things jesus didn’t say #5 | third

16 04 2014

I will die, and on the third day nothing important will happen.

Of course he didn’t say that. I will die, and on the third day I will rise again. That is what he said. And did. That matters.


The same goes for Peter. For Paul. Not the birds. The resurrection is the key.  

The weird thing is, to hear a lot of us speak, and to read our theology (you might know them as songs), it’s like the third day isn’t so important. Especially in the evangelical world, our songs are distinctly lacking in explicit resurrection theology. There are many songs about the blood of jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, the death of Jesus. But the resurrection?

I recognise that often we use these phrases as a kind of shorthand. When we say we are ‘saved by the death/blood/sacrifice of Jesus’, what we mean is by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The trouble is, shorthand rapidly becomes the norm, and then nobody remembers it’s shorthand. Resurrection needs death before it; death does not need resurrection after it. 

I challenge you to search out contemporary songs for explicit mention of the resurrection. There are a few notable ones that do, but most? They read like loose sacrifice-themed Old Testament-lite: the death of a lamb, the death of Jesus, it’s all the same. No, because Jewish sacrifices a) weren’t God (obviously), but also 2) they did not rise from the dead, bringing future hope into present day.

This Easter my challenge is to re-train our shorthand to talk of the resurrection of Jesus, not his death. Not to take it as a given, because to anyone new to church it certainly isn’t taken as a given. Anyone can claim their hero has died, and in doing so been a motivating influence; but very few claim the bold, the scandalous, the outrageous and the bonkers claim to resurrection.

The third day is not an afterthought, an added extra, after the serious business of Friday and Saturday. Resurrection Sunday is the centre of our faith. It defines who we are. Let’s keep it that way.

Further reading:

From me: The Provocative Resurrection,  The Provocative Resurrection 2: This World Matters, Suffocating the Resurrection

From Ian Paul: Resurrection

Song suggestions:

See What a Morning (Resurrection Hymn)

More Than Conquerers

The Same Power

And finally, a lesson in theology and poetry from the master:


some things cost more than you realise

15 05 2013

This is a video commissioned by Muse and MTV Exit as an initiative against human trafficking. 

It is easy to think it happens somewhere else. Next week I am going to a conference in nearby Croydon called Preventing Modern Slavery/Human Trafficking in Croydon. Because it happens on my doorstep. And yours too. And we wear it. Some things cost more than we realise. 

For more information about human trafficking see Stop the Traffik or YCAT. Because people shouldn’t be bought and sold, and slaves should be free. If it’s works in your community, use this video to spread the word.  

danny boyle, new lord of the rings

29 07 2012

Every now and then an event comes along that is such a surprise, so counter-cultural and so unusually risk-taking that you are left almost speechless. One by one the surprises came. Frank Turner? He of the ranty acoustic-punk with a song in his repertoire called Thatcher F-—d the Kids? Dizzee Rascal? The Arctic Monkeys? Underworld? And that’s just the music.

The Opening Ceremony was a triumph. For so many reasons.

In an era of corporate anti-risk taking, everyone else would have plumped for Gary Barlow coordinating a medley of cheap easy-pop: you know, Jessie J, JLS, with Katherine Jenkins definitely singing Abide With Me. Instead Danny Boyle took popular but raw acts, singing songs that would be unknown to many but are an important part of contemporary pop culture. Many would have hated it. I thought it was genius. That’s called taking a risk.

In an era of feel-good fizz & bubble celebrations in which the audience are not expected to think, a trip through British history would have included the Royal Family, a bit of Shakespeare, some Commonwealth and lots of jingoistic Rule Britannia-type flag-waving. And maybe a Mini. Instead Danny Boyle included the trauma of the Industrial Revolution, the Jarrow March, the Suffragettes, the Windrush, and a celebration of the NHS… amazing. That is called taking a risk. Is he friends with Christopher Nolan?

Most significantly of all, in the middle of all that I have hated about the build-up to these Games, this Opening Ceremony felt like 2 fingers up to the IOC. Why? Because the IOC are all about elitistism in its worse sense. What we have seen with their blackmailed demands to London has been despicable: tax-free profits for massive corporations, traffic-free lanes for IOC members (they are NOT for athletes – no athlete has to get across London in 20 minutes), and the Brand Protection Police ensuring that no-one can benefit from the Games except the IOC and their ‘partners’. God forbid a local shopkeeper should make an extra few quid. 

a new ring is forged

Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony was about people who live in the real world. It was an epic social history about change and development and its impact on people. It put on centre-stage those the IOC would ignore: miners, immigrants, protestors for the rights of the marginalised. The NHS. 

