Saturday, June 05, 2010

a branch of a church I used to attend is going to close down

It's too bad because it is easily my favorite branch of the place even though I don't attend there. I can't not hear about this stuff because I have family and friends there but the Lake City campus of Mars Hill is going to close. This is disappointing because had I stuck around that is where I would have stuck around. Of course that I have felt over the years that I'm more Presbyterian than unofficially Reformed Baptist means I'm not at Mars Hill anymore but I like a lot of people there despite some slow development of different theological convictions and some different convictions about the general competence of the organization in terms of managing the balance between perpetual growth and making budget.

Among many serious concerns I had about the place was a growing, gnawing belief that the church is constantly in a state of growing faster than its leadership core can competently manage a budget for. I don't say this as some brutal put-down. I appreciate their passion for promoting the cause of Christ. There are other churches that have equal but different flaws. Some churches have leaders who are quite happy to use nepotism as the basis for hiring people on to staff positions. Other churches are so dead that they do not evangelize. Still other churches have compromised teaching from the scriptures to a point that they can hardly be considered Nicene in their confession in any meaningful sense of the creed. Still others freight the good news of Christ with so many of their political hobby horses they fail to convey that the good news of Jesus the king is actually good news, instead presenting the Lord's cause as one of political partisanship for the right or left.

Mars Hill, thankfully, does not have those problems. This does not mean, however, that the problems it does have will not severely damage it some time down the road. Back in 2007 when a few campuses were getting launched it looked like things were going to work fine. Then those firings happened and some long-time members discovered how things went down with that big warehouse Jamie Munson saw that he thought could be a great second campus that the church bought. That little problem that it wasn't zoned for anything other than industrial use eventually got to members who asked how things went with the money they gave and, well, it was disappointing news to put it mildly.

As far back as 2006 in Reformission Rev Driscoll and the elder team were counting chickens before they had hatched. I suggest that if there is a second edition of Reformission Rev that any reference to that bit of history get expunged since there's never going to be any mention of it in websites. Get rid of the names of Mike and Lief while you're at it. Sorry if that seems too sarcastic. Presuming upon God's grace that you can just get free real estate or buy it and fill seats with Mark's preaching is risky. You can get real estate and trust that you'll eventually fill it but that a campus has been closed shows that this approach is ultimately not wise, even though I'm here speaking of my absolute favorite Mars Hill campus.

The church has been planting faster than it can reliably cultivate it's donor base. That sounds geeky and jargon-laden because it IS geeky and jargon-laden. Where I used to work my whole job was tracking the revenue and fundraising activities of a huge international Christian non-profit and I was on a team that gauged how effectively donor cultivation could be done. If someone were to say, write a big check for a disaster relief program that was money that could no longer be written for operating expenses. In a bad economy where unemployment is a major struggle to get the church on to a project of helping Haiti or continuing the expanse of church plants means that several things become potential risks.

The first is that the faithful donors give to the special causes and have less money left over for operating expenses. Smart fundraising developers target their donor base so that they make their appeal to the folks who have money. The folks who don't have money can give as they feel led but in significant regional and national disasters giving to general operating costs sink. For a church like Mars Hill the church plants and Haiti relief were, honestly, probably not a very good idea if the church wanted to meet budget. There's such a thing as cultivating the resources you have instead of gunning for continual expansion.

The second risk is that if you keep asking your existing donors to give more and don't cultivate new donors your appeal can backfire. The people who give most consistently want to be recognized as being faithful givers, long-term givers, and that's not even getting into the issue of restricted and non-restricted funds for gifts, grants, and the like. Did I mention at some point earlier that I worked in financial development in a non-profit at one point before? No? Well, it's pertinent now so I guess I'm mentioning it. When people who had been faithfully tithing for a decade found themselves in a position where they were renewing membership as though they had never actually been members before that is the rhetorical equivalent of "Congratulations on renewing your membership you are now a new member."

The problem with a reboot is that everyone knows it's not really a relaunch. If Rob Schneider changes his name to Drake Tungsten his movies and script selection will still not improve (here's hoping by now Driscoll recognizes that a Rob Schneider casting credit is a good indicator the movie is going to stink, I haven't forgotten how outraged he was by The Animal when my outrage was that he suspended good judgment long enough to see that movie in the first place. I mean, did he SEE the trailers for that movie!?) Oh, uh, end of tangent there.

