Entries by Jason Shelton.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Thoughts from sea level.

So it turns out I didn't have much chance to write from Denver. Being one of the few remaining "laptopless" people around, I wasn't willing to pay by the minute to check email or write a blog entry. I'm sure you missed me terribly...

The UUMN conference was a blast. Exhausting, to be sure, but chock full of great stuff. Workshops with John Beuhrens, Allaudin Mathieu and others were certainly a highlight. The Interfaith Music Festival was truly a powerful, deeply moving experience - one which I hope to duplicate here in Nashville next spring. And just being with colleagues from around the country who are giving their hearts and souls to the work of transforming our congregations through music and the arts is always a tremendously inspiring experience. If I get a chance later this week I'll try to write about all of those things in more detail.

What I really want to write about today is an unexpected, unplanned, unprogrammed experience of real interfaith exchange that totally blew me away. It turns out that our 250 or so UUMN'ers weren't the only church folks having a conference in Denver last week. We shared the city with 30,000 from the Assemblies of God, one of the Pentecostal traditions. Their conference included a youth arts component, and night after night there were kids lounging around the hotel lobby playing the baby grand or strumming their guitars and singing together.

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Posted by Jason Shelton at 12:16 PM | Comments (7) | Blogs Responding (0)

Sunday, July 31, 2005

On the road.

I'm on my way to Denver for the 2005 UU Musicians Network conference. Highlights of the week include a daylong workshop on UU theological traditions with former UUA president John Buehrens, a clinic with Sufi choir master William Allaudin, and singing for the Denver Interfaith Music Festival.

I hope to be able to get some guest blogging done while I'm there, but the internet access situation is an unknown at this point. With any luck I'll be offering some thoughts from the conference as the week unfolds.

Posted by Jason Shelton at 05:05 PM | Comments (1)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Seems like big news to me...

Buried deep in my local paper today, under the "News in Brief" heading, was the following:

U.S. Muslim Scholars Denounce All Terrorism

After deadly bombings in Britain and other Nations, American Muslim scholars issues an edict yesterday condemning religious extremism and calling terrorists "criminals, not martyrs."

The 18-member Fiqh Council of North America said Muslims were barred from helping "any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence."

"There is no justification in Islam for extermism or terrorism," the scholars wrote in the edict, called a fatwa. "Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram - or forbidden."

...The U.S. scholars said their prohibition applied to attacks on civilians everywhere. Their fatwa says Muslims are obligated to help law enforcement authorities "protect the lives of all civilians."

I did a little follow-up research and found a more in-depth article at Reuters. Turns out this fatwa was signed and endorsed by over 130 American Muslim organizations. Now this, it seems to me, is pretty big news. Haven't we heard our politicians, over and over again, calling for Muslim leaders to denounce all violence and terrorism in the name of Islam? So here it is, and the story gets buried. Darn that liberal media!

I think that Islam in general is about to come face to face with a huge authority problem. Fatwas are supposedly binding upon the community, though jurisdictional boundaries are less than clear. So what happens when these binding rulings are in conflict with one another? How does an exclusivist system, which is supposed to be unifed under a single, revealed truth, handle the murkiness of multiple interpretations of the law (sharia)?

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Posted by Jason Shelton at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And now for something completely different.

I'm hopeful that the stuff I've written about Singing the Journey has been helpful to the faithful here at Philocrites. However, those posts clearly haven't generated much conversation. Heck, even my wife doesn't want to hear about STJ anymore. So, I thought I'd go in a new direction...

This week marks my return to churchwork after a three week paternity leave. I took three weeks when our daughter was born in late March, then three more when my wife went back to work in early July. It has been a great privilege to have so much time (especially PAID time) to be with my kid during these initial weeks and months.

I feel a certain grief knowing that I'm not going to have this kind of time with her ever again. Sure, there will be days and weeks here and there, but I doubt I'll ever have this kind of time to just sit with her in my lap, pondering the simple beauty and elegance of the miracle of life. It's some of the best work I've done in years.

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Posted by Jason Shelton at 11:14 PM | Comments (3)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on 'Singing the Journey.'

2) What's with these accompaniments? They seem to be more complex than we're used to, and they don't always support the melody very well.

Our commission was very clear from the start of our work - this collection is meant to be led by a competent songleader/cantor. The UU Musicians Network has made leading congregational singing a significant aspect of our annual conference and professional development material for the past five years or so. Many of my colleagues in that organization have reported incredible changes in the singing culture within their congregations as a result of this work.

When you have a songleader in place the melody is supported by their singing, which makes it possible for the accompanist to add rhythmic and harmonic interest to the piece without losing the congregation. One of the most common complaints I hear from my colleagues in ministry is that they feel like congregational singing is generally too slow and labored, and thus suffers from a lack of enthusiasm. Their solution is to try and get the accompanist to go faster, which doesn't really solve the problem. Slow doesn't have to be boring, and when the accompaniment has a bit more complexity and rhythmic movement a song can be sung slowly and yet generate tremedous energy. And when the songleader is really strong - not in the sense of being a great soloist, but as a person who truly engages the congregation in a relational way - our singing in community has tremendous power and potential for transforming the culture of our worship.

We realize that this way of thinking about congregational singing and accompaniment is a breakaway from "traditional" hymnody. Despite claims to the contrary, I'm pretty sure that none of us on the commission think that the tried and true canon is no longer useful or in need of total replacement. Three of our commission members are Masters level organists, and one a PhD in orchestral conducting! But we had a specific charge to fulfill, one which called upon us to assemble a collection that stepped outside the boundaries of what most of our congregations usually do in worship. As such, the collection will certainly feel experimental to some, a long-overdue revolution to others, and most will probably fall somwhere in between.

The fact is that by putting this collection "out there" at this moment, when there seems to be a good bit of experimentation and exploration going on in our congregations as far as how worship can look, feel and sound, we will learn a great deal about what does and doesn't work and just how far those boundaries will stretch. I think that's a good thing.

Posted by Jason Shelton at 02:59 PM | Comments (0) | Blogs Responding (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Into the fray.

Wow - what an intro! Thanks, P. Glad to be counted among the red-headed, goatee-sporting MDivs, even if I didn't go to Harvard.

At the risk of being pigeonholed, I thought I'd take an opportunity with my first blog entry to talk a bit about Singing the Journey. Our commission has received a good bit of feedback on the book already, and there are some questions/comments that seem to come up pretty regularly that I thought I might address here.

1) Why are there so many songs in the book that were written or arranged by commission members? There is a response to this question on the STJ website. But I have a feeling there are some folks out there who would like a fuller response, one which goes into considerably more detail. Here you go...

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Posted by Jason Shelton at 11:39 PM | Comments (3) | Blogs Responding (0)