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Monday, May 22, 2006

so long, farewell - moving to wordpress!!!

I've decided to port my blog over to WordPress. One of the reasons I find it difficult to keep this one up (apart from spending any free time on my lectionary blog) is that I just don't fancy the layout anymore. I wanted something more customisable - something clean and contemporary. WordPress is a really aesthetically pleasing platform. Just wish I could port disclosing new worlds over, too, but the hassle isn't worth it.

Thanks to Blogger for getting me started. Please some over to the new site, and leave a comment. It'll take me a week or so to get all the bookmarks brought over and submit it to search engines, but I'd like to get a vibrant discussion going among those of you with similar interests. For those of you who want the URL, it's http://wol1959.wordpress.com

See you there!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

postmodern churches

Have a look at Blind Beggar. There's a post entitled "Ten Distinctives of Postmodern Churches". I couldn't agree more! We've just had two courses at the Windermere Centre on and Emerging Church and Multimedia Worship. I found that the stuff in the latter that I resonated most with was the material that engaged with the tradition - the Celtic and Latin traditions, for example. Makes me glad I'm part of today's church and not that of 20 years ago!

his bobness: what would the boy say to the man?

Surfing through bobdylan.com, I found some of his rare performances (http://bobdylan.com/performances/). Have a listen to his April 17 rendition of "I dreamed I saw St Augustine", from the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, Mass. Here is Bob singing one of his greatest songs - in a way I've never heard him do it before. The words are often indistinct. He sounds as though he's recovering from a sore throat - or hasn't quite hit recovery yet! - and slips into his lazy performance-mode "talkie-sing" mode (ie when he's coasting and just can't be bothered to interpret his material). And yet ... it's great! It's beautiful and moving. He sings it with the love of the familiar - he's lived long with the song. It's never blase, although it hovers on the edge. Instead, he manages to hold on to that dynamic of a familiarity that speaks of deep, deep knowledge, and yet is aware of further mystery. But Bob is the Gnostic - these are secrets only he knows, and he almost plays with us, exciting our envy and longing for a similar depth knowledge.

Ok, ok, this is sounding far too ... something! Pretentious? Sentimental? I mean, it's just a man singing a song. And yet Bob manages to do that sort of stuff with his music, doesn't he? Listening to Bob sing his old songs is to be drawn into the narrative of his journey with the music. There's a crossover somewhere: Bob interprets the songs/the songs interpret Bob. What the songs become is what Dylan himself has become.

So I found myself listening to an old man sing an old song, while looking at a photo of him at the Newport Festival. And I wondered what the young Dylan would say to the man he's become? Would he like him? Would he regret the way it all turned out? If he knew how he'd sound 40 years down the road ... would he do it all differently?

Now, call me sentimental and uncritical, but I reckon he'd be fine with it all. He started out knowing he had something to say - and found that he didn't have a clue as to just how much! He's "followed the river down to the sea" and the beach is pretty good. He's learned to live with his regrets (more than a few, and certainly enough to merit more than just a mention!). You can hear it in the songs. The world ain't what he probably hoped it would become, but it's a better place for having given him space and recognition. He's "just tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door" - and that ought to do just fine!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

uniquely jesus ...

You scored as Servant Model. Your model of the church is Servant. The mission of the church is to serve others, to challenge unjust structures, and to live the preferential option for the poor. This model could be complemented by other models that focus more on the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Servant Model


Mystical Communion Model


Sacrament model


Herald Model


Institutional Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com

So there it is! It's worth looking at these things every so often - mine's changed a little since last time. I'm intrigued at the suggestion that I could concentrate more on the uniqueness of Jesus. That's my presupposition. I believe that only Jesus saves - but not only Christians are saved! Jesus is unique not least because Jesus uniquely refuses the boundaries that most of us - church and world alike - create. So I'm right up with those who say that Jesus alone saves us. No one else has done or could do what Christ did on the cross. That is the means of salvation. But Jesus came, not to start a new religion or create the Church, but to transform the world into the kingdom of God.

That is not to say that Jesus alone gives us access to God or to Truth. But Jesus alone gives us access to the Life that God for us here - the Holy Spirit and involvement in God's continual mission to make this world wall that God intends. I don't usually frame the question this way, but if it's the one I was asked a week ago - "Can Buddhists be saved?" - my answer is "Yes, of course they can? Who can't be saved? But Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, genocidal maniacs, alcoholics, unborn children and whomever else are all saved because of what God has done in Jesus. No one else."

born to run

Talking of music, here's my latest present: the 30th anniversary release of Born to Run. The boxed set consists of the remastered CD and 2 DVDs - the Hammersmith 1975 concert and the making of Born to Run.

It's not just the music - it's the stories. Born to Run has a special assocation for me, because when my cousin died last year (2 years older than I am), they played this at the crem. And of course, this song -and album - has a seminal place in Bruce's career. He made it when he was on the edge of the huge success he's become - it was the album that tipped him over that particular edge.

Listening to him describing his relationship to the song was very moving. He was aware of all the latent talent he had, but not sure of where it would take him. Just knew he was born to run ...

everybody needs a tame ..