As a story, the Opening Ceremony had echoes of Lord of the Rings. The destruction of the countryside for factories and mines was part of Tolkien’s message with Saruman’s mines and the revenge of the Ents, and the forging of the (Olympic) Rings of Power. But those with the power and the money don’t always win. Beware the little people. The Hobbits are coming.

The Ceremony felt like a social history including the little people. From the grand vision of the set to the quirky humour, this wasn’t highbrow culture but captured what the Olympic Spirit should be. Which is so far from where the IOC is. Yes it was somewhat chaotic. Yes some of it went over most of the world’s heads. And a lot may have felt like an in-joke. But it celebrated those under the radar, which is surely what the Olympics is all about.

Jacques Rogge take note. There is a new lord of the rings. The real Olympics have begun.

This is Aiden Reynolds. He lit the torch.

I know I said I wasn’t blogging. I couldn’t help it – the ceremony blew me away!

church in the wild

13 06 2012

Human being to the mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive
All right, all right
No church in the wild

So begins this collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West. This song and video, called No Church in the Wild, are a window into youth culture, philosophy and theology. There are name checks for  Pious, Socrates, Plato and Jesus, who said so much and contributed so much to our underlying stories and are the foundations on which our culture have been built… and yet… the song shows the nihilism of those who believe nothing. Nothing.

I live by you, desire
I stand by you, walk through the fire
Your love is my scripture

We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission’
And deception is the only felony
So never f–k nobody wit’out tellin’ me

The religion is the one where we do what we want; the irony is that in a rebellion against controlling religion that restricts us, it is replaced with a power-play gang culture where the strongest are in charge, the bullies are the decision-makers and the point of life is… is… [insert cliche here: sex, drugs…]

If “there no sin as long as there’s permission”, then there is no inherent value in humanity; we are not simply what we do or who we have sex with, we are not just bodies to have experiences with. We are worth more than that, and our bodies are connected to our souls in a far deeper way than this nihilism allows.

When you watch the video, which you must, you see the realism and the glamorising of riots, of fighting back against… against… authority? the police? But who do they represent? They represent what we as adults have given them. Distrust – even anger – against authority. Rage against the machine. The baby boomers who took the money, invested it all for themselves and when it crashed they kept theirs and left the young to pay the price.

The youth are angry. And they don’t know what to do with it. And that is where the church should be. Because where they are is a wild place. No rules, no backstory, no past or future. There is only now.  Jay-Z and Kanye say there’s no church in the wild? Why would they expect there to be?

Well there is, or there ought to be. So let’s go, church. Let’s be in the wild place. Let’s feel their anger and their hopelessness and let’s give them an alternative to nihilism and rage and nothingness. That alternative might not look like church as we know it, but we are not about church but about Jesus.

Everything looks different in the wild. Even church.

Lyrics taken from

time for plan b

25 05 2012

Pop music at the moment is so anaemic, there may be a few good tunes but considering the economic and political situation we are in, where are the protest songs? The dominance of blandness, mass-market acceptability and the chance of being covered on the X-Factor means they are largely absent from the radio.

Well, finally maybe we have one. It’s not pretty, and it may not be right, but isn’t it time for political class-system rant? It’s the undercover genius of rapper Plan B, watch and see what you think.

Stick at it even if its not usually your thing. He was interviewed today on the Today programme on Radio 4 if that helps you justify a cheeky bit of hip hop. Full lyrics available here if you want to sing along. Turn up the volume as well. Protest songs should never be quiet. 

This link is a bit temperamental so here’s Plan b’s myspace to watch there.

or on Jools Holland here

many of horrors. many of love.

21 12 2010

So Matt Cardle’s shabby soft-pop croony karaoke X Factor song is number 1. Some people will settle for anything. We really will. Pale imitations of the real thing. Either because we’re lazy, or don’t expect to receive anything better, or don’t realise there is better out there. Of course this can apply to lots of things, from Tesco’s water-filled chicken to cheap chocolate to, of course, music.

biff this

No-one expects the X Factor to work miracles; nobody really expects the X Factor to be about music – it is after all a pantomime entertainment show on which contestants and performers and judges are scripted, guided and if there’s a danger they might get it wrong, they are auto-tuned or made to mime. But it’s good fun (at times!), and it keeps people who made flashy lights and ‘cheer spontaneously now’ cards in business.

