Don Rousu: A Tribute

A Letter Written To A Friend Who Has Passed On Into Glory

Today, at the time of this writing, is the celebration of life service of dear friend, Don Rousu. He passed away on Sunday, March 19, 2017, at the age of 75 in his home in Sherwood Park, AB, Canada. This post, written in the form of a letter (a format I thought would best express my feelings), is my simple tribute to “Pastor Don.”

Don Rousu’s faith, character, and remarkable family have indelibly marked me – as well as myriad others. The legacy he leaves as he precedes us all into Glory is remarkable, and I decided that writing my thoughts out as if I was writing a letter to a friend would best serve what I’d like to say today.

Don,

Last Sunday, Nathan wrote a post on your Facebook profile. It said that you had passed on into the presence of Jesus in the early hours of the morning.

Sweet Flower: An Armenian Woman Who Understood The Power Of Forgiveness

SPECIAL EDITION POST: Today commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocides that took place under the Ottoman Turks at the turn of the last century. My father-in-law is Armenian, and my wife and children are of Armenian descent. In our home, today is a day we remember someone who deeply impacted all of our lives – a woman who was one of the last living survivors of this great tragedy, and a hero to us all.

My wife’s Grandmother, Siranouche Husnian, was one of the last living survivors of the Armenian Death Marches through the Syrian Desert. She died at the age of 95, and was a great friend and mentor to me. At her graveside funeral, I recounted her sitting with me and teaching me powerful lessons about family, life, and hope.

Once, when her eyes were failing, she held my face close in her hands, and nose-to-nose told me how much she loved me. Etched in my memory, like her tender voice and her soft accent, is what she taught me about forgiveness.

Here, in brief, is her story.

Why Time After Time Made It Into My Worship Set

This weekend, the lyrics and melody to the song, Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman of The Hooters) found their way into my worship set.

It was a spontaneous moment of playing while many people were being prayed for related to physical and mental/emotional healing.

It was a precious moment. We sang the message of these lines:

“If you’re lost and you look then you will find me, time after time; if you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting, time after time”

…over the simple I/IV progression of Healing In Your Wings (Vineyard Music; written by yours truly).

I sang it, the band undergirded it, and most people in the room were involved in praying for others to experience God’s healing.

Now I’m a big fan of spiritual and liturgical depth (gravitas, it’s called) in the musical worship context; but I’m equally a great fan of poignancy and the prophetic moment when a spontaneous song can tilt the faith level in the room.

In this case, Time After Time was the musical gift I sensed hit the mark.

Years ago, I broke into a popular radio anthem in a prayer ministry setting in a conference in Canada, and sang the chorus of a pop song for about 10 minutes. One person in the room was deeply ‘unlocked’ by it in their walk with God, and many others were moved as we adapted the lyrics mentally to God’s pursuit of our hearts.

It wasn’t cheesy or flippant, it was simply “right.” It’s not always “right” – I’ve heard it done badly and for novelty’s sake. You probably have, too. But, if we always have the tap turned off because it “might” come off poorly, I believe we may be missing some powerful things God may want to say through the music of our day.

I contend our ear must always be open to fresh integrations of great art (yes, I believe that Time After Time is a small slice of great art – I’d put it up against Fields Of Gold, a Bach Sonata, or a painting by Rembrandt in effect, though possibly less timeless and broad-reaching) be it popular, classical, or from a source beyond our normal drawing pool.

Without overshooting the mark to make a point, I joyfully embrace a “Creational” category that sits between the classic Sacred and Secular categories to which so many contemporary Christians subscribe.

In fact, deeply and explicitly “secular” music is a very rare find for me; it is music intentionally pointing us away from God. Maybe some hate-metal or hipster-atheist bands do it, but it’s not filling my binoculars on a regular basis.

Rather, most of the music others put in the “secular” basket (in error, I believe) is actually Creational for me. Music about love, friendship, feelings, and other ideas can indeed be human-centric (and co-dependent I’d add), but all art can be experienced differently when seen or heard through different eyes and ears.

“Creational” simply means that a piece of art was created to say something, from beautiful but broken human creatures made in the image of God, without explicit intent to point us toward or away from God. A person doesn’t need to be a Christian for me to see something creationally stunning in their art.

I.e. It’s all fair game for me, if integrated into a rich dynamic of Christ-centered worship sets and liturgical forms.

(Note: I am NOT saying for everyone to go out and to begin to integrate as many popular songs as possible. I’m simply saying that we can let that area breathe – when I’ve often heard it spoken of as if we were a suffocating and shuddering whenever the idea crosses our mind.)

