My closest friend of about 20 years here in Madison, WI died of brain cancer last month. Anyone close to me knows this was a big deal for me. I posted a couple of his songs on my facebook page last night, so forgive me if I’m overdoing it.
But Marques was an amazing singer/songwriter, and one of the promises I made to him was that I was going to put some energy into making sure that folks got a chance to hear his music after he was gone. He was so damn humble that he never really promoted himself. But he also knew how gifted he was. His was no “false humility.” He just, as he often put it, “was blessed with a total lack of ambition when it came to ‘making it.'” He knew what a toxic game it is to put much energy into chasing one’s ego around the music business. Oh he gave it a serious shot, especially early on, and he kept on creating and recording as long as he possibly could. But he was pretty much at peace with being an artist who would most likely only be discovered after his death–if at all.
Marques suffered from a severe form of arthritis, and was in constant pain physically. It sounds trite, but I seriously never once, in 20 years, heard him complain. Beyond that, he had a strange sense that he was in this ravaged body for a reason that he couldn’t begin to understand–but he accepted the assignment, and lived out his call to be in his body with an incredible degree of dignity and grace.
Two days ago, when I was visiting with Marques’ wife Tracy, she handed me two pieces of paper that she had just found on her bedroom dresser. They were messages from Marques–not to anyone in particular–and Tracy has absolutely no recollection of ever seeing those papers on the dresser before. There’s no way Marques could have written them or placed them there in the last several months. Bizarre. I’ve heard of this kind of thing–messages left shortly after someone dies–or little symbolic things found in the house that loved ones swear they’d never seen before or knew about–but which seemed like some kind of message from “beyond.” Who knows.
But what Marques wrote touched me deeply. I asked Tracy if she felt this was just for her, or for the “inner circle,” and she said that she thought it would be good to share it with everyone. My new blog seemed to be the best place I could think of to let you know what Marques left on the dresser. So here’s the first one. I’ll post the second one another time. I hope you find this meaningful.
Jesus didn’t write a book; Jesus didn’t start a religion. Jesus lived a life.
I have a confession. I prefer to learn by experience instead of through reading. That bias goes a long way toward explaining why I am a 42nd semester Sr. here at UW. It’s not intellectual laziness so much as that’s just the way I learn. And I think our Western culture tends to venerate the written page and those who are considered experts in the writing and reading of the written page. It’s almost become a form of idolatry. Even with the holiest of books–some people worship their Bible as though it were God. But it’s not. God is God and God is much too huge and wild and beautiful to be contained in any book. I’m not here to denegrate the Bible, but today I’m not here to read from it either. I’m here to ask you to consider why it is that God put us here in these mortal bodies with these immortal souls. I’m here to suggest that occupying these bodies is the only way to simultaneoulsy experience both God and life. And that makes for a mess.
I’ll just leave it there.
People have been telling me for years that I should get a blog going.
Well, okay, I’m finally going to give it a shot.
My primary reason for starting this blog now is to open up a conversation that’s emerged regarding the content of my recent book, The 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music. I’ve been getting some very cool responses from folks who’ve read the book, and it’s occurred to me that this could and maybe should be a more public conversation.
So, by all means dive in here. Post comments. Point us to other sources of insight and information related to the topics I’ll highlight. Go ahead and be as edgy as you like…
I’m going to give myself the freedom to be blunt and, well, to just try to be myself–you know–a bit less censored and/or concerned about offending folks than I tend to be in live settings (which usually means a church for me).
Beyond my book, I’m going to share thoughts and reflections and links to other stuff I think is important or fun or just worth sharing for some reason.
A lot of what I’ll focus on will have something to do with songs I write and record and release, but I’ll weigh in on other topics, share the work of other artists and writers, and try to offer up some life-giving material that will be inspiring for me to write about and, I hope, encouraging or at least provocative for you to read.
People who know me and my ministry well also know of my deep and longstanding relationship with the beautiful country of Haiti. I’ll have some thoughts to share now and then in connection with this huge part of my life’s journey as well.
I’ll look forward to being in communication with whoever reads this, and as I think you’ll see, I welcome push back and disagreement. I’m much more into mutual listening and learning than squaring off against each other. Let’s just try to keep it respectful. I will anyway…
In the past couple of years I’ve started calling myself a “Progressive Christian.” The truth is however that I really don’t like using additional words to qualify the term “Christian.” I wish the word “Christian” could just stand by itself and mean what it means to me without having to add other words. But I find that referring to myself simply as a “Christian” usually winds up causing people to actually misunderstand who I am and what I care about most.
Not surprisingly, a lot of folks assume I’m politically and theologically conservative when they learn that I’m a Christian and that I’m passionate about following Jesus. I guess that’s because so many of the loudest and most visible so-called “Christian voices” (in the media, etc.) make it sound as though being a Christian is synonomous with being a conservative Republican. Yet following Jesus has actually led me to embrace what I’ll call a “progressive world view.”
That is, the teachings of Jesus have led me to want to be a loving advocate and activist when it comes to issues of social justice, compassion for the poor, honoring the earth and all of the natural world, honoring the gifts and ministries and full humanity of women, people of color, people of all nations and tribes and religions, sexual orientations, making peace with justice, analyzing the integrity of economic systems and their impact on the poor, etc.
I use the word “progressive” because it helps to distinguish my way of being Christian from the louder and mostly conservative expressions of Christianity that often dominate our public airwaves. The word “progressive” quickly (though not perfectly) communicates the general direction that biblical faith has taken me when it comes to most issues and how I see the world.
I talk about all of this in much more detail in my book, “The 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music.” Yes, of course I’m hoping that this blog will help sell the book. Buy it now! Please… (there’s my “strong call to action” as my marketing friends would put it :)) –I published it myself and I can definitely use the cash!
But the truth is I’m doing great in every way and the response to this book so far has been fantastic. I do hope you read it even if you find a way to get it for free. As with all the stuff I’ve recorded, I’m just glad and grateful that folks are interested enough to want to pay attention to my music and writing. That means the world to me, and I don’t take it for granted. This isn’t about money or making a living first and foremost for me. It’s about trying to respond to God’s call on my life and to share the things I believe the Spirit has laid on my heart to share.
But I also welcome and need the money! Just want to be clear about that…
The book is available everywhere in all venues and formats (Amazon, Kindle, etc.), and you can buy it directly from me on my website by clicking here.
Okay, the commercial’s over. Don’t worry. I won’t be trying to sell you something all the time. Sometimes I will… but I’ll do it in a low-key, respectful, and playful way if at all possible.
Enough for this first post. Here are a couple of questions I’ll toss out to any of you who’d like to respond and get this conversation in process.
1. What do you think about using a word–any word– (evangelical, conservative, liberal, emerging, progressive, post-modern, post-denonimational, etc.) to qualify what we mean by “Christian?
2. How do you think and/or feel about the term ‘progressive Christian?’ Are there other words or qualifying phrases that you find helpful at this point? Tony Campolo and Share Claiborne for example often refer to themselves as “Red Letter Christians” (referring to their emphasis on the saying of Jesus which are in “red letters” in some Bibles).