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December 2011

STOCKI'S RECORDS OF THE YEAR (Pt 2; 1-15)

 

1. Ron Sexsmith – Long Player, Late Bloomer

“(producer Rob) Rock hasn’t lost anything of the traditional Sexsmith but has brought a punchy, sharp jangly guitar sound and it functions as little spiked pedestals for Sexsmith’s words to sit upon giving them more elevation so that they get heard.” – Soul Surmise Review

2. Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender

Joe Henry’s (# 23!) production gave Linford and Karin their perfect rustic furniture to welcome us into their snug hearth of poetic spiritual wisdom. Another refuge to drop into as we journey.

 3. Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires

The experimentation of A Hunded Million Suns and the more radio friendly sounds of Eyes Open marry to be a very wonderful Irish rock thang.

4 Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What?

Simon is still doing the business at 70. Still seeking out new rhythms and sounds to thread his lyrics through. Drenched in the spiritual pleased this theo-musicologist!

5 Eric Angus Whyte – Luddite Sons

I watched this album come to into the world over 2011 and when it was completed with Stephen Fearing at the production controls it came out beaut! Eric’s songs are becoming so strong and the finger picking guitar joys... oh!

6. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong

A happy accident bumping into teacher and part time rock critic Ross Thompson at an exam my daughter had to endure led me to ask what I should get into. Dawes he said! So right. Think Jackson Browne as lead vocalist of The Band! Produced by Jonathan Wilson at #21!

7. Gavin Friday – Catholic

“It is simply a beautiful listen with its hushed and sacred elegant melancholy and then elegiac catharsis.” Soul Surmise Review

8. (Ahk-Toong Bay-bi) Covered

What? A magazine cover CD worth buying! So worth buying they made it available commercially. U2’s Achtung Baby covered by Snow Patrol, Patti Smith, Gavin Friday, Jack White, The Killers and more...

 9. Denison Witmer – The Ones Who Wait

Always love Denison Witmer and on this one he reflects on his father’s death with beautiful songs of lament, catharsis and healing.

10 Yvonne Lyons – More Than Mine

Yvonne’s Ladies of Laurel Canyon album when she took off the guitar and made a beautiful piano record. At times pure pop, at times haunting Celtic and at times Scottish folk... all times of the most excellent quality!

11. Burning Codes – Rivers Of Hope

Paul Archer engages the help of members Snow Patrol, Athlete and his brother Iain to make an album of hypnotic beauty and spiritual serenity... at times rocked up serenity... but serenity just the same. Nothing else on earth sounds like this!

12. The Waterboys – An Appointment With Mr. Yeats

Taking on Yeats’ poetry could have been cumbersome but Scott et al took it on and turned some of the Irish bards words into veritable pop songs!

13. Bruce Cockburn – Small Source Of Comfort

A long time since we had a classic Cockburn record but there were enough turns of phrases, spiritual and cultural wisdom and guitar flourishes on this one to ease the wait!

14. Tom Waits - Bad As Me

A more ear friendly collection from Tom saw many great lines, many outrageously funny ones and a general reminder of Calvinistic theology in humanity’s quirks and foibles!

15. Christy Moore – Folk Tales

As always Christy puts Ireland to right as he trawls through our history and current day. He also makes us lol and quietens our souls in pastoral places.


STOCKI'S TOP 30 RECORDS OF 2011 (Part 1 16-30)

16. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

Met Joy Williams a few years ago at a Music Retreat in Nashville. It was a few months before I caught on that she was half of this success act of the year. Wonderful writing. Very lovely.

17. James Vincent McMorrow – Early In The Morning

Some spiritual vibes threaded through this young Irishman’s debut. Apparently he has come through a Church scene. Easier ion my ears than Bon Iver.

18.Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire

A return to form from Ryan and about time. Here he does what he does best. Great songs on acoustic guitar.

19. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

The surprise  of the year was discovering Noel without Liam. I pretty much laugh at the nonsense of  Oasis hype but Noel has made a great record.

20. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

Ms Bush was always too much pump and ballet for me but this winter delight sounds as gentle as the snow falling which apparently is what she intended

21. Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit

Wilson produced one of my top ten albums of the year and his own came with endorsements from the likes of Jackson Browne. A revival of the Laurel Canyon sound, it is a sprawling piece of art.

22. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest

After a long period of no show Welch was back with partner Rawlings into a market newly cluttered with duos. As always with Welch, there is great songs and that voice.

