But is it “Christian”?

I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year, and I’ve been sourcing and using all sorts of different artistic media for well over a decade now, and something we’ve always done at EBC is use a mix of Christian music, worship music, and secular music. Similarly our media, TV clips, movie clips and illustrations are sourced from many different backgrounds. Now I know this doesn’t make us radically different to a lot of churches, but at the same time, I would argue that we are still in the minority, especially in the UK.

The clip is a song by Josh Garrels, an artist I discovered just hhis year when he released his new album Home. His voice and artistry is, to me, a thing of absolute beauty. His songs profess an exploration of faith, although maybe not in the traditional church sense. These aren’t songs of worship, but again I would argue that they are worshipful. There is a clear spiritual thread which influences and runs through all he does.

I’ve read interviews with very famous Christian artists and songwriters where they have stated they only listen to “Christian” music, and I’ve also seen shows where the biblical direction to “be in the world but not of it” is taken to a literal extreme…so apart from living on planet earth, everything else (TV, music, relationships, shopping, phones…) is completely unacceptable.

What I’m not saying…

Now I’m not advocating incorporating the latest Lars von Trier movie into our Sunday services, or covering a Slipknot or Eminem track in it’s entirety as part of the benediction. But we acknowledge that our God is The Creator, and that we are all made in his image. So we should not be surprised when we see a spiritual influence and acknowledgement in so much art, be it paintings and drawings by past masters through to modern songs and films.

I am a drummer, so aside from having thick skin and only being able to count to four, I am well used (especially in the past) to receiving general grief from those who don’t believe drums belong in church, let alone secular and contemporary songs. Yet here we are, leading worship on electric guitar, using clips from current TV shows and movies and making use of an extensive lighting array.

…but what I am saying…

And for those who wouldn’t usually set foot in a church, if they get invited and then experience a song, or clip, or illustration which they are familiar with…well it puts that element into a completely different light, and hopefully also gives them a new understanding. We’ve used scenes from Harry Potter at Easter…a better allegory for willingly giving your life for others I’ve yet to find, we’ve used songs by Pink to illustrate family breakup, clips from Big Bang Theory, Friends and Outnumbered which show relationships in a far better setting than we could ever create. And they all raise questions, get us thinking, and set us up to be able  to then answer some of these questions with biblical truths.

The message never changes, it has remained the same and relevant for over 2,000 years. But the medium we use to communicate and share the message has to change to fit into culture. And to fit into culture, we have to understand it, and use it.

Creation

Creation. No matter what your viewpoint, whether you’re Big Bang or 7 days, creationist or evolutionist, happy accident or divine intervention…everyone must agree we came from somewhere?

We at EBC are exploring creation as part of our current “Case For” series, so I thought as a simple end to the week, I’d share the two clips we’re using. The first on is a classic Sheldon moment from Big Bang Theory (do you know how difficult it is to find this clip when you type “Big Bang Theory Creation” into You Tube?

The second clip is a lovely little sequence from the Russell Crowe “Noah” movie, which itself attracted plenty of criticism. But as a general illustration of creation, I think it’s a great piece of media:

Now it’s Friday evening and I’m not even going to attempt to pick apart the different arguments for and against…there are plenty of better informed people than I. My own take on it? I don’t believe we’re here by some accident, I do believe in an intelligent designer, I do accept the world being created in seven days (although I also have a view as to what “a day” may be in God’s timescale and I finally don’t see why evolution and creation would be incompatible.

What I’m generally more interested in is not how we got here, but what we actually do in the short time we have on this earth.

It’s the start of something new!

