Activism · Climate Change · Ecology · faith · God · Political

Daring, Imaginative, Faithful And Challenging

Continuing thoughts on the prophet Jeremiah.

In chapter 43, Jeremiah has arrived in Egypt – against his wishes.

He had, over a long period, distanced himself from the ruling elite in Jerusalem and preached a message of God’s judgment against Israel. He had urged the leaders to stay in Jerusalem; God would have a future for them if they listened and stayed.

They had not followed God’s word as proclaimed by Jeremiah, but had insisted on going their own way – to Egypt where they believed they would be safe.

Once in Egypt, Jeremiah engages in a symbolic act that continues the message that God’s future for Israel lies not in Egypt but with Babylon.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them.

In this act, Jeremiah not only subverts Egyptian power, but affirms the superiority and God appointed influence of Babylon in Egypt. The large stones that he buries are the foundation for Nebuchadrezar’s throne.

This symbolic act is: daring – a public act; imaginative – seeing the power of the symbol; faithful – to what God has been saying; challenging – both to Egypt and to Israel.

What symbolic acts of resistance have we seen, or might we engage in, that would subvert, for example the power of oil and gas companies, or militarism, or the gun lobby in the USA ?

And behind all of the above there is something to do with that part of our human nature that is driven by fear of the other, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement and privilege.

Bible · faith

We Step Outside The Text

My brain hurts!
I’m reading in Jeremiah … a short passage today (Jeremiah 43:1-7), raises some interesting and challenging questions.

Let me first summarise what’s happening and then think about the intent of those who wrote the text. I guess this is all about how we view scripture and how it comes to us.

Basically this is what’s happened: The forces of Babylon have finally overcome Israel and taken off most of the people into captivity in Babylon. However, there is a remnant who are still left and they are trying to decide whether to give in to The Babylonians or run to Egypt for help.

The prophet Jeremiah has been warning Israel that God’s way, and their only hope, was to surrender to Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. (The defeat of Israel is God’s judgment for neglecting God’s commands to care for the weakest – the widow, the orphan and the stranger).

Two of the leaders of the remnant group, Azariah and Johanan, ask Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance.

Jeremiah’s answer is that God’s word is still the same. Stay in Jerusalem. If they truly want to learn to listen to God’s way, this is what they must do. But this is not what Johanan and Azariah wanted to hear.

Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to settle there”’ ….

(In reality, they had probably already decided that they were going to lead the people to Egypt, whatever Jeremiah said, in the belief that they would be safe there).

The outcome of all this is that they ignore Jeremiah’s warning that going to Egypt will end in disaster. They decide to go to Egypt and take Jeremiah with them – possibly of his own free will, or maybe as a captive as he was against the plan – it’s not clear

Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah … everyone …. the men, the women, the children and the princesses, and came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.

Now … let’s step outside the text for a minute. The authors of Jeremiah are among those deported to exile in Babylon. It is during the years in exile that much of the Old Testament is written. They write from the point of view that the exile is indeed God’s judgment, and that they must use the years in exile to reflect on past failures and seek to be more faithful to God’s word.

So, as we think about the intent of the authors, it’s reasonable to suppose that they want to claim that they are the true remnant of Israel and not the group that ended up in Egypt. Their position is that they are the community that God has chosen to take forward.

So now … I’m thinking about the process that brought the text to us … a process that would have included some editing and in the end a decision that this was indeed God’s word to Israel.

Those who considered the book of Jeremiah as having authority, and included it in the Hebrew Scriptures have a particular point of view. That is … it is the voice of Jeremiah that needs to be heard.

We know that all reporting of an event is told from a point of view. There is no such thing as a totally impartial observer. In the same way, the text of Jeremiah witnesses to the conflict between Jeremiah and the Royal house of Israel, but it is not a neutral voice.

The account is presented as both political reporting and theological fidelity. No doubt there are times when political reporting is not faithful to God’s word. I would take the view that Christians who are determined to support the gun lobby, or the interests of oil and gas companies are not being faithful to the teaching of scripture.

