Unleash Hope: an interview with Michael Gallaugher

Michael Gallaugher is my friend and compatriot in Columbus, Ohio. Worshiping under his lead and watching him lead people into worship pretty much taught me all I know about that art; I’ll probably be returning to his songs from that period for my entire worshiping life. He’s been involved in worship and worship songwriting for about 14 years, beginning at Joshua House, the young adult ministry at Vineyard Church of Columbus, and continuing on at the church’s main services. Six years ago, he was sent out with the team that planted Clintonville’s Central Vineyard, and is now the worship pastor there.

Michael has been recording his own songs under the label robberfly music since the turn of the century. In 2006, what was essentially his microlabel expanded beyond his own recordings and is now home to three additional artists. Michael sees his label digitally releasing predominantly worship-related artists, and giving away all proceeds to non-profit organizations seeking social and economic justice. Robberfly music’s most recent release is Michael’s new project, Unleash Hope, a surprise to him and a welcome addition to his rich history in songwriting. A new set of songs from Michael is always an event in the Neds-Fox household, and I had the distinct pleasure of debriefing him about this album, his songwriting, his label and his plans for the future.

JNF: Last year’s EP, Taking Flight, was your first return to new songs in a number of years, and your first since you decided to make robberfly music an entirely digital label with the “name your price” distribution model. Talk about what precipitated your return to writing and recording?

MG: I suffered a severe bout of writer’s block for many years. I’m not sure if it was due to having children or not, but I guess I was unmotivated to write new material. I definitely didn’t have time like I used to, just to sit down and see what came out. When I did write something new the results weren’t very good. I had taken a definite break from doing original songs in worship for a year following the release of The Cross back in 2002, so when that happened the writing stopped as well. I had a large backlog of material from songwriting sessions with my friend Jim Zartman over the years as well as from my own personal songwriting, so I would borrow from those sessions when doing new songs; which although partially successful caused me to rest on my laurels and not try and write new songs. Most of this material remains and probably will remain backlogged. Some of it was brought to light on the Sing Your Praise live album in 2005 and the Central Vineyard Worship album in 2007.

I think of the Taking Flight EP as being a transitional recording. It marked the first time I had written new material in several years that I thought was worthy of being used in a corporate worship setting. There was also some backlogged material that we’d done at Central Vineyard, as well as some older songs (one being over 10 years old) that finally saw the light of day. Even while in the middle of recording, some new songs started to be written (“Lose my life,” “Mercy,” “Unleash Hope”) that I had planned on putting on the EP, but it quickly became apparent that the new songs had a voice and a place of their own and were supposed to be on their own project. Not to mention that the new songs had a special favor on them in corporate worship. So Taking Flight is really like a bridge between the old and the new; almost like a postscript to a chapter before a new chapter begins. It’s hard for me to imagine these new songs existing if Taking Flight hadn’t existed before them.

JNF: What happens to a song after you write it? Does using it in a corporate worship setting change it in any way? Does the song’s use in worship influence what happens in the studio?

MG: Typically I try to let my songs sit for a week or two and then if I’m still excited about it when I listen back, I’ll probably think I’m on to something. I will try to show it to a songwriting friend or two and see if they have any ideas to improve it. I think my confidence in songwriting is coming back – typically I think my songs are generally good, they just need someone to take a look at them and give some feedback. Our pastor Jeff Cannell compares it to the John Lennon-Paul McCartney songwriting relationship, where one person would write a song and the other would suggest changes to improve it. Ideally, I’ll test run a new song in homegroup before doing it on a Sunday morning and see how it goes. Are people able to easily sing it? Do people catch on to it quickly? I think in previous recordings I would try and make the recordings sound as close as possible to the live worship version. This album was different. Although I wanted the core of the song, the melody and chords, not to change, I also wanted to be as creative as possible and to use the studio as a room to experiment without losing the core of the song in the process. So this album had the opposite effect: instead of being influenced by the live worship version, it was the one doing the influencing.

JNF: What makes you feel like a song is going to work in a worship setting?

MG: I’ve been writing worship songs for a long time now, in fact it’s the only kind of song I write pretty much anymore. I think I’ve forgotten how to write differently. Because of this, when I write, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I think I’m always crafting a song to hopefully work in worship. I try to use themes and lyrics that most people can identify with and grab a hold on. I try to pick melodies that are memorable and easy to sing. There are a lot of songs that never see the light of day because they just don’t work for whatever reason. I feel like this album displays a lot more maturity in songwriting than my previous full-length album of original songs, The Cross.

JNF: Talk about how Unleash Hope came about.

