Ken Medema on music,travel,life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


New podcast up and running

Well there is a new podcast up and running on my website:

I have held off putting this one up because of the theme. The theme of this podcast is "On A Journey". Of course the journey theme is so prevalent in stories, songs, books, movies that I have been afraid of over-using it. At long last I decided that this podcast has some really good stuff in it so I now take the risk of putting one more "Journey" bit into the air and hoping that some of you will find that you identify with what I'm singing and saying. Thanks for listening. Please let me know what you think.

Monday, September 14, 2009

He Dreams of Dancing

a reflection on my life long interest in the dance

Anybody who knows my music knows that I have written quite a number of songs about dancing; "She Asked Me to Dance", "Dance in the Crossroads", "Dance in the Dragon's Jaws" and many others. There are several reasons why I am so interested in the dance. One is that I can't do it and really never learned how. Another is that it is such a great metaphor for the spiritual life. I haven't taken the time to sort through all the other reasons why dancing interests me so much but it certainly does. I have put together a little collection of my dancing songs in the latest podcast called "Let's Dance". The podcast goes up on the 15th of September and will be up for a month. If you haven't subscribed to these podcasts before, it's a simple process. These give you a little look into what's behind the songs, the performances, and often the people who have made the songs possible. The podcast begins with an extended version of one of my favorites "She Asked me to Dance". Tune in, subscribe, enjoy, and as Lee Ann Womack sings,"If you have chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance".

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Reflection on Interlude Retreat

If you have ever had a dream come true, then you have some idea of what I am feeling these days. I have said for years it would be wonderful to have a group of my good friends from all over the country in one place laughing, singing, talking, feasting together. Well, that kind of what happened last week at the first ever "Interlude" retreat for church musicians. We spent three amazing days together digging deep into our needs, wants, frustrations, delights, sorrows, longings, and callings. Paula D'Arcy was one amazing facilitator and I am convinced we all left the experience feeling supported, renewed, and more determined than ever to cultivate emotional and spiritual health. I don't know quite what will happen from here, but I do suspect very strongly that the "Interlude" concept will flourish. There will be many more retreats and perhaps several each year all around the country. Whatever happens with "Interlude" I know this: that I am more intent than ever about finding rest, silence, laughter, and time for prayer in all it's many forms. Thanks to Calvin College, to all the participants, to Bev and Dave Vander Molen, and to all of you who supported with your prayers and thoughts.

By the way, the new podcast is up now and it's called "For Somebody Else to Sing" and it features several artists for whom I have written, arranged, and produced. Maybe you will be my next client. Ever think about doing your own CD? Enjoy these late August days. For some of you the Fall is already beginning. For some it will happen big time in September. I hope that your life will have time in it for delight, laughter, silence and of course lots and lots of music, some of it mine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


reflection on upcoming retreat

In a couple of days, I will be closed up with 18 friends who are all deeply involved in the ministry of music in the church. They are also people who have been at it for a while. Our little retreat called "Interlude" taking place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, is I believe the first of it's kind. When people get to their rooms, there will be a book in which to journal, delicious chocolate for them to eat, and many other very special welcome gifts. The room where we meet will be alive with flowers and other artistic eye pleasers. Everything will be done in such a way as to make people feel that they are the most important folks in the whole world. I want to thank my co-workers Bev and Dave Vander Molen for their hard work on this project. It strikes me that the little details are so very important and often lost in the rush. Whether we are talking about the details of recording a song, writing a letter, preparing a room, fixing a meal, making people welcome, lighting a concert, arranging a holiday, or filming a moment in history, the little details are so very important. Thanks, friends, for that reminder and may we all pay more attention to the little things- they really do matter. I'll report after the retreat.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thinking About Christmas already in JULY

As I think about Christmas coming around again and the thought that I will have to put together some Christmas concerts, I am always confronted with this question; What will be my focus this year?
One of my favorite Christmas seasons was the one in which my concerts focused around the idea that everybody is pregnant. Jesus came into the world once but God is always doing something wonderful and new in every one of us. We, in the Church then, are Mary and Elizabeth coming together to comfort, strengthen, and support each other during this pregnancy.

This year there must be a new focus. I woke up this very early this morning to get ready to take an early flight. As I got ready to go and drank my first coffee, the idea came bursting into my head. I have been thinking about this for a while now without success and this morning---there it was clear as a bell! I only hope that after several days of reflection it won't sound stupid. I think I would like to organize my Christmas concerts this year around the theme of these three questions.
1. What is this?
2. Why Me?
3. Where to?
I want to play with each of these questions in the weeks ahead. If you have any thoughts that might be helpful here, I would love to hear them.

1. What is this?
Surely the various characters in our Christmas story had to be asking the question, "What is this?" As the story is recounted in the scripture, there is a visit from an angel both to Mary and also to Joseph. This certainly is not in the normal course of things and could lead one to ask the "what is" question. The most awkward timing of this pregnancy with the necessity to make the trip to Bethlehem could engender that same question. The unusual presence of those shepherds, the birth in the manger, everything about this event is beyond the comfort zone, out of the usual, and troubling to say the least. What about Elizabeth pregnant as a very old woman, and her husband being struck dumb for the length of the pregnancy? It's just too strange. How often are we not presented with a great gift that makes us want to ask that same "What is this?" question.

When I think about the gifts I have been given that make me ask that question there are several that come to mind. Of course, the birth of my children always made me wonder what radical and troubling changes will this event make in my life. When I am relieved of my job and have the gift of time to explore what it might be like to go into full time concert work, I have to wonder what this is. When the house I am renting is sold and I am given the gift of the opportunity to live in another place, I ask, "What is this, what does it mean.?" When we are given the gift of a worldwide wake-up call, otherwise known as an economic crisis, we of course ask that same nagging question.