The book of Jeremiah is presenting a political point of view and claiming that they are being faithful theologically. The authors are not neutral voices. They take up a particular standpoint. In this chapter it is that those who go to seek refuge in Egypt are being disobedient to God’s voice.

As we read it, we have a choice about what view we take. Do we trust the process that has resulted in the book as we have it ? Do we side with Jeremiah or Johanan and Azariah in this account ?

Perhaps the most important thing we can say is that the values Jeremiah holds are ones that we too want to follow. The word that comes up very often is ‘listen.’ The Hebrew word doesn’t just mean hear with your ears, it means pay attention and act accordingly. Listening is active and leads to being obedient to God’s word.

We might think that hearing God’s voice is tricky … In situations where we need guidance that might be true, but as far as understanding how we are to live, we have quite enough to go on. Perhaps the key is to make sure that we develop practices that lead to all being treated fairly and with compassion.

faith · music · Political · Songwriting

The Front Of The Queue ?

Re: My recent post – How to avert the crisis.

I just finished this song that seems to say a similar thing:

Waterfall

She wanted freedom –
But there’s was nowhere for her to go
It’s hard to choose between
A bus ticket and a winter coat

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to her door
never to her door


He always thought –
Just stand in line and it would come to you
It might take time, but you would get to the front of the queue

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to his door
No never to his door


See how the water flows
It seems like the water knows
Maybe the water chose ?
For some to have it all
While others are in hell


Cool water
Cool, cool water
Cool, cool water
Flowing down

See how the water flows
Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows

Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all..

Activism · Bible · faith · Political · World Affairs

How To Avert The Crisis

There’s a passage I’ve been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9 that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10 And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterwards they turned about and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.

This story relates to part of the
covenant that God had made with Israel. It concerned members of the community of Israel who for whatever reason had fallen on hard times. Maybe their crops had failed and they had been forced to sell their land to make ends meet. Or even worse, they had been forced to live as slaves to pay off a debt. Every 7th year, according to the law of Israel, their debt should be cancelled, they should no longer be slaves, and land that was forfeited should be returned to them.

The context for this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah is that Israel has strayed from God’s ways. They have gone after other gods to worship, and have neglected the laws concerning the care of the poor,
particularly widows, orphans and foreigners.

God’s judgment on Israel is that they will suffer the consequences – and be invaded by Babylon and many of the population be taken into exile.

For much of
the time, the leaders in Israel – the ruling elite of kings and priests, ignore these warnings.

But the
crisis deepens. Invasion looks likely. It seems that Jeremiah’s dire warnings are true.

What to do in a such a situation. For the leadership in Israel this means
trying a last ditch attempt to avert the crisis by obeying the law that God had given them and setting free the slaves that should have had their freedom in the 7th year of their slavery. It’s a cry to God to say -“OK, we’ll do as you commanded. Now please come to our help and stop this invasion.”

What happens next is that king Zedekiah reverses his decision and makes them all slaves again ! The reason is not given. It’s possible that the threat from Babylon went away, and Zedekiah thought he could get away with going back to business as usual –
oppressing the poor.

Or maybe the economic situation got worse – so bad in fact that landowners needed slave labour to survive and put pressure on the king to reverse the decision.

Whatever it was, Jeremiah’s verdict is that once again the King and the
ruling class have ignored God’s commands and will be judged.

That’s a long, but necessary preamble …

This incident makes me think of the Coronavirus crisis that we have lived through, and still are to some degree. In the early days, our government put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on the population by
introducing the furlough arrangements, whereby the government would pay businesses to keep people on the payroll while they were not able to carry on trading. (Eg – restaurants that had to close completely in the pandemic).

Now the direct threat from Covid has reduced because of the success of the
vaccination programme. It’s back to business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, the pressure was off … but the government needed to recoup as much of the financial outlay as possible. So …

We are seeing increases in National Insurance contributions, and other ways that the
government are seeking to increase revenue.

