Saturday, 26 December 2009

Greetings and a prayer

A 'Happy Second Day of Christmas'!

And a favourite prayer:
Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Ten things tourists should know about Milton Keynes

If you are one of the countless people for whom the mention of Milton Keynes evokes a smirk, then read here about our great 'city'.

Mary - Godbearer - at Hopeful Imagination

Today I'm blogging at 'Hopeful Imagination'. Do pay a visit!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Music that made you stand still in wonder

Maggi has tagged me with a music meme. The point is to write about moments when music just made you stand still in wonder, but not to write about your all-time-favourite music.

This is really hard, as there are lots of those moments! So, what do I choose?

The first time I heard the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th Symphony made a huge impact and marked the beginning of a passion for music.  I was about seven years old and as a consequence asked for the LP for Christmas - sad child! I didn't know where the Ode to Joy came in the music - it's near the beginning of a long final movement - and so the family had to endure the whole symphony to make sure the wrong piece hadn't been purchased! Even now, when I hear the melody introduced in the subterranean depths of the string section, and then joined with a counter-melody played by the bassoon, it has the same effect.

The most recent moment is Mahler's 10th Symphony, the Finale. I blogged on this recently, and received a delightful comment. Since then I've been ambused again and again as I've listened to this sublime music.

On a Sunday, driving home from preaching at one of the CBA's 150 or so churches, I listen to Private Passions, a brilliant programme. It's a sort of Desert Island Discs, but with much more conversation around the music. There have been a number of occasions when music has had the 'stand still in wonder' effect, which is a bit disconcerting when you're driving!

One piece was Miles Davis, Time after Time, taken from 'Live Around The World'. The guest introducing this, spoke about how Miles takes the tune and breaks your heart in one way, and then in another, and yet another. And listening to it for the first time, it's just as he said. There's a wonderful moment when Miles plays without his signature Harmon mute and wallops a seriously high note, and the silence that follows makes you stop breathing.

There was a period in our lives when Cazz and I would listen to Late Junction on Radio 3 introduced by the gorgeous-voiced Verity Sharp. Right at the end of the programme, in the early hours of the morning, we heard a version of 'The Air That I Breathe' by The Hollies, played by the virtuoso violinist Victoria Mullova, accompanied by the jazz pianist Julian Joseph and the fantastic percussionist Paul Clarvis. We subsequently bought the CD, 'Through The Looking Glass'. What a great song!

We attended a concert at The Stables with the guitarist Martin Taylor in which he spoke of a recent tragedy in his own life. He played his own take of a tune that had become very special to him and wife, The Londonderry Air. It was one of those occasions when time took on another dimension.

I could talke about the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, Jan Gabarek, Officium, and others.

But finally, I recently came across a video clip on You Tube of a friend from years ago, Dermot Crehan. Dermot is a superb classical vioinist who also is a hugely respected Irish fiddler. He was the solo violinist on the soundtrack of 'Lord of the Rings', and on this clip performs 'Were You At The Rock?'. He's accompanied at one point by another friend, Andy Findon, playing Irish flute. It's a moment of understated wonder.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Stephen Hough on Advent

For the four Sundays in Advent, Stephen Hough, the concert pianist, is posting an Advent blog, taking four pieces he has recorded and connecting them 'to spiritual themes from this pre-Christmas season'. The first piece is Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue which 'contains a profound musical journey from darkness to light'.

He interprets what's going on in the music through a theological lens, and it's good stuff. Go read and then listen on Spotify, although you'll have to settle for Murray Perahia, as Stephen's recording isn't included yet.

Monday, 30 November 2009


Advent is a rich time on the blogosphere. This includes Hopeful Imagination which has started up again for the season. And all of this is a good thing!

I started to take Advent more seriously when I was at theological college, when Paul Beasley-Murray, the principal, spoke with some energy about the Church's festivals. He also shared his own family's practice of Advent Teas, which is something we've adopted ever since, lighting our own Advent wreath and using a short, simple liturgy, in the context of a meal.

Over the years, Advent has become more significant for me, in itself, and also as the start of a new Church year.

On Sunday, unusually I was at a church where we sang five Advent hymns! Additionally I was given the honour of lighting the first candle. And then, at home in the evening, later than usual, we had an Advent Supper and did the same thing again, but without the hymns.

The frustration with Advent is that for many of our churches it's simply Christmas-come-early, and yet Advent offers something distinct and deep.

I like what Neil Brighton at Distinct Reflections says, 'Advent expresses an important dimension of the Christian life; a life of expectant waiting and a period of hopeful purpose. As those who live after the end of the beginning but before the beginning of the end we should have an attitude towards God that is faith filled and yet hesitant, humble and yet assured.'

There are particular pieces of music that I listen to especially this time of the year, one being, James MacMillan's, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, a concerto for percussion and orchestra, played on my recording by Evelyn Glennie. It's superb!

And this year I've purchased Salt of the Earth:A Christian Seasons Calendar, which tells the story of the Christian Year through scripture, liturgical colour and artworks. So instead of January, February, March ... it's Advent, Christmas, Epiphany ... In every other respect it looks like a conventional calendar, with the addition of the lectionary for Sundays and some background to the stunning artwork. It's ordered from America, and so proved expensive with postage, but it's beautiful.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mahler 10

I'm a big Mahler fan - ever since I went to the first night of the Proms in 1975 and, standing up in the gods, I heard Mahler's Eighth. Mahler's Tenth and final symphony was unfinished, although substantially complete in draft form, so any performance is a realisation by someone else. There are several of these, but those by Deryck Cooke are the ones that form the basis of performances today. And you're in no doubt that you're listening to Mahler.

I already have one recording of just the first movement, but last week I read this moving account by Gareth Davies, the principal flautist in the London Symphony Orchestra, of his experience, following the discovery and treatment of cancer. For some time after his return to work he found himself playing great music, yet simply going through the motions and feeling nothing. It was during a performance of Mahler 10 that a switch flicked in his brain. Read the post here.

As a consequence, I've just bought Sir Simon Rattle's Mahler 10 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and I'm loving it, especially the flute solo in the last movement.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Charity Concert, and flowers

On Saturday I took part in a Charity Concert in aid of MHA, which is a charity providing care homes, housing and support services for older people throughout Britain. It was organised by Birgitte Grace, the chaplain at Westbury Grange and a member of the Baptist Church of which I'm a part. Bee, as she's known, is doing an excellent work, and the way she spoke about MHA demonstrated her commitment and compassion for vulnerable older people.

