Grace · Me · Songwriting

There’s A Circle Of Grace

Walter Brueggemann talks about the way that the Christian life can be summed up in two words – Gift and Task.

This post is definitely gift. I’ve been trying to write this song for a couple of weeks. I had the phrase ‘circle of grace’ that popped up in something I read, and I already had the words ‘where the lost can be found, and the bound can be freed.’

It took some time to realise what the song needed to be – two halves with something linking between the two. It seems that songs have a life of their own, and part of the craft of songwriting is to help bring that song to life. Was it Michaelangelo who described the work of a sculptor as bringing out the figure that is already there in the stone. Just removing the stone that is not part of the figure …

Anyway, here it is. Lyrics below and rough recording on BandCamp. Circle of Grace

Where the lost can be found

And the bound can be freed
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

Where the hungry are fed
And the dead can be raisedq
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

It’s not status
or money or looks
or keeping the rules
Empty handed
we come to this kingdom of fools

It’s not knowledge
or image
or power that’s the key
There’s a circle of grace
that’s setting us free

Where the broken are healed
and the least will be lifted on high
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me

Where the last will be first
and the thirsty be filled
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me.

Jonathan Evans. Copyright 2021.

Grace and peace to you.

Me · music · Songwriting

In Memory Of A Friend

A few weeks ago, my son-in-law sent me a link to a podcast interviewing songwriters – the one he had recommended was the ‘Broken Record’ podcast episode with Jack White and Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs. It was good to hear songwriters talking about the art of writing songs and not just telling stories about life on the road etc.

So, since then I’ve looked to see who else I might listen to, and just yesterday finished the episode with Joe Henry. You may not have heard of him, but he’s produced a 15 solo albums over the last 30 years, and also been involved in projects with such people as Solomon Burke, Bonny Raitt, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello and many more. I first heard Joe Henry back in the early 90’s when someone recommended the album ‘Kindness of the World.’

It’s so good to hear someone talking about songwriting and to recognise some of the ways I work in what they are saying.

I’ve been working on a song for a few weeks, and just finished it, I think. It may need some tweaks, but essentially it’s there.
It was triggered off by a line in a book by Will Cohu – The Wolf Pit. The book is a memoir of his growing up in a sheep farming community in North Yorskhire. The line that caught my eye was this ‘The black dog had backed him in a corner.’
The black dog in question was depression, and the person was Will’s uncle Robert. It’s a deperately sad story of how someone tried to fight this disease, and the way his friends and family tried to help him.

I wrote the song, and just as I was beginning to feel that it was finished, it all came back to me.
When I was in the last few years of school, I had a friend called Tim. We didn’t go to the same school – In those days of selective education where I grew up, I was at the High School and Tim was at one of the Secondary Modern Schools. This was back in the late 60’s early 70’s.

The High School for Boys was one of the choices of school if you had passed the 11 plus exam. The education there was more academic, and I remember having to drop subjects like music, art, and woodwork when I was 13 in favour of Latin, History, French and German.

Anyway, I got to know Tim when he turned up at our church youth group, and we started to get to know each other outside the Sunday evening gatherings. He introduced me to his younger sister, Penny, and his parents. His Father was a gifted pianist, and Tim was likewise gifted. He had a similar ability to his father in playing the piano – whtout music and completely untrained. In addition he had an instintive feel for electronics. At the age of around 16, he had built a telephone exchange in the garden shed. In those days it was all mechanical relays, triggered by electrical impulses. He built it such that there was a telephone in every room of the house, all controlled by the complicated arrangement in the shed.

At that time, young people like Tim usually ended up in the Secondary Modern School, because he wasn’t academic in the traditional sense. Yet he was, in many ways, far more gifted than I was. I think someone like Tim would be spotted today as ‘gifted and talented,’ and would have access to a wider range of opportunities.

