Silent Night?

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If I had seen this on a TV show, my first reaction would have been something along the lines of how cheesy it was. Then I would think something about how cheesy TV was in the 1970s. I don’t deny the talent of those performing or the work they have put in, but…..

…This is from a church: Hillsong in London- and it was only done last year. What were they thinking…?

Leaving aside the song: ‘Silent Night’- the clue is in the words. However you re-imagine it, it involves ‘silent’, ‘night’ and ‘calm’; it is really hard not to miss that….most 4 year olds would get it….

Some Christians have complained about the ‘raunch’ or that it is not ‘worship’ and how terrible that is. I don’t really have a problem with any of those concepts: Christians can perform, guys. Maybe too it was in the context of something presented to people who don’t yet believe…that would be fine…but….

My biggest problem is this: if you believe it, the incarnation was small, frail, fragile and barely noticed by those in the ‘centre’ (the carol, old as it is, picks this up)… the way this song is presented misses this entirely. So I have the following points:-

-What is this about ‘big’ ‘loud’ and ‘better’ that seems to typify some churches? I can understand your desire to ‘reach’ people, but do it in a way that aligns with the message and does not try and ape the world that you are trying to give a counter view to.

-Someone,somewhere must have had misgivings about the artistic direction and given a dissenting view: ‘Nice idea, but….lets rethink this…’ before it got any further. Or is this the kind of place where ‘Leadership’ (capital ‘L ‘) is venerated above ‘community’ , so any kind of alternative view is ‘heretical’, ‘sowing dissent’ or ‘not being faithful’? I have been around churches and ministers like this and it is not pretty.

-Everything needs recontextualising or re-imagining from time to time. The best way of doing this is understanding the tradition you are changing and being sympathetic to it. The worse kind is ignoring any tradition and doing something different as we know best (I cringe at some churches blurb that goes along the lines of : ‘we are not like other churches- we are hip, happening and fun’….).

The most I managed of this video was 53 seconds….I challenge you to try longer.

Sunday Psalm

I love the honesty of the Psalms. I love the poetry of the Psalms. I love how they go ‘off message’ and avoid trite spirituality.

I didn’t like the ‘greatest hits’ approach to the Psalms that seemed to typify chorus writing of my youth and early adulthood (I cannot comment on now): the comfort and ecstasy parts were well sang- in general the lament and off message stuff wasn’t. For me, it led to a disconnect between real life and church life. I need the ecstasy, the comfort, the jubilation, but I also need a balanced diet. They wouldn’t have been easy to sing, but it would have helped me to sing songs of lament without happy endings or songs where I cheerfully wished destruction on those who drive 45mph in the middle lane of a motorway (ok: the nearest parallel I can think of for a middle class westerner in 2013 compared to a 6th century BC near Easterner whose city walls have been demolished).

Even now, in some worship settings I feel like leaving or simply stop singing. Some ecstasy is good. A whole worship time in G makes me feel like I did when my children went to indoor play areas for kids parties: my head hurts and all the sugar makes me feel like I want to lay down. Sometimes shouting louder and ignoring lament and disconnect does not work

I read this, this week. I like the poetry. Literalists of the fundamentalist or atheist variety need read no further. Those who are open to imagery, nuance and poetry of whatever faith perspective, read on.

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbours, and our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade,  the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea  and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?  The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted,and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!

 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

O come, O come, Immanuel

richard coles

Richard Coles (ex keyboard player of the Communards and now Church of England Priest) said in the Observer on Sunday re: Advent:-

‘its darkness and austerity rescues Christmas from the sentimentality and commercialism into which it can so easily sink’.

I love singing ‘O come, O come Immanuel’; I could sing it and nothing else all Advent (and a future Advent posting will make reference to Sufjan Steven’s version of the same). It is one of those songs (like ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen or ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ (Rattle and Hum version) by U2) that is damn near perfect.

Had one of those moments on Sunday when heaven and earth seemed to meet: when joy, pain and longing intertwined and made sense.

We were singing:-

From depths of hell thy people save,

And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel’

I was thinking about someone in the congregation who had just lost her husband 2 days before after a long illness. And at this point I lost the ability to sing: this is our hope, our longing and it is real, not pie in the sky or trite as I hear in some songs.

In one of those staggering displays of Grace that keeps me in church, the same woman came up to me to thank me for what I had said with some really humble reflections on how she was going to try and be prophetic (Advent 2 was John the Baptist) where she was this coming week (It made what I had said seem like just a loud noise- what she was saying was so more ‘godly’). Then she said ‘It is good to be here, to be among friends; I have missed it.’

…I have so much further to go…….

A week of quotes:7

light

(I have this stored – I think it is from http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/jonnybaker/)

I have had this stored for months now. It’s part of a Sunday sermon. And today is Sunday (and if you need to read blogs to establish that you need to get a life). This is long- it needs working over, thinking and living….

‘We all started out with such fervent hopes and dreams. Faith seemed so sure and alive and wonderful. But life has a way of exploding those temples we construct for ourselves into a million pieces. For we find that keeping those marriage vows is not as easy as we were told. And the church is not always a Christian place to be. And the people you believed you could trust let you down. And all that you had ever worked for and wanted to be can also blow up in your face. The day your world fell apart and you thought you were going to die because the place you thought was home – wasn’t. And it seemed as if your faith was slipping away.