Now you’re thinking: is he having a mid-life crisis? High School Musical hasn’t dated at all. Doesn’t Zac Efron look young…

I won’t have a word said against Troy and Gabriella…Sharpay maybe…as the three movies were on constant rotation in our house (as were the albums), and High School Musical 3 was the first movie we went to with our girls…fond memories. Of course they wouldn’t been seen dead with them now…such is growing up. What I wanted us to do was to embrace the song, as it’s January, it’s the start of the year and as I talked about on Tuesday, it can be a great time to set down some goals for the year.So why don’t you do something new. It doesn’t have to be big or dramatic, just different from your normal day to day. How about:

  • Listen to some music you wouldn’t usually entertain. Most of my CD collection is on my iTunes these days, but I find myself setting up playlists (I used to do mixtapes when I had cassettes) and listening to them constantly….so there are areas of my digital library which are gathering binary dust. I have a smart playlist set up as “never played”, so I can discover songs I have neglected.
  • Watch something new and different. I got given Amazon vouchers aeons ago, and so bought some second hand TV box sets with them…which then sat on a shelf for a while. And one evening we got around to starting one of them…a small US show called House MD. Needless to say we were completely drawn in and ended up hunting down subsequent series (it’s now on Netflix in its entirety, so we’re currently working through seasons 6 to 8).
  • Cook a new dinner. I have a shelf of cookbooks with a lifetime’s worth of recipes, but generally we eat the same (albeit very good) dishes most weeks. It doesn’t have to be ridiculously complicated, or have a list of ingredients as long as your arm. I’ve seen the complete book of mince…aside from lasagne, chili and spaghetti Bolognese, I didn’t think there were another 69 recipes…but clearly there are.
  • Read an unusual book. Aside from my extensive cookbook collection, we do have a lot of regular books. And when I say regular, I am including my personal Star Wars collection along with Tintin and Asterix which I still claim taught me more about history than school did. Now I read a lot of non-fiction business books, leadership books, Christian books, guides on worship…as well as big colourful guitar encyclopaedias and histories with pictures of expensive guitars for me to drool over. But I didn’t read a lot of fiction…so on our last holiday I bought The Martian which came highly recommended and reviewed…and I can highly recommend it…couldn’t put it down.
  • Do something different of a weekend. Get your food shop delivered, or do it Thursday night. Hoover Tuesday morning. Get up and get out, and go somewhere, preferably somewhere you haven’t been before. Hop on a train, visit a museum or stately home or park or exhibition. Go for a long walk. Go to the beach on a grey day. Take a ball somewhere.

Routine doesn’t have to be boring!

Routine is essential, especially when you have children (as we quickly learnt). But routine doesn’t have to mean the same all the time. We get into habits, drive the same route to work, listen to the same radio station in the car, and have the same sandwiches for lunch at the same time in the same place every day. But it doesn’t have to be this way, always. Just trying one or two of the things above will open your ears, eyes and mind to a different experience…which may lead onto something else. Inspiration comes from many sources, but if you aren’t exposing yourself to new or different sources, your inspiration and outlook will be limited.

 It’s the start of something new. What are you going to do?

Sourcing Ideas

I’ve been running this blog for almost six months now, and have posted up a combination of songs, videos and clips, along with ideas and experience from my role at EBC. And I have been doing the role at EBC for more than 12 years, personally growing and developing over time. One of the things I always do when we plan a new series of services is to just start sourcing ideas from as many different places and artistic elements as possible.

One way of collating ideas...

One way of collating ideas…

We plan our preaching rota usually a year in advance, so currently we have a plan for 2015 mapped out at a very high level, purely dates of series and their titles. Then, we create outlines for each series that detail the overarching theme, and then further detail for each part of the series. This is done to a standard template to make it easy to complete, and there are sections to fill out like “What do we want everyone to know” and “How do we want people to feel”, as well as an outline of the talk and space to fill in creative ideas.

Where to start?

These creative ideas may be worship songs from our list to help give a pointer to our worship leaders. We also have space for performance songs, drama, interactions , graphics and stage design.Media can encompass everything from film and TV clips, recorded dramas, bespoke media for the service and music videos. Of course we don’t use everything every week, but there is always some sort of creative element inserted into the service, either to directly support the talk or to engage the congregation from the beginning. Or even both!

So when I get the outlines (and usually I talk through them with Chris our Senior Minister), I start to just collate ideas that come from the overview as described above. So I trawl through my music collection; sometimes I know exactly what I’m looking for, other times just typing related words into the search field can help too. I am a music addict (as my wife will attest to), so I have a pretty extensive library on my iTunes…around 45,000 tracks and always growing. But of course Spotify now has just about everything you could ever wish for.

