Inside, Outside, Underneath My Skin Worship

IMG_6852I went to a gig last week.

So what, you say? Well, partly because if I have spare time and money I tend to go to the theatre, and partly because I secretly find the whole process of gig-attendance quite stressful, and mostly because I’m now middle-aged, it’s an unusual occurrence these days.

On a side note, the stress is usually about the unknown nature of the whole experience – gigs don’t have definite start times, you’re never sure what to do with your stuff, I never seem to have the right clothes, and if, like me, you’re a visual person you never really know where to look when the music starts. When you analyse it, the whole experience is actually quite weird (and this from the woman who has quite happily spent 3 hours wearing a mask running around a warehouse in the pursuit of an immersive theatrical experience). Twice. If that has piqued your interest, you can find out more about Punchdrunk here.

However, I digress. Once I had figured out what to wear and made my peace with having to cart my handbag around the space all night, I began to look forward to seeing one of my heroes on stage again. Martin Smith was the lead singer of Delirious?,  a band whose lyrics and music had always stirred something deep within me. Somehow,  when I listened to them in the car, experienced them live in a huge crowd or lay on the floor at home allowing them to speak truth over me, I connected with God in a way that wasn’t ethereal and detached, but raw and truthful.

In a sense Martin Smith and his band provided a soundtrack to my 20’s, so:

I’ve walked down a road where the devil’s been
Where the kids have seen things they should never have seen
And the ancient stone knows the deeper tale
About a bloody game, they called the holy war

Heaven is my home and there’ll be no shame to bear
Heaven is my home and there’ll be no refugees

(Mezzamorphis, Heaven)

resonated, because sometimes I needed reminded of the heavenly home that was waiting for me, and for the children I worked with who had seen things they should never have seen.

And later, when I left home, work and all that was familiar to pursue a crazy path of drama training in the big smoke, it helped to remind myself that:

You, still captivate me, fascinate me
You still captivate me, saturate me
You still captivate me, liberate me
You still captivate me

(World Service: Inside, Outside)

So, although I was looking forward to experiencing the God’s Great Club tour, I was a little apprehensive that I might be disappointed. Maybe Smith would have lost that magnetic stage presence and the middle-aged Edinburgh crowd would shuffle home feeling sad that our glory days had passed. In the event, despite the handbag-carting and the oddly bright lighting, we were not disappointed. He still had it. Our glory days were not past. We could still be history makers in this land, speakers of truth to all mankind.

IMG_6851As I belted out the classics and allowed my heart to melt to some newer songs, I reflected on why I respond to this music. It’s not just that Martin Smith has an ease and energy when he performs that make for a good night out. It’s not just that the music is written to stir a spiritual response.

It has something to do with integrity and the presence of God.

It has something to do with lyrics that connect with the heart of humble worship before God and the desire to be part of something bigger and better. These words and this music tell my story and God’s story.

The evangelists among us sometimes get frustrated with worship music. We want to be out there telling people, not hanging around with a bunch of Christians singing mushy songs. It’s fine for the prophets, pastors and teachers, but we want to get active. Now. There’s not a minute to lose. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration and a dangerous path towards self-reliance, but those of you who have a gift of evangelism will understand what I’m talking about.

What Martin Smith has always been good at is speaking truth about God to the hearts of people who love his world. He’s a missional worship leader in the sense that his songs allow us to tarry in the place of awe and wonder, but don’t let us wander into a place of safe introspection. Look on God, then look on his world. Mission is the response to encounter. Music to the ears of those who long to see God’s kingdom break into the world of need and shame.

If not us who will shout
Your song of praise
For every soul to be saved
in Jesus’name
So we must keep the faith
not backing down
We must live the faith
This is our time

(God’s Great Dance Floor Step 2: Keep The Faith)

I’m glad I went gigging on a chilly Tuesday evening, because I left having met with God in an underground vault off the Cowgate and with a renewed sense of God’s call to his world. And a deep gratitude for guys like Martin Smith who continue to speak truth to my generation, and those who come after.

