Tag Archives: Love

Looking for Europe 6: in London, with Jon Foreman, for the first time

June 1st

Today. Wow.

We checked out of the hostel and pretty much spent the whole day travelling back to London for our emergency appointment with a Jon Foreman solo show! We had planned a morning in Köln and an afternoon in Brussels, but in the end had only about 30 minutes to get a drink in a café in the Brussels train station (featuring a rather awesome statue of a horse dressed as a zebra sat at one of the tables!!) before boarding the Eurostar. Once we got back we had to repack the car since we had an extra person to fit in that evening, and still had to actually properly pack away the tent, which we had hastily shoved wet into the car after BCDO. Miraculously that worked out pretty well!

Then we headed into London, with Jon’s music playing on the stereo. At one point we found ourselves following a white van, which had the words ‘all dead inside’ written on the back in the dirt – which was firstly a really weird thing to see written on the back of a van, and secondly a Jon lyric (I commented that ‘nothing left inside’ would have been more usual if you were going to stick a line of that song on a van…)! Driving in felt like a treasure hunt. London had a magic to it suddenly!

Unfortunately there was a horrible incident involving an unreliable satnav, car parking in London and a panic attack, but once we were all safely parked up and at the show in a little venue opposite Great Portland Street tube station, we met up with more wonderful SwitchFam and the magic returned.

The show was delayed starting because, having sold out despite being announced only two days beforehand, there was apparently a queue right round the block to get in and Jon wanted to get everyone inside before starting. My heart was happy at hearing that! I hope he feels the love, and realises how much he is wanted here. He came out on stage and explained, and then brought out Josh the guitar tech, and said he would guitar tech for him that night instead and let him play us a few songs whilst the venue filled up. Josh was very good, and seemed so happy to be playing in London! It was amazing of him to be doing that on what should have been his day off.

Eventually the show began! To begin we saw tour manager Chico in the crowd handing out paper on which to write our request set list, but the paper never reached us – I think it only got half way round the front few rows! We thought we might miss out on putting requests in but as the show went on we started to write requests on any bit of paper we could find and started passing them forward. Jon was picking up papers by the handful and only choosing one song each time, so we ended up putting our requests in multiple times as we saw ours passed over again and again! There were some funny awkward left/right jokes about which side of the stage was winning on the requests (‘… your left, my right..!’) And he started to have fun with what the requests were written on, reading out the wrong side of the notes (receipts, theatre tickets..!). I was torn between wanting to record the entire show, and just wanting to put the ghost machine away entirely and just fully immerse myself in the moment. After recording a couple of songs, the camera made the decision for me by declaring itself totally full, so I don’t have a lot of pictures or videos.

Jon played:

Caroline

Terminal – watch here

The World You Want

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The Shadow Proves The Sunshine – watch here

Resurrect Me – ‘Can anyone play the guitar..? No, seriously?’ He pulled a girl up on stage to play whilst he jammed on the harmonica, and she was absolutely brilliant! I loved seeing the two of them jam together! There was a lot going on in him as he sang this one, he showed some real frustration, anger even, on the line ‘but I’m still waking up with myself’, it was intense.

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Live It Well

Wouldn’t It Be Nice – there was a disco ball!! 😀 Jon asked for the lights to be put out so we could just have that! He said it kind of made him think about asking a girl to skate at a roller disco and just how incredibly awkward that is when you’re 15 😀

This Is Home

Just Rob Me – at the request of one of my friends!

In My Arms – this was requested by a couple who had the song at their wedding; when Jon asked who, several of us admitted we’d had it at our weddings! He seemed honoured 🙂

The Blues! Wow! What a powerful song, I don’t think he’s played that in a long time but it was amazing

Only Hope – this he prefaced with a bizarre introduction involving hitchhiking, surfing and tomatoes, which had pretty much nothing to do with the song except ‘… and this song was on our next album.’ 😀 There was also a really funny moment when whistling broke out across the audience, he said there was an incognito whistle chorus group infiltrating the audience but they won’t let on who or where they are! 😀 He couldn’t see who was doing it, it was hilarious 😀 Watch it here and judge for yourself (It’s not my video so it’s infinitely better than any of mine, but it’s such a beautiful thing I had to share! More videos from the night on that channel too, and all brilliantly filmed 🙂 )

Cure For Pain – this was my request! It’s one of my absolute favourites of his, which I’ve never heard live but know that he does play. Plus it felt appropriate. He said as he picked the paper up ‘I’m going to play this one because it says ‘Cure For Pain – please??’ – so polite, so London!’ Score. 😀

House Of God Forever – he got some girls to sing together on the second verse, which was lovely. None of us were brave enough to sing on our own, but they dared to together. And they took a selfie on the stage afterwards, so sweet!

Dare You To Move

Vice Verses – Wowowowow!! This was the most beautiful performance of this I’ve ever seen. He was really feeling it for one thing; as he introduced it he talked about sitting on his rock in the ocean in the night, the place he goes to think and wrestle with the darkness, the only thing that doesn’t change… 😥 But the way he sang it too… My legs disappeared from under me almost completely! I really would have fallen under it except the stage was high and I didn’t want to miss anything, so I leaned onto the edge of the stage and just soaked it in, and the weak knees spread into head to toe happy shivers… wow!

