Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent and Creativity

What is it about Advent that seems to let loose a deluge of creativity? Is it because it's the beginning of the new church year; or because ordinary time has seemed so long prior to the Kingdom Season which doesn't really do it for many people; or because it's the first of three seasons which have a natural and progressive movement about them? Or is it because there is something about Advent which is essentially generative?

Repeatedly people say that Advent is their favourite season, and I'm one of them! This week I assembled our home Advent Candle wreath and crafted some words and prayers for each Sunday; I set up the daily Advent Candle; I sorted out the Advent playlist on iTunes; and thought about some reading for the season. And I began to recall some of the great works of art, and poems, that are informed by Advent themes.

I came across this brilliant video clip on Godspace which entertains and informs - Advent in 2 Minutes.

And also these beautiful words from John Van De Laar.

‘Advent reminds us that there is a new world coming – always coming. It also teaches us that this new world does not remove the realities of the old world, at least not yet. Rather, the new world exists in the midst of the old one. The signs of suffering and trauma that we see every day are not an indication that God’s reign has failed, or that God is not coming, or even that we still need to wait for some future fulfilment when all will be set right. Rather, the suffering we experience in this world is an opportunity for us to encounter God and to help others to do the same. The struggles of this life are a call to embody now the grace and restoration of God, so that we become the manifestation of God’s motivation and the channel of God’s presence and activity for those around us.
'Our challenge, as we begin the Advent journey again this year, is to hold fast to faith and to live, as best we can, in the midst of the struggling world, the hope-filled life of Christ. Despair is not an option for us. Rather, as we celebrate God’s coming, hope becomes the fountain from which our joy, our love and our life of Christlikeness can flow.’ 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

AnamCara

At the Baptist Order Convocation, someone quoted from a booklet, AnamCara: Collegial Clergy Communities by Mahan Siler. A number of us were captivated and so we ordered some copies from the States.

It really is a booklet and not a book, but this slim volume is dense with beautiful writing and deep wisdom.

'How do you stoke the fire of soul within your institutional role? How do you keep alive your curiosity about this mysterious generosity that wants to surge through you and your ministry? How do you lead with passion and vision within a congregation that may desire more management than leadership, more comfort than challenge, more efficiency than effectiveness?

'My response from fifty years in our vocation, is this: You cannot by yourself. Without soul friends, vital pastoral leadership is not possible. A single log will not remain aflame.'

And another extract, 'How do we get to that place where the Music of the gospel becomes again and again more important than we are? With friends, I submit. I imagine pastors circling up with other colleagues to "jam", to lose and find themselves again in the Music. I picture AnamCara as one of those gathering places where vocational friends, practice, improvise, harmonise, note the discordant sounds, learn from one another, laugh with one another over mistakes - in other words, to love the Music together.'

Friday, 21 October 2011

Reflections on Time and Music

I've read two posts this last week which have reflected in different ways on time using music as a pattern. One is from Glen in relation to spirituality; the other from Stephen Hough on pleasure: its delights and dangers. Because music takes place in time as well as taking time, and because by its very nature it's elusive and can't be freeze-framed, seized, captured, it provides a rich means of connecting with dimensions of life that are similarly elusive and hard to grasp.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Welcome to Rev Jeannie's Poetry Blog

I met Jeannie when I was a student assistant in a church in South London. And all these years later it's a delight to meet again as colleagues and friends. I was so pleased when Jeannie told me at the Baptist Order Convocation that she'd begun a blog. She's a deeply insightful human being who knows how to use words, as you'll see in the poem she read at the Eucharist in the Chapel and posted on Friday.  So do visit her at Rev Jeannie's Poetry Blog.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

CBA Ministers' Conference

One conference over and another one to go! The Ministers' Conference went really well. Jonathan Edwards and Kathryn Morgan were great. And Nick Spencer from Theos, who I hadn't heard before, was very impressive. Keith Judson and Tim helped us relax at the end of the day with some entertaining, thoughtful, sometimes humorous, sometimes bitter-sweet, songs.

There are many things that I could comment on which were nourishing. But a couple of things in particular that have stayed with me: Dan Foster's sax playing; and the privilege of praying and anointing with oil those who chose to come forward after Communion. It felt to me as though we were standing on holy ground.

I'm now at the Baptist Order Convocation, which is a huge contrast and already I'm feeling refreshed by the space, the pace, and the comparative silence.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

CBA Ministers' Conference

This week's a bit crazy! Before the Baptist Order Convocation, running from Wednesday to Friday, is the CBA Ministers' Conference from Monday to Wednesday!! This year the theme is 'Faith in the Market Place' and the speakers are Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union, Nick Spencer from the public theology think-tank, Theos, and Kathryn Morgan, Baptist Union Mission Advisor. We've got Keith Judson performing, with son Tim, at an after-hours session on Tuesday evening, and I'm preaching at the final communion. I'm looking forward to it and it promises to be another really good conference.

On Wednesday, straight after lunch, I'll leave King's Park, Northampton and catch my breath as I drive down the M1 to London Colney to begin the next event!  Come Friday I fully expect to have had a varied, rich and exhausting week!

Friday, 7 October 2011

First Baptist Order Convocation

From Wednesday to Friday of next week, 12-14 October, we will be holding the first Baptist Order Convocation.  

Well over two years ago, four of us, close friends for many years, found ourselves talking about the possibility of a Baptist Order. We invited another friend who had some more developed thinking to join the conversation. This took place in Oxford in October 2009 and we agreed to take things further. We each invited a friend on a similar journey to a 24 hour conversation, and also we asked someone to facilitate the gathering. On 11-12 March 2010  eleven of us met in Warminster and through a process of discernment produced The Dream, which has been something of a foundational document since. How this came about - from thoughts going in every direction to something quite coherent - had a touch of the awesome about it! 

We met again on several other occasions but hosted a further conversation in January of this year to which we invited those who we thought might be interested. And over 50 people travelled to Milton Keynes. As expected, many questions were raised in addition to those we were asking ourselves. We're still working through these and there is no hurry, but there was a real sense of affirmation and a desire to take things further.

At the heart of what we're doing is a commitment to prayer and attentiveness through a daily rhythm of prayer, spiritual accompaniment and retreat. And there's a commitment to gather, regularly in a cell, and annually as an Order. Acknowledging a debt of gratitude to communities like the Northumbria Community and the Franciscan Third Order, we're continuing to explore ways in which we acknowledge our belonging to the universal Church and yet express that which is distinctively Baptist. This is no small task but one that feels hugely worthwhile.

