Archive for December, 2010

// sunday music: best of 2010

It’s the end of the year, and so today sunday music is in a special extended format, covering some of my most played songs of 2010. I’ll try my best to post links to the various songs as far as possible but the usual issues with videos refusing to embed will apply in a number of cases.

This list is in no particular order, and i’ve tried not to repost songs that i’ve already posted earlier this year. Here goes:

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StornowayFuel Up (gorgeous folk tune, this one – it’s positively life-affirming.)

Belle and SebastianI want the World to Stop – also The Ghost of Rockschool (not everything on Belle & Sebastian’s new album was great – in fact, parts of it were disappointingly twee – but when they were good, it reminded you of just how good they once were.)

Bruce SpringsteenRacing in the Street (’78) and The Promise (The Promise might have been made back in 1978, but the sentiment is timeless. These two are poles apart in terms of emotion, but they are both glorious.)

David GrayA Moment Changes Everything (David Gray’s latest is a strange, downbeat album that shows that he’s been hanging out with Ray LaMontagne. This closing song bucks the trend with a surprisingly fierce carpe diem message, though. It’s one of Gray’s best in a while.)

Arcade Fire Deep Blue (Arcade Fire write a song about Gary Kasparov losing to a chess computer and, unsurprisingly, it is still epic.)

The xxHeart Skipped a Beat (yes, i know it’s been everywhere this year, but it’s still mesmerising, even though it shouldn’t be.)

The Swell Season Low Rising (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, stars of Once, split up this year. The ensuing album threatened to break apart along tense, strained emotional faultlines, but instead resolved into a thing of beauty.)

Ben CantelonSaviour of the World (stunning worship from a man just reaching his potential. Powerful, profound and anthemic, it is well worthy of a place in the songs of the year.)

Anais MitchellWay Down Hadestown (a folk opera about the story of Orpheus and Euridyce set in 1930s America and sounding a little like something out of The Jungle Book? Why, i don’t mind if i do.)

SwitchfootYour Love is a Song (technically from 2009, i think, but still worthy of a mention because I’m fairly sure i played it about 500 times in January 2010 alone.)

Delirious? My Soul Sings (Delirious? finally split up this year. Their farewell show was a thing of beauty, and this goes some way to explaining why.)

David Crowder BandSMS (Shine) (although Church Music was a 2009 album, the 2010 single release of SMS (Shine) was accompanied by the video here, which demonstrated a level of commitment that almost no Christian band have ever shown before or since.)

* * *

And then for some shameless pop picks:

K’naanWavin’ Flag (non FIFA), also Take a Minute (it’s a shame that K’naan became the face of the 2010 World Cup because his album Troubadour is surprisingly tender in places and filled with entirely justified rage in others. The original cut of Waving Flag is all about rebellion and lacks many of the twee, Coca-Cola initiated flourishes that were later added.)

Pink!Raise Your Glass (I still love Pink!, kicking it for the underdog.)

Cee Lo GreenForget You (and yes, i know it was originally released under a different title. But it’s still soulful, heartfelt and catchy as hell.)

B.o.B (feat Hayley Williams) – Airplanes (93 million people have watched this since June. I can see why, i think.)

* * *

And that’s sunday music for today – and, in fact, for 2010.

I’m going to take next week off to spend the holidays with family, but hopefully i’ll see you again here in 2011.

Until then, have an awesome break and thanks for reading!

// saturday round-up (18/12)

Apologies for any typos in today’s post – it’s bitterly cold and snowing hard in Oxford and so my fingers are still warming up as I type.

Okay, here goes:

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ARTICLE OF THE WEEK // time does not heal all wounds – I’ve only recently discovered Nicole Cottrell’s blog Modern Reject, but i’m glad that i did. This post in particular, about buying into the lie that the further you get away from trauma in your past, the less painful it gets, really hit home with me. I love Nicole’s punchy, accessible and honest style and there is a lot to love at Modern Reject, but check out this week’s top article here.

// 2010 in pictures – I love photo journalism, and this retrospective of 2010 in pictures courtesy of Boston.com is both sobering and, in places, astonishing. It has been one crazy year.

// 10 Christmas story takeaways your students need to know – These might be reminders of truths about God that young people need to hear, but they were also reminders that I needed to hear. Understated but powerful stuff from newcomers youthministry360, which along with Doug Fields’ Simply Youth Ministry is rapidly becoming essential reading if you are (or have been) involved with ministry to young people anywhere, ever. Here’s the link.

// how he loves – linking to myself is a bit of a cheat, but i’d never listened to John Mark McMillan’s original How He Loves until this week, and this version is completely devastating. If you didn’t catch it on Thursday, check it out now.

// the “R” word – oh, Jon Acuff. Serious Wednesdays get me every time.

