Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Canadian Tire Money Toy Drive

I've just had the most amazing time!!! Every year for the last five years, I've organized a toy drive in Toronto. Yesterday was shopping day, and today was distribution day.

For my American friends, let me tell you about Canadian Tire. This store is a Canadian institution. It's kind of like Home Depot, minus the lumber, plus home and automotive. When you make a purchase at Canadian Tire, you receive special coupons called CANADIAN TIRE MONEY. This "money" looks sort of like Monopoly money, and is about 5% of your purchase. You can use this "money" in any Canadian Tire store towards any purchase. Lots of people shop at Canadian Tire, and pretty much everyone has some Canadian Tire Money in their wallet. At Christmas, Canadian Tire has a huge toy section. And that's where I come in...

Each year, I collect Canadian Tire Money, I bring it to the store, they match my collection, and I buy toys for needy children.

So, today was the final day of it all. I wanted to share the day with everyone, so here's the letter I sent out to my mailing list today. And I have to tell you, it's a pretty awesome way to spend the days before Christmas:

Hi all,

I have just had the most exciting two days as we've wrapped up this year's Canadian Tire Money Toy Drive. Here are the final results:

Our collection of Canadian Tire Money was ... $1202.95 !!!!!!

Canadian Tire matched our donation penny for penny, for over $2400.00 in toys!

In addition, Mastermind Toys also gave a donation of toys. And, St. John's York Mills Church gave me the toys donated to their mitten tree to distribute.

In total, over 300 toys were distributed today!!!!!

This is so much more than I expected! Some of the toys were brought to Robertson House, a shelter for women and children in downtown Toronto. Last month, I received the shopping list for their 100 children. Yesterday, we brought that list to Canadian Tire and bought a toy for each child. Each toy was valued at $20.00-$30.00, and encouraged sharing and creative play.

After filling the list, we still had more toys! I was directed to Oolagan Community Services, a group that provides free mental health services for children and their families. They received a car-load of toys for their children as well.

Both agencies will give the toys directly to the mothers. This way, the moms can retain the independence of giving the toys themselves, or letting Santa put the toys under the tree.

I am so amazed at the collection of Canadian Tire Money. $1202.95 in 5 and 10 cent pieces. Over 3900 pieces were collected!

Thank you to the Canadian Tire at Sheppard and Leslie for matching our donation! This the fifth year of our toy drive, and they have matched our donation every year. If you need a Canadian Tire, please consider supporting this one.

Thank you to Mastermind Toys for giving us two huge boxes of toys! Your contribution was wonderful. If you are looking for great toys any time of year, please consider purchasing them at any Mastermind location.

Thank you to Bert Chandler for collecting Canadian Tire Money through St. Patrick's Anglican Church.

Thank you to Anne Rawson for organizing a collection of Canadian Tire Money through the Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre.

Thank you to the staff and parishioners of St. John's York Mills Church for their continued support of this toy drive.

Thank you to everyone who mailed in a donation of Canadian Tire Money. Whether it was 5 cents or 5 dollars, it all added up!

Thank you to Hollis, Helen, Gerald, Don, and Bobbi for purchasing and transporting the toys.

And a few final thoughts:

The first year of this toy drive, we bought 11 toys, and I was amazed. I can't believe how much this has grown! It is truly an example of everyone giving a little to make a great change.

We have already started next year's collection! Canadian Tire Money can be mailed any time of year to the address below.

If you are interested in collecting Canadian Tire Money for our toy drive, please just email me and let me know! Whether it's your school, office, or church, we'd love to add your Canadian Tire Money to our collection.

This Sunday, when you're opening your gifts and sharing time with your family, please take a minute and know that, thanks to your contributions, hundreds of children are having a great Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Allison Lynn

Allison Lynn - Toy Drive
c/o St. John's York Mills Church
19 Don Ridge Dr.
North York, ON
M5B 2C2

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Very Raptors Christmas

It's been a long day and I'm exhausted. I'm about to have a cup of tea and watch the best Christmas special ever: A Charlie Brown Christmas. But first, I want to share my day...

This morning was the best gig I get all year. My Victorian Christmas Carollers sang at the Toronto Raptors' Christmas game at the Air Canada Centre. They always pull out all the stops for this game with lots of singers and dancers and stuff. For the last five years, I've been part of the entertainment, and for the last two years, it's been with my own quartet. Leo, Monika, Gerald, and I spent all yesterday afternoon practicing our favourite carols in four-part-harmony. We did some very traditional arrangements, like Silent Night and Good King W. And then we switched things up a little on some carols and threw in some descants. For these, the men would jump on the tune so I could wail on the top. My favourite are the funky carols we've arranged ourselves. We did our version of Joy to the World, that we've nicknamed "Funky Joy". We also worked out an arrangement of Blue Christmas with Gerald on a very Elvisy lead part.

We sang in the hour before the game. They always set up "Santa-Raptor" and some of the Dance Pack for photos in the Galleria, which is their gianormous lobby. {Um, yes I do believe 'gianormous' is a word!} They had us positioned near them, so it was a great location, but they used up the mics on some of the other performers, so we had no mics! Thousands of people walking past, and only the nearest could hear us! A little frustrating, but what can you do? We just sang our best and tried not to compete with the noise of the fans. The people who could hear us, loved us.

After our singing, they gave us seats for the game. This year, we sat up in the media gondolas. You know when they say "They're going upstairs to see if that's a point"? Well, we were in that very same upstairs! What a great time! They always give us passes to wear so we can wander around the ACC, and tonight, those passes are decorating the Christmas tree! It makes for a great conversation piece.

Tonight was our church's Christmas Carol Service. I love this service. All readings and music. It's always pretty awesome. The combined choirs sang Sussex Carol, and our choir sang an up-tempo number called Come to Bethlehem. Jen played piano, but we all added in maracas, tambourine, and finger cymbals. It was rocking! And people loved it, which is always lovely.

Two years ago, the All Peoples Korean Presbyterian Church started using our church building as their worship space, and tonight their choir joined the service. They sang O Holy Night in Korean. Just beautiful.

It's nice having Christmas on a Sunday. Now that we've reached Advent 4, we still have a whole week to prepare for the big day.

I don't really feel I have much more to say tonight. Linus and Charlie Brown are in the tree lot, and they've just spotted "the tree". Awesome!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The REAL Christmas Story - outdoor theatre in December!

Tonight was one of those awesome nights we all hope to have in December.

Eight years ago, Dad shared an idea with me. What if we had a theatre in December where people could come and hear about the birth of Christ? Sounds great. But here's the catch: Let's have it outside! People can come and drive their cars through the church grounds and meet the different characters of the Bible!

Sounded crazy!

Our church is blessed with great grounds. It was the first building in the area, and has still held on to a fair amount of property. We have a great church yard and a huge parking lot. Not long after we moved to Toronto, Dad had this vision of creating an outdoor theatre experience on the grounds. And what better story than the Christmas story?

He wrote a script entitled "The REAL Christmas Story - A Walk Through", gave it to me for consideration, and I added in my two cents. (We decided that walking-through would provide a nicer experience than driving-through.) He formed a committee of church members to produce the play in 1998. We were blessed with awesome volunteers, including Warren Hughes, a retired professional costume and set designer. Warren build eight stages throughout the church yard, and graced each stage with a painted backdrop. I was the director for the first three years, and I have performed in the show almost every year since. I felt most honoured when Dad included me as co-writer of the script. I still can't believe we got it off the ground that first year, but we did, and people loved it. In the following two years, we made a few changes to the script, and did some re-organizing of our tech set-up. It is now a well-oiled machine, run completely by volunteers. One year, we even had a team come in and make a documentary of the show. The documentary was released as a video and got played on Vision TV.

So, tonight was our eighth production. For those of you who missed it, let me take you through a little descriptive version of The REAL Christmas Story:

First, you park your car, and join in the line up. You have dressed very warmly because, after all, it is winter in Toronto. Oh, and it's night. We start just as it gets dark. As you stand in line, you are entertained by the singing and impromptu comedy of one of our many tour guides. (I don't think they all sing, but this year, Gerald start doing Christmas carols, and I think he's been asked to do it again next year!) The tour guides are all dressed in "Bethlehem" costumes. They each carry a lantern with a lighted candle inside. You are given a program of the show. If you are lovely, you make a donation to support the production. (Admission is free.) If you're not lovely, you complain about the cold and ask if you can jump the line so that you can make it to your cocktail party before the caviar gets warm. But you are lovely, so on we go...

You and your friends are made into groups of a dozen or so people. You are lead by your tour guide, through the church gate, and to the first stage. Here you will hear the prologue. (I like to call this actor the Prologuer. I've pretty much convinced myself that this is a real word.) This character invites you to travel back through time to experience the REAL Christmas story.

You walk a little, and a light goes up on the next stage. Here you meet the prophet, Isaiah, and his assistant, Zachariah. (Yes, a little creative freedom on the assistant. He likes to be called "Zach".) They tell you of Isaiah's predictions on the coming of Christ.

On the next stage, you meet Jeremiah and his sister, Huldah. (Again, creative freedom. The first year, Huldah was Jeremiah's wife, til we found out that Jeremiah was never married! So, we gave him a sister.) Jeremiah also tells us of his predictions of the coming of Christ.

The next stage is the angels. Warren did something different on this stage - The painted drop is at the front, and it's painted with three glorious angels, but there are holes cut out for the faces. The actors wear blond curly wigs and poke their faces out of the holes. People love it! They are practicing their song for the birth of Christ. They sing "Good Christian Folk (Men) Rejoice". Legend has it that this song was given to us by the angels. I don't know if that's true, but I thought it was a good enough reason to add it in. The angels sing a Gloria Deo, which is my original music contribution to the show. Of course, I haven't seen any royalties yet...

Next, you start to walk to a stage, but you are stopped on the path by a Roman herald. He orders you to return to your home-towns to participate in a census. But oh no! There's a guy running through the crowd! His name is Joseph and he can't travel cause his wife is pregnant. But the herald has no sympathy and tells him he's got to travel. The herald walks off into the night, while Joseph runs off to get his wife. We then see Mary and Joseph on the stage, and they're on their way to Bethlehem. They talk of their angelic visitations, and their fears about the coming days. But most importantly, they talk about their trust in God. As Mary's baby has a little kick, you leave them to meet...