I did two sets, accompanied by Mary Cotes, who also accompanied Claire Turner, more recently a mum, but previously a mezzo soprano with Welsh National Opera. Katie Neaves, a violinist was the other instrumentalist, taking a night off from the National Tour of The Sound of Music. Additionally, the Arts1 Musical Theatre Choir sang.

This group describe themselves as 'a vibrant and exciting adult choir for singers looking to enjoy making a fantastic sound whilst having fun and meeting new friends.' It was an absolute delight to hear them perform with such enthusiasm and clear enjoyment. Their musical director, James Grimsey, who led them in songs from shows, popular music and other well known melodies, has something of the Gareth Malone, from The Choir, about him. Certainly he generated a huge amount of energy from his singers.

The evening was in the Church of St Peter and St Paul's, Newport Pagnell, and on this occasion it was actually warm! The finishing touch from the evening was that for the first time ever, I was given flowers, beautiful flowers, and I was thoroughly chuffed!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Anish Kapoor and The Sacred Made Real

I spent Friday in London and visited firstly The Royal Academy to see the exhibition by Anish Kapoor. It's been described as 'a succession of physical and psychological experiences to draw us into his search for a poetic sculptural language that seems to reach beyond the object.'

It consists of a number of exhibits in wonderful shapes, colours, different materials and textures, and the overall effect is dramatic, sensual, playful and allusive. The photo of the amazing sculpture in the Courtyard, 'Tall Tree and the Eye', doesn't do justice to the effect of the reflections in each sphere.

I heard a children's guide ask repeatedly, 'How does this make you feel?' and this tellingly reinforced that this is not a head-thing!

I then went to the National Gallery for The Sacred Made Real. This consisted of hyper realistic sculptures and devotional paintings from seventeenth and eighteenth century Spain, depicting Christ in his sufferings, as well as the saints and the Virgin Mary. This art is 'stark, austere and often gory, with the intention of shocking the senses and stirring the soul'. While my soul wasn't greatly stirred, the paintings, which are clearly influenced by the sculptures, and the sculptures, carved in wood and then polychromed by another artist, are masterpieces. A nice touch is that on the audio-guide, incidental music to the exhibition has been composed by the pianist, Stephen Hough.

Of the two, the sacred was made more real by the Anish Kapoor, than by The Sacred Made Real!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Last week, at our Ministers' Conference, Roy Searle began the Communion with the theme music from 'Cheers', an Eighties American sitcom, making the point that in Celtic spirituality there is no sacred/secular divide. This became the theme song of a church Roy pastored in a challenging area of Stockton on Tees, back in the Eighties.

It's called, 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name'.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries,
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go,
where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same.
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

It reminded me of a song we sang regularly at the churches where I was the minister, 'Here we are, gathered together as a family'. This said something about the community that we were seeking to be.

Monday, 19 October 2009


For the next week Living Wittily has committed himself to one sentence Blogposts. I read this one sentence yesterday, which I returned to today. It's from Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, in which he is reflecting on the Seven Virtues.

'Hope is the glimmer on the horizon that keeps faith plugging forward, the wings that keep it more or less in the air.'

In a culture, and especially a church culture which veers towards the exaggerated, I appreciated the understatement, the more modest claim, the rootedness, in this description.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Bach's music never stops praying

Alex Ross, who is the music critic for the New Yorker, and author of the sensational book, The Rest is Noise, while retaining his blog with the same name, is now blogging on Unquiet Thoughts. He includes this snippet from a new book on the Hungarian composer, György Kurtág, whom I confess to not having heard of. I found this response to the question, 'Are you a believer?' a fascinating one.

'I do not know. I toy with the idea. Consciously, I am certainly an atheist, but I do not say it out loud, because if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist. Then I have to accept the way he believed. His music never stops praying. And how can I get closer if I look at him from the outside? I do not believe in the Gospels in a literal fashion, but a Bach fugue has the Crucifixion in it—as the nails are being driven in. In music, I am always looking for the hammering of the nails…. That is a dual vision. My brain rejects it all. But my brain isn’t worth much.'

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Retreat with Roy Searle - retrospective

We've just had an excellent Ministers' Conference/Retreat with Roy. Roy is one of the founder leaders of the Northumbria Community, and also a Baptist minister. Roy is well known to many of us as a friend, and as I expected, he nourished our souls, informed our minds, and told a lot of memorable stories, some moving, some very funny. And we prayed.

Among many things that were said, he reminded us that pastoral ministry is not about running the church; that Sabbath is a gift that we can give to our Western consumerist society. He asked provocative questions, 'how is it with your soul?' and 'what are you and God working on at the moment?' He talked of the need for Speak Easys, where people can do just that. He encouraged us in a way of being with God where we don't set the agenda. He emphasised the need for integrity and authenticity. He told us of the mission statement of the church where he began in pastoral ministry, 'plodding hopefully in the right direction'. He led us in creative, thoughtful, non-driven worship.

The relaxed between-times at meals, refreshment breaks and at the end of the day, provided ideal conditions for making and nurturing relationships, and the space provided on Tuesday afternoon was particularly renewing. And just to add that the food at King's Park, Northampton was varied, plentiful, and very tasty. Kippers for breakfast, with a poached egg, was a real treat! Thanks Steve, and indeed all the staff who were extremely hospitable. So from my perspective, as well as the feedback I'm receiving, a good time, doing what it was meant to do.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Retreat with Roy Searle

Monday sees the beginning of our three-day Ministers' Conference. And this year we're doing something completely different. I've invited Roy Searle, from the Northumbria Community, to come and lead a retreat. I'm excited about it as well as a little apprehensive, this being the first time, but actually confident that it'll be something like what we're hoping for.

Normally this is a pretty intense three days, hosting, introducing, thanking, leading, participating, but this year there will be less of all this, and maybe even some space for myself -we'll see. I'm particularly looking forward to facilitating a conversation with Roy on Tuesday evening.

I'll post a blog later on in the week.

Friday, 9 October 2009

'Not about conflict and resolution'

I'm listening to a new CD recommended by Gramophone magazine, Not no faceless Angel, by Gabriel Jackson - (angels keep cropping up! see previous post). It is as the review says, 'of special beauty and appeal'. But I'm provoked by the composer's explanation of his music, 'I try to write music that is clean and clear in line, texture and structure; my pieces are made of simple melodies, chords, drones and ostinatos. They are not about conflict and resolution; even when animated, they are essentially contemplative.'