In the days between now and Christmas I want to ask that question over and over again in reference to so many gifts that have come into my life. Some of those gifts seem so very troublesome and way beyond my understanding, but I can't help believing that my task is to try to figure out what they mean and how I am supposed to accept and learn from and become a steward of these gifts. Mary Mary, what will you do with this boy? Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Harod, what will you do with this Christmas present grace has given you?
On my next post, I will play with the next question, "Why Me?" If you have any thoughts about these things, please let me know I would love to incorporate some insights from friends in these Christmas shows.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A dream come true.

Over the last 30 years or so I have sometimes thought about how wonderful it would be if musicians in the church had a place and a time to come together and just simply talk, play, learn, laugh, in other words all those things we never take time to do. I have always put these thoughts aside as impractical until just this year. Last fall, I spent a week with a few musician friends at a ranch near Houston. During that week, we did all those things that I have dreamed musicians could do together. We talked a lot, we played, we ate, we laughed, we shared ideas, we wept, we experienced early mornings and late nights together and left the gathering refreshed and renewed. Well, as we talked together there arose the idea of a Church Musicians' Mid-Career Retreat; a time of rest, refreshment, renewal, and recommitment to our lives and work.

Wonder of wonders--- it is happening this August. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the place where 20 or so church musicians will gather for the first of what we hope will be many such retreats. We will be blessed with the presence of two facilitators to guide us along the way. Paula D'Arcy is a therapist, contemplative, and fabulous speaker and writer, and Tom Pace is the senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston Texas. These two will help us make our way through the three days of retreat where we hope to lay down our burdens, open our souls find new hope, renew our love for the task we are called to do and find some laughter as we go. If this goes as we hope it will, it will be the prototype of retreats in years to come. I have even dreamed that there would be several of these each year in various places around the country. I would love to see hundreds of church musicians given the opportunity for a few days of rest and renewal in a small intimate setting where one can get beyond casual conversation and musical posturing and into the business of seeing, loving, and helping each other.

I am really excited about this and probably will write about it a few times between now and early August when it will take place. As I write this, the song "Time" from my CD "Sea Change" comes to mind again and again.

"Time to feel a thousand new emotions, time to give myself in deep devotion, time for grief and time for pain and sorrow, time to rise and face my new tomorrow".

That's what I hope will happen for us in retreat and that is what I hope will happen for you sometimes during these days of Summer. Please find a little time to be renewed, to rest, to do nothing, to hear the birds, to feel the wind, to hold somebody longer than you think you need to.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


reflection on a new discovery

In the last few weeks, I have learned again the importance of practice and most especially that kind of practice that can seem the most tedious. I have been concerned for a while now about the voice as it grows older. One of the things that can happen is that the vibrato gets slower and slower and soon you have a voice that people say sounds old and sloppy. I have of late taken to practicing vocal runs of the kind that you hear in the music of Bach and Handel. I hum up and down the scale as fast as I can over and over and over again. It turns out to be a bother to people around me so I have taken to moving to the garage early in the morning to do my practicing of runs.

This is not very interesting stuff, but what I am discovering is that the voice seems to have grown younger. What I mean is that the vibrato is faster than it has been in the last year or so, and the voice is much more agile and flexible. It comes to me all over again the importance of practice- whether that be practicing vocal runs, keyboard scales or Spiritual disciplines. I realize with some sadness that I don't know much at all about the continual practice of Spiritual Disciplines. I think that I like most people believe that if you are aware of the ways in which you want to grow it will just happen. I think the fruits of the Spirit must indeed be practiced and that daily. Those who avail themselves of the help of a Spiritual Director or some kind of regular Spiritual formation know this to be true.

I fear I have been really lazy about this part of my life. It's a bit strange that this realization should come to me through working on my voice, but there you go. I believe I have much to do when it comes to my physical voice but even more to do when it comes to my spirit. I hope I see you running up and down the scales with me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I asked my wife, Jane to share with you her Pentecost sermon.
I think you will agree it gives us food for thought. . .

Acts 2:1-17. Selected text from Eugene Peterson’s wording:
Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks….There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. (They said) “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “what’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.””
“That’s when Peter…spoke out with bold urgency: “...They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days, God says,’
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
Also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
Your old men dream dreams. I’ll pour out my spirit on those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy…
When the time comes….”

Here is the church. Here is the steeple.
Open the door and here are the people.
(children’s hand game)
There are folks in an upstairs room, clinging to each other. They have too much shared history to let it go, but they have no idea how to go on with business as usual. The absence of the Teacher is heavy on their hearts. What can they do but pray and ask for strength and the ability to accept the situation? Surely there is more going on…I see them eating, that’s what I would do; reminiscing, shedding some tears and letting some laughter escape despite the solemn situation. Maybe they feel resentment, maybe anxiety, maybe they are trying to decide who was responsible for the trouble. All of them are trying to find that place in human experience where we honor the dead or obsess on someone who abandons us, but we labor to let them go. Perhaps thoughtful plans are being made as to how they will pick up their lives, store their memories, and manage their losses. They turn to sacred writings, looking for stories and images that will help them get a focus on the meaning of these changes.

What words are adequate for what comes next? They remain in the room, but quite abruptly…they are in the world, differently. As the change blows about and burns them, they are seeing everything that has happened differently. Understanding memories differently. Remembering all that has been said differently Still longing for the Teacher, gone away, but even longing for him differently.

Here is the Church...Here are the people who see things differently.
The moment seizes them and stuns them. They look around at one another. Something about this moment feels like the good old days when Jesus had fed them the Word of God like good food. In the empty place in each heart there swells a bounty of hope… dreams… surprise…wonder…for the first time in a long time.