Lean On Me – I got out my thank you banner, the only one I brought with me, and Jon bent down to it and gave me a sweet, emotional smile and put his hands together in a silent ‘thank you!’ 🙂

Your Love Is Strong

Here is a friend’s playlist of almost the whole show, including Josh! You won’t get the full effect of being there, but it is a little taste.

 

So that was my first ever solo show, finally 🙂

I was SO, SO happy!! Wowow*. I really don’t think I was prepared for how wonderful that would be, even after years of listening to Jon’s music, seeing him play with Switchfoot and at aftershows, and watching solo shows online. Nothing prepared me for the first-hand experience of being immersed in that beautiful voice, just minimally accompanied, for a full two hours, and how nice it would be to be a part of Jon’s inclusive, participatory performance style. I was absolutely blown away.

Afterwards me and the other ‘fam just had massive grins on our faces and I was literally bouncing and skipping, I felt like a little kid! I ended up just sat on the kerb outside the venue reliving it all inside, smiling and smiling in a happy dream. All is well. I felt so fully healed from the pain of missing the last show. I got everything I need…

And Jon so completely owns me now as a fan, I am 100% sold out, for life.

Yes.

Great Portland Street is now by far my favourite tube station!

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*I know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking I haven’t said ‘wow’ as many times as that show warranted 😀

Read Part 5 here

Looking for Europe 4: Basel, hidden treasure

May 29th-30th

Wow! Wowow! Basel is gorgeous!

We spent the morning in Paris, seeing the Seine and Notre Dame cathedral, battling too many stairs, and looking for food/Sprite/ icecream/ peace with varying degrees of success! We had some fun with Kitty Jon, and randomly bumped into a fellow fan from last night’s show, which was nice, and eventually got expensive but delicious sandwiches in a café.

Then it was off to Basel! The journey was beautiful, and unexpectedly, so was Basel!

We fell in love with the place almost instantly. After a few stressy days lugging suitcases, overspending and failing to find any grocery shops, we were rather too excited to see food shops, ramps, clean and unpotholed pavements, and finally feel like we were not going to get run over! We got a bit hyper; I think I ran into the first food shop we found, went straight up to the bread and said ‘it’s so nice to meet you!’ before buying some, and some fruit, and consuming the fruit almost immediately despite intending it for breakfast..! You’d think we’d never seen fruit or bread before! The town was pretty, and the hostel ‘amazeballs’ :P, situated in this courtyard complex of arty little businesses and full of surreal artwork itself. And I really wished I had the time, money and luggage to be able to go shopping, the shops were lovely! We ended the day goofing around in the hostel, dancing, internetting, making terrible puns and literally moonwalking on the ceiling!

On show day #4, we had a wonderful morning cooking and eating our own real food, during which time I think I finally shook off the tears and began to feel whole again, then an afternoon just wandering and seeing the town, eating far too much vegan icecream and taking too many pictures, it was so beautiful!

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We arrived at the venue just in time to find Jon giving an interview for a radio station, and he performed The Most Gorgeous Acoustic Version Of Float Ever Heard! Stunning 🙂 We saw the guys going in and out the venue again and spoke to Tim about their day off in the mountains, to Drew, to Mark Foreman as he and Jan were there – they’re so nice! And to Jon – I thanked him for Float and told him that’s the best acoustic version I’d ever heard. He said he’d not played it like that before, and I told him I really liked it (which was a huge understatement; my JonForemania was going through the roof!).

Eventually they disappeared off inside, and (alas, whilst we were out the room) sound checked Healer Of Souls and Hope Is The Anthem. When I heard them start Healer Of Souls I whooped, jumped and ran to the doorway, and applauded even though I was in another room! It was that great though 😀 And ‘Hope…’ was intensely beautiful; I’d just been talking to a fellow fan about which songs we’d most like to hear and those two songs were our respective picks, so it was very special. And then we got to go in, and they soundchecked Shadow Proves. Wowow; happy shivers. Jon was singing so, so well that day, and they were soloing like crazy and sounding incredible.

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Then it was time for Meet ‘n’ Greet. I was fangirling to Jon after the sound check, and he pulled me up first for a photo! I told him I was trying to rearrange our trains to get to his show as we were meant to be in Belgium that day, and he said ‘if it’s meant to happen it’ll happen.’ I got my ’10th show’ banner out (‘This is my last banner and it’s a special one; I never imagined I’d get to this!’) Tim said ‘Hey it’s Jon’s 10th show too!’ as he was holding it! Drew gave me a hug and asked how I was, I said ‘Much better!’, and he and Tim gave me sweet smiles and I thanked them. I then managed to show Jon my diary, where I had written out my survival strategy after my depressive episode at BCDO; I’d wanted to show him in Paris, but it had been too rushed and I’d felt too fragile. I showed him, and read to him, what I’d written about lyrics as a part of this, and told him that so many of the lyrics that met me in those moments were his, just one of many things he’s done for me, that I had been there in the dark with his songs meeting me and pointing me towards light and hope. He said it was good advice that he too could use… Ohhh..! Oh my heart.

At the end of Meet ‘n’ Greet he drew me this little picture – so random! I just asked him if he would draw me something and with no hesitation whatsoever that is what he drew! I got talking to Romey whilst he drew it so I only saw it afterwards! Romey asked to see it too, and laughed and shook his head when he saw it!

