main cow pic


The Art of Asking…

Filed under: creativity,music — 1:34 pm

Wow, this is inspiring.  She’s not trying to update the old ideas of selling music;  Amanda Palmer is rediscovering a whole new path of musicians connecting with music-lovers…


The Hymns of the People

Filed under: creativity,music — 4:12 pm

Three of my favorite people just launched a new project called “Hymns of the People”.  It’s absolutely incredible.   Becky and Nathan Ykema, along with Nate Yaccino, have set out to re-imagine and re-capture a handful of the great hymns of the Christian faith.  And they’ve nailed it.  The music is artistically inventive without ever losing its soul, and the dark beauty of the arrangements are a perfect foundation for Becky’s soaring voice.  As you can tell, I’m a fan.

The first six songs are at

I’ve loved getting to work with these guys over the last couple years.  Along with serving together at Willow, they’ve been a central part of A New Liturgy.  Becky has been the female vocalist on all four liturgies, Nathan played bass and arranged “This is My Father’s World”, and Nate mixed the first two at his Seattle studio.  I literally couldn’t have done it without them.

So definitely swing by their website and download the first six songs from Hymns of the People!  (If you’re willing to part with 6 bucks, you’ll get 6 great songs AND help fund the next 6 songs!)

And if you live in the Chicago area, Becky and team are sharing a number of songs from this project at the Willow Creek services this weekend.  More info here.


The Killers live – concert review

Filed under: creativity,music — 2:17 pm

On a whim, my friend Steve and I drove down to UIC last night to see The Killers show.  Their first album was my favorite album of 2003 and influenced me a ton, but I haven’t been much of a fan since.  Until last night.  Here are a few thoughts and reactions…

First, being at UIC reminded me of my first concert there in 1989.  Any guess?  Whatever band you’re thinking of, I promise you it’s worse.  Ready?  My first concert was STRYPER (with White Lion opening).  With my best friend and our moms.  Rock and roll, indeed.

Brandon Flowers

Brandon Flowers

Now that that’s on the table, back to last night…

The brilliance and magic of The Killers show were all about Brandon Flowers.  I expected him to be great, but honestly, not THAT great.  He was exciting and charismatic and winsome and the center of attention for every second of the show.
In a good way.  He played to the crowd and kept us engaged and even shared a couple stories that felt surprisingly human. He seemed comfortable in his own skin, but still gripped with the urgency that a rock show can change the world.  Or at least change one night in December.  Brandon has definitely learned from the Bono school of frontmen.  But thankfully, he’s not doing a “Bono impression” – the way most young performers with his ambitions do – but he’s learned from the master and has made it his own.

One more thing about Flowers:  That dude can sing. Wow.  He’s always had a cool voice, but in the last couple years, he’s become a SINGER.  His voice was high and clear and as strong on the last song as it was on the first.  I was beyond impressed.

Another highlight of the show was the lighting.  Whoever created the light show became a true member of the band:  co-creating the experience in a stunning way.  The music and visuals danced together all night, and the result was WAY beyond either part.

Here is my favorite moment from last night…


Divine Possibilities

Filed under: creativity,God's movement — 11:45 am

When I’ve been living on the surface for too long and need to wade into some deeper, richer, more meaty ideas…I will often immerse myself in the videos of The Work of the People.  Travis Reed and his team sit down with brilliant people to ask them provocative questions and capture their response.  The results are compelling, often unsettling, and always moving.

Usually, I will watch a dozen or so clips on their Vimeo page, but after this video, I had to stop and soak it in. Four and a half minutes of such goodness…

The two ideas that I can’t get past…

(1) Instead of praying “help me be Christ to them”, which feels selfish, I now pray “help me see Christ in them”.  When I begin to see Christ in the other, my Christ-like actions take care of themselves.

(2) All our creativity goes into imaginating solutions for the current structure, rather than re-imaging the structure.  We need to reject the ground rules and ask “Is there an entirely different way possible?”

Did you find this as challenging and moving as I did?  In what ways do you feel like we accept the ground rules and keep creating in the current box?


A conversation with Clayfire

Clayfire Media

If you are currently working to create worship experiences outside of the modern worship box, you’re going to love Clayfire Media. Linda Parriott and the Clayfire team are asking fantastic questions, pushing into deeper places, and helping worship leaders come up with their own sustainable worship design practices.  Really great stuff.

