Matt's blog

The story of me, an American in Edinburgh, Scotland finding my place as a musician, a husband, a father and a Christian.

Where Have I Been?

Oh, you know. I've been here and there. I've mainly been helping Jeni study for her finals. I've been trying, and failing, at keeping our house in order between study sessions. In the time left over after all that I've been working on music. Oh! I also had coffee for the first time in my life. I think I'll post about the experience over on the Scotvet later today once I wake up a little. In the meantime, here's a recording I spent the weekend working on. This piece was written by my brother's friends Bobby and Peter as music for an imaginary video game called Battle Factor. I think they described it as, "you know, maybe having tanks or something." So here's my version. It's in m4a format which I think most media players can play, but let me know in the comments if you have any trouble and I'll put it up as an old fashioned mp3.

Battle Factor mkII

Yet Another Churchy Post

This short post probably belongs in the comments on the post from two days back, but I didn't want it to get lost back in the shuffle.

Nelle said:
Liturgy does nothing for me. (Probably because I've never heard it done right.) So it looks like we won't be sharing a hymnal anytime soon.

I want to do a quick term definition, or at least a clarification of how I use the term "liturgy." Liturgy is a loaded word which means different things to different people in different contexts. Often the word refers to the order and movements of the Roman Mass. It the protestant tradition it can refer to a set of prescribed prayers or instructions for administering the sacraments or for conducting weddings, funerals, or other services. The first three definitions on actually work really well for the way I use the word:

1. a form of public worship; ritual.
2. a collection of formularies for public worship.
3. a particular arrangement of services.

We usually think of only churches that worship in an old-fashioned way as being "liturgical," sometimes in a derogatory way. However, have you ever been to a contemporary service which week after week uses the same structure of themes in songs and prayers? Can you predict when scripture will be read or when the sermon will be preached? That too is liturgy, although perhaps unintentional. Liturgy is what gives structure to our worship together, it is what allows a group of differing people to do the work of worship together.

I admire churches that are intentionally liturgical in their worship. In conversation with me you might hear me use a term I coined, "dynamic liturgy." Dynamic liturgy describes the type of liturgy I saw during my time attending at various Messianic Synagogues, one in Los Angeles and one in Spokane. Messianic Judaism is a young movement with roots deep in Jewish culture and religion. Every service I attended was highly liturgical, meaning that there was a quite in depth and complex series of songs, prayers and actions that went into worship. When we went to the congregation in Spokane, we found that they used a different liturgy than the congregation in L.A.. When we went back to L.A. we found that they were then doing a different liturgy than they had a year ago. The Rabbi explained to me that they want to maintain the liturgical aspects of traditional Jewish worship, but they also wanted to be open and flexible, always able to worship in a new way. Because of that, their liturgy was always being thought about and re-imagined to better suit the changing worship needs of a dynamic community.

So that's wht I mean when I talk about liturgy. I mean intentionality in worship, regardless of style, which helps the diverse congregation worship together with one voice.

A Few More Churchy Thoughts

The style of worship here in Scotland is generally different than in the states. Now, to explain that fully is a longer post than I have time to write right now. I would also need to do it before two beers instead of after. (I was talking theology with Rob during the consumption of said beers so, you know, iz all good.) I will say that the difference is not in musical style, although most of the contemporary serivices we've been to here seem to be about 10 years behind the general state of contemporary worship in the churches I know in the states, but is rather in the emphasis of the service. Services here seem to be generaly more focused on what we do for God, rather than what God does with us in our midst. As I described it to Rob tonight, it's kind of like over here there are the people in the congregation, and then there's the roof of the church, and then there's God up above somewhere, but the roof of the church never comes off so the two can meet. Hopefully that makes sense.

To respond again Miranda, I think she's right on in valuing the emphases in theology and liturgy in one denomination over the other. For me, I add the cultural context. I told Rob tonight that I doubt if I would be considering a future in a leadership position in the PCUSA if I hadn't grown up in that context. The denomination has some sort of weird stuff going on right now that I think might dissuade someone who grew up in a different Reformed denominaiton from getting involved in leadership there. However, I feel like Presbyterians are my peeps, like I know some of the history and some of the concerns, like I speak the language just from growing up in that context. Hence, I think I may have something to offer there, plus I want to do justice to my own spiritual heritage. Doing justice to my spiritual heritage is of course also a reason why I want to take advantage of this chance to be involved in the Church of Scotland.

