Friday, June 17, 2011


No, the other Survivor.  The guys who did a bunch of music for Rocky movies.  In particular, "In the Burning Heart."

"In the warrior's code is no surrender.
Though his body says stop, his spirit cries, 'Never!'"

On this, the last day, I found myself losing steam during the rotations, and this song came to mind.  I realized there is something within that drives us to continue even when we wonder if we can.  I might rewrite the text slightly for VBS...

"In the volunteer's code is no surrender.
Though her body says stop, His Spirit cries, 'Never!'"

I think most of us who volunteered for VBS feel spent about now.  It's been a great week.  Wonderful kids, all excited to learn about compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, and more.  Recreation.  Music.  Art.  Drama.  Small group.  My body was saying stop sometime on Thursday.  But the Spirit--not MY spirit, but THE Spirit--cried "Never!"  It is the indwelling Spirit, God with us, that drove us to the end.  Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

VBS 4: Is This the Right Curriculum?

We spent (well, honestly, others spent) a great deal of time considering which curriculum would be the best for this year.  We veered away from the Cokesbury cooking one.  We've used the Cokesbury for several years now.  There was some question about how excited kids would get about a cooking program.

I'm not gonna lie.  I have that question every year.  How can we get kids excited about [fill in the blank]?  An outdoor adventure that's mostly indoors?  A spaceship that never leaves the fellowship hall?  Soaring in a balloon?  It'll be a miracle if they can even stay awake, much less get excited!

But every year, the kids do wind up excited, and today I was reminded why that is.  It's the volunteers.  If the adult and youth helpers get excited, the kids will too (the opposite is also true but far less common around Decatur First!).  Is it the right curriculum?  Yes!  If we believe in it, they'll believe in it.

At the end of the day, I am drained.  I pour all I have into making the experience fun and uplifting for the kids.  What makes our VBS special is that there are more than a hundred other folks who do exactly the same, emptying themselves on a daily basis so these kids will have a fun and meaningful experience.  I am blessed to be a part of a church where so many care so much.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Form the Corn?

Every year since I started doing VBS, I've incorporated "Form the Orange."   It all started when one of my youth assistants had this idea to liven up music time (props again to Melissa...also was it Jess or Emma that year?).  The kids loved it.  I mean.......LOVED it.  They'll do anything if you promise we can form the orange after.  And why not?  It's rhythmic.  It's high-energy.  It has funny motions.  It gives us all an excuse to go bananas.

When I moved to Decatur First, I brought orange formation with me.  Not surprisingly, the kids loved it.  Also the adults as it turns out.  Robin (at that time choir president) liked it so much she led the Chancel Choir through it on Wednesday night.  It's been a staple since.  Four years running, and it's requested every year.  Every day of every VBS of every year, actually.

So you can imagine my skepticism when Pepper (aka Michael...playing in VBS bands with me for 4 or 5 years now) suggested we amend the orange.  Like Gaul, the orange is divided into three parts (1000 points for you if you catch that reference): the orange (form, peel, and squeeze), the potato (form, peel, and mash), and the banana (having united and split, you pick, peel, eat, and go...if you don't understand this, drop by my office and I'll show you).  Pepper suggested we add a verse.  Corn.  Form the corn.  Shuck the corn.  Pop the corn.  Apparently someone brought this last week to VBS at Embry Hills.  Another verse?  Inconceivable.

Nevertheless, we unveiled the new verse today, first to a small group and then to the whole group at closing assembly.  There was much rejoicing.  It was a hit.  I guess it shouldn't be a surprise.  It gives the kids an excuse to jump up and down.

It seems there are dangers in holding anything so sacred that you categorically refuse to change it.  Even those things that seem so effective and perfect can almost always be tweaked or improved upon in some way.  Real wisdom is recognizing and incorporating improvements...even if change seems a bit uncomfortable.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Many Gifts, One Spirit: VBS Edition

There be singin' here!  The theme song from yesterday, the song about gratitude, and now "They'll Know We Are Christians."  All my groups were singing them "with good courage" today.  It was nice to hear and share their excitement.  And they really took to the word on the street (compassion).

