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June 2015

THE PREACHER'S REFRAIN

Stocki IF preach...

“I can't say that I love Jesus

that would be a hollow claim.

He did make some observations

and I'm quoting them today.

"Judge not lest ye be judged."

what a beautiful refrain”

This lyric from REM’s song New Test Leper had me pondering about a technique I have in my sermonising. It is a technique that I didn’t contrive. Over the years I watched it happen and realised that it was working. It also eases the guilt that I have a s a preacher when I repeat myself.

I used to joke that the singer had a huge advantage over the preacher. When I stand up and am wondering what to say I cannot ask, “any favourites?” Yet, I have found over the years that a constant repeating of my favourites can be a powerful tool for getting what I feel I need to say get heard. 

Somewhere in the history of songwriting, a singer realised that to repeat a line of two in the catchiest melody he or she could get the key lines across. It might stick in someone’s head. They might go home repeating that refrain.

Over recent years in Fitzroy I have discovered that a few lines of my preaching are eventually repeated back to me. 

“we are particles of light across the city”

“interruptions of grace”

“stumblers and tumblers after Jesus”

“life and life in all its fulness”

“Jesus on the doorstep”

“God give us the strength to carry each other

And the right to be the one who wilts”

These are all phrases that I have had quoted back to me. For the preacher that is not only a compliment in that people have been listening. It is a suggestion that all that I have been teaching around those phrases has been heard as well. 

They have come refrains. Jesus best phrases have become refrains that even the agnostic/atheist like Michael can repeat and ponder. I am now more on the look out for a preacher’s refrain to drop in like depth charges; to be remembered and ripple on for longer than the lifespan of the sermon.


JOY WILLIAMS - VENUS

Joy Venus

Let me confess that I liked The Civil Wars but didn’t grow to love them. I had also liked them for some months before I caught on that Joy Williams was one of them. I had met Joy at a Songwriters Retreat in Nashville and was delighted she was back performing again, never mind winning a Grammy! 

So let me confess again. I was worried that I might not like Joy’s new solo album, Venus. I LOVE it!

Where The Civil Wars was my kind of acoustic sound, Venus is full of beats and grooves and veers towards pop but finds its cred in Joy’s Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Portishead influences. Whatever you make of the sounds, Venus is one ambitious piece of work shifting rhythms and beats and moods throughout. It doesn’t break completely with The Civil Wars, being grounded in honed songwriting, but it heads into way more imaginative territory. 

The first single did warn us. Goodness me! Woman (Oh Mama) is where the music stretches and the rhythms go wild, sensuous, spiritual with all the sage like wisdom of a prophetess: “We will show you when life begins/(Oh mama, oh mama oh mama)/(Oh mama, oh mama oh mama, oh-oh)/I am the Universe wrapped in skin”. Check the video. 

Of Woman (Oh Mama) Williams has said, “So much of this music video (and the upcoming album) is about acceptance, transcendence, forgiveness and growing stronger for having stared into the darkest places within myself.” That is the review. What Joy Williams has done is to write an album about the strength of womankind in the story of this one particular woman.

This woman has been through some personal turmoil in recent years. Vocationally of course The Civil Wars imploded as they were on the cusp of conquering the world. Why? No one knows and What A Good Woman Does suggests the mystery will remain. The album is full of references that we can quickly connect to that professional crisis. 

Add to that life trauma the loss of Joy’s father. Grief and heartache are touched on throughout. As she loses a father, she is giving birth to her first son. That’s an emotional cocktail. And in all of this she and her manager husband are is fighting to keep their marriage. 

Venus has all of that. Ms Williams is prepared to look into the heart of the darkness: “I’m gonna stand here in the ache/Until the levee, until the levee on my heart breaks (Until The Levee).” She finds more than songs in the dark. There is a steel of courage and a certain hope: “I'd love to write a happy song/One day I will (One Day I Will).” Though there is blood all over all of these tracks, there is redemption… just: “Every rose has its thorn; every thorn has its crown (The Dying Kind). 

I could blog about every song. As we draw to the end we find love that is spiritual, romantic and parental.You Loved Meis simple and profound: “And I tried and I failed/And you loved me…” 

Til Forever is the love song of the year: “Lover, find me underneath the covers/We will stay here until we discover/All that we have to give to each other/Til forever.” 

We conclude with Welcome Home to round off an album that started with “I got miles and miles to go before I sleep” with “We dance and sometimes only fall/We sing even when there are no words/And I hope love lifts you up again and again/And if you ever lose your way, let me be the first to say/Welcome home.”