I also watch a lot of movies, or at least, I did when the kids were younger and went to bed earlier…but again, sometimes I know exactly what I’m looking for, other times Googling or browsing YouTube for relevant clips is a real boon.

There’s an idea or two brewing here….

Probably because I have been doing this for so long, I rarely am able to watch or listen to anything without considering a Sunday service application for it…it’s always in the back of mind…”could we use this”, “this would be great for an all age service”, “if only he hadn’t sworn in that sentence it would be perfect for telling the story of Job” etc… So I try to keep notes of all of these ideas and more…and Evernote is my note taking software of choice

Seasonally there are always key things happening, so that also gets taken into account. And then popular culture also counts for a lot…but popular culture as is reflected in our church culture… So recently The Great British Bake Off has been on, Strictly Come Dancing has just started, The Apprentice, The X Factor…all formats that are familiar and can be referred to or even copied. These may then feed into the way we present something, or directly influence an element in our service…last Sunday we showed a series of slides of “Bake Off Fails”, and I’ve done a lukewarm cooking slot before as a pastiche of MasterChef to illustrate another story.

And from time to time we also use drama, something we try to do moderately often because of the amount of work it takes to do well, but also to maximise the impact.

The melting pot.

All of this goes into a melting pot of ideas and resources that are entered into the outline template, almost a scatter-gun approach. But that then gives me, the service leader and preacher a great starting point to filter out and hone the ideas into something that is useful, relevant and accessible. And how we edit and refine the ideas is something that I’ll look at next week.

The Storm Inside

Have you ever experienced an indoor storm? Do you know acquaintances who cause a whirlwind when they walk into a room. Do you have friends who just can’t ever seem to shake the cloud that follows them around…and they make sure everybody knows about it?

This week at EBC we’re starting a new series called Climate Change. Now I know the instant reaction is to think of global warming, changing weather patterns and farting cows. OK, so maybe not gaseous bovine creatures comes straight to mind. While our series is weather based, it’s looking at the climate we bring with us wherever we go. And we all do, whether (or weather?) we realise it or not.

Travis memorably sang “Why does it always rain on me“. I know if I’m in a bit of a fug, I can bring it home, pass it onto my family and drench them all with my cloudy mood. Fortunately I don’t (think?) I do this very often. Similarly, I have friends who will bring a ray of sunshine and happiness into all situations…no matter what. I love spending time with them, and more often than not will gravitate towards them in social situations (as will inevitably everyone else!).

Horrible Bosses

This clip, from the wonderfully dark comedy Horrible Bosses sees Kevin Spacey playing one of the meanest spirited bosses you could ever hope to not meet. He’s been tagging Jason Bateman’s character along for a promotion, getting him to work overtime, weekends, doing far more than he should… and he’s then awarded it to himself…along with a pay rise and a bigger office. And of course, rather than lending a sympathetic ear and being a “listening” manager, he instead berates Jason for calling his grandma “Gam Gam”. Makes you want to throw him out of the window. Or find a big stick.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Are there people you avoid because of their climate? Or do you have a climate of your own which means you’re the one who is excluded? The thing is, climates, like the weather, are changeable. It doesn’t have to rain all the time (even if you live in wales), just as life isn’t always sunny. But unlike the inclement weather which we experience in the UK, we do have a choice. We can decide if it’s always going to rain on us, whether we can give our in-laws a frosty reception, or choose to cast out a few rays and share some sunshine.

What’s your climate? Do rainclouds follow you? What would it take to share some sunshine?

Conformity

I’ve been watching the Great British Bakeoff avidly this series, we love it as a family and it, along with Strictly Come Dancing is required viewing in our house. This week they were working with advanced dough, and the showstopper at the end was doughnuts…two sets of 18 doughnuts, that’s 36 doughnuts that had to be delicious, look stunning, and most importantly be uniform in their presentation, bake and flavour.

