Lightning struck

Last night I survived my first thunderstorm in Harpers Ferry. It actually was a pretty decent one, though I heard it was nothing compared to back home in Indiana. The picture above is actually my own handiwork, believe it or not. Basically I stuck my camera up against the window and just randomly pressed the shutter button about 80 times. I got one picture in 80 tries, but sometime you should experience the sheer elation of successfully guessing when lightning is going to strike. I might have jumped up and down when I did. Might have. Oh, and over towards the left you can see part of the yellow KOA sign. Yep, it’s that close.

Once again I’ve been foiled by my writing block. I had all these things to write about right up until I started writing, and now I’ve got nothing. My apologies… I’ll try again next time.

Homosexuality is no longer a sin

Today I read about the Anglican Church’s new leader and her beliefs about homosexuality. She explained how God has given us all different gifts and talents, and this includes the talent of liking the same sex. Of course, with her advanced degree in marine biology, she obviously is well-qualified and has devoted deep studies to the Bible–so I’m sure this statement is a well founded, exegetical one. I mean, as she said, “The Bible does not have so much to teach us about what sorts of food to eat, what sorts of clothes to wear — there are rules in the Bible about those that we don’t observe today.” How could Paul be so ignorant as to not equate the clothes we wear with our sexual morality? Obviously he just didn’t understand that while maybe sexual morality was a big issue back then, it wouldn’t be a big deal in the future. I mean, he was only writing for that specific time and to specific churches. No way can the things he said then apply now. Really the whole Bible is just more of a set of guidelines. Don’t feel like you need to adhere to any of it, but if you get the chance, you should at least think about it for a while.

Breaking News!

I am now the proud owner of my very own broadband cable internet connection. No more getting frustrated when the KOA wireless decides to stop working (for days on end). From now on, I’m high speed and high-tech. To test my BLAZING internet, I downloaded a 35MB file this morning. Total time: 28 seconds.

I only hope my new checking account works when they try to cash that check. The overdraft fees at my new bank are killer.

More revelry to come after work! (I’m late…)

I’m back from my travels

I’ve been out traveling around the globe, and since I haven’t really had time to write while I’ve been gone, I thought I’d at least take a few pics for you. So here are just a couple of my favorite pics from the last week or two.

Here I am after I hired Sean as my new apprentice. So far, he’s done a really great job. You’re hired!

I swung by New York for a while to take in some meetings with the world’s leaders.

Finally, I stopped by the safehouse for a while before coming back to West Virginia. We had a blast.

I’m bored. Oh, and I moved to West Virginia.

I must admit I got kind of disappointed that no one wrote or called or personally visited and asked me to start blogging again. I enjoyed the Star Trek-like fan following, when people would write in and beg for the blogging to continue, and alas, I always acquiesced and the writing resumed once more. But apparently when I got busy, everyone else did too, because no one really seemed to notice that my writing had stopped until I was too far gone, beyond the point of return, already cancelled and scratched from next season’s lineup. I believe that I am now beginning to write again, on a fairly regular basis. It would be a lot easier for me if I had an editor breathing down my neck, demanding 800 words by tomorrow at lunch, but I suppose I will make due without the luxury of a deadline.

For those of you who don’t know already, I moved to West Virginia. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to be exact. It’s located at the extreme eastern tip of the panhandle, right where the Potomac and Shenendoah Rivers meet. An hour to the east will put you in Baltimore, and an hour fifteen to the southeast affords some shade underneath the Washington Monument. Actually, Harpers Ferry is where the our Civil War more or less started, so there’s a fair amount of history all around. John Brown was hanged in nearby Martinsburg, Antietam Battlefield is about 25 minutes away, and a round trip to Gettysburg and back will still leave some fuel in your tank.

I’m out here working at the Harpers Ferry KOA, under the management of my good friend Nate Lail. Currently I manage the snack shop, hidden away in the game room, next to the gym and the pool. It’s been an interesting job to this point, working with a couple of high school girls, ordering food but never knowing exactly what company I’m ordering from, and trying to make a profit in a season that, to this point, has been marked by low attendance and even less snack shoppers. I have a small apartment here just off the campground, where I take a short 4 minute walk to work every morning. Off to the east I can see the ridgeline that hosts part of the Appalachian Trail (actually, Harpers Ferry was our starting point when I hiked the Appalachian, so I’ve hiked that whole ridgeline. Kind of cool to know.)

So here I am, sitting in the laundromat, following suit of so many great authors who got their start sitting on top of a washing machine, waiting for their clothes to dry. I can’t say that I hope to make many visits to this laundromat, being that just a small amount of dirty clothes cost me four bones to clean, but while I’m here you can rest assured you will get some great, insightful writing for your reading enjoyment.