There is a “pouring out” on each heart, a tender caretaking of each one. I dreamed once (nearly 40 years ago) that I stood under a waterfall of fresh orange juice. It poured over me, and all I had to do to be filled with its sweetness was open my mouth. Something satisfies them like this, fills them like this…even as it increases their appetite. It leaves everyone present astonished and grateful. It gives them new, crazy new, ideas… and an infusion of the energy, the artfulness, and the chutzpah to make good things happen.

Here is the Church. Here is the steeple.
Open the go the people.
The little community of believers from the upper room races down the stairs and bursts into the glaring light of the street. They stumble into the gathering crowd; their ecstatic, romantic, heroic new way of seeing the world reaching out to find and share language that lives up to the moment. It works. People outside catch the wave, understand the significance, revel in the ecstasy…except a few folks who see intoxication, but miss the clear-mindedness of this experience. Those who believe cling together in a new kind of community…one like Joel, the prophet, had written poems about.

Here is the church. Here is the steeple.
Open the door and here is Holy Life in the midst of the people.
God strength around them and in them--tangled up with a new way for Jesus to be present among them and in them. Discovered in their own lives, the Body of Christ, not gone away, but in the world. “All flesh” inclusive, young people and old folks stepping up to say “This is how it is,” womanpower, manpower, workers united, leveling out the playing field, all dreaming and believing it together. The heady pleasure in the possibilities flows like wine in their veins. Ever since then, the church has been way too sober!

I am angry with the church.
Anger makes war against my gratitude, I ought to say. Not one particular feckless congregation, mind you, but the whole shmear—the church of two plus millennia, the church of crusades and inquisitions and witch hunts. The several limping, whining, compromising churches and parachurch projects and movements of which I have been a part. I confess to you that my first reaction to re-reading the Acts account annoys me. I wonder how Luke could bear it that these Joel-mentored believers, on whom the reconciling and liberating spirit of Christ had fallen, could arrange themselves into a squelching, power defending, hierarchy—apostles and elders directing the hoi polloi. What happened to the distribution of power on old and young, women, servants?
I wince at the condemning anti-Jewish rhetoric in the sermons. I am appalled by the vicious condemnation of two inexperienced believers, killed for a violation at the offering plate. And I am defensive for Elymas, the Magician, compromised for sure, but a proclaimed believer, who just missed the point and was cursed to Hell for it. I am offended by the apostles, whose feet had been washed by Jesus, to note their unwillingness to waste their time (as they put it) on the welfare of widows. I wonder how Luke could blandly report the bickering and resentment that so separated Paul and Barnabas that they could not even travel together. I am uneasy that the surprising gift of the Holy Spirit, falling so freely on humbled, receptive people, evolved into a status conferred by the laying on of hands by the right representatives. “Has the Holy Spirit fallen on you? No? Well I know you believe but you have the wrong baptism. We’ll do the water again and then we do the laying on of hands. Then the Spirit can fall on you.” Was this what they had burst through the doors of the upper room to be for the world?

The promiscuous use of Holy Spirit language and who possesses it dominates Luke’s early story. and then it kind of peters out, and the last references to the Spirit in that text tell us that there is a new message…”Paul, prepare for suffering, opposition, and death at the hands of people (who presumably don’t hear my wind or see my fire, nor hear the true word in their own language). I was almost relieved to see the obsession with ‘victorious living’ die.
I want to rail against the Church that often enough is too lazy to cultivate the mind of Jesus. She preoccupies herself with making declarations about the truth even when she does not know the truth. She is regularly co-opted by the system. She is too self-righteous to listen to a world so she has ignored the news, the insights of pop music and the movies and art of our times where the souls of people are on display. She is too rigid to respect human diversity, too arrogant to learn grace, and too defensive to do peacemaking. In my own personal life, the Church has forgotten my elderly parents, frustrated my siblings, bored my children, demoralized my friends with its infighting, and been often enough irrelevant to the public around me. The Church has boasted of its piety and pronounced judgment without wisdom. She has wasted called, passionate, selfless people and gifts given into her hands…The complaint inside me goes on and on.

I see again people of the powerful little congregation, packed with blessings, called to an extraordinary ministry, wound and scar each other and demolish the fellowship because they disagree on the definition of discipleship. Forgiveness would require a return to trust and that price is too great. If only a special dispensation of Spirit would force their surrender.
I see again the peacemaking counsel, its members alienated by their different work styles. I see them building defenses and gathering power against one another, saying that there is no action that they can see themselves taking to make reconciliation because those in the right must be vindicated and those who are wrong must be chastised. If only Spirit would fall so aggressively that they would be overwhelmed by the urge to see and hear each heart, then once again work together.
I see again the assembly given to ecstatic expressions of blessing and "joy in the Lord". People sing victorious psalms and praise for two hours. Afterward, I learn that the leaders of the congregation are depressed and demoralized, financially strapped, guilty that the sense of joy has escaped them. And none of this is being shared, when the people of God meet together, because the praise must not be broken. I long for the Spirit to shake them by their necks and burn out their shame so that they can lean against one another.

I hear again the Christian missionaries who share with us that they had once felt uncomfortable that their house servants lived in poverty and ate low quality food, but that they had eventually gotten used to it, and their servants didn’t know what to do with wealth anyway. I long for the Spirit to crush them like Ananias and Sapphira.
And the people of the Church worldwide…separated, on opposite sides of walls and causes--in America, in the Middle East, in Eastern Europe, in Central America, in Africa…often enough sending their children to kill one another for houses and history and name calling and getting in the way.

