Saturday, December 05, 2009

Why Tiger Wood's Character Matters

I hear a lot of people these days complaining about people who are upset with Tiger Woods. They ask: "So what if he cheated? What does that matter to you?" This is particularly the case, it seems, with Liberals and celebrities. I personally never put much stock in Tiger Woods myself. I don't watch golf. I don't play golf. And I don't know much about golf. I'm a miniature golf man.
But what I do know something about is heroes.

Right or wrong, like it or not, we live in a culture (US) that places high value on heroes. From sports athletes to presidents, from singers to actors, we constantly look for people we can hold up high and say: I wanna be like so and so. The thing we particularly look for in those people is strength of character, right or wrong, because strength of character is one of the quickest ways we can know for certain the person's integrity, and above all else, we value integrity in our heroes. Without integrity, our heroes can't be heroes because how can we look up to someone when we don't feel like we know who they are? We want leadership from someone who believes in something with passion and whose beliefs we share and know will not falter. Someone who lives what they preach, so to speak. As a result, when one of our heroes fails us, we feel let down, betrayed even. And for some people, there is a need to talk about that -- to try and come to terms with it.

It's ironic to me when my writer friends or others in entertainment complain it's nobody's business, because this just shows me how out of touch they often are with the real American people and their cultural understandings. The truth is, we as writers (I am one) help create the hero mythology of our culture every single day. We don't write stories about ordinary people. For the most part, no one would get excited about them. We write stories about characters of extraordinary strengths. We do this because we inherently know that's what our audience is looking for. That's what sells stories.

While I find it disgusting and sad the way the press exploit the personal lives of the famous or even slightly famous to raise their ratings and get dramatic stories, I don't think it's reasonable to expect otherwise in a culture which places such high value on heroes. While many celebrities and wealthy people live in their own culture with different rules for morality and different understandings than many of the regular people may have that does not make them superior or more knowledgable. In fact, it can often make them ignorant and insensitive and arrogant when they try and act like they are superior or more knowledgable. It lacks integrity to demand respect for your own personal life and beliefs and your own art when you show no such respect for the personal lives, beliefs, etc. of others.

So when people ask me why Tiger Wood's Character matters, my answer is: it matters because he was someone whose talent and success made him admirable and got him notice. It matters because he and his people cultivated and exploited his family image to encourage that admiration and hero worship. And it matters because fair or not fair, he chose a life that would take him on path to possible public scrutiny and held himself up like a role model for others to emulate. Since most of the country, outside of entertainment, believe infidelity is far from admirable because it is a betrayal and a lack of respect for a committed partner, it matters that someone claiming to care about family breaks his family's trust be being unfaithful.

To me, it's that simple, and I doubt it will change any time soon. I have been fortunate enough to meet and spend time with celebrities on many occasions in my career, and I can tell you they are just highly paid orrdinary people like you and me. They are talented, no doubt, but there was a lot of luck involved and good connections which allowed them to rise to the top of the stack, and somehow they worked hard enough and were willing to make the hard sacrifices necessary to stay there. In a culture that worships heroes, unfortunately, one of those is privacy and the right to demand that no one care how you behave in private.

So no, I don't feel sorry for Tiger Woods because of this embarrassing scandal. He brought it on himself. And no I don't sympathize with the Hollywood whiners, either. Because if they act the same as Tiger Woods, they will bring it on themselves too.

That's why Tiger Wood's character matters. For what it's worth...

Monday, October 12, 2009

LEave of Absence

Due to a family emergency I am having to take a brief respite from my blogs. I will be back as soon a I can devote appropriate attention to quality postings. Please pray for us during this difficult time.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Kids In Mexico

Okay, I love kids. Always like to laugh with them, joke around, and play little games or just entertain them. I recently started teaching music classes in Mexico and 2/3rds of my piano class are girls under 10. They are all beautiful and cute. But they do keep their distance. My tendency when teaching kids is to hug and encourage them. Usually, in spite of any language barrier, this allows me to develop a good rapport. But in Mexico, they seem to keep their distance, which is a bit disappointing and hard for me to adjust to.

A little cultural background might be helpful. In certain parts of Mexican society, there is an assumption that girls will be the subject of sexual advances from any males, even relatives, so they must learn to keep their distance and even be kept away from males until they marry. The assumption in the culture seems to be that male libidos are so hard for men to control that other actions should be taken to protect the girls, since the males can't help themselves. Before I get lambasted, I am not saying I agree that male libidos cannot be controlled. We are biblically called to self-control so clearly God holds us accountable for controlling our desires and actions. But I am saying that it seems to be a cultural point of view there. Now, ironically, I am dealing with Protestant Christians here, so you would hope that would be a little different, but so far I am suspecting it may not be.

