Zen And The Art Of Mythological Maintenance

ZenPerhaps it’s my hesitant dabblings in yoga and that one time I managed to properly meditate*, or maybe it’s just I finally stopped caring about making sure everyone knows I’m right all the time, but I’ve slipped into an incredibly Zen way of life and thinking these days. Ok so I’m using Zen in the sense that I’m a placid lake of happy-go-luckiness who just rolls with the punches rather than a student of the 6th Century strain of Buddhism. But I’m sure you get the picture. Things just seem not to matter as much any more. Not that I’m becoming deadened to emotion or anything, I mean more that I’ve chosen not to care as much about things that I can’t change or things that get me nowhere in life.

Now I still geek out excessively. If you want to see me animated then just mention the upcoming Star Wars films in my presence. Words cannot hope to faithfully describe just how gosh-darned PUMPED I am for those things. Same with most geekery across the board if I’m honest. I enjoy being slightly manic when I feel like it. I still get worked up when the moment calls for it. Truth is though, I’ve realised that very few moments do call for it.

I guess it was a side-effect of being 18 and intelligent that I felt the need to hammer home just how correct I was and how wrong you all are at every available opportunity. It’s fun being right – I still believe that (ask any of my exes – I am an irritable correction freak) and I enjoy knowing stuff and churning out interesting facts to people – it’s just not a driving force of my life any more.

Some of you may remember my tempestuous departure from Christianity that went down a couple of years ago. I was an arrogant cynic who felt so intensely angry at so much about my previous life and I felt that I should be angry at someone but I had virtually no individuals to pin my butt-hurt intellect on. As a friend of mine commented “It’s just so hard because for twenty two years I’ve had this utterly amazing imaginary friend and now I have to come to terms that he’s just not there listening any more”.

I spent far too long reading as much as I could about how silly the very notion of God was. What fools! Hahahaha – look at those religious LOSERS! Tell you what, while it may be wrong to pick on a group of people for what they believe, it is undeniably fun. But yes, I was an insufferable prick.

And then came along the realisation that none of it actually mattered. Yes, I’d stopped believing in God, and yes, it was a big woop. Yet after the cosmic dust settles on the theological headstone I’d fashioned for good old Yahweh, I realised that nobody cared. Perhaps it came from my evangelistic days where I was used to going out and shoving my opinion in other people’s faces, or it could be that I just felt proud of my achievements in besting what I had believed to be the ultimate power in the universe, but just how people are awkward around the shouty men in the street who talk about how I’m going to Hell, people get annoyed at people who feel it their mission in life to pounce on any vague theological argument. People want to be able to think what they think without jarring flap-mouthed loons weighing in with their two-cents.

It’s funny actually. The times when I was most spoiling for a fight, I was sending out all the signals that I was singularly the worst person to engage in any sort of meaningful debate about higher things. Simply from an intellectual point of view I wanted to have a debate about atheism and Christianity – I still do in fact – but being a furry little ball of self-righteous rage, all my Christian friends exercised the wisdom of Solomon and stayed away, far far away. I honestly think that was the best call. Thank you all for not allowing me to embarrass myself. I’ve enough moronic moments in my life to deal with already without adding more.

But the worst part is that I never got to have a sensible conversation about things I truly wanted to talk about. I honestly don’t think that anyone of my Christian friends has any idea why I now don’t believe that God exists, and that’s weird considering the fact that I can rattle off the reasons and life events that led many of them to believing in God, and then sort more of them according to denomination and how many points of Calvinism they adhere to.

Perhaps I’d like that debate now. Over a drink somewhere – not on the internet. Internet arguments are without question the worst forum in which to try and talk to someone about anything serious. But then again, I’ve realised that it honestly doesn’t matter. This whole Zen thing has mellowed me out to the point where I know exactly what I believe and I’m comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, I can listen to people talking about things that fly brazenly in the face of my godless sensibilities, and decide that none of it is worth a fight. You’re my friends and family and I don’t want to push any more of you away because of which books we like to read.

Zen truly is the way to live. Everything is better, everyone is lovely – if you just give them a chance, and the world seems brighter. Though that may just be the new light bulbs we bought for the kitchen – those things are brighter than the sun.

