A Reminder About ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’

a0519677708_2Good morning music lovers!

This is just a reminder that it’s very easy to buy your own personal copy of my CD, ‘Folk Songs and Renovations’. It includes six of my own original songs and five traditional folk songs which I have arranged and ‘renovated’. They are accompanied by me, playing guitar and cittern, with additional guitar and mandolin work on three tracks by my long-time friend and musical collaborator, Alex Boudreau.

If you want to buy a physical copy of the CD, go to my site at CD Baby. Alternatively, if you live in Edmonton, you can stroll down to Blackbyrd Myoozik and ask for it!

If you want to download a digital copy, you have lots of options: iTunes, CD Baby, or Bandcamp.

Generally speaking, physical copies of the CD sell for $20. Digital copies are $9.99, and individual tracks sell digitally for $0.99.

To check out the lyrics and background information about each song, go to the Folk Songs and Renovations site at Blogger here.

This CD has a very simple, stripped down sound, much like you’d hear if you came out to one of my gigs or heard me playing at an open stage. It was recorded at Sound Extractor Studios in Edmonton with Stew Kirkwood at the controls; album cover photos are by Thomas Brauer, Brian Zaharodniuk, and myself, and album design by Carrie Day. I’m very proud of this CD, and I think anyone who enjoys acoustic folk music would like it. But you don’t have to take my word for it! If you visit the Bandcamp site, they’ll let you play all the way through every track for free!

Elevator Speech Witness

From Malcolm over at Simple Massing Priest:

The latest Acts8 idea is for Christians to create their own Elevator Speech about their faith and their faith community. The idea (which originally comes from marketing and professional networking) is to have a brief explanation of who you are and what you are about that can be delivered in the time between getting on an elevator with someone and the point where the door opens again and one of you exits. The elevator doesn’t need to cover everything, but it should cover the essentials and give the listener some sense of why they might want to pursue things further. Some say the speech should be no more than 250 words. I think 250 assumes a much taller building than most of the ones we have here in Regina.

Malcolm’s offering is in his blog post. Here’s my attempt.

I’m a Christian, which means that I believe that God, who created absolutely everything that exists, loved this world so much that he came to live among us as one of us; that’s who Jesus is. God was like the author of a story who, at a certain point in time, decided to write himself into his story as one of the characters, to show them what he is like and to save them from the mess they had made of his story. We believe that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus show us that God loves us so much he accepts us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there.

To become a baptized Christian is to join the community who believe that Jesus shows us what God is like and what human life is meant to be like. Together we’re learning to see life as Jesus sees it and to live life as he taught it. As we do that, we’re participating in a gradual process of transforming the world. God has promised us that one day this process will be complete, and the world will be restored to the glory and wonder he had in mind when he first created it.

Our community gathers each week to pray, to learn, and to support each other as followers of Jesus. We then go out to spread the love of God by our words and our actions.

Anyone else care to give it a try?

All or Nothing

We live in an increasingly perfectionistic world, in which media go after politicians and other public figures for every little weakness and inconsistency. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace (God’s unconditional love for us), then I think that this is one of the times in history when that gospel message is most sorely needed.

I frequent ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ from time to time. It’s a rather interesting name, in itself something of a judgement on people who take a different view : “We’re thinkers, those who disagree with us are not”. Statistically, it soon becomes patently obvious that the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ really like thinking about two subjects: same-sex marriage and the ordination of women as priests and bishops. The majority of their posts are related to these two subjects (they advertise themselves on Google as blogging ‘from a liberal Anglican perspective covering news, documents, and events that affect church people’, but apparently church people are mainly affected by these two subjects).

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘Thinking Anglicans’, though, is that many of the folks who comment there have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude toward the Christian faith of others. For many of them, homosexuality is their big issue, and that’s perfectly understandable to me, given the trauma that many have been put through. What bothers me, however, is the sort of attitude that says, “Well, I know you work for peace in the world and you give generously to support refugees and former child soldiers and all that, but all that means nothing because you still oppose marriage equality, so you’re actually a hypocrite and a fraud. It’s all or nothing, my friend!”

