Tag Archives: Song

Veggie Theology

“All creatures of our God and King

Lift up your voice and with us sing

Sun, moon and stars rejoice on high

Praise to the Lord of light divine!”

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above you heavenly host

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost”

 

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

 

 

What do you think of that? We sing these songs, and others like them, all the time, but do we ever think about what we’re singing?

 

My initial reasons for going veggie were purely ethical, and I was extremely surprised when my Christian boyfriend, now husband, told me that he was veggie for spiritual reasons. It hadn’t occurred to me that being veggie related at all to Christianity. However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the links between my faith and our relationship to animals.

 

Here is some research I did into the subject a few years ago for a workshop I was leading at a food justice gathering; if you want to study along, I’ve included links to each scripture I quote, which will open in a new window, or you can look them up in your own Bible:

 

A Brief Biblical History:

In the beginning, all things were made by and for God (Colossians 1:16).*

We were made together with the animals, but we alone were made ‘in God’s image’ and put in charge of other animals and the rest of the Earth. We were given grains and fruits to eat. God looked at it all and was pleased with it. (Genesis 1:24-31) Jesus is our model for how to be good rulers.

We were put in Eden to care for and work the Earth, in companionship with animals (Genesis 2:15-20).

We were permitted to eat animals as well as plants following the fall and flood, when much of the Earth was destroyed (Genesis 9:3).

When the law was given, animal welfare commands were put in place (for example Exodus 23:12 and 19, Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and 25:4).

 

God’s plan:

We often assume animals have no soul, but the most the Bible says explicitly is ‘who knows?’! (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) There are strong hints that they do, in that the creation story uses the same original words for the bringing to life of other animals as for humans, but this is translated as soul for humans, and breath for animals.

In Isaiah 11 a return to Eden’s peace (restored relationships, not mere absence of conflict) is prophesied.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the ‘kosmos’… (meaning pretty much exactly what it does in English); God’s purpose in Jesus was far bigger than just humanity.

This is expanded in Romans 8:19-21 and Colossians 1:20 – all created things are waiting for salvation, via us, via Christ!

 

So that’s the Bible’s view of our relationship with animals. However, I don’t think it stops there, as the Bible also teaches us ethical principles:

 

Ethics:

How we treat others is important, so we should always think about our impacts on fellow human beings and how we can best live in love (Matthew 22:36-39 and 25:31-46, Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 4:16, and many more!).

Meat impacts on the lives of other humans in many ways. About 10% of the average Brit’s carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy; beef and milk in particular have huge carbon impacts associated with them as cattle produce a lot of methane, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. A vast amount of land is also being deforested globally for livestock farming, either directly for pasture or indirectly to grow animal feed, releasing more greenhouse gases, removing a carbon sink, and also often taking land away from indigenous people. All of this matters as climate change is already hitting the poorest and most vulnerable people hard through famines, land losses and natural disasters, and adding to human migration pressures. Meat production also requires up to 20kg grain per kg of meat produced (and a vast amount of water); whilst there are still so many people going hungry in the world, isn’t it unjust to make more food into less food just for our own personal preferences? The land we have could feed many more people if we used more of it to feed people directly, rather than feeding so many livestock and making a relatively small amount of meat. I’m convinced that being veggie reduces my impact on others, and that this is therefore another way I can choose to live with a slightly more Christlike attitude.

 

And yet in spite of this, I still hear people say some weird stuff about Christianity and veg(etari)anism. Here are a few, and why I think they’re false:

 

  • Animals were made for our use

Animals, along with us and all other created things, were made for God and God’s praise and pleasure (Psalm 24:1, Colossians 1:16).

This is the stunning truth we so often, so easily sing in church without even thinking about it; we are not the only part of God’s creation made for worship, but everything that has breath should praise the Lord! Are we helping or hindering that praise to rise..?

 

  • We were given dominion over the animals

Absolutely; but Christ is to be our example, not a crazed, exploitative human dictator! Philippians 2:6-11 sets out what this looks like, a life of selfless love and service.

 

  • Christian men should be ‘real men’ (… which means eating lots of meat)

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians must conform to Hollywood stereotypes, or indeed, eat meat. Being a good Christian man means Christ-like selfless love, not machismo (Ephesians 5:25-33).

There are no rules for the Christian – although not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12); we are under grace, not law, and this statement comes dangerously close to undermining this Gospel truth.