*It was out of this world. I felt like Yoda, Gandalf, and Professor X all rolled into one.
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The Prodigal Sun

I guess this year is a first for me.
The first Christmas without the Christ if you want to be blunt about it.
And while I hold no ill will to those who adore the story
Of a man come from glory to a shed here below, a great message to bestow,
I guess this is a first for me.
The first Christmas with a looking forward more than a looking back.

Not that those who love Jesus don’t spend some time to tease us
With the promise of life everlasting,
But their main focus in December is on a fire that became embers many years ago.
I love the story to be honest.
Two parents with only a promise that their love had been true
And their God had come, out of the blue, to give them a child – the child born of destiny,
One to heal all man’s iniquity.

But all that aside for a moment,
Can we take the time to get back to the Romans?
Way back when so few people knew the score,
Back to the dark ages of magic and lore.
Back to the time when we didn’t have a sodding clue,
Why nights grew dark and lips turned blue at the mere mention of winter,
We could have honestly done with a hint here and so we looked to the Sun.
That flaming brilliant ball of heat, that cooked our skin and spoiled our meat in the summer time, was dying – nay, gone!
And the winter’s bite was hard and snow shone,
Bringing smiles but yet frowns as the easy days had flown.

The sun would return we said.
We know it goes up and down and we’d bet our daily bread on the fact
That even if blinded by cataracts the fire would be there,
Drying the land and heating the air.
For summer comes e’re winter is gone.
Have faith, joy will return, we tell our little ones.

So I guess this year is a first for me.
The first time I look forward only one year, and take comfort in the knowledge
That come hell, high water, or orange flavoured chocolate (ew),
The sun will rise with vigour anew and heat our earth perhaps a little too much;
but perhaps that is something to think on come March.
And life will again, come and return
With the reign of flowers and leaves, strong rivers, streams,
Bees will pollinate, procreate, obfuscate the reason for nature’s palate vis a vis their fate,
And bring new spring in the step of winter’s demise.
Yes. Again the sun will rise.

Why I Am An Atheist

Now there’s an eye grabbing title.

This is a long blog. There’s a one sentence synopsis at the end if you want it.

As a sort of preface, I do have to say that while some of you may wonder why I bothered writing this given my love of keeping private life choices private and not intruding on others’ beliefs, I have to say that I just needed to. I need to get this out of my system, (the explanation, not the atheism) and not have to be afraid of explaining myself every time I bump into an old Christian friend. I’m writing this as a notice, like handing a note to the teacher excusing me from PE, so that I can assume that people now know where I stand and so not have to worry about awkward conversations and having to discuss which Bible translation is best or whatever. So here it is people, how I went from happy clappy Jesus lover to a godless hell bound atheist. I jest. There is no hell.

But I guess, I have to start by saying that I’m not sure I’m an atheist. Perhaps agnostic would cover me better but I hate the word’s connotations. To me it smacks of an ambivalence, or simple disinterest and ignorance of the issues and that’s certainly not the case. I don’t believe in God but there are a few things I’ve seen in my time of God-squadding that puzzle me into allowing, at the very least, a slight divine foot in the door. Not the God of the Bible though, especially the one preached in any church I’ve been to. So yeah, let’s just call me an atheist and be done with it.

Leaving church was hard. Really hard. I hesitate to say it’s the hardest thing I’ve done (though this one time I did once manage to drop toast and have it land butter side up) but it comes somewhere near the top of the list. For me to not just take a break from it, as I intended, but to utterly abandon and now totally reject everything I’ve been taught from birth is no walk in the park. Nor is it a decision made overnight or in reaction to any single issue. I liken it to my coming out of the closet – it happened over a period of months and it sucked just as much, if not more.

Explaining that I didn’t leave church because I’m gay is a conversation I’ve had to have far too often. I didn’t leave church solely because I’m gay. Sure, it was quite a significant factor, but I left church because I hated church.