Three confused dudes wandering around in the snow. They are dressed in great robes, and seem lost. In our play, the "wise men" are called Astrologers to emphasize their knowledge of the celestial world. They tell you about their visit to Herod, and how he was kind to them, yet there's something about him they just don't trust. They show you the gifts they have for the new king. Then, they spot the star! It's just over Bethlehem, they leave the stage and we follow them to...

The shepherds. The lowest of the low. Sitting on a hillside where nothing ever happens. Suddenly, an angel - well, a puppet-angel - pops out above the painted drop to announce the coming of the new king. (And the angel sings my song! Again, royalties?) The shepherds, too, get very excited and leave the stage.

You are reaching the end of the churchyard and are now approaching the front entrance of the church. Suddenly, you see two Bethlehemites talking in very excited voices. They are surprised that the shepherds have left their sheep. And why is everyone heading to that stable? They join in your crowd, asking you if you've seen the star in the sky? Together, you approach the crowd gathered at the front of the stable. And there you see it - a baby. A gorgeous, tiny, real baby. Held by his (or her!) mother and father. A citizen of Bethlehem announces that this is wonderful day for us who live here in Bethlehem. As the citizen talks, the crowd starts to sing the first lines of Silent Night. And then, our citizen says the line that gets me every time,

"Our God has been born as a human being, and dwells here among us. Let us celebrate this holiest of miracles."

That's it. That's the climax. What else needs to be said? What else do we need to hear?

The crowd sings a few more carols, and then the "mayor of Bethlehem" invites you round the corner for hot chocolate and candy canes. Another group is waiting to see the final scene, so you must move forward, please.

This year, we had perfect weather, which has always been a blessing for us. We do have a God-forbid-it-rains plan, and we pray we never have to use it. Tonight, we ran our play 29 times, one time for each group that went through. In a professional theatre run, that would be equivalent to an almost-four-week run. We had 400 audience members. Due to the weather, the actors are all double cast. You go out, do your scene for 30 minutes, and then another group of actors comes out to relieve you for 30 minutes while you go inside and warm up. That means we need 50 actors and singers to cast this show, plus several sets of babies. Each baby is out for two 30-minute sets, and must be accompanied by both parents, who play silent Mary and Joseph. We also need approximately 50 volunteers for tour guides, costumes, sets, feeding the actors,etc. It takes weeks of rehearsal and several days to set up and strike the stages.

Why do so much work for a one night show?

This year, I was the "mayor of Bethlehem". Because I was near the final scene, I would join in the singing. I got to see people's faces when they realized the whole crowd was singing. I got to hear them add their voices to the song. Then, I got to talk to them after they had seen the show. Some people were there for the first time. They brought whole families composed of several generations. The children loved the angels and the real baby. And I got to meet people who've been coming for several years. It's become a part of their Christmas tradition. I even met people who've been coming for all eight years. How awesome is that?

I don't have all the numbers in front of me, but over the last eight years, we have told this story, this Gospel story, to thousands of people. If you add in our television coverage, you can make that tens of thousands.

That's why we do it. It's so much fun, and we all love doing it. And each year, we get to tell hundreds of people:

"God has become a human being and dwells among us. Let us celebrate this holiest of miracles."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Fairlawn United, and Carolling season begins!

Today was a great day of singing.

This morning, I was the guest soloist at Fairlawn United Church. Last year, they started a monthly contemporary worship service. Like so many churches, they are trying to find new ways to worship and new ways to energize their time of praise. This service is done early in the morning, so that they can still have their traditional service at 10:30. To really emphasize the difference in the worship, this service is even done in a different part of the building. (I'm sure this is for technical reasons, but I saw it as very symbolic.)

We all met in the gym in the basement of the church. Chairs were arranged in a circle, with an undecorated Christmas tree in the middle. Coffee and juice were available for all the parishioners willing to brave the early morning. (Okay, it's only 9:00, but for some of us, that's early!) They have a screen set up for song lyrics, and they've assembled a great team to lead music. I believe it's mostly volunteers, and they are just awesome. It's a mix of kids and not-kids, singing and playing a variety of instruments. Their energy is wonderful.

My first song was Soon and Very Soon. I was accompanied by piano and djembe, and I played my tambourine. It was so much fun, and a great way to start the service. We were rocking out, and I invited everyone to sing on the last chorus and they all sang and clapped. Funny - when I was younger, I never would have invited people to sing along with me. Now, I just love it. Oh dear, am I maturing or something?

One of the young readers read a passage from Luke about the nativity and then I sang my own song, The Stable Bare. I was accompanied by piano and guitar and the whole thing was just how I like it - simple and quiet. Simple, and yet the energy during the song was powerful. After the last note, everyone was just silent. You could hear a pin drop. I feel so blessed that God has given me this simple little song to sing.

The service proceeded with the telling of the story of the Mitten Tree. At the end of the story, we all brought up mitts and hats to put on the tree, all of which will be delivered to needy families in the city. It sounds silly to say it, but I found the whole thing very emotional! I couldn't look at the tree covered with offerings without tearing up. And singing O Christmas Tree just about did me in!

After the service, the feedback was wonderful, but the thing that thrilled me most was the reaction to The Stable Bare. People genuinely loved it. I just felt so honoured at their reaction.

This afternoon, I had a bit of switch. It's the start of the Victorian Christmas Carolling season! I've been doing this for years, and last year, when I started Jarvis Muse Productions, I decided to start my own group. It's exactly what you think it is - we get all dressed up in costumes and walk around singing Christmas carols. And I have to tell you, I love it! I love the costumes. I love the music. I love singing with my friends. And mostly, I love seeing the reaction on people's faces when they hear us sing their favourite songs.

Today we sang at Allan Gardens, which is a tropical greenhouse in the middle of downtown Toronto. For three hours, we stood among the palm trees and sang in acapella harmony. I was especially proud today of our new costumes. After last year, I decided I wanted to have my own set of costumes, and, of course, I was really picky about how they looked. So, I made them! I'm not really a sewer, but for the last week, I've been hunched over a sewing machine stitching velvet skirts and thick red capes. And I have to say, they look awesome. (I don't sew much, so I totally feel it's okay to brag on this one!)

At the end of our last set, we talked with a family who'd been listening to us for the whole three hours. They were so happy that we'd been there to sing. The little girl asked us for our autograph. We all wished each other a Merry Christmas.

... That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shape Notes in Toronto!

(I'm having to publish this later, but it's not letting me add the original date! This event happened Monday, November 28, 2005)

I'm so excited! I've found a shape-note singing group in Toronto!

I figured it would be next summer til I was surrounded by more shape-noters, but I have discovered a small underground community in the great T.O. They meet on Wednesdays, which this season has conflicted with Alpha. But tonight, they had a special workshop, so I got to join in.

The workshop was lead by Shelley Posen, who, on a small-world note, knew my parents at the time they were pregnant with me! Shelley is a specialist in folk music and has attended many singing conventions in the Southern States. He absolutely knew the Stamps-Baxter music and school. Due to the crazy rain traffic, we missed the intro, so I really have no idea why there are 2 different kinds of shape-note systems.

You see, this group does not do the Stamps-Baxter kind of shape-notes. They do the Sacred Harp version, which uses only four shapes instead of the seven I learned this summer. In some ways, it was easier to learn the names of the shapes, because there were less of them. But it was also harder because you no longer have one shape equaling one note. In Sacred Harp, "do" is not "do". It is "fa". But "fa" is also "fa". So you have 2 pitches called "fa". Very confusing. And then in a minor key, "fa" shifts to the tonic. The first "fa", not the second "fa", I think. Arg!!!

After the intro, we all sat in a square formation to sing, with one part on each side of the square. The tenors generally had the tune, which I found interesting, yet each part always had a harmony line that was as singable as a tune. The leader stands in the middle and chooses the "fa" (which some of us call "do"). The leader then counts you in, and off you go. Apparently, in Southern Sacred Harp circles, only the best shape-note singers sit in the front row. If you're a first-timer, you sit in the back until you are invited to move up front. We only had 2 rows, so I arrogantly chose first-row centre. Isn't that where the smart kids always sit?

Tonight was great. I'm really hoping I can join the group again sometime. Wednesdays seem to be getting competitive for me, with Alpha, possibly post-Alpha, big band rehearsal, and now shape-notes. Can't somebody change to Tuesday???

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gospel Vespers

Today was our third Gospel Vespers service. Our gospel theme for today was the Prodigal Son.

I was really excited about today's service as my lovely friend, Aileen Lombardo, was scheduled as our music leader. Aileen and I met because we both teach baby music classes. We went out to lunch together, and within minutes, we found out that we're both Christians and we both sing gospel music. Don't tell me God's not in that?

It was great to see so many people brave the rain to join our congregation. The church was quite full when Aileen started the service. Accompanied by her partner, Jason Matta, on piano, Aileen lead the congregation in several praise and worship songs.

Dad did the sermon, and he based it on Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son". He put the image up on the screen, and gave a great message on forgiveness. We then turned down the lights, and lit a candle for forgiveness. Dad kept the image up for most of the service, and it became a great point of meditation. It's amazing how much of the music and prayer were reflected in that awesome painting.

Aileen and Jason continued the service with more music and prayer. I just love Aileen's voice, but even more so, I just love her commitment to ministry. At one point, she sang the first verse of Amazing Grace acapella. Her heart and story filled every part of the song. It was beautiful.

We also tried something new and pretty daring in an Anglican church - We opened the gates for an altar call! It wasn't big or dramatic. We just let people know that if they were interested in committing their lives to Christ, they could do it here and today. We also let them know that they could pray with the clergy or musicians if they wanted to. If we're going to be inviting non-Christians into the church, we need to let them know what to do if they decide they want to join us. No one came up to the front, but what I'm hoping is that maybe we planted the seeds in some one's heart. Maybe they didn't come up to the front today, but perhaps they will another day? Or perhaps they made the commitment to God in their hearts? I just want to give people the opportunity and the safe place to discover God.

