Friday, June 27, 2014

Concealing Fate Live ALL 28 minutes!

I know that my taste in music is not for everyone, but those who know me (and who perhaps follow me on twitter - @SimonGCutmore) will know of my near obsessive love of progressive rock music.

One of the bands that I fell in love with a few years ago was TesseracT. Sitting on the more metal end of the genre, along with brand leaders Messhuggah, Periphery, Chimp Spanner and FellSilent, TesseracT carved a niche of more melodic 'djent' (as the sub genre became known.)  The heaviness of the riffs, the technicality of the arrangements and the simply jaw-dropping musicianship were enough to draw me in. Their debut, 'One' was essential listening for many many months.

Then their versatile vocalist Daniel Tompkins left to sing for SkyHarbour, amongst others, and to cut a longer story short, eventually in came a new vocalist, Ashe O' Hara, a toning down of the heaviness and an album called 'Altered State.'  This album won them plaudits and awards and notoriety as well as many new fans, particular of the wider prog family, but it left me cold. Gone was the vocal textures and the heaviness in favour of a much lighter sound and expansive, almost ambient, compositions.

I hear today that the band have amicably parted with Ashe due a disagreement in musical direction and Daniel Tompkins is back. Hip hip hooray says I!

Tonight I have rediscovered 'One', and it still stands up for inventiveness, swagger, technicality, emotion and HEAVINESS. It's not for every one but I am excited at Dan's return, and in anticipation, here's the whole of 'Concealing Fate' from 'One.'


Monday, June 23, 2014

The Fear!

I am no adrenaline junkie - you wont find me skydiving, base jumping, or free climbing. I agree life should be lived to the full, but I love life and quite frankly I do not want to place myself in a position where I amy risk losing my life - certainly not in the name of ‘fun.’  Activities like that fill me with THE FEAR - with a  capital FEAR.

The physical, bodily symptoms of fear and excitement are identical. That is, you would not be able to tell the difference between fear and excitement by checking breathing, heart rate, release of sugar into the blood, or any of the other activities of the sympathetic nervous system that prepares us for “fight or flight” responses to threat. There simply is no difference.

Yet is is crucial in our earliest moments to discern which emotion is which.  It is easy for a young football player at this year’s world cup to be feeling both emotions at once as he represent’s his country - but which emotion he allows to come to the fore will dictate his performance on the pitch.
And yet if there is, physiologically, no difference between these two states, that means that our interpretation of our condition makes all the difference. Reading our sweaty palms and increased heart rate when meeting someone for the first time -- or climbing into the pulpit on Sunday morning! -- as signs of excitement or fear dramatically effects how we approach the situation in question.

All of this bears, I believe, on the gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, as it is a gospel reading that talks a lot about fear. Jesus has commissioned his twelve disciples and is about to send them out on a mission of their own, a mission during which they both exercise great authority and need to demonstrate profound trust. For while they will have the power to cast out demons and heal the sick, they are to take no money or extra provisions but rather depend upon the grace of God as shown in the hospitality of others.

As part of what seems almost like a pre-game “pep talk” (okay, so the World Cup is still on my mind!), Jesus levels with the disciples about some of the challenges they will face, challenges including rejection and slander and persecution and perhaps even death. (Keep in mind that Matthew writes not only about the original disciples but also for the disciples of his community who may be experiencing just these things.) It’s in this context that he says several things about fear that are worth attention.

First, fear is, in many ways, the antithesis of faith. Not surprisingly, in seeking to encourage his disciples Jesus employs the characteristic hallmark of good news throughout Scripture. Anytime, in fact, someone -- whether prophet, priest, or angel -- begins a message with the words “Fear not” you know that good news is about to come. (When they begin “woe unto you,” on the other hand, start bumming out now!) And so after warning them of coming persecutions -- just as their teacher Jesus faced opposition, so will they -- he encourages them with an injunction not to fear.

Second, courage is rooted in God’s promise. Jesus reminds them and us not to fear because while their opponents may be able to hurt them physically, they can do them no spiritual harm. God, however, is the one who has power over both body and spirit, and God has promised to guard and protect them and bring them to eternal life. The God who created and tends every living thing, values them more than anything.