Sweet mercy! Actually, it is a record of sweet mercy, thick set tenderness and holdable hope. Musically mesmerising and emotionally stunning!


SURMISING A TWELFTH CELEBRATED WITH GRACE

Twelfth

I remember the arch going up. My grandfather put it up. Right there in the middle of Galgorm village, right outside my Grandparents thatched cottage. It was a moment in the year. I loved seeing the village landscape change and got so excited when my dad would drive under it for the first time.

At almost the same time my dad put the flag out. There was a flag holder by the bedroom window and at the start of July up went the Union Jack. All the neighbours did the same. Maine Park was ready for the Twelfth Day.

I would decorate my toy golf club with red and blue tape. It would be criss crossed carefully and we might even add a wee tassel. It was then transformed into the drum major’s band pole which we twirled through our legs and twisted round our necks and threw as high as we could. Who could throw it the highest and catch it with one hand. Just one hand! I loved it and threw it pretty high! The leader of Staffordstown band at the time was the best twirler and thrower; who we all pretended to me!

The Twelfth would be a carnival of sorts. My Grandfather marched with his Orange Lodge and we stood by the side of road waving at who we knew and waiting for Granda to walk by. Maybe some day I might get to carry the strings from the banner at the front of the lodge. 

I moved house in 1969. It was more middle class. No flags! None of my friends threw the pole. At the same time The Troubles started raging and all of the innocence of the above turned a little more sinister.

What am I surmising? Well, the first thing is that none of the above was in any way wrong. It was a cultural thing. I was unaware that it had anything to do with sectarianism or hatred. I even had Catholic friends who came to watch the parades too. 

Something and some folks hijacked this cultural summer high. When arches and flags go up today and when bands march in certain places there is a different feel, a different intent. I am in no way trying to condone the actions of some who are using the carnival, I so enjoyed, to mark territory and stoke tensions. It is not right, not civil and certainly not Protestant!

Yet, I am asking us to stand back, stop for a moment and consider. For many of our Protestant Loyalist communities the Twelfth is still a cultural and neighbourhood event. The young boys love collecting for the bonfire, the young men love the discipline of the bands and can play some good tunes while marching. They love their band uniforms. The arch and the bunting all adds to the colour, flavour and excitement. 

Such communities should be allowed to enjoy their summer festival time. Let us be careful that we don’t just see the thin veneer of very wrong motives at the top of the Twelfth celebrations and lose the joy that communities have underneath it.

Yes, we do need to ask about the way the flags are used. When a flag is used to intimidate then it is being used wrong. When a band plays insensitively in Catholic areas or outside Catholic Churches we should make it known that they are wrong and are bringing into disrepute the very Protestantism they are claiming to defend. 

Barack Obama, in his eulogy to Rev Clementa Pinckney in Charleston this week, spoke about the confederate flag and how it is being used in a wrong way to incite fear and hate. He most beautifully and powerfully brought the great Protestant theology of grace to bear on it. It would be an act of grace to bring it down where it offends neighbour, he preached.

I look back on my days in Galgorm with fondness. Every marching band I see I watch how high the pole is thrown and think of Staffordstown band in 1968! If done in a way that is steeped in grace then not only should our loyalist communities have the right to celebrate their Twelfth but that grace will be the power house that will cause them to celebrate with all their might but gently towards their neighbours. 

Let us pray for community leaders, Church leaders, band leaders and political leaders who can steal back what is a right and a wonderful part of Northern Ireland’s rich tapestry of culture. Love your culture and when you love the God of your culture you will love your neighbour, and even your enemy, in the way you march, fly flags and light bonfires. Enjoy the Twelfth!


A TRANSFORMATIONAL SONG FOR BELFAST - CHRISTY MOORE (& U2)

Christy Moore 2015

Tonight Christy Moore headlines the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury. A repeat blog in honour of that...

The coming together of Christy Moore and U2; that is an imaginative thought in itself. When they finally got to write together a song about the Irish Troubles came out. Actually not so much its Troubles but more Ireland’s peace process. 

U2 released it first on the B-side of Staring At The Sun. In their hands it is like a mature older brother of Sunday Bloody Sunday, quieter, ambient and deeper. Sunday Bloody Sunday was an innocent almost naive first cry from the heart on the Irish problem. North and South is more measured and cerebral; it comes with years of thinking and more awareness of the complexities, the conditioning, the fears and the courageous decisions needed to “turn history around” as a theologian once described “repentance.” U2 played it live only once and that was on an RTE Late Show for the victims of the Omagh bombing 1998.

