The Lord’s Prayer and Terrorism

Some people have asked for copies of my last week’s talk “Terrorism and the Lord’s Prayer”. I completely reworked the structure of it this morning, having remembered that the original idea came from noticing that 11th September this year fell on a Sunday, (tomorrow).

I hope you find it interesting and thought provoking.

You can either download it as a printable a5 booklet terrorism-booklet or as a straight a4 version: the-lords-prayers-and-terrorism


New Album

Here are six tracks remastered from the Love Songs Album. Take a listen, and leave a tip if you like.

Baga and Paris –

So in the same week that 17 people were killed in Paris, up to 2,000 were slaughtered by Boko Haram in Baga, Nigeria.

The Guardian ran one of the fullest accounts on page 25 – the final page of its international news section.  This was a long way after the full 7 pages of news from Paris.

What might this mean?

  • Maybe it means that African lives are worth less to us than European lives – about 14,823 times less (2000/17 x 18 [pages later] x 7 [number of pages]).
  • Maybe it means that ordinary people’s lives mean less than those in the media – it’s inevitable that the media is going to use all its powers to defend its own.
  • Maybe it means we feel the shock of such a thing happening in Paris because it’s a city “like ours” “close to home” and we would therefore hope it would be safe.  So we accept terrible things happening in Africa?  Why do we accept this?
  • Maybe it’s because there are more French people living in the UK than Nigerians.  But the figures are uncertain.  Last year the Mayor of Brent, Michael Adeyeye claimed that over 1m Nigerians are living in London.
  • Maybe it’s because we “so passionately hold to freedom of speech” – yet the work of some Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, like their Danish equivalents, was to deliberately inflame. Is this the freedom of speech we really desire?
  • Maybe it’s because once the media machine burst into action, our political leaders knew nothing else than to jump on board.  Being seen “alongside” was too easy a shot not to miss.  What happened to standing alongside the people of Baga?
  • Maybe we didn’t want “our” drama being overshadowed.  It’s really good to respond to murderous acts of terrorism with demonstrations of peaceful, unafraid resistance.  But if such an act causes such a dramatic response, why does the slaughter of up to 2,000 innocent people barely get a look in?

What do you think it means?


Hallelujah – or is it?

What do you think about changing words to songs?

There are broadly two schools of thought:

(1) the song is out there and offered to the community; it is available to be translated into other languages; it is also therefore available to translated into other cultures; but what about changing ALL the words to a song?

(2) the song is a piece of work belonging to the writer and its integrity and intent cannot be compromised.

Read on, while you listen to this complete re-working of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.

I have a big problem with the second position – and I say that as a songwriter.  How far does this “integrity” stretch?  Logically it means there could never be, for instance, reggae, jazz, or instrumental versions of a particular song; there could never be alternative arrangements.  Yet this flies in the face of the whole way in which music evolves.

I also have a problem theologically. The Bible was not dictated, but written in collaboration with the communities God inspired. Consistent with that is the fact that it continues to be not only verbally, but also culturally translatable today.  So to make the Bible understood to new cultures fully and faithfully, words and phrases must be used that simply are not there in the original texts.

So, in our church, we often translate the words of ancient hymns to a more contemporary idiom. And we sometimes meddle with modern songs to make them more inclusive.

How about changing the meaning?

In v.3 of Reginald Heber’s great hymn “Holy Holy Holy” we have the line: “Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;”  I can see what the writer is getting at from a Deist, Old Testament point of view, but it is completely contradicted by the New Testament revelation of Christ – of whom John writes, “and we have seen his glory.”  In our church, we therefore sing, “Through your grace with sinful eye, your glory we have seen.”  It’s slightly cumbersome, but I was trying express the wonderful truth of the gospel whilst retaining a nod to the words of the original.

Reginald Heber is no longer with us to take issue with me.  But Stuart Townend, I believe, does take issue with people who change “For on that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to “the love of God was satisfied.”  I can see why he may find this annoying because a different theological point is being made in his name.  Yet changing that one word is making the song singable in a different Christian culture.  The song has been culturally translated.  And the change is not incompatible with the original intent.