(a) car mechanic, who won't rip you off by telling you you need to replace your steering wheel; (b) all-round electrician, plumber, builder and carpenter who can help you out when basic tools and ineptirude reach their limits; (c) computer consultant and (d) - most importantly - music expert, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what's happening and who, and can point you to stuff you ought to be discovering!

I'm incredibly fortunate in all 4, but none is as amazing as the guy who runs Action Replay in Bowness! His shop is a veritable treasure trove of any kind of music you might like - or learn to like. He's also an enthusiast who will spend hours talking about music, playing stuff, and his advice is pretty well infallible. He put me on to such delights as the Be Good Tanyas - required listening. He also dug me out some suitable non-sacred sacred music, which led to a fascination conversation about his atheism.

But the one to get is the new album by Neil Diamond, 12 Songs. Now when someone like Diamond produces Uncut's album of the month, something is happening. And the something is the producer, Rick Rubin. When Johnny Cash was washed up and had been dumped by everyone, Nick Rubin (who usually produces hard urban music) took him in hand and made him a legend before he died. And now he's taken Neil Diamond into the studio and treated him as new discovery, unencumbered by his past career, and made him produce the best album he's capable of. 12 Songs is the result - and one helluva result it is, too! Stunning!

And if, like me, you've got a nostalgic and embarrassed love of old songs like I am, I said, Holly Holy, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull ... well, here's one to buy and play unashamedly!

Talking of blasts from the past, a close second is Janis Ian's new album, Folk is the new Black. Can't wait until payday now.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

the royal tour

It's been far too long since I was actively blogging here! I blame the start of the church year - September and October have been manic. So Charles and Camilla begin their US tour today. And the question is, can Camilla woo the Diana-ites over? Isn't it tragic that a marriage is public property in the way that Charles' marriages have been? I write as an ardent anti-royalist, but on this one, I want to put in a plea for Charles. What a bizarre system we have here in the UK! The heir to the throne had to marry a "suitable" wife. Apart from anything else, she had to be a virgin (and be tested!). So on all sorts of grounds, Charles the human being is prevented from marrying the woman he loves. Well, let's be candid: he's prevented from marrying for love, full stop. In the 20th century (an nothing's changed with the new millennium) we are still running a system of royal marriage as alliance! I have every sympathy with Diana when she complained that there were three people in her marriage (to say nothing of the numbers she herself brought to the party!). Diana was treated very shabbily by her husband. But I still blame the system. We assume that the heart of the marriage relationship is love and the desire to be together. The bit in the service about "forsaking all others" presumes that the reason for getting married to this particular person is because this is the person one wishes to spend life with, rather than anyone else. Marriages are under enough pressure at the best of times: imagine having had to plan with the woman you love how to go about marrying someone else! Poor guy! So here's my one and only plea for sympathy for the royals. We set them up - we put them into impossible situations like this, then we demand a fairytale story of them and are outraged when it doesn't happen. One of my chief problems with the monarchy is that the system wrecks lives - theirs! And we are the ones who do it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

feeding places

It's been far too long since I had a few minutes spare enough to sit down and post. I've had to make do with "browsing and grazing" as far as blogging has been concerned for the past few weeks, and I am grateful to those whose blogs I've always found helpful that there's always something worthwhile to read and ponder. It's been a way of keeping in the conversational loop, albeit as an observer! Had you been able to see it, though, my body language would have said "Engaged listener" very loudly!

One place I've stopped over repeatedly at of late is Sean the Baptist. Sean is a Greek Orthodox monk who ... (just kidding!!!!) Sean is the New Testament lecturer at Northern College, Manchester. What I particularly enjoy is the way in which he interacts with theology, so that for someone who is fundamentally a biblical theologian, it's a nourishing waterhole! I may be mixing metaphors here, but the point is, go visit and see for yourself ...

Friday, October 07, 2005

bush the new (moderate) crusader!

Did you catch Bush's latest "state of the union" address on the war against terror? I'm still depressed about it! Here is a man who sees the presence of American and British troops in Iraq as an obvious good. He inveighed against radical islamic terrorists and their jaundiced view of the world, their war against humanity, their hubris (look it up, George - it's a particular kind of sin, which caused the fall of Lucifer in the story) and their wicked, amoral and determined war against humanity.

Now let's be clear. What bin Laden and his ilk do is godless and inexcusable. Absolutely. But it is understandable! Or at least, partially. And what Bush will not have is that he and his policies are part cause of it. He gives them the reason, the excuse and the mandate. He talks of the terrorists' war on democracy and on people who enjoy liberty. And he's blissfully, sublimely and culpably unaware of the affront that American aggression gives! He clearly hasn't stopped to ask himself how the good ol' American people who (didn't actually) elect him (first time round) would react if there were Iraqi soldiers on the streets of New York and other cities and towns. And if they claimed to be there for the good of humanity, does he honestly suppose that irate Americans would say, "Oh! Silly us! That's ok, then!"?

The trouble is, I think he actually does think that! But what really gets me is that he dresses it mall up in terms of a Christian crusade. It's as extreme, fundamentalist and deadly a crusade as any waged by militant islamists. And it's got a lot of power and money behind it. For God's sake (literally) will someone make him realise it hasn't got God's blessing????

