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Monthly Archives: July 2011

>> NOW TO HIM (review)

I wanted to be a worship leader once. At the time, my church wasn’t playing much in the way of contemporary songs, and so I reasoned that maybe it was time for me to step up and promptly bought an acoustic guitar, a few Matt Redman albums and Soul Survivor Songbooks 1-4.

Sadly I was born without any natural rhythm, but I stuck it out for a few years and firmly believed that I was doing pretty well. In fact all I was doing was making a fool of myself around a bunch of people who were too polite to tell me otherwise, but there you go.

And there was me thinking it was easy.

Had I read it a few years back, then Simon Ponsonby and Neil Bennetts‘ timely reflection on the theology and practice of worship might have made me think again. It’s an intelligent, heartfelt and robust discussion of what worship is truly about, and, had I read it at eighteen, it would have called me up on my own arrogance and the selfish motivation behind my so-called ‘worship’.

The question that the book poses is whether or not gathered worship is truly the priority of the church, and whether it should be. It’s an important question to ask, and actually quite a bold one too – especially in light of new missional or service-focussed initiatives in church culture, the divisiveness that a difference in worship styles can bring about and the amount of money some churches invest in worship music.

The conclusion that Now to Him comes to is an emphatic yes. Throughout, the focus is repeatedly brought back to the reason behind our worship, and indeed the reason for all we do – Jesus. The implicit assertion being that if we get our worship right, if we truly see Christ as he is, then everything else will fall into place – but if this isn’t established, then everything else our churches do will prove to be a struggle.

It’s an important wake-up call to the church from two individuals who have seen much of what is good (and less good) in modern worship. On first glance Ponsonby, the Pastor of Theology at St Aldates church in Oxford, seems to tackle the bulk of the meaty theology in the book, while the chapters by Bennetts, the worship pastor at Trinity Cheltenham, feel more like extended meditations around a particular theme. In general, the two authors styles generally complement each other well, with Bennetts’ chapters reading like Brennan Manning in points and with his own worship lyrics in the text adding to the power of his personal reflections. It’s very clear that for both authors the book is written from the heart, though, and this comes across throughout, with stories from their own lives illustrating the message throughout and an impressive level of vulnerability. A couple of Simon’s personal anecdotes in particular stand out long after you have put the book down, and really help to ground these thoughts on worship in day-to-day life.

Initially the depth of Ponsonby’s analysis is rather daunting, and in the past I’ve found some of his books hard going, at least to start with. The intellectual weight behind his words is easy to get lost in, and although when he speaks in person his gift for communication comes across, in print you often have to work a little harder to hear the heart of what is being said. Honestly, Now to Him looked like it was going to be the same until I listened to it with worship music in the background. It was the same with More, one of Ponsonby’s earlier books – it seems to me that you have to commit to what is being said, to lose yourself in the obvious wonder that Simon feels about what he is writing and experience your study as a form of worship. But with worship music in my ears there were passages that took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes, so I recommend it.

In the end, though, the book is a love letter. It’s a book about Jesus, and a heartfelt letter to any churches and worship leaders who may have lost that focus, for whatever reason. When Simon writes of how the Anglican church is “full of people who want to feed sheep, but who don’t love the Shepherd” (p101) and comments on how the Anglican ordination service never asks its ministers, “do you love Jesus?”, you can hear his pain for the churches that do not have such ministers. And when Neil writes about heaven, where Jesus is in his rightful place and where an attitude of worship naturally flows, both his longing for people to see Christ and his awareness of the power of the cross to change a broken world are evident.

So when, in the stunning final chapter, the authors turn their attention to the closing words of the book of Jude, which states:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

it is clear that although this may be a book about worship, it is not just for musicians or worship leaders.

On the contrary, with its high view of worship and its high view of Jesus, it is a vitally important reminder for all churches and all individuals who so easily lose sight of the reason behind what we do.

Because it’s not about us, and it never has been. It’s not about the mechanics or the experience of worship. We need to be reminded that it’s about Jesus. He is the reason we live and the reason we come together to worship in our churches, and although it may seem obvious, it is all too easy to forget that much of the time – whether that happens in the busyness of life or because of our church’s culture of worship.

All credit to Neil Bennetts and Simon Ponsonby for a wise, accessible and powerful affirmation of that in Now to Him. It is much needed, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, even if you may have previously heard some of the sermons that provide the raw material here. I’ll certainly be buying copies for friends.

