reclaiming the past: informing the present

I recently began taking a blogging course offered by one of my friends, Jeff Goins.  Aside from being an all around great guy, Jeff’s a writer with the vision and ability to help others develop their craft.  One the things I’ve been learning is that successful blogs narrow their focus to broaden their audience.

Since I began Children of Dust 18 months ago, I’ve received a lot of great feedback.  I’m continually honored that you consider this blog to be worthy of your time.  Looking back across the posts and recalling personal conversations, it seems that the content that has been the most valuable to you as a reader has surrounded the topics of worship leadership and song story – often against the backdrop of history and creativity.

Honestly – that’s what I’m most passionate about.

So, I’m re-purposing Children of Dust to hone in on those two ideas: worship leadership and song story.  What you can expect:

  • The category and posts dealing with “mobilization” will start to shrink.
  • The categories “church” “leadership” will continue to grow.
  • Two new categories “worship” and “song story” will be added soon.

My continued hope is that your leadership will be strengthened, your worship will be enriched, and your church will be changed for the better.


Old Hymnal by ati sun, Flickr

And thanks, Jeff for your insight and help.  You’re a gift and a friend.

If you’re interested in taking Jeff’s course, I encourage you to sign up for FREE by clicking here. Jeff blogs at GoinsWriter and at Pilgrimage of the Heart.


Auld Lang… What?

Auld Lang Syne

We hear it. We sing it. Well, sort of. What does “Auld Lang Syne” mean? And what’s with the awkward words?

Well for starters, it’s Scottish – which gives it extra awesome-points, but makes the lyrics that much more imperceptible.

“Auld Lang Syne” is probably derived from the phrase: “old days long gone.” Try it. Say it out loud. Those crazy Scots. It starts to sound even more like that after a few strong Scottish ales. I’ve heard :) In old Scots Language, “auld lang syne…” is used to introduce everything from fairy tales, to toasts, to speeches, and songs. Think of it as a Scottish version of “once upon a time.”

The song starts out with a rhetorical question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” In essence saying: “In light of everything going on these days, what good would it do us to forget our old friends?” Great question.

It fits then, that Auld Lang Syne is most typically sung at New Year’s Eve: friends around – with the light of the previous year just over your shoulder.

Here’s to lasting friendships.

Friendships tested.

Friendships victorious.

Happy New Year.


For those curious – here are Burns’ English-ified lyrics (do your best William Wallace impression you’ll do just fine):

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
in the days of auld lang syne?

For old days long gone, my dear,
for old days long gone,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for old days long gone.

v2. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for old days long gone.

v3. We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since old days long gone.

v4. We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since old days long gone.

v5. And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for old days long gone.

2011 A Year in Books

Books are mirrors – at first you only glance not knowing what to expect, make casual observations, finally get comfortable with what you see, and eventually move on – hopefully more aware.  I thought I’d force myself to write down a one-sentence take-away from how each one left me.  I’ve linked each title in case you’re curious.

Ye Olde Reading Chair

Linchpin (Seth Godin): I can talk myself out of anything.  Essentially, that’s poor stewardship.  And probably telling God that He made a mistake.

The Poor Will be Glad (Peter Greer): There is no excuse for me not to be involved help the poor.  Because of where and when I live, God has entrusted me with the ability to connect.

The Dip (Seth Godin): There are some dreams that I need to quit chasing because they’re not up to me.  There are others dreams that I need to push because I’m the only one having them.

The Man Within (Graham Greene): I have unending capacity for self-deception and vanity.

The Next Christians (Gabe Lyons): I need to really listen to people younger than me.  This needs to be a lifelong discipline.

Radical (David Platt): I’m boring myself faithless. (for a fuller explanation, see my previous post here).

Barabbas (Par Lagerkvist): I have been forgiven of more than I yet realize.  I sin – I repent – I find forgiveness – I am deeper in debt to grace than ever.

Worship Matters (Bob Kauflin): Worship is precious.  I am privileged.  I cannot lazily stumble in.

How the Mighty Fall (Jim Collins): Corporate hubris is born of personal insecurity.  I need to watch my myself and invite accountability.

The 1997 Ford Taurus Owners Manual:  It can’t all be roses and sunshine, folks.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Don Miller): I have a story.  I need to discover it.  It’s worth digging for.

Less Clutter Less Noise (Kem Meyer): I need to surround myself with good communicators.

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson (Barnes and Noble Classics): If death, houseflies, and romance can be found within the same 8-lines, I need slow down my life and look harder.

Making Ideas Happen (Scott Belsky):  Any ideas that I might have don’t count if they’re only ideas.  I need to have the courage and discipline to make a lasting difference.

The Dubliners (James Joyce): People always have profound reasons for their darkness and insecurities.  It’s not my place to speculate or merely observe.

The Hidden Smile of God (John Piper): Men who have lived lives worth being written about are worth taking the time to read about.

The Cross-Centered Life (CJ Mahaney): I am able to come up with endless things to devote my life to.  Most of them deceptively noble.  Most of them fairly vain.

George Muller: Delighted in God (Roger Steer): It’s very possible that I haven’t the slightest idea how to live in faith.  It’s very possible that God is eager to teach me.

Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing (James A Casada): Everyone has hobbies they can’t afford…

Wild Years: Myth and Music of Tom Waits (Jay S. Jacobs): It’s probably best that I’m not a professional musician.  It’s probably best that the closest I’ll ever get is banging on the steering wheel.