Am I too hard? Is this rant unfair? Did I let my own self righteousness carry me away? At the very least, I’ve resorted to a generalization that paints everything ecclesiastical with the same brush. Oh yes, I know that it is the church that has introduced me to discipleship, taught me love of scripture and teased me with the idea of grace. Oh, and I make little of it but right now I remember it, that I have seen again and again occasions when the church is true to her calling and she is for a moment the Body of Christ in the world. And in every one of those moments, the world is better for it.

It has crossed my mind, the wish…if we could only call up Spirit and get a fresh helping on demand. What makes Holy Spirit fall on us? NOTHING. What forces Holy Spirit to take charge of things? NOTHING. Spirit is wild and goes where it wills. We have craved spiritual power—measured against the world’s very different kinds of power—apples and oranges. We have craved at least enough to win power over our enemies. Some of us have wondered if spiritual power has slept in us all along and waits for us to open a door, some gateway such as praise music or ecstatic prayer. We have the idea that there are ways to be open and ready, physically and mentally fit for work, but it is hard to follow through with soul-building so that we can keep up with Spirit. Or, maybe, we wonder (when we make nothing sensational happen), is spiritual power nowadays out of reach, or out of date (like wizards and dragons) belonging to another time and place?

But thank Goodness, Holy Spirit is wild and goes where it wills. Thank Goodness,it is not packaged and manipulated by heroes or even saints. Thank Goodness, it not a slave to human failure. Thank Goodness, for the Church and for you and me, that Spirit is not turned on and off as a reward or punishment. And thank goodness, the power and health of Spirit is not to be measured by mundane comparisons to other kinds of power. Thank Goodness, there are times when we will be called by Spirit and equipped with holy gifts even when there is yet no sign of power or victory in our projects.
In fact, we are forever going to be gathering inside…AND…bursting forth to the outside.

Inside, behind closed doors—we will continue to prepare for the world, being not yet in touch with vision, not ready, fearing changes, and looking around for wisdom that we didn’t quite get or seem to have mislaid. We are ordinary and frail, easily fatigued and vulnerable to our emotions. Our memories are faulty, and our histories are sometimes hard to bear. The work of our callings is enormous, seemingly without end, requiring superhuman capacity and more sterling character than we have acquired. But it is on this kind of people, ordinary people, that Spirit blows and burns.

We hear in our hearts the conversation between two men on an evening long ago. One says to the other, “We’ve seen the powerful and wonderful things you do. We can see that God is in you.” The other man says something like this: “What do you see? Unless you’re born in a fresh new way, you won’t even see God at work. Spirit is like wind; you don’t see where it comes from, you don’t see where it goes, but you know it is there."

Let’s face it, Spirit is wild and untamed. And we may be…willy-nilly… changed by it. We will recognize Holy Spirit when it is ourselves who are wild and untamed in our hope, when we are wild and untamed in the quality of our loving, when we are wild and untamed in our dreams of mending the world not with doctrine but with grace and service.

We are often going to wear our Spirit blessing self-consciously and awkwardly, but we are the people who burst through the doors of the church onto the street.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Music Therapy in Action

Reflections on 2 recent recording projects. . .

The Songster Preacher

He came bursting into the room back stage at the synod gathering two years ago. He wanted to meet and talk a little bit. Subsequently, I visited his church in New England and while I was there he told me about some songs he had written. I got him to play a few and asked him if he had been writing lately. He said there didn't seem to be much inspiration. I pressed him then and said I would push him in the weeks ahead to get some songs written.

Well, the dam broke, and songs began pouring out of his heart and head. In January, Ross Varney came to Michigan to record these songs. You would never put Ross up against the American Idol singers, in fact you would never assume that Ross is somebody who could build his vocation on singing. But, here is pastor, a lover, a man of deep compassion, a gentle worker for peace, who wants to use singing and songs as part of his pastoral calling. I get reports about how he gives these songs to people who need them. He has beautifully expanded his ministry by adding the gift of song to people who are hurting or need encouragement. In the process of doing this, I believe that Ross has moved forward in working out some of his own issues through creating this music. There is a beautiful song about the death of his father called "Why'd You Have to Go?" There are songs about other relationships and many about his faith and commitment to bridge building and peace making. If you want to know more about this CD, just write me at .

If you have always wanted to make a CD and don't have a lot of money and have some ideas about songs you want to sing, let's talk. I'm beginning to discover the most amazing music therapy happens while we're making records.

Twenty-five Years Later. . .

I first met her when she was in her 20s. She was a fine young singer with all kinds of possibility. We have connected again after almost 25 years. She has sung almost not at all during those years. There were many factors, but it is enough to say that her voice was silenced. Her life circumstances have changed now, there have been some sad but necessary endings to relationships, and at this point she wants to sing again. I wrote a song for her to encourage her saying to her that she would indeed find her song and sing it.

A few weeks after that first meeting, we met in my little home studio at Dave and Bev's home in Michigan, we began recording and what happened was amazing. I discovered not only an amazing voice with the same agility and flexibility that it had when she was 25, but a deep river of passion and determination flowing within her. There was laughter, weeping, leaping, and amazement. It was as if years of therapy were enclosed in those few days of recording. My own sense of purpose, my dedication to music and to God, my faith in the power of the Spirit to use music as a healer was renewed. I will not put names on this blog just yet but if you would like to know more about this amazing singer and the cd we have made, just e-mail me and watch for news on our website when it is finished.

The CD has a variety of songs because she is using it as a demo as well as selling it. We have everything from "It Is Well with My Soul" to "In Christ Alone" to some jazz and pop songs. I find the collection delightful and the singing is exquisite. Even so, as wonderful as the music is, for me the most exciting part of the whole thing was the healing, the sense of new life, the joy that came to us as we worked.