This Sunday at EBC we’re hosting a Soul Survivor Sunday. While we don’t meet in a big top, we are going to take out half of the chairs, turn off the lights, get the moving head lights to turn a bit more frantically and are even getting some tents into the hall…it won’t quite be the full experience (we have proper toilets and no rain indoors…), but it will be close…and plenty silly enough to entertain and inspire everybody. The passage that we’re using for the talk, as we continue our Story series is Daniel in the lion’s den, a familiar story that many of us will have first heard at Sunday school or its equivalent.

Daniel 6

King Darius was really pleased with Daniel, who he had appointed to administer much of his kingdom. In fact he was so pleased he fully intended to promote Daniel to oversee the whole kingdom on his behalf, which greatly displeased the rest of the administrators and governors, so they did their best to find a scandal or misdemeanour from Daniel’s past that would incriminate him…but they could find nothing. So they conspired against him, and somehow persuaded the king to issue a decree that no one in the kingdom could pray to or worship anyone else other than king Darius. And whether they were very persuasive, or the king was easily persuaded…he agreed and signed the decree.

Daniel was found praying to God, so the conspirators went to the king and told him Daniel had broken the decree and so had to be thrown to the lions. When the king realised what he had done he tried to get out of it, but he had signed himself into a corner. So Daniel was thrown to the lions, a potentially grisly end…but of course we know he continued to pray and the lions would not touch him. The king couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the next morning as he came nervously to the lion pit, he called for Daniel, expecting the worse. But Daniel welcomed him, honoured his God and his king and stayed safe from the lions. King Darius was delighted, and had Daniel released. What the children’s versions don’t always mention is that king Darius then rounded up the conspirators, realising they had tricked him, and had them thrown to the lions…lets say (in case children are reading) the lions were less subdued than they were when Daniel was sharing their pit…

Conformity

Daniel refused to conform. Despite the pressure of his peers, despite knowing that he would probably be sentenced to death if discovered, he continued to pray openly defying the decree and being honest to who he was. In the clip from Dead Poets Society, the late, great, Robin Williams gets his English class to take a stroll outside. After a short time they drift into step with each other…marching to the same beat, in the same direction…uniformity and conformity, as the rest of the class clap in time. As he says,

“notice how everyone starts off at their own pace, with their own stride…”.

…and

“Conformity…the difficulty of maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others. We all have a great need for acceptance, but we must trust that our beliefs are unique, are your own, even though others may think them odd, or unpopular”.

Same kind of different?

If you call yourself a Christian, which I do, then this is a fundamental. We are called to be different…we should be seen as different. Not different as in beard and sandals or vegetarian; not a stereotypical movie identikit of a Christian. But different in how we react to the world, how we treat our friends, the way we speak and act. And we should be like this all of the time. I heard a great talk from John Mumford many years ago which has stuck with me ever since. He said:

Are you a grapefruit, or a milkshake?

And we all thought he was a bit eccentric.

But the question was, are you a grapefruit, in that you segment your life so that Sunday you’re a Christian, Monday to Friday you work, Saturday you have a day off…everything is kept separate and segmented. Or are you a milkshake, blended, shaken and mixed together without any seams?

It’s easy to conform, to blend in with the crowd, have a quiet weekend, watch the same TV and have the same conversations as everybody else. And to be honest, life will probably be quite comfortable if you follow that path. But isn’t that what everybody else does? Do you want to be the same kind of different, or do you want to walk with your own stride, to your own beat? The choice is yours…

Dreams

We use a lot of media clips in our Sunday services, as they are great for opening a service, introducing a subject and focusing on a specific topic. But probably most importantly, the right clip will appeal to all and draw people in; young or old, men and women, wherever you are on your walk…a well chosen and appropriate media will bring everyone together in a shared experience and common starting place. This is probably why we use animations so often…although it could just as much be to do with the fact I have three children, so Disney/Pixar has been our friend for many years now. 

Now our senior minister has for some reason always had an aversion to animations. I don’t know if this was caused by a particularly hard episode of Tom and Jerry, or whether he never quite got over Bambi. But in the past whenever I’d suggested a clip which didn’t have real live people in it, he tried to deflect…and it was pretty much guaranteed he’d never seen it. That said, his anti-animation stance did mean he hadn’t had to endure several Barbie movies as I have (fortunately my girls have grown out of them now, although my wife did have to sit through a particularly torturous 80+ minutes of The Moshi Monster Movie recently, something she still hasn’t quite recovered from).

