Noise. Grating, irritating, cacophonous, noise. The strings sounded awful—each one seeming to play a separate tune. The brass burped out the bass clef—15 individual bass clefs that is. The woodwinds must have been playing the melody, but no one could tell it by listening. The whole orchestra was an utter mess. In fact, if this was any indication, the concert would be unbearable.
And it would have been too, because each musician focused on her own sound: each one listening for his own errors or her own expertise. Not one in the group was concerned with how they sounded as a whole. It was all about individual performance.
But then the conductor mounted his stand. The musicians silenced themselves. Maestro raised the baton. The instruments snapped to attention. With a wave of his hand, the music began. Stringed instruments lifted notes into the air as percussionists tapped out the beat. Horns came in, announcing their arrival, as the woodwinds snuck in behind them. Music floated through the auditorium, sending waves of delight through the audience. Harmony. It’s a beautiful thing: even more beautiful than the dissonance was annoying.
Here’s the thing: when the musicians’ thoughts were on their own weaknesses or their own strengths, their whole community suffered. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what it is like in the body of Christ? When individuals, persons or congregations, begin to focus on what they can and can’t do, the world hears clanging gongs and crashing symbols. To those listening, the discordance is jarring.
Yet when we turn our eyes to the Conductor of our faith, when we release our concerns and our confidences and allow ourselves to be led by Jesus, what beautiful music we make. The peaceful tones we express draw others to us and thereby to Christ.
We are called to make a joyful noise. Let us set aside our differences and sing in harmony, “Hallelujah! Lord God Almighty!”
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (NRSV)
“It’s like real-life Tetris,” Josh said, laughing.
“Every time we load stuff, it’s hilarious,” Sarah said. “We have to sit around the drums. And the microphones are, like, here,” she said holding her hands on either side of her head and gesturing forward and back. Josh pivoted on the restaurant bench and leaned back. “One time Andy had to sit like this,” he said, lifting his legs to place his feet on an imaginary drum.
“And there was always something wrong with that car,” Sarah said, shaking her head, somehow frowning and giggling at the same time.
“The Jeep Liberty! That was fun!” Josh said, meaning it.
Sarah looked at me, making eye contact. “It wasn’t fun.”
“It was!” Josh laughed as he ticked off the crises they faced. “We ran out of gas once; the breaks went out one time. And it would just start smoking for one reason or the other. It was great.”
“Josh enjoyed it. I didn’t.”
We were having lunch at White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, talking about Josh Linhart and Sarah McCoy’s new music venture. These two have been performing together since 2011 when they were college sophomores majoring in music at Mars Hill University. Now, five years later, they are two of the four musicians in the newly formed group, WHYM. Sarah is the vocalist and plays keyboard and guitar; Josh plays percussion; Andy Little, also a MHU grad, plays bass; and Nathan Culberson, a graduate of University of North Carolina in Asheville, plays electric guitar.
“Why the new name?” I asked them. (For the previous 3-4 years, the musicians of WHYM were known as The Friendly Beasts.)
“Mainly because our sound is so different now.” They spoke as much to each other as to me, so it’s hard to remember who said what. “Back then, we were college students who wanted to jam together. We did things as cheaply as possible; we were amateurs.”
“Now we are taking it up a notch. We’ve hired technicians to help us with production and we’re doing things professionally.”
“So even though the four of us were together as The Friendly Beasts, WHYM is really a whole new band.”
“WHYM.’ I’ve been trying to figure out what it means,” I said as Sarah and Josh seemed to wait for my answer—as if it was up to me to come to my own conclusion. “Is it initials for something? Is it from another language? Is it a play on the word ‘whim?’”
Silence. We sat there, thinking, not talking, about those four little letters. Sarah was the one to respond.
“It’s not any of those things. It’s really about the sound of the word. We wanted a single syllable that had a soft sound. We brainstormed a lot of different sounding words, and this one just seemed to fit. But we don’t really know what it means exactly. It’s a mystery.”
“The meaning will work itself out,” Josh added. “Kind of like our faith.”
“When we were younger, we saw things as more black and white. Now we have questions and we allow room for those questions, for the mystery, in our music.” (Their words began to merge again.)
“And not just in the lyrics, but also in the actual music.”
“We have been wanting to think about uncertainty.”
