Archive for July, 2009

No Cover Up

“No Cover up,
Just so much trouble.
No cover up,
I’m bent in double.
No cover up,
Just wreck and rubble of the person I was.

I am broken and I stand accused.
Is there someone who can let me loose?
If you find the answer make careful note.
I could use your pardon and a lot of hope.
I’m getting to that part at the end of the rope.

No cover up,
I feel the burning.
No cover up,
Nor time for turning.
No cover up,
I hope I’m learning some honesty,
some honesty.”

From “No Cover Up” by Duke Special.

The past few weeks have been draining in ways.  I’ve willingly journeyed with three sets of friends and family through some fairly major events and life decisions.  Part of my thoughts and mind has almost constantly been with them – wondering, thinking, yearning, praying…

It’s been a rollercoaster and the situations are all still unresolved.  The seeming outcome in some of them is different from what those involved might have hoped for.

The whole thing has given me a fresh perspective on family and vulnerability.  People who are not my biological family have become part of a larger extended family through friendship, honesty and the support we offer eachother. Other actual family relationships seem to have been restored to a better state of health because things have been said that needed to be said – hard things during tearful conversations.  Trite advice, passive aggression or defensive dis-interest has been replaced with honesty.  Superficiality has been removed and replaced with something real.  There has been a sharing of angst, pain, doubt and uncertainty. 

Through it all there has been a turning to the Bible and a carrying of one another in prayer.  Verses I have read hundreds of time have jumped out in different ways with the emphasis on different words or nuances.  Other passages have been illuminated and one knocked the wind out of me like a tonne of bricks and has left me somewhat weak kneed ever since.

Actually I think this is a small part of what Eucharist is about – the gift of God – to be broken and poured out.

It has been my experience that in the times when I’ve needed God most, when all of the other props are gone, that I have really let myself be found by Him.  Those are life defining moments in my story.  Maybe through sharing in one another’s stories, each day can have significance?  2Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. Galatians Ch 6: vs 2.  Or as Romans Chapter 12 declares, 9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited”

The song from which this post derives its title has been in my head on constant repeat these past few days.  I’ve provided a link to its beautiful delivery on Later With Jools Holland below: 

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Lithium

“Sunday morning is everyday for all I care.
And I’m not scared.  Light my candles. In a daze cause I’ve found God.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah…..”

From “Lithium” by Nirvana.

Pop culture and rock music seems to be measured by high water tides, be it the Beat Poet movement, the Summer of Love, the Spirit of ’76 or a whole host of other things.  The recessionary environment and bleakness of the late 70’s and early 80’s produced some great music too.  I wonder how the present global economic situation will inspire new expressions of what it truly is to be human?  It is often cited that this recession has brought a new moral awakening as we are more informed of the impact of our consumption on other world regions.

Throughout generations, music has defined movements, has soundtracked events and captured emotions and memories.  Can we imagine a musical history without icons like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley or the Sex Pistols?  And whilst the influence of such artists is all around us, they aren’t the ones that defined my generation.  Do we make idols of musicians or do we somehow find a sense of something bigger than us through their art?  Something spiritual?  Something of God? And yet a previous generation often frowned and claimed it was all of the devil – even Cliff Richard!!!  Well maybe there’s some truth in that…

This week I discovered a couple of clips that appeared on one of the few TV programmes that covered the indie music scene of the early ’90’s.  They all came from a single episode of Rapido which I had videoed at the time and had watched umpteen times.  On watching it this week I was amazed at how I could virtually recite the journalistic commentary that accompanied the clips together with much of the band’s own conversations.

The first clip is extraordinary.  Nirvana in the UK literally weeks after the release of “Nevermind” – an album which was scrappy, messy, full of contradictions and which was yet deperately urgent and vital upon it’s release.  I listened to it last night for the first time in years and it sounded like a great commercial rock album.  So much subsequent music has been influenced by it.  How the landscape has changed forever even though Kurt claimed he was just ripping off The Pixies. 

This clip shows a band unaware of just how they were going to rewrite rock and it’s a rare insight into a moment in time when NME and others were getting excited about something that was literally destroying the banality of the early ’90’s music scene.  Nirvana were playing to modest sized crowds many of whom were curious.  I still can’t believe I turned down tickets to see them at Calton Road Studios in Edinburgh in November 1991…

The second clip is from a very young looking Teenage Fanclub discussing the success of “Bandwagonesque”, another album that I still listen to all these years later.  Teenage Fanclub’s music has grown over the years and is still hugely treasured by me.

