Of dreams gone by

Of dreams gone by


“Of dreams gone by” is a prepositional phrase. In sixth grade Mrs. Siberski made us memorize about 70 of the most common prepositions in the English language so we would know how to treat them properly in our writing. She would tell her sixth graders that you shouldn’t start a sentence with a preposition anymore than you should start one with a conjunction. But as any good student of music theory knows, the rules only apply until you know them well enough to break them. I’ve always been good at breaking the rules. (This coming from the kid who once tried to play wiffle ball on the street while still crossing at the corner because he didn’t want to jaywalk.) One personal rule I used to have was that I would write on my blog at least once a week. That rule, which was broken often, finally became obsolete 5 years ago today when I wrote the last post here on joshmorton.com.

I’ve always been interested by the notion that at points throughout our lives, we do something for the last time. Sometimes we’re fully aware of it, but often it happens very unknowingly. I knew when we were playing our last high school baseball game, I knew I was singing at my last Chorale concert, I knew I was working my last service at Frontline Arlington. We are usually quite prescient of these events, often marking them with emotional speeches, ceremonies,  and reminiscence. But these are not the events that intrigue me so much. What’s much more fascinating to me are the ones we’re completely unaware of: at some point in time, I walked out the front door of a house at 707 E. 41st street, never to walk through it again.  In the moment I had no idea I’d never see that little house again; I was simply leaving it to make the long trip back to DC. Months later, the house was sold, and by the time I made it back to Indiana it was a parking lot.

Of course often the unknown last times are markers of tragedy in our lives. On a Thursday in late August, I took the last flight lesson I’d ever take with Aaron, my flight instructor, in the seat next to me. Ten days later, he died in a crash during a flight lesson. I remember standing out on the ramp with him waiting to go flying that cloudy Thursday. Our plane had some mechanical issues that needed sorting out, and we were passing the time talking with the pilot of the helicopter parked next to us. Retrospectively, I remember that point in time so vividly; yet neither one of us was aware or even considering it was the last such chat we’d ever have.

After five years, I suppose I couldn’t handle the thought that I had done my last serious writing. It’s something I’m far too gifted at, and enjoy far too much, to have a last time so many years ago. Just in these 500 short words, it’s been evident to me how rusty and out of shape my writing is. All the evidence you need is in the number of times the word “I” appears in this post. So I intend to get some of my form back, and brush up on a talent long gathering dust up on a top shelf somewhere. And I want to start by addressing the last five years of my life, at least in part, for I feel it a shame to keep it to myself.

So that’s what I intend to do for a while. Below I reposted three of my favorite old posts, posts that made people think and feel and ask questions. You’ll be able to get a glimpse of how this blog used to be and to what it may one day return.  But for the next few weeks, I want to focus on what’s happened in my life since November 17, 2007. And while in the end the narrative is one of healing and redemption, I want to warn you that much of the story is about darkness, poor choices, and missed opportunity. Yes, along the way we’ll get to rehash learning how to fly airplanes, meeting new friends, and the blessing of an unexpected chapter in my life. It will not always be an easy read, not always a fun one. But it is a story too compelling, a story the demands to be told. It is a tale of dreams gone by.

Repost: I’m tired of being a Christian

Repost: I’m tired of being a Christian


Today was my day to eat supper with Jeremy Holtrop. I don’t think I’ve said much about him on the site so far, but he is an incredible guy, and I feel so blessed to call him my friend, and have a chance to eat with him once a week just to share our feelings. Sometimes we just get together and laugh, and sometimes we have very deep conversation. Today we had one of our best conversations, just about being Christians and what it means.

Our conversation eventually focused around what it really means to be a Christian, and how we feel like it’s not at all what most people live it or believe it to be. We both talked about how much we hate the fake, shallow lives that Christians lead. To most people, it’s not about what we actually feel or think, it’s about saying the right things, doing the good things, and never saying or doing the bad things. That’s crap.
I believe absolutely in very few things. I believe that God is the one true sovereign God. I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived, died on a cross, was dead and buried, and then rose on the third day. I believe that now the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, and is our direct connection to God, made possible by the blood of Christ. Other than that, you can pretty much disprove anything else I believe, and it may make me feel like an idiot, but it won’t change the fact I believe in God.