Recently Driscoll has talked about how the number of people at Mars Hill who give nothing is still high. That's true, I suppose, but it should be encouraging that the overall ratio of people who give NOTHING has been slowly shrinking over the last five years, at least to go by the statistics Driscoll has shared from the pulpit. Things are in their own way getting better. As the church moves more "upstream" it shouldn't be surprising that this is what happens. It would also not be surprising, however, given how virtual pastoral presence is that a lot of people make what amounts to a virtual committment to membership but that is something else to consider later if I even bother to get to it. Raising the bar of membership doesn't matter if you have so depersonalized the process that there need be no flesh and blood relationship to it. But, again, I digress. My real point in this paragraph is that though Driscoll and the elders have reason to worry about members not giving the publicly disclosed statistics make it clear that the ratio of non-givers isn't as high as it used to be. That's pertinent to some unsolicited advice I have for them presently.

What hasn't been shared from the pulpit made me curious over the years. For instance , if two thirds of attendees didn't give anything but half of that sixty-six percent weren't even members then expecting those non-members to dole out money would be unreasonable. If among people who don't give the ratio of members to non-members in that demographic has increased the it could be worrisome.

But even if I consider that hypothetical that is not all there is to consider. If a church leadership team announces each year something like a 500k to 1 million shortfall during the fiscal year perhaps the reason members are not giving as consistently as they might is because they have doubts about the fiscal responsibility of the leaders. That doubt may be unfounded or it may be founded. Suppose that a lot of members are unemployed. It's easy to tell people to give sacrificially even though they don't have jobs and have families to support and bills to pay. In non-profits you have to demonstrate that there is a good return on investment for the donations people make. If sixty to eighty cents on the dollar go to the work of the non-profit you're doing great. I would suspect that that is the sort of ratio which ought to apply in the case of Mars Hill.

But something that may have to apply is a concept of donor cultivation. If you get someone to give three gifts they are more likely to continue to give. This is why special event and special campaign cultivation can be profoundly misleading to people who are examining the results of fundraising in a non-profit. You have to basically not count those against making budget. If you set up a capital campaign you can't consider anything donated to the capital campaign as something going to operating expenses. In the past when Driscoll joked "We don't know what we're doing" I wasn't always sure I liked that he was so confident making that joke from the pulpit. To go by how the would-have-been second Ballard campus got handled it wasn't a joke that was funny becuase it turned out to be true!

As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, those 1,000 members who didn't renew may not have acted because they didn't like how the bar was being raised for membership. They may have begun to worry that the leaders were not only not accountable enough to each other but that there was no real accountability when it came to investing in boondoggles. My hope (and suggestion) to Mars Hill leaders is to take stock of how long this expectation of meteoric growth can last. Didn't we see in the last couple of years how there were banks that were too big to fail that failed anyway? A church committed to a mission of expanding faster than its infrastructure has been able to competently adapt to that growth means there's a church that, from both the inside and outside, seems to be growing too fast to have a stable budget.

Something I trust people there should understand is that in fundraising it's mistaken to suppose that if you spend a dollar on development you get a dollar back in the same fiscal year. That's not how it works. You take that break-even approach and your donor base stays flat. On the other hand, if you recognize that if you spend a dollar on cultivation and get eighty cents back in the first fiscal year that's okay because if the people who have given you eight cents back give eighty cents the next fiscal year and the one after that your long-term investment means you spent a dollar to get $2.40.

Thing is, if you make the initial investment in your donor base and then send them off to another charity you've kind of defeated the whole purpose of donor cultivation. You're giving away prize donors to new projects that could have been retained to ensure the operating expenses of your existing projects can continue to be met. That is, in a nutshell, why I have come to find Mars Hill's growth model to be deeply problematic. I don't want them to not grow, I just began to feel that the growth was being an idolatrous measure of the success of the church. There were plenty of other concerns I had that led me to stop being a formal member. I simply found it wiser and more helpful to me and everyone around me to just not renew rather than resign.

