Archive for November, 2010

// “satan, your kingdom must come down!”

I owe Pete Greig for this one, because if it hadn’t been for his Twitter feed I would never have discovered it. It’s from Robert Plant’s recent EP Band of Joy, and the performance says it all really, a foot-stomping, spine-chilling, devil-bashing slice of folk genius.

Now that’s what worship music should sound like:


// sunday music: songs about Bible characters

Three awesome and eccentric songs from a range of artists today – although I suppose you could class one of them as a cheat.

Pick number one is the mighty sufjan stevens with Abraham, a song from his first acoustic album Seven Swans. It’s a glorious and chilled piece, with a kind of drowsy tone that fits the Old Testament story perfectly. Sufjan has long been an inspiration for a whole generation of contemporary Christians who like the more idiosyncratic side of music, and it’s not hard to see why:

Pick number two is Brooke Fraser, who famously wrote the Hillsong United song Hosanna, which you can listen to here (it’s been covered to death lately, but there’s a power to the original that nobody has yet managed to match, in my eyes at least. The album which it’s from, All of the Above, is a cracker, too).

The song is Hosea’s Wife, and it’s another triumph of thoughtful lyricism, something she does well. Sorry about the video – the official version wouldn’t embed again. But if it appeals to you, i’d also recommend Crows and Locusts, from Brooke’s new album, which you can get here. Here’s the song:

And finally, pick three is, of course, Regina Spektor with Samson. The official video (which is here) won’t embed and so i’ve had to post a live version, which is nonetheless pretty amazing. Watch the video if you get chance, though.

I’ve said this is something of a cheat because it’s actually a story about a lover who died from cancer – I didn’t know that wonderbread is recommended as a help for cancer sufferers, either, but that explains a lot. That said, though, Regina comes from a Jewish background and there’s a lot to be said for taking the old stories and re-imagining them for your own circumstances. I’ve got a lot of love for this song, anyway, not least because it’s beautiful poetry, sliding in and out from the lines of the Biblical story to try and articulate how we relate to tragic circumstances. Listen to it here:

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And that’s sunday music for this week!

Let me know your thoughts, and I’ll see you next Friday.

// saturday round-up (27/11)

Okay, time for another Saturday round-up. A quieter week this week, given that it’s been Thanksgiving and so a lot of American bloggers have taken a week off, but there’s still some great stuff out there.

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ARTICLE OF THE WEEK // voices of the bullied – and where the bullying really stops:

I’m indebted to Doug Fields over at Simply Youth Ministry for putting me onto this amazing article. It’s a hard read, but as somebody who was badly bullied back at school, pretty much every word of it rings true, and it should be mandatory reading for everyone, whether you’re involved in youth work or not. America is currently in the grip of a real period of national guilt about the culture of bullying that has grown up unchecked, and McKee’s article suggests that action lies in adults being advocates, standing up and standing out from the prevailing culture. Totally essential.

// tumbleweed: Lovely meditation from Christine over at holding fireflies on being forced to slow down and awaken “to a life less blinkered, more connected to my hidden self, to the dry earth beneath the tarmac.” It’s great, and the blog is one to watch.

// my toxic bottle of water: Anne Jackson is a great writer, and I can totally identify with her thoughts on her time in India and the subsequent cultural observations it prompted. Another wise reminder to look closer at the things you take for granted.

// 700 billion minutes: That’s the amount of time that the 500 million users of facebook spend on the site per month. The always terrific Tim Challies has more information on what is a truly jaw-dropping statistic.

// church sign of the day: I would go to breakfast with Jesus and Santa, for sure. Thanks to Matthew Paul Turner at Jesus Needs New PR for the tip.

// the look: jonny baker is a great photographer and a wise, wise man when it comes to pioneer mission and creative expressions of worship. I loved this photograph in particular, but also his habit of posting his own photographic and creative projects on his blog – it’s a real insight into how one man’s faith is worked out.

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And that’s the round-up for this week!

