Mountain Sound

I’m climbing this mountain without a map,
Looking for clarity through mist and cloud,
Lost, alone, are you absent God?
Won’t you speak your will aloud?

And yet by some power still I stand,
As each day brings the summit nearer –
But am I to sit and wait just to hear you?
Won’t you speak your will the clearer?

Though you’re silent I know you’re there,
Your presence wraps around me when there is no voice,
Climbing this mountain I’ll not despair.
Climbing this mountain, I’ve made my choice.

One day soon I’ll see your face.
But for now, just steady this heart,
From the fear of falling, without your grace,
For, Daddy, I know the clouds will part.

Don’t Worry, Dear

“Mummy, who’s that man with the scraggly beard,

Standing beneath the granite arch?”

Him, dear? Oh, no one special,

Let’s just keep walking on.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man with the bloodshot eyes,

And the ripped green sleeping bag?”

Him, dear? Oh, he’s just a little tired,

Sleepy from a long shopping trip.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man with the gruff slurred voice,

And his face all bruised and cut?”

Him, dear? He’s just been playing a bit too rough,

Playing with his friends.

 

“Mummy, who’s that man shouting at us,

Why does he want our coins?”

Him, dear? Walk swiftly on, come quick –

We haven’t got many coins, we best be home,

We’ve already spent too much.

 

“Mummy, isn’t it funny, all those men we saw,

They seemed so very sad.

Do you think they have mummies like you,

With a house like this, and a dad?”

 

Dear, try not to think so hard,

Those men are behind us now.

They’re out there, and we’re inside,

So warm yourself by this fire.

 

And those men, out there, live on,

Colder night by Winter’s night.

The End of the Affair

If I committed my mind to learn about some great figure or celebrity, I might take up in my hand a book about their life, a biography attesting to who they are. I could search the length and breadth of their social media profiles to have some insight into their personality. With a hundred other tools, I could acquire enough data about said person to call myself an expert, a biographer, a testament to their life. A true fan through-and-through.

Yet to gather that type of detailed intelligence about a person, however well-researched and thorough, still negates the fact that I don’t know said person. One minute of conversation with a man would tell me more about him than a lifetime’s laborious study. To have knowledge of her is not to know her. In every case, the amount I know about someone still consigns them to an “it” in my mind; a mere object of study, a facet of amusement. They would never be a “you,” a friend, an accomplice, a lover – never a real person.

I could even make it seem to my friends, by my intimate knowledge and some magnificent mirage of a relationship, that I indeed did know that person – no-one else would know. But telling everyone I had an imaginary relationship, however real I could affirm it in another’s mind, still doesn’t make it any more than that – an imaginary relationship.

And so it is with God.

And this terrifies me.

For in one moment of encounter, the Maker confronts me with this catechism:

Do you know me?

And I am lost for words. I could tell you a hundred things of what God is like. Years of Bible reading and study has left in my mind detailed answers to a plethora of scholar’s questions. I could point you to books of reference, academic accounts, and the like.

But do you know me?

My mind swirls with that knowledge. If you asked anyone who knew me, “Does he know God?”, they’d probably give you an affirmative “Yes.” Maybe I’m good at being a fake. Maybe I’ve been pulling of a fete of impostery. Maybe I’ve been living on the outside. Maybe the answer my closest observers would give you isn’t the truth of the matter.

A man in an affair never tells his wife where he’s going, what he’s doing. The adulterer’s life is most successfully lived in secrecy. Living the life of the actor, pulling the strings here and there to hide from onlooking eyes the duplicity of his existence. Unfaithfulness masked by the cleverly construed lies of a professional cheater.

What if, I ask, the Michael I show the world is painstakingly construed around that adulterer’s mask? On the outside, looking as if he has it all together, the man that serves, the man that looks like he’s after God’s own heart.

But what if, in this moment, I stood before my Maker? Would he see the same Michael that the world sees, that my friends see? Or would he see the Michael that knows about him from the books he’s read and the study he’s committed to, but not in a true relationship? What if he looked me in the eyes, and saw an adulterer staring back at him?

Would I stand before the God of the Universe, for him to say, “I never knew you?”

