April 2009

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it” (Isaiah 43:19a)?


“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5a).


I have a digital acoustic guitar processor (AKA a “stompbox”) that I bought a few years ago to supplement my little 15-watt amp and Korean-made Ovation guitar. It features thirty-six pre-sets, each with ten adjustable parameters, modeling various kinds of guitars. I can dial in and save settings that suit my tastes, my playing needs, and/or my sense of how something should sound. Or I can leave the pre-sets just as they are. In short, the processor is eminently tweakable.


I went on a kind of tweaking binge recently with the stompbox. I picked up one of my guitars, then another, and plugged them in turn into the unit. When I started playing and listening closely, I found that some of the factory models which I wanted to use left something to be desired. Others were irrelevant to my style of playing.


The twelve-string simulation, for example, sounded too processed and not like any such guitar I had ever heard or played. But with a bit of fiddling with this and that, I got a tone I felt was much more authentic. So that was a little bitty tweak.


Another whole set of simulations (to make my electric sound acoustic) needed moderate tweaking, but then I tried one that was supposed to sound like an instrument from the Far East. I didn’t need that, so I decided to almost completely rewrite it to make the pre-set useable. Nearly every setting got tweaked. All I retained were the bare bones of gain and pre-amp characteristics. I kept at it with minor adjustments till I had something useable and very personal. It’s now one of my favorite pre-sets. But it took extensive tweaking to get it.


Reflecting on that process, it occurred to me that we may also need to do some tweaking from time to time in the Church with our “pre-sets.” That is, documents, rules, and traditions that somebody else put in place at some other time and offered (or insisted on) to/for us for use in our life in the community of faith. These are ways of thinking and acting and governing that somebody thought worked pretty well and considered reasonable approximations of what Jesus wants us to do and be. Rather like the manufacturer of my stompbox selling me thirty-six models that their engineers had worked hard on perfecting.


Suppose, for example, that a church board has an out-of-date Manual of Operations that once was fine, but now keeps the governing body bogged down in inefficiency and bureaucracy (major tweak needed, such as eliminating committees, reducing the membership of the board). Could be that the order of worship is largely OK, but still doesn’t quite flow properly (minor tweak, like moving the location of a prayer or a hymn). Perhaps a procedure is in place that has the pastor or a committee chair having to consult the entire board before he or she can take care of a routine request for property use (moderate tweak, such as authorizing the pastor and a lay official to make the decision). Maybe there’s a tradition that one lady prepares the flower arrangements for Sunday, as she has done for 30 years, and nobody else (perhaps more talented and faithful in worship attendance?) has a chance. (OK, that one takes more than a tweak!)


My point is, we don’t need to be stuck when procedures no longer fit our needs, the language or order of worship isn’t user-friendly, our buildings aren’t welcoming, and our traditions don’t authentically reflect the Gospel of Christ. Sometimes just a little change, and the imagination and boldness to try it, can mean a great deal.


Well, gotta go. Time to plug in and play with my tweaked stompbox, user setting B4.


© 2009 Tom Cheatham


With the heavy season of Lent now passed, it seemed appropriate to me to share a little levity (OK, goofiness) with you. Inspired/emboldened by Rodney Clapp’s article “There’s a word for it” (see link at end of post), I offer the following coined words and wacky uses of real terms from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions. One or two might even be serious proposals.


haresy (hareəsee)—the common and unreflective practice in churches of combining Easter bunny activities and egg hunts with Holy Week and the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, e.g., egg hunts on Good Friday


hare shirt—Easter bunny costume worn by a member of the youth group at the church Easter egg hunt


oestreoviphobia—irrational fear of Easter eggs, especially old-fashioned hard-boiled and dyed ones


reliquarium—a box in which are kept the bones of the fish Jesus distributed at the feeding of the 5000 (cf. “reliquary”)


monstrance—that piece of furniture given by Aunt Sally to the ladies’ parlor that no one liked but couldn’t turn down


remonstrance—same as above, with new upholstery


Psalm Pilot—a PDA containing all the psalms and music for chanting them


littergy—the usual practice of worshippers leaving bulletins and other trash in their pews for the janitor to clean up


himbook—a songbook which still uses male language to mean “all human beings” and to refer to God; also himnody—the singing and/or composition of church songs using only “he,” “him,” “man”


hymn face—that blank stare on the faces of people who stand for the hymns, but don’t sing or even hold a hymnbook


