Thursday, 29 December 2011

Album of the Year 2011

Here are my top 5 albums of the past year. They are not necessarily the most popular, but they are the ones that I’ve found myself coming back to over and over again. See what you think!

In descending order:

5/ Let them talk – Hugh Laurie
This gets on the list because it was such a huge surprise! Who would have thought that the star of Jeeves and Worcester, indeed Stuart Little’s dad, would have such an authentic blues voice. But he does, full stop. This is the real deal.

4/ Worship Central – Spirit Break Out
I get bored quite quickly with contemporary worship albums, all recording the same songs, in the same way, long after we have already got bored singing them in church. However, although this album has some familiar songs, it is just brilliant. There is a real momentum about the Worship Central guys, and there are some great songs, done really well on here. If you only buy one worship album a year, get this one. Job done.

3/ Laura Marling – A creature I don’t know
Riding the wave of new generation British contemporary folk pioneered by Mumford and Sons et al, Laura Marling is far too young to write this kind of mature, compelling music. Somehow it works. I’ve listened to her bitter sweet, powerful songs most days through the autumn and it is still growing on me.

2/ Soul UK – Beverly Knight
Oh what a voice, what an album, what magnificent soul arrangements, what great production for a British album! This deserves to be number one and to be heard by the nation. They should be made to listen to music like this at school, they should make music lessons play this stuff and help British kids to clap on the off beat, feel a groove and sing like a Diva. You have to buy this album.

1/ Let England Shake – P J Harvey
This brilliant, weird, edgy album has been my hidden pleasure over the last year. I still don’t understand it, it remains disturbing – the hunting horn at the start of ‘This Glorious Land,’ the Islamic lament which cuts across ‘England’. At her worst P J Harvey is odd and irrelevant. At her best she is glorious. This is her at her best, and everyone ought to get this, even if they don’t ‘get’ her. It remains a breathtaking album of poetry, culture, music and madness.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Book of the year 2011-The Top 5

5/ The Spirit Filled Church – Terry Virgo
Quite simply, there is no better book which sets out in a few simple chapters to explain why we do New Testament church life in the way that we do. I have already given away a pile of these, and anticipate that I will continue to wherever we meet people that want to know why we do what we do.

4/ Meeting of the Waters, 7 Global Currents that will propel the future church – Fritz Kling
This was outstanding, even more so because at the time it was a free download on the kindle! I have not read a book on missions that I agree with more, and which speaks with an understanding of the post modern west, and the new wave of 21st century social justice missionaries. Even if you have to pay full whack for this book, you must buy and read it.

3/ The Snowman – Jo Nesbo
The rise of Scandinavian crime literature is unabated this year, filling the void behind Stieg Larsson. All Nesbo’s books are gripping, this one is utterly compelling. This stuff is dangerous for downloads, you will finish one and get straight onto Amazon for the next!

2/ Fathering Leaders, Motivating Missions – David Devenish
I read this one slowly, and it is still sinking in. I have never read such a thorough manual on how to lay New Testament foundations around the world, particularly into cross cultural situations. This book is already shaping how we work, and again will be one that gets given away time after time. It is going to serve us for many years to come and anyone who counts themselves as a Christian leader simply must have a copy on their shelf.

1/ The Case for Working with your hands, or why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels good – Matthew Crawford.
I prematurely declared this my book of the year back in March this year. It was so provocative, so well written, so much a voice needing to be heard in our generation, that I risked everything with an early announcement. Though I have read some good stuff since, I still can’t get past this wonderful book as my best of the year. Rather than wax lyrical again, the whole review from March can be found here

So Matthew Crawford sadly couldn’t be with us today to get his award, but you could make him a happy man I’m sure by buying his book, and getting your toolbox out of the shed.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book of the year 2011

Here is the annual award for my book of the year. It is totally subjective, based on my own peculiar reading habits. Last year, a new publication of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer took the crown. Who knows, it may just be that my habits and the best seller lists have collided a little more in 2011?
This year I have enjoyed some great fiction, getting especially hooked on a succession of Italian police procedurals by writers such as Andrea Camilleri and Michael Dibdin. It’s also worth noting that I have read more books as Kindle downloads than paper copies this year for the first time ever. I don’t expect that trend to ever reverse.

