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September 2012

SWEET LITTLE ELLEN-ROSE (Some Days Are More Mysterious Than Others)

Angel wreath
(I wrote this for little Ellen-Rose Williamson who sadly died in the first breaths of her life... it is for her and her mum and dad... it was me, a pastor, trying to make sense of the events we were all so tragically caught up in...)

Sweet little Ellen-Rose

A wee angel in your daddy’s arms

A perfect mix of all he is

And a bundle of your mummy’s charms

You kicked her in the safety of the womb

Then stuck your tongue out at the earth

And hookeyed straight to the arms of Jesus

At the moment of your birth


Our emotions are all ragged and ripped

The best, shuddered to the very worst

The sweetness on the lick of our lips

Jarred sour when the bitterness burst

Some days are more mysterious than others

When these turns and twirls twist odd

Some days are filled with deep sorrow

And empty gestures on our knees before God


Sweet little Ellen-Rose

You know God only knows

When that gust of the fiercest wind blows

You know God only knows

Sweet little Ellen-Rose


You kicked her in the safety of the womb

Then stuck your tongue out at the earth

And hookeyed straight to the arms of Jesus

At the moment of your birth

Sweet Ellen-Rose


Fitz logo

In the morning (11am), as we head into the second half of the second chapter of Ephesians guided as we are in our current series by Eugene Peterson's poetic commentray on St. Paul's letter, we find in verse 12 the word "Covenant" that our little country is talking, debating, commemorating and marching about today. So we will be looking at The Ulster Covenant in the context of what Paul tells us about the Church and how to grow up spiritually here in Ephesians. Dave Thompson who sang his prize winning song about the Ulster Covenant at the Ulster Hall on Wednesday night will contribute that historic folk-type song and converse with it in a new hymn he has written about this very passage in Ephesians! My word I love being minsiter in a community that can do these artistic things! Our worship will be bring yet another Fitzroy feel, as the musical genius that is Chris Blake will lead songs alone by the piano and bring his spiritual sensitivity to the morning.

In the evening in our brand new In God's Living Room series we will make the House of God a little more intimate and, in the informal deep hearted worship, our creative assistant minister Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will look at the first anniversary of the Occupy Movement. From his own personal pilgrimmage to the Occupy encampment he will look into one of the most damaging contents of our hearts - money. Neil Sedgewick will lead the worship and Jonathan will draw on the Pet Shop Boys, Abba  and Gordon Gecko to fill out his Scriptural musings!


Lyric For The Day 28.9.12 from Shut It Tight by T Bone Burnett

T Bone Burnett

“Sometimes I want to stop and crawl back into the womb

And sometimes I cannot tell wrong from right

 But I ain't gonna quit until I'm laid in my tomb

 And even then they better shut it tight”

 -      from Shut It Tight by T Bone Burnett

I have been listening to T-Bone this week and he is such a clever
lyricist and has such theological intrigue. He has a marvelous ability to describe objectively the theology of the human in a way that subjectively exposes your soul. In Shut It Tight, with its hillbilly mandolin hoedown long before Mumford & Sons were even a twinkle in rock music’s eye, he comes across as a man who wants to live 10:10, as I call Jesus statement in John 10 verse 10, “I have come that they might have life and life in all its fulness.” That desire to live as close to the full potential that God created and redeemed him to be doesn’t stop Burnett admitting his frailty and confessing his weaknesses. Aware that life’s fullness is lived out in the fullness of life’s joy and pain, hopes and realties Burnett hints that even after a 10:10 life, life will not stop there. In the liner notes of Twenty Twenty; The Essential T Bone Burnett, Burnett writes of this
song, “When we walk away from the light, we are always following our shadows.When we face the light, our shadow is behind us.”

Lyric For The Day 26.9.12 from Dignity by Deacon Blue

Deacon Blue Dignity

“And I'm telling this story

In a faraway scene

Sipping down Raki

And reading Maynard Keynes

And I'm thinking about home and all that means

And a place in the winter for dignity...

...And I'm thinking about home

And I'm thinking about faith

And I'm thinking about work

And I'm thinking about how good it would be

To be here someday”

-     from Dignity by Deacon Blue

In my speech at my ordination service way back in February 1988 I explained that Deacon Blue’s Dignity was not a song about boats.  This is one of my favourite rock music images, so vivid in what it conjures on the west coast of Scotland and yet as we travel through those villages and towns we find ourselves seeking a harbour in the cold storms of winter for our own dreams and visions, hopes and loves.  

