Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rewriting the Past

Back in July 1990 I was on vacation in Swanage, England, a small costal town on the south coast. I spent most of the days wandering the hills overlooking the beach, reading the book of Romans and a book called The Father Heart of God by Floyd McClung. The weekend obviously left an impression on me, in the fact that I remember it in such vivid detail.

Whilst wandering around the headlands I would spend time singing to myself, and I wrote a lyric for a praise song that goes as follows:

Lord Let me feel Your gentle touch,
A freely flowing healing stream
Filling my soul with all Your power
And bathing my heart with love

Pour out a waterfall (women echo each line)
Of love and light
pour out a waterfall
On me
Please let Your Spirit come
And flood my heart
A waterfall
Of love.

Lord let me hear Your gentle voice
That leads through my uncertainty
Shining a light where I should walk
And guiding me on my way

Pour out a waterfall...

Lord pour Your Spirit on Your church
As water on a thirsty land
Break down the barriers of fear
Until we are one in You

Pour out a waterfall....

In the Contemplative Service we frequently use a form of prayer that we call Waterfall Prayer. You image holding someone out under a waterall of God's love. It's a way to pray for someone when you really don't have the words to do so.

So I recently revisited my old song to see if it was usable. After playing through it I began to critique it with 21 years of song writing under my belt. Musically it never really makes it, the verses are in the key of C while the chorus is in F. Can you think of many praise songs where the verses and chorus are in different keys? I can think of a few that use the Relative Minor and Major, but not many, and there's a good reason for that. It sounds like 2 separate songs that have been velcroed together. It flows, but it feels uncomfortable.

The melody of the verses feels very 'hymn like', it doesn't lead into the chorus, and the melody of the chorus is rather hackneyed with it's echo and the shape of the tune. It feels borderline children's musical to me, it's almost too easy to learn, it's predictable, boring.

The lyrics? Well, they are ok, but they try to cover too much in the song. Verse 1 is about experiencing God in the present. Verse 2 about God guiding us...and note the mixed metaphor, "Let me hear your gentle voice......shining a light", how does a voice shine a light? Verse 3 suddenly jumps theme from personal renewal/guidance, to corporate renewal of the church. The pronouns switch from 'I' to 'We' and then of course switch back to the singular 'Me' for the chorus.

And so, a rewrite was definitely in order to make something usable.

The new lyric reads like this:

Love, like a waterfall,
Falling on us,
Flooding our hearts with grace and peace
Healing waters flow
Flowing on us,
Flooding our hearts with love.


Every moment of every day God is loving us,
Showers of mercy and waves of forgiveness are covering us.

Love, like a waterfall....

The first thing you notice is that the song is much shorter and focussed. The lyrics don't try to cover too much ground. It is also all in the plural, 'Us'. I made a conscious decision to write it that way, but also wanted to craft it in such a way that if we were praying for others we could change the lyric to 'You' instead of 'Us' and it would still make sense.

The B section of the lyric 'Every moment of every day' is actually optional, it flows just fine, but you can use the A section alone as a response. In fact the first time we sang the song I did the B section as a solo.

In a song this short it is difficult to maintain a rhyming scheme that doesn't sound forced, instead I chose to tie the lyric together through repeating sounds within the lines. " a waterfall, falling..." and "...waters flow, flowing..." for example. Also the use of  Falling, Flowing, Flooding helps give the lyric cohesion.

The melody of the A section 'Love, like a waterfall', mainly falls in stepward motion, illustrating the lyrics melodically - something that my original 1990 song attempted to do but was unsuccessful. The B section mainly climbs step wise twice, with 2 jumps down that mirror the A section.

Probably the most important change in the lyric is a shift in my understanding of God. The original lyric was a request for God to pour out his love upon us, the new lyric is an acknowledgement that God is actively pouring out his love upon us all the time.

Sometimes it's an interesting exercise to rewrite the past.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Requiem

My original post where I uploaded the recording of my requiem has stopped working...I finally figured out a new way of doing it.

(the files may take a few moments to start playing)

Enjoy the music :)










Thursday, March 17, 2011

Carrying the Bear of Faith

(I wrote this years ago, I have absolutely no idea why!)

Associated Press

Jim Hardcastle is a man with a mission. A mission that involves danger, suspense, freezing conditions and a six foot two inch tall Teddy Bear that he has affectionately christened Stanley. For Jim this mission is of the utmost importance and seriousness, but for Stanley? Well he’s just along for the ride strapped on Jim’s back – his embroidered smile never waning.