In descending order:

10/ Notes on them and us – Justin Webb
A great little read by the presenter of Radio 4’s Today Programme. This is an anthropological study on the relationship between us and our cousins across the Atlantic, based on Webb’s years of living stateside. An endearing read, which surprisingly argues for a divorce from our ‘special relationship’.

9/ Revenger – Rory Clements
No year of reading is complete without a good dose of Tudor historical fiction. Clements doesn’t disappoint in a year when we are waiting for a new CJ Sansom book.

8/ Dangerously Alive – Simon Guillebaud
I blogged on this autobiographical diary back in May when I read the book. Others have not enjoyed the diary approach, but the stories and faith of these boys own missionary adventures in Burundi still grip me 6 months later.

7/ Room – Emma Donaghue
My wife made me read this, and I held out until I was left at the airport in Zambia with nothing else unread on my kindle! I hated the first few chapters, annoyed at the child’s voice through which this captivating story is told. But stay with it, and it turns into one of the most gripping, moving, and disturbing reads of the year.

6/ The Popes – John Julius Norwich
This was my big book for the summer holidays. A biography of every Pope from the beginning until the present day. It deserves a mention just for that feat, but to then be written in such an engaging style that it becomes a page turner gets it on the list! The author certainly doesn’t hold back on dishing the dirt on the Papacy, but also speaks well of those who have worn the hat deservedly.

The Top Five will be posted tomorrow……

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dear God.........

I've been doing some preparation for our New Years Day prayer celebration today and came across these fantastic children's prayers to God.

I'm sure some cynical adult sat and made them up, then posted them on the net, but the part of me which still weeps at High School Musical really wants them to be real prayers because they are so powerful! I've heard enough of our own family efforts over the years to laugh and cry in equal measure at the beauty of a child's thinking allied to their simple phrasing when it comes to bedtime prayers.

So here goes with my favourite ones. (Imagine a small American child kneeling by their bed, with a small American voice, maybe the lispy girl from Miracle on 34th Street!)

Dear God,
Thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.

Dear God,
I read the bible. What does beget mean? Nobody will tell me.
Love Alison

Dear God,
I like the story about Noah the best of all of them. You really made up some good ones. I like walking on water, too.

Dear God,
Please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good in there now.

Dear God,
Do you draw the lines around the countries? If you don't, who does?

Dear God,
I bet it's very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.

Dear God,
How come you did all those miracles in the old days and don't do any now?

Dear God,
Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works out OK with me and my brother.

Dear God,
I keep waiting for spring, but it never did come yet. What's up? Don't forget.

Dear God,
I am doing the best I can. Really !!!!

Dear God,
If you watch in Church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.

Dear God,
I do not think anybody could be a better God than you. Well, I just want you to know that. I am not just saying that because you are already God.

Dear God,
Please send Dennis Clark to a different summer camp this year.

Dear God,
It is great the way you always get the stars in the right place. Why can't you do that with the moon?

Dear God,
I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday night. That was really cool.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Rubik's cube, Mother Teresa and suffering

In 1982 I tore open the Christmas paper on a small box, and something magical fell onto the patterned carpet. This cube of hidden meaning, it's secrets known only to a few with special knowledge - this stuff of the philosophers stone or Da Vinci code - the Rubik's cube!
Everyone had one for a while, they were all the rage after we had outgrown our chopper bikes and space hoppers. Nerdy kids on Saturday morning telly became household names for completing the Rubik's cube in 13 seconds, before most of us had even worked out which way up we were holding it!

