The Bible

Inspired by Christoph’s musings on the same subject. 

I recently did one of those Facebook memes on books you’ve read. There was a list of 100 most popular/best loved books, and you had to say whether you’d read it, and if you’d read it, whether you loved it. You put a + if you’d read it and an x if you loved it, or something like that. 

Halfway down the list was the Bible. I hit the + sign, because I’ve more or less read it. Enough to go to a book club discussion on it anyway. 

But do I hit the x button? Can I actually say that I love the bible? I  debated, stared, clicked and unclicked for a long time. I almost put a decisive x in the box, but then… 

I don’t love the Bible, I thought. I can’t claim I do. I find swathes of it utterly alien to me, written by people whose value systems run dramatically against my own. Overall, I don’t think it’s a good idea to invade alien lands and put the non-believers to the sword, especially because your God tells you to do it. I can’t quite seem to get excited about smitings. I read the psalms and curse David for being a self-righteous git. The prophets give ten times as much airspace to judgement compared to grace. 

And the New Testament? With its accounts of driving out demons when it looks to me like they’ve mis-diagnosed someone with epilepsy or mental ill-health? The weird phrases that you just can’t begin to fathom? The constant head-doing tension between passages which seem to imply that salvation is yours if you accept Christ, and the ones that scream ‘but only if you do something about it’? 

But I can hardly condemn the whole book can I? The glorious descriptions of a creation enthralled with its creator. The gut wrenching Suffering Servant passages; the social justice of the law;  the poetry of the Psalms. The passion of the jilted lover-God, enraged at his people’s prostitution, yet forever taking them back. The unfolding story of redemption, culminating in the revelation and sacrifice of Christ. The first stumbling but authentic attempts at working out what this earth-shattering good news actually means. 

I read this book more or less daily. Hardly a brag; as I listen to it far more seldom. I argue with it; I doubt it; I get frustrated with it; I ignore it. Like I do with my wife. But also like my wife, it has shaped me in a way that nothing else ever has or could. I have a relationship with it, and through it, my relationship with God is given context and meaning. And in a cold lonely hotel room, opening the drawer of bedside table and seeing it there lets me know that I’m never alone, and that by opening it up I can come home to the place where I belong. 

I love the book. I clicked the x.

The Spiritual Life of a Toddler, part 2

 Flower (the toddler) has been having several spiritual breakthroughs of late. This may be partly due to the excellent Stories Jesus Told book, kindly given on occasion of her dedication by Mr and Mrs Standard, which has simple, funny and beautifully illustrated versions of the Parables.

 

So, on Saturday morning over breakfast, I have my Bible open. ‘God!’ says Flower (I always tell her that it’s ‘a special book about God’. I’ve avoided the issue of authorship and inspiration thus far). ‘Jesus God!’ she says.

 

Sunday morning – Bible open (with slight feelings of guilt due to state of head after previous night’s party). ‘Luff God!’ says Flower.

 

This morning – Bible open. ‘Big God! Great big God!’ (feelings of fatherly pride mingle with slight feelings of distaste about the song being quoted).

Memo to self: keep going with the bible and the parables, but start her on Wesley as well.

The religious life of a toddler

I have my bible out this morning. Flower (the toddler) is interested in it. ‘Ooo, book!’

‘It’s a special book, Flower. It tells us about God.’
Flower picks up book. ‘Got.’ (praise)
Flower thumbs through book. ‘Where Got?’ (philosophy)
Flower hugs book. ‘My job.’ (vocation)

Not sure what I think about her assumed calling to preach. We shall see.

I was a bit surprised…

…in church yesterday when one of the songs invited me to ‘feel a bit wiggy wiggy.’

I wonder what Charles Wesley would have made of it. ‘Sing lustily, with good courage and feel a bit wiggy wiggy.’

Still, the payoff for being subjected to this was seeing about 30-40 kids, quite a few of whom don’t go to our services regularly, thoroughly enjoying themselves. I can cope with it for that.

Communist sedition on the BBC

Oh, yes, it's there alright. You just need to look for it.

I am a great fan of the Folk Music radio show on Radio 2. The last two times I've listened to it, I have heard the following lyrics being sung. Joe Macarthy would be turning in his grave.

