It was a very powerful moment in a very special evening.
By wonderful happenstance a few friends found themselves in the same geographical space for the first time in decades. A gig broke out. Just a gathering of people who might appreciate the songs of Andy Thornton and Iain Archer. A beautifully eclectic mix of people gathered.
It was a unique evening that had the template of a concert but not the blue print. There was chat and laughter and relaxed informal playing on each other’s songs. Doug Gay joined them for a stunning song of his own.
Andy took us to Lahore and back, musing on his own vocational life, social justice concerns and big questions about God. Iain led us into songwriter sessions with Jake Bugg and James Bay, playing us his own versions of Lightning Bolt and Hold Back The River.
Iain and Andy shared about their own friendship particularly life in Glasgow around 1992. This nostalgia trickled out across some of the small crowd. It hit me deep in my memory, then heart and soul as I stood behind the Fitzroy coffee bar.
I was looking out over the head of Helen Killock. Helen introduced me to the music of Andy Thornton in 1989. I was a Deacon Blue super fan and Helen suggested that Ricky Ross’s mate Andy Thornton was worth hearing. I went to Greenbelt in 1989 to see Bruce Cockburn, Peter Case and Andy’s band Big Sur. Sunday morning and we sat at the same table as Andy for breakfast…
About a year later Helen suggested that we should try and bring Andy over for Youth Night an annual rally at the Presbyterian General Assembly. There was laughter in the Fitzroy Welcome Area as it was recalled how Helen and I were unceremoniously sacked from the planning group after Andy said ‘crap’ during the evening! Honest!
In the midst in the midst of the laughter that followed I suddenly became aware that that was the moment when my Presbyterian belonging took a turn. Oh it played out over another 5 years of more major slaps in the soul but that was the first hurt in a long line of painful rejections. My story from golden boy to black sheep started right there.
I was still enjoying the gig. Yet, my head is now swirling with events from almost exactly half of my life ago. We are now in songs and chatter dealing with the fulcrum moment of my life. That is not only about my popularity in my denomination going down the plug. This was the place were two roads diverged and I took the one less traveled and found the life in all its fulness that Jesus gifted me and my life’s vocation.
At that same Youth Night event where Andy was using the word ‘crap’ we both met Iain Archer, again through Helen Killock. Right there the events that led to this night three decades later were set on a roll with my life transformed in the rolling out.
Andy then sang Rage In The Darkness. He’d written it just before that Dublin night in 1991. It’s a prophetic song against all the oppression of religion. It spoke to me back in 1991 and behind that coffee bar in Fitzroy I realised that I had been living out that song ever since. It was a soul map to the road I have ever since been travelling.
Rage In The Darkness is a song that looks inside the narrowness that some flaw in our human imagination can make out of the goodness of God’s freeing love. It suggest that we are led into slavery with a promise of being set free. Religion chains the best intentions of faith into systems and controls. Humans in our messed up religious systems get God so badly wrong that God almost stops believing in himself.
It closes with the truth that “love conquers evil”. Whether 1 John 4:16 “God is love” or John 3:16-17 that “God so loved the world…” or Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his love for us in this…” it is this love that we twist and unfathomably lose sight of.
As Andy sang it in Fitzroy, it brought deep catharsis for the hurt of years of rejection, it refilled me with resilience and gave me back the edge for how Jesus has called me to live and work.
Oh there was much more happening at this happenstance but for me this’ll be the depth charge rippling out. It was quite a night.