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The Renovaré Podcast

Nathan Foster talks to ordinary saints about spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines and everyday life with God. New episodes every other Monday.

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James Catford Nathan Foster
James Catford & Nathan Foster
February 18, 2019

The Cloud of Unknowing // James Catford

Written by an anonymous author in the 14th century, The Cloud of Unknowing serves as a guide to Christian contemplation. For guest James Catford, Renovaré board member and former British Bible Society Chief Executive, it's a "lifetime book." Nathan Foster draws out James' insights on the book.

The 2019 Renovaré Book Club is going through The Cloud of Unknowing. Learn more.

Jan Johnson Nathan Foster
Jan Johnson & Nathan Foster
February 11, 2019

Being Glad With God // Jan Johnson

A good translation of Philippians 4:4 is, "Celebrate in the Lord, always." But what does that mean in practical terms? Author and teacher Jan Johnson joins Nathan Foster again to discuss being glad with God in the present moment.

Transitional music by Lee Rosevere.

Evan Howard Nathan Foster
Evan Howard & Nathan Foster
January 28, 2019

Is That God? // Evan Howard

Is learning to discern God's voice a fundamental spiritual discipline? Evan Howard believes so and joins Nathan Foster to share how God leads us. Evan's Ph.D. is in the area of Christian Discernment, and he teaches at institutions including Fuller Theological Seminary. 

Fil Anderson Nathan Foster
Fil Anderson & Nathan Foster
January 14, 2019

The Sound of God's Voice // Fil Anderson

"There's a difference between someone's words and someone's voice." Spiritual director and author Fil Anderson talks with Nathan Foster about learning to love and discern the sound of God's voice.

Learn more about Fil on his website.

Nathan Foster
Ruth Haley Barton & Nathan Foster
December 31, 2018

Episode 147 - The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God // Ruth Haley Barton

Dallas Willard once said, "If you don't come away for a while, you will come apart after a while." Ruth Haley Barton, author of Invitation to Retreat, joins Nathan to talk about the gift and necessity of retreat where we rest, unplug, and relinquish ourselves to God.

Brian Morykon Nathan Foster
Brian Morykon & Nathan Foster
December 10, 2018

Episode 146 - On Worship: Remembering Scott Baker // Brian Morykon

Losing someone close opens up new perspectives and a deep gratitude for that person's life. Songwriter, worship leader, and Renovaré Director of Communications Brian Morykon reflects on worship in the light of the loss of his mentor and friend Scott Baker.

You can hear more of Scott's music at colporteur.bandcamp.com

The podcast includes a reading of an essay Scott wrote for the website of his publishing company, EarReverent. The text is below.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in our living room before a small china cabinet the bottom of which contained my father’s small but growing collection of LPs. From a sensory standpoint, those cardboard and vinyl objects played as influential a role in my personal formation as the Lutheran catechism and liturgy in which I was thoroughly soaked by the age of twelve. It wasn’t long before Dad convinced Pastor Garth to let us take drums and bass into the sanctuary and play a couple of spiritual numbers for the congregation. This was the same bass guitar on which all of us had taken a turn playing the ubiquitous opening line from “Smoke on the Water.” Down in the church basement, during a lull in youth group, you could play it all on the lowest string. Looking back, I think we may have been the original Praise Band. Most of the good Missouri Synod Lutherans accepted the move, I guess, but my Dad told me one of his choir companions apparently had a word for any attempt at permeating the line between secular and sacred inside the church building: “schmaltzy.”

For some reason, many of us officially charged with crossing that line over the years (i.e. “contemporary worship leaders”) seem to have taken this characteristic as a mission statement: “Schmaltzy: of, relating to, or marked by excessive or maudlin sentimentality.” Getting at it from the direction of the thesaurus: “hokey, kitschy, maudlin, mawkish, schmalzy, bathetic, sentimental, slushy, soppy, soupy, mushy, drippy.” The over-compensating cure for schmaltz, of course, is being cool, a quality as elusive to the touch as a blob of mercury. I didn’t try to achieve coolness in church until after I had tried it at sundry times and diverse manners outside the church.

By the time I returned, in the late 1980s, those of us in newly acquired musical leadership positions satisfied our urge to speak the language of Christian worship in our own musical vernacular while justifying the project as follows: we were bringing appeal to the dusty act of going to church for those disaffected members of “the younger generation.” Any coolness we eventually appropriated derived from the sonic dens of FM, LP, Dolby-cassette, and CD, and we tried to hit two cultural birds with one musical stone.

Sooner or later members of the past few generations found out that the Kingdom of Coolness is a hobo train car paneled inside with mirrors. When you catch a glimpse of your own reflection, you either have to hold your sides laughing, turn into Narcissus, or look elsewhere for artistic meaning and purpose.