It seems as though we're on an adventure with that mixture of both excitement and apprehension. I have to say that I'm really looking forward to what could be a significant milestone on the journey.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mobile phones going off in concerts

I really enjoyed this photo I saw on a bassoon-playing friend's Facebook!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

EBF Council - Day Four

The final day combined business and pleasure with an afternoon tour taking in the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum, concluding with another great meal including St Peter fish and chips!

The morning included a report from Paul Montacute from the Baptist World Alliance, who reminded me that globally Baptists number some 110 million! This was Paul's last Council as he soon retires and I was reminded of my first contact with him back in 1988 when we were both involved in the Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference in Glasgow. I was conducting the orchestra alongside Graham Kendrick's band.

The two resolutions agreed by the Council were on topical issues. The first concerned the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine and included a call for unity among the EBF and an invitation to the world family of Baptists to pray and work for freedom and justice in the Middle East and Arab world. The second resolution expressed sorrow and solidarity with the people of Norway and the Baptist Union of Norway following the recent attacks in Oslo and on the Island of Utoya.  The resolve is that as member Unions of the EBF we stand up for the rights of those marginalised in their countries.

We said farewell to Valeriu Ghiletchi, the outgoing President, and inducted and greeted Hans Guderian as the new President.  Hans spoke movingly of his three visits to Israel, the first as a self-conscious German visiting Israel. He set out three challenges that face the EBF: secularisation - which leads to a tiredness and a lack of expectation; nationalism - which provokes anxieties concerning the stranger; and injustice, which is the cry not only of the people in North Africa but also the people in Madrid and Tel Aviv.

We were formally invited to the Council next year which meets in Elstal, Germany, not far from Berlin.

On Sunday morning I preach at the Nazareth Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist Church in Israel, and then head for home. It's been a good Council, made special by the location. This sort of event is a reminder to me that I'm part of something bigger. I'm constantly struck by the diversity among us, and at the same time an obvious and expressed unity. Once more I'm challenged by the very limited resources that some of the Unions have in comparison to ours. Again I've enjoyed making new friends and getting to know existing friends better.

EBF Council - Day Three

After Friday morning worship, at which Munir Kakish, the Pastor of Ramallah Baptist Church, spoke with great energy, the majority of the morning was given over to a presentation by Musulaha, an organisation working for biblical reconciliation in the Holy Land. The two speakers were Evan Thomas from the Messianic Jewish community and Salim Munayer from the Evangelical Palestinian community.

On this day of all days, with the Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas's request for recognised statehood at the United Nations General Assembly, it was timely to hear from two individuals who might well have represented opposing positions speaking as one.

Evan recognised in his opening that the Israel/Palestine situation was an insoluble, intractable conflict-out-of-control. Movingly he related three stories of how he came to be involved in the reconciliation process. The first was the experience of being a soldier at a security point in Gaza. On one occasion he found himself doing what was expressly forbidden: looking into the face of the person whose body was being searched, only to be met with the gaze of a Palestinian Christian brother.

Their presentation contained no easy answers but many valuable insights. They commented on the power of collective memory, noting that the day each year when Israelis celebrate their independence and the formation of a state, the Arab Palestinian community commemorate the day of Great Tragedy. They reflected on the dehumanisation inherent in body searches, and the pull towards the demonisation of the other, adding that when God's brought into the equation things can become considerably worse!

There was the recognition of the reality that the situation is as though the Palestinians and the Israelis are living in one very small house and intermingling is unavoidable. It's always tense, even in the forums within the church.

They drew upon the great reconciliation passages in the scriptures, from Ephesians 2 and 2 Corinthians 5. And they went on to review conflicting theologies. It would have been especially helpful to hear about their process of making peace but even within a generous portion of the morning there wasn't time.

This was a particularly stimulating part of the Council and one that I found especially interesting. Clearly there are no straightforward solutions though there are seeds of hope. Part of the way forward, as exemplified by Musulaha, is that of living together and staying with the pain while recognising the enormous cost that this unity entails.

During the day there were other good things that were brought as information and encouragement, and a chunk of time in the afternoon was given over to seminars. In the evening the whole Council visited the Nazareth Baptist School, where we enjoyed a delicious Middle Eastern BBQ followed with a presentation by the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel. This was interesting but, for me, familiar!

Friday, 23 September 2011

EBF Council - Day Two

Thursday morning included a number of reports - it is a Council meeting after all! Tony Peck, the General Secretary, reflected widely on the kind of society we want, where God's kingdom is, and the task of engaging our society. He noted that several Middle East leaders weren't with us because of the huge changes in their countries. He made a plea for religious freedom, alluding to Thomas Helwys' Short Declaration of 1612.

We heard a report from the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague (IBTS) which went on to update the Council on the financial situation and options.

It was particularly good to hear from three delegates who shared stories from their churches. The first was from Terje Aadne, the General Secretary of the Norwegian Baptist Union, reflecting on the attacks in Norway. He spoke movingly about the deep shock that has affected the nation and the way that the nation has been united in this tragedy with a resolve to stay together and protect democratic values. The church, both State and Baptist, is making a significant contribution, having opened wide its doors in the days following.

Christer Daelander spoke of his relationship with the Baptists in Uzbekistan and shared something of the struggles of the church in a context where they face significant opposition and persecution. We heard from another delegate about an exciting church planting initiative in Latvia.

Late afternoon we had a break and visited the Nazareth Village which is an authentic reconstruction of a village from the time of the first century -an interesting experience culminating with excellent food! It was especially good to meet up with friends from the Association of Baptist Churches (ABC) with whom the Central Baptist Association (CBA) has a relationship through the Baptist Twinning in Israel (BTI) - with apologies for acronym overkill!

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the Council takes place in the conversations during meals, breaks, and over a drink, when stories are told, new perspectives gained, connections made, and friendships formed.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

EBF Council - Day One

Yesterday was a travel day, exacerbated slightly by not being able to use air space over Greece. But it was in fine company and even EasyJet wasn't too uncomfortable.

A nice touch - at Luton Airport, Ian Handscombe, one of the chaplains, met us in the departure lounge and then came to see us off as we went through to the plane. Michael Banfield, the Senior Chaplain does a tremendous job and is greatly appreciated among the 8,000 staff who work at the airport.