I hated church because every Sunday before I walked through the big blue double doors I had to change myself in order to feel even remotely accepted and at home. This is not the fault of the particular church I was at or the majority of the people there but instead it was just because I didn’t believe what everybody was there to believe in. Now while church is obviously a place where people go in order to change – it’s all about being made more like Jesus which is a rather good goal in my opinion – you’re supposed to be changing in reaction to the teaching, in your discoveries of God and how much you want to be as loving, and good, and holy as he is. I changed because I knew if I happened to voice my opinions I would be quietly taken aside and told that I was wrong and needed to repent. I would be pointed in the direction of different courses and conferences I could go on to re-educate myself. I would be looked at like I’d just said I think all babies should be ritualistically slaughtered instead of “I think it’s up to the mother not the government whether she wants to have an abortion or not”. My stance on politics was tolerated up to a point but my advocacy of a French-style secular society where people were free to believe whatever they wanted as long as it was in the privacy of their own homes, would have been shot down in flames. And if I even thought about suggesting that we stop trying to get people to be Christians and just be nice and hope people notice the radical change, I’d have had countless Bible verses branded on my eyelids or something. And when it really came down to it, I just think that it’s totally crazy for one person to tell another what they think they can and can’t do.

When you have to steel yourself for a weekly activity that should bring everlasting peace and eternal joy in your soul, something’s not quite right. I realised that I believed virtually nothing of what was taught in regards to Christian “morality” and living. I liked that Jesus bloke and some parts of the Bible are amazingly comforting and beautiful but it all kind of stopped right there. So I decided to take a break. If there really was a “God shaped hole in the heart of man” then I’d feel the ache and need to get back to church.

What I found instead however, was that almost all Christians had one of three reactions. Confusion, pity, or ambivalence. Confusion generally turned into simple denial with people not understanding what I was quite clearly saying. “I don’t want to go to church any more” was countered with “Why don’t you come to our church instead?”, “I believe that people can do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.” earned replies along the lines of “But that’s not what the Bible says!”. So what? I don’t believe the Bible! Pity was the more annoying one however as people assumed that I’d become mentally deficient and that I’d see the error of my ways soon enough – I obviously knew I was wrong deep down. Nope, I think you’re a loony and I hate just about everything about Christianity, better luck next time. Ambivalence ranged from being exactly what I wanted (who wants everyone everywhere asking what your religious views are?) to being incredibly hurtful. Those who I would have expected to actually give a damn about my damnation barely batted an eyelid. As odd as it sounds, I would have really appreciated one or two people going out of their way to talk to me about how I felt instead of the multitude of people who crawled out of the woodwork to tell me exactly where I was going wrong. Greater love has no man than this eh?

But what really kills me is that the Bible says that “by their fruits you will know them” as in, you’ll know they love Jesus cos they exhibit his characteristics. If the above verse is true then I know of very few Christians. The Christianity I see preached is moralistic garbage that is harmful to all who hear it. I can hardly believe I spent 23 years lapping it up.

The feeling of betrayal is one I’m still trying to shake if I’m honest. Christians have said the worst things to me, and said it all with a smile on their face. Apparently, you can say anything you want, no matter how hurtful it is, if it’s “in love”. Being told point blank things like: “You need help” (church leader), “You know you’re just wrong yeah?” (close friend), having numerous rumours circulated about me*, are just some things to make me think that maybe this “holy spirit” I hear so much about doesn’t exist or simply does a crappy job of changing people. Now of course nobody is perfect and I can’t expect everybody to be angelic all the time, but when the people who are decent human beings are in the minuscule minority of all the hundreds of Christians I know, I begin to see a pattern of baloney emerging.

Then I come to the science. This may come as a shock to some of you, but until very recently, I was a young earth creationist. “There are no transitional fossils” I would parrot. Yet there are in fact thousands. Even ones of fish with legs that crawled out of the sea. One look at the Wikipedia page for that quickly shattered my illusions and gave me a healthy dose of reality. Also, if the earth is that young, then the pyramids were built around 100 years after Noah’s flood. Seeing as how only 8 people were supposedly on the ark, they must have been really busy! I could go on but there’s no point. While this paragraph may seem like common sense to most of you, it’s all new for me. Talk about feeling like a prize idiot.

