Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Faith (Page 2 of 11)

Apparently there’s a new album out

U2_360_at_Cowboys_StadiumLast Wednesday was a good day for me. In fact it was a Beautiful Day. You might even say it was Magnificent. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, The Miracle has occurred. After years of speculation, the latest U2 album is finally here. And, just like that other miracle in Luke 9:10-17, so far, over 200 thousand iTunes users have downloaded and had their fill.

But can you ever get your fill of a U2 album? I have listened to this one a few times already and while I’m preferring some songs over others, those lesser ones are growing on me. You could say a U2 song is like pizza, chocolate or sex: when it’s good it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good!

After a few listens, this album has definitely been worth the wait. The first six songs have the potential to become classics, some of them even anthems. I can just picture them ringing out around massive stadiums around the world (although they would have to be pretty special to beat the sheer spine-tingling electricity of Where the Streets Have No Name being performed live).

On first listen, my initial thought about this album was that it is less Christian than previous ones. But what is Christian? Is it about how many overt biblical references you can count in the lyrics, or is it more about how faith is actually embedded in them? As Greg Clarke says in his eloquent and insightful review of this album, U2 are very good at naturalising their Christianity. It has been a natural part of who they are for so many years that it doesn’t necessarily have to be overt. It just comes out in the stories of life that exude out of these songs. Out of the heart the mouth speaks.

Songs of Innocence is an album that expresses the angst, insecurity and inspiration of youth. It is a tribute to the band’s early years, written with appropriate fondness and richness. The fondness includes tributes to the influences that made the band, and Bono in particular, what they are today. These are songs of influence on four young men, just ordinary guys, who were shaped by the many and complicated facets of faith, religion and politics of Northern Ireland.

When I review albums, I tend to focus on the lyrics to find a connection to relate to. That’s where it’s always been easy reviewing a U2 album. For millions of fans, the uniqueness of this great band lies in the depth of connection one feels, particularly with Bono. You sort of feel like you know him as he opens up about faith, hope, love, sex, fear, and the myriad other ecstasies and agonies of life. No wonder he lamented, back in 1989, the hero-worship that takes place when we turn admiration into obsession, in the brilliant Love Rescue Me, “many strangers have I met on the road to my regret; many lost who seek to find themselves in me. They ask me to reveal the very thoughts they would conceal. Love rescue me.”

Healthy connection though is what U2 have always been about – connection both with their audience and with the life-long search for reality in this roughly three-score-years-and-ten that we’re all supposed to get in our time on this planet.

It is more than the lyrics though that make up U2’s greatness. Their poetic eloquence are complemented by the passionate energy of the music itself, fuelled by a spiritual anger that arises out of the heart of these four Irishmen who have have seen their fair share of troubles in their homeland. The music and lyrics, combined with the yearning, passionate spiritual rage, make this band a consistent standout in a world of increasingly manufactured, bland and, quite frankly, often boring, pop.

For me, the standout songs are Every Breaking Wave (“Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy” – spot on) and Iris (Hold Me Close), the latter a beautiful, heart-wrenching tribute to Bono’s mother who died so tragically when he was just 14. Written from the maturity and life experience of 40 years hence, it is a touching tribute to a woman who clearly had a major influence on his life, and someone whom he still misses dearly.

It is the ache of loss that comes through quite powerfully on this album. More than once, Bono refers to his own pain and grief that not even being a rock superstar can take away. Here are a few examples:

“The ache In my heart Is so much a part of who I am” – Iris (Hold Me Close)

“There’s no end to grief?That’s how I know?That’s how I know?And why I need to know that there is no end to love?All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love”

California (There is No End to Love)

“A heart that is broken is a heart that is open” – Cedarwood Road

“We got language so we can’t communicate?Religion so I can love and hate?Music so I can exaggerate my pain, and give it a name”

– The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

These examples are another attraction of U2, and of this album in particular. The raw honesty is the conduit that makes the connection between band and listener so strong and so intimate.

These songs of innocence are in fact songs of meaning. They are personal to the core; they are honest and they are vulnerable. They are typical, classic U2, in lyric, in sound and in impact on this fan of 30 years’ standing. It was worth the wait.

Figuring out my midlife crisis

3707187124_546942ec87_zI turned 45 this year, so I guess it’s about time I had a midlife crisis. Mine has been partly self-inflicted and partly forced upon me. I suppose that’s they way they happen though. No one really chooses to go through a crisis of identity.