23. Joe Henry - Reverie

Again, Henry produced one of my ten albums and might have been higher himself if I’d purchased sooner. It is so tastily produced; Waits without the weirdness in voice and instrumentation.

24. Emmylou Harris – Hard Bargain

Someone with a record in my top 10 forced me to buy this Emmylou album after her last one pushed her off my “must buy on day of release” artists. Thankful too. Some great songs about change and loss, particularly the loss of Gram Parsons, all those years ago, and Katie McGarrigle much more recently.

25. Lisa Hannigan - Passenger

Ireland’s female songwriter of the moment proves she is much more prolific than her former over rated partner Rice. Sparse and gently poetic.

26. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

I disagree with the reviewer who called them the new Abba. For me they are the new Police; radio friendly and pop pleasant but, like Mark Houston says, something just doesn’t connect at a deeper level. Big family favourite!

27. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

Miss Marling was too folked out for me until this her third album. I love its cross fertilization of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

28. Fleet Foxes – Hopelessness Blues

Loved the title track of this one but the rest didn’t permeate like the debut album.

29. Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm

Chris Fry tipped me off about this young man having caught him on some TV show. It was a delightfully discovery, all quiet, moody and Nick Drakesian!

30. Jason Molin – Fok Dub

Molin is as unique a folk singer as can be. He takes his New York Woody Guthrie roots and grafts them onto almost Caribbean lilts down there in Austin, Texas where he has settled. Songs of humour, real introspective love and some deep thoughts of culture and God!  


God Was

Fiona Fitzroy
(Advent Candle and Crib by Fiona McNeill)

This tiny

This confused

This useless

This first breath colour of blue

God was.

 

This unaware

This immobile

This dependent

This delicate, frail and fragile

God was.

May you have a grace drenched Christmas and a blessed 2012!


Christmas Reflection; Grace...

Manger
 At the centre of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger. That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace. This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of
Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace. Put most simply the “unmerited favour” of God. This idea that swims against the tide of the first are first is this crazy notion that actually the last can be first because with God there are no tests, no trials and no interviews. You are not loved because of what you are or what you have done but
because of who God is and what he has done. Because God loved us this baby was born and without moving out of the nativity story you can get some good clues as to what he will do as a result of that love.

The invited guests give the game away. When God became human who gets in to have an audience? In our first are first world you might expect the rich, the powerful and the religiously orthodox. Yet, here we find the shepherds. The dirty, smelly, not going to synagogue much shepherds. Look where they are. These shepherds walk right into the presence of the most holy God. The God whose name the Jews cannot even speak. With boldness, confidence and by invitation there they are. Later in Jesus life there will come a moment when the Gospel declares the curtain of the temple was torn in two, when humanity could once more enter the holy of holies because of what this baby would grow up to do. There is a wee hint right here. The shepherds walk through that curtain. Not far behind them are Magi from the east; yet again by grace alone. There is little theological
insight of a Judeo Christian variety among these eastern mystic stargazers. Yet, there they are, bringing gifts for the king that they thought would be in the palace and yet found in the upside nature of his entire ministry, literally homeless!

This Christmas as you come to the centre of the season, see the baby at the centre of the scene and see the grace at the centre of his
mission. May that grace be yours this Christmas. May you be aware of this most amazing of all truth that you are loved as you are, just like the shepherds and Magi before you.


Christmas Reflection; According To... The Rolling Stones

StonesToday’s thought has had a plethora of inspirations. The new Some Girls Remastered Deluxe Edition is on my Christmas list so the Rolling Stones were on my radar. Then my congregation’s biggest Stones fan brought me a heap of the classic albums on vinyl. After that one of my Gospel According To... conspirators, Gary Burnett, suggested we could never do a Gospel According To... The Rolling Stones! I reckon we could but it would be a push and I’m still trawling through a huge catalogue for six songs! Finally, my Youth Director, Christopher Hunter did an inventive Children’s Address in Fitzroy and then at a local Primary School comparing Santa Claus and Jesus. When it came to their contrasts Chris suggested that Santa gives us what we want but Jesus gives us what we need! Hey presto... Christmas According To... The Rolling Stones:

“You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need...”

Chris is onto something and the Stones are singing the refrain. It is not difficult to contrast our western Christmas with the picture of that first nativity. In this manger scene there is no wasteful decadence, no spoiled child or parent. The image is actually suggesting the exact opposite; a God who emptied himself of the safety and security of heaven for germs, cold and death squads on the prowl. The gift that is centre stage wasn’t exactly prayed for. Mary didn’t ask for the scandal and the King on the throne had no desire to be usurped, even if it is God’s chosen one! Did humanity want a revolutionary baby who would challenge our selfish self indulgence and model a way of radical selfless and sacrificial service. No, we didn’t get what we wanted but we did get what we needed; a Redeemer, a Saviour, a Way to live.

