The Ballad of Emmet Till

Last night I saw one of the plays in my much-appreciated subscription series to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The play, The Ballad of Emmett Till, is based on a tragic event that took place in Mississippi in the summer of l955. A young Chicago boy, 14-year-old Emmett Till, was visiting relatives down south. For the crime of allegedly making an improper advance to a young white female store clerk, Emmett was tortured and beaten to death. His body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. The only way his mother could recognize his remains was by a ring engraved with the initials of Emmett’s father. This horrific event echoes through our history, reminding us of the terrible injustice that raged through our land just before the enormous struggle for civil rights erupted in the l960’s.

I was looking forward to experiencing this night in the theatre. And I am sorry to say that my friends and I were deeply disappointed. We wondered how such an incredibly powerful story could end up feeling so flat and fail to engage the audience. The acting and directing, and most certainly the stunning design, were not the problem. I believe the “miss” was all in the writing - which felt predictable, overdone, and lacked vitality.

Later I thought about how Christian artists and teachers possess the most incredible story to tell in the universe. And yet sometimes in the telling, we miss as well. Our words and music and images rarely capture the wonder of the gospel, the glory of creation, the miracle of grace, the sovereign power of our Holy God. So much rests in the writing – in the craft of the words we choose, the images we portray, the music we compose, the dances we choreograph. I for one long to break out of the same old way of telling such a marvelous story. My experience in theatre last night inspired me not because of greatness, but because I felt so empty at the end. I don’t want people coming to church to leave feeling flat, disengaged, uninspired. Certainly the Holy Spirit and his anointing power plays an enormous part. But so do we, the humans who prepare and design and write and communicate. May we increasingly do our part with innovation, vitality, and fresh words for timeless truths.
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A Stretching CD From Aaron Niequist

I’ve been enjoying – and stretched by- the most recent CD from worship leader Aaron Niequist (formerly from Mars Hill in Grand Rapids). With Broken Fists takes listeners to deeper places I’m hoping all of us will go to – places where we surrender ourselves to God for his purposes of advancing the kingdom and bringing about social justice. The very first song, Resistance, calls us to being a part of the resistance, a movement of God that refuses to settle for the way things are. How refreshing to think thoughts about leveraging our gifts for holy purposes through songs of worship. Aaron is one of several songwriters these days who is expanding our language beyond songs of comfort and songs of praise – all of which certainly have their place – to songs of action, confession, and transformation of our broken planet. Many of his songs propel me out of my cushy, predictably routine life to want to risk something bigger for God.

In the third session of the arts conference this year, I will be interviewing Brian McLaren, and asking him to help us answer these questions: What can church artists do to make a difference in solving some of the biggest problems in our world? Do we have anything unique to offer? What is our role? I can’t wait to unpack with Brian some of his tremendous thinking from his book, Everything Must Change. That session will also include some video and dramatic pieces we’ve used at our church to awaken the congregation toward justice. As much as any other session, I’m looking forward to that one.
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Heart Goes Out to the Chapman Family

By now I assume we’ve all heard about the tragic traffic accident that resulted in the death of Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest daughter, 5 year-old Maria Sue. I am deeply sad and grieving for their family, as they experience a loss that is impossible for most of us to fully grasp. While I have never had the privilege of meeting Steven Curtis Chapman, I am sure I speak for thousands upon thousands of us who have been greatly impacted over the years by his music ministry. For that is what it always is with Steven – music ministry. The depth of his lyrics reflect a life devoted to Jesus Christ and advancing His kingdom. Chapman’s work with Compassion, International, and his family’s adoption of little Chinese girls (Maria Sue was the youngest of them), is just one sign of his heart for God and for the under-resourced.

And so today, along with so many other Christ followers, I am sad for Steven, his wife MaryBeth and their entire family. May the comfort of our God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the love of close friends surround and support them today and in the difficult days to come....
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The Joy of Jersey Boys

I recently learned that the Chicago run of the hit show, Jersey Boys, has been extended indefinitely because of such booming business. I’m really not surprised. I have had the blessing of seeing the show twice already – once with my husband and friends, and another time because my sister begged to go for her birthday gift. On both occasions I was struck by the unbelievable joy of the crowd as we experienced hit song after hit song delivered with tremendous skill and passion from the cast. I have seen two different guys play Frankie Valli, and both were terrific. I was struck by the creative way in which the producers and writers wove the songs into a story line, giving the audience a glimpse of the lives of the singers behind the scenes. Mostly, it’s just an evening of great fun and outstanding music.