What really gets me though is the lack of effort at the end. The song is always, and without fail, awful. A damp squib, a pathetically lazy, badly thought-through pile of poo. What should be the climax of 6 months of being taught to sing by Sinita and to dance by an aerobics teacher ends up as the most bland and boring performance of the lot. It shouldn’t happen. After all the effort that goes into different song styles, into finding the ‘unique’ thing – shall we say the X Factor – of the winner, all they do is a cover version. This year at least the cover is of a decent song, but they might as well say Matt Cardle has won, now go and buy Many of Horrors by Biffy Clyro to celebrate. As soon as he has won, Matt Cardle is pointless. An irrelevance.

biffy clyro

Even so, maybe we can turn this into something good each Christmas. Maybe we can use the disappointment of a feeble unimaginative cover version every year as a reminder that Christmas isn’t about being feeble and unimaginative at all but is about wonder and beauty and creativity. Maybe we can even find ourselves at the point where we thank the X Factor for showing us each year that there is another way to live, another way to do Christmas; we can thank them for being all that we don’t want to be in order that we can be who we are meant to be.  Beautiful. Orginal. Unique. No pale imitations, no shabby cover versions. Us, and our creator God.

No longer many of horrors, but many of love.

Maybe, just maybe.

sacred space invaders

26 03 2010

What space is who’s and who‘s space is what’s? I mean, what space is ours and what is theirs, whoever they are? And whoever we are.

There’s a new viral Facebook campaign called Invade the Airwaves, a campaign to get a Christian song to number 1 for Easter Sunday. It follows from the success of the Christmas campaign in 2009 to defeat the evil Roman chart occupation of Simon Cowell.

I think this is quite interesting. Despite some reservations about the idea, I have signed up for it. After all, it will only cost 79p.

Reservations? Well, it is only a good idea as part of a whole-life being transformed, that means a whole life with God having invaded our space, rather than us invading everyone else‘s. It is only a good idea of we don’t think that people will hear it and be converted. It is only a good idea if we recognise it won‘t get played by major radio stations except maybe once in the chart show, and that we don’t mind if that is the case. It is only a good idea of we hold it loosely and don’t expect it to make Tinie Tempah suddenly live a very very very holy lifestyle, and have so many Bibles he keeps some at his aunts house. Musical Jesus-bombs may be easy to lob, but won’t change a lot.

I have to hold it loosely because there are some underlying assumptions I am a bit uncomfortable with. That the airwaves are ‘theirs’, and ‘we’ must reclaim them. That to grow the kingdom of God we must invade, rather than transform. That there are no songs in the charts that speak of love and hope and fear and pain and death and spiritual realities. Ok, they may be few and far between, but for every pointless 3 minutes of Cheryl Cole (except Fight for This Love, that was ok…) there’s a Mumford or a Lady Gaga or a Robbie or an Athlete or a myriad of other people who say profound things. They may just be a bit harder to find. So try. Everything is spiritual.

So join the Facebook campaign, buy the song (the right version!), give Reggie something to think about on Easter Sunday at 6.50pm. But make sure it doesn’t make you feel like you’ve done your bit, that this is all we need to do, and that being a part of transforming and redeeming the world costs only 79p. And this song should make us especially clear about that. It is lives changing that make lives change. A change of fast, a loosening of chains and a release from oppression. Jesus overthrew the human empire not by invading but by sacrificial and painful and incarnational love. Maybe we should do the same with the Simon Cowell and the demons of bland sex-obsessed pop. Take up our cross. Not just our downloads. But at least together we can start there, because joining together for something is a point in itself. And there’s money in it for CompassionArt.

And we can be grateful its not a Michael W. Smith song.

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hear the drummer (get wicked)

1 02 2010

Many of you know that occasionally I stray from the narrow path that leads to salvation, and wander on the broad road that leads to destruction. I can’t help it. The temptations are near, the daisies are so pretty. I know it is not what the Lord intends. But sometimes, just sometimes, I dance with the idea of straying from the drums – the one, true, holy instrument – and play the guitar. I mentioned this in an earlier post, and suffice to say the Lord has brought me back form the dark valley of g-strings, tuners and plectrums, and led me once more to the babbling brook of  beats. I will still occasionally stray. I still want to play guitar. But for now, the drummer in me has come home.

beat dis

Yesterday I was sitting in a large hall where 3 drum kits were being played at once. All at different times. All by beginners. All loudly. Can there be a more beautiful noise? Ok, yes there can. Nevertheless… Why was I there? A mentoring project for young people, teaching the drums and the didjereedoo. Yes, that’s right. Why? Because in learning these, you learn so much more. Skill, coordination, rhythm, teamwork, listening. Counting to 4. Connecting with the inner rhythm we all possess. If you don’t believe me, try to stop your heart beating. Or try to stop breathing. Ok, don‘t actually do that. We all have built in metronomes. No, not urban gnomes, but the still small voice of the sustainer of life. Stop, and listen.

