Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Lyrics (Page 1 of 2)

Songs of Experience – a review

There is something about a U2 album that speaks to your heart, that goes deeper than most other music does, that reaches where other music can’t or daren’t. That has always been their gift, and Songs of Experience is destined to go down as a classic of this type.

This album really does come across as a group of songs of experience, the experience that only comes from years of living in this mixed up world. Bono has recently remarked about his own sense of mortality as he gets older. He has talked about some occurrences in his life that have made him realise he is not invincible. These songs reflect that. These are songs of maturity, as well as the typical songs of hope and defiance in the face of an unjust world that have set this band apart for nearly 40 years.

It’s interesting that an album like this is being released just after the band completed its Joshua Tree thirty year anniversary tour. These new songs of experience complement well the songs of righteous rage that were so profound on that landmark album all those years ago (and which, sadly, are suddenly relevant again).

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Oils at the Bowl

I almost made the calamitous mistake of choosing not to go and see Midnight Oil on their current ‘Great Circle’ tour. I figured I had seen them a couple of times previously, and I could do something else with the $100 that was the ticket price. I won’t make that mistake again. What was I thinking?!

So, when the opportunity came up last week to grab a ticket, my impulsive nature made an uncommonly good decision. I paid the price and got my ticket.

As I stood on the lawn of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl as the band came onto the stage, storm clouds were gathering around Melbourne and the rain was gaining momentum. The cool change had come and I was getting wet. But it didn’t matter. I was glad that stupidity hadn’t gotten the better of me by knocking back the chance at being here. This was the Oils at the Music Bowl. I looked around at the crowd, represented by a few generations as Peter Garrett broke into the famous, maniacal dance moves that only he can do. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. You know when you’re glad you’ve made a wise decision, and this was one of those times.

I first started following the Oils as a 13 year old. They have been part of my life for 35 years, and they are as good and energetic today as they were back in those heady days of the early 1980s when songs like ‘US Forces’, ‘Short Memory’ and ‘Read About It’ became legendary Australian rock anthems almost as soon as they were released.

The aura that Midnight Oil have had about them comes down to a few factors: no-nonsense, intelligent, unflinching political and social commentary which is as prophetic as it is bold, a tall, bald singer whose dance moves are uniquely natural and at the same time almost out of control, a passion and energy that brilliantly complements the lyrics of their songs, and finally, just really, really good, raw, authentic (non-manufactured) rock ’n’ roll.

It is a sad irony that many of their songs which were made so famous in the ’80s and ’90s are suddenly relevant again. ‘Blue Sky Mine’ is now an indictment on the Adani coal mine, and ‘US Forces’ brings up nightmarish images of Donald Trump’s massive spending increases on the military and his fawning of nuclear weapons.

The other thing that grabbed me about this tour was the impact of the legacy of Peter Garrett’s own political career. All now seems forgiven after he was seen by many to have sold out by entering the bureaucracy of the political machine in Canberra as a Minister in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments. People just wanted to come along to hear legendary Aussie rock. I think we are all just glad to have the Oils back doing what they do best.

Midnight Oil captured much of my generation in the ‘80s, and 30 years later they have captured some of the younger generations. I just hope that the younger people in the crowd at the Bowl during the week are able to appreciate what the Oils are about, and the impact they had on this country back then. They have always had their own sound, their own presence. It is theirs; they have never tried to be anyone they are not, from when they first started out in the Sydney pub scene in the late 1970s, to when they famously wore their ‘Sorry’ t-shirts in front of a global audience of 2 billion at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, to today, when they are rocking the world again, both musically and with their powerful criticism of injustice and environmental degradation.

When passion is combined with the goodness of a cause, the energy that is exuded can be breathtaking. Midnight Oil are the quintessential example of this. You know a band has legend status when they can play their greatest songs and the lead singer can just stand back, hold the microphone to the crowd and let us sing, and we all know every word. It is a reciprocal gesture of respect and giving. The Oils have given so much to us over the decades, and we want to keep turning up to their shows and give back to them.

Midnight Oil have been a major part of my inspiration to be a part of the solution to the problems of the world since I was a quiet teenager. Who would have thought that a lanky, bald, tall singer with a crazy dance routine, and his band of brilliant musicians, could influence so many? You wouldn’t read about it.

