Jeremy Begbie and Joseph Jordania on human musicality: a public lecture [kind of] in Melbourne

Human Musicality 917.jpg

Let Speeches Fall Silent

Adam Tice’s response to the recent shootings in Orlando was to pen some wonderful text for a new hymn:

Let speeches fall silent and platitudes cease
from hawkers of violence they brand as “peace.”
Let people who suffer find places to speak,
and holders of power give way to the weak.

Let teachers of hatred, suspicion, and fear,
and those who would kill for the views they hold dear,
be turned from their ways and disarmed of their wrath
to walk on a new, more compassionate path.

Forgive us the times we neglected to act;
forgive our excuses for courage we lacked.
God, teach us the wisdom that leads us to grace:
your image is found in our enemy’s face.

Let Speeches Fall Silent COLUMCILLELet Speeches Fall Silent FOUNDATION

Surely there is room …

Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan. After Delacroix 1890

New Zealand songwriter Malcolm Gordon, no stranger to this blog, has been at it again. This time, as he tells it, he has been

churned up by what is happening in Australia with the asylum seekers. Some of the friends we met and made in Adelaide last year have been protesting in MP’s offices and been arrested as a result. It’s a justifiably upsetting situation.

This song is one result of that churning:

In these wide open spaces
This land needs tilling
But there’s rumours of war
There’s whispering of killing
Over mountain and flood and over the plain
This dark cloud reigns.

Put my hand to the plough
There’s no turning home
For this stirring within
Won’t leave me alone
And alone is one thing that you’ll never be
There is no ‘them’, there is only ‘we’.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

The weight of these times
Is measured in tears
The risk of this love
Is death to our fears
Give our voice for the groaning
Of children in chains
Forever there’s hope wherever there’s pain.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
Picture what we could be
A generous family
Where welcoming arms hold open the door.

In these wide open spaces
The wind blows alone
And the streets are just valleys that wander and roam
There is room for the pilgrim to lay down their load
And build a home.

John Milne: some new choral work

Siegfried SassoonJohn Milne, who is no stranger to this blog, has recently produced two new choral pieces, both anti-war in theme.

The first, ‘Soldier Boy’, is based on a Siegfried Sassoon text ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, written during WWI. Sassoon penned a number of better-known anti-war poems, but this one’s quite unusual in that it deals with suicide among the ranks (a huge problem in Iraq and Afghanistan even today with about 20 US veterans committing suicide every day, about 20% of the overall suicides in the US while only 1% of Americans have served in the military) – a manifestation of the mindlessness of war and of the vain belief in the soteriological powers of violence’s stunning machinery.

Edith SitwellThe second piece is ‘Still Falls the Rain’. The text here is provided by Edith Sitwell, and cites scripture, ‘Faust’, and all sorts of arcana. Sitwell endured a night of the Blitz in London in 1940, and it is believed that she wrote the poem as the sun rose, bringing with it life’s announcement of perseverance and graced permanence (the Germans bombed exclusively at night). While nowadays we seem to accept with little protest the faceless and mechanised bombing of civilian populations as commonplace, the Blitz marked the first time it was ever done in earnest, and it must have seemed unspeakably vile. John Milne described the closing lines of the poem  as ‘as powerful an affirmation of God’s enduring love in the face of near-infinite human evil as I’ve ever encountered’. Those interested in reading further about the poem can read the exegesis provided by Robin Bates, a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The Reformation Polka

lukas-cranach-martin-lutherI’ve posted before about the sense of ‘play’ that characterised the various reformations of the sixteenth century. I have been reminded of this twice recently; first, while preparing lectures on various kirk session books from Scotland during the 1570s onwards (it really is much more fun than it sounds!), and then again when I came across Robert Gebel’s song  ‘The Reformation Polka’ (sung to the tune of ‘Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious’) while clearing out my desk in anticipation of my move to Australia next month. I thought the latter worth sharing here:

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
‘You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!’ Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
‘Are these your books? Do you recant?’ King Charles did demand,
‘I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!’ Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting ‘George’ as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh …

Papal bulls, indulgences …

 

Songs for the Road

SFTRIt is testimony to God’s persevering love that God has blessed the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand with some wonderfully-talented young people. And with the conviction that God’s blessings are given in order to be a blessing to others, a number of these (mostly) young troopers have banded together to make a wee album called Songs for the Road. There’s a couple of stand out tracks (like Jordan Redding’s two offerings – ‘Gather round the feast’ and ‘Kyrie eleison’ – and Zoe Henderson’s and Katie Lee’s song ‘Open our eyes’, performed by Lydia Cole) and a couple of theological disasters. The stand out song, however, is ‘This Light’ by Hannah van Dorp:

 

Son of light, son of day
Don’t believe that your hope’s gone away
Friend of mine, how you shine,
Don’t allow your heart to be afraid
You’ve never seen anything like this before,
Never been anywhere on your own.
But you, my dear, see crystal clear this light
So don’t be afraid of the night.
You may not remember me
But I know where your heart’s always been.
Change your mind, you might fall behind but you know
Your reality’s seen.
You’ve never done anything like this before,
Never known any place on your own.
But you, my dear, see crystal clear this light
So don’t be afraid of the night.

Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky are recording together

Shindell and KaplanskyI was very excited to learn this morning (as were my wee sprogs) that two of my favourite musicians – Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky – are teaming up again (remember Cry Cry Cry, the album they recorded together with Dar Williams?) to make a new album. ‘Tomorrow You’re Going’ is being produced by Larry Campbell and funded through Kickstarter, and they are seeking supporters. If you’re already familiar with Richard and Lucy’s music, you’ll be as thrilled as I am to know about – and support – this great project. And if you happen to be one of those unfortunate souls to whom their music is unfamiliar, then don’t you think it’s about time you remedied that situation?

 

(Melbourne) metro

I didn’t believe it at first. I mean, the thought of him – my father-in-law of all people – voluntarily joining a non-AFL affiliated group that has its own website, and apps!, was simply too incredible. But of all the things that might be said of him (his disdain, for example, of the most wonderful gifts of life – like butter, and real football, and whisky, and Bob Dylan), being a perjurer and fabulist is not among them. Deluded about many things he may be, including the wholesomeness of his son-in-law, he remains one of the straightest shooters I’ve ever met. And so while his piano abilities far outstrip his gifts in the singing department, when he pronounced recently that he had joined a singing group called Men in Suits (a little ironic, I suppose, given that I’m not sure he owns a suit that he can fit into) I had little reason to doubt him … and I was elated.

I paid for that doubtlessness, however. For upon its vocalisation, I was forced to listen – at very high volume! – to song after song, too many songs, while strapped in to the back seat of his car. Among my favourites was this one called ‘Metro’:

 

Trevor Hart on church music

Hymn

‘Music has always been a central feature of Christian worship, and it’s worth asking why that might be. After all, there’s no very obvious reason why God should take pleasure (if indeed he does!) in the sound of voices and pipe organ or whatever other instruments we might use. We’re told in the Bible that in the temple there were cymbals and drums and all sorts of percussive music accompanying and complementing the singing, which isn’t very Anglican, but sounds like quite a lot of fun! But why music at all? Why not praise God in some altogether more quiet and sedate fashion?

I suspect the answer has as much to do with us as with God. Musical settings of words, for instance, transform the words, seeming to get more meaning out of them than simply saying them. And, typically, we also find words that are sung regularly quite easy to remember (often we’re still humming the tune and singing along in our head later in the day). So, what we sing together gets ingrained, and shapes the substance of our faith. That’s one reason why I am quite careful about our choice of hymns in church. Singing bad theology can be dangerous to our spiritual health!’

– Trevor Hart, ‘A letter from “The Rectory”’, The NET: The magazine of Saint Andrew’s Church, St. Andrews, May 2014, 23.

