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November 2011

Lyric For The Day 19.11.11 from Shine by Daniel Lanois

Lanois Shine

“In the end the thing that keeps me walking is your shine
Your shine in transmissions, your shine in decisions
Your shine when I labour to the new day
It's your shine, your shine, your shine, shine, shine on”

-      From Shine by Daniel Lanois

I am currently reading Daniel Lanois’ brilliant biography Soul Mining: A Musical Life and it a fascinating reflection of a life and of the art of music making. At the core of Lanois’ life and work is a spiritual belief that is no doubt far from orthodox but strong all the same. Shine form the album of the same name has that belief to the fore. These lines could be a creed for Lanois life. There is something beyond him that is preparing him for what is up ahead artistically and in life and he is seeking that light to lead him on. The Psalmist recognised the word of God as lamp to the feet of the seeker. The New Testament recognises Jesus as the light of the world. Lanois glimpses that light in every nook and cranny of life and art.


Lyric For The Day 18.11.11 from Questions by Steven Curtis Chapman

SCC Beauty

“Who are You God

For You are turning out to be

So much different than I imagined

And where are you God

Cuz I am finding life to be

So much harder than I had planned

Know that I am afraid

To ask these questions

But You know they are there

And if you know my heart

The way that I believe you do

You know that I believe in You

Still I have these questions”

-      From Questions by Steven Curtis Chapman

 This Psalm-like song from Steven Curtis Chapman goes some way to fill the huge empty void in Contemporary Christian Music; lament, questioning and catharsis. For me Christian music since the mid eighties has been too sanitised, too squeaky clean, to theologically simplistic (I’ll hold off a stronger opinion!!!!). When Steven Curtis Chapman experienced the tragic death of his daughter he went back to his music as a way to wrestle with God, to mourn, to hope, to question and to find answers. The album Beauty Will Rise gave those songs to the rest of us as a gift to help with our own dark nights of the soul. I believe music to be a huge resource in catharsis and we need more of the Biblical honesty that Curtis Chapman recorded on Beauty Will Rise.


Lyric For The Day 17.11.11 from Hymn For A New Age by Ray Davies

Ray_davies_Working_Man

“Ooh have you heard the news
Bible bashers where are the queues
A saint played a gig but he got crap reviews
The punters didn't like the product or the venue

I need something to connect to
Someone to help me through
Something I can pray to

This is my hymn for a new age
Rewrite the book on a fresh page
If I'm to find God and be saved
I need a hymn for a new age”

-      from Hymn For A Modern Age by Ray Davies

Ray Davies, leader of the huge sixties band The Kinks, is one of Britain’s best singer songwriters and here he has a go at my vocation and workplace - "The punters didn't like the product or the venue" ouch! Hymn For A New Age asks provocative questions of the Church suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that it is out of date and needs re-imagined to suit the modern world. Of course I would agree that Davies has a point. As minister of a Church who is gaining new members from people who live thirty miles away I am too aware that even Christian believers are finding it difficult to find Churches that feed their souls in ways that are relevant to their lives in the modern world. Building on the good aspects of Church traditions, without tampering with Christ the cornerstone, we have really got to dress ancient truth in modern language and worship and wrestle with the issues and crisis of this generation.

That does not mean compromise. If our legendary Kink is looking for a faith that erases ethics and morals and makes an anything goes behavioural pattern then he’s looking in the wrong place. Firstly, the Church has a prophetic mandate to collide with the hedonistic, self-indulgence of the modern malaise and secondly, if faith dilutes its message, to a watered down anything goes so that everyone feels warm and fuzzy and unaccountable to a higher standard, then it is of no use to humanity at all.

Let the Church hear Davies challenge, however. Let us always be determined to translate the faith for contemporary ears and souls.


SNOW PATROL - FALLEN EMPIRES

Fallen Empires

Snow Patrol are often now maligned by the very same people that fought their corner pre Run. It is as if popularity is a bad thing that needs made fun of. Well, there is nothing wrong with making music that a lot of people like. Without the universal popularity of The Beatles and The Stones we would not have a music scene in any way like the way it is today. So, stop knocking the ability to appeal to a wide fan base and fill stadiums. I could better understand the ire if Snow Patrol has stopped being creative and had settled for some bland formula that was always going to work. I put myself in a special place at judging this band’s development having sought out their new album on the morning of release since When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up (and surely only Davy Matchett and their parents can match that!). Following from that far back I can see the musical proficiency develop but more particularly the lyrics, the melodies and the production.  Fallen Empires is testament again to a band constantly seeking new terrain, perpetually working on their craft and always coming up with better songs and records.