It was the bit, 'not about conflict and resolution'. This would be a similar philosophy to some of the holy minimalists, such as John Taverner. What provokes me is that while I greatly appreciate the experience of 'the sonic cathedral' from time to time, I find it limiting. The essence of music is the way in which a composer sets up conflict, or tension, and then resolves it. This is what makes music so alluring.

Stephen Hough, in his blog, asks the question, 'Can atonal music move you?' And he makes this incisive observation, 'Pure atonality's problem is its lack of reference points. If you take away the compass of tonality you take away tension - the magnetic pull is annulled.' A different issue, but again, the need for tension.

In relation to our world, while conflict, or tension, can be destructive, actually it is an integral part of what it means to be human. Life would be unimaginable without tension? The issue is not to remove it, but to live with it creatively. And when it comes to conflict or tension with others, the question with which we grapple is 'how do we manage our differences'? We need the difference and can't do without it, but it creates tension, or conflict, and that needs to be negotiated.

I find myself pondering what part tension, or even conflict in its creative sense, will play in God's future, new creation. I don't believe that the music of John Taverner, or Gabriel Jackson, however lovely it might be, is an accurate foretaste of that life.

Sort of related is this provocative prayer by Martin Wroe, called Noise:
They say you're available
on certain conditions.
Quiet ones.
That if I can find an air of tranquility
it carries that still small voice.

But I don't do quiet,
I am not tranquil except when I am asleep
and then I am not available
as far as I know.

what's the chance of a still big voice
in the noise,
of hearing you in the roaring traffic,
the screaming meal-time,
the crowded train,
the supermarket queue,
the smoky, throbbing bar?

I know that time you weren't
in the fire,
the storm.
But everyone's different.
Maybe Elijah was better at quiet.

You're usually quiet.
I'm usually wired.
If I try for your silence,
perhaps you could try for my noise.

Your place or mine?
I know they say you're in
the country,
but maybe we could meet in town.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

What music makes you cry?

The brilliant concert pianist, and entertaining blogger, Stephen Hough, asks the question on his blog. He's not necessarily talking about opening the floodgates, but 'What is it that tickles my readers' tear ducts?'

For me, and most recently, it would be the opening of Dichterliebe by Robert Schumann, sung by Ian Bostridge. And the Andantino from Schubert's Piano Sonata in A major, D 644.

Of course, what triggers the tears may not just be the effect of the music, but the association, or a memory, so Acker Bilk, playing 'Stranger on the Shore' does it most times.

The Londonderry Air, in almost any arrangement is another one, but especially when sung by Johnny Cash or played by Martin Taylor.

There's so much Miles Davis but Flamenco Sketches, or It Never Entered My Mind create some moistness.

And as for Mozart, again, where to begin. Undoubtedly, the Adagio from the Clarinet Concerto. But also, the Finale of Act 2 of The Marriage of Figaro. Interestingly, this isn't particularly slow, which is a characteristic of much 'tearful' music. Then there is 'Tamino, Mine' from 'The Magic Flute'.

Mahler, would include the fifth of the Ruckert Songs, which is heart-breakingly beautiful.

I need to draw the line somewhere lest I spend the whole day listing music, and more importantly I can't find a tissue! It would be good to hear from readers, what music makes you cry?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Michael and All Angels

Today is Michael and All Angels, not a particularly significant festival in the Baptist calendar, but since reading today's scriptures from the lectionary it's sort of got under my skin.

I browsed an excellent book written by my friends Robert and Ro Willoughby, 'Angels: a journey of exploration for individuals, small groups or churches'. This is a really creative resource, which is no surprise if you know Robert and Ro. I then turned to Bob Hartman's wonderful 'Easter Angels' with gorgeous illustrations by Tim Jonke. This is a children's book, but is loved by children of all ages, and one that moves me every Easter Sunday when I read it, normally out loud to anyone who's at home. I'm not sure that it's available any longer but his 'Angels, Angels, All Around' is.

I went to my iTunes and typed in 'angel', but this included a huge amount of Angela Hewitt and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so I tried 'angels', which was more manageable. I've played Mark Padmore, singing 'Waft her, angels' from Handel's Jeptha - sublime - followed by Robbie Williams, 'Angels' - another stunning performer though of a different kind. Then 'Go, in the name of Angels' from Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'. Also, John Harle's 'Air and Angels', although I haven't got round to Rautavarra's 'Angels and Visitations', a substantial and appropriately awesome piece. The other notable inclusion is a jazz album 'Angel of the Presence'.

When it comes to art, where do you begin? You either love or hate Anthony Gormley's 'The Angel of the North' and I love it, but two years ago there was an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery, called 'Blinding Light'. It incorporated figures all over central London as viewed from the Hayward Gallery, and for me they took the form of sentinels or angelic beings, and I found them striking and stirring.

I've never encountered an angel wittingly, although I know some who have. Angels remain a mystery which I guess is what makes them so fascinating. Certainly they've inspired an incredible amount of art of different forms. Oh well, down to earth with a bump - I'm off to a Church Meeting!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Gustavo Dudamel mania

Gustavo Dudamel, the dynamic 28 year old conductor, who has electrified the classical music world with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, is about to take up his role as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. And there is Dudamel-mania in LA. Tom Service provides the detail, including a more cautionary article by Mark Swed.

However, go here for an inspiring clip of the Dude, working with young musicians. Enjoy!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Oakhill Secure Training Centre, Milton Keynes

On Thursday morning I spent a couple of hours with Andrew Gale, the new Chaplain at the Oakhill Secure Training Centre, and a Baptist minister. It must qualify as one of the shortest journeys I've done in the car - it's just two miles down the road!

Oakhill is one of just four centres in the country for serious young offenders between the ages of twelve and seventeen. It's well resourced with as many staff as trainees, and as attractive a building as it could be under the circumstances. I was really impressed by what Andrew is doing there as a chaplain, and inspired by the ethos of the place, which, for a penal institution, has a focus on bringing reform to the lives of some very damaged young people.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My Lord, you wore no royal crown

We are now well into the season of Inductions. I began with the induction of Rev'd John Lockley at Bushey, and last Saturday the induction of Rev'd Lou Webber at Christ the King, Kents Hill (part of the Walton LEP). Both were really good occasions with a great buzz at the commencement of a new chapter in the life of these communities. This Saturday is the inauguration of Alan Smith as the Bishop of St Albans, which I'm looking forward to.