May music always find you,

nourish you,

refresh you,

and heal you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My wife, Jane, has written a piece about music that says everything I would want to say, only she is saying it better. Please read and enjoy.

Music Matters
By Jane Medema, April 2009
My singing voice is below average. I can sing in tune, but, due to some minor vocal cord damage, the quality of sound I make is wobbly and strained and my throat begins to ache. Mind you, I still sing. I have to really. Singing and hearing music for me is like song is for birds; it’s an instinctive calling out to the world or a receiving from it and it is evidence that I am alive.
When I sing with other people, I’m grateful that my weak sound is strengthened and sustained by all of us together. I feel the change when my music becomes our music. Our music often blends not just voices, but hearts and lives, into one shared moment. We can all feel it. Many of us dream that a miracle will happen, and the moment will carry over into how we live and behave together as a variety of hearts and lives that can act as one body. In our religious communities we sing together often, taking for granted the magic: “It is the voice of the church heard in singing together. It is not you that sings”, said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is the church that is singing--and you as a member of the church may share in the song.”

Religious congregations sing together often, usually several times in a regular meeting. We sing together because it is the thing to do, because we believe that an offering of praise requires it. Or we sing because we need to stand and stretch, because we’re restless, because we need to fill time before more significant things happen. We sing because we need to do something, (anything!) that makes people feel less alone, less distracted, less numb, less mute, less invisible. Sometimes we seem only to make noise and mouth easily forgotten words-- words that say trite and shallow things or words that have been so often repeated that we are not curious about them anymore.

Quality matters. Selection matters. The best music for us sings our own lives and sings other’s lives to us. The best music asks for us to be awake and so contributes to our becoming wise, strong, sensitive, playful human beings. Beauty matters; and yes, it is in the eye of the beholder, but we cannot fail to serve beauty personally or corporately without becoming pinched in spirit. The best music embodies and recommends enduring value and therefore attunes us to Goodness. In the experience of it, we are redeemed and created all over again. The best music is holy even if it is quite secular in content --because of the holy work that it does in us.

Singing together carries our memory--mine, yours, and ours. Memory makes us who we are, tells where we come from, and how we see the world. When we make song and sing it, we dress memory in powerful words, in metaphors and stories. We shape it in rhyme and rhythm and pattern so that we will not forget. As we move through the music, we can labor over memory, looking out for where and how it reveals our nature.

Song is soul language. It gives us a way to make love to that which we care about. When we sing together, we are able to express more than words can say. We make new language with the lines of melody and the color of harmonies and the conflict of dissonance so that we with one another what we know by personal experience. The musical style we select reveals tacit cultural agreements and offers subtext to our message.

Our music is a fine tool. It organizes much that we want to learn and recall. It helps us to articulate complex ideas, events, and relationships. We are confronted and informed by it.

Singing together is performance. The sound and meaning we make sings back to us so that we are at once performer and audience. We are wooed by our own art. In the act of performing, we rehearse virtues and strengths and vows until they become not merely performance, but who we are.

When we sing together, there is the chance that we will experience a miracle. There is the chance that, by the time we arrive at the end of our singing, we have become something surprising to ourselves, something lifted out of the common, something both holy and very human.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Singing in the Rain

New Podcast this week

Our new podcast is available today and there are little bits of several songs plus some conversation about the wonderful gift of rain. The whole thing ends with a most interesting musical setting of a story from my childhood. When I was 13, there was one amazing Saturday when all my family were gone and I was left home to practice the piano. Weary of practice, I put on an old bathing suit and ran out into the middle of a fabulous thunder storm. It was one of the most delightful, freeing, life-giving moments I have ever had and I wanted to find a way to describe it. See what you think of the telling of this story. Give me feedback and tell your friends.Go to

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


A reflection on a song and a question

My son was a "Why" kid. From the age of about 2 until about 5 or so, no matter what instruction was given, what food was offered, what plans were made, there was always and forever the question, "Why?" Every answer brought another "Why?" Many of you know that picture so very well. As annoying as it is, we would not ever want our children to stop asking, "Why?",would we?

What happens when they stop asking questions and just go about their lives either accepting or ignoring the world around them? What happens to a culture when it stops asking "Why" and simply accepts or ignores the world around it? How many people are impatient with the "Whys" of this current financial crisis and simply want to race to the solutions?

Just fix it! Don't bug me with reasons. How many people in churches don't really want to know the "Whys" of trying to interpret holy scripture? They just want a quick answer, a principle, a rule. I must admit that I fall into bad habits more often than I would like. I don't take the time for "Whys" when I really should. I tend to want to rush to the answer or solution or practical application. For this, I ask forgiveness. I think perhaps the word why is one of the most important words in any language.

This past weekend, I had a chance to work with some amazing kids and we sang a song called "The Wonder of Why" which is both a children's choral piece and a solo piece on my "Kids' Play" CD. The piece is funny and fun to sing, but it also celebrates the importance of questioning.

I recommend it to you. You can find it as a free download on the website for a couple of weeks in it's children's choir form. Enjoy and keep questioning, it's good for us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I tried to get permission to reprint this article on my blog, but I haven't heard back. Many of you may have seen this welcome speech given by Dr. Karl Paulnack to the freshmen class of Boston Convervatory. If you have not, please take a moment to be inspired and reminded of our calling as musicians. I know, it moved me to tears and I hope it will do the same for my musician friends.

Click Here

Sunday, March 15, 2009


A reflection on the new podcast for March 15th

One of my dearest friends had told me that if there were a single text of mine that would qualify as Medema 1:1 it would be this one; "Finding leads to losing, Losing lets you find, Living leads to dying, and life leaves death being. Losing leads to finding, there's nothing more to say, no one will find life another way" .