I first caught up with Jim at his mission training camp, which is located in the entertainment room of his modest two-bedroom house located in the Catskills. But there is no ordinary entertainment that goes on here; Jim has constructed plywood ledges and ramps, a miniature climbing wall and a large walk in freezer, which Jim and Stanley sit in for at least two hours every day. There are no televisions or stereo systems; anything that could be a distraction for Jim and prevent him from developing the skills he needs has been discarded. His passion and determination have cost him dearly. His wife Sylvia left him two months ago for a mountaineer in Colorado whom Jim employed to teach him the correct use of crampons. His daughter Jess has started dating the Emergency Repair Specialist from the Steiff Teddy Bear Company who Jim flew in so that he could learn the correct repair and maintenance of Stanley whom he commissioned from Steiff for a mere $5000.

Not only has Jim lost family members over his quest but his social life has suffered as well. Jim never leaves his house without Stanley strapped precariously on his back and so most of his friends now avoid him. Practically every business in Jim’s idyllic mountain village has banned him from entering their premises as long as he has Stanley riding with him. This inconvenience would have long deterred a lesser man but not Jim. He has his carefully balanced nutritional meals delivered to him once a month, which he then stores, and eats in his Entertainment Freezer Center. He is content to spend all his time with Stanley for as he says:

“If we can’t get on with each other now, how will we cope when we are trying to sleep inside my tent while we are making the main assault on the North Face?”

Jim’s dream, his drive, his calling and passion – although many would say crazed obsession- is to be the first man to make a solo ascent on Mount Everest with a six foot two inch tall Teddy Bear strapped on his back. Jim himself would describe his goal rather differently however and when he does so he speaks with the fervent passion of a country preacher with an inner fire that no amount of time in his home freezer can dim.

“I was reading through the book of Psalms when the LORD first spoke to me. Psalm 22v1 to be exact, ‘Let us go to the House of the LORD’. Then I glanced backwards and saw Ch 121v1, ‘I lift up mine eyes to the hills’. So many of the Psalms in my bible were described as ‘A song of Ascents’ that I knew the LORD was calling me to climb. I must ascend Mount Zion! I thumbed through my grandmother’s atlas, but I couldn’t locate Zion anywhere…….and that was then the Lord spakest unto me and shewed me that only the tallest mountain would be a fitting ascent for His Glory.”

Jim paused to wipe some froth away from his mouth with his pocket-handkerchief.

“I called my Nephew Dylan and bid him enlighten me unto the name of the tallest Mount. Out of the mouths of babes and infants is spoken much truth, but Dylan is only 15 months old and so he just gurgled and belched. As the LORD has not seen fit to bestow on me the Gift of Interpretation I called the local library where Phyllis informed me that Everest was the mountain I sought.”

Jim’s level of faith and obedience would shame even the most fervent Pentecostal. He truly believes that the LORD will sustain him and protect him during his climb. He quotes many passages to support this belief, his favorite being Psalm 121v3 “He will not let your foot be moved.”

But surprisingly there are still skeptics. Most of them desperately seeking an explanation for the presence of Stanley strapped on Jim’s back. I asked Jim to respond to the nay sayers who claim that even if Jim was fit enough to climb Everest, the presence of a frozen cuddy toy lashed to his back would make the climb impossible as a conservative estimate places the weight of a frozen Stanley at 577lbs and 4ozs.

“We all have our crosses to bear,” said Jim. “Stanley is mine. He is the bear that Daniel saw in his vision (Chapter 7) that was ‘raised up’. How much further can a bear be raised than the summit of the world’s highest mountain!”

Many of the village’s children however have embraced Jim as one of their own, an action that Jim sees as a confirmation of his calling. Some of them have gone so far as to throw temper tantrums until their parents bought plush soft toy bear backpacks, which they wear constantly. The sight of Jim and Stanley leading his entourage of devotees through the back roads is faintly reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. But unlike the piper, the ‘Bear-Carrier of the Catskills’ is not out for profit or revenge. Simple obedience and faith is his calling.

The town’s only Minister, the Right Reverend Horace Thrumblaster has this to say about his most eccentric parishioner

“ I say this with as much love as I can muster, but I truly believe that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a Bear-Carrier to climb Mount Everest.”

But Jim insists that it is possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

“All you need is a very large needle or a very efficient Blender,” he says smiling.

I guess only time will tell.

