Common Language

admin : October 22, 2014 9:52 am : blog

I hate it when people try and put God lyrics to straight songs. It’s cheesiness in the extreme – not good! So I was horrified to wake up with with the verse of Bad Company’s “Feels Like Making Love” – Jesus, when I think about you, I think about lo-ove”. Really, really not good. But it got me thinking. It’s true, when I think about Jesus the first thing I think about is His love. Maybe I’ve been ‘conditioned’ that way after being a Christian for nearly 30 years. Despite the mess I’ve made of that it seems to me that God’s love is pretty unconditional. But I know some people, when they think about Jesus they think about the way religion or the church has messed them around.

This isn’t a blog post to put that right – I don’t think I could do that. It’s about realising we all have a different take on things, and those ‘takes’ are often justified. We just need the grace to hear each other.

We just had a big event at Ponds Forge in Sheffield. It was a long day, lots happened, lots said and plenty of folks there. It’s an annual thing our church does and this year I was part of one of the bands for the first time in a long while. I didn’t do that well with some of the songs. If they were your favorite songs and you were there, I apologise.

Some folks I’ve talked to thought the day was “the best one we’ve done yet”. The evening was a multimedia presentation with the theme of The Journey. It was well put together and thought through but lovingly demonstrated our trademark lack of proffessionalism in places, which for me is a good thing!

Others have said things like “If I wanted to see a panto I would have stayed in Northampton” and “It was a long drive for a performance”, which it was – especially with the M1 being nose to tail through the roadworks.

I love the church I’m part of because one of the things it’s built on is grace. As we work things out on this journey we’ve learnt that there’s often more than one right answer and that for some people the right answer is the wrong answer for someone else. Goodness, that gets confusing. Some folks last weekend really needed a good sermon, a message. They need interaction and they missed it because the day for them was a performance. Others needed to sit back, watch and listen and then respond to what they’d experienced in the presentation. One thing we all need is the grace to realise that deep down our need for healing, acceptance, love, forgiveness, inclusion is the same. It works itself out in different ways but we are social creatures with a need to belong. Some people may argue with that and that’s fine.

Sheffield  - Honouring the Martyrs The event on Saturday wasn’t perfect and the old addage “you can’t please everyone” seems very applicable. I guess I’m writing this knowing that a number of people who read it would have been there. Some went away feeling they missed something while others had a great time. For me it was the testimonies – two minutes of someones life story – that was enough to make the day worth it. The tribute to the martyrs and suffering Christians was incredibly powerful. If I went just for that it was worth it.

I wrote a song about this time last year called Common Language. Have a listen and have grace.

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Your Love

admin : April 1, 2014 10:26 am : blog, Music

Glen Kaiser once sang a song called Jesus Is Like An Ocean. It’s a beautiful song but one reason I love it is because it paints a picture. I love it when you can visualise a song taking you somewhere. The songs I like that I’ve written are the ones that do that for me when I’m singing them. There’s something about being transported away by a song, even temporarily, something special when it takes you to a new level of emotion or understanding.

It’s why songs mean different things to different people. I wrote a song called Dancing With Seagulls, about the times as a teenager with a lot going ong on, I needed to get away and find some space. So I’d go down the beach and chase seagulls. When I’ve sang that at gigs people have said to me afterwards, “it wasnt the beach or seagulls, but I did have a placeI’d escape to”

I’ve just recorded this song - Your Love. I’m not going to say what’s prompted it. Love does amazing things. Makes you dance, cry, laugh, hurt and be healed. In a life where we mess up and get messed up, Love wins.

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Wild Weekend

admin : January 22, 2014 4:11 pm : blog

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Monty “Rock-Star” Halls

OK – so I like to travel. And I like a hint of adventure as well – Bangladesh, Canada, Brazil, Ethiopia, France… well, no not France but hey, I like adventure. So when my good wife saw a Wildlife Expedition Training weekend advertised by none other than Monty Halls (the one who owns Ruben the dog) she thought it completely acceptable to pay some money to send me to the wilds one freezing weekend in January.

I’m so glad she did. The info said we’d learn some boat handling, rope access, shelter building, fire lighting, that sort of stuff. It was all of that and more. I arrived at the Sportsmans Arms about 5:15pm on the Friday. “Look out for Rich” said Rachel from the team. “He’s wearing a red top”. Rich was the first punter to have shown up and everyone who phoned to say they’d arrived after that was told to look for Rich with the red top. This meant Rich with the red top looked like the most popular person in the pub!

It was a mixed crowd, the usual alpha mail comparisons going on in a friendly way. “I climbed Killi in flip flops once. Took a couple of hours and would have been quicker if I didn’t have to carry my guide!”. “Yeah, I had a similar problem in the Gobi desert. Had to haul the camel when it got sick as well.” I was going to say I’d walked part of  Hadrians wall but I thought I’d keep quiet.

