Archive for March, 2010

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New musical life bursting through the dry ground!!

March 30, 2010
Edgy, gifted musician and songwriter Roo Walker + talented vocalist Emma Holmes

 

I find it so exciting when I meet up with other young(er) people seeking to create original acts of beauty with a deep spiritual core and presence to their art work. Its even more so when it is done with such subtlety and tender nuances that you could unashamedly introduce them to your sensitive, thoughtful non-religious friends.

I heard Roo Walker for the first time performing at Valley Pentecostal Church, Stocksbridge on Sunday night, March 28th 2010. He performed a mixture of classic pop covers (including a rousing version of Valerie, as covered by Amy Winehouse, with a spontaneous improvised booming base loop) together with some of his own music solo and also in tandem with talented new vocalist Emma Holmes. One track in particular Roo played live that really touched me on the evening. I thought it was another cover version of a track by a band perhaps the Verve or Keane? In fact it was one of Roo’s own compositions – The Sound of Selling Out.

The Sound of Selling Out is a indie-rock song from Roo’s EP Positive Music. The song has heartfelt lyrics that seem to stem from real human and artistic insight into the distress and hope of contemporary living. The guitar has a ring of the 90s independent rock and rollers The La’s – There She Goes together with the ghostly electric sounds and passionate, pain-filled vocals of Keane or Coldplay. There is an eery, haunting beauty to the song that penetrates the inner most chambers of the heart and releases the soul to celebrate…just give thanks for both the glory and the pain of acheing, vibrant young life.

Question – Did it make me want to raise my hands, close my eyes, strike up the lighter and dance? You bettya!!

Question – Will it be a song that I want to take on long drives when I wonder on the beauty of new life as the countryside and city drift by in impressionistic visions? No kidding!

Question – Is it a song you will play again and again and again on repeat? Yep, no doubt about it!

This is champion songwriting and musical performance by a young talent. The song is worth the price of the EP alone, but there is also a moving acoustic guitar peace by Roo (>) which means ‘Greater than’.

Look forward to seeing more of Roo live in the future – solo, in duet with Emma and with other Resound Media established artists.

Respect also to generous, gifted and unassuming young pastor David McEwan for putting on the music and social event and giving a platform and audience for these upcoming artistic talents.

Find Roo at www.resoundmedia.co.uk

Link: http://resoundmedia.co.uk/shop/mp3/roo-walker-postive-music-mp3s.html

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Spring – first daffodils pictures

March 29, 2010
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First open daffodils I saw this spring

On a bit more sunshiney note than some posts, I came across these  flowers growing  in nearby woods, while riding my mountain bike on a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day last saturday.

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Late afternoon sun through the trees (27-03-2010)

I have always enjoyed riding my mountain bike more or less since the late eighties when mountain biking started taking off in Britain. As I kid I loved the strenuous exercise, being out in nature in all weathers, and the freedom a bike gave me to travel the world(!) when I still had several years to go before I could drive a car. It also gave me great adventures with friends. We were fellow explorers reclaiming the wild for boys on bikes!

Today I admit I have lost the physique to be an athletic adventurer and the taste for extreme thrills and stunts. I still love riding my bike. I love getting out in touching distance of the natural world, the smells, tastes and the wind against your body and face. I love the peace of nature away from dogma or sectarian categories, nature belongs to all and does not discriminate. Riding is also a good way for me to wrestle with myself. Sometimes I’m like a wild horse that refuses to be tamed or a dog that is restless until its run itself to oblivion and sinks back exhausted, but satisfied (probably with stick!) back in the car!

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My trusty stead - "El duderino" - or just call him "The Dude"!

I found the daffodils on the last five minutes of my ride. I was muddy already from the ride, so I didn’t mind gettin ‘down ‘n’ dirty’ on the ground to capture them up close on the camera.

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Daffodils (27-03-2010)

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On ‘Skipping “church” – thoughts on leaving and cleaving’

March 29, 2010

Over the last few years there have been a number of progressive thinkers and writers, as well as musicians and performers, who have helped me grow as a person and human being…and my friends would probably say made me less arrogant and prejudiced as a person who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and calls himself a ‘Christian’. These thinkers have helped me to become conscious of some of the myopia and escapism of organised religion. They have also raised my awareness of other disparate themes within the great epics of  faith and civilisation that once were active in religion and yet over time have become overlooked and forgotten.

