Throughout the last few weeks, I’ve been trying my best to listen to each word, inflection, and ways employees are communicating. I’m convinced that it’s in these words and communion that something holy is happening. Yes, there is pain and loss. But there is also marks of God’s presence nearby. Just gotta look underneath the text, what some call the sacred subtext.
Every word and phrase someone shares is revealing the life material. It’s my work to listen and unpack it with them.
As a corporate chaplain, I’m thinking about the workplace context, the person’s context, and the God of context. All of these have an interplay. And we discover God’s presence and activity in the words, deeds, and life of an employee. So here are some of the words and phrases (they’re mixed for anonymity) some have used during the pandemic:
“I’m tired of waking up each day, not knowing what else is unknown”
“I wanted to quit…”
“Losing my job and getting it back showed me how much I really value work”
“Fear, stress, and anxiety are contagious like a virus. They’re just always buzzing in the air.”
“Lord, give us emotional/mental/spiritual distance from fear and anxiety. Give us six feet apart, masks, and hand sanitizer so that we won’t be infected with the fear of the unknown”
A couple lost both jobs and needs help to stay afloat.
“You’re always listening to us complain….how’s your family”
“When are things going back to normal?”
“I’ve been listening to this band…It gives me hope”
“Did you know about [insert latest conspiracy theory]…”
“Lord, hear our prayers”
“My kids are driving me crazy!”
“I’m getting to be closer to my kids. Never had this kind of time with them”
What does it mean to be a faithful witness in a culture that is experiencing so much disruption? In a church era that is seeing decline and losing influence? In some ways, these were the questions that Urbana aimed to address. Using the book of Revelation, speakers used its message of Jesus Christ as the Faithful One to convey how God is seated on the throne, ruling and reigning.
Having an image of God as the model for Faithful Witness gives us a way to give our lives over to Christ Jesus in all circumstances because we know that in the end, all things are made new by his power, authority, and redemptive love.
It’s in this context that we’re compelled to be a faithful witness in our own settings and purposes so that we might know Christ and make him known.
Worshipping and attending the conference with close to 11000 attendee’s was a gift. While I’ve played drums on big stages, it was the hospitality offered by all the InterVarsity volunteers and team members that most touched me. Their encouragement, support, and volunteering truly blessed the worship team. The stage managers, production directors, and traffic control volunteers were the real heroes. It’s the volunteer crew of about 1000+ people that make the conference so special.
The student and attendee’s showered the worship team with love and support. After the first full day, we fell in love with them and it turned into a mutual partnership of worshipping and communing together.
We received the following feedback (paraphrased):
Worshipping in multiple languages was a powerful expression of all tribes and tongues praising Jesus.
Many shared how the worship team seemed like a family on stage and was unpretentious off-stage. I think that’s because we spent so much time with each other off stage learning to “remain in Jesus” and be as competent as possible on the stage. We grew in love for each other and that spilled onto the stage.
Many long time InterVarsity staffers and directors said it was the best worship experience they’ve seen at Urbana! I had text messages after the first day with feedback that it was the best start they’d seen. They also said it was some of the most competent musicianship they’d ever had.
The team was praised for how leadership was shared on the stage. While Eric Lige was our worship director, he had a vocal director, two music directors, a production engineer, sound engineer, and chaplain. Each singer lead a song or two from the main stage. It was never one single person who dominated the stage.
From a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural perspective, we did at least 6 different languages. We had people asking us how we could go from contemporary Christian music to jamaican music at the turn of a song. We really did a wide array of styles and languages to capture God’s work around the world.
I’ve been playing the drums since I was a kid and got really serious in my 20’s. I’ve played at large church and conference gatherings, on TBN, and have done a few albums. This experience at Urbana was definitely a highlight. What made it deeper was serving as the band chaplain. Throughout the year, I built a relationship with the members and listened to their hopes, struggles, and fears. We talked about their roles and their personal lives. We had people who lost loved ones, hospitalization, and new babies! People had family issues, ministry challenges, and personal struggles that we prayed through.
Getting to be a drummer and chaplain was the perfect job for me! I was able to express myself musically and also be a shepherding presence.
I tried to focus the band on Jesus as the prize–that in January, we were still going to get up, go to our regular jobs, and our hearts were to be turned towards Him as the Faithful One. Mountain top experiences are very periodic and fun in nature. But most of our lives are lived in the valleys of life. That’s where we learn how Jesus will never leave or forsake us
When I was asked to lead communion, I didn’t realize who had been leading it in past conferences. My friend Cory Willson quipped that I’d be sharing the same stage and role as John Stott! I was really nervous after that.