What a blessing this service is to all of us! It is only our third service, and there are still some technical things we need to work on. But I think the spirit is right. People are coming and responding. And I believe God is well-pleased. He is welcome in this place!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Angel songs.

What a great weekend!

This weekend, Gerald and I performed two shows each at Toronto's newest craft show, Angel Wings Over Toronto. The idea was to have an entire show filled with angel inspired crafts and things. I'm a huge angel lover, so my friend sent me a link to their site. Well, of course, I got so excited that I called them to see if I could sing at the show. Not only did I get hired, but they offered Gerald a spot as well.

Toronto has so many craft shows at this time of year, and I think they felt the competition. Turnout was not as high as expected. But the people we met were amazing. Great talents and great spirits. They really loved our music, and I think we may have met a lady who will help us find our wedding bands. (It's getting so close!)

Gerald did a set of his own songs, mixed in with some country and gospel tunes. He didn't intend to have a gospel set, but most of his songs ended up with some kind of God reference in them. (Mysterious ways...) He did his arrangement of "People Get Ready", which I just love. So soulful! And a great version of Elvis's "If I Can Dream". Of course, I think this song sounds better as a duet with a girl singer, preferably a red-head with stunning blue eyes and attitude to boot, but I digress. In his originals, he did "Perfect Picture", which always makes me swoon, and "Do You Trust the Wings God Gave You", which always makes me cry. He was just awesome! (so proud!!!)

My set was entirely inspired by angels. I found angel songs in lots of different areas of music, and build a little concert around them. Gerald played beautiful finger-style guitar for most of the songs. I did lots of traditional carols, like "Hark the Herald" and "Angels We Have Heard on High". I did old songs like "Rusty Old Halo" (which always makes me smile!) and "Angel Band". I did "The Huron Carol" with Gerald on djembe, and "Of the Father's Love Begotten" acapella.

Some of the songs were entirely about angels, like "Gabriel's Message", and some just had angel references, like "Silent Night". We did a ripping version of Ray Overholt's "Ten Thousand Angels". I thought it was important to show that the angels were not just around at Christmas, as this song sings about the passion of Christ. I also did "I Call Out Your Name", so we'd be doing a song off the cd.

I'm feeling great strength when I perform these days. I've given God complete control over my career, and when I get in a position like today, I feel his blessing on what I'm doing. Today wasn't a church, and not all my songs were Christian. But I still felt like I was representing God and his grace. People really responded to what we were doing, and I'm sure that that was God's work and not mine. It all felt awesome.

I now need a few days of rest. I'm quite sure I won't get them, but a girl's got to try!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Marilyn and Jazz

Tonight will be a quick post as it's late and tomorrow is another performing day.

This week has just been a string of interesting gigs. Sunday was church singing. Then, for the next three nights, I sang jazz at the Old Mill. Sooo gorgeous there! My beautiful friend, Moni, usually sings there, but she's away and gave me the opportunity to sub in for her. (My honour!) It's a pretty relaxed gig, as I was not the lead singer, but more like a "girl singer". (The trio was drums, sax/flute/clarinet, and keyboard with tracks.) I would come forward for a few songs a set, and then just sit back and listen to the music for the rest of the time. I did some of my favourites, including What a Wonderful World, and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. I was a little nervous the first night. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I'm used to doing these songs with a full big band behind me. When it's just a trio, you're so much more exposed. Also, we were improvising, something that never really happens in a big band situation. It's been a while since I've done any of that kind of stuff. But after the first night, I started to relax into it and I really had a great time. The crowds were small, but generally appreciative. Singing great songs in a gorgeous room wearing an evening gown - rough life!

But the last two days have just been extraordinary - and I mean that in the "strange" sense of the word. For the last two days, I have worked as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Crazy! It was for a convention, and I was hired by a company to pose for pictures. They do photography, and thought it would be a great way to bring people over to their booth. They were right!

I rented a dress, bought a wig, and copied the make-up off a photo. I thought I'd have to do some singing and character work, but all they wanted was photos. No one wanted to talk to Marilyn. They just wanted to talk to me-in-a-funny-costume. It was just plain fun. My whole day was smiling and posing (talk about working with my strong points!). It was a little tiring to be in a wig and heels all day, but other than that, what a way to make my Christmas shopping money!

I don't know how much I actually looked like Marilyn, but I definitely had some great poses. The clients were really happy, and the crowds had a great time. And now that I have the wig and the make-up down, I'd definitely do it again!

Have I said recently how much I like my job?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

St. John's West and lots o' hymns!

What an amazing and blessed day of worship and music!

Every month, I ask Gerald to come and see me do something, and my reason why it's so incredibly crucial for him to come is cause it's my "first time" doing it. His complaint is, "Allison, you're always doing things for the first time!" So, yes, he does come to see things, but his point is that I'm always challenging myself with new things.

Well, today was definitely a new thing for me. A very big "first time". Today, for the first time, I was the sole music leader for an entire worship service!

Let's remember, I'm a singer. Singers always have an accompanist, and, on a good day, a choir, and on a great day, a band. But not today - just me!

St. John's West Toronto Anglican Church has taken an innovative approach to leading music at their morning worship. Instead of hiring an organist and forming a choir, they took their music budget, and decided to hire different musicians each Sunday of the year. Those musicians follow the liturgy, but are also invited to add their own creativity to the music for the service.

When I first applied for a Sunday, I thought Gerald might be able to come and play guitar for me, but then we found out he was going to be out of town! Arg!

So, out came my guitar. I play guitar almost everyday, but it's usually for babies and their moms. Not really the same thing. I've barely played in public performance, and I've never had to do so much music at once.

Last month, I started organizing my songs. I decided to go with my strengths, which I believe to be singing and song leading. If nothing else, I guess I just wanted to set a spiritual tone with the music. I wanted people to feel the joy of the Lord in song. On the way to the church this morning, I prayed that God would just use me to sing His songs and lead His people in praise. I also prayed that I wouldn't drop the guitar and swear into the mic.

Before the service, I sang Twila Paris's "How Beautiful". I immediately felt calm. (Isn't it amazing how easy things are when you just let God take control?) My next song was the Gaither's "Jesus is Lord of All", which is so suited to guitar, by the way! I then decided I'd get everyone singing, so I sang "All Night, All Day". We had put drums and shakers in the pews, so I encouraged the congregation to play and sing, and they all did. Just awesome!

The first hymn was "Seek Ye First", and the singing and played was definitely joyful. I played a Celtic "Alleluia" for the Gospel processional, and during the anointing I sang "Prayer of St. Francis" and "Spirit of the Living God", which was inspired by yesterday's Alpha day. For the offertory hymn, we did "Lord of the Dance", which was rocking! People sang and played, and some even danced. In an Anglican church! Whoo-hoo!

Ooooh, then came my big risky choice for the service. They had asked me to play the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) during the communion prayers. I decided to play it on the djembe. For anyone unfamiliar with the djembe, it's an African drum with a huge bass note. I knew it was a bold choice and quite different from the guitar, but I really loved the way it sounded, sooo.... When that point came in the service, I banged the bass note and started to sing. To my great happiness, not only did people sing along, but several people picked up their drums and played along too!

During communion, I sang my song "I Call Out Your Name". It felt awesome to hear people singing along on my own lyric. I also did the Lord's prayer that's set to the tune of Amazing Grace. We ended the service with a rocking version of my favourite song - "This Little Light Of Mine".

I was done, and it felt so good! Once it started, I just felt like I was in the right place. After the service, the comments were incredibly positive, and people loved the djembe on the Sanctus (big sigh of relief!). One woman was impressed with how well I kept the flow of the service, but with all my experience in working with my Dad and with Boni, I've learned a lot about the importance of smooth transitions, and the musician's role in keeping it smooth. And the best part of it all - I've been asked back! Yay!

Today was a test and a risk and a great reinforcement. Last year, I told God I wanted to start singing in other churches. I wanted to start right away, but His timing took a little longer. It just felt so good to be used in this way - to know that I helped lead people in praise and worship. Just awesome!

After the service, I raced back to St. John's York Mills. This year, I've had the pleasure of meeting a great new parishioner, Rev. Gerald Butterworth. Gerry is a hymn writer, who has hooked up with a few musicians who are setting his texts to music. Today, our choir and congregation had the chance to be a part of a recording of these new hymns. I think that the hymns will be recorded, and then a book or digital-book of the music will be published as well. (The details are still shaping up.) The choir was set up in front of the church, and about forty members of the congregation sat in the front pews. A mic was set on each group. We rehearsed five hymns, and recorded sections of four. I always love singing new music, but new hymns are really exciting, especially when you know the writer!

What a great day it has been! I have a very full week of music and performing ahead of me. I'm saying prayers for good sleep, calm nerves, and deep breaths.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

ALPHA - Holy Spirit Weekend

Today was a very special Alpha. Remember in the 80's when sitcoms always had a "very special" episode? Like, "Tune in this week for a very special Family Ties, when Alex does drugs and cries about it". Wasn't that just awful?

Anyways, today was not that kind of "very special". Nicky Gumbel has devoted three chapters of the Alpha course to the Holy Spirit, and they are intended to be studied over the course of a weekend. For simplicity's sake, our group decided to do it in a one day intensive.

The three topics covered are: Who is the Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit do? and How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Nicky starts by explaining that we tend to get very comfortable with God the Father and God the Son, but God the Holy Spirit sort of remains this great mystery. He argues that it shouldn't remain a mystery because it is such a powerful force. Well, 'force' is not his word. He calls the Holy Spirit a 'person', but I have to admit that I have trouble with that. Jesus was a person because he had a physical human form. But the Holy Spirit never took that form. Yes, I understand the idea of humanizing or personifying the Holy Spirit with "person" characteristics, but I just couldn't buy into the idea that the Holy Spirit is a person. It also doesn't make sense with the things we started to learn about it. For example, the Holy Spirit does stuff, which a person can do. But then you can get filled with the Holy Spirit, not something a person can do.

I find the concept of defining the Holy Spirit to be very cumbersome and confusing, but when we went on to discuss having the Holy Spirit in our lives, I felt much more comfortable. I guess for me, the old "wind" analogy is still best. It says that the Holy Spirit is like wind - you can't see it, but you can see and feel its effects. I believe this. I can't see the Holy Spirit, and I completely proved today that I can't define it, but I can see its effects in my life and in the lives of others.

