Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What we accomplished in Cairo - III

My last blog was about the teaching we did in Cairo -- we also did a lot of imparting. Though related, they're not exactly the same thing. Impart means to give, bestow, communicate or convey. So teaching is one way of imparting, but not the only way, and maybe not the most important. We "imparted" a lot by example and by simply the Lord bringing something of His Spirit through us. Any time we're involved in worship, the Lord comes through His Spirit and imparts something of Himself through us. Much of the time we're not all that aware of exactly what He's doing. But it was clear that we brought a refreshing and some level of healing and freedom to the church.

Healing in that a lot of people were touched deeply in their grief and refreshed in the long hard grind of living in a challenging situation away from home in a foreign country. And it was obvious that they needed to let loose and worship their hearts out -- which they did!

It was very important for me to model that one can play a "special" or unusual instrument in worship. We often limit worship to contemporary pop/rock instruments, but the Bible commands that all instruments worship the Lord. (Psalm 150) So something is missing. There are plenty of skilled musicians in the church with callings and the heart for worship who we exclude because they don't play guitar, bass, drums or keyboards. (OK, if you're a chick you can sing BGVs) Simply playing different kinds of instruments imparts the freedom for others to do the same, whatever their instrument might be. I certainly don't want to leave a wake of people trying to play the oboe, but I do hope some in Egypt will bring whatever instruments they do play to the Lord in worship.

I didn't just play the oboe, either. I play all those high and low Irish whistles, which are just variations on the basic 6-whole flute found all over the world. Egypt and the Middle East have their own versions, and I hope some will worship the Lord with them as well.

Duduk -- then there is the Duduk! Recently I've taken up the Duduk -- an ancient Armenian double reed you've heard in many film scores lately, including Gladiator. There are similar instruments throughout the Middle East and Asia, all along the "Silk Road" from the Balkans to Korean and Japan. The sound is deeply haunting and beautiful and somehow Middle Eastern. So it was important for me to play this Middle Eastern instrument in Egypt to help create a sort of sonic middle ground between this Western pop/rock worship music and the culture we were playing it in, and to give permission to play all sorts of ethnic instruments of all kinds in worship.

Nowhere did we feel this more strongly than at the outdoor worship concert. We played in a softball field, just across from a radical mosque. It couldn't have been more than 150 to 200 meters away. It was Ramadan, and as soon as we started our concert, the Imam began chanting the Q'uran over his PA system. Some say this was possibly normal for Ramadan, others that it was very unusual and he was competing with us as the last call to prayer of the day had passed.
In any case, Jesus' words about the Father wanting worship in spirit and truth loomed large.

And while I find Islam to be hard, heavy and cold, there was something haunting about his singing -- and something similar to the Duduk. His voice and my Duduk sound similar. You would expect that since they are both part of the same general musical culture. And while we had some 2,000 - 2,500 people at the concert, there were many watching and listening from their apartments across the street. So I played my Duduk a lot -- more than usual and on several songs I don't normally play it on. And I listened to the Imam and emulated what he was singing. I wanted to "impart" to the puzzled and captivated Muslim listeners across the way that Christianity is not a Western import, but Middle Eastern. The difference in the spirit between the two was obvious and extreme. As I said, I find Islam hard, heavy and cold. The presence of the Lord came as kindness, warmth, lightness and love -- and even fun. I don't think I've ever quite seen how NICE God is. He's just plain NICE! And He likes us! He likes to be with us and to bless us. He's not mad at us and He doesn't lay heavy burdens of obedience on us.

Matthew 11:28-30. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Christ as already kept the Law for us and paid the price for our sins. The veil is torn and a new and living way to the Father is open. I think the difference in the spirit was clear to everyone -- even the Muslims listening from outside. And I hope the Duduk made a small difference in making it easier to enter in.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

What we accomplished in Cairo - II

The second big thing we accomplished in Cairo is teaching and imparting. They are related, but not necessarily the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, Brian taught at the weekend services and we all taught classes at a worship conference. Brian taught on songwriting and worship. The band together, along with Terry our sound man, gave a workshop on rehearsing and playing together. We stressed the principle of One -- everything should add up to One. Too often we play like each one of us is a One and we add up to Four or Five or Six. That's a recipe for overplaying and carnage. It's essential to listen, to prefer one another, and to play together as part of a greater One. Then we broke up into smaller classes on our individual instruments, or in my case improvisation. Hopefully we gave them a lot of useful information and some fresh inspiration for the way forward.

In his teaching for the weekend worship services, Brian taught on God meeting us in and taking us through difficulties. David says in Psalm 23 that the Lord makes a table for us in the presence of our enemies and that He's with us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Bummer.
I'd rather have the table in the presence of friends and admirers. And most of us would rather walk around the Valley and have God meet us on the other side. But life isn't like that, is it. And though we all have difficult things in life -- loss, illness, tragedy, broken relationship, financial hardship, etc -- all too often we are not able to bring our whole hearts to church, lest we threaten the collective denial that being a Christian saves us from all problems and guarantees a perfectly happy life all the time. The Bible, and the Psalms in particular paint a very different picture where godly people struggle with all of their lives before God.

