Good Friday at Fitzroy (7pm) sees a reflective service that will give opportunity to concentrate on the events of Jesus crucifixion. The marvellous Philip Mateer will recite Chapters 14 and 15 of the Gospel According To Mark which will be peppered by other poems and prayers and songs, some of the latter featuring the voice of amazing Caroline Orr and a brand new songs from David Thompson. No sermons, just the text opened up. A poignant way to spend Good Friday.
After two days in the sorrow of Good Friday Sunday (11am) will take up the story again and we will celebrate the resurrection. A baptism will be a lovely symbol of dying and rising and the band will no doubt be leading us in bigger and louder songs than Friday's solemnity. Stockman will preach and consider how anger breaks relationships but forgiveness and grace restores!
What if Scottish football took its opportunity this Sunday? For some months the game has been tarnished with the same kind of sectarian tensions on and off the field that fuelled the Northern Ireland Troubles. It has got to the point where a soccer manager, and other prominent Celtic supporters, being sent firebombs in the post. As a result of sport the Scottish police are tracking a serial killer – or attempted killer – like some Criminal Minds episode. Soccer should never get to here. The whole thing needs nipped in the bud and immediately.
So what if the Glasgow derby on Sunday was used to diffuse the tension. What if the two sets of supporters showed that it is just a game and that Rangers and Celtic supporters are just soccer fans and nothing else lies below the surface. What if Rangers recently accused of sectarian chanting threw a curve ball (sorry to use an image from another sport) at those who would use these major European Clubs to masquerade hatred. What if on Sunday, when the two teams play again, the Rangers supporters waved flags with Neil Lennon’s face on them and NOT IN MY NAME written around it. What if Neil Lennon went to those Rangers fans and recognised their support in the appropriate way.
What if? Why not? Sadly we might find all kinds of reasons why this can’t and won’t happen. It is those reasons that then need to be investigated. We might not be so sectarian that we would send a fire bomb in the post but sectarianism takes many forms. Not everyone in Northern Ireland planted bombs or pulled triggers during the Troubles but vicious sectarianism can still be found in the most respectable places! In the end it needs eradicated by radical approaches. Until we are prepared to do the radical things like turning other cheeks, loving enemies, washing peoples’ feet and sacrificing ourselves for the good of humankind we are not ready for Easter or for the hope of the sectarian free future it points towards. But what if...?
“Don't have to be ashamed, Don't have to hang my head, shoulder the blame, Wondering if my life's been in vain, Oh, I don't have to be ashamed.
You did that for me, Hey, you did that for me, You wore the chains so I could be free, yeah, You did that for me.
Man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief, Dragged to the city dump, spread-eagle on a cross beam, Propped up like a scarecrow and nailed like a thief, There for all the world to see.
You did that for me, Yeah, you did that for me, Oh, you wore the chains so I could be free, yeah, You did that for me, Oh, you did that for me”
- From You Did That For Me by Pierce Pettis
Another lyric for Holy Week. Pierce Pettis is an amazing writer of the devotional. Music has the ability to theologize but it also has this ability to speak not so much in intellectual terms to the brain as in spiritual terms to the soul. Pettis has had twenty five year career of touching deep into the soul with beautifully written songs of Christian truth; not just creedal truth but truth to be experienced. A reading of Isaiah 53 would be a good companion to this song as we journey through Holy Week.
“And You rode and ass' foal They spread their coats and cut down palms For You and Your donkey to walk upon But the world won't find what it thinks it wants On the back of an ass' foal So I guess You had to get sold 'Cause the world can't stand what it can't own And it can't own You 'Cause You did not have a home
Birds have nests, foxes have dens But the hope of the whole world rests On the shoulders of a homeless man You had the shoulders of a homeless man No, You did not have a home”
- From You Did Not Have A Home
When he was tragically killed in a car wreck in 1997 Rich Mullins was working on an album based on the radical life of Jesus; his friends produced the album from his demos and called it The Jesus Record. This lyric from that album fits wonderfully into Holy Week. Here is that upside down image of a king on an ass’s foal; a King with not only no castle but no home. The world so locked into materialism can’t really grasp the message of Christianity that treats such things with deep suspicion. I suppose the ultimate image is of a Tramp saving he world; a man who gave up his power to change everything. The world finds that troubling... but it is our only hope!