I’ll see you tomorrow for sunday music, but until then:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…

Amen to that. Let’s be a people “who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Now that’s a cause for thanksgiving.

// ocean of noise

A month ago, I started a new job. My first ever real job, if you want to know, unless you count holiday jobs in Starbucks or a miserable eleven-day stint in a call centre. I’m now working as a youth worker at a church in Oxford, and a solid amount of my first month on the job has been spent working out where to even begin.

There are a bewildering amount of resources available for youth workers out there, and many of them are very, very good. There are also a range of theories on how to do effective youth work, a huge and ongoing conversation that nobody has quite resolved yet. Like a lot of things in the Christian world, it can often be pretty exhausting.

Week-to-week, I read a lot of blogs – as an estimate, I reckon upwards of 100 a week. I get the paper daily, and read all of it (except the money and fashion pages). That sounds like a lot of information when you put it down on paper, but I think for a lot of people that is fairly standard now. It’s got to get you thinking, though – and not just about youth work, but more generally too.

If you are taking in that much information weekly, then what does it even mean to navigate it effectively? Is there ever a point where resources stop equipping you, stop being useful, and start being a hindrance instead – a kind of “saturation point” for the human brain? Maybe the answer is, in the end, to identify the things that tell you what you want to hear and then only read them, just confirming your own worldview.

Although I won’t lie to you, that feels like something of a cop-out.

It’s into that conversation about youth work that Jesus Christ walks, like a voice of sanity; speaking words that seem to bring truth and life, freedom from the endless pressure to analyse, to work out the programmes and strategies that will bring people in. His words are loose but liberating, not prescriptive but wise, describing a better way of relating – one free from the panic and pressure that seemingly grips so many of us. Impractical, perhaps, infuriating at times, and certainly difficult to live out, but words of life nonetheless, spoken directly to the weary and confused soul.

I have often wondered how people who don’t have faith, or whose faith doesn’t allow for a God who might speak to them, navigate life. I suppose there are some wise people out there, people with shades of the things that make Jesus admirable in them – that wisdom and compassion, and the promise of freedom if you follow them. I suppose, too, that’s why so many people end up praising figures like Oprah Winfrey or Glenn Beck.

I don’t say any of this to criticise people on the outside of the Christian faith. If anything, my temptation is to run about frantically in the search for the magic formula, too, hoping that somewhere out there on the internet is the answer to youth work. But when I have done so lately, I hear the voice of Jesus Christ speaking through his word, and through the people who know (and live) those words, and I hear him speaking with a different tenor to the rest, with a quiet power to those words that changes lives.

There are plenty of driven people in the Christian world, determined to tell the gospel as efficiently as possible and working towards targets and quotas in order to fulfill that aim. But beneath the noise of strategy and amidst the flurry of analysis there is that voice that Isaiah prophesied about many years ago, saying,

Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying “this is the way, walk in it”, whether you turn to the right or to the left…

“In an ocean of noise | I first heard your voice,” Arcade Fire sang on their album Neon Bible.

It is the voice that brings freedom, the still, small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain and that the people of God have heard again and again throughout history. It is the voice of Jesus Christ.

// sunday music: dire straits

Two amazing live versions and one glorious cover from 80s rock band Dire Straits (whose “best of” album, incidentally, was the first album i ever bought) for today’s sunday music. First, the cover version, from Alex Cornish playing Brothers in Arms. It’s on Dermot O’Leary’s “The Saturday Sessions” and it’s completely awesome:

Pick number two is a Mark Knopfler solo effort in the form of The Ragpicker’s Dream, a sweetly Dylanesque fable about Christmas, alcoholism and magic. It’s beautiful, in a sweetly understated way, and it’s worlds apart from the blues-rock that Dire Straits started with or the clumsy criticism of Money for Nothing:

And finally, Going Home, surely the best intro song of any football team ever, currently soundtracking Newcastle United’s appearance from the tunnel. There’s a lyricism to the guitar playing that speaks way louder than words could, and this version only proves that:

That’s Sunday music for this week! See you on Friday.

