a wifi area, Republic Wireless uses the wifi for the call rather than cell... and we get ZERO cell signal (any carrier) in our house. I would have paid Verizon prices to have my cell phone work in my house, so this was a huge benefit. (No longer have to stand in the driveway to use the cell phone!) 

    the only bread i need

    This is a song by Jim Terrell, the "singing handyman" and a good friend. He wrote it a few years ago at our request to be used in a worship service.  I was looking for special music for this morning's "bread of life" theme and asked him to sing it again. It is focused more on God's Word as the "bread we need" but it all inter-relates, since in our current series we are seeing how Jesus made such a point to "fulfill/complete the scripture" (a la Matthew 5:17). Here is a link to hear the live recording this morning (will open and play in another window), with the lyrics below. Jim is playing guitar and singing and I am playing mandolin and harmonizing. The Only Bread I Need (Jim Terrell - GSPC worship 03.02.14) Dear Lord you break for me Bread of Life I always need Found only in your living Word Open my ears, dear Lord, So you are soundly heard You bless me each and every day; Your true Word along the way Open my eyes so I will see Your light on these winding roads and mountains ahead of me And I feel a gentle wind blowing, the warmest comfort I shall find Truth in your Living Word, your Living Word is mine Life a journey of many miles; and we won’t pass it without our trials But you’ve assured us, every woman and man As we take our journey home we’ll be in the palm of your hand So I bow my head and pray; As your words I joyfully say My hunger disappears as my soul you feed You are the living truth and strength, the only bread I need And I feel a gentle wind blowing, the warmest comfort I shall find Truth in your Living Word, your Living Word is mine   

    say something

    The purpose of "Sunday is for Songs" is to get me back in the studio and doing more playing and singing. I realized so much time can pass without me engaging in some kind of creative activity, and it's such an important thing for me! This week I took the blankets off the keyboards (woo!) because my oldest (the drummer) asked if we could record "Say Something."  See here for the amazing version by A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera, but probably watch ours first 'cause it just will be a letdown after hearing the real version. :) I've never used my setup for a live performance (just recording), so I realized along the way some limitations related to latency, reverb, and recording quality audio with a mono mic smart phone video. But really, all that is just notes to myself - what was the absolute best part was playing and singing with my daughter!  I remember when she was little wondering if she'd be musical and if we'd ever do anything like this. And I've tried really hard not to push it on her... so most delightful for her to ask.

    prepare the way (remix)

    This is a song we played last Sunday (2.2.14) in worship. We were missing a bass and the guitar part was high, so I decided to add a bass part to the recording at home. I had also been hearing another vocal harmony in my head, so I added it (and a little reverb) to the original mix. It was good to dust off both those things (bass and bgv-singing) as well as to test drive the home studio a bit since I compacted it into one room. So I'm singing and playing guitar and bass; my oldest is playing drums; and Karla is singing the echo and harmony. [If you don't see an audio player or it doesn't work, click this link to play in another window or to download.]