Back to the telephone exchange in the shed – the thing was, he had designed all of this in his head. At the same time, I was beginning to get some rudimentary grasp of electricity in A level Physics, and was familiar with simple calculations, which I would do on paper. What Tim had done was way more complex and it seemed that he could just think about an electrical circuit and know instinctively what values he should assign the resistors and capacitors in each circuit. I guess he was some sort of savant.

At the same time, Tim was an incurable romantic. He was madly in love with a girl, and she became the subject of our conversations, me as the listener as he poured out his feelings for the girl, and his uncertainties about whether this love was going to be returned.
I suppose this went on for a couple of years. He got to know the object of his love and took her out, and gave her gifts, but there was always this feeling in my mind that he was building this romance up into something that it wasn’t.

The time came when I went away to University to study engineering. It was at the beginning of one of holidays that I found out. I had got home at the end of term and my parents told me that he had died. They hadn’t wanted to tell me until I got home. I missed the funeral. I don’t think I went round to see his parents or his sister. I wasn’t mature enough to think of that. Tim had driven his car up to a nearby beauty spot on the South Downs (a place he had often taken his girlfriend) and taken an overdose.

I can’t remember much about how it affected me, but it must have done. Although it was a bit of a one way friendship, with me being a more or less permanent shoulder to cry on, he was a good friend.

Here’s the song lyrics, and a link to the song

Black Dog

A good friend of mine
was great to have around
but lately we had found
he had another side

The little pills
supposed to make him better
just became a fetter
He couldn’t let ‘em go

He was a lovable man and he tried
We let him know that we were always on his side

The old black dog
had backed him in a corner
buzzing like a hornet
wouldn’t let him go

He tried to fight it
Be normal like his friends
Not having to pretend
But it’s a long way back

He was a desperate man and we tried
but in the end there was nowhere to hide

He locked his car
sat smoking in the shade
he had overstayed
now it’s time to go

The old black dog
that had backed him in a corner
buzzing like a hornet
wouldn’t let him go

Jonathan Evans April 2021.

Bible · Church · faith · Me · Prayer

Why I Believe In Jesus

There’s a passage in John’s Gospel, (Chapter 5 verses 31 – 47) where Jesus explains reasons for people to people in him. Here they are:

1 John the Baptist. John came with a message of truth, and an important part of that message pointed to Jesus.

2 The works that Jesus was doing. Even more than John’s witness, the works that Jesus was doing were evidence.

3 God the Father. The Father also gives witness to Jesus, but where minds are closed, and there is a refusal to believe, it is impossible to hear his voice.

4 The Scriptures. Openness to hear the truths contained in the written word leads to a revelation of the ‘Living Word’ (Jesus)

So, the question is – why do I believe in Jesus ?

  1. The people who, like John the Baptist, showed me Jesus.
    My Sunday School teacher, Jim Gravett. Jim was also a teacher at my secondary school, so I saw his faith lived out in the work setting as well as at church. I remember outings that we went on a children – sometimes a walk in the Sussex countryside, after which we would all go back to Jim’s house where he and his wife would cook us something like beans on toast. Simple hospitality that I remember from 50+ years ago. Jim kept a range of animals at the bottom of the garden and we were captivated by watching his ferrets run around the garden. Jim kept chickens at school as well, and would take the left over communion bread and feed it to the hens. An earthy, simple faith.
    Bob and Julie Phipps, who attended our church, and experienced several bereavements – losing a son in a road accident and another son as well – I can’t remember the circumstances. Yet they were the most alive and faith filled couple I knew. They talked about their faith with enthusiasm; they believed that God answered prayer, and had a long string of faith stories to prove it.
    My parents, who brought me up in a relaxed way that allowed me to take things at my pace, and never forced things on me.
    My uncle Hugh and Aunty Mary. Hugh would look for opportunities to have a one to one with his nephews and nieces and would be sure to ask us how things were between us and God. They were both so generous with their home, having an open table on a Sunday lunch time for anyone to join the family. I spent so many Sundays with them when I was a student, enjoying the food and the company.
    Gareth Bolton, a primary school teacher who would spend every holiday working with a Christian mission agency. His faith in action was inspiring. His charity, AMEN, is now supporting thousands of small communities around the world.
    David and Dorothy Bond; David was the vicar of St James Church in Selby, North Yorkshire, and set for me an example of Christian leadership. A gentle, humble man, with a passionate faith. Together David and Dorothy modelled hospitality and welcomed us into the church and into their lives.
  2. The works of God/Jesus that I have seen in my own life and in the lives of others. Christians who have lived a life of faith, whilst experiencing great suffering and difficulty. Answers to prayers that have sometimes been ‘yes’, sometimes ‘no,’ and sometimes ‘not now.’
  3. God. Always trying to live with an openness to what God is doing in me and around me. A sense of God’s care – what the Old Testament calls ‘steadfast love and faithfulness.’
  4. The Scriptures. So many times God has spoken to me through something in scripture. I wish I had written them all down, because my memory lets me down. I will read a passage, or a verse, and it will immediately connect with something that I am asking, or something I am about to do. I have heard it called serendipity, but for me it is God at work, and it happens so often that I couldn’t explain it away.