God seems to me, from my extensive reading of the Bible, and years of listening to preaching, to be capable of doing no wrong. He just gets other people to do it for him. He commands the Israelites to murder women and children in the Bible (only a few pages after telling them that murder is sin). The Bible he “inspired” is a book that is able to be manipulated in so many different ways that you can literally make it say anything you want to. If there were a God, one who was all knowing and who saw the future, you’d think he’d tie off a few open ends so that we don’t spend years thinking that it’s totally fine to have slaves, sell daughters, kill people who don’t believe the same as you, oppress women, and suppress science. If the Bible is God’s word and is “breathed out” by God then give him a tic-tac because it reeks of injustice, rape, murder, and pure evil. Just think. One explicit verse like “Thus says the Lord: ‘Oh and by the way, women are totally equal to men, and don’t have slaves'” would have saved literally millions of lives.

And it’s not as if I don’t know all the counter arguments and ripostes some of you are so eager to throw my way. I know literally every point you want to make because I spent years making them myself (so please spare me the boredom of trawling through the comment section saying the same thing). Having studied the Bible in depth, having been to numerous churches of multiple denominations, having prayed in earnest for God’s goodness, having waited to hear his voice, having believed with my whole heart, I now wholeheartedly and without reservation reject Christianity and its implications as morally repugnant, utterly evil, and without a doubt one of the biggest loads of bullshit this world has ever witnessed. Kudos to the guys who pulled the wool over our eyes though, that takes balls.

I have no intention to return to church. I have no desire to hear that you’re praying for me. If there is a God, he will bring me back right? That’s the fifth point of Calvinism and it totally counts cos I did believe without reservation. So thanks Jean Calvin for that handy theological loophole to get me out of annoying arguments.

I have very little problem with Christians. It’s just now I totally understand how repulsive it is to have faith shoved down your throat, no matter how they butter it up and layer it in cake.

So that’s a small snippet of why I’m an Atheist. If I went on, I’d only bore you all I’m sure. I really needed to throw this out there. It became almost a physical necessity to tell people where I am. After all, when your life changes so spectacularly and irrevocably for the better, you feel the need to tell people don’t you? ** The only thing left to say is that I’m still me. I’m still the same sarcastically smug know-it-all who loves films, coffee, wine, and gin far too much. If you were my friend before, you’re still my friend now. I have not become an amoral Satanist who wants to take over the world, I just believe a little differently than before is all.

If you’ve made it this far then I must congratulate you. Thank you for taking the time to find out what’s going on with me, just know I’m always willing to do the same for you too.

TL:DNR Synopsis:
I don’t believe in God and I’m not going back to church cos I think it’s totally whack.

*The rumours ranged from the true, to the utterly bizarre, to the impressively crazy. I once heard that I went round seducing fresher boys in the university Christian Union. While I’m flattered that somebody thought that I had the necessary skills to seduce anybody, let alone multiple people; I remain puzzled as to what started the game of Chinese whispers that cranked that out.

**Yes I know this is just like what you think with your evangelism, I’m being facetious. Yeah I kinda ruined that one by explaining it didn’t I?

Joy To The World

It’s Christmastime. A time for smiles all round, general goodwill, frivolity of all kinds and for all kinds. “Joy to the world!” we sing; “merry Christmas!” we wish to strangers; the possible happiness in a new year awaits, maybe, and all seems well.

But we all know that this “joy” is flawed, broken, not up to scratch. It’s as if somebody has engraved the word JOY onto a cliff face – shouting joy out to all the globe but then this only raises the question of why the world needs to be told to be joyful. For we know that it is not.

The angels brought “glad tidings to all mankind” because man was not glad. They announced that “a Saviour is born” because the earth is in dire need of salvation from itself if from nothing else.

In fact, we all know of this defective joy, the dishonesty of the happy holidays, and the grieving of the season because we are always reminded of it. We are taught from the youngest age possible that although Christmas is fun and good, there is another side. The phrase “the real meaning” is volleyed about by all sides for all causes and for even more reasons.

For some this will be the first Christmas of real sadness, for some the last. For some there will be new and difficult challenges, not because of the time of year but just because there are things that are difficult which have happened now, now of all times.

And there we have it – “of all times” – the belief that at this time we have the right not to be disturbed by the messiness of living. Go away, leave your heartless hardship till later, if at all. Thus the joy of the season not only reminds but actively points us towards grief. The joy is spoiled.

But this is not as it should be.

The grief of the earth should be lifted by the joy to the world because that was its very purpose. Glad tidings of great joy were brought not to remind us of loss but to announce to us gifts. Or better, the gift.