And identity is what crises of these types are all about. Having a couple of major traumas in my life in the last 12 months has led me to look at just where my identity has lain. It turns out that, to a large extent, I have been building my house on sand as well as on the rock of the love and security of God.

That is not to criticise where my heart has been (for the most part) in the years leading up to these traumas. It’s more that God has been calling me to a deeper level of commitment. As they say, be careful what you pray for, because there’s a good chance it will be answered! And, thankfully, God is not “nice” as we Western Christians often are when we try to deal with things. This is no Sunday School “gentle Jesus, meek and mild, tiptoeing through the meadows.” This is a God who takes the bull by its horns.

If you surrender yourself to this God, you can guarantee that surgery will be performed on your soul. And there are no anaesthetics when God is at the operating table. That doesn’t mean that God is mean; quite the contrary. This is surgery that gets to the root causes and cuts out the cancer for it never to return. This is love at its best, polishing the rough edges of the diamond so it resembles the exquisite beauty that the Master Surgeon originally intended for it. Continue reading

Why Using Your Gifts Is Heroic

excellently-written-paperI have struggled with the best way to use my gifts. Most people who really know me tell me I have a gift of writing. But I hate selling myself. This article by the gutsy Allison Vesterfelt has really helped me in chasing my dreams. The important thing is though that they are not just my dreams in terms of them being selfish. They are my dreams that I want to use to make the world a better place.

We have all been given gifts, and we have been given them for a purpose. That purpose is for the betterment of the world. If God has given me this gift, who am I to not give everything I am to glorify God with it. It is actually selfish of me to hide my gift.

I am currently going through a time of change in my life. Things have occurred in my life in the last six months that have brought me a lot of pain. They still do, but it is articles like this that genuinely get me excited about new possibilities.

Read Allison’s article here.

If the poor are always with us, why bother trying to alleviate poverty?

Sight Magazine just posted my recent piece on Jesus’ oft misunderstood words when the woman anointed him with perfume.

Waiting on God is hard, and that’s ok

This is an excellent article. Some of the best pieces are:

  • “God’s plan is perfected in the wait, and we, His people are reminded throughout the course of redemptive history ?A professor once said, ‘The whole of Christian life is becoming what God has already declared you to be.’ The wait you and I experience is not abnormal to the Christian life, but is part of the very essence of the Christian experience.”
  • “To us, the best solution to a painful wait is to resolve it. Bring me my spouse. Give me children. Fix our family drama. Yet, God uses these periods in our life to break us. Like Moses in the desert, Paul with his thorn, Jacob as he wrestled with God.”
  • “He breaks us to bless us. He breaks us so we can see Him. Through times of suffering, God is crushing our self-dependence and awakening our soul to the persistent reality of our need and how only He has ability to give us true joy. Yes, children are good. Marriage is good. Sex is good. Promotions are good. Friendships are good. But God is better.”
  • “This question must be asked in the midst of suffering, not after the fact: Today, when you don’t have the very thing you’ve prayed, longed, yearned for, can you find joy in Christ? Is the Gospel sufficient? The answer to this question reveals the object of your worship.”

Challenging stuff. God give me the courage to believe that You are enough.

America the noisy

stress-CBT_1I am spending some time in the US this Australian summer. It’s my fourth time here. My first impressions this time are that, for most people, life is a daily battle to get everything done. It’s about making the bucks, working so hard that we no longer know what we’re working towards. No one seems to stop and smell the roses.

A culture that stops reflecting is a culture that doesn’t know where it’s going. This article is not a criticism of the US, because Australia, where I come from, is just the same. And even more so, I don’t spend enough time reflecting in my own life. But in this land where freedom and the individual pursuit of happiness is the guiding light that will lead us to the Promised Land, it seems to stand out more.

It has been said that we in the West have “noisy souls.” That is, we have so much going on in our brains that we are no longer able to take notice of the little things in life. We are so wired that we don’t know how to stop and notice the birds singing. Continue reading

Life won’t begin at your next milestone

Here’s a very wise article from Relevant magazine. I’ve been learning a lot in the last few months about living in the now. It’s about being mindful, being present. I have always struggled with what this article talks about. Real life is always in the future. If “_____” happens, all my problems will be sorted out. This has been my subtle belief about life. It reflects a restlessness, a dissatisfaction about the present. Richard Rohr talks a lot about this.

Someone said once that these are the good ol’ days. What he meant was that joy comes from living in the present, not in the past or future.

The wisdom of St Paul is pertinent here: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11-13).

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