Music Which Inspires — Baba Yetu

Melodies and rhythms make me begin to dream, which is one of the reasons I don’t like music on while I’m trying to work. It lures my heart and mind away from the task at hand and leaves me pondering the world which the music is forming in my head.

That’s not to say I don’t like music, I love it. I particularly love to sing, but music grabs me deep and won’t let go. Which is why I can’t have music playing while I try to get work done 1.

But the dreams are so wonderful.

The past few days I’ve been playing a song called “Baba Yetu” on repeat whenever I’ve been driving 2. It’s a stunning chorale rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, sung in Swahili and developed using African intonation and rhythm. It was composed by Christopher Tin and the piece has won multiple awards. Even better, it was originally composed as the title piece for a video game, Civilization IV 3.

There is nothing about this piece of music I do not like. The clean opening of a single soloist, the way the choir joins in to reiterate the opening line, the arc of the score from quiet to majestic to contemplative. It’s the way my soul longs for prayer to be done. And it is stuck in my head.

As I listen to “Baba Yetu” over and over an over I dream of it as a movie displaying the wonderful diversity among ABCNJ. Not just in terms of ethnicity and culture, but in geography and culture and theology as well. ABCNJ includes the waves of the shore and the cut of the Delaware River Water Gap. It boast lighthouses, cities, and farms 4. The fellowship embraces traditional 5, contemporary 6, and even a few liturgical fellowships. We are made up of Anglo, African-American, Latino, Haitian, Asian, and African congregations. Our theology is mostly moderate, leaning more towards conservative, but there are outliers among us which keep us honest and prevent us from becoming a toxic monoculture. And as I listen to this song and imagine the family I’m part of I see soaring shots of beaches, valleys, and lighthouses. I imagine churches worshipping, laughing, and praying. I see us working in our communities – offering love, peace, and joy in Jesus’ name. And I see an open hand of invitation. It’s a lovely and stirring dream. May it become ever more real.

Baba Yetu.

  1. Not even when I’m doing mundane tasks like yard work. Music makes everything but the dream slow down. 
  2. I’ll often listen to a song over and over once it gets caught in my head, I need to follow the dream until it ends. 
  3. Yes, video games are art. 
  4. Often not more than a half-hour from each other. New Jersey also has the Pine Barrens, which is a world unto itself. 
  5. Well, earth 20th Century, anyway. 
  6. If the 1980’s is contemporary. I may be dreaming, but I’m still snarky. 

Tension Breaker, Had To Be Done

This past Saturday ABCNJ held their Annual Session. This event, as I described in my last post, takes up about six months of my professional life. By the time Saturday morning arrives I’m a fidgety wreck, who is really not fit for human companionship 1.

Because I’m an introvert who also has ADD 2, being in the midst of a large crowd for many hours creates a high level of stress. Add the stress of directing the visual media to my already stressed disposition and… let’s just say the world inside my brain gets more interesting than usual.

I must break the tension, or I’d run from room screaming. As tension is best dispersed among friends, I use whatever tools I have at my disposal to get the crowd breathing with me.

At Annual Session, I have control of the screens 3. This allows me to display comment slides, based on what happens at the podium.

When my ten years of service on the ABCNJ staff was honored, my boss mentioned that I was up in the projection booth and couldn’t come to the stage. And so I felt compelled to make a comment.

The Wezlo is watching, always.

When we were celebrating the creation of a new sister camp partnership with our partner denomination in the Philippines, I added some comments to the slide which displayed the moment the documents were signed. As our boss is named Elmo, I added a speech bubble which read, “Welcome to Elmo’s world!” Our partner from the Philippines then had a speech bubble pointing to him which read, “I love your goldfish.” The animation came to a conclusion when a crayon bounced on to the slide. This slide, much to my delight, was officially approved by Elmo. But because people like to get offended on people’s behalf I made another comment.

That slide was officially approved. It surprised me as well.

And when we took time to announce Miriam Méndez as the candidate for ABCNJ’s new Senior Regional Pastor and Executive Minister 4 I looked down and saw a lot of people who had already known 5. So… comment.