Man, I'm all fired up. I really hope things work out at this church, or that they can point me at another congregation which could make use of me. I really want to be back in the body. I really want to make a home for these next 3 years in Scotland.

Church Shopping

WARNING Extremely long post ahead! If you just stopped by to goof off at work you might want to wait until you get home to read this. If you are procrastinating studying for finals, carry on.

I think the advice Miranda gave in her comment on the last post, "pick a place and plant yourselves there no matter what (unless their theology is beyond wretched,)" is generally good advice and it was the attitude I had when we first came over here to Edinburgh. I really wanted to get involved somewhere quick and start making it our community. The church has always been home to me, especially First Pres Granada Hills where I spent the first 20-odd years of my life. Hence, I was (and am) looking for more than just a place to go to on Sunday morning. Anyway, here's a brief history of our church shopping experience here in Edinburgh.

When we first got here Jeni and I were both in a pretty bad place. We felt like we were run to the end of our ropes and like we'd made a horrible decision. We wondered if our marriage would survive Jeni's first year of vet school. You pretty much know this story already so I won't rehash it here. (If you don't know the story, see this post at the Scotvet.) We stopped by a few churches during this time, but didn't get involved in any of them. We felt like people treated us like outsiders. People would say things like, "Oh, you're Americans, you should meet these other Americans, but they're not here ok I'm done talking to you now." Perhaps you can't expect much more when you're just getting to know new people in a new culture, but when you're feeling as destroyed inside as we were then, you don't give people the benefit of the doubt. I know this was a failing on our part, but I also know why it happened and I think I just need to accept it and move on.

The first church we attended semi-regularly was a Free Church of Scotland congregation. If you've been paying attention here and on then you know that some of our best friends here are our former upstairs neighbors and now just down the street neighbors the Burnses. They got plugged into the Free Church right away on the recommendation of friends who had been there before. They also had a motivating factor in getting plugged into a church quick: Emma was just about to have a baby and they needed what ever help they could get. Since they lived right upstairs from us, we went along with them to church. I liked the idea of sharing worship with the people we shared living space with. The Free Church of Scotland is very much like the PCA in the states. It is more conservative then the Church of Scotland in roughly the same way that the PCA is more conservative than the PCUSA. Also, the Free Church of Scotland uses no instruments in their sung worship and sings only metrical psalms, no songs or hymns.

Let me insert a short aside about theology here, since Miranda brought it up. I doubt anyone could ever find a church which as an institution believes and acts out exactly what they themselves believe, unless they actively conform their beliefs to those of the institution. I am ready to accept this, and have accepted it for years. More than that, I think it's healthy for an individual's beliefs to be in places discordant with the beliefs of the institution they are a part of. As an example, it seems like the prevailing attitude regarding the Lord's Supper over here is that it is purely a memorial, a remembrance acted out by the congregation to show our allegiance to God. I've heard pastors here quote Jesus as saying, "this bread means my body, this cupmeans my blood." I have a somewhat higher view of the sacrament than this and believe that it is not something which we simply do but in which God takes an active role. However, I'm not going to let that quibbling keep me from celebrating communion here. If a church is confessing Christ as God and Savior and acting out that confession in a consistent way, my theological criterion has been met.

The hitch at the Free Church then wasn't theological, but was as you might be able to guess, musical. Well, that's also not entirely true. Jeni and I got to thinking that we want to be in a church which holds some of our same values. Not all, but at least enough to list off on one hand to be able to say, "Along with brotherhood in Christ, this is why I identify with this congregation rather than the one down the street." We found we weren't able to do that at the Free Church. First of all, we still felt like outsiders. We knew Rob and Emma but not really anyone else and even though we were there every Sunday, we had no idea how else we could be involved in the church. Second, they don't accept women in leadership, which is something Jeni and I both value. Third was the music. Jeni didn't like it and felt unnatural singing it. I came to realize that their use of only unaccompanied psalms in worship conveys that the institution doesn't value artistic involvement and expression in worship, which is really important to me. I realized that being there I was associating myself with an institution that devalued me and how I desire to worship God. This realization combined with Jeni's discomfort was enough to lead us to move on.