Of course, this attitude is not limited to ‘Thinking Anglicans’. Over the years, many of my pacifist friends have described themselves as ‘consistently pro-life’; in other words, they are opposed not only to abortion, but also to capital punishment and war. This description is, of course, aimed at right-wing Christians who get all bent out of shape about abortion but don’t seem to lose any sleep at all about the horrors of capital punishment and war (I would describe myself as consistently pro-life, actually). But of course, the phrase can easily become a judgement on those who don’t see the world as we do. Once again, they must be hypocrites and frauds.

Well, here’s the news, folks: the world is full of hypocrites and frauds. At no time in my life have I managed to achieve perfect consistency between my beliefs and my actions. Nor have I managed to perfectly align myself with someone else’s manifesto or ideology; I’ve always been able to see the weak point of any argument (especially my own), and I tend to be a maverick about what I accept and what I don’t accept. Which means that people are always going to see me as inconsistent.

But isn’t that the way we grow in Christ – one step at at time? In the eighteenth century lots of lovely Christians saw nothing inconsistent about being Christian and owning slaves. To this day, the vast majority of Christians see nothing inconsistent about being Christian and putting on the uniform of your country and killing Christians who have put on the uniform of their country just because the state tells you that they’re your enemies. And there are probably many other blind spots that we have.

We all, as Paul put it, ‘see through a glass darkly’. None of us sees the whole truth and the whole picture. I’m sure there are many things that I get wrong. But wouldn’t it be a better idea for me to rejoice when I find myself walking in step with people over some issues, rather than lambasting them for the times when we’re still out of step? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with the gospel of grace? Wouldn’t it be loving others as Christ has loved us?

I think so. But then, I might be wrong about that too!

I’m on the Celtic Show Friday Night

I’m a big fan of Andy Donnelly’sCeltic Show‘ on CKUA radio, so it’s a great thrill for me to have the opportunity to be on the show Friday night. I’ll be on between 6.30 and 7.00 p.m., playing a few songs and having what Andy calls ‘a bit of blather’.

It’s actually a bit of a hoot as I often make it quite clear to people that I’m not really a Celtic musician. I do that because most people in North America don’t know the difference between English, Irish and Scottish traditional folk music. My stuff is mainly English; the Scots and Irish are Celtic, although occasionally I do steal a few of their songs.

Anyway, if you’re in Edmonton you can listen in at 94.9 FM. If you’re elsewhere in Alberta, I’m not sure where to find it on your FM dial, but it’s probably not hard for you to find out. If you’re in the rest of the world, listen in at http://www.ckua.com – but remember that they don’t archive their shows, so you have to listen live. In England it’s still six hours’ time difference (it will be seven after Saturday night), so I’ll be on just after half past midnight.

‘All the important things have happened by surprise’

Jayber Crow, the barber of Port William, looks back on his life near the end of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry:

‘And so I came to belong to this place on the river just as I had come to belong to Port William – as in a way, of course, I still do belong to Port William.  Being here satisfies me. I have no thought of going away. If I knew for sure that I would die here, I would be glad. And yet definite as all this is, it seems surrounded by the indefinite, like a boat in a fog. I can’t look back from where I am now and feel that I have been very much in charge of my life. Certainly I have lived on the edge of the Port William community, and I am farther than ever out on the edge of it now. But I feel that I have lived on the edge even of my own life. I have made plans enough, but I see now that I have never lived by plan. Any more than if I had been a bystander watching me live my life, I don’t feel that I have ever been quite sure what was going on. Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise. All the important things have happened by surprise. And whatever has been happening usually has already happened before I have had time to expect it. The world doesn’t stop because you are in love or in mourning or in need of time to think. And so when I have thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been only on the edge of it, carried along. Is this because we are in an eternal story that is happening partly in time?’

I think Jayber Crow may just be the most enjoyable book I have ever read.

Malcolm is back

After a few months of slow blogging (we all go through that from time to time), it’s great to see that my blogging friend Malcolm French is back in the saddle, giving us food for thought every day (and I mean every day; he’s taken up daily blogging as a Lenten discipline this year). As he said of me in a recent post, our journeys have been different and we disagree from time to time, but I usually find good food for thought in what he has to say. I particularly enjoyed a recent post on ‘Experimenting with Prayer‘ as I’m currently doing some experimenting myself; after years of a fairly individualistic prayer life, I’m now into my second year of sharing my morning prayer time each day with Marci, and we’re both really enjoying it.

