FITZROY'S REFUGEE NATIVITY & JOSH RITTER'S GOSPEL OF MARY

REfugee Nativity 21

Gillian Fitch, one of our Fitzroy creatives came up with a Refugee Nativity. No room at the Inn is marginalised enough but the refugee image makes a powerful visual statement as Syrian refugees risk their lives for a new life in Europe and Afghanistan refugees might soon join us too.

Jesus of course was a refugee as a baby so Gillian's image is a blending of two early stories in Jesus life. It reminded me immediately of Josh Ritter's song Gospel Of Mary. 

Ritter takes the traditional Biblical story of Jesus, Mary and Josephescaping as refugees into Egypt and gives it a modern slant. Another family of three is escaping, seeking safety. 

It would seem obvious that Ritter, an American writing to a predominantly American audience, would be setting their story among those seeking refuge in America but it fits with our own strivers for a new life too.. 

This little family sets out with hope of something better:

 

We prayed our prayers, we broke our bread

With others who had even less

Till finally all we had were dreams

And we hoped that they would fill us

 

Soon however the sinister world of the modern refugee kicks in. Duped for a place in a container, Joseph dies, eventually Mary is put in chains and in the end she and her son are separated. 

Ritter’s song is clearly in the tradition of the American protest singer. It is asking serious questions of a government that is continually going against the idea of America, particularly when it comes to immigration. Those words on the Statue of Liberty seem so sadly neglected:

 

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

Eventually Ritter brings it all around to the original Mary, Joseph and baby. The ancient texts of Scripture are full of migrants. From Genesis to Revelation the entire Bible is about people moving countries. So it is with Jesus. As Ritter sings:

 

The holy family got away

A simpler time, a simpler place

And Egypt stretched out it's great hand

To welcome them with mercy

 

Egypt is set up as a more merciful place than present day America. Is that a judgement itself? Even if that isn’t intended and just suggests that other generations and peoples were more welcoming than America, judgement is coming.

Ritter doesn’t hit the wall and miss with his closing verses. There are echoes of Bob Dylan’s Masters Of War:

 

And you who stood at your great gates

Watched us as we met our fate

Then took our pride and stole our babes

You will one day die of something

 

Then the last lines of damnation:

 

May the pain within you dwell

And may it follow you to hell

All alone in a lonely cell

Forever unforgiven

 

It is early 60’s Dylan at his best, his folk singing ghost haunting us with the power of truth at the dawning of the third decade of the their millennium. 

The developed world is so fantastically wealthy that we cannot dare let those who have nothing eat into our entitled decadence. The baby in that original manger is speaking out of the nativity’s prophetic poetry - we cannot serve God and money. What we do to the least of these who do for God.   

Josh Ritter has gifted us a song that is deep in the truth of the Gospel nativity. It is not a warm and sentimental take but one of reality that gets the point!


JASON ISBELL & 400 UNITS - GEORGIA BLUE

Georgie Blue

When the State of Georgia’s vote was so close in the 2020 US Presidential election little did we know that there was more at stake than who the next President would be in the Land Of The Free. The wonderful surprise spinoff is that Jason Isbell promised that if Georgia voted Biden he would make a tribute album of Georgia songs.

It would have been an utter shame Georgia if you had voted Trump and we’d missed this.

No one should think that Georgia Blue is in any sense the Jason Isbell & The 400 Units follow up to 2020’s wonderful Reunion record. Neither should anyone think that this is less of a record for that.

Isbell has called this a work of love. It has certainly been given great care in both its curating and musical performances. 

It’s a clever idea putting together a Tribute To A State, particularly when that State is Georgia. With REM songs as the bookends, kicking off with Bela Fleck’s banjo and Chris Thile’s mandolin on Nightswimming and closing with former Civil Wars singer John Paul White’s vocal on Driver 8.

You can see that as well as Tribute this is heavy on collaboration. Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s guitarist Sadler Vaden dances the fretboard on Honeysuckle Blue, Paul Levin brings that Swampy keyboard to The Allman Brothers’ In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed and Black Crows' drummer Steve Gorman plays on hs own band’s Sometimes Salvation. And that latter song is my favourite lyric:

 

You can lead a horse to water

But faith is another matter

So don't you surrender

Cause sometimes salvation

In the eye of the storm

 

There are a range of vocalists too including Brandi Carlile and Julien Baker dueting on the Indigo Girls’ Kid Fears. I bet Carlile loved that! 

The 400 Units also play a blinder. The sound is a little tougher than recent Isbell records, robust guitars and Isbell’s voice when he tackles a song himself sounding incredibly strong.

My only begrudge is that he doesn’t add a Vigilantes Of Love song like Resplendent to the mix. Isbell with Brandi doing Emmylou’s vocal parts would have been a sublime deeper cut.

The whole thing is indeed a celebration. Eclectic but energetic even in the quiet moments.  And utterly top notch throughout. Isbell doing Otis on I’ve Been Loving You Too Long. Oh my!

It’s not only good but good for something as profits go to voting reform to make sure as many people as possible get the right to vote. If that campaign works we might get a Volume 2 in 4 years time… with Resplendent at last! 


FITZROY IN ADVENT - START TALKING ABOUT CHRISTMAS

Fitzroy Cadle

photo: Fiona McNeill

 

I am so tired of waiting,

Aren't you,

For the world to become good

And beautiful and kind?