It come about that the person who was going to lead communion didn’t feel comfortable because she was not fully ordained yet. Out of respect, she bowed out. The program director knew that I was a chaplain and commissioned to do so. They had conversations about who should be the celebrant and my name kept coming up for reasons I’m still not sure about. They heard the work I was doing with the worship team and felt that the attendee’s would know me based on the coverage I was getting on the stage.
I submitted my communion homily and it was approved. I rehearsed it on the big stage the day of and then waited. It seemed like eternity. I was more nervous about ten minutes of speaking than hours of playing.
When I got up to the podium, the attendee’s cheered and were supportive. I proceeded and when I got off the stage, my phone blew up with messages from friends watching online or in person. I was so overwhelmed by their love and encouragement. People asked me how I felt. I told them, “I feel like myself”.
Here are a few telling stats:
We rehearsed as a band for at least 24 days.
We rehearsed each song at least 20 times each.
24 hours of studio time
6 straight days of dress rehearsal
One original song written that will be a hit (Faithful unto death-Weep no more)
I’m deeply grateful to Bill Hoehn, Bob Hoehn, and the people at Hoehn Motors for their support and giving me the flexibility to be a part of this conference. They made it possible for me to do this.
I’m grateful for the worship team and all the work everyone put it. It was gift to see them all shine! It was a great learning experience for me and learned a lot about music, multi-ethnicity, team dynamics, and about own self.
I want to thank Una Lucey Lee for trusting me to celebrate communion and for all her encouragement throughout the year. She is a force to be reckoned with. 🙂
I also want to thank Ruth Hubbard for her constant support.
Lastly, I’m grateful for Christina and my boys. We made a family decision to do this and they supported me 100%. Oh, and I’m grateful for Ernie and Lindsey LeDuc. He’s my basstie!
I imagine that this team will be lifelong friends and that we’ll conspire together in the future!
[NOTE: This year, I have the opportunity to play drums for the Urbana conference and be the band chaplain. From their site:
Urbana is a catalytic event bringing together a diverse mix of college and graduate students, faculty, recent graduates, pastors, church and ministry leaders, missions organizations and schools.
I’m posting thoughts/reflections on being musicians, ministers, and mission-minded that are shaped by scripture, tradition, and our own experiences. This year, Urbana has chosen the theme “Faithful Witness” and the book of Revelation to discern our role in God’s mission for the world. I’m also using a rubric of character, competency, chemistry, and culture to organize thoughts and ideas.]
Eugene Peterson says that there is nothing new being said in the book of Revelation. I found that deeply profound given that my pentecostal/dispensationalist background gave me a sense that Revelation was about futuristic, catastrophic events occurring on earth. Rapture. Wars. Famine. Earthquakes. The Anti-Christ (Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, The Pope, Barak Obama, Trump).
So when I read Psalm 93:1,25, I was yet again reminded of Peterson’s adage: there’s nothing new being said. God has been saying it “…in the beginning”.
The team has been thinking about Revelation 4-5, which has been dubbed “The Throne room scene”. What John saw then is what the Psalmist says thousands of years prior:
1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
2 Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
5 Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days.
Why does the Lord reign? And why is that good news? And how does the Lord rule and reign? That’s probably the most important question for me. In other words, whose in charge and are they worthy of leading?
In the marketplace, a company takes its shape and form from the leaders (those who rule and reign). The manner of leading trickles down the pike and influences each person. Leadership is very important. It sets vision and values which impact the culture of a company.
As Christians, we profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He rules and reigns with justice, mercy, and unfailing love. That’s a great description of a leader!
As musicians leading people in worship, I’m a bit holy-scared! How and why is that God would choose to use some rag-tag people with unclean lips and impure hearts to lead people into His throne room? I’m not trying to paint a sad picture of our depravity, but in some ways, God’s presence doesn’t allow me to stay unexposed. All things are brought to the light and because he rules with justice and mercy, I’m in good hands.
Someone taught early on my musician formation that we play because we motivated and compelled to worship the living God. When I play at church, people come up to me and say, “I knew it was you playing today…I could feel you.” That means a lot to me because I want every beat to a passionate prose of worship to the living God. I’m captivated by this Jesus as King figure! I’m moved by His love for me and for you. And I want the music to reflect it.