In the wilderness, but it’s not so bad (the final bit)

One of my funeral songs is ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’. It reflects what I’ve found to be true; everything is temporary- to be enjoyed while it is here, but with no expectation that it will be here all the time or that it is mine by ‘right’ forever.

All that I’ve written in the last few weeks about this wilderness is not meant to be fixed or final. I do not think I’ve ‘arrived’ or (pet hate, this) ‘moved on’ or found enlightenment; I could be wrong.

I’ve come to realise that there is no ‘arrival’; over three years ago I thought that a couple of years in I would have found a place of stability. I haven’t found that place; or maybe the fluidity of life, thoughts and being is actually what the future will be like.

Maybe I won’t have that paid off mortgage (unlikely: we own nothing), country cottage and disposable income…ever. Maybe I won’t have a stable role in any church or community. Maybe I’ll just learn that being a stranger and refugee is how it was always meant to be.

Maybe.

I could conclude this with the obvious ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’, but I want to go for the less obvious and far more nuanced ‘The First time’.

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It’s all over now.

On the 12th day of Christmas….

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This is the only Epiphany ‘rock’ song I know. I have used it so many times. A highlight of my gig going was once seeing this band perform the whole album that this song is from.

I like the quiet, reflective nature of the song. I like the sense of ‘we have seen and now what will happen?’ They had to go back by a different way. Maybe in one sense, they never ever went ‘back’- they couldn’t; they were changed.

I like this sense of Epiphany- there are no maps. Blogging has been part of me; the decision to stop/take a break means there are no maps. To grow you often have to go beyond where the maps exist.

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Indulge me with two more songs, since this is my last ‘Friday Music’. I have used these songs a number of times on here: they have influenced much of my writing and thinking and, one day, they will be my funeral songs.

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This is not my favourite U2 song, but it is the song that set me off on a journey years ago of  ‘there is more out there’; I still haven’t found what I’m looking for- I know, but I don’t know. These words always speak deeply to me about faith, reality and human nature. This song gave me the prompt to write an MA thesis on U2 and theology and taught me a lot about ways of communicating faith to people who might be hostile to it.

A prominent artist in the camp I used more readily identify with rewrote this as ‘I’ve finally found what I’m looking for’. Words cannot do justice to what I think about that, but it heightened my distaste for ‘Christian rock’ and gave me a distrust of those who, faced with mystery, lament and questions want to cover them up with easy answers.

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I bought a book about 20 years ago called ‘Grain in Winter’- a beautiful book of thoughts, insights and anecdotes from a minister who had retired early with illness. I didn’t ‘get’ it all at the time; I mostly do now. It encouraged me to think, see differently and be open to strange, sometimes disturbing, insights.

In it he had the lines ‘Ring out the bells that still can ring; forget the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in’. I was intrigued; I’d heard of Leonard Cohen but never listened to him. After getting that book I began to listen and found a prophet of the human spirit who helped me more than I can say.

If I had to chose just one song for a desert island I would choose this one. I always get something new out of it and it always moves me.

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In the 2nd blog entry I ever wrote on diggingalot.blogspot.co.uk, way back in June 2008, just before a sabbatical, I wrote these words (the Bible reference is from the book of Hosea and it was where I got the ‘diggingalot’ idea from. Even out of context, they feel oddly prescient about where I am now:-

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‘Sow for yourself righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord.


I find those words really powerful at the moment. Maybe a sabbatical is a time to do just that- break up fallow ground, dig around a bit- work out what I’m doing, attend to stuff I leave or shut out.

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And now I take my leave of you: at least for a while. I may do more blogging, but I don’t know when. Thanks for reading what I have written and (sometimes) reacting to it. And now I leave, not quite wise, certainly not a king, to take my own journey a long way around the sea…

not big enough

‘Every morning I spend fifteen minutes filling my mind full of God; & so there’s no room left for worry thoughts’. -Howard Christy

On Monday when I put the first post in this unintended series up, a wise sage responded by Twitter and said:-

‘If you can fill your mind with God in 15 minutes, neither your mind nor your God are big enough’.

Which in 140 characters said what I have been trying to do far better and more succinctly over 3 (now 4) posts.

Around 20 years ago, when faced with questions too big to handle, I was helped in my faith journey by ‘U2:Pop’. I remember being taken with a line from ‘If God will send his angels’ that has stuck with me for ages:-

It’s the bland leading the blonde’

..which summed up much of the then evangelical culture for me: when faced with pain and difficulty, go for ignoring it or complete blandness. I can remember another Christian, hearing my questions and my reflections on ‘Pop’, offering me a video by a Christian singer ‘that would help me’. I think I lasted less than a minute with said video before I had to turn it off. Fortunately, I did not swear very much then and I was much less honest than I am now. I thanked the person through gritted teeth…

So;

rage

shout

doubt

have questions

dance

sing

weep uncontrollably

swear

 

…just do whatever you do…

if there is a God……he is big enough.

(and don’t settle for bland cliches or those who utter them)

Sunday after Christmas Music

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What, more music? Well, in the words of the song, it;s Christmaaaaas.

I have written more times than I care to mention about my love of U2, about my MA thesis on U2 (it was ok: needed an editor though) & my…yadda, yadda, yadda; you get the picture.