And so it was that he confronted me, one simple  I need to end the affair. I need to stop cheating on my heart’s Lover by playing this imitation game. The imitation game is played by cheats – men who proclaim to know in their minds, to put on their masks, but have only knowledge. I need to be faithful. Faithfulness comes in that moment where I give up my prideful, arrogant fakery for simple integrity and humility.

So it is I confess this affair – cheating on my Lover, just to look to the world like I had it all together, to look like the good guy, to the people around me, to indulge in the pleasure of approval. When I stand before God, the approval I worked so hard for in this world won’t matter one single, tiny bit. With eternity ahead, and the fleeting moment of my short life behind, what gain will it be to me for living the falsehood of a fake existence?

In ending this affair, I find the one thing that ever mattered and will ever matter when my short stint at existence has played itself out. The collision of my heart with a loving Father as I choose faithfulness to him over my mistress, the world.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot

Oppression Grammar

The “poor.” The “hungry.” The “oppressed.” Bywords in society bandied about in our culture to denote faceless and nameless figures who live in statistics; not, seemingly, as human beings, but graphs and numbers, in the emotive lines of politician’s speeches, in our small talk. Words such as these – words that paint pictures of whole groups of people – “lost,” “homeless,” “beggar,” “prostitutes,” “slaves,” the “old.” Each has become a pivot point for emotive conversation, yet seldom ever regards the individual faces, the men and women, who these terms represent.

Take the word “prostitutes” for example. Any number of stereotyped images and emotive sentiments are kicked up by the thought. A word loaded to provoke polar emotions. Yet hardly ever do we stop to consider the stories, the individual stories, of the girls and women who become prostitutes. Militant feelings are produced when we make the assumption that these girls are always free to choose what they want to do with their bodies. For so many, this is not the case. Young girls fallen prey to human traffickers and forced to sell away their flesh are the mainstay of brothels the world over. Some are sold by their parents to pay off family debts. Slaves in every conventional definition of the word. For many, there is no concept of “freedom.” Most will never be freed.

And each of these women has a face. A story to tell. A song to sing. This is something our statistical figures and sweeping statements fail to shed truth on. The way we even use our language often drives into thoughts of benign apathy.

You see, it is not as clear as we think when we talk about “the prostitutes,” for the sake of example. For every single case of prostitution, their is a girl’s individual story to be told. When we talk about the group as a whole, either grotesquely or in seriousness, often negative feelings and militant responses are provoked, and careless and insulting stereotypes are fired into the air, never to return. Such stereotypes do injustice to the thousands of victims, each with a face and family, who are enslaved by greedy men for the “commodity” that their bodies can provide.

The “prostitute” stereotypes we might imagine do injustice to the twelve year old Cambodian girl forced to “service” up to thirty men a day, coveted for her youth. It does injustice to the Romanian woman abducted from her country, under the false hope of employment, to be forced into the sex trade.

Our language is loaded, and we hold the gun. A gun which fires bullets of dangerous stereotypes, emotive warheads, and oppressive verses. When we enter into conversation, we need to hold in our hearts, not just in our mouths, those who cannot nor are not seen by our own eyes, yet exist as human beings nevertheless. In a culture that casts judgement like a match into a dry forest, we need to step above the wildfire.

No human being deserves to live only as a statistic, or some ill-defined label.

We need to rise above the rhetoric, and, with one voice, say “no human being, like me, deserves to live like this.” We need to stop whitewashing over whole segments of humanity with our general words and our misrepresenting categories. And then, we need to go and be part of the change.

For we are no different to the girls forced to become sex slaves. At our core, we are no different to the man living on the street, living without a home. No different to every child living in hunger across the world. Circumstances do not define a person, don’t change the fact that each of us is human. 

The Perfect Utterance

The arrival of this new season has announced itself with the echoes of gunfire reverberating around the world, mingled now with the loud voices of the affluent and the silence of solidarity; the minor fall of tragedy and the major lift of a new resolve. This is the birdsong of freedom, and the marching beat of united man to preserve it. Times where each person has a response, everyone a stake in collective freedom.

But, it seems, the entire nature of that freedom is being shaken out and turned upside down.