In fact, it was Linda who gave me a copy of  The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader by Mark Pierson.  If you haven’t read this wonderfully provocative book, pick it up immediately.

Recently, I got to be a part of the Clayfire Podcast, which you can watch/read/listen to HERE.  Linda invited me to share a bit about A New Liturgy and my journey into more liturgical streams.  She asked fantastic questions and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.  Here’s a short video excerpt…


Indie Game: The Movie

Filed under: creativity — 8:19 am

I stumbled upon Indie Game: The Movie this week, and found it fascinating.  The documentary follows a handful of indie game developers who sacrifice money, health and sanity to share their creative visions with the world.  The way their brilliance and obsession and swagger and insecurity all mix together makes for a great film, killer games, and no shortage of inner turmoil.  If you’ve ever completely lost yourself in a creative endeavor, you’ll love this…



5 things I’m loving right now…

Filed under: A New Liturgy,creativity — 3:53 pm

Izzy tracking marimba

(1) Creating with a team.  As I write this, A New Liturgy No 4 is being mastered.  Finished!  I’m so excited.  And as I look back over the last few months of making it, the biggest word that comes to mind is collaboration.  Izzy, Ben, Nathan, Becky, and Aaron all brought ideas and grooves and sounds and colors I would have never thought of, and helped create the most exciting New Liturgy yet.  It’s a thrill to create with such great people.

(2) Beats by Dre.  About a month ago I realized that I listen to 90% of my music while running or riding my bike.  But always through mediocre ear buds.  So I cashed in a gift card at Best Buy and picked up the tour earphones by Dr Dre.  Worth every penny.

Beats by Dre

(3) Blaine Hogan’s blog + book.  My good friend Blaine is one of the most creative and thoughtful people I know. And right now, on his blog (which is always worth reading), he is giving away a download of his killer book UNTITLED: Thoughts on the Creative Process.
If you make anything, this book will help you make it better.

(4) Engaging with Middle East Peacemakers.  Many of you know that traveling to Israel/Palestine profoundly marked me…and continues to mess with me.  But rather than being content to theorize or opine endlessly, I really want to be an actual peacemaker in some small way.  And so I’m trying to learn from people who are actually doing it.  If you also want to learn about this complex issue, feel free to join us at Willow Creek on September 21st at 7pm for a Learning Community about Peacemaking in Israel and Palestine.

(5) Adventures with Shauna and the boys.  Even though we’re all busy with our own stuff – Shauna is finishing her 3rd book, I’m already working on Liturgy No 5, Henry just started kindergarden and soccer, and Mac is busy bumping his head into every hard object he can find – we keep finding ways to have adventures TOGETHER.  It’s not easy but so incredibly important.  And fun!  Here’s a video of Henry after his first ride on a real roller coaster – The Demon at Great America…


Bono and the terrifying courage to dream it all up again

Filed under: church,creativity,music,worship — 8:59 am

From the Sky Down

Many of you know that Bono and U2 have played a huge role in helping me become a worship leader.  (Check our Everything I Know About Worship Leading I Learned from an Irish Rock Star).

But even though I’ve been focusing on smaller, more reflective kinds of worship expressions lately, I just watched the fascinating U2 documentary “From the Sky Down” and am all fired up again!  They somehow capture the brilliance and power of what is POSSIBLE when a big group of people gather together and agree on something.  Here are two inspiring moments from the film…

(1) During their opening song at Glastonbury, Bono shouts to the crowd:  “Glastonbury!  Where are you going to take us tonight?!?  Where are YOU going to take us tonight?!?” and then launches into the great Real Thing bridge:  You take us higher / You take us higher.  This reminded me…

Bono knows that he’s the ring-leader, but the people are the main event.  He didn’t say “Glastonbury, are you ready to be taken somewhere great?”  His faith is not in what the band can do for the people, but what we all can create together.  How beautiful!

I want to be more like him in this way.

(2) While talking about that terrifying season when they had left the approach that had made them the biggest band on earth (Joshua Tree) BUT hadn’t found their next sound (Achtung Baby), Bono suggested:

“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you
get to the next expression.  And in between, you have nothing.”

I cannot stop thinking about this.  His words haunt me and raise a couple questions…

-Am I willing to let go of what I know (which is today fading into yesterday) in order to be ready for the unknown (which is tomorrow trying to be born)?  Or will I keep clutching to what has always worked?  This is easy to answer in theory, but very hard to live out.

