Monday, July 22, 2013

New Academic Dean for Institute for Worship Studies

Today, the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (where I serve on the board of trustees) announced the appointment of a new academic dean. IWS is a niche graduate school which offers specialized graduate training in the history, theology, and practice of worship. Here is their press release:


Experienced administrator on-board at Orange Park-based graduate school  
Dr. Eric Ohlmann

ORANGE PARK, Fla. - The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS) welcomes Dr. Eric H. Ohlmann as its new Academic Dean. Dr. Ohlmann brings to this position a wealth of experience as a theological higher education Dean, 
having served at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary), Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and most recently at Taylor College and Seminary. A recognized administrative scholar, his graduate training includes a ThM with a major in Church History from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a ThD with a major in Historical Studies from The Graduate Theological Union. Dr. Ohlmann was the Director of Accreditation and Planning for IWS from 2005 through 2010 as the Institute  achieved initial accreditation. 

Dr. Andrew Hill

Dr. Ohlmann is replacing Dr. Andrew E. Hill, IWS Professor in the doctoral program, whose term as Academic Dean expired effective June 30, 2013. Dr. Hill will continue as the professor of DWS 701. He has served IWS as Dean since July 1, 2010. During Dr. Hill's tenure as dean, he helped guide IWS through a remarkable period of strong growth and progress. Enrollment and library resources have been expanded, an increase in global outreach has been initiated, and the processes of academic assessment have been strengthened. IWS is grateful for the dedicated and excellent service of Dr. Hill as Academic Dean.
The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies offers the Doctor of Worship Studies and the Masters of Worship Studies degree programs, using a unique mix of distance learning and in-class instruction on its Orange Park, Florida campus. More than 575 students from over 50 denominations in the U.S., Canada and twelve other countries have matriculated at IWS since its founding in 1999, and 371 students have graduated from the school. IWS is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education.  

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For more information, contact 1.904.264.2172, e-mail, or Read more!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Advice for Worship Leaders—from a Neopagan

On Christmas, Santa brought me an African sistrum, a kind of rattle, this one made with flattened bottle caps. 

Not having any experience with sistra, I turned to the all-knowing Internet and learned that these rhythm instruments are used in both pagan and Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox ceremonies. Ethiopia’s falasha Jews also use the sistrum in their synagogues.

I found an instructional video by Sharon LaBorde, a Kemetic neopagan (km.t being the native name for ancient Egypt). In addition to demonstrating the proper wrist action and the ancient rhythm patterns for playing the sistrum, Ms. LaBorde had this sage advice. Experiment with your own rhythms if you want to, but practice them to get them right. “Nothing screws up a ritual ambience,” she said, “like missing a beat.”

There’s a word of wisdom for us who lead music in worship.
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

That's Amore

That's Amore:  A devotional meditation for the Christianity Today Christmas lunch
 December 14, 2012

 [Lead in: 45 second clip of Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore”]

 There’s a prayer that Episcopalians use during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Here’s a condensed version of that prayer:
 “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light … that in the last day, when Christ shall come again … to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal.
  That prayer is a paraphrase of a biblical exhortation. Romans 13:12: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.”
 A couple of weeks back, our church secretary included that prayer in our congregation’s weekly e-newsletter. But there was a slight hitch. Instead of typing “the armor of light,” she wrote “the amor”—A.M.O.R—“of light.” As an editor who is always alert for typos I tut-tutted to myself. But almost immediately I saw a sacred pun rather than a mistake.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How the Prayers of Others Help the Worship-Challenged

Interesting reflection from Stanley Hauerwas:

The worship of God does not come naturally to me, as it seems to for some. I live most of my life as if God does not exist. Yet I know I would not have survived without the prayers of friends who have learned to pray the prayers of the church. My life depends on learning to worship God with those who have made it possible for me to go on. Through worship, the world learns the truth that is required for our being truthful about ourselves and one another.
Two key themes emerge in that paragraph: 

1. For many of us not so gifted, the prayers of others are necessary to sustain and shape our own prayers. 

2. Worship is about truth (see John 4:23-24). In worship we encounter the one who is the Truth, we hear both the good news and the bad news about our own condition, and we learn to be truthful by proclaiming the truth. 

In the end, it is because of the rough confrontation with the truth that we know we need the prayers of others.

The quotation is from Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), p. 159.
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Friday, April 29, 2011

An Easter Prayer from Mark Galli

Every year, my Christianity Today colleague Mark Galli composes an Easter prayer which he offers as family and friends gather for his family's Easter dinner. On Monday, he shared this with the CT staff, and with his permission, I'd like to share it with you before this Easter Week is over.

