A Calming Influence (Gaz Rose)

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The other day I posted on Facebook: OK friends, I need album suggestions of seriously calming music while I work this evening. Wrong answers also welcome. Go! I received some great suggestions, and I’m working my way through them.

Gaz Rose replied (with a smile), “Would it be wrong of me to suggest my new one? His brass neck cheek was just the nudge I needed to buy and download it, it lived up to the promise and I can thoroughly recommend it. Find it in the usual download places.

There’s no real official blurb, it’s simply an album for personal or corporate reflection, using Christian songs as a basis for the relaxed feel music. There’s something for everyone, including a track for the Christmas market – which I skipped by the way. The album finishes with an arrangement of Ascalon, his favourite hymn tune.

Gaz hasn’t paid me to promote this, but he owes me a coffee!

Remembering Ian Curtis

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Forty years ago (18 May 1980) Joy Division lyricist and singer Ian Curtis took his own life, a tortured star whose influence both at the time and since has been immense. Actor Sam Riley brilliantly portrays Curtis in Control, Anton Corbijn‘s 2007 film of the Joy Division singer’s life and suicide.

Although there have been those who have sought to glamorise his death as a rock and roll suicide, in reality it was a consequence of his lack of control over many aspects of his personal life. The debilitating effects of epilepsy, the deception of having an affair, the almost inevitable breakdown of his marriage, and the prospect of separation from his year-old baby daughter. As he sang, “All the failures of the modern man”.

The classic and influential album Unknown Pleasures (released in 1979) revealed a profoundly dark poet and a starkly grim realist, a very different voice in music at the time, one who added deep insight and intelligence to the post-punk movement.

The clues were there though. In the track Shadowplay, Ian Curtis sings, “In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more…” and in New Dawn Fades, there’s one in the very title as well as the words, “The strain is too much, can’t take much more”.

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Once the truly shocking news broke that Ian Curtis had taken his own life, there came the full realisation that his writhing and twisted dancing on stage wasn’t simply performance art, he was genuinely wrestling with his emotional and physical demons, as well as reflecting how hopeless, meaningless and inhuman he felt our world had become.

Tragic as any death is, we’re often drawn to those in public life who take their own lives, and there are many examples. Listening to the album Closer (released soon after his death) was uncanny and slightly unnerving, a feeling that persists even now.

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So this is permanence, love’s shattered pride
What once was innocence turned on it’s side
A cloud hangs over me, marks every move
Deep in the memory of what once was love

Oh, how I realized I wanted time
Put into perspective, tried so hard to find
Just for one moment I thought I’d got my way
Destiny unfolded, watched it slip away

Excessive flash points beyond all reach
Solitary demands for all I’d like to keep
Let’s take a ride out, see what we can find
Valueless collection of hopes and past desires

I never realized the lengths I’d have to go
All the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know
Just for one moment, hearing someone call
Looked beyond the day in hand, there’s nothing there at all

Now that I’ve realized how it’s all gone wrong
Got to find some therapy, treatment takes too long
Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway
Got to find my destiny before it gets too late

Twenty Four Hours (from Closer)

I remember a survey from a few years back revealing that more people take their own lives in May than in any other month. Apparently, “the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear”.

We remember Ian Curtis because of his musical influence and legacy, but there’s also many thousands of young men who take their own lives each year, and I particularly remember one whose funeral I conducted a few years ago. A reminder to do all we can to reduce the stigma of mental illness in society, and to support those who are suffering. On this tragic anniversary, a fitting way to remember Ian Curtis.

See also: Transmission (Joy Division)

The National Anthem (Radiohead)

The National Anthem (Radiohead)

There are times when you need an uplifting song to raise your mood, at other times a sad song can emotionally connect with particular feelings and be more meaningful. Indeed, many people consider sad songs better and deeper than happy songs, as they speak profoundly to the human condition.

Just sometimes though, we need to rage and let our feelings out, as this can be very cathartic. Here’s a Radiohead song does just that, it’s a song of rage from their album Kid A released in 2000.

Everyone
Everyone around here
Everyone is so near
It’s holding on
It’s holding on

Everyone
Everyone is so near
Everyone has got the fear
It’s holding on
It’s holding on

It’s holding on
It’s holding on
It’s holding on

Thom Yorke sings short, ambiguous lyrics, using voice distortion and a feedback echo that creates a sense of isolation and fear. The looping heavy bass line that leads the song was composed by Yorke when he was 16 years old. The early electronic instrument called ondes Martenot, played by Jonny Greenwood, was inspired by Olivier Messiaen. The free jazz-style brass section was inspired by the work of Charles Mingus. Added to that are some interlaced sound effects and mysterious samples creating quite a unique track.