Hunting down Charles Darwin

Last night, the New Edinburgh Folk Club (aka the Dunedin Folk Club) hosted the great Jez Lowe for what was an absolutely fantastic gig. (Next week, we’ll host Andy Irvine.) Among the many wonderful songs performed was one that Jez penned in 2009 for the Darwin Song Project called ‘We’ll Hunt Him Down’, a song which imagines a band of conservative American preachers marching (or riding) across the US in a holy mission to rid the land of the Darwin scourge. Jez told of how he recently played the song in a US church, to a mixed response. I thought the song was very witty, and damn good fun, and so I wanted to share it here. So here’s a clip of the song’s first public performance at the 2009 Shrewsbury Folk Festival, performed by Jez Lowe, Chris Wood and Mark Erelli:

Across this noble country, this fair land of the free,
I’m searching for the man who stole my Lord away from me,
And God is riding with me, and half the town is too,
His name is Charlie Darwin and he must not talk to you.

We’ll hunt him down, we’ll hunt him down,
And every word he ever said we’ll grind into the ground,
We’ll hunt him down, we’ll hunt him down,
Charles Robert Darwin, you’re not welcome in this town.

At first we thought him crazy, so we just let him be,
Playing with worms and flies and little critters from the sea,
Then he started spreading rumours that you scarcely would believe,
That my ancestors were chimpanzees, not Adam and Eve.

We’ll hunt him down …

It’s hard to think about him without sinking to abuse,
They say that he’s an Englishman, but that’s still no excuse,
He’s robbed our schools and churches of the truth the bible tells,
So we’re out to stop his Godless ways and damn his words to hell.

We’ll hunt him down …

We’re holy and we’re righteous, and we know it to be true,
That it was on a Saturday morning that God made me and you,
He made us smart and clever, he even gave us tools,
Like guns and bombs and rifles, that shows you God’s no fool.

We’ll hunt him down …

The Song of St Magnus

‘So Magnus Erlendson, when he came up from the shore that Easter Monday, towards noon, to the stone in the centre of the island, saw against the sun eleven men and a boy and a man with an axe in his hand who was weeping … Then in the light of the new day, 16 April 1117, there was a blinding flash of metal in the sun’. – George Mackay Brown

Magnus‘The Orkney Isles, off the northern coast of Scotland, were ruled by the Viking king of Norway in the 13th century, and Magnus was the rightful heir to the Earldom of the archipelago. He was a bit of an odd one. Once he’d joined the King on a raiding party, but he’d stayed back on the ship and sung psalms. He’d refused to fight. It would be something of a theme in his short life. The King wasn’t sure about a ruler who wouldn’t fight, and so he also recognised the claim to the Earldom by Magnus’ cousin, and the two ruled jointly for some years. It worked pretty well, until some of their followers felt things would be better if their respective Earl had the job to himself. Things started to shape up for war. It seemed inevitable. Inevitable, that is, until Magnus insisted that he and his cousin try and talk their way to a peaceful solution. He suggested that they meet on a deserted island where the only building was an ancient stone chapel. They agreed to meet, each bringing only two ships of men, enough for protection but not enough for serious aggression. Magnus arrived the night before with his two ships. He spent the night in prayer.

In the light of the dawn, however, he saw his cousin’s treachery. Eight ships were entering the harbour. Too many for peace. Too many for truce. Not too many for war.

What would Magnus do? He could run, flee and gather his supporters on the mainland and fight this out. Or he could appeal to the King of Norway to deal with his scoundrel cousin. Instead, he turned quietly and went back into the small stone chapel to pray, as if the chapel were his Garden of Gethsemane. The war party surrounded the chapel and demanded Magnus surrender himself. He did, once the cousin had agreed to leave his men unharmed. The gathered chiefs demanded that the Earl’s duel in order to bring an end to the division that threatened to tear the islands apart. But the cousin wasn’t willing to give up his advantage, and Magnus refused to fight, so the cousin decided to execute Magnus. Magnus tried to talk his cousin out of this course of action so as to save his cousin’s soul. Lest we think that Magnus was acting out of self preservation, however, his alternative suggestion was that he be mercilessly tortured and disfigured, left alive but ruined, so as to protect his cousin from committing murder. But the cousin wanted no rival, however broken. He ordered his finest warrior to kill Magnus. The warrior refused. In fact, none of the cousin’s soldiers would meet his eyes or his demands. Finally, under the threat of death, the cousin’s poor cook, weeping and pleading for Magnus’ forgiveness was chosen for the task. Magnus spoke quietly and calmly to him, telling him the sin was not his, that Magnus held nothing against him, that he should do what he must do, and think no more of it.