    ios vs android

    I recently switched from an iPhone 5 running ios7 to a Moto X running Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean). If I've already lost you, probably you should stop reading. :) But this is "Tuesday Tech" after all, and I thought some of my readers might be interested in my observations and comparisons. These are anecdotal, not scientific; but I do pay pretty close attention to settings, usage, and usability. So consider this a real-world comparison. In some cases, I know what is specifically "Moto X" (model) and what is more generally Android (operating system). I'll comment on that in a final section. I also am realizing that this could get very long, so I'm just going to mention the more significant things (to me) and leave what seem like secondary differences for another day. What is More or Less the Same
    • APPS: I was pleased to discover that my most-used apps from the iPhone were also available for Android; in most cases, I could even sign back in with my same user name and password and my data appeared (for example, with my fitness app). I had not invested a LOT of money for paid apps on iTunes, so that was not a big issue. (But do see note on apps below on "Where I miss the iPhone.")
    • SIZE: Unlike a number of other flagship Android phones, the Moto X is approximately the same size as the iPhone 5 (which I like).
    • VOICE CONTROL: So far, the Google Now touchless control and Siri seem roughly comparable, though I've had some better success with Google Now than I did with Siri.
    Where I Like the Moto X/Android
    • GOOGLE: I probably most enjoy the integration between all things Google and the Android operating system. If you don't know, Google created it AND I think partnered with Motorola on the Moto X, so this phone is made for Google-users... and I am a big Google-user (and fan). SIDE NOTE: the iPhone played well with Google - in some ways for me as a Windows user more so than it's own native apps; but there was a noticeable step-up in Google connectivity with the Android/MotoX.
    • BATTERY LIFE: once I figured out that the Weather App was constantly accessing GPS and turned that off, I am getting 15-16 hrs. on the Moto X compared to 10-12 on the iPhone 5 with similar usage. (I know usage varies, so the best thing I know to do is compare my usage to myself.)  I've actually enjoyed enough extra battery from the Moto X that I find myself using it more throughout the day than I did with the iPhone. The Moto X/Android also has an effective battery utility for squeezing the last little bit of life out at the end. I think I could probably go 17-18 hrs. before actually having it shut down on me. (Now, if I take a bunch of video or upload on 3G or some other intensive activity, that will shorten; but nonetheless, it's longer by 15-25% than what I got from the iPhone.)
    • SCREEN: while I have read the specs that the Moto X screen is not as high def as the iPhone screen, it is plenty clear and bright and more than makes up for it with the accessibility settings for larger fonts. I have trouble reading the tiny default type on the iPhone. The accessibility settings there help in SOME apps, but not others; on the Moto X/Android, setting the font size higher helps in MOST apps and I can read much more easily
    • TYPING: I stumbled across this in an article, but the slide-to-type feature built in to Android works very well and may almost DOUBLE my typing speed on the phone. (I think there is an app available on Android or ios7 for this, but it's now built in to Android.)
    • SPEAKER: The audio speaker is usefully louder on the Moto X
    • NOTIFICATIONS: after adjusting to the differences, I prefer the notification system on the Moto X/Android, both in how it displays and in how easy it is to get to the full notice or action; this will probably vary significantly by user
    • HOME SENSOR/BUTTON: While a small thing, I have had several Apple devices (iPod Touch and iPhones) where the home button has worn out and stopped functioning. The comparable home button on the Moto X (and most or all Android phones) is on the screen rather than a part of the hardware. (It actually is a piece of hardware - a sensor; but with fewer moving/breakable/wearable parts than the Apple 'button'). Likewise, the button to show all running programs is a separate sensor next to the home sensor... the same thing on the iPhone requires a double-press of the home button, which puts more wear and tear on it.
    • BACK SENSOR: Speaking of button/sensors, I also like the far left 3rd sensor on the Moto X, which functions as a 'back' or 'previous' button. I use this frequently and it wasn't present on the iPhone.
    Where I Miss the iPhone
    • AD-FREE APPS: I mentioned above that most of the apps I use were also available on Android for free. What is surprisingly missing for several apps is the ability to pay a little to remove ads. I'd gladly do so (and had on the iPhone), but those ad-free versions are not even available for Android. I suppose it's a different profit-structure for Google, but it's frustrating to have no other options.
    • MORE ELEGANT APPS: I was surprised to see that the Apps I was using looked a generation OLDER on Android. I know that many apps freshened up their appearance with the release of ios7, but some of my Android Apps look even older than the pre-ios7 versions. I don't understand that if the App is by the same creator... maybe they think Apple users need the more polished experience? It's more of a surprise than a bother (though some of the fresher Apple versions actually included helpful tweaks to the use and not just the look).
    • QUICK-SETTINGS MENU: Though I wasn't a huge fan of the aesthetic change that came with ios7, one feature that made it worth the change for me was the quick settings menu that you can swipe up from the bottom. It provides access to a number of features I frequently accessed (toggling wifi, airplane mode, flashlight, alarm clock, brightness, airplay, bluetooth, etc...). Android has a similar (swipe-down) menu, but it shows active notifications and the quick-settings menu comparable to ios7 is a button available from there. So, there is an extra step to get to it. Not a huge thing, but I probably do access it 20x a day and miss the quick(er) access on the iPhone.
    • CAMERA: while the megapixels are roughly comparable between the two phones (Moto X might even be higher), I am finding that the iPhone had better lighting adjustments and produced better-composed pictures and video. Basically, tapping the iPhone screen set focus and light balance; the Moto X camera only taps to focus. The zoom, while not great on the iPhone, produced better results than the zoom on the Moto X.
    • AIRPLAY: I realize Airplay is only useful if one has an Apple TV, but this was a feature I used frequently at home and work. I understand the Moto X/Android can do this with the Google Chromecast key, but at not the same quality and with select content.  (I do still have an iPad, so I'm not completely cut off; but, the most frustrating piece is taking video on the Moto X and not being able to quickly or easily show it on the bigger screen.)
    • GYRO/ACCELEROMETER/GPS: one of my primary uses for the phone is to track my running; my impression thus far is that either the gyro, accelerometer, or GPS on the Moto X is not as precise as on the iPhone 5. When I looked at my stats on the iPhone after a run, I'd see a smoother graph of my speed. The Moto X graph of speed is up and down (it averages out the same, but looks like it is checking at an interval rather than steadily).  Now I also moved where I carry the phone from my upper arm (iPhone) to my pants pocket (Moto X), so it may be that the phone senses a different motion; I'll test this out. There may be a batter-saving tweak involved, too, but thus far, the Moto X is giving me some bogus stats on my runs because of these differences.
    Bottom-Line? All in all, I was happy with the iPhone 5 and I am happy with the Moto X! It was a roughly comparable and lateral switch. I'd recommend either phone enthusiastically. Hopefully, some of these notes and comparisons will be useful in some way. Why did I switch, then?  Great question! That was prompted by the costs of service with Verizon. What led me to Republic Wireless was the significant reduction in cost and a solution to the lack of cell signal in my house (0 bars; 1 on a good day next to a window or on the front porch). So far, 8 weeks in with myself and one teenager having made the switch to Republic and the Moto X, we are thrilled with the overall change. As soon as our other contracts run out at Verizon, we'll move the whole family over.  I'll write some more soon about why Republic Wireless is a unique and good option in another post. I'd be interested in any specific iPhone/ios7 or Moto X/Android experiences in the comments!

