Steve Stockman the minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and blogs regularly on the intersection of faith and culture at Soul Surmise, where this reflection first appeared.
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40 Years Later, A Life Less Ordinary
Bill Fay is a story.
And the British singer-songwriter's new album Life is People — his first in more than 40 years — is a gem of a record that comes out of nowhere and makes an impression beyond great songs and great playing.
About 10 years ago I conjured the idea of a novel: A rock star releases two great records in the late '60s and then leaves the scene. Why? Would an ordinary job be more fulfilling than wealth and celebrity? I wanted to work out those questions in a novel-length story.
Fay just might be that story, but he certainly isn’t fiction.
Happy Mandela Day: Madiba, Ubuntu and Vertigo
Back in 2005, Africa was a recurring theme of U2's worldwide Vertigo tour, where Bono’s campaigning for debt relief, trade justice and immediate intervention in the AIDS pandemic — each fueled by his following of Jesus — met in his music in indelibly powerful collision of faith, justice, and art.
When Bono and his bandmates played “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the most amazing mass of colors dropped from the rafters as millions of Willie Williams-designed, light bulbs descended from the rafters to form stage’s back drop and a modern-mosaic high-tech screen. Then came the flags of each African nation in the most moving light show I’ve ever seen.
During the razzle-dazzle on stage, Bono made his claim,
“From the swamp lands of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro, from the bridge at Selma to the mouth of the Nile…AFRICA…AFRICA…AFRICA…the journey of equality moves on, moves on…AFRICA…from town centers to townships…sacred ground, proving ground…”
The link between the Martin Luther King Jr. (the Doctor of the Deep South of America’s inequality) to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (the Archbishop and President of Africa’s inequality) was particularly potent art.
'With a brush and an eye full of light': Patti Smith's Spiritual Exploration
"Oh Lord let me die on the back of adventure/ With a brush and an eye full of light."
These lines from the 10-minute "Constantine’s Dream" sum up Banga — the latest album from musical iconoclast Patti Smith — even as they aptly describe the career of CBGB's Queen of Punk.
For the better part of four decades, Smith has been all about adventure. The brush is a symbol of her broad artistic canvas (she sees herself more a poet than a musician, as well as an author and photographer), and she’s ever in pursuit of what the best rock music always is interested in – light, truth and better world.
Smith's “Oh Lord” at the start of that line is no accident, it would appear. This album particularly is full of God and religious images. The song "Constantine's Dream" finds Smith on pilgrimage to Assisi, following in the footsteps of St. Francis.
Leonard Cohen's Stellar New 'Old Ideas' Explores Spirituality, Mortality
It doesn’t seem seven years since Leonard Cohen’s last album because the man has spent the middle years of his 70s up to his wrinkles in a whole lot of activity including critically acclaimed concert tours that produced a plethora of CDs and DVDs and a No.1 hit single via the dubious conduit of X Factor winner Alexandra Burke!
The years between 2004's Dear Heather and his latest album Old Ideas have built Cohen’s status to a Zen guru presence. For weeks there has been anticipation about this new record not because the public is imagining some reinvention at the age of 77 but more that he is the closest thing rock music has to a spiritual sage and we are waiting for the wisdom he has to share.
Old Ideas is no disappointment for those looking for spiritual songs.
Duke Special's Deep Soul Shines on 'O Pioneer'
I have followed the Irish musician Peter Wilson’s (aka Duke Special) career from the very beginning, giving him one of his first radio sessions as Booley House way back in the day. I have watched the twists and turns of a determined young man seeking a way to fulfil his dreams for his art.
I remember him deciding that the piano was not the way to go and drawing a guitar band around him, renamed Benzine Headset. Then along came Coldplay and Wilson’s instrument was suddenly back in vogue and loads of bands improved because they gave the musically talented member who had been an add on out in the wings a more central position in writing and performance.
Wilson found his original vocation and genius and the piano became the focus. While watching him with the Ulster Orchestra recently, his piano and voice has never sounded more assured, more authoritative.
Oh Pioneer is being promoted as Duke Special’s third “commercial” release. Between it and his second “commercial” release he has produced five projects from theatre songs to a suite of songs on photographers to a short EP on Belfast’s great voice of the fifties Ruby Murray. His Dukeness seems a prolific young man who needs such projects to give his over imaginative mind room to play.
Phone Foul: The Importance of Being a Good Listener
If I hadn’t been so concerned about what I was going to say to the vet when the receptionist answered the phone, I would have heard the receptionist tell me loud and clear that I was through to a dental practice.
I hadn’t listened. In not listening I got everything I said wrong.
In the business I am in, of ministry and pastoral care, listening is such an important thing. I can prepare all the fancy theology and exegesis imaginable but if I don’t listen I might be getting it all wrong and embarrassing myself in the process.
Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination
When a friend told me about this book late last year, I thought that all my Christmas had come early.
A theological treatise on Bruce Cockburn has been very necessary for years, but surely he was such a cult artist that no publisher would ever see a book on him as profitable. So fair play to Brazos Press for the courage and vision. And the author might have swayed the deal.
Walsh does a good few things in Kicking At The Darkness; Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. He confirms all your thoughts on your favorite Cockburn lyrics. (They were as theologically potent as you always thought!) He also reminds you how many great lines Cockburn has written, causing you to scuttle back to re-listen to every album right back to the first.
A Christmas Reflection: Grace
At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.
That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.
This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.
Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.