Editorial Comment: When last seen, Jim was in the Himalayas accompanied by two Sherpas heading for his base camp. Stanley was nowhere to be seen however, for even Jim’s passion could be tempered by the corporate funding and Sponsorship of Disney. Stanley is now a permanent fixture at a children’s home outside of Springfield having been ousted by a Six foot two inch heated and thermally insulated model of Baloo from Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prayer and Songwriting

I am teaching this week at another church in town, they are doing a series on Prayer and the Arts and I'm talking about songwriting.

I'm going to teach 2 creative writing projects that I utilize both in prayer and in songwriting. To do this I've been playing around with a new presentation software called Prezi. I'm not much of a visual artist so I haven't really tapped into it's potential, but I do like the way I can zoom into the clustering technique to show details and then zoom out again to show the whole thing. Here's the presentation (just click on the triangle to advance the slides, if the presentation doesn't seem to load, then reload the page or follow the hyperlink above, sometimes I've had problems!)

In the process of working on the presentation I interacted with each line of the Lord's Prayer (or Model Prayer as the church where I'm teaching calls it) by rewriting them using Synonymous, Antithetical and Synthetic Paralellisms ~ watch the presentation to find out what they are :)

Here's my result

Our Father in Heaven
  • Dad of us all, who covers us all
  • We are not orphans, living life unobserved
  • We are one family, with God watching us all
Hallowed be Thy Name
  • Your name is a beautiful mystery
  • No other person blazes as brightly as You
  • We see Your beauty and declare it aloud
Your kingdom come
  • Invade our lives with Your rule
  • May our kingdoms diminish
  • With 'self' on the throne, our kingdoms will crumble
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
  • Help us be as obedient as the angels
  • Let earthly selfishness be replaced by heavenly obedience
  • Help us follow You, for You see the bigger picture
Give us this day our daily bread
  • Nourish and sustain us
  • Don't let us consume more than we need for today
  • Help us to see the food You place before us
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
  • May our "I forgive yous" be an echo of Yours
  • Do not hold grievances against us as we so often do to others
  • Forgiveness delated and denied corrodes the soul
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
  • If our path cannot be easy, guide as safely through difficulty
  • We can find our own way into trouble and get in over our heads - help us!
  • Let us trust You to chart the course of our lives
For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen
  • You have the Authority, the ABility and the Beauty, always
  • We are obedient servants, singing Your praises for eternity
  • It's all about You, all You, Always You
After sitting with each line individually, I then took one of each version and made my own prayer.

We are one family, with God watchin us all
We see Your beauty and declare it aloud!
May our kingdoms diminish -
Let earthly sefishness be replace by heavenly obedience.
Help us to see the food You place before us -
And to remember that forgiveness delayed and denied corrodes the soul.
If our path cannot be easy, guide as safely through difficulty
For life is about You
All You
Always You

It was an interesting exercise to do as it forced me to think about what each line in the prayer means for me rather than just reciting it rote. I was also surprised by what came up for me when I utilized the Clustering Technique that is demonstrated in the presentation.
Enjoy :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chocolate Banana Muffins

• 3 very ripe or overripe bananas
• ½ cup vegetable oil
• 2 eggs
• ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons best quality unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted)
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 x12 cup muffin pan plus liners (foil are best)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and line the muffin pan with paper/foil cups.
2. Mash the bananas by hand in a bowl
3. Still mashing add the oil followed by the eggs and sugar
4. In another bowl mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda together and add this mixture, beating gently, to the banana mixture, then put approx 3 tablespoons in each muffin.
5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins, by which time the muffins should be dark, rounded, and peeking proudly out of their paper cups.
6. Let them sit for about 5 mins in the pan before removing to a wire rack. Let them cool completely before eating!!!

Store in an airtight container layered with parchment. Will keep 2-3 days in a cool place.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Am Everyone

(Thoughts for Sunday's contemplative service)

I grew up hearing the Parable of the Prodigal Son many times - always in the context of the Sunday Evening Gospel Service. The visiting preachers (a different one nearly every week) would use the parable to talk about how "......we are all the Prodigal Son, wandering away from God and living a life of Sin and Debauchery until we eventually come to our senses and journey home towards the Father who loves us so much he will run to meet us....and we can begin that journey this evening, just walk to the front of the church while the final hymn is played."

I would nod wisely to myself while inwardly I was wishing that I had the courage of the younger son. (Though back then I would have labeled it arrogance.) And so as the organ played 'Just As I Am', I stayed just where I was, wondering who I was in the story.

I do that with a lot of bible stories.

Am I the Prodigal, or the Older Brother? Am I Wheat or Weeds? Am I Sheep or Goats? Am I a Wise or Foolish builder? Who am I?

I am everyone

I am the older brother, staying at home being obedient to what Father wants, and resenting him for it.