Station to Station (Kraftwerk)

Trans-Europe Express

The title of this post was inspired by a lyric from the title track of arguably Kraftwerk‘s greatest album Trans-Europe Express released in March 1977: From station to station, back to Dusseldorf City, Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Trans-Europe Express, Trans-Europe Express.

Kraftwerk are (or were, I’m not sure) a hugely influential German band formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Widely considered as innovators and pioneers of electronic music, their music has influenced a diverse range of artists and genres of modern music, including David Bowie (mentioned in the lyric above). Indeed, one of Bowie’s albums is titled Station to Station, although he’s said that the title refers not so much to railway stations as to the Stations of the Cross, despite the sound of a train.

The reason for writing this post is that the death of Florian Schneider was announced today. Sadly, we’re living at a time when many of my musical heroes are being taken from us, but I enjoyed listening to this album while walking the dog this evening, albeit with sorrow in my heart.

Note: My personal favourite Kraftwerk album is Autobahn, with a magnificent title track of nearly 23 minutes.

26/04/20 Bible Thoughts

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Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

Just some Bible thoughts this Sunday, when we would have been uniting in worship at Wallsend with North Shields and Shiremoor Corps, rather than a full online meeting. This is neither an apology nor excuse, merely a reflection of the kind of week I’ve had in lockdown. I’m simply doing what I can and not what I can’t. My hope and prayer is that these thoughts will be an encouragement to you, as well as stimulating your own reflections and thoughts. God bless you, Major John Ager.

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

One of the corps I was appointed to in the past had the following mission statement, this was its raison d’être: To put Jesus first and grow as Christians, through Bible reading, prayer, worship and fellowship. To share God’s love and forgiveness, especially through loving service in the local community.

That was and (as far as I know) still their purpose as a church and community centre; the focus of that group of Christians, both individually and collectively. It’s important to have focus and purpose as a fellowship of God’s people. Yes, I know businesses have mission statements, and the church is not a business; but the principle still applies. Having a defined focus helps us to be better Christians.

The church is currently unable to meet because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and some of the things that are essential are not able to happen in the normal way. Having said that, the church is finding new ways of doing things, although nothing can fully replace the actual meeting of people in a place of worship. Collective worship and fellowship are a vital part of the Christian life. Whilst many people say you can be a Christian without going to church, I disagree.

Watch the beautiful (although actually sad) song I Am A Rock by Paul Simon and pay particular attention to the lyrics.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

The words are very telling, we need each other. The lyrics of this wonderful song are actually the very antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, we can be hurt when we tear down the walls we build around ourselves, because we become vulnerable. But, as Christians, we follow one who became vulnerable for us, and when we open up to him we open ourselves to the love of God and others.

As we gather together again for worship and fellowship, at some yet unknown date in the future, we may have to reassess our overall vision.

As Salvationist poet Will J. Brand once wrote:
…so much we deemed essential is forever left behind.

See also: No man is an island (John Donne)

Transmission (Joy Division)

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Radio, live transmission.
Radio, live transmission.

Listen to the silence, let it ring on.
Eyes, dark grey lenses frightened of the sun.
We would have a fine time living in the night,
Left to blind destruction,
Waiting for our sight.

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong.
And hide from these days we remained all alone.
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time.
Touching from a distance,
Further all the time.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.

Well I could call out when the going gets tough.
The things that we’ve learnt are no longer enough.
No language, just sound, that’s all we need know, to synchronise
Love to the beat of the show.

And we could dance.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.

Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner.

See also: Remembering Ian Curtis

Radiohead Public Library

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Earlier this year Radiohead launched their own public library comprising an online archive of the band’s vast material.

You can create your own library card and membership number giving access to a curated and organised archive of the band’s back catalogue and a selection of artefacts associated with each album. You can also stream a number of previously unavailable rarities for the first time.

This comes after the band added their entire discography to YouTube, from their debut album Pablo Honey through to A Moon Shaped Pool.

What are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to go exploring…

Sunday (David Bowie)

Nothing remains
We could run
when the rain slows
Look for the cars or signs of life
Where the heat goes
Look for the drifters
We should crawl under the bracken
Look for the shafts of light on the road
Where the heat goes

Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
And everything has changed

[first voice]
In your fear
Of what we have become
Take to the fire
Now we must burn
All that we are
Rise together
Through these clouds
As on wings

[2nd voice]
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, seek only peace
In you fear, seek only love
In your fear, in your fear

As on wings
This is the trip
And this is the business we take
This is our number
All my trials, Lord
Will be remembered
Everything has changed

This is the opening track of the Heathen album.

