‘The Enigma Of Nic Jones: Return Of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero’

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I’m really looking forward to seeing this:

Nic Jones is a legend of British folk music. His 1980 album Penguin Eggs was widely acknowledged as a classic and he was poised for international stardom – but a near-fatal car crash in 1982 changed his life forever.

The Enigma Of Nic Jones: Return Of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero tells the story of Nic’s determination to sing again and his return to the stage 30 years later…

…The Enigma Of Nic Jones: Return Of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero will be premiered at the How The Light Gets In Festival on Saturday 1 June as part of BBC Four’s partnership with the festival, with filmmaker Michael Proudfoot introducing the film.

Read the rest here.

Faith and Depression

Incredibly moving blog post from Katharine Welby.

The bible is my key. Reading the psalms (that oh so regularly quoted ‘you can yell at God, look’ book) I find that I don’t need to have hope every second of the day. In my hopelessness I just need to acknowledge that God is bigger than my illness and he will come through – eventually. Not always easy, but always possible. I go back to Job in the bible, again an inspiration, a man in despair, who maintained trust and faith, but not in a squeaky clean ‘all is fine’ kind of way. In fact, I don’t know that I have yet encountered a single person from the bible who did have a ‘everything is fine’ kind of life. So why do we feel we need to?

The church is the place where hope can be found, but this is only possible if the church is willing to accept that life is not always rosy. The stigma around mental health illness – of any kind, must be eradicated. The bible is full of people who screw up, who get miserable, angry, who hurt and who weep. Even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane found life a little too much to bear and pleaded with God.

Read the rest (and there’s plenty of it) here.

On ‘moving into the neighbourhood’

I’m reflecting on John 1:14, which Eugene Peterson translates as ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’. This is God’s way of doing ministry: not shouting the message long distance from heaven, but coming among us as one of us, sharing our struggles and our joys, modelling true life for us so that we can see it and imitate it. This is sometimes called ‘incarnational ministry’.

Incarnational ministry was easier for me when I lived in a small town. After a few years there, I knew everyone and everyone knew me. There were no strangers in the coffee shops and stores; people watched us live out our marriage, raise our kids, and deal with all the struggles that came our way. I spent lots of time with people, one on one as well as in small groups.

It’s easier to hide in the city. It’s easier to go to the office in the morning, run programs, organize things, connect with the Internet, and (as Peterson describes it) ‘run a church’. but the Kingdom of God is not advanced when pastors run churches (which is not to say that someone doesn’t need to run them). The kingdom of God is advanced when the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. The life of Jesus still needs to be lived out before people’s eyes – by pastors, and by the people of a parish. Ministry is up close and personal; it’s not distant and general.

I need to remember this. I know that it’s still possible to do incarnational ministry in the city, but I need to be more intentional about it. It’s easy for my days to get taken up in the details of ‘running a church’ (and, quite frankly, our church structures encourage this). I have to fight hard for time to do good incarnational ministry. But as I read and reflect on John 1:14, I realize again how important it is for me to win that fight.

‘Folk Songs and Renovations’ is here!

IMG_8689My new CD, ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’, arrived from the manufacturer this afternoon. I’m very excited!

Recording was done at the excellent Sound Extractor studios here in Edmonton with the brilliant Mr. Stew Kirkwood at the controls.

I played guitar, cittern, and sing the songs. Alex Boudreau added some additional guitar and mandolin, and also harmony.

Cover photos were by Thomas Brauer, Brian Zahorodniuk, and me. Carrie Day did the lion’s share of the design work on the cover and disc label.

The CD has eleven songs – six originals and five traditional songs (including a couple that I’ve pretty extensively renovated – hence the ‘renovations’ in the title). For more information about the individual tracks go here.

The CDs are selling for $20 each, and in a few days I hope to have them up on CD Baby so that customers from outside Edmonton and overseas can buy them too!

Dallas Willard

In the early 1980s, Richard J. Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline had a huge impact on the evangelical world.

I think it would be fair to describe Foster as an evangelical Quaker, and he wrote for a North American audience that had not paid much attention to classical Christian disciplines such as simplicity, silence, fasting, meditation etc. Indeed, many American evangelicals were suspicious of such an emphasis, because it sounded ‘catholic’ and also smacked of ‘works righteousness’ to them. Nonetheless, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ became a best-seller, and Foster went on to write several other excellent books such as Freedom of Simplicity, Money, Sex, and Power, and Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

In his writings, Foster made a number of references to Dallas Willard. In the foreword to Celebration of Discipline he writes,

It was through the friendship and teaching of Dallas Willard that I first saw the meaning and necessity of the Spiritual Disciplines. For many years he has been my mentor in the Disciplines. His life is the embodiment of the principles in this book.

This was the first I had heard of Dallas Willard, a former Baptist pastor who made anDallas-Willard early move into academia and taught philosophy for nearly fifty years at the University of Southern California.

When Celebration of Discipline first appeared, I don’t think Willard had published anything on the spiritual disciplines or the life of discipleship. However, he has since made up for it. In 1988 he laid the theological and philosophical groundwork for the disciplines in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. He has since published a number of books, including The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, and The Great Omission. They have all focussed on the theme of transformation: how God transforms us into the likeness of Christ.

As John Ortberg says in this article,

Many of us in the church have been impacted by Dallas through his teachings and writings that are often categorized as being about ‘spiritual formation,’ although his real preoccupation and concern was focused on the ‘kingdom of God’, or what he would often speak about as the ‘with-God life.’ He said the four great questions humans must answer are: What is reality? What is the good life? Who is a good person? And How do you became a good person? His concern was to answer those questions, and live the answers, and he was simply convinced that no one has ever answered them as well as Jesus.