// what good is God? – a searching interview with author Philip Yancey about his new book, courtesy of the Resurgence, which sounds great. I’ve always loved the honesty in Yancey’s writing, and so i’m excited about seeing another book that obviously comes from his heart.

// a telling (church) sign – i wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when I saw this over at Jesus Needs New PR, but say what you will about MPT, he sure knows how to pick posts that communicate beyond themselves. There’s an almighty argument about Mark Driscoll raging over there too, with a level of anger from commentators that i just hadn’t registered – so check it out if you can stomach it.

* * *

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

I’ll see you tomorrow for the last sunday music of 2010 (i’m not posting next week because of Christmas), and until then, let me know your thoughts on this week’s posts!

Grace and peace.

// the purpose-driven Christmas

If you’ve been a Christian for a while – or, in fact, if you know a Christian, or have been in the same room as a Christian between the months of November and January in the past five years – then when Christmas decorations start appearing in shops you will doubtless have heard the question asked, “but why doesn’t it focus on the real meaning of Christmas?” The argument being, of course, that because Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, it should therefore be a celebration that is all about him and not the materialistic seasonal festival it has become over time instead…

I’ve heard a few solutions proposed to this problem. One is going without presents at Christmas, to focus on the real meaning more intensely. Another, spending Christmas Day with the homeless and vulnerable, to remember another part of why it was that Christ came. There are others, too. Hand-made gifts. More mystical, scriptural treatments of the festival, which focus on what it would have been like to have been an Israelite waiting for the coming Messiah. Even that Twitter nativity that’s been doing the rounds lately might fit into that category. Somewhere.

They’re all attempts to do Christmas with an agenda, though, and I wonder about that. It’s like people are trying to redeem what they see as the corruptness of humanity by pointing beyond the corruption to something greater, which all sounds oddly Platonic if you ask me (not to mention kind of reductive, too) – disregarding the material to focus on the spiritual instead.

It’s very easy to get a wrong perspective on Christmas, and certainly I’ve found trying to buy presents this year has been draining to the point of exhaustion, causing me to ask along with so many others, “what’s the point?” But surely at least some of our message as Christians should be about living life in the present moment and experiencing the peace of Christ (which passes all understanding, don’t you know) in the midst of an exhausting period of the year – shouldn’t it?

It’s easy to be robbed of our appreciation of the things that are good in life simply because everything gets so busy. That seems to be part of living life in Western culture, and we’re pretty much all guilty of it on some level, so a mass outbreak of collective introspection is unlikely to do anyone that much good. That said, though, Christ didn’t call us to an agenda – it’s a cliché to say it, maybe, but he did call us to a relationship…

So maybe Christmas should be about being in the places where Christ is truly present in this world, and ensuring that we are truly there – not stuck in guilt about what we’re not doing or wishing we were elsewhere. Being in those places of joy, contentment or hope that make our souls come alive. For some people that may indeed be with the homeless and vulnerable, and for others it will be with family, but wherever it is, we need to make the effort to be fully present there, walking in those places in the presence of God.

That’s where freedom is, after all, and if Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God came to be present with us, then maybe that’s the best way of experiencing the point of it all over again – even if you’ve become numb to the story after all these years.

I’ve heard it said before that the worst thing that you can do when you want something badly is to want it too much, as then you’ll just lose it. If you’re terrified of being alone, you often end up that way. If you want to be cool so badly that you find yourself trying to be, you’ve almost invariably lost your cool already. And if all you want is to have a great family time, the answer is never to try to do so – that just puts pressure on it all and causes arguments. The answer is to go with it and accept that even if everything isn’t perfect, what matters are the moments of spontaneity, grace and beauty in the midst of it all. Ultimately, perfection isn’t what people remember, anyway – I’ve been to a few “perfect” Christmas gatherings over the years and honestly, they’ve always felt staged and kind of… false.

There are many of us who want to focus on the real point of Christmas this year, and from really good motives, too. But the solution isn’t to drill what we think is the point into ourselves and others, the solution is to live it.

Because Christ is here with us, we have a God to thank for all the amazing things that we have been given, whatever they are, and part of the joy of Christmas is being able to breathe deeply, be still and know that to be true.

Are you with me?

// how he loves

I’d never heard John Mark McMillan’s original version of the song How He Loves, written hours after the death of his youth pastor in a car accident, despite having loved the versions by Kim Walker, David Crowder, Jared Anderson and Flyleaf that are out there.

But when the chorus fades at around 6:20 and McMillan breaks into a spontaneous final verse, this is the one that comes out on top as pure, unadorned worship. Seriously, I have been a mess after listening to this the last few days. It is jaw-droppingly intimate. See if you agree:

* * *

“I thought about You the day Stephen died

And You met me between my breaking;

I know that I still love You God,

Despite the agony.