OK, show of hands. How people already knew this?

People actually raised their hands 6.

The weird thing is, people think I’m clever. I’m not. I’m just stressed out of my mind and need to blow some steam. Though this year I’m kicking myself for not highlighting Mötley Crüe as ABCNJ’s official band 7. It keeps me on my toes, and helps people be a bit more loose as the program unfolds.

I’m also weird.

  1. This year I was up in a projection booth, it’s really the best place for me. 
  2. Did I just describe the majority of writers? 
  3. I’m surprised ABCNJ hasn’t figured out this is probably not a good idea, but after a decade I suppose folks are used to it. 
  4. Elmo is an interim, though he’s been an associate for about fifteen years. 
  5. The staff and council were told, and were sworn to secrecy. 
  6. That’s nothing, in 2017 I actually got a pastor to lead the Hokey Pokey from his table. I’m not kidding. 
  7. Location joke. You had to be there. 

The Pause I Don’t Like

This coming weekend The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey will hold its Annual Session. It’s an event I’ve spent the bulk of my ABCNJ work hours on since mid-April 1. Throughout these months I’ve been swept into the promotion and production elements surrounding the gathering. Logos were created 2, a design language was established, print materials were developed, a email & social media campaign was run, the annual directory interior was laid out, online ticket sales were set up, the annual directory covers were created, videos were edited and compiled, photos which highlight our various missions were acquired, a keynote template was designed, the public presentation was created, and a database was made in order to create the name badges 3.

That was the stuff I worked on solo. I also participated in editing the directory, tweaked online registration to get in sync with our Executive Assistant’s workflow, interacted with our sound company and the hotel A/V company 4, and had some input on the podium schedule. And the thing is, by the time September hits the entire full-time staff has been swept up with Annual Session 24/7 the way I’ve been for the past few months 5. This is a big production, in which the entire team is hands on.

My last day in the office was yesterday. I sat with my boss to go over the public presentation, and adjusted the slides to match last minute schedule changes 6. Then I added some names to the Database which had somehow escaped registration, and printed their event badges 7. Finally, I worked with a friend to create labels for our offering containers 8. And then, after a few other odds and ends were tied down, I was done 9.

And now I’m in the pause I do not like. Everything is ready, so the only thing I have to do is wait. After so many months battling through task after task, waiting feels so anti-climatic.

But this time gives me an opportunity to ponder. For me, Annual Session is a task-oriented pursuit – what matters is checking off the boxes to get things done. The point of the gathering never comes into play while I’m burning through my project list. This moment is the first time I’ve had to breathe and consider why our team has done all this hard work – because we’re gathering, there are lives all over the world which could be changed for the better. That’s kinda cool.

I said I don’t like the pause.

I never said it wasn’t good.

  1. I only work there two days a week, so it’s not quite as long as it sounds. 
  2. It’s two events this year, Friday and Saturday, so there are two variants. 
  3. Actually, it was tweaked. I’d created a database for a previous training event, and adjusted it for Annual Session. It was probably the most fun I’d had during the process, which says something about how my brain works. 
  4. On technical issues only, I don’t do contracts. I’m not good at it. 
  5. As my weeks are compressed, I need to be myopic from an earlier date. 
  6. And recompiled a video. I hate recompiling video. Bleh. 
  7. Everyone is eating chicken! It is the one true banquet food! I’m getting chicken fingers. 
  8. ABCNJ gives out anti-poverty grants every year. Annual Session is perhaps the biggest source of funding for the program. 
  9. The rest of the staff is still fighting logistics, and our Executive Assistant is organizing all the physical materials which have to be transported. Her last week before Annual Session is like my previous 4 months – but with big pointy teeth. 

Does It Blend?