I find myself wondering what we are really trying to accomplish with VBS.  "Bible School" implies we are learning Bible stories...and we are.  But it is much more than that.  We are teaching about living after the example of Christ.  We are teaching about exhibiting compassion and gratitude and...  For my part, I'm not just teaching them songs that go with the word of the day.  At least I'd like to think it's not just that.  I'd like to think I'm teaching them something of what the words mean.

My own children have taught me that the best way to teach a concept is to model it.  So today as I was teaching a song about compassion, truly teaching the stuff of compassion was left to my action: how I treated them and how I treated the other volunteers.

That's the best part of VBS in my mind.  So many people, both kids and volunteers, and we demonstrate as well as I've ever seen what it is to be Christian.  Team work.  Mutual care and respect.  Reminds me of Corinthians where Paul talks about the many gifts and the one Spirit.  Each of us works in our own way.  Taken together, we are the body of Christ.

Monday, June 13, 2011

From Mission Without to Mission Within: VBS Day 1

I left my house at 7:30 this morning.  I-85 was a disaster.  I mean, a real mess.  Made it to the church at 8:45.  I had been hoping for something like 8:10.  And I realized somewhere on I-285 that I had forgotten my laptop and other VBS gear.

Thanks to a great save by Lisa (loving wife) and Patrick (youth director), I was able to produce powerpoint slides for the assembly.  And let's be honest...the DVD segment couldn't have been that good anyway (in fact, I'm considering leaving it out entirely for the duration of the week).

Needless to say, I was a frazzled mess for the morning.  But as the kids came in and I started teaching them the music, all that melted away.  It was us (the band) and them (the kids) singing about God, love, and gratitude.  My singular aim: show them the love of God using music as a tool.  That's when it hit me.  I'm in Decatur instead of Chicago.  I'm with young kids at the church instead of at assisted living places or nursing homes or children's hospitals.  But my purpose has not changed from last week to this.

As we kick off another year of Vacation Bible School at DFUMC, I look forward to another week of inspirational exhaustion.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's [almost] in the books.

I'm feeling refreshed.  A nice long sleep in my own bed.  It was getting pretty bad.  On the last night, as I was writing my blog entry, I actually fell asleep while typing.  But I didn't stop typing!  When I woke up, I had a long paragraph full of sentences that didn't make any sense together (but each made sense on its own).  If I'd had slightly more presence of mind at the time, I'd have saved it for further review.  Instead, I just thought, "well this won't work" and deleted it.  I'm sure it would have made for interesting reading.  In honor of my friend and first-time chaperone Cindy P, I'll say, "I hear secrets that you keep.......when you're blogging in your sleep."

What a wonderful day yesterday.

It actually started when we had our "random sing."  Those of you who have been following us a while will remember singing for the fudge guy in St. Louis.  It was the same kind of thing, only it was the breakfast guy at the Hampton Inn.  He made us cookies...just for us.

We started a bit late at the children's hospital, but it was because they wanted us to delay.  The concert there was good.  A nice room to sing in (just the lobby, but nice).  There are two music therapists on staff there, and they had brought down several of their patients.  And, of course, we had several folks passing through.  You'd see a nurse stop and listen for a song or two and then move on.  After we sang, two different hospital directors stopped me to tell me how much they enjoyed our singing. One had to follow me out to the bus to catch me.  He said something important.  "Thank you so much for doing this.  Please keep doing it.  Here.  Anywhere.  You have no idea how much it means."  Wow.  At the risk of turning this thing political, I'd say "Mission Accomplished."