Restless Pew Syndrome (RPS)—the coughing, shifting, shuffling, and general noisiness found in a typical church service, especially during a dull or challenging sermon


Irritable Pew Syndrome (IPS)—facial expressions and body language indicating sometimes severe displeasure with the content of the sermon or the mere presence of the pastor or other church members with whom the sufferer of IPS disagrees


gusher—a person who helps people, especially visitors, to their seats in a church, all the while complimenting and welcoming them profusely, in an obsequious manner


baptschism—the division in the Church about the method and meaning of baptism


Eucharisk—what the pastor takes when he/she introduces a new way (for the congregation) of serving Holy Communion, e.g., by intinction


MAO inhibitor—the influential church member or officer who consistently blocks the updating of the church’s ancient Manual of Administrative Operations


blended worship—a service in which the choir robes and minister’s vestments are made of a combination of fabrics, such as polyester and cotton or silk and wool


kenotic energy—the power released in the life of a church when people serve each other and their neighbors with openness and vulnerability, as Christ did (from kenosis [“emptying”; Philippians 2:7]; cf. “kinetic energy”)


© 2009 Tom Cheatham


Rodney Clapp’s article: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=6593

“The problem with the culture war is not that it is wrong to fight for one’s beliefs. Rather, the culture war is a problem because in an all-out war, opponents become enemies to be defeated at all costs. In a war there is little incentive to search for middle ground or to make alliances on other issues” (“Prayer and Conversation,” The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 7).


“‘[I]t is important for Americans to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues’” (Barack Obama, quoted in “Obama, Warren defy culture war, The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 12).


“‘We don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand, and you can disagree without being disagreeable’” (Rick Warren, ibid.: 13).


The culture wars continue to rage, with the cauldron of conflict continually stirred by pundits, preachers, politicians, and power-mongers who feed on hatred and fear like some ravenous sci-fi beast that thrives on negative emotions. For all the attention they get, the hot-button issues the culture wars are being fought over must be important to a great many people all over the nation in every generation.


But such a conclusion would be inaccurate or at least increasingly so. The church consultant and writer Tom Ehrich reports how a congregation working on a “Church Wellness Project” (www.churchwellness.com) recently asked members what questions they would ask of God. The two largest categories (each with 21%) were curiosity about the nature of God and the purpose of life. The next two largest were suffering at 16% and the nature of faith at 14%. “All other questions — including the topics that denominations and congregations fight most heatedly over, such as doctrine and leadership issues — accounted for tiny fractions” (emphasis mine).


Ehrich notes: “This congregation’s results are in line with every other Listening Church exercise I have led or seen. Left to their own desires, it seems people don’t pursue church conflicts or the topics that tend to underlie church conflicts, but rather have some fundamental questions about God and life” (Church Wellness Report, April 1, 2009).


Also significant is Neela Banerjee’s description of young evangelicals like those who attend Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church. They are “tired of politics being at the center of faith and … want to ‘broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with HIV’” (quoted in Debra Bendis, “Bell’s Appeal,” The Christian Century, March 24, 2009: 23). Banerjee says that young adults are “tired of the culture wars”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/01evangelical.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1).


This Good Friday, I long for all churches and communities to stop their fighting over questions people aren’t actually asking and start addressing the problems, the fears, the needs that occupy their every waking moment. I still lament the culture wars and know that more than ever, we need the forgiveness Jesus asked God for from the cross, the deliverance of people who have no idea what they’re doing.


I share again with you my song lyrics that unfortunately continue to be relevant. They’re written as if a parent is speaking to his or her child, urging the young one not to get caught up in the wrangling and the hurt, but to seek the truth which continues to elude us. The good news is that today’s young adults, like those interviewed and profiled by Ms. Banerjee, are indeed refusing to enlist as culture warriors and instead, with right hearts, are serving as Jesus did.


“Good Friday (Lament for the Culture Wars”)

© 1994 Tom Cheatham


Slow, heavy rock (verses); acoustic (bridge)


There’s people out on the street; they’re startin’ to push and shove.