Our leaders did a great presentation today. We were joined for the day by our clergy, Dad and Mary. They took the Holy Communion service, and stretched it over the whole day, so that the Alpha tapes and the discussions were woven into the service. We'd do a little service, say a prayer, watch a tape, and discuss. Before the lunch break, I lead the group in singing "Spirit of Gentleness". Olivia chose the song, and it fit in so well with all the things we'd talked about. (See, that's an effect of the Holy Spirit - like the wind, He is!) I had volunteered last week to bring my guitar some time, and I was really happy to do it. It's kind of like a warm-up for tomorrow morning.

By the way, the community meal is so important in Alpha. I used to laugh when my Mom would talk about the food at Alpha, but that time of sharing your day and just getting to know each other is just crucial for building trust. And you really see the effects in the discussions. We all feel very free to share our ideas, even when you may be disagreeing with someone else. When we got to the part of the communion service where we share the Peace, it was all hugs and closeness. You could tell we all enjoy being together. It's great to share this journey with such great people.

After lunch, we did the final video, which had some really interesting stuff in it. Nicky did a section on finding different postures for worship, including lifting your hands. This is something I've only really started in the last few years. I was raised to kneel when praying, and always clasp your hands. Any other time, your hands are either at your sides or holding a book. But when I started to open my hands and lift my arms, I found a great freeing feeling in my worship time. I felt like, if God wanted to come into me, I was open to receive him.

The really interesting part of Nicky's talk was on speaking in tongues. As most people know by now, I had a powerful and somewhat scary experience of witnessing speaking in tongues this summer. The person leading the tongue-talk was aggressive, and the whole experience was really upsetting for me. But Nicky told this great story about a woman who was praying over someone. They woman got stuck for words, so she took a deep breath and started again. When she started again, she started speaking Russian, which she didn't speak, but the person she was praying over did! See, to me, that's amazing and full of God. Nicky gave lots of information on the historical side of speaking in tongues, and then gave "tips" ( I don't know if that's quite the right word) on how to speak in tongues yourself. I have to admit, when it comes to myself, I'm really not open to this. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with it, or maybe it's because I was so freaked out my my experience this summer, but I really don't get it. I'm sure if God wants me to do it, it will happen. But I can't say I'm going to ask for the experience.

We then completed the communion service. It was quiet and full. At the end, I again lead the group in song, this time "Spirit of the Living God". And, again, the song summed up so much of what we'd been doing.

It was a really powerful day. I learned a lot, but my mind is still swimming with ideas. This is probably the deepest theological topic presented so far. It's a challenge, but definitely one worth investigating.

Remembrance Day

I just have to share a great moment from today:

As we all know, today is Remembrance Day (I think in the States it's called Veteran's Day?). Well, for the past number of years, our church has been holding a Remembrance Day service in the neighbourhood. I've never been able to attend, but today I was available and in the area, so I went with Mom.

I thought it was outdoors, in some generalized area of the neighbourhood. No - It's actually right inside one of the office buildings. When we first arrived, all I saw was a huge empty space, a hallway where two escalators meet. "Wow", I thought, "Glad I came, cause no one else is going to show up." Boy, was I wrong.

At 10:50am, the bagpipes started to play, and the people came out of nowhere. They flooded in from all directions. Dad started things off with a welcome from the church. We sang O Canada, and Flanders Field was read. The trumpet played Taps and the Reveille, with the pipes back in for the Lament. Jamie H lead us all in the singing of O God Our Help In Ages Past. That's right - a hymn! Right there in the middle of an office building! Crazy and awesome.

Wonderful Catherine K lead us in the prayer of St. Francis. A pastor from the Evangel Temple, another neighbourhood church, lead us in more prayers, and we finished with God Save the Queen and, of course, more pipes.

The whole event was short, but so powerful. Dad had crests available for any veterans in the crowd. It was a fairly young crowd, but several people came up to get them for their parents. Our veterans - retired, but not forgotten. They thought they were fighting the "war to end all wars". The results of war were so disastrous; they couldn't imagine another generation choosing to put their children into war ever again.

I found this morning so powerful. It amazes me how we still all gather in public places to honour these great people who fought that we could live in peace. Usually it takes a parade or a band or free food to get people to leave their routines. And it amazed me that we were allowed to be a Christian presence in a public place. Toronto is so concerned with being "politically correct" that it's "incorrect" to show any public displays of prayer, faith, or God. But here we were, praying and singing hymns in a very public, very corporate space.

He really does work in mysterious ways...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ALPHA - Week 8

This week's topic: How and when should we share the gospel with others?

What a great topic! It's a great one for new Christians, but especially good for those of us who've grown up in the church as well. As an Anglican, we aren't really encouraged to evangelize. We're taught to show our Christianity in our actions. I'm completely cool with this, but I also think that sometimes we should be able to just talk about Jesus with someone. I think they teach this better in other churches? I guess too, that being raised a Christian, I was never formally introduced to Jesus. He was just there from the beginning - my own little John 1:1 experience! You know, I never had anyone say, "Hey, let me tell you about Jesus", so I don't necessarily think of doing that for others. Or maybe it's just that I don't know how? Or maybe that I'm scared to?

Nicky Gumbel started by talking about the two biggest dangers in sharing the gospel with others - fear and insensitivity. Fear of bringing up the name of Jesus in a public place. Fear of making other people uncomfortable. Or, perhaps, fear of embarrassment. What if I share my intimate feelings of faith to another and my feelings are rejected? Mocked? Degraded?

And insensitivity - Not realizing that someone doesn't want to hear the gospel. Being disrespectful of a person's existing beliefs or faith. Or just being pushy.

I remember once I was at a Canada Day celebration and the Jews For Jesus were handing out pamphlets. I was really curious about how you could be Jewish and for Jesus, so I approached one of the women and asked her about it. She explained how they were a group of Jewish-raised, or culturally Jewish, people who have accepted Jesus as their savior. Great! I had my answer. I thanked her and was ready to leave, when she started her pitch - "You like you're at the age to be thinking about your faith...". I thanked her again and told her I was already a Christian. But then, she started getting pushy. I remained polite for as long as I could, but I finally had to tell her to leave me alone. First of all, I'm not Jewish in any way, so to this day, I can't understand how I could ever be a Jew For Jesus. But more importantly, she was being insensitive to my pre-existing faith. I was already a Christian, and yet she was trying to recruit me. She wasn't looking to add to the body of Christ, just to the body of her organization.

Maybe this is why I'm hesitant to tell others about Jesus. I don't want to be one of those pushy people who knock on your door or chase you down in the street. And yet I know that most people who are trying to add to the body of Christ are not working in this way.

We had a great discussion about the story of the woman at the well. (I know a great song about this story, so it was hard to have the discussion without bursting out singing!) Here's an example of Jesus meeting a stranger and, within a few short sentences, sharing the gospel with her. I think the thing I liked most about the story was how he made the gospel appropriate to the situation. They're at the well, talking about water, so suddenly, the gospel is living water. Brilliant.

I remember a preacher we had at church once who talked about "quiet evangelism". Ways that we can show our faith in our actions. Ways that aren't pushy, but that may open the door to a discussion about being a Christian. Like wearing a cross, or saying grace in a restaurant. People will see these small Christian practices. Perhaps they will ignore them. Perhaps they will store them in their memory bank. Or perhaps they will come up to us and say, "Hey, what are you doing?"

They say people need to hear about Jesus thirty times before becoming a Christian. They may not change the first time you say grace with them, but what if that's #29? Suddenly, every little move becomes very important.

I remember, one time in university, I was in Bloor subway station, and I saw guy wearing a leather jacket. On the back of the jacket was a painted design of a burning cross. I was so upset by this! How dare he wear something so disrespectful? Didn't he know how important that symbol was to me? And to millions of others? But what could I do? I was tiny and he was huge and pretty intimidating. But I realized there was something I could do. I could wear a cross too. Not a burning one - a beautiful empty cross; empty to show that Jesus is not dead, but has defeated death and has been raised to new life. For as much as he has the right to wear whatever he wants, and put out whatever message he wants, I can wear whatever I want too. I have the choice to put out whatever message I want.

So, how am I sharing the gospel? I guess the main way is through my singing and, especially in the past year, through my songwriting. I think I'm sharing through this blog. I am wearing a cross, and I do say grace in restaurants. Oh, and I bought a fish to stick on the trunk of my car. (We call it Jesus-fish. It's not meant to be disrespectful. It just makes me giggle!)

Oh, and one more thought on all this. The deeper my faith grows, the more comfortable I get sharing the gospel with others. I think God is giving me confidence in this area. I used to avoid the question, "Are you religious?" by saying "Oh, well, really, I'm much more spiritual". Bull-poopy. I was spiritual, but really, I was just trying to avoid the question. I didn't want to be labeled "religious". Maybe that's part of being a preacher's kid? But now, I don't care if I'm labeled anything. (Okay, I don't want to be labeled "fat" or "mature", but that's a whole other post!)

I know that what I have to offer is great, because all of it comes from God. And everything came together when tonight's discussion hit my guiding verse:

Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify God in Heaven.

What else do I need to say?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

ALPHA - Week 7

Alpha is going so quickly! Next week, we have a full Alpha-day to discuss the three segments covering the Holy Spirit. I'm really looking forward to it, and I just realized how geeky that is to say - "Wow, I've got a wild weekend coming up! I'm hanging out at church discussing the Holy Spirit. Wicked!"

This week's topic: How can I resist evil?

What a HUGE topic for one night's discussion. We could have stayed there all week talking about it. The first part of the talk is about the idea of spiritual warfare. It's funny how many of us will believe in God, but dismiss the idea of Satan. We've made Satan into a cartoon character. He has funny horns and a silly tail. But if there is a force for ultimate good, doesn't it just make sense that there is a force for ultimate evil? Nicky Gumbel gives many different sources of evidence to support this idea, and one of those is the writings about Satan and evil in the church's history. This got me thinking about hymns. In contemporary Christian songwriting, we so rarely write about Satan. Yet in old hymns, Satan made a regular appearance. The first to come to mind was "Down on my knees", with the line: 'Old Satan tried to tell me the Bible was a lie, that Jesus did not love me, and I was going to die'. We don't sing about this any more. It's like we've made him into such a cartoon that we don't feel it necessary to warn others of his danger. We don't feel the need to personify evil, yet our society personifies everything else. (Don't believe me? How many people name their cars?)