Snow Patrol have never made the same record twice and once again, though the DNA at the core is very familiar, they have gone out to other territories to bring home new ideas and sounds. The thing of course to remember is that these guys have always been fans as much as stars themselves; they namedrop Teenage Fan Club here to add to Sufjan Stevens two records ago. Their involvement in side projects, collectives, curating compilations, Gary and Tom’s DJ sets as well as Gary’s column in Q magazine reveal a band of musical adventure and they have rarely been as adventurous as this.

The lead-off single, Called Out In The Dark’s electronica might not have been a surprise after their hit Just Say Yes but might have caused some to worry about the loss of Nathan Connelly’s guitar stealth from the sound. Well no need to worry. Even on, what they themselves have named “celtic techno, the title track it is not an erasing Nathan as much as a dressing of him up. It adds layers and for those musically inquisitive this is a treasure trove. Another influential tributary flowing in to this ocean of sound is the band’s experimental Reworked concerts, a DVD of The Royal Albert Hall gig of that tour is available on the Deluxe edition. The creative imagination and the adding of a near orchestra to their work has given ideas to the arrangements particularly of vocals but also instrumentation here. The instrumental Berlin is a case and point and the perfectly crafted songwriter song Lifening might have its origins in the intimacy of those concerts. It’s lines about football, family and love is everyman without pretention; another of Snow Patrol’s endearing qualities.

So, yes, the sonic leap is matched by Gary Lightbody’s songs; he simply gets better and better as a lyricist and songwriter. He has some very original images and he has honed the rhythms and rhymes which has led to some delicious and unforgettable couplets. Renowned for his serial romantic failures that leads to much melancholy, on Fallen Empires he has been able to bring an abundance of hope and light out of his and other peoples’ emotional debri. This Isn’t Everything You Are is the band’s most complete moment and a pastoral gem for anyone involved in helping a loved one in need. New York with its “There’s so much this hurt can teach us both...” has a life embracing positive aroma that reeks off the entire record.

As a pastor and theo-musicologist my ears lift with the sense of redemption and use of words like prayer and church. I love the line on Those Distant Bells, “You can hear those distant bells/And you know they’ll never leave/It’s like your Church is calling out/Like the wolf cries to her young,” and yes that is the kind of Church I long that my vocation might help create. My sense is that these songs believe that humans can be the energy for their own fulfilment, echoed all around in the “we are the light... we are the light...” chant from The Friend’s Choir wonderfully aided by Lissie and Foy Vance on Fallen Empires. Much as I personally find that philosophy a creed that I haven’t enough faith to believe and need one of those God’s that Lightbody doesn’t want in Lifening, I still find that Snow Patrol trump card peer competition, like Coldplay for example, by producing songs that have a spiritual dimension, focus and effect. This is very much an album that, if saturated in, will be very healthy for the soul.

(check out all other SNOW PATROL related articles on Soul Surmise under SNOW PATROL: DISTANT BELLS in the categories to the right of this page)


SONGS FOR A HEALTHY SOUL - SNOW PATROL'S This Isn't Everything We Are

Snow Patrol
This is Snow Patrol’s most complete song. I heard it on Later With... Jools Holland recently and first impressions had me yearning to hear it again. Last week I watched the guests on The Graham Norton Show ooh and aah after the band performed it and the next morning I woke up to Chris Evans waxing lyrical about it on his radio show. It takes the emotional tenderness of Run and Crashing Cars, gives it that Snow Patrol anthemic swell and then adds the ingredients that make it a song for a healthy soul.
This is a pastoral song. That first listen came at a time when a good friend was going through a dark night of the soul and all I could think about was that this was everything I wanted to tell her. In a game of poker This Isn’t Everything You Are would see U2’s Stuck In A Moment and raises it 64 billion dollars. Keeping it in my friend’s scenario, Bono speaks about the situation itself and asks my friend to look beyond the moment, see beyond the horizontal walls pressing in and rise above the moment to see a more hopeful future. I think that that can be good advice but Gary Lightbody’s lyric hits a deeper spot. Lightbody targets my friend’s life itself and asks her to look not at a wider time perspective but at wider perspective on herself. She is more than this one dimension of her soul that is being oppressed. There is even some practical advice in the midst of the sweep with the advice to not to do anything rash This heartache, deep and damaging as it is, is only part of who she is. Focusing on the other aspects of her life might be that which keeps her on her feet to find that happier day:  
 
Then in one little moment
It all implodes
This isn't everything you are
Breathe deeply in the silence
No sudden moves
This isn't everything you are
Just take the hand that’s offered
And hold on tight
This isn't everything you are
There's joy not far from here
I know there is
This isn't everything you are.
 Brilliant!

