Becoming More Vile–The Sermon Series

Becoming More Vile

I’m excited to begin a July sermon series at Travelers Rest United Methodist with the same name as my blog. We’ll be watching/listening to some popular songs (some written about previously on this blog) and mining them for signs of God’s truth beyond stained-glass and steeples. I’ll post links to our sermon podcast the Monday after they’re preached.

The ‘set-list’ for July:

7/5 ‘All is Not Lost’ (Ok Go)
Gen 15:1; Psalm 46:1-3; Is 41:10; Matt 14:27

7/12 ‘Death and All His Friends’ (Coldplay)
Matt 5:21-22, 38-41, 43-44; 7:1-5,12

7/19 ‘Broken Open’ (Cold War Kids)
Psalm 51:15-17; 2 Cor 5:17

7/26 ‘Beautiful Dawn’ (The Wailin’ Jennys)
Is 65:17-19, 25; Rev 21:1-5; 22:1-2

JET’s Top Ten–AC Edition 2014

Annual Conference Bones

Courtesy of United Methodist Memes (

My fourth annual attempt to write a satirical, lampoon-ish, Onion-esque column about Annual Conference (3 previous years here and here).

Ten More Ways to Make Annual Conference More Vile

10. Seasons 1 & 2 of House of Cards shown in each business session as leadership training for Pastors/District Superintendents

9. Invite Jimmy Fallon to preside as temporary Bishop: opens each worship service with a #FallonMono, each business session features ‘Thank You Notes’ (‘Thank you, Annual Conference Bingo, for making any pastor 40 and under actually pay attention’), and institutes Lip Synch Battles for the best pastoral appointments

8. Ask for the Civic Center to double book us with the Monster Truck Jam–pack out the business sessions with a few monster truck races in between reports. Pyrotechnics are always welcomed (thanks Rev. Scott Johnson)

7. Invite the guys from Pulpit Fiction Podcast and The Moonshine Jesus Show to provide live, running commentary on the Scriptural exegesis of each preacher/speaker/delegate who dares speak into a mic

6. Districts will no longer go by their geographical location but by a number (if Greenville gets dubbed district 12, I’ll bring mocking jay pins for us to wear—thanks Rev. Matthew Greer)

5. Delegates invited to go on a ‘Selfie Scavenger Hunt,’ including taking selfies with Bishop Holston (bonus points if he has his shepherd’s staff), with delegates with moustaches on Monday and wild pants on Wednesday, of themselves making a point of order on microphone #3, and with as many folks at the Tuesday morning award breakfast they can squeeze in (Ellen DeGeneres-at-the-Oscars-style)

4. Anyone wishing to make a motion must sing it into the mic and wait for the Bishop, Parliamentarian, Recording Secretary and Cabinet Rep to push the red button swiveling their chairs around with “I Want You” lit up to accept the motion

3. Instead of using the loquacious language of Robert’s Rules of Order, Bishop simply yells “FAIL” when someone is out of order. Also, repeat offenders should be chastised by an actual “bar of the conference.” (thanks Rev. Brian Arant)

2. Three words: Million Burrito Effort


And (still, for the 4th straight year!) the number 1 way to make Annual Conference More Vile:

1. Expect God to show up, shake us up, and send us out to take what we do there to the world at large, which is our parish (in other words, ‘submit to be more vile,’ as J-Dub put it).


New(ish) Vile Listening

ml_Vampire_Weekend_11_1080Post-Christmas, my iPod tends to fill up with some new music–my family knows a good, easy gift for me are iTunes giftcards! Some albums on my “New Listening” playlist contain some “vile” lyrics you may want check out.

Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt—I’ve got to admit, Eddie Vedder and crew are surprising me lately. I’ve been a fan ever since their debut, “Ten,” came out back in my grunge days when I wasn’t really into God-stuff (and they didn’t seem to be, either). Their later efforts these past few years seem to be leaning more toward the spiritual, and some songs on this newest album talk of forgiveness, prayer, grace, redemption, and come right out and say “I found myself believing I needed God.” Check out “Mind Your Manners,” “Sirens,” “Swallowed Whole,” and “Future Days.”


Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City—this one was a surprise. Their third album moves away from preppy parties on Cape Cod to spiritual pondering and seeking, dealing with questions of doubt and unbelief, ancient vs. modern religion, life, love, death and sin. Although we’re left with more questions than answers, this is a moving description of the many questions of God and faith that many young people live with, and may help the church begin meaningful conversations with folks who are asking “Who’s gonna say a little grace for me?” Listen to “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young” (saying it out loud sounds like “Dying Young”), “Everlasting Arms,” “Worship You,” and “Ya Hey” (saying out loud sounds like “Yahweh”).


Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes—Bruce got me searching for “vileness” on his last album, “Wrecking Ball,” and doesn’t let me down with his newest, which is actually comprised of older songs that haven’t fit on any of his albums as of yet. “Heaven’s Wall” begins with a gospel choir singing “Raise your hand, raise your hand, raise your hand” and is rife with Biblical imagery of God’s healing and mercy. “This is Your Sword” would go right along with a lesson from Paul on the armor of God, “Hunter of Invisible Game” ends with prayers for hope, faith, courage and trust, and you’ve got to love an alternate version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” featuring guitarist Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and the lyric, “He pulls a prayerbook out of his sleeping bag, preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag, waiting for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last, in a cardboard box beneath the underpass.”


Bear’s Den, Without/Within Tour Sampler–I heard these guys open up for Mumford & Sons last Fall and was happy to find this free EP on Noisetrade. “Agape” (Greek word for ‘love’ used by Jesus in the gospels) echoes the African concept of ubuntu (‘I am because we are’) when it states, “I don’t want to know who I am without you,” while their other songs contain spiritual images and allusions.


Mike Mains and the Branches, Calm Down, Everything is Fine–I really got into this band last year when I picked up their first album “Home” on Noisetrade (check out my favorites “Miracle,” “Stereo” and “Beneath Water“) and just got their newest yesterday. Early standouts are “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right” and the title track, which invites Jesus in to “talk about the weather over a glass of sweet red wine and speak to me in riddles about the great divide” as we “stare death in the eyes and sing ‘calm down, everything is fine.'”


Joseph, Native Dreamer Kin–I just found this free on Noisetrade and don’t know much about them other than they’re not a guy named Joseph and their from the Pacific Northwest. But, the music is catchy and seems to talk about things spiritual.


‘Vile’ Sermon Series

Dance of Grace posterIf you’re a fellow preacher of the Word, you may be in the midst of your post-Easter (or even Summer, you overachiever!) worship planning and looking for some good ideas for a sermon series. Since part of our clergy covenant in the United Methodist Church involves sharing our ministry with our fellow sisters and brothers of the cloth, I did some online crowd-sourcing for some good sermon series that used pop-culture to illuminate the Gospel in hopes that it may provide you some “vile” food for thought in your own planning.

Rev. Adam Hamilton‘s most recent Advent/Christmas series searched for Gospel themes in popular Christmas movies, such as Elf, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. Check it out here.

Rev. Wade Langer of The Capstone UMC in Tuscaloosa, AL did a series on The Walking Dead “to demonstrate the need for the church, or a ‘survivor settlement’ in a world that frequently suffers violence, darkness, and a general chaos, leaving many feeling their lives are out of control.” Hear more here.

Rev. Yvi Martin of King’s Way United Methodist in Springfield, MO took part in a “Gospel According to Seuss” series (even on Mother’s Day!). More here.

Rev. Richard Reams of St. Luke UMC in Walhalla, SC did a series using the show Lost to highlight what it means to “Live Together/Die Alone.” Each week focused on different ways to live together through a focus on membership vows, worship, in-reach, small groups, and outreach. He also just concluded an Advent/Christmas series on superheroes. More here.

Rev. Dean Lollis of Wightman UMC in Prosperity, SC is also a superhero type, using Superman’s weakness for a series called “Kryptonite.” He detailed the ‘super villains of faith’ and included such things as questions and doubts, the bad things that happen, etc. More here.

Rev. Brad Gray of St. Andrews Parish UMC in Charleston, SC showed a different Disney movie each Friday night and then correlated his sermons during the series “Lessons from a Mouse,” finding God’s truth in The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Incredibles and Cars. More here.

I did a Lenten series last year at my previous church called “The Dance of Grace,” a mash-up of John Wesley’s theology of the Christian Life with the music of Mumford & Sons. Listen here (start with “Awake My Soul” on 2/20/13).

(and feel free to contact me if you’d like to get a copy of the services and the sermons): 

40 Songs 4 Lent


Lent began this past Ash Wednesday and in addition to giving things up, I’ll be taking things on. One of those things is posting a song a day that, to me, reflects our Lenten journey. Check out #40Songs4Lent either on Twitter or Facebook. If you’re a Spotify user, you can check it out here (a song will be added each day).

Here’s #1 from last Wednesday:

The Best (Free) Christmas Music This Year


I’ve found a plethora of great new Christmas music on Noisetrade–and it’s free!

