Tag Archives: Song

Oh blessed…

At this time of year, with Switchfoot having toured here this same week in both 2015 and 2017, I’m unavoidably drawn into the memories, reliving all those powerful experiences. There are two experiences within all of that that really stand out; one, really connecting with Jon for the first time at the end of the 2015 tour, when for the first time I felt my fan-love was accepted. The other, that dark night in 2017, the shadow that proved the sunshine of the rest of the year, when I missed Jon play an impromptu solo show at BCDO South, because it happened at 10pm in the chapel, and I wasn’t allowed onto that part of the site till 10:30pm, and depression and anxiety won out.

Add in Switchfoot’s current hiatus, and that was a heady mix of feelings to be carrying when the opportunity arose to go to BCDO South again this year. To begin with I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s previously felt a bit of an odd evangelical Christian bubble, isolated from reality in more ways than one. There were artists I did want to see, but did I want to see any of them enough to cross the country for? It’s a long way, and the costs would add up. And then, no Switchfoot. It would be the first time I’d gone there without them. Would I want to be faced with all those memories in their absence?

However. I have a second favourite band.

I could never really claim to have ever been a megafan of Delirious?; nonetheless, they’ve been a really big deal to me right from my introduction to them, at a signing in a local record store in early 2000. I ended up front row as they played, lead singer Martin Smith climbing onto the gear cases I was squashed up against and even standing on the CD of theirs I had just bought in the process! I was hooked by their engaging and energetic performance and big sound, and let’s admit it, those dark eyes..! The CD thankfully survived, so I lined up for the signing. I was 16, had never met anyone famous before, and they’d made quite an impression on me; I was starstruck, and they didn’t really have time for me. Ah well. It was amazing!

That was the beginning of the journey. Delirious? were immediately my second band (first place initially going to another band before Switchfoot well and truly won my heart), and over the next few years I followed them avidly. At the time I knew no greater high than the Delirious? post concert rush. In those early days I’d not learned what to do with my heart; I gave it all to my top two bands, obsessing to a crazy extent, finding out everything I could about them, and yet not really giving them a lot to show for it (of course, pre social media, that was a lot harder anyhow…). It wasn’t long before I figured this was unhealthy and that I needed to get things in perspective and focus on God. As a result, I reined it right in. As my love for Switchfoot grew, I swore I’d not be the same with them, that I’d pay them as little attention as possible, and just enjoy the music and focus my heart on God. I didn’t know their names, I wasn’t on their mailing list, I avoided their website, and I never saw them play live. Yet, I loved them more and more, and found God at work through what they do.

Delirious? and Switchfoot fitted perfectly together in those days for me: Switchfoot are American, Delirious? British; Delirious? I used to see a couple of times a year, and yet I never dared see Switchfoot till 2011; my Switchfoot obsession is centred around Jon Foreman and his lyrics and vocals, Delirious? It was always Stu and Stew and their amazing guitar and drums. Delirious? had a cheese-factor Switchfoot never did, yet soloed in a way Switchfoot at least never did in the studio. I’ve long felt almost as at home in Stu’s guitar tones as I do in Jon’s voice. Over the years their respective songs Come Like You Promise and Dare You To Move have both jostled for the position of favourite favourite song (Dare’s been ahead for some time now, but the former holds the endurance record!). Both bands inspired and challenged me with their lyrics (though Switchfoot more so), and I loved their music. Delirious? met my need for a band I could follow, ‘get to know’, and enjoy live, since I’d begun that way with them, whilst something even deeper was at work with Switchfoot.

I got hold of Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound and Delirious?’s The Mission Bell at the same time in 2005; I remember being struck straight away by the similar feel of even the cover art, but even before playing them I read through the lyrics to both. Goosebumps. These were powerful words that engaged with the world in all its brokenness, met me where I was, and inspired me to act to make it better. It excited me, and I knew I’d found my place musically.

And yet somehow something went wrong. As I journeyed into megafandom of Switchfoot, and then Jon Foreman more generally, somehow I began to take Delirious? for granted. They were always around. I didn’t even have to make the effort, sooner or later they’d be playing near me. There’d be the same old songs, the same amazing solos, the same goofing around and forgetting lyrics by Martin, that same high afterwards… The last time I saw them was at Greenbelt festival in 2007. I was tired after a long day, and they were playing a similar set to the last few shows of theirs I’d seen. I left half way through to get some rest.

