Archive for January, 2009

This Old Town

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“Rain don’t fall the same as it does round here.

Street lights don’t sparkle like in this old town.

Though time changes things, it’s still the same…

The same old town…

Same old faces doing the same old things.

Familiar places bring back old memories,

Of good times and bad times right here.

In this old town…

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change.

And Sunday mornings never matched the ones spent here.

It’s a day for dressing up in suits and ties.

N0-0ne cares what’s in your heart,

Just look good for this old town.

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change.

You know it’s funny the way people act round here.

Make one mistake – that’s all to fall from grace.

Jesus Christ will forgive and forget,

but not the people round here…

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change…”

From “This Old Town” by Split Level

The above lyrics come from a song I doubt any of you will have heard and, yet, it is one I have listened to fairly consistently ever since I’ve owned it. (100 times the first week I heard it and now, maybe, 10 times a year).  It’s one of those songs that says some of the things that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected a band largely playing the Christian circuit to acknowledge or confront…

Like my wider family, Adrian Thomson who wrote the song hails from Northern Ireland.  I think these words and music help me make sense of the frustration I saw in religious division and tradition even as a child returning to Northern Ireland and being whisked around relatives on summer holidays.

One of the largest shouting matches I ever had with my parents occurred on one such holiday when I was merely 8 or 9 years old.  I couldn’t understand why I had to wear a blue tie to church in Ireland, when I could wear whatever I wanted back in Scotland.  I appreciate now that my parents were just wanting to be respectful, but I remember shouting at them that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart”. 

Growing up, I felt embarrassed by the news reports of the troubles in Northern Ireland.  I couldn’t understand the segregation between “Protestant” and “Catholic” nor why people conducted these awful attacks in the name of a belief system which seemed to condemn such atrocities and actions…Blessed be the peacemakers, anyone? 

When as an adolescent I discovered that people like Bono, Mike Peters and Maria McKee all claimed to have a Christian faith, I gravitated toward something I found attractive, relevant and real.  Their music often connected with me on a different level.  It seemed urgent and passionate and not boxed in by man-made systems.  It often addressed the tension of being in the world but not of it. 

All those experiences in my formative years led me to have a real frustration with images of churches offering cold, constricted, expressions of what I understood my faith to really be about.  I have wrestled with these things ever since.  To paraphrase another Northern Irish songwriter, “We don’t need religion, but we could use the love of God”.

I love being part of the church community I am committed to and passionate about.  I have attended a particular denomination for the last 21 years, but I don’t consider myself to be a Baptist.  In fact, I doubt that I could give you an articulate answer as to what specifically defines one.  I also feel no connection with the other adjective that is attached to the name of the church we belong to, given that I have never lived in that particular area of Edinburgh.  As our church grows I wonder how alone I am in that?  I wonder if the word association is off putting to those outside of the church?  Then I wonder if they would ever even think about that?

 I do, however, feel a vibrant and very real connection with what that church family is all about and get excited by the sort of vision that is being explored.  I feel indebted to so many folks there: people younger than me who inspire me; people older than me whom I can learn from in how they have orientated their life and modelled things; people in leadership; people who hold down regular jobs, but contribute to the vitality of church life in so many areas.  I love the fact that you would struggle to keep me away from that place on a Sunday just in the same way I couldn’t imagine life without the little small group collective who inhabit our home every week.

One of my close friends belongs to a non-denominational fellowship elsewhere in Scotland.  As they consider planting a church in the village he lives in, he and others are wrestling with whether they should do it jointly with another denomination or not?  Would they be shackled by traditions or interpretations of things that they would find unhelpful?  Does the partnering of denominations working together actually convey something very positive to those outside of church?  Does having a denomination give you greater credence and prevent people thinking you are “unaccountable”,  “dodgy”, “liberal” or “a cult”?

Do we spend too long musing upon these things when those outside the church aren’t even interested?  Do we judge eachother by minutiae and preconceptions and misconceptions?  Do these thoughts simply continue a message of disunity and in-fighting between us all?  Do we discard traditions only to bind ourselves to new ones?  Do we simply all learn things in different ways and find different expressions helpful?  Is it rarely a particular denomination that we gravitate towards and is it actually the style of teaching, community involvement, family, music and outreach?  Are we asking the wrong questions at times?

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Miss Sarajevo

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“Is there a time for first communion?
A time for East Seventeen?
Is there a time to turn to Mecca?
Is there time to be a beauty queen?”

From “Miss Sarajevo” by Passengers.

