Posts Tagged 'billy bragg'


“I used to want to plant bombs at the last night of the proms.
But, now you’ll find me with the baby in the bathroom
With that big shell, listening for the sound of the sea.
The baby and me”.

From “Brickbat” by Billy Bragg.


Douglas Coupland entitled his 2001 novel, “All Families Are Psychotic”.  I think the title was memorable and connected with many of us.  It put a smirk on our faces.  It became a cult classic.

The thing is that we all belong to families.  They may be conventional nuclear families or a whole myriad of other set-ups.  You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.

I find it easy to think of church community as a family.  That has been my very real experience in the darkest hours of life or the most trying times.  My four best friends are like brothers to me.  I refer to them all as “bro” regularly.  Would we be as close if we didn’t share a common faith that bonds us that way?  Would my marriage be the way it is if I stopped reminding myself that I’ve to love my wife in the same way that Christ loves the church?  I think that means I’d be prepared to die for her.  That thought often puts tidying up after myself or other menial tasks in proper perspective…

Yesterday, however, Karl said something that really got me thinking.  I know many people find it hard to relate to the concept of God as a “Loving Heavenly Father”, because their own perceptions have been tarnished by the way their own Father’s are or have been.  Thankfully, that has not been my own experience.  That said, if our own experience of our earthly Father is the lense through which we see our Heavenly Father, then that’s a really big deal.

The thing that struck me right between the eyes is that the way in which my children will perceive the notion of Father God will be influenced hugely by how they perceive me.  Now, that’s a REALLY BIG deal!  I think fondly of happy, sun-speckled, cozy, snap shots of intimate moments with my little family unit, but I also recoil in the thoughts of those times when I’m at my whit’s end, hassled, grumpy and determined to get onto the next thing…

It’s good to have another hook to pull my attitude back into line…


Take Down The Union Jack.

“Take down the Union Jack, it clashes with the sunset
And ask our Scottish neighbours if independence looks any good?
‘Cos they just might understand how to take an abstract notion
Of personal identity and turn it into nationhood.”

From “Take Down The Union Jack” by Billy Bragg.

So, one of my friends has challenged fellow bloggers to do a post to celebrate St Andrew’s Day.  She asked those who are Scottish or have lived here for some time to reflect upon it.

The fact is I was born in Northern Ireland.  I lived there only for a few weeks and from the age of 4 I have lived in various parts of East Scotland.  Practically all of my defining memories are of times spent in Scotland and my identity feels Scottish, even though I write “British” on official forms. 

My first football kit was the Scottish strip for the Argentina 1978 World Cup.  My daughter turns 5 tomorrow, loves playing football and was born in Scotland and is about to receive her first Scottish kit as a present.  It feels like the passing of a baton in an attempt to discourage all the rubbish that goes with team colours at such a young age. 

I saw Billy Bragg play a gig in Glasgow last year.  He had recently written a book exploring the notion of patriotism, national identity, Britishness and multiculturalism in the light of the BNP securing presence in a by-election in his former home of Barking, Essex.  I wondered how the songs and stories of Englishness would be received by a Scottish audience where there can be such ugly hostility and dislike for the English in certain circles?

One of the thing that stuck with me was when he explained that if Scotland did vote for independence, then by default England would also be devolved.  Now, that opens up a whole other bunch of issues and politics.  He then went on to applaud some of the things that the Scottish Government has committed to and some of the potential we could offer as a nation.

I was chatting at length about these ideas with a couple of guys on a surfing road trip a few weekends ago.  So many of us are bored and disillusioned with politics and feel torn between voting with our conscience (politically and environmentally) and voting tactically in the next general election in 2010.  We discussed the prospects Scotland offers for a new social and ideological order.  A future of co-operatives, self sustainability, harnessing of renewable energy initiatives, an end to nuclear power stations beyond their current lifespan. We explored the frustration caused by us taxpayers having to bail out the disastrous state of Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds Banking Group takeover of Bank of Scotland.  We talked about the difference between a sense of belonging and hope for the future contrasted with the often narrow dogma of Nationalism.  We talked about inclusion and exclusion in society, immigration and community.  We talked about the systems established in Scandinavia, the rate of tax and the quality of education, healthcare and work/life balance… It was one of those conversations where lots of views were opined and your mind was stretched to grasp new ideas and concepts…I love those discussions – especially as we looked out the minibus windows toward silhouetted glens with the stars coming out and the sky reflected perfectly in the lochs…