I truly believe in absolute evil. I believe in Satan and demons. And I believe it because of Steve. Steve was a person who loved living and who was fighting for his life. But on that day, when he took his life, I know it wasn't his own decision. He wanted to live. He was praying for his health, and we were all praying for him. But something that day convinced him that he had no other choice. I don't believe he made that choice of his own volition. It may sound hokey, but I believe he met with demons that day. I believe it with all my heart. Steve didn't want suicide, and I don't believe God wanted that for him either. If God wasn't part of that decision, it just makes sense that an evil force, Satan, was a part of it.

Nicky had some great thoughts on tempation too. He said that temptation is not sin; acting on temptation is sin. But the moment we are tempted, Satan comes around and whispers in our ear, "You're thinking evil. You are obviously doing something evil. Shame on you. Oh well, if you're this close, you might as well go all the way." Can't we all relate to this? Haven't you ever been tempted and thought, "Oh, well, I'm thinking it, so I might as well yell/cheat/swear/lie"? Nicky brought this to a great point when he reminded us that Jesus was tempted in the desert. He felt the very real pangs of temptation, but he didn't act on it. His temptation was just a desire; it wasn't sin.

We had a great discussion on Ephesians 6:11, where it talks about putting on the armour of God. I'd sort of put this passage aside in my own thoughts. I associate it with militaristic imagery, which is uninteresting to me. I have no comfort in imagining myself to be a soldier. But this passage is so full of goodness and hope. And I love the idea that God gives us so many gifts of protection.

We also talked about the "sins" of following astrology, etc. I put sins in quotes because a few years ago, at the Ex, they had a floor that had been excavated from an ancient Christian temple. They were touring this floor around North America. It was all mosaic. Just gorgeous, and full of symbols. At one end was a full astrological chart! We were a little shocked to see it, so we asked the guide about it. Apparently, very early in Christianity, the astrological charts were put in temples and incorporated into the Christian practice. I guess people had followed the charts for so long that they were reluctant to let it go too easily. Anyone who's tried to introduce a new prayer book into their congregation will understand!

Alpha only lasts a few more weeks. I can see why people do it more than once. I'm only scratching the surface here!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

ALPHA - Week 6

Tonight's theme felt very close to my heart: What is God's plan for us?

Nicky Gumbel presented the idea that, not only does God have a plan for us, but God has a good plan for us. Needless to say, it raised lots of different points of view in the discussion period of the night. I think for a topic like this, it has to raise a personal reaction. It's not like the discussion of the Bible where we all have this common item to view and discuss. When we think about whether or not God has a plan for our lives, we immediately look at our own lives and think, "Is this a plan? If so, is this really what God wants for me? And if this is His own plan, how come it's not different/better/more?"

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God wants me to be an artist. I know he wants me to perform. I know he wants me to use my talents of acting and singing. In my bio, I call it The Beethovan Moment, and it's the clearest moment I've ever had. I've struggled with using these talents in God's service versus just using them in my own service. In retrospect, God has always been trying to steer me towards using them for Him - I'm thinking mostly of Agnes of God, Ruth, and Job and the Snake - All projects that brought together my love of singing and acting with His own stories.

This summer, at Stamps-Baxter, I realized that I want to give more and more of my art to God and doing the work of God. I recently heard of a gospel group that cancelled their performance at a local craft show. Their reason? Someone else at the show is doing psychic readings, and that's against their religion. I'm not saying they have to agree with psychic readings, but why cancel your performance? God is giving you a chance to spread the Gospel, and you're saying, "No thank you. I'm looking for a better venue." Please! Did Jesus only preach in the "proper" places? No! He preached in the temple, the market place, the hill, and the boat. He preached to anyone who would listen. I so completely disagree with this group's decision. I hate this concept of only singing "for the church" when it means only singing in the church. Everyone needs to hear this message! Not just the pretty people sitting in your church. The guys selling drugs on the street corner needs to hear it. The people working 16-hour days in the stock exchange need to hear it. The men and women of the country club need to hear it. And the women giving the psychic readings at the craft fair needs to hear it.

The Gospel is not simply "good news". It's great news! Doesn't everyone deserve the chance to hear that?

Oh, and as far as God's plan for me: I pray and pray every day for guidance. I put my trust in Him. And I continue to pray, "Yes, Lord!"

Sunday, October 23, 2005

WRITE ABOUT JESUS - Going home...

Well, the day is only half over, but I'll be getting home pretty late tonight, so I want to write now while my head is still fairly clear.

I'm still in the hotel, and I've just said the last of my good-byes. I truly wish I had more time with these people. I would love to see what would happen if we had another few days to hang out and start throwing around song ideas. I'm ready to work now, and that's always an exciting place to be.

This morning, Jennifer, Linisa, and I went to church at First Baptist Church Harvester. This is where the workshop was held. It's huge contemporary building. They have 3 morning services and one evening service. They also have a preschool ministry. I don't really know what that is, but it sounds intriguing. The earlier service was traditional, and I think I would have liked the music at that one cause they sing out of the Baptist hymnal. The one we attended was a contemporary worship, using a praise team and song leader. They were really great, and added a lot of energy to a tired morning. Also, Chad Cates, from WAJ, did a song, and that was a wonderful thing to hear.

This church is doing a special series right now called Living Life On Mission, and it's incorporated into their music, preaching, and outreach efforts. Today's sermon was about "giving away", meaning to give the message of the Gospel, but also to give of ourselves to others, to the community, and to each other. The pastor was a really engaging speaker, with a comfortable and humourous style.

There was something else about the service. It started with the baptizing of three young girls, and it was the full-dunking kind of baptism! They had a place above crowd, right at the front, where they did it, and they had a video camera in the booth (by the pool? I don't know the right terminology!) so you could see it happening. We baptize children and sometimes adults in the Anglican tradition, but still, it's mostly babies. And even then, it's just with water on the head. It was really neat to see this kind of baptism in person. And a little funny to see them all react to how cold the water was!

You know, I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a woman who seemed very uncomfortable when I told her I like to visit other churches of different denominations. She and I were not of the same denomination, so I still don't really know why it would strike her in such a strange way. Does she think it's wrong? I think we should visit other churches, especially when we travel. I think it's interesting to see the things we do differently, but it's even more important to see the things we have in common. After all, we're all Christians, and it's all the same God, all the same Jesus. I think we can get very locked in "our" worship, and we get in this strange place of judging other forms of worship as "wrong". What a destructive point of view! How many churches are struggling to survive in our growing cities, and in our generally secular society? Do we really need to be fighting against ourselves as well?

Whoa, that's my sermon for the morning!

I'm flying back this afternoon. I still have a few more hours. Not enough to actually go and do anything. I'm going to spend a bit of quiet time going over the events of the weekend, have a leisurely lunch, fly home, and hug my family.

Sounds like a good day to me.


It's all officially over! I can't believe it all went so quickly, but there is it. My feedback for next year: Please add another day! I still haven't met everyone, and I'm still not a perfect songwriter!

We started early again, with the shuttle and breakfast at 8 am. Our worship today was lead by Dave Moffit, with Kevin and Chad helping out. All praise and worship music. Dave is a great leader, so it was a wonderful way to start the day. Chad is leading music in church tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to that.

This morning was the competition, and here's how it worked: We all met in our small groups, and everyone who wanted to could submit a song on cd. Then we basically had an open critique session. We all heard a song, and Dave and Kevin would give their feedback. Slightly nerve-wracking, but I had an open critique yesterday, so I felt pretty prepared for the experience. My song choice was a song Gerald and I wrote in September. I didn't really have any hopes of winning, but I really wanted the feedback. Well, I got it.

Let's just say, my song was not well received. I was so disappointed! I wanted them to stop looking me in the eyes because I thought I may cry. I wanted to sneak out, find a payphone, and call Gerald so he could tell me I'm talented and brilliant. I love that song! We've done it in church and I know it's ministered to people. But not in this room. They did give a few practical tips, which I completely understand. But the hardest part is that they didn't think it lived up to the title. Dave said he found the title familiar, and therefore we should say something new and innovative in the song. He said he understood the imagery, but we weren't saying anything new. I was so crushed. I didn't think I'd win, but I at least thought it would do better than that.I know it's not personal and I shouldn't take it that way, but this is my heart and soul sung on a tune. How can I not at least feel it in a personal way? I'm having to remind myself that, even though some of their suggestions are practical, critiquing is a subjective process. It may not appeal to these people, but other people have loved it.

I also must confess: It's so hard to write about this awful morning. I'm meeting lots of people here who've read my blog (which is truly weird and wonderful all on its own) and it's hard to think of people reading about my disappointments. But when I started this blog, I vowed to myself that I would be honest about the struggles and triumphs of being an artist. Shame must be put aside. Honesty must always win.

I was quite relieved to hang out with new friends at lunch, and to hear about their better mornings. The Alumni Cafe brought grew new sounds. I met a wonderful lady who,in addition to having four children of her own, has adopted eight (yes, 8!) children through being a foster parent. And she writes music and drama. I got her book and gave her one of my cds. She was just incredible to meet. I love that I've gotten to meet so many new people. And we've all done lots of cd exchanges. Again, I'd like it to be a day longer so I can actually get to have conversations with these new people. Yay email!

I had three sessions this afternoon. The first was Women in Christian Music - a panel with Sue, Belinda, and Twila, and moderated by Sue's daughter, Holly. ( I was almost named Holly!) This was actually a perfect antidote for the morning. Good, old-fashioned girl time. There was such a sweet, joyous energy in the room. The ladies shared stories of their struggles in a male-dominated industry, but they also gave great advice on how to achieve your best in the industry. It's amazing that so few women are in decision-making positions in an industry where the greatest consumers are women in their thirties.

Next, I did Extreme Song Makeover, a great class on rewriting a song. This was very inspiring, again, in light of this morning. Sue, Marty, and Chad all shared stories of when and how they had had to rewrite songs. Sue gave some really practical tips for doing a rewrite. And all three were able to play before and after versions of their songs. Very helpful!