When a Saviour was announced, it was not to rub in the painful truth of his necessity but rather to lift the weighty burden of the wait for his coming.

So it is that joy should not lead to grief as a logical progression, but that grief should lead to joy. When we feel loss, it then points to the Giver who holds the taken in the palm of his hand. When we experience pain, it shows us the Healer who promises an end to each of our tears. When we feel a wanting, a longing, a deep seated sense of something which is lacking, it leads us to the Provider who stepped down, stepped in, stepped out, and stepped up to the task and handed us joy when all we had was sadness.

Building Blocks

Today is an incredibly special day for me. No really, I can’t remember when there was so much awesome packed into another twenty four hour period. I mean, not only is this, today – April the 2nd – mine and Clare’s one year anniversary but it’s also Good Friday. Now as awesome as my one year anniversary with Clare is (and it’s pretty freakin’ awesome), I don’t think either of us could really, honestly compare it to the amount of awesome and joy all bundled up in Good Friday.

People often see Christians as a bunch of people with an overdose of the crazies and I can see why. Not only are our ranks peppered with nutters (some of whom are really lovely when you get to know them) but we also have lots of hangers on who really are crazy.

Yet not only this, but the very foundations of our faith and joy are grounded in impossible, crazy, ludicrous and bizarre claims. At Christmas we celebrate an infinite and eternal being who exists outside of our space-time compressing his infinity into the finite and fragile body of a newborn baby.

We don’t stop there though, we then go on to talk about this infinite and eternal God’s immortality while pointing every thing we do towards the day when this same Jesus was betrayed by his closest friends, unjustly accused of crimes, tortured by people he had made, then brutally executed thus severing the Trinity and marring one of the very attributes that makes Jesus God – his perfection. Not only this, but the God who is the the very definition of love and justice deems Jesus’ death to be the perfect example of both. No wonder Charles Wesley wrote “Tis myst’ry all – the Immortal dies! Who can explore this strange design?

As if we weren’t already sounding unhinged enough, this immortal God who died has something different planned. The guy who is very much dead and buried then becomes the guy who is very much alive and shining, walking and talking about like before with only five wounds to remind us that he died.

However, the thing that never ceases to blow the lid off the crazy jar for me is the fact that this whole train of events is said to be specifically for me. Designed specifically for my failings. My talents and weaknesses. Me, the one who at times grows lazy and forgets God’s very existence, I am told quite specifically that I was handpicked before my birth for an overdose of God’s grace.

But which is more crazy – the events in which took place or my severe lack of consistent response? I’m inclined to say the latter.

Why do we believe such crazy claims? Why not just stick to the “be nice to people” stuff? We believe these things because we are fully convinced that they are true and as such, it is to these building blocks of our faith that we cling to so dearly not because they sound fantastical and implausible or because we have a few screws loose, but because we have become eye-witnesses of this God’s incredible claims and his immense majesty and power, in history and in our day to day lives.

Some of you have seen me excited when I talk about Glee. Others when I first ate that French pastry. A few of you have seen me smiling manically at a wedding. Many have heard me rave about music, or films, or Battlestar Galactica, an upcoming holiday, and a host of other things which make me jump up and down and giggle with excitement. You ain’t seen nothin’ compared to how happy I get over the Easter weekend. There’s always one point when the entirety of my understanding of the events hits me once more and I realise the stretch of God’s love can never be fully described in anything we sing, shout, write, show, or think.

“And were with ink the ocean filled,
and were the sky of parchment made,
and every blade of grass a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade,
to write the love of God above
would drain the oceans dry;
nor could the scroll contend the hole
though stretched from sky to sky.”

Let Freedom Ring

Pour yourself a quad and put your feet up, it’s a long blog. Before we get started, I’d just like to say that the following opinions are my own and that I realise that some of you are inclined to disagree with me. I understand this but also ask you to respect these things as my opinions and if you disagree not to get all under the collar about it. I know exactly what I’m writing and I write it for a reason. It even sickens me that I feel the need to include this paragraph.