Then comes another crisis … Ukraine and the consequent increases in oil and gas prices as well as effects from the grain harvests in Ukraine being disrupted.

What do we see from the
government – a £150 rebate on council tax … with another sum – that will need to be paid back. For an average household, that £150 will go in two months in their increases in gas and electric bills.

Meanwhile we still read of massive bonus payments to some, while others are sitting with hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm, and relying on
food banks for essentials.

Can you see the parallels ?

What
happens to nations, businesses, organisations in general when those at the top are sitting pretty while the poorest struggle to survive. In the end those nations, businesses, etc will fall.

A
settled social order relies on justice for the poor. Without economic justice, society eventually collapses.

What do we need ? Justice for the poorest. When do we need it ? Now !

community · faith · Prayer

In Ordinary And Hidden Moments

We’ve been watching the series ‘Pilgrimage’ on BBC TV this week.
In previous years, the programme has followed a group of celebrities on a pilgrim route – one year it was Rome, another was Compostela, another was Istanbul.

This year, they are following the journey of the 6th century saint Columba as he set up Christian communities across Ireland and Scotland.

The group this comprises 7 people, with different stories, and differing degrees of faith from Agnostic to Committed. We hear about upbringing in Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam and how that has shaped their lives.

The moment I want to reflect on comes at the end of their third day of pilgrimage. It’s been a tough day, with challenging walking, and they have arrived at the hostel where they will stay the night.

It’s Friday, the days when Jews will mark the beginning of the Sabbath with an evening meal. Over the last three days, actress Louisa Clein has talked about her Jewish heritage, and her increasing confidence with talking about her faith. She is keen to share the experience of Shabbat and hosts the meal.

There’s a point where she takes the Sabbath bread and breaks off pieces and shares it around the table. A simple ritual that speaks of the importance of faith and community. It’s one of those moments where you sense that something important is happening. There’s a closeness in the group that is cemented in a way that goes beyond words.

We have really warmed to this group of pilgrims as they have laughed and cried together. Laurence Llewelyn Bowen is an unlikely leader of the group. We noticed the times when he opens up conversations about faith, and when something he does or says holds the group – like when he addresses them as family. Each person contributes in their own way, from encourager to questioner to faith defender. We love it. I would love to gather a similar group from my locality to do a pilgrim walk together and share our stories …. I wonder …

Going back to the Sabbath meal in Pilgrimage – it reminded me of one of the stories of Jesus. It takes place after the resurrection, when two people are walking home from Jerusalem and Jesus joins them as they are walking. They talk as they walk – much as the seven pilgrims have done in the BBC programme. They share the things that are deep in their hearts.

In the Bible account, the two reach their home and invite Jesus to stay with them. As they sit down to their meal, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it, and in this moment they realise that it is Jesus. A moment of profound realisation that happens in the everyday action of breaking bread.

Today I read this:
”The big thing is not to treat today as a step towards what you are hoping for some day in the future, but to accept that this day contains the seeds of all that you hope for. This is it ! Now this particular day might not feel special, in fact it might be important that it does not feel special. We need to allow ourselves to be drawn under the skin of the day and into its earthy mystery.”
(Running over rocks, by Ian Adams p. 106.)

I confess to finding this a challenge. I have a tendency to be always looking forward to the next thing. My mind is in the future. Future projects and possibilities. So I need something to earth me in the present moment. For me it’s a daily time of reading and prayer. But there are many other ways to include this ‘welcoming the day’ into our lives. It might be to create a simple ritual that we can repeat each morning to remind ourselves of the importance of living in the present.

It could be a song, or a prayer, or an action …

One of the prayers I have used and found helpful is the Morning Prayer by Padraig O Tuama.
You can find it in his book “Daily Prayer”

Morning Prayer

We begin our day alone,
Honouring this life, with all its potentials and possibilities.

