Tag Archives: Worship

Implicit worship

Fake News Of The Week amongst the Switchfam was this satirical article from the Babylon Bee, ‘Switchfoot release implicit worship album’.

It provoked mixed reactions – but I have to admit, I laugh-snorted!  The article does have a dig at Jon’s writing style – it’s fair enough, except that he’s a lot more versatile and varied than is implied – but the classier dig is at the likes of me, who actually really get a lot out of that sort of songwriting. It’s bang on, and a proper ‘ouch!’.

The piece actually nailed so much of what I love about Switchfoot. And that got me thinking, why is that? I’m passionate about worship, yet this article shows me that ‘implicit worship’ is something I’m really behind. ‘Implicit worship’ sounds like a bad thing. Shouldn’t our worship be explicit? Shouldn’t we be saying it like we mean it? Are we not..? Here’s where my thoughts led me:

Firstly, I think we are. Being explicit is good and there’s a place for that, and you’ll find it within Switchfoot’s repertoire as well as in my own life.

But worship is more than singing praise songs. Worship is whole life. It would quickly become dry and meaningless if all we did were state our praise in words, especially in words that had been said many times before to the point of cliche, just as we do not live our personal relationships entirely through love songs. Worship cannot be words alone. Music helps it to stir our emotions, but that in itself is not enough. Worship must touch our whole lives, turn around our entire way of life. We need to be able to bring the whole of life and experience to God, engage with God there, allow ourselves to be challenged and changed and reshaped and motivated to act, and then go out and live it in God’s general direction. Simply singing ‘I love You Jesus’ songs has its place, but will not fulfil that whole purpose. Those songs I will use in church when we all need to be able to sing something simple together, and in moments when that is exactly what I need to express, but are not the sorts of songs I carry with me day to day, that help me work out how to be a better follower of Jesus in the everyday situations I find myself facing. They are not the songs that stretch and broaden my understanding and deepen my awe of God. For me, Switchfoot’s music takes me to those deeper places, the places that help me wrestle life and faith together and work through how to walk it out in the world I’m living in.

Implicit worship. Worship that involves the trajectory of my life, not merely my words. It’s precisely why someone like myself will connect more with songs of the sort the article pokes fun at, such as Stars, than with their more straightforwardly ‘explicit’ material, like new single You Found Me. They are the songs that go deep in my life, that I walk with over the years, that make me think, and change me, slowly, into something a little more Christlike, as they help me figure out what a faithful response to the world I live in might look like. Switchfoot’s music won’t do that for everyone, if it’s not to your taste or the way you think, but it does for many of us who connect with it.

And music has a purpose beyond explicit praise too, even for Christians believe it or not. And that’s an important factor to understanding the Foremans’ ethos. Switchfoot’s aim is not to be a church worship band. They are artists, making the music that expresses what is on their hearts, purely for the sake of that authentic expression. Music has value in itself. Its value is not just in ‘worship’ music. That is no higher or more spiritual than any other music. Music helps us to make sense of the big stuff, where we can turn with the things we don’t understand. Where we can experience feeling, and mystery, and wonder. That is as important to the Christian journey as singing praise songs, if not more so, and God, and good, can be found in any kind of music or art, labelled ‘Christian’ or otherwise. There is more to the human existence to experience and express than just the religious bits, and God wants to be involved in it all. We are made creative beings in God’s image, so simply using our creative capacity for any artistic expression is itself a godly act. God does not need to be excluded if we choose to use that art to express say our romantic feelings for another person or our frustration with politics or struggles with depression for example. God is present. And in music we can explore how to handle those situations faithfully. That too is worship, lived out.

So ‘implicit worship’ need not be a negative. It’s not about being ashamed or embarrassed of Jesus. Switchfoot are more than happy to speak openly about their faith and to publicly call themselves Christians, as am I. If we couldn’t bring ourselves to talk openly about Jesus at all we’d certainly have a problem. So too if I thought Switchfoot were trying to hide their faith to gain popularity amongst non-Christians. But that’s not their game. Theirs is just a different approach to both music and to worship than that of a ‘worship band’. Their calling is to make honest music. ‘Worship’ is not explicitly their aim, any more than it is mine when I go to work. Yet every day on my way to the office I’m praying for God to use me and my work that day. I’m not about to start a praise party in the office, and neither should we expect it of Switchfoot just because music is involved, but it is all worship nonetheless.