Last but not least, My Bloody Valentine discuss the seminal “Loveless”.  I just couldn’t get my head around this record in 1991.  Was it genius or did you have to be out of your head on some sort of substance to “get it”?  Eighteen years later I still listen to it regularly and whilst I’ve found many of the songs lurking in the strange soundscape, it still doesn’t sound dated to me.  Despite many pale imitations, nothing sounds quite like it.  Oh and it made me nostalgic and happy to see the late John Peel give his tuppence worth too.  

Ball Of Confusion

“When the only person talkin’ about love today is the preacher.

And he says, “Nobody gets you solid learning, but the teacher”.”.

From “Ball Of Confusion” by The Temptations (and superbly ripped apart and reconstructed with shards of feedback by Love And Rockets).

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I’ve really been chewing over things these past few days.  At church we’ve been looking at the whole topic of leadership.  Each and every one of us finds ourselves in positions of leadership at various points in time.  Often we face a crisis of leadership in politics, in economics, in home life…How well do we lead ourselves?

Our texts in recent weeks have come from 2 Chronicles.  I’ve discovered how little I know of these stories or their context.  Spending time really reading these chapters and the scribbles I have jotted down in my note book has been hugely helpful.

It has made me see afresh how fortunate I am to have gifted teachers and leaders who can make these stories come to life and can reveal lessons that I can seek to apply to my everyday life.  It has made me appreciate the books, podcasts, sermons, DVDs, blogs and a whole host of resources that are available to me.  I see afresh how precious the time I can spend alone in my lunch-hour with a notepad and my bible – taking some time out, gaining perspective, breathing in – actually is.  I really look forward to that part of my day now – not something ritualistic, but a little oasis of sorts.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a danger of putting leaders on pedestals?  Is there a longing within congregations to seek positions of leadership?  To hog a little limelight?  I’m reminded of the words from James Ch 3:1, “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness.”  That makes me all the more thankful for those whom God has anointed and who have been obedient to that.  It also makes me wonder why, if God will judge, there are so many people who fill church buildings who are so ready to offer vociferous and less than humble opinions of the leaders and teachers within their churches or leaders and teachers in other churches?

In a world that still seems like a “ball of confusion” 39 years after The Temptations had a hit single by that name, the lyrics at the top of this post still ring true.  Why are we so slow to listen?  Why are we so slow to learn? 

There are so many “thank yous” owed.

We Are Nowhere And It’s Now

“Why are you scared to dream of God

When it’s salvation that you want?”

From “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” by Bright Eyes.

The above is nothing short of one of the finest songs written which truly conveys and captures the human condition.  The bleakness, lost-ness and yearning for hope we all feel at times…the truth we long for and the manner in which we silence the nagging voice of our conscience…the well trodden path of old routines and comfort we all too often seek…

Paul walked the streets of Athens in Greece nearly 2000 years ago and observed the culture and creativity.  He sought to interpret what people were trying to convey.  He mused, “Men of Athens! I see in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UN-KNOWN GOD.  Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you”. (Acts Ch 17:23). 

There is a yearning in each one of us.  What we fill it with is dependent upon our own freewill.  Are we scared to face up to life’s big questions?  Can we make it on our own strength?  Are we willing to admit our vulnerability and weaknesses?  Do we think we are in need of rescue?  If there really is a God, what would that demand of us?       

The song title above reminds me of a scene from Douglas Coupland’s wonderful novel “Hey Nostradamus!” where the doodles upon a key character’s school folder cause much questioning in the minds of those left behind after her death.  She had scribbled repeatedly “God is nowhere…God is now here…” over and over again. 

Which will it be for you? 

Which will it be for me?

Personal Jesus

“Your own, personal, Jesus.
Someone to hear your prayers,
Someone who cares.
Your own, personal, Jesus.
Someone to hear your prayers,
Someone who’s there.”
 