We begin our day with trust,
Knowing we are created for loving encounter.

We begin our day with hope,
Knowing the day can hold love, kindness, forgiveness and justice.

A reading followed by a time of silence

We recall our day yesterday,
May we learn, may we love, may we live on.

We make room for the unexpected,
May we find wisdom and life in the unexpected.

Help us to embrace possibility, respond graciously to disappointment and hold tenderly those we encounter.
Help us to be fully present to the day.

A short silence

We pray for all those whose day will be difficult.
We name them in our hearts or out loud
May we support, may we listen, may we change.

We resolve to live life in its fullness:
We will welcome the people who’ll be a part of this day.
We will greet God in ordinary and hidden moments.

We will live the life we are living.

A short silence

May we find the wisdom we need,
God be with us.

May we hear the needs of those we meet,
God be with us.

May we love the life that we are given,
God be with us

Bible · faith · Grace

The Last Shall Be First

I’ve been reading Jeremiah 31 today. The promise to Israel that they will return from exile.
The story of exile and homecoming is one of THE MAJOR THEMES in the Bible. A couple of things I noticed:

There are various literary devices used in scripture. Among other things, they are designed to make the message memorable, or emphasise certain aspects of the text.

For example – repeating an idea but using different words – sing, shout praise …
Or having a refrain as in Psalm 46 … ‘God is with us’

Another, perhaps less recognised literary device is to do with a mirror image structure called a chiasm

In a chiasm, you have a structure that goes something like this from Milton’s Paradise Lost:
A. Adam,
B first of men
B` to first of women,
A` Eve

There’s a nice chiasm in Jeremiah 31 that you can see here

One of the points about a chiasm is that the whole thrust of the passage is often to be found in the centre of the chiasm.

In the case of Jeremiah 31, the centre of the passage has these words.

8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.


These words show us God’s heart and God’s intention for Israel. That is to restore them and bring them home. But the remarkable thing that struck me was those who are specifically mentioned as coming home. The blind and the lame, the pregnant and those in labour. That is, the most vulnerable.

God promises to become like a father to these most vulnerable of his people. They will be like the firstborn.

What an amazing thing to read and understand. God’s concern is for the weakest. As Jesus would himself demonstrate throughout his life – “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Or, as American priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon often wrote – God’s concern is for ‘the little, the lost, the least and the last.’

Are we able to see ourselves here in this company? Because we all need to find our way home. And maybe part of that journey home involves becoming vulnerable and surrendering our impulses to be strong and in control.

Wherever you are on this journey. Grace and Peace.

Bible · faith

Resurrection Is The Last Word

I love it when things come together. To see God’s hand in even the smallest event.
For me, this has come in the last few days in my readings in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

We have just had two weeks that have been very rich with family time, but also full of travelling and busyness when there hasn’t been much time for quiet.

Now, as I write this, it’s Holy Saturday, that space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when we remember Jesus in the tomb, and I’m hoping to capture some of the meaning of this season – moving from Lent into Easter.
I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah since the beginning of the year, and now I’m up to chapter 30. In the last few days of my readings, there’s been a shift. From dire warnings of judgment for Israel for forsaking their God, a note of hope is creeping in.

That’s not to say that the judgment will not come.
It will.
Israel will still be sent into exile in Babylon.
Jerusalem will still be laid waste.

But God has a long term plan that involves restoration. In fact the time that Israel spends in exile will result in purification and a renewal of their faith. Read what God says to Israel in chapter 30:

Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site …… and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


It feels so right to be reading this on the cusp of Easter Day.
Walter Brueggemann writes about this chapter of Jeremiah:
“This chapter speaks of a hope rooted in God’s own resolve and faithfulness; a hope addressed toward a people who are at the brink of despair. A hope issued in the face of their captivity in Babylon. A hope that would overcome even the utter failures of the past.”
Exile and Homecoming – A Commentary on the book of Jeremiah. page 270 (slightly amended)

The fix that we are in is essentially the same as Israel’s. We need hope in our places of despair, our sicknesses, our addictions, our slavery ….
We are tempted to respond with either blind optimism, or bleak despair. The message of Jeremiah is that there is a third way. The following verses from Jeremiah 24 tell us that hope is to be found because this renewal is a work of God, and not a human endeavour.
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God,”
God promises that there will be a time when he will give them a new heart. God knows that on their own, Israel’s heart will not change. If they are to change, then it must be a work of God.

