Back in Chicago again and blown away; not so much by the ‘show’, which used to leave me slack-jawed and wide-eyed, but by the experience. Being here with a team of friends and co-laborers is…something…
….I have no words…
On my notes page, I have scrawled, “I can’t believe I am here – with this team – in this place…”
Watching them experience worship and teaching at this level, most of them for the first time, is somewhat akin to watching children discover something great and wonderful and astonishing.
From an amazing opening worship set that ended with Martha Munizzi’s “Glorious” and centered on the phrase, “I was created to make His praise glorious” to a powerful skit that visually and verbally allowed us to experience the pain and anguish of Romans 7.15 (“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”) through the eyes of a struggling businesswoman, a porn addict and a bulimic girl, God showed Himself.
Nancy Beach talked about Psalm 40, about God taking us from “the mud and muck of apathy to intentionality” about our faith, our purpose, the reminder to be faithful to His call rather than to producing results. She dug further into the psalm and preached that God calls us to solitude and surrender; then to community; and THEN to ministry. And from that spot, we are called to tell the WHOLE story, to ‘hold nothing back – holiness AND grace, sin AND salvation, mercy AND justice. One of her most powerful quotes was this:
God loves the church more than we do. He wants His bride to be
Giles Ste. Croix, the creative genius behind Cirque de Soleil, spoke about art and the creative process. When Nancy Beach asked him to sum things up, he spoke (and I paraphrase):
As humans, we need beauty. We need a way to express our
emotion. We need to share. When you experience art, you are changed. Art feeds you, changes you and you will never see things the same again.
Brian McLaren spoke, referring primarily to his book Everything Must Change. His words require a post unto itself; suffice it to say that he believes the church must respond to global issues in a global way. Things like poverty and injustice and AIDS and malaria and hunger must be addressed by the church. He stated that there are, unfortunately, theological reasons for some of the injustice and oppression in the world, due to the church functioning outside the framework of God’s intent and Jesus’ example. He spoke to us specifically as artists, thanking us for making the church better. Now, he says, we must take hold of the challenge to have the end result of our work be not just a better church but a better world.
Here is the centering text for the opening session of this year’s conference. It’s a powerful scripture, but reading it in The Message gives it a new resonance. Read this piece; what does it say to you?
I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God….
…I’ve preached you to the whole congregation, I’ve kept back nothing, God – you know that. I didn’t keep the news of your ways a secret, didn’t keep it to myself. I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough. I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth for myself alone. I told it all, let the congregation know the whole story.