MG: This whole album has been a bit of a mystery to me, and I believe God has been in it from start to finish. In May 2009 I attended the national Vineyard conference, and it was there that I went up for prayer during one of the ministry times. At the time I was deeply engrossed with what would become the Taking Flight EP, and had come up with all sorts of plans for what that EP would look like and essentially how I would be making it “happen.” When I got prayer, the guy praying for me said “I feel like you are holding on to something, and God is saying that if you lay it down at the cross He will give you something better” (which is another reason why I like the new version of “Lay It Down” being on the recording). Immediately after he said that, I thought of the recording I was working on and I consciously said to God, “I give this to you. Do with it whatever you like.” I gave up all plans to do anything with the EP and shelved it.

I had told our pastor Jeff about it and I don’t think he told me at the time, but he had felt like God told him to give me the opportunity to make a recording. I had met with Sheila, our church’s counselor/spiritual director, to talk about something completely unrelated, and we ended up having a conversation about the word the guy had. She got a prophetic image about a volume being taken off a shelf in heaven with the number “12” on it, and it representing my album. I remember thinking at the time that the words/images were nice, but I had no idea how it was going to happen. I had asked her if she had the impression that these songs were unwritten, and she thought that the bulk of them were. When this happened, I felt led to complete work on Taking Flight and get those songs out of the way in order to make room for the new material.

A few months later, Jeff started talking about doing a new Central Vineyard CD to give to visitors, since we were starting to run out of the previous one we’d done. He was especially interested in using some of the new material at the time (“Lose my Life,” “Mercy,” “Unleash Hope,” “Weakness”), and it was looking like it would be a 4-song EP. When those plans started happening, I changed plans on Taking Flight and decided to finish it as a 6 song EP and try and get it completed quickly, and it was released in August last year as a digital download; the focus of the new material was so different from the material on Taking Flight that I wanted to keep the two items as separate as possible. I had talked to different studios around town about doing a live studio recording of the new material and most of them didn’t return my emails. Jeff had come up with the idea of having John Reuben produce it, which I hadn’t initially considered but was a great choice since he is part of our church and is a successful artist. I think John and I met one time to discuss doing the EP, and he was very interested.

In September 2009, my wife and I attended a justice conference in Maryland. I remember that really being a breaking point for me. We had gone representing two organizations that our church is involved with, Asia’s Hope and Justice Gardens. Towards the end of the conference I remember being so overwhelmed with injustice in the world, and saying out loud “what the heck am I doing leading worship?” It felt like it was a waste of my time and wasn’t doing anything to alleviate suffering or help the helpless. And it was in that moment of complete surrender, that things really started happening.

When I returned from the conference, Jeff felt like we were supposed to do a full-length album and that it should consist of a mix of new and old material, mostly because he felt my older material had never gotten the recording quality that they should have. The songs just poured out of me like never before, and I almost supernaturally knew what kind of songs this record needed to be complete. I knew that the theme of justice should be a big focus on the album and I needed another song about justice (“Love & Justice”). I knew that I needed a song about choosing to worship God even though in the midst of suffering (“Trust You”). I knew I needed a song about the relationship with God as father and what that mystery means (“Father me”). And I knew I needed a song of worship to God about how great he is just because; there’s so much about “us” and “others” and relationship on this album, which is great but I needed a song that didn’t even talk about us at all (“Hallelujah”). Those four songs (plus “Truth”) flowed very quickly after the conference and only left room for three older tunes to get re-worked.

John and Seth listened to all of my older material previously released (and some unreleased) and they both thought that any additional older tunes would need to be pretty much re-written in order to match up with the quality of the newer material. So even while initially discussing the album, the new stuff was pouring out and making its place on the album. All in all (with the exception of the older tunes), the new songs really are new: “Lose my life” was written in November 2008 and is the oldest of the bunch, with the rest following in its footsteps over the course of a year. I think it is also significant that the album is being released at the Regional Vineyard Conference almost exactly a year after I got the word at the National Vineyard Conference.

JNF: Tell me who you’re working with on this album? You’re in John Reuben’s studio, right? Who is producing? Who are your collaborators?

MG: Yes, John (Reuben) Zappin and Seth Earnest co-produced the album. Seth is John’s drummer and a consummate musician. He played all the instruments on John’s last album, as well as co-produced that album with John. We recorded in John’s studio, which is actually a guesthouse converted into a studio, but John’s made several of his albums there. It was great working with both of them, primarily because they are both artists, and they both make their livings as artists so they definitely have a creative view on the songs, and know what they are doing.

