Friday, June 14, 2013

Thursday's Epic Post

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

I'm about 12 hours late with this posting, and I hope a few people read it!  Here's the detailed post from our last day on the road.  We arrived back at the church at about 7:30pm.  I'd like to get this post written before the VBS madness begins (which, in a sense, it already has).

I've enjoyed looking for quotes to accompany each post.  I think about what frames my thinking on a given day, and then I find a quote that goes with it.  It's obvious that the ending is on my mind at this point, but as usual it's not as simple as that.  Because it's not really the ending.  Like Herbert's just where we stopped the story.  Our stories as individuals will continue, as will the story of our choir and its mission.

We arrived at our final venue in time to have a warmup.  Good idea.  We were able to remind ourselves of how a couple of the pieces went, the words having been lost in the waves the day before!  It set us up for a good concert though.  And it gave us a chance to take this group shot before the concert started.  I reminded the choir at the outset that this is the last time this choir will sing together in this configuration.  Ever.  Don't hold back.  Leave it all on the field.  And they did.

And this is awesome.  Since we had a couple of minutes, and since there were some folks in the room, a bunch of singers went out and started visiting before the concert started.  Wow.  A very proud moment.  Our youth understand what we are doing and why we are there...and that even though music is important, it's not the point.

We had a couple of folks with family at the concert as well...

The last concert of the tour is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get.  Fortunately, the final concert was strong musically.  We were all tired from a week of singing and, more to the point, a day on the beach.  Nevertheless when the music started, everyone dug deep and made it happen.  Great work, guys!  I included just a few pictures from the concert, including our power alto section, which won a flair award as a section, the solo group for "Down in the River to Pray," our dramatic component (which went superbly every time!), and some of our guys, consistently praised for their willingness to man up and send the sound!

We had a couple of alumni from the youth choir on tour this year.  It was the first time anyone had taken me up on my invitation to come along.  I'm glad they came.  They added a lot to the concerts and to the tour as a whole.  And I hope more alumni will join us in the future!  Thanks, Marshall and Kelsey!

Our last venue was also kind enough to offer us lemonade and cookies.  Mmmmmmmmm. It's also worth nothing something else about this picture.  You can see people from both Embry Hills and Decatur First here.  That wasn't staged.  In fact it was commonplace.  Our groups merged easily into one.  If I hadn't known two churches were represented, I wouldn't have been able to tell.

It took us a bit, but we did manage to find a location for our final devotional.  We wrote about the things that went well...and the things that could have gone better.  We signed the senior tshirts and the cutouts.  Chaperones awarded the final pieces of flair (and the winner of the flair contest was Eric, who will receive lunch at Waffle House with me).  Then we headed to the bus for the return trip home.

As is our custom, once we got back on the bus it was open mic time for the seniors.  They are free to say whatever they'd like to the choir.  It's a time for goodbyes, advice, and sometimes just straight up comedy.

Riley didn't want to talk, and that's ok too.  But she still came to the front of the bus, and she's still in the picture below.  I'll miss you, guys.  You've helped make this year special.  As Wesley (my son, not the bus driver) wrote me in a note the day we left, "Don't be a stranger."


As always, we welcomed our driver into our choir with a shirt.  We also awarded him a piece of flair for his outstanding work (and took up a collection for him!).  Great driving, Wes!

And then...we all fall down.

That ties the ribbons on it.  It's in the books.  My ninth youth music mission.  My sixth at Decatur First UMC.  I love it.  I just hope the youth had as much fun as I did.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

“Home is the nicest word there is.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

We're home!  We arrived just a little behind schedule at 7:30pm or so.  It was just in time; we had not more finished unpacking and sending the youth home than the bottom fell out in Decatur.  The rain was intense.

Michele and I plan to rendezvous tomorrow to get some pictures, and at some point tomorrow I'll write the epic post from today.  It was a great day, and well worth the read if you have a chance.

For now, though, I'm going to go tuck my children into bed for the first time in a week.  I think they've grown since I was gone...


Guest Blog Post

 Amanda Carter is on our trip as a chaperone for the first time.  She's been fantastic!  And she wrote a guest blog post!  Enjoy.

