Posts Tagged 'religion'

Losing My Religion

“Oh, life is bigger.
It’s bigger than you.
And you are not me.
The lengths that I will go to.
The distance in your eyes.
Oh no, I’ve said too much.
I set it up.”

From “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.


As The Bank Of England Monetary Committee go as far as to say the UK is now in a “deep recession”, we all seem to be tired of bad news.  Life is big and often I feel so small.  I think we are all hungry for good news.

Whilst the photo above may be a bit blurred – the notes I scribbled in my pad last Sunday at church merely amounted to “Save us from religious observation.”  That’s really what I feel just now.  If I can’t imagine life without the hope my faith brings me, how come I feel inclined to keep it to myself so much?  As the old H-Street skateboard video was so brilliantly entitled – “Shackle Me Not!”


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?

Wonder (part 8)

This the penultimate post in a wee series of musings I have posted up during December inspired by some lyrics that have stuck with me longer than many.  Post 1 can be accessed here.  Post 2 can be linked to by clicking here.  Post 3 is connected here.  Post 4 is here , post 5 is here  , post 6 is here and post 7 is here.p7260034

The closing lines of the song that generated all these posts goes:

“This is Church.

This is State.

Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Amazing Grace.

It makes me think, it makes me deal

With the situation – how do I feel?”

from “Wonder” by King’s X

I love that phrase “Rock ‘n’ Roll. Amazing Grace”  I have found so much of God and so much that has shaped my world view in both of those things – rock ‘n’ roll and old hymnals.  I love playing my heart out on my drum kit and making a joyful noise.  I relish the fact that some folks in our church have permissioned us to do that once a month and I am so grateful to the little fluid collective of friends who are musicians and singers who join me in that.  We are all on the same wavelength and the music is so secondary.  It’s just about creating a time and space where we can set everything else aside and regain our focus and actually begin to engage and ask questions.

Sometimes I wonder if we elevate music in our services?  I mean that as a generalisation across the church rather than as a specific criticism of our congregation.  As someone involved in that side of things, I struggle with the notion that all we do is create a holy “knees up” or “feel good” session through swells of sound and music and then kid ourselves that we have “met with God”.  At the end of the day, if we are adding to the noise – then I would hope that someone would tell us to be quiet and to pack up our gear.  If we are all able to draw closer somehow with music used as a vehicle to prepare our hearts and ears ahead of a sermon or in a response time, then count me in.  If we walk out of our church building, into our everyday lives, with a changed perspective and a heart hungry to live in obedience and aware of mercy and grace, then I guess we have been good stewards of our gifts.

Wonder (part 7)

This the seventh in a short series of posts.  Post 1 can be linked to here.  Post 1 can be accessed here.  Post 2 can be linked to by clicking here.  Post 3 is connected here.  Post 4 is here , post 5 is here  and post 6 is here.


I guess the largest political issue for many in my generation is rolled up in the September the 11th atrocities and the military decisions of the US and UK governments in the aftermath.  It is easy to judge our leaders rather than to pray for them and I read a recent interview with Moby where he was struggling to reconcile a natural inclination to judge with a more gracious response.

Here’s an excerpt from a book I would thoroughly recommend to you.  The American author at one point visits Iraq as part of a peace envoy.  Here is a small snippet of one of his tales:

“I was invited to worship services nearly every day while in Iraq.  The Christians in Baghdad gave me so much hope for the church.  One of the most powerful worship services I’ve ever experienced was just a few days before I headed home.  Hundreds and hundreds of Christians from all over the Middle East had gotten together – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox.  They read a statement from the Christian church directed to the Muslim community, declaring that they love them and believe they were created in the image of God.  Then we sang familiar songs like “Amazing Grace.”  We said the Lord’s Prayer in several languages. They lead us to the cross and prayed a prayer similar to the one Jesus prayed when he was on the cross: “Forgive us, for we know not what we are doing.”  Hundreds and hundreds of people continued to try and get into the service and ended up gathering outside with candles.  It was holy.

Afterward, I was able to meet with one of the bishops who had organised the gathering, and I explained to him that I was shocked to find so many Christians in Iraq.  He looked at me, puzzled, then gently said, “Yes, my friend, this is where it all began.  This is the land of your ancestors.  That is the Tigris River and the Euphrates.  Have you read about them?”  I was floored-by my ignorance and by the ancient roots of my faith.  It is the land of my ancestors.  Christianity was not invented in America…how about that?

The bishop went on to tell me that the church in the Middle East was deeply concerned about the church in the United States.  He said, “Many Americans are for this war.”

I nodded.

And he asked, “But what are the Christians saying?”

My heart sank.  I tried to explain to him that many of the Christians in the US are confused and hope that this is a way God could liberate Iraqi people.  He shook his head and said, very humbly, “But we Christians do not believe that.  We believe “blessed are the peacemakers.”  We believe if you pick up the sword, you die by the sword.  We believe in the cross.”  Tears welled up in my eyes as he said, “We will be praying for you.  We will be praying for the church in the US…to be the church”.

That is in no way just a challenge to the US.  How different would our communities, the places we work, the places we hang out, the lives of the people we really invest time with be, if the Church of Jesus Christ actually acted and lived like the Church of Jesus Christ?  I have a long way to go, but I want to journey forward in that direction.