It was also great to be able to take time on this album. I now see my previous works as demos — usually one take and then done. The entire first month was spent talking through each song deciding what identity we wanted to give them and what approach to take. The nice thing about having Seth there is that he was able to come up with several different drum ideas for each song, and then we’d be able to pick which one we thought was best. Seth also played a lot of the instrumentation on the album including keyboards and most of the bass, so having the producer also be a musician helped in capturing the feel we wanted. It also helped having two guys who work primarily with rap music provide an interesting counter-perspective to mine. I think it helped the collaboration be richer than it would have been if I were working with someone who thought more similarly to me.

Songwriting-wise, this album has the most diverse collection of co-writers on it. Although I did write most of the material by myself, it was invaluable to have John and Seth listen to the songs and provide feedback. Most of the time, they didn’t want to change the lyrics, melodies or chords but instead suggested minor changes to improve the song. One example is “Hallelujah” which I had initially written as an upbeat happy-clappy praise song, because I didn’t think the album had enough upbeat songs on it when we first started talking about it. John and Seth suggested slowing it way down and giving it a more reverent feel which improved the song 1000%. Another song, “Father me”: I initially wasn’t sure the quality of the song was good enough, but they loved it and Seth came up with a very cool instrumental track, and now it’s the first song on the album.

JNF: ‘Father Me’ is already better than anything on Taking Flight.

MG: I wanted to start the album with “Lose my Life” since all the other new songs came from that song, but John thought “Father Me” was a much stronger opener and I believe he is right.

The three of us co-wrote “Love & Justice” which was just a handful of ideas when I brought it into the studio. Working with John and Seth made me realize how to improve my writing. I tend to operate mostly in the right-brain, very artistically but then without warning would shift over to left-brain using a lyric that John thought was very scientific. With their help, I was able to tone that down keeping more in the heart side of the things and less with the brain.

There are also collaborations with other songwriters. Noelle Shearer co-wrote “Unleash Hope” with me. Eben Brusco co-wrote “Mercy.” “Lose my life” was initially a prayer that Dave Nixon had for our church that I put to music. And of course, “Sweet Jesus” [from Michael’s first album, Enraptured] makes a return appearance and that was co-written with Jeff Anderson, although I wrote a new verse for the new version. Musician-wise, besides Seth, Peter Shumaker (who plays bass in my worship band) played bass on 4 songs. Nathan Laing (another consummate musician) played guitar on several tracks, and I played guitar on several tracks as well. Amanda Anderson (another Central Vineyard worship leader) and Sarah Higgins (an old friend from Vineyard Columbus) did a lot of the backing vocals. We also had group vocals on this album, which was a new and very rewarding experience for me made up mostly of Central Vineyard worship team people, but also some old friends as well.

JNF: So “Lose My Life” was the first new song. What’s the story there?

MG: Yeah, “Lose my life” was the song that all others flowed from. Dave Nixon is part of Vineyard Central (not to be confused with Central Vineyard!) in Cincinnati, and also a mentor to many people of our church. Dave had come up preach at one of our Sunday morning services in November 2008. It was at that service that he gave us a simple prayer in order to help us with getting into the rhythm of fixed hour prayer. And that prayer was just a very simple one that [became the lyrics to the song]:

My Lord, open my mouth to speak to you.
Open my heart to love others.
Open my eyes to see and engage suffering.
I want to lose my life and find it again in you,
Whatever the cost, through Christ amen.

I was struck by the simplicity of the words and yet how powerful of a prayer it was, and being a music guy immediately thought I could learn the words quicker if they were put to music. So within two minutes, the melody and chords and been attached to the words and I started doing it in church I think the following Sunday. Our church grabbed onto it, and I think it helped open up new doors for our church in worship. My previous experiences in worship songwriting had been largely limited to what I like to call the “God you rock” songs and the “God I suck” songs. This helped open a doorway for new material and new expressions of worship that were no longer as limited.

JNF: Talk a bit about the new material. What was your experience co-writing with so many people? With your producers (on “Love and Justice”)? How was it different from your sessions with Jim Zartman? Where did some of these songs come from? Where do you see them going?

MG: Back in the day co-writing with Jim Zartman was definitely a great experience and you got immediate feedback on ideas. Typically we would meet twice a month, most of the time coming together with nothing but two guitars and a blank piece of paper. Usually we’d write something from scratch, but since I wasn’t doing any new originals at the time most of the material got backlogged and still hasn’t seen the light of day. I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing an album of the best songs from that period, but it’s been so long now that they will probably remain unrecorded and unheard.