22/03/20 Sunday Worship

Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.

Welcome to our Sunday worship, it’s so good we can all share together in this way. Given the current situation, I think it’ll be good to start by watching this encouraging video by our Territorial Commander, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill.

Please note: the song links will take you to an online songbook, you’ll have to search for the song number manually in the 2015 Song Book (possibly by going back to the homepage). I’ll try and sort this out if possible, it’s all been put together in a hurry as you’ll appreciate. Also, apologies for any mistakes, but please let me know.

Our opening Song 948 is a reminder to stay strong in the grace of God, having confidence in him. The third verse says: Be strong in the grace of the Lord, Be armed with the power of His might; Be daring when dangers abound, Courageous and brave in the fight.

Bible ReadingRomans 8:31-39

As Paul, in that reading tells us, we are more than conquerors. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our next Song 30 reinforces that theme.

Prayers: Use this time to make your own prayers and use the one below, which can be found in context here. Apologies if I’ve infringed copyright.

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here. I’ll do my level best to have a Sunday worship service (meeting as we call them in the Salvation Army) online for you each week. You can download a modified handout (PDF format) for distribution to those not online here.

Let’s listen to the Band as they bring us a lively march with an uplifting message.

Bible Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

We turn to Song 48 for our Testimony Time. Please share your testimony with someone with you now in person, over the telephone or online.

Bible Reading: John 3:14-21

Before we listen to the Bible Message, let’s watch this beautiful video by Major David Chadwick. Selected verses from Psalm 91 with scenes of the Lake District and music from Chelmsford Salvation Army Band and Songsters. Words of encouragement as we enter a prolonged period of self-isolation.

Bible Message (Major John Ager)

Our main Bible reading contains one of the most well-known verses from the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But the short passage we shared is not the whole story, you might like to read the whole chapter for context. Our reading had no mention of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night seeking answers to his questions and no mention of being born again.

Instead, the teaching of Jesus is linked to the story of Moses in the wilderness having to deal with a discontented people found in Numbers 21:4-9.

Life used to be better for them, but now they have left Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses they have achieved freedom. They are no longer slaves. This was what they longed for, the fulfilment of their hopes. But now they are hungry. What food they have is boring. It’s not like the good old days in Egypt when at least they had good, interesting food to eat. The memories of their hardships have faded and all they know is that their bellies are empty and life is tough.

They are and should be people who are journeying towards a high destiny. They’ve been called by God for his purposes. They must reach out to the future and not dwell in the past, particularly on unrealistic memories of the past.

Moses is told by God to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent looked at this bronze serpent they would live. For many centuries this symbol has been used by those involved in healing and health care as their sign. One of the explanations of this clearly links it to the story in Numbers.

The symbol is still used widely today and maybe part of what it’s intended to convey is that health and healing are gifts. It was God’s gift of healing to an undeserving people, a rebellious, complaining, petty-minded people. Here it was a gift that would help them to become what they were capable of being, God’s chosen people that now includes all who name Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

In the Gospel reading (John 3:14-21) Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers and sees it pointing to his own destiny. The Son of Man will be lifted up and whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

This is a recurring theme in the gospels, that believing is what brings about the change in people and in their situations. Believing is the gift of God, the grace of God, and with that gift of grace all sorts of things become possible in people’s lives.

God loved us so much that he gave his only son. But that’s in the past tense, it needs to be in the present tense, because the activities of God are always in the eternal now. God loves the world so much that he gives his only son. That love is from eternity to eternity and nothing can separate us from that love.

On this unusual Mother’s Day, what we experience in the best of parental relationships, we experience even more in our experience of God. In fact, it’s our experience of divine parenting that becomes the model, the benchmark for human parenting. God loves the world so much. We look to God and live. In God’s love is all our renewal and healing.

We turn to an old favourite now, Song 453. Words that I hope will reinforce my Bible message in your hearts.

In this time of Reflection, Response & Prayer, please spend some moments quietly in ways that you find helpful.

We finish with Song 959. The places we can go might be limited, but we can still ‘go in the strength of the Lord’, finding new ways to share God’s love.

Benediction:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth. Amen.

You can find a deeply personal post about Mother’s Day 2020 here.

God bless you all, Major John Ager.

When I Was Cruel (Elvis Costello)

One of my favourite albums of the 2000s decade (2002 to be specific) is When I Was Cruel by Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it doesn’t appear to be available for streaming on Spotify, although I have it on CD.

The video is the title track on Later with Jools Holland in 2002. This album might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but here is a singer-songwriter at the top of his game, an album that repays careful and repeated listens.