And they were all divers. The half hour that followed was full of talk that inclued words like “re-breather” “blades” and “bouyancy compressor”. I sat with my pint of local ale and nodded like I knew what they were talking about. I thought I’d got away with it until Rich with the red top asked if I’d done much diving. “Well, you know, not really, no…”

“Really, we’ll have to sort that out.” he said and told me he was a diving instructor, living in Cumria and I’d be welcome anytime. At the end of the weekend we swapped details and I plan to take him up on his offer.

Monty turned up and we followed in convoy to the camp about 3 miles away, along some windy Devonshire roads and finaly to a muddy track that came out into a clearing in some trees. We got out of the cars and splashed through the mud to the main shelter where Rachel was cooking beans and jacket spuds on a wood burner. We found our tents, basic tarporlin shelters, dumped our bags and went back to the main shelter where we swaped more stories and let Monty give us the basics of where things were in the camp.

I had a good nights sleep and the next morning, after a bacon and egg breakfast, Monty gave us a run down of what we’d be doing. As well as Monty and Rachel we had Andy Torbet, Paul Mattin and Aldo, all ex-military guys ready to inpart their knowledge of survival in the wild. We split into three groups and first up for us was rope access. Aldo and Andy picked a nearby tree for us to tackle. I have to admit to being a ‘stand-at-the-back-and-let-everyone-else-answer’ type of person but the guys were good at making sure everyone was taking part without making you look or feel like you were on the spot. There was a young lad, Rob, who was on one of the other teams but had told me his biggest fear was the ropes.
I saw him coming down from the cliff we had to abseil with a huge grin going around for a second turn.

After the ropes Monty gave us a talk in expedition kit. He’s off to Venezuela so had the kit he’d be taking with him. I did feel rather smug that my kit wasn’t far off, though my destinations (the South Downs Way?) probably don’t call for some of the more extreme stuff.

We had a help yourself sandwich type lunch and then went up into the woods with Paul Mattins to look at a shelter the previous groups had buit. It was great, so we took it down and tried to fix it. Paul took a machete into the trees and hacked a few more branches for us, every now and then calling out “Look out Rob!” as a tree trunk would crash down next to me.

Our last session was First Aid and Wilderness medicine and I was pleased again to match up my First Aid knowledge with what we were being taught. Haydn, the instructor is a paramedic and works on the local lifeboat. He’s done his share of hiking and told us a few horror stories, mainly about ‘jelly-belly’. Perfect preperation for dinner.

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Wine with a touch of Pheasant

There’d been a pheasant shoot that morning and the local land-owners had given us three pheasants and a pigeon to eat. We just had to prepare them. Paul gave us a first class lesson in how this was done and it was suprisingly less gory than I’d imagined. Rachel had cooked us a stew so the pheasant was cooked with the remaining onion and what seemed like three bottles of wine. It was a great evening of getting to know people, sharing some particularly nice ale and singing some songs. Monty gave us an interesting rendition of red-headed woman and Paul almost launched into American Pie.

The second night was freezing. There’s nothing I can say that will make it sound comfortable. It was cold. I was glad when the morning came and I could get back down to the wood burner and put my feet in the fire to thaw. More bacon and eggs and then my group headed off to Dittisham.

Now, Monty Halls has travelled the world. He was a Royal Marine and since leaving the marines has made TV programs about exploration and adventure. He lives about five miles from where we were. Could he find the landing stage where Rachel would be waiting to pick us up in the tiny village of Dittisham? Well, no he couldn’t, which was rather amusing!

We eventually arrived and Rachel was waiting for us in ‘Jason’ the RIB. I was pleased to learn that RIB stands for Ridged Inflatable Boat and even more so when Rachel told us we’d be able to take the controls and head out to sea. On the way up the Dart estuary we passed a pontoon the local grey seal population had comandeered. Rachel is a marine biologist as well as a mean jacket potato chef and told us about some of the local marine life. As we headed into open water, what had been a cloudless sky suddenly darkened and we were pelted with hailstones that made your face sting.  We bounced over the waves that the local RNLI guys described a a bit ‘lumpy’ and headed back up the Dart. Huge fun and I informed my good lady that for my next birthday I would like a Rib. Hope she gets the right sort.

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With Paul and Monty

Back on dry land we had a help-yourself lunch and then went into the woods with Paul who gave us what was billed as a ‘Practical Leadership Task’ but turned out to be a team building task, which isn’t at all a critisism. We had a bag of various ropes, clips and straps and had to get from one tree to another across the ‘crack of doom’ wich in reality was a slight dip in the forest floor. We worked together quite well and I learnt various tricks from the other guys. We all had to get across and so built a zip-slide type thing that you had to pull yourself along. I was last to go over and did a rather good orang-utang impression as I went over.

