Friday, May 30, 2008

alberta bound

Getting set to leave tomorrow morning for five days in Alberta. Looking forward to an interesting time - a couple of church/community concerts, a couple of Sunday morning services, a school concert, and for a couple of days I'll be the resource person for an Alberta pastors "Theological Studies" event.

Needless to say, today is crammed full of trying-to-get-stuff-done-before-I-leave... and today Matthew is home sick from school. Flu bug that's going around his class. And another good reminder to hold to things (including my many self-imposed goals and deadlines) lightly... other things (people!) are more important...

Anyway, before I go I thought I'd post the info of what I'm planning for that pastor's event...


Our Money Talks, God is Listening: reflections and resources for addressing economic stewardship themes in the congregation


Can we talk about money matters in our congregations, and in our worship? Bryan Moyer Suderman will lead us in biblical exploration of themes like abundance and scarcity, generosity and gratitude, excess and enough, and managing resources as "the body of Christ." Drawing on various resources in scripture, story, and song - including the experiences of the participants and Bryan's recently released CD and songbook "My Money Talks: songs for worship" - we will explore ways to lead our congregations into a deeper awareness of and participation in God's generosity for the world.

Session Titles:

Session 1 - God's Economics: Can We Talk? (setting the table for real conversation about money and faith)

Session 2 - God's Economics: Can God Be Trusted? (abundance and scarcity, hoarding and generosity)

Session 3 - God's Economics: Can God Trust Us? (from grasping to gratitude, from excess to enough)

Session 4 - God's Economics: A Dramatization (communion as an enactment of the economics of "the body of Christ")

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the economics of it all...

The people have spoken. I think it's safe to say I have never received so many responses to a post (some in the "Comments" section below, many more by direct e-mail) as I did from that last one, where I invited feedback on the idea of a new category of membership in SmallTall Music called "extra composting members." Thank you, one and all.

What I discovered:

- I seem to be way farther out of the "mainstream" of people's thinking than even I realized (...GRIN...)
- rather few (OK, one, maybe two) seemed to share my immediate, instinctive, and viscerally POSITIVE response to the term (and substance) "compost"... in fact, one person called it "shocking" and another person (already in that "extra composting member" category) felt it necessary to reassure me that he wasn't "upset" by my suggestion, but is thinking about it...
- a few people said they liked the idea, and rather more found it in their hearts to sympathize and humour my rather unorthodox and perhaps a bit quirky "take" on this, some saying they can see what I'm getting at and a few even saying the idea was "growing" on them (I'm not sure if the pun was intended).
- the overwhelming majority politely urge me to consider somewhat more "ordinary" terms (donor, associate, supporter, contributor, benefactor) or perhaps more musical metaphors, rather than such an "earthy" one to describe an additional category of membership.
- a couple of folks questioned whether different "categories of membership" are necessary at all, with one person astutely suggesting that - all my various explanations aside - "extra composting member" is still just a cute name for a "major donor" and that this metaphor too "breaks down" (!!) beyond a certain point...

My thinking after all of this? I am inclined to agree with the couple of comments posted below, suggesting that SmallTall Music "membership" continue to have a standard fee (including, of course, the "barter" option), and that anyone who wants to contribute further "compost" - in whatever form - for the nurture of this ministry, are very welcome to do so.

Actually, this whole process raises a set of fundamental issues that I have debated ever since launching this little venture nearly 5 years ago. From the start some have asked me why I don't set up SmallTall Music as a not-for-profit charitable organization, which would be in keeping with its character as a form of "ministry" and which would make it easier to do "fundraising" as contributors could receive income tax receipts for making "charitable donations."

This is an option that I have considered, and continue to take seriously, and may well consider seriously again. However, it's an option I have not pursued largely because of my desire - again, following the model and experience of Community Supported Agriculture - to develop a "business model" for this ministry that is viable and sustainable (in personal, relational, spiritual, ecological, and economic terms) AS A BUSINESS... That is, as a way of participating in the structuring of economic relationships that represents an intentional alternative (small-scale, community-based, with a sense of "enough") to the kinds of mainstream economic assumptions and practices that have proven (and are proving) to be so damaging to the planet.