Go to Dr. Drury’s website, and read his article, and especially Dr. Schenck’s article (which is linked right below Drury’s) to see who started me thinking these things.

To fuel the fire, earlier today in Church Music class we had a discussion on whether or not to use non-Christian musicians in a worship team. I think everyone pretty much agreed that a non-Christian could never be a worship leader, but there was a rift between the class on whether or not to use non-Christians. I understand the argument against it, I do. But I just have a real problem with the way we run our churches today.

Nothing about Jesus was acceptable to the church. He didn’t hang out with all the religious leaders talking theology and worship, he hung out with the sinners, making them feel like they were loved and accepted, regardless of the condition of their lives. In Luke 19 Jesus meets up with Zaccheus, and ends up going to his house for dinner. The verse that gets me is verse seven. It says that people grumbled because Jesus was going to be a guest in the house of a sinner. WHAT IS THE CHURCH FOR??? Why are we bickering over whether or not to let a musician play guitar in our band? The fact that there is an opportunity is one more chance to witness to one more person. There are countless stories of worship team members coming to Christ through being involved in a church!

One argument people use is the one that everyone on the worship team–regardles of their role–is a leader. Well, unless they left it out, none of the gospel writers ever mentioned Jesus asking if the boy was a Christian before taking his small lunch and feeding thousands with it. Maybe you don’t think so, but I’m pretty sure all the other little boys looked up to that kid after that. Jesus didn’t ask if he was a Christian, he simply used the opportunity to change that boy’s life forever. It wasn’t normal! It wasn’t “right”! Jesus didn’t do things that made religious leaders happy. He did things that changed the world.

In Mark 9, the disciples stopped a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but wasn’t traveling with Jesus. But Jesus told them not to stop him, and said these words about it: “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:39b-41, NASB) Now, without doing an in-depth study, I will say that the context was a bit different then than it is now, but I believe that this verse is not taken out of context when applied now.

In a world that’s full of pharisees, I just don’t feel like being equated with “Christians” anymore. I don’t want to be stuck in the IWU bubble my whole life. I want my life to resemble Christ’s, and Christ’s life was anything but religious by the standards of his day. Don’t romanticize Jesus’ life and ministry. ‘Religious’ people hated him. He wasn’t preaching in front of huge congregations and broadcast to 176 countries around the world. He didn’t say the things that made him accepted by the church, or made him look good. He said the things that were true.

I read an article somewhere on the web (I forget where, and I’m too tired to look it up in my web history) where someone was saying he had a surefire way to bring in 9 out of 10 families who visited their Sunday School into their church. You know what it was? They had them over on Friday to play cards.

They would invite visiting couples over on Fridays to play cards with some of their other friends from church. The night involves playing cards, eating dessert, laughing, and just having a good time. What it doesn’t involve was ever saying anything about Jesus to them. They just befriended those church visitors, made them feel welcome, and got to know them for who they are. You know what? At the end of a year, of the ten couples this particular family had over, nine of them joined the church. Without ever preaching a word, or saying a word, they witnessed to those people by having a genuine, Christ-driven(love!) relationship with them. On the other side, of the other 50 families that visited that church, only 3 of them ended up becoming regular attenders. One of my all-time favorite quotes is by St. Francis. It simply says, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”

I’m tired of being associated with “Christians” who are voting on whether or not to have gay pastors. I’m tired of being associated with Christians who insist on shoving Jesus down everyone’s throat instead of building relationships, the effective way of reaching out. I’m tired of being associated with “Christians” who go to church on Sunday, and then live like the rest of the world the rest of the time.

I’m tired of being associated with Christians who don’t think we should ever have non-Christians in our worship teams, even if that is the only way that person will ever get into a church.

I quit being a Christian. I’ll never quit following Christ, and living a life that he has called me to. But I quit being a Christian. I want to be able to proclaim to people when I’m having a hard time. I want to be honsest with people and let them know it’s been a month since I’ve done my devotions. That ‘s what real Christianity is. It’s not the peaches and cream we ascribe it to be. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing the best we can, despite our imperfections. Sometimes I don’t feel like being a Christian anymore. It doesn’t mean I’m not, just beacuse I have that feeling. Sometimes I have to question my entire belief system, including the existence of God himself. That doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian. I have doubts. I have questions. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing it. That doesn’t make me any less of a Christian. No, the fact that I am open and honest about those things to me means that if anything, my relationship with God is just that much truer. No human relationship that’s worth anything is all about being perfect. My friends and I share all our emotions–the times when we feel great, and the times when we feel crappy. Telling God I’m doubting something about my faith doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me anymore, praise Him!