For this “Creational” reason, I easily integrate sonically sweetened hymns into neighborhood wine-night sets (I live in Nashville, so it’s easier). My good friend, David Ruis, has involved classical pieces in contemporary worship settings. I’ve sung contemporary worship songs in the most historic marble and wooden chapels. I get inspired, as you probably do, from many sources and styles of sound and lyrics as a worship songwriter and leader. Great art is everywhere.

I allow Sigur Ros to follow Jon Foreman to follow Mumford & Sons to follow Brian Eno to follow Sun Lux to follow Phil Wickham to follow Death Cab For Cutie to follow Gungor to follow Two Steps From Hell (orchestral movie trailers) in my playlist.

It all runs together, and should – yet we must constantly have discernment about the quality and quantity of the musical foods we eat. Human-centered world views (and desire-emphases – thanks Jamie Smith) are rife in popular art.

I.e. We are what we eat. (Yes, Virginia, filters of discernment are good. My young college-age friends, please listen to this older head. Music is not amoral – it delivers worldview into the soul soaked in it.)

As well, all songs do not have the same intent, and some are more or less useful in a modern worship set.

So, some songs and sounds pack the set, and others occasionally “season” it. Other songs are rarely integrated, but in an inspired moment, are part of my painter’s palette.

Of course, I never forget who I am leading in worship, and their sensitivities and anchor points.

That’s just good pastoral leadership. We lead in a community; we are there for them. As in a family, sacrifice of what “we are free” to do is a natural part of a shared life together.

Please hear me. Not all creative work written with other intents should always touch a worship set (in my opinion), but when less-typically-used art can be integrated to serve a moment, we should be versed and skilled enough to pull them in.

Just as in teaching or visual media, the art of our age and every age can be another enriching liturgical tool in the thoughtful leader’s toolkit.

That’s why Time After Time made it into my worship set.

Moments In Time: A Morning Walk

I wrote this post exactly 2 years ago. I reposted it, because it reminds me of another time, and moves me again.

Rejoice in simple things today.

MOMENTS IN TIME: A MORNING WALK

This morning, I took a one hour walk around our town, primarily for the sake of exercise.

As I glided along the muddy roadsides and cracking sidewalks, I

* Took in an mp3, one hour course on European history and its cultures, identities and hopes in the 19th-20th centuries,

* Walked across the rubble of a construction site of a new highway going around our town,

* Waved to 23 truck drivers, who all waved back,

* Shared morning greetings with three friends who happen to be mentally handicapped,

* Joked with the catholic priest who both cares for them, and serves with godly passion on our university board,

* Greeted the father of one of my middle daughter’s friends,

* Smiled at the town council member to whom my son delivers newspapers,

* Created a concept for a new series of songs related to the soul’s progress through a lifetime, and

* Came home to a house silent with late, summer vacation sleep.

On Presidents, Kings and Worlds We Know: Barack Obama

Today, we hear that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States of America.

Half of my friends and family are in mourning; half of my friends and family are in celebration. Listening too closely to either makes my head hurt – though if you are one of them, my love remains just the same.

My vote was cast (a vote that shall remain anonymous) the other week by absentee ballot. I live in a beautiful country neighbouring my native United States, Canada. My wife cast her vote as well, and has kept me quite interested in her perspective by her years of living outside of the United States in countries that hunger for the kinds of freedom in which we bask across North America.

The radio says that the jury is in. The ballots have decided, and we have a new president.

I say, the jury is still out – not on the presidential question, but on the world civilization question.

How melodramatic. But, for me, the jury is still out.

In both ears, I hear the tears and cheers of those who stood on opposing sides of the ballot box.

But inside my head, I hear a question that transcends “We need change now,” or “That guy is an idiot,” or “War must never be an option,” or “our precious freedom, protected with many generation’s blood, is being lost in the spirit of the age.”

The question I hear in my head, “Where is human civilization going?”

That question dis-eases me, silences my ability to cheer for one candidate or another, and leaves me in the land of queries for which no one seems to have an adequate answer.

Voting according to the grand scheme of world history, was a hard path for me. Voting according to Eden was a challenge. Voting according to an Eden that has fallen, and that welcomed bullies into the world was hard. Voting according to my conscience was confusing. Voting according to the raw stats on the rise and fall of civilizations picked at me day and night. Voting according to “what we need right now and are ready to cheer for,” was just not an option for the kind of brain/soul I’ve been given.

I’m not primarily gifted as an academic, but rather as an artist, communicator and lover of the “over-stories” that guide human beings. I have too much naivety, and too many questions, that I seem to bring to every ballot box.

So, while banners wave, Facebooks posts with 5 exclamation points flicker, hope is rekindled or worst fears are realized,

I stand still…

Praying, listening to the nagging question, and asking God “What do you think?”

Out of Interest:

Jared Diamond On Why Societies Collapse at TED.com