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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

Lutherans plan a 'palooza to end conference

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Medema Medema
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After a day of discussing resolutions, electing officers, reviewing committee reports, and setting budgets, Lutheran delegates will cap off Friday's 2008 Northwest Ohio Synod conference with a "Christianapalooza."

Speaker and author Tony Campolo, singer-composer Ken Medema, Detroit minister the Rev. Steve Marsh, and gospel-folk duo Lost & Found will lead the celebration on Friday evening and May 17.

Mr. Campolo, a professor and ordained Baptist minister, was an advisor to President Bill Clinton and has written 34 books including Letters to a Young Evangelical, Adventures in Missing the Point, and The Church Enslaved.

Mr. Marsh is assistant to the Lutheran bishop of the Metro Detroit Synod and a columnist for The Lutheran magazine, and Lost & Found comprises Michael Bridges and George Baum, two former Toledo-area artists who combine music and humor to minister to audiences.

Mr. Medema, 65, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., has been blind since birth and discovered music as a young child. He began taking piano lessons at age 8, studying Braille music and learning to improvise.

He earned a bachelor's degree in music therapy and then a master's degree from Michigan State University.

But although music is his ministry and his profession, Mr. Medema said in an interview that churchgoers too often focus more on music than on the more essential aspects of being a Christian.

"The reason I say that is because music becomes what we fight over," he said. "We have churches that are now fighting over what style of music they ought to be having. And there's so much time given to music that we forget the church is in the business of making disciples and we get preoccupied with music."

Mr. Medema is a prolific recording artist and since 1985 has been running his own label, Brier Patch Music, based in Grandville, Mich.

He said he started Brier Patch because he wanted to give his listeners exactly what they wanted.

"I know what my audience likes. I know who they are. Another record company doesn't," he said.

In the 20-plus years since founding his own label, independent record companies have become much more popular and Mr. Medema sees that, and the advent of the Internet, as a positive development.

"The whole relationship between artist and audience is becoming more intimate. The audience can tell us, 'We want to hear this,' and we hear it directly without having to go through several layers of intermediaries."

With Mr. Medema's strong baritone voice and gift for melodies, he is often compared to Billy Joel and Elton John, but with a Christian message. He said Joel is among his primary musical influences, along with Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Christian artists Keith Green and Second Chapter of Acts.

But music still should not be the main emphasis when Christians gather, Mr. Medema said.

"We are so preoccupied with music and we ought to be preoccupied with 'I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in,'" he said, referring to Jesus' words in Matthew, Chapter 25.

"Somehow I can't help believing that if we got all that other stuff right, music would fall into place. No. 1, we wouldn't care so much about what style of music we use and No. 2, probably whatever style of music is going on at the moment would be fine."

- David Yonke



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