I don’t want my worship to be limited to the occasions I am singing praise songs. I want my whole life to imply worship. And long may there be music in our lives that moves us to live that way!

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Looking for Europe 10: Bristol – cloud 99

October 26th

I may have questioned my own sanity at 6:30am that morning but Switchfoot well and truly proved to me once and for all that they were worth travelling for.

Despite delayed trains I successfully made it to Bristol ok, met Jude, and obtained super hot burritos for lunch (Mission accomplished)! We found the venue, and as in Glasgow it turned out to be a litle confusing again inside trying to find the correct room in an open students’ union building. The guys had posted an earlier Meet&Greet time than their original email, but we took this with a pinch of salt, knowing how Switchfoot time tends to operate; they actually overran by 1.5hrs! 😀

We hung out for ages with the other VIPs, chatting, during which time I spotted a tour poster on one of the notice boards, and one of the others claimed it to get signed as a souvenir! Although it ended up being a bit of a wait, at least we were indoors and on sofas, and whilst we were there we got to chat to Chad, Tim and Drew (with daughter in tow) a bit as they arrived, and also to Josh from their crew. Drew said again we were joint SwitchFam queens (I really do have to hand that to Jude!), ‘possibly of the EU or international ‘fam, possibly secret agents…’ 😀

After they had all gone inside, we were talking about how we became fans when finally we heard them start soundcheck – and they were playing Holy Water!! Ahhh let me in!! It sounded amazing, and is definitely one of the songs I most want to hear them play. They let us in after they finished that song and took requests, playing Gone, and then playing On Fire at Jude’s request. It sounded incredible!! I went right to the front again and wowwww! I was happyyy! 🙂

The Meet&Greet itself felt a bit awkward today, the guys were sweet as ever but we didn’t really know what to say to one another. I did request Healer Of Souls again since I knew a lot of my friends who were coming are really into that song (not to mention how much I still wanted to hear it after the sound hadn’t been great in Basel!).

By the time we came out it was close to showtime, and my husband and friends were arriving. We met up and got in the queue, and M sat on the floor making and eating sandwiches whilst we waited! We also found a stack of gig flyers, which we handed out to anyone who wanted one; a good sign..? The last time I had found flyers for a show was in Mannheim and that had been a very special night.

Everything was still running late but eventually we were let in. I was first, so with complete choice of where to stand I went Tim’s side of centre. Jude had a sidestage pass again! I hung out with M, our friends, and friends I’d met at the VIP event, it felt like lovely family gathering.

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Oh my was this show worth the wait!

They opened with House Burns tonight, and however unsure I’d previously been about this song as an opener, this time it was an absolutely awesome, flawless start, and the sound was pretty much perfect! 🙂 🙂 🙂 There is a certain line of this song that I remember Jon singing ‘to me’ a couple of times back in the spring; he did it again in Glasgow, and yet again tonight, which got me wondering if he does it deliberately! But even one song in he was already giving me a lot of eye contact at this show.

Then they played Stars, and with so much energy! Jon introduced Tim as his little brother, saying ‘This means this is a family event, we’re all family here tonight’; it certainly felt like it.

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The energy continued to ramp up as they went into Dark Horses. Funnily, for the ‘made my mistakes’ line Jon wasn’t at the mic like he almost forgot he needed it! 😀 But they rocked hard, even adding a bit of a solo.

They turned it up even more, playing Bull to the delight of my friends, Jon venturing into the crowd, balancing on a rail and sending everyone wild! By this point I was enjoying this show as much as I had any of my previous favourite shows. The sound, volume, setlist, crowd, Jon’s interaction, and the level of energy and quality of singing and playing from Switchfoot was combining into a perfect storm of happiness.

But it carried on getting better! I filmed YLIAS, which you can watch here; Drew’s solo was incredible as ever. That led into LAIWTF, which Jon introduced saying ‘I’m obsessed with the idea that love is the anti-entropy. In a world where everything’s falling apart, lose yourself with everything to gain.’ The crowd were really into it!

