Grace · music · Songwriting · Storytelling

More Grace Still To Come

When I had almost got this song finished, I played it to a few people – at a songwriters circle, which Simon and I go to, and then to Kiri, and then Ben, friends who live nearby. It was so helpful to get some feedback.

When Ben heard the song, he had just popped round for a chat, and I asked if I could play the song for him. At the end he was really positive, and then asked if I had thought about having a bridge with a slightly different feel at some point. He sang what was on his mind .. picking up of the central idea of grace, singing – There’s more grace, much more grace, still more grace.

I loved the idea and went away and worked on it … it was harder than I had thought – I wanted to get some harmonies in there and I wasn’t sure where to put this new section. Should it go in the middle of the song or near the end ? Also, the song was already nearing five minutes long, and I didn’t want it to go over that length.

After about three or four goes at recording it with the bridge in different places (and losing one recording completely), I decided that enough was enough and asked Bev to come in put on some harmony.

I’ve written so much about this song – and really pleased to have got it to something I’m happy with.

So many thanks to those who helped along the way, Bev, Kiri, Ben, Simon – it’s such a privilege to have friends who listen and encourage and make suggestions. Bless you all.

You can listen to it here: More Grace

I hope you enjoy the song.

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.

————————————————-

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.

————————————————-

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.

————————————————-

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.”

————————————————-

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.

————————————————-

Songwriting · Storytelling

I Think It’s Coming Together ?

This is the third post about the song I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I wish songs just came to me, but they don’t! I have to work pretty hard on them. Perhaps too hard ?
I’ve done a demo recording of the song, but it doesn’t feel right. Too repetitive and too long. I’ve tweaked it a bit to cut out some of the repetition, but I’m still not sure ? It’s definitely coming together, but needs something more, or maybe less ?

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
.

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

faith · LIterature · Poetry · Songwriting · Storytelling

The Emergence Of A Song

It has been a few weeks since I completed writing the most recent song – The Seige of Gloucester, so I was beginning to wonder when the inspiration was going to come for a new song.

As the song began to take shape, I thought it would be interesting to track the development of the song.

Falling back on a method I have used in the past, I decided to pick up a book that I read many years ago – ‘Ragman and other cries of faith.’ – a collection of stories by author Walter Wangerin.

In one of the stories, so beautifully written, I noticed some particular phrases that drew me in, from which I wrote the following lines:

Living in a shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
…..

and

They listened to his heart
Never told him what they heard
Just some scribbles on a chart
….

It seemed that I had the beginnings of a song here. A shotgun house is one where you can see all the way through from the front door to the back. You could fire a gun through both open doors! A bit like a traditional terraced house where I live. Although it’s not ‘my language,’ I like the sound of shotgun house, so I’ll stick with that.

Now I had to consider – did I want to try and write a song that follows this story ? That would feel forced to me. It would feel like I would have to ‘steal’ even more from this story, when all I was looking for was a starting point. I would rather let the song emerge.

Some songwriters (Joe Henry among them) talk about the song existing already, and the art of the songwriter is to bring the song to birth.

So … I’m looking for this song to emerge.

I noticed in another book I’m reading these words: “She’d never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.”

I wrote down these words:
Gathered at the edge of town,
Remembered after many years
waiting in the spring sunlight


While the Walter Wangerin story was about the experience of a young church minister visiting an elderly man, today I began to try and discern the story that was beginning to take shape here. It seemed that this was going to be a story about a life. Some of that life would have been lived in a ‘shotgun house;’ there would be a verse about being in hospital for some heart investigations, and a verse set in the cemetery at ‘the edge of town.’

Later on today, we were out walking along the North Wales coastal path, and I was mulling over where I had got to with this song. I was thinking about the roses growing around the headstone in the cemetery in the quote above, and thought perhaps the song should have a chorus, and that roses could appear in a slightly different way in each chorus ?

Then another thought came to mind. I suddenly had the image of the shotgun house, with the three rooms, one behind the other, all in a ‘dead straight line.’ Other images came into my imagination … maybe three headstones in the cemetery ‘in a dead straight line,’ and maybe an image of three children. ‘Standing in a line’ in a photograph. I have a photograph of my mum, Nancy, and her siblings, all eight of them, standing in a line, one behind the other – from the eldest at the back – Mary, Wilfred, Bessie, Bertha, Bernard, Margaret, Ruth, Nancy, Hugh.