This song is great for the nativity reading we never have: the massacre of the innocents- lest we spoil the sugary confection that is Christmas. I like the longing…the sense that what we have is not yet what it could be & the lament for what is missing.

…and that lyric, replying back to ‘Peace on Earth’:

‘Hear it every Christmastime; but Hope and History don’t rhyme’.

A more honest worship song than many I have heard.

Friday Music

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I have posted many, many times about U2 in the over 6 years that this blog has been running.

I know all the flaws in U2 (heck, I wrote an MA thesis on them) but I also know how they spoke to me from the very first time I heard them 33 years ago.

In the 90s, when I went through one of my many periods of questioning, and kind souls recommended Christian songs in the key of G, they released ‘Pop’: an album of profound questioning and doubt. I knew I was not alone. I knew there was another way apart from singing happy songs and pretending. I will always be grateful for that.

I just took delivery of the enhanced version of the new album (2CD) and am slowly learning it and finding it’s hidden depths.

This one grabbed me immediately:-

‘I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary,

I’m a long way from where I was,

Where I need to be’,

Aye….

Friday Music

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I could not find a track from the new U2 album on youtube that I could link to. I wanted to link to ‘Song for Someone’ with the line:-

I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary,

I’m a long way from where I was; where I want to be’

I know that you can critique U2 on so many grounds; their sound, many people find Bono annoying, their tax afffairs, the view that they seem to be a corporate behemoth etc. I know that and yet I like them.

I have listened to the new album many times and it is growing on me. It seems a richer, more varied album than the last one and I get excited at the prospect of listening to it once more and lose myself in its music. That, in itself is why I love music so much.

But there is more. I am ‘blind’ when it comes to U2. I got the ecstasy from when I bought ‘War’ in 1983 and the rest of the albums of that era. Then when they got to their ‘interesting’ period in the 90s: experimenting with sound, simulacra and lament/questioning, I was hooked. Their journey mirrored my own: no one else from a faith based perspective seemed to be asking questions and voicing doubts.

Then in the 2000’s I wrote an MA thesis called ‘Looking for Baby Jesus under the trash’. I do not claim that it was well written: it wasn’t, but it more than scraped through. More than that, it was a labour of love.

So I am listening to the new album and the new Leonard Cohen album is in my ‘to be listened to’ pile. I find the quirky juxtaposition of these two mercurial talents utterly beguiling (and I don’t think I have ever had the nerve to write such a sentence before).

Good Friday Music

Good Friday destroys practically all the definitions of God that circulate in popular culture. It is a day that draws me to my knees. I still get moved by the idea that at the time Jesus was the closest to God’s purposes he wasn’t making warm sippy noises and going ‘Bring it on God/I just feel so peaceful/you are so good to me/please bless me and mine’ but screaming ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’.

I can believe in a Jesus like that.

Regular readers of this blog (which is an awfully vain statement) will know that one of the things that ‘saved’ me from bailing out of Christianity in the 90s was the music of U2. Someone was producing music which loved God, but doubted and screamed at Him. It knocked against the blandness and anodyne nature of much ‘Christian music’ .

I have used it in a worship service before, but with ‘that’ word edited out.

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Friday (Birthday) Music

It is my annual birthday today. I will probably go walking: I increasingly like wild places and solitude. Around 9 in the evening (as I am childminding up to that time), some stragglers from the pub may make it to our house for malt whisky and cheese. Almost a perfect day.

Every Friday I put a piece of music on here that means something. As it is my birthday, I will cheat; you can have 5. All of these, played together sum up my life, hopes, aspiration, philosophy and theology.

Yes: there are no happy songs & they tend towards the morbid and introspective. But so do I. Listen to 1 or listen to all 5. Remove sharp objects first…

 

Low:Death of a Salesman

A song about longing & not being conformed, even if trying to be different leads to being crushed…

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U2: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I still struggle with the Christian artist who changed the words to ‘I finally found what I am looking for. This will be at my funeral.

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Leonard Cohen: Anthem

Maybe another funeral song and the only artist on here I have not seen in concert. The lines ‘Ring out the bells that still can ring; forget the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in’ have become something of a mantra.

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Martyn Joseph: Turn me tender

This song, from the moment I first heard it, made me stop and gulp. It still does: perfect. In November he played our village hall and deviated from the set to play this as I told him it was a song that saved my life.

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The Smiths: Panic

I have applied this song to music, life, theology and art…. struggle to see, hear, sing,take part in stuff that says nothing to me about my life.

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New Year

I could write about new year resolutions, I suppose; but I have largely stopped making them. I once knew a married couple who did: sat down, worked through intentions, desires, aims and objectives etc. Most days I have only the vaguest idea of what I am doing by 11am, let alone setting goals for a whole year.

Every day, in the Methodist Service Book order for daily prayer (which is the kind of sentence, once uttered, that can silence most conversations at parties: I challenge you to try it) there is a line which goes: ‘We pray for all who make a new beginning today.’ I can live with that: each day someone, somewhere takes a step that will have major consequences for them and their world. Sometimes that will be thought out, longed for, other times it is dreaded, just happens or is almost tumbled into. I like it to that I am asked to think and focus on others & not ‘Consumerworld’ where it is all about me and my precious family & what we can achieve.

So I will try and say this today: ‘We pray for all who make a new beginning today.’ Oh and this….

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