I suppose there is no more potent word from Jesus than that one about losing and finding. You could live your whole life discovering the meanings and ramifications of that business. It relates to all the letting go that we continue to need to do all our lives; letting go of pride, misconceptions, lies we love, destructive cultural expectations, and the list could go one forever. It also relates to all that we might find in the process; rest, new purpose, some peace, forgiven relationships, new freedom in partnerships. All this was going through my mind as I created the new podcast "Losing and Finding" which goes on line today.

Quite clearly, I didn't talk about all this,I mostly just presented music around the theme. It is my hope that people who hear the podcast will do some of the thinking necessary around this theme. One doesn't even begin to scratch the top layer of the outside skin of the surface of this subject in a podcast, a book, a career in theology, or a life time. This is big stuff, the biggest. This is world changing stuff. Oh, that we could begin to makes friends with it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


A reflection on an article in March Atlantic

In the March issue of Atlantic magazine, Richard Florida makes this ringing statement, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste". In the article, he discusses the many ways in which this current financial and economic crisis is a part of the process of great change in the political and economic landscape of the country and, in fact, the world. There is too much to go into here, but, briefly, he talks about why some cities will thrive and some will not; why there will be less purchasing and more renting of space for both residential and business purposes; why areas with a great diversity of talent and lots of education will do better than those which are less diverse.

As I read the article, I couldn't help thinking about the Church in this country. I already see signs that we are and must be moving from dependence on massive buildings to the use of more mobile structures. I think perhaps it will be necessary for churches to deliberately employ a much broader library of gifts in leadership than we have so far done. I think perhaps the smaller more flexible church that can change directions and even change locations when necessary is going to be greatly advantaged in the years to come. I suspect we have put off the inevitability of this change for a while, but can't do it much longer. I have only really begun to think about this. I've heard people like Len Sweet talk about these things for quite some time now, but I have never felt the immediacy of it as I do now.

If you can get your hands on the March Atlantic, I think the Richard Florida article is worth reading. It speaks in language that ordinary folk, like me, can understand.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reality, Religion, Revival

A reflection on a recent engagement

Once in a while, I get to be a part of a convention in the world of business that sends my heart leaping into places of delight and surprise. One of those events is the annual "Family Reunion" of the Keller Williams Reality organization. Keller Williams International has branches all round the US and beyond our borders. Each year thousands of agents gather to be trained, inspired, affirmed and sent on their way to be messengers of hope and goodwill in their towns and cities.

The final session in this convention is an '"Inspirational Prayer Brunch" which is attended by several thousand people. Prayers are said representing Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, and Christian faiths. These are followed by several stories of people both inside and beyond the organization who have done heroic, selfless, and sometimes world changing things.

Each year I am privileged to listen to these amazing stories and respond with improvised songs. It is a highlight for me and I always go away with new vigor and commitment to my work. I also got to accompany a fine singer, Rochelle Ellis from Princeton, NJ with her own versions of inspirational songs.

This year our little company decided to put together a special CD called "I Want Home" featuring a collection of songs all focusing around the need for, and the delight in home. Some of the songs are on other CDs and some are not. My favorite contribution to this collection is a song called "With Open Hands". It was composed for KW Cares which is a foundation that Keller Williams supports and administers and whose purpose is to find needs in communities and fill those needs. We have decided to continue to sell the CD online and perhaps at other occasions because 50 percent of the $20 dollar selling price will go to this foundation.

Every day we hear about foreclosures, job loses, tent cities, savings lost, and the news goes on and on. I want desperately to be a part, even a tiny part, of the solution. You can buy "I Want Home" in our website store and help me help somebody to find home, help, hope, and heart again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A reflection on a recent interview

When I was in graduate school in the late 60s, all the communication people were spouting this now famous phrase attributed to Marshall McLuhan; "The Medium is the Message". At a recent conference I heard a fine interview with author, Shane Hipps, who has written a book about the use of electronic media in the church titled Flickering Pixels. One of the questions that came out of that interview has to do with this maxim now so well known in communication circles. Everything we do, everything we wear, every means of communication we employ becomes a part of the message. To study the Bible online is not only a different experience than studying with a group, but the nature of the Bible's message is changed by the way we study it. To experience music together and to experience music alone are different, but the meaning of the music is also different.

That has made me have to think again about my own work and, in fact, about the ways we all present ourselves to the world around us. The term "avatar" has become popular again since so many people now have multiple precenses on various virtual locations. In a very important sense, everything we do in the world around us presents the message of who we are. What do I say by the clothes I wear, the grammar I use, the pace at which I walk, even the angle of my head as I meet people? How does my own use of instruments and sound textures create a message? As a Christian then, I have to ask again what is the Good News of the Gospel and are there some forms of communication which when used create a message which, if we understood it, is not the message we want to create? I am wrestling with all this again because of the interview I heard. I don't know where it will all come out, but I do suspect that we as humans tend to forget how much of a message we are sending to the world around us by every aspect of what we do, say, wear; how we move, how we prioritize, and other ways that I am not even thinking of yet.

What is your message and how does your media become that message? Are you sending a message other than the one you think you are sending? Have fun with this one.

