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Love And Some Verses

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“Love and some verses you hear
say what you can’t say”
From “Love And Some Verses” by Iron & Wine

A friend introduced me to a really great music magazine recently called Paste.  I love the tag-line, “Signs of life in music, film & culture”.

It’s lovingly desk-topped and laid out.  The journalism is well researched and engagingly written.  It has been a joy to read interviews and reviews of artists whom I cherish and it has whet my appetite for a whole bunch of new bands or singer-songwriters I’ve not yet heard.

I saw an inspiring interview with the editors on the excellent Society Room DVD series produced by the Fermi Project.  Clearly, two guys who embrace culture and are excited by the expression of ideas through various means of media.  I genuinely commend the magazine to you as the interviews often seem to grapple with anything but surface, fanzine-like, sixth form questioning.

Here’s an extract from a fabulous interview with the wonderful Sam Beam of Iron & Wine:

“What Iron & WIne’s music seems to be urging toward more than anything is innocence, and the touchstones in this quest are frequently religious in nature.  Beginning with his very first album, Beam’s writing has often used the specific language of Christianity, in lines like “Jesus, a friend of the weaker ones said, ‘I’m all they stole from you,'” (The Creek Drank The Cradle’s “Southern Anthem”) or the heartfelt prayer of Our Endless Numbered Days’ “On Your Wings”: “God give us love in the time that we have / God, there are guns growing out of our bones / God, every road takes us farther from home.”  But while it might puzzle some that a self-confessed agnostic like Beam would find consistent inspiration in biblical images and characters that are as likely to converse with the Holy Spirit as they are to address a love interest, for Beam it’s a natural, essential, part of his writing process.  “I like to use [religious images] because it starts you off a little bit further along in the story.  You know, you could say Bob and Jerry did this, but then you have to explain who they are.  But if you say ‘Cain and Abel’ it carries a certain weight.  They have a connotation everyone understands, they symbolise the duality in us all…I like using those, because it’s our mythology.”

Yet Beam has always insisted that the role of religion in his writing avoids propaganda of any kind.  “I think there’s always been kind of a subversive quality to the way I use religion.  I mean, I try to use it both ways, you know, because that’s the way life is.  There are some great things about religion but there’s some really f—ed up stuff about it too.”  It seems that part of religion’s appeal for Beam is the down-and-out or desperate state of mind individuals are usually in when they find themselves asking religious questions.  Such characters always make for a compelling narrative.

With a second round of mojitos on deck and crackling, dry August heat making its presence felt on Guero’s outside porch, Beam pursues this line of thought further.  It turns out that religion is not merely a cultural shorthand or creative prop for Beam but, like Johnny Cash before him, it constitutes one of the only three topics he’s genuinely interested in as a writer.  “You have your three big things that you can talk about, basically, if you’re going to write something that actually means something to you as a human being, which is Love, God and Death.  That’s basically the thing.  Love, which occupies a lot of our time, because we don’t like being lonely.  God, because everyone wants to know that there’s a reason behind what they’re doing and what the hell is going on.  And death is just the reality of your finite time here.””

…Love, God and Death…

…What would that sound or look like?

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Folding Stars

“Take a long, hard, look at yourself.

How did you end up here?”

From “Folding Stars” by Biffy Clyro.

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I’ve been thinking about my life journey of late and a few simple words have come into focus.

There have been so many times when, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’ve been pretty self-centred.  My drivers in life where all about me.  What should I study?  Where would I end up?  How could I find fulfillment?  Who would I go out with and how would that gratify me?  How could enjoy the lifestyle I dreamed for myself?

Even my prayer life was often centred around these sorts of questions.  I could dress that up as seeking “guidance” or “God’s will for my life”.  Such descriptions were true, but my over-arching motivation was more about how God might help me with those things and bless me with the outcomes, rather than how might I be changed or more able to be used for Him in and through all of those things?

The times that I get hassled or grumpy are invariably because my plans need to be altered or things aren’t going my way or I’m doing one thing when I’d rather be doing something else.  The most menial things can set off discontent in my mind.  I have to consciously step in and over-write that selfishness.

So the first word is “selfish”.  It’s not an adjective I’d like to attribute to myself, but one, which in the cold light of day, I need to regularly confront.  If that is true, then all it means is that, like all of us, I can be self-centred.  I can put me, myself and I in the middle of everything. 

In old school language someone once said “sin has “I” at the middle”.  That’s what it boils down to, even if that’s not the vocabulary I find easy to use.  Mind you, anything less than that and I am kidding myself.  “He who claims he is without sin…” anyone?  So, the second word is “sin”.

So what do I do with that?  I could feel lousy or label myself, but I reckon that’s totally opposite to what God would want.  What can I learn?  How can I orientate myself?