For those of you who are wondering, I do plan on having a career in something other than snack shop management. I had several talks with a church in Alabama before they hired someone else to be their technical director, and actually just this morning my grandmother called me to let me know about a church in St. Louis who is looking for the same. Already I’ve discovered a lot of things about my vocation. I miss working in the PPAC a lot. Not so much the crap we had to put up with there, but the job itself. I love doing the staging, audio, lighting and video stuff. I love working with the worship bands and being a part of the creative design teams for worship services. I also know that every time I’ve been to church in the past few months, I can’t help but feel unfulfilled by just sitting in services. Yesterday I went to Covenant Life Church where they not only had a regular service, but after the fact had what they called “Serv Fest,” which is their push to get more people involved in the church, everywhere from the nursery to technology to parking attendants. As I sat there and listened to the whole spiel about once a month service and so on, it just wasn’t acceptable to me. I can’t be involved once a month. I need to be an integral part of the services, on a weekly basis. Honestly, I think that why I had problems finding a church to call home during college. Now, granted I accept that a lot of my dissatisfaction in churches comes from my own selfish arrogance, when I sit through week after week and think to myself, “I could do that better.” “This could be done better.” “I don’t know why they did that the way they did.” But maybe, just maybe–that is a byproduct of passion, of creativity and confidence. I see a lot of things that can be done better because I know from training and experience how they can be. I see the details, and to many people they may not be a big thing, but they are to me. They make a difference (the difference between average and excellent). I know that God has gifted me and enabled me in some pretty incredible ways, and while that means running a decent operation in a snack shop, I know it’s more than that. God has things in store for me, that much I know. ***The author has removed the last line from this article***

Parable of the Talents

Today I gave devotions for Chorale at the leading edge of an interesting week. Dr. Guy was gone today and will be gone for all of next week’s rehearsals, just one week before our first weekend tour and weeks before our Sprin Break tour. We have an interesting group this year–one that has the potential to be better than any other year, but one that constantly rebels against the Chorale model of discipline. I brought something today in devotions that I hoped would capture the essence of what Chorale is, and reiterate that regardless of how some feel, to me and those its most important to, it’s not a choir. It’s a ministry and a body of believers engaging in corporate worship.

I read the parable of the talents from Matthew, and instead of going the whole route of relating the monetary talent to our ability talents, I related the talents to the time we have this next week. Explaining that the Chorale is much bigger than any one person, including Prof Guy, I drew the relationship between the week we have to work, and what we are working to accomplish. I then related each part of the room to a different option. As I see it, there are three options as given in the story: go to work and make a profit, invest the talent in the bank, or bury it and do nothing. From there I equated what each option meant for us as a choir, and what the results of each would be.

The real point of the devo was to install what I’ve been calling an “operative phrase” within the Chorale–basically something that is quick and simple to mention, yet something that effectively reminds the group of the idea behind the devotion. It’s kind of like using imagery in sermons (thanks Rob Bell) to help reinforce the main points. The phrase was “don’t bury it,” or more specifically, “don’t bury this week” (again, thanks Rob). I think the point caught on with a lot of people. I praise the Spirit that I was able to be a vessel to deliver His message, and that people responded to that message. What a great day.

Mars Hill Bible Church

I can’t really adequately say everything I am thinking right now, and I’m not even going to try. I had a really great weekend, had several very good sessions at the worship conference, and had a lot of fun as well. But the pinnacle of the trip was definitely today, thanks to Mars Hill Church (and the Kalamazoo Air Zoo).

I was just so amazed by this church–a mega-church that isn’t like any other mega-churches. They don’t have a fancy building, a big production or any of the razzle-dazzle we associate with churches like Willow Creek. Their church is the majority of a strip mall that they’ve turned into a church. The sanctuary is big and open, with simply the rafters overhead and plain green walls on the outside. It’s setup in arena format, so the stage is in the center with seats on all sides.

After a long weekend of worship conference, I walked in to Mars Hill expecting a lot of flash and bang, and what I got instead was incredibly stunning. My experience actually started about a quarter mile away, when I met a huge traffic backup all the way from the church, up the offramp to the shoulder of the highway. I guess I didn’t need those directions to the church after all. From the exit, it took me twenty minutes to get to the church (which I could see the whole time.. it was right there on the other side of the interstate). Then I got in and walked right into a packed-out 4000 seat sanctuary. Everyone was standing and worshiping… to hymns being played in a very distinct hoedown/bluegrass style. Lyrics were displayed over the stage in plain black backgrounds with white letters. There were no special lighting tricks or other emotional grabbers; in fact, the only technological masterpiece there was the sound system, which was immaculate and incredibly perfect for what can in no way be an easy space to amplify.

