Christmas Fragment 1

Christmas is messily materialistic. The Word became flesh. Blood, bodily fluids, wordless crying are at the heart of Christmas story. It is icky, joyful and fills the senses.

This is why with so many objects criss crossing the planet it fulfils part of the spirit of Christmas. The handling of the card, the wrapping of the gift, the prising of the plastic, the eating of food, the drinking of wine affirms our bodily humanity; for God affirms bodily humanity in its messy state by taking on a breathing, weeing, gurgling body.

Anarchristmas

‘Bloody warm weather!’ Yakob grumbled, sweat streaming down his face, as he threw the plastics in the truck. ‘I thought December would make this job a bit bearable.’

Sam grunted. He wheeled three bins upto the truck. The waste truck crunched and grated through the remains of the people’s consumption through the festive time.

Yakob continued the complaint. ‘As usual, it’s just us the binmen working our arses off when everyone’s partying.’ Sam came close to mentioning the police and the hospital staff but thought the better off it.

‘Yes, sing with joy you fools! Sing lies to numb your brain and kill your damn soul!’ Yakob ranted at a strain of singing that somehow reached them through the grating. Sam stopped and tried to listen. Peter put his head out of the truck cabin and killed the engine. The sudden silence from gears and levers and the singing that they heard made all three men hold their breath.

‘Who is singing?’ Peter asked jumping from the truck. Sam saw the group standing on the pavement, swaying, clapping and singing with an energy that no X factor contestant could muster.

‘Postmen.’ Yakob stated.

All three men laughed. It was. Their uniforms glinted of the street lights and as they moved and sang they radiated a chaotic unity of beauty.

‘Mate! Me thought you’s all on holiday’ Peter hollered at the group.

A few hands waved and the grooving mass walked towards them. The three men felt a bit threatened at this strange mob bearing on them. The jolly postmen reached them and they could make out the beat boxing, the harmonies and the full throated singing that made the great sound.

‘Crazy man!’ one of the postmen reached out his hand for a high five. Yakob despite himself gave it. ‘Don’t believe all you hear!’ He grooved.

‘Lovin’ is believin’. With that he put a piece of paper in Sam’s hand.

‘We’re headin’ for a party, yeah? See you there!’

A post truck appeared from nowhere and the jolly postmen tumbled in without missing a note or a beat and they disappeared.

The paper had seen better days. Sam read out,

‘This is where it’s at. Peace is where it is. This is where peace is at.’

The nonsense of it all made the men laugh. This was the second time tonight. They had never laughed together like this before.

Peter saw the address. ‘What? Isn’t that where…?’

‘Yes’ Yakob said, ‘but…’

‘We’ve been invited.’ Sam decided for all of them.

The rubbish was left. The truck felt unbearably light in Peter’s hand as they zoomed through the dark deserted post party streets.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

‘Penge? That’ll be £150 please.’

‘What?’ The first suit almost shrieked.

‘Yes, that address is risky at this time of night and it’s right opposite where I live,’ the taxi driver drawled.

Karl was incensed. Ari tried calming him down.

‘Look we have to get there now.’ The other three nodded glumly.

They climbed in the car.

‘If we are wrong…’ Sophie started

‘then there is no problem,’ Karl interrupted.

‘But all these years of research?….’ Ari queried

‘If all the years of research produces this, then we will be laughed out of any life we ever had.’ Jackie laughed.

Karl’s face darkened further. The taxi sped through the streets that blinked light upon the car from the lights of the festivities.

‘Strange isn’t it’ said Michael who had been quiet so far. ‘All our working lives, this is what we wanted. When we met each other and started this project it felt as though the project itself started us off. And we worked so hard. And now… at the cusp of finding and seeing what we’ve toiled for, it feels so pointless. Even if we are right how can we convince anybody?’

Silence descended in the car which was rudely interrupted by the driver’s ipod playlist booming through the back of the car.

‘Stop it!’ Screamed Karl. The driver shrugged and resumed his ear breaking activities.

‘We did all the calculations. We did them several times. We went through every process. We even relearnt our research methodologies. But this is what we’ve got. This is the alignment. So we go.’ Ari was clear. She went on, ‘It does mean though a lot of people will be unhappy. If this is right then a lot will have to change. And face it. We don’t like change.’

‘And yet,’ Jackie pointed out, ‘Lots more will be happy. This really will be a brilliant gift to society. Just a matter of convincing them. So have we got everything?’

‘Money, cameras, forms, memory sticks… yes.’ Sophie had as usual remembered.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The last note sounded. She immersed herself in it. She felt the note gaining inflections she hadn’t know before. She circular breathed the note for what seemed forever. The note gentle grew softer and stopped. Her lips left the mouth piece. Her eyes opened. There was no one there. Anna sighed. But she remember the note and smiled. She looked down to her case. Not bad. Could’ve been better. Maybe it was the recession. Thankfully it was warm. Busking in the cold was no joke with a wind instrument. Maybe Simon had better luck.