The writers I am thinking about often combine the latest insights of modern science and social science with ancient traditions that are like lost treasures. Both sets of ideas can help bring balance to the excesses of the modern way of living – the consumerist life-style. A way of life that, many believe, surrounds us like the water that fish swim in. Fish-like, we can become so used to the economic and technological currents we ‘swim’ and live in, that we lose awareness of their power to shape and distort our existence. Sometimes these ‘waters’ almost take over our lives. In contrast, I have greatly appreciated how certain thinkers have provided nourishment for different thoughts than the mass-media and cultivated healthier emotions in me, and others. I hope in the future to put together a bibliography of their writings for others to see on this blog.

One writer who has stimulated and encouraged me to think more widely and deeply about what it means to be a reflective and more open minded Christian has been Len Hjalmarson, who writes, from Canada, the blog: nextreformation.com

Len recently posted on his blog some personal reflections on leaving the church and living without it and then after some years returning to church in a different way. I posted a comment on the blog and Len wrote a reply discussing a venture he is a part of called a ‘theology cafe’.  The idea of a ‘theology cafe’ is to have an open discussion in an informal settting about some aspect of theology. That interested me and started me thinking. I wrote a long comment in return, which after writing I thought kind of summarised an aspect of how I feel about faith and its need to engage modern society at the current time. I have pasted the thoughts below, I hope they might be of interest and encouragement to some people.   

‘Thanks for the response, Len.

The “theology cafe” idea sounds like an intelligent and valuable development in your community’s varied Christian mission to the World and Church. It sounds especially stimulating for those people whose thinking and discipleship has developed beyond the normal Christian and Church disciplines (which I still believe have real value and meaning for some, even many Church goers) of the sunday sermon and the midweek small group/cell.

I guess a reservation would be, just how far do you extend the intellectual boundaries? The last five years or so for me have been at times traumatic and heart breaking, invoking a deep despair and a profound feeling of abscence from God. Yet at the same time, I am grateful for these years because they have also been a period of great inspiration and enlightenment, evolution and healing, growth through pain and abandonment. But honestly, and without exageration the institutional Church and by that I mean both those denominations considered traditional and from a Free-church background have been of little help and support. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, the Churches and ministers I have known have exercised a deliberate silence on the agony and chaos that God has allowed to happen in my life. Fortunately, I have a very stubborn, resilient personality, as well as kind, supportive, loving people around me (some Christians, some not) and an adamant belief that God – the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and Spirit – are reigning in love throughout all the world in blessings and in suffering as they participate beside us in all its pain.

My point is that during this period of extreme pain and being ignored by the institutional church, my comforters have been blasphemers and atheists, teachers of world religions, as well as those who have committed there lives to the ending of religious faith.

So I guess I’m asking (and I hope you will forgive the somewhat provocative tone…please, be assured of my respect for the author of Next Reformation and valueing of the important work you are accomplishing and inspiring through this blog and forum), would you have a place for Freud, Marx, Feurbach and Kant? Would you consider reading a passage or chapter or two of Nietzche – the author of The AntiChrist? Or the Buddha and the Prophet Muhhamad or study Shiva and Kali? Bertrand Russell the philosopher and hsi book ‘Why I am not a Christian?’ or Jaques Derrida and Michel Foucalt? As well as the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard for example? How about studying Alan Moore’s The Watchmen graphic novel and the film made about it? Or the exploits of iconic comic book heroes such as Batman and Wolverine (a famous Canadian?!)? In serious art are there painters or musicians that have produced work that might or might not speak of whom God is and whom he isn’t?

I ask these questions not as a ‘Devil’s advocate’ with malign intentions. Neither am I adocating some kind of diluted faith that is in fact syncretism, that is a kind of religious practice where a plethora of different gods are worshipped side by side. Rather, sincerely and without malice, I hope, I ask as an advocate of the historical human being Jesus of Nazareth. I know Len, that you’re a great thinker and theologian with a prophetic insight and gift for communication. I have made wonderful discoveries by reading your articles and relishing your extensive bibliography. For this I am indebted and very grateful to you and to modern technology, that such exchanges can take place even though persons are seperated by literally 1000s of miles. But I ask these question because over the last two or three years especially, these thinkers are some of the many non-Christian authors, thinkers, religious revolutionaries and artists who have kept me believing in God (paradoxically!) when the church has been blind and deaf and dumb to the pain of so many in my generation (I am 36). Nietsche for example has spoken to me many times and has tended to my wounds even though (or perhaps because?) he hated the church.

