Monthly Archives: December 2015

Oh Come Emmanuel

This week I released my first ever song! It took a lot to get to this point, so I want to share a bit more about both the song itself, and my journey this past two years trying to overcome my fear of singing.

The song is an adaptation of the Advent carol ‘O Come, o come Emmanuel’; I have always loved the haunting tune and message of hope of this song. However, I struggle with the lyrics; full of ‘dayspring’s and ‘rods of Jesse’, it’s not just ‘christianese’, but archaic christianese! Beautiful, poetic, and meaningful too once you dig into it, but requiring a lot of explanation. I also feel, as do many others, that there’s a place for more lament in worship. We sing a lot of celebration songs, rightly as we have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate as Christians. But we live in a broken world, where the promised Kingdom of God, and restored relationships between all things, is still yet to come in full. Sometimes it feels impossibly far off. We shouldn’t gloss over the pain of this in our prayers and worship. In fact I believe part of the process of bringing in the Kingdom is to open ourselves up to feel the chasm between how things currently are, and the potential they have in God’s restored order.

The fasting, waiting, preparation seasons of Lent and Advent in the traditional church calendar are good times to refocus on this before throwing ourselves too heavily back into the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. At Lent we often focus on ourselves, the gap between our own failure and frailty, and where our salvation is headed through Christ. So Advent is the perfect time to look at the wider world, to see our current state of pain, feel ourselves far from home and longing for the promised coming of a restored world, offer the pain to God in prayer and be encouraged by the reality of the promised hope, foreshadowed by the first coming of Jesus as a baby in fulfilment of the ancient messianic prophecies. We spend a lot of time imagining ourselves into the pre-Jesus world, looking towards his first coming as a baby, but not so much time thinking about the in-between state we are in today and looking towards what His return will mean for the world. I decided to rewrite the carol as a modern-day Advent lament, drawing myself as a worshipper to lament the brokenness in our lives and world, how far we feel from God at times, and from being the bringers of the Kingdom… and yet drawing myself to the hope that, as Christ once arrived in this world to begin its salvation, so He will come again to complete it.

That’s a lot to try to achieve in a song! And I’m well aware my lyrics are a little contrived, not as poetic as the original, and are a long way off capturing the hugeness of the modern Advent waiting. But I’m nonetheless, as a beginner songwriter, pleased with how it came out.

Here’s the song; my lyrics are released under a creative commons license so feel free to use or adapt them yourself.


Lyrics:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

Creation groans in agony
We hold the keys to liberty
But so worn down by cares of life
We e’en neglect our own in strife
(rejoice…)

O God, we feel so far from Thee
Thy presence, Thy eternity
This fallen world is far from home
And You seem hid by cloud, unknown
(rejoice…)

And on that day when God shall dwell
With man in our new ‘Israel’
Thy kingdom come, our fall undone
And all creation joined as one
(rejoice…)

https://broomsofdestruction.bandcamp.com/track/o-come-emmanuel-a-lament


And learning to sing? That has been a long process! Singing solo has been a paralysing fear as long as I can remember; I’m not sure why but there’s something incredibly, uncomfortably vulnerable about singing, and I just couldn’t make myself do it. Over the past couple of years, since I find these qualities in pretty much everyone I admire, I’ve challenged myself to push out of my comfort zone and become more real, open and vulnerable in as many ways as I can, step by step.

Learning to share my imperfect poetry was a first step; it makes me cringe! But how else can I grow, and how else can I inspire others to share their hearts too if I myself want to wait till I have things perfectly sorted out before sharing? So, I slowly began sharing poetry.

Sharing song lyrics seemed for some reason an extra step of vulnerability, so I began with this, sharing it with my bandmates. The tune already exists, so it wasn’t as painful as sharing an original tune as well as lyrics. And they decided they liked it and wanted to record it for our Christmas album – with me singing it! :O Terrifying!

This whole time I’ve been pushing myself more and more to sing; I’ve been singing group backing vocals for a little while, which is fine if I think noone can hear me individually! I’ve more and more this past couple of years been learning to sing louder so I can be heard, allowing myself to be given a microphone when performing live. Last year for the first time, the band persuaded me to record a harmony part for a song, which although mixed into the finished track would be behind other vocals, it had to be recorded solo; that involved a lot of persuasion, sugar and adrenaline!!