My final class was highly recommended by everyone: Dave Clark's class on creativity. He showed a video called Everyday Creativity, followed by a discussion. "Great", I thought, "a waste of my time". After doing the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, I'm pretty closed-minded about other creativity programs. I'm very confident that because I've experienced the best, I, therefore, have nothing to learn. Oh, silly girl!

The video was hosted by photographer, Dewitt Jones, who equated creativity with falling in love with life. Isn't that wonderful? He told us that, to every solution, there are many right answers. As creative people, we should never just settle for the first right answer. We should move around, look at things from different perspectives, and try to find a better right answer. It was really great. I think more people should see this video. (Oh, and more people should do the Artist's Way too. It's on the reading list here, and I've been chatting it up to people all day. Soooo good!)

We had another Alumni Cafe tonight, which ended with a great acapella performance. I'm such a voice-hound, so I love acapella singing! We then had the awards and final presentations. I, of course, won nothing. (insert self-pity here) But lots of great and deserving songs did win awards. It's exciting to think what will happen to these songs now. I wonder if this pedigree will help put them in front of the people who need to hear them?

Then came the worst part - saying goodbye. Such a short time, and yet so many new friends. I am so thankful that Joel told me about this. I am so glad I came. Just a few days ago, I was wondering why God would bring me here. But answers have been revealing themselves all weekend. What a blessing this place has been for me! I am so thankful for Sue and all the wonderful stuff she's doing. I can't wait to come back next year.

Of course, by then, I'll be brilliant!

Friday, October 21, 2005


It's the end of a very long, very wonderful day. I don't know how I'll ever fit in all into a blog, but here goes:

This morning started at 7:45 when I met my new friends Stacey and Connie O'Hara to share a shuttle to the church. Stacey is a singer-songwriter, and Connie is her Mom and manager. They are great people, and a great example of the kind of people I'm meeting here - friendly, generous, eager to learn, and eager to share.

All of our meals are provided by the workshop, and breakfast was a great time to meet new people. The morning started with a worship time lead by Phil Mehrens. He played piano and sang, and was joined by a harmony singer and a violinist. Beautiful combo! He started with a picture of a planet erupting in space, and brought us to thinking about how large God is. This is a God who can count every hair on my head, yet He also made the planets, suns, and galaxies. As we sang, they ran photos of planets in space. Such a great reminder of the majesty of creation and the Creator.

My first class was lyric writing with Dave Clark. I took his class as Stamps-Baxter this summer, and what a joy to be in his presence again. His approach to songs is so precise, in rhythm and rhyme, yet his approach to finding inspiration is loose and open. I took tonnes of notes, thank God, cause I'm too tired to remember a word of it all right now.

My next class was melody writing with Guy Zabka and Kevin Stokes. This was incredible and so very useful for me. They started with a short lesson on structure, breaking down all the essential components of a song. Then, they talked about how the melody can build and move through each of those components. I found this really useful. More than once, I've looked at a lyric and been overwhelmed with the thought of having to write a melody for the whole thing. This encouraged me to treat each part as special and important. They also talked a lot about filling the song with hooks, both lyrical and musical. To quote them, "the song with the most hooks wins". I would love to have spent more time in this class.

Next was lunch, but meals are not just about sitting and chatting. During meals, we have the Alumni Cafe, where WAJ alumni take a turn to perform one of their own songs. My favourite song was about the singer's little sister, who doesn't have a wedding ring, but she's "Having a baby for Christmas". It was just so full of love. Wonderful!

(At this point, I have to share a blogging thing - I have tried to publish this post three - count 'em 3!!! - times, and each time it has been lost in cyberspace. I'm ready to kick in the screen of this computer, but the Holiday Inn will never welcome me back. What you are about to read is a rewrite, so I don't know if that will make it better or worse. If I lose this entry again, you'll know it cause there won't be any words. Just the sound of me sobbing!)

My first session after lunch was amazing - writing traditional gospel with Maurice Carter and Twila LaBar. I thought this would bring me back to the realm of southern gospel, but traditional gospel is what's also known as "black" gospel. In Canada, we don't have black or white churches, per say. It's just church. So I still can't get comfortable with calling a church black or white, but I guess that's just my learning curve. So, what is traditional gospel? It's what you hear with mass choirs, especially when they have a soloist doing that awesome call and response thing, and then the soloist just wails over it all. It's what's sung by Toronto Mass Choir. The arrangements are often improvised on the spot, and the choir members just focus on their director to see where they're going to go next. This is challenging from a writing standpoint, because how do you structure the thing? I was really intrigued and inspired by this class, and I think I'd like to try writing a traditional gospel song. I don't know who will sing it. Maybe me and Gerald in the living room? We also had a special treat when Maurice sang and Twila accompanied on the piano. We had church in that room!

My next class was about getting critiqued, with Steve Siler and Wayne Haun. It was all about how and when to get critiqued. They talked about how to receive the info you get, and what to do with it after. It was really helpful, and a good preparation for my next class...

My open critique. This is when you sit a room with a group of people and a critiquer (not a word?) and everyone listens to your song and the leader (better word!) gives you feedback on the song. Yes, in front of all those other people! My leader was Rick Shelton, who's a publisher from Daywind, and my song choice was "I am waiting here for you." I was terribly nervous, but I'm really happy I did it. Rick was really positive about the song. He had a few things he suggested that might help tighten the flow of ideas, but overall, his feedback was positive and encouraging. He was really practical, too, because he took the song literally line by line, and gave feedback on each line. He was also impressed when I told him I'd only written about 20 songs, so that was really cool.

Just a few overall things that are coming up in the classes. They are all encouraging us to listen to and study great songs. And many have suggested we study the great American composers of the 20's to 40's, like the Gershwins and Harold Arlen. Baby,I'm already there! One thing I'm having wrap my head around here, is that the focus is on writing a commercially viable song. Something that will get cut by a major artist and can get air-time, perhaps printed in a choral book, etc. We're talking about a faculty of people who make their whole living off the writing and publishing of their songs, so it makes sense that this would be their focus. Still, for someone like me, who has only ever written for myself, this is a really new concept to incorporate.

This evening brought another Alumni Cafe, and Stacey sang a beautiful song called Break Me.

After supper, we had what many people believe to be the highlight of the entire workshop - the Writers in the Round Concert. Each of the clinicians sang one of their own songs, and it was amazing! I couldn't get over the range of songs. There was Steve's very funny "Saul, Saul the Know-it-all". And Marty's epic "Cross Examination", set in a courtroom on judgment Day. Kevin did a Billy Joel-esque song called "Confessions of a Lesser Me", my personal winner for best title. Sue and Chad did a great song called "Broken to Beautiful", inspired by women who've lost their self-confidence due to trials in their lives.

But two songs really stood out for me. One was Belinda Smith's "I don't want my Momma to get old." How many of us can relate to that? It was set in a hospital room, and she is sitting by her mom, waiting for test results. It hit such a deep and personal place for so many of us. Truly wonderful!

The second song to blow my mind was by Joel and Twila, and it's called "Orphans of God". It's just been cut by Avalon. When this song comes out, find it, and buy it. I'm serious. You will want to have this song. In short, it says that we all have pain, but we are all accepted, because there are no orphans of God. I can't really describe it in detail, because I won't do it justice. You know, the last time I spent time with Joel, we were eating deep-fried Twinkies in Nashville. But tonight, I got to see how God is using him to do His work. Just incredible!

We got back to the hotel close to 10 pm. A late night run to Dairy Queen gave us all a little rest. As I'm writing, there is a blues band belting out cover tunes. On my floor, there is a teenage girls' soccer team. They're all nineteen and proud of it.

I'm just praying for sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I'm here! I'm in St. Charles, Missouri for the Write About Jesus workshop. I was sitting in the restaurant this afternoon, marveling over God's way of guiding our lives. A year ago, I would never have imagined my life taking this direction. I'm here today because of a chain of events set in motion at a Gaither's concert...

For those who are new to the story, I've been singing gospel music for ten years, when I was first introduced to southern gospel by my choir director, Boni Strang. We went to a Gaither concert last year, and Bill Gaither and Ben Speer said something about a gospel singing school. A what? A gospel singing school? I'd never heard of such a thing! Could such a place truly exist?

Well, it does. This summer, I attended Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music. I've never worked so hard in my life! I kept a blog every night so my parents and fiance could keep up on what I was doing. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, other people found it and read it. Joel Lindsey thought I sounded so cool (hee hee hee!) that he tracked me down and we hung out together. He told me about the Write About Jesus workshop and suggested I go.

And here I am.

Today started early with a morning flight. Seven a.m. at the airport with tonnes of people in line. What are all those crazy people doing up so early? The flight went well. At least I think it did. It was actually nap-time for me. I was met at the airport by John Smith, husband of Sue Smith who runs the workshop. They are both so welcoming and friendly.

My hotel is okay. It's not exactly "up to snuff". If you lie on the bed and look at the ceiling, there's a little bit of water-stained-modern-art up there. But lots of other participants are staying here, so that's nice. They have a complimentary shuttle service to the workshop and the airport. And a Dairy Queen next store!

The afternoon was another nap to get rid of the headache brought on by the early flight. Really, I don't know how Morning People do it.

Tonight was registration for Write About Jesus. I got my t-shirt, which is pink! Yay! They obviously knew I was coming. Our binder for the weekend is full of lots of great info, including interviews with the staff. There are lots of workshops to chose from. I'm going to take some time to look over the schedule tonight so I make the best choices.

One awesome thing is that they've dividing us into small groups. Each group is lead by two of the staff members, and we meet several times over the next few days. In the binder, it says it's so no one "slips through the cracks." I appreciate that! There are over 100 participants this year, which, apparently, is quite larger than other years. Everyone is very friendly, but when all the classes are lecture style (which I'm guessing these will be?) it can be hard to get any one on one time with people.