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And then they did indeed play Healer of Souls – AAAHHHH!!! I had my banner out on the rail and Jon looked over at me before starting to ask for it so I threw it him and he held it up, getting it the wrong way round twice (‘…one of those rubber sole moments…’) He asked the band what key it was in, but there was no question he knew how to play it. They were so good, all solos and yelling, and although I was filming (evidence here!) I rocked out with them.

And then Oh! Gravity. OH!!! The energy surely couldn’t get any higher?! I was totally losing it, my legs wanting to give way under me but so stoked I was jumping and yelling with total abandon!

Before I actually caught fire they changed pace a little, playing Hello Hurricane acoustic; they had brought with them a new ‘fancy’ mic for the purpose, better designed for picking up their acoustic performance than their usual vocal mics. They brought Chad to the front, which got a ‘wooo!’ from the crowd; as they set up Jon commented that ‘at this point in the show it’s traditional to ask a question to which the appropriate response is always ‘woo!’ Doesn’t matter what it is… how are you feeling? ‘Woo!’ How’s your mother? ‘Woo!” The new mic sounded great, a whole different sound quality that was really nice. And from there they went into IWLYG. Jon sounded so good, and Tim’s bass was shaking the floor!

And then something really special happened; Jon said that on this tour they wanted to honour the UK’s rich musical heritage by playing a song from each city they visited, and tonight they played Teardrop by Massive Attack! Oh my gosh these guys can so play!! Here is a video, which entirely doesn’t do it justice as the sound has distorted a little, but if I can take you there in your imagination, imagine you can feel the sound reverberating around the room and right through you, and those vocals arriving straight from heaven :’)

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Teardrop led right into Where I Belong; I was already gone but this did me in big time! 🙂 I threw Jon my banner again, but then I just let the music sweep me away. I found myself crying happy tears and shaking and pretty much kneeling in prayer on barrier giving thanks to God and the band. I expected this to be the end of the show, but no sooner had that almighty yell faded they suddenly went into Meant To Live! I was undone!! More happy tears! 😀

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That was the end, but of course there was an encore, and they came back on and again played Float. It was so much fun, I danced as crazily as ever, enjoying the bubble party, and there was some wonderful chaos when Jon attempted to crowd surf but disastrously picked the wrong part of the crowd and discovered that gravity did exist after all! He made it back onto the stage nonetheless, and I helped him back up. They incorporated a snatch of Hope Is The Anthem into Live It Well, and then finished me off with Dare You To Move, again rocking out in happy tears to stop my legs giving way and finishing up draped over the barrier, absolutely wowed!

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It was the best show I’ve ever seen. It’s something I’ve struggled to explain, but it was a synergy of all the right elements that made it an incredibly powerful experience that I will call a kind of holy ecstasy that just ramped up and up. Wowow! I had no idea music could transport me like that..! Afterwards I could barely speak, it was very, very special. :’) I’d had a small taste of that kind of feeling at Jon’s solo show a few months back, but I’d put some of that down to experiencing that voice of his like never before, but this was definitely the whole experience of the music; God was in it, and I soared even higher than I’d been before. I’ve never seen the guys play like this; I’d been to higher intensity shows, but that was constant high energy, and I just wasn’t coming down from the ceiling!

There was no aftershow, but a group of us hung out by the bus, ostensibly so that one of the fans could get his favourite album Nothing Is Sound (NIS) signed, but really we wanted to see them and I absolutely had to thank them. We got to speak to all of them eventually, though it was touch and go as they had to make a ferry and the timing was tight as they were meant to go at 12 but were still not on the bus. Thankfully it was not so cold as the previous night!

Chad arrived first. He gave me a high five, and was sweet but implied that we probably shouldn’t stay.