Since that time, Jim has moved to Cincinnati where he is on staff at a church there, helping out with worship. So, we’ve written some things via email, which does work but not as easily as being in the room with another person as was the case writing with Seth and John on “Love & Justice.” The songwriting-via-email method was how the songs “Mercy” and “Unleash Hope” were written, with Eben Brusco and Noelle Shearer, respectively.

“Mercy” was an interesting case in that the writing process took several years and multiple re-writes before it was finished. Eben and I had talked about doing a benefit album for a non-profit group called “Hear the cry,” where artists would contribute a song but at the centerpiece of the album would be a “We are the world”-ish type of song where everyone sang, with a big anthemic chorus. “Mercy” started out as that, and was initially called “Hear the cry”. But Eben and I were never happy with the results, and couldn’t agree on it so eventually the “Hear the cry” benefit album idea was scrapped and the song was shelved. Several months later a friend of mine was diagnosed with colon cancer while pregnant with her 3rd child. When that happened, I took the words to “Mercy/Hear the cry” and a new melody and chords came out. With her as the focus, the song came to life even though the words didn’t change. “Mercy” was the second song to be finished after “Lose my life,” but it definitely took the longest to write.

Other songs pursued more themes of lament, relationship or justice. A guy in our congregation was diagnosed with stomach cancer and “Trust You” was written out from that. “Love & Justice” is like the sibling to “Unleash Hope,” both of which explored the ideas of justice, more than anything getting our hearts and minds to match the heart of God on this issue. It’s also something that our church has been exploring and is extremely important to our identity. Other songs like “Weakness” and “Father me” are really born out of relationship with God and realizing our brokenness. And the song “Truth” came out of the idea I’ve thought of for a long time about choosing to worship even when you don’t feel like it.

I’m especially excited for the newer material because for me it’s a whole new world of songwriting, and I’m realizing how many things there are for us to sing about in worship. I’m excited to see where they go and what happens to them. I’m optimistic especially within the Vineyard movement, because the ideas about justice are where our movement is going but I don’t think we have many songs about it.

JNF: Has this been a temporary unblocking or are you continuing to write? What do you see happening next, both with your output and your label?

MG: It’s funny you should ask. During the whole process of making this album I haven’t written anything “new.” I’m not sure if this is due to focusing all my creative energy on the recordings or what exactly. I am planning on being purposeful in taking time to write again when this album is released. It is a good habit to get into and I want to take time to try to write regardless of what comes out. That being said you can’t sell short the power of the muse, and writing out of the overflow of the heart. I think songwriting is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Although it is important to work on the habit of songwriting, without the inspiration you’ve got nothing to work from. When writing a lot of the songs on this album, I took a new approach of researching a topic I wanted to write about and coming up with lots of ideas before trying to put those ideas into words.

In terms of the label, I’m glad to have found like-minded folks who want to bless others with their music. I still want to provide opportunities for other artists to have their music online. I’m looking at other ways to make this work better, but robberfly music is a small fish in a big pond. I don’t think we’ll ever be much larger than we are now, but hopefully God can do something big with our little offerings. I know Eben has been working on a new album with his church; he now is the worship pastor at the Hyde Park Vineyard in Chicago. I’ve been especially excited to hear what they are coming up with, as it truly is a blending of diverse worship styles. It should be amazing when it is finished. And I know some of our other artists have been talking about doing new recordings as well.

There is a ‘prayer of confession’ that I’ve been wanting to put to music, so that is my next plan of attack in terms of songwriting when this is finished. I think my overall approach is to live life and see what songs come from that, and write songs based on the topics God is bringing to my mind.

In terms of what I see happening next, working on this album really has caused me to realize that less truly is more. It may be weird to say this, especially on the verge of releasing a new project, but I know now the value of true quality. I know now that I shouldn’t feel any pressure to release material just to release something. I know I’m not on the same level as a professional artist, and I don’t need to make something happen but rather be led by God to release material when the time is right. If I look back at the all the albums I’ve done, they have all happened because of God opening the doors and allowing them to happen, so for better or for worse those were the albums they were supposed to be. However, I now have a taste for quality over quantity, and I have no plans to make another solo album until when and if the time is right. That being said, I do hope this isn’t the final chapter and I really hope I get to work with John and Seth again! But if these are my final recordings, I could die happy knowing that.

medicated spending

yesterday, for various reasons, i was feeling pretty dismal. depressed, disconnected, dejected — i’d decided that nothing was figure-outable and i was worthless and life was pretty much uninteresting and uninterested. and my feelings were backing that conclusion up, cheering me on: “yeah, yeah, that’s right, isn’t it?” “luke, trust your feelings.” depression: it’s the new black.