So he did, and Magnus was killed. And there was peace, for there was no one left for the cousin to fight. But there was also grief, such grief among the people that Magnus’ body was shortly recovered and buried with honour. A church was built to mark the place and his death, the cross of Magnus became their flag, and the sacrifice of Magnus their pride and their shame.

Could this be what faith looks like, when the beloved ones of God  love peace more than themselves, that even the wicked moments of human cruelty might, in the mysterious grace of God, be made to tell the story of love which covers all and conquers all?’

These (lightly edited) words, and the wonderful song that follows, were penned and recorded recently by my dear friend Malcolm GordonThose, like myself, who consider themselves fans of the work of George Mackay Brown, from whose pen many of us first heard of Magnus, will enjoy this:

The Song of St MagnusThe northern miles
Hold the Orkney Isles
Lands of windswept vale.
And from this place
Comes a tale of grace
Of love amidst betrayal.

Magnus ruled
With his brother too
And peace shone out like dawn.
But rumours spread
That blood would be shed
As battle lines were drawn.

Before we fight
Let’s see if we might
Find ways to live together.
We’ll each bring two boats
See if peace might float
Even in this stormy weather.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

Eight ships appeared
And the trick he feared
This truce became betrayal.
Would he run away?
No, he stayed to pray
To find the strength to fail.

‘One chief we’ll have’,
The brother said,
‘And that chief will be me’.
But he could not find
Someone of his kind
To kill this saint to-be.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

No soldier would
And the brother stood
Alone with death’s desire.
But he found his one
And the sin was done
For fear of him, a murder.

But Magnus swore
This sin is not yours
Your tears will count for something,
So do this deed
And find God’s peace
I’ll hold against you nothing.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

The blow fell sharp
And the saint fell hard
Truce was bought with his blood.
The people wept
But this peace they kept
They kept the peace of Magnus;
Yes, they kept the peace of Magnus.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

Martyrdom of St Magnus

[Image: Scotiana.com]

You can access more of Malcolm’s music here and here.

December stations …

Reading:

Listening

Leunig love

Real Men

And finally, to end the year and all – a gift especially for those likely to be sucked in to making New Year’s resolutions – some advice from Thelonious Monk:

Advice from Thelonious Monk

… and some great sounds to see the new year in with:

2013: some favourites, some thanks

Amidst all that I have read, re-read, listened to and watched during this past year, I am especially grateful for having read, re-read, listened to, and watched the following:

Books

Biblical Studies

Biography

Cooking

Fiction

History

Philosophy

Poetry

Theology

Music

Films

I am equally grateful to those readers of this blog, and to those fellow wayfarers in blogdom, who have recommended some of these gems.

I am grateful too that this year has seen the birth of three books that I have either written or edited – Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. ForsythDescending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P. T. Forsyth, and, most recently, ‘Tikkun Olam’ To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts. I hope that each of these prove beneficial – and rollicking good fun – for those who take up and read them.

As 2013 approaches expiration, I wish to sincerely thank readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem for stopping by, for reading my periphrastic prose, for offering comment (both online and via email), and for subscribing to and linking to posts. I hope that you have been blessed by what and by who you have encountered here, and I look forward to continuing a further leg or two of the pilgrimage with you. Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou ki a koutou katoa.

Simeon’s Song

Rembrandt - Simeon With Christ ChildMalcolm Gordon, a dear friend of mine and the engine behind the very exciting One Voice Project, wrote and recorded a new song last night based on Luke 2.25–31. It’s called ‘Simeon’s Song’, and about which he writes:

‘I wrote it for the youth group who are having a worship night tonight and wanted to reflect on this story as a turning point between anticipation and celebration. I’ll probably play it at the midnight Christmas Eve service at St Peters too, hence the night/darkness themes’.

