Rumours of deeper things…


tents, in high wind

I am heading off with a group of friends to a small Hebridean Island for one of our ‘wilderness retreats’ next weekend.

Spring is here. Yesterday we played our first cricket match of the year (both Will and I out for 0 on a wet sappy pitch) and the garden is full of shy colours. I yearn for wild places.

My awareness of the significance of the wild in understanding myself, as well as trying to understand God, is a constant work in progress. I can make few definitive statements in relation to either. All I can say is that experience is more important than definition. So I continue to place myself in places where I hear rumours of deeper things…

In deep meditation

A few years ago I wrote a series of ‘dispatches’- short poems really- that I tied laminated onto bright card, then tagged to the top of canes. We have used them a few times, laid out along cliff tops or on circular routes around wild headlands. I was reviewing some material for this trip and decided not to use them again, but realised that the dispatches say almost everything about my own hopes and prayers for encounters with God. Here they are;


There are rumours-

Like smoke signals blurred in desert wind
They say

He is here

Not in metaphor
Not whipped up in the collective madness of charismata
Not just politely suggested by the high drama of religious ritual-


With mud on his shoes

Should I hide?

Should I stay in a fold of ground
And hope he does not walk my way?

I could never meet his eye
Knowing that the hidden parts of me will be
Wide open

How do I prepare?

I have no fine things-
No fine words
My shield of sophistication
Is broken

I am soft flesh laid bare
I am a fanfare to repeated failure

I am herald only to this

But this King wears no stately form
Wants no majesty

He walks gently
And has a humble heart

And he is-


Put down those things you carry
Sit with me a while
Stop making things so complicated
It is much simpler than that

Start from where you are
Not where you would like to be
Not where others say you should be
There may come a time
When I will warm your heart towards a new thing

But right now
I just want to warm your heart

It is not for you to cut a way into the undergrowth
Or make a road into the rocky places
Rather let us just walk
And see were this path will lead us
You and I


All around you is beauty
See it

Smell it

Feel it falling like manna

Look for softness in your heart
There I am
Look for tenderness
And it will be my Spirit
Calling you to community

My yoke rests easy
If you will wear it

And my burdens lie soft on the shoulders
If you will lift them

You are wrapped up in me
And I am bound up in you

We are held together by soft bindings
Like tender shoot and stake
Like mud and gentle rain
Like worn shoe and weary foot
Like tea and pot

Like universe and stars
Like ocean and rolling wave
Like fields and each blade of grass

There is now
And there is our still-to-come



And he was gone-

But still I am not alone

The Spirit is stirring the waters


Come and share communion (and sing…)


If you are local to Dunoon, we are doing another one of our ‘occasional’ worship events up at the Episcopal Church. Andrew assures me that after all the hard work the building is warmer and more welcoming than ever!

The idea for these events came when Andrew asked me a year or so ago if I would revisit my worship leading past. I reluctantly agreed and found it personally very moving to lead people in singing simple songs again. I don’t know how this will develop, but at present we intend to keep it humble, keep it simple, but to follow where the path leads.

Next Tuesday this involves finding the space inside some songs, a bit of theatre, and sharing communion. Nothing more. No hype. No expectancy on anyone who comes. Just space to worship.

Local folk- would you mind sharing this where you can to get some invites out?

Worship thingy…


We are starting a new worship thing next Sunday night- a simple, quiet,  mainly music led thing. We have not given it a name as this would imply greater pretension than we have been able to gather.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my ramblings around the use of music in worship- I am a reformed ‘worship leader’ in the auditorium stylee- and thought never to return. However, I still love to play and sing and the question that I have found myself asking continually concerns what role if any singing songs of worship may play in our on going journey away from CCM monoculture.

Following thoughts gathered during a recent silent retreat I decided to set aside angst and just sing.

Andrew, a friend and local Episcopal vicar/priest/canon/ pope (pick suitable title!) had already asked if we could do something like this- something primarily about private worship, made collective in the small sense, and so we decided to go for it.

If this is of interest to anyone local, you are more than welcome to join us- 7.30, Holy Trinity Church, Dunoon.

Half and hour to an hour of music, quietness and contemplation.

If it feels like it has the wind of the Spirit, we might even give it a name…

OK, so I am no Picasso…

I have just been looking at some photos of bits and pieces of art that I did recently as part of a retreat. A couple of them I am childishly pleased with and so I offer these to you much in the same way as bringing something home from school to show mum, who will no doubt pin them to her fridge for a while until it gets all curly and finishes in the bin.

The first one was a water colour wash, made when I was thinking about peace. Peace falling like water. As I made the wash, I deliberately left areas dry, almost like islands of anxiety. After the wash dried, I started to fill in the islands with different colours. Blood red and the fear of death. Yellow for sickness. Gold for money. Black for depression. Bright red for anger intolerance and hate.