“Not to worry about it . . . “
“To leave space for it. And to be okay with uncertainty.”
“We think it’s more authentic.”
If WHYM is anything, it’s authentic. These musicians have been raised in the church; all four came to know Christ early in life. (Three of them are actually pastors’ kids!) They have lived their faith, wrestled with it, questioned it, and have kept believing. Their music draws listeners into a safe space where followers of Christ don’t have all the answers, where mystery is expected and therefore is not nearly so scary. As a youth minister, a parent to teens, and a friend to many college students, I can attest that this is the kind of safe place our students are seeking: a place where Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit moves in the most mysterious of ways, and humanity is beloved by God, even when they are uncertain.
WHYM started a Kickstarter campaign that lasts until March 3. Every donation—from $1-$5000—grants free music and additional rewards. (Just $5 gets you their new release, coming out in May!) Would you consider supporting them? If you do, down the road, you and I can both say, “You know that amazing band WHYM? I helped them get their start!”
Every Wednesday, students get off the bus at our church so they can participate in our ministry with children called KFC (Kids for Christ). The children are with us from about 2:30 until 7:15. During that time, they play outside; have a snack and later a full dinner; do their homework (with help from volunteer tutors as needed); and participate in choir, Bible study, and missions education.
I lead the Bible study and often start with a song that goes with the day’s lesson. Recently, we began by singing “Jesus Loves Me.” The children sang the chorus through once or twice and then we added the American Sign Language to go with the lyrics.
“Touch your left palm with the middle finger of your right hand, and then reverse that, touching your right palm with the middle finger of your left hand. Like this,” I said, showing them the sign. We went through the rest of the signs quickly. “Cross your arms over your heart for ‘love,’ point to yourself for ‘me,’” and so on.
“Hey guys, do you know why the sign for Jesus is this?” I asked them, doing the sign again for them. They mimicked me, studying their hands as if trying to figure it out.
“Oh I know,” one little girl offered. “It’s because of the cross! Jesus had nails in his hands on the cross!”
“That’s right. The sign represents the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.”
As I affirmed the answer, another child said, “Oh! I thought it meant something else.”
His hands formed the sign again. “See how it kind of looks like a bridge from one hand to the other?”
“I thought maybe this was the sign for Jesus, because Jesus is our bridge to God.”
Well, yeah, there’s also that . . . .
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Please welcome back to the blog my son Baker Lawrimore. Below is a piece he wrote for a class at UNCG. I thought you might enjoy his thoughts on how music and culture merge to create lessons greater than either could teach alone.
Back in Asheville, I was at church every Sunday and Wednesday. At First Baptist
Church of Asheville, music is an integral part of education, worship, and missions.
Church music is hard to do well because most groups only meet once, maybe twice a
week. I learned that in order to make church music work, rehearsals have to be
incredibly focused. By being in that church so many years, I experienced how a
director has to be well prepared so that rehearsal runs smoothly.
A.C. Reynolds High School loves the arts. It pursues musical excellence in the
classroom, on the stage, and on the field. Marching band requires a strict attendance
policy. When marchers are missing, rehearsal becomes much less effective. You can’t
make the show happen without everyone attending rehearsals, learning the music,
and learning the drill. By being in marching band, I saw how dedication of learners
orients a group towards excellence.
In Asheville, music is everywhere. It is a fundamental part of that weird Ashevillian
culture. Everyday you’ll hear an array of musical styles from the plethora of
musicians roaming the streets. Experiencing this exciting musical atmosphere
makes music a part of life. It’s always there, but it’s not something we take for
granted. The energy and passion that the city puts into its music moves its people to
have that energy too. I see this energy in teachers in the community, and in all of
I learned a lot in these different cultures. Church taught me that directors must be
prepared. School taught me that music requires dedication from all students. And,
Asheville taught me that music is passion. That’s not to say that in church, learners
weren’t dedicated, or that in school, teachers weren’t passionate. To an extent, all
three of these cultures influenced those beliefs I have about teaching and learning.
There is a sense of tradition, or even eternity, felt in these cultures. I know that
music will always be a part of those communities. It will never leave. When music
instruction is at its best, there is a deep connection between the musicians and with
the music. Without the sense of tradition and relationship, there is little meaning to
what we do as musicians. The dedication, passion, and preparation that those
communities have all help create that sense of meaning and make teaching and
learning music a vital part of life.
