I find life is inherently ironic. The relationship I had with my father was at times “strained”. Yet now I find myself more and more like him every passing day! My father’s mannerisms are now mirrored in me – the very ones that used to vex me most!
When I think of my teenage years, indeed, there was a certain priest – whom since he yet lives I shall refrain from naming – who really got my goat. Today (and now I am almost cringing with the admission) I sound just like the man! Behind what I now see were superficial matters of disagreement, what troubled me most about that priest was that he raised one essential question. That was a sore point.
I was brought up in a tradition of boys’ choirs, and fine church music. We used to culture this, as indeed the language in which our rituals were written. Ironically (yet another irony!) we had a fast prayer that ought to have reminded us of the reason for our tradition, but this was just another ritual in the life of a chorister. That prayer, like the priest, raised the question of why one was in church in the first place.
Bless O Lord, us Thy servants who minister in Thy temple. Grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our daily lives; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Now in those days there were many church choirs. As many of you here in Norway know, Britain had a tradition for them. The problem was that that same tradition had itself become our god: the music, the special language, the rituals and the culture were the most important thing to us if we had asked ourselves why we went to church.
I shall balance what I say by adding that in getting rid of choirs, and the tradition that used to exist, many “threw the baby out with the bathwater“. I personally regret that the boys’ choir (boys singing with men) is now almost an endangered species. Even so, at the heart of the processes of change, which unfortunately did see the loss of many a choral institution, was the desire to explore what being church is all about.
If our churchgoing was “vanity of vanities“, because we never asked ourselves truthful questions about why we were doing what we did, then it is perhaps the irony of ironies – life is so ironical – that the “worship groups” sometimes ended up doing exactly what the robed choirs and traditions they replaced had done before them. That is to say that now you had people enjoying the modern pop songs instead, but they still would not ask themselves why they otherwise went to church…
The beautiful song “When the Music Fades” by Matt Redman speaks of just this matter. The story of this song’s conception is well worth reading, because it very much sums up what has been written so far. As a church musician I am moved by the touching honesty of the words “I’m sorry for the thing I made it”. That “thing” of course is what we do in church, the music, the rituals, and this applies just as much to the modern choruses and songs as it did when I was a boy to the older hymns. “It’s all about You Jesus”, ought to be cry that compels itself out from our innermost being if we really are worshipping.
We ought all to reflect upon this worship song’s profound message. I have sometimes despaired that so-called “church choirs” do not sing in church, save for concerts and an occasional church service. Likewise it has saddened me to see that many church musicians seem to treat their work as a simple job. They plan out a series of events in the year, that mainly follows the school year, and those are the things they and their choirs/music groups then work towards. That is not “what it’s all about”!
A comment on my facebook wall set me off on this article. What, I was asked, did I think about Ris Church in Oslo that had replaced all its hymns for the music of U2? Well, if you have read my article, you will already know. I find it very sad that when people talk about making church less boring and instead wish to appeal to the masses (who not usually going to church certainly have not asked why they want to be there), and have not rather asked themselves “what it’s all about”. We are not talking about entertainment, but as Matt Redman so eloquently puts it “The Heart of Worship”.
I need say no more about Ris Church’s sorry experiment. In the long run it will fail, because even if the place is full to bursting point, the most they have achieved is an alternative venue for entertainment – a par with a concert hall or theatre. You do not bring growth to the Church by anything other than the Word of Jesus Himself.
This goes to the heart of what it means to be His follower. We who call ourselves Christians are expected to be doers, not merely hearers of what Jesus says. Going to church, or rather being church – it is we in fact who are the Church – is about meeting Jesus. It is about letting Him become the most important “be all and end all” in our life.
It is about a fellowship where – exactly as He Himself commanded His followers to do – we constantly remember how Jesus, the Lord we love, once had to die for us. Likewise in the Communion, we also are reminded that His death is what allows us to have a relationship with God Himself. We believe that through the mystery that is the Holy Communion, Jesus Himself does indeed come into us.
As for me, the prayer that once was a mere ritual is now very central to my work, “Bless O Lord us Thy Servants who minister in Thy temple: grant that what we sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we may show forth in our daily lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”. That prayer brings me therefore full circle: life as said is ironic!
“Ezek 18,19-20 «Yet you ask, `Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?` Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. – New International Version.”
It is not unusual for me to be wholly repulsed by the news from where I grew up. Neither is it unusual for one question, above all other, to trouble me: to wit how something there can be so obviously “right” that one need not even argue the case, whilst it here is equally obviously so wrong that it should be absurd even trying to make a case. I have felt this split most keenly with the disgraceful spectacles for which my countrymen ought to be ashamed, whereby minors have been charged and convicted as adults.