Wonder (part 4)

This is the fourth in a short series of posts.  Post 1 can be accessed here.  Post 2 can be linked to by clicking here.  Post 3 is connected here.


In July 2007 there was a terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport.  Those who drove a burning vehicle into the departure lounge did so “in the name of God”.

That same day, we were in Glasgow listening to Rob Bell deliver a talk entitled “Blessed Are The Peacemakers”.

What does that really look like right here, right now?

Wonder (part 3)

This forms part of a short series of posts.  Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here and Part 2 is here.

In today’s society, I struggle to see that someone can say with authority that all Christians should vote for a specific party.  I do believe, however, that each of us should responsibly consider with conviction how to use our vote and how to try to influence matters.  So, I am fairly well aligned with one political party in my own voting practices and the agendas that influence and concern me in particular. 

In our own congregation there are people who hold loads of opposing ideas, viewpoints and political allegiances, some of whom are party candidates and, yet, church is one of the rare places were those differences become secondary.

I can see why it could become easy to be disillusioned or bored by politics, but I firmly believe that every vote counts.  If we really voted with our conscience rather than tactically, how would the political landscape look? 

Countless bands have probably helped shape my political views over the years, but few have done so to such an extent as Fugazi and Billy Bragg.  Fugazi in that they wrote and sung about their own straight edge ideology (often associated with their previous incarnation as Minor Threat) and lived out their ethics with such authenticity.  Billy Bragg has always sung with such conviction and many of his observations form the 80s and 90s still make a lot of sense to me as I look around our global village.  I’ve not always drawn the same conclusions or party allegiances, but these artists have made me see the importance of how I practice what I believe in.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Billy Bragg in the Guardian earlier this year which connects with me in many places and makes me realise that I need to take ownership of where I place an “X” on a voting paper…

Tuesday March 11, 2008
The Guardian


“I don’t mind being labelled a political songwriter,” says Billy Bragg, his voice snouty and rough, and his eyes sharp little specks in a well-freckled face. “I am a political songwriter – that’s the life that I’ve made for myself. What really upsets me is being dismissed as a political songwriter.” He pivots on the word “dismissed”. People do dismiss Billy Bragg. He has spent 25 years in the music industry, and is one of our greatest living songwriters. Yet for all those who adore him, Bragg still exists in the wider public imagination as the Bard of Barking, the voice of the miners’ strike and Red Wedge, a voice still singing a refrain of Old Labour and New England.

The album opens with a song named I Keep Faith. It is one of those overlapping songs, a perfect Venn diagram of the political and the personal. “Firstly, it’s about some of the people that I work with closely – Labour backbenchers,” Bragg explains. “It’s probably the closest I’ve worked with politicians, those bright young Red Wedgers who are now ministers. I did some shows for them during the 2005 election campaign, and I got to see how hard they work, and how little they get back for that. And then also it’s about my missus, Juliet, and the struggles she went through to do what she wanted to do with her own life, and she’s setting up a business as well, and that was a great inspiration for me.”

The final verse was inspired by a songwriting workshop that Bragg held at a women’s hospice in Weymouth, working with half a dozen women over a six-week period in 2006. “Trying to help them write songs, songs that allow them to say the things they can’t say over the dining table in the evening but that you can say in a song – that are namely, ‘I love you, but I’m not always gonna be here,’ ” he says softly. “That probably is one of the things I’m most proud of. And that last verse, that whole idea of, ‘I know it takes a mess of courage to go against the grain/You have to make such great sacrifice for such little gain’ – what those women went through, how they retained their dignity and kept their self-pity at bay was just phenomenal to witness. And yet they were able to communicate to me deep, deep feelings they had which then we were able to make into something for their families to treasure. And I just came away every Friday incredibly inspired by these women and their fortitude.”

“So,” he says, leaning forward in his chair a little, “I’d like to think it works on a number of levels – on the level of a personal commitment to another individual, on the level of a song about faith as in the sense of solidarity, faith in humanity. I’m not sure I want to live in a world without faith, you know? Faith in one another, faith in community, faith in humanity: I don’t think I’d like to live in a world where everything’s a matter of science and reason.”

The song has allowed him, he says, to speak to audiences about something of which he has grown increasingly aware: “Our real enemy in trying to make a better world isn’t conservatism, or capitalism or racism – they’re manifestations of a deeper malaise, which is cynicism. And there’s so much of that about, in our political and social discourse. And I speak as someone who has to fight to overcome their own cynicism – I helped get Tony Blair elected. In some ways I’m complicit in the invasion of Iraq because of that, despite our best efforts to stop it happening. So you know, I am overcome by waves of cynicism. But as Woody Guthrie said, ‘I never want to write a song that puts people down.'”


Wonder (part 2)

On the first post in this short series, I was wondering about the notions of things not being right in the world and the role of church and state…you can link to that here.

Growing up in Scotland, I found it a strange concept to understand that for many Americans if they labelled themselves “Christian”, then that generally also directed which political party they voted for (a generalisation, I know).  It’s also strange that when I have found myself in a voting booth and presented with an option to vote for a specifically “Christian” party outwith the main political parties or an independent candidate using “Christian” as an adjective for their manifesto, that the first thing that comes into my head is, “they must be dodgy”.  That’s probably hugely unfair, but it goes to show how prejudiced my natural response can be at times.

So, Church and State…What are our experiences of these?  For a glimpse into my experience, please click on the arrow below.

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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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