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I asked Romey was he vegan as rumoured, and he told me he wasn’t but was mostly veggie, so I asked how he found Paris as I almost didn’t eat and he laughed and said yeah he had to eat meat, and I told him Basel is amazing and that I’d eaten so much icecream! I also told him that I wasn’t getting much chance to talk to them but wanted to say how incredible they are all playing at the moment (which he laughed off!) and how honoured I am to be on this tour with them playing like this. Then… he asked after M!! (which he opened with ‘are you married?’ :D) I said yeah, he’s hard to miss, he was with me at the last tour (he remembered!!), and at BCDO (he hadn’t noticed him there). What a memory!!

Ah the show… alas the speakers were too far forward from the stage, so despite how incredible the sound check had been, we couldn’t hear the gorgeous vocals at all from the stage, bar what we could hear audibly 😦 It would have sounded much better from the back, but that would have meant not being at the front and getting to interact with the guys as they played. Unfortunately it meant I didn’t catch what Jon said to me as he addressed me a couple of times from the stage, though I know he thanked me for each flag, told the crowd I’d brought them from England, the artwork was beautiful, and mentioned ‘friends from England’.

 

He picked out so many people from the crowd this time, far from just me, it was lovely to see him making moments for people. They played Bull again, and finally played me Healer Of Souls (video here), and then played Vice Verses ‘for Jemima’, who was one of several fans wearing a Vice Verses t-shirt.

 

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There was no aftershow, I think too many people left straight afterwards, but we did get to speak to Jon again as he still came out to hang with us – and whilst we were there I found out from the ‘fam back home that his solo tickets were on sale!! I couldn’t believe I was literally there with him and he hadn’t told me! I told him he was in trouble 😀 but I forgave him immediately when he said he’d only just found out himself. That was funny. 😀 I told him I’d do whatever I could to rearrange plans, and he said again if it’s meant to be it’ll happen… let’s hope…

I booked the tickets when I got back! I ended up buying a whole new set of train tickets but it was clear it was going to be worth the expense to me. We walked back to the hostel via several adorable kitties and could hear crickets singing, and found some fun sculptures. Basel wins!

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Read part 3 here and Part 5 here

Looking for Europe 1: Amsterdam, and not getting run over

(May 23-26th)

Bicycles.

I didn’t notice immediately. It took me a few moments to register, as I woke up on a bus outside Eindhoven station in the Netherlands. A woman was cycling past towards the station, and as my brain slowly caught up with my eyes, I realised that she cycled past rows, upon rows, upon rows of bicycles. Bicycle racks on every single pavement I could see, heaving with bikes. Bikes piled on top of bikes. Bikes chained to or propped up against every available surface. Bikes parked on the pavements. Bikes sailing down the street. By the end of the day I think I had seen more bicycles in 24 hours than I had in the rest of my 34 years put together. And I cycle! Welcome to the Netherlands.

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I had caught the bus the previous evening in London, after taking a train straight from work at 4:30pm that afternoon. The real tour nerves had kicked in about T -2; sitting at my desk, I had glanced up at the clock. 2:45pm. Almost 3. That’s almost 4, and that’s almost 4:30… Suddenly it was all happening, really soon, and I freaked out! I felt so dizzy and emotional I had to leave my desk and go and sit quietly in the kitchen for a bit with a cup of tea and take some deep breaths. It passed, but it was spectacular. And before too long I was signing off at work and catching my train!

This first part of the great adventure I was alone; I was due to meet up with my tour buddy Jude in Amsterdam. Jude is a fellow crazy Switchfoot fanatic who I met on the last tour and we have become the best of friends through our shared love of the band and general nuttiness. But she was travelling separately, and meeting me there. So I spent the journey daydreaming, birdwatching, reminiscing about the last tour, wishing there would be another full moon during this tour, and sitting out on deck on the midnight ferry, on my own, watching the waves in the dark, and listening to Darkness from The Wonderlands

After waking to what appeared to be The Great Bicycle Explosion Of 2017 it was a fairly short journey on to Amsterdam, where after some confusion I eventually managed to locate Jude, and we in turn managed to locate the hostel. We decided to take another train out to Haarlem to see Corrie Ten Boom’s house there that afternoon. When we got to Haarlem, we made the mistake of asking the sat nav to give us directions to get to the house. After telling us it was a ten minute walk, as we expected, it then led us on a 45 minute wild expedition right out across the very pretty town, to a silly yellow scarecrow advertising a carwash, before telling us to turn around and go back a different way to pretty much where we started!! We got there – it was very close to the station in a different direction. 😀 The house was amazing and moving, but that’s another story. We returned to find Amsterdam heaving with crazy drunken football fans, so once we’d got some food we took refuge in the hostel for the night.

Then it was show day, number 1 of 7!!

After a slow start, trying to sleep off the journey and crazy crowd, we got some iced tea and coffee as it was hot already, then went on a boat tour of the canals, which was beautiful way to chill out and see some more of the city. And not get run over.