One thing that fascinates me is the choice of hymns/songs and I'll come back to this at the close of the season which will be the end of November. I was reflecting on my choice at my ordination and inductions. Certainly on two occasions I included Christopher Idle's hymn, 'My Lord, you wore no royal crown'. What I find hard to believe is that I've never sung this hymn anywhere else unless I've chosen it! And as I looked at the words, set to the folk tune, I found myself asking, 'Why?' The tune is Waly, Waly, which is a perfect marriage. And the last verse still brings a lump to my throat.

My Lord, you wore no royal crown;
you did not wield the powers of state,
nor did you need a scholar's gown
or priestly robe, to make you great.

You never used a killer's sword
to end an unjust tyranny;
your only weapon was your word,
for truth alone could set us free.

You did not live a world away
in hermit's cell or desert cave,
but felt our pain and shared each day
with those you came to seek and save.

You made no mean or cunning move,
chose no unworthy compromise,
but carved a track of burning love
through tangles of deceit and lies.

You came unequaled, undeserved,
to be what we were meant to be;
to serve, instead of being served,
a light for all the world to see.

So when I stumble, set me right;
command my life as you require;
let all your gifts be my delight
and you, my Lord, my one desire.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Slipped Disc on Religious Anomolies in the East West Divan Orchestra; and be impressed!

I've picked up a couple of interesting things from music blogs I follow.

The first is Slipped Disc, the blog of Norman Lebrecht, commentator and broadcaster on music, culture and politics, and an author. He comments on a review of the highly acclaimed, East West Diwan Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and made up of young Arab and Israeli players. Quoting Fiona Maddocks in the Observer, he says, 'It has been reported that some Muslim players in the orchestra were observing Ramadan by fasting until nightfall. It is interesting to note, in turn, that none of the Jewish players were observing the Sabbath. I have read no comment on this discrepancy. In a conflict that is avowedly faith-based, does one faith matter more than another?'

And he goes on to say, 'She has a point, and a very strong one. All creeds are respected in the orchestra's mission statement, but where some Muslim players maintain their observances and their pride in an ethical heritage, none of the Jewish Israelis, least of all their secular conductor, appears to show more than liberal disdain for the archaic rules of a discarded faith culture.

This is a serious shortcoming. Religious faith of all degrees, from mild affinity to wild fanaticism, lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict. If the Diwan does not represent all forms of faith, its role in the peace dialogue cannot be more than an ephemeral gesture.' It's created quite a stir!

In a follow-up post, he makes this statement, 'Whatever one's personal beliefs, however, all musicians ought to be aware that without religion there would be no music for them to play. It was the church that laid the foundations for symphonic music and a search for God that led most of the great composers to write as they did. Beethoven may have been anti-authority and Verdi anti-clerical, but with the lone exception of Richard Wagner it is hard to find a major composer before the 1918 who actively denied the existence of God and was not driven to compose by a religious impulse.' Again, the response is lively!

But then, for some pure entertainment, Tom Service, in his Guardian blog, directs us to an extraordinary performance of the Flight of the Bumble Bee, by The Philharmonics here. Sometimes you think you've heard it all, and then!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Durham, Chopin with Lang Lang, and Kind of Blue

Today, Wonder and Wondering is named on the Baptist Union E-News Sweep as Blog of the Day, along with two others. Very kind and a little embarrassing as I haven't posted for nearly two weeks!

August isn't busy in the usual way, and although I've been productive, I've enjoyed a different tempo. On Wednesday I spent an enjoyable day taking Andrew for a History Open Day at Durham University. It rained and, while Durham wasn't at its best, it was beneficial and we had a good time, talking, eating rubbish food including a delicious Belgian bun in the afternoon, and a more ordinary Burger King on the way home, and listening to the iPod during a nine hour return journey. During the afternoon, while Andrew was in a seminar, I spent a few moments with St Cuthbert at the Cathedral, and a few more just sitting in the nave and enjoying the cavernous yet intimate space of this ancient building.

Yesterday evening was part of Cazz' 50th birthday celebration, with some fine seats at the Royal Albert Hall for a Prom. The performance included Lang Lang playing Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Min. Op. 21. This was sensational and led to an encore of Chopin's Etude Op. 25, No. 1, which for me was one of those eternal moments when I lost touch with time. The second half included an awesome performance of Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony. The orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, who gave the original performance in 1915, played superbly, and although it's probably of little interest, the principal bassoonist made a wonderful sound that was both huge and flexible. What made the whole evening so good was to enjoy it together as a family.

During the interval we had a lively conversation with a couple who wanted our opinion on whether it was right to applaud between movements. We went on to discuss Traces, which was the piece that began the concert, which led into contemporary music in general, the future of the arts, concluding with Classic FM. Our conversation partners were opinionated in the best possible sense and good fun. He highly recommended Nielson's Helios Overture, which I listened to on Spotify and downloaded from Amazon. It's as he said.

I found the evening hugely nourishing and have lived in the goodness of it all day. I expected the Strauss to be the high point, but was totally ambushed by the Chopin. I'm finding that there are a number of composers I've been dismissive of, or certainly some of their works, and I'm relishing being taken by surprise by them. This happened recently with Schumann's Dichterliebe, which in turn led to becoming acquainted with Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin. And then I heard the Andantino of the Schubert Piano Sonata in A, Op. 120, D644, which is sublime. Chopin played by Lang Lang thoroughly seduced me and has opened up another world within a world.

And for something different, I've been reading Richard Williams' The Blue Moment, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music. This is a fascinating read about great music of another kind.

Friday, 14 August 2009

A Glimpse of Someone - Buechner

I'm reading Frederick Buechner's, Listening to Your Life, Daily Meditations. Today Buechner recalls a Da Vinci reproduction of a study of the face of Christ that greatly impressed him as a boy. I think that this is the one.