Third, fear of conflict may be one of the most debilitating of all fears. While I have always struggled with Jesus’ somewhat (I hope!) hyperbolic sayings about parents and children being at enmity with each other, it strikes me that this difficult passage gets to the heart of one of the most paralyzing characteristics of many faith communities I know. We can get so afraid of conflict -- whether within our immediate families or the larger family of faith -- that our witness is muted, our convictions surrendered, and any forward movement greatly limited for fear of upsetting the apple cart. Noting that Matthew’s original context likely included people who were rejected by their family and friends because of their faith -- hence the import of these words of encouragement from Jesus -- I think we often allow our hopes, plans, and mission to be held hostage by those who threaten conflict when things don’t go their way. In these situations, Jesus invites us to remember that there are worse things than conflict and that, indeed, the call to follow Christ and take up his cross will in fact have costs, including at times conflict.

Fear can dominate our lives -- fear for our loved ones, fear about an uncertain future, fear of continued war abroad and economic downturn at home, fear of where our next meal or rent payment will come from, fear of being accepted in this next stage of life (going to high school or college, entering a retirement community), and the list goes on. 

How we respond to challenges in life depends upon our interpretation. Are the hardships we face things to fear or opportunities to exercise our faith? Is a brewing conflict with a dysfunctional colleague or difficult friend something to be avoided at all costs or an opportunity for setting boundaries, affirming healthier patterns of behavior, and nurturing personal and corporate growth? We need to take care, of course, not to characterize hardships as challenges sent from God, but rather remind each other that if God can use something as awful as the cross to work redemption then God can and will work through our hardships for the sake of life. This promise might help us approach challenges not with fear but rather anticipation and even excitement.

I am indebted to David Lose over at Working Preacher for large chunks of this

Before and After

We've all seen those 'before and after' photos. Whether they are advertising an new diet or fitness regime or what our dentist can do for our teeth, they look soooo inviting, but after a moment's reflection are almost certainly very unlikely - or photoshopped.  

Those 'before and after' moments can arrive at very surprising moments indeed though.

So here's how it goes.

We're the sort of parish where doing the 'round' of home communions is a central part of the pastoral ministry of the church - a ministry shared with some skilled and trained laity too, but I bear a burden of that load. And I love it.

I love doing home communions. As a Curate I did loads of them. They were a staple part of monthly ministry. Sometimes they were a burden - especially when leading the service became more about 'liturgical shouting' than leading the well crafted words; or I struggled to find somewhere clean (ish) to lay the corporal. Most of the services that I led were a joy.

Over the years my understanding and appreciation of this ministry has grown. No longer is it about me (somewhat arrogantly perhaps) taking Jesus to the sick and house bound, but more about me recognising now that He is already there with them.

This enables the sick or house bound to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament and find themselves nourished, and I leave having been fed by Him in strong tea and a soft biscuit and the same conversation that I have had every time I have visited.

This recognition of Christ already present extends to much of the ministry which I have the privilege of exercising. My role as a priest becomes more and more about discovering God already present amongst His people, and pointing Him out.

This should not be surprising. Scripture is talks again and again of God siding with, showing a bias to, dwelling specially with - the poor, the broken, the dispossessed, the ill, and the grieving; with those whom society tends to push to it's edges.

Over the last couple of weeks, God already present, acted in a way that has left me speechless.

It was my day off, and I was wandering into school to collect my kids, when one of the mums stopped me and said did I know what was happening to C because there was an ambulance outside her house and she was being rushed to hospital. Having taken home communion to C and her family many times, and knowing that she has been blighted with significant ill health over the years.

Instinctively, I decided to try to call the chaplain at the hospital that she was likely to be taken to. It was 5pm. Would anyone be there?

Miraculously, the Chaplain answered the phone. 'I was just out of the office but I somehow felt compelled to go back in, when the phone went, and it was you', he said. 'I would normally be in the car park by now. Of course I'll go and see what I can find out.'

A while later, my mobile phone rang. It was the Chaplain again, He had found C and her family, had talked with them and prayed with them. They expressed real thankfulness on receiving that ministry and were amazed that he was there as quickly. God was already present - the Chaplain was simply responding.  He suggested I go to see her soon. I made noises about going then, his reply left me in no doubt of how serious this was - I should go, but I shouldn't leave it til Monday as that might be too late... Sobering stuff.

