Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Third Day Adventure

On Sunday evening I went to the Third Day concert at the Shaw Conference Centre. The show closed Breakforth, which is a big conference for people who work with congregations in different aspects of ministry. I always describe Third Day as a sort of a Christian version of the Allman Brothers. Definitely the style is Southern Rock, and many of their songs are not even overtly religious, although my favourites are the ones where they put Psalms to music. Psalms are beautiful poetry, and definitely something to which a Jewish person can relate, being in the Old Testament. It is because of their excellent musicianship and meaningful lyrics that the band has a crossover following with people like me.

I went with some friends from my congregation, who fortunately drive a four wheel drive vehicle, because of course Sunday turned out to be the worst blizzard of the year so far. It was something like -35 with the windchill, blowing snow, and lousy road conditions. We went anyways. By the time we got to the Shaw to connect with the other set of friends waiting for us already there, the lineup extended back into Canada Place and was starting to loop around (the show was general seating). Security was monitoring the escalator down into the Shaw, but we explained we were meeting people and had their tickets. We all found each other at the top of the lowermost staircase leading into the Shaw, just as everyone was allowed down to the doors. Talk about timing!

The show got started a half hour late because the band was delayed due to the weather. Someone started a chant: "Who do we want to see? Third Day! Why are we here? Jesus!" Except we thought "Jesus" sounded sort of like "Cheezies" and this was the first of several times we got funny looks from the people around us. Other funny looks were due to the fact that one of my activist friends decided to come to the show also and wear his "George Bush is an International Terrorist" t-shirt. To a Christian rock concert, featuring a band from the South, who just got back from playing for the troops in Iraq. Hey -- I like their music. Never said anything about their politics. I was actually worried my friend would end up getting mobbed or something, but fortunately that did not happen.

Finally, the doors opened and in we ran. Some interesting behaviour from Christians -- I practically got ran over by some guy stampeding towards the front, even though we were told not to run. One of us got to the front and saved a bunch of seats, and then was told to leave for no apparent reason -- she was TICKED! But we got some good seats a little further back, and me, my George Bush hating friends, and she headed for the front anyways to stand.

First up was Geoff Moore, who was a big sensation in Christian music back in the mid-90's. A totally nice guy, with music a bit too mellow for my taste. Mostly he was there to promote Compassion, which is a sponsorship program for children. I know all about it -- I have sponsored a child in Bangladesh for over two years now. He showed a video that made everyone cry -- a worship leader from the Netherlands met his sponsored child in Bolivia. He asked the little boy why he liked going to church, and the boy's answer was, "Because no one hits me there." The video is on YouTube.

After a short break, Third Day was on stage, just a few meters away from us! It was loud, exciting, and wonderful. They played many of my favourite songs. I even cried during "Your Love, Oh L-rd," which is Psalm 36 and my absolute favourite. I was dancing, waving my hands in the air, and did not even mind all that much when the people jumping around in front of me stepped on my toes a few times. A lot of people think Christian music is wimpy, but these guys really break the mold. They gave everything they had in their performance which was sincere and energetic. I especially liked that they did so many of their older songs, because their first album (self-titled) is my favourite -- I never get tired of it.

My activist t-shirt sporting date got a few weird looks, but a man in front of us at one point told him that he liked his t-shirt. I told the man that I was worried about him wearing that there. He said, "No, I totally agree with it." This was after weeks of me pleading, begging, and evening bribing him not to wear the shirt. We eventually compromised that he could wear it as long as he wore a cross (to show he is of the same faith, but differing politically). Well, he said he is *never* going to let me forget this! Frankly, I am as pleased as anything that not everyone who attended that conference was of the right-wing Evangelical mindset.

Afterwards, the weather had gotten even worse. And we were all hungry. And despite my protests, we ended up at McDonald's where I reluctantly broke my two and a half year boycott. Everything was either closed or unacceptable to the others. If I was not famished I would have just skipped. Getting in and out of the truck was not fun. We all sort of jumped out on the count of three, into the cold, and ran for the door. Same thing on the way back in. I would yell, "Polar Bear Club!" every time. I am not sure if people actually do this anymore, but that refers to those groups who would run in their beathing suits in cold weather and jump into an ice cold lake. I am not sure why anyone would do that. It really does not sound like fun.

We brought the food back to the pastor's house (the pastor's wife was amongst the friends in attendance at the concert), where we ate and hung out a bit. My friends' daughter is now one year old and walking. And curious. She picked up a flyer left by the neighbourhood's provincial candidate for the Progressive Conservatives and everyone was telling her to bring it to me (hardy har har), but then she turned and headed towards the fireplace, so I was telling her to throw it in there. In the end she gave it to her mom.