The baritones had been struggling all week long.  Cindy kept saying it was hard to award Elwood to a girl because there were so many who emoted so well, but it was hard to award Jake to a boy because there were so few (and ironically, at least one winner is an alto!).  So on Thursday she awarded Elwood to Caroline and Jake to the soprano and alto sections.  You can imagine the baritones were...not happy.  So I issued a challenge.  You bring it tomorrow (at the hospital), and I'll buy ice cream.  They did.  So we stopped just past Nashville for ice cream (I didn't technically buy it, as I shared with was sponsored by someone else who we very much appreciate but for the purpose of this blog shall remain nameless).

One more stop at a rest area to do a little reflection and we headed home.  Because of traffic and our late start, we were about an hour and fifteen minutes past our scheduled arrival time.  A few minutes to clean the bus and we were off.  As I told Lisa when I got into the van, "Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh.  I'm only responsible for 2 now."

I didn't offer a devotional at our reflection time.  We took some time to write a few things down and to write a note of thanks.  After that, I gathered the group into a circle.  "After today this choir will never be the same.  It may be better, or it may be worse.  But it will definitely be different.  All week we have sung for others.  To others.  For others.  Now we sing for each other.  Now we sing to enjoy one last time singing as this choir."  And we sang.  Witness.  As we came to the end ("There's another witness...there's another witness") I couldn't help but look around the circle and think it fitting.  There's another witness for my Lord.  There are 37 other witnesses for my Lord.

And so it's almost in the books.  We sing tomorrow at the CAYA service (and I hope you'll join us for our homecoming).  Then it really is in the books.  It's once again been one of the most challenging, stressful, tiring, and wonderful weeks in ministry.

A personal note.  I had a group of youth buy a shirt for me that they presented on Thursday night.  It was a Blues Brothers shirt that says "We're on a Mission from God."  As a rule, youth are not especially gifted at showing gratitude.  If you do this job long enough, you learn to appreciate gestures like that because they don't come often.  I want to say here how much it means to me.  Thanks, guys.

Next week, Vacation Bible School, for which I have decided to blog once again!  Check back here on Monday for an update!

Friday, June 10, 2011


Call Webster.  I have an addition.  Blaupunkt.  It all started when we were trying to watch a movie today in the bus.  The video would, on occasion, simply stop playing, at which time the brand logo for the DVD player would appear on the screen (Blaupunkt is the brand).  I was frustrated by this, and said out loud, "Oh, man, we've been blaupunkt!"  It seemed a useful word to me.  If something is messed up, it's blaupunkt (as in, "This DVD player is blaupunkt.").  It can also be a verb (as in, "You totally blaupunkt dinner; let's go get a pizza.").  It's also just plain fun to say.

It was raining last night and this morning.  We departed just a bit late from Chicago, but still made it to our concert in Louisville in plenty of time.  And Louisville is a small city.  It routinely took more than an hour to get anywhere in Chicago.  We can get anywhere down here in about 10 minutes.

The drive today was uneventful.  We stopped for lunch at Chick-Fil-A.  We arrived just in time for our concert this afternoon.  It was the firs time I've done a concert where the residents were eating dinner.  They enjoyed our presentation.  Several of them approached me to talk about how wonderful the kids were (their words, not mine!).

While there, we took the now-popular "picture taken from above the group while they look up at the camera.

Dinner at Hard Rock was wonderful, and afterward we gathered to say a word to the seniors and to recognize those who are on tour for the first time this year.

That's a great sight, isn't it?  All those youth finding people to connect with.  Our audiences like good music, sure.  But what they really want is to talk with someone they feel is young.

One more day.  And not a moment too soon.  After several days of late nights and early mornigns, I'm ready to get to bed before midnight.

Looking forward to a fun day tomorrow riding on the bus and then singing in KY.  And then, HOME WITH THE FAMILY!!!!

Good night, moon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Day of Rest

Even God had to rest a day, right?  I usually try to carve out one day on tour that is strictly to have fun.  That day was today.

