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November 2011

Lyric For The Day 30.11.11 from Boots by The Killers

Boots Killers

“I wasted my wishes on Saturday nights
Oh, what I would give for just one more
I’d soften my heart and shock the world

Do you hear my voice?
Do you know my name?

Light my way
Lift my head
Light my way”

-      From Boots by The Killers

The Killers make great Christmas singles. Boots is based on the movie Wonderful Life and indeed has the prayer that James Stewart prays at the start of that great film. The words in today’s Lyric For The Day are based on that. There is a man regretting the way he took in life, looking back at his childhood with all those warm Christmas feelings and then seeking that God, at the centre of the spiritual Christmas, would show him the way. Call it a conversion song. Call it a repentant song. Call it a commitment to follow Jesus song. Call it another soul drenched Killers song. More than it being good and the lyrics being good for a healthy soul buying it is a huge benefit to AIDS charity RED. 80p of the iTunes download goes to that cause. But the entire EP though with all the great Killers Christmas songs including one of my favourite theological Christmas songs Joseph, Better You Than Me and this years The Cowboys Christmas Ball! Christmas songs with benefits to World AIDS Day tomorrow. Brilliant!What are you waitin’ for!

Lyric For The Day 29.11.11 from Us Against the World by Coldplay

Coldplay UATW

“The tightrope that I'm walking just sways and ties

The devil as he's talking with those angel's eyes

And I just want to be there when the lightning strikes

And the saints go marching in”

-      From Us Against The World by Coldplay

I was particularly drawn to the sparse Us Against The World on the new Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto. It is a lament but adds the sense of being in it together and being committed. We need those kind of songs. And Coldplay take it further with the hopefulness of these lines. In other lines on this songs, and indeed across the entire record, there is a belief in new beginnings. Every now and again Chris Martin’s growing up in a Christian home comes out and here’s one of those moments; it's eschatological!


It is amazing how in the modern media age people you have never met become people you respect and feel that you know. Gary Speed was a soccer player that I always admired, though he never played for my team. I always hoped he would do well and in his current role as Wales manager I was delighted that he was being successful. He simply seemed a model professional and good guy in a sport bereft of such descriptions. To hear, yesterday afternoon, that he had passed away was a shock. Then to hear that he had taken his own life was even more devastating and like his closest friends I am asking why. I had written this poem some time ago and finished it while trying to deal with what it seems is the suicide of a wonderful human being. Love and prayers to his wife, children and parents. I would love a news bulletin soon that tells us that the poem has no relevance to Gary Speed's death. I will gladly change the dedication. In the meantime it is for Gary Speed.

Gary Speed

Was there a rotted tree in your way

So you couldn’t see the forest bloom

Did the walls come suffocate your soul

And leave your spirit no more room

We don’t do what we want to

And what we don’t want to do we do

What went through your mind 

And what did your mind go through


We’re left with why oh why

We’ll sigh and we will cry

Oh why oh why?


The attainments of our achievements

Can never remove all our uncertainty

Even faith can muddy the mystery

When the moment blacks out eternity

Were you so lost in the tunnel’s darkness

That you couldn’t see the light there was

Was the cause of the pain you knew

More than the pain you knew you’d cause


We’re left with why oh why

We’ll sigh and we will cry

Oh why oh why?


The rough rope against your skin

The step up onto the stool

The knot in your spirit within

The twist and downward pull

The sway as you let go

That brief moment in between

The void we didn’t know

The soul’s silent secret scream


I pray when you felled the tree

That those blossoms didn’t get hit

And you lie now in the softness

Of the flowers that colour it.

Lyric For The Day 27.11.11 from Those DIstant Bells by Snow Patrol

SP Looking Up

“You can hear those distant bells
And you know they'll never leave
It's like your church is crying out
Like the wolf calls to the young”

-       From Those Distant Bells by Snow Patrol

On a Sunday afternoon between Church services I am drawn to this verse from Snow Patrol. There are a few references to Church and prayer on Fallen Empires. The Church needs to be that distant bell that draws you back when you need refuge and retreat from the relentlessness of the world. The Church as a parent calling to its young as a reminder of care and shelter is a great image and I love the idea of the wolf image; God nor his Church are supposed to be safe! May we in Fitzroy be this image to our young and our community.

entire SOUL SURMISE section on SNOW PATROL

Prayer For The Sunday of World AIDS Day

(this was our prayer in Fitzroy this morning... very Fitzroy based... but use it as a model in your own situation...)