Dignity is a story song about one life that encompasses within it all the universal questions. Based on one seemingly small life, a litter picker on Glasgow streets, with a dream of a wee boat, singer Ricky Ross finds himself in the song as he writes it on some holiday beach reading economists and thinking big questions about home, faith and work.

Ultimately Dignity is about that place I long for in my own life and the lives of my loved ones. As a pastor long to bring everyone in their lives... “a place in the winter for...”



Babel takes off in the same distinct banjo driven organic hoedown style that made us fall in love with Mumford & Sons in the first place. Some are already talking about how the band’s third album
will be a real test as they need to somehow shift this sound forward somewhere or end up repeating themselves in some cul-de-sac. There might be some truth in that observation but, first of all, it is the second not the third record that we are reviewing here and, secondly, it is a very lazy listening to the record at hand. Yes, the same components are in play but there are a few different shades from Sigh No More and for me what we have on Babel is a band who have matured and have become more aware of how to use their sound for whatever reasons they might have to use it. There is a little more passion and intensity, anger and delicacy. It is as though they are more able to be tender and more able to rage too. The confidence that comes from the success of their debut pays rich dividends in chapter 2 of their story.

The content of the songs hasn’t changed a lot either. The lyrics are written by a man whose whole life has been saturated in the big questions of the cosmos and how they touch directly the personal
decisions of the ordinary day.  Marcus Mumford’s contribution to the pilgrimage of faith is significant because few other writers are as honest and as contextually relevant both culturally and personally. This stuff is honest and hopeful. These songs believe. They “believe
in grace and choice”
and soundtrack the shadows and chinks of light in
between. The kind of spirituality at work on Babel is one that is torn with temptation and pulled one way and the other by hopeless wanderings. This is earthy stuff about being dragged down by the relentless world of 2012 and seeking to find some healing, escape and redemption. Ghosts That We Knew perhaps catches the whole record in a half verse – “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/Cause oh that gave me such a fright/But I will hold as long as you like/Just promise me we'll be alright.” Mumford is always aware of his human frailties, his limited time on the planet, his desire to contribute something while he has the chance and the need for transcendent help that he sees best on his knees, where he finds
himself on more than once occassion in these songs. I Will Wait is his Psalm for modern times. There is a constant thread to learn and to seek and follow and love the Light as in Below My Feet’s mantra, “Keep the earth below my feet/For all my sweat, my blood runs weak/Let me learn from where I have been/So keep my eyes
to serve, my hands to learn/Well keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.”

If we don’t get ahead of ourselves to ask what these boys will do in another three years then this is a pretty perfect second album. It gives more away with every listen. For those with ears to hear it is a spiritual exercise on every play.


Stocki U2

(used this poem again in Fitzroy this morning... Based on Isaiah 57:15... on the Stevenson and Samuel album Gracenotes it is added at the end of the song Soaked In A Dearer Wine)


Beyond me

Beyond my comprehension

Beyond my understanding

Beyond me definitions

Beyond my highest efforts

Beyond my lowest fall

Beyond my morality

Beyond my most penitent call.


In the midst of me

In the midst of my tears

In the midst of my frailties

In the midst of my fears

In the midst of my cheers

In the midst of my sighs

In the midst of my sinfulness

In the midst of my lies.


Dying for me

Dying for my masks of fake

Dying for the distorted opinions

Dying for the promises I break

Dying for the words carelessly thrown

Dying for murderous thoughts within

Dying for my adulterous looks of lust

Dying for my sin.


In the midst you reach out

In the midst you offer grace

In the midst you throw your arms around me

In the midst you kiss my dirty face

In the midst you touch my soul

In the midst you cast your smile

In the midst you love this vagabond

In the midst you call me your child.



Fitzroy Day

Tomorrow morning (11am) at Fitzroy the creative assisatnt minister Jonathan we will be helping us look at Ephesians 2 through the eyes of the IPhone 5, Mumford & Sons, tripadvisor, Leonard Cohen and a prostitutes story. GRACE a song to sing... A word to pray ... A dance move or a life to live...

In the evening (7pm) it is our monthly Faith On Trial which helps stretch the mind and excercise your Christian thought processes. This month John Mark Mullen from Mountsandel Christian Fellowship will be looking at how we read the Bible under the fascinating title "A Strange New World (how to read the Bible without taming it)." 