In any case, this presents a culture clash for me, as I have to be aware of how I interact with the kids and really watch myself so as not to offend. It should be easier, I guess, but I am so used to building rapport with kids, and often their parents, by joking and playing with the kids and just having fun. It also helps us bridge our language gap. All of these students, by the way, speak Spanish. A few know some English, but mostly it's the adults who do, not the kids.

In any case, an interesting culture clash that seemed to fit here. Sorry I have not posted in a while. Between vacation, job changes and some new writing projects, I have not had the time.

For what it's worth...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Worship Leadership With The Servant's Heart

Worship styles and approaches are a dime a dozen these days. Some churches feel more like concert halls. Sometimes, this is the result of the layout and design of the space where worship takes place. Sometimes, it happens in traditional church spaces because of the heart attitude of the leadership or musicians.

I serve a small, new bilingual congregation on the U.S.-Mexico Border. I come here with a servant's heart. The pastor is not perfect but neither am I. I want the music in this church to reach a professional level, but I expect several years will be required. But I am determined to work with them to gradually grow. As important as what I do musically is the attitude I take toward relationships. How I treat people and how I treat worship matter.

Part of the responsibility I have as lead worshiper is to be a good shepherd, herding them into God's house weekly and helping them feel comfortable there. It's not just about my musical style and taste or my demand for what I want. I get some of what I want, not all of it. I am there to serve their needs. I am there to meet them where they are, pour the love of God upon them through my example -- my passion, my music, etc. -- and help them grow to love worship more. In the process, they will come to know and love God more and better. The most important thing is that they can follow and join in as they are comfortable and that they feel loved and accepted there.

If I have to play guitar for a while instead of piano, I don't complain about that. I am His servant and He called me here. If you come to serve on our worship team, you must believe God has called you to us, and you must humble yourself, set aside your wants and needs and serve. I want to see a good servant's heart in you by the way you volunteer to help clean up, and working with me on the tunes. I want you to be willing to do whatever is needed to help God's people worship. Whether they can sing or play an instrument or not, they need you to help lead them, and that's why God called you there.

When I hear people express frustration that the music may not be energetic enough because of this or that or not what they like because of this or that -- to be honest, I think that comes from a self-serving place, not the heart of God. I think serving God requires us to be open to doing things however we need to do them to meet the needs of His people where He has us at any moment. It is hard to do, but it is our call. It is not about professional musicianship or sound or musical styles. It is not about worship that sounds every Sunday like it came off a CD. It is okay to want all those things and to have the goal of getting there, but coming in demanding them as the only acceptable way is not.

You may be a talented musician and a good and Godly man, but you need to search your heart about these things so that you have the right attitude before God. Whether you serve here or end up elsewhere, your heart attitude is very important. I have to check my heart every day. I'm an artist. I have an ego. I fight that demon. But most of all I am a child of God, who has been blessed to be called to serve His people, and am daily humbled by that privilege. And God rewards us when we serve Him faithfully without concern for such things.

I don't want people to walk away feeling like it was a great concert or great music set. I want the worship music so interwoven with the message the Lord is bringing that day that the music itself is almost incidental -- opportunities for God's people to echo their hearts' cry and speak back to him.It's not about my glory. It's not about people saying "Bryan makes great music." If people walk out the door saying "Wow. Bryan did great today," I have failed. What I want them to do is walk out the door saying: "Wow, I really felt the presence of the Lord here today. Wow, God's presence here was so strong today. Wow, God really touched me today."

If they say those things, then something far more important than quality music has happened. If they say those things, they have had a true encounter with the real, true, living God. And not even the most professional sounding, highest energy, best written music can ever top that. Encountering God is what it's all about and that should be our entire focus and the goal of everything we do. If we get blessed in the process that can only come from God's presence not satisfying ourselves.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Okay, call me old fashioned, but I am clashing with the consumer culture and have been for a long time. I still remember the days when parts didn't cost as much as the original item, when companies took pride in warranties and good maintenance for customers, when items were actually made to last and companies were actually sorry they let their customers down when a product was deemed inferior. It seems those days are gone, and I mourn the loss.

The change happened, historically, after World War II. All of a sudden, inventors like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were demoted as heroes to be replaced by accountants, business leaders and managers. These people didn't have the slightest idea how cars or machines worked or even how to make or fix them, but they did know how to cut down on costs in making them, how to cut employees, parts, or design costs to save the "bottom line." "Bottom Line" became the new buzz word. Marketing went into overdrive to convince people that buying new was better than keeping old. Everyone needs a new car, why keep fixing the old one? With this mentality, maintenance and long lasting products were not a major concern. In the process, Board meetings became less customer satisfaction focused and far more stock price/investor focused.