He writes, 'The head is tipped slightly to one side and down. He looks Jewish. He looks very tired. Some of the color has flaked away. His eyes are closed. That was the face that moved me and stayed with me more in a way than all the others, though not because it was Jesus' face, as far as I can remember, but just because it seemed the face of a human being to whom everything had happened that can happen. It was a face of great stillness, a face that had survived. It was as if in the picture I caught a glimpse of someone whose presence I noted in a different way from the others ... what haunted me was so strong a feeling of the painter's having in some unimaginable way caught the likeness just right that it was as if, without knowing it, I had already seen deep within myself some vision of what he looked like or what I hoped he looked like.'

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity

The third holiday book I read and found exceptional was Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity. I first encountered Borg through his dialogue with Tom Wright in The Meaning of Jesus. Then a few years ago I read Meeting Jesus Again for the first Time. He's provocative for someone like me who veers more naturally towards the Tom Wright end of the spectrum, but very stimulating, and there were many good things that I drew from the book.

His premise is that we need to view the Bible as historical, metaphorical, and sacramental, and the Christian life as relational and transformational. In the first half of the book, Seeing the Christian Tradition Again, the chapters on faith, the Bible, and God were invigorating. The chapter on Jesus was familiar. The second half of the book is given over to the relational and transformational aspects, Seeing the Christian Life Again. There was much that was inspiring in terms of the opening of the heart and the heart of justice.

A particularly fascinating section concerns Thin Places which he describes in terms of 'a sacrament of the sacred, a mediator of the sacred, a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A thin place is a means of grace.' And while he refers to geographical places he extends thin places to music, poetry, literature, the visual arts, and dance. 'Even times of serious illness, suffering, and grief can become thin places. They do not always, of course; but sometimes our hearts are broken open by such experiences.' I liked his notion that people can become thin places, 'Many of us have known at least one or two people through whom we experienced the presence of the Spirit at particular junctures of our lives.' He goes on to look at worship as a thin place, and particularly the different components that constitute worship: music performed and participated in, sacraments, sermons, the Bible and liturgy.

An additional delight is that Borg quotes Frederick Buechner a number of times, and this led me to become reacquainted with this wonderfully insightful writer. It was uncanny to see that both Jim and Simon have posted on Buechner, Jim several times, in the last week.

Borg concludes with a chapter on Being Christian in an Age of Pluralism, and for those who seek spirituality but not religion he responds, 'religion is to spirituality as institutions of learning are to education ... Institutions of learning are the way education gets traction in history; so also religion is the way spirituality gains traction in history.'

A nourishing read for both head and heart.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Home and Netherland

I read three books and began another while on holiday, and all were exceptional in different ways.

I loved Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and resisted reading the sequel Home, despite rave reviews, until this occasion. Home is not a page turner yet it is thoroughly enthralling, a novel to savour and take time with. While Gilead was written from the perspective of an elderly Presbyterian minister writing to his very young son, Home concerns the same family but from the perspective of the youngest daughter, and focuses on the black sheep of the family, Jack, who returns home after a twenty year absence. Like Gilead it's beautifully written, showing profound insight and theological awareness. In the words of one reviewer it's 'frighteningly sad', and another, 'the saddest book I have loved' and although I was deeply moved there is a quality about it that didn't thoroughly undo me!

Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill is another book with justifiable rave reviews. It concerns a marriage breakdown, but brings particular interest in the context of post 9/11 New York. The writing is brilliant and compelling, and the quirky focus on cricket in the States, makes it a captivating read. Without providing a spoiler, this novel ends on a contrasting note to Home.

Both books were nourishing and life giving, and will be on my favourites list for some time, Home, maybe for ever!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Holiday in Southern Italy

I've just got back from two glorious weeks in Calabria, Southern Italy. This is our third summer in this wonderful part of the world - on the two previous holidays we visited the regions of Abruzzo, and last year, Puglia. So we've done the calf, the heel, and this year the toe of Italy.

Among the things that attract us is the almost guaranteed sun. Every morning it was a delight to open the shutters to blazing sunshine, and only on one day did it become particularly cloudy with some rain, although even on that day we had an hour of unbroken sunshine at lunchtime.

Then there is the rural Italian pace of life in late July/early August which is very 'andante'. And of course the food. Unlike most places in the UK, the only choice is Italian with no Chinese or Indian, or MacDonalds. And yet in each region, the food has subtle differences. In Calabria, the predominant distinctive is not-so-subtle hot peppers. Add to this the wine - and we drink only the local, highly gluggable, red wine, chilled - and the ice cream, and the espresso.

Our location this year was particularly spectacular, surrounded by forest-covered mountains with peaks, some 6000 foot high. This gave rise to a gentle cooling breeze, reducing the temperature to around 30c, which seemed to increase dramatically whenever we visited a town. Everywhere took a long time to get to, along some pretty scary bends encountering the sort of driving you would not believe. The towns are different yet have an attractive similarity. Architecturally we were baroque-ed out, as last year, but found a jewel of a Byzantine church in Stilo.

Language is mostly a challenge as very few people speak English and our Italian remains limited. This adds to the fun, and though we come back with great intentions to improve we've had little success so far.

We met some terrific people with whom we enjoyed some fascinating conversation. They included Andrew, Rita, and their lovely daughters, Lucia, and Sacha. Interestingly, Andrew wrote a book a few years ago, with the title, 'The Corporate Christ' which examines Christ's methodology from a business perspective - I hope to read it. Talking of books, I read some great books lying by the swimming pool but I'll resist commenting on these and save them for another post. Generally we enjoyed being together and not doing a huge amount. Andrew was with us, but we missed Jonathan who was in Uganda building a school, as you do.

Strange to say, we were glad to get home, partly to be reunited with Jonathan and his girlfriend who picked him up from the airport early the same day. And also because even all things Italian begin to lose their shine with familiarity. And because the holiday had done what it was meant to do - we were rested. refreshed and renewed, and just a bit bronzed!

One other thing - for the car hire we were upgraded to a red Alpha Romeo which really was fun!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Royal Academy - Making Space

On Monday, I took the opportunity of a day off to visit the Royal Academy's annual showcase, the Summer Exhibition. This event is the result of artists, some famous and others completely unknown, submitting their work, and a panel of judges selecting who to display.

This is the second time I've been. It should have been the third but last year, assuming that it was still on, I arrived to discover I was one day late! It is an amazing event, like none other, with 1266 different exhibits of all styles and media: painting, print, photo, sculpture, architectural model, even audio video!