We've now begun the first of the sessions, commencing with worship which was sung in Arabic and English. It was special to hear the reading from Luke 1, 'In the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to a village in Galilee called Nazareth.' Karin Wiborn from Sweden emphasised 'Here in Nazareth' and stressed how the annunciation needs to take place in our lives.

This Council takes place at a very significant time for Israel and Palestine and there will be opportunities to pray for peace for Israel and Palestine.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

European Baptist Federation in Israel

Life is rarely monotonous! Two Sundays ago I was preaching in a small rural church with just a few people - we had a good morning! Last Sunday I was at the Milton Keynes City Church, Christ the Cornerstone, for their Covenant Service with a large attendance. This coming Sunday I'm preaching at one of the Baptist churches in Nazareth, Israel.

I will be attending the European Baptist Federation Council which starts today and concludes on Saturday. I hope to post, given time and internet access. I'm really looking forward to being there and particularly to hearing the perspective of those from the Middle East.

If you're asking 'How does Israel and the Middle East feature in a European Federation?' I'm tempted to say, 'If it's good enough for the Eurovision Song Contest ...' The fact is that many of these unions and conventions are there because of strong relationships with European Baptists and they're most welcome.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

facebook

I've joined facebook. 'What took you so long?' some of you might say. I've had some considerable resistance - I won't rehearse the reasons - until last week when at the Baptist Union Communications Committee that I moderate, I came to the conclusion that I really should have a go. If it threatens to get out of control I'll simply delete it!

My son Andrew gave me a tutorial on Skype, and I was away.  And I have to say I'm taken! It's been a fascinating experience of connectivity, and what's blown me away is that within a few hours I'd made contact with someone I haven't spoken to for thirty years!

I've just networked this blog to facebook, so I'll see how it works.

Twitter next? I don't think so, but you never know.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Recent viewing

Wondering when I can next justify yet another viewing of The West Wing, I've been watching the re-run of The Killing on BBC4 in advance of a new series. The first showing got rave reviews and I recall reading something along the lines of 'What are we going to do on Saturday evenings when the series comes to an end?' It's been screened Sunday to Thursday evenings from 10.00-11.00 for four weeks so it's been late night viewing and catch-up when I've missed it. From the first episode I got thoroughly hooked by this compelling drama. I haven't seen the American spin-off but the original Danish is mostly understated but constantly taut with superb characterisation and a plot that keeps you guessing almost to the end. It's dark, it's bleak and it's strangely satisfying.

Just before we hit the ground of September running, we had a terrific day in London with our friends Chris and Frances. Chris is a composer - Microjazz is one of his most popular series of compositions - and a highpoint, just as we were about to tuck into gourmet burgers, was Chris presenting me with the first movement of a trio he's writing for the Horizon Ensemble. What a gift! We'd just been to the Curzon Renoir to see in 3D, Pina, a film documentary about the dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch. This was a wonderful, wonderful film, quirky, but moving and utterly enchanting. Clearly she had a huge influence on the dancers in her company and they spoke with reverence about the inspiration that she'd given them. The DVD came out the following week and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Another noteworthy film was Submarine, a coming of age film, again, quite quirky but lovely. I'd love to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as it's getting almost constant five star reception. But September is far from over yet and I'm not yet back to enough of a moderate pace that would allow a cinema visit. Later maybe.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Peacemaking - ten practices and ten principles

I've recently been pointed to the 'Just Peacemaking Initiative ... seeking peace and justice as disciples of Christ', a model of conflict resolution supported by the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). A team of thirty scholars (ethicists, economists, experts in international relations, and conflict resolution practitioners) together asked the question, 'What realistically is working to prevent real wars?' And out of this they agreed on ten practices that build peace and make war less likely. These practices fall into three categories: peacemaking initiatives, working for justice, and fostering love and community. You can read more about them here - click on the tab 'Just Peacemaking'.

In 'Tony Blair, A Journey', he describes ten central principles of resolution which arose out of his experience of The Good Friday Agreement, and reinforced by his experience in the Middle East:

  1. At the heart of any conflict resolution must be a framework based on agreed principles.
  2. To proceed to resolution, the thing needs to be gripped and focused on.
  3. In conflict resolution, small things can be big things.
  4. Be creative.
  5. The conflict won't be resolved by the parties if left to themselves.
  6. Realise that for both sides resolving the conflict is a journey, a process, not an event.
  7. The path to peace will be deliberately disrupted by those who believe the conflict must continue.
  8. The quality of leaders matter.
  9. The external circumstances must militate in favour of, not against, peace.
  10. Never give up, simple but essential.
In my experience of church life, as a church member, a Minister, and particularly as a Regional Minister which involves me in coming alongside churches in conflict, conflict is inevitable, it's a given. It needn't be destructive and can be positive and creative - the Chinese symbols for conflict are a combination of danger and opportunity. But for this to happen it does require some skills, and where a conflict has got stuck, often someone from outside the situation can make a significant difference.

While there are differences between peacemaking on the international scene and in a local church, actually they aren't so far apart and both Tony Blair's ten principles and Just Peacemaking's ten practices provide much to reflect upon.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The riots - 'profound theology and sharp social commentary'

Amidst the plethora of opinion and comment on the riots, I've been looking for the sort of reflection and analysis that stands out as being of a special quality and depth. My Regional Minister colleague Phil Jump has written a helpful piece here. And on Wednesday, Simon Jones, at a sideways glance, flagged up what I think is a particularly insightful and penetrating piece by Luke Bretherton, really worth reading. As Simon says, 'profound theology meets sharp social commentary'. Click here.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

oops! - Chailly and Pires

I discovered this video clip through Rob and Laura, friends we met in Puglia. They're from Holland so are familiar with Riccardo Chailly who was the chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. I had the privilege of working with Chailly for two weeks when I was nineteen, and then for a month when I was twenty-one, in a festival in Montepuliciano, in Tuscany. He was the most inspiring conductor I ever experienced, and at that stage he was in his early to mid twenties.

