Total depravity

I think that is a Calvinist phrase: the idea that people are so sinful that there is nothing to recommend them to God. Those who believe this had plenty of evidence from the gig I was at on Sunday: within the 5 yard space of where I stood there was hard drug taking, fighting, people weeing into empty pint pots and throwing them into the crowd (and one bright spark who did the same with vomit) and incredible drink and drug casualties. I used to take my children to that park to play: I’d be cautious now until it had several months of rain and a thorough ‘deep clean’.

It is all to easy and a cop out to say that was a product of the environment (ok, the organisers, keen to make a quick buck could have provided more toilets) or a by product of a good time- and who am I to judge, taking a socially acceptable drug (alcohol)? But I don’t think it will do: I have little time for a theology; faith based or non faith based that says that we are all basically good and it is the environment that determines our behaviour. The environment heavily influences our behaviour (the environment itself is largely human made though…), but how anyone who has lived through the 20th century could say we are basically good amazes me: we are not.

But ‘total depravity’? If you are getting on that bus, I’ll wave you off at the stop. Conversely, there were plenty of other examples of that other biblical emphasis- we are made in the image of God: fantastic music, people helping each other, staff with smiles, courtesy and fantasic humour and banter. There is so much in human society that suggests that we can be altruistic, compassionate etc etc

Truly the border between good and evil runs right through the middle of us and we are all capable of both. The Christian story is the only one I have found that helps me cope with both extremes and look for redemption and Grace while trying to live openly and generously.

Was this the best gig ever?

Sunday night: Heaton Park, Manchester. I joined with 75,000 others to worship at the feet of The Stone Roses.

I do not generally find massive gigs as satisfying as those in small venues. I am also suspicious of seeing major stars on the comeback trail. However, this gig had everything -the Stone Roses were only the last band out of 5!

I watched the whole spectrum of music: unsigned Manchester scallies, a supergroup raising awareness of Hillsborough and the fight for justice (I saw Mick Jones from the Clash; playing live!), reggae veterans The Wailers (heavy dub reggae in the Manchester sun felt right. I am still musing on the irony of 1000s of people, massively stoned, singing along to songs praising God) and rap and white soul from Plan B.

And then the Stones Roses. When they were hitting their heights, I was settling down and getting married. My tastes in music were not as esoteric/alternative as they are now, but I largely missed them even though I had friends on the edge of the same scene. It is only over the last couple of years and largely through my 8 year old son that I have ‘got’ them. Their first album is an incredible piece of work that had an influence far beyond its sales.

Even at their biggest, they were variable live: brilliant one day, appalling the next and sets that could be short. And then a long period of not even talking until an encounter at a funeral offered the chance of redemption and grace. Things that caused you to fight in your 20s, don’t seem so important in your 40s.I did not know what to expect.

And they came on: final night of 3 of their hometown reunion. I have never been part of a crowd (it helped that I got in the mosh pit) that displayed such an intensity of emotion; where people from their late teens to late 50s roared and danced and jostled. Being in the pit made the experience more visceral (more on that tomorrow) and amplified the emotions. It is hard to compare the experience of singing ‘I am the Resurrection’, ‘I wanna be adored’, ‘Ten storey love song’ together with many other concerts I have been too: you couldn’t watch- you had to participate.

And the set was nearly two hours and the band looked happy and grateful being together and being with the crowd. I remember the lead singer at one point saying ‘There are people being knocked over. Be careful. If someone is knocked over- pick them up’. That didn’t seem to be a safety announcement, more a statement of faith.

And then they stopped at 11am, and came to watch the crowd and watch a massive firework display while the sound system played Bob Marley ‘redemption day’.

An almost perfect gig.

Hymn for today

I suppose I could have chosen ‘I wanna be adored’ as a reflection on my preaching ministry or ‘I am the Resurrection’, but instead I went for this:-


Today, after preaching, I head down to Manchester to worship with 70,000 others at the feet of the Stone Roses. I am sure I will notice a slight change between a rural chapel and Heaton Park full of people shouting and throwing beer. At least I hope I will.

Just because

Just because my son is 8 this weekend and he likes this.

Just because he took the CD into school this week and sang it in front of his class when everyone else was bringing in mass produced, corporate, music-lite.

Just because this is fantastic.


Mind you, I tried and failed to explain ‘the Madchester baggy swagger’ to him.