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Finding the Proper Tone…

I just put down my new baby. She’s a gorgeous Gretsch Fairlane Blue G5420T electromagnetic single cutaway hollow body with a Bigsby B60 dual humbucking pickups and… I know. No one cares. It’s kind of like spending ten minutes of a sermon positing the authorship of Isaiah (up to three authors) when you’re going to talk about verse two from chapter 9. (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shown.) You can talk about it, but what most people want from you is the proper tone. Make me feel it. Take me with you, we can stop by the library, but dine with me, recline with me, tell me a story… in the words of Joe Walsh, “Help me through the night (mama), help me to ease the pain, and tell me it’s alright, help me through the night once again.”

I have a strange belief that some pastors are horrified by. I have listened to many of the great preachers of the age of tape, video and modern popular speakers. I’ve studied their structures, the art. Theological Worlds (Jones), Preaching from the pew, Preaching as a Local Theology and Folk Art, many traditions from evangelical to almost purely academic. But my belief is, it doesn’t matter how good the sermon is, if you can’t preach it, I mean dynamically preach it, with rhythm, with tone, soft as a prayer and loud as praise, it’s wasted. So, look at storytellers, people who command the attention and don’t waste it, don’t burn it, standup comedians. Watch a thirty minute set and you’ll see many topics, but the delivery, the timing, the reveals, the little hidden away remarks, repetition, alliteration – the good ones use every tool in their tool box. The problem is, they work it out in the clubs, we of the preaching set have a week – start to “close enough to preach” – so we have to work it out, under pressure, all the time.

I have four electric guitars, four acoustics, two bass guitars, and 15 drum sets in my e-kit. Want Texas blues, clean jangle, “thin” hand me my Strat. Want thick, long sustain. My PRS please. Jazzy, big chords, 50s-60s, rockabilly? The Gretsch. Metal? My original that my dad and I built… Full? The Martin 12. Sing along? Ovation. Classical? The Córdoba Gypsy King. I can set your mood, change your mood, I can sway you to sleep, swing you to dance. I can make you mad, make you cry, make you laugh.

And that’s without the Holy Spirit. Imagine what happens when you come in to worship and from call to worship to the benediction contains similar imagery, theme, message. A seminary professor used to joke that most of us only preach about seven different sermons regardless of the scripture. I’ve spent six years preaching 3 different sermons per week and 12 more once a week, if I cared to do the math, that might be impressive. I’ve never recycled a sermon, not even when I did three services in a day. 130 funerals each one tailored to the individuals and families. But all have a tie to scripture. Community ministries? It’s fun (also known as the annual choir contest) to point out that we can’t have a baptism, or share in communion, but at least we agree people in our neighborhood should have enough to eat. Now that I have more than 12 denominations in worship we can talk about the divisions, but share the unity in Christ.

Hand me the Strat, now the Ovation, now the Jazz Bass, drop the beat, increase the tempo, create that tension, hit them with the Martin, rattle the windows, it’s Pentecost, now break it down, softer, give me the fat one, slower, slower, now just the nylon strings, slower, now it’s the night we wait for the birth. Stalk the chancel. Talk, whisper, self-talk, preach.. do NOT perform, preach! Walk, stop, laugh. Admit the mistakes “I meant Jonah, not Noah.” “There are four mistakes in the bulletin this week, if you can find all four and point them out to me after worship, you can fill in for the church secretary next time she’s on vacation” Have fun. When a child calls out in the sanctuary, “see, she gets it, why do we struggle?” Expect answers to questions, “Can someone name all seven dwarfs?” There should be time to play.

Reverence, yes. Humility before God, absolutely. Order, ritual, tradition, these are tools. Passion, humor, love… these are the antidotes to the darkness of the world. Shine the light into the darkness, share love with the hated, be kind, show mercy, dare to sacrifice dignity in the name of the Lord that sacrificed life. Give up our appearance before people so that our faith will be visible to a world filled with darkness. Dare to be audacious, bold, forgiving. Be radical in our rebellion against greed, market studies, and violence. Sing, sing in the grocery, in the post office, at work. We share recipe for good food, why not for a Godly life? Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, offer water to the thirsty and comfort to the sick.

Do it for yourself, so the darkness won’t overcome you.

Do it for others, so those who dwell in darkness can say they have seen a great light.

I got a little wound up there.

I figure this guitar thing is a life-long journey. I learn new things, how to apply what I know, new tones, new sounds… pretty much like living a life of faith, if I keep playing the same things over and over, i won’t grow. So, ask yourself this.

Are you sitting in darkness, looking for a great light? Or, are you capable of shining the light into the darkness? It’s probably a bit of both. Worship, preaching, singing, should recharge your battery – so your faith will shine for all the world to see.

I’ll see you out in the darkness, I’ll be the one carrying a pewter-green American Strat HSS with a maple neck, blocked tremolo and… you know what? Just follow the noise.

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