Here’s the passage – John 5:31-47

Witnesses to Jesus

31 If I speak for myself, there is no way to prove I am telling the truth. 32 But there is someone else who speaks for me, and I know what he says is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he told them the truth. 34 I don’t depend on what people say about me, but I tell you these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that gave a lot of light, and you were glad to enjoy his light for a while.

36 But something more important than John speaks for me. I mean the things that the Father has given me to do! All of these speak for me and prove that the Father sent me.

37 The Father who sent me also speaks for me, but you have never heard his voice or seen him face to face. 38 You have not believed his message, because you refused to have faith in the one he sent.

39 You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me, 40 but you refuse to come to me for eternal life.

41 I don’t care about human praise, 42 but I do know that none of you love God. 43 I have come with my Father’s authority, and you have not welcomed me. But you will welcome people who come on their own. 44 How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!

45 Don’t think that I will be the one to accuse you to the Father. You have put your hope in Moses, yet he is the very one who will accuse you. 46 Moses wrote about me, and if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. 47 But if you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how can you believe what I say?

Activism · faith · Greenbelt Festival, · LIterature · Me · music · Poetry

Greenbelt Is Wild At Home

Every year for the past 20 years we have been to the Greenbelt Festival of Artistry, Belief and Activism over the August Bank Holiday. There is a different theme each year – this year’s theme was to be ‘Wild At Heart,’ but it’s being re-imagined as ‘Wild At Home.

We’re really disappointed that Greenbelt isn’t happening in the usual way, but excited that the Greenbelt spirit will be alive and well in spite of the pandemic.

So throughout the pandemic, Greenbelt have been creating online content, and this all comes together on 29th August when there is a whole day of Greenbelt offerings.

We’ve signed up to join in (at a minimal cost of £10), but in addition, we’re going to be doing our own ‘Wild At Home.’ We’ll be spending the Friday with our daughter and son-in-law and family (The Greens, appropriately!) and making our own mini festival.

On a ‘normal’ year, we would arrive at the festival site in the late morning, get the tent up, have a cuppa and a sandwich, and then pore over the programme for the weekend. (Which goes from Friday evening to late Monday evening). At about 5 pm Friday, things kick off on the Festival Village ….

So this is a rough programme for our ‘Green Belt’ (Kindly hosted by the Greens). We’ll be arriving at normal Greenbelt time on the Friday to put the tent up … etc etc.