I have never been so convinced I was going to be run over before in my life! Amsterdam is not the place to be as a pedestrian. Stepping out onto the street from the (usually narrow and crowded) pavement you have to dodge bikes, trams, bikes, cars, bikes, taxis and motorbikes, several lanes of each and all going in different directions. The lanes are not clearly marked, the crossings can take ages, trams seemed to run both ways on all the lines, and bikes often don’t stop for the crossings anyway. Once you’ve survived crossing one lane of traffic there’s often only a tiny thin refuge to stand on whilst you wait to cross the next lane, easily missed, and even once you think you’ve crossed successfully you can easily find yourself standing in the middle of a cycle lane without realising it until you find a motorcycle hurtling towards you! Even the pavements are so much the domain of the bicycle that we often had to walk on the road to dodge round parked and piled bikes. There were some close calls, but I’m glad to report that we are both still three dimensional. Don’t get run over..!

Then it was time for the first VIP event.

We met up with a couple of friends outside the venue, and were enjoying meeting in person for the first time when Switchfoot showed up, coming and going between their bus and the venue! We got to chat to them briefly as they went back and forth, Jon first and then the other guys too. They recognised Jude from being at the Switchfoot Getaway the previous year, which was lovely, but unsurprisingly didn’t recognise me. They had had horrible flight problems so looked exhausted, apart from Tim who had been over already with his family on holiday. We thanked each other for being there, and I told them I was glad they arrived ok, sympathised with their travel problems, and thanked them for bringing the sunshine with them! I confess I turned to jelly a little bit after re-meeting Jon for the first time then, but it was just fine after that.

There were big delays so we ended up standing round for ages before going in, so we had plenty of time to meet other fans. People were there from the Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Germany, USA and more, and were all lovely! 🙂 Suddenly we could hear Switchfoot soundchecking House Burns and Mess Of Me from inside. I had been chatting, but when I heard that I just got so happy that whatever I was saying went out my head and I just gravitated to the door with a big goofy grin on my face, I had to listen! And then we got to go in just as they were finishing Mess and I went to the front and rocked out and sang like it was a show! They said hi to us, played Dark Horses, and asked how we were. It was my Dutch friend’s birthday, so they got everyone to sing her happy birthday, then asked for requests – and got them all! Eventually they chose to play us Souvenirs 🙂

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After that we lined up for photos – my friends and I got to the back of the queue and conspired! We had a plan to get a silly VIP photo involving moustaches in honour of Chad, who was born in Amsterdam. We got chatting to Josh (the merch guy/ guitar tech) a bit while we waited, and he said the guys were going to the sea in Brighton tomorrow, and we told him they should find time to go to the west coast sometime, and maybe play Boardmasters too.

Then it was my turn! They didn’t try to introduce themselves, I just went in and said hi to Chad and Drew and got to chat to them for a moment. Jude filmed as I got out my letter to Jon. I showed the guys I had chocolate coffee beans and before I’d even finished saying it Jon was just like ‘Give, give!!’ 😀 I said I thought they might be needed after all the travel, and he said ‘oh yeah!’ 😀 Then I introduced myself properly (‘Hi, I’m Helen, I write to you too much – and I’ve done it again!’) I handed him my letter, then the one from the SwitchFam (I blanked and forgot who!), and letters from friends from Nepal and India, and then the DVD of our spoof tour video. I said ‘I don’t know if you saw this but Jude and I spoofed your silly tour vid…’ and Jon straightaway said ‘Yes we did, that was amazing! You guys did a great job, you left out no detail, it was all in there. You must have spent ages on it’ I laughed, ‘Yeah you have no idea, 6 months..!’ 😀 And he remarked on my daisies – then I got his real attention for a moment – ‘Yes they’re my favourite, they’ve been really meaningful to me since way before there was a connection with you. I was so happy when you released that song!’ And he said they were very meaningful to him too, and even more so since he named his daughter after them. That was so lovely 🙂 By this point I was really trembling! I took out the ‘Europe is Where The Light Shines Through’ banner (which got some wows!) and got my picture with it. Jon had his arm round me so could definitely feel me shaking, very embarrassing! Then he asked for a picture just with me and the flag, which I was kind of blown away by 😀

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Then I got out the way for my friend’s VIP. She had a birthday sign and confetti cannons – which hilariously failed to go off and resulted in the funniest sequence of photos! I filmed it, they sang her happy birthday and there was a funny moment of confusion with the cannons before they ended up throwing the confetti! They chatted whilst Jude came out and had some lovely chats with them, recognising her and crowning her ‘queen of the UK fam!’.

And then the moustaches came out! The guys loved them! Chad took one and everyone was like ‘no you don’t need one!’ Romey put his on his head. The guys took lots of their own photos and had fun goofing around with them, and then we got our own photos – it was so funny 😀

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And oh I was so happy and so full of love! I know I was giving off the wrong impression but it’s so hard not to with fan love at this kind of level.

We had time to run and get a takeaway and come back and line up. I got some amazing falafels, super spicy and messy! And I got to take a fried aubergine to a show. Never done that before.

The stage was super high but we got in first and went to the middle 🙂 Army Of Bones opened and were really good. I was really excited when I heard they would be opening for Switchfoot, that’s near perfect for me, especially as I had missed seeing Martin Smith’s previous band play with Switchfoot. It felt like I was getting a second chance. They didn’t give us any interaction, but Martin’s performance is so captivating and the music rocked! He spliced New Way To Be Human into Love Song For A City 🙂 I think even Jude, who isn’t really a fan, was impressed 🙂 By the end of their set people pressing in from the sides had got me even more central.

