My Uneasy Relationship With Modern Worship Music

I don’t want to ignite a “hymns vs modern” worship music debate. I think those are silly. My wife is a devout lover of worship music and listens to almost nothing else. My son is a worship leader and one of my daughters leads worship periodically. We attend a church which does modern worship extremely well and I’ve experienced for myself how the right worship song can move me emotionally and position my heart for worship.

Today, we were visiting the international church which meets very near our home. The guy leading worship is a friend and he did a great job. We were singing “The Stand” by John Houston. It has some great and moving lyrics. But the chorus always troubles me:

So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned…

There are moments when this is easy. When I’m there. But those are rare. One of my beefs with modern worship is the performance aspect. I’ve often wondered if worship wouldn’t be more easily facilitated with the band in the balcony behind me and nothing but a plain screen with lyrics in front of me. I’ve certainly talked with a few people over the years who have been distracted by a worship leader because of the way they dressed, behaved, how attractive they were, their tattoos… whatever. And, don’t hear the wrong thing here. I’m not saying churches should hire attractive, tattooed worship leaders or anything like that. I’ve also talked with plenty of worship leaders who were themselves distracted by the performance, losing focus on God and putting on a concert for the faithful…

The devil doesn’t really want us to worship, and he’ll seize at every opportunity we give him to derail us.

There is a peer pressure that often manifests in worship. I don’t ever remember it in the hymn singing of my childhood, but maybe it was there. (I can remember a time or two in high school competing with friends to see who could do better sight-singing their harmony part from the hymnal.) I feel like the pressure to get into worship in some visible way is high, and I’ve talked with enough other folks — especially young people — to know that this can be really derailing.

So there I was today, singing that I would stand with my arms in the air and my heart abandoned… but I didn’t feel like God wanted my arms in the air at that moment, and my ability to abandon my heart was utterly stymied by the sudden conflict between my feeling of pressure from all the eyes behind me when my arms weren’t going up, and my desire to follow the leading of the Spirit as I felt it. I’m confident no one intended that conflict to befall me, but I wonder how often others feel this same way. When a worship song says we’re on our knees before the Lord, we don’t kneel, but doesn’t it feel odd to sing it then?

Don’t get me wrong. I know almost everything I’m sharing here is about me and the condition of my heart and has little or nothing to do with the type of music or how the worship is being led. If you hear me suggesting there’s anyone to blame other than myself, you’re hearing me wrong. I’m just musing. What if it were different?

I wonder, what would it be like to turn the lights down, close our eyes, and worship in community. To have the band play from a part of the room we can’t easily see. What do you think? Do you ever long for a different experience of worship?

Slaying the Most Evil of Dragons: Project Organization

Today, Alex the Intern revolutionized our productivity. One of my struggles as a creative is to stay organized and track a vast number of tasks. “Struggle” may actually be a colossal understatement. My organizational skills are slightly less developed than my actual dragon slaying skills. Unfortunately, I get called to use them far more frequently.

I do okay with traditional to-do lists, but they aren’t great for helping me to see the shape of a project. Or to break down tasks into their component parts.

Alex took the work we need to accomplish over the next six weeks and laid it out into several projects in MeisterTask. They aren’t paying me for an endorsement, and I haven’t even used their product for a whole 24 hours yet, but I’m already really excited at my ability to see the project as a whole, break individual tasks down into checklists, and assign tasks to various members of the team. (I’ll admit, I’m less thrilled with Alex’s ability to assign tasks to me. Who told him he could do that?)

So far, I’ve not found a way to deal with daily tasks, but I presume that’s more the learning curve than a lack of capability. I’m also still on the fence about the candy crush aesthetic. Could I pick my own colors?

What tools have you found to help you organize your creative endeavors?

 

 

Casting for our Trailer

With about a month and a half to go before we head off to Greece to shoot our trailer, there are a million details needing attention. One of the keys is casting. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been receiving emails from interested actresses responding to our online postings and collecting recommendations from friends and colleagues of ladies with whom they’ve had good working experiences.

It’s always an interesting process. Personally, I love the experience of seeing performers come together at an audition and seeing who has chemistry with whom, and which combinations really make scenes exciting.

Of course, this project has us looking at actresses from all over Europe. There’s no way we can get them in a room and compare, so today we put together a video audition packet… I’ll let you know how that goes.

Have you ever been part of an audition? I’d love to hear your audition story in the comments.

