Sunday, February 24, 2008


I have a Village Singers concert to sing in early this afternoon at a church over the other side of the metro area. No way I could make it to an 11:00 o'clock service and be on the risers on time. So I attended the 9:00 o'clock service at a large church in my area.

It's the "contemporary" service. I'd been to it a couple times previously, before the congregation added on their big new informal worship/multipurpose center.

This morning, I learned that the addition means not only a lot more space, it also means a bigger-and-better sound system and a lot more noise.

Lay aside the tunes and words of what was being sung. I'm talking about loudness. Volume. Decibels. Noise!!!

An ear-shattering, deafening force of sound that socked me in the senses as soon as I walked in the door.

And that was with only the worship team performing. This was the "prelude," after all.

I looked around to find some friends who attend this church, to see if I could sit with them. As I did, my eyes fell on infants, small children, elderly people, all folks whose hearing would be especially vulnerable to such an onslaught. But the kids' parents were sitting there quite happily with their little ones, and the white-haired elders seemed totally unfazed, all oblivious to what the amplification was doing to their ears.

Me, I could tell what it was doing to mine. By the next-to-the-last chorus, started by the praise team alone, I had to cover my ears and hope my friends would not be embarrassed to be seen sitting with me. At the first da capo, the congregation rose and joined in. I followed suit, and tried covering just one ear so I could hold my song sheet with the other. But on the second repeat (third go-round), the sound technician ramped up the volume a few dozen more dBs, and I had to drop the paper and cover the other ear as well. Jesu iuva me, it was painful. By the time the chorus was over, my left ear was ringing.

I made it through the rest of the service and greeted my friends now that it was acceptable to raise my voice over the din of the postlude and the babel of other shouting voices. Then I beat it back to the relative silence of my home, where I quietly played a hymn on my new old piano.

And to let my hearing recover in time, I hope, for this afternoon's concert.

But it's nearly noon and my left ear is still buzzing.

But I have to wonder about the hearing of all the members who attend that service every week, and services like it all over the world. Don't they know what that level of volume is doing to their ears? Or are they so used to iPod buds in their ears, surround-sound home theaters, and mega-boost car stereos all turned up to Level 10, that worship at that decibel level is only what they're used to?

More ominously, do they and all the other proponents of big loud worship services think the sound has to be cranked all the way up in order for them truly to worship? Just writing this, I have an uneasy feeling that some pastors and worship leaders would say I'm just being cranky to object to this, or old-fashioned, or worse-- that I just don't want people to worship Jesus.

But that's what I do want. I want people to worship Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who is not hard of hearing and who doesn't need the needle to fly off the sound meter in order to hear our praise. I want us to worship Jesus, the lover of our souls, who receives the sincere songs of our hearts and minds and voices but isn't impressed by the power of our technology.

Kyrie eleieson! I'm reminded of Elijah on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal:

"At noon Elijah began to taunt them, 'Shout louder!' he said. 'Surely [Baal] is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or relieving himself. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.' So they shouted louder . . . . "

We are not worshippers of Baal. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not deaf, or distracted, or asleep. Why do we Christians persist in acting as if we were, and He is?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Open House

This evening the Pittsburgh Symphony held their annual open house for new season ticket holders.

I'm not technically a new season ticket holder; I purchased a series back in '04-'05, and I went to that open house, too.

The January 2005 event was a behind-the-scenes tour-- views of the flyloft, the practice rooms, the musicians' lounges, the guest artists' dressing rooms, and so on.

Tonight they must have run out of time for the backstage tour--it was more an introduction (via Marketing Director speech and video) of the 2008-2009 season and of new PSO conductor, Manfred Honeck. It amused me that the video featured a quotation from some local civic leader saying that not only is Maestro Honeck a great conductor who'll do wonderful things with an already world-class orchestra, but that he's also "a great family man and a great role model." I've never considered orchestra conductors as role models for the general population . . . but if his qualifications are based on his being a family man, he's got that one-- to the tune of six children.

Wonder if they'll spend any time in Pixburgh, or if they're too tied up with school and activities in Vienna? Though they may be grown by now!

This season's open house featured more music than the 2005, I believe-- pieces and movements by Bach, Brahms, and Schubert.

Members of the PSO here play us the Bach Double Concerto, BWV 1043. I regret not being able to get a view of the pianist as well:

Here are some scenes from the tour and the presentation:

The Grand Lobby

The Grand Lobby, looking towards 6th Street

The Grand Tier, with a view of the stage

We hear about the coming season

The string players take a bow
(Ouch. Sorry.)

Questions and answers: Happy memories of outplaying the Viennese in the Wiener Musikverein-- at their own music!

Enough music and talk-- let's head for the refreshments!

An inadvertent moment of humor: Our docent was describing what's known as the "Heinz Box," Grand Tier, stage right. Said he, "Members of the Heinz family get first claim to that box whenever they're in town. For instance, Teresa and John Heinz sit there when they come to concerts. They have a house in Fox Chapel."