In the clip, as Pires realises that she's prepared the wrong Mozart concerto, the two have a conversation over the music. Two things strike me. Firstly, Chailly's 'non-anxious presence'. This scenario could be absolutely disastrous, artistically and professionally, but he continues as if there's nothing wrong and importantly inspires confidence in Pires that 'I'm sure you'll do that - you know it too well!'. And second, that despite Pires' obvious anxious presence, when she makes her entry it's heartbreakingly beautiful and perfect. She is the consummate professional, not allowing the anxiety to drown her and drawing on her vast reservoir of skill, experience, and preternatural talent.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Holiday in Southern Italy with Tony Blair


I've just got back from Cisternino, in Southern Italy, where we've spent the past two weeks. We've been there before and it was great to become re-aquainted and also make other discoveries of this beautiful part of Puglia, including Masseria Selvaggi, the Agritoursmo farmhouse where we stayed, and Materia (photo).

One of the reasons we return to Southern Italy is the climate. Again, the weather didn't disappoint, although there were a couple of blowy days and at the beginning of the holiday some cloud with even a bit of rain.

And then there's the food. We ate at a number of restaurants where all you needed was the antipasta. The most expensive meal by far was €55 for two, including wine and liqueurs, and that was at Il Portico, a vegetarian restaurant, which doesn't have a menu, the food just keeps coming. At another restaurant we shared a starter of mussels and for €8 were served 44 of the largest mussels ever. I followed this with a dish of raw salmon and sword-fish, something of an adventure, which proved to be delicious. I did order a side-dish of patatine fritte, i.e. chips, which just goes to prove that you can take the man out of Barking but can't take Barking out of the man!

And then there were the great people we met: Graham, Patrice, Cameron and Nathan; Andrea, Phil, Lewis, Bella and Eve; and especially Rob and Laura who we really missed when they moved up to Tuscany for the second week and hope to meet up with again. We also met David and his family, and it transpired that he was the architect who designed Milton Keynes Railway Station.

The place itself had a fantastic swimming pool, one that you could actually swim in. You could also lie on sunbeds and read, and so to Tony Blair - and no, we weren't staying with Silvio Berlusconi.

Between us we took a pile of books we were looking forward to reading. Cazz read many of them but the day before we went, 'Tony Blair, A Journey', took my eye in Waterstones, and as I dipped into it I found myself drawn. I ended up buying it at the airport and that's all I read - it's 720 pages and the type's fairly small!

I found it compelling and the praise on the back cover and on three pages at the beginning of the book was not exaggerated in my opinion. This memoir gives huge insight into the man and his perspective on what went on behind the scenes during some significant national and world events. It provided me with a greater understanding of the philosophy of New Labour and a deeper appreciation of where the Labour party now finds itself. There are many penetrating insights about effective leadership of an organisation, and indeed a country. And above all it challenged me to think deeply about a number of key issues for our world, seen in their stark reality in the events that have filled the UK national news over the last week or so. Add to this, a relatively light touch with numerous laugh-out-loud passages, and it made a superb read.

I was particularly struck by his reflections on the Middle East, and especially his analysis of the Muslim world. I was fascinated by the statement that he makes a number of times that he's more passionate about religion than politics. In the light of this I guess it's not surprising that these emphases have taken expression in his role as the Quartet Representative to the Middle East and the launching of his Faith Foundation.

If I'm not buried by a mountain of emails over the next few days I might reflect some more, but otherwise, 'Tony Blair, A Journey', comes highly recommended. And I still have a pile of books to look forward to I don't know when!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Wonderful Wedding

On Saturday we celebrated the wedding of our son Jonathan to Naomi. It was a brilliant occasion with the weather mostly fine, even sunny at times, and with only one downpour. The service was at St. Michael's Church, Hernhill in Kent and led by Rev'd Jean Burrows. I had the privilege of preaching - an awesome privilege - and the worship was led by Richard James.

But the focus was on 'Jon and Nay'. Naomi was breathtakingly beautiful as she made her entrance to the Sarabande from Handel's Third Oboe Concerto, and Cazz and I were hugely proud parents as both our sons stood at the front of the church, Andrew as Jonathan's best-man.  And the mother of the groom looked stunning!

The reception at Mount Ephraim was all that we hoped for with fine food and wine, and excellent speeches made on the staircase by Naomi's Mum, her Dad, Naomi herself, Jonathan, and Andrew. None were too long, but Andrew was the star of the show. Dancing followed to the live music of The Swinging Little Big Band.

The happy couple stayed at a local hotel and flew off to the Republic of Ireland on Sunday afternoon. The wedding photos are beginning to come through and we can't stop talking about it so I guess we'll continue to live in the goodness of this joyful happening for a while yet.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bloodthirsty Women and the CBA Assembly

Pat Took was our speaker at the CBA Annual Assembly on Saturday. Pat's theme was 'Living Together in Love' and predictably she was excellent. The whole day was really good with inspiring worship led by Colin Pye and our musicians, sharing of news, a brief AGM, and in the afternoon a stimulating exploration of covenant. Pat got us to think about how we as churches might draw up a covenant, an agreement, as to the right ways of behaving in church if we really are to live in love and not just talk about it.

On the Friday evening, as part of our encouragement of the inclusion of women at every level of church life, we had a four course meal, with Pat as the after-dinner speaker, aimed at women leaders. Pat has a winsomely mischievous streak, and this was in evidence as she mused on the accusation that the church has become feminised. She observed that most of the songs which justly receive this criticism are written by men! But she used this as the springboard to look at some of the songs women wrote in the scriptures.

Pat began with the Song of Miriam, then Deborah, then Judith (in the Apocrypha), Hannah, and finally Mary. The first three are extraordinarily bloodthirsty, with one song rejoicing after an enemy receives a tent-peg in the head, and another who loses his head completely.  The songs of Hannah and Mary, while not full of bloodlust, are about the turning upside down of the status quo, so that the powerful are brought down and the lowly lifted up, and the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty.

It was entertaining and, while Pat was not for one moment advocating violence, she was perturbingly challenging.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

David Mason and Penny Lane

I see in Thursday's Guardian that the trumpet player David Mason has died aged 85. He played in the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philharmonia, and I met him as one of the professors at the Royal College of Music, who would frequently turn up on examination and audition panels. Also, I recall playing in a performance of Bach's B Minor Mass with the Tilford Bach Choir and Orchestra and he was the principal piccolo trumpet.