What I took from yesterday though was this. As I sat with one young person, showed them the rhythm, and they tried it, they could not do it. The arms were tense, the foot was out of time, the coordination was all over the place. And every time they mucked up, they looked at me. For what? I think they were expecting to be told off, or laughed at, or to be given up on. Hah – no chance!

Well done, you can do it. Take a deep breath, and start again. I’ll count for you. One, two, one and two, one, two, one and two.  Start with just the hi-hat on one and two, then put the bass drum in on one. And when you’re ready, the snare in on two. Don’t worry, let’s try again. Take a breath, hit the floor tom hard, and we’ll go again. You did it once! Well done! Now let’s go for twice. I can’t. Yes you can. My arms won’t do it. Yes they will. Here, jump up and I’ll show you. Right, count with me. Your go. Excellent! In 10 minutes, they went from can’t do it, to a continuous repetition of 7 times. Is that a lot? For them, oh yes. Brilliant!

hear the drummer (get wicked)

What I learnt from this was something profound for me about leadership. Jesus’ model is not to dominate, not to humiliate, not to give up; and also, not to expect miracles on day one. Sitting alongside, affirming, encouraging. And not doing it all. There’s no way someone will learn the drums if you never give them the sticks. There’s no way someone will learn anything if they are constantly told they can’t. The disciples are an example. Many times we see them misunderstand, ask questions, get it wrong. Yes, sometimes Jesus got frustrated. But he always led by example. Even when he knew they would desert him, he washed their feet and affirmed them. And after his resurrection, he cooked for them. For me, that is Jesus teaching the drums. And occasionally doing a brilliant freak-out solo. Jesus was a drummer, and he rocked.

We all muck up in life. It is how we are. As leaders, how we respond to mucking up ourselves, and how we respond to others mucking up, is so important. Character-defining, in fact. As people begin walking the way of Jesus, we count for them. One, two, one and two. When they can, they join in. We sit with them, as they muck up and look to us, what look do we give them? Disappointment, hopelessness, boredom… do we move on to someone who will develop quicker? That can be the temptation. Or do we take a deep breath, smile, and affirm. Start again, from the top.

Who counts for you, when you need it?

One, two.

Noisy it may be. 3 drum kits in one room. Three rhythms competing for attention. That is a picture of the wonderful, beautiful chaos of  leading others in following Jesus. Life is not a solo. Sometimes its not a symphony. It’s a cacophony. Here, the drummer gets wicked. One, two…

Southwark Cathedral was packed out

a speck in the eye of the tiger

11 12 2009

eye of the Tiger?

There’s nothing the tabloids love more than a squeaky-clean celebrity beginning his fall from grace. And Tiger is beginning to fall. The pedastal is rocking, the ex-girlfriends and (alleged) mistresses are finding their way to a pay-check on US TV, TAG Heur have already removed his image from their website. Apparently a naughty golfer is bad for business in the world of expensive watches. Maybe Gillette will even shave him off the worst razor adverts ever.

Of course there’s an argument for saying he put himself up there, he chooses to market himself on his image, so when it turns out to be a bit of a sham, or at least a little exaggerated, we have a right to point and laugh. Is there? Should we rather laugh at ourselves for (yet again) being taken in by an image, a brand – especially if any of us thought we’d buy a TAG Heur “because Tiger Woods advertises them, and he seems like a nice guy”.  He’s just a guy, a guy thrown into the world of the super-rich, where money and girls (and drugs…) are thrown at you, where your every move is watched for signs of cracks (or crack?). The pressure is unimaginable. Though of course, he can expect little sympathy from us, mere mortals, because he is very rich. And presumably, a bit dull, because he plays golf all day.

It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the cream of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all in the eye of the tiger

eye of the tiger

In a strange kind of lyrical reversal, this classic 1980’s song by Survivor sort of sums it up, except the tabloids are the stalkers, the tigers seeking their prey to devour, watching Tiger with the eye of the tiger.