After the great worship, Rob Bell got up on stage. But he didn’t get up and start preaching right away. He started giving announcements. Announcements!? I thought the boomers had completely eliminated these babies! Nope, not only did he give them, but they were almost ten minutes long. He started by telling how there would be a members meeting afterwards to amend the church constitution, then invited the children’s ministry director up to speak. She got up and addressed the need for volunteers in the children’s ministry–then asked for 293 people to step forward and help. 293 MORE volunteers. Rob Bell then proceeded to say how he felt about the subject. He told the congregation that the spots needed to be filled, and they needed to be filled now. It’s part of your calling as a Christian and as the body of Christ.

Next, he showed us a soccer ball from a Rwandan village. It was made of trash, wrapped together with some pieces of string and yarn. I believe the exact statement went like this: “This is a soccer ball from Rwanda. It’s what the children play with every day. And it’s completely unacceptable.” Apparently part of Mars Hill’s outreach is to a city in Rwanda, where the church has basicaly adopted the entire village. They had taken 1200 orphaned or needy children and began supporting them, and still needed to adopt 100 more. Oh, and the soccer balls? Well, the 5-6 grade ministry felt a burden to send some soccer balls to villages of Rwanda. So the kids themselves began contacting sports organizations, shipping companies, and went door-to-door taking collections. And they raised and donated 1500 soccer balls to send to the country. Wow.

We listened to a mostly good sermon by Rob Bell, who is a phenomenally gifted speaker, and then had communion as a church. What? 3500 people had communion? Mega churches don’t do that! This one does. And not in any special way, either. There were centers located throughout the room, and people just got up and took communion when they were ready. The band played a few more songs, and then Pastor Bell got back up to close. He mentioned that there were still 100 children needing adopting, and told the congregation that they would all be taken by the end of the day. He then mentioned that offerings could be given in the joy boxes on the way out the door–and as he mentioned it, a cheer went up from the congregation. People were giving joyfully? No way… it can’t be!

Now, I am sure that this church is not perfect. But it does have some striking things about it that most churches just don’t have. For starters, a pastor who is willing to call his congregation out on things when they need to be. Not by preaching a sermon series on topics, but by just getting up in front and saying ‘this needs to be done, and you, as a follower of Christ, need to do it. Now.’ A warm, friendly congregation. People who gave joyously, and not because they had to, but because they wanted to. A church that is reaching out to not only the community, but the world.

I had finally convinced myself that I wasn’t called to church ministry–at least not in a traditional sense. And maybe I’m not, it’s something I need to pray more and more about. But one thing I can tell you is this church fired me up this morning. Suddenly I believe that there is actually hope for the church as it is today. And I do know that somewhere deep down inside is a dynamic, engaging, truth-bringing speaker. I’ve just never figured how to bring him out when I actually speak, say, in front of Chorale, when I give very straight-forward, cut and dry devotions. But the possibility is there somewhere. Who knows. And who knows where I’ll feel myself being led in the next year or two? Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more likely like that place is seminary (dangit…). But hey, it’s not really my life, is it?

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated…

Yes, you are actually seeing it. More than two months after joshmorton.com mysteriously stopped updating, it’s back. I don’t have much to say on the topic… I wasn’t trying to make any point by not writing, nor was I trying to make people tell me how much they like reading my site (three of you did, though). I just lost interest in writing for a while. If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t read any blogs in two months either, so at least you can rest in the fact I completely gave it up, and you all got to share in the joy of it just like I did :) I changed the look just to make the distinction that things have changed. It may not be a permanent look, but at least it’s different.

Some of you may know that I’ve been attending a worship symposium at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. Currently I’m sitting in the back of my truck, on top of my blankets, drinking a bottle of water and chillin in the parking lot of the AmeriSuites Inn. I’m here for my Worship Capstone class, but the school has been gracious enough to make us pay all our expenses on our own, so the truck and I are getting cozy this week. The two girls in my class have a hotel room here at the AmeriSuites, so after the symposium each night I’ve just gone up there and chillaxed in their hotel room. They have an empty sofa bed, but far be it from us to even entertain something so non-IWUpriate (that means IWU appropriate). Actually, it’s been failry cozy in the back of the Rodeo, and tonight is the warmest night yet, so I’m doing pretty well. Honestly, it’s almost warm enough to sleep outside. Almost.

The Calvin Symposium on worship started out pretty slow, but got quite a lot better today, and it has been a lot of fun hanging in GR with Mary and Sarah, and away from the IWU bubble. It has also sparked a lot of thought, especially in the afternoon today, and I want to share one of those thoughts with you. Hopefully my return to blogging will not be short-lived, and I will actually share some of the other thoughts I’ve had over the week.. But for now let’s be happy with just one.