 

  • We are called to be responsible stewards of the Earth

Absolutely; but let’s go a bit further. Stewardship implies that we are guardians of a resource to be used wisely. However, Biblical language speaks far less of animals as a resource to be used, and far more as living beings made of the same flesh as we are, made for God’s praise.

We are called far beyond mere stewardship, to bring the whole cosmos, including its people and animals, to salvation and resurrection in Christ  – see John 3:16, Romans 8, Colossians 1.

 

  • Animals will not be resurrected

Says who? All the Bible says directly is ‘who knows?’(Ecclesiastes 3:19-21), but ‘living creatures’, probably representing all animals, are present in the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 4.

 

  • God made us carnivores

God made us not only vegan but fruitarian! (Genesis 1:29)

We are also made with sufficient intelligence to understand our nutritional needs and creative enough to meet those needs fully in more compassionate ways than our mere instincts would permit.

 

  • If I stop eating meat, it won’t make a difference as everyone else will carry on

This is not a Christian attitude – our smallest acts make a difference in God’s kingdom (Matthew 25:40). Mother Theresa was once asked why she did what she did, as her work was only a drop in the ocean. She wisely replied ‘Yes, but the ocean is made of many drops.’

 

  • If I stop eating meat, farm animals will go extinct, so meat eating keeps them alive

We have managed to conserve all kinds of species of non-economic importance, and any visit to a farm park or petting zoo will tell you that we love domestic animals enough to preserve them in the very least as tourist attractions if nothing more. Humanity, made in God’s image, has a unique ability to conserve, and even improve upon, creation in its current state – Genesis 2:15.

 

  • Vegetarians have weak faith; Romans 14:2 says so

Read the rest of Romans 14 too. The context of this advice is that some Christians were avoiding meat altogether as they were worried about accidentally eating something unclean or becoming spiritually unclean by eating meat sacrificed to other gods; they were afraid of accidentally angering God, a sign that their faith in God’s saving grace was weak. Weak faith may be one reason for some people to abstain from certain activities, despite all things being permitted the Christian. However, whatever reason a person has for abstaining, to them, doing that activity would be wrong, and we should not attempt to force them to change their views in case we caused them to act against their conscience.

Many Christians are well aware that there are indeed no food laws to adhere to any more, and are not afraid of accidentally losing their salvation in Christ, but still have ethical reasons for boycotting certain foods for the sake of loving others as ourselves – from meat to non-Fairtrade chocolate.

 

  • We were commanded to eat meat

We were commanded in Eden to eat grains and fruits, and later permitted to eat meat after the fall and after the flood had destroyed much of the land – Genesis 1:29, Genesis 9:3.

 

… and therefore, if Jesus was sinless then meat eating cannot be said to be a sinful act in itself.

However, Jesus modelled deep, border-crossing compassion that gives us an example to work towards where love has no limits.

It is also true that issues like factory farming, climate change and global hunger did not exist in the same way in Jesus’ time; perhaps He would take different ethical stances in today’s globalised world..?

 

I’ll finish there, but if you want to explore more, this is an interesting organisation to check out. Here is a prayer to close, which blew my mind when I first read how ancient it was; its powerful, beautiful insight far pre-dates today’s mass-market mistreatment of animals and is all the more relevant today:

“The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

Oh God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things,

Our brethren the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty

So that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.

May we realise that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee,

And that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.”

– St Basil of Caesarea, 4th century church father

 

*I’m leaving aside questions over whether the Genesis account of creation was literal or figurative here; I do firmly believe it has a lot to teach us about God’s plan and intent and why things are as they are, and that that is not dependent upon it being literal.

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Survival strategy

I wrote this in my diary the night I missed Jon Foreman’s aftershow/solo show at the BCDO festival; it’s a survival strategy for getting through a depressive episode, so I have it to look back on the next time the ‘wolf‘ starts beating me around the head with painful thoughts. It’s the process I went through that night, and over the following couple of days, firstly to withstand the immediate assault, and then to calm myself down from it, and then to find God, and light, and hope, through it all, and eventually to recover.

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The little note at the bottom I added in the morning. It felt like sometimes you have to lose the occasional battle even when you’re winning the war, and that it’s ok that sometimes ‘chaos wins’. With no apologies for quoting a lyric, because it was one of the lyrics that shifted my perspective that night, this episode was the shadow that proved the sunshine; suddenly facing a (temporary) deep and scary darkness turned up the contrast on my life, and giving the tears to God as a desperate prayer I really did see hope, and joy, and every good thing, in a breathtaking light.