"Teresa and John Heinz"? Poor Senator Kerry! Still in his wife's late husband's shadow!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Physician, Heal Thyself

To all you preachers who happen to read this blog:

Don't you hate it when you successfully deliver a sermon on Sunday morning, and by Sunday evening, you have to preach and apply it again to yourself?

This morning I preached on the faith of Abraham, and the trustworthiness of God even when we can't see the path ahead, even when the path ahead looks pretty dark and dangerous.

Well, I'd thought I could see the path ahead. Friday evening, the clerk of Session at the Daniel's Run* Presbyterian Church called and asked me to come and preach again next Sunday, and maybe do a baptism, too. She told me she'd call me back when she knew for sure about the baptism, because Session hadn't met yet to officially approve the sacrament (as is the practice in the Presbyterian Church). But I was booked for the 24th. Hooray!

So yesterday morning, I got a call from the worship committee chair of the church where I'm getting the piano. She also wanted me to fill in for them on the 24th, because their pastor is taking some time off before the run-up to Easter. Sorry, I said, I'm already committed. Some other time, perhaps?

So this evening, I was thinking about planning worship for the Daniel's Run Church this coming Sunday. And I was thinking how great it was, that the honorium I would get from them, along with what I received from Redeemer* Presbyterian today, would enable me to pay all my ordinary bills the rest of the month without dipping into my home equity line or credit cards again. Things in the immediate future would be good.

But a little over an hour ago, the clerk from Daniel's Run called. Not to confirm the baptism, but to let me know that the child's parents had decided to put it off till next summer, when the grandparents could be there.

Oh, all right, I said, I won't need to factor in a baptism.

No, actually, the clerk said cheerfully, they wouldn't be needing me at all. Their long-time unordained graduate minister, IrmaLou*, is back in the pulpit, and if there's no sacraments to administer, I, as an ordained minister, am not necessary.

I did not tell her I'd turned down another opportunity to preach next Sunday because I'd committed to Daniel's Run. I did not tell her I wished she'd made it clear that my coming was dependent on there being a baptism or not.

She, meanwhile, was talking on, cheerfully asking me how it had gone for me at Redeemer Presby this morning. And I'm thinking, please don't do this, I have to call the other church's worship chairwoman to see if they still need somebody!

I told her I needed to hang up, since I had my dinner in the toaster oven, and the timer had already gone off. Which it had. There was no point in tying up a nice big guilt bundle and handing it off to her. Nothing she could do about the situation at this point, now was there?

Soon as I could, I (disregarding the timer) got hold of the other church. Yes, they'd filled their pulpit for next Sunday. They got a very nice elder from a neighboring church. Oh. Right. Some other time.

But there I was, thinking I had it all sewn up for the rest of the month. And now there's a big hole in my preaching schedule and my finances for what I see as no good reason. Lord God, what are You leading me into? Don't You want me to be safe and secure and have everything pulled together???

And then I remember. Abraham. Leaving Haran, just like that. No clue at all as to where the Lord was leading him or where or how he'd end up. Just taking God at His word and walking out in faith.

Preacher, preach to yourself!

I Can't See It

This morning, I supplied the pulpit at a church up in a goodish-sized town to the north of me.

Let's call it Redeemer* Presbyterian Church.

I preached on the faith of Abraham and the faithfulness of God, as shown in the patriarch's reaction to the Lord's call when he was your basic idol-worshipper in Haran. And I took the children's sermon as well. Now, I believe in giving the children a sample of the food off the grown-ups' table, so to speak, cutting the theme of the main sermon up into manageable pieces so they can swallow it down.

So I gathered the little group of five-to-eight-year-olds and asked them if they'd ever seen a blind person with a Seeing Eye dog.

"Yes . . . "

"What does a Seeing Eye dog do?"

"It helps the blind person."

"How does the dog help the blind person?"

"It keeps it from hurting itself."

It? Itself? Had I heard that right?

I asked, "What else does a Seeing Eye dog do for someone who can't see?"

"It puts the leash on and it takes it where it needs to go."

This was the oldest child speaking. And consistently speaking of blind people-- or am I supposed to say, "visually challenged"?-- as it.

And she kept on doing it. And so did the others.

But this was not my church and I had just then met these children. It would be getting off on an awkward and hurtful tangent for me to correct them in front of their friends and the entire congregation.

Instead, I told the children about my friend John from theological college, and his Yellow Lab guide dog Farina. I made a point of letting them know that my friend John is a minister who now pastors Two Big Churches. I.e., my friend John is not an "it," and neither are the other blind people these kids are likely to meet during their lives.

I summed up the talk for the children: God is like a Seeing Eye dog because we can't see the future and He can, and He leads us safely through it; God is not like a Seeing Eye dog because He is our Master, we are not His.

They seemed to get it.

But did they get the point that blind people are not its?

And where did these children pick up this attitude, of being blind to the humanity of physically sightless men and women? I just can't see it!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Playing It by Ear

I haven't posted anything for awhile here, because I've been writing about my consuming interest on my houseblog, here, here, here, and also here.

Yes, I'm teetering on the brink of adopting a 1911 vintage upright piano. The movers will bring it on Wednesday. The tuner will come sometime in March, after it's gotten acclimated.