It reminds me of the words of Kendall Payne too:

“May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they'd be”

Mick and Keef got it; the difference between Santa and Jesus!


Christmas Reflection: Confessing 2000 Years Of Christianity's Sins

You First

At a Community Carol Service in Fitzroy last week I apologised to the non believers, who had gathered because of the sentiments of the season, for 2000 years worth of mistakes by Christians. I was primarily thinking of the Crusades, Cromwell’s murderous campaigns in Ireland and more recently American satellite evangelists but I was also thinking of the individual errors that we do and the hurts we cause that keep us humble and never hypocrites; those who confess they are forever in need of forgiveness can never really be hypocrites! I believe that it is so important for us as Christians to confess what has been done in Christ’s name. As I hear the diatribes of the evangelical atheists, getting so much air time these days, I really believe that they are raging against so much bad stuff that has been done in the name of Christianity.

As we approach Christmas and reflect on the Biblical texts we find the religious getting it violently wrong right there in the middle of it. It is something God dealt with right through the Old Testament and that Jesus would battle with right through his life. Even in the innocent early days of the Church Paul was writing letters to error strewn fledgling Christian communities. I was asked once, when I went to preach somewhere, to go easy on the Church. I find that neither Biblical, helpful for the Church nor useful for our missional relationships outside the Church.

I loved the part in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz book, soon to be movie, where he set up a Confessional on his University campus and then when drunken students came in to confess their sins the Christians confessed to them! So subversive! So honest, authentic and vulnerable. Grace interrupted how it was perceived. And, we are back to that nativity scene again. The way that God is reaching people in becoming a baby born in straw and quickly dodging death squads is a God making himself vulnerable. Our arrogance and pride have been sins that have pushed the world away. Some of my fellow believers might have been uneasy about my admission to non Church goers at that Carol Service but I believe that Confession is good for the soul, keeps us humble and is intrinsically Biblical. It might also just draw prostitutes, lepers and tax-collectors into our friendship circles!


Song Adventure In Advent - Mary's Song by Dave Thompson

DT

“There was nothing promised that is easily imagined,
And questions of the future leave me puzzled and concerned.
I don’t know where tomorrow leads,
But his grace today is all I need;
I know his love and love him in return.

And my senses overwhelm me
When I estimate his majesty
Every fibre of my being
Joins with all creation singing
Songs of how the weak are lifted up,
Songs that tell the richness of his love.”

-      from Mary’s Song by Dave Thompson

This was my favourite Christmas song of 2010 and tonight at Fitzroy Dave Thompson adds a suite of other songs around this one that presents Christmas In Isaiah; Rescue, Reality and Revolution.

What I loved about Mary’s Song is that we don’t find a Mary looking back with 2000 years of hindsight. She has faith to go along with this crazy and mysterious plan of God’s and, in its absurdity and great cost for her, just trust and believe. There is also a realisation that if what she thinks is happening to her is true that she is involved in an advent that will have deep seated affect among the poor and marginalised. God’s love is on the move and she feels it in her womb. She then finds the courage to play her part and praise the one who set it all in motion.


CHRISTMAS REFLECTION: HEAVENLY METEORITE HURTLING

Meteorite

When the God of all the universe landed wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying softly on a bed of animal straw we should not be fooled by the gentleness of his arrival. In that moment the world shuddered. It was as if the God who filled the entire Universe squeezed his vastness into a tiny little piece of semtax explosive and hurtled from the far end of the Universe like a meteorite and crashed into planet earth knocking it from the way things were to a hopefulness of the new way that it could be. Here, in the nativity we see this absurd almost crazy revolution; King of the Universe in some backstreet manger; the humility of God becoming a servant of his creation; a God of justice loving and welcoming in those whom he was at enmity with; the blessedness of the poor. The King of the day felt the tremor and sent his death squads to kill it at birth but on and on down through history this semtax thud has drawn people to turn the way things are on their heads and attempt to interrupt the status quo of the first being first with a strange concept called grace where no matter who we are or what we are done we are like the shepherds and Magi, welcomed, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, loved.