Hope is strongest set against despair.

The Light shines the brightest in the dark.*

 

*John 1:5, The Bible

Resurrecting me

Like so many of Jon Foreman’s songs, Resurrect Me has played a huge part in my story.
I stayed up till 3:30am last night watching (amongst other things in the beautiful, honest, hope-filled evening that was TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light concert) Jon singing this song. In a whole evening dedicated to being real, opening up about when life hurts, and affirming that hope is real, it struck me again that this song was what first inspired me to seek help for my own pain about a year ago.
I’d been back and forth between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ for some time, and keeping an eye on myself, aware I needed to take my mental health seriously but not sure at what point to reach out.
And then one day last spring I found myself listening to this song. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but that day one line jumped out at me: ‘I tried to drown the pain with a friend of mine, it didn’t seem to help, ah she’s got a pretty face with her wedding lace but I’m still waking up with myself
Suddenly it was obvious; if I’m not ok now, without a job, what makes me think I will be ok when I get one? Isn’t the problem right here, in me? A line in a book I was reading that same week confirmed it: Wherever we go, ‘We take ourselves with us’. I had to find a way to be ok with that!
Here is the truth. I was ‘ok’, but I was carrying pain that previous jobs had not fixed. Neither had my marriage, my relocation or my home. Maybe it was ok for that ‘ok’ to not be enough, and to seek help.
I can testify that it was absolutely worth it! There is help and support out there, none of us are alone in our pain, and as TWLOHA will tell you, hope is real, help is real and recovery is possible. I’m now on that road; I hope that I am learning to ‘take myself with me’ now, to be able to keep my eyes on the honest reality of the state of my soul and listen to both my ‘light’ and my ‘heavy’.
I don’t know where you are at. But if you find yourself waiting for something to complete you, I’d love to encourage you to find help to discover that you can be whole already, without that thing yet in place. If you’re not ok with yourself now, you will not be ok when that job, relationship, family, move, marriage, money, or home arrives. That pain is there, in you. And that’s ok. And you can be helped to find yourself whole, now.
Resurrection is real.

You can watch the whole of Heavy and Light here, I recommend the whole thing, a really affirming and honest event.

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…)

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! 🙂

2015 – An intense year

DSCN73852015 was a crazy year for me; I’ve never known a year so packed or so intense in my life! There’s been some bad-intense moments, but overwhelmingly more good-intense experiences. I’m left feeling pretty humbled by it all.

Life in general

It began particularly intense for my husband; 3 major deadlines in the first 3 weeks of the year (requiring a lot of all-nighters to finish it all), and culminating in a two week trip away from home to the USA for a conference and visit to his relatives, and a first experience of properly cold temperatures and American snow. And so the year continued from there!

We’ve been away a lot; my work has taken me away from home more than ever before, with 10 trips to London alone for meetings and climate rallies, plus visits to Bradford and Sheffield to lead workshops, a training weekend in Derbyshire, and several festivals. We went to three weddings, and our band managed to meet up eight times for performances and recording sessions, we attended a very geeky reunion weekend for our old university, and visited family in different parts of the country a few times too, during which we were introduced to three new ‘fur baby’ relatives.

And then there were the two holidays of a lifetime; the second, a trip to the incredibly beautiful Isles of Scilly with my family, and the first, following Switchfoot’s European tour and taking time during our travels to visit friends and family in London, Edinburgh, and Freiburg as well as some quality time exploring European cities together. Both adventures have left us with the most precious memories of happy times together. And we’ve seen some incredible wildlife too; cranes, storks, black woodpeckers, sunfish, dolphins, starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, seals… amazing.

We’ve had a lot of visitors when we have been home; now we live in a nice part of the country a lot more of our friends and family have been keen to visit, and we’ve been busy giving tours of the local sights. There have been a fair few daytrips just as a household too, including some long cycle rides, hikes on the moors, a fossil hunting expedition (in which M actually found a dinosaur bone), a pirate festival, and trips to the beach. I’ve done a lot more sea swimming than usual; it usually takes a lot to get me in the sea but one day in the autumn the sea was so lovely I spent over an hour swimming!

