Albums and Playlists

Sermon for Sunday, October 15, 2017 || Proper 23A || Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

People don’t listen to albums anymore. In the age of digital music and playlists and Pandora and Spotify, you can tailor your listening experience exactly the way you want to. Don’t like a particular song? Don’t download it, or at least uncheck it from the list being exported to your device. Now the observation that people don’t listen to albums anymore is not new; the music industry has been in flux since I was a teenager when the invention of the mp3 changed all the rules.

But such an observation struck me recently when I went to YouTube and watched the new tour of one of my favorite bands. U2’s seminal album The Joshua Tree is thirty years old this year, and at their concert, they played the entire album straight through from “Where the Streets Have No Name” all the way to “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Because I had consumed many of the tracks via U2’s “Best Of” albums, I had never heard The Joshua Tree as a unit. And I was stunned. I had never noticed the intense longing the album as a whole conveys. Taken singly, the songs are fine – some are even extraordinary – but as a whole, The Joshua Tree is an astounding, beautiful, and heartbreaking work of art. Continue reading “Albums and Playlists”

Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, I navigated to WordPress.com and sat for an hour just staring at the computer screen. I had recently received some advice from an editor at a publishing company that I might consider starting a “weblog,” whatever that was. My seminary thesis  reader, Brian McLaren, had put me in touch with this editor (for the life of me, I can’t remember his name), and I’m so glad he did. The editor gave me the best practical advice imaginable for a young writer.

“You need to write,” he said. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

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“You need to write every day,” he continued. “And that means you need someone or something to be accountable to.” Then he turned me on to the idea of blogging, which was still not quite mainstream in 2008. Thank you, Mr. Editor! (Was it Kevin? Ah well. I really can’t remember.)

So there I was, five years ago today, staring at my computer screen. I was stuck trying to make a decision– namely, what to call my blog. I tried many names, also things I can’t remember now. I was listening to music, and in the moment of greatest despair that I would never come up with a name I was satisfied with, U2’s song “Kite” came on.

“Who’s to say where the wind will take you?
Who’s to say what it is will break you?
I don’t know which way the wind will blow.”

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The words Bono was singing bore into me. It was like I was hearing them for the first time ever. The chorus hung in the air. I could have grabbed the word “wind” and held it in my hand. As I looked at the words in my mind’s eye, they reformed into a verse from the Gospel According to John: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” So says Jesus to the Pharisee Nicodemus. This encounter is one of my favorite in the Gospel. In it, Jesus shatters Nicodemus’s preconceptions — his entire worldview, in fact — and rebuilds it with himself (Jesus) at the center. Over the course of the Gospel, we see Nicodemus first tentatively and then boldly step into his own re-creation.

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For Nicodemus, and for me, it starts with the wind of the Spirit (which, handily, is the same word in ancient Greek). The words from U2’s song shimmered with meaning from the Gospel, and I knew I had found the name of my blog.

Ever since, these words have guided me. I do not know where the wind will take me. But I believe that wherever it is, God will be waiting when I get there. The last five years have confirmed this belief over and over again. Through the blog, I made connections with The Christian Century and EpiscopalCafe. Then, about a year and half in, I came to the attention of the United Methodist Publishing House, and my second book with them comes out this summer! The blog is also partially responsible for the way I met my wife (as well as giving her mother something to find when she googled me). Above all, this website has kept me writing and reflecting on how God is moving in my life and how I am moving in God’s.

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Over the month of June, I plan to have a five year anniversary celebration for wherethewind.com. I will re-post some of my favorite entries, along with ones that marked significant moments and connections. (If you have a favorite post you’d like me to re-issue this month, let me know!) I look forward to the next five years of wherethewind.com, and I’m so profoundly grateful to all of my readers for taking this journey with me.

I leave you today with some of the first ever words I posted on this website, five years ago today.

Adam, a follower of Christ,

to all those who find this blog through the Series of Tubes.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Apostle Paul really nailed the beginnings of his letters, so I thought I’d borrow his intro formula to begin my blog. Paul journeyed all over the Mediterranean following the little dotted purple and blue and red lines you see on the maps in the back of your study Bible. I’m afraid I can’t afford the airfares to Thessalonica or Ephesus, so I will have to rely on the Interwebs to make a new set of dotted lines from my MacBook to your computer. Since you’re probably in modern day Scranton or Lubbock rather than ancient Greece, I think the Internet is the way to go.

[…] Who’s to say where the wind will take me? Who’s to say where the Spirit is leading me? In this blog, I will reflect on the movement of God in my life, the movement that dances on the wind of the Spirit. I invite you to follow my reflections and discern how God is moving in your own life.

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“G” is for Grace (Feb. 21, 2013)

…Opening To…

We come this morning –
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord – open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning. (James Weldon Johnson)

…Listening In…

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things (“Grace” U2, from All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “G” is for Grace. When you look at the word “grace,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? You might think of the prayer you say before a meal. You might think of an adjective used to describe ballerinas and figure skaters. You might think of a special gift of God that we can’t earn and that we can’t really explain.

All of these things are bound up in the word “grace.” We say dancers are graceful because they have developed the skill of beautifully keeping themselves from falling over. Each time dancers step or leap or spin, they are actively falling until their feet touch the floor again. We call these motions graceful because the dancers have cultivated the balance and coordination that keep them on their feet no matter the difficulty of the movement.