For anyone attending our Arts Conference in June, we have a few tickets left for Jersey Boys – what we call “Art in the City.” It would be such a gift to any arts team to head downtown Thursday evening and enjoy that show. You can find out more at our website.
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Well, we are 21 days out from ARISE. Our teams are working fast & furiously to prepare a place where God can speak, where we can grow and meet new people.

I am glad for the 21 days but I can’t wait for 9:00 am Wednesday, June 11 when we kick off the conference. God has been working through the hundreds of people contributing to the conference to create some awesome opportunities and some incredible moments.

As usual some of our plans change and that is a good thing because of the other good things that come up. Like Copyright Basics! We just added this class. Cheryl Besenjak is currently the Copyright Director for Willow Creek Community Church. She has over 20 years of experience in the area of copyright. She is the founder and former Director of The Permissions Group. Cheryl has developed and published CopyRights©, a national newsletter and is the author of Copyright Plain and Simple, published by Career Press.

You can go on-line to register for this class. If you are already registered you can go on-line today to change your schedule or call our wonderful Customer Service team, 800-570-9812. After today, when you arrive at the conference breakout sessions can be changed at the Ticket Exchange Booth as long as there is available seating.

One other note, not on–line yet but coming soon, Secrets of Successful Sound-for-Picture by Jon Tatooles. Jon is co-founder and Managing Director of Sound Devices, LLC. This session will look at a variety of techniques for gaining control of audio while out on a shoot. You'll walk through the steps necessary for achieving quality audio, everything from mic placement to gain setup. In this hands-on class, you'll also be given the chance to experiment with audio equipment, and learn how to get the best audio quality to improve your production. We are really excited that Jon is coming! If you are interested send me an email and I will let you know as soon as it is posted on-line,
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Early Bird Deadline

First, a belated Happy Mothers Day to any moms who are reading. We had a wonderful service this weekend honoring moms, and I felt so privileged to be a part of it. We don’t always get that service right, but this year, we’re hearing from so many moms and grandmothers that they felt celebrated and understood – yeah God! One single dad told me after the service that he even called his ex-wife to tell her that she is doing a good job raising their children. I love to see God at work like that…

Today is the early bird deadline for this year’s Arts conference – just a reminder in case you lost track. Of course, you can register any time up until the event starts June 11, but you get a better rate if you book it today….Last week I had phone calls with both Francis Chan and Richard Allen Farmer about their messages, and it made me even more excited about the conference. I have such a strong sense that the Spirit has been designing the moments for the event over a long period of time, and that we will sense a powerful movement of God during those days. I would love to see you here…...
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So Totally Lost Watching Lost

Ok, so I’m watching yet another complicated episode of Lost, and I just keep wondering if I’ll ever feel as though I understand this show I’ve grown to both love and hate. Every week, new characters are being introduced when I can’t really seem to keep up with all the ones I already know. But even more stretching is the jumping from the present to the future to the past, trying to connect the dots, always feeling off-center and more than a little confused.

Seeing the popularity of this show and the buzz it generates actually gives me a certain degree of hope because programs like this one do not insult the intelligence of the viewers and do not seek the typical lowest common denominator. While I may feel lost, I am also intrigued and fascinated enough to hang in there and seek understanding.

When it comes to any form of communication – including what we do in church – I wonder if perhaps we should and must aim a little higher. What would we create and write if we were willing to trust the intelligence of our listeners more, if we didn’t feel such a need to “dumb everything down.” Clarity is a tremendous goal, but every so often, maybe it’s more than ok for people to wrestle with a concept that requires digging, that beckons us into the land of mystery, that asks more of us than immediate buy-in. As a communicator, I’d like to intentionally stretch both myself and those who listen – even if in the process we all feel a little lost.
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Party Prep

Have you ever noticed that having a party is a great catalyst for getting those house projects finally complete, doing a little extra cleaning and preparing those special recipes that you don’t normally take the time to make?

That’s a little how it feels this month, as our team gets ready for Arise – Arts Conference ’08. We’ve spent months praying, planning and doing our best to create an awesome event.

Did you hear that the Robbie Seay Band is joining us!