They use their words like swords and not a one is love.

The battle lines are drawn; the war’s about to start.

O my child, my child, you better watch your heart!


You tell me that you’re right, and that means I am wrong.

And so the hatred grows, and we can’t get along.

Your way, my way, no way out, unless we come to blows.

If you ask me what is true, I’ll just say “Who knows?”


            We won’t come to a meeting of the minds

            Until our hearts are right.

            And we won’t see the peace that there could be

            Until we live in the light!


Once there was a day when all of time stood still

And people watched a man as he died upon a hill.

“O Father, please forgive, they don’t know what they do.”

I wonder if his words were meant for me and you.


            We won’t come to a meeting….


Once there was a day when all of time stood still.


 Blog post © 2009 Tom Cheatham



The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him (John 12:12-16). 


“Humanity is fickle,” a poet once wrote. “They may dress for a morning coronation and never feel the need to change clothes to attend an execution in the afternoon. So Triumphal Sundays and Good Fridays always fit comfortably into the same April week” (Calvin Miller, The Singer).


So it would be with the clamoring horde who went out to greet Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. They had heard he had done something beyond belief. He had raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Surely anyone who could defeat the most feared enemy of humankind could drive out the forces of Rome that were occupying the nation of Judah. So, man, woman, and child alike shouted as loudly as they could: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”


It’s the palms they waved which give away what the people were thinking. In that day, palms were used to greet great military leaders, conquering kings who brought glory to the nation. The crowd was greeting Jesus as someone who could put their country back on top and give them the glory they craved. In effect, they were saying: “Hail, warrior King.”


Jesus was thrilled by their praise, right? Not at all. Hoping they would get the point, he found a donkey and sat on it. A lowly burro. A king ready for war or returning from war would come down the street on a prancing and decorated horse with the monarch’s army marching behind. A ruler seeking peace, though, would come in on a donkey. So Jesus wanted people to understand that his kingdom would not come through armed conflict, but by the suffering of his own death.


Our Lord intended to make peace and justice more than just dreams in the hearts and minds of the hurting and downtrodden. The author of John wants us to see the scene that Sunday in terms of two prophecies. One comes from Zechariah. The other is from Zephaniah. Even if you have never heard of either of those writers, you will be thrilled by what they had to say. They told of a time when there would be no more fear or hopelessness. There would instead be joy and singing. Those who were always left out and forgotten would get attention. That, says John, is the sort of kingdom Jesus was promising to the crowd.


Once that became clear, Jesus turned into merely a hero for the day. The crowd dressed to crown him as king turned against him. Their shouts of praise turned to jeers. Their festive garments became fouled with the blood of their would-be ruler.


But what was bad news to people who were bitterly disappointed with Jesus is good news for us. In a world full of war, Jesus holds out the promise of peace. In a nation where so many in business, government, and church are arrogant, prideful, and greedy, Jesus gives an example of a leader who is humble and giving, even to the point of sacrificing his own life. To people who are hurting or forgotten or lonely, and maybe that describes you today, Jesus says “I know your pain. I remember you. You are important to me. I will give you the joy you long to know.” To all who seek inspiration and strength in the midst of life, Jesus will give resurrection power, for we believe that though this humble king was put to death, he rose again and was crowned with glory and honor.


And that’s something worth cheering about.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

Please visit these Lenten blogs by other writers in the CCBlogs network. You may need to go a blog’s homepage or archives to access the latest entries.


Don’t Eat Alone     

Pastor’s Post

Faith at Ease     

Holy Vignettes     


Where the Wind   

As the Deer   

The Other Jesus

Mark Powell     

Getting There     

Ellen Haroutunian


Welcoming Spirit     

Living Word by Word

Where the Wind     

Faith in Community   

When Grace Happens

Theophiliacs J. Stambaugh     

Theophiliacs A. Hunt     

Everyday Liturgy

Available Light     

Work in Progress     

Allan Bevere

A Diner at the End of Time     

The Painted Prayerbook   

Just Words

The Church Geek   

Breaking Fast on the Beach     

The Pocket Mardis


One Hand Clapping