And why did angels sing?

Here’s a great poem by my friend Jeannie Kendall who is minister at Carshalton Beeches Baptist Church.  You can read more about it on Jeannie’s blog, Marvellously Made

And why did angels sing

Not weep

At all the sacrifice

Of glory channelled

Into fragile flesh?

And why did angels sing

Not weep

If they but saw ahead

The tiniest glimpse

Of total darkness on a Friday

Where evil seemed to laugh?

And why did angels sing

Not weep?

Because they saw

Behind the pain

That was to come

The love

Beyond all else


Jeannie Kendall

The Missing Verses

Back in the mid-1990s a woman in our church filled in the verses missing from Robin Mark’s anthemic song: “These are the days of Elijah”.  They highlight some of the female heroes of the Bible, and also offer a chorus looking for the coming of the Holy Spirit or Breath (feminine word) of God. The effect is not only inclusive but incredibly rousing. The lyrics get to the heart of our gospel mission in a way that is both grounded and inspirational.  Highly recommended – here it is.  Try it out and let us know what you think.  (For a discussion on adding or changing the words to other people’s songs, see my previous post).

These are the days of Elijah,

Declaring the word of the Lord;

And these are the days of your servant Moses,

Righteousness being restored.

And though these are days of great trial,

Of famine and darkness and sword,

Still we are the voice in the desert crying,

‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord ‘.


Behold He comes riding on the clouds,

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call,

Lift your voice in the year of jubilee,

Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.


These are the days of Miriam,

Dancing with praise to the Lord;

And these are the days of your servant, Esther,

Protecting the people of God.

And though these are days of endurance,

Of waiting and mystery and doubt,

Still in our hearts is the Spirit’s whisper,

Rising to victory shout.


Behold She comes, mighty rushing Wind,

Stirring Holy Breath, Spirit on the move;

Listen to her voice, it’s time to hear her speak,

Open up your ears God’s word will come.


These are the days of Deborah,

Creating God’s justice on earth;

And these are the days of your servant, Rahab,

Rebel who sides with the Lord.

And these are the days of empowerment,

Of risking and making a stand,

We are the agents of transformation,

The Kingdom of God is at hand.


Behold She comes, mighty rushing Wind,

Stirring Holy Breath, Spirit on the move;

Listen to her voice, it’s time to hear her speak,

Open up your ears God’s word will come.


These are the days of Ezekiel,

The dry bones becoming as flesh;,

And these are the days of your servant David,

Rebuilding the temple of praise.

These are the days of the harvest,

The fields are as white in the world,

And we are the labourers in your vineyard,

Declaring the word of the Lord.


Behold He comes riding on the clouds,

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call,

Lift your voice in the year of jubilee,

Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.

Additional verses © Ruth Dormandy

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?”

In reality immigration is like this… #1

My name is Donna. (not her real name),

I was brought over to England when I was 12, by my mum who already had leave to remain here.  I grew up mainly with an auntie, however, because mum was always busy just trying to get by.  As a result, no-one ever applied for me to have the right to remain here.

I went to secondary school and made lots of friends, and I decided that when I was 18 I would get my status sorted once and for all so that I could work and settle down.  Technically, I had still only spent one third of my life in the UK, but in terms of growing up and forming lasting relationships, it was the most significant third.

The Home Office refused my application, even though I had the support of my MP and several others in my local community.  When I appealed and tried to take matters further, they appeared to have lost my paperwork.  This situation continued for two or three years.  I was now living with my mum, but in limbo.

Then I had a baby.  My relationship with my boyfriend is completely genuine, although lately we’ve been finding things very difficult.  He also lives at home with his parents, and naturally I am the main carer for our little girl.  Now she is nearly three years old.

My immigration status is still not sorted out.  My UK-born daughter has a right to stay here and she needs me to look after her.  But the response to my most recent appeal is still negative.  Realistically I have no-one to turn to back in my country of origin, even though technically I have family there.

beforetheriot’s comment:  Surely the solution to this situation is self-evident?  Donna is, in fact, an extremely positive contributor to the local community, and a strong mother.  She has now spent half her life here in the UK.  She is not “on the take” “a cheat” or “lazy” in any way.

The anomalous nature of her status here is due to someone else’s error when she was younger.  Probably, back then, she would have been included in her mother’s permission to remain. It’s not good enough for the Home Office to say “Our hands are tied; this is the policy; you have no right to remain.”  In fact, due to her daughter, she does have a right to stay.

Increasingly, these situations come down to a battle of wills.  Getting legal advice and support through the process is increasingly expensive not only because fees continue to rise, but also because funding to community law charities for this kind of case has been severely restricted.

But there really should be no battle at all.  It is simply wrong of our government to be sending her back.  She and her daughter are innocent victims of mistakes or misjudgements that were made in the past.

What do you think?