Back in the pulpit today! The first of an Easter series of talks which I've entitled Man up... contemplating Jesus' moral confusion between continuing his ministry at a crucial juncture, or visiting his sick friend Lazarus, and what he did when he realised he'd got it wrong... Man up #1 - If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.
It sits at the top of Bold Street, Liverpool's most singular shopping street, on the edge of Chinatown and in view of the massive redbrick Anglican Cathedral. Everyone in the city knows it and gives and takes directions from it. It's got no roof but it hasn't stopped the people making good use of it, and its gardens, since it was hit by a Luftwaffe incendiary bomb on 5 May 1941.
Some time back I was part of an interfaith working group compiling a bid to the City Council to transform St Lukes' into Liverpool Peace Centre, creating a new building inside the bombed-out shell for exhibition and education spaces on the theme of the people's experiences of war and peace, past and present.
That never came to anything, but since then it's been great to see how the city's creative community have made great use of the space for exhibitions, open-air films, all kinds of performances. And never forgetting the events which made the building what it is now - the blitz and its effect on Liverpool's people. I hope the campaign to keep it as 'living, working monument' succeed.
I love the cover of this week's Church Times, a zazzed-up Sydney Carter from 1963 when it was the height of cool (ref John Lennon's iconic Hamburg doorway shot) to pose with a ciggy against a brick wall. It looks like a classic cover from Melody Maker in its prime. A great visual introduction to my feature about this most singular and special of hymnodists: Fishing with question marks (pdf).
I felt privileged to have a nice long chat on the phone to Martin Carthy the other day, in preparing a piece for the Church Times to celebrate the music of Sydney Carter, a decade after his death (on 13 March 2004). The article is set to appear in next week's issue. Various contributors (including the Iona Community's John Bell and the poet-broadcaster Stewart Henderson as well as folks from publisher Stainer & Bell and others of Sydney's friends and collaborators) say a lot of good stuff about this most singular of songwriters. For Sydney Carter (as Martin Carthy underlined to me), God and the devil, folk and politics, protest and devotion were 'all of a piece'. Lord of the Dance and One More Step Along the World I Go are still among the most-requested wedding hymns, still often sung in schools, but his back catalogue bears revisiting because it's stock full of works which are in Carthy's words, 'astonishing'.
I'm chuffed that the Church Times supported my idea of trying to reawaken people's awareness of these songs and his unique approach to hymnody. Note the subtitle of the album, here: 'carols and ballads', not 'hymns' or 'praise songs' - although they are deeply devotional they are distinctive in voicing the faith and doubts of ordinary people in everyday, but greatly poetic, phrases. Carter does not shrink from grappling the most difficult questions about God, life and faith, and that's perhaps why so many of his songs sadly remain unsung in churches. There's a great playfulness in Carter's songs, not simply satire (though he was accomplished at that as a writer for revues). Take 'One More Step' for instance: "Keep me travelling along with you". It's sung so often on the way out of weddings and the ‘you’ in the title could be your partner, it could be God. Martin Carthy is in no doubt, though: "Substantially it’s God. That’s the nice thing about Sydney’s songs. It could be interpreted different ways. He wouldn’t mind if you did that. But he’s talking about God."
Another 'support good causes' blog... This is one which challenges me, having championed Foodbanks in the past. Now they've become so ubiquitous their existence begs many questions of our governemnt, our society. So good on the Endhungerfast campaign, who are telling it straight: 'No one should go hungry in Britain', but half a million people used food banks in the last year.
They go on to say that 'Charitable support programmes are rapidly expanding but nonetheless a quarter of families are shrinking portion sizes and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital for malnutrition last year. More and more people are just one unexpected bill away from facing bare cupboards. This is a national and moral crisis and government must act to protect the half a million going hungry in Britain.'
It looks like it's time to join the fast, to share in the campaign's call on the government to ensure:
• That the welfare system provides a robust last line of defence against hunger in Britain
• That work pays enough for working people to properly provide for their families
• That food markets function, promoting long term sustainable and healthy diets with no one profiteering off hunger in Britain.
These scenes of inundation are just a few short miles away from where we'll be living in a month or so, in an area which a local person yesterday described to me in an email as 'submerged Swimmerset'. Recognising that the floods are no laughing matter for those in the middle of these 170,000 acres (15 per cent of the county of Somerset) and seeing how extremely slowly the cogs of government are running, The Royal Bath and West of England Society has taken on the challenge of aiming to raise £3 million to dredge the rivers in the area. They say:
The various agencies involved in managing the Levels have now agreed that dredging the rivers is the right solution to this problem, something which has not happened for at least 10 years. Farms and businesses have suffered extreme hardship with many having to close. The Society sees its role as bringing together the responsible parties (including farmers, the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards, Somerset County Council, the NFU and conservation bodies) to ensure that this work is done and the levels are saved.
They're asking for donations: we can help them out here.
By a quirk of their new subscription system I have been sent an extra issue of Delayed Gratification #12, and - with the blessing of the magazine's staff - I'm offering it to you, reader: first come, first served (contact me via the Comments box below).
It's a wonderful magazine, great to look at , excellent in concept - the concept being that of 'Slow Journalism'. Each quarterly Delayed Gratification revisits the news stories of three months ago, those we've perhaps forgotten or which seem somewhat different when the writer applies the 'long view' to them. It's the perfect antidote to the immediacy and rapid obsolecence of most other media. Its other great selling point is its look. With a beautiful, original, cover, each issue also features terrific infographics which illustrate aspects of social, political, sporting and cultural life (look at these examples). It even arrives in the post in a neat custom card envelope. My spare could be yours...