Cos people they want to tell me You’re cruel

But if Stephen could sing,

He’d say it’s not true –

Cos You’re good…”

* * *

// sunday music: 80s teen movies

Boy, was this one fun to write. I would have put Marty McFly’s version of Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future up on today’s list, but regrettably it’s not up on the internet anywhere, so instead you’ll have to make do with three of the greatest feel-good tunes ever released, as well as a clip from Say Anything. Incidentally, I nearly put Top Gun in – but does that really warrant the title “teen movie”? It’s so, so much more.

So, pick number one today, naturally, is from the mighty Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The song is Twist and Shout and the parade scene is now legendary – and for good reason. This is why:

Pick number two comes from Simple Minds, as featured in The Breakfast Club (is it wrong to reference two John Hughes films in one post? Maybe, but honestly I don’t much care any more). The song is Don’t You Forget About Me, and although Simple Minds have done much they can be criticised for, in this case, it’s the perfect soundtrack to a generation:

And finally, pick number three can only be Bonnie Tyler, with Holding Out for a Hero, as featured in Footloose. It’s still a classic and, despite being cheesy, over-the-top and hugely overplayed, it is also still amazing. You’ll have to watch it via Youtube though, because Sony won’t let me embed it:

To wrap up today, it only seems fitting to post the famous boombox scene from Say Anything, too, where John Cusack appears at his girlfriend’s window holding a boombox in a desperate attempt to win her back. Men reading this – try this tactic with any of the songs featured on this post and she’ll be putty in your hands:

And that’s sunday music for this week!

Next week I’ll post something Christmassy. For now, though, I guess I’ll see you on Friday. “Don’t you | Forget about me…”

// saturday round-up (11/12)

Lots of stuff that made me laugh this week, with a couple of folks who have really been on fire. That means a decent showing for the usual suspects too, and some end-of-year lists that were striking both in their similarities and their differences to one another. If anyone has any tips for decent non-Christian blogs that it’s worth following can you pass them on to me? I’m looking to expand what I read at the moment.

Here goes:

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ARTICLE OF THE WEEK – why Christians go postal over facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar and culture in general – This week Mark Driscoll tweeted that he was in awe at Jay-Z’s skill as a rapper. Bad move. The backlash was swift and it came from a variety of angles, hence this epic piece posted at the resurgence explaining Driscoll’s role as a “missionary to culture”. It’s a very, very good article indeed, in spite of the circumstances that necessitated it – well-reasoned, hard-edged and comprehensive. It’s also very long, so you’ve been warned!

// “As I didn’t say to the Archbishop…” Victoria Coren‘s column in the Guardian this week did the rounds on facebook and Twitter predictably quickly, so you’ve probably been passed it on by a number of people so far already. However, it’s very good – thoughtful and balanced, as well as putting Frank Skinner on the same intellectual level as Rowan Williams, which i think he’d probably appreciate. Victoria Coren’s blog looks pretty good too, and the comment thread on her article is well worth a look.

// Christmas on Ipad – The wonderful North Point Baptist Church came up with an eccentric Christmas service this week, with their band playing whole Christmas carols solely on Ipad and Iphone. The video is here, and it’s a profoundly strange experience, but also kind of sweet. On another note, their Christmas album is tremendous, especially Eddie Kirkland’s version of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing – you can listen to it on grooveshark here. Search for “North Point Christmas” and you’ll find the rest:

// a Wikileaks society – Tim Challies’ thoughts on how Wikileaks (for all of its flaws) may well have changed everything are certainly worth checking out, whether or not you agree with him. There’s a part of me that thinks that his view is slightly idealistic, even in spite of the caveats he offers in this article, but I certainly see where he’s coming from, and it’s a thought-provoking reflection.

// the dangerous worlds of analog parents with digital teens – Courtesy of Al Mohler, some thoughts on how difficult it is to police – or mentor/support, for that matter – young people who move along an entirely different virtual trajectory to their parents. Best read alongside Tim Challies and a cup of coffee, but definitely worth a look if you are involved with youth work or have kids.

// we NEVER do this – Thanks to Jesus Needs New PR, we have one of the most disturbing videos I have ever seen – some parents apparently trying to trick their child into accepting Christ. It’s sad, it’s pretty warped and it comes from a very distinct theological perspective (just pray the prayer and nothing else matters), but if you think you can handle it, it’s worth seeing what we’re up against. It’s here.

// the sex and the city – Another marvellous Anne Jackson essay about a conversation with a cab driver which turns into a reflection on what it means to be a modern-day missionary in a crazy world. Nobody writes like that woman does.