This conference has about 1600 people attending, many of them from the midwest, but also a very large portion from around the country and across the world. By virtue of the fact they were recognized during the opening chapel, I would guesstimate there to be 60-80 Japenese attenders, and Calvin has claimed to have over 50 countries represented. There have been some well-known people here, including Brian McLaren and Eugene Peterson. What really struck me today though was the diversity we had in our evening worship. Now, to be honest I haven’t been all that impressed with the worship services, especially to say that this is a worship symposium. The audio is abysmal, the music is boring, and the speaking has left much to be desired. But tonight an interesting thing happened. Tonight’s liturgist (she explained she had never been called that before, which was quite humorous) was a black lady who plays a prominent role in a church here in Grand Rapids. Worship was led by a Calvin’s gospel choir, which was of course 85% white (but did at least have a black director), and the message was delivered by a black man who grew up in both Antigua and Great Britain, which means, of course, that he has an incredible accent that is just great to listen to.

But through the course of the service I saw a culturally diverse group of people worship together. It lacked the contemporary style of music I like (read: David Crowder and Chris Tomlin), but managed to incorporate many different American cultures into its feel, without the painful feel of trying too hard. It wasn’t an attempt at blending church cultures together. It was just a multi-cultural service. Now, you must understand I am speaking of just the cultures within our own country, but there are so many that we as a country must be understood as very culturally diverse.

I have never been much on racism. In fact, I’ve believed for a long time that the best way to defeat racism is to stop telling everyone that they have problems with it, and then we’d actually forget that we are supposed to be racist, an then maybe we could all just get along. I know it’s wishful thinking, but it worked quite well in the utopia of my mind. Anyways, I realized just how much we’re missing by being so racially divided in church. I still think that churches are missing the point if we’re trying to be ethnically diverse just for the politics of it; but churches that are striving to be diverse because of the beauty and unity of God’s people worshiping together are on the right track. It was such an indredible thing to see the diversity of worship tonight, and I wish desperately the church would understand that.

Actually, I’ve noticed my views on diversity have matured a lot in the past few months. There was a time not so many years ago where had I been asked to put a committee together (you can choose what reason I’m putting it together for), I would have found 6 people just like me and grouped us all together. But I realize how much more creative, insightful and productive a diverse group is, there’s no way I would ever pick 7 of mes again. I’d split the group fairly equally in gender, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, and even doctrinal differences. The wealth of diversity is just so rich–there’s no way I would ever want to pass it up for the dullness of similarity.

I just hit a wall, so this discussion is over for now. But along the way I did start pondering about Jesus and who he picked as disciples, so you may see a return to that idea someday. For now, welcome back to joshmorton.com, and long live the blog.

Some exciting things

Some exciting things are happening, and I will tell you all about them soon. I can’t right now just because it’s so early in the process, but very soon I will be able to publicly reveal more information. In the meantime, it’s off to Kaintuck for Thanksgiving with the extended fam, and it sounds like it will be more extended than normal (I’m taking a tent to sleep in).

For now, enjoy a random picture I have selected for your enjoyment:

Sometimes, when you’re hanging with the guys, you do something that’s funny. Often, it comes back later and causes great pain and humiliation. For Nathanael, this is one of those times.

What is Advent?

I wrote this article for class. It’s pretty hard to get Advent down in 150-250 words, but I did my best (in exactly 250). I figured I’d share it with you since I haven’t written anything in forever.

As we approach the Christmas season, you will begin to recognize much of the liturgy we use for the season, particularly that associated with Advent. The word “advent” actually comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means ‘a coming.’ The whole Advent season is remembering the coming of Christ to Earth as a man. The Christmas season itself focuses on Christ’s birth, but it is the beginning of a focus on Christ’s life from now until Good Friday and Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s death and Resurrection. If you’ve spent many years in the church, chances are you know exactly what we do to celebrate Advent. We light candles, read specific Bible passages, and focus our thoughts on the meaning of the Christmas season. But do you know what the colors and candles actually represent?
Generally, the Advent Wreath is at the base of the candles. It’s circular shape reminds us of God’s eternity, that he has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath is a symbol of the new life we are given through Christ. Each of the four outer candles symbolize a specific week before advent. Three are purple, to symbolize Christ’s royalty, and the third candle is traditionally pink, symbolizing our joy at the Advent. The white candle in the center is the Christ candle, and is lit on Christmas Eve or Day. It is located in the center to remind us the central focus of Christmas is the incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.