Thursday, April 24, 2008

GMA Week - Live from Nashville

(Sitting in the lobby at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville sipping a Starbucks grande Earl Grey soy misto. Ummm. First moment of personal "down time" I've had during this very frenetic Gospel Music Week)

For the last five days, this place has been abuzz with the noise of the Gospel Music Association. It's an industry, and like anything industrial, the wheels of business churn and scrape. Some hear only the noise and curse the machine. Others drown out the noise, escaping behind their earbuds. The escapism turns gospel music into more noise. Many have tuned their ears to lift melody out of the cacophony. I am one of them.

This was the first time since 1999 that I've been here the entire week, broadcasting The Morning Cruise from the Nashville Convention Center. From our Plexiglas studio Dave, Carmen and I heard not just noise, but the hearts of passionate and thoughtful artists. Standouts included the misty-eyed meeting with Chris Tomlin and Denver Moore (Same Kind of Different as Me), the self-effacing vision of the under-appreciated, ubertalented Sara Groves taking the form of a new tour for justice and art with Brandon Heath (congrats on the Dove, bro!) and personal favorite Charlie Peacock. Topping even these notes for wow-factor was straightforward testimony of brokenness and new found transparency from Wynona Judd, speaking backstage at the Dove Awards.

(Wynona, it seemed to me, was in a good place spiritually. She credited her renewed heart to "going to church with Natalie Grant." Her words and manner backstage displayed Christ in a way that brought him glory - Colossians 1:27.)

All week, the noise was churning. And all week I've heard, even more so than a decade ago, the colorful, symphonic strains of the gospel from the mouths of sinners: broken hearts singing His praise through the sometimes-polished phrases, often-trembling lips. What an encouragement! What a confirmation that the Lordship of Christ is pervasive in the midst of human institutions! What a reward for one who wears his coat in this vocation so loosely, having often longed to walk another path.

Mostly, encouragement comes from those walking the same or similar paths. The relationships we've built over the years with a handful of Nashville insiders was something we savored (if only too briefly). Friends like Jim Houser, Amy ("Amers") Fogelman, Josh Lauritch (and team members Brian and Betsy, with whom we shared bubble tea), Andrea Kleid, Mark Giles, Kyle Fenton, James Riley and a few others make these Nashville excursions feel like family. No kidding. Fellow broadcasters fall into this category as well, but not as readily as those named. I feel like there is beyond-business friendship that I hope can be renewed and lasting.

Finally, it was great to have a few special guests that made this year's GMA week a standout. Phoebe is a character! We got to meet her and talk for about half an hour. (Our listeners will share in some of that conversation.) Denver Moore was our personal charge: he rarely travels without Ron. He made this trip not just to sing a potential vignette for Chris Tomlin's new record, but because he is our friend, he told us. Denver does not use that word lightly. I was honored and told him so.

(I told him so over tacos at SATCO. It was one of the few meals at which I didn't overeat, out of respect for Denver, who has lost weight both for health and for the sake of the homeless -- he can't fathom wasting any food.)

The lobby is buzzing again. This time the buzz is from strangers. most of us have gone home to our loving families, as I am about to do. I love Kimberly, Will, Madi, Adam, Grady and Payton more than any human beings. But while I was away, it was both professionally and spiritually boosting and personally heartwarming to be here to add the tune of my own heart to the symphony of gospel-driven praise that comes out of the noise.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Know Thyself

I love it when the latest hot culture-fad turns up already tried on and laid aside by some previous generation. I see this phenomenon happening to some degree with trendy elements in the Emergent movement. (We'll discuss it another time perhaps). And I found a passage in Calvin's Institutes that seems to me to chasten our general ignorance regarding the Oprah discussion we had last week.

John Calvin (1509-1564), misunderstood and maligned as he is, was actually a brilliant student of the human condition as well as of theology. Today,these insights would fall sowewhere between sociology and psychology, but in his day, they were all relevant to the task of writing a practical handbook of Christian faith for Protestant converts. The Institutes is famous for connecting the knowledge of God with self-knowledge -- a major theme in several of the writers and teachers Oprah has been promoting (see previous posts). In the passage I found (in a modern-language version), Calvin commends secular philosophers for embracing the Socratean dictum, Know Thyself; however, in typical French humanist rhetorical fashion, he sets the principle of self-knowledge up in order to show how inadequate it really is.

And the whole section is so insightful and applicable to our previous discussion of New Age gurus, in which I tried to assert that the Self is not a good starting place from which a search for truth should begin, that I want to share a couple of paragraphs with you. Keep in mind that this was written in the sixteenth century. I'll give you the key line first, then quote the section at-length:
If we listen to teachers who get us to dwell on our good qualities, then far from making progress in self-knowledge, we will be sunk in the most disastrous ignorance.

Got your attention? Here's the larger piece, which begins by asserting that true self-knowledge destroys our self-confidence and puts us in the position of realizing our need for a Redeemer:

I am aware that a much more acceptable view encourages us to think about our good qualities, rather than dwell on our overwhelming shame and misery. The human mind loves nothing better than flattery, and so when told that its gifts are considerable, it is inclined to believe it wholeheartedly! So it is not strange that the majority of men have sinned so blatantly in this matter. Because of the innate self-love which blinds us all, we willingly convince ourselves that we do not possess a single undesirable quality.

So, without any external approval, there is a general belief in the mistaken idea that man has everthing he needs for a good and happy life. If some people think more modestly and give God a little credit, so that they do not appear to claim everything for themselves, the division always leaves the chief ground of confidence and boasting in themselves. Nothing is more gratifying than a speech which flatters man's innate pride.

So in every age, the one who is quickest to lift high the excellence of human nature is received with the loudest applause. Teaching man to rely on himself can be no more than sweet seduction, because everyone who is deluded by it will be ruined (Calvin, Institutes, II.1.2, eds. Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne, emphasis mine).

Unbelievable. When I peruse Marianne Williamson's stuff on A Course in Miracles, or scroll through Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I see exacty the kind of self-love and gratifying speeches that Calvin is calling out nearly 500 years ago. The trouble with searching for God "within" (the Self, Hinduism's atman) is that truth, peace, Love and salvation lay outside ourselves. The first principle of a biblical worldview is that there is a distinction between the Creator and the creatures. Secondly, that though we are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27), we are fallen, broken, alienated from God and each other and corrupt in our self-estimations (Romans 1:18-21).

Calvin teases out the idea of the inadequacy of self-knowledge (and unaided knowledge of God) to lead his readers to the conclusion that we need a mediator, and that the grace of God and the cross of Christ answer our need:
So, although the preaching of the cross does not square with human wisdom, we must accept it humbly if we want to return to God our Maker (from whom we are estranged) so that he may become our Father again.

This wisdom from above truly saves us and sets us right with God and ourselves. And it is inclusive, as Calvin reminds:

Christ does not speak only of his own age, but embraces all ages whe he says, 'This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)... (Institutes, IV.6.1).