Christy Moore eventually released the song on his King Puck album and Christy has had the song as a regular feature of his live show ever since. The definitive version, for me, is Moore’s version on his Live At The Point 2006 album. On this version Declan Sinnott’s lonely electric guitar sets the song apart, giving the whole thing a serious ambience and weightiness. On top of Sinnott’s genius, every line has an image that takes you back and forth and forward and back. It’s a song based in the premise of division but then reaching out across that metaphorical river to understand, to confess, to repent and to be changed into a better day.

The song is about the desire for a new day when the two sides will reach for each other, find companionship, empathise with each other and stand side by side without either side having to give up the best parts of their identities. The lines, “I want to meet you where you are/I don't need you to surrender,” are a provocative play on the Protestant slogan No Surrender!

The song lends a robustness to this idea, an idea unthinkable twenty years ago and still a brave choice today. Though coming with that weightiness of Sinnott’s electric atmosphere there are chinks of hopeful light, “There was a badness that had its way/But love was not lost/it just got mislaid” or as U2 sang on The Late Show, “love will have its day.” There is a spirit of regret for “hurting your own.” 

There is a sieving of those things to be kept and those things to leave behind in the new day and Christy’s voice makes you really believe that that day is here and to go out and walk in it. There is something about great songs when they are written and performed about your home that creates an emotional energy and this song does that. It is a clarion call of hope for tomorrow without ignoring or dismissing  the painful past. It is not glib to call it prophetic.


A RECORD THAT CHANGED MY LIFE...

 

Biko record
 

A few years ago I was asked to speak at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast about my favourite protest song. I have so many but the one I chose was one that I can look back and realise that it actually changed my life. It isn't even by an artist that I am a big fan of. However, Paul Simon's version on the Peter Gabriel covers album And I'll Scratch Yours is more my style. I thought of this song again a few weeks back when I was on a panel on Sunday Morning With Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland about the power of song.

I am suspicious of the modern rock band that suggests or even pontificates that music cannot or should not be a transformational force. Noel Gallagher, the seemingly more intellectual of the Oasis brothers (!!!!!), has said that he can only change things every five years in Britain, when he votes. Asked why he didn’t write political songs Alex Kapronos from Franz Ferdinand spoke of going to gigs by political bands who told him what to think, “And really early on I got sick of it. And I said to myself I might as well be going to a Christian rock gig here, with someone telling me what to think. So when I was still a teenager I decided I didn’t want to tell other people what to think from a stage; it’s not my place.” So what does art do Mr Kapranos? When you were at Glasgow school of art you didn’t think that your art had a message?

Personally I am very glad that Peter Gabriel didn’t fall for the flakey, vacuous approach to art that Oasis and Franz Ferdinand espouse. Though, it was far from a Damascus Road conversion, and I was very slow to realise it, Gabriel’s song Biko profoundly changed my life and the lives of many that I have had the privilege of engaging with. Released in 1980 and written about South African Black Conscience leader Stephen Biko, Gabriel tells the story of Biko’s inhumane treatment by the racist apartheid government’s police force and how he died in a Port Elizabeth prison in 1977.  Though it failed to set the pop charts on fire, this haunting song has over thirty years become a slow burn of an anthem for justice not just in South Africa but all over the world. In 1988 Gabriel took it around the world in an Amnesty International concert that also featured U2, The Police and Bruce Springsteen. He also performed it at the Mandela Day concert in London that was a major force of pressure on the South African government to release Nelson Mandela. My favourite version of the song is the performance at the 46664 Concert in Cape Town in 2003 when in an Aids Awareness gig Gabriel got to play it on the redeemed ground of South Africa, where Biko’s death was now celebrated as a sacrifice that brought a brand new rainbow nation.

I cannot remember the first time I heard the song. However, it is my earliest memory of developing an anti-apartheid awareness. In July 2002 in a Church on the Guguletu township on the Cape Flats of Western Cape I was asked without warning to explain to the congregation why I had brought 25 white Irish students to worship. In the few seconds I had to make my way to the pulpit I had to think very quickly what had brought me here on my journey in order that I would think it a good idea to a gang of young people along with me. The answer opened up a profound truth to me. I wasn’t there because I had heard about the injustice of apartheid from the pulpits of my Presbyterian Churches. I told the congregation that I was there because rock musicians like Peter Gabriel had sparked a Biblical passion for justice in general and their people in particular and that these rock prophets had profoundly changed my life. I went on to tell them that though many of the musicians were not Christians they forced me back to the Old Testament prophets and I was there with my students because we wanted to bring God’s Kingdom to Cape Town as it was in heaven.