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Switchfoot opened with If The House Burns Down Tonight. I’ve got to admit that’s a bit of a weird opener; all the build up and then just that quiet ‘Ashes from the flames…’ before it gets going… but then it really does get going after that! It wasn’t an easy show to take pictures at, and in any case my friends were covered in cameras, so I just watched the show.

This show felt a little like Munich’s, with similar lighting, no crowd barrier, and a chilled and happy vibe, though this was I think mostly due to tired spaceyness rather than surfing this time! The venue had more climbing potential however, which Jon utilised! He went into the crowd a couple of times, including going up onto the balcony, over the side and down into the crowd in true nailbiting fashion during Love Alone Is Worth The Fight.

At my friend’s birthday request they played Your Love Is A Song, Drew giving it a killer solo.

Early on in the show, a guy called Peter held up a sign saying, in pictures, ‘Can I play guitar on The Sound?’ Jon took the sign, looked at it, figured out what it said and replied  ‘I think we’re going a little too fast; it’s early on in this relationship, maybe we can slow down and see where this goes?’ 😀 But later he did indeed get to play it, and he really rocked! He even got the beautiful Love Is The Movement guitar too!

They went very off piste from the original set list.  ‘I want to take this right back; it’s not on the set list… Chad, what would you do if I said ‘Al Pacino’..?’ And they played Gone – I never really thought of it as a rock song but wow it was quite heavy this time, all crunching, screaming guitars! It was brilliant!

All my banners came out at different points during the show; ‘Europe’ and ‘Where  I Belong (WIB)’ Jon held up, he took ‘Thank you’ to look at too. ‘Healer of Souls’ he just went ‘Ooh :/ ‘! Play the song Jon!!

The encore was amazing; they played Float (YESSS! So much fun!), I Won’t Let You Go (which had Jude in tears), and Dare You To Move (which is always going to make me happy!), so beautiful!

Overall there was a worshipful feel to the whole thing, it felt like we were really involved with the lyrics, personally and collectively…

Afterwards we stood and chatted to ‘fam for ages by the bus. Suddenly after a long wait I picked up Jon’s tweet: Aftershow in 15 minutes by the bus! Eeeee!! I was wearing the (still wet) WIB banner when he came out. He took us along the street to a bridge over a canal and stopped just as I was next to him, so I got front row! He played Vice Verses and All Of God’s Children, which were beautiful and deep, Just Rob Me (oh my goodness..!! Absolutely hilarious!), 24, and On Fire merging into Your Love Is Strong, it was really lovely. During Vice Verses we heard some funny noises in the street (car horns maybe?) joining in the song (‘It’s a duet!’ said Jon!) 😀 Boats passing by on the canal slowed down to watch, and despite how small the bridge is and how quiet the city seemed, several times we had to dodge bicycles and cars (Jon remarked ‘This bridge is busy!’). He looked at me at the end and I just said ‘thank you!’ 🙂

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Afterwards I walked back to the bus with him. There was all the usual hounding and selfie-taking, Jon masterfully steering the crowd towards the bus the whole time, so I stayed aside and just took it in. But I did get to thank him for playing so many songs that mean so much to me and he thanked me for being there. After that, we got to hang around and say goodbye to most the guys. Drew told me he put me in their Instagram, and they had – the picture of me with my flag, as well as them goofing around with the Chad moustaches! So sweet! We wished them safe travels and goodnight and see you at BCDO. They didn’t leave for us to wave them off, so eventually we left instead.

I ate my concert aubergine and fangirled online a bit, then it was a quick sleep before dashing to catch the bus back to London. Getting across Amsterdam proved a bit simpler this time, but the bus was not very comfortable. I picked up some iced tea on the way, and accidentally bought a fizzy kind, which was not right at all! I spent most of the journey getting glitter on the bus, and enjoying the memories.

It was extremely hot and the bus did not have much air conditioning, so it was disappointing to realise we were going back through the tunnel, not on the ferry. The result was we were sat in the tunnel carpark waiting to board for two and a half hours, going nowhere and getting ever hotter. And then I got the news: Switchfoot really are coming back this autumn, and are giving us a proper UK tour!! :O 😀 :’) Wowowow!! Everything got a bit surreal from there. I emerged back into the UK, and immediately saw a dense murmeration of midges over the roadside trees, and then witnessed grown men holding a sack race, and a bizarre junk shop full of weird statues, dummies and ornate lamps, as we entered London…

I love Switchfoot so much 🙂 Also, how many times did Jon shake my hand/ high five me?! Bring on the rest of the tour!!

Read Part 2 here

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Cosmic washing lines

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the night sky recently, watching the Perseid meteors, the beautiful full moon, and admiring the Milky Way whilst on a camping trip and on long walks home after dark from various adventures. The more time I’ve spent looking at it, the crazier it seems. I had one of those incredible shifts of perspective on one such evening, where you suddenly realise you’re standing on a planet hanging in the vastness of space, looking out across the galaxy and seeing unimaginably huge and distant burning stars… it’s just breathtakingly mind boggling!