Rachel, our daughter is working out the fine details, but it will include Greenbelt favourites including :

  • Fischy Music, (by kind arrangement with Jon, and Bev).
  • Food (Courtesy Mr and Mrs Green)
  • Camping (In the garden)
  • Toilets (proper ones)
  • Sports (Trampolining)
  • Tiny Tea Tent (Yes, really)
  • Open Mic Session
  • Family Twist (Hosted by the Greens)
  • Make and Create (The Make and Create team)

Whatever you are missing this summer – even so, I hope you might find a way to do something fun and soul satisfying

faith · Me · Song for Today

Song for Today #18 – Woyaya

This song is from a beautiful album by Art Garfunkel – Angel Clare. The original version is by Osibisa. You could find a video of Osibisa singing this live, but this is the version that is special to me. When I was a vicar, I introduced this song to our band – it’s not overtly a ‘Christian’ song, or even religious, but it seems to me that any song that speaks honestly about our humanity can be sung to God.

Angel Clare - Wikipedia
Angel Clare – 1973 Album by Art Garfunkel

Woyaya (Woyaya means ‘We keep going’)

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We know we will
And We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

Keep on going – Grace and Peace

Bible · Church · faith · LIterature · Me

The Journey Of The Soul

I haven’t been listening to podcasts since the beginning of lockdown (It was something I did at the gym).  But now I’ve started the ‘couch to 5k’ programme, I’m back on the podcasts again.

Nomad Podcast Store image

One of my favourite places for podcasts is Nomad, and this morning I was listening to an interview with Mark Oakley – Poetry And The Journey Of The Soul. My morning run was about 30 minutes, so I haven’t finished the whole interview yet, but so far it’s five star. *****
there’s a bit of intro chat between the presenters, but you can go straight to the interview at 8 min 45 seconds in.

I think what Mark Oakley is saying is that poetry is the language of faith. Or perhaps better put the other way round – The language of faith is poetry.

He talks about going to a church service, what do I think I am entering ? I may have the mindset that it’s to do with facts – getting answers or solving problems. But what I have walked into is a poem. That might (will !) require me to do some shifting around in the way I see/understand things

Jesus taught much of the time using stories that worked a little like poems. Stories that don’t’t so much give you answers, or tell you what to do, but invite you into a world. A world where, for example, a sower goes out and scatters seed on the path next to the field, or on stony ground, or thorny ground – as well as good soil. Or a world where someone gives up everything to have the ‘The Pearl Of Great Price.’

One great way to respond to this kind of story is by asking questions. Why would a sower do that, and not just scatter on the good soil ? What kind of sower is this ? Or … What might the Pearl of Great Price look like ?

By the way, people do sacrifice everything for all sorts of things. I’m reading the autobiography of David Crosby at the moment. For many years, the ‘Pearl Of Great Price’ for him was his addiction to drugs. Thankfully, there came a point where he realised that particular pearl wasn’t what he really wanted.

Anyway, back to Mark Oakley and the poetic. The poetic, like Jesus’ parables, are there to get under your skin, they are subversive. Poems and Parables are not instruction manuals, they are more like love letters. So in connection with reading the Bible, Mark talks about ‘the subtext.’ For him, subtext means subversive text. Many times, when we read the Bible, we might miss the sub/subversive text, and only see what’s on the surface.

I’m looking forward to the next bit of the Mark Oakley interview. That’s incentive enough to keep up with the ‘Couch to 5K’

Grace and Peace

Me · Uncategorized

Week One Of A Sabbatical

It’s Thursday 7th May 2009.  I’m on day 4 of a nine week sabbatical.  I thought I’d keep a diary.

For about 6 yrs I’ve been learning about conflict and peacemaking – through Bridge Builders, an offshoot of the London Mennonite Centre.  So when it came to thinking about a focus for some study, I decided to look a bit more at conflict and peacemaking in the Bible, and especially think about the cross.
I’ll be spending a month in USA – partly family holiday, partly study at Eastern Mennonite University.
I’ll be doing some related reading, but I also wanted a devotional focus, so I picked Mark’s Gospel to read – a few verses at a time.  I’m making some notes on it as I go, with particular reference to conflict, power, oppression, and related themes.
Well that’s an outline … so here goes.