We’ve been working for months on a new website that will feature service support resources from new churches, an idea network and it will be even easier to find just what you need.

We’re securing our locations and dates for the fall and winter Green Rooms and Leaders Tables. Plus even more…you’ll just have to wait and see!

My favorite part of all the party prep, is it being over and the party starting. That’s when, I kick back and enjoy every minute with my friends and family. And that’s what our Arts team is looking forward to the most…being with you. Until then, we’ll be working away on our project list.
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Arts Conference Planning Meetings

Every Friday a group of creative folks meet for a couple hours to design and craft this year’s Arts Conference. We carefully look at each session and try to imagine how we can best harness the arts to inspire, lift, stretch, and impact all those who attend. This past Friday, we selected some video pieces, worship music, and drama scenes that I can’t wait for those who are coming to experience! One piece is just right for the session with Brian McLaren – it’s the true story of an artist who tells of her journey to Nepal, and the memory of a young beggar boy who transformed how she looks at her own life and choices. I not only love the content of what she communicates, but also the creative design of how that story is told.

We also signed off on a powerful beginning for the very start of Arise, a choice I don’t want to give away. Let me just urge all who are coming not to be late! (not that artists are ever late to anything). Mostly as we meet, I long for as many artists and pastors as possible to join us in June because I believe we all need the hope God gives us as we gather together, reminding one another of the significance of what we do, and encouraging one another to further develop our gifts and pay attention to our souls. I know this is a tough year for many with the economy, and training budgets are tight. I just want to urge you to see if you can find a way to raise the funds and make the trek to Chicago for our start on June 11. This Friday, we’ll keep on planning for you…
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FREE DOWNLOAD - Dangerous Women Creed

A few weeks back I asked you to do some virtual brainstorming for mother’s day. Someone from the Willow team reminded me of a service element that was used a few years ago, the Dangerous Women Creed. The creed, written by author Lynne Hybels, was used as the closing prayer for the service.

Here is the beginning of the prayer …
Dear God, please make us dangerous women.
May we be women who acknowledge our power to change, and grow, and be radically alive for God.
May we be healers of wounds and righters of wrongs.
May we weep with those who weep and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
May we cherish children, embrace the elderly, and empower the poor.

If you would like to see the whole prayer click here.

Lynne Hybels grew up in southwestern Michigan, but after graduating from college in 1973 she moved to the Chicago area. In 1974 she married a youth pastor, Bill Hybels, and in 1975 they started Willow Creek Community Church in a rented movie theatre in Palatine, Illinois. Despite intending to become a social worker, Lynne was pleased to start a church instead, convinced that God has given the local church a clear mandate to address the needs of “the whole person in the whole world.” For years she has been involved with Willow’s ministry partnerships in under-resourced communities in Latin America and in Africa. Writing has been a means for her to honor her love of words and solitary hours, as well as an avenue of activism. She is the author of Nice Girls Don’t Change the World, and coauthor of Rediscovering Church and Fit to be Tied. She most recently collaborated with the Willow Creek Association to develop Hope and Action – a DVD and participants guide that helps churches and small groups begin to address the AIDS pandemic. Bill and Lynne have two adult children, Todd and Shauna, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and one grandbaby extraordinaire, Henry. You might enjoy some other articles by Lynne Hybels, especially these articles about moms: Reframing: A Mother's Day Gift, A Note to Young Moms, and Mothers and Sons Letting Go.
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Les Miserables in the Round

I saw a version of Les Mis last night that I’d never thought I’d be able to appreciate – “in the round” at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre here in suburban Chicago. It was breathtaking. We sat in the third row (there isn’t a bad seat in the theatre), wondering how the barricade scene and the sense of spectacle we had appreciated in the Broadway versions could possibly be pulled off. The staging was truly brilliant, and the voices, for the most part, superb. What a magnificent story of grace! In so many ways, the intimacy of the experience augmented the power of the story, and once again reminded me of the beauty of the music, now more than a couple decades old. I was drawn into the experience in a far deeper way than in the past when I sat at such a distance.

It makes me wonder how many times we hold back telling certain stories because of our space limitations, lower budgets, or limited scenic options. Not every story can be told in every setting. But with more imagination, I’m certain all of us could break out of what we perceive to be rigid limitations, and create something fresh and powerful told in a more intimate form…It sure worked for me and the rest of the audience last night.
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