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unseen but deeply felt

If never fully realised

By those who’ve never knelt

The tremors they ripple across all time

The poets at last can find their rhyme

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

As usual but all amiss

History  stripped of how it was

To how from now on it is

The radical revolution all a shudder

Old way surrendering to this new other

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unnoticed but all askew

Thrones thrown out of kilter

The meek inherit what’s new

The repercussions spin out forever

Imaginers threading peace back together

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.


CHRISTMAS REFLECTION - HEROD; DID HE KNOW TOO MUCH!

Herod

Lying below the surface of the Magi visit to Jesus is a story that doesn’t get much exposure but which is a fascinating one none the less. While the earthy marginalised shepherds and the eastern stargazing gentiles dander right into the presence of God incarnate those who have the Scriptures have a downright frightening response. When the Magi arrive at the palace, expecting to find the new King there rather than where they will find him in a manger of animal straw, Herod is spooked and Matthew says, “all of Jerusalem with him.”

Herod gathered all the religious leaders and they opened the Scripture to find the meaning of all these nativity stories. In Scripture they found the verses that explained what the Magi were talking about. So, this king and this group of religious leaders had the opportunity to tell their people that they had discovered the long awaited Messiah. Yet, when the Magi failed to tell Herod where the baby was Herod ordered all the baby boys of two and under to be murdered. Herod, unlike the shepherds or the Magi, had the truth and yet tried to kill God’s son and the Kingdom he was born to bring.

Why? Herod’s problem was not that he didn’t have the truth. Herod had too much truth. He knew that this baby was going to change everything. If this baby really was King of the Jews his time was up. His self-indulgent power and wealth was going to be threatened. A new way to live had been born and it was going to cost him. The best thing to do would be to kill off this revolution now.

And what of us? I am one of that religious group who are asked to open the Scripture and find meaning to this baby’s birth. We are looking forward to celebrating the baby’s birth, 2011 years or so after Herod’s death squads hit Bethlehem. We wouldn’t kill that baby but do we murder the revolutionary Kingdom that he brought? Do we, like Herod, see the cost and find ways to avoid worshipping head on.

Is that why Walter Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel was dismissed for supposedly theological reasons? Was the cost of ministering in Hell’s Kitchen and dealing with social sin rather than middle class individual petty habits too costly? Is that how we ignored the Scriptural mandate for social justice for so long that John Stott called it the greatest evangelical heresy of the Twentieth Century?

Or is that why, while reading more Scripture and going to more prayer meetings than any other time in history, the Church in Northern Ireland did so little to bring reconciliation to a divided society during the Troubles. We dismissed chunks of the Scriptures particularly Luke 6 as ecumenical liberalism instead of the Christ led revolution of a shalom centred Kingdom! The cost in our own communities of fraternising with “enemies” was too much.

And as we come into a time of recession do we know too much. Didn’t that baby Jesus tell us that we couldn’t serve God and money. As our political leaders seem to be more focused on restoring the wealth generating stocks and shares portfolios of the bankers and the rich instead of how to help those who have become the innocent victims of profit making greed should we not scream revolution. It might prove too costly and be dismissed as left wing communism. Maybe we’ll not kill the baby but will we kill the revolution? Or will we become God’s word made flesh the way the baby was!


CHRISTMAS REFLECTION & POEM - CLOSE ENOUGH TO WHISPER

  Jesus In Manger

There are many things that are utterly amazing about the incarnation. I try to express two of them in this poem below. First, this mind blowing idea that God who fills the universe became tiny enough to fit in a manger of straw. Wow! Second, is I believe the secret to world evangelism. There have been all kinds of books written about what we need to do to make Jesus friendly to a contemporary generation. The answer is right there at the beginning. The image of a baby in straw is everything we need to know. God didn’t shout good news from a distance nor was he happy simply inspiring Old Testament books to share his Word. No, the Word had to become flesh. The Word had to become action. The Word had to be relational. As my friend Rev. Dr. Spiwo Xapile described it, in the townships of Guguletu, – “Jesus on the Doorstep” or “God; flesh on. I call it Close Enough to Whisper.

The Eternal focused on a moment
The Voice becomes a listener
The Word becoming flesh and bone
Close enough to whisper
The beyond the world's comprehension
Moves right into the midst of her
Heaven stoops to touch the earth
Close enough to whisper
Close enough to touch her
Close enough to kiss her
Close enough to be broken
Close enough to whisper
For God so loved the world
He emptied Himself to visit her
Came down to walk beside her
Close enough to whisper
The Eternal focused on a moment
The Voice becomes a listener
The Word becoming flesh and bone
Close enough to whisper.