    iPad apps

    I made the move from a laptop to an iPad about two years ago. While there are some advantages to a laptop, I have found the portability and flexibility of the iPad to be well worth the change. Recently I responded to a question about "what apps do you use on the iPad in ministry?" I thought I would share my initial response (which isn't exactly short) here and then perhaps elaborate on specific apps if there is interest. Tune in for that or shoot me an e-mail about a specific app if you just can't wait! Here's the question and my initial run-down: "Church-working types: what are your favorite bible/church apps for the iPad?"
    • Music: itunes, IHeartRadio, Pandora
    • Photo and photo editing apps (I have several); iLoader for FB helpful
    • Presentation (Slideshark*, Prezi, Keynote) - slideshark very flexible and plays PP
    • QuickOffice (edits MSoffice docs, but seems to be changing to Google docs)
    • Feedly: replace Google Reader for me; read my blogs, news, etc... here
    • Flipboard: very nice reader for social media and other feeds
    • GoTasks: an app that syncs with Google Tasks
    • Calendars: an app that syncs with Google calendars (I use many)
    • Logos Bible: if you have Logos, the app is nice; otherwise one rec. above
    • TWC: the weather channel
    • Kindle: I watch the Kindle store for freebies
    • MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness: my two main health apps; mainly on iPhone, but also have MyFitnessPal on the iPad
    • WordsHD: always up for Words with Friends!!
    • Mailbox: favorite e-mail reader that helps keep the inbox clear
    • Dropbox: I couldn't live without it; MANY uses deserving a separate response, but basically syncs all the files on the three computers + iPad I use regularly (and certain folders with key staff at church); I also use Google Drive and Box cloud storage and both have Apps; all these are for accessing church and home files from anywhere
    • HootSuite: twitter client; it's just ok, but my favorite of the options; really preferred Tweetdeck on my desktop (but better than the Twitter app)
    • Facebook and Facebook messenger
    • Notability: YES to using this at presbytery meetings; imports PDFs (like the downloadable packet) and then lets you write, highlight and otherwise take notes. I've started scanning everything paper to PDF and using here.
    • iBooks: for preaching I like creating a large font PDF and viewing from iBooks because it doesn't scroll. One tap or slide to move forward or back.
    • Evernote: some people really swear by it; I've not found a use for it
    • Movies: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (now streamable to Apple TV), and Crackle
    • ContactSync: syncs your iPad contacts with Gmail contact list (if you have Gmail)
    • BankofAmerica: take pics of checks for deposit and any other online stuff you need
    I have other apps, but those are all the ones I use with some frequency. If there are particular apps you'd like me to elaborate on (or if there are others you'd recommend), say so in the comments. Coming soon: ios7 vs Android - a friendly comparison (I recently switched)

    guitar thing 1

    This was more an exercise to experiment with recording... more mistakes in playing than I would like, but I was trying to see how I could overlay tracks and get it on video (kind of worked in #2) and if I could go back and replace the live audio with audio recorded and mixed (did not work). There's probably an app for that, but I couldn't find one with good reviews. This was all on my Android phone... I may go back to iPad for recording video and see if it offers more options. The first video is the first pass with the high guitar part (which I've played before). In the second video I played the audio of that which I recorded onto my computer back and made up a lower part as the video rolled (thus not as tight as it could have been).