In the days that have followed, I have loaded up my iPod with Third Day and been listening to their music a lot, which I often do with an artist following a concert. The experience was a great step outside my comfort zone and worth braving the weather. As one of my friends said afterwards, it was a huge "music-gasm."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Drumming - A Dream Come True

I used to always want to play the drums. For some reason, my parents did not want me having a drum kit in our home. Fortunately, I also wanted to play the guitar, so I went that route instead. However, drumming has always been in the back of my mind. I would sometimes fool around on drum kits, but never played anything seriously.

Still, I own several percussion instruments, a practise drum pad, and a set of sticks called "stingers" -- they look like a bunch of thin sticks banded together. On Friday night (or Saturday morning, depending on what time it was), I had very vivid dream that I was playing the drums with my stingers, and one of the sticks was broken.

In the morning, as I was leaving for services, I grabbed my stingers. I play on the worship team on Saturday mornings, and I was going to sit this one out as a split on a finger on my left hand made me unable to play guitar or mandolin. However, I thought I would sit in on a couple songs during rehearsal, totally screw up, have a good laugh, and that would be that.

I was both amazed and surprised that I was able to keep time and a regular rhythm. Using mainly the kick, snare, and one of the cymbals, I played during both the rehearsal and service. My dream had come true, and I realized a lifelong goal. The only difference was that my stingers stayed intact during the whole event.

Afterwards, I headed to a music store and got some proper drum sticks and a set of brushes for the slower songs.

Sometimes dreams come true on their own. Sometimes dreams can come true, if you are willing to put in the required effort to make them happen.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't Let Your Choices Plague You

Parashat Va’era (and I appeared)
January 5, 2008/27 Tevet 5768

Exodus 6:2-9:35
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Revelation 16:1-21

We celebrate the Israelites gaining freedom from the Egyptians every year at Passover. This week’s Torah portion contains a major chunk of that story, with the first seven of the plagues that befell Pharaoh and the Egyptians after Moses and Aaron approach him, asking for freedom for their people. Moses was directly asked by G-d to approach Pharaoh to ask for their freedom.

Ex. 6:28 Now when the L-RD spoke to Moses in Egypt,Ex. 6:29 he said to him, “I am the L-RD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” (NIV)

Pharaoh kept refusing, and the plagues kept coming to try to show him how G-d is real. With each refusal came another plague: the water of the Nile river turned to blood. Frogs overran the land. Swarms of insects caused much damage. Livestock was plagued and died. Hail fell from the sky and ruined the crops. Here is a list of the plagues found in this portion, which are the first seven of the total ten – the list is continued in the next portion.

1. (Exodus 7:14-25) rivers and other water sources turned to blood (Dam)
2. (Exodus 7:26-8:11) amphibians (commonly believed to be frogs) (Tsfardeia)
3. (Exodus 8:12-15) lice or gnats (Kinim)
4. (Exodus 8:16-28) flies or beasts (Arov)
5. (Exodus 9:1-7) disease on livestock (Dever)
6. (Exodus 9:8-12) unhealable boils (Shkhin)
7. (Exodus 9:13-35) hail mixed with fire (Barad)
All through these events, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.

Ex. 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.Ex. 9:35 So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the L-RD had said through Moses. (NIV)

This reminds me of situations in our lives where we know we have to do something – maybe it is something that is unpleasant, or something that would require a lot of work to achieve – and so we are reluctant, and we maintain our reluctance even in the face of consequences to our inaction. Pharoah’s refusal to obey Moses, and, in effect, a refusal to obey G-d Almighty, not only brought consequences for himself, but for all of his people. Speaking as someone in a leadership role, I think that carries a very important message.

The Prophetic portion is the foretelling of Egypt’s conquest by Nebuchadnezzar. Egypt would become desolate and the people scattered, but eventually brought back together, but not the way it was before.

Ezek. 29:15 It will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations.Ezek. 29:16 Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign L-RD.’ ” (NIV)

The New Testament portion is set in the End Times and is about the seven angels, each with a vial or a bowl, and one by one they pour out the contents of their vessels onto the earth, followed by the results. Seven angels, seven bowls, seven grievous consequences, some of which are similar to the plagues that occurred in Egypt, while others aren’t: sores, sea turning into blood, people being scorched with fire, and so on. Finally, the seventh bowl is poured out, causing a large earthquake.

Rev. 16:18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. (NIV)

The main connection to the Torah portion is the number seven – here there are seven angels, and in the Torah section there are seven plagues. The number seven is of particular significance in Judaism, as it is considered to be a number associated with G-d and all things relating to Him – for example it was on the seventh day that G-d rested after seeing that His creation was good. However, as we will see in next week’s portion, there are ten plagues total, so the fact that the Brit Chadesha portion also uses the number seven is a loose connection at best in this particular instance.

However, what Parashat Va’era communicates over all is that when a person, people, or nation willfully chooses to disobey G-d, there will be consequences. They may not be as immediately obvious as a plague or sudden destruction, but can fester over time and lead to downfall. The choice is always ours to make.