The little time we have had at home, to ourselves, we’ve spent trying to redecorate our whole house, which has obviously not got all that far given how little time we’ve been able to give to the DIY project! But we’ve learnt to put up wallpaper, and crammed in time for a little housewarming party too once we got the worst of the DIY out the way.

So that’s what my life was like on the whole last year; this is how things panned out with my faith, politics, poetry and fandom:

Faith

Two recurring themes of this year in my relationship with God have been grace, and death as part of the resurrection process. This was a really significant year for me as it was the year I could finally celebrate having been ‘alive for half my life’. I’d been thinking about it a lot as the anniversary approached, and these lessons God has been teaching me seemed really fitting; a time to refocus on all I have been given, both in having my life saved in the first place, half my life ago, and all that I have been given since, and then to question what happens next in this process of being reborn, recreated and resurrected.

Grace has impacted me in so many ways in the past year, and I’ve encountered it from so many people as well as supremely from Godself. I’ve posted here already about the profound grace experience I encountered through my meetings with Jon Foreman whilst following Switchfoot on tour last spring, and also about a very different grace experience, which came about as the result of what felt, to me at least, a real epic fail, but which opened me up to a fresh sense of God’s love for me and my absolute dependence on that Love for strength, goodness and second chances. But I’ve also experienced a huge amount of grace from others through my failures, struggles with health and work, and my political activity; my husband has met all of this with forgiveness, love, patience and humour, and my friends, family and colleagues have been so amazingly supportive, offering prayer, sympathy and practical support over and over again, regardless of whether or not they’ve agreed with me. I feel deeply humbled by it all.

The intimate connection between death and resurrection has been on my mind a lot over the year. It began, logically enough, at Easter, as I remembered again how in Christ death itself died to bring life to us all through the resurrection. But I am a Jon Foreman fan; this past year he has seeded my thought life with so many new songs exploring life, death and resurrection, as well as the older songs that had accompanied my musings over Easter. As I spent the year looking back to the day one version of myself died and a new me came alive, and forward to the future, a day-to-day process of learning to die little by little to myself and live more fully the life I was made for to play my part in bringing in the Kingdom of God, it has been extremely powerful to share the journey with these songs. There have been some beautiful contemplative moments, experiencing God close by in still moments in festivals and out in nature. And I’ve seen more answers to prayers, big and small, than I can possibly count, everything from miraculous healings of people we’ve prayed for at church to good weather when I’ve needed it for travels and work. God is good.

Politics

Politically, this past year has been a battle, and it has taken me beyond what I’ve been able to handle – which in itself has meant depending more and more on grace, and sacrificing a little more of myself to allow more life in, but it has also stretched me to breaking point. I spend a lot of time campaigning for social justice and environmental protection, both with two of my ‘jobs’, and in my personal life, but this year has been very tough, with the election, the Paris climate summit, and the fall-out of both to deal with. It has felt like we’ve had to push extremely hard just to hold our ground, and at times it’s felt like things are heading in a backwards direction instead as poverty, inequality and xenophobia have risen, and climate change and nature protection measures have been in most cases cut, just when we need to be becoming more internationally cooperative, working more actively for peace, and pushing hard for real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and a halt to species losses. So we’ve been working hard. And unfortunately I’ve felt extremely isolated in it all, working alone from home most of the time, and not having a good network of activist friends living nearby to rely on for help and solidarity.

For the positives – I’ve had a few different chances to speak and lead workshops this past year, including taking part in my first panel event on faith and the environment, I went on my first ever pride march, had wonderful encouraging visits to other activist groups, particularly with SPEAK, which reminded me I’m not alone and that good things are happening, and went to some really inspiring events, including Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp training weekend/ minifestival. And since it has been so hard to move things in conventional ways, I’ve turned to non-violent direct action; firstly supporting a fairly low-key prayer rally and banner drop in the Church of England synod meeting calling on the Church to disinvest from fossil fuels for the sake of those we should be showing love towards, and secondly, whitewashing and ‘rebranding’ the Department for Energy and Climate Change to expose the deadly policy changes taking place behind all the government’s talk on climate. And both went about as well as we could have hoped, and have received a lot of support. I just hope they lead to meaningful change…

Poetry

I haven’t written a lot of poetry this past year; however, I have managed to write, and actually finish, four songs, which is pretty amazing for me. It was mainly a year for the music; my band worked hard to release a new Christmas album at the end of the year, so we had a lot of band meetups and recording sessions to get it done. We also performed at two small festivals and two weddings, which was nice. In the process I have begun to learn to sing out loud, performing with a microphone, singing a duet with M, and finally recording a lead vocal! And improbably, despite our disorganisation, we did get the album out on time, and it’s quite fun!