He was a gentleman and one of the premier trumpet players of the time. But even when I knew of him he was something of a legend for playing on the Beatles' song, Penny Lane. The story goes that Paul McCartney was searching for a special sound for the song and heard Mason playing the piccolo trumpet in Bach's Second Brandenburg Concerto on television. Mason was summoned to Abbey Road by George Martin, the producer, and the rest is history. Even now when I hear David Mason on Penny Lane, it causes goosebumps.

Alan Civil was the horn player on Sergeant Pepper, and together with the other session players persistently kicked himself for agreeing a fee rather than royalties, so the story goes.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Die Schöne Müllerin

There are two responses that could be made to Friedrich Müller's Die Schöne Müllerin, a collection of poems constituting a tale of unrequited love. Either, 'This guy needs to get the message. She doesn't love him. Move on. Get a life!' Or, as in the case of Franz Schubert, write a song-cycle which is regarded as one of the most sublime song-cycles of all time.


On Friday we went to hear Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis perform this at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. The pre-concert talk they shared together was fairly ordinary, but the concert was superb. They've recorded this on Harmonia Mundi, and one of the high points can be found here on Spotify.  It's called The Curious Man.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Musical Time and the Age to Come

A dominant feature of this week seems to be death, with a funeral on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. And Wednesday is also the centenary of the death of Gustav Mahler.

This is being commemorated throughout the world with cycles of his symphonies this year. I see that Medici.tv is offering the complete symphonies with Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestra de Paris streamed free (with registration), and Arte will be providing live webcams from the Mahler Festival in Leipzig.

In a recent publication, Resonant Witness, Conversations Between Music and Theology, edited by Jeremy Begbie and Steven Guthrie, there's a fascinating chapter on Musical Time and Eschatology. The point is made that 'Jesus was resurrected not just into the eternal life of God but into a new existence that happens to include such a rich variety of times that created time is not excluded.' To this is suggested that music might be uniquely capable of embodying the 'rich variety of times' that characterise the new creation that has been inaugurated by Jesus' resurrection.

Generally, tonal music is characterised by linear time - you are left in little doubt that the movement or piece has come to an end, to a resolution, to closure.  Mahler wrote tonal music but living right at the end of the Romantic period took tonal music to the very limits. And this is particularly evident in the way Mahler used endings, final resolutions, cadences. Traditionally, strong cadences are the means of bringing a piece of music to an end, unless it's Dudley Moore doing a skit on Beethoven's endings!

Mahler sometimes avoids these obvious endings but in order to do so has to resort to different means to establish closure. Take the conclusion to the third movement of the Fourth Symphony, or the final movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony (for a sensational performance of this see the Youtube clip of Claudio Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in which there is silence at the end for well over a minute before the applause). Leonard Bernstein describes this conclusion as 'the closest we have ever come, in any work of art, to experiencing the very act of dying, of giving it all up.' He goes on to say 'But in letting go, we have gained everything.' So this ending proves to be not so much a denial of life but an affirmation of it.

The authors use these two musical examples - both well worth listening to just for their sublime beauty - to explore how a completion need not imply an ending, but rather 'suggest an opening out onto that which is without end or limit - that is, onto infinity or, better perhaps, the transcendent future of God's promise.' They refer to one of the Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, for whom 'the world to come is not a world where we finally "arrive" and all loose ends are tied, but instead is one of infinite progression into the unfathomable mystery of God.'

I may not have done justice to about fourteen pages of fairly dense writing but I think this is the gist of what they're saying. And I have to say I'm taken with it. I wonder what Mahler would have thought!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Crammed with Heaven - new blog

Chris Ellis has launched his blog, Crammed with Heaven. I've been really looking forward to this as Chris is a creative, insightful thinker and writer, and conversations I've had with him about the arts have always been enriching and enjoyable.

Crammed with Heaven, quoting Elizabeth Browning's poem, is about seeing, in relation to prayer, spirituality, worship and art, a special passion of Chris's. The next few weeks will be fascinating as he spends some of his sabbatical in Italy 'visiting ancient church buildings, looking at great works of art, soaking in the atmosphere, reading and thinking about art and spirituality and trying to improve my painting skills as I "look by painting"'. It's a tough call isn't it?

Go visit and check out the categories at the top as there's some great stuff there.

Welcome to the blogosphere Chris!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Baptist Assembly - really good and really sad

I look forward to the Assembly because among a number of things it's great to meet up with friends, some of whom I see more regularly but others on just this annual occasion. And in this respect Assembly did not disappoint.

This year's Assembly had a special attraction as my former colleague and friend, Pat Took, became the President. Pat is a star! As I listened to her speak on a number of occasions I felt very blessed to have sat next to her for six years at our monthly National Settlement Team. She speaks wise words and in such a way that they stick. And her words at the Assembly were no exception. On the theme 'Your kingdom come' she spoke compellingly about the inclusive community, that this was 'the joy that was set before him' and that was worth dying for. In Jesus all exclusions are ended! Her challenge was that if all are to find their place at the Great Banquet each has something to lose of themselves. I hope we have ears to hear the almost passing comment that 'we need to accept a gracious amnesia'.

Wale Hudson Roberts picked up the baton in his morning Bible study with an authoritative and inspiring exploration of The Lord's Prayer and the key phrase 'Thy kingdom come'. Again, this prayer is a model of inclusion and Wale challenged the delegates with the statement 'global injustice is in the very air we breathe.' Kumar Rajagopalan concluded the session with a stonker of a prayer!

I missed Jeff Lucas' Saturday evening session and his seminars but heard very good things. However, I did take in John Colwell's Baptist Ministers' Fellowship address on 'A Priestly Ministry?' This was an exploration of the nature of the ministry to which we have been called and those who know John won't be surprised to hear that he has a high view of ordination!

Lynn Green spoke from Mk 10 on Jesus welcoming the children and what she said about the passage was true of her preaching, 'deceptively simple but deeply challenging'.

Julie Pennington Russell spoke at the evening session where those newly accredited ministers coming to the end of this season of their ministry were presented and recognised. She spoke on The Lunatic Farmer, encouraging people to 'trust the messy field of your life to God' and to 'trust the messy field of your church to God'.

Other notable features were the worship, which was led mostly by Andy Scarcliffe. He brought to the usual contemporary mix some innovative use of more established hymns. The high point, which I can't believe I'm saying, was one of my least favourite hymns, Lord of the Dance. He managed to transpose it into an entirely different feel through style and tempo - and it really worked. I could have even danced!