I am the older brother, jealous of my younger brother for having the courage to do what I wanted to do.

I am the older brother, angry with my father for never rewarding me for slaving away on his farm. I'm obedient, but not loving.

I am the younger brother, running away from community, viewing my own selfish pursuit of pleasure as the most important thing in life.

I am the younger brother, realizing I've made a mess of my life and wondering if I can sweet talk my father into letting me back into the house.

I am the younger brother, overwhelmed by forgiveness that I don't deserve.

I am the father, recklessly loving even when it could be exploited.

I am the father, offering forgiveness without conditions.

I am the father, seeking reconciliation because I want all my children to be at the feast.

I can even find myself in the residents of the far country who helped the younger brother squander his inheritance, in the servants at the farm, helping in the background of an unexpected feast and in the absent mother, not mentioned in the story at all and therefore having no role to play.

I Am Everyone

As you read through the story of the Prodigal Son, find yourself in everyone. Who is it easy to be? Is there any character you don't want to be?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

40 Journaling Questions for Lent

“Lent is the shadow the Cross makes on the world in the light of the Resurrection”.

Traditionally Lent is a time for reflection and commitment. These questions are designed to be used as springboards for your personal journaling. Attempt to write an answer to one question a day and also try to write a prayer a day as a response to your own journaling (you get Sundays off). If you feel a question does not apply to you or you are unwilling or unable to answer it, journal about why this is so.

Wed March 9th 1. How would you describe your current relationship with God?
Thurs 2. What activities help you connect with God?
Fri 3. Where are you encountering joy in your life at the moment?
Sat 4. What gives you delight and how is God in that experience?

Mon March 14th 5. Describe a time you felt especially close to God.
Tues. 6. Describe a time you felt especially far from God.
Wed. 7. How does God delight in you?
Thurs. 8. What does God say when He looks at you?
Fri. 9. What emotions arise when you think about God? Why?
Sat 10. What has shaped your image of God?

Mon March 21st 11. What strengths do you have?
Tues 12. How are you unique?
Wed. 13. What are you afraid of?
Thurs. 14. What do you dislike about yourself?
Fri. 15. What do you like about yourself?
Sat. 16. Write about one aspect of yourself you would like to change.

Mon March 28th 17. What was one great thing about growing up in your family?
Tues. 18. What was one frustrating thing about growing up in your family?
Wed 19. How are you like your parents?
Thurs. 20. How are you different from your parents?
Fri. 21. How have your parents influenced your perception of God?
Sat. 22. What are your favorite memories of your childhood?

Mon April 4th 23. What are you angry with God about at the moment?
Tues. 24. How do you feel God has let you down?
Wed. 25. Where do you need to experience God at the moment?
Thurs. 26. What kind of person feels ‘unsafe’ to you?
Fri. 27. How do you react when you feel threatened?
Sat. 28. How does God feel ‘unsafe’ to you?

Mon April 11th 29. What is your favorite bible verse and why?
Tues. 30. Are there any parts of the bible you wish weren’t there? Why?
Wed. 31. What is your favorite bible story and why?
Thurs. 32. What lies do you tell yourself?
Fri. 33. What do you want people to say about you when you die?
Sat. 34. What is your biggest struggle and how have you encountered God through it?

Mon April 18th 35. What image comes to mind when you think of God?
Tues. 36. How has God used you recently?
Wed. 37. How has God shown His love for you during this season?
Thurs. 38. What is God trying to say to you at the moment?
Fri. 39. Which question was the hardest to answer honestly?
Sat. 40. How have you changed/grown through answering these questions?

Friday, March 04, 2011

February Games Played

In February I managed 19 plays of 14 different games. In Feb 2010 I managed 28 plays so this is a fairly sizable reduction :(

Top of the list for Feb is one of my fave card games Sticheln
It's a great card game with a lot of surprises, it can be tricky to learn, but it is satisfying once you grasp what is going on :)

Second with 2 plays is Black Friday - the most recent offering from Friedeman Friesse. At first glance you wouldn't expect me to like this game, it's about trading shares and manipulating markets and seems an exercise in statistics, probability and observation...but for some reason I do enjoy it. I even constructed a 4 page flow chart to make the game play easier to learn!!!!!

Die Fugger (another favorite) also managed 2 plays. Trading goods and influencing market prices....a great game all contained in a tiny deck!

The other game with 2 plays was Palastgefluster

The game count may have been lower for February...but I did get to sit in the Caribbean sunshine with good friends playing games while on an awesome!!!!