But since I have so many people I care about there and can't help but hear about things like a pastor resigning or a campus being shut down or about the church having a 1 million shortfall in the budget after the preaching pastor has explained how the church was involved in some things that, honestly, it didn't really need to do, I get worried about them. In our age we tend to only see church scandals as about sex scandals or drug-use or in rarer cases power plays. The thing is that fiscal problems are problems, too. I hope that the church isn't so busy sending out its core people that it sends away the people it needs to actually meet budget.

I apparently need not worry that my friend over at the campus will lack for work. That is a relief. Now if only I could land a job myself.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Finished another prelude and fugue for solo guitar

This one is in B minor and is important as a personal achievement for a couple of reasons. One is that I finally finished my hommage to Elizabethan composers generally and William Byrd and Thomas Tallis particularly. I made a point of using material from Byrd's greatest mass, the Mass for 5 voices. Both the lines in the initial kyrie eleison and christe eleison make sequential appearances in the fugue. In fact the opening treble line of "kyrie eleison" is the subject of the fugue. Byrd's gift for melody entwining with melody is one that has rarely been surpassed. I suppose Palestrina and Josquin are "better" but Byrd's music is more personally endearing to me.

By accident that is now on purpose I ended up quoting "e'en the spirit of truth" from Tallis' lovely choral anthem "If ye Love me" that sets Christ's words to his disciples the night of his betrayal from the gospel of John. The prelude is based on the style but not the substance of Byrd's Ninth Pavan for keyboard. In other words, this short little prelude and fugue for guitar is utterly saturated with material from English sacred choral music. I sang too much of Byrd and Tallis to not eventually compose something that reflects upon the artistic debt I owe them even if virtually no one would ever know that about me.

The piece started off as an hommage to the great English choral composers from the Elizabethan period (Byrd first, Tallis by accident) but has ended up as a memorial piece. I had a cousin who died of cancer just a week ago and in the midst of job hunting and saddened by the loss of a cousin who wasn't even yet thirty the prelude and fugue in B minor were the only musical ideas at hand that I could use to work through how I felt about a whole bunch of stuff I'm not going to describe in more detail on this blog than I already have.

Some time ago I had resolved that if I were to end a set of 24 preludes and fugues that I ought to end it with a tribute to Byrd's legacy. The work is somber, though, and a recent death in the family made an already serious project turn into something even more sombre. Nevertheless, I believe it was the right approach to take for this piece. I am sorry my cousin died of cancer so young. There was no funeral and no memorial service, just a cremated body, leaving some of us who live on with a lack of opportunity to work through our sense of loss. In my case I have dealt with it by a new focus on a work I had already begun composing before I even knew my cousin had cancer.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Chris DeLaurenti retires The Score over at The Stranger

Well ... there goes the one thing that got me to actually ever read The Stranger consistently (at all) from week to week. It was a fun, informative, entertaining run. Good luck with your composing Chris.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

on the whole I'm glad I didn't go to seminary

For years I wanted to go to seminary and get into New Testament studies. That never happened for any number of reasons. I didn't have the money. I wasn't interested in commiting to a fixed denominational tradition in terms of my beliefs. I didn't have a denominational affiliation I felt strongly about that I could get funding help from. I also knew I never felt any "calling" to any ministry and just didn't want to get into church work. Those were all the negative reasons.

Eventually I found positive reasons, which can be read in negative terms. As I read Bonhoeffer, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewsi, N. T. Wright, Fee, Grudem, Augustine, Luther, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (sic), Stott, Metzger, Lane, Bauckham, and others. I began to realize as I read that the Lord had raised up so many men more adept at investigating all these things and contending for the faith that I had nothing to add. I quickly discovered that my hopes to contribute to a study as great as New Testament literature and theology was a youthful fancy. It wasn't a bad thing to want to do but why do it if it turned out God had appointed countless people to already accomplish what I hoped to accomplish? So, instead of all that I decided to focus my attention elsewhere.