Up

These days it is acknowledged Disney/Pixar can almost do no wrong in our church, their movies hitting the perfect balance which delights and entertains both children and adults, something the Muppets used to do perfectly. Today’s clip is taken from the film “Up“, a quite wonderful movie about Carl, an elderly widower travelling to South America with a stowaway called Russell who is a Wilderness Explorer trying to earn his badges. Carl was a balloon salesmen, and so when his house is threatened with demolition he does the only reasonable and sensible thing…he attaches thousands of balloons to his house and simply floats away.

The movie is a thing of beauty, full of humour and warmth, it won two well deserved Oscars. The clip here which we used for our service focuses on the opening scene, a mini movie in it’s own right. It tells the story of Carl and Ellie; from when they first met, through their highs and lows, right through to Carl being widowed, which is where Up properly starts. As you’ll see in the clip, Carl and Ellie had a dream to visit Paradise Falls in South America, and they were constantly saving for their trip. But, as inevitably happens in life, other things get in the way, whether a punctured tire, house maintenance…something always depletes their dream jar. And just when they have enough to book the tickets and realise their goal….Ellie becomes unwell.

It is an emotional roller-coaster of a story, condensed into 5 minutes, which sets the scene for the movie to perfection. But it also reflects real life; so many of us had hopes and dreams, especially when we were younger. But as life goes by and the reality of the world takes over, too often our hopes and dreams are put aside, parked, or just plain forgotten about. I remember back when I was a kid, I was full of dreams, goals and ambitions…and then further down the line when the reality of mortgages, work and having a family took over, some of those dreams were parked, some drifted away, and many were forgotten about. But I still haven’t stopped dreaming, and my goals and ambitions are different. Our goals and ambitions are different. But we still have them, and are still creating them and realising them from day to day.

Dreams

At the end of the clip, Carl is going through their photo album and on the last page there is the inscription from Ellie…“Thanks for the adventure…now go and have a new one! Ellie x”. So while I’m not suggesting that you tie thousands of balloons to your house, I do encourage you to write down your dreams, share your ambitions and go and have some adventures, no matter where you are on your walk.

What dreams have you let go of? What ambitions and goals do you have now?

Come What May

We had a rare opportunity last Friday…the kids had gone to bed relatively early, we had set aside jobs for the day, and knew we had a few hours of not being interrupted. So we thought we’d do what most married couples would do under those circumstances…we watched a movie. Friday always used to be date night, and we still try and keep it so, but it’s been a while since we’ve been able to just sit down…

We chose Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrman’s extravagant and colourful tragic love story, a mash up of turn of the century Paris and 1980’s MTV. An all-star cast with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman playing the lead roles, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh and even Kylie as the green fairy! We fell in love with the movie when it was first released, the incredible soundtrack was on constant rotation and our first daughter was born to this song…so it always has special memories. And now that she is old enough, we let her watch the movie…so she is now firmly a fan. And it also means we don’t quite have Glee on the same rotation it has been…

Hearts Collide

Moulin Rouge tells the story of Christian, played by Ewan McGregor, a struggling writer trying to make his fortunes in Paris, and the beautiful Satine, played by Nicole Kidman, a showgirl and courtesan at the Moulin Rouge who entertains if the price is right. It is love at first sight for Ewan, and although he is not the rich Count she was expecting, a combination of songs and romantic encounters softens her heart, and they fall in love. Come What May is the pivotal song in movie…they are under pressure from all sides; money, affection, loyalty, threats…but still love conquers all.

And there’s no mountain too high, no river too wide, sing out this song and I’ll be there by your side. Storm clouds may gather, and worlds may collide, but I love you, until the end of time. *Come what may.

It’s all about Love

This to me is the love song to end all love songs. It’s not easy. It’s not always a bed of roses. It takes work to make a relationship work, and to keep it working. We celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this year, and we’ve been through some incredibly happy times and some really, really difficult times…some things that we’d prefer not to remember. But I can say categorically that I love Hannah more now than I did 15 years ago, and whatever tests come our way make us stronger.