On the Sunday morning, the worship was in a Jazz style and there were moments which were unforgetable.  All creatures of our God and king was transformed into something which for me was very beautiful - I can still hear the harmonies! The Communion, with the involvement of two hugely talented children questioning and commenting on what was happening, created a strange intimacy. The prayers of intercession were imaginatively crafted and presented.

Later on that morning, John Woodhouse was commissioned as Chaplain General of the British Army - a significant and moving occasion.

The Monday morning Public Resolutions focused on Christian Aid's campaign regarding the negative impacts for poor countries of tax evasion and avoidance by some multi-national companies. The presentation was informative and challenging and many people contributed to the debate, which concluded with the passing of the resolution.

There was considerable effort to ensure that the Assembly wasn't divided down the middle between Baptist Union and BMS World Mission and the obvious close working and sharing together is an exciting development.

So, all in all, a really good Assembly.  But also it was really sad.

The husband of a minister from the Central Baptist Association, whom I was due to present at the recognition on Sunday evening, collapsed shortly after arriving late Saturday afternoon and died early that evening.  Our prayers continue to be with Heather and her family at the devastating loss of Alistair and the churches at Wendover Free and Little Kingshill.

And then, shortly after leaving, I heard that another minister in the Central Baptist Association, Andrew Busby, who has fought a long battle with several bouts of cancer, died on Sunday evening, poignantly, probably at the same time as the In Memorium at the Assembly. Andrew was a one-off, a lovely man, someone I had come to have a special affection for and I will miss him. We pray for his family and the church at Amersham Free.

Rest in peace, Alistair and Andrew.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Archbishop of Canterbury - Narnia - Holy Week Lectures

I've just come across the Archbishop of Canterbury's Holy Week Lectures, this year based on the Narnia Chronicles. They have the following titles: 'Not a tame lion'; 'I only tell you your own story'; and 'Bigger inside than outside'. Listening to the first one, it came as no surprise to encounter deep, rich and nuanced literary and theological reflection.

If you love the Narnia Chronicles, appreciate Rowan Williams' intellect and spirituality and if you've got a spare hour for each one, you can listen to them here.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Of Gods and Men

Over the weekend I heard the best sermon of the year and it came through a film. 'Of Gods and Men' isn't the sort of film to watch if you're wanting a chilled, stress-free, undemanding Saturday evening. Fast, frenetic, action-thriller it isn't, nor is it remotely like a rom-com, and last weekend's 'Eat, Pray, Love' is about a million miles away! What it is is a luminous, poignant, deeply challenging film based on the true story of a community of brothers in a monastery in Algeria, which in 1995 came to the corporate decision to stay rather than go when threatened by religious fundamentalist terrorists. All but two of them were kidnapped and murdered as a consequence of that decision.

It's slow-paced with almost no music featuring frequent episodes of the brothers at worship. You witness their struggle as they face their fear at the real possibility of martyrdom. You see both their joy and their sorrow as they partake in their last supper together. Interestingly, the trailer has this scene set to the same music used in The King's Speech, the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, while in the film the music is from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Within a nearly silent soundtrack it's effect is devastating.

On Sunday morning I preached on the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and as part of this explored the different expectations of the crowd and Jesus. Jesus was was setting out on the last leg of a journey to his death on a cross. Death would not have the final say, but that's a far too premature conclusion to reach at this stage of the journey in Holy Week. The way of Jesus is to be the way of his followers as he calls them to 'deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'. It could not have been put more effectively than by 'Of Gods and Men'.

Monday, 4 April 2011

God and the Arts and Media - Where Faith and Life Meet

I had a great time at Gold Hill on Sunday evening - how good that a church is addressing the subject of the arts. In the context of worship there were two talks, one from me, and one from Jonathan Dennis, a member at Gold Hill and a film writer and director. Jonathan's an interesting guy - check out his website Contender Films - and it was fascinating to hear about his experience of the media from within. He told a superb story about the promo for BBC's The Nativity which he wrote.

I had the opportunity in my talk to explore some basic questions about the arts. When we speak about the arts, what are we speaking about? How as Christians should we approach the arts, especially in the light of a not-too-favourable track record? Do the arts really matter - surely other things are more important? (Just in case you have any doubt about where I'm coming from, the answer is they matter a huge amount!) And how do we as Christians, both artists and appreciators, go about engaging with the arts?

Within a twenty minute slot - which I stretched a bit - we looked at a framework for thinking about the arts, around God the Creator, a good creation, a spoiled and broken creation, and a creation that is being made new.

I quoted Tom Wright, a terrific advocate for the arts, who writes, 'But the church desperately needs artists of every sort, from sculptors to storytellers, from painters to potters, from singers to seamstresses, and so on; artists whose work will draw attention not to itself but rather to the glory of God.  After all, if in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, new creation has begun ... and if beauty is now let loose in all the world, it will rightly generate new forms, new possibilities, new delights.'

The only frustration was that I could only touch upon big issues, and there wasn't the space to make any real connection with art. There was opportunity, within the service, to pray for those there who work in the arts and media, not a small number at Gold Hill.  And afterwards I had some stimulating conversations. So a very worthwhile evening.

It's my intention to begin a series of occasional events within the Central Baptist Association, with the title, Faith Engaging with the Arts. Watch this space!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

God and the Arts and Media

Just to flag up that on Sunday evening I'm speaking at Gold Hill Baptist Church on 'God and the Arts and Media', and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity!  It's so good to be bringing faith and the arts together in this way.

Friday, 18 March 2011

A week of variety

This week has been even more varied than usual. On Monday I was at the first of a two day consultation, Conversations with Alan Roxburgh, exploring what it means to be missional - this was very stimulating and it was a shame to leave, just as things were getting going!

On Tuesday I accompanied someone on the final part of the journey as they made the significant step back into accredited ministry after a long period out of ministry.

Wednesday I was leading a Quiet Day for Workplace Ministry, and among the things we explored together was the subject of improvisation. This was fun, at least for me, and the feedback suggests that they found it helpful too. I used some of the ideas I touched upon on Wonder and Wondering back in late April, early May 2008.

And on Thursday, I visited three churches supported by Home Mission, along with the Home Mission Grants Manager, Rachel Tole. We had a great day with three churches, each doing a significant work in very different contexts: Houghton Regis, Toddington, and Newton Longville. I came back feeling really inspired!