Is it possible that Christians could grow in discipleship and insight by studying those who have another creed or who even despise insitutional Christianity? I believe it is. Would the Christian members of the ‘theology cafe’ sit down for conversations over a Latte, sandwhiches and muffins with the above mentioned motley crew of antagonists? I’d like to think you would and probably even do! I certainly desire that kind of faith, where we sit down at the table with those who are filled with anger and bile towards the faith, as well as who can offer thoughtful and poignant criticism of Christianity’s blindspots. I guess I feel that way because i hope and believe that that is what Jesus of Nazareth would do and the Father and the Holy Spirit. I also feel it because I have spent far too long of my life sitting in churches where a kind of religious club met and obediently trusting what I was (implicitly and explicitly) told that we the redeemed would be saved because of our virutous confession of Jesus Christ as Saviour, when the rest of the world was damned…I couldn’t help thinking about the friends and neighbours and acquaintances I knew and respected even loved and perhaps more ironically who respected and loved me, who I knew might never ever come close to a church and accept that way of thinking…and honestly, perhaps, with very good reason. I liked those people as I value and am inspired by many atheist and antagonistic Christian writers and artists…. and I have this intuition that won’t go away that Jesus likes them too. I have spent far too many years of my life believing I was following Christ, when I was actually degenerating slowly, yet steadily into a contemporary Pharisee. I have decided, honest to God, I don’t want to live that way anymore…or die that way.

Life is too short.

God’s world too beautiful.

People too amazing…

…and suffering too painful and great for too many.

I have always been inspired and healed by the words of Hebrews 13: 11-13. So, I hope God will forgive me for shamelessly hijacking them and using them to try and support my own argument. I honestly do it with a desire to see the deepening and extension of the liberating revolution set in motion by the carpenter’s adopted child and the Virgin’s Son, the earthy 1st century Jew – Jesus of Nazareth:

11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood…

13Let us, then…go to him outside the camp,… 

bearing the disgrace he bore.

David’

 

Here is the link to the original post: skipping “church” – thoughts on leaving and cleaving’: http://nextreformation.com/?p=3330

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Whispers of heaven, radiant earth (Part 2)

March 27, 2010

Heaven by UNKLE

 

Where’s the Seraphim

Where’s the money that we made

Where’s the open gate

Where’s the fortune that we saved

Heaven’s here for you and me

With every falling curl

Heaven’s here for you and me

we gained ourselves the world

 

Hit the Motorway

I can take it all at speed

I got everything

I got everything you need

Heaven’s here for me and you

 scattered out with pearls

Heaven’s here for me and you

we gained ourselves the world

 

Where’s the warrior of light

with gates of solid gold

Paranoia through the fight

with dreams that never fold

Heaven’s here for me n you

scattered out with pearls

Heaven’s here for me and you

we gained ourselves the world. (x2)

 

I thought I would post the lyrics for this song Heaven by the band UNKLE. I don’t know the story behind these words or the meaning intended them by the author(s). However, like much poetry they speak at an unconscious level. Somehow the combination of specific words in a carefully chosen order and linked with phrases which we may be (un)/familiar with in certain other contexts, reaches beneath the iron gates of our pragmatic reason and teases out a thread of deeper life from the poetic core of our soul.

Rationally speaking, I honestly don’t know the meaning of these words. All I can say with absolute conviction is that from experience they stir within me something sensitive and fresh. The words gently encourage a part of me, which is normally  hidden inside and usually dares not raise its bruised and battered face out from its dark jail into the light. These words uncover something, that in normal circumstances, I would be embarrassed to confess. They tenderly coach out from within, dreams of a better world, either in this world or the next. Yes, a world called Heaven.

Heaven – a world of comforting power, bathed in soft light, dressed with sparkling treasure that could be angels and golden gates. It could also be closer to home sometimes. Heaven in radiant earth. The myriads of crystal clear, prisms of raindrops on a showery day? The release of tension in the saline solution of a single tear? The body’s healing convulsions in sobbing when the heart cries free? Perhaps heaven is revealed momentarily in the sunset. Fractured light that bathes the world in an amber glow of sunbeams through the windows of a car travelling down the road? The feeling of waking up in bed to the warmth of a body whose faithful presence has straddled both good and bad times over the years? 

I don’t want to hijack the song-writers intentions or words for a sectarian cause. The lyrics of the song, and the music and video that accompany it, belong to the artistic vision of their creators. I don’t know what their intentions or meanings for their art are. I just know that they touch and free me. They inspire me to think again about life on this earth and the meaning of heaven. I love the final refrain of this song. The singer enunciates  a vision of immanent beauty and transcendent mystery:

 

“Heaven’s here for me n you

scattered out with pearls

Heaven’s here for me and you

we gained ourselves the world.”