And then I see myself and my surroundings in that cosmic context. Stood in the overgrown and rather messy back garden of my house, on a very mundane housing estate, looking out at the vastness of the universe we are flying through… through a tangle of plastic washing lines!!

How does this all make sense?! How can our ordinary, everyday, washing line-filled lives be a part of this same, grand, immense universe as all those stars?

And yet, we are connected. We are a part of it. We, and our washing line lives, are in space, with the stars. And our God made every part of it, a part of the whole, including us, including the stars, and sees every part of it, including us, including the stars, and cares about every part of it – including us, including the stars.

We are tiny and insignificant, and we matter.

 

Here’s a song on a similar train of thought…

 

Switchfoot’s ten albums

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With their 10th album releasing today, here is my take on each of Switchfoot’s albums. I’ve found there are particular moods or sets of circumstances for which each one is just right for the moment; this is how it looks for me. For each album I’ve picked out one song that I think illustrates it best, and you can listen along by clicking on the links, which will open the song  in a new tab. Enjoy!

1 – The Legend of Chin

Listen here

This album is perfect for my questioning moods; it raises questions, and helps me process questions. Who am I, why am I here, what should I be doing, what’s my aim, what’s the point, why don’t things make sense, what do I do with doubt, is it a good thing, what do I believe when it comes to it, what matters…why…?

“It’s a longer way from yesterday to where I am today… all that’s in my head is in Your hands… scream to no-one, take your time, sing it louder, twist and shout… all of your hoping and all of your searching for what… ask me for what am I living… could it be true, can life be new, can I be used… give me a reason for life and for death… not in me, in You…what’s your direction..?”

2 – New Way To Be Human

Listen here

This was my first introduction to Switchfoot. Jesus found and rescued me late 1999, and shortly after, a friend gave me an old-school mixtape to celebrate. New Way To Be Human was the final track on side B, and it fell off the tape half way through! But it was enough – I borrowed, and then bought the album, and the rest is happy history! So this album has been with me right from the beginning of my walk with God, and is deep enough to have been there for me throughout the journey, wherever it’s taken me. It’s even helped shape that journey as it has thrown in interesting philosophical ideas about life and faith, asked the deep questions, made space for the doubts and the wrestling with God, and taken me on some exciting adventures in vulnerable prayer. I’m so glad they’ve kept that depth over the years when so many other Christian musicians have felt the need to have all the answers and to always put on a show of positivity – that phoniness has put me off so many others, but Switchfoot’s honest questioning just keeps drawing me deeper in. I can’t fault New Way at all, except as with all of them, it’s too short!

“Divinity blends with a new way to be human… you’re the missing person now… give me a motive, swallow me whole… condemned to be free… oh God I believe, please help me believe… dreams of shrinking… all my sandcastles spend their time collapsing… let me know that You hear me… hey, I give it all away… sing to me of the song of the stars… out to start a fire in a barcode plastic world… breathing You in to blur the lines that mark where I begin and where You end… I’m an already-but-not-yet resurrected fallen man, come break this limbo, come define me… deep is the soul is the space I control…”

3 – Learning to Breathe

Listen here

It’s an extremely close call but I think if I had to pick a favourite album this is it (though Nothing Is Sound, and Edge Of The Earth if I can count an EP, pretty much tie with it!). It actually feels like blue skies and a breath of fresh air to listen to, and as a sky lover I appreciate all the atmospheric references. I love these delicious songs for many reasons, but I come back to it time and time again when I’m in need of grace, especially when I’ve messed up, as there are so many lyrics in there that connect me back in to God’s grace and a heavenly perspective on myself. This is where they became my favourite band, and I couldn’t have found a better band to follow if I’d tried.

“I could use a fresh beginning too…I want to lose myself in grace…you’ve been given innocence again… grace is high and low… do me a favour ‘cause I’m playing for keeps… we are bruised and broken masterpieces but we did not paint ourselves… sweet Erosion, break me and make me whole…”

4 – The Beautiful Letdown

Listen here

This one carries a sense of feeling far from home, that the shallow everyday is not all there is… this sense of holy discontentment has been very important to my faith journey over the years, keeping my eyes on the things that matter eternally (which come down to love), and from becoming too attached to the things that don’t (which come down to personal gain). Listening to Switchfoot, and this album in particular, I can never forget that what we see as normal is actually completely upside down compared to how it should be, and I should never become complacent in accepting things as they are but keep striving to make them better.

“We were meant to live for so much more… we want more than this world’s got to offer… more than oceans away from the dawn… we’re the issue, we’re ammunition… the tension is here, between how it is and how it should be… I don’t belong here… she believes in living bigger than she’s living now, but her world keeps spinning backwards and upside down… there’s more than what you’ve heard… I’m standing on the edge… I want to see miracles, to see the world change… I am the second man now…”

5 – Nothing Is Sound

Listen here

This is a strong contender for a favourite, partly because it’s my favourite evolution of their sound so far, partly because it was when I really realised how much of a good thing I was on to with this band, and also because it’s carried me through so much. This is where I go when ‘nothing is sound’ to the extent I have no words to express it or to pray – when I’m frustrated with myself, when there seems no hope, but more often when nothing seems right with the world and all the news is bad. (For example, where do you start when your country’s whole political narrative is being driven and dominated by mass-media xenophobia, but you know we are one, allied to a country without borders..?) Here I find the prayers and heart cries, big-picture hope on the horizon without being sold short with easy answers. And it helps me look at the situation with compassion too, overcoming the tendency to respond with anger.     