2013-01-24 18.53.54

A day later, I spent a much longer time making a much bigger piece. In fact I spent around 7 hours cutting out clippings from newspapers, imagining the whole mess of us- the good the bad the glorious. Gathering all the strands of the things that we would hold as important and trying to link it all together.

Next I got hold of some lovely gold acrylic paint and started to paint a tree over all the clippings. I wanted it to be a noble tree, a beautiful tree- to symbolise the Kingdom of God. The tree was not of the newspaper clippings, but it was on them and through them. It did not obliterate the words or the pictures, but it transformed them, illuminated them. It was a totally different medium but it was rooted deep into the mess of it all.

2013-01-25 08.13.46


Oh yes- and I forgot about my red birds. They came from this passage in Matthew chapter 6 (part of the sermon on the mount.)

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


Jesus is my Bloody Boyfriend…

Deliberately provocative (and not original,) but hopefully with good purpose…

I was listening to my MP3 player on ‘shuffle’ mode as I was working the other day. If I am near by and a song comes on that I do not want to listen to then I will press skip- as I rarely get round to deleting anything, and there is a random accumulation of all sorts of stuff on there. However I had hands covered in tile cement and so was stuck with whatever song emerged.

In this case it was Third Day, singing a song called ‘Anything’. I have confessed previously to a past leading worship music. I was that bloke with an acoustic guitar whipping up soft rock anthems. Third Day were an American Christian band that did a couple of worship albums that I really liked 10 years or so ago.

So much has changed since then for me however in terms of how I approach worship generally, and worship music particularly. Some of this can be summed up in this song – here are some of the lyrics;

And I want to hold You
Even though You can’t be held
Because You’re so much more
Than everything I’ve ever known
Anything, anything
I’d give anything
I would give anything to hold You

This song is one of many worship songs that are themed around intimacy with Jesus- and to the ears of the uninitiated, they seem to have lots in common with the language used in popular music to describe sexualised love.

A couple more examples that many of us will have sung many times. Both of them I have really loved singing in the past;

I sing a simple song of love
To my Savior, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things you’ve done
My loving Savior, my precious Jesus

My heart is glad that you’ve called me your own
There’s no place I’d rather be

In your arms of love
In your arms of love
Holding me still
Holding me near
In your arms of love

Then there is this one;

The simplest of all love songs
I want to bring to you
So I’ll let my words be few
Jesus, I am so in love with you.
Matt & Beth Redman

To be fair, Redman appears to have been thinking about this himself, although I do not really think that this is a ‘bloke’ issue alone;

Am I being unfair do you think? All these things have to be viewed within context. If our primary (even only)  expression of worship is contained within church services, then the cultural carrier of our understandings of who God is, and how we should relate to him, will be the music that we sing, and the cultural references that drive this stylistically will be all the love language that we hear in the charts.

However, I no longer primarily worship God through large gatherings, and all this erotic Jesus love language seems rather odd  from a distance.

Does Jesus require this kind of devotion in our following of him? Does he value it? Does it make us better followers, more inclined to live as Agents of the Kingdom of God? Or is it a bubble of sentimental excess that has little relevance to real life?

The ‘bloody’ bit of the title of this piece by the way is suggestive of another dynamic of all these love songs- the climactic event; the consumation of the relationship, is the death of Jesus on the cross.

Once again is there anything wrong with this ? It too has to be understood within the context of a theological monoculture of substitutionary atonement. The young man whose blood had to be spilled to save the few, the carefully selected beautiful few, who have this special individual relationship with their saviour.

Except I find myself outside this context too. The narrowness of the understanding feels wrong, feels distorted, feels like ‘God made to make me feel exclusive’. God made to be mine and not yours.

Whatever the theology, there are other songs to be sung. Songs of deliverance, songs of protest, songs of lament, songs of community and songs of hope in the presence of doubt and fear.

Songs calling us to love-in-action, not just love-in-abstract.

A flash of the old Charismania…

I have just been reading a review of Greenbelt 2012 by Tony Cummings on Cross Rhythms.  Suffice it to say that Tony was not overly impressed. He thought it only a matter of time before GB announced itself no longer a ‘Christian’ festival, and records how he chastised openly gay C of E minister (and former Communard) Richard Coles. He compliments Bruce Cockburn on his music, but regrets lacking an opportunity to correct his theology.