I went to see C on the Sunday afternoon after a full morning of services. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. She was in ICU and was 'all wired up.' She was awake but clearly very very ill indeed. At her bedside was her husband who looked pleased to see me as did she.

The three of us talked, and as we did, C lapsed in and out of consciousness - her body reminding us of how close she was to God already present.  Seeing she was not well at all I took her hand as we talked. At least she would know I was there.

I know that there was only so much more C could take of me being there. She fought to stay awake. I decided to lead prayers for her which included anointing her with oil for healing and wholeness. This in itself in some ways was unremarkable -  but it is about acknowledging the presence of God already there with her.  C's husband saw me out of ICU and I fully expected to hear within a few days that she had gone to meet her Maker.

We went away on a few days holiday.

On my return I hear stories of how C is back home! Flabbergasted I make arrangements to visit her and take her Home Communion.

Following our ‘liturgical shouting’, otherwise known as a service if her mother is there, we share a cup of tea and it’s then that the miracle of God already present is disclosed.

C recalled her time in hospital and my visit. She recalled snatches of our conversation as we shared in the Eucharist at her bedside.  Then she revealed that she had made up her mind to give up on life at that point. She was tired and very ill. She had no more strength to fight on.

Then she recalled my offering to lay hands on her and to pray for healing & to anoint her with Holy Oil.  She went on movingly to describe how, as she felt my oily thumb trace the sign of the cross on her forehead and I uttered the words 

‘I anoint you in the name of God who gives you life, receive Christ’s healing and his love. My the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant you the riches of His grace, His wholeness and His peace’ 

somehow she knew that it was all going to be alright.  Somehow the already present God spoke to her and encouraged and called to her.

We can believe all manner of things to be true - especially the most unlikely when stirring from a waking dream or being roused to consciousness again.  Yet the fact that C was now at home and retelling this, is testimony to the power and presence of the already present God at work.

Those of us who have the privilege in offering or receiving this ministry should never downplay the power and significance of what God, who is already there, is up to.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Anathema - Distant Satellites (A small Review)

If you have not heard this album yet then stop what you are doing RIGHT NOW, pull up a chair and sit, and enjoy what is rapidly becoming not just one of my albums of 2014, but one of the finest albums by one of the finest bands you've probably never heard of.

Anathema hail from Liverpool and began life as a Doom/Death metal band in the early 1990s.  Following a bit of a shuffling of personel, the band has settled down around the Cavanaugh brothers - Vincent (vocals/guitar), Danny (guiar/vocals) and Jaimie (bass.)

All that remains of that era of the band's music is channelled into the most fragile, emotional and human music I have ever heard. Period. It is truly progressive, because the bands music has changed and grown.  Perhaps better put, it has evolved over the years. The band recently described how the music they make seems to come from somewhere else and they do the best to get out of the way. And thank goodness that they do!

I joined the party late, only discovering the band with their latter two relaeases 'We're Here Because We're Here' and 'Weather Systems' rapidly finding a place in my heart. But with 'Distant Satellites' the band have continued to chart both lyrically and musically the breadth of human emotion and experience, but with this release, take them and us to the beating heart of what it means to be human, bounded in time and space, having only one go at life in the now.

What the listener is invited into is a poetry of secular spirituality that is simultaneously transcendent and immanent, both enduring (maybe even eternal) and fleeting. It has captured my soul - I hope it does yours.

The album is released on June 9th on Kscope and I would say is an essential purchase and a worthy addition to any music collection.


Do you remember your dreams? I don’t usually. In fact, dreams pass me by so much as I might even say that I don’t dream. Very occasionally that’s not the case and my dreams are big and vivid.

In a recent dream I had, a band who’s music I like very much were performing live, and I was able to attend. That in itself is pretty miraculous these days! What was unusual though was that I found myself playing drums that night with this band! This was a huge shock as I haven’t seriously played the drums for a while. The concert was going terribly though… None of us where in time, the guitars were not in tune, we stopped and started. It was shameful…  What was stranger still in the dream was that the guitarist of the band, who is really lovely in real life, was getting very cross with me indeed - ‘Come on Simon you know these songs? Why aren’t you playing?!’ Even though I protested that part of the issue was that we had not rehearsed, he was having none of it, and I woke up with him shouting at me!