The irony is that such things only mattered because I was (and until I naturalise still am) English. I was and still am angry about things done in my name. It horrifies me that whenever people get angry, they forget to think rationally. In so doing they throw away legal protections and safeguards not only for those who have incurred their wrath, but also for themselves and for their own children. Unfortunately, many cannot think outside the shameful mindset of the tabloids, where one gets away from having to deal with such people as fellow human beings. They are “scum”, “feral”, “yobs”, and so on. Consequently, one never has to entertain the notion that “there but for the grace of God go I”, or “there but for the grace of God goes one of mine”.
However, despite my having been “at odds” with what – by all accounts – the English think… it suffice to note that I am NOT a believer in more and more harsh punishments… yet nevertheless I recoiled in utter shock and disgust at the news I read today. It seems Great Britain now follows Israel’s lead in collective punishment. This of course is hypocrisy since we criticize the Israelis for destroying the family homes of suicide bombers.
Today’s Liverpool Echo reported that an entire family have been evicted from their home – because of the criminal acts of a sixteen year old boy in the family. In other words, if your son or daughter commits a crime, YOU will lose your home because of it. So will your family, younger siblings and anyone else who happens to live under the same roof!
The inner cities in Britain have a problem with crime and antisocial behaviour. That much we have understood. Yet such an injustice as this, and one that clearly violates this family’s human rights (unless they have committed criminal acts themselves), cries to the heavens – and will do nothing to solve the problems there. On the contrary, injustice breeds more injustice.
It is shocking that people actually defend this. The guilty person alone should have to take the consequences of his or her actions. It is wholly and completely immoral to punish the family – unless they are actually involved in some way, which the Liverpool Echo in no way has suggested.
I hope that this family will be able to find some legal help. This iniquitous treatment must surely contravene their rights under the European Convention. As far as I am aware, you are responsible for your own actions, NOT those of your family, or vice versa.
Ah, but then, I hear you say, how would I feel if it were I who were the victim? Like Saint Paul, I will boast only of my weakness.
There is no one who was more persecuted than I. Perhaps one might say I have been “different” for much longer than I realise. I was bullied so much at school that I had to be transfered to another when I was 14 years old. I do know what it is like to be the victim of crime too. When I lived in England, our house was burgled at least twice, and it might even have been three times. However, I am getting on in years, and have forgotten. Please forgive me.
I know furthermore the horror of violent crime, being myself its victim in 1985. I was set upon without any provocation, and beaten unconscious in the Doncaster suburb of Bentley. When I awoke in Doncaster’s Royal Infirmary, I had been kicked and punched quite literally all over, including the parts that in a previous age would have been respected even by one’s enemy.
Therefore, if anyone would object that one has to be a victim before one should speak, then speaking as a victim I want to see healing in our society. I do not believe that punishments that appeal to populist opinion (for that is surely what lies behind this) are the way to go. A terrible wrong has been done to quite innocent people here, and where there are grievances and bitterness there will only be further woes.
This therefore makes people less safe, not safer. Before you label these people as being anything less than the human beings you are too remember that there but for the grace of God go you…
If anything, the opposite happened. Nobody who knew my mother her final months, could do anything but notice. She “radiated” an unworldly peace. Indeed I have another scan, which I may publish another time, of her own feelings about dieing. However, I have recently moved, and was overjoyed to find the very piece of paper (in the packing) on which I wrote what were to be my mother’s very last words.My mother deteriorated rapidly after the 21st December 1990, so these were the last intelligible words I received. Thereafter she slipped into unconsciousness due to the heavy sedation she was under. Something told me that this conversation was special, and immediately I went upstairs to my room and wrote down what my mother had said.Now, all these years later I have found that very paper. I will post it without further comment. The picture file is a thumprint. Click on it to see the one with better resolution.
Today, with only a few breaks, it has done nothing but rain. The wind whipped the raindrops on to my windows, and drenched the fjord, mountains, and land outside from a very dreary grey sky.
Today was the first day that there was less daylight here than further south. The equinox was yesterday. Now it gets darker.
Notwithstanding I love the North of Norway! Not one day is the same. Even if tomorrow is another day of rain; it will have its own character. Some people are bemused that I look forward to the darkest time of the year. Here is a clue: every day is special.
I remember when I last lived above the Polar Circle. That was when I was the organist of Lødingen between 1994 and 1998. In the Polar Night – which for those who have never experienced it is not completely dark – you could see the most fantastic colours in the sky in the middle of the day. Often a hue of some red, orange, pink, blue or purple reflected on everything on the ground. One day, however, I was on a school bus travelling out to Vestbygd, and it was a day pretty much like today. I looked at the waves crashing into the shore, as if they were in a frantic competition to get there before the wind driven rain. There was nothing boring about that wild day! Each day then is special, and never the same as the one before or after.