-Will I be the kind of artist that keeps creating new versions of what I’ve already made, or do I need to stop and dream it up again?

-Will I be the kind of worship leader who plugs new songs into the same tired formula, or do I need to stop, pray, learn from others, and dream up some new ways to help people connect with God?  (Here’s the dilemma:  The old formula still “works” for many people.  And that’s a good thing!  But I truly believe that something new is trying to get born, and those who are willing to let go of what still works might have hands free enough to help the new birth.)

I think that my friend Brian sums up this spirit well:  “We’re not just trying to fill pews in the church of the sunset, but we’re trying to help people create the church of the sunrise.”

What does that look like for you?  Whether art or business or service or family, what does it look like to stay open to the unfolding future?  Are you clinging to anything that might keep you from grabbing hold of what’s coming?  Are you more concerned with safety than possibility?  How do you balance the difficult tension between reality’s demands and tomorrow’s invitation?  What do you think is trying to get born in the world and in your life…and how can you help it happen?

Our planet needs a few more dreamers.  Not just dreamers who sit at home and dream, but those who are brave enough to push past the security of the known and see what awaits us beyond the bend.  Are you in?


Bill Clinton, pastors, and worship leaders

Filed under: church,creativity — 8:27 am

Bill Clinton

Okay, for real, this is not a political post.

I can’t stop thinking about Bill Clinton’s DNC speech last week. Politics aside, it was an absolute master class in high-stakes, large-scale communication that took my breath away, like watching Michael Jordan take over the fourth quarter of a finals game.  Much has been written about the speech, and I stumbled upon a line in this article that not only reveals his secret, but brilliantly challenges those of us who try to communicate to groups of people:

“…Clinton would refer to most of his formal remarks not as speeches but as “talks,” subtly reminding his staff that he wanted to address Americans as adults to be persuaded, not an audience to be manipulated.”

Think about the implications of that perspective.  It’s not about yelling out empty promises, cliches, and zingers to whip a crowd into a frenzy, it’s about looking people in the eye and trusting that they are smart enough to have a conversation.  It’s not merely about hype or emotion, but something deeper.

Every Sunday, those of us serving the church have a similar invitation.

We worship leaders can feel a lot of pressure to whip the church into a “spiritual frenzy” and deliver that great, euphoric worship feeling.  The idea is:  if we give them a soaring, emotional God experience, then transformation will follow.  And God has used this approach in many ways.  But more and more, I can’t help wondering if we have it backwards.  We are treating our churches like audiences rather than adults.

Instead of a concert approach, what if our worship gatherings simply invited people into an honest conversation about God?  What if we painted a rich, beautiful, intelligent, complex, dangerous, and loving picture of the Almighty, and then allowed people to respond according to their personality and experience? What if a worship leader’s job was to lead prayers, practices, songs, and readings that form our community into Christlikeness…and let the “worship feeling” arise (or not arise) out of those depths?

Does this sound a little naive?  Possibly.  I don’t mean to set up a false dichotomy between deep content and emotional experiences. Both are important. But it’s critical to get the order right.

Worship leader friends, what do you think?  Do we aim for an emotional response and hope that leads to transformation?  Or do we aim for transformation and hope that leads to a great response?  (The answer is probably “both”, but which way do you think we should lean?)

How can we best treat our worshiping communities like adults rather than audiences?



How my friend Tom rescued A New Liturgy from being Christian stadium rock

Filed under: A New Liturgy,creativity,worship — 8:24 am

One year ago this week, I had a conversation with my friend Tom that wildly changed A New Liturgy.  First, I need to tell you that Tom is one of the most brilliantly creative people I’ve ever met.  He has been the artistic force behind a number of great projects, and was Rob’s partner in creating Nooma.  He’s also legendary for being brutally honest and telling you EXACTLY what he thinks.

So you can imagine how nervous I was, standing in his living room, playing a demo of the first New Liturgy.

When it was done, Tom actually said a couple kind words, but then he let it rip:  “Aaron, when it was just music, I loved it.  But as soon as you started reading scripture, I hated it.  You are using worship voice.  And that voice is fine in a big room like Mars Hill or Willow, but if I’m listening to this in the early morning as I pray, I don’t want you yelling at me.  Get rid of your worship voice.”