Lord we come to you on the Sunday before we recognise World AIDS Day

And Lord we begin our prayer with a moments silence as we remember those whom we know who have died from the HIV virus or are living with it


Lord we are aware that in the main we are a long distance away from the disease

It can be difficult to find pastoral concern and compassion when HIV is just statistics or other peoples stories

Lord to-day we pray for The Gastons

We thank you for their compassion for the children of South Africa

We thank you for the interruptions of grace they have been

To those children in hospitals many abandoned, many with HIV

We thank you for the interruption of grace they have been

To those children that they have adopted

We pray for an interruption of grace soon for Nzuzo’s adoption papers to get through

We pray for the interruption of grace for this little blind boy with HIV Aphiwe

As they take him into their home may he find some stability and love in his life

And as Alan and Sheena administer ARVs be with them and the children

We pray to for communities and Churches in many parts of the world that are being decimated by HIV... I think of JL ZWANE Church in Guguletu who will sing Don’t Give Up as they do weekly after their AIDS testimony time

Lord be with those who love and care for HIV Carriers

Give them strength and gentleness and daily compassion

May there be many interruption of grace on that township as 8 year old orphans become heads of households

And as Churches attempt to bring Jesus on the doorstep in the midst of such tragedy help them to pastorally and practically support their communities

We pray for interruptions of grace for those with the VIRUS

Lord give them hope, help them with the discipline  and boredom of the discipline of taking the ARVs

Lord may their drugs be a resource for interruptions of grace

May the medical world find interruptions of grace in the hard work towards a cure

Lord help us to interrupt by your grace lived out in us the stigma of AIDS

Help us to wear the badges, ribbons and t-shirts

To stand in solidarity with those on the margins through this virus

Help us to realise that there is HIV here in our city too

And to help break the prejudice and taboos

To love as Jesus loved

Lord we pray for an interruption of your grace into such a world.

Rid us of AIDS

Give us medicine

May we do what Jesus would do

May we build your kingdom in amongst and in partnership with the most broken people in our community

May we not be those who sacrifice, give offerings and songs and pray

But do nothing about HIV Aids

May we not be prophetically admonished by your Spirit

Interrupt our lives by your grace that we may “do what the LORD require of us? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


Christy and Declan

The first thing you notice is the age range of Christy Moore audience. Here’s, what is on paper, a folk singer, well on in age, bald and portly on a huge stage with just a guitarist, though Declan Sinnott is not just a guitarist, singing songs of love, justice across the world and the entire history of Ireland. He’s not cool, he’s not hip and he’s not beating X Factor to the Christmas Number 1 but from teens to the eighties, they are cramming in for a third sell out night in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. Christy Moore is an Irish national treasure and a cultural phenomenon. He is our Elvis, Beatles and Dylan all in one song collecting troubadour. If you cut the strata of Ireland’s culture then he is embedded deep within it.

Let me explain the “our” in that last sentence. It says everything about a Christy Moore gig, and a lot about the foibles of this wee island that keeps my feet dry, when I need to explain my political position on the island of Ireland to make sense of this review. I find myself in the middle section of a Venn Diagram where one circle is Ireland and the other circle Britain. I am neither pure unadulterated one nor the other and find myself a half cast mongrel of the two. At a Christy Moore gig I try to drag the line of my central section of the diagram further across into the Irish circle but my British side gets a little uncomfortable at the naming of hunger strikers in No Time For Love and dedicating a song written by Bobby Sands to Sands’ son Gerard; something’s out of kilter in my head. At the same time, since I first heard that Sands’ song Back Home In Derry at Self Aid in the RDS, Dublin in 1986 realising that singing might be the safest option, by the time it gets to the end I am in love with my Irish part again. As an aside both Back Home In Derry and McIhatton, about a potcheen brewer from Glenravel, are so well crafted that in another life Sands might have been known as a songwriter rather than a terrorist/martyr.