Jeremiah uses the image of sickness unto death in chapter 30:
For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. (Jeremiah 30:12-13)

God’s people are terminally ill, beyond healing and sure to die.

But even in the face of this, God says:
“I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:17)

In the end, God wills resurrection. Walter Brueggemann again:
“The future … is firmly under the rule of God … On the one hand, Israel must not deny its bleak present. On the other hand, however, it must not take the present with ultimate seriousness. God’s sure governance of the future stands as a powerful, palpable alternative to present despair.” Brueggemann p. 281

I remember nearly 20 years ago hearing Rowan Williams being interviewed. He had just been announced as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He was asked what for him was the central message of the Christian faith. His answer was that change is possible. The resurrection of Jesus is the most powerful statement that it is possible to transform even the most hopeless situation.

It seems to me that the message of the book of Jeremiah is the same. On this Holy Saturday, as we wait for Easter Dawn, we pray for all those who are waiting and praying for change, and for God to work in resurrection power.

Grace and Peace.





Activism · Bible · Church · community · faith · Political · Theology

Stories Of Pain And Possibility

This post is about two ways that the Christian Church typically responds to situations of pain, and how our default settings miss something vital.

Part 1: Mercy more than Justice.

In the fortnightly online discussion group that I’m a part of we’ve been thinking about ‘The Powers’ that are in play around us, and what a Christian response looks like.

In the New Testament, the powers that are at the forefront are:
1) The Jewish religious leaders and
2) Rome.
The way that Jesus responds to the power of religious leaders is something that you might be familiar with. The conflict is right there on the surface in the Gospels.
Iff we were to look a little deeper, we would see also how he challenges Roman imperialism.
(I’m just starting to read Ched Myers’ book – ‘Binding the Strong Man,‘ a political reading of Mark’s Gospel – more on that another time maybe.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that as Christians we are called to be aware of the powers around us – economic, social, political, organisational etc which are often working for the common good, but are just as, or more likely to be pursuing their own agendas.

Being aware of how the powers are at work is the first step, but if and when we judge that the powers are not aligned towards justice and peace there comes a point where some response is called for. This response could be expressed in protest, or resistance of some kind, but as I argue below, it’s more likely to be a response driven by compassion.

Just the other day, I came across this quote from Hannah Arendt, German thinker –
The antidote to evil is not goodness but reflection and responsibility. Evil grows when people “cease to think, reflect, and choose between good and evil, between taking part or resisting.”

The first part of that quote reminds us that when we see that the powers are not aligned with the Common Good, we have a choice how to respond – with goodness or responsibility.

For example, in line with the often repeated instruction in the Old Testament, we are called to look out for ‘The widow, the orphan and the stranger,’ but over the course of history I would guess that the most typical Christian response has been through acts of goodness, service and compassion – binding up the broken hearted, healing the sick and so on, rather than through a commitment to justice.

We see the compassion response in the foundation of hospitals, hospices and a host of other projects that are driven by a Christian impulse to serve – especially those who are suffering. I would argue that the mandate to justice as well as mercy has often been forgotten, because it’s easier to help people than to buck the system. It’s easier to patch things up than getting to the root of the problem.

Part 2: Individual more than Collective.

There’s a second emphasis in the usual Christian response that I want to point out, and that’s our fixation with the individual. Not only do we find it easier to be compassionate than to confront, we tend to focus on our individual responsibility to change and be a part of bringing about change rather than seek a collective way.

