Thursday, 31 March 2011

Blog views

You can now choose to view my blog (and all Blogger blogs, apparently) in one of these five chic formats. My favourites are Flipcard and Mosaic. Simply go to and choose the one you like best.

Don't try and click the image embedded in this post though, it won't work :(

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Lyrics in worship music

Following my earlier post, which referred to lyrics in secular music, I thought I'd look at worship music under the same microscope.

You would expect that music written mainly to help people glorify God would generally be of a pretty high standard, and you would especially expect that of the lyrics. However, a number of people have argued that we are settling for benign, clich├ęd and recycled lyrics instead of using the full breadth of expression in worship.

It's harder to write music for congregational worship because you have a number of constraints that just don't exist in performance-oriented music.
1 - Everyone should at least tolerate, and hopefully enjoy, the style of music.
2 - Everyone should be able to understand, and identify with, the content of the lyrics.
3 - Everyone should be able to sing the songs (so the pitch and the rhythms need to be singable).
4 - It has to be theologically sound.

Do these constraints stifle creativity? Certainly, there are Christian artists writing very creative lyrics, but they won't often get sung in church. Take How He Loves (John Mark McMillan) for example, which is very popular, but still not sung often in worship times because it has lines like "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss".

I do see a lot of creativity in the lyrics of hymns, and in the Psalms. One of my favourite hymn verses has got to be:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
(And Can it Be? - Charles Wesley)

"Thine eye diffused a quickening ray" might sound archaic now anyway, but there aren't many modern songs that come close to that level of creative expression. The best worship song writers are those who can take timeless truths and express them in a fresh, creative way. Matt Redman, for example, is fantastic at doing this. Hopefully, as I write more songs myself, I'll be able to remember my own advice.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Do lyrics matter?

When someone lists "music" as one of their interests, what is it exactly that interests them? How many times have you heard the following conversation:

A: I really love music, you know, I couldn't live without it.

B: Yeah, me too, what's your favourite chord progression?

Probably not very often. "Music" for most people is not about rudiments and theory, but about glamorous people creating glamorous sounds. At the basic level, both the aged concert harpist and the wild teen drummer will agree that music is about making a good sound. So once you've got your melody, harmony and rhythm prioritised, where do the lyrics fit in?

Can you make a good song with rubbish lyrics? Apparently the answer is "yes", when swathes of young people buy a song with the chorus:
Something kinda oooh
Jumping on my tu-tu,
Something inside of me,
Wantin' part of you ooo
(Girls Aloud - Something Kinda Oooh)

Or what about a song with nonsensical lyrics? Well, the Beatles made it clear that was possible with (among many others):
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob
(The Beatles - I am the Walrus)

Many people also lament the increase in profanity, aggression and general filthiness that appears in popular music. Rihanna's recent top-ten single is called S&M. But I'm not going to get caught up in that particular discussion at the moment. What I'm asking is do music consumers and artists care about the lyrics they listen to/write?

Actually I think that yes, they do. A lot. Rap music has exploded across the Western world; a new form of expression which is all about writing good lyrics, and lots of them. Amongst the dross that gets churned out song writers are still striving to come up with new ways of putting across the same idea. For example:
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
(Rihanna - Umbrella)

It might sound like pap to you, but the point is it's original.

As a final point, people must care about lyrics because why else are millions of people talking about the song Friday, which contains possibly the most feeble lyrics ever written. Here's just a sample:
Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today is Friday, Friday
We, we, we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today
Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes afterwards
(Rebecca Black - Friday)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Did God have a wife?

We don't have a TV licence at home, so while me and Lis were babysitting last night we took the opportunity to see what was on the box. After an entertaining Poirot mystery, we stumbled upon a documentary called "Bible's Buried Secrets: Did God Have a Wife?" You can get an idea of the genereal tone of the programme from this extract from a Telegraph write-up - "Dr Stavrakopoulou subjects the Bible to radical, rigorous analysis, looking at it not as holy scripture to be taken at face value, but as fictitious religious literature with an agenda to cover up inconvenient truths".

I'm going to respond to the series of points that Dr. S. made in her report.

1) God shared the name El with a Canaanite God. Therefore they are the same God.

I share the name Andy with a proffesional cricketer. I am not a proffesional cricketer.

2) The Bible talks about a "council" of God's agents. These are other gods.

Or, in fact, angels.

3) Evidence shows that the Israelites worshipped other gods. The Bible admits this. Therefore the Israelite religion was polytheistic.

Except that the Bible consistently and routinely condemns the worship of other gods. If you think the OT was written in 200BC then you could be right, I suppose. I'm not sure it was.

4) One of the gods worshipped by the Israelites was Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility, also the wife of El.

So the Israelites absorbed some of the Canaanite religious beliefs and practices? Golly, what a revelation! Thank goodness we have people with doctorates who are clever enough to work these things out. (The sarcastic tension was building, I was going to have to let it out at some point. A straight answer would be "Yes, that's what the Bible says".)

5) There's a spelling mistake in Deuteronomy 33:3, which means that the word translated to mean "hosts", "holy ones" or "saints" actually means "Asherah".

Says who?

6) One (lost) piece of pottery describes Asherah as God's partner.

Does this mean that the ancient Jewish religion worshipped Asherah as the wife of Yahweh?

7) The elevated status of the virgin Mary in Christianity is the continuation of the veneration of the feminine deity Asherah.

