Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fleet Foxes Are Taking Over My Brain

It's been awhile since I've been so thoroughly delighted by a new musical discovery, but Fleet Foxes have definitely gotten under my skin. Not since I first heard Sufjian Stevens have I felt as intrigued by this kind of raw creativity, unique artistry and pleasing melodies. As if I needed more confirmation, two of those whom I have played the CD (Fleet Foxes self-titled) have since gone out and gotten their own copies.

I have just ordered Sun Giant so I can't comment as much on that EP (except the video for Mykanos I saw on Youtube which is delightful). However, when it comes to the self-titled album, I have been captured by the sweet harmonies, light touch of "wall of sound" production, lyrical imagery, breadth of instrumentation and simply enjoyable tones as expressed in Quiet Houses, Blue Ridge Mountains and other cuts. There's plenty online about this Seattle-based group, so I will refer you to the plentious background information of this group -- a group which seems to be growing in popularity.

Okay, it's early yet but I can't help but thinking that this is possibly America's answer to Coldplay in the same way that The Beatles and Beach Boys had a friendly rivalry even though their sounds were quite different from one another. Since my encounter with Fleet Foxes, I have been following the trail from their house to other groups or individuals who are said to be of their ilk. So far, they stand alone but trust me to update you if anyone else emerges from the glut of new music purveyors.

I'm having trouble posting videos directly to the blog but here is a youtube link you can get started with:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Wanderers - Mogofians

The phrase "new wanderer" does not perfectly apply to Gale and Peter Mosgofian of the Arcata (Northern California coast) Vineyard. They are not "new" to the Faith, to Christian leadership and service, or to the Vineyard. So how is it that they deserve the honor of being mentioned in my blog series? Because of the way they have kept their mission and their community life "new" in the setting they are in.

A quick word about Eureka / Arcata, California where the Mosgofians live, work and minister. It is an area defined, in part, by its wooded surrounding, coastal beauty, and University (Humboldt State) youthfulness. Enter the Mosgofians who founded the Arcata Vineyard Community there. After establishing the Vineyard as a local church community, their mission for the care of the larger community moved them to establish a coffeehouse business (called "Mosgo's") in a part of town that was "dying", according to Gale Mosgofian. As a licensed Therapist and Vineyard co-pastor, she notes: “I have real concerns about people living so far from where they work. As a result they don't develop community where they live. They don't develop relationships where they're really vital.”

After studying the needs and developing the philosophy for their new endeavor, the Mosgofians took the rather large risk of opening their coffeehouse with a purpose. Not only does the site host the Coffeehouse venue but, thanks to a removable wall, can also be turned into a perfomance site that has featured local music acts and other performers -- from soft acoustic to the downright head banging stuff. One of the recent musical performers reflected on his experience by saying: "The people that work at Mosgo’s are top-notch people, and the coffee is great. They are genuinely good people who want to do something good for the community. I’ve had only wonderful encounters with the people there.”

In addition, Mosgo's space houses Common Ground Community Center next door which is available to anyone from the community for classes like dance and pilates, among other things. The Vineyard church also worships in this space on Sundays.

"If your church was suddenly gone tomorrow, who in the community would notice?" is a question that confronted Rich and Rose Swetman in Seattle who answered it in their own context as Vineyard believers (see earlier New Wanderers post). Peter and Gale Mosgofian and their compadres have come up with their own answer to that question given the challenges, needs and opportunities in their community. For them, Mosgos, Common Ground CC and the life of the Vineyard Church in Arcata have become more than destinations. They have become touchpoints through which relationships are begun and grown and the community around them is touched and changed. Perhaps these words from the Arcata Vineyard website say it best: "Someone's gonna change the world. Why not us?"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What I'm Listening To (Volume One)

We interupt the New Wanderer series (only temporarily, I assure you) to share a little bit of the music I have been imbibing most recently. After an extended period of being in a musical rut of sorts, I began to suddenly go through a Joni Mitchell phase. Watched a Biography DVD on her, immersed myself in Blue for awhile and explored a lot of the Hejira era via Youtube vids. But that's not why I'm writing.

That meager start was escalated by a chance listen to a song called "Man Over" via our local college radio station weekend show "Folk Roots". This was my intro to Robinella and the CC String Band (now just Robinella). I was really grabbed by her voice and really enjoyed the spare old-timey string backup. Pretty soon, I was ordering the CD which I have been enjoying quite a bit these last couple weeks.