But by the grace of God, your life didn’t end; and, looking back, it seemed like a new chapter began. God was turning your disaster into a new beginning. Jesus was asking you to get into the boat with him and sail off to the other side of the lake. It is times like those when faith stops being something firm and unshakable and becomes an adult kind of relationship’.

(direct copy from http://revjph.blogspot.com/ originally from a sermon about Ernst Käsemann entitled “A Confident Wandering” by Barry J. Robinson).

Today I’m going all anglo-catholic with J.H.Newman. HP67- just about avoids Victorian mawk

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

 

A week of quotes:6

questions

It’s Thomas Merton again….being a politics graduate I pride myself on my use of secondary sources, without reading the original. Being a theology graduate (did you notice the subtle ‘I am very brainy’ thing going on there?) I know I need to take time to listen and not just hear my sources. I really should have a go at reading a Thomas Merton book and not just quote him…

‘I am not so sure of myself and do not claim to have all the answers. In fact, I often wonder quite openly about these “answers,” and about the habit of always having them ready. The best I can do is to look for some of the questions.’

Source: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

That could almost be one of my proof texts for life…so onto a hymn. Today’s hymn is HP739 ‘May the Mind of Christ my saviour’

May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

A week of quotes:5

ThomasMerton

The shortest quote in this series:-

‘Humility consists in being precisely the person you actually are before God’.

By Thomas Merton

I remember a phrase that I heard a few years ago that is a variation on this. It goes something like;

‘At the end of time God will not ask you why were you not Moses, St Paul, Mother Theresa, etc etc. He will ask you why you were not Graham Peacock’ (obviously- insert your own name at the end there. I can think of nothing worse than a world filled with me).

If you have been following this series, you will note that I end with a traditional hymn (and if you want to know why, check out http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/?p=2385) that either follows this quote or takes it wider.

Today’s hymn is HP673 ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ (yes I know- not gender neutral, but beautiful nonetheless. I also know that the hymn as we sing it today was originally much longer; the longer first part being a diatribe against Anglicanism). A lot of hymns/songs seem to express striving in a negative way. This seems much more gentle and accepting of who you are -flawed and failing sometimes, but also accepting…

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

A week of quotes:4

kierkegaard3

I love this quote so much that I am not sure if I have posted it before. Give me anything by Kierkegaard as well…

‘The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?’

Source: Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, ed. Charles Moore

Thinking of moments back in theological college when people gathered around the pool table arguing theology when all I wanted to do was play pool and ‘hear some sounds that recognised the pain in me’.

The hymn is HP522- it is a pearler- the shortest and most realistic hymn I have ever heard about human nature.

‘Dear Master in whose life I see,

All that I would and fail to be,

Let thy clear light for ever shine,

To shame and guide this life of mine.

 

Though what I dream and what I do

In my weak days are always two,

Help me, oppressed by things undone,

O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one!’

more music…

paulsmall2I don’t really ‘do’ Christian music. I never apologise about that; I’m sorry that is just the way that I am (cf Homer Simpson). Part of that may be an unreasonable prejudice; I became a Christian in the 80s- I loved music and someone suggested I listen to ‘Christian rock’. I listened to what the person suggested and thought it was a bad copy of the ‘real thing’. I’m sorry….. it’s just me…..

I have deep philosophical and theological objections to the ‘Christian music scene’- why do ‘we’ need a seperate scene- if it’s good enough it will survive, people will buy it, and if it’s not- they won’t. Hmm…. and isn’t there something about being salt and light somewhere…

…..and that is an overlong introduction to some ‘Christian’ music that I do like. One song that has been bouncing around my brain the last few days is ‘Go peaceful’ by Paul Field. Last week I outlined my immense fame (ie I had a letter published in a music magazine). Well- a few years back, at a Christian festival, I introduced Paul Field to an afternoon meeting.

A sunny afternoon, indoors, is not the best location for music- but there were loads of people there. I opened up by commenting on this and saying ‘It is true; book a Field and they will come’…………at least some people laughed and I was told off for using humour and irony in a Christian gathering (ok, I made that clause up).

You should listen to the song – only 2:43- but I find the lyrics to be like a creed:-

Go peaceful

In gentleness

Through the violence of these days

Give freely

Show tenderness

In all your ways

Through darkness

In troubled times

Let holiness be your aim

Seek wisdom

Let faithfulness

Burn like a flame

God speed you

God lead you

And keep you wrapped around his heart

May you be known by love

Be righteous

Speak truthfully

In a world of greed and lies

Show kindness

See everyone

Through heaven’s eyes

God hold you

Enfold you

And keep you wrapped around his heart

May you be known by love

May you be known by love

(probably a lot more wholesome than ‘Chelsea Dagger’ by the Fratellis that my children currenly like as their wayward and sinful dad has got them into…)

He was a ‘top bloke’… he wasn’t squeaky clean and didn’t pretend to be- that really appealed to me. Wish I could get hold of the recording- he spoke freely and was brutally honest (yet gracious with it) about the ‘Christian music scene’. Check out http://www.paulfield.com/. Ok- he once wrote a song for Cliff Richard, but everyone can make a mistake….