Sunday, October 23, 2011

Awkward Agape Applause

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is one of the most conservative and traditional fundamentalist denominations in all of American Protestantism. An oddity that it's the church of which I'm a member, given my nutty irreverence towards God and Christianity, and my shrieking liberalism, but it's home to me, as I've said before. It's my tradition. It's what I practice, though I don't see eye-to-eye with my denomination on many issues.

Last night was the Contemporary service, and it was a weekend wrought with intensity. Friday night's practice entailed me having to sing Godspell's "Day by Day" solo, as Hannah, our supreme soprano, was working and couldn't practice with us, though she would be at the Saturday service. Vocal talent not being one of my God-given abilities, I croaked the song out solo as best I could just to get the timing down for the other vocalists, and by the 4th run-through, my voice had entirely given out and I couldn't hit ANY of the notes and Bob, the guitarist, was trying to back me up. I was a "dark hoarse." I ran out of breath, out of energy, though I am getting better at playing and singing at the same time. So good on that spectrum, at least.

We had a band devotion, as we are supposed to do before every practice, and Bob said a special prayer for the band to do God's work this weekend with divine inspiration and a special prayer for the family of our bassist, Jake, who lost his granddaughter just 2 weeks ago, days after our last service together. Practice--I didn't know what to expect, how to we carry on as if nothing is drastically wrong in one of our own's personal lives? Do we laugh and joke around and rock it out? Do we leave the mood solemn and downtrodden out of respect and comfort? The answer was a little bit of both. Jake is always the first to say that life continues on, insists that God is gracious and good, and that while this is the most awful thing that any human can imagine going through, the Lord is in charge and we keep going.

On relatively short notice, it was announced at the church that this coming Wednesday night, there would be a service of celebration of the life of the baby who passed away. Naturally, I planned to attend. Jake planned to sing a song or two during the service--from where he'd get the strength to do that given his sorrow, only the Lord can provide--and he asked Bob and Mary, the keyboardist, if they'd accompany him on piano and guitar. Sadly, they politely declined, citing that there was just no way they could learn the songs in that short a period of time. Instead of bass, Jake planned to play acoustic guitar. At the time, I didn't see where I would be of any help to his cause on the drums, but for some reason, the thought lingered in my mind all weekend, so I prayed about it.

Saturday rolled around and Hannah did a beautiful job on "Day by Day," as did the backing vocalists. After about a 3-service absence, Hannah's excitement and enthusiasm singing with us again was powerful. She was SO happy to be singing with the band this week, and boy, was I, for one, glad she was there. She jumped around singing, did hand motions, and was filled with the Spirit. We also did another rocking song, "Your Grace is Enough," which is a Chris Tomlin song, that is one to clap along with. The Lutheran Unity School "Little Lambs" Pre-K and Kindergarten choir augmented the offertory and did an awesomely cute job.

Finally, our closing song was the REALLY rollicking "We Want to See Jesus Lifted High," an oldie but goody. Bob does some intricate guitar solos twice during the course of the song, and I made up some new fills during the solos that garnered the band, with the congregation already standing and all clapping along, this giant round of applause at the end of the service. All Bob could utter was a quiet, "Thank you."

Applause during a Lutheran church service is a rarity. When I was a kid, it was unheard of and inappropriate. Why, I don't know. We applauded the Little Lambs choir, while their parents took video and a unanimous "Aww" swept through the congregation. This rousing round of applause from the congregation for the Praise Band, however, was just awkward to hear.

Sure, it boosts your musician ego. But like the band has been talking about lately, and I've said before that Jake's inclusion in the band has brought the band, collectively, back to focusing on God and praise rather than on ourselves as musicians. I like to think the applause was more the congregation being overwhelmed with the power of the Holy Spirit than with them being impressed with us as a band. At least I hope that was the case. In that moment, it's hard to, but necessary to, remember that it's not about US.

Keeping in mind that we're not good musicians because of our own merit. It's a gift from God. God inspires us to play, and we're not there to "perform." We're there to lead the congregation in worship through our music. We're there to enhance what's already a treasured span of time.

After the service, a number of people came up to us personally and told us how enjoyable the service was and what a great job we did. That's always nice to hear, but again, it's a little weird. I don't think we did any better or worse than we do any other weekend, but last night struck a chord (ha, I made a pun again!) with the church members.

Pastor Dave's sermon was terrific, for one thing, and I think a majority of the credit for the service's blessing should go to him. It was all about Agape love. The text for the sermon was taken from the Gospel passage where Christ commands us to love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds, and to love one another as we love ourselves. Dave reminded us that Jesus' intention was actually His COMMAND. Not a request. Not a suggestion. A COMMAND. No different than God commanding us to honor our mothers and fathers, not to steal, not to kill.

It brought me back to my other blogs and thoughts about unconditional love. It brought me back to the way I love my family and my friends unconditionally and receive that Agape love in return.

I had a minor row with my best girlfriend, Kate, this week, over something relatively unnecessary in hindsight. A misunderstanding based on both of us not having the back story of some facts about one another and causing us to miscommunicate until we were able to sort it out over the phone on Thursday night. Kate's an arguer, a fighter. For her to go all silent on me and unfriend me on Facebook, which she did by accident, was unusual. I was wondering just what the hell was up with her and she wasn't responding to my 2 phone voice mails and emails. Kate's also chronically very ill, and was too ill to communicate with me for a couple of days, understandably so. I won't go into the details about the fight, but it centered around me blaming myself for everything that destructed my marriage to Craig, and an insult to or about the mentally ill.

Wondering if it was appropriate for me to call her Thursday night, and if she was well enough to talk to me, I emailed her and asked her if I could call her. What sealed my impetus to phone her up was the following email reply I got from her Thursday afternoon:

"Andrea, I was trying to tell you not to blame yourself for EVERYTHING. I guess that didn't come across. I consider you my best friend and I wasn't calling you to the carpet in any way, shape or form. I was trying to, no, I was blaming Craig for never growing up. Please stop blaming yourself for everything. Ok. Call me tonight. You are a great, gifted, loyal, beautiful woman. Sometimes you do things exactly the way I would. What I am saying sometimes, most times. Unconditional friendship means everything you said in your blog plus one more thing. They are there for life. There is nothing you could do to get rid of me." --Kate Carroll (she insists I copyright her.)

That's exactly the kind of love Christ commanded of us. To love one another as we love ourselves. To be compassionate, to forgive, to support, to encourage. To work things out when you hit a pothole. Never to abandon. To be there for one another in good and bad times, regardless. To be of service to one another.

The sermon brought me back to the way I feel about Luke. Craig. My brother. My mother. My other incredible girlfriends and guy pals.

I prayed about Agape love thinking about my bassist Jake's plans for the baby's memorial service. I was inspired to give Jake a call and ask him if he wouldn't mind if I accompanied his songs by playing the congas along with his guitar. I don't know the songs. I will have not heard them until Jake and I run through them at a brief rehearsal half and hour before the service starts. I'm terrible at improvisation on the kit, but I am capable of decent improv on the congas in a pinch. It's all about rhythm. It's for the glory of God and to celebrate the life of that little baby. God will provide me what I need, of that I am confident.

I just hope no one applauds, in a weird way. Though maybe they should. In any event, please keep the family of the baby in your prayers, if you are the praying type...

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