Ken Medema on music,travel,life.

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.