And like the Creative Fool that I am, I left wanting to us all to be able write, perform and worship like that. Who else wants to join me and make some history?

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Learning to breathe on both sides

stadtbad
© Berliner_Baeder_Betriebe

I went swimming yesterday.  Sadly the pool I frequent doesn’t look as grand as the cathedral-like Mk Berlin Stadtbad, but I always leave feeling as though my soul has been restored. Recreation in the true sense has taken place as I plough up and down the slow lane. Recently I’ve been trying to reeducate myself in breathing. Since I learned to swim front crawl (about 36 years ago) I’ve always breathed to my left. It feels natural and “right” to do this and I’ve swum miles without ever feeling the need to look to the starboard side. Now, though, I want to shake things up and learn some new technique so I’ve decided to alternate my breathing between the left and right side. Easy, right? Nooooo! It’s difficult to break the habit of 36 years and I’ve had to analyse how to take a breath in order to avoid a mouthful of chlorine and a lungful of panic. It’s hard work. It doesn’t feel natural. But yesterday I began to feel I was getting it, and I had a minor sense of triumph. Noone else would notice but I’d spent some time making a radical change and I’d broken some bad habits. Hopefully my front crawl will be more elegant and efficient as a result.

Which is all good and well, but what does it have to do with creative foolery? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about missional discipleship and asking some hard questions about what it looks like to live as a creative disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. And I think relearning how to breathe has something to teach me. I want to be a more elegant and efficient performer, writer and disciple of Jesus, but it doesn’t just happen without working at it.

First of all, you have to decide that you want to change. It’s easy and comfortable to keep doing what you do the way you’ve always done it. This is true whether when it comes to making a lazy acting choice, writing a sketch with a predictable outcome or assuming that by “doing church” a certain way people will somehow find their way to Jesus. Creativity is often about not making the predictable, familiar choice, but choosing something different. So, the best actors are the ones who captivate you with their bold physical and vocal choices and the best writers are the ones who surprise and delight with the unexpected. And the most creative disciples? Perhaps they are the ones who remain open to the new things that God wants to do, and sense that there is reward in breaking old habits. Jesus talked about the new wine of God’s kingdom requiring new wineskins. It’s a bit like breathing in a different way.

Of course there are good habits too. So, when I breathe to the left, I do it well. I’ve been practising it for the last 36 years. And, in finding a new rhythm, I have discovered that I need to recognise and learn from the good. This is about the discipline of creativity. In acting, the performer’s body  is their instrument, so there is merit in maintaining good habits of physicality and vocal training, of staying open and responsive to other performers. In writing there is the discipline of structure, form and language that creates the freedom to express depth. For the missional disciple, there is the rhythm and discipline of intimacy with God. I have nothing to offer the world if I do not start from the place of prayer, Bible study and listening to the voice of the Spirit. And these practices take discipline, especially for activists who wake up with 12 ideas of how to change the world before breakfast. It’s no good just rushing in with a good idea and hoping God will bless it. It leads to failure and disappointment. So to become an effective creative missional disciple there are some habits to break and some new habits to establish. Habits we can learn from ancient rhythms and practices. It doesn’t feel natural at first, but the more we do it, the more we create from a place of security, intimacy and clarity.

And finally, there’s something about risk. I wasn’t likely to drown in my local swimming pool – there’s a lifeguard, it’s not very deep and I could always put my feet down – but if I want to push myself in my creativity and my discipleship then there are lots of risks involved. The risk of failure, of looking foolish, of being misunderstood. Why go to the places I would not previously have gone when I can play safe and stick with what I know? The older you get, the harder it is to avoid risk-proofing your life. But that’s not picking up your cross and following. That’s not leaving everything for the sake of the one who died for you. That’s not living a resurrection life. So, I want to push myself as a performer, stretch myself as writer and live an adventurous life worth imitating. It might be risky. There might be failure and foolishness. But I want to push out into deeper water…