Maddi Church lost their beloved senior Pastor in a tragic accident. His wife lost her husband of 30 years. Many lost a dear friend. There is no getting over that quickly. Brian has three special needs children with Fragile-X syndrome. That's part of his life from now 'till Glory. There is no easy fix -- there is walking with God in it every day. We all have stories of our own. Church should be a safe place for us to bring all of our life to the Lord -- grief included. We need some place that's safe, and God wants all of our heart, so...

Friday, September 28, 2007

What we accomplished in Cairo - I

OK, so -- we went to Egypt and played music and saw the Pyramids. But what did we accomplish and what lasting fruit did we leave behind?

As I see it, we went to do three main things: Minister to Maadi Church, especially after the loss of their Pastor David Petrescue. We lead worship for the three main weekend services, and Brian spoke on God's faithfulness in the midst of difficulty and tragedy. Brian's song "Your Faithfulness" has been especially meaningful to many in the church and David's family. We played it at all three services and there were few dry eyes in the house.

But along with the tragic loss of their beloved head Pastor, life in Cairo for expatriates is not always easy. They're away from home, living in a very different culture in a crowded, chaotic city. Add to that being a religious minority with a certain level of governmental resistance. So while most of them love it on many levels, it can take a toll as well. They just needed a good dose of fresh worship, and we gave them that. Here's an email quote from one of the expats there:

"You guys absolutely rocked Maadi and we needed it. Thanks for your ministry of exceptional music. We will be talking about last weekend for a long time.....until you come again!"

He's referring to our Sunday night concert as well as the three weekend services. I'll have more to say about that later. But we did accomplish our first main objective -- ministering in worship to Maadi Church, Cairo.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cairo Concert Picture

Here's a shot from the outdoor concert in Cairo. You can see the crowd in jubilant worship up front, and in the far distance you can see people watching and listening from their apartment windows. I wonder what they were thinking, and if they had ever felt the sweet presence of the Lord like that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I will be adding some entries about our time in Trachselwald at the Swiss/Anabaptist reconciliation event. It was difficult to get net access at the time, so I will reporting on that now that I'm back in Switzerland. Stay tuned.

Switzerland is about as different from Egypt as could possibly be. It's green, cool, clean, rainy -- and they have traffic laws. Cairo has 20 Million people -- and three traffic lights. Traffic is a complete free-for-all -- it's mayhem. The only real rule is that there are no real rules. But somehow it all works.

Switzerland is -- well -- just about opposite in every way. I will have more to say on the very important events at Trachselwald soon.


Monday, September 24, 2007

On our way

We're at the airport -- waiting for the flight back to Zurich. It's been an amazing time! This is among the most meaningful ministry trips I've ever been a part of. It's difficult to describe, but God's grace has been overwhelming. Our hosts at Maadi Church have been unbelievable in taking care of us. And it feels that we accomplished a lot more in the spirit than just playing a concert. A tremendous amount of ministry happened -- to all of us.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Arabs, Muslims, Coca-Cola.

I have to admit it, I was a but nervous about coming here. I'm an American with a Jewish last name (no I'm not, but my Pediatrician sure was) and we all know about what's gone on over the last 6 years and more. So as visiting an Arab/Muslim nation was something of a challenge. But I'll admit this now -- I've come to like them.

They are warm, friendly people -- even funny at times. I had to get past seeing them as the "other" -- to get past how I've seen them since 9/11 and before. The vast majority are sincerely living their lives the way they think God wants them to, and most genuinely like Americans, along with everyone else. I don't understand their culture and they don't understand mine. But at the end of the day they're more people Christ died for to redeem out of Adam's fallen race.

And before I go any farther, Arabs and Muslims are not the same thing. Most Arabs are Muslims, but most Muslims are not Arabs. Most are to the East of here, in Iran, Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia, etc. And there are plenty of Arab Christians here since the first century AD -- more on that later.

And while the West and the Arab world have tended to be on each other's periphery all this time, there's been a lot more sharing of ideas and culture than we may think. Many, if not most, of our musical instruments descend from Arab roots, like the guitar and the violin. So what does this have to do with Coke?

Islam came to seriously limit if not forbid artistic depictions of images -- taking God's command against making a graven image to the hilt. So the Arabic Muslim world's artistic drive went into decoration - hence the elaborately decorated Mosques. Europeans came up with a word for something fancy or decorous -- Arabesque -- meaning Arab-like. And since they copied the Koran by hand, a great deal of their artistic drive went into Calligraphy of their flowing script. They became masters of it. So did we. We wrote everything by hand as well for a great long while, including the Bible and everything else -- books, official documents, letters, etc. So we had highly developed, beautiful calligraphy of our own. But we may well have learned a lot from them, or we both learned from each other.

I don't know anything about the history of Calligraphy in the West, but something struck me as I was looking at a can of Coke. It's always interesting to see this quintessential American product all over the world and to see how it looks in a foreign language. I couldn't help but notice that the Arabic word for Coke bears more than a passing resemblance to the fancy scripted logo we all know. I have to wonder if the Coca-Cola script logo doesn't owe something to Arabic calligraphy a long while back, especially the ornate letter C. Have a look for yourself. I'm not saying the way to world peace is through Coke or Calligraphy -- but understanding that we have more in common than we may think can't hurt.

We all seem to love Coke -- that's something. And God loves all of us -- that's the Real Thing.