That leads me to another word – “submission”.  Now that’s a word loaded with negative connotations in our post-modern, life after God, world.  Most notably we hear people saying that the bible says that “wives should submit to their husbands”.  Verses like that get twisted and abused.  Actually, in my reading of it it also says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church.  That means sacrifice of the highest order.   So actually, I refocus my attention away from “selfishness” or “sin” and onto “submission” and “sacrifice”.

That all sounds terribly “woe is me”.  It’s not.  Sometimes I just need to stop, look beyond myself and what God/the church/others can do for me and ask “what I can do for them?”  Through that I reckon I might just meet some new folks, experience some new situations, learn some new things, gain a little wisdom and grow more into the person I was always meant to be.

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: 

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.

Casimir Pulaski Day

On my most recent post, I quoted extensively from an engaging interview with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine which appeared in Paste magazine.  You can link to that post here.  He commented that the three main topics which he believes will really affect someone as a human being are: love; God; and death. 

Are those the topics that really seperate “great” art (in whatever media i.e painting, sculpture, photography, literature, film, music, whatever) from “good” art?  For me, I think that notion certainly rings very true.  Faced with any one of those issues in isolation and, in our most quiet and honest moments, I reckon that we stop pretending.

I asked what these things would look or sound like?

For me, I think it might be something very much like the attached you tube clip.  This is a song that speaks more truth to me about these subjects than many others.  The video is something that has not been prepared by some high budget commission by the musician involved, but is simply someone having lovingly story-boarded the sentiment and imagery and story of the song.  The result gets me every time I watch and listen to it.  I know there can be a tendency to skip people’s video links on blogs, but I would encourage you to click the arrow below and watch this.

If You’re Feeling Sinister

“Hillary walked to her death because she couldn’t think of anything to say

Everybody thought that she was boring, so they never listened anyway

Nobody was really saying anything of interest, she fell asleep

She was into S & M and bible study’s not everyone’s cup of tea she would admit to me

Her cup of tea she would admit to no-one

Her cup of tea she would admit to me

Oh, but, her cup of tea she would admit to no-one”

From “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Belle And Sebastian

I have long loved the chirpy, childlike, music of Belle And Sebastian.  The funny little characters and stories that often fill the songs contain such depth and profundity on closer inspection.  I love the lines above. The name of this blog also comes from one of their songs which includes my favourite ever lyrics which I have explained here.

Bible study’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  It sounds so boring.  I use the phrase “small group” rather than “bible study” when describing the things I get involved with because studying the bible is only part of what that group of folks is about.  I talk about “reading my bible” or having a “quiet time” in that half hour or so I carve out after my morning run before the rest of the house awakens and the chaos of the usual routine ensues.

I recognise that spending time reading the bible, thinking and praying about it are some of the most important things I can do with my time and, yet, if I’m honest “bible study” sounds so dull.  I have discovered countless trite bible study materials that seem to have stretched simple points or made fairly tenuous links between a few verses and a bigger concept.  Thankfully, I have found other books and ideas that have really captivated me and pushed me to really grapple with verses in their context and to try to see how to work out what they should look like if applied to my life today.  I’ve certainly not got it all together, but I’m in a place where I am stimulated and pushed to address how the Bible speaks today and to get beyond theology or tradition and to try and rediscover truth that resonates.  I owe many folks in my small group for introducing me to authors and resources that I now cherish.

Last year our small group worked our way through the book of James.  We’d read a chapter at a time in our own time and just scribble down our thoughts and questions.  When the group met up we’d discuss what it had made us think about.  One week one of the members of the group set us some homework.  He asked us to go away and create something in response to the chapter we were reading and to bring it to the group the next time we met.  It was great because it really got me thinking about what the key thing within the chapter was for me and how that dove-tailed into what I had been learning over the past 12 months or so.  It took me back to my teenage years when I found more time to actually be creative, before the demands of everyday life took over to such an extent.

When we reassembled I think everyone felt a bit vulnerable and exposed showing what they had brought and explaining what had inspired it.  But everyone else was enthralled to see what God had been saying to individuals through the Bible and how they had interpreted and expressed that.  We had collages, painting, photography, powerpoint slide shows, poetry, the chapter translated into someone’s own words and we had home-cooking  – all to express what we had taken from it.  It was fresh and really sticks with me as a special evening over the past year.

I don’t know how or whether we could incorporate some of those ideas into “church” or “worship times”, although I have some ideas.  Would it put some people right off?  Would it draw others in or connect with them?  Would it change the most common misconceptions of church?

I actually think there’s something fairly profound in the missing link explained in further lyrics from the same Belle And Sebastian song (and please don’t misunderstand this as any comment on a particular denomination, but more so on the church in general),

“Hilary went to the Catholic Church because she wanted information

The Vicar, or whatever, took her to one side and gave her confirmation

Saint Theresa’s calling her, the church up on the hill is looking lovely

But it didn’t interest, the only things she wants to know is

How and why and when and where to go

How and why and when and where to follow

How and why and when and where to go

How and why and when and where to follow”


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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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