I think we should rue the day this occurred. My laptop screen got cracked once, and it was over 50% of the cost of the laptop to replace it. My digital camera screen cracked once and the manufacturer suggested replacement. Replacement keys for my keyboard went up to $30 or more a piece. And they didn't seem to last they way they used to. Apparently, the way I play, care for my things, etc. is expected to change if I want things to last. Otherwise, I need to plan on upping my investment by replacing or repairing far more often. This makes me rethink what I buy, when I buy it, and whom I buy it from. And it also makes me sometimes regret not thinking harder in making those decisions.

I still don't buy the idea that when you make and market product, you shouldn't be willing to stake your reputation on it. To me, what I put out there is a statement on who I am, and I honestly don't relate well to people who don't think the same way. It matters a great deal to me when someone accuses me of not meeting their expectations. And I think our society would be a better place if more people still cared about that and acted accordingly. Especially manufacturers and service companies. The fact that they don't is proved every time one of us spends endless time with a computer voice on the phone, trying to reach a real person who can help us resolve an issue. I have come to despise those computer voices -- so impersonal and without emotion. I miss the days when doing business with someone was like building an important relationship. It mattered more and I cared about the seller too.

Call me old-fashioned if you want to. But that's what I believe. For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Border Life

In her book, On The Border Of Opportunity, Marlean Pugach writes: "I want to cross, I want to know the other side, I want to see how life is or is not like mine when I get there, or at least I want to think about it." This pretty much sums up my philosophy toward other cultures. I love to go and explore the differences, the contrasts. I love to see a new way of viewing the world and note how that differs from my own. I love to discover things that break me out of my box. I love to learn and grow.

I have not lived in the borderland very long. But over the past few months here, and several years traveling to and from this area, I have been a bit surprised about the attitude many people here have toward the border. I am aware, having grown up in the Midwest, that many Americans do not share my fascination with other cultures or people who are different from them. Many American shun it and simply write it off as strange and ignorant. I guess I expected people who live in the border region to be a bit more open. I figured crossing over was more of a part of daily life than it seems to be for many people. Instead, people avoid it. Partially, this is due to violence, which is understandable. But even the information on that is so biased and not representative of reality that I find it sad more people are not interested in the larger city just a few minutes away by car across a few bridges.

We love going to Juárez. In fact, we have not gone enough. I am looking forward to my classes starting in two weeks so I can go over once a week. We went there when I taught in June and to buy some groceries. But when we go, we are excited to explore. We like the new foods, musical sounds, etc. We like to explore what's different from what we know and what's similar. For my wife, this takes on different shades than for me, because she's from Brazil. The similarities to what she knows are different than the ones I see to my world. I don't find driving in Juárez as scary as I had been told. We have never felt in danger. And we generally enjoy the hospitality and friendliness of the locals.

I hope people outgrow the fear as the violence calms, which inevitably it will some day. I also hope that some people will start being more interested in who we are as a region. You can't really hope to understand the culture of this place without understanding something about Mexico and the Mexican people. Not to mention Spanish. It's just too interwoven into life here. We have Mexican sections in grocery stores, even whole large stores of Mexican groceries. Spanish radio stations galore in every format. We have more Hispanic faces than Anglos. It is a part of El Paso's identity and it's sad to see people shunning it.

I am looking forward to learning more. Reading every book I can find. Asking questions of people. Exploring. And I plan to continue doing that. To me, it makes me feel a part of things. I wish more others wanted to do the same.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Part of Leadership Is How We Present Ourselves

This came up on a forum I participate in sometimes and it is a culture clash I thought was very interesting and appropriate.

* Posted by J Pettigrew on July 29, 2009 at 6:00pm in Living a Life of Worship

This may have been brought up in another thread, if so then I apologize. My home church is not conservative, but not the most forgivig congregation either. We have had some complaints because some of the musicians on our team have ear rings, tattoos, mohawks, etc...

So it was suggested that only when they are on stage at our church that they tone it down a bit and dress or style themselves a little more conservatively.

These people are strong Christians who serve God with their gifts, inside and outside of the church. Should they really have to change their appearance just to please the congregation???

All comments would be appreciated. I'm really hoping to hear from both sides to better understand why people feel the way they do.

