Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Anathema - Lightning Song (Universal DVD)

Lightning splits the sky
Shining blinding white
And here I lie almost asleep
Reckoning in a place of peace

And I feel
I found my place
In time and space
In hope and faith
And love I give
My mind is clear
I have no fear
I shed no tears
For you my dear

This world is wonderful, so beautiful
If only you can open up your mind and see

Your world is everything you ever dreamed of
If only you can open up your mind and see

The beauty that is here

Words and music - copyright Anathema - shared here hoping they won't mind as it's just beautiful music...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Funeral address for B.

I want to begin at the end.  At the end of today’s service we’ll hear a song that B loved. The chorus of Bastille’s ‘Pompeii’ says:

But if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

If you close your eyes, I am sure that the reason that we are here today will seem totally unreal. With your eyes closed, it’s easy to imagine that this is all a dream and that B is still here. Not ‘nothing changed at all.’ Far from it - everything has changed.

But actually everything changed from the first moment you met B. Born to D & Y along with A and J - all desperately wanted. But B was a unique spirit - living life to the full with his mates, but also the sensitive one - the deeply empathetic one - the one who could tap into your deepest needs or concerns.

Yet, to quote the song again, ‘How am I gonna be an optimist about this?’ How can we find some hope in the midst of the broken-hearted awfulness of this? I believe we can by looking to B and looking to God.

The words from the Bible we heard Maggie read earlier are from Psalm 121, from a song book in the middle of the Old Testament. The Psalms catch life with all it’s joy, hope, dreams, frustrations, anger, and tragedy and bring them all to God.

Psalm 121 is sometimes called ‘the travellers psalm’ as it was sung by families as they made their way to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. In that sense it’s quite apt we hear it as we remember B today, who loved to travel whether that was holidays with the family or charting off on his own at almost the drop of a hat whether to the States, Canada, Central America, or planning a backpacking trip to India - or just off out in the car (with others having to enjoy, probably more likely endure his legendary driving).

The mountains, to which the writer of the psalm looks, can be majestic and invite exploration, but they are also full of unseen danger. B probably would have watched a program on the Discovery channel about them and would be eager to explore them, but he will have been totally unafraid of what they harboured.  As those families travelled to Jerusalem, they looked to the mountain ranges they had to cross, filled with foreboding, wondering where their help would come from. It is in this situation that the writer of the Psalm declares: “My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” 

What was true then, remains true today. As we go through the light valleys and dark ravines of life, God is there to help, if we let him. He doesn’t force Himself upon us, but he is there if we will but turn to Him. God doesn’t guarantee that difficulties will never occur, but He does promise that when trouble arises, He will be right there in the midst of it. Maybe that was why Ben was so fearless in life and so fearless and peaceful in death - God was with unnamed and unknown all the way, even through his last journey.

There will be days when it will feel like B has been snatched away from you; days when it will just feel like he has been called home. Either way, death is awful, and yet there are some things that it cannot take from you the memories you hold in your hearts, the stories we have and will share. You have become different people, gone different places, made different choices because of B.

People of faith, especially those who call themselves Christian, believe in a God who, as the writer of the psalm says, watches over our every move, who protects us from all evil, at all times and in all places, but not just in the technicolour parts of your life with Ben.  Christians believe that God is also with us in the black and white and bleakness. But not just from somewhere on high.

We have just celebrated Christmas, when we remember God leaving the ‘on highness’ of heaven and getting down and dirty with us here in Jesus. God knows our life in Jesus - who experienced the technicolour parts of life, but also experienced bleak monochrome of death on a cross.

Where was God on the day B died? Watching from on high? On a lunch break? No, He was right there beside B.  Jesus, trained as a carpenter Himself, was right with B, through his death and beyond it.  Just as God gave new life to Jesus through His Resurrection from the dead, so God offers new and eternal life to B and to all of us today.