The theme for this year is 'Making Space', and while this may have been the inspiration, with that many works, it was hardly the reality and there was the usual mass of paintings reaching to the ceiling in some of the halls. Actually the theme is meant to allude to making space as in giving freedom, but again, the Summer Exhibition is hardly noted for its previous constraint.

The experience is a bit like going into a bazaar. It's wonderful but then after an hour and a half, I start to suffer from visual overload. There were some exciting works, by better known artists such as Damian Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Tracey Emin, and John Hoyland, as well as some equally exciting works by artists I'd never heard of and I guess few others had. It was a special joy to see, tucked away on a top row, a painting by Louis Turpin, an artist who lived down the road from us in Rye. The vibrancy of the colours he uses is unique and he stands out a mile.

You can buy the paintings, some hugely expensive, some more modest, and although I was tempted, they were still a bit out of my price range. Nice thought though!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Farewell to Steve Mantle and 'The First Voyage of the Coracle'

Saturday I was back at Melton Mowbray Baptist Church, for the farewell to Steve Mantle as the Regional Minister/Team Leader of the East Midlands Baptist Association. Steve has been a fine colleague and a good mate!

Steve is going to work in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa as a Projects Manager. Steve has a huge heart for the two-thirds world which goes back many years to when he worked in Zaire with BMS World Mission. Yesterday, he showed an image of an African woman with an unreal load on her back, and spoke of the the burden that is carried by the people of Africa. He shared something of his burden for the poor in this part of the world, and in particular the children with whom he will be working, in a place at the epicentre of HIV/Aids in Africa. He quoted Edmund Burke, 'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.' You can read about the organization, Shine Foundation here.

Steve is an inspiration, and I'm full of admiration for his eagerness to follow God's call, and not a little concerned.

He read 'The First Voyage of the Coracle' which comes from the Community of Aidan and Hilda, which formed part of our worship when we last met as Team Leaders.

'Brothers and Sisters, God is calling you to leave behind everything that stops you setting sail in the ocean of God’s love. You have heard the call of the Wild Goose, the untameable Spirit of God; be ready for him to lead you into wild, windy or well-worn places in the knowledge that he will make them places of wonder and welcome.

He is giving you the vision of a spoiled creation being restored to harmony with its Creator, of a fragmented world becoming whole, of a weakened church being restored to its mission, of healed lands being lit up by the radiance of the glorious Trinity.

In stillness or storm, be always vigilant, waiting, sharing, praising, blessing, telling. Sail forth across the ocean of God’s world knowing both the frailty of your craft and the infinite riches of your God.'

Go well, and God bless Steve!

Oh to be in Paris ...

HT to maggi for a link to 'Happening Les Musicals Sacré-Coeur OFFICIAL VIDEO'. This is so full of life and even if you don't understand what's being sung, as in my case, it's hugely enjoyable. Watch it here.

James Taylor and the power of a good song

Today's a day off and before going to church I went for a walk. Next to the house we have a cut-through to some lovely parkland with a stream connecting a number of small lakes. As I passed the second lake, the two swans, with their two fast-growing cygnets were idling across, ducks were upturned, moor hens were scampering. It was a familiar but pleasurable sight.

The music I was listening to on the iPod shuffle, wasn't really doing it for me: Shostakovich Sixth String Quartet, Vaughan Williams Ninth Symphony, not even the Mozart Third Horn Concerto with Dennis Brain, or the Handel aria sung by Mark Padmore. And then it happened. James Taylor singing Roger and Hammerstein's 'O what a beautiful mornin', and that did it! What a good song. It had a remarkable effect upon me, the goodness of which I'm still living in.

It struck me that there is something 'psalmic' about it, and if you were to use Brueggemann's structure, definitely a psalm of orientation. Even singing a Doug Horley song at church, hasn't dislodged the particular quality that James Taylor brings to a song and it seems to be on repeat in the background of my mind.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Thanks to Bishop Alan for his blog on the Radio 4 broadcast on Sunday of the programme 'Hallelujah', an exploration of 'this most musical of words', by the composer Jocelyn Pook. In the space of just 30 minutes this was far reaching, with diverse musical interpretations, ranging from Handel to Stravinsky, including Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave; a great anecdote by Cohen about a working lunch with Bob Dylan; and a haunting improvisation by Jeremy Schonfeld, a Jewish cantor, based on Psalm 117. This formed the basis of a sublime piece that Jocelyn Pook composed, as the programme progressed, using the male voice of the cantor, joined by a female voice, in dialogue and unison, accompanied by a minimalist but sonorous string quartet arrangement.

You can listen to the whole programme on iPlayer, and download the piece on iTunes. As Alan says, '100% soul food'.

Happy Birthday Stravinsky

To mark the birthday of Igor Stravinsky, certainly one of the most significant composers of the twentieth century, Google has created 'an effete, sub-Chagall image to surround their lettering' (Tom Service in The Guardian blog). There's a firebird, some musical notes, flowers probably relating to Les Noces, and a caterpillar which remains a mystery. So, go to Google and have a look - a nice touch!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

CBA Assembly

We had a good assembly yesterday with about 180 people attending. Colin Pye led worship using familiar contemporary songs and some new reflections that he had created. If Colin is leading I have a heightened expectation that there will be something fresh and imaginative that will help me to become aware of God's presence. It happened and still managed to take me by surprise!

The other highlight, among lots of good things, was David Shosanya, Regional Minister in the London Baptist Association, who spoke with passion about 'God's heart for people and places'. He employed humour and some moving personal stories, encouraging us to engage with our communities with particularity, presence and passion. Although it sounds like a predictable three point alliterated sermon, it was anything but. David is an excellent speaker who manages to communicate deep understanding with a lightness of touch.

Yesterday was also the day when we launched our Association Strategy, which has the strap-line, 'Walking Together in Ministry and Mission'. I feel some excitement about this work in progress and look forward to its impact upon our life together.

The Trinity - through music

Today, on Trinity Sunday, I guess that there will be talk of three-leaf clover; water as ice, steam and liquid; and the other familiar yet defective ways of thinking about the Trinity.

With thanks, again, to Jeremy Begbie, I find this most helpful.

On a piano, play a middle C. The note comes from the piano, but fills the aural space. Now play the E above, and you have the second note; and then the G, and you have the third note. Play together and you have a chord of C major. Importantly, all three notes are in the same space at the same time. They are heard in and through each other. None are merged or hidden.

Begbie goes on to say that the Trinity is a three-note resonance of life, notes mutually indwelling without exclusion or merger, each occupying the same space yet recognisably and irreducibly distinct.