We went to another church, this time a Church of Scotland congregation. It was here that we first met people who genuinely welcomed us. However, the sermons were horrible. As Jeni likes to say, "Extended-forest-animals-analogy horrible." We came to dread going to services. There was a Tuesday night bible study with many of the people who were so welcoming to us, but with Jeni's school schedule we usually couldn't go, plus for some reason she didn't feel comfortable at those meetings. Here was a situation where parhaps if it was just Jeni or Just me one of us could have worked it out and found a home there, but as a couple we couldn't make this place our home.

That last example showed the difficulties of church shopping for two. How about for three? At this point we found out we were expecting and began to look for a church that would be a good place for our child to spend the first three years of his or her life in. The church we'd been attending up until a few weeks ago was very much in the American Evangelical vein. Not really the background that Jeni and I have, but they had a lot of young families. As they were a non-denominational independent church, there was much less of an institution to look at to gauge belifs and values. However, after a few weeks I became very interested in the head pastor and what he had to say. He spoke biblically and gracefully on the interplay between God's sovereignty and human responsibility without coming down hard on one side and denying the other. However, the other pastors did not speak with the same sort of grace and tended to embody more of what I disagree with in American Evangelicalism. It also became obvious that I was not going to be able to be involved in music in any significant way at this church.

Now we're almost caught up to today. I had decided to despair of my hope of being involved in church music here in Scotland. That is actually what made me decide to write more worship songs like I mentioned in the last post. Jeni and I said to ourselves, "Whatever. We don't really like it here but we'll stay because we're sick of bouncing from one church to another." At the same time I started thinking more about my place in the church. I'm not sure if I'd mentioned it here or on the Scotvet, but I'm thinking very seriously about going to seminary when we return to the States to be ordained as a pastor. I would be willing to work in almost any Reformed denomination, or even in a non-denominational setting, but I think I want to work in the PCUSA because of my history there. I started thinking that denominational ties may mean more to me than I thought they did in a cultural way. I got to thinking that maybe we should be in the Presbyterian church, the Church of Scotland, during our time here.

With these thoughts rattling around in my head Andrej and Sarah came for their visit. Andrej told me the name of a church someone said he should check out, a Church of Scotland congregation. Andrej and Sarah weren't able to go since they went out to the country for the only weekend they were here, but Jeni and I thought, "Why not?" and forsook the church we had been going to to go check it out. They were the most actively welcoming of any of the churches we'd been to here, and I met the music director who seemed to think I could get involved with music there.

Who knows what's going to happen here? I sure hope this is the church that becomes our home and I get to do music there and our child will grow up firm in his or her faith and all will be right with the world. I really hope so. I guess we'll all just have to pray about it and I'll keep you posted.

Odds and ends that didn't really fit in anywhere and weren't really pertinent to the story:

Spent a week or two at a quasi-charismatic church complete with flag twirling dancers. Just not our place.

We've also attended several times at St. Giles Cathedral, the church where Presbyterianism started. It is pretty highly liturgical and the pastor's sermons are short, more like Catholic homilies, and really good. Jeni likes the liturgical aspect of the church, it reminds her of synagogue. However, after the service you are just booted out into a central square in the middle of town and people all go off their separate ways. Not really a community kind of place.

Kind of a Downer

Man, guys. I'm not really doing so hot here right now. I feel like I've been a serious jerk to everyone I've come in contact with for the last few days. I feel like I'm being a real bad husband and that I don't understand the concerns of my wife. Life feels hard in Scotland right now. I long for what I claim to hate, things like tract housing and national chain retailers. I don't really know what's going on, hopefully I'll be ok and keep functioning as a person. Part of me sort of doubts that I'll be able to do that much longer. I feel like I'm coming apart.

In the meantime, here's some music I've been working on recently. I know that it seems sort of weird to make a statement such as the one in the previous paragraph only to follow it up with something as mundane as "Here's a song I recorded," but such is life. It might also seem weird that I'm feeling like that and simultaneously writing worship songs, but once again such is life. I think part of why I'm feeling this way is because we have yet to find a church to make our home, and that fact is really taking its toll on me. I'm trying to write worship songs specifically because we haven't gotten into a congregation. I want to be able to use my musical talent for praise even if I'm not in a praise band or anything else like that. I'm looking forward to singing with the Nessie once he or she is here.

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