 
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Posted by on 17/07/2011 in God, Other

 

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>> THE PROMISED LAND

Okay, so you might have to turn the volume on your speakers down (or, depending on your preference, up) for this, but what the heck – it’s Friday.

One of the most incredible live concert videos ever recorded, and although I know Bruce isn’t singing about faith, all the same, you can’t help but sing along when he howls “I believe in the promised land”.

If this is a bit too ropey for you, though, don’t fear because there’s a much more weary and sedate version from 2003 here as well.

The dogs on main street howl,
’cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no, I’m a man,
And I believe in a promised land.

 
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Posted by on 15/07/2011 in God, Music

 

>> JOSH GARRELS

Lots of people seem to have been raving about Josh Garrels lately, and you can hear – and, in fact, download – his album free of charge over at NoiseTrade.

Lovely folky stuff, well worth a look. Sounds a bit like Fleet Foxes and James Vincent McMorrow in places. Can’t work out how to embed the player though so you’ll have to listen to it on the site here.

 
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Posted by on 13/07/2011 in Music

 

>> CHICKEN, CHORIZO AND CHICKPEAS

So, we’re established that News International is evil. Apparently the phone-hacking scandal also looks likely to spread through The Sun, The Sunday Times and The Times, and could entirely possibly bring down Rupert Murdoch once and for all, although probably not, given that I think you can find details of his activities in the book of Revelation (that’s a joke, by the way – this isn’t that kind of a blog).

I get it now. Really I do. I mean, in the past people always told me that it was the case, but I suppose I just thought that anyone who said so was a communist and so I avoided them. I’ve seen the light now.

I’d be sad if we lost The Times, though, because that would mean losing such giants as Caitlin Moran, Gilen Coren, David Aaronovich and Lindsey Bareham, which is who this recipe comes courtesy of.

It would also mean that I would no longer be able to buy the paper for 35p, which by the way I think is probably a ploy by Murdoch to inflitrate the minds of Oxford’s students with cheap news (crafty Murdoch), but may also be because the newsagents who sell it so cheaply are called Tim’s, and as you can see, “Tim’s” is only one letter different from “Times”. Who knows.

Anyway, this came from today’s edition of The Times and looks like the sort of rustic comfort food you’d eat in autumn, but works pretty well as a hearty lunch with a chunk of crusty bread. The original calls for chicken thighs and double the amount of chorizo that I’ve used, but I ended up just using what I had in the fridge.

1 large onion (approx 200g)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

250g small cooking chorizo

6 chicken thigh fillets

400g can chopped tomatoes

300-500ml chicken stock

1 lemon

400g can chickpeas or 500g small boiled potatoes (or both)

50g coriander

You probably need a decent, deep pan for this. Effectively, you slice your onion in half and then cut it into chunky slices horizontally, fry that on a medium heat for five minutes until it starts to wilt (but not brown, ideally), slice and add your clove of garlic and then after another minute, add the chorizo sausages whole. I didn’t have enough to do that so I cut it into slices, which worked for for me.

Then add your chicken, chopped up into chunks, brown it on each side and then add the chopped tomatoes and stock and season. Partially cover the pot, simmer for 15 minutes and then taste and add lemon juice (which reduces the metallic taste of the chopped tomatoes, incidentally). Make sure you don’t over-salt it, especially because your chorizo is pretty salty already. Then drain the chickpeas and add them to the pot.

Heat through, add extra stock if it seems dry, and then add the chopped coriander before serving.

Worked pretty well for me, although it won’t change the world. Tasty, hearty and filling, although I think I went a little low on stock – I suppose it depends whether you want something that feels more like a stew or more like a broth. It helps to buy good quality chorizo, too, as that contributes a lot to the smoky flavour.

 
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Posted by on 12/07/2011 in Food, Other

 

>> 10,000 REASONS (review)

I once read a review, around about the time that Matt Redman released Facedown, which described him as a man who wrote songs with all the energy and skill of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and with about as much subtlety. That seemed to me like kind of an unfair comment at the time, particularly given that Matt has been responsible for some of the most thoughtful and reflective personal worship songs that have come out of the world of Christian music over the past few decades, and Facedown, his last live album, seemed to continue that trend.

However, when I put 10,000 Reasons on my ipod this morning it was that review which came to mind. A high-energy collection of congregational worship songs, recorded live with 1000 other worship leaders, on the first few listens it doesn’t seem to exude subtlety. In fact, from the “whoa-oh-ohs” that open initial track We are the Free to the soft-rock chorus of Magnificent, on a first listen of the new album it almost sounds like a disappointment.