But will it be a musical instrument, or just a big piece of antique furniture?

We'll see.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hide and Seek

I babysat this evening for my friends Hannah* and Steve*.

They've recently moved to an old three-storey farmhouse out in the country (good place for an old farmhouse to be, right?). Steve's in the process of renovating it, Hannah hasn't been able to get everything put away, and consequently, it's a great place to play hide and seek.

As usual, seven-year-old Stevie* suggested the game. Except this time, he said, we'd use toy guns and pretend we were spies.

I volunteered to be It first. I loudly counted down from 100, then announced, "I'm gonna come get me some spies!"

Ostentiously looked in the bathroom. No spies. In the kitchen. No spies-- unless you count the old gray cat. Then in the living room. "I'm gonna find me some spiiiiiieees!"

I really thought Stevie and four-year-old Letitia* were hiding upstairs. Till I heard the giggling from behind the sofa, that is.

"K'yew, k'yew!" went my toy gun! "Bang! bang!" Stevie returned fire. But it was in vain. He and his sister were caught.

Stevie was It next. Letitia and I crept upstairs, and tonight, she accepted us splitting up. She concealed herself under a quilt on her bedroom floor, and I slipped just inside Stevie's doorless closet.

Soon Stevie the spy came up the stairs. "Bang! bang!" he shouted, "I've found you!" But I didn't hear his sister.


More silence.

Then Stevie's voice, saying, "Come on, where are you? Stop hiding! I'm gonna find you! Pickle Face, Big Butt, come on out!"

Excuse me, child, just whom are you calling Big Butt!? But I suppressed my urge to giggle-- which Letty did not. "There you are!" cried her brother, who'd actually had no idea where she was.

She knew where I was, and turned traitor. A hail of imaginary gunfire once he came into his room, and all was over.

And it was Letty's turn to be It. I'll say, she did a good job of counting. Made it up to forty by ones, with no misses. As I listened to this performance, I concealed myself behind a rack of hanging clothes in the spare room.

I don't know where Stevie hid; wherever it was, his sister found him quickly. And he volunteered to help her find me.

But I wasn't being found!

Or they weren't looking very hard, either one. A tiptoe or two through the hall. A loud declaration, "She's hiding under Mom and Dad's bed! . . . No, she's not. Where is she?"

I kept silent and concealed in my blind of jackets and sweaters.

"Blogwen, come out!" I heard Stevie's voice from below. "Blogwen, you don't come out, we're going to get in trouble! We're going to turn on R movies like we're not supposed to watch! We're going to eat ice cream! And candy! Lots of candy! Come out, come out!"

I stayed where I was.

A short silence from below. Then the sound of the TV. I wasn't worried: Hannah and Steve don't keep R-rated videos in the house.

Then Stevie's voice again: "We're eating candy! We're getting stomach aches! Our teeth are hurting! You better come down and stop us!"

Then, "Pleeeease come out! We're getting scared! And we're watching R movies! Come out, Blogwen, come out!"

I am cruel. I threw them a little bone. In a subdued but high-pitched voice I cried, "Come get meeee!"

"A wolf!" exclaimed Stevie. "A wolf!"

"Come gehhhht meeeee!!!"

"A wolf again!"

"Come gehht mee! Come gehhhhhhtt meeeeeee!!!"

I heard his footsteps mounting the stairs. Quietly, I crept out from my cover. I carefully peeked out the doorway of the spare room. Stevie was in the open at the end of the hall. "K'yew! k'yew!" I opened fire. "K'yew! k'yew!"

"Bang! bang! bang! Got cha!"

Or we got each other. He ran at me with his plastic pistol, and I have the cut on my hand to show for it.

My turn to be It again. This time, Stevie and Letitia did a much better job of hiding. I might not have found them very quickly, except that the light in Hannah and Steve's bedroom kept mysteriously coming back on every time I switched it off. Ghosts? No, children hiding behind the clothes in their parents' closet, but afraid to do it in the dark!

The last time, the children were It together, and I went and hid, behind the chimney up in the third floor playroom.

This time, they hardly made a pretense of looking. Less than a minute passed before I heard, "Blogwen, come out! We're scared! . . . . Picklebutt, picklebutt, Fatbutt, Pickle Face!"

(This is designed to make me descend and defend my dignity as an adult. Sorry. Ain't rising to that bait.)

"Come out! We're eating more candy! We're getting really, really fat! We're watching R movies again! You better come down and spank us!"

I heard them come upstairs and actually start to look. I tiptoed out to where I could command a view of the third floor stairs, and waited until Stevie should come up.

"Come on, these R movies are really bad for us! And all the candy and ice cream! We're eating so much we're getting sick! Our teeth are falling out! Come on out, come on out!"

Finally, Stevie worked up his nerve to tiptoe up the steps to the third floor-- where I got him in my deadly ambush!

Whereafter, we all went downstairs, made popcorn, and watched The Incredibles till Hannah and Steve got home from the movies.

I think I really did misjudge something there. Not my keeping still while the kids shouted for me to come out. No, by getting the jump on the poor little kid, I blew my chance to do a really bang-up histrionic dying scene!