My first youth choir tour is coming to a close. I've worked with the youth for a while now and have gone on several youth retreats with them but this is the first time I have seen them in this capacity. Not only have I enjoyed watching them perform (and they are awesome) but I've gotten to see them interact with the people in the audience after their performances. During each performance, I have seen people in the audience look truly blessed by the gift our youth brought them. The conversations after the performance lifted my heart as I saw the audience AND the youth smiling and happy. I was especially moved during our two performances for older adults since that is my passion. During the first performance, there were several people that told me they were a little uncomfortable and not sure what to say.

After the second performance, I had several people tell me interesting facts, stories, and words of wisdom they learned from someone that day, The intergenerational learning and joy shared truly made me happy. While I have enjoyed all of the retreats I have gone on with this group, this trip has been my favorite because I got to be apart of the tremendous love they are spreading through each performance. I've also really enjoyed getting a chance to spend time with people and get to know them more. Due to other commitments, I am not able to be there every Sunday night so each trip brings me a little closer to our youth and that is a blessing in my life. I fondly remember the trips I took as a member of my youth group and being on the other side is rewarding,

Wednesday's Epic Post

"The ocean is a mighty harmonist."
--William Wordsworth

Today was our beach day.  I'd say we didn't do any singing, but that wouldn't be quite true as you'll see in a bit...  I started my day early as usual.  There were four of us ready to hit the beach before 8:30 or so.  Greg, Carolyn, Hudson, and me.  Hudson was...well watched.  The first order of business was to check out the done from the water, of course!  Then a little football with Hudson, who can throw a football embarrassingly better than I can.

After a while more folks came out.  One of the first groups decided Olivia looked like a mermaid...or needed to look like one.  Greg provided the crown to complete the ensemble.

The younger guys decided Matthew needed to be a merman, so they buried him as well.  And in an impressively imaginative moment, they decided he should be a merman that had come on the shore and tried to stand up.  Way to buck the trend, guys!  PS the crown really adds a nice finish.

I'll insert here that I did much better this year about keeping the kids from getting burned...well, the chaperones did actually.  Anyway, we did have a couple who burned, which is unfortunate.  Last night when I saw him, I observed this strange tan line that looked like he had been wearing one of those short workout shirts from the 1980's.  Do you remember the ones I'm talking about?  Anyway, now I see where the tan line came from.

Another who may have had a bit too much sun (or too little sunscreen) is Bennett.  But he had a great time doing it! 

And while the ocean has most of the water around here, it doesn't hold all the water.  There's a pool too, pre-stocked with beach balls.  Now this looks like a fun game.  I don't know the rules...

We wound up having lunch in the hotel because it was hot outside.  Rhett, Mitch, and I went down to Publix to get stuff for sandwiches.  A quick head count to make sure we had everyone, and they were off!  I was a little surprised at how quickly they went through all that food, though I don't know why.  Well, and they didn't actually get through it all.  We had a significant quantity of leftovers.  The hotel manager offered us some space to keep them, but instead we gave it all to the hotel staff.  I wonder if their workroom is like ours at the church...

At 6:00pm we left for dinner.  We went back to the historic part of St. Augustine to a little pizza place called Pizalley's.  Wow!  Great pizza.  The space was a little small, so we were split into a couple of areas.  But it was fun nevertheless.  There has been some discussion this week about my playing of the spoons and also my talent for balancing 2 forks and a toothpick on top of another toothpick.  I demonstrated both at Adrian's request (she actually had to go in and get the appropriate flatware).

I also demonstrated the non-magic-trick downstairs.  Then Hudson, Allyn, and Daniel tried unsuccessfully to repeat it.  Then this totally random stranger came up and showed them again how to do it.  Then he left.  I kindof wish I'd been there to see that.

Good job, Daniel!

When the servers found out we were a choir, they said, "I wish we could hear you sing."  Muahahaha.  EXCUSE TO SING A SONG!!!!!!!!!  We did an a cappella rendition of Praise His Holy Name, complete with a couple of folks filling in the piano interludes (William, I'm talking to you).

Because we were split up for dinner, we walked to the fort to do our senior night activities.  We gave the seniors tshirts to remember us by and celebrated all they have done for our choir.