Then Drew came out to hang properly with us, and was absolutely lovely like he had all night. He chatted about NIS quite deeply, all the heartache that went into it and how meaningful it was, the lyrics, Shadow, Politicians, The Blues… Two friends after the show independently commented how ‘Jon is a very sweaty man!’ 😀 They joked about it with Drew too, and he agreed and was like ‘yeah he’s like it all the time!’ 😛 😀

Next Romey arrived. He was very touched at our appreciation but was also anxious about the ferry as he didn’t think they’d make it, and was worried they’d have to cancel their shows.

Then Jon came over. He was so chilled!! How?! We talked about the show, I told him how amazing I’d found it, and there were laughs about him being dropped in Float! We ended up talking about weather, how hot it was back home and that he liked Fall best, and I thought to ask him a geeky question about water temperatures as he’d joked about our sea being cold and I wasn’t sure how it compared against San Diego, being as we have a warm current and cool climate and they have a cold current and hot climate. He asked Celsius or Fahrenheit, I asked if he spoke Celsius as my Fahrenheit was nonexistent and he laughed and thought, and then failed to translate! I said it was about 16°C here and lovely, and he said their sea temperatures range from 60-70°F usually. Translating afterwards, I conclude they would indeed find our seas cold, even if to me 16°C is leave-the-wetsuit-at-home warm!

Finally we also saw Tim; we almost didn’t see him as he was online with his wife, but he did emerge and sign the CD, I think Jon had sent him. I congratulated him briefly and he talked a bit about bass with the guy whose CD it was.

My friend said to me at the end that I looked like I was on cloud 99, and I think that was pretty accurate. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! :’) A perfect evening. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.

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.

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…)

Melting ice ahead

Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

– Ezekiel 13:10-12, the Bible

 

A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of Advent and anniversary of the talks that led to the Paris climate agreement, I accompanied some friends as they delivered a symbolic bucket load of melting ice to the government to bear witness to the fact that we are headed the wrong way on climate change.
A year previously, we had all gone to the government department then responsible for climate policy to pray and symbolically paint whitewash on the walls (more about why here). With more forwards talk and backwards action over the past year, we decided to return with a reminder. We handed in a letter and held a prayer and worship vigil outside the building, whilst others put whitewash across the windows and went inside and emptied the melting ice on the floor – and set up wet floor signs saying ‘Caution! Melting ice ahead!’*.
Our government continues to whitewash the falling wall on climate change, like the Biblical false prophets, prophesying 1.5oC of climate peace ahead where there is none. ‘The wall will fall, and then all will ask you, where is the whitewashed wall?’ Where is the Paris Agreement? Where is the Climate Act? It seems as though our government imagines talk and written commitments are enough, that so long as we do something to keep ‘the green movement’ sweet that will suffice to keep the problem at bay. The talk is good. But it isn’t ‘the green movement’ that needs to be impressed; it is the climate itself, and the climate cannot hear our words, nor read our political agreements. All it notices are our emissions; and these continue to rise.
With carbon-heavy policy being pushed through in practice, what the climate sees is deeply alarming. The truth is, there is melting ice ahead and we stand on slippery ground. We need to turn around, prophesy the truth that we are heading for danger, and repent and cut emissions accordingly. Only then can we stop the wall falling.
As citizens of a (theoretical) democracy, we are complicit in our government’s actions, particularly in our silence, and so have a duty to speak out for truth and work as hard as we can to turn things around.
We are given melting ice, whitewashed with words; so as a witness to this, my friends gave the government whitewash and melting ice. I went along to pray and worship, help spread the word, and assist my friends should they be arrested. As it turned out, no arrests this time.
But the stakes are so high already; aside from the present and predicted physical effects of climate change such as melting ice, what I fear most is the social impact, which we may already be witnessing in increasing people movements, rising xenophobia, closing borders, insecurity, desperation and hostility. This is what we risk if we do not continue to speak out, so in light of this, how can we not take these small personal risks to make ourselves heard?

I pray for the church, all of us, to become braver and more visionary in pushing for a better world, more like the promised Eden-peace with God, and one another, and other creatures, and the earth we were put here to care for and work, and less torn apart by division, short term self interest, fear and greed.

 

 

*A double meaning; we genuinely did not want anyone to slip on it, but also meant it to serve as a warning sign of what is ahead on our current climate trajectory. Read more about the action here.

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! 🙂