Friday, April 29, 2011

Shiloh Baptist Church

On Easter Sunday, the Obama Family attended Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington DC. Shiloh is an historic black church, founded in 1863 by 21 freed slaves. Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton each attended there at least once during their presidencies. I know the pastor, Wally Smith, who is also the current president of the Palmer Theological School (my alma mater). He was on the faculty by the time my wife was a student and he was one of her professors. Palmer is one of the more conservative seminaries related to the American Baptist Churches USA and while Wally falls solidly in the tradition of the African American large church pastor, he is anything but radical. Like the vast majority of African American pastors, as I know him, he leans left on issues of poverty and race, right on issues of sexuality and is conservative in his theology.

That didn't matter to Sean Hannity. It took three days to find something they could use to brand him as controversial but eventually they found a video of a lecture at Eastern University where he spoke about racism and called Fox news and some in the conservative movement on their racism. In Hannity's world, Wally Smith and Jeremiah Wright are one and the same. Can you really believe that there is any church the president could have attended and not been attacked?

If it were not for the results, the story would be laughable it is so ridiculous but there have been results... since the story ran on Wednesday, Shiloh Baptist Church has received over 100 threats including a fax with a graphic of a monkey with a target across its face. And Sean Hannity is claiming the high road? Claiming that we live in an America where racism is no longer a problem? No, the only place where Wally Smith is controversial is in Hannity's warped world... a world where a Fox television host uses race as a way to whip up a political base who have had their ridiculous birther ideas discredited again and so need some new story to radicalize the first Black President.

Friday, April 22, 2011

the water tastes like the pipe

Have you ever been to a Quaker service? They don't have preachers. Instead, the congregation sits in silence and waits for someone to be moved by the Spirit and speak the words that the Spirit urges. They believe that anyone present who is open can become a conduit for the very presence of God... but they know that the words are never purely God's words... you see, the water tastes like the pipe. It is still water, but it always takes on a bit of the characteristics of the conduit.

Today, I preached at a Good Friday service. It was the first one in at least 10 years and likely a bit more than that. And things are different in Santa Barbara. Back east, we did a 3 hour service from noon to 3:00 with seven preachers usually doing the seven last words of Jesus. Today, we did the seven last words... with seven preachers... and the service was scheduled to last an hour. Each sermon was supposed to be between five and seven minutes long! (In my tradition, that is how long it takes to clear your throat... or maybe introduce yourself). We actually did pretty well and only went over by about 15 minutes. I did go over my time though but I was able to keep my remarks to about 10 minutes.

Anyway, I was struck by the way the water tasted like the pipes. There were some wonderful words spoken and a couple of the sermons really touched me. Each one reflected not only the theology but also the experiences of the preacher so each one was significantly different and I would have been very unlikely to take any of the passages in exactly the direction they went (although I do have some hints for another year) but the water was still there. Clearly too, if the water came through my pipes... it tasted of me.

FWIW, I preached on the last word - "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," Luke 23:44-49... and here is the sermon I preached.

It is traditional to spend this time on Good Friday reflecting on the words and experience of Jesus... and there is certainly lots of preaching material there, but as I thought about this passage, I kept coming back not to the words of Jesus, but to the reaction of his followers to the events of that day...
But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

It struck me that Jesus had no other option but to commend his spirit, his life, to the Father as there was nobody else there for him. There was nobody standing next to him and touching him to comfort him. There was nobody breathing in unison with him so he would know he was not alone as he died. There was nobody there to rail at the injustice as even the centurion remarked that he was surely innocent. There was nobody there to affirm that in spite of the events of that horrific day, Jesus had made a difference in the lives of real people and had opened a new way of seeing and experiencing the presence of God. There was nobody there to comfort him and assure him that the work he had begun would be continued. No, those who had shared his life and his ministry stood at a distance and watched and he... was... alone...

We can understand their lack of action. Clearly they were traumatized. They entered Jerusalem expecting miracles. They entered the city of peace expecting that God was going to do something amazing and it had not happened as they expected. Jesus hanging on a cross was so far from what they had imagined that it never had even entered their nightmares.

They were in shock that the one who had turned their lives upside down, who exemplified the very power and presence of God was dying before their eyes and, no doubt, they were having difficulty even believing that it was really happening. Perhaps they thought that if they stayed far enough away, it might not be real.

And they were afraid... they were afraid that they might be next. They were afraid that someone might recognize that they had been with him and that the same crowds would turn against them just as they had Jesus. They were afraid of Roman whips and even more afraid of Roman hammers and nails. So they stood at a distance and watched.

And Jesus was alone. The one who was hurting, the one who's very life work was in question, the one who needed support, the one whom those with power had oppressed and trampled down, the one in need... was alone... and it should not have been that way.

All too often, you and I stand at a distance and watch as Jesus suffers in the guise of the poor, the powerless, the broken, the sick, the imprisoned. We who know the rest of the story must not stand at a distance and watch. Those in need must not be left with only the option of commending their pain to God.

Forgive me for getting ahead of myself and of the story here but I am reminded this year of a quote from my friend Pete Rollins who was asked whether he denied the resurrection, he said - “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

"I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

"However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed."