We don’t need to get involved. We don’t need to feed the tiger that hunts the Tiger. Every time we buy the magazine, join in the conversation, jump on the pedastal-tipping bandwagon, we reinforce the values that say that it is ok. It’s dog-eat-dog, he’s had it good, let’s bash ’em whilst we can. No. There is another way. And it involves more puns.

Jesus said something like “before you point out the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, take out the plank of wood from your own”. I have no particular affection for Tiger Woods. I cannot stand golf. Golf courses take up valuable land that could be run on. But I do believe that Jesus was onto something radical here. He was obviously part of a judgemental culture too.  A culture that liked to judge and point and make themselves feel better by pointing out the shortcoming of others. And in our culture, it is not just the religious who are the Pharisees. Everyone is at it. If we join in, we become them. If we ignore it, we allow it to grow. Do we want to be the Pharisee loudly praying on the street corner, mocking others who are ‘worse’? I would hope not. But so easily we are.

May we, when living our ordinary everyday lives and looking at those living extraordinary everyday lives, may we be the ones who remove the plank of wood from our own eye first, before pointing out the speck in the eye of the Tiger.

(This does not apply to cheesy 1980’s rock songs from Rocky films. There is no plank here.  Sit back and enjoy!)

the mysterious bodies of robbie williams

11 10 2009

There is the exciting, the dramatic, the wonderful. There is the tragic, the desperate, the dangerous. Then there is the in-between. The mundane. The ordinary. Which is probably what happens to most of us, most of the time. Maybe it is what we do with the mundane that defines how we lives our lives. One thing we can do with the mundane, the imperfect, the ordinary, is to pretend it is something more. Because after all, the mundane is a bit… mundane.

Spot the hype?

Spot the hype?

The X Factor is a great example. It turns a pretty mundane singing contest into something dramatic, over-powering, so stuffed full of hype and bright lights, loud music, choreographed cheering, enthusiastic voice-overs and scripted fall-outs between the judges that it appears to be exciting – and, if you like that sort of thing, actually becomes exciting. Is exciting.

Appearing on the X Factor and performing his new single “Bodies” was Robbie Williams. I like Robbie – he is on my list of interesting people to have dinner with. The over-hyped introduction seemed pointless because he needs no hype. He is cheeky, vulnerable and likeable, a born performer, and at his best definitely has the X factor so many crave.

So what is his new single about then? Called “Bodies”, the memorable riff is the unexpected variations of questioning whether Jesus really died for me. The song itself at first seems to be a version of the X Factor skill, making the mundane seem fantastic; in Robbie’s case, make something that is meaningless seem to be profound. However, looking at it further, there is actually something deep there, something of meaning that isn’t actually unexpected, coming as it does from the tortured soul of Robbie.

The X factor

The X factor

The bridge contains the key: “All we’ve ever wanted/Is to look good naked/Hope that someone can take it/God save me rejection/From my reflection/I want perfection.” The song journals his quest for purity, for peace, for a return to a “garden of Eden” or Buddhist-enlightenment-lite idealism where everything is good.

In the first verse he has seen the good things, and they have been taken away. In the second verse he is enjoying “living like a deity”, and he is not sure if it is anything to do with Jesus or not. The chorus refers to the Bodhi tree, sacred in Buddhism as the tree of enlightenment that the Buddha sat under. Then comes the bridge, about wanting to look good naked. I think Robbie has always wanted to be accepted for who he is; he has that need we all have for unconditional acceptance. He wants perfection; he wants his reflection to be perfect. Not ordinary. Not mundane. But perfect. His reference to Jesus dying for him is about that – he doesn’t feel healed, perfect, restored, so what was Jesus’ death all about?

compost of transforming life

compost of transforming life

Did Jesus die for him? I would say: of course he did. He would love to take and transform Robbie’s life – and ours – turning the mundane and ordinary, the painful and the tragic into something that is good, perfect – in religious language, sanctified. That does indeed come through Jesus death, and his resurrection. Not that we live like a deity; not that we reach some sort of divine enlightenment under a Bodhi tree; not that we become a part of God. But that we have the Spirit of God living in us, who transforms our lives like the gardeners compost, turning the dead and decaying into fresh, new life. Not raptured, as he sings in verse three, but transformed. That happens only as we also sacrifice, as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. In the Bible, it is called dying to self. It cannot come simply by wishing it to be true, but by earthy, sacrificial living. Then we can show off our beautiful new transformed and renewed bodies. In the power of the Spirit, that is true life.

Let’s hope this goes to number one – profound questions like these, mysterious as they are, should feature more often in our mundane and ordinary music charts.

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