We started the day by sleeping just a tad extra.  We left for Six Flags at about 9:30.  After a nice day there, we returned, changed, and then went out for pizza and to see Blue Man Group.  Returned to the hotel, had a short devotional, and then dismissed for bed.

Had a lot of fun at Six Flags.  Rode several roller coasters.  My favorite was the raging bull.  It's the tallest coaster in the park.  I think most folks rode coasters, although a few opted out.  Special thanks to Sally W for sitting in Johnny Rockets all day long waiting for checkin!  I'm pretty sure that (along with watching my backpack) is an important job.

The pizza dinner was very tasty, but the best part of the dining experience was my photo op with the Blues Brothers.

Blue Man was amazing.  I had seen the show before, but there were some changes.  The show is so well done.  The kids loved it.  As an aside, they tossed a jello mold into the audience at one point, and Mitch W caught it!  Good hands, Mitch!  While we were there,  Greg showed that his true color might be blue...

Several folks led devotional tonight.  They compared experiencing God with a roller coaster.  Inventive.  very nice.  For my part, I talked about how the blue men show so much emotion with just their eyes and gently suggested we are capable of just as much.

Tomorrow we drive to Louisville, sing a concert, check in to our hotel, and eat dinner.   Should he nice.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming Up on Wednesday

The youth decided to sleep a bit in the morning before we head to Six Flags.  After that, we'll return to the hotel to change and then go eat some Chicago Pizza and head to the Blue Man Show.  I am beyond excited about Blue Man Group!

Busier than a One-Armed Paper Hanger

It was crazy from the beginning.

We were to leave the hotel at 8:00 this morning to get into the city to meet our guide.  I should have known we were in trouble when we didn't leave until 8:15 (those responsible for that have been given bus cleanup duty).  Heading into the city, we had difficulty finding the cultural center.  After a brisk run around the lyric opera house, we contact Mitch's friend, the director of music at the Methodist Temple in the Sky and got him to help us find the church.  Shortly before 10 (and an hour after our tour of Chicago was to begin), we dropped the youth and chaperones at the temple while the driver and I set about locating our tour guide.  We did eventually find him, picked up the group at 10:45, and headed on our way.

It was about an hour driving tour of the city that wound up at Wrigley Field.  We ate at McDonald's in something like 20 minutes and headed toward our concert.  After that, things went much more smoothly and according to plan, although it was a packed day.  Two concerts back to back (in great venues).  Back to the hotel for a quick change and then to the Sox game.  We left at the 8th inning and returned to the hotel for devotional and a bit of birthday cake (happy birthday, Theresa and Sam!).  Then lights out and such...taping in shortly after midnight.

Our devotional tonight was given by Mitchell P, Austin L, Marshall T, and William M.  They talked about Witness (the piece we are singing) and explored some ways we can be witnesses in every day living...we do not have to be singing to witness effectively.  A great message.

Congratulations to Sam B and Lea P for winning the award for appropriate emotional response (formerly known as the smiley award) at our first concert today!  

As we approached our debriefing time, I asked the youth to talk about where they saw the face of God today.  The responses were interesting and varied.  While I my question was designed to avoid simply sharing the stories of those we encountered today, it quickly became clear that they wanted to share the stories.

I made it a point today to look each singer in the eyes while we were singing.  Their reactions to that are interesting.  Some of them smile.  Some of them make silly faces.  Some of them get more serious looking.  It during "Many Gifts, One Spirit" that it hit me: I see the face of God in their faces.  I shared that with them tonight.

Great photo op today while we were on our tour.  I'll close for today with a picture of the group and also a picture of our bus driver, David.  Goodnight, moon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


A little something extra for your this morning.  On the docket for the day:

Head to downtown for our tour of Chicago
Tour Chicago
Tour Methodist Temple in the Sky
Finish tour of Chicago
2 Concerts
White Sox Game

Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.

Isn't the internet wonderful?

"I think we should eat at Chili's."
"What would you like to order?"
"What do they have?"
[clickety clickety click]
"Here's their menu."

