20 Minutes

20 Minutes is a 2021 EP by Carbon Based Lifeforms with the main track lasting…(wait for it)…20 minutes, it’s one of my favourite EPs of 2021.

A long time thought is finally a reality. A twenty minutes long story that takes you on a soothing journey through the ambient soundscapes of Carbon Based Lifeforms. The other track is an extended version of Leaves which further soothes your mind, it’s melancholic winter landscape. Source

You can find this EP (with other EPs and albums) in my Bandcamp collection here.

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Ellen Turner’s Abduction (1826)

On this day (7 March) in 1826, fifteen-year-old Ellen Turner climbed into a carriage at her school gates thinking she was being picked up to see her mother who’d been taken ill.

Instead, she was being abducted to be forced into marriage to Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who was twice her age. Through this marriage he hoped to gain a large marriage settlement and inherit her family fortune. It wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this.

The case eventually came to trial, and Wakefield was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Newgate Prison and the marriage was annulled by Parliament.

I share this story on the eve of International Women’s Day 2021 (8 March) because this case was at the centre of public debate at the time, highlighting the lack of rights for women and girls in a deeply patriarchal society. That was then, but in 2021 there’s still work to be done to secure women’s rights and equality.

Ghost Stories (Henry James)

It’s rare for me not to finish a book, but I simply couldn’t connect with these stories. The main story in this book is a classic, the plot of many dramas, but it did nothing for me. Too many words, and a meandering narrative seemingly getting nowhere. It might be me, but I can only respond as I feel.

I bought the Kindle edition of this book because Naomi and I had recently watched The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix, which is based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The drama was truly scary, the book not at all.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2021 books here.

Here at the Mayflower (2001)

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You might be surprised that I’m writing about a Barry Manilow album, which (believe it or not) one of my favourite albums of 2001. I’ve previously written about my eclectic musical taste, so actually you might not find it as strange as it first seems. I’m not one to shy away from a particular musician simply because some might consider that choice uncool.

Here at the Mayflower is a concept album, based on the Brooklyn apartment complex where Barry Manilow grew up. The album contains a mixture of musical styles, and some you not might expect. It’s very different from his work of the 1970s and 80s, and something of a hidden gem. Each song tells a story about the occupants of an apartment block. It’s a wonderful album.

Living Life in God’s Love

Love it or loathe it, you’ll know that today (14 February) is St Valentine’s Day. It’s a Christian festival, but also a huge marketing opportunity for shops and online retailers. While I was a corps officer and leading worship, it was always helpful when this day fell on a Sunday, and this year (2021) it does just that.

Although there was a Saint Valentine, there are several after whom the day may have been named. I’ll focus on the traditional attribution, but you can find out more here.

Legend has it that the emperor was dismayed that the men of Rome were not enlisting for the army, because they loved their wives and families too much to become soldiers. So he decreed that engagements and marriages were against the law. Valentine was a priest and doctor in Rome, and he refused to obey. He went on marrying young men and women because he believed that was God’s way. He got dragged before the authorities in Rome on 14 February 270 (actual date not known) and, having refused to change his ways, paid the price.

We’ll never know how true the legend is, but Saint Valentine has been associated with this lovers’ festival for many centuries. As Christians, the one love story that we especially celebrate is that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great love for us, he was prepared to sacrifice himself in life and on the cross.

Bible Reading: Ephesians 5:1-20

Paul wrote: […] live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God

The love expressed on Valentine’s Day might be deep and meaningful, it might just be shallow and expected, and it might even be it might be a joke or a bit of fun. But the one thing we can be sure of is that we are all loved with the very love of Jesus. No one deserves it and no one is left out.

None of us are perfect, none of us deserve this love, because we are all flawed human beings. Sometimes we don’t recognise our collective failings, thus making it difficult to cope with human weakness, both in ourselves and others. Sometimes we ascribe sinfulness to others and not to ourselves, it’s the oldest human failing.

Of course, there’s clearly goodness in individuals, but we are all flawed because of our basic humanity. This is a big subject, and the discussion of inherent evil or inherent good is for another time and place.

Christian teaching shows us that we are insignificant and worthless in relation to the universe, but significant and of infinite value to God, even though flawed and without any claim on grace.

Edward Norman has written: The supreme loveliness of the life of Christ exhibited the sacrifice of God himself for creatures who were undeserving. It was not because men and women were good that Christ died for them. How can it have been? On the hills of Galilee and in the desert places of Judea the Saviour had loved those whose lives encouraged no love and inspired no pity. Nothing in human nature has changed, and it is not going to. Jesus came into the world precisely because we were not good, and because we are not capable of self-correction. People today will begin to cope with the evils of existence if only they will bring themselves to accept that their own natures are inherently flawed. And the hand of God himself extends from the cross to lift and save those who reach out to him.

Accepting responsibility for our own sinfulness can open the floodgates of God’s mercy and love in Jesus, and we can be transformed. We can also better accept the sinfulness of others. Although we don’t deserve it, God offers us love through Jesus, and he challenges us to live a life of love in response, loving him, others, and ourselves.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20

On this Valentine’s Day, do we need to give more of ourselves to God? Giving ourselves to him as a fragrant offering and sacrifice? As Rick Warren has written, let’s move from smelling the odour of waste to the bouquet of grace.

Collapsed in Sunbeams (Arlo Parks)

Arlo Parks‘ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams became an instant favourite on first hearing, it stood out as an exceptional piece of work. The album [has] received widespread acclaim, with many music critics praising Parks’ versatility and vulnerability. Wikipedia

She has described the album as a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding her adolescence and the people who shaped it, one that’s rooted in storytelling and nostalgia. It was recorded during the coronavirus lockdown, mining deep-rooted, sometimes traumatic places at a time when the world was crumbling around her.

A universal collection of stories that’ll provide solace for listeners of all ages and backgrounds for decades to come. Her music is like a warm hug, a reassurance that everything is going to be OK when the world is dark and things seem out of control. True to form, her debut album is a sanctuary of compassionate lyricism and groove-along tunes. NME

This is a great album, and well worth a listen. You can see all my favourite albums of 2021 by clicking here.