It changed my life in that it fuelled with many other God induced serendipities to become involved in the transformation of South Africa. I became part of Habitat For Humanity’s house building programme in the Western Cape which has been one of the most privileged and moving episodes of my life. Along with my students we raised funds and physically helped to build 40 houses for former shack dwellers. When you hand people the key to their first brick house it is an amazing feeling. As well as Habitat For Humanity my student teams got to engage in Peace projects, AIDS visitation, school projects and a Fair Trade initiative. It did not change the entire world in an instant but it did change the world a little, bit at a time.

As well as all of that, my students came home transformed and many changed their vocations or became campaigners, changed the way they looked at the world and led other such teams themselves. I can think of three who have spent time in Africa this year as part of their work, one of whom Justin Zoradi having set up the charity These Numbers Have Faces that helps township youth to get to college. So I am thankful that Peter Gabriel did not have the defeatist attitude of Noel Gallagher or Alex Kapronos and think protest songs were useless and couldn’t change the world. Biko and many other songs have proven life changing to me and many others.


RETHINKING THE NATURE OF THE WORLD

Rethink

An old blog but still as vital as when it was written... I can see my former students all smile... he's at it again... 

"In your old life you had nothing to live for. Now you do. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go clear the land for a new culture...If you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world - if you're not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you're wasting your day."

What inspirational words. "If you're not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world...then you're wasting your day." Do those words not make you want to rush out the door and go change the world? Could we not do with rethinking the nature of things? Should we not be about boiling the carcass of the old order?

These are words of rebuke, in that I feel as I read them that indeed I have been wasting my day, and yet the rebuke comes with a motivating sense of encouragement to just go and stop wasting anymore time. If there is still a reason for that Sunday morning ritual of climbing pulpit steps and preaching down to a congregation then these are the words that should be preached. I long to sit beneath that pulpit and hear these words fill me with energy and to head home to Sunday dinner with enough strength to be part of their revolutionary implications.

And yet I have climbed those very steps and spoken those very words and been distraught and confused that such words should be making those who sat before me uncomfortable. There was no sense of urgency about the fulfilling. No sense of excitement at the possibilty. Yet surely these words capture so well the whole concept of what Jesus was on about when he told us to go and bring in the new Kingdom.

Yet these words did not come from the houses of God but from the pages of a modern novel; Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend In A Coma. Coupland, most famous for his novels Generation X and Life After God, writes with a very direct preachiness. He makes no claim to a Christian commitment but, though his other books are concluding a general thiestic worldview, "Girlfriend..." leads him to the very edge of Christianity itself.

It is about the ills of modern society, the healing and redeeming of such and the saving of souls. Briefly Karen falls into a coma in her high school year. Before doing so she has an apocolyptic vision of the future. She tells her boyfriend, "It was just us, with our meaningless lives. Then I looked up close...and you all seemed normal, but your eyes were without souls".

Karen becomes the girlfriend in the coma and misses seventeen years of her life before. Though the book deals with the changes from the world she fell asleep in, in 1981, to the world she wakened up again in, in 1998 (she misses out on Princess Diana entirely), it is about the lives of her friends and the fufilment of Karen's vision, when they become the only people left on planet earth.

Another old friend who died in his early teens, Jared, appears as a friendly ghost, who reveals to them their "deep down inside" ills and redeems them. It is then he says that they can get the world back but only if they decide too. "You're going to have to lead another life soon; a different life. You can get the world back yet" and so to the climactic words at the top of this article.

So what of us the pew sitters? What are our expectations of the sermons we hear? What are our perceptions of what it is to follow Jesus into turning the world upside down with our prayer "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

On Sunday mornings it might be good to sit in our Churches out of a very commendable spiritual habit, committed to our liturgies and creeds whether traditional or modern. Indeed we may seem normal but we could be eyes without souls. Just there, going through the motions and not "spending every waking moment radically rethinking the nature of the world".

Paul told the Romans to avoid being conformed to the pattern of the world around them and be transformed by the renewing of their minds. He told the church in Galatia to put off the old self, to be made new in the attitude of their minds and put on the new self, created to be like God. What that might be like in Northern Ireland is what our radical rethinking needs to get to grips with? Jesus gives us the fodder for our minds to chew on. 

In a world of materialistic obsession we need to radically rethink the nature of the world and store up for ourselves treasure in heaven instead of on earth.