Today has been more ordinary, bits and pieces, odds and ends, thinking more about Sunday morning at Newport Pagnell and Baptist Union Council on Monday. But with the prospect of a day off and a performance of Brahms, German Requiem, at Christ the Cornerstone, tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Welcome to A View from St Albans

Simon Carver, from Dagnall Street Baptist Church, St Albans, has started a blog. Emily Dickinson begins one of her poems, 'Tell the truth but tell it slant', and Simon has that gift of coming at things so that you catch glimpses of truth that otherwise you might have missed. He was one of the speakers at a CBA Ministers'Conference a few years back, and the title of his session was, 'Zombies, Johnny Cash and Eschatology: a clash of cultures or an opportunity for mission'. I guess I hadn't expected to be watching the opening sequence of Dawn of the Dead in such a context, but it was typical Simon, creative, provocative, stimulating and entertaining. You can hear Simon regularly on Premier Radio and local radio if you live in St Albans, reviewing films. I'm looking forward to his posts. He can be found here.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Play it again, and again, and again

We've been on holiday this week and one of the things that we enjoyed was to complete Series Seven of The West Wing, for the -th time. I confess to feeling some kind of embarrassment about saying just how many times we've watched this brilliant tv drama on DVD. Another thing we did was to meet up with our son, Andrew, in London, and see The King's Speech; the second time for us, the first for him. Again, I feel a need to apologise for 'the second time'.

Why my discomfort about seeing something again (and again)? I guess it's because once you've seen a film, like reading a novel, you know what's going to happen. (Also there's probably something around for me about 'wasting time'.) But in my defence - there I go again - although there is some predictability and lack of surprise, the experiences have been just as enjoyable as the first time, albeit different. And repeated viewings still disclose new things, and give depth and richness, that aren't taken in on the first viewing.

My reaction surprises me to some extent, because when it comes to other forms of art, it's a given that to return to a painting or piece of music is a desirable and even necessary thing to do. Reacting to a work of art on first seeing or hearing is vastly different from reflecting upon it.

This last week I've been listening again to the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for Solo Violin. Alex Ross, in his latest book, Listen to This, describes it as 'a quarter-hour-long soliloquy of lacerating beauty ... with its white-knuckle virtuosity, its unyielding variation structure, and its tragic D-minor cast.' The first time of listening is an experience of high drama, especially when played by Itzhak Perlman -  available on Spotify - but to appreciate its scale, its architecture, its depth, and the extent of its beauty, requires repeated listening. Significantly, within the piece there is an 'again and again' aspect as it consists of sixty-four variations on a four bar theme.

In The King's Speech, at the climax of the film, as the King addresses the nation at the outbreak of war, the accompanying music is the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The rhythm which defines the music's character and mood, is repeated relentlessly and unapologetically. Music without repetition would be something altogether different.

'Again and again' can be boring within art, but it can be life-giving. And actually, despite our culture's obsession with novelty and newness, 'again and again' is a constant in life. It's a constant of the Christian faith as well. Just one example, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' And the apostle Paul goes on to comment, 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the the Lord's death until he comes.'

How we handle the 'again and again' so that it isn't mere ritual devoid of energy and life, is another matter, but 'again and again' is ok.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Big Society, Big Mission

This is the title we've given to this year's CBA roadshow, created by my colleague Helen Wordsworth, and delivered by the two of us. So far we've been to Chesham and Luton. Monday is in Northampton, and Thursday, Milton Keynes. The final presentation is at Kings Langley next Wednesday.

It's a great engagement with the theme, exploring how we both serve our communities and make disciples. Although it will be interesting to experience the response this week, reading the main news story on today's BBC News website, Cuts 'are destroying big society'. It goes on to say that the government are 'destroying' the UK's volunteer army and undermining its 'big society' vision with its cuts programme, according to a voluntary sector expert.

In the opening section I've been given the task of adopting a somewhat cynical view of what the government is up to in its Big Society agenda, to which Helen responds more positively. I have the easier task and must try not to overplay it, especially this week.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Being Human

It was with real excitement that I looked forward to series three of Being Human on 23 January. I came to the first series late through DVD, although when I initially read about it I was intrigued.

Having watched the first two episodes of the latest series, I'm feeling again what I felt through the previous two series: frustration that I need to be a bit circumspect about my enthusiasm.

You see, Being Human is about three different characters, who at the beginning of the first series, share a flat. One is a vampire, one a werewolf, and one is a ghost. That's not likely to be welcomed as a great opener to a sermon, or the introduction to an illustration. And actually that's a real shame - my sons' generation would be there in a flash. But knowing how some Christians find C.S. Lewis dubious, and Harry Potter decidedly dodgy, I guess that Being Human really would be a bridge too far.

The real interest in the plot is that the vampire is 'on the wagon', the werewolf is surprised to be one, and the ghost initially can't work out why she's a ghost. In the second episode of series one, she asks, 'Am I going to be like this for eternity?' None of them are human but they are desperately trying to be human, and doing so through relationship. And the issue of what it is to be human in community underlies the whole storyline. It's hugely theological!

There are moments of great hilarity, with some wonderful one-liners. There are moments which are deeply tender and moving. I need to come clean and acknowledge that there is some gore as well as some sexual content; but overall this is a drama which is both comedy and intensely serious, with a terrific story line which gets better and better.

In the first episode of series three, Mitchell goes to purgatory to rescue Annie, the ghost, who's been dragged there, at the close of series two. There he's made to face up to his crimes, and the engagement with themes of sin, guilt, shame, and in particular repentance, was profound. In the second episode, the ongoing themes of the need to love and be loved, and belonging were richly explored.

Running concurrently with the third series is an online spin-off, Becoming Human, which I'm going to take a look at.

Monday, 31 January 2011

An Altar in the World

I've just come to the end of Barbara Brown Taylor's, An Altar in the World. I've found it one of those books that is such a pleasure to read that inevitably it brings a slight sadness to conclude. On the back cover blurb it's described as 'lyrical', and 'reveals the countless ways we can discover divine depths in the small things we do and see every day.'

Barbara Brown Taylor takes some fairly large themes, but grounds them in twelve practices. So, Vision has the chapter heading, The Practice of Waking Up to God, and Incarnation, The Practice of Walking on the Earth. You really could read the twelve chapters in any order, although it seems most appropriate to conclude with Benediction, The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.