The basic premise of the Rubik's cube was to mess it up, then try and put it right. Each face of the cube needed to be restored to its rightful colour. Sounds easy right? No - I think I managed one side, but then each move you made to correct the other colours messed up the good work you had already done. It drove me mad. I resorted ultimately to cheating. Taking a blunt knife from the kitchen drawer, I prised the thing apart, dozens of small cubes scattering around the room, then collected them up, and pressed them back onto the central mechanism in the right order.

When we think about the big question of evil and suffering in the world we are presented with a similar picture in the bible, this idea that we are out of relationship with the God who made us. Indeed, the whole created order is totally dislocated. Like a Rubiks's cube which no one has been able to solve, maybe it never will.

However, the big story of the bible also offers a breathtaking solution to the problem. The God who came and suffered and died amongst us.
When the stone to the tomb was rolled away, Jesus emerges alive! He overcomes death, goes through it like a pioneer and we begin to get a glimpse of future hope for us and all creation which is realigned.
Jesus promises us : ‘I am making all things new.’ No tears, no pain, no sin, no death or suffering – winter is coming to an end, spring is coming. A new creation is arriving, a new order of things, it’s already broken in!

Jesus resurrection guarantees this realignment of all that has been out of joint. It enables us to hear the hard but incredible words : ‘Our present suffering is light and momentary compared to what’s in store in eternity with those who know God.’

Mother Teresa put it this way : ‘In the light of heaven, the most awful suffering on earth will seem like one awful night in a bad hotel.’

This great insight from a lady who probably never experienced the frustration of a Rubik's cube, but she did know a thing or two about suffering and pain. And it's to the broken world of Mother Teresa that the Saviour brings a solution. Not just to endure this messed up world stoically, but to allow God Himself to be messed up in order that we could be put back together. The Saviour of the world invites us to follow him into a Rubik's like transformation of our own lives which begins to bring order and purpose out of the chaos.

Friday, 2 December 2011

What's in a name?

What's in a name? These days we are quick to saddle our offspring with the names of the latest pop star or cultural phenomenon. For the OK Magazine fanbase and the celebrity obsessed, there remains an increasing trend to even name the poor child after the place of their conception, as though they need that message in their head as they grow up. And so, a generation of little Britneys, Brads, Brooklyns and Broom Cupboards emerges into the world, understandably unsure of their identity!

What's in a name? In old money, a name used to express something of the true identity of the bearer. Mr Bun was actually a was Mr Baker as it happened! The name of Jesus Christ is such a name. It tells us something important about who he is, and helps us to understand what he isn't.

In the language of his day, this was a name loaded with meaning. It would be like me calling my son Geoff Hurst Junior - everyone would know my expectations as little Geoff grew up into greatness! In the same way, this Jesus was known from birth as the Saviour, the rescuer. The one who would liberate his people. No pressure then.

And the Christ. It's not like a surname,'Excuse me, Mr Christ, your table is ready now.' No, the Christ was the Messiah, the one that all of his ancestors had looked forward to, the one who would lead them into triumph.

What's in a name? With this understanding, no wonder the Jesus of the gospels waved his name around in the manner of an American policeman waving his badge. He knew his authority. An authority which could open every door, overcome every hurdle, break through every barrier.

What's in a name? With this kind of authority, it's no wonder we can begin to think about praying in the name of Jesus, being saved in the name of Jesus, getting healed in the name of Jesus, being baptised into the name of Jesus, even asking for anything in the name of Jesus.

What's in a name? So much of what has been done in his name over the centuries has been carried out by those who have not understood his true identity. To paraphrase the popular political slogan - There is a God in heaven who looks down on our illegal wars, our injustice, our unequal wealth and selfishness, and he agrees - 'Not in my name.' That's just not who he is, it's not his identity.

What's in name? It's no good just dressing up as a policeman. You can step out into the traffic and wave your badge but you will still get run over. You have no authority in yourself. Those who are learning their true identity, and that of Jesus, will also learn to exercise authority through relationship with the one who holds all the power. It's in his name where we will best understand who we are and all he calls us to be.

All this is good news which speaks right to the heart of the identity issue for the little lost Britneys, Brads, Brooklyns & Broom Cupboards of our generation.