So what do I love about Scotland? – The manageable size of the cities; the fact you can get from one city to another or to the countryside quickly; the scenery; the accents; the proximity to the sea; the buzz; the seasons; decent tap water; the fact that Irn-Bru outsells Coca-Cola; the pride of wearing a kilt which has family history from my mother’s side; the sense of identity; the prospects of a renewables revolution…

What do I dislike? – the bigotry; the anti-English attitudes deeply held rather than a culture of respect; too much rain at times; the fact that global warming has all but destroyed the Scotish ski-season in the space of 25 years; cycling home from work on cold, windy and wet nights; the fact that we only ever top the league tables for things like heart disease, obesity and abortion rates…

What is our soundtrack? – please spare me the bagpipes or “Flower of Scotland” – give me some Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Aereogramme, Biffy Clyro, calamateur, The Delgados, Mogwai, Jesus & Mary Chain or Cocteau Twins any day…

Where is it best captured on film?  Save me “Braveheart” and watch “So I Married An Axe Murderer“, “Gregory’s Girl“, “Highlander” or “Restless Natives” instead.

As regards haggis, Douglas Coupland recently made me question my love of vegetarian haggis by asking why they try to make vegetables have the consistency or illusion of sheeps’ innards?

Oh and I wish I had a proper appreciation of whisky…

North Sea Bubble.

“We’re living in a North Sea bubble.
We’re trying to spend our way out of trouble.
You keep buying these things, but you don’t need them.
But as long as you’re comfortable – it feels like freedom”.

From “North Sea Bubble” by Billy Bragg.


All of us are fed up of being bombarded about news articles of the credit crunch, the global economy and recession.  The reality has long been felt by most of us.  We all know people who have lost their jobs and we’ve all had to adjust our lifestyles.  Some of this has been a helpful reality check and maybe things will never be the same again.  Maybe that is not all bad. 

I think, however, that there is a longing within all of us to get through to the other part of this cycle…the part where we can see the green shoots of recovery actually grow into something new and lush.  There seems to be an inherent belief that getting back to recovery is where we need to be.  Maybe it’s actually more constructive to use this period to ask some bigger questions, even if those aren’t necessarily easy ones.  Maybe now really is time to take stock.

I love and fear the writing of Naomi Klein in equal measure.  She talks a lot of sense and makes me have to take a long hard look at myself – how I make my decisions and how those are enacted in my life and the lives of others.  Here’s a little piece I read in the paper yesterday…food for thought…

Must I Paint You A Picture? (Part 2)

“Must I paint you a picture

About the way that I feel?

You know my love for you is stronger.

You know my love for you is real.”

From “Must I Paint You A Picture?” by Billy Bragg.


This forms the second part of  two halves.  The previous post can be linked here.  It explains an exercise we did when half of those gathered at a meeting a few weeks ago were asked to face a wall, unaware of who would then stand behind them and to ask God to reveal a picture, verse or impression that they should share with the person behind them.

I was stood behind someone I’ve never met before, but whom I know is held in high regard by many in our congregation.  He said that he felt he had seen a picture of a fruit tree –  a peach tree –  and that the fruit was really ripe.  What does it mean?  I think I know what it relates to, but I’m not sure what the interpretation is.

I guess I’d been thinking ahead of the meeting about how my life looks in terms of how I spend my time.  It is largely taken up by work, family and church commitments.  Despite the pressure of work deadlines, I am trying to find time for the things of God in all of that – whether it’s to work with all my best efforts, to influence the office culture or environment or to catch up socially with people I ought to.  I sometimes I wonder how much of a witness I am at work as I often just have my head down trying to maintain focus and get things done…Right now things are very demanding and many evenings are spent back in the office (after I’ve made it home to have meal with my family and be their for my daughter’s bath time) with me eventually making it home only to collapse into bed.  It’s not always like that, but right now is one of those periods.

Family life is great and there’s loads to be thankful for, but, it still demands (rightly) a huge amount of my time and energy.

Church life is also busy with organising, preparing for and facilitating a weekly small group, preparing and leading the music parts of our evening services once a month, helping drum at a friend’s church service once a month and assisting us find a property solution to our growing congregation.

Maybe the picture means that as I grow older, I am growing into the person I am meant to be?  Maybe the fruits of the spirit are more evident in my life than they once were? (that sounds pious and unlikely as I know I still have a long way to go)  Maybe, as I use these different skills I have been gifted with, it is pleasing to God?

