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?


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?

Hello, I’m Roly, and I’m going to be your guide.

“Hello, my name’s Roly, and I’m going to be your guide through the scriptures this morning.”

With those words, our preacher today opened his sermon.

What a lovely way to begin!  What a lovely idea!

As our “guide” he was acknowledging that he had a head start on us, but he wasn’t setting himself up as MasterBlaster.  He had been over the terrain in preparation; he had given it some thought; he was going to try help us negotiate it.

His services – like that of a guide – were offered.  We might choose to hire a different guide, but these were his services.  There was a humility about the opening.

And we were going on a journey together – the introductory words were also invitational. I looked forward to the journey, to surveying various aspects of the landscape, being made aware of some of the potholes, and also being led to some great vistas.

There are of course many ways to preach a sermon, but I found this opening to be engaging full of opportunity.

What do you think?

If you are a preacher, how would you feel using it?

If you are a listener – what effect does it have on you?

Praying for Crystal Palace

I really want Crystal Palace to win today – so much so that I’m going to pray for them.

But how shall I pray?

Somewhere deep inside is the sense that this would be cheating.  Why should my team have God on their side?

We have it so deeply embedded in us: “may the best team win”,  but that’s not what we really want at all. I want my team to win.  I am decidedly partisan.  In reality, I am more than happy if my team gets that bit of luck which changes the game, the scoreline, the season.

And what happens, if by chance or righteous living, Swansea has more people praying for them than we have praying for Crystal Palace?  Will the dubious decisions all fall their way?

Of course, Crystal Palace are due some good luck. They had some terrible decisions against them at the start of the season. So now my prayer has taken a righteous tone.  There’s a sense of justice about it. My team are the downtrodden.  I am standing with them and crying out for an answer!

But then it’s true:  “we make our own luck”.  Maybe I should simply pray for all the normal extras needed by footballers – sharpness, concentration, strength, awareness, initiative, creativity, connection.  Then they will make the most of every situation and get more shots on target.  But something within me still wants to add, “and may the Swansea goalie fumble the ball – at least twice.”

Should I get paid for this undercover work?  After all, the physios and dietitians all get their wedge.  My prayers could be making the difference between us staying up or going down.

When will God stop listening to my prayers – assuming he started?  What is the limit?  When does he say, “Now come on – really…”

My thoughts go back to bedtime prayers – of being taught and then teaching – that we must pray for both teams, and all the fans, to play to their best ability, fairly, honestly, and for everyone to have a jolly good time.

But I’ll tell you – there’s no way I’m praying for Swansea today.

What do you think?

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?

Problematic Worship Songs #1

What – if anything – should we be careful about when we worship God in church?

Among other things, our songs should be true to our faith, true to life, and we need to consider how they affect our self-image and relationships – in other words how they seep into our consciousness. For this reason, songs have been one of the key vehicles of doctrine since the Bible was formed.

So here is Problematic Song #1:  “Our God” by Chris Tomlin et al. Listen here.

It is hugely popular, a rousing number which really rallies the troops. The imagery is simple, the words are direct, the references are from the Gospels, the tune is driving.

Then we hit the chorus.  Suddenly the song degenerates into a “my god is bigger than your god” boast.  Is this really how we want to position ourselves as Christians?   There are Biblical warrants for it for sure:  Elijah’s competition on Mount Carmel; or the repeated use of the word “better” in the Letter to the Hebrews.  In both instances, the believers were under severe pressure of extinction through lack of self-image.  But when we look at the heartland of our theological store – Jesus – do we find this kind of posturing?

Of course, Christians do believe our God is greater, stronger, higher than any other, (otherwise we wouldn’t choose to be Christians), but what effect does it have when such beliefs become like football chants?

What happens when we take this “truth” into our hearts and minds, what does it do to us?  How does it shape our relating with others?

In our world today religious extremism is both prevalent and dangerous.  Such extremism is fed by the failure to listen, the failure to relate, the failure to take time, the failure of humility.  In this context, sloganeering is unhelpful.  Football chants (the ruder the better, in my book!) deliberately cartoonise.  They are part of the ritual of the match, in which we allow the fiction that football really matters while holding in reserve the truth that it is actually only a game.  But the ritual of church is all about truth.

So my problem with this song is this: it has the effect of whipping us up into a kind of Christian jingoism that will ultimately damage our ability to reflect Christ eloquently to the rest of the world.

What do you think?