Into the desert

This blog will be signing off for Lent in just about twelve hours. Talk to you all again after Easter. For those of you who observe it, have a peaceful and holy Lent.

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In Search of Nic Jones

If I was a rich man, I would buy a plane ticket to go to London especially for this event:

In Search of Nic Jones: Saturday May 28th, 2011 at the Southbank Centre, London
With special guests Martin Carthy, Ashley Hutchings, Jim Moray, Pete Coe, Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Chris Coe, Damien Barber, Tony Hall, Belinda O’Hooley, Anais Mitchell and Blair Dunlop.

The current English folk revival owes a lot to Nic Jones. Despite a career-ending car accident nearly 30 years ago, his early recordings have inspired and influenced countless current stars of the folk scene. In this very special concert, produced in association with Sidmouth FolkWeek, some of his biggest fans pay tribute to Nic by sharing their favourites from his repertoire. The highlight of the concert is Nic himself returning to the stage for a reunion of one of his old bands, The Bandoggs.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Nic Jones. You can read Nic’s story here, and a list of available CDs is here; I would especially recommend ‘Penguin Eggs’ and ‘In Search of Nic Jones’. His first four records, from the 70s and 80s, are lost in record company disputes, but if you can find them they are worth their weight in gold, especially ‘The Noah’s Ark Trap’ (1977) and ‘From the Devil to a Stranger’ (1978). You can hear a few sample tracks from the available recordings on Nic’s MySpace page here, but a much more fruitful way to sample his music is to do a YouTube search; there are no actual videos, but a lot of people have married music and images there. And if you like it, please buy it; Nic is no longer able to perform to earn a living, and although pirated music hurts all artists, it’s especially important that Nic gets the proceeds from his music.

On the eve of a very special day for me.

This is another one of those ‘catch up’ posts.

I love winter, but even I’m getting tired of this Edmonton winter. It feels as if we’ve had snow and cold for months on end with very little relief (although, to be fair, we did have a warm spell a few weeks ago). The parking around our neighbourhood has become very congested because we live near one of the new LRT (Light Rail Transit) stations and there is not adequate parking on site, hence commuters use the residential streets around as a free parking lot. That causes congestion at the best of times, but when snow ploughs have left huge wind rows and thereby narrowed the streets considerably it’s even worse. Pox on the whole business! I love winter, but even I am looking forward to spring, snow melting, sunshine, days at the beach, a week camping and hiking in the mountains, sitting on the hill at Gallagher Park for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival…

On Monday night my friend Alex Boudreau and I played a last-minute gig at the Second Cup coffee shop on Gateway Boulevard and 34th Avenue. I say ‘last minute’, because Alex had been booked to play the regular Monday night gig there and he invited me to join him at the last minute. Alex and I used to play music together a lot, but we’ve been doing so less frequently recently. He has been getting more into bluegrass music, and I’ve learned a lot more traditional folk songs since the last time we played together. When we share a gig we do some songs by ourselves and some together, and we joke that ‘we practice live!’ Anyway, we had a really good time and agreed that we should do it again before too long.

Last night a small group of us started a Lent book study at St. Margaret’s; the book we’re using is John Bowen’s The Spirituality of Narnia: the Deeper Magic of C.S. Lewis. In this book John examines the Christian roots of the Narnia series and what it can teach us about spirituality and walking the Jesus Way. There are eight of us involved in the study – six made it out to the first one – and we had a very fine conversation. I’m especially looking forward to the last week of the study when John is going to have a Skype conversation with us about the book.

I’ve conceived a new traditional folk music project, which I call ‘A Folk Song an Hour’ (a play on Jon Boden’s very fine ‘A Folk Song a Day‘ project). The idea is that I will gather a group of people together for four hours on a Saturday afternoon and guarantee to teach them to sing (and play on guitar, if they play) at least four traditional folk songs. The emphasis will be on the words and the tune rather than on guitar artistry, as is only proper with traditional songs. I asked for ten people and twelve have signed up for it; we will be doing it on Saturday May 7th from 1-5 p.m., venue to be announced. There’s room for a couple more, but a maximum of fifteen, so if you’re in the Edmonton area and you’re interested, call me as soon as possible.