feelings make harsh taskmasters. for one thing, they’re entirely internal, but they screen and filter all of your incoming perceptions. so although they have absolutely no bearing on the nature and make-up and temperament of the external world, you’re stuck perceiving the external world through them, and it can be hard to convince yourself, in the moment, that the external world isn’t exactly as you *feel* it is.

think about it, though: the world is what it is, regardless how you *feel* about it. so if you feel depressed, that doesn’t mean the world is any different than when you feel, say, ecstatic. and the logical conclusion is that you shouldn’t use your feelings to make determinations about objective things, like whether or not things are good or bad, or how valuable you are, etc.

anyway, my wife graciously took stock of my mood and suggested going out and spending some time alone with the bible, trying to force another screen for the world and counter my feelings. except the first coffeeshop was closed, and the second coffeeshop was packed to the gills and not the best place to get some solitude, and ultimately i found myself, dejected and desperate, at

the record store.

now, you know where i’m at with music. i’ve just recently started listening again, but carefully, and i haven’t bought an album in over a year, and i’m not sure i’m supposed to start now. plus we’re on a budget and i’d just told the kids we couldn’t get slurpees after church because we’re trying to watch what we spend, but i thought to myself, “maybe they’ll have that dead texan album, and maybe one more, that innocence mission album, and if they do i’ll just buy them and it’ll make me feel better.” i tried to rationalize it, like, “i’m listening to an old, pirated copy of the dead texan on itunes anyway, and if i buy it i’ll just be making an honest man of myself.” also, i’ve never seen the dead texan in the used bin before, ever, though i’ve looked, and so i didn’t expect to find it and that made my trip into the store harmless, right? i’d walk in, get disappointed, walk out and no one would get hurt.

wouldn’t you know it: they had both albums. $15, all told. and i’d promised myself, if they had them, i’d buy them. so i put it on the credit card and went out to the car and tried to read the psalms. and i read one or two, and looked at the two cds, and the cd inserts, and thought about how i’d tell zena i bought two albums, and what that said about my time and my state of mind. and i knew that record-store-shopping is classic coping behavior, for me, and here i am: depressed, and with two new cds that i can’t afford and don’t need and which are completely out of line with my whole spiritual milleau for the last year anyway. and i began to feel the prompting of the holy spirit to just: take them back. beg the store owner to let me return them. be done with this and be at peace again.

i did that. i told him i thought they’d give me peace, but then i had no peace, and anyway i bought them with money i don’t even have, and so if he could find it in his heart to take them back…? and this guy, he looked at me and said, “aha. medicated spending. yeah, i’ll take them back. if you want to practice what they call ‘fiscal responsibility,’ well, i guess i can dig that.” and i suppose it’s god’s grace that the owner of my local record store follows jesus, although he doesn’t make a big deal about it, except one time he let it slip in a conversation a few years ago. and small mercies go a long way toward slipping past the screen of your feelings. i didn’t feel better right away, but later i did.

anyway, that’s the story of yesterday. no moral, but pay attention. your feelings do not define reality.

More, two

a little less than a year ago, i discerned that god was asking me to lay down my idolatry of music, which meant relinquishing control of music. with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, i obeyed. i have sold, gifted, and donated away my 20-year cd collection. i have spent a year generally fasting from music: i haven’t stepped into a record store, haven’t read pitchfork, haven’t trolled the blogs or followed the next big thing. i didn’t buy that bon iver ep. i have spent a year unlike any since i bought those first albums back in junior high.

on vacation this past month, i told my 5-year old in a confessional moment that sometimes i missed listening to music. “why don’t you listen to music?,” he asked. i answered, “because god showed me that i was doing it in a way that was unhealthy, and that i needed to stop.”

“well,” he replied, “why don’t you ask god how to listen to music in a healthy way? he can do miracles.”

.

so, i have carefully, tenatively, begun to listen again. i am not so blind, legalistic, or self-flagellating that i would discard such obviously prophetic wisdom. i am practicing moderation — there is a time for music and a natural limit to music. i am not pursuing the next big thing, or any big thing. i am not downloading albums that do not belong to me. i am praying for a sobriety in my approach — to remain healthy, as my son has said.

a major reason for my year-long fast had been to divest myself of the identity i had crafted for myself and so carefully controlled. i did so in faith that jesus would begin to provide a new identity for me: that he would name me, and that name would be more truly me than the name i was adopting for myself. i no longer would let music name me. well, its one of the signs that abe’s word for me might be true, that i’ve recently been feeling like jesus has been revealing an identity for me, one that feels both more alien and more true. i’m working on stepping into that identity. i think “listen[ing] to music in a healthy way” involves not letting it overcome or impinge on or in any way intrude into the identity jesus is making for me. can i do that?

