This is not my personal bookshelf . . . mine is much messier. But, you get the idea. Books are great.

Last year, I made a goal for reading. And, I am ok with admitting I did not meet my goal. I read 69 out of 80 books I had intended to read and I’m at peace with my final tally. Sure, I didn’t get to 100%, but I read some really great books and seriously, 2020 was a weird year.

I have been taking part in the Reading Challenge for the last four years. And so far, I’ve yet to meet my set goal. I could be really bummed about that reality, but the Reading Challenge has gotten me…

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,

But whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear,

Is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.

- Proverbs 28:14–15

The old cliché “we live in uncertain times” is a standard trope, but at this moment in history, this line holds disturbing resonance. As we continue to navigate a mysterious virus with unknowns of origin, cause, transmission, treatment, and lasting effects, the uncertainty can be overwhelming. America has leading scientists and minds working tirelessly to uncrack the code of COVID-19, but at this moment…

Ahmaud Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery was an unarmed innocent man, stalked and killed over a non-violent crime he didn’t commit. For many of us, the last few days have been full of righteous anger as we try to understand how this could happen. Many of my friends are expressing their anger and heartbreak via social media, and I believe that anger is properly placed. But, how does that righteous anger result in change? In a world where COVID-19 is a constant threat, how do we make our voices heard? Protests and demonstrations hold a health treat for both ourselves and other fellow liked…

I come from a family of jigsaw puzzle lovers. Not everyone has bought into the cult of jigsaw (my father always hated them), but the majority of our family a turn or two assisting the designated puzzle during holiday gatherings. It is one of the only ways I’ve found to keep the women of my family from talking non-stop. My grandmother is originally from Alabama and her three daughters (including my mother) picked up the gift of gab. Loud gab. …

A photo from First Unitarian Church Dallas, Easter 2016

Growing up in a Baptist church, the liturgical calendar was not a priority. Obviously, we celebrated the dynamic duo: Christmas Eve and Easter. That’s when I saw new faces in the pews and prayed some of them would find Jesus and come back the next Sunday. Our church usually had a parade of children walk down the aisles with palm leaves the week before Easter. Though Palm Sunday usually took an awful twist towards the end, as we had to cram all of Holy Week into one service. And, we occasionally had THAT Advent calendar in our house. You know the one. Open up a window each day and get a chocolate, but one day someone skips ahead 2–3 days and the jury is out on just who has a little bit more energy thanks to the lack of self control. Note: In a household with only two children, the jury doesn’t take long to rule.

Oh ya, and then there was Lent. Wait, what? I think my only childhood knowledge of Lent were restaurants having fish specials on Fridays. And of course, those specials were really only for the Catholics, so I could continue with the status quo at home with meat, potato and a picked at green vegetable every night. Lent was just another strange practice Catholics took part in that made me even more confused about what they believed.

When I moved to Dallas after college, I found a wonderful reality of churches hiring singers as section leaders for their choirs. I knew a few friends who had made a few bucks doing this in college, but growing up Baptist, music on Sundays included a colossal volunteer choir in robes and stoles singing at the traditional service every Sunday, often with a small brass section, organ and piano. I had never fathomed I could earn money by serving as a worship leader within a church choir. Within a year of moving to Dallas, I was singing almost every Sunday in a local house of worship.

I use “house of worship” purposely because I’ve always joked that I never know what denomination I am from Sunday to Sunday. As a freelancer, I’m constantly on the move, assisting in choirs from a variety of Christian backgrounds. And, this has also included some time at a Jewish Temple and a Unitarian Church. I consider myself fortunate, because my job allows me to see how people do church. And each week for the last 10+ years, that’s what I’ve been doing with my Sunday mornings: leading in worshipping and marveling at how others navigate the mysteries of life. And, I learned that Lent was not just a Catholic thing. Lent is a big deal at the Baptist church I am a member of here in Dallas, and it is a spiritual practice for many other churches that don’t have “Catholic” in their name.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and the calendar on my iPhone reminds me I have two services in the morning as well as a concert in the evening. It’s a lie. My phone has been lying to me for weeks now, but I just play along. It’s a strange feeling knowing all those plans have been vanquished by a pandemic. This was not part of my planned Lenten journey but nevertheless, I’ve been helpless as it has wrecked my schedule and my rhythm. For the first time in years, I will not be singing “Hosanna!” in a sanctuary tomorrow morning. That’s a really weird feeling I still can’t seem to wrap my head around.