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Whispers of Heaven, sublime earth

March 26, 2010

I can’t rememember how I came across this film on You Tube, but I just remember playing it over and over again last year. The cinematography is superb, the stunts pretty-darn amazing and the music, by UNKLE, is hauntingly beautiful. 

Here is a glimpse of a vision of the sublime on earth. 

Here are words and melodies that whisper of the  wonder of imperfect human life and love.

Is this a broken fragment of an icon (eikon) of heaven?

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‘A fire, a fire, you can only take what you can carry’

March 25, 2010
  

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"A fire, a fire you can only take what you can carry."

 

Snow Patrol – If there’s a rocket tie me to it

 

Two weeks later like a surplus reprieve
I found a hair the length of yours on my sleeve
I wound it round and round my finger so tight
It turned purple and a pulse formed inside  

And I knew the beat ’cause it matched your own beat
I still remember it from our chest to chest and feet to feet
The easy silence then was a sweet relief to this hush
Of ovens, aeroplanes and of distant car horns  

A fire a fire, you can only take what you can carry
A pulse your pulse, it’s the only thing I can remember
I break you don’t, I was always set to self-destruct though
The fire the fire, it cracks and barks like primal music  

I said I knew the beat ’cause it matched your own beat
It’s become my engine my own source of heat
The sea between us only amplifies the sound waves
Every hum and echo and crash paints my cave  

A fire a fire, you can only take what you can carry
A pulse your pulse, it’s the only thing I can remember
I break you don’t, I was always set to self-destruct though
The fire the fire, it cracks and barks like primal music  

A fire a fire, you can only take what you can carry
A pulse your pulse, it’s the only thing I can remember
I break you don’t, I was always set to self-destruct though
The fire the fire, it cracks and barks like primal music 

From the album: A Hundred Million Suns.  Songwriters: Connolly, Nathan; Lightbody, Gary; Quinn, Jonathan; Simpson, Tom; Wilson, Paul 

For a link to the song video on YouTube click below or paste it into your web-browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtbbFFmfQVs 

 

 

 

Reflections: – If there’s a rocket tie me to it 

This song by Snow Patrol is one of many they have written and performed that really moves me. 

Here is a song that breathes poetry – fueled by imagery of  loss, primal fire, memory and the echo of the living pulse of a now distant, once close, loved one. 

Here is music that  both releases painful memories and lifts the human spirit beyond that pain. 

Here are words that describe something common place and experienced by  many – the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship. Yet the song writers create a unique and original experience of soul-penetrating beauty. The combination of ethereal transcendent-like music with a profoundly intense lyrical awareness to the actual physical details of a person’s absence.  The poet re-members (literally re – puts together like the members of a body) the presence of a loved one through the physical evidence of a hair on his sleeve, a recall of a beating heart and their bodies touching ‘head to head, feet to feet’.   

For me I only started listening to this song December 09 and January 2010 while resurfacing from a two-year period of great personal loss and pain after my former-wife left me. The song touched me at different levels. In one way it just spoke of the beauty and transcendence of life and how it can be captured by talented artists in the secular realm. It reminded me that contemporary artistic beauty is out there. Beyond the church, beyond the tired old repetition of a few religious favourites in worship services, a poet and a band of musicians can write and create something so ethereal that one feels caught up even for a few minutes into the glory of something bigger than the numbing, routine, status quo existence.  It seems that sometimes only an artist (or artists) care enough about the details of life to help heal one’s broken heart. Only the artist with her/his non-linear, pre-rational talents can gently break open the encrusted and infected wounds of our souls. I love the references to ‘fire’ – ‘cracking’ and burning ‘like primal music’. Too much of our existences are channelled into the  soul-less, confines of the tram lines of narrow consumerist reason. Where is the fire? The breath? The pulse? The transient glory of vibrating life, which continues to breath and pulsate, shine and reflect extravagantly and recklessly in exponential spirals of beauty. Yet, so often we live in a society that presses us to carry on regardless of the world’s abundance. We are trammelled into huge structures that attempt to  organise life into rigid categories of good and bad, economical/uneconomical, black and white, right and wrong, desirable/undesirable, valuable/without valuable. It is as Walter Brueggemann writes a culture of scarcity. As a Christian I often feel the church is a willing conspirator in this pursuit to rationalise the world only by different this time religious categories. This song reminds of a greater beauty. Perhaps, it is only the artist who comes with extravagance in tension with discipline who can create the conditions that enable us  to cleanse, mop up and disinfect the  distressed flesh torn by emotional trauma. 