The Midnight Sun from May to the end of July is less interesting – in my opinion. Time seems to stop. It is just light all the time. So I am looking forward to my first Polar Night since 1997. If I am lucky, I might get to see the Northern lights too!
The North of Norway is fabulous!
Welcome To My Muse. I am blogging again after a rest of two years.
CQD, my last blog, was primarily concerned with Peak Oil. Before this closed, it briefly split to form the separate 11th September blog, CQD 911. Both were closed at the end of July 2007.
With respect to Peak Oil, this week’s announcement by the French oil firm Total proves that I and everybody else who vainly tried to wake people up, were right all along. The world is now heading into the energy crisis that we were warning about. As for the 11th September, it is clear that the official version of events – that most people including myself accepted without question after those horrendous events in 2001 – is completely discredited. More and more people are coming to the same conclusion that the ever growing number of building professionals, now nearly nine hundred, have reached. It is a matter of time before that will become the biggest news story in this century.
However, for several reasons, I shall not now be writing a blog that is directly political; I shall however try to make you think. So without further ado, let me try to do just that…
One of the amazing things about Facebook is that you can come into contact with people you haven’t seen for years. Indeed, this week, I was contacted via Facebook by a person I have not met since Þe olde days of my childhood. Having then posted a picture from that time, she went and “tagged” someone else in that picture, and suddenly I was back in contact with that person – and through that person with some other people, and so on.
Anyhow, and back to lady that started all this off, I was chatting. Suddenly she commented that I had not changed. Well, I wanted to know what she meant….
In many ways our discussion could be likened to Pilate’s question. You’ll remember from your bibles that he had asked what truth was. Well inasmuch as until recent times (11th September understood) the idea that our governments could work against their own people would have been unthinkable, those of us who are not convinced of this might well ask this same question.
Furthermore, something very disorientating occurs with your identity, when you grow up believing – as “we” did (we of course being we in the West) – that you were on the “good” side, and then you find out that your side wanted to crush those who tore down the Berlin wall. The hypocrisy of course is all the more disturbing: we grew up in the cold war believing that that was a bad thing, and that the communists were the bad guys. Then the BBC goes and reports that Mrs Thatcher and the French wanted, not only to stop the opening up of the wall (so as to stop German reunification) – but that “we” were wanting the Russians to use the military to stop the wall from falling! Had “our” wishes been granted of course, “we” could then continue saying bad things about the communists for the very thing “we” (behind closed walls) had persuaded them to do!
So to the remark that I hadn’t changed.. I was informed that that was because I could argue strongly for this or that, but that this did not change anything. That I had to give her. Nevertheless, in this my musing, let me continue with some rhetorical questioning.
Nothing is changed, or gets changed by knowing what we now know, or by pointing it out. Yet perhaps that is not quite true. You will notice that I put the pronoun “we” in quotation marks. Certainly, for my part, something very fundamental has changed, and that is that whatever it is that makes you think of yourself – from birth through your formative years – as being part of something, has most certainly been changed. The very premises, if you like, of who I am (I cannot speak for anyone else) have been shown to be false, and therefore everything else that has been built upon those premises has – at the very least – to be reappraised.
Another way of looking at this is by thinking of your average school class. Is not something going on here, that is to say, are “we” not building a society in the hearts and minds of the young. Of course, indeed the whole point of schooling is to impart “our” values and so on. It is a building project: flesh and blood are the building materials. That is why we feel the concept of shame if we break the conventions and rules that get laid down during this time. I suppose that, if you want to analyse it, that is where the stigma comes from about going to prison. The connection is, in other words, to the first authority in one’s life, when one was a part of that building project that is “our” society, that is “us”.
Now – please note that I am NOT discussing here whether the US Government were behind the attacks of the 11th September, nor “our” desire that the Russians should crush the reunification of Germany by military force – I ask what this does for us EXISTENTIALLY, in terms of who we are, IF (rhetorically and hypothetically speaking) such monstrous things BE admitted to be the truth.
It does not change anything at all to point out things that actually have been declassified – as in the case of Mrs Thatcher and the reunification of Germany. Yet what if your upbringing were Christian. How do you, for example, continue to go to church professing righteousness and truth when you – being a part of that “we” in speech marks – are consequently part of anything but? It is no good saying that you personally have nothing to do with this (well yes you can, but then you have to change some of the premises of what you stand for), because your faith is not a private matter. If yours is, well sorry, but mine is the expression of something “we” believed in as the body of Christ.
I suppose I am grappling with existential things hard to explain. Nevertheless, in the simplest terms possible, where it is demonstrated that what “we” stood for – “we” who thought we were on the good side – was evil and plain wrong, at the very least that concept of “we”, “us”, “our”, and “ours” fall apart. The trouble is that undermines the legitimacy of every authority that rests upon “our” values, since “we” as such can no longer exist…