I’ve always loved this U2 collaboration.  I like the questions and the juxtaposition of notions and ideas.

First communion is a big thing in certain church traditions – almost like some rite of passage or defining moment.  Whilst empty rituals concern me hugely, there still seems something sacred about treating communion in this way.  The whole issue of communion is explained in 1 Corinthians as follows:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Whenever approaching communion I am also always mindful of the verses that come straight after the above quote, namely: ” 27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself”.

I love the fact that the church community I belong to challenges my thinking.  Last week our Pastor announced that we would have all age communion this Sunday.  He explained that the onus was on parents to explain matters to their children and to decide whether or not they should partake.

Having a four year old girl, I have to confess that it still sounds horrible if she ever says anything about “killing” or “being dead”.  This is maybe extenuated by the fact that one of our church members lost her four year old daughter in a horrific hit and run car accident a couple of years ago –  an event that shook our community to the core.  Yet, when I was four I expect that I was often playing soldiers and imagining killing and death.  Is that just a difference between the sexes or are we over-protective parents?

We have spent this week focusing on the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection when reading the bible with our daughter.  She seemed surprised and intrigued that Jesus had died.  We emphasised that He also came back to life and what that means.  We tried as best we could to explain what communion was about, what it symbolised and why we do it.  We wrestled with whether or not it was appropriate to let a four year old take part?  We explained to her that it is for anyone who knows and loves Jesus, to which she replied “but, I love Jesus”.  How does a parent discern what a child understands or means by such a comment?

So this morning the children came back in at the end of the service whilst the whole congregation had the opportunity to share communion.  As I have thought and prayed this week, I was struck by the verses quoted above, but I also remember how Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” in Matthew Ch19 v.14.  So, we both still felt a bit unsure of how to handle this part of today’s service.  My own gut feeling was that having explained it repeatedly during the week, we should let our daughter make the decision for herself when the moment came. 

So, as the elements were passed around, we told her again what it meant and asked whether or not she wanted the bread and wine?  We made sure she knew it was important.  My eyes were wet and I had a lump in my throat as she asked to take it.  We whispered to her about what it was all about the whole way through the process.  My wife was fantastic at this and I am so grateful that all of this is hugely important to both of us as parents.

Today seems like a defining moment.  It feels very real and bereft of ritual.  It feels as if we have explained a truth and the whole thing seems more meaningful than it has done for a long time.  As we looked around and saw lots of families explaining things – some partaking, some not – there was a real sense of unity and community.  Others we spoke to who do not have children or are single also said that the approach gave them time to reflect on the significance of something that can become ritual. 

I think we are called to child-like faith not a childish one…As someone I respect enormously said in conversation over dinner on Saturday night, “Our role as parents is to give our children roots and wings…”  It’s weird to think that one day our little girl will leave home and embark on a whole new journey.  Hopefully, we can help her to be well grounded for whatever life may hold.

Read.  Think.  Pray.  Live.

Waiting For The Great Leap Forward

“So join the struggle while you may
The revolution is just a t-shirt away
Waiting for the great leap forwards”

From “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” by Billy Bragg.

So, cycling to work week three.  Five days out of five.  I’m feeling quite pleased with myself really. 

Been there.  Done that.  Not got the T-shirt, but if I had it might look like this…

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As the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative slogan says, “The Revolution Will Not Be Motorised”.

Let It Snow

“Let it snow,

Let it snow,

Let it snow”

From “Let It Snow” by pretty much anybody.

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Week three of cycling to work. 

Week one – 4 days out of 5.

Week two – 1 day out of 5 (extenuating circumstances as my wife was ill and I had the nursery run to do…)

Week three – 100% so far, but it’s only Monday.

Started snowing at 11am.  Never too cold for shorts…Why is it that cycling in January (just like winter surfing) seems somehow more hard-core?  How sad am I?

E102/Sad?

“I’m so happy that love has come around
I’m so happy about the girl I’ve found
I feel like someone’s favourite meal
No sweetner, No additives, the flavour is REAL!

(Go back), I can’t go back
(Go forward) I must go forward
(Go back) I cant go back to living like I did before

(Then repeat this lots of times until the record finishes)”

From the “E102/Sad? EP” by BMX Bandits

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I have no idea how many gigs my wife and I must have been to see in the 16 years since we first started going out.  It only took us 17 days to get along to our first gig of 2009. 