In the same way, “grace,” as a theological reality, is the thing that keeps us from falling without the prospect of being caught, the thing that gives us the opportunity to find balance in our lives. This wonderful gift from God allows us to join God’s dance, to learn God’s steps, to follow God’s music. One of the reasons we say “grace” at meals is that meals are a regularly occurring point in our day (hopefully – though for so many of God’s people this isn’t so). The regularity of the prayer of grace keeps us in tune with God’s rhythm so that we can be graceful servants of God.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you fill the world with the rhythm of your love. Help me to find that rhythm in my heartbeat, help me be a person that exhibits the fullness of your grace. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, taking hope in the overarching reality that you are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

A Gospel Medley

Several people who’ve heard me sing this live have asked for a recording, so here it is. And I’m including the lyrics because parts of it (especially the Peter Gabriel section) are a bit difficult to follow. If you want to play it yourself, let me know, and I’ll send you the lead sheet. I hope you enjoy it!

(Oh, btw, I’m working on a second Gospel Medley. If you think of a song I could use for a piece of the Gospel, let me know. Right now, I just have Bryan Adams for the call of the disciples.)

(To download, right-click picture and choose “Save Link As…”)

The Nativity (Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin'”)
Just a virgin girl when the angel said to her,
“You will bear the Son of God.” She said, “Here am I.”
Just a carpenter of David’s line from Bethlehem;
He took her for his wife (the angel told him to).
So Caesar made the census rule
Telling all to go back home
In a stable Mary bears her babe
He’s the Son, the Son, the Son, the Son.

Shepherds grazing up and down the countryside
The wise men searching in the night
Starlight, angels singing ‘bout the Incarnation
Shining on this holy night

Don’t stop believing
Remember it’s with God you’re dealing
Peace to people

– – –

John the Baptizer (John Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane”)
A little ditty about John the Baptist
Whose favorite dinner was honeyed locusts
John, he’s saying, “I’m just the voice crying out:
Prepare the way of the Lord, that’s what I’m talking ‘bout.” (Sayin’)
Oh yeah, it won’t be long:
the kingdom has come near, repent your wrongs
Oh yeah, it won’t be long:
He is coming soon, I can’t tie his sandals’ thong (now walk on)

– – –

The Feeding of the 5000 (The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”)
Jesus looks up, and he knows he’s gonna feed,
He’s gonna feed the people coming to see him.
The disciples, they all say they’re gonna need
They’re gonna need denarii to feed them all.

But I see there five loaves of bread
And I see there two tiny fish
I will bless this food to feed five thousand people
So sit down in the grass
Gotta lot now! Gotta lot now!
Gotta lot of scraps of bread leftover now!

– – –

Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration (John Parr, “Man in Motion (St. Elmo’s Fire)”)
Jesus asks, “Who do you disciples say has come?”
Peter says, “You’re the Son of God, the Chosen One.”
God revealed this to you, not some fleshly search
So I name you Rock, now go build my church.

Then they climb the highest mountain, underneath the starry sky
And they witness Jesus’ changing, whiter and whiter
Gonna build some tabernacles, but then a cloud descends:
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him”

– – –

The Last Supper (John Denver, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”)
All my friends are here in this upper room.
Their feet are clean, now my Passion looms:
Here’s a four long chapter speech to say goodbye.
See this bread I’m breakin’, it’s a special loaf,
The wine you’re drinkin’ is my blood’s merlot.
Let’s share this meal before I’m brought to die.

So take, eat: you’re sharing me.
Drink this to remember me.
Hear my words ‘cause soon I’ll have to go.
I’ll be dying on the cross soon,
But know that I’ll be back again
Oh, friends, I hate to go…

– – –

The Crucifixion (Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”)
On his head’s placed a crown of thorns;
The temple veil will soon be torn.
Without a noise, without his pride, he reaches out to his bride.

They crucify: the blood, the sweat
His mouth is dry from thirstiness.
Eli, Eli, Have you forsaken
Me to die? You’ll be with me in
Paradise. Oh God forgive them.
Then he cries: I commend my Spirit.
I see the blood and the sweat, oh, but it’s not over quite yet.
Just come on down this Sunday, meet you there at sunrise.

– – –

The Resurrection (U2, “Beautiful Day”)
They go to the tomb, on the first day of the week
But there’s no stone, so Mary takes a peak
She’s out of luck, and the reason that she had to care
Was apparently snuck away when they were unawares
But she knows she’s found a friend when the gardener says her name.
And then Jesus sends her saying, “My return proclaim.”

On this Easter Sunday, the grave falls and you know
On this Easter Sunday, death’s sting is wiped away
On this Easter Sunday…

Touch me, put your finger in my side
When I leave, my Holy Spirit will abide

It’ll be Pentecost Day, tongues of fire, you know
On that Pentecost Day, the Church is here to stay
On that Pentecost Day…

Who’s to say where the wind will take you?

Adam, a follower of Christ,

to all those who find this blog through the Series of Tubes.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Apostle Paul really nailed the beginnings of his letters, so I thought I’d borrow his intro formula to begin my blog. Paul journeyed all over the Mediterranean following the little dotted purple and blue and red lines you see on the maps in the back of your study Bible. I’m afraid I can’t afford the airfares to Thessalonica or Ephesus, so I will have to rely on the Interwebs to make a new set of dotted lines from my MacBook to your computer. Since you’re probably in modern day Scranton or Lubbock rather than ancient Greece, I think the Internet is the way to go.

Pop over to the “About” page for an introduction to the blog. I look forward to your comments on future posts. I took the title of this blog from U2’s song, “Kite.” In the midst of the grief that spurred the song to be written, I hear the hope that wind will continue to carry us on. I don’t know U2’s source material for this song, but I can’t get Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus out of my head when I hear the chorus. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). In Greek, wind and spirit are the same word (pneuma). Who’s to say where the wind will take me? Who’s to say where the Spirit is leading me? In this blog, I will reflect on the movement of God in my life, the movement that dances on the wind of the Spirit. I invite you to follow my reflections and discern how God is moving in your own life.

Here’s that U2 song in case you’ve never heard it. It’s on their album All That You Can’t Leave Behind: