A Grateful Farewell

Dear Christ Community Church Family,

Throughout my life whenever I have experienced monumental changes it has inevitably come at a time that feels too soon. The truth is, we are never really ready for change. But God calls and we respond. Sometimes with the full assurance that we are loved and held by him, and at other times finding ourselves asking only for the desire to want to want to please him as we watch our passions and opportunities come together and define a calling.

The personal passions and opportunities God has been placing in front of me have begun to evolve over the last few years into something unexpected and yet greatly rewarding. I have found a great passion for working in the recovery community as well as writing and speaking about my own experience with addiction and alcoholism. Recovery and working with individuals who struggle as I have has taught me who I really am. I am always humbled by those who will break their silence to me in order to get the help they desperately need.

With the arrival of David Cassidy in May of 2014 we began a healthy new trajectory here at Christ Community and one that I have enjoyed participating in with him. David is a bold leader and he has pulled us out from under some very stuck places as a church family. I believe David has a large vision for where God is leading CCC and what she is to become. With the addition of Charles and Ken we are experiencing even more fresh perspectives and observations as well. It will be exciting to see how God uses this new leadership team to move this church forward.

Sadly, and yet with great peace I have to tell you that I will not be continuing on as part of that team in the same capacity that I have been for the last twenty years. I am resigning my position as Director of Worship/Arts Ministries with Sunday, August 7, 2016 being my final Sunday as a staff member of CCC.

I cannot put into words what this community has meant to me, and my family. You have walked with us in some of the deepest waters that life can roll in. You have shown me grace and compassion in some of my hardest and darkest days. You have encouraged me when I was ready to throw in more than the towel, and your kindness will always be your legacy to me as a church family.

At fifty-five years old I am starting from scratch and embarking on an entirely new career. This is all in its infancy and none of it has a salary attached to it as of now. So, I am trusting heavily in what God has put before me in the way of passion and opportunity. Bridging the gap between the recovery community and the church is long overdue and I believe it is something that only those of us who have walked that road can usher in. I am pursuing certification as an addiction and peer recovery coach and will be seeing clients and families that need additional work maintaining their sobriety and following a care plan, many of whom having spent months in treatment. I plan to be working out of a counseling group in Brentwood as well as with some exciting new endeavors here at Christ Community spearheaded by Cindy Blom in the area of training care leaders, group recovery work, and recovery coaching. I covet your prayers as I move into this new season.

I’ve often said that life is like going to the prom and finding out that it ends at 10pm instead of midnight. We always think we will have more time together. But, be that as it may, it has been a privilege to dance with you, share my gifts with you, and be shaped and molded by you for two decades.

Lastly, I have to say that I have had the honor of working with some of the most talented people on the planet in this job. As much as I’ve enjoyed their immense musical gifts I have been blessed beyond measure by their extremely generous hearts. You are a blessed congregation to have such people who serve you weekly for no pay, simply because they love Jesus, and because they want to usher you into a life of worship. This will be like leaving my children but I know that they will continue to be in very good hands.

Pray for me, as I will you. I truly love you and will look forward to seeing where this dance takes all of us.

Blessings to you all! I love you dearly.

David Hampton

Making Soup

I was part of an interesting discussion recently with staff members from various churches and denominational backgrounds on the subject of worship. Ultimately, we found ourselves discussing instrumental configurations, styles, song choices, form, and tradition all encapsulated by the topic, “what makes great worship?”

It soon occurred to me that what I was hearing sounded akin to a couple who when asked to describe true love responded with talking about their terrific sex life.

Not much about chasing one another around the kitchen requires truly loving devotion and not much about our “great worship” makes us true worshippers.

Back to the discussion with my friends, after I challenged the conversation with my somewhat base analogy they asked me in what context I viewed true worship.

After taking a moment I said, “Until we view things like making soup as an act of worship then we will never have a proper view of what it means to truly give God his worth with the daily parts of our lives and we will always feel as if we have to abdicate to the experts on Sunday to do it for us. We will have a very codependent relationship with experience if we lose site of the ordinary miracles in the moment. What the church needs to know is that when we lead worship it is we, the ‘worship leaders’ making our soup. We just happen to make our soup in front of a lot of people. My soup happens to include art, story, and music. You’re soup may be literally making a meal for a friend who is on her second round of chemo. The Sunday Soup was never meant to be THE soup.”

If the main thing that comes up when we talk about worship is how we do it then we are very much like the people mistaking love for how often they swing from the chandeliers together. If our view of worship is one that understands sacrifice and living a life that matters we are less likely to be satisfied with simply slurping down the soup that someone else serves up to us once a week hoping they season it to suit our own persnickety taste buds. Trust me, my Sunday Soup will never be so good that it will quench our need to glorify God in the unseen moments of our daily lives.

I understand that when a bunch of consumers come together and decide to call themselves a church, expressions of art, music, and story in worship will be a matter of specific taste (and even propriety in the opinions of some). However, the more we can see ourselves as part of a body of past, present, and future soup makers we can begin to embrace their various expressions and place less focus on our need to brand the soup.

Maybe it would be a good thing for our perspectives of worship and intimate relationships alike to step back from the hooha and just make soup together.

Thirsty

Last Sunday evening I had the opportunity to experience a gathering of worship hosted by songwriter/recording artist/worship leader Michael W. Smith. The event was called Immerse and it kicked off a week of sessions hosted by the Gospel Music Association in Nashville.

Several of my good friends were involved in the evening as backup singers and musicians and I came to support them as well as hear what I thought would be an evening of great music. What I experienced was far different than just a concert of great new songs. This was a worship gathering and people took it seriously.

From the first swelling bass notes of a synthesizer people stood to their feet without being prompted. After ninety-plus minutes we were still standing, singing, praying, confessing, and experiencing God. The songs ranged from things we all knew to things that were less familiar. The band was a topnotch group of Nashville’s finest. It was loud. The screen lyrics were helpful but they didn’t always match what was being sung. The place was air-conditioned but it was full of people and I still broke a sweat. Regardless of the glitches, everyone that I could see was visibly engaged and undaunted.

The crowd ranged from those in their early twenties to gray hair. The music ranged from driving rock to classic worship choruses. Was it a performance? Yeah,… probably. Was it worship? Yes, definitely. Was I different because I went? Absolutely. It was as if every single person was desperate to be there.

When I look at scripture I see the desperate woman pressing in to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, the friends cutting a hole in the roof to lower their paralyzed friend into a crowded house, a Roman officer desperately asking Jesus to raise his daughter, and on and on. These are thirsty hearts setting aside rank, status, and reputation to have a life-changing encounter.

A friend asked me why I believed that evenings like Immerse have such impact on us, yet when we come to church we barely muster up the energy to pull ourselves out of our seats and grunt out four songs?

I told her that I believe in many churches we are experiencing agendas instead of worship. Instead of bringing our desperation we cling to criteria. We cover logistical bases but I’m not sure we really expect much to happen.

I often imagine inner dialogues that go something like this:

“If I really like the songs, resonate with the singers, don’t have any issues with the volume, can’t find any typos on the screen lyrics, feel good about the hymn to chorus ratio, can sit in my usual spot even when I come in ten minutes late, and if no one on the team does anything distracting – I guess I will wish I had been more engaged today. It would have been a good day to worship the Living God!”

This is not the conversation of a thirsty heart.

A New Song

New Song

Psalm 40:3 – He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.

Two things make people nervous about mystics. They ask questions and they don’t ask permission.

I’ve said before that I’m really a mystic disguised as a cynic who has opted for conformity to avoid conflict.

Somewhere down inside my perfectionist, driven self is a heart that is asking more questions than will ever get answers on this side of heaven. And I’m good with that – really good. In fact, I’m freer because of that than I’ve probably ever been in my life. It is as if God has given me a new song. I’m not sure that I have all the words yet, but it’s coming together. The melody is still a little rough to be sung by others but it will happen. I can feel it. As a songwriter this is the best way I know to articulate the experience.

I’m beginning to understand that being a believer is about loving the things that God loves, not satisfying a minimum requirement to get into heaven. In fact, I’m seeing that a lot of my Christian experience in the church has been experiencing people as either in or out and feeling like it was my job to help them find out which they were.

In this new song that I believe God is giving me (and I’m not speaking of a literal, singable song lest anyone find themselves awaiting some new worship tune from me), I’m finally able to be honest with myself about what I don’t know, what I believe I do know, and that there is a lot of open road between the two to be explored.

The joy and relief that come with the words, “I don’t know for sure” are freeing. They free me from defending things that feel like I have to memorize a handbook to address. I’m free from the anger that crawls up the back of my neck when people put me on the spot with their spiritual quandaries expecting me to answer them and be God’s personal PR person. It frees me from trying to convince myself of something while I’m trying to convince someone else of something. It frees me from trying to turn an “out” person into an “in” person.

This new song was conceived during lots of dark nights, lonely days, silence, and literally aching with uncertainty. I wasn’t sure I wanted this song at first. It evolved as I found myself in the company of other very broken and honest people who celebrate life in a way that I never had. This song was delivered in joy and ultimately worship as I truly begin to seek the things that God loves and in turn, learning to love Him. Not the concept of Him or the idea of Him.

I always believed that a new song would be one sung with gusto, assurance and certainty. Now I’m hearing a song that sounds distinctly different. My naïve self believed it to be a song that everyone would embrace and want to sing with me and that has turned out not to be the case. I realize that such journeys are up to God and mine doesn’t make me better, more evolved, or more mature. It just makes me different.

If I had to attach a wish here it would be that everyone reading this post would take the time to sit quietly. Turn off the music in the car. Turn off the TV while you eat dinner. Take a walk on one of these cool spring nights we’ve been having and ask yourself if the song you’ve been singing is one you own, that resonates with you in the most authentic parts of yourself. If it doesn’t, ask God to give you a new song. Then hold on tight…

People of the Thresholds

Last week I wrote about the threshold places in our lives. Something called “liminal space” where we are in between what was and what is yet to come. I was encouraged at how many people touched base with me through Facebook, Twitter, and my email to tell me that this is exactly where they believe that they have found themselves to be and have viewed that season very negatively up to now.

After doing a little more reading this week I have been encouraged to consider creating liminal spaces in my life. Instead of fearing, dreading or avoiding those in between places where everything feels like it is standing still I’m encouraged to actually seek them out. It is in those spaces that we learn to truly desire the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not just accommodate it if it should materialize. It is also in those liminal spaces that we learn who we truly are.

I believe this is the space where the most sincere forms of worship take place. These are the places where we are basically saying to God, “Unless you show up here in this, I am done for!” It is a place of very simple prayers, honest confessions, and humble praise. Thresholds teach us that anything beautiful that has happened is a gift, any comfort is truly from his Spirit, and that whatever we experience in this interim is intentional preparation.

The thresholds teach us the difference between what we really believe and what we only wish we believe.

I’m beginning to see that those whom I call the People of the Thresholds are not always the most comfortable to be around. We have so many questions, we probe beyond the stock answers, and nudge until we feel like we are a little closer to the whole truth. For those who are not in that space it can be off-putting and even seem a bit caustic.

This is where I see some of us experiencing what I call “the steeple in the road” by the church.

The obstacles of pat answers, the need to tie a bow around our pain, to “fix” us, or to speak in a dialect of Christian-ese that we don’t even understand is the church dragging the steeple into the road. For many the steeple in the road is any time that the church has ignored, misunderstood, or mislabeled them.

I believe it is the People of the Thresholds who can actually move the steeple out of the road for so many who question whether they even belong in Christian community or not. Maybe the most sincere form of Christian community is one that worships in the thresholds.

People of the Thresholds

Last week I wrote about the threshold places in our lives. Something called “liminal space” where we are in between what was and what is yet to come. I was encouraged at how many people touched base with me through Facebook, Twitter, and my email to tell me that this is exactly where they believe that they have found themselves to be and have viewed that season very negatively up to now.

After doing a little more reading this week I have been encouraged to consider creating liminal spaces in my life. Instead of fearing, dreading or avoiding those in between places where everything feels like it is standing still I’m encouraged to actually seek them out. It is in those spaces that we learn to truly desire the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not just accommodate it if it should materialize. It is also in those liminal spaces that we learn who we truly are.

I believe this is the space where the most sincere forms of worship take place. These are the places where we are basically saying to God, “Unless you show up here in this, I am done for!” It is a place of very simple prayers, honest confessions, and humble praise. Thresholds teach us that anything beautiful that has happened is a gift, any comfort is truly from his Spirit, and that whatever we experience in this interim is intentional preparation.

The thresholds teach us the difference between what we really believe and what we only wish we believe.

I’m beginning to see that those whom I call the People of the Thresholds are not always the most comfortable to be around. We have so many questions, we probe beyond the stock answers, and nudge until we feel like we are a little closer to the whole truth. For those who are not in that space it can be off-putting and even seem a bit caustic.

This is where I see some of us experiencing what I call “the steeple in the road” by the church.

The obstacles of pat answers, the need to tie a bow around our pain, to “fix” us, or to speak in a dialect of Christian-ese that we don’t even understand is the church dragging the steeple into the road. For many the steeple in the road is any time that the church has ignored, misunderstood, or mislabeled them.

I believe it is the People of the Thresholds who can actually move the steeple out of the road for so many who question whether they even belong in Christian community or not. Maybe the most sincere form of Christian community is one that worships in the thresholds.

Join In the Heavy Lifting

I believe in Christian community. I believe in a body of people who come together regularly and know one another and share with one another. I believe in bringing our questions, our failures, our successes, and even our perspectives that don’t fit the grid of a traditional Christian and throwing it out there and working through all of it together.

We are in a sermon series that explores the model of Worship, Care, Serve as somewhat of a tagline that lets people know who we are as a church. It occurs to me that if we are truly doing any one of these then the other two will be in practice as well. If our worship is truly God focused, Christ centered adoration that changes us then we will be caring for others. If we are genuinely caring for others we will be serving. How can we genuinely care and not serve? Serving is just an outgrowth of sincerely caring and a byproduct of seeing Christ through the lens of a worshipping heart.

I have paid people to do my yard work weekly, train me at the gym, clean my house, wash my car, counsel me, consult with me, do my taxes, cut my hair, and even pick out my clothes for special events a couple of times.

I order food online, books that download directly to my cool electronic devices, buy music that I store in a “cloud” and have even been known to use valet parking at the mall on those rare occasions that I still shop retail.

I’m not unique in this lifestyle. The people in my worshipping community live similarly or better. I’m not saying that any of this is bad. It is the fruit of progress in a world that has changed more in the last one hundred years than all of history combined when it comes to technology.

Where the wheels begin to wobble in this cultural paradigm is when we bring these lifestyle expectations into the church. We end up waiting on people to serve us instead of seeking opportunities to serve others. We wonder why our paid staff can’t handle all the hurting and needy people in our midst. After all, that is their job, right? We pay them to do that.

We want to come and drink the coffee, experience some form of worship that is supposed to happen to us, and hear a message that is going to challenge us in ways that we never considered before because we have essentially paid people to do all of these things.

I wonder if the reason that so many of us have such empty experiences in the church is because we aren’t investing ourselves. When we view the church as a place where we go and get an experience on Sunday it will never be enough. When the church is a place where others do the heavy lifting so I can float in and out it will never be community to me.

We will experience the church as she is meant to be when we are willing to invest ourselves beyond our experiential expectations and consumerism.

When we worship, care and serve we are truly living in Christian community but not if one is without the other two.