Monday, February 9, 2009


A reflection on two concerts

There were two of them this weekend in Fort Myers, Florida. Two concerts. I was more than usually excited since I sang only one concert in January. Saturday night the theme of the show was connected to that strange day in February when couples try to make up for all the little love gifts they haven't given for months. There were two sets of stories that night for which I built songs. The first set focused on the question , "When did you know you were loved?" and the second, "When did love mean giving up something?"
Sunday's concert was a celebration of sacred spaces and places. I asked people again two different questions. The first was this; "If you could stop time when you were at a particular place and stay there for a very long time, where would that place be?" The other question was; "What places have represented a challenge for you in your life? "

The stories were most revealing and touching. I particularly treasure a story told to me in the concert by a minister who spoke of a church where he pastored after the building had been burned by an arson. He told us that hard as he tried, he could not find a way to bring the church back to any kind of wholeness and forward moving direction. He left in frustration. I really don't think that most people understand how hard a pastor's job is. This is particularly relevant because I am going to San Diego today to be a part of a National Pastor's Conference and there will be lots of burned out pastors there who need rest, comfort, renewal, and hope again.

(By the way, if you know a pastor who works very hard and needs some support, you might order a copy of one of our brand new custom CDs titled, Oasis. . .Songs for the Pastor's Soul. It is a collection of songs designed to remind ministers how important they are, that they are in the hands of the One who cares infinitely, and that their call is a holy one. There is comfort, hope, a little irreverence, and an invitation to take it less seriously and then more seriously. Even if she-he- doesn't like the music the gift will be appreciated. )

I'll write more from San Diego.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


A reflection on Churches in transition. . .

It really matters how we tell a story, does it not? I visit churches regularly who tell me, "We're having to cut back, lay off, etc. " Is there not another way to tell that story? "We are in the process of changing from a dependency on one kind of resource to an expanded use of another."

Every church where I have worked has an abundance of resources that are often not counted when it comes to deciding what to do in these troubling times. There are people with energy to do everything from making food, to providing transportation, to home repair, to helping with other tasks which would otherwise have to be paid for. If churches could get just a little bit of the spirit of the first few chapters of the book of Acts, it might be quite amazing what would happen. I think it is high time that in the community of faith we get really serious about increasing our use of non-pecuniary resources. So many people who have taken trips abroad have seen this kind of resource us in churches in very poor countries.

Maybe it's time to learn from these communities and build something new with the abundance of resources within and between us.


A reflection on my work. . .

I have been working in churches now for about 36 years and rarely have I seen it where people come to church and speak their deepest life concerns and issues. Sure there are many churches with small groups where people can "Get Real" but in the gathering time or worship service it is rare, in my experience, that people's anger, depression, fear, sense of inadequacy is truly met. Oh, the preacher may preach about those things, but the rest of the service goes on almost removed from the human dramas that are happening in the room. What I know about my work is that I am called to do something else in the churches. I am called to tell the stories of people and their real lives, to bring a group of folks together in an experience of mutual discovery. I hear it over and over again from people who tell me what happened in a concert or service where I have sung.

Please know that I don't take this gift and calling for granted nor do I have any sense that I deserve to be given this gift, but it is there. It has become a real concern to me that many churches truly need hope and encouragement these days. People are weary, worried, angry, and wondering what their faith has to do with their present circumstances. I really believe that when we tell our stories to each other and when those stories are sung in the common gathering, there is comfort and some kind of renewal that can happen.

Does it sound self-serving for me to say that I want to have the chance to be in more and more churches to do this work? I know that money is incredibly tight for churches as it is for everybody and that is a great part of the frustration here. I know that I have something to offer and I want to offer it. I also know that I have to try to survive in the process and that many churches who would like to have this kind of special experience feel that it is impossible now.

For all these reasons, I am asking my friends and supporters to help me dream, to pray, to share any ideas you may have that would help me and Brier Patch Music think and move outside the box, as it were, to do what I know we are called and gifted to do.

Let there be music ringing in the air, through the tears, in our hearts, on our lips, all the day and night long.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Reflection on Inauguration Day

Like so many many millions of people, I was swept up yesterday by the movement, the moment, the magic of what is going on in this country. I thought of many friends around the world who must be listening with relief, hope, and amazement as we watched little signs that things are perhaps changing in America. After being glued to the television for several hours, I decided to take a break and hear some music.

I am very much attached to a public radio program called PipeDreams. It is two hours of organ music with a new theme each week. Yesterday, it was a live program from Southern Adventist University with much playing and singing. In the middle of this program, there was a set of musical variations on a psalm tune that I remember from my youth. We sang Psalm 42 to this tune but in this program the choir sang verses from Isaiah between the organ variations.
"Comfort Comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace," thus saith our God,
"Comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning in their sorrows now"

Because the tune was one that I knew and loved and associated with loving people in my past, because those words of comfort have always been immensely important, because I heard comfort and peace being spoken to the people on television, I totally lost it. There I was standing in front of my computer listening to those verses again and again crying like a silly boy, amazed at how things come together to teach, remind, bless, and encourage.

I'm so glad that for that one moment I was awake and listening. Goodness I long for the Church I love so dearly to experience the kind of revival that calls her back to her essentials.

"Love one another, love your neighbor as yourself,
Love your enemies, show mercy, love justice, walk humbly,
Abide in me and I in you,
I have called you friends, for you know what I am doing,
Go and preach the gospel to every nation."

As I remember the words spoken by Jesus and his early followers, words I memorized as a child, I realize that in these words there is the power to change and renew the Church if we will but listen and dare to imagine that our God is able to do a new thing, in these days.

I want to believe that the Church can find a way beyond all it's theological bickering, worship wars, whining, complaining, and egotism to a place of humble daring to be the loving presence of Christ in the world. I know this has been said a million times before by much finer and more elegant mouths than mine, but not until it is said and believed by all the people can the Church really become what it can be and longs to be.