Workingmen of all countries, unite
Side by side we for freedom will fight
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain

It's from ‘The Preacher and the Slave'. Sung by Nancy Kerrigan, as a medley with ‘Let the Mystery Be', to get across the full religion-is-the-opium-of-the-masses meaning.

Or how about ‘The hard times of England retold', a contemporary version by Billy Bragg of a classic folk tune? See here for a video of it's that well worth watching. Some of the rather wonderful lyrics:

The Countryside Alliance want my support I suppose
When they go down to London to bloody Blair's nose
But they said not a word when our post office closed…

Time was I could sell all I grew at the shop,
when Tesco's turned up all of that had to stop
No I can no longer live off my crop
Oh, the hard times of old England, in old England very hard times.

Still, even those fine words don't have the naked class war vibe of this Iris Dement song (who also wrote the aforementioned ‘Let the Mystery Be'). Now we're getting hardcore – I don't think that even the Morning Star is pushing for this to happen these days. Maybe it should though.

I’ve traveled ’round this country
from shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
the things I heard and saw

I saw the weary farmer
plowing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
just a-knocking down his home

But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the farmer sweated for

‘I’ve seen the weary miner
scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children cryin’
Got no coal to heat the shack

But the banks are made of marble
with a guard at every door
and the vaults are stuffed with silver
that the miner sweated for

I’ve seen my brothers working
throughout this mighty land
l prayed we’d get together
and together make a stand

Then we might own those banks of marble
with a guard at every door
and we might share those vaults of silver
that we have sweated for

I remember seeing Dick Gaughin, the Scottish folk singer sing various songs, introducing many of them as being ‘written by a good man, a good Communist' (this loses something without the indecipherable Glawegian accent with which it was delivered).

I guess folkies are just commies, right?

Or is it the reality that music which comes ‘from the poor', as folk music to some extent must, reflects their concerns and solutions to their problems – which may have little to do with the liberal capitalist consensus?

No wonder the New Labour politician claimed that ‘my vision of hell is three folk singers in a pub near Wells.'

But perhaps a folkie has a reply to that. And perhaps, as Capercaillie might say, we're waiting for the wheel to turn.

God gave me a parking place today

Last time, I was talking about writing hymns/worship songs. I also write other faith-related songs, as a way of getting off my chest some of the more stupid and trite aspects of Christianity that annoy me.

I’ve just heard too many people say this. And it gets my goat everytime. Like God doesn’t have anything better to do than organise the universe around your own personal convenience.

God gave me a Parking Place Today (to the tune of Love Divine, or Hyfydrol)

God gave me a parking place to-day
Right outside the Tesco store
I was tired, and it was raining
But God opened heaven’s door
What care I for the homeless and helpless?
What care I about the poor?
God gave me a parking place to-day
Right outside the Tesco store.

‘I know that this is vitriol
No-solution spleen-venting
But I feel better having screamed on you.’

How to write a worship song

1. Take a Bible verse. Cut it out of the bible.
2. Start up the Cliché Generator machine. Feed the bible verse through it. The machine will add plenty of additional verbal garbage.
3. You will be left with a bit of soggy, undesirable pap.
4. Put the pap into the Beat Box. Lower the handle to squeeze the pap into shape. The Beat Box will give it a totally predictable four-square shape, but at least it looks better now.
5. Put the cube you took out of the Beat Box into the Melody Maker. The Melody Maker garnishes the pap cube with a sugary coating. You can now swallow the sugar-coated-pap-cube you have created. It will give you a brief feelgood rush, and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Good worship songs or hymns are not easy things to write. I know. I try. The very best have good theology which is given a fresh perspective by thoughtful lyrics, a tune which lifts up the soul and a deep emotional resonance. The vast majority don't come close to this.

Another problem is that worship songs are really vehicles, not songs. They are designed to get us to a place where we can communicate with God. If it's a congregational worship song, that means that you have to design a coach, not a Ferrari. So the music will never be thrilling, as it has to be sung by people who aren't musicians; the words will rarely be poetic, as they have to appeal to the sentiments of the majority, not the individual.