The Leader Who Had No Title (Robin Sharma): I can’t hide behind a small business card.

All is Grace (Brennan Manning): God loves me as I am – not as I ought to be.  That’s a freeing realization because I’m pretty hard on myself.

Lost in Transition (Christian Smith): My kids are entering a world that I will know nothing about unless I’m a prayerful learner.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson): I need to tell my story.  I need to trust the power of reconciliation.  The reason I don’t is tied to my tendency to want to orchestrate it.  Let it come.

The Next Story (Tim Challies): Discernment is a discipline to cultivate.

Home (Marilynne Robinson): My family will see my weaknesses in ways that no one else will.  That’s no reason to hide them – it’s a reason to be simple and honest.

The Coffee Shop

It’s widely rumored that coffee shops are to conversation what music is to dancing: What once was inherently awkward for most people becomes inexplicably easier with the suggestive assistance of a subtle pedagogue.

In the case of the American coffee shop, the curious marriage of filtered beans and a few friends allows us to loosen our ties, drop down defenses, and become ourselves. Only together. Our role in the process is simple: just don’t try too hard. Don’t over-think it. Don’t plan it out. Just go with it.

On this occasion, there were ten of us. Enough to fill at least half of the seating of this neighborhood coffee shop in Palatine.

We sat a while and talked about college, how we met our spouses, and the proper use of the letter “y.” Conversations that would never have come so easily (or with such unfettered randomness) were we not surrounded by close friends and holding a few warm mugs.

We talked and smiled. Wondered and speculated. Listened and laughed.

And then we went dancing.

the nail


alone a nail can stand

and thus itself define

but on its disappearing

will its true purpose find


by blow to blow subdued

the nail is quickly lost

it sinks beneath the hammer

without the thought of cost


by losing self to serve

its former glory fades

into the Maker’s plan

by grace, the greater trade


we sink beneath each strike

and thus your church will be:

as nails that suffer not

to disappear in Thee.

Hello, my church is: ________

“Tell me about your church…”

“…It’s big.  And friendly.  And we have cool worship music.  It’s kinda….” 

In talking with a number of friends recently, I’ve noticed 4 main ways that we seem to articulate our encounter whatever church we’re a part of.  I began with an conversation-starter: “Tell me about your church.”  Here’s what came of some incredible discussions:

1.  Church in terms of physical space: meaning the church building or geographic location.  Often, this comes out with a simple adjective (“big, small“), but also extends to include location (“we meet in a warehouse in Woodlawn“).  Also, particularly in the urban context, people identify their church with a particular community (“we’re a part of the North Shore neighborhood“).

2.  Church in terms of relationships: typically meaning pastor, leadership, or established friendships.  Like those above, those who encounter church through this path will likely use a simple adjective: Friendly. Young (or old).  Interestingly, if someone has been introduced to church through a relationship, the relational dynamic usually sticks.  It’s usually how they see things from then on.

3.  Church in terms of doctrine or philosophy: what a church believes.  Those who encounter the church through the door of doctrine will articulate that encounter through a stated set of beliefs.  They might bring up or a denominational affiliation (although less likely).  Preaching style seems to show up here as well.  Typically, those who place a large importance on preaching style take it as a sign of what a church believes.

4.  Church in terms of practice: or what a church actually does.  If you encounter the church through its mission, you’re likely to evaluate a local body on what’s actually seen – the life of the church outside of Sunday morning. Incidentally, the “worship style” discussion probably finds its home here.  The terms “traditional,” “contemporary,” or “missional” will likely be applied based on the church’s practice or worship style.

A few thoughts:

  • It’s important to realize that each aspect of “church” is incomplete without the others.  They complement each other.
  • Often (usually without thinking), we feel at home in a church that meets our natural sensibilities.
  • The trouble usually comes when we put undo emphasis on a single aspect to the exclusion of others.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a “better” method to encounter church.  Wise people come at this church thing in a variety of ways.  The interesting thing is what they do when they get there.

How would you describe your church? 

Taken away

Nope. I haven’t written in a while.
Yep. I’ve been taken away by wonderful things.

Over the course of the last few weeks, surprise has taken me for a ride.  There is  profound depth in slowness. Each experience is turned a few degrees so that we are able to see familiar things with a new light on them. These are probably more like bumper stickers than substantive thoughts.  Breathe deep. Here goes:

Built 5 snowmen – learned that the four people who live with me are the most beautiful when we’ve forgotten how cold it is outside.

Had one of the most tense meetings at work I can imagine – learned that I’m probably here for a reason, and that reason probably sanctifies both ways.

Enjoyed a Christmas program I had absolutely no part in creating – sometimes I’m best for God when I’m watching other people love something dear to them.

Realized that I had been away from pastoral ministry for a full year – discovered that (when you’re doing it right) shepherding is an art, carried out as effortlessly as breathing.

Began reading 3 new books (a Russian novel, one on sociology, and one on business practices) – discovered that there are only a few things that really need to be said (and that Dostoevsky understood Jesus).

Cried in silent prayer – was discovered by holy sorrow.

Heard my two sons singing: “You make beautiful things out of the dust /// You make beautiful things out of us” – learned how contagious melody can be for a child.

Rocked my daughter to sleep – felt the high and weighty honor of being called “Daddy.”

Stayed up way too late talking with my wife – heard that our house is a cathedral waiting for stained glass.