// best of 2010 – Krish Kandiah and The Church of No People‘s “Best of 2010” lists are striking both for their similarities and their differences. Who would have thought the Christian world would have such love for The Book of Eli? That said, I can’t believe Krish’s love for SALT or Matt’s claim that Shutter Island is one of his movies of the year – seriously boys? On a different note, Drowned in Sound’s albums of the year (in three parts, here, here and here) are great if you want some real indie tips for music.

* * *

I’m going to leave it there for today, as that’s a lot to take in. If you’re still looking for things to read, though, go and check out “You Must Be Born Again… Or Else!” at the excellent Church of No People or watch Jon Acuff’s video of a camel falling over in the middle of a church service.

I presume by now that you should have subscribed to both of them, though.

See you tomorrow for sunday music.

// radical community, community radical

Have you ever been out for dinner with a bunch of people who it’s clear just don’t get you? They don’t get your sense of humour or your priorities or whatever, and it ends up being agonising, you sat there like a third (or fifth, or seventh) wheel while conversation goes on around you. It feels like the problem is you, and it’s easy to be put off by that and to see it as a reflection on you personally, to allow it to dictate the way in which you relate to people.

Oh, I know that we are supposed to find our identity in Christ first and foremost, and I know too that this is often a struggle for many of us, as in fact Christ told us it would be. I also know that people who do truly know their identity in Christ tend to be better participants in their communities anyway, less ego-driven or self-obsessed or hyper-critical or neurotic. But that is a learning process for all of us, after all, and sometimes I do wonder if the way that we ask people to go about working out that identity (on their own, in silence, through bible study) can even end up being counter-productive.

We can almost give the impression that you’ve got to be ready to be a part of our community before we’ll let you in. You’ve got to know you’ve received grace before you receive grace from us, got to have done the requisite preparation before you get through the door. Do you know what I mean? Honestly, maybe it’s just me, but that seems like an awful lot of hoops to jump through before you get to be friends with someone.

Maybe it comes from not knowing who we’re made to be.

Last week I had dinner with a bunch of good friends with whom I was a part of a cell group up until June of this year. The aim behind the group had been to talk about a Christian response to topics like injustice and poverty, and it worked brilliantly, but a couple of us were reflecting lately that we couldn’t remember much of what we’d done as a group. So over lunch the guy who’d been leading it explained that whilst the group had started out as a place to discuss strategies, what it ended up being instead was a place where people didn’t need to be convinced of the need to do something about poverty – they came together agreed on this aim and were empowered to talk about how this viewpoint affected other things.

Over our dinner table we started discussing community, and what it was that made it work. And we agreed that community was only possible when there was a shared sense of purpose, when all the members came together looking towards one aim.

“That’s what the church should be,” another guy round the table suggested matter-of-factly. “Community with purpose.” It was a quiet, understated moment of brilliance.

Because he’s right. When your community has a focus, everything is orientated towards that; and people coming into it often don’t need to have that orientation explained, as it is so obvious. It is on your lips, it underpins your conversations, it is in the way you move, the way you relate, even the way you carry yourself. If your community is setting out to be, say, a community of grace, then graciousness will seep into all that you do – whether eating together, making conversation, or apologising to someone for the way you’ve treated them.

It is in places like that you are challenged most about your attitudes. If you go into a community where it is blindingly obvious that the members love God – not doctrine, not good management, not a cool worship sound, not the social benefits, but God – then you will realise that you either do too, or you’ll realise that you don’t. If you claim to be gracious and then you see grace in action, that will test just how deep your grace goes, make no mistake.

Those kinds of communities are the places that make us who we are, and arguably we need them to live as God made us to. Without them, it is all too easy to forget what you know to be true – whether that is about identity, purpose, or about God Himself. In my case, lots of my crucial communities have left Oxford this year, and if I’m honest, I’m lonely without them. Because when you’re surrounded by others who are obviously (and visibly) living for God and going where He called them, you start to see just what Christianity can and should be. On your own, though, it’s easy to feel like all you do is fruitless.

Perhaps, really honestly, if we try and do it apart from community – all of it is.

Tim Keller says that our longing for community is the only true ache in history, because God says that it is not good for man to be alone before Adam and Eve fall. And I think he’s right, too. All of us crave community, whether we’re extrovert or introvert, no matter where we are – we crave community with family, with close friends, with the people who we love – with those people who see us for who we are, where we are going, and partner with us in that. That was who we were created to be, at the very beginning.

Community doesn’t just happen, though. We need to be around people who are orientated and headed in the same direction as we are, even if their expression of it is different. And so today I’m going to end with a simple question:

Is it like that in your church? Do you know where you are headed, and is it towards a good aim?

Or, somewhere, did your focus shift from knowing God, seeking to know Him more and empowering others to do the same?