And I haven't even got to the theology yet. This is particularly problematic for me, as I have a relatively liberal theology, yet go to a conservative evangelical church. So when I write songs for the church to sing, they've got to have a theological content which expresses something I'm excited about (because what's the point in writing the song otherwise?), and can inspire – not irritate – everyone else.

Tempting as it may be to get my own back for when we've been made to sing bloody Hillsongs.

So, it's not very often that I manage to write one which actually overcomes the above problems, and when I do, I feel good about it. I’ve even got a fairly interesting tune for it, though whether it’s singable may be another matter. Here are the words anyway.

The Crucified God

I gaze up at the cross, and what do I see?
I see the Lord of all the earth looking back at me
His body broken, bleeding bruised and torn.
And for this king a crown of thorns as the crowd cries scorn

What do I see…

The powerless God
The naked God
The helpless God
The outcast God
The suffering God
The dying God
The crucified God
The crucified God

I gaze up at the cross, and what do I see?
I see the Lord of all the earth's great humility
He gave up riches, glory, love and praise
To reconcile the hateful hearts of the ones he made

What do I see…

The powerless God
The naked God
The helpless God
The outcast God
The suffering God
The dying God
The crucified God
The crucified God

(Middle eight)

What does it mean for me?
What does it mean for me,
That God should love me so?

What does it mean for me?
How do I live my life,
To worship the crucified God?
The crucified God?
The crucified God?

(Chorus, repeat middle 8)

(Coda)
To find my life I must lose it
To worship the crucified God

Lent day 25: Work resolutions

I’ve been off work for a couple of months now (new parent leave), and in a little under 12 hours time I’m going back to work. I am scared shitless apprehensive about this, because being a new parent has felt like a pretty full time occupation, and quite how I am going to fit in a 35 hour week and various travel things on top I have no idea.

Anyway, a combination of the break and some reflecting over Lent has made me decide that I will make some resolutions about how I will behave when I’m back at work. They are as follows:

1. No bitching about other people, even when they’ve really got my goat.
2. Do what you’ve said you’ll do, and if you don’t, don’t make excuses
3. Don’t try to hide unpalatable truths under nice sounding words
4. No bitching even when everyone else is doing it
5. Don’t feel the need to say yes to everything
6. Try to be organised
7. No bitching.

I just find bitching is rather easy, but it’s very corrosive – it strips away respect, people’s reputations, and leads to others feeling unable to trust you. So I really am going to try to stop.

I’ve had a verse going round in my head for days now:
‘From that time, the kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.’
I suppose it’s saying that the road to God is bloody hard, and you have to work hard at it. I feel God saying strongly that it’s high time I showed some strength of character.

More old fashioned concepts. This Lent blog has been full of them.

Lent day 21: Vanity, vanity

All is vanity.

Just think for one moment about the things you did today – from the minor acts to the major decisions (such as they were).

Bet you that vanity had a role in many of them. Sorry to depress you. They certainly did for me, and whilst I’m happy to bet that my inner thought process is less sanctified than yours is, I’d also bet that you’re not immune to the same need to have others think you charming/intelligent/witty/professional/attractive.

And I guess we’re vain because we don’t feel that good about ourselves and we need the affirmation that others bring. But we want that affirmation about surface level things. The result? – we act in a way that will appeal to others on a surface level.

But doing that doesn’t actually win long-term respect or a good name. So by trying to get ourselves well thought of, we do precisely the things that will make us look like a prat. At least I do. And it may win quick friends or a good laugh, but that crumbles very quickly.

I know that this is all very obvious stuff, but I need to hear it played loud in my head on a daily basis. Because I do very silly things from moment to moment due to vanity. So I’m sure that these wafflings are more or less unreadable, but it’s me speaking to myself.

The remedy is simple and impossible – being humble, considering others better than yourself, being secure in God’s love so you don’t need man’s fleeting praise. All wisdom writers have acknowledged this. I’d just love to start getting it right moment by moment.

(p.s. This isn’t self flaggelation or self-loathing, it’s simply frustration!)

p.s. 2 Thanks to all and sundry for their kind comments on the entry below. And do check out the comments section for Dith’s reworking of He Who Would Valiant Be.