So be honest. Be open about your struggles. If not with others, at least with God. He already knows you feel that way, anyways!

So, it is with virulent disdain I say goodbye to Christianity. I’m not about pretending anymore. Out with Christianity. In with a true, honest, relationship with Jesus Christ–and the people he loved so much, he died for them.

Repost: I write the songs…

Repost: I write the songs…


In The Republic, Plato quoted Damon of Athens as saying “Give me the songs of a nation, and it matters not who writes its laws.” For thousands of years, music has been at the forefront of culture. While we know very little of what the music was for thousands of years, we do know that it showed up fairly early in the history of humanity, and has played a prominent role in our lives ever since.

The church scene is in a very interesting place right now. The praise chorus movement of the last 30 years or so has almost completely obliterated hymns in some circles, and has caused a general uproar by everyone (I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know). What is interesting to me is where worship in the church is going. Generalities are usually frowned on, especially in the academic realm, but I can’t help but generalize church worship into two separate movements fueled by my generation–the ones who are quickly growing up and taking the place in the church that boomers held for so long. It seems to me that people my age are either headed down some sort of seeker sensitive/emergent road, or they are looking for something that feels much more liturgical and less new age.

I have discovered a new passion this year: I believe that people who call themselves Christians should know what they believe and what it means to be a Christian. Specifically, I feel like the church desperately needs a movement to solid theological understanding, and a replacement of ’emotional worship’ for ‘purposeful worship.’ Honestly, as much as I despise the thought of coining this phrase, there is no getting around its effectiveness in relaying my point: I believe the church needs to get back to ‘Purpose Driven Worship.’

A thousand years ago, everything had explicit purpose when it was done in the church setting. Cathedral architecture all reflected theological understandings in ways meant to convey that theology to the common worshiper. Floor plans were designed to teach. Stained glass windows all contained Biblical teachings, often stories from the Bible. In a world where the overwhelming majority of people were completely uneducated, the cathedral was a basic way to educate the Christian and remind them of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

Today it is not a fundamental education that is lacking from our society, but rather a religious one. Most people go about their lives, blindly believing whatever it is they have been told by parents, friends, media, society, and the like. Not only do they have no clue what they believe, they don’t even know why they believe it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should cram years of theology down a new believer’s throat as soon as they become a Christian. Jesus himself said we should have faith like a child. But faith is not negated by education, rather I believe my faith as increased as my theological understanding has grown. God’s desire is not for us to be content with the basics. James tells us that God will give wisdom generously to all who ask for it, and Paul mentions more than once (okay, Paul mentions it, and whoever wrote Hebrews mentions it) that we should not continue to drink milk, but should move on to solid food. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that Christians continue to develop their spiritual life, not just by praying for it to happen, but by putting forth personal effort to make it happen.

One of the major benefits of a highly liturgical service is the meaning that everything has. Because everything is planned out ahead of time, the words to be spoken written with deep care, the rituals performed with highest consideration, you get a service that has purpose. It tends to emphasize the corporate aspects of worship, and also helps to de-emphasize the individual who is leading the service. Together, all of these things will hopefully draw the attention to the words being spoken and the actions being performed, rather than on feelings and emotions.

So… what does this all have to do with Damon of Athens? A lot. I recently read a study on the most popular worship choruses of the past fifteen years and their theological content, focusing specifically on trinitarian worship. Of the 72 songs, two of them mention all three persons of the Trinity by name, and a third does indirectly. Does anyone see a problem with this? Plato and Damon believed that songs were the most impactful part of culture on their society, and the same holds true today. Like it or not, believe it or not, what we’re singing is shaping and forming our beliefs, and according to the 72 most popular praise choruses of recent, apparently we don’t believe very much in a triune God.