To this day I don’t know what happened*, but the next thing I knew of them they were finishing their final tour. All that time I’d followed them, and been on their mailing list, and known everything about them, and somehow I’d missed their final album, split and last tour. Stew Smith had even been the first to leave the band some time before the end, and Stu G had emigrated to the USA. I was shellshocked and heartbroken. When I got hold of that final album, Kingdom Of Comfort, and discovered it to be up there with my all-time favourite albums, full of the most powerful lyrics, and made for the big stage, I was even more devastated to have missed that closing chapter. I had been a truly terrible fan!

Delirious? left a hole in my heart – both the pain of that bad ending, and the lack of a band to follow. The result? Throwing myself full into my love of Switchfoot, knowing now what I stood to lose, and embracing the megafandom for what it was. The rest of that story I’ve already told of course.

So, here I am in 2018. A decade without Delirious? and though time had softened the pain, I still felt their absence from my life and all my regrets. Meanwhile, I’d spent the past few years learning what it means to love (verb!) an artist, how to be a good fan whilst keeping things in perspective, how to give back, what it can mean to them too to do so, how to build connection. After what Switchfoot’s 2015 tour taught me, I realised I needed to learn from that with other artists too, and that included seeking out what Stu G was up to these days, getting onto his mailing list and social media, and finally showing up as a fan there too.

And now – Stu was coming to the UK to play BCDO (the festival spearheaded by Delirious? keyboard player Tim Jupp), and Martin was also on the programme, along with a few other artists I also liked, including Verra Cruz, also up there amongst my favourite bands. Ok, no more terrible fan. I booked, I went!

We arrived Saturday morning, pitched the tent in blazing sunshine, picked up a programme, and discovered that Stu G was playing almost immediately, so dashed over to catch his set. And oh wow! We arrived just as he started playing Delirious?’s Bliss, and despite him playing at the very civilised Tearfund Tea Tent, with most of the rest of the crowd sat at tables enjoying cream teas, we ran to the front and danced like it was 1999!

Although there as a solo artist, he had a band with him so was able to give us the epic, atmospheric rock he’s always done best, all smiles and clearly in his element. Bliss was followed by the moody solo hit King Of The Stars, the first time I’d seen this live and it was stunning. He then talked a bit about his Beatitudes project; for the past few years he’s been exploring, both practically and through musical collaborations, what the blessings of Jesus mean for us today, resulting in an album, book and film, all of which I can thoroughly recommend. He said that he had found the beatitudes to be less a list of targets to strive for, more a set of promises about how ‘God is on your side at the bottom of life’. And he played the opening song of the project, Oh Blessed, on acoustic guitar, having us sing the title lyric with him. It sounded lovely. Then switching back to electric we were treated to In The Middle from the same project, lyrically powerful and with the kind of heavy riff that Delirious? had been known for. And then, a precious gift – he played the song Kingdom Of Comfort! It sounded as amazing live as I’d always imagined it would, but never thought I’d get to experience. After effectively giving up some of my favourite songs for lost, to finally hear one of them was very healing. And he ended with Delirious?’s Investigate, as epic and soaring as it ever had been, Stu producing a killer solo and reminding me that he is still one of the very best guitarists out there. He looked really happy to see us enjoying it all, throwing a lot of smiles in our direction. Wow! What a way to start a beautiful weekend.

Afterwards he was selling CDs and his new book about the beatitudes Words From The Hill, so I thought I could make up for a lot of missed opportunities and bad fandom by getting hold of them. So I did, and he came out to meet us, and I got the book signed! It was so good to finally meet him ‘properly’; I got to tell him about how I’d been a massive Delirious? fan, had really missed them, how special it was hearing those songs again, and especially Kingdom of Comfort, and told him he was still my favourite guitarist. He was so touched both by our rocking out and my story! And whilst I was speaking, he signed the book:

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Oh my gosh! I may actually have put things right finally…

We saw another couple of bands, and then it was time for Stu G’s second set of the day, also at the Tea Tent. As he was setting up, Martin Smith came up and chatted with him, and there were smiles and hugs between them, and he even helped Stu set up the stage. That made my heart happy! This time Stu kicked off with Delirious?’s Sanctify, which sounded huge. There was a funny moment at the end as he had to sing the line ‘The cloud’s getting bigger now’; he paused, looking up at the perfect clear blue sky with a grin on his face, and sang it with a questioning tone, which made us laugh! Then he gave us Inside Outside, a Delirious? song that he’d always taken lead vocal on, it was great to hear this one live. Then we rocked out through Bliss and King Of The Stars again before having to leave and dash over to the Illuminate stage for the awesome Verra Cruz, whose set clashed disastrously with his! Seriously, that guitar work..!