In a country where hatred and pride has divided us into a murderous society we need to radically rethink the nature of the world and love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us.

In a world where outward religious duties like quiet times and sound theology have become the mark of a spiritual life we need to radically rethink the nature of the world and be salt and light to the homeless, the prisoner and the hungry.

In a world where the first are first and the last are last we need to radically rethink the nature of the world and create a world built on grace where the last become first.

So what do we spend every moment doing? Making sure we're in line for that next promotion? Making sure we play the lottery with the shares that our strongest? Making sure that our children our materialistically secure? Making sure that we keep the Church the way our grandfathers had it? Making sure we do not let the other side of our political divide win? Making sure that we have no undesireables around our churches or homes? Making sure that we are in line for the eldership? Making sure that other people think well of us? Making sure our theology is watertight? 

Nothing wrong with one or two of those things but maybe there is nothing much right with any of them. It is not what Jesus meant when he said "follow me". No, let Jesus words "follow me" put eyes into our souls. Let the Holy Spirit fill us with vitality, inspiration, and the ability to wrestle and struggle. Let us put our hand to the plough and risk it all. For what? For another world, radically rethought. For another world with a new nature. Another world where this one is turned upside down and we live for the Kingdom of God.

So every morning before we leave the house let us ask God to remind us - "If you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world - if you're not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you're wasting your day."


SOLAS FESTIVAL - A REVIEW

Solas photo

Solas is a small festival (1000 folks), held on the Blied estate in the beautiful Perthshire countryside. It has a distinctly Scottish flavour. It grew out of the Greenbelt Festival (I remember being at a very early meeting to discuss such an idea!) and seeks to remove the lines between the religious and secular. Though the majority on the Board come from a Christian tradition the festival is about the conversation in culture and politics, listening as much as pronouncing. So Liz Lockhead and journalist Iain McWhirter will sit alongside Rev. Doug Gay and Pádraig Ó Tuama from the Corrymeela Community.  

If last year’s Solas was predominantly about the, then, forthcoming Independence Referendum, this year’s festival was a looking back at what happened; a what next? I sensed in the field that this community were prominently YES voters. There might even been a little bit of catharsis.

Yet there was much more than Scotland going on. Betlehem and Belfast were being talked about. The Vox project that uses songwriting for the rehabilitation of prisoners worked the weekend. There were stories from the Travelling community and music form Glasgow’s Roma community. The role of Sport in Scotland was discussed. My highlight was Doug Gay’s talk on Has The Kirk Got A Future: insightful and applicable to anyone involved in any Church. 

Musically the diversity was at its most acute. From the guitar instrumentals of RM Hubbert, who also had Emma Pollock singing, to the experimental rap of Hector Bizerk, to the indie sounds of Honeyblood. Highlights for me were Raghu Dixit who sounded like Ravi Shanker would have, had he been as charmed by George Harrison’s guitar as Beatle George’s guitar has been with the sitar; a bit like Indian reggae and festival perfect. The Vaselines were a slice of rock history. They were loved by Kurt Cobain and it was lovely to see why; the catchiest of indie tunes. A weakness might be that the festival needed a Bruce Cockburn figure who can do the spiritual/secular blend in music that the festival does as a whole. 

Solas has been garnering much praise in the Scottish media. It is being reviewed as family friendly and laid back festival. It is one almost perfectly organised festival. The setting is perfect. The Barn with its wee bar for the gigs at night, the field with scenic setting and everything handy of the campsite. It’s size is key too. It is small enough to be community and a sense of village yet big enough and well funded enough to have a quality bill and diverse programme. It blends Radio 4 and Radio 1 (well Radio 2 at least) nicely in the same soul space.

A friend’s teenage son came with his parents on Saturday, maybe a little reluctantly. They left on Saturday night without him. He wanted to stay longer. That’s Solas. A  place you want to stay a little longer.

For the Stockman family it was a tonic. Small but impacting, laid back but intentional, dealing with the surface but spiritually invisible underneath. 

 


FESTIVALS

Solas

As the Festivals season gets under way... I wrote this about 20 years ago but thought of it this weekend at Solas... Solas review to follow...

Festivals
Fun
Celebration
And freedom from
The rest of our time
Spent striving
Surviving
Conniving to be someone
Freedom to
Be you
In what you do
Authentically true.

Festivals
Rest
Sabbath
And freedom from
The rest of our time
To find
What's mine
My cruel and kind
Freedom to
Become
The someone
That doesn't have to run.