That’s as far as I’ve got … but I thought I’d try and make a record of the process …
Hopefully I’ll come back soon with a completed song, or at least more of the process.



faith · Grace · Poetry · Storytelling · suffering · Truth

Full Of Wonder And Mystery

I’ve just started reading Marilynne Robinson’s book – ‘Lila.’ Set in the town of Gilead in Iowa, it has the feel of other novels I’ve read recently. (The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and Devisadero by Michael Ondaatje). All of the books are written with the skill of a story teller and the language of a poet.

As someone who believes in the grace of God that surrounds and covers us, I was struck by these words, spoken by her pastor husband.

…. No. No, it isn’t. I think you are asking me these questions because of some 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 these same words too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged, and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.

Grace and peace.

Bible · Church · community · Creativity, · faith · Storytelling

I Have A Better Idea

First, a disclaimer – the ‘I’ in the title of this post is not me, in case you were thinking – what an arrogant … !

I love the way that things sometimes come together. This week a whole load of stuff has been converging for me.
Let me start with a list:
Pioneer Practice – a series of webinars hosted by the Church Mission Society and HeartEdge
Article from around 1995 in SEEN newspaper. (Newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of York)
Ched Myers on Mark chapter 6 – The feeding of the 5,000
John chapter 2 – Water into Wine
An article in the Church Times by Canon David Power
‘Total Ministry’ in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan

Pioneer Practice
The series of webinars mentioned is about gathering the experience of ‘Pioneers’ across various Christian denominations in the UK. Jonny Baker, who works for the Church Mission Society training pioneers is the host of the webinar, which is paired with the book Pioneer Practice. Yesterday’s session was all about seeing differently.
Attendees were asked to think about these three aspects of working – Imagination, Knowledge and Skills.
What would be the order of importance of these for you ?
Most of those present had Imagination as the first. That’s why they are on a pioneer webinar, because pioneers tend to have the imagination to see things differently.

When we are confronted with a situation that we can’t understand or see a way to make progress, we often have to employ our imagination to get started. Try to see in a different way.

One of the ways that we might be challenged to see things differently is in situations where we see a need and want to do something about it. Often we might only see what is lacking, and look for ways to help by problem solving or acts of compassion.
But what if, instead of seeing what is lacking, we were to look for what is already there, and celebrate it.
This is the heart of the work of Chris and Anna Hembury who are Pioneers with the Church Mission Society in Hull.

Look for the Light that is here
Back in the 90’s, we were living and working in East Hull. At the time, as I remember it, one of the churches in another part of Hull was starting a new congregation on the Longhill Estate in East Hull. Their expressed aim was to ‘Bring the Christian Gospel to Longhill.’ An article in SEEN newspaper, written by a Christian who lived in Longhill, said something like this: ‘Don’t come to bring The Light to Longhill, come and see what is already here.’
(A well known way of working that uses this principle is ABCD – Asset Based Community Development.’)

Ched Myers
I’ve been listening to Ched Myers talking about Mark’s Gospel. Today was the story of the feeding of the 5,000.
If you know that story, I wonder how you have understood it ?
I see three ways to read this –
1. Jesus miraculously multiplies 5 loaves and two fish.
2. The disciples use their common purse to rush off to a local village and buy enough food for the crowd.
3. The crowd share the food that they have with them.

And for each of these three ways of seeing the miracle, I see a way of understanding our life together as Christian communities.
1. The charismatic church leader who seems to be able to do everything really well, and is a total inspiration
2. The leadership team that work together to serve a largely passive congregation.
3. The congregation that is active in loving and serving one another, and are a sign of God’s kingdom.

In Ched Myers’ reading of Mark chapter 6, it goes something like this:
Disciples: Why not send the people away to buy food. (But actually it’s late in the day … and this is a crowd with likely many poor people who might not have the resources to buy food).
Jesus: Why don’t you give them something to eat.
Disciples. Where would we get enough food to feed this crowd ? It would take half a year’s wages !( The disciples see the lack, not what is already there).
Jesus: I have a better idea ….

What follows is a superb example of community organising, where Jesus uses the lunch that the young boy has to teach the crowd to see what they already have, and use their resources for the benefit of everyone.

This way of seeing the Gospel will not go down well with everyone ! In our churches, we have usually understood this story as an example of miraculous multiplication. Maybe like me, you have often wondered about that intepretation, been aware of the other possibility of the crowd sharing what they had, but reluctant to abandon the ‘miraculous’ way of reading it. But perhaps Ched Myers’ way of reading it is more consonant with a Gospel that liberates people to a life of mutual care. Ched Myers would also go further and say that this interpretation subverts a whole economy that is based on self interest, and moves towards a community of solidarity.