to the extent i can do that, i will now listen again.

fasting and flouting copyright

On June 10th, The Englewood Review of Books interviewed Scot McKnight, author of The Blue Parakeet, about the topic of fasting in the wake of his new book, Fasting. The whole thing happened in real time on Twitter, between the accounts of the two concerned parties. I found it so incredibly thought-provoking, I decided to flout copyright and take my chances (Gentlemen, I will recant and repent upon notice from either of you). Below is a chronologically arranged reposting of the interview:

  1. While you wait for the Intrvw w/ @ScotMcKnight Our revws of his 2 most recent bks BLUE PARAKEET http://tr.im/o1er /FASTING http://tr.im/o1fa
    12:00 PM Jun 10th from web
  2. Welcome to the Englewood Review twinterview with Scot McKnight ( @ScotMcKnight ), professor, blogger, and author of many books…
    12:00 PM Jun 10th from web
  3. We are talking today with Scot about his newest book FASTING ( @ThomasNelson 2009 ) Welcome Scot!
    12:01 PM Jun 10th from web
  4. @scotmcknight I know from experience that fasting is difficult for most people. So, why should we even pick up your book?
    12:01 PM Jun 10th from web
  5. @ERBks I’m hoping this book will shed some light on the abuses of fasting and the misunderstandings that have slipped in.
    12:03 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  6. Fasting, I believe, is natural and inevitable. When it becomes a chore or difficult something’s gone wrong.
    12:04 PM Jun 10th from web
  7. @scotmcknight E.g., most Christians are familiar with fasting (and praying) for a specific end. Why is this view of fasting misguided?
    12:05 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  8. Fasting “in order to get” is an instrumental view of fasting. Fasting becomes something we “use” to get what we want.
    12:06 PM Jun 10th from web
  9. The emphasis in the Bible is not on “use this instrument and you will get what you want.” Instead, the emphasis in the Bible is different.>
    12:06 PM Jun 10th from web
  10. There are three elements of every event of fasting: A is the situation. B is fasting itself. C is the result.>
    12:07 PM Jun 10th from web
  11. Our tendency is to start with B and hope we get to C. In fact, some say you will get C if you fast (B).>
    12:08 PM Jun 10th from web
  12. The overwhelming emphasis in the Bible is not a B to C movement. This was my most exciting discovering in writing this book on Fasting>
    12:08 PM Jun 10th from web
  13. The emphasis is on A (the situation) that prompts or even drives the person to B (fasting).
    12:09 PM Jun 10th from web
  14. So, the way I put it is like this: when the ancient Israelite encountered a grievous, sacred moment — like death, like a famine>
    12:09 PM Jun 10th from web
  15. like the prospect of war, that person’s natural response was to fast (B). So, A leads to B — and that’s the Bible’s emphasis.>
    12:10 PM Jun 10th from web
  16. @scotmcknight Yes, this seems to me like a necessary corrective to how we view fasting.
    12:10 PM Jun 10th from web
  17. There’s a huge implication: we need to avoid motivating folks to fast so they can get something.>
    12:10 PM Jun 10th from web
  18. We need, instead, to focus on situations for which the normal and natural response is to fast. >
    12:10 PM Jun 10th from web
  19. The primal example is when someone you love dies. What do we do? We don’t eat. We go into “fasting” mode naturally. That’s the secret >
    12:11 PM Jun 10th from web
  20. to grasping what fasting in the Bible is all about.
    12:11 PM Jun 10th from web
  21. @scotmcknight Your view of fasting is built on the unity of a person – body, soul, mind. How do we begin to recognize/embrace such a unity?
    12:11 PM Jun 10th from web
  22. @ERBks Good question. Let me turn this around a bit: Westerners are by and large Platonists. They draw big thick lines between body and …>
    12:13 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  23. @ERBks Am I doing this right?
    12:13 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  24. @scotmcknight Yes, you’re doing great… it will be easier to read though if all posts begin with @ERBks
    12:14 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  25. @ERBks between body and soul. Or between body and spirit. The body is of less value. Soul and spirit are preeminent.
    12:14 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  26. Platonists have little reason to fast or to inflict the body. Why? The body doesn’t matter.
    12:14 PM Jun 10th from web
  27. What happened for Platonists was that they fasted in order to suppress — mightily at times — the body of its desires.
    12:15 PM Jun 10th from web
  28. But this cuts in half the person.
    12:15 PM Jun 10th from web
  29. The person in the Bible has dimensions not parts. We are body-ish and soul-ish and spirit-ish. Fasting is transformed>
    12:16 PM Jun 10th from web
  30. from spirit disciplining body when we see ourselves as a unity and organic.
    12:16 PM Jun 10th from web
  31. Fasting becomes whole body response to a grievous sacred moment.
    12:17 PM Jun 10th from web
  32. @ERBks In the 2d and 3d centuries, fasting got tied up with the Platonic developments.>
    12:19 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  33. @ERBks Then fasting became too much spirit punishing body — Jerome is one of the big offenders.
    12:19 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  34. @scotmcknight If fasting is a natural response to grief, how do we even begin, in a culture of amusement/diversion, to recognize our grief?
    12:19 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  35. @ERBks Wow, that’s an interesting question.
    12:20 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  36. @ERBks First, we do grieve over death and over losses and over tragedies. So, we’ve got a firm footing in these sorts of events in life.
    12:20 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  37. @ERBks Let’s then, second, learn to see other events as grief-inducing — like sin and family strife and bad relations …
    12:21 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  38. @ERBks Then I’m suggesting that we can learn to see fasting as a “response” instead of an “instrument.”
    12:22 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  39. @ERBks My concern is to recover the “responsive” nature of fasting and to get us back on track in that regard.
    12:22 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  40. @ERBks It seems whenever I talk about fasting I get hung up in the discussion of whether the Bible teaches an instrumental view.>
    12:23 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  41. @ERBks I’m not convinced the Bible does teach an instrumental theory of fasting. I’m convinced the Church has made that its emphasis.>
    12:23 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  42. @ERBks If we can recover the Bible’s emphasis on fasting as (1) response and (2) whole body spirituality, we will be in better shape.
    12:24 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  43. @ERBks One more: living in a culture of amusement and diversion ought not to make humans non-responsive to grievous moments.