The last activity for us was the 4×4 off roading. The guys had managed to get Steve for the Land Rover experience down to show us how it’s done. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. You see, I’d really like to know how to properly drive off road. Steve had bought a brand new, shiny white Land Rover Discovery for us to use. It’s kitted out with computers gallore, so much so that when your going down a muddy hill you press a couple of buttons and tell the car what type of terrain your in, take your feet off the pedals and let the car drive. You just have to hold the steering wheel to make sure you don’t drive into a tree or off a cliff. To be honest, it wasn’t really driving which was a shame. After the drive we wen’t through a pile of kit you might want to take in a Landy if you were heading out on an adventure.

The driving experience didn’t do anything to dampen the overall experience of the weekend. It really was one of the best weekends I’ve had for a while and I’d highly recomend it to anyone. If Monty, Rachel, Andy or any of the guys from Great Escapes are reading this then thankyou so much. It really was a blast!


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My End Of Year Blog

admin : December 31, 2013 11:40 am : blog

I’m sitting here making plans for next year which is a good sign that I’ve learnt nothing from the last twelve months. Of all the planned things I had to do this time last year, only two have happened. In February we visited Rome for our wedding anniversary. The day we came home the Pope resigned though I’m not sure there’s a connection. I aslo planned to record a live album, which I did at the One Nation Studios in Warwick. It was a great evening, immense fun and the resulting CD is something I’m rather pleased with. more »

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USA Roadtrip – the Finale

admin : November 25, 2013 11:45 am : blog

Did you know if you put all the roads in America end to end you’d have a very long road. And here’s the thing – they’re all full of cars. There are about 63 million cars in America. That’s a car for every five people which sounds about right doesn’t it. But here’s the thing – the average family in America own 2.5 cars. Now, if the average family is say, five poeple, then that means half the population doesn’t have a car.

OK, my duff and dodgy maths (math for the American reader) aside, there is still a huge divide betweet the rich and poor in the US and indeed the west.

Goodness, how did I get onto that? I don’t know. Anyway, we were driving again, this time to Chicago to stay with an old friend of mine, Mark Jobe. Here’s a potted history for those who like church building success stories. Mark began Pastoringa church of 18 or so people in 1986. I visited in 1989 and there were a couple of hundred in the Church. Then in 1991 they were having two meetings to fit people in. In 1996 when I visited with Mrs H they had completly outgrown their church and were meeting in a school auditorium. Now there are over 5000 members of the church meeing in 19 venues across Chicago. Mark says that in the last 16 months they’ve baptised over 1000 people.

So OK, in America they do things big. Buildings, burgers, and yes, churches. I’ve been to a couple of mega churches and they really don’t do it for me. But New Life Church in Chicago isn’t your run of the mill rich and glitsy mega church. In fact it’s quite ordinary which was rather nice. I asked Mark the secret of growing a church. He said, fasting and praying specifically for the sould of the people. Descipleship. Pepole aren’t scared of throwing their lives into something bigger than themselve, that carries a cost.

They still sing the songs I taught them 20 years ago. According to Mark, what he learnt from us back here in blighty about sacrifice, commitment and community has become part of their DNA. In a pastors meeting on the Monday morning we sang one of those songs and afterwards, people started saying where they were when they first hear that song, how it had been part of their journey. It was all rather humbling. It’s funny how yoou can do something and think no more about it, but the seed it plants is life and it grows.

And so we had a few hours before the flight to check out downtown Chicago. For me, Chicago is the Blues Brothers. Names like Joliet, Wacca and the “L” make it more of a movie town than any other place I know. We took the “L” downtown. The “L ” or Loop, Or Metro is the elevated railway that travels above the streets downtown. It’s a rickety old thing. When trains stop at the stations the whole structure does a kind of boogie. The best thing has to be the announcemnets. At each stop you’re treated to a new message. “Welcome aboard this CTA train. For your safety eating is prohibitted.” or “Gambling, Soliciting and Hang-gliding are prohibited on this train. Please familiarize yourselves with the 10 part evacuation procedure located in the third carriage from the back of the train on the left hand side on the directon of travel”  For shops it’s hopeless. I had heard the Apple Store was one of the best so we checked it out. It was the same as the one in Birmingham but bigger. I guess when you have a limmited range of tablets, phones and computers there is only so much you can do. They did have public rest-rooms tho, which in a city like Chicago is a welcome feature.

Heading back to the car we passed a sign saying Kiss ‘n’ Drive and I thought only in America. Ariving at the airport we passed another sign, this time saying “Kiss and Fly”. “Ha! Only in America!” said Bill. And you know, he’s right.


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