My point is not to bash praise choruses, although I think it is deserved. My point is to try and show just how much of a need there is for solid theological teaching to all Christians, regardless of how old they are, what denomination they attend, or where they live. We serve the almighty, infinite God of all things. Don’t you think it’s worth the effort to get to know who he is?

Repost: Bach is still king

Repost: Bach is still king


Some people listen to music with their ears, others with their minds, and still others with their souls. The first people largely don’t understand music; they listen to pop music in their cars, or in the mall while they’re shopping, or they think hip-hop is great. The second group of people understand music. Chances are they had piano lessons growing up, they played in band in high school and they enjoy classical music. I would dare say that a large part of this group is made up of musicians who aren’t the one doing the performing. They sit towards the back of the recital hall, or they hide in a dark corner with their ipod, and they listen critically. If the performer is good, the listener is pleased and points out all the parts of the piece they love. If the performer is not so good, the listener has nothing but criticism for the music from beginning to end, and then typically ends with an appeal to the musician on how he could improve. Often this appeal starts with something along the lines of “Well here’s what I would have done differently…”

Then there are people who listen with their soul. There’s no really easy way to classify these people. Some of them don’t know the difference between a quarter note and a quarter rest. Some have probed the depths of music theory for decades, and can give the play-by-play of every piece as it unfolds. But regardless of head knowledge, these people connect with the music on a deeper level. They listen with their eyes closed, but would never be mistaken for a sleeper. Their head moves from side to side, and follows every crescendo in the music. They tap their fingers on the beat, conducting the orchestra of imagination as the musical imagery plays out before them. As the second movement darkens they begin to feel the tangible struggle between good and evil. The battle turns south, and the antagonist gains position. Defeat for our hero is imminent. And then, with a single chord, a single note, evil is struck down. The hero has triumphed, we are victorious! The score reverberates sounds of victory, and of the peace that lies ahead. Evil has been conquered!

I went to the National Cathedral tonight to hear an organ concert from Dr. Paul Jacobs, the division chair of organ from Julliard School of Music. It was phenomenal, sitting there in the chancel of the national cathedral, watching a man disappear behind an enormous organ and play amazing music. There are something like 10,000 pipes in the cathedral organ, and sitting there in the chancel is a full 3-dimensional musical experience. Music comes from every direction–above, behind, and beside you. About 150 of us sat there in the chancel, and not a single one of us could see the organist, so instead the northern three rows stared across at the southern rows, and they stared back. It was in this rather unusual people-watching experience that I realized how differently people listen to music.

The ear listeners were typically easy to spot because they flaked out. Some left after only a few minutes (and were rude enough to come back for their sunglasses in the middle of a song), and others were enjoying their Sunday afternoon naps, completely unaware of what was happening around them. Maybe some of them didn’t know what they were in for, and sat down thinking this would only last a few minutes. Or maybe they’ve never been to a recital before and just don’t understand the etiquette. But there they were, plain as day, sitting there bored out of their skulls.

The brain listeners constituted the majority of the crowd. Young and old alike, they sit quietly and listen carefully. They smile when the music, full of emotion, crescendos into one enormous cacophony of sound, the low end rumbling in your chest, and appreciate the moment. Of course they recognize the extreme talent as the organist seamlessly transitions into the light, airy fugue movement, and nod in appreciation of the mastery of the musician’s craft.

Then there were the soul listeners. Some lean back and close their eyes. Others lean forward, eyes wide with anticipation. The old man across from me listened with his soul, anticipating every measure as much as the one before, beaming with happiness, while the rest of his family listened with their minds. The lady behind him listened intently, eyes closed. She moved in rhythm to the music–not a lot–but just enough to be seen. Of the 150 or so people in the chancel, probably only a dozen of us listened with our souls. And at the end of the recital, as the different listeners collectively rose to offer our thunderous applause, we all looked the same. The ears and the minds looked no different than the souls, and may have even clapped louder and faster and cheered more often. But there is no comparing the experience of the three. One heard music. One heard years of practice and study, and technical proficiency. One caught an extraordinary glimpse of a composer’s soul, a piece of paper and ink, brought to life, again, for the very first time.

I’m thankful for God’s gift of music, and the ability to listen to it with my soul.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with hip-hop and pop music. I listen to it some. But it doesn’t have soul.