    friend of sinners

    We sang this in worship today. It is an old Augustus Toplady text, set to new music by the folks at Red Mountain Music. My daughter was interested in getting in on it, and "Sunday is for songs" is partly about me dusting off my writing and recording chops, so we recorded this after dinner and I got to use some of my PA and the old guitar 'POD' (the red kidney bean shaped thing on the table). I missed a few chords (only really noticeable one time), but I realized that teenagers don't really have the patience for multiple takes.  :)   Very fun to do with her; I think this is our first time recording us playing together other than the recordings of worship services at church.
    Redeemer, whither should I flee, or how escape the wrath to come? 
    The weary sinner flies to thee for shelter from impending doom; 
    Smile on me, gracious Lord, and show thyself the Friend of sinners now 
    Smile on me, gracious Lord, And show thyself the Friend sinners now. 
    Beneath the shadow of thy cross the heavy laden soul finds rest; 
    I would esteem the world but dross, so I might be of Christ possessed. 
    I'd seek my every joy in thee, be thou both life and light to me. 
    I'd seek my every joy in thee, be thou both life and light to me.
    Close to the highly shameful tree, Jesus, my humbled soul would cleave; 
    Despised and crucified with thee, with thee resolved to die and live; 
    This prayer and this ambition mine, living and dying to be thine. 
    This prayer and this ambition mine, living and dying to be thine.
    There fastened to the rugged wood by holy love's resistless chain, 
    And life deriving from thy blood, never to wander wide again, 
    There may I bow my suppliant knee, and own no other Lord but thee.
    There may I bow my suppliant knee, and own no other Lord but thee.
    "Friend of Sinners" - Red Mountain Church Words: Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778 Music - Jeff Koonce and Brian T. Murphy, 2004 Redeemer!  

    before the throne/have mercy (kyrie)

    I'm hoping to blog more in 2014 and one part of that is to try to post a recording of some music every Sunday (whether songwriting or covers or just an interesting 'lick'). This is from today's worship service: Before the Throne (Bancroft-1863/Cook-1997)/Have Mercy (Shane Barnard). The guitar arrangement is mine (and sadly missing my daughter's excellent drum beat).

    personal highlights 2013

    Clearly, the most significant personal highlight of 2013 was the improvement in my health and fitness. While that can be straightforwardly explained by "diet and exercise," there is a much more profound and personal explanation HERE. And I did very much appreciate two apps along the way: MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal. Personal Highlights
    • My parent's 50th wedding anniversary
    • Eldest daughter getting her driver's permit
    • All three daughter's thriving (in their uniquely different ways)
    • Becoming a godfather
    • Grandpa Brackbill's 100th birthday!
    • Significantly improved health and fitness (see below)
    Health/Fitness Realizing that most of this happened from March on... and the running not until September
    • Jan-Dec: approx. -50 lbs. or -18.8%
    • 295 workouts in 200 hours
    • 975 miles (total): 251 biking; 724 running or walking
    • 143,000 total calories burned (explains a lot, eh?)
    • Avg. Pace: walk (15min/mi); jog/run (9min/mi) - for future reference!
    • Top Workouts (acc. to MapMyFitness)
      • Farthest Walk: 5.67 mi
      • Farthest Run (and biggest burn): 8.01 mi.; 1682 cal. 
      • Farthest Bike Ride: 15.23 mi
      • Fastest Bike Ride: 13.17mph avg. 
    • Goals for 2014
      • Lose 25 more lbs (at least get there and look around)
      • Run a half-marathon (who knows, may be closer than I think!)
      • Keep it up (and up the pace)!
    **Also see top 2013 posts and sermons (link)   

      Hope... because God is alive and well

      In mid-January 2012, Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and a group of other ruling and teaching elders posted a video entitled, "Hope for the PC(USA)."  They invited others in the church to share with the church why we believe "this to be the beginning, not the end, of what God has planned for us."  What follows is my answer to that invitation...