Come to find that Robinella has quite a range. She can sing that sweet down home country (NOT the drippy slick Nashville garbage). She also does some gospel and has no problem tackling jazz phrasing and style. One writer described her as a cross between Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday (okay, that doesn't sound too good at all!). But the fact is she really can bring together her influences (she admits to having more jazz albums than country ones in her collection) quite beautifully. Tell you what - if you like Norah Jones, give a listen to one of my favorite cuts from her self-named album: "No Saint, No Prize" and see what you think. I've just received a newer album of hers from Amazon and will be writing more about her and her music later.

My Robinella kick led me to two other groups I had never heard of before. They are Seattle's Fleet Foxes and Johnson City, Tennessee's TheEverybodyFields. They are not much like each other. Fleet Foxes has strong strains of Smile era Brian Wilson mixed with a touch of Baroque, folk and alternative while TheEverybodyFields are fully alt-country with a great sound and some of the authentic feel you get from The Band. I'll go into more detail on them in my next post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Wanderers Case Studies

The New Wanderers (as I call them / us) come in a wide variety of packages. This is definitely not a "movement" in any kind of formal sense. There are no central leaders or clearing houses. What I observe is a number of courageous pioneers who are willing to break with the pack when considering the normal assumptions of "doing church" and ministry thinking in order to pursue Something More. However, this Something More is not so much "something more for ME". Rather, it is Something More for the Kingdom of God and, especially, its mission to penetrate the world with God's rule and reign. It is, in other words, focused on how we as Christ-followers can be more outwardly focused and (here's that word again) missional.

We of the Vineyard are no strangers to risk-taking and the risks of being misunderstood and missing the mark that go with such risks. Even so, I confess that my own quest has made me me a bit of an enigma to some of my fellow members of the Vineyard tribe. After some twenty five years in this movement, that has been a bit difficult for me. However, I am learning that I am actually not as alone as I first suspected. It seems the pioneer spirit of the Vineyard is actually alive and well after all.

Two of those I have recently come to appreciate for their pioneer spirit are Rose and Rich Swetman of the Vineyard Community Church of Shoreline, Washington (near Seattle). I already shared a few things about Rose's presentation on The Practicing Church delivered as a workshop during the Vineyard National Conference in Galveston (see my earlier post: "More From Galveston"). I had actually heard a bit about the Swetman's journey of faith and leadership at an earlier gathering of Vineyard leaders some months ago and was impressed. Hearing her in Galveston provided many more details -- too many to provide in a blog post, I'm afraid, but I'd like to share a few of the key features of their transformation into New Wanderers.

Taking a cue from Eugene Peterson's rendering of John 1:14 which begins: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood..." the Swetman's led their "traditional/attractional" Vineyard church through an extended period of rethinking. One of the questions they faced has a familiar ring to us in VCMN: "If our church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone around us even know it?" The answer (as it often is with churches, I'm afraid) was "no". This revelation moved them to study, think, pray and act on an entirely new paradigm of what it meant for them to be a church in their area.

Lots had to change (big surprise!). Everything -- sacred cows, "the way we've always done it", and even the idea of using and maintaining a building were put on the altar. Rich and Rose began to look at their surroundings anew and, among other things, Rose joined their local community organization dedicated to the area's social welfare. This would come to involve teaming with, among others, a prominent lesbian -- a woman with whom she now regularly cooperates on community welfare issues (can't you feel the support and understanding from other conservative churches just pouring in at this point?).

There is nothing wishy-washy about this Vineyard's theology, philosophy of ministry or missonal commitment to follow Jesus into the lives of those around them. According to their website: "Jesus did not come to earth in the Incarnation to "hang out", he was on a mission. His mission was then and still is now a passionate pursuit of all of his missing children to draw them back into a real relationship with himself."

A key expression of where this journey has taken Shoreline Vineyard is something called Turning Point ( A brief history of Turning Point can be found in the following text from their website:

"Since 2001 a group of people from Vineyard Community Church (VCC) wanting to put their faith in action, began serving the residents of a low-income apartment community in Lynnwood, Washington. VCC funded and staffed annual Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinners and “back to school supply” giveaways as well as other service activities. From this group, Turning Point was formed into a non-profit organization to strengthen families and individuals through education, coaching, and care."