Christy Moore sings the history, geography and current affairs of Ireland, and across the world at times too. A song from his new record Tyrone Boys is a case in point. A song that has changed lyrically over many years it speaks of some of the island’s darkest times in most specific of term and makes you cry at our darkness but somehow keeps the light of love for this tiny place shining in your heart. Missing You about moving to London, City Of Chicago about those driven out by the famine, Joxer Goes to Stuttgart about Ray Houghton’s goal against England in the 1988 European Soccer Championships (biggest cheer of the night and my British circle disappeared for a second or two!!!), Vive Le Quinte Brigada about Irishmen fighting in The Spanish Civil War all tell our story. Lisdoonvarna and Little Honda 50 add humour to that tale. When in Smoke and Strong Whiskey he gets the entire crowd to sing “Oh, oh the Holy Land...” you are intensely caught up in a spiritual audit of Ireland, your pride tempered with sadness and shame.

Not that Moore limits himself to Ireland. He has a heart, like Old Testament prophets, for the oppressed and songs like Victor Jara and Biko Drum sees him on the side of the leaders of freedom wherever they stood with the people. Most recent and most poignant tonight is Kevin Littlewood’s song Morecombe Bay about the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle picking migrant workers in 2004 – Yes the tide's the very devil/And the devil has his day/On the weary cockle grounds of Morecambe Bay.”

In the midst of the genres of protest and storytelling Christy Moore is a gifted interpreter of the love song. Tonight we get Black Is The Colour, Beeswings, Nancy Spain and The Voyage, each stunningly beautiful and a blessing if your significant other is sitting beside you.

In the end Christy Moore, with the help of Sinnott’s stunning grace notes on various guitars, brings you to tears. Tears of heartache, tears of pride, tears of laughter and tears of unadulterated love; sometimes the tears of laughter and the tears of sadness are running at the very same time. Tonight’s major surprise for me was finding myself in a moment of deep souled worship. Moore loves Jimmy MacCarthy’s hymn Bright Blue Rose but tonight he gave it a reverence that drew in communal hymn singing between Fairytale In New York and Lisdoonvarna. It was utterly spiritual, “2000 years and still it ponder his life and his death eternally...” So I leave Irish, more aware than ever that I am not completely and being reminded that the secret of my life whether Irish, British or whatever is found in pondering Jesus life and death and angry at the injustices that he was born to smash. Now that’s a concert. Astounding!


“We need 'worship songs' that talk about the darkness...and I don't mean that silly light-metal group!”

My Facebook friend Clive Price posted this status yesterday morning. Preach it Clive was my response. Lament and songs of catharsis are not the only thing missing for the limited modern song book but they are pastorally the most crucial. As I stand at the front of my Fitzroy congregation on a Sunday morning I see people hurting. They have lost partners, parents, sometimes children. They are heartbroken, stressed about their job, debt ridden or just questioning how their faith relates to the world that constantly throws out shards of darkness.

Many of these stories when you look below the facts carry with them years of illness, sudden tragedy, bad decisions, betrayal and injustice. When souls get deep blue bruised by the circumstances of life, they need lament and catharsis. The Bible is full of such songs and prayers and other kinds of literature. God recognizes that we are but dust and that we will struggle emotionally, mentally and spiritually with the consequences of a fallen world. God allows the believer to scream and shout and wail. There is something in this kind of communication with God in worship that God knows will be part of the healing process. There is nothing like a song to open the pores of the soul, to dig deep and to soothe even sometimes in uncovering the wounds and the scars.

Modern worship music has failed to follow the Biblical mandate here. There might be many reason for this. Writing about another absentee in the contemporary hymnal, social justice, Delirious? singer and songwriter Martin Smith wrote, There has been a lot of talk in the Christian community about writing more songs about injustice and social issues. Is it possible to write congregational songs about poverty, grief or child trafficking and not spoil everybody’s Sunday?”  When anything in worship fears “spoiling people’s Sundays” we are way off track on what Christianity is all about; Jesus spoiled many a Sabbath. A closer look at the quote will save us from lambasting Martin for not writing worship songs of a wider subject matter. In his quote it is the congregation that is not ready; seemingly seeking escapism in Church from the realities of life. That expectation within worshipping communities might be forged by the worship song industry that doesn’t so much consider what I the pastor will use at a Sunday service, to heal the wounds of life in my people, so much as how to sell CDs. When worship moves from a context of communal worship, partnering with prayer, Scripture, sacrament and sermon and ends up being the preferred sound in your car on the way to work and home again or in your kitchen or at a dinner party once you are at home then we are in danger of losing the worship song’s original vocation.