Please welcome guest blogger, Baker Lawrimore. Recently, during First Baptist Church of Asheville’s annual youth Sunday, he spoke of his experience on choir tour with the youth group. A portion of his message follows.
This past summer, our youth group went on a choir tour to New England. Towards the end of the tour we drove through Connecticut and were planning to stop in Sandy Hook. We were driving to the elementary school and got stopped at the fire station right outside the school. They didn't want tons of people coming by and turning the school into a tourist attraction. We asked if we could get off the bus and just say a prayer at the fire station close to the school. We got out and we circled up and Jenny said a prayer for us. I don't remember the exact words, but the point of the prayer was that even though things so awful and terrible happen, God is still God.
I'm sure most of you heard about the signs they put up in Sandy Hook saying "We are Sandy Hook and we choose love." I think this shows that the people of Sandy Hook really embody today's Scripture.
To me, the scripture says a few things. It says that I don't have to be held back by grudges or anger anymore because God's telling me to be free from that. It makes me feel blessed because I know I am forgiven. But, most of all, I think this scripture is a call. A call to let the kingdom of God come alive on Earth through your compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.
Notice that the scripture doesn't simply say to "be kind" or "be patient." It says to "clothe yourselves” with these virtues. The scripture tells us to let the message of Christ dwell among us. My whole life I've been taught that the message of Christ is love. In this passage, it says that "over all these [virtues], put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” This makes me picture love as a big coat. A coat sort of contains all of the other clothes on your body. I take this to mean that when you have love, you also have all of the other virtues. Because when you focus on love, everything else will fall into place.
When we come together and, like the people of Sandy Hook, "choose love," then we also choose compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. And when we do this, we are living together as a community of Christ and glorifying God in everything we do.
I've been sorting through some writings on my computer and ran across this one I wrote several years ago about Cameron Brown. I was reminded as I read it what a blessing he is to me, and to so many others as well.
Cameron's Special Praise ©2008
The children’s choir program included skits, dances, sign language, and of course plenty of singing. Through it all, fifth grader Cameron Brown smiled from the front row to his parents and others in the congregation. He turned and looked at the children behind him. He patted the girl beside him and held her hand. He waved to people he knew. He never sang. Not once.
Rather than distracting his audience, though, Cameron Brown enhanced the experience for worshipers that Wednesday night. Cameron is special—in lots of ways. He’s exceptionally sweet and loving. Church members line up for his hugs and his smile lights up the sanctuary.
And Cameron learns differently than other children. Plus, he grows differently and that makes him a little less sure footed than most kids.
Near the end of the program, the children sang a song while they signed it in American Sign Language. Cameron knew one sign. He watched all the other children and when they got to the word “praise,” Cameron, just like his friends, lifted his hands heavenward.
So a special “Thank You” today to Cameron for his leadership. He has most assuredly chosen the most excellent way.
April 24, 2012
This past Sunday, our Youth led the worship service, reflecting on the heroes God has given to us. One of the students who spoke was Aubrey Nelson, a Senior at AC Reynolds High School in Asheville, NC. Aubrey is a gifted musician who sings like a bird and plays her flute like an angel. Her comments Sunday spoke to my own conviction that God often uses music to draw us to the throne of Grace. I asked Aubrey if she would allow me to publish her reflection here and she has graciously agreed.
Aubrey's Hero by Aubrey Nelson 2012
It is so much easier to be by ourselves.
Now, you're probably thinking I got that backwards. If you're anything like me, you're much more comfortable when someone is physically with you...talking to you, laughing at your jokes, shielding you from that dreaded image of being alone that has become somewhat of a stigma in our fast-paced, loud, busy culture. In fact, if the feeling I just described sounds at all familiar to you, you're part of the 70% of American society who labels themselves as extroverts...people who would rather be around people. But as much time as many of us spend surrounded by the talking, laughing, storytelling, and general comforting presence of others, we are truly alone...emotionally and spiritually alone. Sure, we've got all kinds of people all around us - friends, teachers, parents, coworkers, pastors, conductors, coaches - but are we listening to them? Are we soaking up what they have to say and allowing their words to change us? Or are we letting their wisdom, their experience, their uniqueness as people go right over our heads, convinced that we have all the answers?