And speaking of senior gifts, I gave Rhett a captain hat.  Mostly it's because of his insistence on doing airline jokes with the bus microphone.

We'll miss our seniors!  Farewell, Riley, Anna, Caitlin, Caroline, and Lea!  Best of luck next year!

When we got back to the hotel, I told the youth to put on shorts and beach shoes so we could to our devotional on the beach.  We went about 30 feet from the water and stood in tight concentric circles so everyone could hear.  We locked arms.

Then we started singing.  Down in the River to Pray.  As we sang, I moved the whole group toward the water...and into it.  Not too far, just to the edge.

When we finished the song, I gave a short devotional.  I shared that early in the morning, I got out in the ocean far enough that a large wave took me off my feet and turned me over.  I had no control, powerless to do anything except ride it forward until it let me go.  Then I walked up to the beach and turned around.  Looking out over the ocean, I felt small and insignificant.  And we are small.

But we are also more powerful than the ocean.  For a week now we've been changing lives for the better.  We've been moving people's hearts.  We've touched people in a way that even the mighty ocean cannot.

After that, Rhett gave a devotional on baptism, including reading the blessing over the water.  Powerful given the water running over our feet.

Finally we sang the "Our Father" from our program (in French, 4 part, a cappella!  Woohoo!).  Then we headed in to get ready for bed.

Today we have one more concert and we head home.  I'll update this blog at least once more with pictures from today and some final wrap up.  I may or may not update it during VBS.  You remember how well I did with that last time...


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tuesday's Epic Post

"When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn."

— John Wesley

 I posted yesterday (Tuesday...remember I write the epic posts the next morning!) about Amanda's passion for the elderly and how she let it show.  This morning as I combed through the pictures to find which ones I would use, I realized that we had many pictures that revealed the passions of those in them.
For example...  Rhett is a harp player.  Andy, our host at the homeless shelter and a good friend of Rhett's, is also a harp player.  After we had scoped out the venue and sent the runners to bring the choir and equipment, Rhett and Andy started talking about harps.  I was so amused I snapped this picture.   While I can't accurately reproduce the conversation (because I'm not nearly as passionate about harps as they are!), it went something like this: "So what harps do you have now?"  "Well, I have the L38 that I'll own forever.  Then I have this other 1472."  "Really?  What finish is on it?"  "It's walnut...but not the dark walnut.  It's the lighter one."  "I see.  That's a great harp."  Kid, meet candy store.

The venue was a little tight (though not as tight as the next concert!).  The audience was a mixed bag of people really, including a significant number of staff.  Unfortunately time did not permit us to visit with them after we sang, and the youth let me know that this is unacceptable (which of course made me exceedingly proud of them).

The center gave us lunch in their children's building.  Sandwiches and stuff, and they were very tasty.  I've been trying to figure out what I think of the artwork in the background of this picture.  It was commissioned for the center.  I wish I could talk to the artist about it.

Kelsey, it turns out, is passionate about our environment.  For many years she has been responsible for the recycling bag on the bus.  She upped it to a new level this year when she gathered up all the recyclables from lunch and toted them to the bus because there was no place to recycle in the center.

Curt is passionate about...being a smart aleck.  He and Michele jumped off the bus just down the street from the center to make this funny picture at the prisoner intake door for the jail.  His passion very nearly got him arrested, as they really don't want you to take pictures of the jail.  The things we do in pursuit of our passions...

In the morning concert, we sang all but our closer from memory.  So when we got to the hotel, we went into our meeting room and spent some time finishing up the memorizing on the last piece.  As a side note, John is not allowed to accompany the youth choir ever again.  At first it was fun...then it was funny...then it wasn't funny.

 The hotel here really rolled out the red carpet for us.  They had everything set up and even had this great sign.  Heck...after an hour or so they even put a door on my room!  (when I arrived there was a contractor working on the installation).  As far as I know everyone else had a door from the outset...

After a relatively quiet start to their trip, Kate, Andrew, and Mitchell seem to have had a pretty good time yesterday.  Nice to see them mingling with the other kids too.  They had been keeping more or less to themselves.

We don't have many pictures of Mitch on the blog yet.  I thought I'd include a picture of a real accompanist at work since I included one of a pretend accompanist at work above...