Water into Wine
Just a brief thought about this passage. (In which wine runs out at a wedding and Jesus performs a miracle turning water into wine … a lot of wine !)
There are a range of characters here: Jesus; his mother; the disciples; the servants; the guests; the master of ceremonies. Jesus directs the action, telling the servants to fill 6 large jars with water, which, when it is tasted by the master of ceremonies, has become wine.
Notice that it is the servants who fill the water jars. The word in Greek that is used here – diakonoi – is the word that means ‘one who serves’, and is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament, but often to do with those who are committed to following Jesus, part of the Christian community and and serving God with their gifts and their time.
The servants who fill the water jars are towards the bottom of the social ladder, but are remembered here for being intrumental in the miracle that saves the day. Note again, that although the story starts with an apparent lack of resources, as it turns out, the resources are there.

Church Times article
This appeared just last week, and comes at a time when the church seems to be defined in our minds by what is lacking. Lack of money, lack of clergy, lack of people, lack of everything. And, however much we try to tell ourselves that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, which should trump all that we’re lacking, that doesn’t seem to help.
The article, which you can read here (hopefully, as long as the link works) is suggesting that it’s high time the Church of England ditched the centrality of stipendiary (paid) ministry and moved to a different way of seeing.
(A radical move of this kind will look for imagination from our bishops, and by the way, the word for bishop in Greek is episkope – which essentially means someone with imagination, someone who is able to see the big picture, and able to see things in a different way).

The force of the article by David Power is that market forces are driving the church to ever increasing desperate measures. Lack of money forces parishes to combine, giving clergy multiple churches to lead, while congregations diminish year on year. This vicious spiral demands a new way of seeing, which probably should have been the norm all along.

The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan
A church that is going down this new route is the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan in the USA. It’s an evolving pattern that allows churches, when they are ready, to call leaders from among their own congregations. Each congregation will prayerfully choose those from among them to serve in a number of ways – as Preachers; Those who will preside at Holy Communion; Teaching the faith; Giving pastoral care; Engaging in mission to their local community … and so on. Each congregation would have a degree of autonomy (as they do now), but still be part of the wider network of a diocese, and financial resources would be directed to giving support and training to congregations. I found it inspiring to read the srticle by David Power and the way this is being lived out in the diocese of Michigan

To conclude, what I have seen here in this variety of ways is all about seeing in a different way. And particularly looking – not at what is lacking, but at the treasure that is already there.
It’s about the potential of every situation to be a place of growth and learning if we can look beyond the obvious to see what is right in front of us.

And almost certainly, this will come to pass as we tell stories of what we see happening around us when we have encountered a situation that we can’t understand, but begun to trust that there is the possibility of transformation. And in the telling of those stories, we will see signs of healing and grace, and be encouraged to continue looking for the treasure that is among us.

Grace and peace.




Film · Storytelling

The Power Of A Story

Spoiler Alert

We’ve just watched the film ‘The Mule,’ starring Clint Eastwood. The premise of the film is that Earl, the character played by Clint Eastwood has put his work as a horticulturist before his family. We see important family occasions – christenings, confirmations, graduations etc where he is absent – on one occasion at a flower show getting an award for his prize winning day lilies.

The film moves forward 12 years – his horticultural business has failed because of competition from firms using the internet more and more, and he is about to lose his whole livelihood.

It’s at this point that an unusual opportunity comes along – to simply drive hundreds of miles across the country and deliver some packages – we soon learn that he is working for a drug cartel transporting large quantities of cocaine.

He agrees to do one trip and buys a new truck with the money he gets. Although he only intended one trip, he does more trips, using the proceeds to save his home, pay for the refurbishment of a veteran’s club and finance his granddaughter’s college education.

The framework of the story is his activity as a drug mule and the attempts of law enforcement who are investigating the drug cartel.

You might ask questions about all the people whose lives are being ruined by taking cocaine, and the violent lives of the cartel members, but that’s not what the story is about. The background of cartel and drug running enables the full power of the family story to come through.

The heart of the story is about Earl’s relationship, or rather lack of relationship with his ex wife and daughter. This is the story of the film, but it is told using the drug running as a way of telling that story.

The film raises questions about story-telling and how legitimate it is to use such an immoral, criminal framework without any comment on the immorality of that surrounding story.

It made me think about some biblical stories, especially in the Old Testament, where we might miss the whole point of the story by focussing on our unease with the way the story is being told.