Or maybe...

"How long does it take to get from Owensboro to Chicago?"
[clickety clickety click]
"About 6 and a half hours."
<7.5 hours later>
" long did you say it takes to get from Owensboro to Chicago?"
"Er, uh..."

Bottom line, despite great plans, we were late for our concert today in Chicago.  Our contact told us if we arrived after 4:30 we would have to cancel.  We made it at 4:15.  We warmed up on the bus.  Each youth changed in the bus restroom (one at a time, of course).  We walked in and pulled off a decent concert.

When we arrived there were two people in this pretty small room.  I started to think about what that might mean.  I've always said my measure of a successful concert is if there are more people in the audience than there are on stage.  Well, there are thirty of us on stage!

More folks did come (or, more folks were wheeled in).  By the time we started the concert, there were about 15-20 folks there to hear us.  But my mind kept going back to those two.  What if that had been it?  I was wrong.  It's not about how many people hear you.  It's about them really hearing you.  Hearing you with more than their ears.  Hearing you with their hearts.  And as it turns out, the folks we sang for today listened carefully with their hearts.

And it was a joy to sing happy birthday to a woman who turned 100 years old just yesterday.  In fact, at least five folks in the room were over 100!  One of them (her name is Century) asked me to sit in her lap!  I respectfully and politely declined.  She shared with me that when she was younger she had been a typist.  I love singing in assisted living type places because everyone there has a story to tell.  And when they share them, their stories become our stories.

Good devotional tonight.  Madeline R read the Great Commission from Matthew, and then the other members of the group asked questions relating to our mission.  How have we accomplished our mission?  What else do we need to do?  What did we do differently from yesterday?  How did the audience react to our mission?  Lots of good answers.

Of course we also had some fun today.  After our concert, we headed over to the Navy Pier for dinner and to hang out.  We also met up with Alex F, joining us late on tour.  Lucy took this great picture of the group at the gate.

A bit of good news.  We stopped today at a truck stop to fuel the bus and use the restrooms.  When Sally approached the counter, the clerk asked if she was in charge of this group (I can't imagine why her reflex was to say no).  In any event, the clerk told her this group was exceedingly well behaved and polite.  No, I have not replaced your children with some kind of mechanical, cleverly disguised imposters!

I almost forgot.  This morning we watched an edited version of Blues Brothers.  Thanks to Perry for making it PG so we could show it on the bus.  I'm not sure the youth enjoyed it as much as I fact I'm pretty sure they didn't.  But it was fantastic.  If you'd like to borrow this edited version so you can begin indoctrinating your 5 year old, let me know.

Tonight Jake and Elwood went to James and Claire.  Congratulations, guys!

Goodnight, moon.  5:55 comes early!  Feel free to comment below.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Our "share our true light through strings of plastic"

Today started out wonderfully.  Bus loading and choir warmup went well.  Service was all I'd hoped it would be.  Sermon flowed to communion nicely, and even the Ascension Day scripture complimented our mission focus very nicely..  The choir sang reasonably well, even as we walked out of the room singing.

The congregation applauded as we left.  I told the  youth tonight I don't think they clapped because the music was overwhelmingly spectacular (not that it wasn't good).  It was far more than that.  They applauded our mission, our purpose, our journey.  That was a wonderfully affirming moment for me.


As a parent, I frequently find myself saying things that, well, I would never have imagined I would say.  "Please don't lick the TV remote."  "Please step out of the refrigerator."  That kind of thing.  Examples are actually kindof hard to come up with on the fly, but I always  know them when I hear them.

I'm having the youth offer devotionals this week (they work in groups of 4--we're doing it by room).  Eric M offered an interesting take on our mission during his part of the devotional.  He was talking about the leis we wear during the concert and then give to the audience when we visit with them, and he was making the point that we have no idea what these small gifts might mean to the recipients.  "It's like we share our true light through strings of plastic."  Now.  Please step out of the refrigerator.