Somewhere along the line, I hoped to do more than strum passionately along at the front of the room. Like all presumptuous owners of a six-string possessing mastery of the shift from a major chord to a suspended chord and back again, I figured I could write contemporary congregational music just as well as the next guy. So, between 1993 and 2004, under the wing and embrace of Grace Evangelical Free Church, I trotted out a string of freshly penned “praise songs” and invited (read: “made”) the casually-dressed attendees to look at the words projected on the wall and then try to sing along.

My first installment emerged from a kitchen writing session where I opened the Old Testament during Advent and wrote a song called “With Us Jesus” right out of Isaiah 9. This habit of keeping the songs grounded in the lyrical language of scripture (and the rhythms of the lectionary calendar), using multiple texts to comment back and forth on each other, became a songwriting principle.

I founded a music publishing company, EarReverent, a cheeky pun meant to declare opposite refusals and complimentary demands. Church songs need not be organ-classical nor must they be “happy-clappy” kitsch. At the same time, they should merge current musical strains with timeless, “pre-Modern” truth and the liturgical posture of the ageless church. The music we envisioned would be naturally tied to the folk-rock roots of our existing abilities and proclivities but would also strive to transcend that contemporary delivery system by seeking sufficient depth of content and liturgical purpose. Songs crawled and jumped out of the sound hole of my Takamine: droning confessions (“Forgiveness Prayer”), moody Psalms (“Out of the Deep”), and celebratory hand-clappers (“O Most High”).

When the song had the right musical feel (that’s the Ear side) and the appropriate liturgical function and language (that’s the Reverent side), it would march right up to the overhead projector and have a go. Nothing could really stop it from the human side (that is, sometimes unfortunately, no one has the heart to tell a worship leader “No”). Nevertheless, excusing the boldness of the following observation, quite often there seemed to be a big “Yes” from the divine side. We sought to hallow the everyday while wrenching the familiar out of its given shape and remolding it for holier use. Every once in while, it seemed to work. To me, “Raise a Song” said it best, borrowing from Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14: “I will sing with my mind, and my heart, and my soul."

To put all this on a slightly more elevated plane: every Christian in each historical generation and cultural setting has to find their place in the liturgy, the way things are done by the people of God, in time and across it. Those of us writing and singing and recording under the EarReverent label were finding a way to be responsibly creative during transcendent moments that transpire in sacred space, such as, say, the tiled store-front of a rented strip mall unit.

May God bless those adults who let us kids play around with the church music. In this spirit of gratitude, I’ll end by calling to your attention Harold Best’s Unceasing Worship. In it, Best provides an update on a statement attributed to G. K. Chesterton, who said something like, “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Best improves this by focusing on improvement itself: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly, but not for long.” Hopefully, this selection of songs wears the stamp of successive growth in quality and depth. I know that I am not the only songwriter/music leader out there who finds himself worrying about one thing especially: what warrant do I and others like me have for adding to the sonic glut that we call “music,” especially if we’re non-professionals? None at all, it is a privilege to be taken both seriously and lightly. If you elect to include any of these selections in your church’s gathering-song, may you find a way to make them more EarReverent than they were when they started out. Let’s leave this place better than we found it.

— C. Scott Baker
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung Nathan Foster
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung & Nathan Foster
November 26, 2018

Episode 145 - Deadly Sins and Their Remedies // Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung

Vices are bad habits we can rely upon to make our lives not work. So why do we do them. And how do we get to the bottom of our sin-symptoms and allow The Master Physician to heal the root causes? Rebecca DeYoung, author of Glittering Vices and Vainglory, talks with Nathan Foster about ordering our loves.

Glittering Vices is being read in The Renovaré Book Club.

Paul Patton Nathan Foster
Paul Patton & Nathan Foster
November 12, 2018

Episode 144 - We All Have Secrets // Paul Patton

Sometimes the voice, message, and volume of our secrets can dominate us. Enter confession, a spiritual practice that helps us receive forgiveness and healing. To explore this liberating spiritual discipline, Nathan Foster welcomes back Paul Patton, author, playwright, former pastor, and now artist in residence at Spring Arbor University.

Sarah Bowling Nathan Foster
Sarah Bowling & Nathan Foster
October 29, 2018

Episode 143 - Service: Heartbreaking Euphoria // Sarah Bowling

"There's a lot of times people romanticize service work. It's not like that...It breaks my heart… it unravels me… People ask, 'do you have to always feel it?' I don't know how'd you'd love without feeling it." Sarah Bowling, founder of humanitarian organization Saving Moses, joins Nathan Foster again to talk about the spiritual discipline of service.

Learn more about Saving Moses.

James Catford Nathan Foster
James Catford & Nathan Foster
October 15, 2018

Episode 142 - Becoming a Servant // James Catford

At a 2018 Renovaré Pastoral Leadership Conference, workshops were given on spiritual disciplines. Directed at pastors but applicable to all, James Catford, Renovaré board member and former British Bible Society Chief Executive, presented on the heart of service.