Jesus Sang the Blues

If you follow me on social media, you know that I am a big U2 fan, and have been for years. Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock group U2, once wrote an introduction to a special edition of the Book of Psalms in which he suggested that David was the original bluesman:


“At age 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star — a dramatic character, because before David could fulfill the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm — a blues. That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me — the blues. Man shouting at God — ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?’ (Psalm 22).”

As an art form, blues music fascinates me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but it is a very particular style that is suited to certain times and moods. I happen to think that it is especially appropriate during Lent.

That’s why seven years ago, when I was pastor of the contemporary service at FUMC Rowlett, I introduced a service called “Jesus Sang the Blues” which I debuted on Palm Sunday. Two years in a row, we celebrated this special service, in which our contemporary band played the blues, and we focused on the story of Jesus’ suffering.

I’m excited about unveiling the service here at Kessler Park UMC this Sunday. The 11:00 am service will be outdoors on the east lawn. We’ve set up a stage against the building, where the Pat Boyack Band will be playing a number of blues tunes in our service, including “Peace in the Valley” and “People Get Ready,” as well as the classic hymns, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” (Pat Boyack is the husband of our office administrator, Yvonne.)

Why the blues on Palm Sunday? For one, Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday, and it is liturgically appropriate to not only observe Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but also Jesus’ suffering leading up to the crucifixion (known as the “passion”).

If you are one of those churchgoers who only attends Sunday worship, and not the special services throughout Holy Week, you could possibly go from Palm Sunday to Easter and never hear much about the pain that Jesus experienced on his final days. That would be unfortunate, because the death of Jesus is just as important as the resurrection of Jesus. To put it another way, you can’t really understand the joy of Easter unless you have also experienced the despair and hopelessness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

The point of observing “Jesus Sang the Blues” on Passion Sunday is to remind ourselves of Jesus’ vulnerability during the darkest days of his life. Jesus went through the complete range of difficult emotions on that last week — betrayal, abandonment, bitterness, torture, depression, and a bleak death on a cross. While hanging on that cross, he shouted a line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That cry has been heard time and time again throughout history, from the victims of wars, the survivors of natural catastrophes, the oppressed and the poor. That cry has come to full expression in the writings of the prophets, the words of the poets, and the music of those who play and sing the blues.

When we see that Jesus sang the blues, then we come to the startling realization that Jesus has completely identified himself with the human situation. Jesus was truly one of us; and not just “one of us,” but one of the least. He was condemned, humiliated, cast aside, and marginalized.

Jesus suffered, too.

Jesus cried and shouted and protested his innocence, too.

Jesus railed against God, too.

All of that is true of Jesus, just as it is often true of me and you. Holy Week is not just about the suffering of Jesus, which was hardly unique; it’s about human suffering, and the ways in which we torment ourselves and each other.

Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but sing the blues …

(If you're not into the blues or not interested in worshipping outdoors, there will also be a traditional Palm Sunday service with Holy Communion in the church sanctuary at 8:30 am.)

For The Dones

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In the coming days, I plan to release a new Kindle edition of a book I wrote a few years ago. My new title is Done With Church: A Guide to Following Jesus Outside of Organized Religion.

OK, OK … I can see the question marks over your heads and above your puzzled brows. Am I encouraging people to leave the church? Am I advocating for the decline of local congregations?

No, absolutely not. If I were urging people to leave the church, I would be — literally — biting the hand that feeds me!

Instead, I am trying to encourage and comfort the large numbers of people across the country who have left church out of disillusionment. A sociologist recently published an article in Christianity Today in which he dubbed these people, “The Dones,” because they are done with church. According to the article, these Dones were highly active in their churches and didn’t want to leave, but felt stifled and disappointed by church structure. They dropped out, and have no plans to return.

I’ve met lots of people like this in my ministry. The reasons for leaving range from disappointment with church leaders to no longer believing church doctrine to perceiving the church is anti-gay or anti-female. Lots of people have been hurt by the church, and they are understandably reluctant to return.