We stand fighting for freedom of speech, and yet we’re slaves to the fear of what might become with every next move. We’re defending this liberty as something indivisible, as something that gives us the right to be who we want, do what we want, speak how we like, to whoever we like. We’re marching off the back of tragedy with new breath in our lungs, the crowds standing together to protect the right to use our voices to sing to whatever rhythm we want. Marching to the rhythms of war drums and singing our songs of revolution.

But surely, in every song, the musicians have a responsibility. Each man and woman a piece of the orchestra; they have freedom to sing and to play in whatever key they want, but yet, for the sake of producing the harmonious masterpiece, they choose to play together, with one key, with one accord.

Freedom of speech is something worth protecting. But if we, as the songwriters and musicians in this world, use that freedom to play in our own key, we will only ever produce discord and clamor. By definition, we will be free, in that we can use the pulpit to offend or to encourage; to break down or build up; to defame or to love. But with the collective freedom, comes the collective responsibility. Our voice can be used for ill or for good, to produce a perfect melody or a discordant mess.

These tragic days have taught us the far reaching power of our freedom, for better or worse. Yet, in defending that freedom, it is all too easy to become imprisoned by the chains of fear and arrogance; fear for what our words may create, and arrogance as to our liberty to use them however we like.

On our tongues is a song of freedom, the choice to make a perfect utterance.

It’s time we used our song, our little utterance, to create something beautiful out of the ashes of these times. To proclaim freedom for the captives, and release for the prisoner, to speak out for the afflicted. To shed tears with the families of Parisian victims, to cry with thousands left despairing in Nigeria, to mourn with the children of Syria.

And then, with one accord, it is our time to take up our song born from the collective freedom. Not a freedom that breaks down and tramples on others. A freedom born in love, in keeping with justice, in hope. Hope for a world bright with the exultant out pour of sons and daughters singing in one united key.

Our song can change the world. With that responsibility, we can be the singers who end this world’s poverty, bring about peace in the ruins of violence, and build from the dust the freedom for all to coexist together in peace, without regard for race, religion or any other factor.

Sleepless Apathy

Waking in the middle of the night at about 3am, in the middle of what sounded akin to a hurricane outside, was not pleasant. Even worse, however, was the struggle to get back to sleep as my mind turned to and remembered the events of the evening before. Christmas shopping in town, I’d passed by a homeless man bedded down for the night in a window crevice behind Tesco Metro. I’d then walked quickly on, putting the event to the back of my mind; ignorance always is bliss, they say, and spares a guilty conscience. After a coffee up the street I’d totally forgotten about the rough sleeper.

Now, waking at 3am, all I could think about was him. Him, sleeping out in the blowing wind, the biting cold, the driving rain. How can he be living in this, while I tuck in bed? Or rather, should I ask, why do I allow this to happen? Have I lived in that ignorance too long? It is always easier to ignore justice, move on and get the next coffee.

Maybe it’s time we said, “Not on my watch will this happen.” It’s time to reject apathy and take up arms against day by day injustices. ‘True religion’ this  Christmas, is not a few carol services. No; true religion is lived out radically in a broken, painful world. True religion steps out and houses the homeless, cares for the orphan and widow, feeds the hungry.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matt. 25:37-40

 

Living on the Outside

Are we setting our hearts ablaze,

Just to burn out like a wick?

Casting light, but burning low,

When the shadows cling anew.

 

Putting on that dark black mask

I’m foundering on the brink,

Of discovery, or maybe disaster, as I

Sell out my heart just to buy it back

With blood.

 

Who am I? Who I thought I was;

Strong from strength to strength?

But that old song’s sung no more

When the wind blows the weather vane.

 

Shrouded in worn out clothes of Pharisees,

But in fact I’m a sinner whitewashed,

It all hinges on that bedrock.

And crashes,

Down

Down

Down.

 

So bleach white my bones,

And buy me back again, with

Just one more act of Grace.

Cos’ bones just turn to dust again

When Duty masks love lost.

 

Let me cast down those forsaken clothes

The age old crown of gold

To tramp them into grains of sand

And live in freedom fresh.

 

Freedom found in love alone

Where Duty demands his due no more;

Where I stand out here in open glade,

Casting off inmates clothes, to find me

Running home.