This is how we become an optimist in this, as the song asks. By remembering B as he was and always will be; by allowing him to be called home to God, all too soon for us, but trusting that He’s at rest and at peace; by claiming the sure and certain hope that death is not the end because of Jesus’ death on the cross and by accepting God’s promise of new life and new hope is real and offered to each of us because of Jesus’ Resurrection.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Albums of 2013 Part 1 - The Raven That Refused To Sing

Those of you that connect with me on social media will know that I put together a list of my albums of 2013.

If you do connect with me there, or here, or in real life, you will know of my near obsession with Progressive rock in all it's forms. You will be unsurprised to see a lot of prog in this list! It has been a spectacular year for the progressive genre in all it's breadth and this list is a small taste of some of things that I fell in love with this year.  I could have, and perhaps should have included Elbow 'Live From Jodrell Bank', Anathema 'Universal'Big Big Train 'English Electric: Full Power' or Omnium Gatherum 'Beyond' but they reached my ears too late to make this year's list:

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

The Fierce and the Dead - Spooky Action 
Days Between Stations - In Extremis 
Haken - The Mountain (I have blogged about this album already here.)
Sanguine Hum - The Weight of the World
Kairos Quartet - Everything We Hold
Leprous - Coal
Sound of Contact - Dimensionaut
Anton Johannson - Galahad Suite
Lifesigns - s/t

The albums were listed in no specific order of preference or priority but more as they came to mind. I decided to flesh out the list as a blog post with, I hope, a clip and a little bit of detail.

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing

As a long term fan of The Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson's prog outfit (now on ice apparently) I was slow to pick up on his solo stuff. I think I was initially wary mostly because I was aware of the prolific nature of his output over many genres and his diverse musical tastes (lists of which he publishes on his own website) and my love of PT's developing sound.

I skipped over Insurgents and only really joined the fun with Grace For Drowning, a complex and diverse album, tinged with jazz and a nod to the 70's for prog influence. This album was far from a homage to a former era, but one which used it as a springboard for new and fresh music. I saw the second leg of the tour in the UK which still stands as one of the finest live events of my life.  Whatever came next would have much to live up to.

And it did.

It's hard to capture in these early days of 2014 what The Raven That Refused To Sing did for me musically, especially as it came out so comparatively early in 2013, and so rather set the tone for the year, but also means that I have lived with the album for a very long time now.

Backed by a stunning band of Nick Beggs (Bass and backing vocals), Theo Travis (flute and sax), Adam Holzman (keyboards), Gutthrie Govan (guitars) it'll quickly become clear that the recipe for a musical delicacy is in the proverbial pot. So to the songs.

'Luminol' grooves and kicks and sparks like a musical foundry and then wanders into lush almost pastoral fields, sidestepping into what feels like should be a monolithic cathedral with their prog loving choir on hand, and back again.

'Drive Home' opens with what musically feels like Sunday morning for the non church-going childless - warm, secure, happy conjuring sunlight which feels odd bearing in mind the sadness of the lyrics. This juxtaposition of emotion is captured magnificently by the much lauded guitar solo by Guthrie Govan towards the song's end. Spellbinding stuff.

'The Holy Drinker' didn't make sense to me initially until I heard it live. It opens with a band at the height of their musical game - soloing across the instruments, tight riffs, no spare fat. Angular. Amazing. And then it lurches into basically what feels like Steve Wilson playing a fairly basic rock song. Don't misunderstand, it's middle is still some of the best music of the year, but... At it's heart though lies an astonishing Holzman/Govan/Wilson/Beggs riff which gets reprised at the end of the track which I defy you not to nod your head along to!

'Pin Drop' is simply B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. Guitars, vocal harmonies, all building to a joyful blast of a sax solo from Theo Travis. The middle section has a drama and urgency to it unsurpassed anywhere else on the album in my opinion.

'The Watchmaker' is above for you to enjoy.

'The Raven That Refused To Sing' is mournful and moving and has a video that captures the ambience beautifully. Moody piano, lush strings and more urgent guitar work lead us into a song about love and loss that will, for me, remain unsurpassed.

