Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Oh Synod, what have you done?

It's difficult for me as a male Free Church minister to truly know how my colleagues in the Church of England are feeling this evening, following the narrow defeat of the legislation to introduce Women Bishops today, but my heart goes out to them, as do my prayers. Having spoken to a female colleague this evening I know that there is quite a bit of frustration and anger around at the moment.

Despite overwhelming support from the House of Bishops, into which they would move, and from the House of Clergy, from which they would move, the measure fell because the majority in the House of Laity was just not sufficient: a majority wanted it, but just 6 too few to carry it. Twenty years ago it was almost the same, but then the measure to allow the Ordination of women to the priesthood was carried, albeit by a slender majority, by the lay-folk of the Anglican church in England.

Much could, and probably will, be said about how and why this situation has arisen, and about the unlikely alliance of Conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics that has gone some considerable way to bringing it about: but I'm not really qualified to comment, so I won't. While this issue may have made strange bed-fellows within the breadth of the Church of England, it will also cause major ructions in the further implementation of the Anglican/ Methodist Covenant, where many of us from the Methodist Church had been insistent on women being able to minister fully at every level of the Church.

Only time will tell just how damaging this may be for the further unity of God's Church, and for the mission of that church in God's world. What do those outside the church, who know nothing of the theological niceties inherent in the debate, make of this decision? Methinks they will see it as just another example of how out of touch the Church is to modern thinking, and consequently how irrelevant we are to their lives.

We are the Body of Christ, and when one part suffers we all suffer: tonight we all feel the pain to some degree. The Church of England has sought to find a solution to this issue that keeps as many within its communion as possible, and, perhaps, for the time being, it has done that. But the time will come when the full ministry of women will be possible within the Anglican communion, of that I have no doubt. The 'kairos' moment may not be November 20 2012, but we wait for its coming in hope and faith.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Covered Mirror

I discovered the band Unitopia a number of years ago, and have been delighted by their music during that time, which carries a particular warmth, energy and sensitivity about it. Like many of their admirers I have been waiting anxiously for new material from the band for a while now - since their last studio recording 'Artificial' in 2010. That wait is now over, to some degree, with the release of 'Covered Mirror'. I say 'to some degree', because this is a collection of songs that have inspired the band - other people's music, rather than their own.

Influences and inspiration in music manifest themselves in a number of ways, and imitation is often described as the sincerest form of flattery. But this ensemble is not a case of mere imitation. On each song Unitopia have stamped their own style, and brought their own interpretation to works by bands as diverse as The Korgies, Ice House & Marillion, as well as rock standards Led Zeppelin, Yes & Genesis.

I must confess to being familiar with most, but not all, of the songs on this album, so I am aware of 'what they ought to sound like' (or how the original bands played them). On the whole I think that these songs are done justice to, and I have been encouraged to search out the music I'm not familiar with to see how Unitopia have interpreted them.

Stand-outs for me are Led Zeppelin's 'Rain Song', Supertramp's 'Even in the Quietest Moments' & Todd Rundgren's 'Can we Still be Friends', along with the two long medleys of Yes & Genesis material. I particularly love the take of Genesis's 'Silent Sun', from their first album, which I think is vastly improved in this version; and their interpretation of Yes's 'Owner of a Lonely Heart', which morphs from a stadium rocker to almost a ballad. The material has, at times, a strong antipodean feel (as perhaps one would expect from a Aussie band), with the use of didgeridoos giving an ethereal edge at times.

While I, and many others, await new personal material from this band, 'Covered Mirror' is an opportunity to relax in the warmth of Mark Trueack's vocals and the band's virtuosity. And if you can, check out the bonus tracks which include a splendid working of John Martyn's 'Sweet Little Mystery'.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Genesis Revisited

For a lover of Progressive Music like myself, it was a great delight to see Steve Hackett's latest project 'Genesis Revisited 2' receive quite a bit of media attention around its launch - there was even an appearance on the sofa of BBC Breakfast!

The album is a re-working of a number of Genesis tunes from the period when Steve Hackett was incumbent with the band - 1971-1977 - along with some of Steve's solo material, and a very good collection of songs it is too. The musicianship is tremendous, and there are contributions from an array of Prog luminaries including Steven Wilson (who seems to be everywhere these days), John Wetton, Michael Akerfeldt, Roine Stolt & Steve Rothery, as well as usual collaborators, Nick Magnus, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehman and Steve's brother John Hackett. Everything seems to fit together well, and on the whole these are faithful renditions of timeless classics from the Genesis canon. My pick would probably be 'The Lamia', with Nik Kershaw on vocals.

The title of this current collection, of course, hints of a previous similar venture, and having listened to the 2012 offering I acquired a copy of the first 'Genesis Revisited' from 1996. This again is a collection of tunes from the classic era of Genesis, and I have to say that this earlier collection strikes me as a more interesting package: the recordings are much more re-envisionings of earlier songs than the second collection, and add a depth to the music that seems to be lacking in the latest discs. 'Firth of Fifth', one of the best songs Genesis recorded, is given a new life with a fresh orchestration; 'I Know What I Like' takes on a reggae feel with echoes of the Bonzo's 'Intro & Outro' (or Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells') in places; and 'Waiting Room Only', a restatement of The Lamb's 'Waiting Room' veers from driving rock to 'Revolution #9'.

Not that I'm saying GR2 is a bad collection: far from it. But I think there is more inventiveness in the earlier package, and for me that's at the heart of Progressive music.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Four More Years

So, the US election band-waggon has finally rolled to a halt - for the time being - and Barak Obama has once again emerged victorious with a mandate to govern the most powerful nation on Earth for another four-year term. And I, for one, am delighted with the result. My natural preference is for a more compassionate, less capitalist-driven political agenda (admittedly difficult to pull off in the USA), and Obama fits with my leanings much better than Romney. If I was an American, I would naturally be drawn towards the Democratic Party.

Although not directly affected by the outcome of the poll, I acknowledge that the incumbent of the White House has a certain influence outside of the 50 states, and who they are matters to me: as a Brit, as a European, and as a citizen of the world. Their decisions, their influence, will in some way impact my life.

The euphoria of four years ago, when Obama was swept into the Presidency on a wave of Hope and optimism, was somewhat lacking this time, though. As I watched the news programs this morning a number of things struck me. One was the gracious way in which Mitt Romney conceded defeat, with no public show of bitterness, and with a pledge to pray for the President for the task that is now ahead of him. Another was the way in which Obama accepted victory, which was, to me, much more understated and down-played than it was in 2008. I particularly admired his offer to sit down with Romney to look at how the country could be taken forward from this point, and his focus on the American people rather than himself as the American President.

With Mitt Romney and I hope many other people of faith across the USA and across the world, I will continue to pray for President Obama, as I hope I would have done for Romney, had he won.