I thought it was worth sharing here too; so, with Malcs’ permission, here ‘tis:

Rembrandt - Simeon's Song Of Praise 1661I’m just an old man
With an ancient conviction
That God is troubled by our pain

I have no wisdom
Just a fool’s expectation
That God will come to our aid

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not strayed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

I’m just a lone voice
Frail in the darkness
But the night can only last so long

I’m just a watchmen
Eyes to the distance
Waiting for heaven’s light to show

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not strayed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

He’s just a small child
From nowhere special
But something tells me, this is it

My heart’s desire
My world’s salvation
A candle in this darkness has been lit

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not changed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

God can I go to sleep now
I’ve stayed awake to the sunrise
With my failing eyes
I see through Love’s disguise
In my arms I hold the world.

Note: Malcolm has made the link to the song downloadable so if folk want to use it (or one of the other songs available here) for a church service, or for personal reflection, it’s there to be had. Share the love!

November stations …

Reading:

Listening

Leunig

Real Men

‘Our Great High Priest’, a song by Glen Soderholm

Glen SoderholmGlen Soderholm is an accomplished musician and songwriter, an ordained minister (with the Presbyterian Church in Canada), and a teacher in the area of the theology and curating of worship. He tells me that he is also ‘currently part of a group of friends giving birth to a missional community in his living room and neighbourhood, and that he has a deep and abiding interest in the relationship of trinitarian/incarnational/onto-relational theology to worship, arts, and culture’. 

Following my recent post on James Torrance’s hymn, ‘I know not how to pray, O Lord’, Glen contacted me and shared with me his own song on that theme, ‘Our Great High Priest’. This song, he tells me, was ‘inspired by a life-changing encounter with James Torrance’s book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. I read it and felt like I’d come home’. Glen gave me permission to share his wonderful song.

Our great high priest now at the throne
You ever live to pray for your own
And to the Father, you make us known
Our great high priest now at the throne

We long to pray, but we don’t know how
We yearn to stay, but lack the power
Our wills are weak, our tongues are tied
Oh lift us now, right to your side

For us you came to this low plane
For us you lived with joy and pain
For us you died to set us free
And rose on high to bear our plea

Glen’s music is available here or through iTunes.

October stations …

SAMSUNGReading:

Listening

Link love

Leunig love

Leunig-iPad-The Lost Art

Leunig - Words for mystery

[Source: The Age]

September stations …

Tilda SwintonReading:

Listening:

Watching:

  • Babel
  • The Pillars of the Earth
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin. This is one of the most extraordinary films I’ve seen in many years, with an absolutely astonishing performance by Tilda Swinton. (On a less enthusiastic note, Australia’s ‘MA 15+’ rating is severely misjudged.)

August stations …

Reading:

  • Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. An impressive and well-researched biography on one of the most untwitter-like characters of the twentieth century.
  • Wild Red Horses by Alan Marshall. This one’s worth reading just for the great story ‘Singing to God’.
  • The Word of God and Theology by Karl Barth. An energetic and fresh translation, with excellent critical notes, of some of Uncle Karl’s most important essays. An absolute ‘must-read’ for preachers!
  • Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany by Robert P. Ericksen. A very helpful study and, if Ericksen’s right, an important corrective to many widely-held misconceptions.
  • Tradition and Dissent by Davis McCaughey. A fascinating collection of addresses from one of the great Antipodean minds of the twentieth century. Thank you Belfast!

Listening:

Watching:

John Milne’s ‘The Jesus Prayer’

A few weeks ago, I drew attention (here on PCaL) to the work of American composer John Milne and to his piece  ‘Per Crucem ad Lucem‘. Since then, John has kindly sent me a number of additional recordings of his work, so I thought I would share another one. Here’s his rendition of ‘The Jesus Prayer’:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner
In death, I will stand before the Son of Man – Behold I tell you a mystery.