All in all, TRTRTS builds on and above anything else that Steven Wilson has recorded to date. It won't be for everyone, and I wouldn't say that Steven Wilson is the face of modern prog, but he's certainly vying for that crown and enjoying himself as he goes.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sunday Podcast

New Year in the Dark

Like Archbishop Justin, I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions as I know that I almost certainly wont have the strength of character or simple will to keep them. Yet many like to I aspire try to enter the new year with new motives - a desire to be somehow a better person.

If you’ve even had a cursory glance at the newspaper in recent days, as we are in the season it seems of slow news, you will have noticed the press point us forward to some of the things we might expect in the coming year in terms of technology, fashion, music, politics etc.

As the early days of 2014 unfurl, the optimists amongst us look forward with expectancy at what may lie ahead of us.  This of course chimes with the hopeful notes of Spring, of new growth and of lighter days.

New Year, new hopes, new dreams, new regimes, new wardrobe because of the weight I’ll have lost, new peace in Syria, a new politics and economics that supports those caught in the cycle of poverty in the queue at the food bank….

The Wise Ones had glimpsed that light of New Hope dawning on the horizon of history as they gazed at their astrological charts. They were so struck by the newness and promise that they read in the stars, that they had to set out in search of it’s source bearing gifts.
We roll this gift-giving into the Christmas story that we think we know, and we read it as the the spiritual reason for lavishing gifts in excess on our loved ones.

There is another story being told here.  In our Old Testament reading this morning we hear of the glorious light light of God blazing out in darkness, drawing peoples into its presence in joy.  But there is darkness.

As the light streams from the manger, it is all too easy to miss the darkness. The darkness of the fear of Herod - the fear that his own precarious position of power will be toppled; that same fear gripped Jerusalem because if Herod was toppled the Romans would reclaim the power the delegated to him.

For many the New Year does not promise hope but is laden with fear - for the security or promise of a job, for the well being of themselves and their family, even for their very lives.

Fear disfigures. It dehumanises. It was fear that ultimately wrought an unholy alliance of religious and political leaders that would ultimately crucify this baby grown to be a man.  But what of us? Fear changes us - it renews our burglar or car alarm, it makes us withdraw from others because they are strangers, it reduces what we give of ourselves and our time and our money to others and we focus on me and my future alone…

Yet into the darkness of a fearful world of devastating super-storms and school massacres, a world where innocents die everyday to preventable illness and hunger. comes the light of the glory of God, shining out and shining on us revealing who we really are when we hoard or covet or cheat or betray – yet Emmanuel still bears the promise that God has truly seen who and what we are and loves us still. Forever. No matter what.

And that is the gift at the heart of the story - the unmerited love of God who sees who we are and what we are capable of, and loves us still.  The gold and frankincense and myhrr are given in response to this greater gift and notice what these gifts cost - time - the ones who bore them travelled an enormous distance to give them; money - none of the items given were cheap but took financial resources to obtain; talent - these Wise Men, Magi, astrologers of sorts used their God-given skill to discern and interpret the new thing that the God of Israel was doing in the birth of this child.

And what of us? How do we respond to the grace and love of God in this child? Are we, like the Wise Men, overwhelmed with joy at the new thing God is doing amongst us, and therefore willing to generously give of our time to diligently seek Christ ourselves and serve Him in others? Are we willing to generously give our money or see our talents used to enable us not just to rebuild the physical structure of our church buildings but to enable us to see God’s church rebuilt here. All in response to the unmerited love of  a generous God.

Herod and the Wise Men sought to pay homage to the Christ Child. Homage is about worship it is about us showing special respect or reverence in this instance to the Christ child, but if that stops at what we sing or say in a building such as this on a Sunday, then we miss something. Homage rises out of a relationship between a lord and a subject and was a ceremony where the subject became his ‘Lord’s man.’  Knowing that God loves us despite the darkness that surrounds us and that can fill our actions and lives, as we gaze into the crib let us also pay homage in response to the generosity of God in Christ, through who’s life, death and resurrection as the Wise Men’s gift’s remind us, we are also invited to become our Lord’s man or woman, boy or girl. But let us also live and give generously so that this New Year may be one of not fear but one of lives and churches and communities filled with the light, glory and hope of God.