Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ

I am reflecting this morning on the name of Christ, that is, ‘the Messiah’.

Some years ago—I think it was ten years ago—I wrote a song called ‘Your Name’, a meditation on the name of Jesus. I was reflecting at the time on how biblical names often summed up the character of a person. We find, for example, that Jacob bore a name which, according to some scholars, means ‘deceiver’ or ‘supplanter’ (and was known for being a bit of a swindler). In the New Testament, perhaps the most famous example is Jesus’s affirmation of Peter’s name as ‘The Rock’. Peter, according to the NT narrative, was for much of his early life anything but a rock: somewhat unstable, he was prone to impetuous outbursts and famously (as predicted by Jesus) denied knowing Jesus three times just before the latter’s death. Continue reading “Your Name – a meditation on the moral perfection of Christ”

The problem of worship

Every so often there appears an article lamenting the state of contemporary worship. One came across my desk last week with the usual complaints about trite songs, too much showmanship, a lack of congregational involvement, keys being too high, and so on. As a worship leader myself who recognises all these things, all such articles do is make us all feel more guilty—participants for not joining in more, leaders for doing a bad job.

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Baptism of The Rock Mass

I am reflecting today on the events of this weekend: on Friday evening Daniel Kyzlink and I attended the official ‘baptism’ ceremony of the new Rock Mass CD in Karlovy Vary as part of the programme marking the new spa season in the city. In front of the mayor and various other dignitaries and sponsors, spa water was officially poured over a CD and we all, of course, made speeches. During the evening French conductor Martin Lebel, without whose championing of the work it might never have seen the light of day, was made an honorary citizen of the city. After the ceremonies in the beautiful town theatre (pretty girls presenting flowers, more speeches, video presentations and awards, and the performance by the KSO of some beautiful music – including, naturally, Dvořák) we went to a nearby hotel with the orchestra, the mayor, sponsors and so on to suitably celebrate with the odd nibble and copious amounts of alcohol.

At one in the morning, Dan and I, with the director of the orchestra and the production assistant, walked through the centre of Karlovy Vary, alongside the river flanked by the steep-sided streets with beautiful Belle Époque architecture, through the majestic Romanesque colonnade where spa water pours into basins for (brave) tourists to drink. Eventually – after a brief pit-stop in a dubious-looking sandwich bar for baguettes and beer, passing a plastic beer glass around the four of us in an act of communion – we found sanctuary in an underground bar. We were slightly over-dressed for this establishment (me wearing my Sunday best and still carrying a bunch a yellow flowers, with Dan looking like my gay partner) but were nevertheless soon installed at the bar with a Tullamore Dew. Šimon unwrapped a CD and asked the girl behind the bar if she would be kind enough to play it. She declined. Instead, Dan chose some Metallica from the juke box.

The CD lay on the bar surrounded by smoke and another round of drinks. Feeling philosophical (as I always do at three in the morning) I was pondering the strange irony of a musical work representing the most profound and sacred centre of the Christian faith lying on a bar in what is said to be the most unbelieving nation in Europe. I recalled having played the first demos to a lady from California a few years ago, a believer involved in the media industry. ‘It’s a bit religious,’ she remarked: ‘it’ll never take off.’ And as I’ve worked on this project over the last six years I’ve noticed a curious thing, that people who do not claim to be believers (especially musicians) love it, while those who claim belief find it hard to swallow.

I could pontificate for hours on this subject; all I will say for now (you’ll be relieved to know) is that The Rock Mass is most certainly not religious but definitely Christian, and I’ll have to leave it to you to think more about that. As I sat there at the bar it occurred to me that this was the kind of place that Jesus would have brought his disciples to, and the CD lying on the bar was certainly symbolic of his presence.

Just one final philosophical though, if you will indulge me. Throughout this six-year journey, Dan and I have touted this work to many in the Christian music industry and in the religious world. Dan sold a keyboard in order to raise the air fare to go to Nashville, only to be told that the work, whilst wonderfully written etc., did not ‘fit’ within the established genres: it was too ‘rock’ for the classical world, too ‘classical’ for the rock world, and so on. We came to the conclusion that many Christians have simply become conventional, focused on cliché, and have lost the ability to be creative or to take risk, yet surely risk is at the heart of true creativity? Isn’t it also at the heart of faith?

Instead this work has been enthusiastically embraced by many who would not call themselves believers. The CD (which you really ought to get hold of!) features incredible performances from some of the top musicians and singers in the Czech Republic and the UK: the question Dan and I are constantly asked is: ‘When do we get to perform this again. It’s awesome!’.

At four thirty we decided we had duly celebrated the release of the CD and found a taxi to take us back to the hotel. The image of the CD lying on the bar stays with me, a prophetic image, I hope, of light shining in the darkness.

For more info about The Rock Mass visit our website where you can find extracts from the recording.

Art for art’s sake

I remember as a fifteen year old, on a trip to relatives in Holland, coming across the music of Tom Paxton. I felt like I had stumbled into heaven. Soon the likes of Tom’s successors – Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, Paul Simon and James Taylor – were giving me guitar lessons. Not that they knew it, of course: I simply played their LP’s on my merciless record player until they were irretrievably scratchy – but at least I could play some of the most difficult passages. My education was supplemented by weekly trips to the White Horse in Reading where I joined bearded guitar-wielding hippies and other fresh-faced lads like myself nursing under-age pints (which we made last the whole evening) as we worshipped the guitar. I could soon finger-pick with the best of them and blew all my savings on a wonderful instrument which cost me seven pounds and bore the label ‘Hi Spot, Foreign’. This was, of course, a marked contrast to Sundays where hymns and dreadful ‘choruses’ made me cringe with embarrassment. (Whoever penned the immortal lines ‘We’re in the great race to put rockets in space, but the needs of our souls we’re refusing to face’ should, in my humble opinion, be made to eat their own toenails. Some of the ‘choruses’ I’ve heard recently are little better.) There was no way I could take my White Horse friends to church. And so my life developed in two parallel universes whose paths never intersected.

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Healing society—the ethics of desire

The recent rioting and looting on the streets of England have triggered an avalanche of comment from politicians of all persuasions, peppered with phrases such as ‘social deprivation’, ‘the breakdown of family values’, ‘no stake in society’, and so on. Deep conversations try to fathom why, within certain localities, there is an inbuilt desire for self-destruction — the social equivalent of a disturbed teenager slashing her wrists with a kitchen knife. Some have even tried to paint a Dickensian picture of social stratification, equating today’s looters with those that, until not so long ago, were hung for stealing a loaf of bread. The solution — according to this analysis — is simply to pump more money into deprived housing estates, presumably so the kids can go out and buy their own designer clothes without the trouble of stealing them. Continue reading “Healing society—the ethics of desire”