I don't dislike seminary the way a lot of people do. I always disliked immensely the joke that all seminaries were "cemetaries". Most of the people who said those sorts of things were no better than the people they looked down on, they just didn't realize how level the playing field often was. Seminarians, for their part, did not necessarily help by acting as though they were doing things that couldn't be done for God without them being there. They didn't consciously say so but it seems as though there is a temptation among theology wonks to really believe, deep in their hearts, that if they aren't doing it the thing just won't get done. If you don't blog about the terrible theological error of so-and-so then the world at large just won't know the terrible danger they are in.

Now I can understand that temptation, having beein a low-level theology wonk myself. I mean I actually bothered to read John Murray's The Imputation of Adam's Sin! But in terms of scale even if you're regionally or nationally famous you don't count for much. Name-dropping is not merely a weakness of the church set but churches and church folk can be more ostentatiously bad about it. They've got chapter and verse for their pet causes, which is okay, but they often name drop as a way to bolster themselves. This goes all the way back to "I am of Paul", "I am of Apollos", "I am of Peter", and "I am of Christ". The letters to the church in Corinth will never go out of style or lose their relevance where urging Christians not to splinter over their pet teachers goes. Yet we keep doing it. This has precedent in that Yahweh permitted Israel to divide before Christ and, it seems, is perfectly content to let fracturing happen even after the first arrival of Christ.

Let me explain by way of example how a household name for theology wonks can be unknown to others. I was talking with a friend of mine who was a Christian studies major at the little school by the canal. I was talking to him about how some friends of mine are really into the complementarian position to the point of having prescribed gender roles. He bristled a bit at this and when I mentioned that John Piper and company are cited as authorities on the subject he, the Christian studies major, asked, "Who is John Piper?" He'd heard of N. T. Wright and Bonhoeffer and people like that, and he had a fondness for Chuck Swindoll but he had, nevertheless, never even heard of John Piper. Your theological, philosophical, intellectual big guns are going to be complete unknowns even to people who qualify as cogniscenti.

Now if by chance there turn out to be reasons to go to seminary I'm willing to consider going but the longer I live the less reasons there are to go. I can read books commended by friends and bloggers and family. My brother told me about a great doctoral dissertation by V. Phillips Long on the literary unity of 1 Samuel regarding the reign and rejection of King Saul. Then it turned out that a friend of mine studying at Covenant Theological Seminary had downloaded Long's lectures on Israelite history, no less. So in the last year I have been in a small Long stage. I've also been reading slowly through Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.
I served for a few years as a volunteer in a couple of ministries and for a while was in a ministry fielding theological questions on behalf of a pastoral team. I kind have done the things I have wanted to do, just without the imprimatur of having been to some seminary.

water color ponies will someday ride away?

Decades ago there was a Christian singer-songwriter Wayne Watson who wrote a song called "Water Color Ponies". I am not entirely against sentiment but this song was twee even by the unusually twee standards of contemporary Christian music.

So why do I give it mostly a pass? Because Watson, despite the metric tons of music cheese and schmaltz, was willing to write about the bittersweet aspect of savoring the childhood of children while knowing that stage will one day end. The song displays something you rarely seem to find in Christian songwriting, ambivalence.

What sometimes happens is that the water color ponies don't just ride away, as the song goes, there are parents who outlive their children. Since this has happened to a relative of mine (less distant in relation than distant in terms of literal distance) I, for some reason, find myself remembering songs and cultural references from my teen years and hearing song after song from contemporary Christian singers.

Watson was never my favorite but he at least had more than one emotional setting. There were the praise and worship songs and then there were songs that were about other things, though I confess to remembering few of them. He was not at the level of Rich Mullins, let alone Keith Green, and not at the level of Michael Card in terms of being able to write either memorable songs or memorable reflections, but he certainly wasn't Carmen. So he was okay, if memorable only for a song I got sick of hearing in a bleating tone during offering plate time.

There is very little about my childhood and teen years that I would ever want to revisit. There is also little about my youth that I look back on with actualy nostalgia. On the other hand, I don't find it easy to say I disliked my younger days. The alternative to being is non-being and of the two being is the more interesting (if at times TOO interesting) possibility. It is as hard to be nostalgic for my youth as it is for me to say there was nothing pleasant about it. I don't regret learning about rock music from my stepdad. I don't regret trips to the woods in Oregon. I don't regret having to stay with a relative with my family a few years. In fact those were some of my favorite memories but even during that time I could be glum, as teens often inevitably are in America, casting about for some idea of what to do.