Another reason why I have not chosen the "charitable status" route is that, in pursuing the mission of "building up the body of Christ by creating and sharing songs of faith for small and tall," my hope and intention is for SmallTall Music to also be a financial CONTRIBUTOR to the work of the church. In other words, rather than structuring SmallTall Music as a charitable organization whose economic model depends on soliciting charitable donations, I have sought to structure SmallTall Music as a business that can represent not only a humble-but-sustainable income for our family, but can also be a humble-but-generous contributor - financially - to "building up the body of Christ." (Maybe I'll blog more at some point about how I've been structuring that into the DNA of this ministry/business through what I call the "SmallTall Music Global Gift-Sharing Policy"...)

None of this is to disparage people's generosity or help freely offered, by any means. Nor is it some kind of attempt at a macho, rugged individualism (go ahead... try to picture me as a macho, rugged individual... GRIN...). It is instead - again, very much in the spirit of the Community Supported Agriculture - aspiring to a way of "doing business" and living out a vocation with humility and dignity and competence as an integral part of the life (including, unapologetically, the economic life) of a community that sees value and worth in one's work.

I have any number of friends who are doing just that with their own businesses - running a bakery, a farm, a store, an auto-mechanics shop, accountancy work, a masonry/renovation business, etc, etc, etc... Each of these is a business and a form of "ministry," and all are part of a network of relationships that can - one trusts - be counted on to be supportive in various ways when times are tough. (This, of course, includes a readiness to acknowledge when times are tough, and to be willing to invite and accept, as well as give, support.)

Or to put it another way, structuring SmallTall Music as a business has forced me to think more clearly about how I too function in "The Great Economy" (thank you, Wendell Berry)...

I offer these thoughts by way of explanation, and in a further attempt to define and refine and evaluate my own thinking... Further response and conversation about any of this is more than welcome... in fact, it is another form of "compost" that this garden needs in order to thrive...

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

how does your garden grow?

You can't even imagine our joy when we looked up and saw a big pile of... compost.

Go ahead. Try. I didn't think you could.

Like a lot of folks in this part of the world, we spent part of the weekend digging/working/playing in our garden. And I tell you, that pile of... compost... generously delivered from Brian's farm next door, was a welcome sight.

This summer will mark our 5th anniversary of living in this place, and our 4th year of tending this garden. It is such a rewarding experience to see how each year, slowly but surely, the garden is growing... in size, in productivity, in TOMATOES (we've finished our canned tomatoes but still have one bag of frozen ones from last year's garden... this year I think I bought 4 tomatoes all winter, compared to last year when I probably bought 4 tasteless tomatoes per week... just out of habit, and because I couldn't imagine a "salad" without it... I'm learning...)

It is such a rewarding experience not just because of what it produces for us, but also because of the deep sense that through our daily living and eating this patch of ground is actually better and healthier now than it was when we started. Somehow this year, in the midst of our growing awareness of the many ways in which our way of life damages the earth, this has touched me deeply. All those scraps from our daily life - even the grounds from our daily coffee - have been adding organic matter to the clay soil, and now when we dig we can actually feel the difference.

This year our next step was to set up some "raised beds" - some patches of ground enclosed by cement blocks that were lying around - so that we can plant our vegetables a little more densely and wander around the garden and reach into the beds and tend the plants without stepping up and down "rows" and compacting the soil.

And with that pile of richly composted manure from our neighbour's farm mixed in... mmmmm good!

And after 5 years of doing music "full-time" (at least, 5 years since I've had employment besides music) I'm finding the same thing. It's slow and patient work, tending the soil, the ordinary stuff of everyday life, and sure enough the soil still seems receptive - indeed, increasingly so - to those persistent efforts, scattered seeds, and times of vigilant waiting and rest.

And I continue to build different kinds of infrastructure - like those raised beds - that are small-scale and humble but helpful for this music ministry to be healthy and productive and sustainable over the long term. I can't wait to unveil the latest development... very soon...

And then last week I had one of those ideas (a regular occurrence) that is either utterly brilliant or incredibly stupid - I can't tell which (an even more regular occurrence).

Regular readers will know about the SmallTall Music membership system (which some - including now myself - have taken to calling my "CSM" or "Community Supported Music" initiative). Currently there are three kinds of "membership" - household membership ($30 per year), congregational/organizational membership ($100 per year), and denominational/publisher membership (variable, depending on various factors). For quite some time different people have been approaching me and saying "Bryan, we want to support your ministry with more than the $30 membership fee. Have you thought about another category of membership for those who want to give more...? Like $500 or more...?"

Well, I have thought about it. A lot. I like the idea (and a few have been doing it anyway, just because, without my having created a formal category for it). But I always get stuck on what to call it.

