All posts tagged Q Conference


Power, Authority, Discipleship and Pants

As I understand it, power has to do with one’s ability and authority has to do with having permission to exercise that power. In other words, you might have knowledge, insight or wisdom to offer me that would I would benefit from but if I don’t heed your words, I have denied you the authority to exercise your power.

Andy Crouch’s presentation at the Q conference was born out of early efforts toward a book on the topic of Power and it landed squarely in an arena of thought I’m currently in myself: The exercise of authority involved in discipleship.

He suggested that there is a general reticence among Christians to assume or claim power; as if claiming power/influence is by nature arrogant and dangerous whereas the denial of power/influence is a sign of character. His suggestion called to mind the oft-quoted warning that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -Lord Acton (real name)

Now, count me among those who have a backlog of negative power-abuse examples in my mind, particularly related to religious history… but if women and men of character automatically compromise that character by assuming positions of power, isn’t the void left to be filled by those who lack character?  That seams to be what many among us at least believe to be true about those in authority. In my experience, the very idea of authority is often met with red flags and suspicion.

And yet I wore pants today, as I do so most days.. Of course, I didn’t internally decide that it was good to wear pants. I was told, over years of course, that I ought to and believed that to be true.  I find that to be the case in just about all my behavioral patterns: I do what I do because I’ve been taught that I ought to and believed that to be true. In other words, I’m submitted to some power or other. I’ve given authority to someone or something outside myself to determine at least part of how I live. Admittedly, this influence is often benign,.. but not always. The permissibility of slave-labor in order to ensure low prices for American consumers is also a product of the slow but pervasive influence of authoritative voices in the Marketplace.

The initial challenge of discipleship is entering the arena where power is already being wielded; where authority, leadership and life-shaping are already taking place… and risk association with a history of power-abuse. I don’t like the impact the Marketplace has had on people I love. I think I have a better idea of how to live and spend money. I don’t like the impact certain elements of the Political and Religious worlds have had on people I love. I think I have a better idea how to see and treat people.  So, will I risk the appearance of arrogance and control in order to “put my two cents in?” 

Or is the bigger risk to let whatever cultural forces are most powerful and pervasive do the instructing and shaping of those I love?


Song-Leading and Treating Songs as Songs

Sandra McCracken led songs at the Q Gathering in DC. In doing so, she did something I wish more song-leaders did: she treated songs as songs.  She spent a few moments talking about each song’s history and writer; sometimes referencing a song’s historical changes in melody or lyric (as in the case of Amazing Grace). She led us in singing a song normally sung during the christmas season but explained that it had not been written as a such and went on to elaborate briefly on it’s original placement. She treated those songs as songs rather than as tools and that helped me feel far more free to sing.

Later that week, artist, theologian and curator Dan Siedell led several of us through the Phillips Collection, an excellent art gallery a few blocks from downtown DC. Pausing in front of one painting, he asked “What is this?” and some brave soul among our small group answered “It’s a nude woman.”

“No, it’s not.” Siedell answered, “It’s a painting.”

I my estimation, a song-leader’s job is much like Dan Siedell’s role in the gallery; to help facilitate an engagement with a work of art, leaving the emotional, philosophical and spiritual reverberations to the Spirit of God and the particular persons in the room.

The temptation among song-leaders in church settings is to create an “experience” of some kind (often emotional in nature).  A song in that setting becomes a tool of manipulation and its goodness is established only in the song’s usefulness in creating the desired effect.  I believe this dishonors the song itself as well as it’s writer… not to mention the damage such “song-leading” does over the long-term in a congregation (a topic on which I’ve written elsewhere).

I thank God for women like Sandra McCracken, whose respect and love for the art of song make her an excellent song-leader; whose song-leading creates space for engagement with art created in reverence for a Creator God.


Across The Country To Do Some Listening

I’ll be in Washington DC for the next 3 days attending the Q conference. You can watch the first few sessions live. The Q Conference is a gathering of leaders and thinkers from key areas of culture to “consider how to advance the common good in a pluralistic society.”  I’ll be using Facebook and Twitter while I’m there to highlight moments I am moved or challenged by.  I’ll also be writing and hope to post something here at the blog…


Mostly, I know that this is a time to listen. I often talk too much and too soon. Among the women and men who are leading the discussion at Q are several whose wisdom is rooted in years of focused discipline, failure, trial and success. I will want to add to their conversation… but I will need to listen.

I don’t always have to add something. In fact, If I really do want to add something of substance, I need to be a man of substance and most of that comes by way of listening, watching and imitating women and men whose wisdom exceeds mine.  A lot of that type of person is at QDC this week.  So, I’m going to go listen.

Here are some of the folks I’m looking forward to listening to:

Andy Crouch
Gideon Strauss
Catherine Rohr
Janelle Paris
Miroslav Volf 

If you use Twitter, follow the hashtag #QDC for updates.