Maybe the picture means that the fruit is ripe and is to be enjoyed by others – the benefactors of my efforts?

Maybe the fruit is ripe and ready to fall?  Maybe I have grown to fullness in some of these areas of life and it is time to hand those things over before the fruit gets over-ripe and rots?  Maybe the tree was overladen?  My gut instinct is that it is this latter interpretation that is more accurate of how life actually is right now.

We then went to pray in groups of three.  As we shared something for prayer, we were encouraged to wait in silence for a minute or two – again asking God to reveal whether there was anything He wanted us to share – a picture, a scripture, an impression, etc and then to share that with the person being prayed for, to see if it resonated and then to pray into that. 

When asked what people could pray for for me, I shared something of the above (not the picture – just the question about whether I am doing all that I ought to be or whether I should do less and do it better?).  One of the guys praying said that after the moment or two of silence he just sensed the word “blessing” and that is what I was to others.  He talked particularly of my role in leading music at church (which was an encouragement as I’d been a bit frustrated and discouraged by the previous Sunday night’s service). 

My wife was also in the group and she thought she saw a picture of a jigsaw which had a picture of the sea on it.  The corner piece was missing to complete the picture and there were a few final pieces piled on top of the bigger picture, so she couldn’t see exactly what the picture was…

One of the most helpful things I have done in my Christian life of late was a thing called the Network Course.  It helps explore, establish and affirm natural abilities and spiritual gifts,  From it I learned that my gifts are creative communication, faith and encouragement.  At the time I was leading worship once a month and that seemed like a natural outlet for these things.  I used to try and tell stories or set the scene or use DVD clips to help communicate and encourage us all into God’s presence.  As church has grown, I seem to spend less time doing those things as others try to cram loads of announcements, testimonies, DVD clips, etc into the space we have.  I spend more time just getting lost in my drumming and I concentrate on doing that as well as I can.  I found myself leading worship when our church was a very different place to what it is now.  We were really short of gifted musicians back then and short of folks who wanted to see something more contemporary happen musically.  I stepped into  a gap, explored it, felt anointed and forgiven when I made mistakes.  I wonder if that was a role for a season and whether there are others who could more naturally organise and lead that whilst I revert to just getting stuck back into my drumming?  Is that what this is all about? 

Maybe my blog is a good means of communicating creatively for someone as softly spoken as me?  Maybe hosting our small group and helping facilitate something like the art project linked here is more fitting just now?

Would that give me more time to feed my soul in other ways?  As an individual and as a family we love being near water.  Would that give me the time to spend with my family on the beach or by the sea?  To enjoy the view?  To walk and shoot the breeze?  The sea is a powerful image for me due to my love of padlling about and falling off my surfboard and also because of a recurring dream I had when I was going through a particularly difficult period about 10 years ago.  There is something about the vastness of the sea that enables me to see how big and awesome God is and how small I am.  Why is that picture incomplete?

What does it all mean???

Must I Paint You A Picture? (Part1)

“Must I paint you a picture

About the way that I feel?

You know my love for you is stronger.

You know my love for you is real.”

From “Must I Paint You A Picture?” by Billy Bragg.


A couple of weeks back we had a small group leaders’ meeting at church to help us to assist our small groups to pray together.  Exciting, huh?

Well, that ironic tone was kind of my attitude ahead of the meeting if I’m honest.  I mean, our little collective have started meeting weekly rather than fortnightly and tried to place more of an emphasis on praying on alternate weeks – but have we really embraced it?  We know that it is right and important, but the topic isn’t that gripping is it?  Yet, when Karl has commented that we can get 1000 people through our services on a Sunday and only a handful at the church prayer meeting it does beg a whole bunch of questions.  Why do we think it’s boring?  Do we really believe it changes things?  Do we need to learn to pray in new and different ways?

Anyhow, the session was led by Ollie Clegg from Holy Trinity in Wester Hailes and was truly awesome.  Man, he has some amazing stories to tell.  He made me realise how much of my prayer life is still a one way conversation.  How much time do I actually spend in silence or listening?