Whitsun, what we celebrate today as Pentecost Sunday, is a good time to dream some dreams.  After all, at the heart of the first Pentecost sermon, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel to promise that God’s spirit enables all of us to dream -- young and old, male and female, slave and free -- all of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have been commissioned to be official Christian dreamers.
God calls the church to dream. All too often the church doesn’t dream. It feels like we are asleep - avoiding issues, not engaging with real life, dozy and slow to move when woken.  As baptised people, as Pentecost people, a Spirit filled people, dreaming seems to get a bad press.

First, I wonder if somewhere down the road we decided that dreaming is for children; that dreaming isn’t, in other words, something that responsible adults should do. But, as we already noticed, Peter quotes Joel to say that everyone will see visions, prophesy, and dream. Interestingly, while his list starts with the young, it goes on to include old men as well! Moreover, one of the keys to innovation in according to those who influence the most successful companies, is to be willing to think like a child and relearn how to question assumptions. Who says our congregations can’t grow? Why do we assume that our friends and neighbours won’t come to our church? Where did we get the idea we have nothing to offer our community? And before you start to wonder whether Jairo or Helen are the answer to our dreams, just stop right there and rose yourselves.

Both Jairo and Helen’s learning curves are going to be steep certainly in their first year amongst us, but also beyond.  Jairo’s title will be ‘Assistant Curate.’ He (and this is true for Helen in her new role as Reader too) is with us and amongst us to learn with us and from us and to assist us all in the ministry of the church - and that is something we are all called to. He isn’t just another pair of ordained hands - significant chunks of his time will be non parish-based training, and my availability will action stuff go down.  These and too many other things “everyone knows” need to be called into question by some active dreaming that invites the Spirit to help us see possibilities we hadn’t seen before and asking what part we can all play, with Jairo and Helen, in realising those dreams.

Second, perhaps some are worried that dreaming can be divisive. What if, after all, your dream and mine are different? How do we decide which dream is “better”? Here we can turn to Paul in our reading from , who reminds us that there is always diversity and difference in the body, the Church -- and that is something to be celebrated! There are, as Paul writes to his beloved and difficult congregation in Corinth, a variety of gifts and likely a variety of dreams. But there is one Spirit. A plethora of dreams invites a new world of possibilities, but they are mediated by, as Paul says, a commitment to the common good. Each member of the body -- and each member’s dream -- has a role to play. It may be challenging to get there, but the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was never intended to make things easy; rather, those tongues of flame were sent to set hearts on fire. And if there is some jostling along the way as we discern between gifts and dreams of the Spirit, we will be okay if we remember that we are all members of one Body.

Finally, I wonder if we’re just worried that if we dream we might be disappointed. I mean, if we just stick with the status quo, we won’t be surprised by how things work out. Dreaming, for some, feels like getting your hopes up. And if things aren’t going to end well, why add insult to injury by getting ourselves even more hurt in the process. Remember, Jesus refused to leave his disciples mired in fear. Indeed, as John tells us this morning, Jesus sought them out, finding them even though they’d shut themselves behind locked doors. Jesus has more in mind for us than fear. He wants to breathe upon us the same Holy Spirit he gave his first disciples and set us loose to forgive sin, share the good news, work for the welfare of our community, provide strength to the weak and courage to the fearful, and in all these ways to share with those around us the dream and vision of Christian community - and those dreams are God’s. Might we fail? Yes. But rather than let that possibility paralyze us, perhaps we can remember that God seems to have way to snatch surprising victory from the jaws of defeat.

Last thing - notice that God promises to give His Spirit to all - not just to a certain sort of Christian - and the outcome is that God’s spirit enables all of us to dream -- young and old, male and female, slave and free All of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have been commissioned to be official Christian dreamers.  We need to listen to those dreams, and then work together in making them God’s reality.

Sunday Podcast

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Hiromi - The Trio Project - Move

Those of you who know me, will know of my love for progressive rock music in it's various forms, but what some of you may be less familiar with is my growing love of jazz.