So Clive is right. We need to steal the pastoral potency of the worship song back. In Fitzroy we have looked outside of the Christian industry. Leonard Cohen’s If It Be Your Will has been one we have used for lament. Or U2’s Psalm 40. This week a song that Norah Jones sings called Humble Me became the core for our communal confession. As a pastor I often give people cathartic songs to help them in bereavement. At Greenbelt a number of years ago Doug Gay, lecturer, author and songwriter, performed a suite of songs about the death of his father. It was artistically authentic and emotionally charged. Tears were being shed all round the room and healing was being done. I asked a few people to record and release it but they thought there was no market and I thought Churches should fund it is a pastoral resource.

My friend Alain is a gifted worship leader and tragically lost his twenty three year old wife a few years ago. He told me that for six months there was nothing he sang in Church that in any way related to his relationship with God. So songwriters of the world with a Christian faith, whether inside the worship industry or not. Write us some songs of lament. The Bible doesn’t shirk away from eyeballing the darkness. In bringing our lives that are drowning in darkness to the God of all light something happens. Give us back our lament. I need some of it for Sunday!


Lanois Soul Mining

“Being an artist is, in and of itself, an incredible parable for having faith.You’re in this position where you have to step into the unknown without hesitancy, with all your resources and with every intention of seeing it through and you know it might be disastrous”

My good friend Scott Jamison put this quotation from artist Linnea Gabriella Spransy up as his Facebook status as I was reading Daniel Lanois’ biography and it might be a review in a nutshell. Lanois’ memoir reaks of a man who lives and breathes his own art, whether songwriter or producer . He is so committed that love and family life never seem to be in his picture. It seems as though one night as a child that music stood at his bedroom door and said “Follow me...” and Daniel did. This is a book that flits about like Lanois’ life, the book from past to present and everywhere in between, the life from Quebec to Ontario to California to New York to Mexico to New Orleans with Dublin and various other spots in between.

If the reader is looking for lengthy detail about his work with Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Brandon Flowers, Robbie Robertson, Neville Brothers, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and particularly U2 then they might be a little disappointed. Lanois writes about them all but it is merely moments and never too detailed. The key to the whole thing is most perfectly described when he is working with U2. It is during the Joshua Tree sessions and Lanois is waxing lyrical about Bono improvising and thus transforming a song. He writes, “This is a wonderful magic place to get to, the room of splintered metal I call it, where you can only respond to what is thrown your way. Years of knowledge and life experience exorcised out of mind and bodies. The room full of splintered metal and shattered glass is the birthplace of some of my U2 favourites...”

This quote, and indeed the very title of the book, betrays the spirituality at the heart of Lanois’ life and work. Throughout the book Lanois speaks of his pedal steel guitar as his “Church in a suitcase.” He writes of seeing God as a little bit like that room of splintered steel - “This is the same way that I see God, as little pieces flying by, tiny molecular pieces of information constantly flying by. Some people see them, some people don’t.”  In the end he thanks God for the ability to get excited and ends the book by encouraging other artists to find belief and passion.  God lurks everywhere and his belief in the transcendent is taken as read. We are back to Spransy’s quote. As I read about reflections on art I felt that it was spiritually informative and nourishing.

If you are a fan of the artists Lanois has worked with as listed above then you’ll be intrigued. If you are an artist yourself then I’d say it is an obligatory textbook. He brings such wisdom to the process. If you are a techie either to do with guitars or recording processes then this will be your Christmas come. Some reviews I’ve read speak of Lanois’ ego coming through. I didn’t see it. I saw a man who believes that he was created to do what he does and that his creations are dependent on much more than himself. He is more in awe of what he has been privileged to have been a part of than arrogant. I found it fascinating. An artist writing about the mystery of art in a beautifully creative and artistic way.