In my book, I speak directly to the Dones. I acknowledge their pain and frustration, and admit that I have felt it myself. I don’t try to “win them back” to the church. Instead, I offer them a new way forward, a path that creates authentic community in a smaller setting, focused on the things that really matter.

The truth is being a member of a denominational church in a traditional church building is only one way to be a faithful follower of Jesus. There are other ways to follow Jesus, and I have seen a lot of these ways in my life. For example, I have met people who live in intentional Christian community together, or who gather for prayer and conversation on weekday evenings in bars. They do “church” in a different way, but it’s still “church.”

The only way you can’t be an effective follower of Jesus, however, is BY YOURSELF. You can’t walk this journey of faith alone. That’s why my book advocates a relationship-based approach to following Jesus. You can’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian.”

I understand why some people are done with church, I really do. I still hold out hope for the institutional model; I think the way we do church still has value and meaning.

But we must keep in mind that the way we do church is not meaningful to everyone.

After I wrote the first edition of the book several years ago, I was contacted by someone who was a teenager at one of my first churches. She sent me a message on Facebook after reading the book, part of which read:

“I wanted you to know that I purchased your book a little while back but hadn't had the time to really read it. Last week I just felt like I need some perspective or reassurance or something so I picked up and read it! After the first 5 pages I felt like you wrote this book for ME and for this moment in time. I ended up highlighting quite a few paragraphs while I read. It really did banish guilt and gave me a bright and new perspective. I'm still figuring out what direction I want to take things as a whole but I'm definitely a huge step closer. I really want to thank you for writing this book. It spoke to me in a way I really needed in the here and now.”

That’s why I wrote the book. It may not be for you, it’s for the Dones. If you know any, point them to my book … coming soon.


Spring break is almost here! I expect that many of you will take the week to jet off somewhere fun or try to get away for a break.

I hope you take some time for relaxation and enjoy some spring weather. But let me warn you — when you get back to church, get ready for some pleasant changes!

For one, over spring break, we’re having the rest of the repair work done on the top and ground floors from the January 1st burst pipe. We’re getting some rooms and hallways re-floored and re-painted. (We’ve already had the second floor hall and children’s ministry room re-carpeted.) Believe me, it’s going to look great!

You’ll also notice something else different on Sunday, March 18. You’ll see a new person in the chancel with me, Ken, and Jonathan. We will welcome our new staff member, Rev. Kay Ash, who begins as our full-time Director of Christian Education.


I am very excited to welcome Kay to Kessler Park UMC. For one, this marks a significant and important step up for our church. For the first time in a while, this church will have TWO appointed clergy on staff. Kay is a commissioned deacon in the North Texas Conference, and is on pace to be ordained in two years.

I will give Kay a chance to introduce herself once she joins us, but suffice it to say that her resume is quite impressive. She graduated from American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, where she worked as an actor and dancer for 18 years before moving back to Dallas, where she earned a Masters degree from Perkins School of Theology.  She has worked in children’s ministry at Bridgeport Camp, Arapaho UMC in Richardson, and currently at First UMC Gainesville.

Her responsibilities at KPUMC will include overseeing all aspects of children’s ministry, including the nursery, Parents Day Out, and our regular children’s programming, including Vacation Bible School and Easter Parade.

To be honest, I didn’t know Kay before she applied for this job, but since getting to know her, I have been blown away by her energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of ministry with children. I know that she’s the right person for the job at this moment in time, and I’m excited that we will all benefit from her wisdom.

I’m grateful to Nell Lind, Ashley Shultz, Sally Climer, Wendy Ogren, and everyone else who has pitched in to assist with ongoing children’s programs since Erin Klein left us. They have gone above and beyond to keep things going while we waited for Kay to join us.

And I’m also thankful to Cammy Gaston, our district superintendent, and Bishop Mike McKee who made this appointment happen. They recognized that our church will flourish under Kay’s guidance and leadership.

This is a good time to be part of the family of Kessler Park UMC. God is doing something very cool here!