Tony clearly comes from a particular theological position;

The Scriptures have been a light unto my feet wherever I’ve clumsily put them. Put simply, the Bible, all the Bible, is God-breathed. Over the years I’ve had informal chats, often at Greenbelt, with people who’ve called my attitude to the Bible “legalistic” or in more recent times “literalist”. They’ve been hard conversations to conduct in an atmosphere of love. It’s not easy to be gentle and loving when someone’s calling you names and it’s harder still when you’ve come to prayerfully believe that pejorative words like literalist or fundamentalist truly don’t bear any resemblance to what I believe or how I live my life. It seems to me all this theological name-calling, whether it emanates from Bruce Cockburn, Pat Robertson, Martyn Joseph, Dave Tomlinson or thousands more who call Christians deluded charismaniacs, liberal backsliders or post evangelical heretics, are continuing to slander the Church. The love the Bible tells us the Church should have one for another is still elusively far off.

This is an opinion piece and I do not intend to dwell on it too much, apart from an interesting exchange between Tony and Robin Vincent. I missed it, but Robin was part of an event at GB entitled Molten Meditation & Soul Circus’ Sacramental Charismania and Tony Cummings had a bit of a go at it all in his article.

Robin responded via his blog. I liked this;

What I find interesting is that the term “charismatic” used to describe a style of worship is increasingly a red herring. I’ve found the use of the gifts, the move of the holy spirit in every expression of church I’ve come across. This years Greenbelt programme actually had the word “charismatic” all over it describing things like the Blesséd Mass and the Accord Evensong and was ever present in the Rend Collective and Andy Flanagan. There’s a real desire to step up and reclaim the term and demonstrate how my video needs to become an archaic curiosity, a snapshot of what once was – so we can move forward without the baggage. To do that we have to lay the baggage at Jesus’ feet – that’s what I tried to do last Sunday night.

It all comes flooding back.

Me on a stage with a guitar and a sense of confused excitement. Something is stirring, there is a crackle in the air like electricity.

I try to find the wavelength with music, reaching out into what for me is mystery, but into which others all around me are claiming to be directly plugged into- wired in to the God-current.

And I hope. I try not to notice all the contradictions. The so called transformational charismatic events that seem to have no lasting significance in people lives. The selective mundanities pasted together to make clear ‘instruction’ from God. The power given to people who claim special gifting, despite their tendency to abuse and wound others.

For me and many others, it became impossible to dwell within all the contradictions of this experience and to this day, I struggle to understand what of my experience could be regarded as genuine, spiritual, God-related and how much just manipulated hot air.

My working conclusion is that both were present, but in what percentages I could not say.

Tony Cummings differentiates between the ‘Charismatic’ and ‘Charismania’. In my many years of immersion within Charismatic churches, I find this distinction very difficult to define. This might be because of my ‘lack of discernment’ (this being one of the spiritual gifts highly valued in Charismatic circles, but totally subjective in application) but also might be simply because these things will always contain both. To be an active participant in the excesses of Charismatic worship has to involve a setting aside of any kind of defensive reserves and going with the movement of the crowd. Whether the crowd is being shaped by Spirit of God, or the effect of a few charismatic individuals on the many is always difficult to say, particularly when being swept up in the moment.

It is not as if there have not been many warnings of how things can go wrong. Check out this list of Evangelical/Charismatic scandals.

The fact that Greenbelt is allowing a debate about this seems to me to be important.

As for Mr Cummings, I hope that he remains part of the debate- but hatchet jobs written with Evangelical goggles firmly in place really help no one.

The visible presence of the living God…

I saw this the other day;

It is an installation by artist Berndnaut Smilde, who uses smoke machines and bits of trickery to form clouds in the middle of rooms. They only last for seconds, but I think they are really cool.

Th fact that this one is in the middle of an empty church is particularly poignant if you are wired like me. It conjures up Biblical images of the Host of God in the temple of the Ancient Hebrews – but in this case, within what looks like a run down and disused chapel, tarted up a little for the photograph.

It also asks some rather searching theological questions about our hopes for God and where we might encounter God. There are some clues in the Bible;

God is not contained, but is there when we gather.

God is not to be conjured up, but delights in our praise.

These are all very familiar concepts to anyone who has been involved in leading communal worship. I have spoken before about the tendency we had within lots of the services I have been involved with to try to whip up some kind of God-expectancy, or God-imitation as part of a religious show.

You could say that we made our own cloud in the middle of each and every gathering just like the one above. We tried hard to make visible the fact that God was there, whether or not we really believed it, whether or not it was true. If we had created some kind of evidence that he was there, this was enough.

But then I am reminded of an obscure passage from 1 Kings 19, when Elijah is in the middle of a particularly tough time. Prophets tended to upset people then (and now) and would have to flee for their lives;

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

There is humour here I think. And love, and tolerance, and power. There is the man on the mountain scared out of his wits by what is happening all around him.

And then there is a whisper asking him- “What are you doing here?”

The clouds and the winds and the earthquakes come and go- but the point is not the transcendent experience, but the life we live in the wake of it all.

What are we doing here?