David Cunningham, takes this further in speaking of polyphony as, 'simultaneous, non-excluding difference: that is, more than one note is played at a time and none of the notes is so dominant that it renders the others mute.' And a variation on this with a great quote from Robert Jenson, 'God is a melody. And as there are three singers ... this melody is fugued. There is nothing as capacious as a fugue.'

This does it for me in a way that a clover leaf doesn't! I'm going to listen to Angela Hewitt play some Bach on the way to church.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Wagner's Ring

A while back I decided that I really ought to get better acquainted with Wagner's Ring. Good intentions apart, this is no small thing as we're talking about four operas with the shortest by a long, long way at 153 minutes. So, for my birthday, I received the Barenboim version from Bayreuth in 1991 on DVD. And so far, having watched and listened to Das Rheingold, 'the preliminary evening of the stage-festival drama', albeit in sections, I was bowled over, dramatically as well as musically. Die Walkure, the next in the cycle, is a mere 237 minutes but I'm really looking forward to it. I wonder if this is the best way of getting to know an opera, especially if the opportunities of seeing it live are limited. And at just over £50 for the lot, it's a bargain.

The question is what do you listen to after a hefty diet of Wagner? I appreciate this counsel, 'After Wagner you need to clean your teeth with Rossini.'

How to count the long notes

I was rehearsing for a concert with the Horizon Ensemble, and my good friend told me of a lovely comment made by one of her young pupils, who said before playing a piece of music, 'I'm looking forward to the long notes because I can count the beats with my wiggly tooth.' He then proceeded to do just this! What a great approach!!

We'll be counting the long notes whichever way, next Saturday, 13 June, at Dagnell Street Baptist Church, St Albans. The concert lasts about an hour and should be fun, not least because in one piece I both sing and play the bassoon, though not at the same time. 

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Poetry and Worship

There are a couple of very stimulating posts on poetry and worship at Gathering and Scattered and Dancing Scarecrow. And I appreciated this incisive quote from the latter, 'Too much modern worship is prosaic. The majority of modern worship songs are as "dumbed down", repetitive and unimaginative as a Stock Aitken & Waterman, Hit Factory pop record. Worship, if it is to reflect divinity, must strive for the poetic glories, whether they be Bob Dylan or Beethoven, Duffy or Shakespeare.'

Friday, 29 May 2009


We've just spent three days in Paris, as an early celebration of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in July. We had a great time and are already talking about when we return!

Good basic hotel in Montmatre; plenty of relaxed walking, soaking up the ambiance; excellent food, including lunch at Amelie's Café, which is now pink for those who've seen the film; and superb art at Musée d'Orsay, and at the Musée de l'Orangerie. The enormous canvasses - eight in all, housed in two oval rooms - of Monet's Waterlillies, were something else. And the experience was not dissimilar to viewing Rothkos in the Rothko Room at the Tate - there was a sense of reverence and contemplation, which was maintained by the attendants who shushed when the noise level rose. These pictures drench the retina with colour, and draw you in.

With a train at 13.00, we managed to fit in a to visit Père Lachaise, which is one of the most famous cemetries in the world. Among others, we saw the graves of Rossini, Cherubini, Chopin, Bellini, Francis Poulenc, Edith Piaf, Georges Bizet, and Oscar Wilde. A strange but highly satisfying pastime!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

J.S. Bach as a matchless statement of Trinitarian faith

Today I attended the funeral of Ian Cundy, Bishop of Peterborough. It was a grand and solemn occasion but a very beautiful and moving one. Ian planned the service in detail and wrote the introduction which began, 'I invite you in this service to contemplate the mystery of God, in the light of which I have sought to live my life and understand its meaning.'

He went on to write, 'Music has always been an important part of my journey, and it is through music as well as word and sacrament that I invite you to encounter the mystery of the divine presence among us.'

The music for the Eucharist was taken from the Missa Brevis by Mozart; there was a setting of George Herbert by Vaughan Williams; and of John Donne by William Harris. Following the Dismissal, John Tavener's Funeral Ikos was sung while the congregation remained standing. And then we sat for J.S. Bach's Fugue in E flat (St Anne) BWV 552(ii).  In the introduction, Ian had written, 'And finally we move to one of J.S. Bach's matchless statements of Trinitarian faith - a piece which I invited generations of theological students to hear alongside the classic statements of Irenaeus and Augustine (among others) as plumbing the mystery of that most central of Christian insights - the doctrine of the Trinity.'  And it was just that!

My first encounter with Ian was through a Scripture Union Bible Study Commentary on Ephesians - 2 Thessalonians, which I still have, and it was fitting that the first Scripture reading was from Ephesians 1.  My second encounter was when he visited Rye as the Bishop of Lewes.  I recall him saying that the unity of the Church was both a given, and something to be worked at, and since then I have used that statement repeatedly.  

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sounding the Psalms

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day with the Baptist ministers in Hertfordshire, 'Sounding the Psalms', reflecting on music and the psalms. I spoke about music, then about the psalms, and for the rest of the day we listened to a wide range of musical settings of the psalms as well as some pieces of music that are what I call 'psalmic'. 

What was particularly encouraging was the way in which people responded with enthusiasm in such varied and interesting ways. People shared movingly about their personal experience of particular pieces of music; they related how the music affected them as we listened; we thought very specifically about the relationship of words to music; they shared rich and unexpected insights; and in particular we discussed the darker side of music, which follows on from a previous blog. 

I used Walter Bruggemann's framework of psalms of orientation, disorientation and new orientation, and to conclude the afternoon, we listened to Psalm 23 from Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. Psalm 23 is a psalm of new orientation, but the movement of the psalm corresponds in turn to all three types, especially with Bernstein's interpolation of Psalm 2 in the middle of the work, and subversively, under the final note.

It was a good day in excellent company, with a great lunch provided by London Colney Baptist Church - many thanks. It's a tough job you know!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Music, Torture and War

Recently, responding to a blog by Jim Gordon, and reflecting on what music does to me, I wrote, 'More negatively it can be used to manipulate me and to manage my mood as in muzak; and I myself can use it as a mood enhancer.' Picking up on the negative power of music, Alex Ross, at The Rest is Noise, writes a disturbing piece on the use of music as a psychological weapon. There are a number of links which are worth following up.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Adriano Adewale Group at the Stables

One of the brilliant things about living in Milton Keynes, is that within a ten minute drive, we are at the MK Theatre, or the jewel that is The Stables.

