Monday, August 8, 2011


Life is different with kids. (Shocking revelation, right?) Mornings used to be quick, groggy times to shower and leave for work. Karen would wake up first, and my mind would slowly slip into consciousness as I'd hear the shower water running from the bathroom. Then I'd get out of bed, shower, kiss her goodbye and leave.

But now, mornings are a treasure. Owen generally wakes us up way earlier than we'd like, but we get out of bed anyway. I make coffee. We wait for Jude to climb out of bed and tiptoe into the living room. We feed the kids breakfast. We play music and dance. We sit in the driveway and watch cars go by. What used to be a quick transitional period is now two hours of priceless family time.

For years now, the Today Show has been part of our mornings. Some days it's just on in the background, other days we actually watch it. This morning I watched a story that was particularly gripping, and I figured I'd share a few of my thoughts here. The news just came home of the largest single-day loss of American life in the war on terror when 30 US military personnel were killed in Afghanistan. Today, Matt Lauer interviewed the family of one of those fallen soldiers Aaron Vaughn, who was a Navy SEAL. As I listened to their story, I was really moved by how painful life can be. This guy was able to come home a month ago for the birth of his daughter - but then he immediately left again to join his team in combat. He left his wife at home with their newborn daughter and a two year old son. You can watch that interview here.

Even typing these words I feel an immense amount of pain for that family, and for others who are struck by tragedies like this one. I can't imagine leaving home just after the birth of my child... but the thought that I would never see that child again is too much for me to handle. Here's a picture of Aaron Vaughn in 2009 with his oldest son, who is now 2 1/2: Jude's age.

That little boy will grow up with no real recollection of his dad. I see two things in Aaron's eyes: immense love for his child and immense appreciation for the present. This picture captures for me a moment - and life, really, is a just series of moments. It may sound obvious, but we always live in the NOW. However, we spend way too much time regretting the past or dreading the future. Are you taking advantage of the priceless moments that you've been given? What are you doing with your NOW?

I've been really moved lately by Tim Hughes' song, "Ecclesiastes." It's on his latest album, and it was written and produced by Martin Smith, long-time lead singer of the band Delirious. But it's a song about moments - how some are great and some are terrible. Life is full of so much uncertainty, so much change. Often times nothing seems constant, but all we want is stability.

Well, in this song there are some beautiful musical elements that reveal an extremely impactful truth for me. Out of this mellow tune of uncertainty and pain comes something constant: a heartbeat emerges from behind the music; then, everything stops except that heartbeat and a simple quarter-note middle C begins to drone on and on. Then the words begin to repeat and repeat, "Now's a time for singing..." In all the change, uncertainty, fear, pain, heartache, dysfunction, crap, and brokenness of life, NOW is a time to worship. Because God stands above all the junk, and He is in control. And the love of God is stronger than any pain, any evil, any sin.

I hope this song can be an encouragement to you - for you to live in the NOW, whatever that moment is bringing you. Now's a time for singing.


There's a time for tears and a time to dance,
There's a time to let go and a time for romance,
There's a time for war and a time for peace,
There's a time to embrace and a time to release.

O, my Lord, I need to find, 
Take my hand, and I will follow.

There's a time to love and a time to hate
All the evil choices that we make,
It's a time to rise and a time to fall,
It's a time to keep or just throw it all.

O, my Lord, I need to find, 
Take my hand, and I will follow.

(Now's a time for singing...)

Raise your voice and sing,
Raise your voice and sing.

Your love in every breath I take,
In every step I make,
Your love will shine on me.

Love will shine. Love will shine.

Take my hand. I will follow.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Kind of Critic Are You?

One of the things I do in my job is oversee music in church. Church people tend to be, for the most part, very opinionated. And that makes sense, because church is connected to spirituality and tradition, both of which resonate very deeply within all of us. I'm guessing if you asked anyone who attends church regularly what they think of the music at their church, they'd have an opinion. Not many folks just shrug their shoulders and say "I don't care" when it comes to church music.

Because of that, I get a lot of feedback from people about what's good/bad/distracting/cheesy when it comes to how I plan services. And I believe that feedback is essential to designing worship for a community - so I welcome it. I love hearing what people think - I must hear what people think if I want to stay connected to the hearts of our people.

I also read a lot about what works other places, what other leaders are doing. So I hear feedback there as well. What I'm saying is that critical feedback is extremely important, and as leaders we have to be able to receive it (without it draining our sense of personal worth) if we hope to continue developing.

But there are loads of types of criticism. And this applies way beyond the bounds of church music. Maybe you've got to give an employee a performance review, or you need to confront your roommate or spouse on an issue. How we deliver criticism has a profound effect on how that particular message is heard.

How do you give criticism to others? Here are some questions to think about:

1. Is your feedback constructive? When people give feedback from a place of pain or insecurity, it is almost always destructive. Because when we're hurt, we generally want to drag someone else down with us. So if you're someone whose needs aren't being met in a certain area, try really hard to separate your critique from your own personal issues. Both of those areas are very important and worthy of being addressed; but too often people bury their own hurt in other issues, like volume of music, song selection, what people wear on stage, etc. If you're hurting while you deliver your criticism, chances are it won't be constructive, and therefore it won't be very effective.

2. Are you coming from a place of humility? We're proud people. And we're polarized people. That's dangerous. But when we start talking about being proud of being polarized, we're really in deep waters. As people, we tend to weld our preferences to our identity. "I like this because it's who I am!" Our pets don't do this. Your dog doesn't feel threatened in his dogness if you change from Alpo to Purina. But we're people, not dogs, and when change comes our way we feel like a part of us is dying. So we carry around our opinions like banners, staking our territory. Does it feel like that when you give feedback to someone? Do you assume that your opinion is better, or right, because it's yours? Or do you enter the discussion realizing it may be you who needs to change? I guess what I'm getting at is this: do you criticize with closed ears or open ears?

3. Is your criticism being directed at the right person/people? Criticism should affect change - or at least aim to. It follows, then, that constructive, purposeful criticism would have an intentional direction. If you don't like a decision, you should start by talking to the person who made that decision. With the emergence of the tweetosphere, many well-meaning critics have decided to sidestep the difficulty of face-to-face confrontations and air their grievances for everyone in the world to see. The results of such a thoughtless regurgitation of opinion is twofold: it will rally like-minded people around your personal viewpoint, and it will alienate those who disagree. Put succinctly, it polarizes people and is anything but constructive. So stop criticizing everybody to nobody using your blog! (I'm hoping you see the irony of this point).

4. Do you have the voice of an "insider" or an "outsider"? The people whose voices make the biggest difference are people who are willing to associate with a group, even if that group isn't perfect. There are tons of people with amazing ideas who get extremely frustrated by the problems and dysfunctions in a given culture. But often that frustration keeps them from assimilating into that culture, so what we get are these rogue idealists who have great advice that no one hears. No group, no church, no organization, no culture is perfect. But your voice will always be more impactful from within a culture than from outside. So take a risk and join that church.

5. What does your criticism usually produce? Probably the greatest litmus test of how well you deliver criticism is to examine your own experiences. When you speak up, do people tend to change or get angry? Or offended? Or hurt? Do you even speak up? Your opinion has the potential to help people grow and to help organizations change for the better. But the way you communicate can change everything.