Oh, and -- by the way -- after putting the issue of a building before the Lord, He directed them to what has become "Vineyard Square". In providing this blessing, the Swetman's emphasize that the Lord told them they must make the building available to not only their church, put to the whole community. Thus the name "Vineyard Square" -- a name that is generic on purpose.

There is nothing generic about the Swetman's and their fellow belivers at the Vineyard Community Church of Shoreline, Washington. As New Wanderers, they are a little farther down the road than many given the fact that their shift began about five years ago. Still, as all New Wanderers know, the road ahead is marked more by values, vision, calling and mission than a five-year masterplan. If, at times, this can lead to things feeling a little "dynamic", the Swetman's report that their desire to "grow the church big (as measured by a consuming commitment to God and His mission)" is being fulfilled. And -- wonder of wonders -- Sunday attendance is "up", too.

Many of those now being drawn to this congregation are those "missed" from the Father's family who have been touched by the love of a practicing church made up of New Wanderers. May their tribe increase!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Wanderers

In my last post I mentioned that I have begun to be aware of a growing tribe of folks I refer to as The New Wanderers. They are not disenfranchised, angry, axe-grinders who have "had it up to here" with traditional church modalities and philosophies of ministry (there are plenty of folks in that category but I do not speak of them). Instead, they have been, or are being, extracted from ministry assumptions, structures, histories and philosiphies that simply no longer serve their deepst Christian values, personal callings or desires to serve Christ authentically.

These New Wanderers are not so much interested in "reforming" the church at large as they are in answering their present questions about the meaning of their lives and ministries. Many (not all) have a long history of kingdom life, church leadership (as it is usually configured) and spiritual giftedness. Nevertheless, they find themselves being tugged by the Spirit into the wilderness because they cannot quench, silence or escape the fact that He is calling them there. As in the case of all wildnerness wanderers, they have as many questions as they have answers. But they also have something else -- something of inexpressible value and incredible potential. They have the kind of faith that is willing to take big risks and a vision for something that looks a whole lot more like what we see in the New Testament than most of what is on the current church landscape.

I will write about a few specific "case studies" in upcoming blogs, but for now I would like to identify a few words that seem to capture what is at the heart of their quest:

1. Relationship - The New Wanderers are not focused on making a name for themselves, "branding" their ministry identites, kingdom building (that is, their own -- not His) or lording it over others by invoking titles or engaging in spiritual one-upsmanship. They value relationship, community, and fellowship of the real kind. They tend to be open set types, generous in their attitudes towards other, avoidant of drawing harsh lines about who is "in" and who is "out". They understand that they have a role to play in influencing others and take this seriously, but they are doing so by feeling their way forward into God's mission and, by this means, calling others to do the same.

2. Authenticity - The New Wanderers value the authentic, the "real", over the merely efficient. The tend to shun programs and structures that simply imitate someone else's success. They are attracted to what is often referred to as "organic" or "simple" ministry forms, structures and endeavors that actually land in people's lives in describable ways. They are not interested in the merely theoretical. They are interested in the palpably real and transformational. They like stories more than theories. They trust the organic over the manufactured and are willing to live with messes and loose ends as long as Jesus Christ the Crucified, Risen and Life-Changing is at the center of it all.

3. Economy - The New Wanderers appreciate the simple, stripped-down and efficient over the bloated, showy and wasteful practices, buildings, programs and vehicles associated with contemporary ministry "success stories". They are more likely to boast about what they have managed to give away than what they have managed to amass by way of symbols of ministry success. They are focused on the poor, the overlooked and the needy and believe that it is a serious sin to ignore or overlook them. If they have any gripe with the traditional church it is that it is too often self-serving, wasteful, self-aggrandazing and shallow when it comes to how its store of time, talent and treasure are actually employed. I recently heard one of those I would characterize as a New Wanderer describe her church's shift in the following terms: "we decided to stop trying to grow a "bigger church" and start growing the church (we already had) "big".