Well, I haven't sung a concert for a month now and I sing again this next Sunday. Goodness, I wonder if I'll have anything to sing about?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


after hearing the Lincoln Memorial Concert

Like millions of others, I simply had to hear the Lincoln Memorial concert this past Sunday. I knew I would enjoy the show and would love the music, but I didn't expect the rest of what happened and is still happening.

I have had a strong sense of revival and reconnection to my calling. When I see what a powerful thing music is in helping us to be reminded of our dreams, yearnings, and goals for ourselves, I realize that I often think much too little of what I myself am called to do. Just as those artists were given the opportunity, not only to celebrate a moment in history but also to call the people to a vision of America, which can so easily be forgotten in the rush of every day business; so I believe I am called to do something similar in the religious community or, in fact, anywhere I happen to be working. In my deepest heart, I believe that music has the power to touch us and bring us to a new awareness of our "bound-togetherness" in the human community. I find myself obsessing now about what I am to do to seek to create a musical environment where people who come to my party can discover again some dreams, a connection to their religious heritage and a renewed sense of compassion and passion for life.

What will all this mean next week when I start singing again, I'm not quite sure but I know that there is a mission here and I am asking to be grasped by it and to understand what it is so that people who let me sing for them will be awakened---- even just a little.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Reflections on seeing the film Australia

He is a child of mixed parentage aboriginal and white. He and his mother live on a cattle station now run by the wife of the British gentleman who purchased the station and has been recently killed. The young boy's mother is lost in a terrible accident and when he is cared for and almost adopted by the lady of the property he says to her, "I sang to you to me".

That was when I first cried my eyes out. Oh- that the songs we sing could bring people to a good place, Oh- that we could sing each other to health and caring, Oh- that we could sing each other to healing and comfort.

At another point in the story the young child is about to be taken by his grandfather on a "walk-about". We are not told, but we understand that the walk-about is that which confirms his place in the community and moves him on toward manhood. Lady Ashley is most reluctant to let him go but she is reminded by her friend and ranch manager ,"If he doesn't go on the walk-about, he has no country, he has no story, no dream, he is nobody". That was the next place where I started weeping. Don't we all want to be connected to a story? Perhaps it is our ethnic story. I talk about my Dutch ancestors with great pride sometimes. Perhaps we want to be connected to a religious story; I am a Christian and tied to the great movement of the community of Christ through the ages. Perhaps we want to be connected to the American story. In any case the need for a story, and dream, a place to locate ourselves is so strong in us humans that we will sometimes travel around the world to find our story.

By the time we had singing and story, I had become a basket case. The rest of the movie had enough inspiration and good news for many many days. Please find a way to see it if you can. I have set my goal for the year because of this movie. I want to sing people to a better place. I want to help people sing each other to a better place. I want to find ways to encourage people to know and appreciate their story, their tradition, and to let it be a place to spawn new dreams and possibilities.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When the Choir Sings

Reflections on a most amazing weekend

During the Christmas holiday, I had a chance to see many of the new movies that filled theaters in our town. It was amazing to me that so many of them used choral singing in the sound track. There is something that happens in us when we hear the human voice and particularly when we hear a group of voices singing.

I felt an explosion of that a few months ago on a weekend in Hurst, Texas. It was a choir weekend. The adult choir at the First Methodist Church of Hurst would sing that weekend- both in the worship services and also in the afternoon concert. The weekend began with a delightful dinner on Friday night. Rehearsals were to take place during much of Saturday. What I heard and experienced was absolutely first rate in what happened in the adult choir. From the first notes of the rehearsal, I knew this was an unusual group. The blend, the musicality, the care with details, the passion for the music, all these were exceptional enough that I had a hard time not crying.

In the midst of rehearsing we took time to tell stories and let me sing our stories into music. The stories were taken from the lives of the singers and were so full of love, hope, learning, wonder, growing, and community that we all had tears in our eyes for much of the time. After the rehearsal was over, people said things like, "I have not, in a long time, felt so full of life, so close to the Spirit, so full of faith". The Sunday that followed was a continuation of what started on Saturday. The music, both in the worship services and the concert, was amazing. I can't remember when I heard a choir sing with such strength and gentleness, such passion and purpose. I knew again, after that weekend, that there is power to turn the heart when the choir sings. I know that a recording is never as good as being there, but I want anybody who wishes to hear this choir. Soon you will see an item on our website called Hurst choir highlights. If you wish you can download some of these songs and then tell me what you think. Thank you so much First Methodist Church, thank you Greg Schapley, thank you choir for a weekend of reviving and renewing for me and a renewed appreciation of the power in the choir.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hope Stories in a New Year

Alright. . .so here's what I'm looking for; stories, it's all about stories.

You know that I am a story teller and that my sense of my vocation has as much to do with telling stories as making music. You saw the posts about what people did with the 10 dollars we put in their hands last year. This time, I'm looking for stories in response to these crazy times in which we live. Lots of people have simply become discouraged, given in to depression, or tried to just hang on to the remnants of their former lifestyle. Other people have been very creative as to how they would or are dealing with the economic down turn in their own changing financial situation.

It's those creative stories that I want to hear.
Have families decided to move in together?
Have people found ways to share appliances and other resources?
Has your church found a way to say yes to increased ministry while saying no to more spending?
Would you say that their are changes for you which bring you back to a life more simple then before?
Have you found ways to make transportation less expensive and more communal?
Are there way in which less has become more?

I find myself thinking a lot about the years when my family lived with several other families in a big house and shared all our resources. I almost wish I could do that again and who knows-- it just might happen.

At any rate I want stories. I think that in the next year or so there need to be a lot of new songs written about these hope stories. I want to commit myself to writing some of these songs and I want the stories to come from friends along the way. If there is a story please send it to and I thank you in advance for being a part of what might become exciting new songs!