    12:25 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  44. @scotmcknight Yes, let’s hope and pray that we can recover this perspective on fasting! Next question…
    12:25 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  45. @scotmcknight What is the most pertinent caution that you can offer churches about the practice of fasting?
    12:26 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  46. @ERBks First, no one should fast beyond 12 hours without talking to his or her doctor. Fasting more than 12 hours is not good for the body.
    12:27 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  47. @ERBks Second, two MDs said this to me: Never teach teenagers, especially teenage girls, to fast. Anorexia nervosa was the issue for both MD
    12:28 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  48. @ERBks Third, I’d urge us to recover the responsive nature of fasting and subdue the instrumental view.
    12:29 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  49. @ERBks One more: Let’s try to recover “seasonal” fasting (Lent, etc) as a “response” to something. During Lent, of course, to sin.
    12:31 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  50. @scotmcknight Yes, I appreciated the sensibility of the medical wisdom that you brought into the conversation about fasting.
    12:31 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  51. @ERBks Thanks. My wife is a psychologist and I’ve lost a student to anorexia nervosa.
    12:32 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  52. @scotmcknight Maybe you just answered this with your point about Lent, but … >
    12:32 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  53. @scotmcknight Many forms of fasting you describe are corporate but how can a church with no sense of fasting begin to develp such practices?
    12:32 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  54. @ERBks That’s another good one. Thanks.>
    12:33 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  55. @ERBks Let me suggest that we get the leaders to fast intentionally and to discuss it — so get the leaders into the experienced mode.
    12:33 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  56. @ERBks Then gather round the leaders those in the church who are experienced fasters for more discussion.>
    12:34 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  57. @ERBks Out of that experiential and theological basis — and have them read my book! — do some teaching on fasting.
    12:34 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  58. @ERBks Then the folks can fasting together in an informed manner.
    12:35 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  59. @scotmcknight (BTW, I have my church in mind here, and I bet others are in a similar place!) 🙂
    12:35 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  60. @ERBks I’d avoid like the plague making folks feel guilty about fasting. This isn’t a high priority command in the New Testament.
    12:36 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  61. @scotmcknight This bk is in the Ancient Practices series. Is there 1 figure/era of church history that is particularly significant for you?
    12:37 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  62. @scotmcknight WRT fasting, that is… sorry hit up against my 140 character limit…
    12:38 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  63. @ERBks From my emphasis, you can see I’ve focused on recovering the Biblical stuff. But…>
    12:39 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  64. @ERBks John Wesley was very good on fasting, even if he had one event that caused great consternation.>
    12:39 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  65. @ERBks And, as I say in the book, Adalbert de Vogue — however you spell it — is very good too. I like John Piper’s book, too.
    12:40 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  66. @scotmcknight Thanks! Did researching and writing this book change your own practices of fasting? And if so, how?
    12:42 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  67. @ERBks Yes, though I had seen how important the “responsive” element was, this book sealed that for me.>
    12:42 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  68. @ERBks I began to fast on mornings I was writing as a response to my need for God’s grace and wisdom as I wrote.>
    12:43 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  69. @ERBks And the notion of heroic fasts — where the emphasis is on how long — lost all attraction for me.
    12:44 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  70. @scotmcknight If I may, which one of the forms of fasting (body contact,hope,etc) that you describe in this bk is most challenging for you?
    12:46 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  71. @ERBks I don’t do the “body contact” mode of fasting because, for me, it is far too instrumental in approach.
    12:47 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  72. @ERBks And I should say that I don’t have a routine fasting rhythm: what I call Body Discipline in the book.>
    12:49 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  73. @ERBks Which means I don’t have one day a week where I fast, or even one day a month. I tend to rely on responding to something…>
    12:49 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  74. @ERBks as that which triggers fasting for me.
    12:49 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  75. @scotmcknight Thx so much for talking with us today! 1 last question that I can’t resist as one interested in bks and missional reading:
    12:49 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  76. @scotmcknight If you could recommend one other essential book on fasting, what would that be?
    12:50 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  77. @ERBks One other essential book? I think the book by de Vogue, though too much into a monk’s lifestyel, is the best.
    12:50 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  78. @ERBks But the best — most complete — is by Kent Berghuis. Rigorous and theologcally sound.
    12:51 PM Jun 10th from Tweetie in reply to ERBks
  79. Tweetie told me I’m tweeting too much!
    12:52 PM Jun 10th from web
  80. @scotmcknight LOL! Any last thoughts?
    12:53 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to scotmcknight
  81. @ERBks Nope, this was fun. I hope it helps some who follow Twitter.
    12:53 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  82. Thanks again @ScotMcKnight and thanks to all who have been following our conversation! Be sure to check out Scot’s book! http://tr.im/o3dj
    12:56 PM Jun 10th from web
  83. And if you haven’t seen it, my review of Scot’s book is here: http://englewoodreview.org/…
    12:56 PM Jun 10th from web
  84. @ERBks Thanks brother.
    12:57 PM Jun 10th from web in reply to ERBks
  85. Our next twinterview will be with @DavidDark on his book THE SACREDNESS OF QSTNG EVERYTHING Next Tuesday 6/16 Time: 1PM CT (2PM ET/11AM PT)
    12:58 PM Jun 10th from web