      I have great hope and conviction that God is alive and well and at work in this world in which we live. That was just confirmed in person as I sat at the corner coffee shop and had a conversation with the manager who has become a friend, who shared some of her own personal burdens, the help she gains from her recent faith, and her desire to follow God's leading in her work and life. That she had no church background or desire to know God did not stop God from pursuing and finding her. Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

      I have great hope that God is alive and well and at work in the part of the Church called the PCUSA. I see it as I share stories with friends across the presbytery and across the country. For instance, I see it in my good friend's church - a "transformation church" that has struggled to cling to life, battled the prospect of change, and embodies new life in Christ. Despite struggle and tears, even accusations and opposition, I have heard and seen the Gospel of Jesus Christ SHINE through her and those remaining to become God's church in their neighborhood. I see our presbytery responding to a vision of becoming less about institutional maintenance (survival?!) and more about asking what God is already doing through the congregations of our presbytery. Despite resistance to change, guarding of territory, and fear of the unknown, I have seen the Spirit stir and move in and among our presbytery.

      I am not ignorant or indifferent to the challenges before us. John Vest's recent "Pathos" post was piercingly truthful about the ways we fail and fall short. But my hope is not pinned to institutional "success," human merit, or theological position. Honestly, I have been disappointed by people all across the theological spectrum; I have also been greatly encouraged, challenged, and witnessed to by people all across the theological spectrum. People are people... and they sure aren't God. My hope comes from a conviction that God's ability to move, work, help, and save is not dependent on human success or faithfulness. That doesn't let us off the hook in terms of faithfulness or obedience, but it sure keeps me from becoming hopeless.

      Finally, I have great hope because of my own congregation and ministry. And lest that seem obvious or self-promoting, that hope comes precisely because of my own keen awareness of my limitations and failures. One of the ways I describe our congregation is "ordinary people; extraordinary God" - and I mean every bit of that. There is nothing I would deem good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, Jesus-centered or wayward as Hell, in the denomination that I don't also encounter in my own congregation and my own life. And God keeps showing up, stirring us up, calling us back, cleaning us up, and sending us out under the Word, sealed in the Spirit, and following the Son.

      Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

      A Box of Crayons, the Mid-Council Report, and the Status Quo

      John Vest, a member of the mid-council commission, recently posed the question of whether the General Assembly will embrace some of the change recommended in the mid-council recommendations or whether we will protect the organizational status quo.  I'm with John on that question and am hopeful that we will hear and respond to the good work and vision of the mid-council commission.  Here's how I answered one question about that report in the moderator candidates' booklet.

      In the Mid-Council Commission report a great deal of the narrative spoke to the emerging shapes and forms for mid-councils. In your view, what do you find especially promising in the narrative and why?
      Pastor to youth director 1:

      I want you and the kids to have an incredible lock-in.  I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing, creative, and fun things you do with them.  Just remember not to break anything, to clean up afterwards and make sure that on Sunday morning we can’t tell that you were here.

      Pastor to youth director 2:

      I hope you and the kids have an incredible lock-in.  I’ll be praying for everything you do and can’t wait to tell the congregation about it.  Don’t worry if things get a little messed up.  I’ll remind them that it’s a sign that we’re doing something right!
      There is an interesting parallel between the narratives of the report and our attitudes towards youth and young adults.  In both cases, established leadership wants things to flourish, but we often hover, ready to swoop in if things get out of our control.  There is a necessary tension between risking “failure” and risking “success”; perhaps we need to redefine both and change the conversation altogether.

      I find great promise in the mid-council commission report because of a willingness to allow presbyteries to adapt from organizations that “regulate” everything within their bounds to Christ-connected partners that encourage, equip, and connect local congregations in their mission and ministry.  This is the same move we have been trying to make in my presbytery (Charlotte) for some time, as well as in the church I serve (where we seek to equip and partner with each member for ministry and mission).  For us, a key question has become,

      “What is God doing in and around us
      and how can we be a part of that?

      Similarly, I am drawn to the creative language in the MCC report about a large canvas and a palette of colors for experimentation; but I’ve had the experience of giving children a sheet of paper and four crayons.  It invites creativity but can also limit it.  What if the Spirit moves beyond the canvas or paints with a color we have not defined?  Will we shut it down or call it “out of order?”  What if a new ministry or worshiping community forms that is “beyond the frame” we have drawn?  If it ends up not bearing the name PC(USA), what is that to us if it honors and serves Christ in the world?  Let’s bless it and give thanks that God has moved among us and out from us!

      Finally, the report names a crisis of trust as “the single greatest threat to the vitality and future existence of the church.”  Indeed, I have found in my presbytery that challenges of money and ministry are only symptoms of underlying issues of trust and relationship.  I welcome the encouragement to create, envision and experiment; but we must also take seriously the invitation to build relationships and develop “theological friendships.”  The significant value of these relationships is, perhaps, a hidden jewel in this report that we dare not miss.

      For the mid-council report in various forms and sections, see the page here.