Firstly, Mary does not have elevated status in Christianity, she has elevated status in Roman Catholic Christianity. And secondly, no it's not.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Conforming to the norm

When I was 17 I realised that I pronounced the word if differently to everyone else. That's right. All my talking years I had been saying "iv" - the same way that you pronounce of. When a fellow student informed me that the proper way to say it was "iff" I thought it sounded weird, but it turned out that everyone said it like that.

So then I had a dilemma: should I change my pronunciation to conform with the accepted standard, or persist with my own unique style? Hmm.

How about when, at secondary school, people noticed that I walked with a bit of a bounce, and started to point it out through little jibes and impressions. Eventually I decided to make a conscious effort to change the way I walked. Was that the right decision? Should I have protected my "individuality" despite the jokes?

A lot gets said about the need to be yourself. It's true, and often individuality is so undervalued. But what "being yourself" actually means depends on how you define yourself in the first place. So if I hold tightly to my identity as English, I might not like the thought of speaking French as a first language. At the end of the day I don't see my identity as being particularly bound to the way I talk or walk, so I don't have much of a problem changing those things.

I do have a problem with the idea that everyone should be the same.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Studying at the Open University

You might have picked up that I'm studying English at the moment. I never went away to university, despite being offered a place. A few years ago I started searching for a way to study again, and the OU turned out to be the best idea ever. With all the fuss about tuition fees at the moment, I thought I'd outline why the best option for a lot of people will be the Open University.

1) Time. Ok, so it might take six years to get a degree with the OU, but studying part-time allows you to work as well. Full-time studying is still an option though.

2) Money. Most of my friends who went away to uni paid £3,000 per year to study their course. I paid £1,250 for the equivalent. Except that I didn't, because I got a grant. Factor in the lack of accommodation fees (if you study from home) and just look at the difference. I will finish my degree with a total debt of £0.

3) Flexibility. There is a huge range of courses to choose from, and there's masses of flexibility. Apart from the offer of an "open degree" (a qualification made up of whatever subjects you like) OU also allows you to:
- Take a break for a year or so and come back to studying later
- Change your mind in between courses and study for a different qualification than you first intended
- Transfer credits to/from mainstream university (sometimes)

4) Recognition. Distance learning is tough because you have to be really motivated and have enough discipline to stick to schedule. Thus, OU degrees are valued highly by employers because they show that you have those qualities.

5) Satisfaction. OU is always in the top few, and often the number one university for student satisfaction in Britain.

6) Access. I'm selling the benefits of OU as an alternative to mainstream university, but one of the key advantages is that you can study at any point in your life. Most of the people I met on my last course were over 30 and had families. Open University - it does what it says on the tin.

[Update 01/03/14]
If you're a student outside the UK looking to study with the Open University then follow this link

Monday, 14 March 2011

Dave and Vicky still going

I learned two new things today. Apparenly Victoria Beckham is a fashion designer, and she's also pregnant again.

Of course I have never met the Beckhams, nor can I claim to have any insight into their real lives, but I like them. I relish the fact that a very very famous couple are still married and on their way to having four kids. As has been said by others, celebrities don't choose whether they are role models or not, they only choose whether to be good or bad ones. Too many make the wrong choice.

But here we have one of the world's richest footballers and a ex-pop star who have gone through a decade of marriage under the pressure of the media microscope and are showing no sign of cracking. Well done, I say. And how did we find out about the pregnancy? David inferred something while he was at a hospital visiting sick kids.

Keep up the good work.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pronouncing Reykjavik (and other ridiculous words)

If, like me, you've struggled to talk about accompaniments and Icelandic capitals, you'll love this website.

Type any word and the kind gentleman will tell you how exactly it's said. The only problem is you have to know how to spell it first.

I could listen to him saying rhabdocalyptus all day...

Monday, 7 March 2011

What are you living for?

On my way through town I spotted this in the window of Costa.

My goodness gracious me.

This smirky, stubbly man allegedly lives for (and let's put them in the proper order, please):
1) Great coffee
2) Good conversation

Whilst it is intriguing that he is not so fussy about the standard of his socialising as he is about the standard of his mocha, that's not the thing that irks me most. I am very much irked by the notion of someone living for coffee. Not only that, but the fact that Costa think more people will want to buy their coffee if the customers believe that the staff behind the bar are living for coffee.

Can you imagine a similar poster advertising celery sticks?

"I live for great celery sticks and good banter" declares a rosy-cheeked grocer.

I'd suggest two responses to the above:
1) Buy some celery because it must be pretty gosh darned good
2) Buy some celery so the grocer can spend the profits on some therapy

Who lives for vegetables and hot drinks? People who have not found anything better.

Things that are worth living for are the things that are worth dying for. Jesus is worth dying for.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Best song about food

This is genius.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

So long to Sheila's Wheels

According to the pink-attired Australian trio girls are "bored beyond edurance paying too much for car insurance". Well, they're going to have to do endurance training now, since the European Court of Justice has ruled that insurance companies cannot charge different premiums on the basis of gender.

So despite the fact that the average car claim by an 18-year old male is £4,400 and the average claim made by an 18-year old female is £2,700, it has been officially labelled as gender discrimination to charge higher premiums to men.

Now, surely, surely there will soon be another ruling that to charge 18-year-olds higher premiums than 42-year-olds is age discrimination. It's only logical.

And surely then it will be pronounced disability discrimination to refuse to insure blind car drivers.

Shortly to be followed by the revelation that it is shoddy driver discrimination to charge higher premiums to people who have a history of writing off cars.

I wonder how much it cost to officiate this silliness...