“And while I’m at it”, he continued with a wink, “the God’s Children song sounds like stadium rock.  It’s too much.  Again, that works fine in an auditorium, but does NOT work for this.”

As his words sunk in, I didn’t even have time to be disappointed.  He was completely right!!  I was approaching the liturgy in the same way I create worship sets, and it wasn’t translating.  At all.  Thank God that someone said something before it was too late.

And so I drove back to my home studio and re-imagined the entire approach.  First, I invited my family over to re-record all the scripture readings together.  Instead of using my worship voice to “perform dramatic readings”, we tried to make them “shared communal readings”…like a dozen of us were praying together in a small prayer chapel.  You can especially hear this approach in movement one: God is Love Scripture.

Second, I started God’s Children over from scratch.  Even though the recording was 80% done and sounding great, Tom was right and I needed to scrap it.  (You can hear the original in With Broken Fists EP (vol 1) – available in the Mega-Bundle.)  Instead of the driving rock version – carried by floor toms and trombones – I asked the question “How can it carry the liturgy from the scripture readings to And Can it Be?  What approach would best serve this experience?”  And so we built the song around a melancholy drone of harmonium and some foot stomps.

I can’t tell you how many times that this New Liturgy project was profoundly improved by a trusted friend’s honest input.  I could have never created it alone.  Which reminds me to keep lifting up my head, continue humbling myself, and continually submit my work to the fresh eyes and ears of people who also want it to be great.  Even if they make fun of my worship voice!  Ha!

Do you have any Toms in your life?


Learning from a Barefoot Movement

Filed under: creativity,leadership — 6:18 pm

This is brilliant.  The story is wildly inspiring, but I can’t help wondering about the implications for the future…


The Beastie Boys

Filed under: creativity,music — 4:07 pm

In honor of Adam Yauch, here are two of my all time favorite Beastie Boys songs…


A few things inspiring me right now…

Filed under: A New Liturgy,books,creativity,music — 9:39 am

Life feels really full right now.  And although some of it is intense and difficult, some of it is really exciting.  Here are a number of things that are inspiring me right now…

(1) Fun.  I can’t stop listening to the new album “Some Nights” by Fun.  I’ve been a fan of the lead singer for a while now (he used to front The Format), but he’s taken things to an entirely new level of ridiculous melody, drama, and…well…fun.  Freddie Mercury would be so proud.


(2) IJM GPG.  My band and I got to be a part of International Justice Mission’s Global prayer Gathering in DC this weekend.  It was one of the most compelling gatherings of Jesus followers I’ve ever seen.  These people are the REAL DEAL – giving their lives to fighting for justice on behalf of the most forgotten people on earth.  They literally are in the business of freeing slaves, mostly young female sex slaves.  The stories were heartbreaking and beautiful and made me want to be a better person.  No hype…just prayer, stories, more prayer, and the Eucharist.

the boys

(3) Being a dad of two boys.  These two kids bring more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined.  Whatever the word “delight” means…they embody it.

(4) The Bible Made Impossible.  This book is blowing my mind.  Author Christian Smith’s premise is that Biblicism (a very common literal approach to the Bible, common to Fundamentalist and most Evangelical Christians) is actually impossible to practice according to its own claims.  But instead of arguing for a classic Liberal alternative, he appeals to a more beautiful third way that maintains a very high view of the divinely inspired scriptures without asking the bible to be something it was never meant to be.  (A full review is coming as soon as I finish it.)  Please read this book.

(5) Paul and his string quartet.  My friend Paul is one of the best musicians (cellist) I know, so when he offered to pull together a string quartet for “New Liturgy No 3: Lord Have Mercy“, I imagined it’d be great.  But I didn’t realize they’d be THIS great.  Here’s a little taste during the recording session…

(6) Awake.  I’m torn about this new show on NBC.  I really enjoy watching it, but can’t decide if it’s (1) A brilliant new show that’s finding it’s way into new territory, or (2) A one trick premise that can’t sustain itself beyond one season.  Is anyone else watching this show?

What about you?  What is inspiring you these days?  Recommendations?


How architecture helped music evolve

Filed under: creativity,music — 2:15 pm

This is a fascinating perspective from David Byrne about how we all create music for the venue it will be played in.  Does this make it less authentic?  Has this pattern diminished the art or merely redirected it?  Well worth the 16 minutes…

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