Stocki collar
I am uncomfortable about this blog entry. I hate talking about me. My built in inferiority complex is always fearing the backlash! Anyway, here goes. Yesterday morning I shared how this week’s sermon, and for me every sermon, came together. Some said they were fascinated by the process, so I thought I’d share it. It is not a blue print for sermon preparation, no way. It is the way that God has led me to prepare. It is how he has used who I am and what my life, personality and life journey bring to the art of sermon preparation. For others I imagine that it is a desk, in an office with commentaries cluttering up the surrounds. I imagine it is two or three hours every morning locked in that office sculpting the shape or exegesis. That is good. Yet, I have found that, though some weeks that is where I end up, most weeks it is rather more fluid and flowing. This week, as I was creating the sermon, I was reading Daniel Lanois’ biography Soul Mining; A Musical Life and he was sharing how songs and records come together in a room full of splintered steel where you simply respond to whatever is thrown at you. That about sums up the muse of this week’s sermon.

I begin, at the start of the week, with the foundational steel girder of the Scriptures. In Fitzroy, my colleague Jonathan and myself, are working our way through Hosea and this week I was in Chapter 6. I read that chapter a few times and then Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message which is oftentimes, though not all the time, helpful. So, as I drive around and walk about I am pondering and waiting for the splintered steel to fly. Then maybe the next day I will read some commentaries. I shared the humour of my Facebook status last Thursday, “I am on the iPad reading Calvin.” There will be some splintered steel flying there and I respond to context, historical situation and maybe cross referencing other Scriptures that commentators point me to.

The real art, or as I believe the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is the splintered steel of the things going on around my life as I ponder the Scripture. That gives it contemporary relevance, context and impact. Pastoral visits, listening to other speakers, some news item, blog, Facebook status, movie, TV show or very often for me songs will spin around my head and soul and I’ll grab what sticks. This week I had a song that Dave Thompson, one of our songwriters in Fitzroy, had written about Hosea 6. This splinter had been flying about my head for some weeks and I was sure it was going to hit. During this entire process I will be typing the Scriptures, a commentator's thought, a quotation or an illustration onto the lap top page. Late in the week, often times as late as Saturday night, I will see what the splinters have formed and ask God help for final shape. Dave’s song splinter ended up giving me the title and the punch line, Dave’s paraphrase of this Scripture, “Let the mercy I show, be the worship I bring to you.” It is a lovely poetic line that skips off the tongue as you sing it BUT for weeks it has been pummelling my soul with its prophetic power.

Yesterday’s sermon (Nov 20, 2011) was the perfect coming together. When I got to look down the splinters noted I found not only a perfectly built sermon but perhaps the sermon that most defines my own Christian life. It was thirty years of spiritual journey right there on the screen. I was almost frightened to preach it, I sensed it so holy. In that room full of splinters I had given control of the shape to the higher power, I simply responded.  Never before had God given me such a potent message, laid it out so clearly and given so much Scriptural proof texts and all so ordered. This was the song, the record, the poem, the novel of the preacher. You might listen and wonder what I am talking about! That is also the vulnerable place of the artist or preacher. When it goes public it may not be reviewed as that good. I guess for the preacher the hope is that the God who inspired it will use it in whatever way he chooses. The sermon itself then becomes a flying splinter of steel...


LYRIC OF THE DAY/LITURGICAL CONFESSION 20.11.11 from Humble Me by Norah Jones


“You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
I'm on my knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
So please, please, please forgive me”

-      From Humble Me by Norah Jones

Two of our congregation, Scott Jamison and Claire Andrews, sang this Norah Jones cover (actually written by Kevin Breit), in an astounding set, when they supported Steven Curtis Chapman last night at Fitzroy. As they sang it I saw it as a wonderful song to build to confessional prayer around and we did it this morning with a short liturgy I wrote, bookended with a paraphrase of the song and some of God’s main judgements against the people in the prophecy of Hosea, which we are following in our preaching series just now. Download or spotify the song and use it in your own confessional devotions.  

Lord humble us

We are on our knees

Please please forgive us

For being distracted by other idols of the heart

For simply going through the motions of religion

For the times we don’t acknowledge you as God

For not showing mercy where mercy is needed

Lord humble us

We are on our knees

Please, please forgive us.