Come What May epitomises this…it’s not all fluffy bunny rabbits and bunches of flowers, (well it is a bit fluffy….), as with the story they’ve had their hardships and ups and downs, and they know there will be more to come. No matter what happens, their love will stand strong. Obviously you could use this for a love series…or relationships…we did a great series not long ago called Happy Dating… And watch the movie…it is a spectacular smorgasbord of  colour, dance and song, one of the most creative movies I’ve seen

*”Come What May is a phrase that originates from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and means: let whatever events crop up come to pass.

Just a girl…standing in front of a boy…

Love…is a funny thing. And some would argue there’s none funnier than a Hugh Grant movie. (some would of course argue the opposite, but I’m not one of them….)

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know this clip. The pivotal moment when Anna Scott (the film star) comes to William Thacker’s travel book shop (so called as it only sells travel books…and not many of those). Their relationship has never really properly got off the ground…but there’s clearly a spark there. So she comes to give it one last try…”I just wondered if…maybe if I stayed…we could spend some time together, and you could see if you might…like me again….”

Can I just say….

This is the response…and it’s not a positive one. And of course she delivers the heart breaking line…”I’m just a girl….standing in front of a boy….asking him to love her…?” Heartwarming stuff. Mrs K and I always cuddle up a bit closer at that point (she just says I’m fluffy….)

So another day, another Julia Roberts movie…what’s the deal you say? I know we only used a Notting Hill clip the other week, but as I made reference last time, this is one of my favourite movies…and this is my blog…so there! Well we’ve just finished a series on Great Prayers, and used this clip. And while for some Julia Roberts (or Hugh Grant) may be the answer to their prayers…we were using it for something far more serious:

Asking you to love Him.

God wants to hear our prayers. God longs for us to talk to him. He is calling. He is waiting. Jesus longs to meet us there. But as in all relationships, this is a two way thing. We have to make a step. We have to make a decision. We have to talk. So just Anna is stood in front of William saying “I’m just asking you to love me”, without wanting to make it seem pithy…God is too often stood in front of us saying “I’m just asking you to love me”. And we can choose to say yes….or no.

What’s your answer….have you had that conversation…? Yes or No?

Community on a Wire

I love Pixar movies. As a father of three (relatively) young children, we still have a valid excuse to watch them. In fact some of them have been seen so regularly in our house that I could recite the script quite happily. Although these days Hannah and I are the ones that still try and push to watch them whereas our kids are wanting to move onto more grown up films. Sigh….

And one of the things I love about Pixar movies is the shorts that they include with all of their releases…usually played at the start in the cinema, and included as extras in the DVD release.

http://youtu.be/MOiyD26cJ2A

For The Birds was released in 2000 and was shown as an opener to Monsters Inc, the huge Pixar hit featuring John Goodman and Billy Crystal. It tells the story of a group of small, grumpy birds that are perched on a telephone wire, who are interrupted in their daily routine by a much larger and friendlier bird who wants to join them. The small birds are having none of it, and are unwilling to share their perch. As they try and knock him off of the cable so they can have it to themselves, there is a sudden realisation that their selfishness and inward focus is going to have some serious repercussions…

Social Club?

Too often we are like this as a church. For a place that professes to care about people and be a part of the community, we can be like these birds on a wire. We happily get on with our Sundays, singing the songs we like, seeing our friends and listening to a good message. But when that is disrupted…new people we don’t know are sitting in “our” seats, unfamiliar songs are sung and service times and orders (and even meeting places) are changed to make it more accessible to potential visitors; we grumble, complain and question what is happening to “our” church.

I have experienced it from both sides…having been at our current church for over 12 years, there is a comfort to seeing the same familiar faces each week, talking to my friends and not keeping an eye out for visitors…something I need to address regularly. And from the other side, many years ago in our last church I received so much grief from certain members of the congregation as I was “doing the work of the devil by playing drums in church”! Heaven knows what they’d think about our current services at EBC!

Community

So next time you’re running a series on community, or looking at your next invite, use this short to remind yourself of how inclusiveness, community and outreach is so much more important then maintaining the status quo.

How do you react to change and new people in your church?