Reply by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

I agree that striving to not offend and sensitivity to others are signs of maturity. The Christian heart attitude is tested in such times. It is similar to the case Paul writes about in Romans where mature Christians had eaten meat thrown from the temples of false gods, because it was still good and they didn't want to waste it. Less mature Christians saw this and questioned their faith. To Paul, the meat was fine and not evil or cursed. But since the immature Christians were being tested by the sight of it, he recommended the mature Christians not do it where they could be seen. Some people in my congregation are against drinking. Others have no issue as long as it is not to excess. When I go to church picnics, I leave the beer at home. When I go to events with church members, I don't drink. The same is true in my work in other cultures. I try and be sensitive in what I say, how I say it, and how I appear in presenting it. So while it may offend your band members' sense of personal freedom of expression, it is not unreasonable to ask them to show sensitivity and be the bigger persons and dress in a way that is more acceptable to those who just can't see beyond their stereotypes.
The goal of worship leading, and your band members are part of the worship leadership in your church whether they say words to lead or not, is to point people to Christ, not to one's self. If your dress is flashy or your jewelry calls attention to you and not Christ, you are not being a good leader. I ask my team members to dress conservatively, but comfortably, and none of them have the issues mentioned. I don't feel uncomfortable asking them, and so far no one has complained that it was unfair. It's just a reasonable expectation of leadership.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's About The Heart

One of the challenges of the context in which I so often have been called to work is that there is so much sensitivity surrounding worship issues. From song choices, to choice of words, etc., opinions are diverse and strongly held. When you move into a new cultural context, or between them (as I so often do), you face all the more challenges sorting them out. While sometimes the same issues do appear time and again, the cultural nuances behind them are often different and harder to sort out and reconcile.

In any case, I just wanted to offer the following to meditate on:

Roberta King, a professor of ethnomusicology at Fuller Seminary, has said that when it comes to song: God wants to be understood, and God is receptor oriented. So sometimes the setting needs to determine not only which songs we choose but also which concerns are primary in evaluating songs. But generally, is the message clear for those singing? Is it singable (language wise, musically)? Is it something culturally relevant to their context (not only lyrically but musically), etc.
The advantage we have is that God understands our hearts even when our language or musical expressions are imperfect. So I guess in some ways, the joy of expression, the passion, far outweighs the linguistic and musical correctness. Certainly that is the case for God's reception of things. But then again, just as the sermons teach theological concepts, so do the songs. And many cultures (Ghana for example) use songs to teach Scripture memorization. So again, context does add to determining criteria and they way criteria are prioritized...

But above all, beyond criteria, we are human and frail and have limited understandings. Every denomination and theologian out there, if and when they get to heaven, will find many errors in their way of thinking and interpreting scriptures which surprise them. God alone is all knowing and all seeing. We must remember that our hearts are what matters. Do we really love God? Are we passionate in our faith? Do we follow His commands, including loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are these things obvious to the world around us? If we fail in this area, none of the rest is going to matter a great deal. Being genuine but wrong is likely more acceptable in heaven than being selfish and not authentic in our faith and love for God and one another. If we spent more time focused on that than arguing details of our differences, etc. (which by the way are really little things in the overall picture), we'd be happier and more successful in our Christian walks.

I say this as much for myself as anyone else. It's something I think all of us need to constantly work on.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I am having a culture clash with my own culture these days. It has been a while since I've written here because life has been so full of transitions that I have not often had the time to sit down and reflect, but lately I keep bumping up against a cultural norm that really disturbs me: lack of loyalty. It just seems that today people's loyalties are very fickle. In marriage, in work partnerships, in all relationships, people are not willing to stick it out and work through problems like they used to. I even find myself tempted to do the same. "It's too hard, I'm too tired or too busy, I'll just stop going or stop calling and it will go away."

I hate when I think like that. Some of you may deem me ignorant -- I deserve that sometimes, too -- but I think there is still a place for loyalty in this world, and my culture in particular. One of the best and worst examples of it recently was George W. Bush, whose loyalty was admirable but led him to accept blame for many things others he trusted were doing. It also may have led him to follow them at times when more thought and debate was warranted, simply because he trusted them and wanted to be loyal. So, you see, loyalty can be good and bad.

But there is something to be said for the type of loyalty where people are there for each other through thick and thin. The type of loyalty that makes people run toward each other in times of crisis instead of running away. My Grandma Nora was like that, from what everyone tells me. She was never too busy to drop whatever she was doing and pray for someone or help them talk things through. She was the kind of friend people could depend on. I don't know about you, but I could sure use a few more of those.

There is something to be said for the husband who says "I am miserable. Our marriage is not working. I am very unhappy most of the time, but I choose to stay with you because we promised each other and God, and we need to work this out." That is a hard choice to make these days. And it is all the more rare, too, from what I see around me.

What about Jonathan who was loyal to his friend David even as Jonathan's father, Saul, was trying to have David killed? What about Paul, whose loyalty for Christ was so strong that he was willing to face the very torture and hardship he had once imposed on others in the name of God? How hard that kind of loyalty must have been?

Hard though it may, I think such loyalty is a quality sorely missing from our world today. That's why, despite the price he paid and the mistakes made, I admire George W. Bush for his loyalty, and I hope I can be loyal in the right times and for the right reasons. I hope my loyalty is strong and unfaltering. And I hope I can find some people who will be loyal like that for me, too. The world would be a better place.

For what it's worth...