There is no them, only us…

“There is no them, there’s only us” – U2, Invisible

Some mornings I wake up with a song in my head. More often than not it’s a U2 song. Their music has had a profound influence on me for many, many years.

This morning, for some reason, their song, Invisible, was playing in my head. I was scrolling through my emails and thinking of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ, in a world that doesn’t like waiting. As a blog I read this morning said, Advent is deeply counter-cultural because it is about waiting.

It was then that the lyrics of Invisible invaded my mind. Towards the end of the song come the words, “there is no them…only us”. Continue reading

Song for Charleston and the world

The recent tragedy in Charleston highlights again the tragedy of mental illness and the darkness that envelops much of people’s lives. The media feeds us with fear and stories of despair, but we rarely hear the stories of hope and goodness in the world.

John Mellencamp wrote this song more than 20 years ago, and it seems more relevant than ever in 2015. I’ve been listening to this song a bit recently. Some of the lyrics have been sticking in my mind, and they are even moreso after the tragedy of Charleston.

In particular, the second half of the second verse strikes me as prophetic to this time in our lives:

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Missy Higgins – honest, raw and genuine

Missy_Higgins_@_Sir_Stewart_Bovell_Park_(8_1_12)_(6693050923)I have had the privilege over the years of seeing some great musicians live. And as someone who is not musical in the sense of playing or singing, I have found that the great artists all have their own unique sound: U2 and Midnight Oil come to mind for me. Another one is Missy Higgins.

When you have that sense that the first time you listen to an artist that there is something special here, it stays with you. That’s what happened when I first listened to Higgins’ first album, The Sound of White, about 10 years ago. The emotion, honesty and vulnerability in the stories she tells through her songs, songs of the everyday joys and pains of life, as well as her unique Australian sound, have had an impact on me that always have me looking forward to her next release.

Seeing her live though was something else. She has a wonderfully quirky, comfortable stage presence, like she is having a conversation with you. She has that wonderful combination of being a self-confessed introvert yet possessing the ability to be a natural on stage, confident and able to just be herself. With Missy Higgins, what you see is what you get.

Her songs generally tell a story of life in all its beauty and ugliness, and of the impact that music and people have had on her. Her latest album, Oz, is a covers album of songs that have had an effect on her young life. Like me, it is the lyrics of songs that have the greatest impact on her. It might be a line or just the way in which the story is told that triggers memories of days gone by when significant events happened to us or when there were turning points in our lives. This is what makes Missy Higgins so easy to listen to.

Higgins’ music over the years has followed the example of those who have influenced her. But, like many quality artists, she is a whole package. It is her lyrics that inspire and take you to another place, but it is also how she sings, in that raw, honest, Australian drawl with a music that is fitting for the mood of the lyrics.

Not many artists are so open about their musical journey, but seeing footage of Higgins’ life as she sang songs that describe her joys and pains, gives you a sense of connection that only the really good artists possess. Again, like artists of true quality, you come away from a Missy Higgins song feeling like you know her just a little bit more. That feeling was amplified seeing her live, as she told of the ways in which the songs from Oz left their mark on her. There was an intimacy about a show like this that leaves you both satisfied at the end yet disappointed that it couldn’t go on for longer.

This was the last live show for Higgins for at least 12 months, due to the fact that, in her words, she has another project coming up next year which involves trying to bring up a human being.

The setting of the Regent Theatre in the heart of Melbourne was fitting for this excellent show. Performing her last show for a while in her home town, in a venue that is such an icon of this beautiful city, just added to the sense of occasion and feeling that was evoked by her presence. When she eventually tours again, be sure not to miss out on experiencing the delightfully ordinary, accessible yet beautiful stage-presence of an Australian icon.

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas…

“…they said there’ll be peace on earth.” – Greg Lake

I’ve been thinking recently about writing a reflection on how Christmas, and the Christmas spirit, brings alot of peace and goodwill at this time of year. I was going to write about how people are generally nicer to each other and look out for each other a bit more in the weeks leading up to this time of year. John Smith said many years ago that if it wasn’t for Christmas, the violence and suffering in our society would be even greater.