“I want more than my desperation, I want more than my lonely nation… we are slaves of what we want… I’ve been thinking about the meaning of resistance and a hope beyond my own… when will all the fighting end… nothing is SOUND!… please Lord don’t look the other way… does justice never find you, do the wicked never lose, is there any honest song to sing besides these blues… they’re selling shares of me again, I’m not buying it…I pledge allegiance to a country without borders… I don’t want to lose the common ground with the whole world upside down… let it go, open up your fist…”

6 – Oh! Gravity.

Listen here

I know it wasn’t the best time for Switchfoot, but they seemed to channel the pure energy from that difficult period in a way I’ve not heard from them before or since, it’s amazing. I think if I had to name a single thing that makes me the fan I am it would be how they take imperfect raw materials, and work them into something sublime, far better than ‘perfection’ could achieve. There’s a stunning level of musical and lyrical creativity in this one. And when I’m feeling restless inside and need something new to push and pull at my thoughts, disturb my normal, wake me up from sleepwalking through life, break out my own creativity, or just to yell, this is where I go.

“There’s a fracture in the color bar, in the back seat of a parked car… are you really as tough as you think, you blink and you’re over the brink, you bleed but the blood runs pink with dirty second hands… you’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream we’re awakening… I want to wake up kicking and screaming… another line, another freeway, another freefall…  I hated what I saw, golden eyes were dead… the future is a question mark of kerosene and electric sparks… souls aren’t built of stone, sticks and bones… as the dead moon rises, and the freeways sigh, let the trains watch over the tides and the mist, spinning circles in our skies tonight…”

7 – Hello Hurricane

Listen here

Songs of love for God, humanity, partners, children, and self; love in all its forms, inspiring without being idealistic. Whatever the storm, where there’s real love of any kind, it will pull through. ‘Needle’ illustrates it best for me; a love song that doesn’t shy away from real-life imperfection of life together, but is yet euphoric. The highs and lows. And when they play it live for us I know they understand it works just as well for the artist-fan relationship too.

“We are once in a lifetime… it’s hard to free the ones you love when you can’t forgive yourself… Your love is a symphony all around me… love is the final fight… there is no song louder than love… back from the dead and all our leaves are dried, you’re so beautiful tonight… when I try to reach above I only hurt the ones I love…  this is the day you were born and I am always yours… love is the one true innovation, love is the only art, don’t let ‘em blow it apart… she’s got teary eyes, I’ve got reasons why… if it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love… take what is left of me, make it a melody…”

8 – Vice Verses

Listen here

As an activist, it’s easy to get worn down by the constant battles against the injustices of this world; the endless cycle of wins and losses in the things that I really care about, steps forwards and backwards in environmental and social justice, takes a toll on me. This album has a lot of ‘fight’ for the times when I can’t find it in myself; so many times I have come to it broken, and it lets me have my cry out, but then gives me the kick I need to press on and come back fighting again. The lyrics meet me at my lowest ebbs of hopelessness, and carry me through it, never letting me fall too far from the energy and determination I need to pick myself up and keep going.

“I’ve tasted fire, I’m ready to come alive, I can’t just shut it up and fake that I’m alright… every fight comes from the fight within, I’m the war inside… running hard for the infinite with the tears of saints and hypocrites… we’re still on the air, it must be the truth, we’re selling the news… no I’m not alright, feel like I travel but I never arrive, I want to thrive not just survive… hope makes the blood change courses… just another scarecrow choking on a cough OH COME ON!…  the curse is spoken, the system’s broken, let’s rise above it… I want to see the earth start shaking, I want to see a generation finally waking up inside…”

9 – Fading West

Listen here

This album is full of sunshine, and it sounds incredible on the beach or at a summer festival. But whether or not it feels ‘sunny’ at the time, these songs are full of brightness. This album landed in my life during a really difficult winter (along with Fiction Family Reunion – took me a while to track that one down!) when I was in an awful housing situation, and those two albums lit up that dark period. I’d take them with me on long cycle rides down to the sea, sit on the dunes, watch the waves and be reminded of better things – that whilst I didn’t have anywhere to call ‘home’ right now, maybe this was a reminder that ultimately nowhere here would ever be ‘home’ when I was made for something bigger… that difficult times pass… to put aside my own circumstances and focus instead on making the world I want, and supporting others in the stuff they’re struggling with, and breaking down ‘us and them’ divisions in society… There’s an element of escapism to it, but the lyrics remain rooted in reality and a true perspective.