We often wonder what the demographic of the crowd will be given the relatively broad range of bands we manage to catch.  We also have this picture burned on our retinas of a couple of “oldies” dancing badly and looking out of place at some indie gig we went to in the early 1990s and we swore we’d never turn into them…oh, to see ourselves as others may do now might be a worrying thing…

Last night we went to The ABC in Glasgow to see The Shoeshine Records Showcase.  We got tickets from a couple we have just met recently through church and whom I hope we get to know a whole lot better in the years ahead.  Whilst I always hate folks who chat incessantly through bands, I apologise for being that, disrespectful, person during the first band’s set.  I guess I was just keen to chat and get to know our hosts.  Sorry Boa Morte… 

Next on were the indie cult genius that is the BMX Bandits.  Showmanship, singalong tunes and general feelgood factor in equal measure made them a pleasure to see.  One of the people we’d all probably most like to have a cup of tea with, Norman Blake of the, ever wonderful, Teenage Fanclub was the next act on the bill.  Norman was accompanied by Euros Childs (previously of Gorky’s Zykotic Mynci) and the two proceeded with a set of songs they’d penned together and some cover versions by the likes The Stories.  Whilst they ended with the amusing “Do, do, do, do, do, do, do ,do, do, do, do, do the Cave Dance”, most of us would have loved at least one old TFC classic.  Mind you, we did get a wee preview of one of the tracks from the forthcoming Fanclub album.

Last on were The Attic Lights who threw shapes like rock stars and provided more good time sounds.  All in all, a really enjoyable gig and almost like that pleasant feeling of being at a festival and sticking your head in various music tents just to see what’s going on.  The added advantage was not having to navigate our way through a sea of spaced out neds who have exposed themselves to too much Tennents, substances and sunshine.  Also no dodgy festival portaloos to contend with.  

After the gig we went to one of our friends’ favourite haunts for coffees, hot chocolates and snacks.  It provided a great atmosphere to just chat and get to know one another as couples.  During the evening we were receiving entertaining texts from some of our closest friends who had offered to let our daughter have a sleep over at theirs (this is the first time she has done this properly).  All went good on that front and it was such a treat to have a date night with good music and company.

Whilst I may reminisce about some of the good old gigs and times we had, I must move forward and I’m still so happy to be doing it all with the same girl I found all those years ago.  Sweet.

Acrobat

img_3369_1 “And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now”

From “Acrobat” by U2

Undoubtedly one of the highlights for me from 2008 was spending 10 days with friends we consider family holidaying in Cornwall.    Day-tripping to St Ives, Padzow and The Eden Project.  Eating at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Rick Stein’s Fish and Chip shop restaurants felt like things we ought to do.  Chilling out over the Guardian crossword and drinking red wine in the evenings whilst looking out over green fields and wind turbines simply felt perfect.

The thrill for me, of course, was stripping off and getting into my wetsuit at every available opportunity.  I did more surfing in one week than I did the rest of the year.  Polzeath, became the spot I surfed most consistantly for the week.  It had a really great feel to it with folks of all ages out in the water.  In fact, one of the most beautiful things I saw last year was a woman of about my age dressed in a wetsuit pushing her baby in a buggy on the beach only to then take a towel out and dry the face of her mother who emerged from the water from a body boarding party.  The grandmother, invigorated from her session, then took over babysitting duties whilst her daughter could wash the tiredness of motherhood off in the saltwater.  There was something intimate in those few seconds I observed of a strangers’ family and genealogy.

The other great thing about Polzeath was the presence of the Tube Station.  You can even see a couple of minutes about it on the attached BBc i Player link.  Fast forward the first 22 mins (unless Cornish tin mining and choral music is your thing…)  Inspired and relevant and, encouragingly, something that all generations of a faith community have determined to do and be.  So sweet to see unity in action and I can vouch for what they are doing.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gq431/Songs_of_Praise_Cornwall/

Surf”s up!

Cum On, Feel The Noize

“Cum on feel the noize,

girls rock your boys,

 We’ll get wild wild wild,

Wild wild wild.”

From “Cum On, Feel The Noize” by Slade.

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I read this article in Friday’s Guardian.  Looks like I could be in trouble.

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I was elated when I managed to secure a ticket for My Bloody Valentine’s Glasgow gig via ebay last year – the first gigs they’d played in 16 years.  I was also torn when I discovered it clashed with our family holidays and was at least glad that my friend, Craig B, was able to use it.  He sheepishly texted me after the gig to tell me about how amazing it had been and the aural hell the band had raised.  Maybe I should be thankful…


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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