Here’s some of this year’s standouts on my Christmas playlist:

Beta Radio, “The Songs the Season Brings, Vol 3“: A really cool banjo version of “Carol of the Bells” (“Carol of the Banjos”) followed by an old 16th century hymn about Herod killing the innocents (“Coventry Carol” with two originals in the same vein: “King Without a Mountain” and “Once This Year.” See my previous article about why Herod needs to be put back in Christmas. Plus, you get two more of their originals from previous holiday eps (“The Song the Season Brings” and “Winter Eclipse”) as bonuses!

Folk Angel, “Christmas Songs” sampler: Nice folky rearrangements of traditional carols

A Ghost in Our Midst, “Advent”: slow, pretty versions of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Angels We Have Heard” plus “Lo, How a Rose Er Blooming,” which you don’t hear a lot of.

Hey Rosetta!, “A Cup of Kindness Yet”: some cool originals that will add to your holiday spirit.

Sleeping at Last, “Christmas Collection 2013“: a compilation of Christmas songs recorded as sonic “Christmas Cards” by the band over the years

The Walla Recovery, “A Star, A Star”: they do a nice version of one of my personal favorites, “Love Came Down at Christmas,” and their rendition of “The Friendly Beasts” is one of the best I’ve heard (sorry, Sufjan).

Willet, “Willet Snow on Christmas”: some rockin’ versions of classic hymns and carols

The Eastside Manor Christmas Sessions: recorded live at the Noisetrade studio, includes songs from Jars of Clay, Matthew Perryman Jones and Brooke Waggoner. The song “Holiday” by Angel Snow is great for a possible Longest Night service in the future, and “Little Beatbox Boy” by Street Corner Symphony is a treat.

The Oh Hellos, “The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album”: a “four-movement” album that mashes up hymns and makes you glad God created banjos.




The Longest Night 2013

Man of SorrowsChristmas time is not always holly, jolly, or the happiest time of year for everyone. Grief, loss, anger, pain–a multitude of emotions can swirl around the holidays, and add to that our cultural notions of a nice, sanitized, perfect holiday…it’s easy to get lost and drown in a sea of shallow sentimentality and deep depression.

Our church offers a Longest Night service (this year held a few days before the longest night: Wednesday, Dec 18th), which acknowledges that the Christ child was born into a world of real darkness, a world of suffering, sorrow, and pain. We do not believe that when Jesus was born, “no crying he made.” A Savior who doesn’t cry with those who are crying, who does not suffer with those who are suffering, who does not know our pain and loss and grief, cannot fully redeem all of that. Our service acknowledges the heartbreak of the past year and offers hope and healing in the midst of it.

In addition to three wonderful hymns of the church that acknowledge our human suffering (O Come, O Come EmmanuelIt Came Upon the Midnight ClearCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus), we will also hear two songs that I feel capture the mood of the service: Beta Radio’s “Winter Eclipse” and Jars of Clay’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Some of the lyrics that acknowledge the hurt and heartache in the midst of the holly and jolly:

From “Winter Eclipse”:

A star led the way, to the terrible display 
In the dark, all waited 
A sun drew near, when the light would appear 
In the cold, celebrated 

In the morning light I’d seen, through window and screen 
Something so terrible, beautifully terrible 
Silence and sound, on frozen ground 
The only thing terrible, beautiful, terrible 

On Christmas Eve, I’m always reminded of, the feeling that I love, by the love that I receive 
Oh Christmas Day, the feeling I’ve waited for, I’m patient and I’m paying for, but the feeling always goes away 

Santa Claus come soon! 
You know we adore you! (I never knew) 
We are waiting for you! (I never knew you) 
Under the eclipsed moon! (Like you wanted me to) 

I don’t know where I am 
I can’t undo what I’ve done (I never knew) 
Father send me your Son (I never knew you) 
Can I go back to where I began (Like you wanted me to) 
I don’t know where I am 
I can’t undo what I’ve done 
I know I’m not the right one 
Can I go back to where I began?

From “I Heard the Bells” (originally by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, when he received word his son was wounded in a Civil War battle on Christmas day):

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

If you’re in the greater Travelers Rest/Greenville, SC area and are having a hard holiday, please join us at Travelers Rest United Methodist Church for the Longest Night Service on Wednesday, December 18 at 6:30pm. If you’re someplace else, please search for a Longest Night or Blue Christmas service at a local church–the UMC is connectional, so I may be able to help connect you with one–just ask!