On a whim, we went to The Stables for a concert at Stage 2 which began at 8.45 on Tuesday evening. We'd heard Adriano Adewale as part of the excellent Antonio Forcione gig that we attended last year. The audience was small even for this more intimate venue, but this made no difference to the musicians who gave it their all - we didn't leave until gone 11.00 p.m!

The group consists of Adriano on percussion and vocals, Kadialy Kouyate on kora and vocals, Marcelo Andrade on sazophones, flutes and rabeca, and Nathan Riki Thomson on double bass, flutes & kalimba. As for genre, it would be best described as 'world jazz'. It was at times intensely energetic, but at other times hypnotically slow, always within a beautiful and original sound world. Aside from the remarkable virtuosity of all the players and Adriano especially, the sound of the kora will stay with me. This harp-like instrument with 22 strings from Senegal, has an ethereal and totally enthralling quality.

You can buy the CD, Sementes, from Amazon, or listen on YouTube or at Spotify.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Baptist Assembly in Bournemouth

The last time I was at Bournemouth for a Baptist Union Assembly was in my first year in pastoral ministry. That seems a long time ago. Kevin & Trina featured on that occasion as I stayed with them. This time Cazz and I spent a splendid afternoon with them. Kevin is the principal clarinet in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, a stunning player - listen to his Nielson Concerto on Naxos - and a bonus was a huge number of reeds which he can't use but that our son Andrew will find more than adequate.  

Meeting people is one of the best parts of Assembly and there were several really enjoyable conversations. It was a treat to have coffee with our good friend (and my best man) John Wilson who serves with BMS in Lyons.

A huge amount of work goes into this annual event, and so a big thank you to all who will spend the best part of this week unloading and getting over it. And a special tribute to my friends in the Communications Department, and particularly Amanda, for her contribution.

The big challenge of the event is that 'you can't please all of the people all of the time', and so it's interesting to read the comments in the blogosphere, which so far are largely positive. Many people attend for the main events, and of these, again, the presentation of ministers at the end of their period as newly accredited ministers was moving. In the BMS World Mission event on Saturday evening, it was good to hear David Coffey speak in a short interview, succinctly and incisively, on the importance of engaging in dialogue with those of other faiths.

And then there were the afternoon events, many of which looked fascinating but which I'll have to listen to on CD some other time. I attended 'God and the Art of Seeing' with Richard Kidd and Graham Sparkes. I expected this to be stimulating and inspiring and wasn't disappointed. In all of the many words spoken at an assembly, this was an event where words were measured and were given space, as we thought about the gift of imagination, the effort of attention, and the search for depth.  And it reinforced for me the conviction that Christianity, which has been spiritually impoverished by the church's attitude to art, and our Baptist part of the Church in particular, needs artists of all kinds, who will help us to explore our faith with imagination and depth; visual artists, poets, and yes, musicians! 

There were other good things too!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Revelatory Power of Music

Jim Gordon posted a stimulating blog on Leonard Cohen and our human struggles with love, loss and limitation. Having listened to Leonard Cohen, Live in London, my cursor is poised over the 'place your order' at Amazon. 

He also addressed the issue of the revelatory power of music. I find this a fascinating area and made some responses. As I've continued to think about it, I've looked up some of my jottings on the subject. While being cautious of giving music, or indeed any of the arts, a revelatory authority that it does not have, music undoubtedly has the effect of opening our eyes as well as our ears.

Jeremy Begbie writes of 'some fundamental encounter with transcendence in the creation of art and its experiencing.' Brian Beck says that 'the transcendent quality of music is itself a witness to God in his creation.' And Tom Wright speaks 'of the revelation of God in Jesus and the Spirit moving towards us and meeting artistic integrity coming the other way. Without the first, the artist is in danger of producing form without substance, a classic problem of both modernity and post-modernity. But without the second the theologian and preacher, struggling to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, might easily fail to speak the full truth.’

However, Nick Hornby does it for me, in 31 Songs:

'I try not to believe in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music...When things add up to more than the sum of their parts, when the effects achieved are inexplicable, then atheists like me start to get into difficult territory...When I say that you can hear God in [music], I do not mean to suggest that there is an old chap with a beard - a divine Willie Nelson, if you will - warbling along with them. Nor do I wish to imply that this surprise guest appearance... proves that Jesus died for our sins, or that rich men will have difficulty entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I just mean that at certain spine-shivering musical becomes difficult to remain a literalist. (I have no such difficulty when I hear religious music, by the way, no matter how beautiful. They're cheating, those composers: they're inviting Him in, egging him on, and surely He wouldn't fall for that? I think He'd have enough self-respect to stay well away.)’  

Monday, 27 April 2009

Easter sermons by Tom Wright

There are three terrific sermons given by Tom Wright over Easter on the NTWrightpage - an unofficial website dedicated to the Bishop of Durham. Especially interesting is, 'Let Beauty Awake', which is a fascinating exploration of aesthetics, and a novel way of looking at the Temple in relation to John 20. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Andrew's Baptism

On Easter Sunday, Andrew, our youngest son, was baptised - it was very special! And I had the privilege of baptising him with David, one of the ministers of the church, and this made it even more special. 

Three others were also baptised, and once again I was struck by the power of story. Each one was different, presented naturally in plain language. And each one, in different ways, was moving and powerful. 

I don't 'do' baptisms in my present role and this is definitely a part of being a local church minister that I miss! 

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent - Wow!

I know that this is fast becoming old news, but I can't resist posting on it. I received an email about a YouTube of Susan Boyle who was auditioned for 'Britain's Got Talent' - not a programme I watch. I was told that I would be stunned. 

It was the way that the whole thing was set-up: the back-stage interview in which she said that as a single 47 year old she'd never been kissed; the answers she gave to the judges questions before she sang, stating that she wanted to be a professional singer but had never been given the opportunity; and the utter contempt that audience and judges made no effort to conceal. And then she opened her mouth, and I confess that it brought tears to my eyes and yes, I was stunned - what a performance! And actually there was something about it that was so gospel. 

If you haven't heard it, then go here and enjoy! When I last looked there were nearly 6 million hits.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Valasquez) - Denise Levertov

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his - the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seer her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face-?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening.

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.