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

bob the articulate? must be some mistake, surely ...

Did you watch His Bobness on BBC2 at 9pm last night? What a treat! Nearly 2 hours of Dylan's early years. It was great to watch classic footage of the early Dylan - highlights for me being Newport and the 1966 tour - but also to see his musical biography come to life. There was Pete Seeger, who's grown into the thoughtful, softly-spoken, articulate yet committed gentleman he always threatened to become. And Suzie Rotolo, talking with her hands - the girl from that album cover who hasn't lost her impish mischief or obvious affection for The Man over the years. The biggest treat, though, was to see Joan Baez, then and now, who is always conspicuously absent from these bobfests and yet was so seminal to the emergence of Dylan's own writing voice. The chemistry was obvious and a joy to see - not least because Dylan we got to see plenty of those rare events: Dylan actually enjoying himself!

The reprise of those early years drove home just how enormous a change Dylan not only lived through but effected. Michael Gray and others who insist that the music scene must be divided into two eras - Before Dylan and After Dylan - are right. The Greenwich Village scene that hosted the young waif in Cafe Wha transformed itself within a remarkably short space of time. Dylan was both the catalyst and the prophet who showed the way.

Most surprising, though, was Dylan himself, as interviewee and commentator. He was uncharacteristically giving and articulate. He gave straight answers to straight questions. The familiar irony and multiple masks behind which he hides when being asked to talk about his work were notably absent. Dylan talked about music - and about his music. He spoke about what grabbed him and didn't. He talked about what he was trying to do with his music.

Two things struck me forcibly. When Dylan spoke of his first album - a collection of covers which were planned in the studio as he was recording - he talked of the dynamic in him that instinctively held back what was most important to him and best in terms of what he had to offer. What distinguishes this album is the absence of original material (though not arrangements). This is surprising because Dylan was already writing prolifically, constantly and easily. It wasn't shyness that silenced the (lyrically) unique voice of Dylan (the man who is held up as the voice of his and subsequent generations), but an instinctive dis-ease with self-disclosure. Dylan writes and plays primarily for himself and for other musicians. He is hyper aware of the fickleness of the general public and their appetite for the banal (if any proof was needed, we had only to listen to some of the huge number of anodyne covers of "Blowin' in the Wind" that sold more than Dylan's own punchy, uncomfortable renditions). It struck me again how, if we want to "listen" to Dylan, we ought not to try and force him into the straitjacket of second-order commentary. The Man is not the explanation for the Songs - if for no other reason that he cannot and will not be!

The second related point was the refrain that ran through nearly every point at which Dylan spoke about musicians he admired and what musicians were about. He kept saying, "(S)he was really saying something - and I wanted to say it!" Dylan writes and performs to say something. Music is his chosen vehicle of expression. Music doesn't exist to be frozen in time and space like a photograph. It exists to say something. The beauty for Dylan is its polyvalence and acapacity for reinterpretation - to say something new to a new context. Hence Bob's refusal to bow to audience pressure and recreate the recordings in performance. Dylan, as has often been noted, constantly reinterprets his songs rather than re-performing them. He changes lyrics, beat, tune, accompaniment, tone, phrasing and emphasis to the bewilderment and fury of his fans. It was wonderfully ironic to watch that bewilderment surface when he went electric in 1966. Devotees of the man's music spoke on screen of their anger at Dylan for daring to own and rework his own songs. Dylan had broken the contract. That's not how music "worked"! Performers were supposed to create something that the public liked - and then it became public property! The job of the live performer was just that - to perform to order. Reproduce the recordings like some live hologram. And that was how it was Before Dylan. It was Bob who broke the mould.

Dylan has always "said something". He's always insisted, too, that "the songs are the message". You can't penetrate behind the songs to get at a "deeper truth". The truth is inextricable from the medium - the song, which is the lyrics, the music, Dylan's voice ... and Dylan himself! Those of us who whine at his lack of self-giving have simply not got that point. If it's Bob we want, we must go to the songs. It is Dylan's presence and re-interpretation that make Dylan's music an encounter with The Man himself - even when he's having an off-day or an off-decade or two! Scorcese managed a rare feat. He got Dylan to talk easily about himself and his music. Yet did he "penetrate behind the mask"? Or was this articulate, comfortable-with-biography Dylan just another mask for the inexhaustively re-inventive Bob, created to deliver what was needed? I didn't learn anything "new" about Bob from Bob. It was a joy to listen to him, but it was commentary, not self-disclosure. He still peddled some of the old myths of origin that he'd created in the first place - or at least, made no corrections to them! He didn't contradict or shape what was said about his musical development - he merely commented. For me, I'm prepared to buy what he's always said. "The Songs are the Message!" That's when I "get" Dylan (as much as I ever do) and when I'm constantly delighted, surprised and shocked. That's when I feel the power of the untameable and recalcitrant genius of the man, and when I reckon I get closest to whoever Bob Dylan really is. I buy into it as an act of faith and appreciation. And hey ... it works for me!