Ernest Hemingway, the great 20th century American author, once said, "as you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary." While graduating seniors such as myself are facing many apparent, obvious decisions this year - what college we'll attend, what we'll major in, what career we want to pursue - I have no doubt that everybody in this room, from elementary school students preparing to step into the frighteningly unfamiliar world of middle school, to recent college graduates who just don't know what to do with or make of their lives, to senior adults facing the painful aloneness of losing their loved ones, is encountering some sort of choice, dilemma, or question they just cannot answer. And while I'm far from discounting the great and important power of independence, confidence, and belief in oneself, we often rely on ourselves for answers to such a great extent that we take out more than we can give back. So then, if we Americans are so constantly surrounded by people, why don't we try to learn from them instead of using them as a security blanket? And instead of criticizing them, why don't we teach them? We all need someone - or something - to remind us that we don't know everything and that we do, in fact, need each other.
Though we typically assume heroic figures to be people, I think that intangible activities and experiences often take on the most powerful heroic positions in our lives. As most of you know, I'm an avid musician, and I feel that music has been my own personal "hero"...it's shown me the rewarding nature of hard work, it's taught me how to lose with dignity and win with grace, and it's demonstrated for me the satisfaction and happiness that comes from creative expression. These are all lessons I could not have spontaneously learned on my own. A "heroic activity", so to speak, doesn't have to be one you do on a regular basis...even a one-time experience, such as hearing an inspiring concert or seeing an emotionally wounded person smile for the first time in months, can have a drastic, wonderful influence on the way we think and feel.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that each person is created in the image of God. I think that this is one of the most commonly (and regrettably) overlooked aspects of our Christian faith...that EACH person, rich or poor, dark or light-skinned, man or woman, left or right-brain dominant, high or low GPA or SAT score, is a little piece of God, a snippet of his glory and a small-scale manifestation of his great intentions for the world. With that scripture in mind, I think it's safe to say that ALL people are heroes. We each have experience, wisdom, talents, and ideas which cannot be found, and never will be found, in any person other than ourselves. And as the class of 2012, along with every other subgroup of the world, ventures on through the challenges and questions which make up the wonderfully confusing journey of life, we have a divine responsibility to see the hero in every person and every experience.
Aubrey is the daughter of Mike and Luann Nelson, and the twin sister of David Nelson. She has won countless honors for her musical gifts. Aubrey attends the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
My phone buzzed. The text was from my mother—impressive in itself as she celebrated her 70th birthday more than three years ago.
Mother: I’m getting a piano!
Me: No way!
I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mother has dreamed of playing the piano as long as I can remember. As children, my sister and I took piano lessons for years (my sister plays still; I have other gifts). We even had a piano in our home. It was no cheapo either: piano tuners still rave about the quality of it. I can’t imagine what my parents sacrificed to pay for that piano and for our lessons. Daddy was a Baptist pastor and mother, a stay-at-home mom; we had enough, but seldom any extra.
Mother loved that we took piano, even though (or maybe especially because) she never had. She could play a little, even read music in her own way. We’re not sure how she did it, because she didn’t know the names of the notes or even where they were supposed to be on the keyboard. No matter, she’d open her Broadman Hymnal, study the page, then manage a pretty good version of the song before her. Who knows?
She still has that Broadman Hymnal, but I have her piano in my house now. My oldest daughter began taking piano eight years ago; Mother couldn’t wait for her granddaughter to play on her beautiful piano (it had stood silent for so long). It’s not silent now. Both my older children take piano and they actually practice. Turns out that helps you get better. Wish I’d known that.
I called Mother after getting her text.
“I feel bad that I have your piano, Mother! Don’t you want it back?”
“Absolutely not! It belongs to your children now. I’m getting a new one.”
See, my mother, well into her seventh decade, has never given up on her dream to play the piano. So when she was walking through the mall last summer and saw that the piano store was offering group lessons for adults, she marched herself right in there and signed up. She finished the first round of lessons, played in her first recital, and was all set to sign up for the next class when she decided she would go all in. She talked to the teacher, worked out private lessons, and then set about picking out her piano.
“They are delivering it tomorrow,” she told me, grinning through the phone, “And I’ve got the perfect place for it.”
"Good people, cheer God! Right-living people sound best when praising. Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs! Play his praise on a grand piano! Invent your own new song to him.” Portions of Psalm 33:1-3 (The Message)