That may have been true back then, but it doesn’t quite ring true after the unimaginable horror of Newtown, Connecticut. The truth about Christmas for most of us is that it is actually a time of great paradox. It is a time when emotions are heightened, both in a positive and negative sense. As Greg Lake sang in his profound I Believe in Father Christmas almost forty years ago, “they said there’ll be snow at Christmas, they said there’ll be peace on earth.” But there is no peace in Newtown this Christmas in the families of those grieving the loss of their innocent children; there is no peace in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and we find no peace in the families of those for whom Christmas is a time when loneliness and poverty are heightened.

I went to a Christmas show at one of the largest churches in my home city of Melbourne last week. It was a wonderful production and I had a huge lump in my throat as they went through the story of the Nativity. But I also felt disappointed that the full story was not told. As usual in church circles, the story they told was a sanitised version. It actually wasn’t the real Christmas story. There was nothing of Herod wanting to kill all boys under two in his attempt to dispose of Jesus; Simeon’s talk to Joseph and Mary did not mention that a sword would also pierce their souls as it would Jesus’; and Mary’s revolutionary Magnificat was not even mentioned.

When we sanitise the Christmas story, we not only do not do it justice, we not only leave out part of the Gospel, but we also distance it that much more from the realities of our own lives. In other words, we bring across the impression that the Gospel of Jesus is not as relevant as it really is. The story they were telling last weekend did not contain as much good news as it would have had they told the whole story. The truth is much more powerful when told within the context in which it happens.

Christmas is not a nice story with fluffy animals and a little smiling baby Jesus who ‘no crying he makes.’ The Christmas story is scandalous. It is both uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. And for these reasons it is incredibly good news for all of creation. Like the rest of the Gospel, it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

This Christmas sees much tragedy in the world. That’s why we need to remember the birth of the world’s Saviour more than ever. As John Mellencamp sang in the ’90’s, “Now more than ever, the world needs love; not just a slogan, but the world needs love.”

The Christmas story, with its almost ‘too-good-to-be-believable’ hope, is just what the doctor ordered in a world in which our children are slaughtered in broad daylight, and in which selfishness so often rules the human heart. The Son of God was born into just such a world in the 1st century. The hope he brought then is just what the world needs now. Christmas is more relevant than ever in 2012. Come Lord Jesus. We need you.

And to the people of Newtown, and all others for whom this Christmas will not be as merry as you had hoped, may the truth of the Christmas story, the hope coming out of the horror, soothe your aching souls. Meditate on them as you take in also the words of Greg Lake again, this time sung by Bono (see below for the whole song):

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

A wave of sorrow in West Africa

One song that is very haunting that I listen every now and then is U2’s Wave of Sorrow. It is a song that didn’t make it on to The Joshua Tree album back in the late 80s. The song is about Bono’s experience of visiting Africa during the 1984 famine, and the desperate situation that he experienced.

The same is happening now in West Africa. Famine is decimating that part of the world, and the media needs to wake up to it before too many more lives are lost. Here is a strong article from Rich Stearns, President of World Vision US and author of The Hole in Our Gospel. Stearns urges the world’s media to report about this before thousands of lives are lost ad it becomes ‘newsworthy.’

Please do what you can to give to organisations like World Vision to provide relief for those who are starving as you read this (you can click on the banner to the right to go to the World Vision Australia website). I am sitting on a comfortable sofa bed at home with the heater on as I write this. We are so comfortable, and in many ways so far removed from suffering like this. It can so easily be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Giving some money might mean giving up a cup of coffee a day for a few weeks. It’s really not a lot to give up in our cosy world.

In the meantime, let yourself be moved by some of the words of Wave of Sorrow, then have a look at the clip below.

Oh, oh this cruel sun

it’s daylight never done

cruelty just begun

beneath the shadow of everyone


And if the rains came

and if the rains came now

would they wash us all away

on a wave of sorrow?

A Life Uncommon

‘Fill your lives with love and bravery and you will lead a life uncommon’‘Life Uncommon’ – Jewel

The life Jesus lived was a life uncommon. In fact it was so uncommon that no one has been able to lead a life like it before or since. It is a life which gives us the ultimate guide on how to live in a godly manner. And now we have the Spirit to give us power – the power to do what is right. That is why Jesus said that when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13).