It turned out that Simon didn’t fare well at all. His voice had almost gone. He managed to croak some greetings to Anna. They headed back home.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Peter parked the truck and the three men got out. They heard the familiar sound of the singing they had just heard. Except now it seemed so gentle. A warm December breeze blew on them. They saw the sign.

Drop in centre

As far as Sam was concerned this was where the lazy and irresponsible sponged off the kindness and hard work of others. Surely people should just get on with life instead of getting kicked out of the system. Today he felt different. Maybe there was much more to this.

The three went in. It was bright. Sam didn’t think halogens and energy savers gave off this kind of light. Maybe he was just tired. There was a postman or two standing around and he could hear the rest humming somewhere in the building.

There were all sorts of folk sitting around drinking coffee and in the corner there seemed to be a few people helping a young girl. She was sobbing. A baby was crying.

‘She juff gave birff!’ A toothless man grinned at them.

‘Fum immigrant typsh. Dey found her on de freet. Got her in here and pop! Oopfy baby!’ He guffawed at himself. ‘Ambulanf fuppofed to be on itf way.’

They realised that the young girl was crying with relief and happiness. The baby was now feeding. There were two ladies next to her making sure she was allright.

A car screeched to a halt outside. They heard arguing outside and a car revving off.

Five very smartly dressed people walked in. Everyone stared at each other. There was silence.

A sax went off. In walked Anna and Simon (for they often dropped in) Simon trying to sing while Anna soloed. There was a cacophony of hoots and shushing as half the crowd got into the festiveness while the other half were more concerned about the baby who came off the breast and screamed before he was gently led back to it.

As the binmen and the 5 academics stood awkwardly a jolly postlady pushed a try of coffee and cake amongst them.

They sipped their coffee and nibbled at the cake in awkwardness and one of the ladies next to the girl called out.

‘Hey strangers! Come and look at life.’

The baby had finished feeding and was sleeping. The three binmen and the 5 academics walked forward. They knelt to get a better look.

‘What you calling him, love?’ Simon croaked from the back.

The girl slowly comprehending the English, through her tearful eyes said, ‘Manuel.’

And they heard a siren.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Anarchristmas

ana – again or re-

anarchy – the breakdown of human systems.

 

Worship Futures

Three bits of news have hardened my suspicions that guitar music is going to be increasingly niche. One is Paul Gambaccini’s last rites on rock. The second is that Guitar Hero has been discontinued. And the third is that Beyonce could be headlining Glastonbury. I think this shows that the guitar has definitely moved away from the centre stage in society’s music consciousness.

This has interesting implications for worship music. A good proportion of contemporary worship leaders lead from the guitar. A huge number of worship songs today are written around the guitar. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are more guitar worship churches than organ worship churches. So, if the guitar is moving away from the centre of secular music but is the centre of church worship music, should we be concerned?

Concerned in a positive way I would hope. It does warrant thinking and discussion. We are products of our culture and God’s kingdom advances through some of the features of the culture we inhabit. Our worship will always reflect some part of our culture. So we should experiment with new ways of doing music away from the guitar.

How about an ipad/ipod orchestra? Or a more ethereal laptop orchestra?

Sounds alien? Impossible? Impractical? or exciting? Perhaps all of them? Imagine how alien we would sound to Christians a century ago. We have so much more technology than they did. Whether technology is out of control or too much in our lives is open for debate but technology has played an integral role in the way music in the church has evolved. Here’s an interesting quote from the book ‘Electronic Music.’

“baroque music cannot be imagined without the advances of 16th and 17th century luthiers, rock could not exist without the electric guitar, and jazz or hiphop without redefinitions of the saxophone and the turntable.” p89

So as technology changes new kinds of music can appear, not by a wholesale dumping of the past but as natural inheritors to a tradition. ‘(T)he pipe organ was the most complex man-made device,[5] a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century’ (Wikipedia). Using software is a natural progression from the pipe organ which under pinned church music for centuries. From the same book :

Good new instruments should learn from their traditional ancestors and not impose their music on the performer.

This is where the challenge really lies. It’s easy to make music sound from the computer. You just press play on whatever music player you have. The challenge lies in actually making music with the computer.

Laptops are a common sight in worship but they seem to be used mostly as a screen for words or for projection. Are there any worship leaders who use a computer as their leading instrument? In my limited experience I haven’t heard or seen any. Within the band context I have seen computers used musically but mostly as a sound bank for the keyboard or as a loop machine.

Loops sound good but they barely scratch the surface of computer music. Live sampling would be the next step. This could be of the singing and we could even sample the congregation’s singing to maybe pray over or recite a liturgy over. Generating sounds from the computer could take things further. It could give us a real sense of the otherness and the unpredictability of God. The next crazy step could be where there could be a network server in our worship space where people with their smartphones could all connect to the server and participate and contribute to the music with the various apps in our worship. Wild.

The possibilities are endless. Everything’s possible but not everything will be useful, Paul reminds us. But surely we have to start trying it out? So over to you.

What could worship sound (and look) like if we used the full range of the computer’s potential in worship?