 

Writing Tip: Handling Your Critics Like a Boss

As an artist, criticism can easily stifle and destroy your creativity. And yet, it’s essential for improving your art.

I can remember my first creative jobs. What people liked and what they didn’t, what was praised and critiqued harshly often seemed random. How was I to process and understand? How could I improve? I wanted more praise and less of the harsh destructive criticism. Don’t we all?

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that help me process criticism in a useful way.  You can get better without letting it tear you apart:

Ask for meaningful criticism.

Don’t show your work to someone and ask them, “What do you think?” Instead, give them a meaningful question to answer. Do you feel connected to my character? Do you want to read/see more? What did the story say to you? Why?

Look for questions that help you discover a few key things:

  • Are your characters relatable?
  • Does your story make sense and are people moved by it?
  • Does it say what you intend?

Ignore individual responses.

It’s tempting to hand your work to someone significant (a spouse, close friend, or artist you admire) and then take their concerns as gospel. Well, if Sue says that my plot is a mess, I just need to scrap the whole thing and start over

Instead, seek a range of feedback and look for trends. Three or four responses is not enough. Aim to get ten or more people giving feedback on your work. I prefer upwards of fifty. Then look at their feedback. Are there patterns? Most people love my character but get confused during the climactic scene. That’s useful info. But one person’s confusion may just be them. We’re all different, and nothing you make is going to work for everyone.

Embrace anonymous feedback.

Your friends and family love you. They root for your success. At least in America, they’re inclined to sugar coat their responses to you because they care.

They also know a lot about you and have some impressions of who you are. If you’ve done your job correctly and really been honest with your characters and your story, it’s likely that your writing will make them uncomfortable.

Those are roadblocks to good feedback. However, there is a wonderful source of anonymous feedback at your disposal. It’s called the Internet! 🙂 Don’t be afraid to share your work. There are many online writing groups where writers can share and swap feedback with one another. For short films, I’ve even used crowdsourcing — paying workers small amounts of money to watch the film and fill out a survey. Be creative in seeking out readers and viewers for your work. But try to find feedback which is unhindered by relationship. Afterall, your target demographic probably isn’t limited to people who know you.

Don’t waste time on overly harsh criticism.

If someone says your work stinks or something even worse, dump their feedback and move on. It’s entirely possible that your work does stink and they aren’t wrong, but harsh feedback is virtually impossible to hear and internalize in a healthy way.

Say Joe reads my book, then he writes me and says, “Ted, you can’t write your way out of a paper bag. Your characters are all stupid and this was a huge waste of my time.” My natural response is to internalize this as an indictment of me as a person. That won’t help me to write or get better. But even if I could remove the emotional component, the feedback isn’t useful. It doesn’t matter what Joe thinks of my writing ability and I need to know why he doesn’t like my characters. Specifics are critical.

Joe could give me the exact same feedback in a receivable way if he said this: “Ted, I found your story very confusing. Page after page, I kept rereading things just to follow the action. The sentences seemed long and convoluted to me. In addition to that, I didn’t connect with any of your characters. They seemed like stereotypes. I really wanted to see them struggle and fail a bit more. Their life seemed a bit too easy.” That’s feedback I can work with. I can tidy up my prose, work on simplifying sentences where possible and breaking them up where I can’t. I can also take a hard look at my characters and see if Joe is right about their struggles. But most significantly of all, Joe has shown himself to be a reasonable person of whom I can ask some clarifying questions. 🙂 Again — none of this matters if Joe is the only person who sees these problems!

The strength of an opinion does not determine it’s value.

I don’t care how powerfully or persuasively it’s expressed, that doesn’t mean it’s right. You may have a reader who says exactly what you want to hear, or who knows just the right words to cut the legs out from under you. I’m being a bit repetitive but this bears repeating. One person’s opinion isn’t that significant — unless they’re your client or you really are writing just for them. Be polite. Listen to their concerns. Thank them for expressing them and move on.

Embrace the process.

Occasionally someone may come back to you and try to call you out because you didn’t incorporate some piece of feedback they gave into your final product. Don’t sweat it. Just tell them that you solicit feedback from a broad variety of sources, and their suggestions weren’t in line with the majority of the folks who read your work. Most people understand that, and appreciate that you’ve got a system.

TLDR;

Get a broad range of feedback, and only sweat the trends.

Happy writing!

I’d love to hear about your projects and how you’re handling feedback in the comments. Do you have a great place you go to find early readers?