Premium membership? Supporting members? Gold/platinum/elite/super-elite members...?

Yuck. I resist those kinds of labels and categories... and the implication that if you can give or pay more, that your membership is worth more, or more supportive...

Sponsoring members? Could be... but I resist the resonance of "corporate sponsorship"... "Patron of the arts" members? This makes good sense for some folks... but somehow it doesn't feel like my style either...

And then it came to me... like a flash in the night... like a vision...

How about...

Composting Members.

or even better: Extra Composting Members.

All the members of SmallTall Music, the members of my CSM, are "good soil" with whom I am delighted and privileged to work and serve and dig and grow...

But there is also a place for folks like our neighbour Brian who will appear with a big pile of compost... added organic matter that enhances the soil and can be worked in and help the whole garden to grow in health and beauty and productivity...

So what do you think? "Extra Composting Members" of SmallTall Music...?

Please be honest.

Julie doesn't like it. "What?! That's not exactly flattering to your supporters, Bryan..."

When I asked Karl and Michelle (who are friends but not intimately acquainted with my music ministry, or with gardening)... let's just say they raised their eyebrows and tilted their heads and... well... crinkled their eyes and smiled a bit and...

They didn't seem to think it was such a great idea either.

But it continues to "ring true" to me.

I'd love to hear what you think.

And while you're thinking... here are a couple of photos of our garden space and how it's been evolving...

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

saving 45,000 trees, apparently

a transcription of our latest environmental adventures, somewhere in Orangeville on our way to a weekend with family...

cast of characters, in order of appearance:

BMS - Bryan Moyer Suderman
PPE1 - Pizza Pizza Employee 1
PPE2 - Pizza Pizza Employee 2
MMS - Matthew, our 10 year old son
JMS - Julie Moyer Suderman

BMS (approaching counter with napkin in hand): I see here that it says "We are saving 45,000 trees per year by using red kraft pizza boxes." I'm curious - how does using red boxes save 45,000 trees per year?

PPE1 (bemused): ummm... I don't know.

PPE2 (earnestly): I don't know... maybe, like, because it's red?

BMS: You mean using RED pizza boxes saves trees? As opposed to, say, blue or green...?

PPE2 (giggling): I really have no idea.

BMS: Are the pizza boxes made of recycled paper, maybe? But I still wonder what the colour red has to do with it...

PPE1 (shrugging): I don't know...

BMS (walking back to table): Ok... thanks... I'm glad we're saving 45,000 trees per year, I was just curious how it works...

MMS (at table, finishing pizza slice and looking at the paper sleeve it's served on): It says "please recycle me"... where should I put it?

(BMS, JMS, MMS all look around room, notice garbage can and bin for recycling bottles... but no bin for paper...)

BMS (approaching counter with pizza slice sleeve in hand): Hi there. It's me again. We'd like to help save 45,000 trees by recycling these... can you tell me where we should put them?

(BMS and PPE1 and PPE2 scan the room)

PPE1 (bemused): ummm... I don't know.

PPE2 (giggling): You could, like, give them to us, I guess.

BMS (peering behind the counter, not seeing any recycling bins): Oh... ok, we'll do that. Here you go...

PPE1 (smiling bemusedly): Thank you!

PPE2 (smiling earnestly): Thank you!

BMS (waving on the way out the door with JMS and MMS): Thank you! It's been nice saving trees with you!

JMS (as we walk out the door): Bryan, you weren't being very nice. They just work here...

MMS: I bet I know where they're going to put that stuff...

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Psalm 104

I asked Lynette Schroeder Wiebe to create art based on Psalm 104, and this is the spectacular piece she came up with.

It graces the back cover of the new CD and songbook... and is available as a free download and for purchase in poster form as well.

There's an amazing story that goes with it too... one that is still unfolding... maybe I'll tell it sometime... although perhaps it's not really mine to tell.

In the meantime, a weekend is definitely not too long to spend looking at this piece.

Instructions from "user's guide" (not necessarily in chronological order):

1) Read Psalm 104

2) look at this artwork

3) Repeat

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Friday, May 09, 2008

new songbook

It's here...! Hooray!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

still here

The last while has seen so many significant and meaningful and intense (for me at least) performances... among other things. I am deeply grateful. And exhausted.

Will be posting many more musings soon.

For now I'm going to take a wee bit of a breather... to be still... here...

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