I was given the heads up on Hiromi by friend Chris McGarel (@Whiterhinotea) and I am very pleased he did!

This Japanese pianist started playing classical piano aged 5 years old but a meeting with Chick Corea when she was 17 years old changed her life and musical trajectory.

Here she is performing with Anthony Jackson (the O'Jays, Paul Simon, and Pat Metheny) and Simon Phillips (Judas Priest, The Who and Toto) and this live track exudes sheer joy and the way the 3 of them fire off each other just blows my brain.

I hope you enjoy!

Up, Up and Away!

It's been all too quiet here for some time. So here's Sunday's sermon...


We are all familiar with depictions of people coming and going. Many will recall in the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz,” how Glinda, the good witch, descends upon Dorothy and the Munchkins in a bubble, and after delivering a message and explaining the mystery of the ruby slippers, departs in the same way. And no one who has watched even one “Star Trek” episode can have missed Captain Kirk or his crew being beamed up by a transporter beam.
So, that is just like the Ascension, right?

Wrong. The Ascension of Jesus is not a device to get him back into heaven from whence he came. The Ascension is an account of how Jesus, having finished his work on earth, blazes a trail over which we one day shall travel, a trail to eternal life that continues our relationship with the risen Jesus and God, our creator and redeemer.

While other religions have their divine ascension narratives, with other worthy ones ascending with them, Jesus departs alone, leaving his disciples behind, staring into empty space, as a cloud takes him out of their sight.

And why does that matter?

Because our work is not done on earth. We learn more about that work from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – and us – in the gospel reading for today: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”

This farewell prayer is said, not just for the small band of family and followers, but also for each of us. The good news here is that Jesus prays openly for us, for our protection and our unity so that we might be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Jesus also tells us, shortly before his Ascension, what eternal life means for us: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The Ascension makes Jesus accessible to all people, not just his disciples in a particular historic moment. He prays for all people, and all may call upon him. There is no limit to accessing him, no request too small.

Recently a woman called her church office in distress because her husband had just received a bad diagnosis. She did not know what to do. As she talked with her minister, her voice became calmer and she began to voice her fear about what might happen. Then she said, “Will the church pray for us?”
“Of course,” the minister replied, “and I am praying for you both right now.”
“I know,” she said. “I can feel it.”
The risen and ascended Lord entered into her time of need with a calming presence through her plea for help and her pastor’s prayer. That is how a relationship with Jesus is supposed to work: immediately accessible, even when we cannot say the words because of our grief or distress.

People are constantly learning how the living Lord works on their behalf. Jesus’ Ascension paves the way for this work, and we are the beneficiaries of it.

In the Easter season, we are continually drawn to stories about Jesus’ pastoral care for us. He walks to Emmaus with the troubled disciples who had hoped he would redeem Israel, and then helps them see his risen life and the power it holds for them as they begin to share the Good News with others. He cooks breakfast for his friends on the shore of the lake, and they know through this simple act of hospitality how deeply he cares for them, and we know how deeply he cares for all of us.

When was the last time you asked God for something? When was the last time you knelt in a church or in your living room and asked Jesus for a specific need? When was the last time you prayed for yourself or a friend to be healed?

For whom will you pray today? For whom will you offer prayer this week? These prayers are dialogues with Jesus, and he wants us to speak to him. He wants to give us good things, the things we deeply desire and need to lead lives of hope. That is what he does for the disciples in today’s gospel reading, and that is what he will do for you.

Conversion and transformation are the steps the risen one takes with us. Few people have the dramatic experience recorded by the apostle Paul on the Damascus road, but many have moments when life and their place in it begin to come together. That is the conversion experience, when the pieces of the puzzle of life begin to fit together. The conversion leads to transformation, a new life centered in the risen, ascended Lord. It is no longer all about you or me.

Jesus does not come and go on a transporter beam. His presence abides in the church and in a personal and unique relationship with each of us. That is what we celebrate in the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

Today, whether you are joyful about something or sad and grieving over what might have been, remember you are connected to the risen Christ, through the community of faith and directly with him. Pray for specific things you need. Ask for the things he wants to give you, and always remember it is his risen and ascended life that makes him accessible. He wants to walk with you. Will you take his hand?