I guess it’s time for a confession. I’ve already sung Hosanna. And yes, I skipped ahead and sang Alleluia. A church where I serve as a section leader has already prerecorded services for Holy Week. A group of nine singers stood 6 feet apart and recorded anthems and hymns to be streamed at the appropriate times in the coming days. Those recording sessions were a welcome respite from the stress and anxiety of the last few weeks. And, it feels wonderful knowing our music will bring a sense of normalcy and a bit of comfort to those who will worship along during Holy Week. This crisis has helped me realize how fortunate I am to lead and guide parishioners in worship with my beloved friends and colleagues. It has been an important reminder during these tough days.

I’ve been wrestling with the realities of pressing fast forward on Lent. The planned services and special days in preparation for Easter have been sent into disarray, and when it comes to my ministry, the tomb already feels empty. I can watch the recordings this week, but it won’t feel fresh like it will for parishioners who are experiencing the worship experience in its proper time. I feel cheated. I feel left out. I feel like something important has been swept out from under me. And honestly, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

These feelings led me to reassess why I do what I do, and how this year is different from previous ones. Sure, I could be happy I’m not in lengthy, tedious rehearsals that fill up my schedule prior to Holy Week, but those rehearsals don’t seem so annoying at the present moment. For all the complaining I’ve done over the years, I have a new appreciation for the rehearsal process. I miss my friends. I miss making music with my friends. I miss challenging myself and others to be the best musicians we can be. And I miss the power of sharing a completed product with others. It leaves me feeling uneasy and unfulfilled.

As for jumping the gun on Hosannas and Alleluias, those words have specific meaning in Holy Week, but haven’t I been singing them well before their designated time for years? Sure, some choir directors might purposely leave these words out in rehearsal as a conscious effort to keep Lenten sacred, but the concepts, themes and truths surrounding them in texts are being perfected weeks before they are sung in worship. In my years of rehearsing for Holy Week, I’m always weeks ahead of the days on the church calendar. Yes, I’ve already recorded Easter hymns and anthems, but those are the same truths I have been embracing and living into while in choir rehearsals Lenten season after Lenten season.

And that is the heart of ministry. Ministry is preparing for others. Ministry is setting planning well in advance to ensure worship is the Truth it needs to be for others. Ministry is envisioning. Ministry is humility. Ministry is sacrifice.

My Lenten practice this season has been focused on gratitude, and it has challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. When it comes to my job as a church singer, I’ve grown to a deeper understanding of my role. I’m more grateful for the time I have with others making music. I’m more grateful for the hours of mental and emotional energy that it takes to create artistic and soulful art. I’m more grateful for worshipping as a collective. I’m more grateful for my opportunities to explore the mystery of faith with others through music.

This is a Lent like none we’ve ever experienced. And through the weight of this horrific time, I’ve been reminded of my true role as a minister through music. The phrase that continues to cycle through my soul is not a traditional Lenten text, but one from Advent. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. That’s what ministry is. Preparing and planning and working so that the church as a whole can be ready to meet the mystical, transformative and life changing power of Christ. May we all experience a Holy Week that surprises, empowers, inspires, humbles, illuminates, and transforms.

Houses of the Holy Album Cover

Release Date: March 28, 1973

Billboard #1 upon release: Dueling Banjos by Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell

Billboard Chart Peak: #1 for two weeks (May 12–25)

Billboard Singles: D’yer Mak’er #20, Over the Hills & Far Away #51

Album Long Term Success: 11x Platinum

Grammy Awards: Nomination for Best Album Package

Pitchfork Top 100 Albums of 1970s: #75

Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time: #148

By 1972, Led Zeppelin was one of the most popular bands in the world. The band was fresh off their untitled fourth album, commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, which was a critical…

The creation of music is always happening. Every second of the day, musicians across the globe are creating art and expanding forms in dynamic new ventures. Singles and albums are constantly released, flooding the market with innovative new ideas and discoveries of what music can be. Countless publications seek out what they deem to be the best of new music and write commentaries and reviews. If an artist in lucky, their work will reappear in coveted “Best of the Year” lists that publications produce at the end of each year.

But what happens next? Few publications revisit albums, often only…

Jonathan Greer

Musician by trade. Historian through degree. Reader by passion. Writer through exploration.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store