Dallas Willard died on Wednesday at the age of 77, and over the past couple of days I’ve found myself reflecting on his influence on me. I was particularly impacted by The Spirit of the Disciplines and The Divine Conspiracy, especially the latter, which includes one of the most brilliant expositions of the Sermon on the Mount I’ve ever read.

Dallas was steering his ship between the two equal and opposing errors of antinomianism and legalism: in other words, between an overemphasis on grace that discounted works altogether on the one hand, and such an overemphasis on works that the result was guilt and a sense of failure on the other. How did he avoid these two obvious pitfalls? By his conviction that if we want to teach people to live like Jesus, we do so not just by focussing on specific actions that Jesus did, but by his overall way of life, which was characterized by what would, in those days, have been common spiritual disciplines such as fasting, solitude, silence, meditation etc. It was Dallas’ contention that Jesus’ communion with the Father through the use of spiritual disciplines enabled him to live as he did. Here are a couple of  quotes from the introduction to The Spirit of the Disciplines:

Christianity can only succeed as a guide for current humanity if it does two things…First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements…Second, it needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation. It must show how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of God, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community…

My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing – by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father.

What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s ways, and service to others…

Dallas believed that this teaching of the way in which humans could actually be transformed – what he called ‘the renovation of the heart’ – was the ‘great omission’ in our presentation of the Gospel today – the ‘teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ of Matthew 28:20. He lamented the fact that while many churches have outreach plans and plans for construction of new buildings, few have a plan for this vital area of teaching true discipleship.

Ask your church, ‘What is our group’s plan for teaching our people to do everything Christ commanded?’ The fact is that our existing churches and denominations do not have active, well-designed, intently pursued plans to accomplish this in their members. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, ch.2).

His later books, especially The Divine Conspiracy and The Renovation of the Heart, went a long way toward addressing this deficiency.

So today, I’m thanking God for the life and teaching of Dallas Willard, a wise guide in the art of human transformation. I expect I’ll spend a lot of time this summer re-reading his books and pondering the question of whether I’ve been as careful as I should be about putting into practice the truths I’ve learned in them. Meanwhile, if you haven’t run across his writings yet, why not dip into them for yourself and see what they have to offer?

Anne Briggs – Willie O Winsbury

Anne Briggs was a huge star on the English folk music scene in the sixties and early seventies, and then dropped out and never really performed very much again. She had listened to the old folk singers – the people who had learned their songs from their parents and grandparents and so on, back through the generations – and she tried to model her style on theirs.

Most of her early songs are sung unaccompanied, but I think this one is accompanied by a bouzouki.

More about Anne Briggs here and here.

More about Willie O Winsbury here.

A God Without Wrath – and a people who ignore copyright laws

There’s a rather vigorous conversation going on right now in the Anglican blogosphere about wrath – God’s wrath, to be precise. You can read about it here, here, here, here, here, and in a number of posts here.

I’m not going to jump into it, because I think that, like most Internet theological arguments, it will go on and on interminably and no one’s mind will be changed. It will involve ad hominem attacks, caricatures (i.e. the idea that the wrathful God is an Old Testament bogeyman banished by Jesus, when in fact, as C.S. Lewis pointed out somewhere, all the most terrifying texts about punishment in the New Testament are on the lips of Jesus himself!), people flinging favourite texts and favourite theological ideas at each other, and so on.

I do, however, have two comments to make that are vaguely connected.

The first is that I was strongly reminded of a quote I heard again this week from Richard Niebuhr’s 1938 book ‘The Kingdom of God in America’, in which he describes the message he heard in American Protestant pulpits as follows:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross”.

Niebuhr was certainly no Conservative Evangelical, but he recognized the religion he heard preached in American Protestantism as a weak, anaemic shadow of true biblical Christianity. I would suggest that Niebuhr’s observation is even more relevant in our day, when a vague, therapeutic deism has largely replaced the full-blooded Theism of historic Christianity, bringing with it a God (or ‘god’) who above all else would never dream of making us feel bad.

I would also suggest that if God is not angry at the monsters who abduct children and turn them into child soldiers, or the rapists who destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, or the military dictators who kill thousands without conscience, or the complacent rich who live in comfort while the majority of the world lives in poverty (I am of course a member of that statistic), then God is not worth bothering about. The God who could not be angry at these monstrosities is a God who loves us too little, not a God who loves us too much.

My second comment concerns the utter disregard of copyright and/or authorial intent that some Christians appear to be exercising here. I’m a songwriter myself, so this cause is dear to my heart. Some of my songs have theological themes, and I would be quite disturbed (in the unlikely event that some of my songs ever became worship classics) if people I had never met took it into their heads to amend my lyrics because they didn’t agree with my theology. If you don’t agree with my theology, don’t sing the song!

However, this is apparently happening with regard to ‘In Christ Alone’. Bosco Peters (the Kiwi Anglican blogger who got this whole thing going) talks on his site about one way the song has been amended:

Till on that cross where Jesus died
the love of God was magnified.

Other commenters on his site suggest:

Till on that cross where Jesus died
the arms of love were opened wide.

or,

Till on the cross where Jesus died
the love of God was glorified.

…and so on. To which I reply, in the strongest possible terms, it is illegal to amend the words of a copyrighted song without the permission of the copyright owner. My understanding is that the authors of this song have not given permission for their words to be amended. Therefore, you have two simple choices: sing it as they wrote it, or don’t sing it at all.