Back in early January I was asked to teach a lesson on MLK day (Martin Luther King day for those Brits who don’t know). Being from England, I had to read up on it all and I quite liked what I saw. Essentially, MLK day is a bank holiday in the US where there is a special emphasis on helping other people and on community projects and suchlike. The best part of the lesson though was when the teacher gave me a DVD of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

Now, I’m a lover of good speeches and good speakers and Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my favourite orators. There’s a monument to him in San Francisco which Luke and I visited last summer and it is covered in quotes from some of his speeches. Just walking along a reading a wall of his rhetoric made me so fired up to campaign for equality and justice it was exhilarating. So when I played the whole of the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech to my pupils I was sat there with my spine tingling and a huge grin on my face.

It wasn’t until about half way through however that I realised just how much the fight against intolerance was still going on. I had it in my head that the fight was over. After all it’s now forty years since MLK’s death and part of me had filed him and his campaigning in the ‘done and dusted’ section of history but that’s totally incorrect. Yes, although MLK saw many victories as a result of his campaigning and fighting for equal rights and today we have far more equal rights for people whether they’re black or white but the fight is far from over.

"No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’"

Although the paragraph before talks about being satisfied when white and black people can live without segregation and discrimination, I take the above sentence as covering far more than just the fight for racial equality. After all, we have far better racial equality (though by no means is it perfect) but I don’t think that anybody could say that "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Do nations yet "rise up and live out the true meaning of [the] creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’"? No.

Do we "live in a nation where [people] will not be judged by the colour of their skin" or indeed their social standing, religious beliefs, sexuality, bank balance or background, "but by the content of their character."? No.

The issue in question that has been so bothersome to me is intolerance, and from it the injustice, judging, discrimination, slander and ignorance that is prevalent in today’s society.

It disgusts me, it really does. When I see it, hear it, watch it or read about the intolerance of people the world over for other people who are different I become so angry and sad. For some reason, over these past few weeks I’ve been exposed to more than your average number of stories about homophobic discrimination. Now I don’t know whether this is some sort of chosen period in which all the homophobes joined together and coordinated their gay-bashing but here are three quite separate stories which made my blood boil:

What is it that makes people think they have a right to treat anybody so badly just because they’re different? Those three examples above were all about sexuality related discrimination and that’s because it’s an issue very close to my heart but I know that I could go onto any news site and pull up articles about discrimination because of age, race, religion, sex and a host of other issues. Why is there still so much injustice and intolerance today? It seems that we’ve forgotten a part of MLK’s speech:

"…their destiny is tied up with our destiny… their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

It’s interesting to note, following two of the news stories above, that in the following paragraph, he says this:

"We can never be satisfied as long as [we] cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities… We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only."

So fitting are those two examples that you could almost replace the last sentence with "signs stating ‘For Heterosexuals Only’".

I feel as if we’ve all just dropped the ball over the past few decades and that the debate is no longer as heated for many of us as it once was. I for one plan not to rest until I see equal rights prevail in the country in which I live, and not just in my country but in the rest of the world. I plan not to rest, not to stop lobbying and campaigning until two men can marry. Until two women can adopt. Until all women have the right to choose. Until pay is equal for men and women. Until racism is torn out of all politics. Until people can pray what they want, where they want, when they want to. Until parents are not hassled for presenting their beliefs and opinions to their children. Until free speech is free for all and cannot be bought by offending corporations. Until opinions can be expressed without a police caution. Until people learn that other people have different opinions and that this is their fundamental right. I don’t expect I’ll be resting for a while.

Let’s let (a slightly edited) Martin Luther King say the rest shall we:

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today my friends – Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day nations will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith with which I go about my day.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform jangling discords into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing… From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And so let freedom ring

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Muslims, homosexuals and heterosexuals, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Hark! The Christmas Songs I Hear!

Things aren't what they used to be

First off – how do you like the snow on the blog? Pretty cool eh?

At the fantabulous Thanksgiving meal I attended last weekend, we had the radio on. It was some random French station which played a mix of music currently loved by the French. Because the French have yet to grasp what constitutes good music and have also yet to learn how to create a playlist, we decided it was less offensive to our ears to turn the radio off.

Since it was now officially the holiday season, the call was made for Christmas music and soon enough, we had ol’ blue eyes serenading all our winter blues away with our favourite Christmas songs. Then came the question that really threw me: “What’s your favourite Christmas song?”