Let us take a knife

And cut the world in two-

And see what worms are eating

At the rind.

 

Stockman declares that you can now talk about Christmas. Five weeks ago I was appalled at the Christmas songs in shops in Reading. Belfast has not been any more righteous. 

I suggested on social media that this is what happens when the population stops going to church. The country doesn’t know when Advent begins. Of course I was more than half joking. Christmas songs in shops in October are all about money not a Christian festival. Check the lyrics! 

Tomorrow is when followers of Jesus across the world start talking about Christmas. It is a season called Advent. A waiting time. Time for spiritual reflection and preparation. A looking forward to the breaking in of light and good news.

So tomorrow (Nov 28,2021) Fitzroy will start that waiting. Our Advent candles will get their first lighting. 

The Langston Hughes poem at the top of this blog will be our recurring literary riff over these next weeks. It is hopeful and yet violates the darkness. 

So what are we waiting to rid ourselves of?

What were the people of God waiting on all the way throughout the Old Testament?

Who are we waiting on?

How will all we learn in that waiting impact the way we are living when the waiting is over?

First up is what we are waiting to cut out. A hungry worm at large and also a hungry worm within. 

Novelist Sue Divin and Beatle George Harrison will add to poet Langston’s commentary on our inner souls and the Scripture will search us, in the dark recesses of our souls. That is what Advent is... waiting… reflecting… cutting open… hoping… receiving… preparing. 


THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO... STING

Sting 3

Sting has never been a man to claim any Christian interest. However, as he shared on a recent Later With… Jools he is interested in the spiritual questions - what are we doing here?

A careful glance across Sting’s catalogue and you can see references to the Scriptures. Even on his last record 57th & 9th he had “Moses driving to his promised land”. There was also a church bell tolling.

The Bridge continues with the Scriptural reference. We get Jonah and the whale and even have a song called The Book Of Numbers. Our bass playing Geordie likes the Old Testament it would seem.

There are also more church bells and even a song called The Bells Of St. Thomas where the bells are like the conscience of a man being seduced in what Sting himself calls a very strange lyric. On Later With… Jools, Sting spoke of the disciple Thomas and the scars of Christ’s hands and feet. No matter how strange these lyrics, listen for the chimes of doubt. In the song, unlike Thomas, the doubts seem healthy.

Most intriguing of all for me is the song Loving You that had me propelled into the Old Testament story of Hosea. This is the tale of a man whose wife commits adultery but he stays true to the vows made in Church. There are so many similarities to Hosea and yet I have no clue as to whether Sting knows the story or was directly inspired by it. The chorus is almost (but not quite) perfect Hosea though:

 

I pray the waters of forgiveness

Will rain down on you and me

Just like newborn babies

In the cradle of a tree

 

And we will walk in righteousness

We will walk in rain and thunder

And what God has joined together here

Let no man put asunder

 

If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is

If that's not loving you, I don't know what is (I don't know what)

If that's not loving you, then tell me what it is.

 

Grace. Pure Gospel. I wonder if he knows. 


VACCINATIONS AND MASKS - FREEDOM OR FREEDUMB?

Stocki Vaccinated

An email tonight from the British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat that a Christmas reception that I was invited to on Tuesday 7 December was cancelled. Such responsibility in rather high places reminds us that Coronavirus is alive and well and needs careful traversing.

It does not always feel that way. On the street you can sometimes wonder if everything back to normal. “Stay Alert” seems a very old cliche that far too many people have long thrown away.

Then there are those whose freedom is so important that they refuse to wear masks. Even worse there are those moving among us without any vaccinations. 

Freedom eh? I wonder how long it will be until we have protests at government buildings across the UK about the infringement in our freedoms at having to drive at 30mph in the city and 70mph as a national speed limit. How dare the law restrict us! 

Or might smokers having to confine their smoke to the pub garden begin to complain that they have to keep the danger of cancer outside public buildings while those who don’t smoke yet are not vaccinated or wearing masks can bring the danger of Covid 19 into the same public buildings.

The freedom argument only works in an anarchical society. In any democracy with a legal system there are all kinds of laws that restrain our freedoms if they are a danger to the health or life of a fellow citizen. We are even aware of social media rules needed to prevent mental health.

I have heard a new word across social media - “freedumb”. It is defined as a nonsensical and asinine belief that freedom means you can literally do anything you want including violating other peoples’ rights.

Freedom does not mean freedumb as some might like it to. Whether it is my speed limit or no smoking examples the health of others and their right to life supersedes our individual freedoms.

A few weeks ago I preached about the truth setting us free (John 8:32). It would be a terrible exegesis of such a verse to think that Jesus came to let us do anything we want.

Jesus’ truth and freedom was the way of life that humans were intended to live. That is a life that takes responsibility for other human beings and indeed the very planet. It is about loving our neighbour and a denying of self and taking up our cross to live such a way.

I have known more to have caught Covid in these last few weeks than at any other time. We are living through a world wide pandemic. Lives are in constant danger, never mind the trauma for our doctors and nurses and the grief of those who have lost loved ones. Schools are in chaos and people are dying because waiting lists are longer and longer due to the Covid demand in hospitals.

So let live a Jesus inspired freedom to think of others first instead of an anarchic freedumb that endangers loved ones, neighbours and society! 

 

Get vaccinated. 

Wear your mask. 

Wash your hands. 

Stay safe. 

Stay alert.