Malcolm is pretty passionate about some of the causes he believes in, including socialist politics (which I agree with) and the movement to stop the Anglican Covenant (which I’m less enthusiastic about). But he’s also pretty passionate about his ministry as parish priest of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Malcolm’s blog is called Simple Massing Priest, and I’m glad to point some traffic in his direction.

Pacing the Cage

I’ve loved this Bruce Cockburn song ever since I first heard it. I can just see the old tiger in my mind’s eye, walking back and forth behind the bars, wanting to get out but having almost given up hope that it will ever happen. It’s not a song that many young people could write; it comes from years of struggle to hold together the shining ideals we strive for and the harsh, broken reality of life in a world shot through with imperfection and evil.

For me, this is not first of all about sitting in judgement on the world around. There’s more than enough imperfection and evil in my own heart for me to be going along with. I don’t have to read the gospels for very long before I’m confronted with example after example of how I’ve fallen short of the very teachings of Jesus that fire my imagination and inspire my discipleship. Yes, it’s true that I live in a fairly modest house and at a fairly modest level of luxury, but I’m still a long way away from selling my possessions, giving to the poor, and following Jesus with a whole heart and a single mind. Yes, it’s true that I do my best to live in peace with my fellow human beings, but there are still unspoken resentments and unforgiven grudges, and I’m certainly a long way from loving my enemies and praying for those who hate me. Yes, it’s true that I work as a pastor in the Christian church, but so often my work is half-hearted, and I take the easy road more times than I care to remember.

I guess everyone who’s lived into their fifties catches themselves from time to time looking back nostalgically at the days of their youth and wondering what happened to all that innocence and idealism. Yes, we were going to live off the land in the countryside, with next-to-no carbon footprint, growing vegetables and singing folk songs with unamplified acoustic guitars. We were going to live a simple life and care for the poor and needy. We were so thankful to have experienced the presence of God and the power of the gospel of Jesus, and we were going to share it with others and help them become Jesus’ followers too. Church was going to be simple, without the trappings of tradition and clericalism and power and pretentiousness.

I’m not inclined to sit in judgement on that youthful idealism. Yes, it failed to take into account our own sinfulness and the power of entrenched evil in the fallen world around us. And yes, some of the answers offered were overly simplistic and unrealistic. But then, isn’t that how the words of Jesus themselves sometimes sound to worldly and world-weary ears? Are we going to sit in judgement on him as a youthful idealist? Are we going to say, as an old Scottish lady apparently once said after her pastor preached about the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Our Lord was a very young man when he preached that sermon!’?

So I find myself asking, how did a movement which began with volunteer missionaries joyfully going around the Mediterranean world at their own expense, planting churches with little structure and no buildings, end up as a huge organization that frequently needs multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns to sustain the sort of mission it believes in? How did a movement which foreswore violence end up blessing battleships and praying for success against the enemy? How did a movement which warned of the dangers of clericalism (see Matthew 23:1-12) become so totally dependent on professional ministers, (in many cases dressing them up as gorgeously as wannabe Roman bureaucrats)?

Is this the kind of church Jesus had in mind? More to the point, am I the kind of Christian Jesus had in mind?

Yes, I know that God is gracious and merciful, and that throughout the long history of his dealings with human beings he has shown himself to be more than willing to work with flawed and imperfect people and flawed and imperfect institutions. But am I supposed to make peace with my own compromises, and institutionalize something that so often seems to be in contradiction to the sort of Christian community envisioned in the pages of the New Testament – even though their practice of it, like ours, was also flawed?

So yes,

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you’ve lived too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage
Pacing the cage
Pacing the cage

Superpower accommodation

‘There is always a particular temptation faced by the church when it is hosted by a superpower. The temptation is to accommodate itself to its host and to adopt (or even christen) the cultural assumptions of the superpower. This is nothing new; the long history of the church bears witness to the reality and seductive power of this temptation’.

– Brian Zahnd, ‘Beauty Will Save the World