This Old Town


“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?


2 Responses to “This Old Town”

  1. 1 R January 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks for the post. Denominationalism is something I think about a lot these days. Perhaps I’ll tidy up some thoughts and post them here. They certainly aren’t conclusive in any way; although I’m definitely more into the idea of a congregation belonging to a denomination than I used to be. Being part of a bigger structure with a longer (obvious) history has obvious negatives, but also has built in correctives that make it harder for a congregation to be led astray by a forceful personality or a tendency to disregard anything that is unpalatable in church tradition or Scripture as being irrelevant.

    Is this your Split Level? Where can I find audio of This Old Town?


  2. 2 thestatethatiamin January 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Thanks R for leaving your first comment on my blog.

    Your thougths are many of the things I hold in tension too – tradition’s ability to constrict versus a concern to not lose biblical and scriptural truth…

    Sorry, it’s a different Split Level and I can’t seem to find an audio file anywhere on the web. Just my old trusty CD to enjoy…

    Peace be with you three.


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