4. Missional - If there is any word that captures the spirit of the New Wanderers it is the word "missional". Of course, "missional" has now become the current buzz word in church circles of various kinds and is defined differently by different practitioners. Nevertheless, the New Wanderers are captivited by the Missio Dei - the "mission of God" -- and its outward-focused thrust. They embrace "incarnational" ministry that brings the ministry of Jesus to bear on the marketplace, the neighborhood, the campus and other everyday places over the "attractional" models of ministry that requires the people to come to the Christians' turf in order to recieve the message or the ministry that awaits them there. That has spurred a whole new set of ideas, sometimes very controversial, about what it looks like to "church plant" (for example).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Caught in a Kingdom Tractor Beam

I observe that I experience some of my most significant kingdom assignments in one of two modalities. One of these I would refer to as "a call". I think of a call as a definitive assignment -- one that has fairly clear paramaters such as when Paul has the dream in which the Macedonian man urges him to come preach in that region instead of another.

The other modality is not so much a "call" as it is a "tug", a "pull" or a "draw". At the front end, the details are far fewer when compared to a call. When Jesus told Matthew the tax collector to "follow Me" it was a rather open-ended engagement of his life. "Follow You where? With whom? For how long?" Matthew might have asked. But, we Christ-followers recognize that there are times when we are moved by some mysterious kingdom compulsion that keeps us feeling our way forward while still having many more questions than answers.

When we planted the Crown Valley Vineyard Church in early 2000, it had the quality of a call. Not that every blank was filled in, but there was a strong set of specifics -- geographic, philosophic, timing-wise, team-wise, and so on. However, some eight years later, I began to be drawn in to a whole new adventure in faith and following that was far more vague at first. This is an unsettling kind of thing -- a sure fire recipe for disruption, new vision, freaking out, fascination, misunderstanding, adventure, losses, gains and, ultimately, surrender.

It's what I have come to refer to as being caught in the "tractor beam" of the Kingdom -- an image that comes from the Star Wars movie. You may recall the point in the movie wherein the spacecraft being utilized by Luke Skywalker and company comes under the influence of what they refer to as a "tractor beam" -- a remarkable and mysterious force that irresistably sucks them into the belly of the mothership from which it is being generated.

I shall speak more about these things in my next post: "The New Wanderers"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Constant Change is Here to Stay

I first saw that catchy and ironic phrase on a school billboard some years ago. However true that statement was back then, it is ever so more true today. Change is the deal. Change is happening and won't stop happening. It is accelarating, as it climbs onto and crowds its way in to our neat little world(s) at a breathtaking pace. Resist? You might just as well stand in the Pacific and push back against the breaking surf or surging tide. Constant change is here to stay. So, how do I move with change, find God's hand in the midst of it, and adapt/adjust rather than engage in the futility of denial or resistance? How do I make predictions on how change will impact me and mine? How do I prepare? How do I measure the future when it comes to our nation, the Church, or the world at large? How do I excuse myself from the luxury of ignoring change and (to quote the tune) "turn and face the strange"?

These are questions I find myself seeking to answer, re-answer and re-re-re-answer as change itself undergoes evern more change. I really do lay awake at night (or in the very, very early a.m.) thinking about these things. What would happen, for example, if the government removed all the tax exempt privileges now enjoyed by the American Church? What would happen when, suddenly, the property tax burden and the massive drop in contributions suddenly made thousands of church buildings a burden instead of a blessing? What would happen to preaching, fellowship, discipleship and evangelism if we lost our dependence on the way things have "always been" when it comes to doing church? How many of those who attend church now would still identify with The Faith if doing so meant being ostracized, locked out of jobs, passed over for promotions, or even openly persecuted? How will the church in the US handle the re-positioning of ecclesiastical influence and church power to the Global South rather than Euro-American Christendom?

How will the next generation's search for God engage or bypass the church as it is now constituted? How much time is there on the ticking clock of massive shifts that will engulf the church, the culture, the economy and world influence? "Don't think about it. Just keep doing business as usual" is not an option. Constant change is here to stay. When a ship goes into a squall, it reefs its sails, sometimes lashes its rudder, battens the hatches and perhaps even dumps much of its weighty cargo. What are we doing in our own lives to prepare for the changes we will face? What is expendible, what is non-expendible? What matters? What doesn't? What will come through the next wave of transformation and what will be brought down by its surging power? When I read the messages from Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation, I realize that Jesus is in the midst -- always. But that fact is not a recipe for avoiding change, but rather for embracing it in a manner empowered by grace. May God help us to do so.

The little video at was screened at the Vineyard Conference in Galveston prior to a message from one of the speakers. Watch it and see what comes up for you! (Sorry, it had problems uploading to blog, but just click the link, watch, and be amazed).