When we live this life, a life lived in total devotion and commitment to Jesus, we too live a life uncommon. Romans 12:2 says to not be conformed to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. It is a life lived against the grain, a life of swimming against the tide of popular opinion and cultural norms.

Martin Luther King talked about this when he spoke of living the life of a transformed nonconformist in his magnificent Strength to Love. Most of us don’t live this life, preferring instead to live a life of maximum comfort. As we think of people like King, Gandhi and JFK – the latter having told his countrymen fifty years ago this week to ask not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country – we remember that such people inspire us, but how many of us would actually go as far as to take that life seriously and actually live it?

When Jesus talked about coming to give us abundant life (John 10:10), he was not referring to simply enjoying the life we live here and now (although life certainly is to be enjoyed). He was talking about living a life of following Him, which starts by denying ourselves and taking up our cross. The life uncommon that we then lead, the counter-cultural life, the life of swimming against the tide, is the only life worth living.

Minutes to Memories

“Days turn to minutes, and minutes to memories. Life sweeps away the dreams that we have planned” – John Mellencamp, Minutes to Memories

There is a scene in the movie Up in the Air where George Clooney’s character is trying to convince his brother-in-law-to-be to not jilt his bride on their wedding day. The groom has cold feet and isn’t sure he wants to go through with such a huge commitment. And Clooney, who is starting to realize the loneliness of his own 24/7 casual jetsetting lifestyle, asks the groom to remember all of the happiest times of his life. As the groom starts to think, he realizes that they were all spent with other people; the happiest times of his life were when he was not by himself.

I was being shown some photos of the family of a friend the other day. This person has 8 siblings and the family gets together often to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions. As I was driving home that day I felt a sadness come over me. I am one of 3 brothers who all live in different cities. Soon we will all be living in different countries. I don’t have a large family to see here. I was then reminded of some family friends whose extended family now spans four generations. The first and second generations of this family have spent every summer holiday for the last forty years at the same place. Some would say “how boring!” but I think it’s wonderful. This family can associate that place with the best moments of their lives. I have sometimes joined them on their holidays and I have always felt just as much a part of their family as the blood relations themselves.

We have been sold a lemon in our busy 24/7 lives. We have been taught to believe that our happiness actually lies in having more stuff and not having people bother us all the time. Many of us would rather live on our own than go through the hassle of sharing a house with someone else. And many of us would rather the all-fun-and-no-responsibility of casual sex than the hard work and struggle of a committed relationship.

We live a lonely existence in the western world. I heard someone say recently that we know more of what is happening on the other side of the world than we do about our next-door neighbours. We build our fences higher and spend more time online than we do getting to know people face-to-face. I remember growing up in suburban Melbourne and knowing every person or family in our street. I still have memories of our next-door neighbour passing some of our kitchen chairs that he had just fixed back over the fence to us. I wonder how many of our children today will have those memories when they look back in 30 years’ time.

I was talking to a colleague on the bus during the week about this. This lady is African and has been living in Australia for about a year now. As we were discussing what life is like for her compared to back home, she remarked that one of the things she has noticed is the number of people who either live alone or who spend time alone. She said that in her country it was a duty to introduce yourself to your neighbours when you moved into a new area. It is just part of what you do. And sure enough, people quickly get to know each other and there is a lot less fear in their neighbourhoods than there is in much of suburban Australia. We are poorer for the fact that we generally don’t do that as well in this country.

Our deepest and most cherished memories are indeed of those times spent in relationship. It is often difficult but it far outweighs the pain of the lonely crowd, of not feeling connected to the people closest to us. Dave Andrews has said that community is somewhere where there is always someone you don’t want to be around, and some friends of mine once said that anything worth doing is never going to be easy. Our lives in this world are short and we never know when our time is up. The writer of Ecclesiastes was right – our lives are vanished in an instant; we come from the dust and to the dust we will return (Ecc 3:20). And it can all seem like a chasing after the wind. Life does indeed sweep away the dreams we have planned.