“I’m trying to find where my place is… eyes open like a child… it’s gone, yeah but we carry on… is this the world you want, you’re making it, every day you’re alive you change the world… every breath is your religion… our hope is just a metaphor for something better… let my soul fly, let it go… we won’t stop till we’re getting it right… sick of all the small-talk dripping non-stop from the open mouth graves of the faux hawk cinderblock malls… I can feel the ocean… my heart is Yours and what a broken place it’s in, but You’re all I’m running for and I want to feel the wind at my back again…”

10 – Where The Light Shines Through

Listen here

Even after these nine incredible albums, this collection still surprises. As with Oh Gravity, it’s a stunningly musically creative album, and the band sound very much like they’re having fun experimenting with styles and pulling it off beautifully. Running through it all is a theme of hope for broken relationships, whether personal or within wider society. It’s been with me less than two weeks as I write, but it’s already put its finger firmly on a few of my issues, and pointed me to the hope that they can heal. I’m not feeling like I’m in a place where I can talk more about that yet; it’s early days, some of it is very personal, and will take some dealing with to get to a point where I can share about my particular ‘wounds’ and the healing process, but I find these lyrics already at work. It’s also arrived at a point where things look pretty dark politically in both the US and UK, and here I find songs to sing into that darkness. Finally we really get to hear their musical skills, so evident when you see them live. This is an album we will be able to hold up to show what they’re capable of.

“Your wounds are where the light shines through… if the house burns down tonight I got everything I need with you by my side… my enemies weren’t the ones that I had fought, my liberties weren’t the freedoms I had sought… I keep feeling like we fall apart better than we fall in love… bring me the music for the revolution, I’m singing for more than just a dead solution… everybody wants to rock and roll but a couple of years and it takes a toll and I want to start healing… America who are you, do you get what you deserve, between the violence and entitlements, which nation do you serve… Your hope is the anthem of my soul…”

If you like what you hear or want to explore more, you can buy the music and read more at switchfoot.com – please support this amazing band! 🙂

Living an obsession well

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I have an obsession, namely with the work of Jon Foreman and particularly his band Switchfoot. I’m not alone – I’m friends with a whole community of fellow megafans who can all testify to the importance of this band to so many areas of their lives. But I’ve had conversations with many of these wonderful friends recently in which the difficult subject of idolatry has arisen. Whilst we love this band and know they do us good, so many of us at the same time worry we place them before God at times. It’s an important question to consider, however difficult; no human is worth our worship and devotion the way God is, at all. We need to get things the right way up; but how?

I wrote this a couple of years ago after a particularly obsessive spell got me seriously asking this question myself, and resulted in me fasting completely from both social media and all things Jon Foreman for the whole of Advent. These are some of the lessons I learnt from the experience. I’m sharing it here because it was eye-opening for me, and very helpful in how I treat my obsession. I’m hoping it helps for you too.

First – God is the source of every good thing, love comes from God and love in itself is always good. But we must hold every good thing lightly, enjoy them fully but be prepared to eventually surrender all things back to their Maker. Fasting is a good way of practising this, kicking down anything that could become a false god and breaking our hold on the things we enjoy by removing them from our lives from time to time.

I found it was unambiguously good spending a little time away from social media, though I missed my facebook-only friends! But fasting Switchfoot for that amount of time – less so. It was good for my sense of perspective for sure, showing up how God is enough for me and so, so much more than any mere band could be, that God is always good and can always be followed, whereas I don’t always agree with these guys on everything and sometimes will have to go a different way to them; to recognise that all the good I see in them comes from God and that it’s God who is at work in my life there, and also that God has power over every addiction.

However, it also showed up how God is using Jon to shape me and make me more the person I was made to be. As a result, I found that fasting for so long was slightly harmful – I found I was fighting myself after a while and trying to be someone I’m actually not by supressing that part of me that has been inspired by (God through) Jon. Without his influence I found I was less myself, less who I was made to be, and less creative!

So since then I’ve embraced the fandom, as far as I feel God at work in me through it, and have seen the most incredible positive changes in me as a result. I needed that perspective from fasting to tease apart the healthy good influence and God at work, from the unhealthy overreliance on the guys themselves. I’ve begun to look on Jon as my saint – which is actually a lot healthier than it sounds – not someone in any way perfect (as maybe I had been at risk of thinking) but a fellow Christian a little further along the journey in most respects than I am, and therefore someone whose example I can look up to and follow. But that has to be in the context of a good relationship with Jesus so I can see where they sometimes diverge, or where maybe I am further along than he is so he doesn’t bring me down. I have to follow Jesus first – but sometimes Jon is a good guide to my efforts. And of course, we’d hope to not just follow but surpass a saint eventually and leave them behind for Christ.

And then this, which has been a lesson learnt since: opening myself up to fandom has mostly improved me, but my obsession has also grown. It’s a weakness and character flaw for sure, and I have to be honest about that. But, surrendered to God, God can use a weakness and turn it to His strength. It keeps us small and humbly dependent on God’s grace if we are constantly seeking God’s help with it, and it opens us up to God working in us, He can use it to shape us.

So: I’ve realised that fasting regularly for short times is a very good practice, but for long periods isn’t healthy (probably the case for many good things). Fighting against ourselves is bad. Embracing fan-love and going for it wholeheartedly but humbly and reverently before God has (for me) opened me up to being more the person God wants to make me, and He’s done incredible things in and through me. And I’ve learnt to always look beyond Switchfoot to see God at work behind them, to acknowledge that’s where the good comes from, be thankful and keep my eyes on Him.

Let’s keep encouraging one another to ask the difficult questions of where our priorities are, who has our heart and how tightly are we clinging on to created things.