Fandom

Wow this really has been a year of change in my life as a music fan. Although I’d largely given in to the inevitability of becoming a megafan years back, even up to the end of 2014 I was still fighting myself over it to some extent, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t an integral part of me. After spending some time fasting from all things Jon Foreman at the end of the year, it became clear to me that trying to detach myself too far from my fandom was actually unhealthy, and that I was fighting against my own self. I decided that whilst an occasional short ‘fast’ could be a good thing to stop me becoming too obsessed or unhealthily dependent, on the whole it was far better for me to give in to it completely, stop fighting myself and just become all that it can make me. And it has been an incredible ride!

As well as finding out just how much I can be changed for the better through it, I’ve also been learning what it is to really be a fan; that an artist-fan relationship is not the one-way, purely commercial process that I had previously thought it to be, but that it truly is a two-way relationship, that artists need our support in so many ways, including hearing from us personally.

So. I joined a couple of online fan forums to meet fellow fans. I took the chance to follow Switchfoot on tour around Europe back in the spring. I got tickets for five shows, plus all the buses, trains and hostels that involved to make it all possible. And I made some fan art to take along to show the band, a t-shirt and four banners, plus a couple of letters. And it worked out so incredibly, beautifully well! I made some great new friends, had some wonderful times with M and friends, and finally felt I’d made the connection with Jon and the rest of the band that I’d missed making all these years. I’m still even now getting the happiest flashbacks to it all that make my heart skip a beat or two, it’s hard to get my head around. It even spilled over a little to my relationships with other artists; if I’d been a bad fan to Switchfoot in the past I’d been a worse fan to band #2, Delirious. But last year I also finally got a message of appreciation through to the band’s Stu and Stew too, which helped heal some of those old regrets too.

And the intensity of the last year of fandom did not end when I returned home from that tour either; all last year Jon Foreman was releasing a series of EPs collectively called The Wonderlands (and ended the year by giving us a new Switchfoot song, New Year’s Day) – new music that has had, and continues to have, a lifechanging impact. For someone like me, this is more than ‘just music’; a major release like this becomes a significant life event, new songs become friends, lovers, mentors to me, guiding my walk with God and shaping who I am. I won’t go into details on individual songs here, I’ll leave that for a future post, but these songs truly make me who I am.

I was obviously a huge fan already, but by the end of the year my fan-love really was off the scale; he topped everything by celebrating the final release of The Wonderlands by performing 25 shows in 24 hours in a whole series of different weird and wonderful locations around San Diego, featuring each of the 25 songs from the project played at its appropriate hour, and all done to raise money for local disadvantaged kids. I couldn’t be there in person, but I was more than there in spirit; I stayed up the entire 24 hours, watching social media and periscope to catch as much of the event as I could and sending supportive messages and chatting to fellow fans watching from home too. Oh my heart! I don’t think I can exaggerate how beautiful the whole thing was! I’m not sure what I expected but Jon earnt my admiration hundreds of times over that day, not only keeping going but getting better as it went on, showing a lot of kindness to the fans and fellow musicians there, and having a lot of fun with it all too. There were some absolutely classic moments. It has been filmed, and trust me, if the film gets released you really do want to see it! For now, I collected a playlist of as many fan videos as I’ve been able to find.

Wow wow. Where does it go from here?!

 


 

2015 was also the year I:

  • Got a smart phone
  • Got locked out of facebook over changing my name
  • Discovered I like hazelnut lattes
  • Watched a solar eclipse
  • Tried again to join a samba band…
  • Found out how to chop down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring
  • Had my first eye test for 10 years, and found I have the beginnings of long sight
  • Became a music reviewer
  • Got my first henna tattoos
  • Discovered cheesy chart music
  • Enjoyed a stunningly beautiful autumn
  • Saw my work colleagues in a panto
  • Quit 2 jobs
  • Had a deep conversation with a random guy on a megabus journey
  • Gatecrashed a thanksgiving party

It’s been fun! 😀

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! 🙂