"Gonna rise up Burning black holes in dark memories Gonna rise up Turning mistakes into gold"
- from Rise by Eddie Vedder
I am not an Eddie Vedder fan but my friend Kenny Whitelaw-Jones had this on his Facebook yesterday and I thought it fitted nicely with my Waterboys lyric and tomorrow's sermon. We are attacking Sloth with a sense of committing to transformation. That might be transformation of society or self and indeed in many cases those go toegther. This wee lyric fits that perfectly, though Vedder might not be too delighted at getting quoted in Church; think he thinks we are not a good thing!
“I'm gonna change my colours cancel my things stop my squawking grow some wings!
well I will not sleep and I will not rest I will put my soul and my will to the test I'm gonna tug at my tether I'm gonna tear at my lead I'm gonna test my knowledge in the field of deeds”
- From Medicine Bow by The Waterboys
I love this lyric. Stuck in the middle of the adrenaline rush full on rock onslaught of Medicine Bow it reveals the influences of CS Lewis and George MacDonald who Mike Scott admits to have been reading while recording This Is The Sea. There are images of change here and then the desire to not just know or believe but to act. The New Testament writer James wrote about faith without works being dead and this is exactly Scott doesn’t want for himself in this lyric. His desire here is for untethered, full on commitment to spiritual authenticity.
The early followers of Jesus got nicknamed Christians not because they thought like Jesus but because they lived like him. On Sunday morning in Fitzroy we are looking at sloth. It is one of the Seven Deadly Sins BUT we are seeing it as an enemy to the free soul. Sloth is not laziness but apathy. It is a lukewarm faith as John wrote about in the Book Of Revelation. Medicine Bow is neither lukewarm or stone cold; it is a red hot free soul unfettered, longing for his knowledge or faith to impact.
“faith she's a whistling train running hard in the dark and hope is like a thing untamed gonna lay to waste your heart
love's a little bit of God there for all to know love's the everlasting arms that never do let go”
- From It Could Be A Lot Worse by Vigilantes Of Love
Hadn’t listened to Bill Mallonee and his Vigilantes of Love for a wee while but threw on an old cassette in my old car yesterday and that American beat kicked in, Bill’s poetry and that spiritual underpinning; he’d working on a band record just now –bring it on! The Vigilantes made some great records but Audible Sign was the very, very best, produced by Buddy Miller and featuring Emmylou Harris on backing vocals.
This is typical of Mallonee’s lyrical genius. He was able to effortlessly express faith in ways that were simple, profound and memorable in the midst of songs that kept you coming back and back time and again to mine their meaning.
“Is this the kind of place you wanna live? Is this where you wanna be? Is this the only life we're gonna have? What we need is
An Alternative Ulster Grab it and change it it's yours Get an Alternative Ulster Ignore the bores and their laws Get an Alternative Ulster Be an anti-security force Alter your native Ulster Alter your native land
They say they've got control of you But that's not true you know They say they're a part of you And that's a lie you know They say you will never be Free free free”
- from Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers
My friend Mary McCampbell was asking for suggestions of punk songs with prophetic and social critique for a class she was taking on the subject. I immediately turned to our very own Belfast legendary punk band Stiff Little Fingers. I honestly believe both subjectively and objectively that their debut album Inflammable Material holds up as one of punk’s best records.
Written at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles Jake Burns and his band made an album that spoke of the frustration, fear and fascism of what was going on in the streets of their city. As well as describing the horror, their songs called for a commitment to transformation. As in this their most famous anthem they were asking for a personal change that would lead to societal change. They were asking the youth of Northern Ireland if this is how they wanted it to be and asking them to start dreaming and living for an alternative.
We are in a better place today but the events of the past few weeks suggests that the questions remain and the need for alternatives are as urgent as ever.