Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We're singing NEW Christmas carols?

One of my favorite holiday traditions is Christmas caroling with my family and childhood friends.  Since I live far from my Old Kentucky Home I can't always make it...but this year I'll be there!  I'll be fresh off the plane and under the influence of Drammamine, but I'll be there in body anyway.  

Many of the people for whom we carol were Sunday School teachers, GA leaders, Deacons, and Choir members.  Many are part of my great cloud of witnesses.  It is an evening of joy and reflection.  

Though we're happy most of the evening, there are also times of sadness.  Last year's elderly couple is this year's widower.  We swallow back the lump in our throats and sing, and even when the tears come they are a mix of mourning and gratefulness and family.  Hugs and love and support and community abound.  The whole evening is a gift.                                                                                                        

Some of our favorite carols are 'Silent Night' and 'O Come All Ye Faithful.'  The familiar tunes are nice since carol-ees can join in with the carolers.  We also remember singing these songs throughout the years with family and friends.  Singing these songs together is a gift.

I am excited to sing with my Scottsville Baptist family too.  Our choir is busily preparing for the Advent and Christmas seasons.  We have selected six new-to-us carols to share with the congregation on December 22nd.  At first I think we were hesitant to pick new songs since familiar ones are so loved, but we are trying to step out of our comfort zones!  Way to go, choir!

As we were practicing last night the lyrics to one of the songs startled me.  That's the thing about new songs:  It's difficult to miss the words because we're still stumbling over them!  With new songs, the meaning has a greater chance to grab us.  Consider the last verse of one of our new-to-us songs, 'Our Savior's Infant Cries Were Heard'

For Christ, who was a refugee
From Herod and his sword,
Is seeking now, thro' us, to be
Our children's friend and Lord

Naming Christ as refugee is powerful to me.  I have always known Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt, but never had I captured that imagery by naming them refugees.  Sometimes one word is all it takes to paint a picture.  My mind began racing with the vulnerability of refugees and the care of the least and lost.  It is a powerful song.

I am excited for our choir to share these new-to-us carols on December 22nd.  I am also excited to share a service of Lessons and Carols on December 29th.  We'll be sure to sing many familiar and beloved songs.  

As we sing familiar carols this holiday season, let's make room for new songs, which may have a word for us too.  Listen to the lyrics of new-to-you carols.  See the story with different eyes.  And when we do sing 'Silent Night' let us listen closely to the power of its words--not only for nostalgia's sake--but for the awesome wonder of the Christ child's coming to the world.

Scottsville Baptist Choir

Monday, November 4, 2013

What Millennials Can Learn from Older Folks

Article after article after article after article has been written about how the church can reach millennials.  Many of those articles make good points the church can and should incorporate.  Thank you writers of those articles; anyone asking what millenials can learn from older folks? 

Many say the millennials want authenticity.  I like what authenticity means, but the word has worn out its welcome.  Authenticity is a buzz word much like missional.  Everyone is saying it, but what does it mean?  Everybody wants everybody to be authentic:  Got it!  (...except I'm not sure that's what we really want.  Rather, we want authenticity on our own terms--the kind that jives with our preferences, attitudes, opinions and beliefs, i.e. "I want people to be my kind of authentic!") 

Despite the overuse of the word, let's think about it's actual definition.  According to webster, authenticity is "worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact."  Let's use that definition to frame the question:  What is "worthy of acceptance" in the lives of older folks?

Answer:  A lot.  So what can we (I say 'we' because I'm relatively youngish, emphasis on 'ish') learn from older folks?

They don't retire from missions.  There is 92 year old lady who works the clothing closet and food pantry every week at Scottsville Baptist.  I wish you could see how she treats every shopper with dignity and respect.  I am learning about how much God loves the poor by watching her.  It's inspiring.

They give sacrificially to the church AND non-profits.  Statistics tell us young people are less likely to tithe to the church.  "But they give to other worthy non-profits!" you say.  Fantastic.  You know what we can learn from older folks?  They tithe AND give to Heifer International.  They give sacrificially AND support a child through Compassion International.  They believe in the work of the church. 

They are loyal to the church.  Many are members of one faith community for decades.  They don't run away when the going gets tough or flee at the first sign of conflict.  They recognize the plusses and minuses of the community in which they worship and serve.  Older folks understand commitment.  (Also older folks can't wait to get back to church following illness or a stint in the hospital.  They are eager to return to church and get back to work.)

They do what needs to be done.  I'm a big fan of the emphasis on calling (thanks Frederick Buechner!); however some things need to get done whether we're called to it or not.  Someone has to change the light bulbs.  Someone's tithe has to buy toilet paper.  Someone has to be the treasurer.  Someone has to serve on nominating committee.  The faithfulness and loyalty of older folks teach us not every task is something we are called to do (or want to do!), but it needs to get done.  Everybody has to take turns being the 'someone.'

They built a foundation for us.  I'm grateful for the older folks who taught me about Jesus:  For Mrs. Jackson who taught me about missions; for Ms. Lummy who taught me to be a good listener during worship (or else!); for Mrs. Casebier who modeled humor, grace and elegance and for my grandmother who honors her home church by sending gifts.  Faithful older folks have given time, resources and love.   Perhaps some new models work better in the church today.  Perhaps we need to rethink missions and absolute quiet during worship (!), but older folks have taught us so much.  Don't forget their sacrifices for the kingdom (and us!).

They're willing to try new things.  Not all older folks are willing to try new things mind you (not all young folks are either!), but many are. Don't assume every older person is against change.  Scottsville Baptist counts many older folks among its ranks.  They called a pastor who happens to be a young, single lady (cue Beyonce).  They are willing.

Any time we categorize or stereotype an entire generation, we're bound to miss the mark at least a little bit (as I'm sure I have here). For example, an old person might like to rock out to Chris Tomlin song while a young person might relish the sound of a pipe organ in worship.  So any time we say "this is how we reach the millennials" or "this is what we can learn from older folks" it's not going to be 100% or even 70% accurate.  Every person is different.

Like most people I have ideas on how to reach the millennials, but I don't want to miss out on what the older folks have given us.  Focusing solely on one group or generation (be it older or younger) causes us to miss out on the wholeness of who God's people can be together.  Sometimes older AND younger folks are guilty of simply stomping our feet and demanding our way.  If that's what authenticity means--getting our own 'authentic' way--I'm not so cool with that; but if it means honoring what is "worthy of acceptance" in every age--I can get behind that.

Millennials have much to learn from older folks and older folks have much to learn from millennials.  Let's include everyone's voices in the conversation.