But he's right.  How often do we find ourselves sharing the gift of Jesus Christ, moving hearts and employing hands through the seemingly mundane or insignificant?  A string of plastic.  A fleeting smile.  A warm greeting.  Gestures we toss to the wind, but to the one who receives them, a potential oasis in a sizable desert.


The concert this evening was perhaps not our best work.  I typically choose to be honest with the choir when this happens.  They know it wasn't their best; lying to them won't do any good anyway.  So we talked about why they thought we didn't sing to our potential.  They came up with a pretty long list of reasons why it didn't go as well as it could have (many of them valid...the piano at one point literally sounded like someone had dropped a basket of silverware on the floor).

One of their biggest gripes was that the audience (which was very small) didn't care to hear us.  Anecdotal evidence suggests nothing could be farther from the truth.  The audience did at times seem inattentive, but having talked to several of them, I know they were actually very attentive!  We made assumptions about them for a variety of reasons, none of which were grounded in fact.  And our performance suffered as a result. 

Leave it to Mitchell P to keep it positive.  He reminded us that we have a tour ahead of us--ample opportunity to reclaim the excellence within and continue to share True Light with those we encounter.


Oh, just one more thing (like Columbo).  I'd like for you to meet our mascots for this tour: Jake and Elwood (of course!).  Corinne A and Caitlin S won them in our first game on the bus.  The first concert winners (which means they showed the most expression during the concert) were Steven M and Olivia P.  Congratulations, guys!

Jake is the one on the left.  Elwood on the right.

Until tomorrow.

PS I'm very excited that tomorrow we'll get to watch the specially edited version of the Blue Brothers on the bus.  Many thanks to Perry P for prolific professional paring.

PPS Also, I neglected to mention above that we arrived safely at Owensboro, ate dinner, and everyone is safe in his/her room for the evening.

PPPS Also, it's very late now.

PPPPS Goodnight.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Let's Kick the Tires and Light the Fires, Big Daddy

Final rehearsal this morning.  Finished up preparations at the church.  Packed my stuff at home (waited until about 10:00pm to get started with that...wonderful).  Inventoried the back pack.  Just have to print a few things to cram in the notebook and catch a couple of winks.

I always get nervous about now.  No matter how many times I do it, no matter how ready I think I am.  It's even worse now that I have children.  Wesley is almost 4 years old, and we have never left him overnight with anyone.  Tomorrow, 30 sets of parents will put their children on a bus with me and trust that I will bring them back on Friday.

Of course, I hope to do more than simply bring them back.  I hope to bring them back inspired, energized, and somehow better than when we left.  I am humbled.  I am honored.  And tomorrow, I am on.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's the Final Countdown

We're leaving together
but still it's farewell.
And maybe we'll come back
to Earth who can tell?

Cool song.  Has nothing to do with our mission.  Except, of course, the final countdown has begun.  Well, and we'll be leaving together.

For the record, I do plan to come back to Earth.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Youth Music Mission 2011: T Minus 13 Days

As of yesterday, it was two weeks before we embark on the Youth Music Mission to Chicago (with stops also in Kentucky).  Planning for this mission began even before the last one had finished.  It comes down to this: two weeks to get everything ready.

Perhaps it was Perry Patterson who postulated that prior planning prevents poor performance.  I believe it to be true.  Someone please call my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Menees and tell her I said that.  When she stops laughing, tell her you're not making it up (true confession: I was not the most organized of sixth graders...I was that kid who found papers from 3 months ago in his desk when it was time to move).

In any event, preparations are proceeding nominally.  All systems are go.  Green board.  Let's do this.

Decatur First UMC Music Ministry

Welcome!  You have found the blog for the music ministry of Decatur First UMC in Decatur, Georgia.  More specifically, you've found the page where John, the director of music, might periodically consider the meaning of this meaningless world.

This is also the new location for the ever-popular Music Mission blog, now with the ability to comment (ack!).