Ian Smale (Ishamel) apparently tried to stop people changing the words of one of his songs from “now I am your son” to “now I am your child”. Yet surely this kind of inclusion is all about cultural translation.

Such translations (or are they adulterations?) can be noted by citing the songwriter as “Stuart Townend – adapted”.  Whilst this doesn’t specifically highlight the portion which has been changed, it does at least alert the participant to the fact that a change has been made.

How about inserting extra lines of music?  The song, “When I was lost” by Kate and Miles Simmonds is a great blues-Gospel style song with a clap-along beat.  But it also has a bridge that in my opinion is almost unsingably vague (even though repetitive) for most congregations.  In our church we added some lines and gave it a more recognisable, singable shape.  I don’t know what the authors think as I haven’t been able to let them know.

In the case of “Fall” by Nicki Rogers, we also have our own way of singing it.  Before taking it to a conference, I did contact the author, who was happy with the variations as long as it wasn’t recorded like that (for which we would need to go through through proper legal channels)

So how about Hallelujah?

I think this “Christmas” version is very good.  There is nothing particularly striking about it, but there is nothing cringey about it either.  It is a decent hymn lyric that fits a fantastic tune.  The tune was released to the world by its writer, and it’s widely loved.  Yet the original poetic words are hard to comprehend. It’s one of those songs in which people sing the verses in a fog of mystical unknowing and then bellow the chorus – which is the one word they really connect with.  Leonard Cohen may decry the “dumbing down” of his poetry – for the Christmas version certainly lacks the literary depth of the original.  Yet it will enable thousands of people to take hold of a great tune and really own it for themselves.

That this Christmas version of Hallelujah completely changes the meaning and intent of the original is in no doubt.  But I think that’s the risk you take in releasing a creation to the wider community.

What do you think?

The Stretcher Bearer

The stretcher bearer (1916)

Tommy Crawford

My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you what – I’m sick of pain,
For all I’ve heard, for all I’ve seen;
Around me is the hellish night,
And as the war’s red rim I trace,
I wonder if in Heaven’s height
Our God don’t turn away his face.

I don’t care whose the crime may be,
I hold no brief for kin or clan;
I feel no hate, I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I wave no flag, I only know
As here beside the dead I wait,
A million hearts are weighed with woe,
A million homes are desolate.

In dripping darkness far and near,
All night I’ve sought those woeful ones.
Dawn suddens up and still I hear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look, like a ball of blood the sun
Hangs o’er the scene of wrath and wrong,
“Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!”,
Oh Prince of Peace! How long, how long?”

Beauty Example #1

My friend, Chris Marsh shared this video on Facebook and I think it is beautiful.

The song is called “Like the Dawn” by the Oh Hellos, an independent brother & sister duo from Texas.  It is a fantastic, thoughtful matching of words, music, arrangement and production.

The film was created as part of the Photography DTS project week on videography by YWAM students in York. It is a gorgeous and evocative concept.  Find out more about the project here.

Of course, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this instance the delicacy and fragility of the photography perfectly matches innocent tenderness of the music.  What I particularly like about this piece of work is that the quality never flags – and we really need benchmarks of beauty, so that all our creativity has something to aspire to.  It lovingly captures the transience of that first moment of discovery.

Here’s a thought though – that particular moment of beauty would have been transient regardless of the on-following Temptation and Fall.  It would have given way to the next stage of the creation’s evolving journey whatever that stage had been. And so the cycle of creation – birth – development – transformation – loss – renewal – was there from the beginning.

So how does the thing we call “death” fit in – death, “the final enemy”?  To me, and I think this is a Christian view, death is not merely another word for loss, change, or renewal of a worn out body.  Death is extinguishing of life.

We normally think of it simply at the physical and to some extent relational level.  But of course it can be spiritual, emotional, moral, cultural, as well.  So in Chapter 3 of the Genesis story, the journey continued but “death” had been invited in. From now on, the moving forward would become harsh, painful, and cold, instead of the growthful journey of discovery it had been created to be.  They were no longer handling its transience in fellowship with the God of life.

If you find these thoughts a bit obscure – I hope you enjoyed the film anyway!

What are your thoughts on this?