I pray this year, that even on Good Friday, you and I will affirm the resurrection and not leave those in need with their only option being to commend their lives to God while we stand at a distance and watch.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


In '82 the Kaypro II computer was released to the public. (the photo is a Kaypro IV but they looked the same). It ran at 2.5 MHZ and had a whopping 64K of memory. For storage there were two 5.25 inch single sided double density drives. The operating system was CPM (pre-DOS) and it had no graphics or sound other than a beep. That was my first computer, probably in '83. About '86 I got my first IBM PC clone, a Leading Edge Model D with dual double sided drives and 256K of internal memory! Then I got my first "laptop," a TRS80 Model 100. It was an amazing machine that came stock with 8K of static memory and the programs on EPROMs. You could upgrade it to 32K of memory and add an external 3.5 inch floppy drive and a 300 baud modem.
About that same time I got my leading edge, a friend of mine got an Apple Macintosh. Jim was convinced that the Mac was the only computer for an artsy type and tried repeatedly to get me to leave behind that "gray suit corporate machine and get something creative." At the same time, I really liked the open architecture of the PC and the fact that it wasn't monopolistic like Apple. So, I stuck with PC's.
My first home "recording studio" was based around a 4 track cassette deck from Yamaha called an MT44 (which I actually still have). The photo shows the full rig which I didn't have. I only had the deck, not the patch bay or mixer. I had a hand-wired patch bay and a little battery powered stereo mixer. Then I got into recording on my computer - still a PC - first with a card from Echo and then after the echo died, with one from Lexicon. We got some reasonably good sounding recordings from those cards including Big Job, Beautiful Day, and Heartbeat that are available to hear in the player on the right.
I began to have difficulties with the Lexicon card about '99 or 2000 and then upgraded my operating system and there were no drivers available for it so it was abandoned and I haven't had a recording set-up since then.
As I said in The Siren Call, I've been feeling a serious itch to get back to work on my music and so I've been looking into setting up another studio, small and relatively inexpensive but hopefully still able to come up with decent recordings. Which has me back looking at APPLES!
I have to say that I have even lower opinions now regarding Apple's monopolistic practices, but I have to admit that the computers sure do look impressive. Plus, in laptops, I've not been able to find anything that has the features I'd need in a PC... so I may be going over to, or from, depending on your perspective, the dark side. Indeed, at this point, it looks pretty likely that I'll do a Mcbook Pro and a recording interface from Presonus.
So, Jim, I may finally be joining you in the Apple world!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

the siren call

Since my late adolescence there has been this siren call that my music has had for me. During college, it was very strong and I was very close to making music my career. I majored in music and spent a lot of weekends traveling and performing in churches and coffeehouses. Still, it felt untenable as a way to actually live and I followed the other call and headed off to seminary. Then in seminary, the call re-asserted itself and I toyed with following a path as a "Christian" musician. After two years as an intern in a local church, I worked for one year with Come Alive Ministries, doing a syndicated radio show with Cheryl and traveling and performing in churches. I had some wonderful times and some that were anything but and it became clear that actually making a living doing music in churches was more difficult than I wanted to tackle. I decided to follow the call to the pastorate and, for the most part through the years, have felt that was the right decision.

I have continued to perform in a variety of settings through the years, playing in bar bands, as a solo singer/songwriter, in duos and trios and as a sideman. I also was on the board for the Eighth Step and now book a small concert series in Goleta. The tension has always been to find a way to make music that is meaningful and fits into the space allowed by the demands of family and job. At various times that has been easier and more rewarding than others.

I'm feeling a strong call again and trying to figure out how to make it all fit. I continue to play guitar for Jamie Green, although Jamie struggles with the same issues and is spending a significant part of her musical time with another project called Soul Aviv so we don't perform all that regularly. Alexis will be staying with us for a few months while her husband does a training program in New Jersey so we'll be performing once or twice, doing some of our material from the Alexis d days (one of the most satisfying musical times for me - you can hear it in the player on the right). Still, it feels like I need something more. I'm trying to take on a few more guitar students and to find a few more opportunities as a sideman on either guitar or bass but so far there hasn't been a lot of bites for either.

A couple of pieces have pushed me to think more about the solo singer/songwriter direction - a direction that is the most difficult, the most work, and perhaps has the most opportunity for reward. This past Sunday, my friend, Bob Terry played drums for us at church and we were talking afterward. Bob essentially said, "it's all about the music, making good music that feeds your soul." He was right. Then, I read a blog from an acquaintance, Fernando Gros, who seems at times to struggle with the same kinds of questions that I wrestle with... (although he answers them better). Fernando had two recent posts - here on the music biz, and here on putting together his new studio. Together with the discussion with Bob and my internal stuff, it has all been pushing me to get my butt in gear and start making more of my music and to do the work to get that happening.

So I'm writing this post as a way of making myself more accountable... and I'm hoping that every now and then some of you out there will say, "Hey Roy, have you written any music lately?" or "How is the plan for your little studio moving along?" or "Any solo gigs coming up?" I'm still looking for a few more students and I'd love to have a few gigs as a sideman on bass or guitar but... maybe with a little push, I'll answer the siren call in a way that both fits my life and makes some good music that is truly mine.