We got word that Kari Jobe, on Mainstage that evening, would have some special guests 😉 So we rounded off an amazing day of live music at her set. And yes, something precious happened; part way in, she invited Stu and Martin up on stage together to play the old Delirious? worship hit Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble with her! She took the second verse, but it felt like old times, as though I was a 17 year old again at Alton Towers… I was struck by both the immediacy of the memories, and the power those words still hold.

Finally, we also found out that Stu was rounding off his time at the BCDO by showing a premier of his beatitudes film A View From The Hill… At 10:30pm, by candlelight, in the chapel!!! :O

I was so torn. I had sworn to myself and my friends that I wasn’t going to go near that chapel, leave last year’s memories where they were. Of course I wasn’t going to go there. But now… I really felt I should go, as support for Stu, and I felt God wanted me to, that somehow this had been deliberately set up…

So. I did.

I picked a flower to take with me on the way, giving a kick to the gate that had barred my way a year before, as we passed straight through this time. My first thought was that I was taking the flower for Jon, as a way to sort of say ‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here now.’

Then I thought it was like laying flowers at the site of a tragedy to remember and leave beauty in its place…

The chapel was beautiful. I laid the flower by a pillar when we arrived. Stu saw us come in and recognised us and gave us a huge smile!! The film was so deep and powerful. I loved it almost as much as 25in24 and the messages and atmosphere of both fit really well together. It’s gorgeously shot, and follows his journey of discovery with Jesus’ words as he met those living them out and experiencing God’s presence in places of suffering, marginalisation, stories of mercy, or as they sought to bring peace and justice or stand in solidarity with the struggling. Interspersed, it also showed the creative process he went through with a host of other artists (including Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Martin Smith, Propaganda and Michael W Smith) to craft an album of songs inspired by each blessing.

It occurred to me – that flower was also a thank You gift for God!

Far from feeling like a place of pain, I felt so much peace and presence and healing there. It was such a redemptive experience being there with my next favourite artist, showing him support and being inspired. God was definitely in it.

Stu took questions at the end, and M asked him about his experiences of challenging consumerism in the church, ‘holy troublemaking’ with the messages of songs like Kingdom Of Comfort, when it so often seems like consumerism must never be questioned, even within the church where people seem as trapped by it as anywhere else, when Jesus calls us out of it and to speak truth to power. Afterwards I went over to Stu and thanked him for being there and all he’d done that day and over the years, told him how much I loved the film, and we were able to thank him for being the highlight of a wonderful day. And everything had come full circle. We walked back to the tent with storm clouds flashing dramatically on the horizon.

My heart was content and my mind buzzing. This day had been such an unexpected story of healing and redemption! I’d arrived missing Switchfoot, missing Delirious?, and carrying the pain from both the previous year’s trauma and my unresolved ending with band #2. Suddenly all was well, and God had brought me face to face with it all and met me right where it had hurt, and made something truly beautiful out of it the way God excels at doing best.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’

The following day we saw even more great music, and enjoyed even more hot sunshine. The previous day we had met Marc from Verra Cruz after their set and I’d got to thank him and tell him that their album Emancipation Day was one of my all-time favourites too, and today a band new to us, Trinity, made the first move, coming to meet and greet their audience as we arrived for their set. They turned out to be great fun, interacting with the crowd to a Switchfoot extent, and showing themselves to have big hearts, so again we bought a CD and got to meet and thank them too.