// saturday round-up (20/11)

Okay, welcome to the first saturday round-up of the new blog routine! Every saturday, I’ll aim to compile six or seven of the best links that have been posted by other people in the past week and then give you a short summary of what to expect from each:

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// resting in the will of God: a great prayer from Tim Challies’ excellent blog, and courtesy of a man called Pastor Scotty Smith, about dealing with anxiety and not knowing the direction in which God is leading you. It’s wise, thought-provoking and it seemed pretty pertinent, for me at least, so give it a look.

// Americans have it pretty rough: Matt over at the Church of No People is a blogger i have real respect for, not least because he has developed a great community and interaction with the guys who comment on his blog. He’s been on great form lately, and his thoughts on The Execution of Christ, by Chinese artists the Gao brothers, are no exception, reflecting on democracy and the perils of the instant commentary tradition. Highly recommended.

// are you a three-strike pastor? I’ve just recently discovered Monday Morning Insight, and these reflections on a pastor who was secretly filmed by an Oklahoma City television station spending hours and thousands of dollars at a strip club are a sobering reminder of the importance of integrity to anyone who has ever told themselves (as most of us probably have) “it’s only a little sin”.

// the Jesus Juke: at some point in their life, pretty much everybody in the Christian world must have been “Jesus Juked”. It’s happened to me in airports, at weddings and in coffee shops, and nobody tells it quite like Jon Acuff does. If you have no idea what i’m talking about, go here and find out. I’m guessing you’ll know the feeling.

// the end of this week the writer Anne Jackson announced that she was closing down her website Flowerdust to start a new website that is entirely focussed on being a place for her to write. Her reflections here provide some great context in the recent debate between writing and blogging, and whether there is a difference, as well as a link to her new project,, which looks really exciting.

// the six-second kiss: and finally, i’m not married, but Jani Ortlund’s comments on a simple way to build an effective marriage (courtesy of the resurgence) in the midst of the busyness of normal life sounds like a pretty good principle to me.

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And that’s the first saturday round-up done! Hopefully I’ll see you back here for sunday music tomorrow. And in the meantime, in the words of Jude:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Amen indeed. Thanks for reading.

// change

A little over a week ago, I mentioned that I’d been thinking about quitting this blog. It’s certainly been a challenge to write lately. The nature of this kind of writing – diffuse and all-encompassing, with a focus that is potentially endless – means that it can be a draining exercise, not to mention the fact that I’ve just started a new job as a youth worker at a church in Oxford and so have less time than before. But for all of that, there is something in me that doesn’t want to give it up.

So the change that I’ve ultimately decided on is a change in routine, more than anything else. Where previously I have written whenever I’ve found time or inspiration to do so, I’m now aiming much smaller. Here’s the plan. I’m going to write an article on some aspect of the interaction between faith and culture every Friday. This is likely to be a post from 1000 to 1500 words taking into account something that has happened that week, either from the news or experiences from my own context.

On Saturdays I’ll post a round up of any particularly good articles or blogs that I’ve come across that week, according to the usual categories (music, books, films, culture and God), and with a view to working out how to live meaningful lives of a faith in the modern world.

And then on Sundays I’ll continue with Sunday music, picking out some of the music and creative ideas that shine a light onto what worship music could sound like, as well as what is out there outside the walls of the church.

Those will be my main focus, and so although I’ll continue to post videos sporadically throughout the week, these won’t show up on a facebook imprint, just an RSS feed. I’m also pretty active on Twitter and so if you follow me there, you’ll get more of an up-to-date feed on when I’ve posted articles etc.

I’m excited about the new direction and about having a bit more structure and focus in the site, so people know what they’re getting when they come here. If I’m honest, i’m also excited about spending less time thinking about site stats, too. So hopefully I’ll manage to post the first Saturday round-up tomorrow and then will work at writing the first essay for next Friday. Please check back then to see what this ends up looking like!