Tomorrow at St. Margaret’s we are holding a ‘conversation’ on the difficult subject of war and peace; we’re calling it ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian To Do?’ We will be examining the different ways of interpreting the biblical material (just war, pacifism etc.) and then sharing our own views and listening to one another. Ten of us will be participating in this conversation from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a very timely and important subject and I’m looking forward to it.

Then on Sunday after church we’re having a ‘Giant Omnibus Pancake Event’. This is really a combination of four things: (1) our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, but on the Sunday before instead, (2) an appreciation event for our former administrative assistant who moved on to other things a few months ago, (3) an appreciation event for our many volunteers, and (4) a recruiting event for new volunteers. We expect that a good time will be had by all (and many pancakes consumed!).

Finally, tomorrow (March 5th) is a very special day for me. I was baptized as a baby on December 29th 1958, but on March 5th 1972, with my Dad’s help, I prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus and asking him to live in me. My experience is that praying that prayer (or, rather, God’s answer to that prayer when I prayed it) set the course for the rest of my life in ways I never imagined at the time. My Dad is nearly eighty now, and I will be talking to him some time tomorrow to remind him of that special day. I will always be grateful for his challenge and his encouragement as I began my intentional Christian journey.

Lent is coming

Six days from now is Ash Wednesday, and Lent will begin – an annual season for going out into the desert, metaphorically speaking, away from distractions, in order to pay attention to what God is saying. It’s a season for silence and self-examination, for prayer and self-discipine, for meditating on the Word of the Lord and for being more intentional about learning the Jesus Way.

‘Giving up things for Lent’ doesn’t mean a lot to me, although I know the value of learning to strengthen one’s self-control muscles by practising saying ‘no’ to self.  What does make sense to me, though, is taking regular breaks from things that threaten to become addictions. Internet use and blogging is high on that list for me, so every year in Lent I just give it up. It’s a sort of forty-day silent retreat for me. This year I’m thinking of giving up Facebook too, to make the silence even more complete.

It’s always hard to contemplate giving up the blogosphere as Lent approaches, but I’m always glad I did; I always approach Easter feeling more peaceful, more in tune with what God is saying. Lent always seems to arrive in the nick of time for me spiritually, and I think it’s going to be the same this year. I’m looking forward to it.

I think I’m going to like this book

‘North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent. We are a generation that feels as if it is having to start out from scratch to figure out a way to represent and nurture this richly nuanced and all-involving life of Christ in a country that ‘knew not Joseph”.

– Eugene Peterson: The Pastor: A Memoir, p.4.

Tell it, Eugene! That’s the struggle I live out every day!

The fixed pains of hell

I haven’t read Rob Bell’s new book, for the simple reason that it hasn’t been published yet, and he hasn’t been foolish enough to send me a pre-publication copy to review! However, it’s apparently causing quite a stir, with some evangelicals kicking up a fuss over the possibility of Rob advocating the idea that no one will go to hell and everyone will be saved in the end. Clayboy has weighed in, as has Richard at Connexions, and Maggi Dawn has a very thoughtful post. I find myself in broad agreement with some of Sam’s concerns, although I don’t agree with him that there is no wrath in God. A God who is not angry at evil is not a God I find very admirable.

I’m not going to write a scholarly essay on hell, although it does seem to me that some sort of doctrine of final judgement is the most natural way of making sense of some of the sayings of Jesus (such as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats) (The idea that some people have, that the Old Testament God is all about judgement and Jesus is all about forgiveness and love, can only be sustained by ignoring some of the sayings of Jesus!). I do find myself reminded, however, of two works of art – one humorous and tongue-in-cheek, the other more serious.

Here’s the humorous one:

Here’s the serious one:

God in His mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.
That misery might be stayed,
God in His mercy made
Eternal bounds and bade
Its waves no further swell.
God in his mercy made
The fixed pains of Hell.

(C.S. Lewis)