What strikes me now about a song like "Water Color Ponies" is that the song suggests an essential transience of the parent/child bond that Watson finds troubling. Eventually children grow up and leave you behind, the song seems to say. I guess they do, though I admit to not understanding what that would feel like. At another level it seems as though children never really leave you behind even if in some way literally or figuratively you leave them behind. They take too much of you with you to be anything less than a productive of who you are even when they think they are being their own person. Call it ambivalence about identity separation. :)

Monday, May 31, 2010

uh ... where on EARTH was the copy editor who let THIS headline hit print!!??

The whole reason you have a copy editor on your publishing team is so that headlines like ...
"Air Force pounds MILF lairs with rockets"

Or you could say, as Jim did over on the BHT did, that Islamist groups might want to rethink their use of acronyms so that their goals are not misunderstood.

Me, I'm sticking with my observation that there were some profound mistakes made with subjects and verbs.

I am half-way done with the preludes and fugues for solo guitar

Right now I have C major, C minor, C sharp minor, E flat major, E major, F major, F minor, G major, A flat major, G sharp minor, A major, and B flat minor all completed. Since I started the project in late 2007 I have managed to complete twelve of the projected twenty-four preludes and fugues for solo guitar. Along the way I even discovered that Igor Rekhin composed a set between 1985 and 1990.

From here on out the obvious task at hand is to compose a preluded and fugue for C sharp major, D major, D minor, E flat minor, E minor, F sharp major, F sharp minor, G minor, A minor, B flat major, B major, and B flat minor. I have expositions mapped out for each of these keys, actually, though whether I keep the ideas I have settled on remains to be seen. It might be more appropriate to say it remains to be heard and if I don't like what I hear I'll try something new.

It would be generously optimistic to suppose that in the next dozen fugues that I can consistently sustain invertible counterpoint in each exposition. Even in the fugues I have finished there are one or two works that don't actually have completely invertible counterpoint. Before I began to seriously study fugues I did not realize how many composers outside Bach eschewed any interest in genuine countersubjects. When it comes time to make a sales pitch for these works I suppose that would be a selling point. How many guitarists have even composed fugues in C minor for solo guitar, let alone composed a fugue in C minor for solo guitar that displays fully invertible counterpoint in three voices and highlights the contrapuntal variations of voice distribution within the middle entries? I cannot presume to be the only one to have done this but I may find at length I have a small group of people who have also done this to consider.

It is exciting to have discovered I am already half-way to accomplishing a long-term compositional project. I have also composed duo sonatas pairing the guitar up with the flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, viola, and cello. I just got past the middle of the thirties earlier this year and have made significant progress in a decade toward composing two giant unified cyclical works for solo guitar and guitar in chamber music.

I like to think that if I weren't "distracted" by the unending quest to land employment and could focus entirely without worry on these sorts of projects that I would be even more prolific. But perhaps it is not wise to assume that I have been artistically unproductive compared what I feel I ought to be accomplishing. Just in the months I have been unemployed I composed five pairs in the prelude and fugue series. I also transcribed the Kyrie from Byrd's Mass for 5 voices; finished a quartet for clarinet, French horn, guitar, and cello; and finished a little guitar sonata in C major. That isn't too bad for composing and arranging.

Scotteriology: revolutionary exegesis of Genesis 15:6

In hindsight this might be interpretation of OT texts that mirrors someone's handling of the targum Neofiti. Yes, I know, a pointlessly esoteric reference.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

an insignificant casting change in the Transformers franchise

So, reportedly, Megan Fox is no longer on Transformers and is being replaced by a model with no prior acting experience. I admit I am strongly tempted to say that this is precisely what people mean when they describe " a distinction without a difference" but I suppose, to be fair, Megan Fox must have more acting experience than whichever model is replacing her. Unfortunately based on Fox's actual body of work (and only now do I realize what an unfortunate pun that ends up reading as) whichever Victoria's Secret model Bay picks to replace her with can't likely do much worse.

Still, I suppose it couldn't be as bad as I assume the Chun Li Street Fighter movie with Kristen Kreuk has to have been without my ever needing to see it.