Festivals
Painting
Dancing
Freedom from
The rest of our time
Faking
Breaking
And carelessly forsaking
Freedom to
Contemplate
Dynamically create
An alternative Kingdom state.

Festivals
Freedom from
The rest of our time.


A SHORT REFLECTION ON HOPE BY PAUL MCCARTNEY

 

McCartney 

Paul McCartney is never seen as the most political or spiritual of Beatles. He has certainly never written anything lyrical to challenge Imagine by Beatle John or My Sweet Lord by Beatle George.

However, a couple of years ago, as I lay on my early morning holiday bed listening to him on my iPod shuffle, I became aware of a theme that I had never recognised before in McCartney’s work; hope!

Now some might immediately jump to his song Hope Of Deliverance and say that it states the patently obvious. Maybe! However my songs that appeared spookily close together on that shuffle were Tug Of War from album of same title, Summer’s Day from McCartney II and Golden Earth Girl from Off the Ground.

All three songs speak of a deep hopefulness of what will happen beyond the difficult moments the singer is in; the entire culture in Tug Of War; the very personal in Summer’s Day; and the eco world in Golden Earth Girl.

 

What excited me today as I thought of posting this blog for Paul's 73rd birthday, was that since that holiday blog McCartney has added to his canon of hope last year's single Hope For The Future:

Hope for the future
It's coming soon enough
How much can we achieve?
Hope for the future
It will belong to us
If we believe
If we believe

Just what Macca is believing or putting his hope in is hard to say. I have already blogged on this issue in my Lyric Of the Day on The End Of The End (see link below).  It would seem that McCartney confirmed in Hope For The Future my hunch that he was expressing the secular wishfulness of something better.

Without doubt these songs are another sign in the art of our culture that human beings need hope and even if we are atheist or agnostic when there is nothing tangible we make it up.

For me it is not about belief but about what we believe in. I am not hopeless in my theological take on human beings. However, my belief would be that there is a flaw in our DNA that limits what we can achieve.  I have to say I am not strong enough to make the change alone and don't have a strong enough faith in just wishing. My weakness turns ultimately to transcendence and God.     

Paul McCartney - The End Of the End 

Paul McCartney on Jules Holland

Paul McCartney - Good Evening New York City

 

 


OUR BABEL MOON? - REACHING TO BE MORE... ENDING UP LESS

Stocki IF preach...

While on sabbatical at Regent College, Vancouver in 2005 I spent a lot of time listening to Darrell Johnston on preaching. As well as the skills that I hope I learned Darrell left me phrases and theology to ponder and use down the years.

This last week I used again a phrase of Darrell’s that I have repeated like a mantra. In his description of what happened in those early chapters of Genesis Darrell said, “Humanity reached to be more and ended up less.” That is the kind of line that becomes a refrain for me; succinct, descriptive and full of depth charge.

I was preaching on Psalm 131 on Sunday. Just three verses, the first verse says, 

My heart is not proud, Lord,

    my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

    or things too wonderful for me.

This is King David’s renunciation of pride and self-exaltation Eugene Peterson in his commentary Long Obedience In The Same Direction writes, “Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him”

It reminded me of what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (12:3) - For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 

One of the idols of our day is unfettered ambition. Peterson describes ambition as “aspiration gone mad.” We do need to aspire to the best we can be. However, the world we live in seems to aspire to be more than we are. I am reminded of a conversation with a friend who used to be a teacher and got frustrated when a pupil reached his or her full potential in gaining a B but the parents were still demanding an A. 

The Psalmist is sharing the wisdom of finding our place. A refrain of mine is, “do not demand expect perfection but never settle for second best”. Finding our place under god and alongside our fellow humans will allow us to make our contribution. Anything else and we are back to Eden and learning nothing about that time when we reached to me more and ended up less. 

I wrote this poem based on Darrell’s phrase. I was imagining a 60’s song writer reflecting on the moon landing. What is my, your and our babel Moon?

BABEL MOON

It lights up the night

And pulls at the tides

Now just a dumping ground

For our new pleasure rides

It reflects the world so pretty

Will we now deface it

It hangs in such humility

Will we now disgrace it

 

Is this our Babel Moon

Our Eden idea of progress

Reaching to be more

And ending up less

 

They say a leap for mankind

In this tiny step of a man

But where is the leaping to

And who will rule the land

We can build the greatest things

And tear our souls apart

Becoming slaves to flags

And not the servant heart.

 

Is this our Babel Moon

Our Eden idea of progress

Reaching to be more

And ending up less

Reaching to be more

And ending up less.