Yesterday was ABCNJ’s Annual Session, which always does funny things to by blood pressure 1. But one thing is do appreciate is the wide swath of people who come out to the event. The picture below was taken the day prior to our main session, but the variety increases as the crowd grows. It’s not a perfect blend of peoples, by any means, but it is true. At one point during our Pastor’s Academy, for example, one of our speakers asked those gathered to turn and share some stories with one another. As I wandered the room with my camera I noticed how few people were speaking with someone who shared their ethnic identity. This wasn’t “color blindness.” Each person was able to speak from their own perspective, which required our differences to be acknowledged. It was, rather, a celebration of the family.

It’s humbling to be part of this family, and it’s existence holds a timely message. Yesterday I was struck by the presence of a county sheriff standing watch as we gathered. It struck me as odd, given one was not present the previous year. Then it dawned on me, a Jewish group was meeting in the room opposite ours. The security was for their protection. What a world in which we live, where a group of kind and gracious families had a legitimate concern about the possibility of violence directed against them.

This is wrong, and the rhetoric and actions which cause this fear must not be left unchecked. On Friday and Saturday I got to see how the Church could be a positive influence for grace and peace. If only we could, en masse, let go of our anger and/or cultural entitlement.

Pastors gather to share their stories.

  1. Like sending it through the roof as I flag problems and try to keep the screens running. I use the word “no” a lot. 

Back At It Again

Today and tomorrow mark ABCNJ’s Annual Session Weekend. These two days mark the culmination of a full year of planning, six months of which are “all acceleration, all the time.”

The ABCNJ team which works on Annual Session — handling registrations 1, scheduling the speakers, negotiating with the venue(s) and vendors, preparing data for our annual directory, and mapping out the schedule of the day — is second to none. Folks work hard, and manage to have a good time doing it 2. Over the last six months I’ve been part of this work creating print layouts, mass emails, video presentations, logos, and a custom Keynote theme 3. It’s a stressful build-up, but soon it’ll all be over 4.

So this is where I’ll be for the rest of Friday and all of Saturday. If you’re so inclined please pray the day will be beneficial for those who both attend and participate.

Pastors share stories at ABCNJ Academy at Annual Session

The diversity of ABCNJ always impresses me. During our Academy session pastors were asked to share stories with those nearby. There wasn’t a single homogeneous table.

  1. We use Eventbrite, but people like calling the office and having someone else fill out the form. 
  2. Most of the time. 
  3. If it’s digital, I do it. 
  4. Until next year. 

Party Time

Saturday night Central Baptist held its third annual Chili Cook Off. We hold this in support of our region’s Summer camp, Baptist Camp Lebanon, and all proceeds go toward an endowment campaign.

Lebanon is a wonderful place, but camping is not a way to make money. The camp is annual money-loser, but if they were to charge what it actually cost to give children the experience of Summer Camp no one would be able to afford to come! Because of this many regions are selling off their camps, choosing a short-term financial infusion over long-term impact. ABCNJ didn’t want to go the same route, hence the need for an endowment.

The “Cedars of Lebanon 2020” campaign was established to raise $2,020,000 by the year 2020. This will establish the camp for years to come, and dividends will keep costs affordable for families. Central has been proud to be a partner in this endeavor.

Proceeds at our cook off are generated two ways.

First, of course, are ticket sales 1.

The second is collected through voting. At Central, we practice good American democracy — our votes are for sale! Each ticket comes with one vote — and then votes are sold at one dollar each, or fifteen for ten dollars. It is, of course, all a farce. But it’s fun to see people attempting to buy enough votes to assure they’ll “win.”

Some of our neighbors have also become involved, and one has insisted he’s been a judge since the event’s inception 2. This year he made it official and had a trophy made up to be awarded to the chili he believed was best. Dubbed “The Ancker” 3, this bowl will have the winner’s name engraved on the side and be left on display at the church. The image below shows how much chili he had to eat in order to come up with this decision!

Our judge, awarded of The Ancker
This year we raised $1358, which is not bad for a church our size. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, you can do so through ABCNJ’s on-line giving. Just type “Cedars of Lebanon” in the note line.

  1. Fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for all you can eat chili! 
  2. It’s best just to humor him. 
  3. His last name.