The hard work of bringing in community, of getting to know our neighbours, can be so simple. A friend of mine said during the week that just having a kick of the footy in the street can bring other children out. Then all of a sudden conversations start, people get to know each other and walls of fear and mistrust break down. Jesus did this when he broke all the social conventions of 1st century culture by associating with tax collectors and ‘sinners’. Jesus knew how to have a good time, and he told his disciples of the joy he had within him. His life was about relationship and the early church followed in his footsteps. They endured the daily struggle of living in community, they shared all they had; they passed their kitchen chairs over the fence to each other, if they even had fences. And their lives were so attractive that they added to their number daily those who were being saved from their own loneliness and self-absorption to life in the community of Jesus.

Does all this stir up a longing within you, a longing for things that once were? Do you have similar childhood memories to the ones I have related and wish they could be the reality once again? One day when the new heavens and the new earth come together and all things are made new, we will enjoy that community again. But this time it will be complete and we will create new memories, memories which will live forever. And the wonderful news of the Gospel is that Jesus calls us to that new life now. He calls us to deny ourselves, to do the hard work of relationship and to put our lonely, selfish ways behind us. He came that we would have life in all its fullness. And that life is only found in community. It is found in community with those who are also living for justice and peace, those who struggle with each other in the now but who also live in the hope of the not-yet, that time when all barriers will be broken down and all things reconciled in the glorious world to come.

There is much more to say about these profound lyrics by John Mellencamp. Memories can be cherished and they can be painful. Far too many people have memories that are just too traumatic to raise again. All of us have dreams that have been shattered, expectations that did not eventuate, and hopes that were never realized. One of the best pieces of advice I have heard, from two different people, is that life is mainly about how we deal with loss, ultimately to the loss of our life.

Psychologist Larry Crabb says we can use disappointment to drive us to hope. What Crabb is referring to is the ultimate hope of the renewal of all things. When days turn to minutes, and minutes to memories, and life sweeps away the dreams that we have planned, remember that we are destined for more. This life is not all there is. Remember too that everything we do in this life matters. What Martin Luther King called the beloved community starts now. The greatest things in our lives are those done in relationship. When we live this out we will be able to look back and have memories that move us to gratitude – gratitude to God for giving us the courage to follow the One who calls us to remember, to remember what He has done in sacrificing His all and giving us the privilege of working with Him to bring in the kingdom where our dreams of love and justice, and forgiveness and grace will finally be realized.

Love and need

“I love you ‘cos I need to, not because I need you. I love you ‘cos I understand that God has given me your hand”U2, Luminous Times

I was walking through the café at work the other day and heard this song playing over the airwaves. The next line of the song says “hold on to love”. Love is the only force that triumphs over anything. It often comes across as weakness but it succeeds where others perpetually fail.

Much of what we call love though is really an emotional neediness which comes across as being nice, but is actually designed to protect us from rejection. I know this because I do it all the time. As I realise this more I realise how committed I am to not experiencing the pain of someone not loving me in return. My good deeds are often cloaked in the convincing veneer of niceness. And I am further blinded to this when people feed back to me about how nice I have been to them.

True love comes out of a deep conviction that love does indeed transform an enemy into a friend, as Abraham Lincoln said so long ago. It comes out of a deep conviction that love is the most powerful force in the universe. That’s why the words of this song are so powerful.

The paradox of true love though is that there is a genuine neediness about it. True love loves because of a human need to live this way; it is the way we are wired. At the same time, true love does not need the other in a negative self-protective way to boost its own ego or identity. It is free of all that; it is free to truly love the other no matter the response. If the response is hatred, true love continues to love; if the response is indifference or apathy, true love continues to love; and if the response is love reciprocated, true love still continues to love.

As I write I am reminded of two famous people who both talked and walked this attitude in their lives. I speak of course of Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. Dr King talked often of the power of redemptive, suffering love, and Mother Teresa has the following words attributed to her, which were apparently written on the wall of her home for children in Kolkata, India. Even if they were not written by her, they fully encapsulate the life she lived:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Hold on to love. Cultivate it, learn it, and most of all, ask God for it, because we simply don’t have in us the capacity to live a life of love without the Spirit of Jesus living in us and guiding us. He will redeem the ugliness of our self-protective neediness into a love that only the Divine can empower us with.

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