19. Blankets

Blankets - Craig ThompsonMy friend Jeff recommended this graphic novel (among countless other accolades it received) a few years ago; my own library, surprisingly, had it among the juvenile fictions. An autobiographical(?) novelization of first love and the process of growing up, abandoning/adapting one’s faith, making sense of what’s good and what’s not in life, exorcising one’s demons, etc. etc. It *is* a remarkable achievement — the deep look at the past that was no doubt required is commendable in itself — but felt a little unfinished. I reserve the right to change my mind about that in the future.

from one baby

I may be jumping straight into the deep end here with nary a floater round my arm, but, however, and nonetheless. This morning I drove the car (instead of riding the bus) to work and so could listen to NPR, which program was featuring a story on the evolution of pigmentation in human skin, and how it may have taken as little as 2,500 years to go from black to white or vice versa, and may still be evolving in people groups (i.e., race is fluid).

And, you know, the (Darwinian) mechanism of evolution is the random mutation: one baby is born with a gene that produces melatonin, and then his family moves north a little and he’s better able to adapt to the UV-content of the sunlight there, and so he survives his non-melatonin-gene-carrying brothers and sisters and lives to produce children who carry his gene, and they survive their cousins and peers and so on until everyone has the melatonin-producing gene and they can all move a little further north because their skin is adaptable to periods of sun and shade. But all from one baby.

The thing that struck me is the parallel with the Kingdom of God: that it’s like a tiny bit of leavened dough, that was hidden in a whole mess of unleavened dough, and slowly leavens the whole thing. And it’s like the spread of discipleship to Jesus, too: that from a tiny band of followers — and let’s face it, the odds against them were massive — the life of Jesus spreads and spreads and a mere 2,000 years later it covers the earth. It’s even Spencerian — that followers of Christ were strong enough to withstand even unusual punishment by the status quo, that they were fittest to survive. You might say that Christ-following evolved, from a tiny spiritual mutation: the notion that righteousness does not come from being ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd, but from knowing Jesus and being known. (Or even, not to be too clever about it, from one baby).

So there: I’ve proposed a (semi-mystical) connection/correlation between faith and evolutionary theory. There may be an element of design in it after all. Now, take me to task…