From “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode.
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I’ve learned about a really exciting project in recent weeks.  The National Portrait Gallery of Scotland will be hosting an exhibition later this year entitled Rough Cut Nation.  You can get the lowdown at www.roughcutnation.co.uk
This unique multimedia project draws together a group of young artists from around Scotland to create a dramatic collaborative installation. Rough Cut Nation will feature artwork and designs from Elph, Fraser Gray, Kirsty Whiten, Mike Inglis, Peter Martin, Jason Nelson, DUFI, Machism, Paco, Jo Basford, Janie Nicoll and Skint. The project will also feature artwork produced by young people working with Rough Cut artists on offsite projects. For the Edinburgh Festival they will construct a remixed version of Scottish history as informed by street art and graffiti culture, painted, pasted and projected directly onto the walls of the Portrait Gallery.

The project updates William Hole’s original decorative mural scheme of 1889-1898, depicting important events from Scotland’s past. This new installation exploits the empty space produced by the Gallery’s current closure for redevelopment.

The original mural by William Hole’s portrays elements of Scottish history with strong religious and at times Protestant overtones. 

As one of the artist duos involved, DUFI, are interested in exploring religious iconography and the use of Jesus as moral or social catalyst both within Scottish history and contemporary culture.   

With that in mind they would like to ask three questions: 
1)  In one word, describe who was/is Jesus?
2)  In one word, what does Jesus have to do with Scottish History?
3)  What impact has Jesus had on Scotland past, present and future?
The answers that DUFI collect from these questions will potentially form part of the final artwork, but will not be attributed to any one individual.
That is so cool.  So many of the great pieces of art that adorn gallery walls are full of religious imagery.  Whilst much of it is appreciated for its great craftsmanship – how much of it connects with us or grabs our attention?  Things that were deemed blasphamous or shocking in centuries past are often lost on us today.  Maybe it’s time to re-paint a modern image of who we think Jesus is or was?  I don’t mean just trite cliches, but who or what do we think of Jesus in the context of these questions?  How would our friends, colleagues and neighbours think about them?  This project has so much potential for us to see Jesus in a new and relevant and honest way. 
Can I commend this project to you?  Please send your answers to DUFI.JESUS@GMAIL.COM  or alternatively reply online www.dufi-art.blogspot.com
Peace.

This Is Your Life

“Yesterday is a wrinkle on your forehead.
Yesterday is a promise that you’ve broken.
Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes.
This is your life and today is all you’ve got now.
Yeah, and today is all you’ll ever have.
Don’t close your eyes.
Don’t close your eyes.

This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

From “This Is Your Life” by Switchfoot.

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So, this week was my birthday.  Another year and how much has life changed?  I think it’s helpful every so often to look back, not to to dwell there in rose tinted memories, but just to get some bearings.

Sometimes I smile to myself as I think about the dreams I once had.  The way I thought the future might look…

I can distinctly remember sitting in bible class aged 14 or 15 and a leader saying “the biggest decisions you’ll make in life will all take place in the next 5-10 years:  what job you’ll do, who you might marry…”  In truth it put the fear of God into me and froze me in place.  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  What if I got it wrong?  Life seemed too big – too much pressure.

I’m not that age anymore and life hasn’t always been plain sailing, but there is so much to be thankful for.

Psalm 111:10  says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.  I don’t think that means to be frozen in fear before a God who is unapproachable because of our mistakes, regrets, falling short and screwing up.  But I read that as meaning that having an awe for God and His vastness is the starting point for making wise decisions.  To paraphrase the cover of a book my wife bought me for my birthday, “Maybe we need to spend less time trying to convince God to do what we want and to spend more time convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do?”

So, back to now. 

Who am I becoming? 

How am I growing? 

How am I being changed? 

What is God doing in my life?

I don’t feel that I’m living in the past.  Most of the time, I feel pretty comfortable with who I am. 

In a rare heatwave this week, I stripped down to my boardshorts and ran through the cold water spurting from a hose in our back garden with my four year old daughter.  In an instant I was transported back to a shared sense of childhood and, hopefully, it will be one of those happy, sun-filled, snapshots she will carry into her future.  As we sat on the garden furniture letting the evening sun dry us off, eating fajitas and nachos I couldn’t help but feel all was right in the world.  We are called to be childlike and that is very different from being called to be childish…

So how will it look a year from now?  I don’t have a clue and I’m fine with that.  I’m more convinced than ever that Jesus came to give us life and life to the full.  That is the polar opposite of paralysis or being drained of life through fear.  It’s the opposite of taking stances on the minutiae of theology.  As for me and our house, we will serve the Lord.


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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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