In The Practice of Feeling Pain, which develops into a brief exploration of the Old Testament book of Job, she writes, 'Pain is provocative. Pain pushes people to the edge, causing them to ask fundamental questions such as "Why is this happening?" and "How can this be fixed?" Pain brings out the best in people along with the worst. Pain strips away all the illusions required to maintain the status quo. Pain begs for change, and when those in its grip find no release on earth, plenty of them look to heaven - including some whose formal belief systems preclude such wishful thinking.'

In a chapter on Prayer, 'The Practice of Being Present to God, she talks of an experience of shared silence with a group of students. 'Young people whose heads stay full of iTunes, Spanish homework, instant messaging, play practice, parental advice, Guitar Hero, cross-country, term papers, e-mail, romantic sags, CSI, chorale, X Box, debate team, Second Life, baseball, and the procurement of illegal substances can be startled to hear the sound of their own heartbeats for the first time. They had no idea there was so much space inside of them. No one ever taught them how to hold still enough long enough for the shy deer-soul inside of them to step into the clearing and speak.'

'The shy deer-soul inside of them' - what a gorgeous, evocative image!

This is a beautifully written, deeply thoughtful book, though highly accessible, which not only interests, nourishes and moves the reader, but does so through drawing one into an internal dialogue with the author's themes.

The sub-title is, Finding the Sacred Beneath our Feet, and the final poem, taken from a book, 'The Essential Rumi', I loved for an obvious reason,
'Today like every other day we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.'

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Modern British Sculpture

On Saturday I visited the new exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Modern British Sculpture. Whenever, I go to an exhibition of sculpture, I'm never quite sure what to expect, and though I go with an open attitude, I tend not to be excited. By now I ought to have learned because I don't think I've yet been disappointed, and I've been thoroughly wowed by Anthony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor, to name but two.

Overall, it was really good, but it started better than it ended for me. If one of art's purposes is to provoke, Damien Hirst's, Let's Eat Outdoors Today, certainly did that with its repugnant and repellant display of decaying food on a barbecue, and a picnic table, surrounded by real flies, masses of them. I'm glad to say that it's contained within a sealed glass box! Hirst explains 'how we all avoid dirt, but ultimately go back into dirt', and his interest in how we try 'to isolate the horror from our lives and remove it'.

The high points for me were Jacob Epstein's Adam, Henry Moore's Reclining Figure, and Barbara Hepworth's Single Form (Memorial). I thought this last piece, which normally resides in Battersea Park, was mesmerising, and will abide with me for some time.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

All You Have to Do is Listen

I see on the BBC News website that a growing number of music-lovers, unhappy about the way album tracks are enjoyed in a pick-and-mix fashion, have decided to take action. Groups of music fans sit in front of a vinyl turntable, with seriously good speakers, dim the lights, and listen to a classic album, all the way through. They're called Classic Album Sundays, and the rules are simple but strict: no talking, no texting, you must listen to every song on the album.

We're not talking about so-called 'classical' music, but classic albums. This month's album was David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and Kate Bush's The Hounds of Love featured in a previous month.

Call them geeky but they make a good point. I think my iPod is brilliant and I use the shuffle feature frequently and with delight, but it has limitations and does less than justice to the 'songs' which normally were conceived as part of a whole. Add to that, present day culture in which music is heard, or rather played, as a constant background to the rest of life, and their point is all the stronger.

Music operates at a number of levels, but there are times for listening to music, attentive listening to music. I make no case for aural wallpaper, but there is a helpful distinction made between listening to music on what Aaron Coopland calls 'the sensuous plane' 'for the sheer pleasure of the musical sound itself ... The plane on which we hear music without thinking, without considering it any way'; and what Rob Kapilow in his book, All You Have to Do is Listen - Music from the Inside Out, calls, '"listening for the plot", that is listening for the way musical ideas are connected and strung together to create a purely musical "story"'.

Both are legitimate, but 'listening for the plot' can be deeply enriching, though hard work, especially in music which isn't immediately whistle-able, and which takes time to develop without providing immediate gratification. The fact is that some, and maybe much, appreciation of beauty isn't simply presented on a plate without any effort.

It seems to me that this reaches into other aspects of life, such as how we listen to people. I guess that most of us have given the appearance of listening whilst thinking about what we're going to say next. Or simply giving the impression of listening while being somewhere else in our head. But to listen to a person, to really listen, requires hard work. And it's something that's of vital importance. A conviction that I've held for many years is that one of the greatest needs of a person is to be heard.

Anne Long, in her wonderful book, Listening, shares three images of listening: as gift, hospitality and healing. She issues a challenge as she speaks of the ears of the Body of Christ, needing to be alert and functioning if they are to be of any use.

And then there's the issue of how we listen to God. From my tradition as a Baptist, we stress the importance of discerning the mind of Christ, and listening to what the Spirit is saying, but I think we could learn a lot more from those traditions who really listen, attentively and at depth, and not just for the first stirrings of feel-good, or the first 'word from God'.

Music, people, God. No talking, no texting, just listen.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The King's Speech

On Saturday we went to see The King's Speech.  Just before Christmas, I enjoyed the latest Harry Potter and thought it had some real substance and darkness to it; I enjoyed also The Last Voyage of the Dawntreader, though it could never live up to the book; but The King's Speech was in a different class and totally enthralled me. (Admittedly they were three very different films!)

I was deeply touched by moments of grace throughout the film, the friendship between two unlikely people, and the gargantuan struggle that climaxed in an epic display of strength in weakness. At the end of the performance, the audience applauded, something that I can't remember happening before at the cinema.

On Thursday I led a Retreat with students from the South Wales Baptist College. They were a really nice bunch and I had a good day with them. One of the things that we touched upon, reflecting on music, and music especially in relation to the psalms, was the 'stickiness' of music. Music very quickly attaches itself to experiences. And this is never more so than in films. I think it was the Allegri Miserere which for one person had a very negative association because of its use in a film. This is highly instructive for our use of music in worship, and something I need to be frequently reminded of - what works for me might well not work for you, and indeed have the opposite effect!

The music in The King's Speech included Mozart's Clarinet Concerto - though you don't hear anything, or very little, of the clarinet - and the slow movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. However, I will never listen to the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony without seeing King George VI, summon up every ounce of energy pronouncing his speech to the nation at the outbreak of war. It was one of those all-time great moments for me. Go see!