STOCKI SURMISES A SPIRITUAL SYSTEM AT THE CENTRE OF ALL THINGS

Stocki collar
I am surmising this morning a helpful thought that I stumbled upon during my sermon preparation this weekend. My text was Hosea chapter 5 and I had concentrated my thoughts on verse 5 which stated the arrogance of the people of Israel. I was looking therefore at national, religious and individual arrogance. The overriding theme of Hosea is that the people lack knowledge of God and my conclusion on the secret of overcoming our arrogance was to quote U2 “if you wanna kiss the sky you gotta learn how to kneel.” Humility and particularly humility in our relationship with God seems to be the core of the lesson.

Which led me into my surmising and maybe it is blatantly obvious and I am coming late to the game! I started looking at the system of God’s creation. I never looked at it like that before. Like the solar system or environmental system or the physiological system that the body works to I surmised a spiritual system. When I took a look at our human origins, as the Bible gives us insights into in Genesis chapters 1 to 3, I found another system where human beings are created into a system that includes relationships with Creator, creatures and creation.

What those Genesis stories tell us is that from that well balanced system, with the fullness of humanity found in its rightful place within it, humans attempted to reach beyond the system by trying to be like God and thus ended up less than their fullness, with the entire system knocked out of kilter. American writer Frederick Buechner expresses this in his definition of sin in his book Wishful Thinking. He speaks of how sin pushes us away and creates distance from fellow humans, God and the creation. This definition fits into my idea that we have an out of kilter system.

To avoid arrogance and pride, the attitude that could be seen as a cause of our sin or putting it another way rebellion from our place in the system, we need to put God back in his place and as humans fall in behind. Christian belief is that Jesus came, lived, died and was resurrected to do just this, to give us the opportunity to put the system back in its rightful order. Worship is therefore about human beings singing, praying, pondering Scriptures to remind us of who God is, who we are in the light of that and how we therefore relate to God, fellow humans and the environment. Real worship is when we put God in his rightful place, acts of worship are the tools we have to help us do it.

Stocki's entire Sermon on Hosea 5


Lyric For The Day 13.11.11 from Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

Lennon Fantasy

“Life is what happens to you

When you’re busy making other plans”

-      from Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

 My passage to preach on Remembrance Day was Hosea 5 under the title Arrogant Nation; not easy eh! Anyway as I was looking at the arrogance of nations and individuals I came across John 4, 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This brought John Lennon’s quote straight to mind. Beautiful Boy was written as he was planning to come back into public life with one album to be released, other albums in the can and the thoughts of a World Tour. A few weeks after this song came out Lennon was dead at the hands of a mad gunman. Poignant and prophetic words to say the least.

 It is hard to believe that Lennon was thinking of James or of the warnings Jesus gave, of us being mist that comes and goes so quickly, though he did have a reservoir of Biblical knowledge from going to Sunday School and being confirmed in the Church of England, even when his family weren’t pushing it. Yet, it is a great verse to remind us of who we are and to humble ourselves before a Sovereign God who, only in humble connection with, can led us into the real fulfilment of our human design.


GEORGE HARRISON - LIving In The Material World

George Harrison LITMW movie

Since I was fifteen years old, in the spring of 1976, when I swapped some of my Smokie singles for Please, Please Me, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale and Help! (great deal – sorry Colin!) I have been an obsessive Beatles’ fan. Today I own every official release, together and apart, and a lot more recordings than that! I have read every book and feel there is little about any of the four Beatles that I don’t know about. Yet, the three and half hours of Martin Scorcese’s biopic on George Harrison had me gripped and fascinated for three and a half hours, and I saw lots of things I hadn’t seen before. This is one, actually two great rock movies. The television showing tonight and tomorrow night will give longer than the cinema’s 15 minutes and thus tonight you get Harrison from birth to the end of The Beatles and then tomorrow night we get his post Beatles’ years.