Now, as we all know, choosing a favourite song, film or book always means a top 5 as rarely does any one item stand out so much that it can be hailed as the be all and end all. Still, choosing only five Christmas songs is HARD! I was including carols in this mix as well which made things just that extra bit more confusing. How does one compare ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ to ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’? Yet here I go: Andy’s top five Christmas songs.

5: Silent Night (7 O’clock News)

A surprising choice to some maybe, but this song really strikes a chord with me. Not only do I like the song Silent Night, but I really love Simon and Garfunkel’s rendition of it with a news report in the background. It’s a not-so subtle reminder that all is not well at this time of year when we tend to forget the rest of the world. It’s also a call to all us Christians to actually fight for things worth fighting for. So many Christians get caught up in the stupid little things and become locked away in their little corner of judging that their whole faith becomes totally pointless and bitter. Forget trying to fight against people writing x-mas instead of Christmas, I doubt God really cares that much. I would sooner lose all mention of Christ from Christmas in the media and abolish poverty or AIDS or war than have some people with shiny gold heads on my Christmas cards and leave countless people to die.

With this song being released in 1966, there are obviously a few seemingly out-dated references to Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement but the message behind the song remains the same.

4: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

I love this song because of it’s many possible layers of meaning. When I hear it, I imagine a man singing it to somebody who’s left him so that the song is saying “You go a ahead and have your Christmas, I can’t really have a good one now that you’re gone but it will make me happy to know that you’re happy”. Maybe I’m just sad. Others see it as a happier song – a well-wisher serenading passers by or his friends. No matter how you take it, it is undeniably beautiful. No matter how many modern covers there are of this, the old ones are always the best:

3: See Amid The Winter’s Snow

This is one of my favourite carols because it isn’t sung that often. Sadly, as much as carols rock, they are all to often murdered and then cited as the best. Sure, so not every congregation is trained to sing, I understand this and God never did call for his praises to be sung in tune*. Yet because of the amount of times I’ve sung all the well known carols, I tend to only fully enjoy them when I hear them sung by a choir or when I’m singing them in a choir – It seems that from the repetitious singing year after year comes apathy on my part.

See Amid The Winter’s Snow however, is one which I love because I have no bad memories of it and because the words rock. Just the line “Lo within a manger lies / he who built the starry skies” never ceases to amaze me. Ok sure, so there are some discrepancies – I mean where can you find snow in Bethlehem I ask you? I love it nonetheless:

*One of my favourite verses in the Bible is “Make a joyful noise to the Lord” which pops up all over the Psalms (eg. Ps100:1). All that is required is joy and a noise. Tuning is optional so that even the tone deaf can praise him. Sadly some people tend to skip this verse and are all about the tune and nothing about the joy.

2: Winter Wonderland

Always a classic – I remember playing this in Saturday Morning Music School (oh the horror) on my trumpet in Junior Brass with the legendary teacher that was Mr Gregory. It’s stuck with me ever since and I really just love the way that it’s put together with all its accidentals and jazzy chord progressions and let’s hear it for that modulation in the middle folks! And of course, who better to lend his unmistakable tones to this ditty but old satchelmouth himself – Louis Armstrong:

1: All I Want For Christmas Is You:

Ok so you can call me a girl but I don’t care. This song gives me warm happy feelings every time I hear it which make me want to get up on the table and dance. You will all be glad to know that I resist these urges.

I mean come on, who doesn’t get a feel good feeling at the end of Love Actually when that girl gets up on stage to sing this song? Why do you feel so warm, happy and excited? Because it’s a kick-ass song that’s why!

For those of you who are immune to the obvious charms of this song, crawl away and hide in a hole until the 6th of January. We want to have a happy fun Christmas song and there’s nothing which you can say that will change our minds.

In true YouTube music lover spirit, here’s a cover from the fantastic Lisa Lavie who delivers the song with such talent it’s a cover which is almost as good, if not as good, as the original:

So there you have it – the list of my top five favourite Christmas songs. It was a hard choice – So Here It Is Merry Christmas didn’t make the list even though I love that song for all its cheesiness. Neither did Santa Claus is coming to town – though I only really like either rock n’ roll versions of that or the Zooey Deschanel cover from Elf… I digress.

What are your top 5 Christmas songs? Leave a comment – I’d really find it interesting.

P.S.V.

It’s nothing to do with Christmas but so what?