I refer here to an earlier post when I quoted Walter Brueggemann’s assertion that the foundational work of transformation is not to be found in individual action as much as in Liturgy and Organising.
That is the work that we do when we are bound together in action to resist the powers, together with the organising that makes that happen.

In the context of Christian worship, I’m trying to pay attention to the different ways that we use liturgy, and how we read the scriptures, and how that might speak into a discussion on ‘The Powers.’

So, for example, in the Anglican tradition, there is a prayer of confession, usually at the beginning of a service. Here’s an example that is used most often.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against youand against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorryand repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,who died for us,
forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

We are often encouraged to reflect on the past week, to call to mind the things we have done, thought or said that we regret, and those good things that we didn’t do. The prayer is all about getting ourselves ‘right with God’ before we continue in worship.

It’s all very individualistic. It tends to lead to a spirituality that is focussed too much on ‘sin’ and ‘me’ and the things in my life that need putting right. In the Bible, sin is a problem, but it’s not the only problem.
Two of the central stories in the Old Testament for example are:
The story of liberation from slavery in Egypt – that speaks to our bondage to the powers around us.
The story of exile and return – that speaks to our longing for home.

A suggestion put by Marcus Borg, in his book ‘Speaking Christian,’ is that we give less airtime to the prayer of confession, by using it maybe once every five weeks, and for the other weeks, replacing the confession of sin with images of our predicament as slavery, exile, blindness, sickness etc. “Imagine the absolution replaced by the proclamation that God wills our liberation from slavery, our return from exile, our seeing again, our healing and wholeness. Sin matters, but when it and the need for forgiveness become the dominant issue of our life with God, it reduces and impoverishes the wisdom and passion of the Bible and the Christian tradition.”
Speaking Christain p.152

In addition, when thinking about how we read scripture, I would suggest that in many (most ?) Christian worship services, the sermon will read the Bible through a very personal and also individual lens. Even the teaching about how we serve God will be likely focussed on what we as individuals can/should do.
This is of course tied to the point about confession made just now. If our obsession is with sin, and putting our personal relationship with God right, then it follows that the teaching in our churches will be aimed at keeping us on the right track with God, and serving God by ‘loving our neighbour.’

(This was brought home to me as I was listening yesterday to the Archbishop of Canterbury interviewing writer Stephen King. Stephen King talked freely about his faith in God, portraying it as a personal matter, that seemed to have little to do with what goes on in the world. He quoted Jesus saying ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s to God,’ as a way of justifying keeping religion separate from politics. Keep God out of politics).

In the time of the gospel writers, the power that was calling for total allegiance was Rome and the Emperor. When Jesus contrasts Caesar and God, he is setting before us two complete opposites. Are we to say ‘Caesar is Lord ?’ or ‘Jesus is Lord.’ To put God first will mean that Christians are called to engage the powers of the day.

Perhaps the way we go about ‘confession’ in our worship and the treatment of scripture can help redress imbalance, moving the focus from the individual to point us towards the more collective pains, ills and injustices in the world.

If you are a church goer, you might want to pay particular attention to the way that the prayer of confession and the use of scripture are experienced in your worship services.
To what extent, if any, do they address the questions of the powers, and issues beyond our individual response ?
How as communities can we resist and challenge those powers that call for our allegiance, rather than God’s ?




faith · Grace · LIterature · Songwriting · Storytelling · Truth

Pulling A Song To Pieces

I’m nearly finished with this song. Was this a worthwhile exercise …. I guess we learn from everything.

A Life of Love

Hear the story of a life of love, written clear on every line.
Drawing strength from up above, to see her through hard times.
She was born in a shotgun house, three rooms in a dead straight line.
Built on just a half a city lot – they’re doing just fine

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

See the children in their Sunday best, smiling, standing all in a line.
She’s at the front in her new blue dress with her sister just behind.
Sixteen and she knows it all, finds it hard to toe the line.
Got ambition to be top girl – she’s going to shine.