Finally, the weekend was rounded off with a Mainstage set from Martin Smith. Accompanied by members of his band Army Of Bones and his daughter Elle Limebear, he opened with the refrain from Delirious?’s Our God Reigns. He got us all going with God’s Great Dancefloor, it seemed like everyone was jumping from the front to the back, and just when it seemed like it had finished, he decided to do it all again, pulling a group up on stage to dance, and from his grins it was clear he was having a great time with it, it was so much fun! Elle lent her beautiful lead vocals to Waiting Here For You, then Martin ditched his jacket and launched into Oh Praise The Name, spliced with Army Of Bones’ Love Song For A City and some powerful yelling. Oh how I’d missed those Martin yells! Then another special moment; Martin thanked the man whose dream had created BCDO in the first place – former Delirious? key player Tim Jupp, bringing him onstage to big applause and playing their very first song (and the song I had at my baptism), Thank You For Saving Me, together once more. Martin and Elle sang their latest single Jesus Only You together, which was stunning, before moving into a truly epic Come Holy Spirit. Finally, having given us Delirious?’s first song, Martin ended his set with their last song, My Soul Sings. Wow. Oh wow. Another from Kingdom Of Comfort, another I thought I’d never see live. And this song…

I tear up almost every time listening to Kingdom Of Comfort; I hear them signing out all the way through it in the lyrics and the music. It feels like a triumphant climax of an amazing career, finally embracing themselves for who they really were and telling it like it is, but also saying goodbye. And what a perfect ending that song is. If you don’t know it, give it a listen here so you can see where I’m coming from here; in my head, what happens in the music at the end of the song, and album, and band, is this: They are worshipping away, when the clouds part, and heaven opens and smiles down on them, and then they are lifted up into the sky, and for a while the whole sky resounds with the song of heaven… up and up, and eventually they are lost from our sight, and the clouds roll back in… and then we hear the heavenly portal close behind them. The End. Fanciful perhaps, but there’s closure in those closing bars, and it still gives me chills. And for this old Delirious? fan, there could be no better way to close out such a special weekend, reliving the journey, than this soaring worship epic. It moved me to tears.

I’d intended to stay for Matt Redman rounding out the festival, but that was enough. I felt like after all these years I’d finally got to see another Delirious? Concert. Sure I’d known that three of them would be there, it was even the main reason I’d been there, but I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I totalled it up; we’d seen them play 9 different songs between the three of them over the course of the weekend, one song off each album bar my least favourite, and two from Kingdom Of Comfort. Deliberate..? Certainly healing. And it occurred to me; Delirious? the band are no more, and yet the music is still alive. I can trust God with it. I can trust God with Switchfoot, through all the current uncertainty. We headed off for some tea, hearing Matt’s set drifting over the site as we did, and then the sky was lit up both with celebratory fireworks, and God’s own fireworks from distant storms on the horizon once again. What a weekend!

No regrets. That was perfection.

I even wonder, did I enjoy it more without having to worry about bumping into Switchfoot, finding VIP check-ins or missing aftershows, or even having every performance after theirs feel like a beautiful letdown in comparison?! Maybe so…

So, my take-home message from my adventures in fandom? Artists matter, and God loves fan-love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow yourself to fall so heavily into an obsession they obscure your view of God or get in the way of your personal relationships or the important work of your life, don’t become stalkerish (give them space, and stay out of all parts of their personal lives unless they themselves choose to share with you), don’t develop a reliance on them. But don’t run the other way. Enjoy what they do, go see them, support them, buy their music, their tickets, their merch, let them see your support, create a real, healthy artist-fan relationship; the blessings run both ways. Yes, I still make mistakes and probably always will. But I’m learning!

*Ok, somewhere in there I failed a PhD, got married, and discovered Verra Cruz and Jon Foreman’s Seasons, but even still, no excuse!

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A doodle

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One of these days I will cease to exist in this world

And on that day, you will find me alive and well in The Wonderlands

And I will no longer be made of carbon; I will be composed of song…

 

 

 


(jonforeman.com, in case you want to explore The Wonderlands with me 😊)

Origin

You play in sound

You laugh in movement

Love creating life in word and spark

You breathe in song

You roar the dance

Alive in every emotion that makes sense only within itself

You beam in rhythm of radiant joy

Colouring in human kindness

Mysterious as fire, and as physical

Alive and vibrant and vital

You are close to every one of us

A pulse of birth for each heart that seeks You

A force we cannot own, contain or claim

A question we can only feel

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.

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…)