But I am getting to meet some of the other participants. Everyone is at very different levels of writing and/or performing, and I'm finding that to be a great comfort. I will admit, I felt really intimidated about coming here. I assumed everyone would be very skilled and accomplished, and I would be the lone beginner in the crowd. I have tonnes of confidence about my performing, but I'm still pretty shy about my writing. But there are all levels of people here, and it's proving to be a very supportive atmosphere. There are lots of returning participants, and I always think that says great things about a place.

We only had one session tonight, but it was a great one: We got to observe a live co-writing session. Yes, I've participated and observed co-writing in my own living room, but this was different. For one thing, there was no puppy trying to co-write the song! And more importantly, these are people who are full-time writers. They do these sessions on a regular, professional basis.

We could choose from one of three sessions, and the one I watched was with Joel and Sue. There was a piano in the room, and they both had Apple laptops. It's odd to create in front of an audience, so they started with the "this is so weird" stuff. Then they chatted a little about their parents. You could tell that helped them both to settle into the room and to remind them that they know each other. Finally, Sue threw out an idea, and the dance began. Sue gave the hook, and the style. Joel started writing a chorus. Sue started writing a verse. Joel turned to the keyboard and started to play chords. They discussed a Bible story to use, and how to put a new perspective on that story. Within the hour, they had created an almost-complete song! They both admitted that this was much faster than usual.

One thing I thought was really interesting thing was, before the song was even started, they spent time discussing which group they could hear singing it. They used this to determine the style of the song. In singing, we really try to avoid styling ourselves after other singers, but I guess in trying to create songs that are commercially viable, you want to have something that can reflect the style of the singer.

After the session, we all gathered for a Q&A, and to hear bits of the songs that had been created in each session. Really interesting to hear the different things that could happen in the same amount of time. I, of course, asked a question. I was wondering what you usually bring in to the session with you. Joel answered that he usually brings in at least one idea, but that sometimes that idea isn't even used.

We ended with prayer by John. Tomorrow will be very long, so I'm going to try and settle in and get a good night's sleep. I'm just so excited to be here, and I want to make the most of everything.

An encouraging phone call...

A while back, I sent some songs to a publisher in Nashville. Well, I heard from him today.

We have sent a few emails back and forth, so I knew he was taking time to listen to my songs through several times, and I really appreciated that.

Today, I got a "call of encouragement". This person had a lot a great feedback for me, but mostly, he wanted to tell me that my writing has a lot of potential, and he wants to encourage me to keep writing. He thinks it's awesome that I'm going to Write About Jesus. He's given me several people to look up and spend time with. And, he wants to me to continue to send him my songs. Yay!!!!

I don't really know what I expected to come from this whole thing, but I'm really happy with this phone call. It's great to know that some one in the "big leagues" thinks I have potential and that I'm on the right path to fulfilling that potential. And it's great to know that I have a contact in Nashville who will listen to my music. I'm feeling excited and blessed! Yay!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ALPHA - Week 5

I missed last week's Alpha cause of my rehearsal, and it was great to get back to it tonight.

The last few days have been insanely busy. I've been trying to get everything together for Write About Jesus, while also organizing the moves of some new furniture we've bought. Wedding plans have kept us busy, and I've also been preparing for some gigs I have coming up within the next six weeks. I've been trying to get some proper sleep, but that part hasn't been working out so well. Maybe on the plane tomorrow?

Tonight's Alpha was all about the Bible - why and how should we read it? I've always had trouble with the Bible. How do I reconcile the loving God I meet through Jesus, with the Old Testament God who seems to think nothing of killing off five thousand men and their cows? And how do I embrace a book that has been the inspiration of Hitler and the KKK? Yes, I know the Bible is a book of God and love. And I know it has been instrumental in saving the souls and inspiring the lives of millions of people around the world. I'm not dissing the Bible. I'm just saying: It's complicated!

It's huge and dense and complicated. I love that Jesus came to bring things into a tight focus. Concentrate on two things - love God, and love your neighbour. I think that's the key to the Bible for Christians. There's lots of stuff going on, but when you get overwhelmed, just think about that - love God, and love your neighbour. So simple. And yet, sometimes so difficult to put into practice.

When you hear that the KKK believes in the Bible and uses it for inspiration, you have to wonder, "Did they read the Love Thy Neighbour part?". You see, I have this crazy and radical idea that when Jesus told us to love our neighbour, he actually meant everybody. And I mean, everybody. I think he meant the guy who lives next door who yells at our puppy. I think he meant the prostitutes on Dundas Street. I think he meant that old man in my church who can't deal with using a contemporary prayer book. I think he meant that woman at work who just can't stop babbling. I think he meant people who are different from us - different in colour, financial status, education, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.

And I think he meant for us to love them. Not just tolerate them. Love them. I know I find this hard. I just want to scream at that neighbour to move out of the neighbourhood. And I want to tell that woman at work to shut up. But none of that is love. Love is generous. St. Paul said it best: Patient and kind.

Oh the Bible! So simple. And yet almost two thousand years after the first pages were written, we still can't figure it out.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sweet Beulah Land

I did Sweet Beulah Land as a solo in church this morning. I really wanted to try a few of the skills I learned in Nashville from Allison Durham Speer.

I had it all planned out, cause you know, that's the best way to look spontaneous. (Actually, I'm being serious. Sometimes you need to plan your 'spontaneity" on stage so it doesn't come off as sloppy.) Singers in our church are generally of the plant-and-sing mentality. So.... I decided to move! I used a handheld mic with a long cord, and during the last verse of the song, I moved off the chancel steps and walked towards the congregation. And then ... oh my! ... at the end of the song, I asked them to sing along, acapella, on the chorus again. This was so completely planned! I had the lyrics printed up for the screen, and I made sure the choir knew it so they could be my support.

Nobody has done this kind of thing in our church on a Sunday morning before. I was a little nervous, cause it's always risky trying new things during Sunday worship. But as my wonderful friend, Archbishop Ted Scott said, "We should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."

My singing was good. I felt strong and in the moment. I asked God to sing through me, and He came through for me. (Isn't that just His way?) But it was hard to tell the congregation's reaction. A lot of people sang along, which was great. But you know when you just can't tell an audience's reaction? It was like that. Only one person, other than my parents, commented on it after the service. Not that I'm doing it to see how many people will line up to praise me, but we all know we use it as a barometer.

All in all, however, I'm glad I tried it, and, God willing, I will definitely try this style of communicating again.

Our preacher yesterday was from All Saints church in downtown Toronto. She works in a church that caters to addicts and the homeless. What a powerful speaker! Her church is in my neighbourhood, so I've offered to come and sing some Sunday morning. I know they could never afford to hire musicians. Their needs are so much more basic. I hope she asks me to come. I'd really be honoured to sing there.

Only a few days til Write About Jesus. Still trying to gather all my stuff together. Very excited!!!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Good show!

Today was long and exhausting, but just awesome. The highlight was, of course, our big band show.

It was a noon-time concert, and you never quite know what kind of audience will turn out. But we had about 100, so that was really encouraging. Paul, our conductor, kept things really tight. The pace was great, and we really packed in the songs.

The audience had a fantastic time. Mostly an older crowd, and you could tell they appreciated the choice of songs. Often times, I'd look down, and people would be singing along. I love that!

I love our arrangement of What a Wonderful World. It's a lovely 12/8, with an orchestra solo the second time through. It gives me goosebumps everytime I sing it. I mean, it's a killer song with an awesome message. But to sing it with a full orchestra behind me? Amazing! People smiled when I announced the song. And they started to sing along. But one man was really affected. At one point, he started to cry. I don't know if it was the message, or a particular memory, but it clearly hit him in a deep place. Whatever it was, I hope it was a very positive experience for him. I said a little prayer for him.

What a great time! Great songs and an awesome audience. I love my job!

A big rehearsal.

So, tomorrow was supposed to be an easy gig with the big band. Just a few songs. But our other singer is unable to perform. So ...

Tomorrow is a full solo gig! Arg!!!!!

Only a few days notice, no charts to study, and one rehearsal. Yes - terrifying! Tonight was the one rehearsal. I went in nervous. Technically, I went in early to study the charts. It's all songs I've done before, but not for several months. And I'm not in rehearsals now cause of Alpha (which I missed tonight.)

The band is in good shape under the strict baton of our new conductor, Paul Weston. He's musical, which is always great, but he also has a really strong work ethic. Rehearsal starts on time, and we are there to work. I can completely respect that attitude. Isn't that why we have rehearsal? To work? To spend our time making music? If I wanted a social club, I'd join a social club. Actually, I don't know if I can afford a social club. But I digress.

We have a great line-up for tomorrow. Lots of awesome songs - Beyond the Sea, S'wonderful, and Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars. I was in good voice tonight, and I was able to relax into the songs. I actually had a great time, and I'm now looking forward to the gig.

My job tonight is to get a good night's sleep. When I get up in the morning, I need to write my morning pages, eat a lot, do a good long vocal warm-up, and do everything possible to breathe out my nerves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Audition day.

Finally, a day with more than one audition!

Today, I had two auditions. Both were for commercials, but at least it's paying work. The first was for Peak Freans. I had to be delighted at finding a crumb on a plate. The next was for Best Buy. I had to be a Victorian Christmas Caroller - type casting? - singing a carol about cordless phones and mp3s. All very silly, but that's what commercial auditions are all about.

I got the proofs from my shoot last week. I'm really happy with them. I need to spend a few days looking at them, getting my whole family to look at them, having my agent look at them, and finally, getting my puppy to look at them. (You really do need as many opinions as possible.) I should have prints by the end of the month. Finally!!!

We had a meeting of the Gospel Vespers committee tonight. Sort of a post mortem for September, and planning for October. This will be a fun one cause our Gospel Choir is the music leader. Boni has asked me to be the prayer leader, and I'm so honoured at the request. She said she asked cause she knows I'll "lead" and not just "speak". *blush* I'm so excited about Gospel Vespers. I love that we're creating a new style of worship. And I'm so impressed that my Dad, who is so close to retirement, is still pushing the boundaries, still creating within his field. Everyone on the Vespers team is so open and positive. What a great base for worship!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

ALPHA - Week 3

Tonight's topic : How can I be sure of my faith?

Well, I thought this would be the easy one. After all, I'm quite sure of my faith. I've had times when my faith has been shaky, weak, and downright non-existent. But not now. I am super Christian!