But this year something clicked; M and I were asked to perform at a wedding, and somehow I managed to just take a microphone, set to full volume, and sing a duet with him, with almost no nerves! I’ve since managed to repeat it at a couple of small festivals. At one of the festivals, we had a prophetic prayer session, and the leader came and spent some time praying for me. He began praying for me to find my voice, and though he had no idea he was doing so or the significance of the words to me, his prayers over me began to quote the Switchfoot song ‘Let It Out‘! It changed things for me. Though I was still horrified at the thought of singing a lead vocal on Oh Come Emmanuel, worse, in my own lyrics, I managed it!

Next: Learn to sing solo live, and well 😉

More Christmas music from my band can be found here (a mix of choral, rock and folk carols, original songs silly and serious, and much festivity!), free to download; happy Christmas! 🙂

Advertisements

Whitewashed tombs

On Monday I was one of five Christians arrested for a nonviolent direct action outside the UK government Department for Energy and Climate Change. You can read more about the action itself here, but I wanted to explain more about what it was about for me.

I want to begin by saying that I am neither proud nor ashamed of this action – this is part of what I feel just needs to be done. Neither was this done out of anger or desire for revenge – it wasn’t damage for the sake of damaging something or causing trouble. But it seems the message of the urgency and importance of real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions is not getting through in conventional ways, and hence the need for a bit of drama. We’ve marched, we’ve petitioned, we’ve written to MPs, we’ve written to ministers, we’ve met our MPs and lobbied, we’ve campaigned and voted in the election, we’ve moved investments and supported businesses who are calling for progress… we’ve used all our democratic powers, and yet still those who are meant to represent us are doing the opposite of what we are calling for, systematically dismantling all the policies we had fought for that would help to make this country sustainable and keep us from a dangerous future. There hasn’t been nearly enough of an outcry about this, and whilst we are doing our best through the usual democratic means, we need to break this loud silence and get across that this is absolutely unacceptable, anti-progress and anti-democratic.

I believe strongly in peace and non-violence, so I will not behave aggressively towards others. I will not be violent, I will not insult, I will not make personal attacks. I believe those working for the department are there for good reasons, and many of whom will be there because they genuinely want to change things for the better, and I respect that. If you work for the department and want to tackle climate change, I do this for you, not against you – I want you to be freed to do your valuable job! What I want to call out is the fact that policy is tying the hands of those inside and outside the department who are trying to make progress, and that not enough is being done, inside or outside the department, to challenge this.

Jesus was not quiet in the face of harmful hypocrisy. In Matt 23 He takes on the religious leaders in public, using strong language to call out the harm that they were actually doing behind their good, religious exterior. He called them whitewashed tombs – attractive on the outside, but full of death inside. He didn’t do this out of hate, and nor was it His first move, but it had got to the point where it needed to be said, both for their benefit, and for the benefit of the watching crowds, opening their eyes to the truth and freeing them too to stand up to wrong. In the same way, I hope, we are following up years’ work of attempts at dialogue and persuasion through normal democratic processes, and have now arrived at a point at which we feel hypocrisy simply needs to be exposed and dealt with if we have a chance of moving forward; I believe it is costing real lives! And we do this publicly; the message is not solely for the government, challenging them to stop pretending to take climate change seriously and really act on it instead, but also for the watching public, Christians especially, as we want to encourage others that this is the time to stand up and act for what is right, doing whatever it peacefully takes to avert a dangerous future for all.

For me, it’s about death and life; what’s inside, and where are we heading? What’s happening is we have a government speaking life when it suits them, yet practising death. It’s a hypocrisy that needs to be exposed – you cannot simply talk and expect the climate itself to listen to the words. What it ‘sees’, and what matters, are our actions, and our actions scream loudly, drowning out our fine words, that we think only of our own very short-term interests and are content to go backwards to the age of fossil fuels even if it costs our own futures. I count myself in this. I like comfort, and I’m a part of this hypocritical system myself simply by being a British citizen, and living a fairly normal life as a carbon addict – but I am doing my best to move away from a climate damaging lifestyle, in my actions as well as my words, and more than that, I am trying to influence my country more to move in that direction too. I am here in a way doing something that is costing me my own life – I have dreams and plans for my life, and they certainly do not involve doing things like this, gaining criminal convictions and losing my freedom to live the life I wanted to – but I hope, contributing to something bigger that will protect life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the fact that we get to resurrection via death – in this life as well as ultimately; I hope I can make the sacrifices, embrace the death of my dreams and comforts, in order to truly live for something that lasts, and to leave a better future for others. I want to be the reverse of a whitewashed tomb, to live with evident sacrifice and discomfort where necessary, maybe even be seen as a bad person, but beneath it all, to be bringing life. Far better than to be seen as good and sound like I care, when actually continuing to act in a way that brings death.