Easter Prayer 2011

O Risen Lord, be our resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for us and all whom you have made.

Be the resurrection and the life for those caught in the grip of sin and addiction.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who feel forsaken.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who live as if you do not.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who do not believe they need resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life in churches that believe they are dying, and in successful churches who don’t know they are dead.

Be the resurrection and the life in us who know the good but fail to do it, who have not been judged but still judge, who know love but still live for self, who know hope but succumb to despair.

Be the resurrection and the life for those dying of malnutrition and hunger.

Be the resurrection and life for those imprisoned unjustly and those imprisoned justly.

Be the resurrection and life for those who live under regimes that seek to crush all who proclaim resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for those in the throes of sickness that leads to death.

Be the resurrection and the life in families where the weak are maltreated by the strong.

Be the resurrection and the life in marriages that are disintegrating.

Be the resurrection and the life for women trafficked and enslaved by the forces of wickedness.

Be the resurrection and the life for those whose lives are snuffed out in the womb.

Be the resurrection and the life for anyone anywhere who knows suffering and death in any form, and for Creation itself, which groans in travail.

Be the resurrection and life in the life we share and the fellowship we enjoy, that filled anew with the wonder of your love and the power of your grace, we may go forth to proclaim your resurrection life to a world in the grip of death and yet on the verge of redemption, a redemption promised by you and assured by what occurred on the first Easter morn.


Although Mark wrote the prayer for use before a festival meal, it can easily be adapted for liturgical use.

Mark Galli is the author of Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy (Paraclete, 2008) and eight other books.
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Video: Singing the Bible in Worship

Every month, the editors of Christianity Today prepare a video introduction to our digital edition. The digital edition is a bonus feature available only to print subscribers, but the video introduction is always available on YouTube.

The March edition of CT features four articles on worship or worship music, so I decided to say a few words in this video about the relationship between the Bible and our singing.

Here's a fun fact that got edited out for length: 

Almost 250 years after the publication of the Genevan Psalter, when John Newton and his friend William Cowper were writing hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood," they had to avoid singing these hymns in the Sunday morning service. That would have attracted negative attention from the church authorities, so these hymns were restricted to the less formal Sunday evening service. Read more!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mavis Staples: The Devil Doesn't Have Any Music

“Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” Gospel and R&B legend Mavis Staples plays off that often (mis)quoted, often (mis)attributed line in a profile/interview slated for the February issue of Christianity Today.

“The Devil doesn’t have any music,” Staples says flatly. “Ever since we were young kids, we sang songs that we thought of as positive music. Some of them were gospel songs. And some of them were message songs like “Long Walk to D.C.” or “For What It’s Worth,” songs that reflected the times we lived in. They were all true songs, you know. We just sang songs about the truth. And it seemed like people always wanted to hear those songs.”

The profile, by veteran music critic Andy Whitman, is worth reading. But you'll have to wait until February. In the mean time, think about her comments. Hyperbolic or not, they nudge me toward these ruminations:

Music is God’s. He embedded it into his creation. Like other aspects of his creation, it gives us glimpses of his character. The ancients could talk about “the music of the spheres,” alluding to the “harmony” that was demonstrated by the perfect working of the heavens. Music is rooted in the handiwork of the Creator. Although cultures adapt and elaborate them, the elements of music are part of the natural revelation of God.

If the devil uses music, it is as a perversion of God’s creation. It becomes a false music—full of false notes and false ideas. Is it just me, or is it true that the music most likely to celebrate brutality toward women and flaunt sex as simple gratification is also the least tuneful music?

The believing musician who wants to serve God is not a priori unable to employ any style or genre of music. What bars us from some music is its falsity. Falsity shows up in various ways: superficial emotion, for example, or flash without substance. Authenticity is also known in many ways: tunes, texts, and tempos that reinforce each other; embodiment of genuine human struggle; celebration of human love and goodness.

So if it sometimes seems that the devil has all the good tunes, to paraphrase Arthur Holmes (with a hat tip to St. Augustine), perhaps all music is God’s music—if it be authentic music.

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Footnote: That famous quip, while often attributed to Martin Luther or John Wesley, was likely spoken by 19th-century hymn writer Rowland Hill in a sermon delivered in London in 1844. It is often misquoted by substituting “music” for “tunes.” Blame Larry Norman.

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