This song, If there’s a rocket tie me to it, helped me recall how much I had loved my ex-wife. It reminded me of my own propensity to ‘self-destruction’ and the fact that ,as much as my ego would like to cast all the blame on her for the breakdown of the relationship, I know that I too was to blame. For whatever reasons or with whatever excuses I might bring forward, I too was responsible for the loss of such a unique and irreplaceable beauty.

 

 

At another level the song spoke to me of the ultimate transience of life. We are all at one time or another confronted by the fact that in life there is a fire burning that will burn away all our attempts to create a world and haven for ourselves. There is a principle of destruction or death. This fire, this death, takes away all our dearest possessions, but is not meant to harm us, I believe. Rather, the destructive force of the fire is intended to liberate us from our attachments to people, experiences and things. In the song, Snow Patrol, use the image of a fire in a building and a person escaping only with what they can grasp and carry in their hands. They sing: 

“A fire, a fire, you can only take what you can carry.” 

This imagery I believe is deeply spiritual (even religious). It speaks of what monks often described as ‘purgation’ –  not purgatory after death – but a refining of the soul through the destruction and transformation  of fire in this life. I really like that. It rings so true to me, both in the light of religious teachings Buddhist, Biblical and Islamic as well as in the harshness of life experiences. 

In one sense, we may only escape a literal fire in a building with a few precious items in our hands. What would those items be?’ – I wonder, might be a healthy and sobering question to ask ourselves from time to time. In terms of ultimate questions we may not even be able to take with us what we can carry. As the old English burial service declares: 

‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ 

Our lives can be viewed as a kind of alchemical journey from the dust of the earth, transformed into the almost ‘divine’, living exultation of human life,  back eventually to ashes and dust in the ground. Is it not true that in fact we cannot even take through this process of transformation even the contents of the palms of our hands? 

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‘The fire, the fire cracks and burns like primal music.’
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Starry Starry Night – Vincent Van Gogh and Don Mclean

March 22, 2010

 

I was told only yesterday about this article  on Vincent Van Gogh and his painting Starry Night immortalised in song by Don Mclean in 1971. The article is an interview with the singer, Don Mclean by Helen Brown, culture and music critic for The Daily Telegraph. You can also watch and listen to a video of Mclean performing the song as you read the interview.

The story of Mclean’s inspiration for the song and the words themselves are telling of the sensitivity of the musician’s soul. It also speaks of his insight into the painter’s life and art, as Van Gogh struggled with mental illness and with his works being unappreciated during his lifetime. I don’t know the song well and I don’t know a lot about Van Gogh’s life, but I was touched listening to it and thinking about one man’s torment. His struggles for painting beauty and for personal peace.  The link is:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/7264618/Don-McLean-interview-Why-I-had-to-write-Vincent.html

Thanks Helen for the touching article.

The lyrics of Don Mclean’s song – Starry Starry Night can be found below:

Starry starry night

Paint your palet blue and grey
look out on a summer’s day
with eyes that know the darkness in my soul

Shadows on the hills

Sketch the trees and the daffodiles
catch the breeze and the winter chills
in colours on the snowy linen land

Now I understand
what you tried to say to me
and how you suffered for your sanity
and how you tried to set them free
they would not listen they did not know how
perhaps they’ll listen now.

Starry starry night

Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
swirling clouds in violet haze
reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
colours changing hue
morning fields of amber grain
weathered faces lined in pain
are soothed beneth the artist’s loving hand

Now I understand
what you tried to say to me
and how you suffered for your sanity
and how you tried to set them free
they would not listen they did not know how
perhaps they’ll listen now

For they could not love you
but still your love was true
and when no hope was left inside
on that starry starry night

You took your life as lover’s often do

But I could have told you,
Vincent,
this world was never ment for one as beautiful as you

Starry starry night

Portraits hung in empty halls
framless heads on nameless walls
with eyes that watch the world and can’t forget
like the strangers that you’ve met

The ragged men in ragged clothes
a silver thorn
a bloody rose
lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow
now I think I know
what you tried to say to me
and how you suffered for your sanity
and how you tried to set them free
they would now listen
they’re not listening still

Perhaps they never will