Rich dulcimer

Janice and I discovered that Rich's music and particularly his hammer dulcimer stuff was perfect to have playing in the car when you were travelling through beautiful scenery. Rich was good at expressing landscape in his songs as perhaps is best seen in Calling Out Your Name. Oh to be able to capture places like that song captures midwestern America. Anyway this one of my impoverished attempts at writing some travel poetry. We were in the Drakensburg mountains of South Africa and the vastness and the panoramic splendour and grandeur of God's art had a Rich compilation as it's soundtrack. Believe me, if God had written a soundtrack... maybe he had!


my eyes they skip an irish jig

across the green to touch the blue

land of picture perfect colour

my mortality's driving through

the rondavels on the valley floor

children swimming in the river

i blend into this daily painting

that no artist could deliver

and who would move these mountains

even you owned a mustard seed

as they stand as brave and rugged proof

to every confession and creed

my heart clicks, a kairos moment

under the sun's gleaming highlight rays

rich's hammer dulcimer dances

as i watch africa praise.


my soul it takes a beating

that's the birth pain of every lesson

it sees a people without a rush

to move on from every blessing

they sit and watch the day go by

or just to breathe life in

they wave and smile the whitest smile

from within the darkest skin

and who would take a short cut

when you can take the entire path

if you never stop to share a joke

you'll never have the time to laugh

another world rebuking my world

as i'm shown these better ways

and rich's hammer dulcimer dances

as i watch africa praise.


John Van Sloten

When my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 was published I had the privilege of being a guest on many Christian radio stations across America. One of the things that amazed me about those interviews was that they would never play U2 during the interviews. Instead they played U2 songs covered by other artists. This practice became even easier when a gaggle of artists from within the Christian music industry covered U2 songs for a compilation called In The Name Of Love; Artists United For Africa. The theory seems to have been that U2 were dubious. Bono was known to swear, smoke and some of the songs were not to theologically clear; were they Christian at all? That of course was what my book was about but there was a contradiction going on that was I believe a misunderstanding of Biblical Christianity. That the words of a song were kosher or not because of the judged testimony of the singer is a glaring confusion of theology. That the truth is true or not depending on the singer is a relativist view of faith that is a total nonsense in Christian thought.

A similar thing happened recently here on Soul Surmise. I blogged a review of the new Killers’ record Battle Born and as I attempt to do in my writing drew out the things that I as a Christian could shake hands with. A Facebook friend rightly pointed out that Killers’ singer Brandon Flowers was a Mormon
and then suggested that as he judged Mormonism as dark that there would be no
light coming from The Killers. With respect, I would like to suggest that though there is some logic to this deduction, it is not a Reformed Protestant working through of Biblical theology, which is the theological context from where my own thinking is formed. In my ordination vows as a Presbyterian minister I am asked to confess my belief that the Scriptures are an authoritative rule of faith and practice but that I will be open to “light from all quarters.”

I dealt with this in my second book The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth In Unlikely Music but let me use another book to help us surmise this. John Van Sloten takes up this theme in his very helpful book The Day Metallica Came To Church. John quotes Protestant Reformer John Calvin from his Institutes Of Religion: -

“Whenever we come upon these matters (truth) in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn (show contempt toward) and reproach the Spirit himself.”

My word! Van Sloten concludes that actually, “I’m not just allowed to look for divine truth in this world, I’m obliged to.” I might even stretched that a little further and suggest that beglected to look or denying that truth is a sin against the Holy Spirit. In Scripture God speaks through all kinds of creatures from donkeys to pagan kings. As a sovereign God he will not be confined to our narrow finite logic in where and how he communicates the truth or seeps it into society. When the Church has lost its voice for God in the modern world I am often fascinated that a secular movie or song screams the truth of God to society. Let us deny that. Let us celebrate it and as Paul did in Athens use it to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world around us.


Rich 2

This poem was inspired by that memory that I speak about endlessly. Singing with that out of tune choir in Gallup. That image and watching the "Homeless Man" video made me think of how radically Rich followed Jesus. He lived that upside down lifestyle that most of us only quote and theologise. It was an inspirational example.


Where did it come from

And where did it go

Mystery meeting everyday

Whatever way the wind blows

Why is there a pop star

Singing with an out of tune choir

Why is there a wealthy man

Not seeking the things that riches acquire

You just threw away what the world had to offer

And caught all that heaven could ever give

I remember you through this glass darkly

And know that's how I long to live.


Hear the voices shout around you

Hear voices inside your head

Listen to the whisper in your soul;

Follow Him instaed

Why is there a midwestern boy

Living in a Navaho hogan

Why is there someone so famous

Singing about a heart that's been broken

You just threw away what the world had to offer

And caught all that heaven could ever give

I remember you through this glass darkly

And know that's how I long to live.


The first come first

Of course they should

But turn it upside down

If your imagination could

The ego humbled

The hurts that'd be healed

The lies uncovered

The truth revealed

The first come first

Of course they should

But turn it upside down

If your imagination could.