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
There’s enough to cover everyone
.

She’s listening to her baby cry, hoping he’s the last in line.
Patience is in short supply looking after number nine.
Now her children, they’re all grown, there will be grandkids down the line.
She spends her time on the telephone, they’re always on her mind.

I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

The Doctors listened to her heart, they summed her up in a few short lines.
Quickly scribbled on a patient chart, she never saw the signs.

Instrumental verse

You’ll find them at the edge of town, standing there in a dead straight line.
Waiting in the summer sun with roses all around.

But I’ve a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all.
I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
More than enough to cover everyone
.

————————————————-

I want to credit the source of some of the verses.

First, the shotgun house in the first verse, comes from the story “The making of a Minister” – in Ragman, stories by Walter Wangerin.
Arthur lived in a shotgun house, so called because it was three rooms in a dead straight line, built narrowly on half a city lot.

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The second verse comes from a picture – of my mum and her eight siblings all standing, one behind the other, from shortest at the front to tallest at the back.

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The chorus was triggered by a passage from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson.
Lila speaking:
“On Sundays you talk about the Good Lord. how he does one thing and another.”
“Yes I do.” And he blushed. It was as if he expected that question too, and was surprised again that the thing he expected for no reason was actually happening. He said. “I know that I am not – adequate to the subject. You have to forgive me.”
She nodded. “That’s all you’re going to say.”
“No. No, it isn’t. I think you’re asking me these questions because of some of the hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.” He said, “You can probably tell I’ve said the same word too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.

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The verse that begins: The Doctor’s listened to her heart, is from Ragman again –
Arthur Fort with his jaundiced view of hospital. “$20 a strolling visit when they come to a patient’s room,” he said. “For what? Two minutes time is what, and no particular news to the patient. A squeeze, a punch, a scribble on their charts, and they leave that sucker feeling low and worthless.”

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And the final verse is inspired by words once more from Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
So when she was done at Mrs Graham‘s house, she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you would know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be after so many years, waiting in sunlight all covered in roses.

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faith · music · Songwriting · Storytelling

Next Stage Of The Process

I’m enjoying recording the process of writing a song in some detail. It’s a bit of a risk, putting this out there when I’m not sure if I will be happy with the end result.

I’m also a bit unsure about taking away the mystery of this process, especially as I am very much an amateur and beginner at the art of songwriting.

I’m going to put this out there for now, and when the song is finished, and recorded, I might take the posts down so that the listener can take the song and make of it what they will.

In the same way that ‘the beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ I believe that once a song is out there in the public domain, the songwriter does not control the song – it will have a life of its own and be interpreted in different ways according to the listener.

So here’s where I’ve got to. The song started to be about an elderly man (verses 2 and 3 below), but then quickly changed – to be the story of a life – with verse 1 about a child, and verse 4 a snapshot of the cemetery where she and her family are reunited.

I think yesterday I went off that idea of the life of one person, to change to each verse being about a stage of life, but not necessarily the same person all the way through the song. More that each verse would represent a stage in life.

That got me thinking about Shakespeare’s seven ages of life – infant, school age, teenager, young adult, middle age, old age, end of life/death.

By that measure, I have the school age, young adult (or possibly middle age), old age, and death.

This may not work, but then I would be looking for infant, teenager, and middle age.

I’ve also got something I’m trying to work into each verse – the second line having the word ‘line’ in it. In the end, that may feel forced, but I’ll go with it for now.

See the children in their Sunday best
Smiling, standing all in a line
My mother in her new blue dress
With her sister just behind

He’s living in shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
Sure they’re doing just fine

The doctors listened to her heart
Strolling down the beds in a line
Just some scribbles on the patient chart
But they never gave a sign

You’ll find them at the edge of town
Standing in a dead straight line
Waiting in the spring sunshine
With roses all around