Three things make the movie astounding. Firstly, that Martin Scorcese is the director and thus quality is guaranteed. As a film maker Scorcese was not going to do the obvious and that is the second feature that this is not so much focused on Harrison’s music, particularly in the second half, but on a life. Scorcese shows that life warts and all. It is quite a story too. An ordinary boy becomes one of the most famous men on the planet in his early thirties. He lives, if not propels, the fastest changing years in history and in the vortex of that realises that there is more to life than this fame and tries to withdraw. There is a real honest tension in Harrison’s life. He finds eastern mysticism which tells him that the material world is to be run away from and so he runs away from it at times and towards it at other times. Scorcese drops us into a spiritual man wrestling with making sense of his life. The last secret to the movie’s success is the unseen photographs and footage. Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, has given Scorcese access to a treasure trove of private stuff and along with new interviews with the people who mattered he has pulled together an intriguing biography.

Be prepared to laugh out loud, to be in awe of Harrison’s talent, to be impressed with his humanity, a little jealous of his friendships, disturbed by the attack on his life, intrigued by his life’s obsession with moment of his death and to cry when that moment, vividly described, comes. As a Beatles’ fan for 35 years and, as I have written many times before, a particular fan of George Harrison, I am delighted that Scorcese didn’t choose the more obvious Lennon or McCartney. In doing so Scorcese, perhaps consciously, rights the wrongs of Harrison not being given his rightful place in The Beatles and, anyway,  they simply wouldn’t have been as interesting. Don’t miss these TV showings and if you can pick up the book or the DVD or the two or even the luxurious box set that sticks them altogether and adds twelve lovely unreleased demos, buy them. Another Scorcese masterpiece!


Lyric For The Day 11.11.11 from Let The Earth Bear Witness by The Waterboys

Earth Bear Witness

“They shall be remembered for ever
They shall be alive for ever
They shall be speaking for ever
The people shall hear them for ever

Let the sea bear witness
Let the wind bear witness
Let the earth bear witness
Let the stars bear witness!”

-      From Let The Earth Bear Witness by The Waterboys

This Waterboys’ song, with WB Yeats lyrics, seems the right Lyric For The Day for what we in the UK know as Remembrance Day. It is actually a wonderful mood and arrangement and lyric and sentiment for a day when we should all stop and remember everyone who has been killed in war... indeed as a day to remember all of those who are no longer with us but who continue to live in our respect, memories, love and legacy.


STOCKI SURMISES THE OCCUPY LONDON PROTEST AT ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL

St. PAULS

This Occupy London protest, against capitalist misbehaviour, at St. Paul’s has caught the nation’s attention, and far more intriguingly, drawn Jesus into the discussion. It seems amusing to me that a country that has been attempting to dismiss Jesus from the ethical and moral discussions pushed protesters onto Cathedral ground which, again seemingly by accident, brought Jesus into the heart of the conversation. I have watched with interest as Jesus was back on the front page headlines of newspapers and been bemused by political talk shows asking politicians what they think Jesus would do about the situation. Even some of the answers have been prophetically articulate! My colleague in ministry at Fitzroy, Jonathan Abernethy- Barkley, spent some time with the protesters in London recently and he was struck by how often Jesus was on the lips of the camped out community.

It is of course very appropriate as the Bible has an amazing amount to say about the dangers of money to the soul. When Jesus himself said that you can’t serve God and money he was not only talking about the individual – in Jesus culture he rarely was – but about society. He never actually said that having a substantial amount of money was a sin but his warnings about its deceitfulness, temptation and obstacle to human fulfilment was very clear. The Old Testament too has much to say on banking, business and the consequent condition of those who are affected by it. There is a lot about debt forgiveness in the books of the Law and there is a constant judgement coming down from the prophets on those who get rich at the cost of others wealth depravity.

So, for me, they might have stumbled or been pushed onto Cathedral property but it is an appropriate place to for the protesters to be. Indeed, in hindsight, should the Cathedral not have been the instigators of the protest. It is an obscenity of our society that anarchic capitalism should see the wealthy pump out multi million pound bonuses at the same time as the world struggles through a recession that those millionaires helped cause. Jesus and the prophets would have raged against what is happening just now. I have heard it said that that there is a fault line where the St. Paul’s and the financial heart of London meets; the tension of God and mammon. Perhaps a better way to arrange the scene would be to have the Cathedral as a sieve through which our financial behaviour is drained by the Biblical ethics of business. Then we wouldn’t be asking what Jesus would do because we would actually be doing what Jesus suggested we did all along.