So, I thought, tonight will be easy.

Ha! How wrong I was! Yes, my faith is still strong, and tonight did not bring up any doubts. But it was a humble reminder of how much I have yet to understand about receiving and living in faith. I didn't realize how many questions I had - not about God or Jesus, but about how God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit enter and work in my life.

I did disagree with one thing Nicky Gumbel talked about. He was speaking about the "free gift" of the Holy Spirit, and how this gift is given with "no catches". But isn't being a Christian the catch? "Yes, you can get the free gift of the Holy Spirit, but first you must give your life over to Christ." That sounds like a catch to me. I know he means catch as some kind of deceitful trick, like the small print in a sales ad. But to say that God's free gift is freely given to all doesn't quite seem correct to me. Yes, it's given to all, but you must choose to accept it through Jesus Christ. After all, if I said to a non-Christian friend, "You have the free gift of eternal life, but first you must accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior", they'd probably call that a catch.

I also had some difficulty with the "fruits of the Holy Spirit". Something I've heard about my whole life, but revealed to me in a new light tonight. By accepting the Holy Spirit into my life, am I guaranteed these fruits, or am I guaranteed the opportunity to attain or achieve these fruits? Very confusing for me!

Despite the fact that I leave each Wednesday with my head spinning, I really am enjoying this course. I would whole-heartedly recommend it to everybody - Christian and non-Christian alike. There are so many things we assume we know, until the question is asked a little differently, or the fact is given a new presentation.

In a practical sense, Alpha is getting me very excited about reading the Bible. My homework requires rooting around several different books for quotes, and when I find the quote, I always want to read the chapter so I can get the context. Last night, I got so excited by the process, that I stayed up and read Revelation. I'd never read it before, and my initial comment must be: What the ?????

Artsy business stuff...

It's been a few days of getting artsy business stuff done.

I've booked my first Christmas gig of the season! It's a Victorian carolling gig at the Royal York Hotel. Nice to get an early start on things.

I'm all set up to go to Write About Jesus this month. I have my flight and my hotel. Now, I just need to compile all my song recordings, burn more cds, get Gerald to write up chord charts, pick out what to wear... Maybe I'm not quite "all set up" yet.

I need a new 8x10 headshot, so I had a photo shoot today. It was actually a reshoot, cause I didn't get what I needed the first time around. It was a really relaxed shoot, which is great. And if was pretty efficient cause I knew what I wanted this time. Usually, on this kind of shoot, you bring in lots of clothes and try lots of things to get that magic shot. Since we'd already done that the first time, we could eliminate the search time and just go with the look I liked best. I get the proofs next week. Fingers crossed!

My biggest job in the next few days is assembling music for the gigs I have coming up. Of course, they are all completely different, so there can be no cross-over of songs! *sigh* An artist's work is never done ... thank God!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

ALPHA - Week 2

Week two of my Alpha adventure, and we're already into the tough stuff.

Tonight's topic: Why did Jesus die?

Well, my first answer was, "Cause we all gots to die!", but I was guessing this wouldn't be acceptable in our spiritual discussion. So many tough questions around this topic. It's not simply why did He die, but why like that? Why so graphic? And why are we so obsessed with it? The gospels are one-third filled with the story of His death, and the rest of the New Testament is trying to explain that death. I've always been confused with our obsession with the death of Jesus, when we also have this miraculous story of his triumph over death. He was raised from the dead! Why don't we concentrate on that more?

Why do we concentrate so much on the death of Jesus? We love the crucifix and the gory details. Is it simply because we are obsessed with the darker side of life? Are we just rubber-necking at the crucifixion? I think it's important to know the physical details of the crucifixion because we tend to sanitize the whole event. We make the figure on the cross into jewelry and key chains. We tend to gloss over the blood and water and screaming pain in favour of poetry and polish. We're not a culture that has any personal experience with crucifixion. I think we need to hear these details so we have some idea what Jesus was physically experiencing.

Why would God treat His son this way? Well ... what if it has nothing to do with Jesus? What if the whole point was to get to us? What if God thought, "I need to get to these humans. Nothing I'm doing is really working, but maybe if I try something really dramatic, with lots of blood and guts. Maybe then they'll listen." Yes, I'm oversimplifying. But perhaps God was looking for an event that he knew we'd be obsessed with. Maybe that was his way of keeping it in our consciousness. Two thousand years later and we're still trying to figure it out.

Nicky Gumbel, the host of the videos, mentions that with other world leaders, we always remember their life and contributions. But with Jesus, the thing we talk about the most is His death. Why is that? My theory is that He was bigger than simply a world leader: He was a pop-culture leader. I don't mean pop-culture in the MTV type of way. I mean a leader of popular culture. He was a man of the general population. Yes, he was known by the learned folk, but He was just as known, perhaps even better known, by the common person. We often debate where Jesus would appear if He came today. Don't we all think He'd access television? It's the best way to reach the masses. It's not just that He was known by the common folk. He wanted to be known by them. By us! He wanted to be in the popular realm. Not to win some ego points. I believe it was so that He could show us that God is available to, and loves, all people.

For a long time, I had a huge personal problem with the crucifixion. Every time someone would talk about Jesus giving up His life for us, I would equate it with suicide. I couldn't see it as anything else. Now, I'm far enough out of my grief to see it in a clearer light. I can't say it's brought me more answers, but I can now say that I know that the crucifixion is a positive and loving event. I would even go so far as to call it generous

I know I have a lot of questions, and as I write, more are coming in to my head. And I know my discussions aren't actually making a lot of sense. But I'm just stumbling through and trying to figure things out. That's one of the things I'm really appreciating about Alpha. All questions are valid. All view are welcome. Even the stumbling ones.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gospel Vespers

What a great day! Lots of great music, new starts, and God was in it all.

This morning, we tried a new thing at church. It was a healing service, which includes a time when members of the congregation can come up to the altar for anointing and laying-on-of-hands. Usually, the choir will sing something soft and lovely during this time. Well, Dad thought it might be nice to have just piano music during the healing, and then have special music after. That way, everyone, healers included, could hear the message of the choir's song. Today, we started this new format, but instead of having a choir song, Gerald sang our new song, God is There.

I was so nervous! Partly for Gerald (now I know how my Mom feels when I sing) and partly for the song. I just wanted people to feel ... I don't know. Just something. The words came from such a deeply personal place, and I guess I just wanted them to mean something to someone else as well. At the end of the healing, Boni drifted off the piano, and the guitar came in - quietly, softly, with that beautiful intro that Gerald has written. "When the nightmare can't be silenced, God is there". I took a deep breath. I had to close my eyes. Otherwise, I found myself looking at people for their reactions, and I really didn't want to do that. I closed my eyes and just listened. It was so beautiful. Gerald played with an open heart and a full soul. The words were clear and perfect. When he reached the ending, there was silence. That full awesome silence of a message truly imparted. The service continued into prayers and communion.

After the service, the reaction was tremendous. People loved being able to hear the music. They adored Gerald - his voice, his playing, his presence. But mostly, they loved the song. They loved the song! I was so excited and so proud. More than ever, I feel this song must go out to people. I want to do a demo and just start getting it out to artists. I want it recorded and sung. I want people to know that even in the darkest times, God is there. God is there.

This afternoon, brought another new experience - Gospel Vespers. Some time last year, Dad said he was interested in starting a new evening service that incorporated gospel music, and that allowed us to create a new kind of worship service. Something different from what we offer Sunday morning. Something that could appeal to church-goers, and those who might never have come to church. We formed a committee, got a small budget, and decided to offer a service once a month. My job was to find a different musical group for each service.

Today's service was based on the story of the Good Samaritan. Joy in the Morning gospel choir were our music leaders. They were great. A mix of folk, hymns, praise and worship, and taize. They had several singers, and a band consisting of guitar, bass, ukelele, clarinet, djembe, and several rhythm instruments. Their harmonies were subtle and confident. But their spirit is what impressed me most. They invited me to join in their prayer time before the service. It was genuine and moving. And their support for the service was very reassuring.

After an opening time of music, we had the lighting of the candles. We were inspired by the Good Samaritan, and lit three candles in honour of caregivers in our city, country, and the world. It was a quiet and contemplative part of the service. Of course, figuring out which candles to light and how to get the flame passed around was the most complicated part of choreographing the whole service. My candle was huge and placed on the altar, and ended up being to tall for me to light. So Dad needed to come out, lift it off the altar, and help me light it. Not such a contemplative moment!

We had more music, and a great welcome from our church warden. Then we had the message. Dad decided to do a dramatic interpretation of the story. Mom wheeled him out in a wheelchair. It was Mom's first, and probably last, appearance as preacher. (Not that she couldn't preach if she wanted to - she's just not a spotlight kind of gal!) Dad sat at the edge of the platform and let us take in the image. He then told us "his" story of how he got to be in the chair. How he had been traveling one day, and how he was attacked by robbers. How he had lain in a ditch, while a neighbour and a priest passed him by. But then this Samaritan came by, and cooled his head and soothed his wounds. Today is the day he will leave his wheelchair, and he is going to leave a changed man. This Samaritan had helped him, and now, he has taken a vow, a pledge, to always help those who are in need. Those suffering because of their own actions, and those suffering from the actions of others. Those in need from all levels of society. He then asked us, how we felt we could make the same pledge. How can we help those in need?

The choir then sang a song about helping our neighbours. Nancy, their director, then lead us in prayer. Again, we were looking for something different here. We offer traditional intercessions every Sunday morning, so we wanted to try a new form. Or, at least, new for us. We decided we wanted to pray in a way that was a little more free form. Nancy would say a short prayer on a topic, and would then encourage us to add our own petitions. It was really moving. We then sang a few more songs, and ended on Joyful, Joyful.

What a great service! There were moments of joy, contemplation, music, and community. The reaction after the service was wonderful. And it was like no one wanted to leave. People stayed around for a good forty minutes after the service, just talking and sharing. What a great time!

I'm always proud of my Dad, but times like this are so amazing. This service was his brainchild, and I think today was a great success. Our next one is in October, and our choir will be the music leader. I'm just continuing to pray that God will bless our new venture, and that people will come and feel the Spirit moving in the house, and in themselves.