Here are several pictures of our kids singing.  It's hard to get a photo of all of them smiling at once, but the chaperones all agree that they are nearly constantly engaged.


 Two pictures that really show the passion for what we are doing...Caroline singing "Ain' Got Time to Die" and in the next picture a great picture of the alto section.  Michele commented last night that she thought the section deserved a piece of flair en mass for their excellent work.

One thing I added to the program this year was a dramatic component.  I wrote a script for two of the youth (Lea and Elli) to act throughout the program.  They are talented!  It ties it all together and also engages the audience in a different way.  You may or may not know that Lea is headed to college next year and will be studying drama.  You can see how much she loves it.

I commented in our devotional time last night that I'm beginning to wonder why we bother with the musical part of the program.  The audience enjoys our visit with them as much or more than the music I think...almost like the music just gives us a reason to gather them in one place and gives us something to talk about.  The youth may not tell you this, but they love it just as much.  They are always eager to share the stories they learn.



And at least one youth, typically reserved in front of the choir, lit up when she went to talk to this guy.  Apparently he started singing to her...

For dinner we went into old town St. Augustine.  We'll actually go back there tonight when we'll eat together.  But last night it was in groups.  I ate with Patrick, Greg, Amanda, and Michele.  While we were walking to the restaurant, we found this little place and had to have a picture.  Yes, it does in fact say, "Rhett's Piano Bar."  Rhett hadn't told us.  I wonder why.

After dinner I went in search of ice cream and located a great little place.  Well, Theresa helped me find a great little place.  There was a group of kids already there who invited me to join them.  I had no idea where they were, so she kindof talked me down.  It was one of those scenes in the movie where two people are talking on the phone until they meet when they hang up and continue their conversation.

I went in search of gifts after ice cream.  I still haven't found the gifts for my seniors, and time is running short (as of this writing, I'm still looking!).  Along the way we came across a guy who was preaching on the street corner.  About half the youth passed him at one time or another.

When I asked about him a devotional, Eric pointed to something I had noticed as well--and found curious.  The street corner guy was clearly preaching salvation through Christ as you'd expect.  Much of the time he was not as much preaching fire and brimstone.  Several folks then agreed that his message was not dramatically dire though his delivery certainly was, which created a cognitive dissonance.

Or maybe some of us just didn't listen long enough.  There were those who heard him say that if you did not agree with him you were forever condemned.

Regardless, some of our youth made an interesting choice.  Together they approached the man and started singing.  By Our Love.  "Brothers, we have come together, walking in the Spirit, there's much to be done.  We will come reaching out from our comforts, and they will know us by our love.  Sisters, we were made for kindness.  We can pierce the darkness as He shines through us.  We will come reaching out from our comforts, and they will know us by our love.  The time is now; come church, arise.  Love with his hands, see with his eyes.  Bind it around you.  Let it never leave you.  And they will know us by our love."  I wish I had been there to see that.

They were aiming to send a message to him.  They wanted to express to him their belief that at our best we spread the gospel of love through love.  I think he missed that.  He appreciated them and felt encouraged by them.  He liked what they did and felt affirmed by it.

As I write their story, it occurs to me that this is the true miracle of Christian love.  The true spirit of Love is affirming.  It is encouraging.  It builds up.  Or perhaps...

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

We could have kept talking at our devotional, but the hour was late.  I asked the youth to keep thinking and talking about it.  We approach making disciples very differently from this guy.  Nevertheless we have commonalities as well.  How are we like him?  How are we different?  Most importantly, why are we different?

After some reflection, I can answer that for me.  It's where my passion lies.  My passion is not conversion.  My passion is compassion.  When I am my best self, I love everyone and seek to build them up--following in the example of Christ.  When I manage to do that, I find myself fulfilled.  Tuesday taught me that many of my youth share that passion for compassion.

Wednesday: the beach!  (Spoiler: I've already been this morning, and the water's just a bit cold until you jump in and get used to it.  Also the current runs right to left, strongest 75 feet or less from the shore).  Will post some lessons I learned from the beach this morning after a while.  I'll be leaving in about 10 minutes to go in search of food for the multitude.  What to buy, what to buy.  Loaves and fishes?