It didn’t feel like to me there are any of those ‘shiver-down-your-spine’ moments that I had earlier in the year in Hillsong United’s album Aftermath or even in Matt’s back catalogue, and honestly, it all felt a little… obvious.

But five listens on, I’ve decided that it’s not. In fact, it’s anything but obvious. Because where Aftermath faded into the background, a buzz of new sounds that in a few cases lacked the substance to really create something lasting, this is something different. The sound may not be as fresh as some, but the album’s title comes from Redman’s extensive reflections on the many, many reasons we have to praise God, and it’s a theme that’s followed through the whole album. You only need to look at the lyrics to see how dense the songwriting is here.

Holy opens with the words “what heart could hold the weight of Your love | And know the heights of Your great worth | What eyes could look on Your glorious face | Shining like the sun”, unafraid to embrace the inexpressible only to then respond with a cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Elsewhere, Where Would We Be tells the story of the cross and then echoes out “where would we be without your love? | We’d still be lost in darkness | Where would we be without Your cross? | You made a way to save us…” and Never Once starts with the singer “standing on a mountaintop” and “kneeling on a battleground” only to resound with the words,

Never once did we ever walk alone

Never once did You leave us on our own

You are faithful

God, You are faithful…

Whilst at first it might initially seem to get lost in big choruses, what 10,000 Reasons does so effectively is to take the listener on that journey in a way that keeps reflection and response perfectly balanced. Lines that have been lifted wholly from the Bible start to stick out, verses that declare the endless truth of God become foregrounded and you remember those moments where the congregation joins together in song are never just token choruses but reminders of who God is and how far you – we – have come to get to this point.

This is clearest on the title track, whose chorus “Bless the Lord, O my soul | O my soul | Worship His holy name” stands out as a clear high point on the album. It’s got the flavour of an old hymn, right down to the lyrics about singing for ten thousand years, but an intensely contemporary feel too, and again I love that expression of just how huge God is, and how much more there is to know. So much of worship music attempts to bring God down to a tangible, understandable form. But the implicit message of the album that Matt Redman has made is that there is more to know, more to see of God, and that happens outside of church, in the world God has created and called us to.

It’s not a perfect album. Fires falls flat, and Magnificent may be a bit too soft-rock for your taste. And you have to give it your full attention – it’s not something that will sit well in the background.

But all that said, 10,000 Reasons as a whole is a congregational worship album that is deeply devoted to God, with Him as the grounding behind all action that flows out as a result of it. It will make you look to Jesus, to look out to the places he is found in the world, and it will cause you to respond with wonder at what has been done – and what can be done as a result.

It may, ironically, be less accessible than some of Matt’s earlier, quieter back catalogue.

However, it will reward repeated listens.

 
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Posted by on 11/07/2011 in God, Music, Other

 

>> CHORIZO

Oxford is rammed with Italian delicatessans. Seriously, once you started looking for them you realise that you can’t turn a corner in this city without bumping into somewhere that sells artisan bread and gourmet vinegar.

Which doesn’t explain why, rather than walking the approximately 100m from my house to the Cowley Italian delicatessan, I chose instead to buy my latest batch of chorizo from Oxford’s insanely expensive covered market.

(For the record, you should know that it is because the Cowley deli doesn’t put prices on its products, and I have an innate scepticism of any shop that refuses to do this, especially in Oxford. But that’s another story.)

Anyway, so my latest batch of chorizo comes from FastaPasta, which, as it turns out, sells Italian meats too. I’d gone in meaning to buy pasta, as you’d expect from a shop that calls itself “FastaPasta”. But chorizo is my weakness, my go-to food when I have no other ideas, and when I saw it I couldn’t resist.

So now I have 200g of top-quality chorizo to use, and no ideas on what to use it in. Any suggestions?

 
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Posted by on 10/07/2011 in Food, Other

 

>> LEMON SURPRISE PUDDING

Courtesy of Esther Wilson’s brilliant (and often very sweary) blog Recipe Rifle, this is the best article on Lemon Surprise Pudding and not getting into Oxford that you’ll ever read.

It made me laugh out loud, so although I don’t have a clue whether or not the recipe works, or for that matter particularly like puddings which include lemons and have the word “surprise” in the title, you should check it out here nonetheless.

 
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Posted by on 09/07/2011 in Food, Other