He split us into two groups.  One group had to face the wall and close their eyes.  The rest of us had to stand behind them, guys behind guys and girls behind girls.  Many of us didn’t know the person in front of us and the person facing the wall had no idea who was behind them.  We then spent a few moments in silence just asking if God had anything He wanted to show us or say.  Then all the people facing the wall had to turn around and just tell the other person whatever impression, picture or verse of scripture had come to mind.  Before you think we are a bunch of wackos, none of us were used to this kind of thing.  People shared sheepishly, but did so nonetheless.  When Ollie asked how many of those who shared stuff were encouraged? – almost all the hands went up.  Same reaction for those who had received from those who had been facing the wall.  Then we all swapped over, albeit everyone shuffled so that, once again, those now facing the wall didn’t have a clue who was behind them.

Later we split into groups of three.  We asked what someone wanted prayer for.  Rather than barging right in there, we spent a minute or two in silence asking God for a picture or verse or impression.  We then shared whatever we had got and asked if it connected with the person in any way? Then we prayed into it.  It was hugely helpful.

I have tried praying this way for the past couple of weeks.  I have had two pretty clear pictures for folks – one of which I will share with the family involved, because I think it will bring encouragement – the other I won’t because I think, just like a previous picture and dream I have had for that person, it serves to remind me to keep praying for them – even if at times I feel like my prayers fail to collide with their situation…

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…


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

Wonder (part 9)

This is the final post in a series of  posts exploring lyrics touching upon the notions of “Church” and “State” written during the eighties.

Post 1 can be linked to here.  Post 2 is accessed here.  Post 3 is connected here.  Post 4 is here.  Post 5 can be found by clicking here.  Post 6 is here, Post 7 is here and Post 8 is here.

Since the time of the song being penned we have lived through the terms of office of George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  As we crawl out of 2008 into a new year, we also sit on the cusp of a new presidency in Barack Obama.  There is a quote that seemed to be everywhere toward the latter months of the year:

“Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama is running so our children can fly.”

Yet, as I learned of the Civil Rights Movements and Martin Luther King at school, it seemed like ancient history rather than something that occurred within the past 50 years or so.  What fast progress to now witness America’s first Black president about to take the reigns.  Whilst there seems to be a sense of a new dawn, he inherits a financial mess, an economic mess, an environmental mess in our ever shrinking global village.  If ever we need to pray for our leaders it is now.

These posts have sought to return to ancient truths whilst looking at issues we see around ourselves today; church and state; war and peace; God and politics; faith and action.  It reminds me of lyrics penned by Woodie Guthrie and put to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco.  Woodie Gothrie’s recording career was over by 1947, however, he kept on writing hundreds of unrecorded songs and these set of lyrics do not have a specifc date, but seem just as relevant to me today as they would have been when dreamt up by Guthrie:


“Let’s have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That they call the Nazarene

The only way
We could ever beat
These crooked politician men

Is to cast the moneychangers
Out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Oh it’s Jesus Christ our President
God above our king
With a job and pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter
On the seat
Way up in the capitol town

Be on the way
Prosperity bound”

From “Christ For President” – lyrics written by Woodie Guthrie

I guess that I am learning that Christ is my Saviour and My King.  If that is true, then He governs not just where I place my “X” on a voting slip, but how I vote in terms of what I consume, what I re-use, reduce and recycle.  It should determine how I vote with how I invest my time.  It should influence how I use my consumer vote with my money in terms of how ethical or otherwise my purchasing habits are – how are the goods I buy made?  What shops or manufacturers should I avoid (Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” might be slightly dated now, but still serves as an excellent manifesto and call to arms).  How many food miles have been involved in my food?  Do I buy fair=trade wherever possible?  Should I buy organic as often as possible?  Is my home properly insulated?  Do I use low energy light bulbs and do I switch them off when they are not needed?  Do I leave the TV on standby?  Do I take the plane when I could take the train?  Do I drive when I could walk or cycle?  Justice is a big thing.  Worship is a big thing.

Hopefully, this little series of posts have got you and I both thinking…

There was an old skateboarding sticker back in day with the slogan, “Don’t die wondering.”  Sometimes we need to stop procrastinating, to just act upon things or try them out.  At other times it’s good to challenge our beliefs or perceptions.  I think it’s good to grapple with how to really apply our faith in a myriad of situations we find around us – surely, that is what we are called to do?  The danger is that we just muse and talk and hypothesise. 

Whether you have found these posts helpful, interesting or irritating – then I would still recommend the following three books to you:

irresistable-revolution1a)  “The Irresistible Revolution – Living As An Ordinary Radical” by Shane Claiborne.



jesus-for-presidentb)  “Jesus For President” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw.





biblec)  The Bible.


Peace be with you all.

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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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