view from my pew 3

Hello again to my growing internet fanbase. It’s Mr Grenville-Stubbs here again with another of my views from my pew.

Some of you will have heard of my highly successful late night radio show on our local radio station: Hymns On My Organ. I have had  my Hammond organ for 35 years and people write in with suggestions for me to play on it. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Lots of people ask for Amazing Grace or The Lord’s My Shepherd and while I am happy to play them occasionally I can’t play them every week. I prefer the really obscure suggestions, although some of the correspondence suggesting what to play on my organ baffles me because I have never heard of those hymns – I sometimes wonder whether people are having a joke at my expense.

organ
I suggest that if you do an internet search for ‘organ’ you exercise some caution!

I do struggle with some of the modern songs that we have to sing in our church. Some of them use romantic imagery about God that makes me feel quite uncomfortable. And others are so familiar with him – they lack reverence and awe. It doesn’t help that our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker (or ‘Phil’ as he insists we call him) seems to think that we should repeat the same song twenty times*  so we can sing the words without thinking about them (really!!).

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a letter from ‘Phil’ asking me to play something in my show. At first I was suspicious but this is what he asked me to play:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain:
Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Refrain
I had to look it up in Sacred Songs and Sea Shanties, as I had never heard of it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Phil wrote in his letter that it was based on Deuteronomy 33:27 “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms”. Apparently it was written in response to the news that the wives of two of the writer’s former pupils had died. Phil didn’t explain why he had asked for it but I played it on my show anyway.
The next Sunday when I saw Phil after the service he looked like he had tears in his eyes. When I offered my hand for the post-service formality he ignored it. I was shocked… and then he gave me a hug!

Well, I can tell you, we never got hugged by our previous Ministers!

Shame, really.

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

*I might have exaggerated about the twenty times a little bit.

mix tape

What's the link between this and a pencil? There's a generation growing up who have no idea!

To celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary Sally made me a mix tape. Do you remember doing that? If so, you are a lot older than you are admitting!

Well because she is a 21st Century woman Sally’s mix tape was not on one of these old fashioned cassette tapes that used to get mangled by the machine that was supposed to be playing the music. It was a Spotify playlist.

It took me a while to negotiate the vagaries of the system but (with my son’s help) in the end I managed to get myself linked into the playlist on my computer so I could listen to the songs that she had chosen for me. It’s a lovely, special, beautiful selection of songs. Some are from our past and some were chosen because of what the lyrics say.

Music and songs are incredibly powerful. Something about the blend of music and lyrics makes them special. Words that we may have overlooked as poetry become memorable and take on a life of their own when set to music. Music that we may have ignored as background noise becomes more evocative when words accompany them.

Have you ever wondered why we sing in church? I think that the explanation above is one reason. The combination of words and music enable us to express emotions in ways that no other medium allows.

On Sunday evening at our church we are holding a Songs of Praise service (everyone is welcome – 6.30pm). In the service different people from our church have chosen a favourite hymn or song and will explain why it is special to them before we sing it together. I am really looking forward to it.

Last night, at our Prayer Meeting (you’re welcome to that too – first Thursday of the month, 8pm) part of our praying was introduced with these words from Psalm 107:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures for ever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…

That seems to be a brilliant description of what we will be doing on Sunday evening.

But if you had been asked to choose a favourite Christian hymn or song, what would you have chosen and why? What does that song or hymn say about who God is, who you are, and your relationship with him?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

go to

Choir
We were just like this choir – without the robes, white hair and a bit younger…

When I was in my late teens I was part of a youth choir at my church. We were called ‘The Light Company’ and had lovely bright yellow* sweatshirts with our logo on it. We were led by the wonderful David Peacock and as well as singing in our church we also visited other churches to bless them with our singing. (Anyone from Light Company got any photos I can share here?)

I really enjoyed being part of the choir. There is something so uplifting about singing in harmony with others. My favourite song was ‘He will not let you fall’ (youtube video here) and I recently rediscovered it and bought the MP3. It is one of the songs I have on as many of my electronic devices as possible and will crank it up loud from time to time to be blessed by the words, the music, the memories and the opportunity to sing along at full volume without (usually) being overheard (I must remember when I have headphones on that they don’t mute me for the rest of the world). It is a ‘go to’ song.

The song is a setting of Psalm 121, which is a promise from God. He does not promise that we won’t go through tough times. He does not promise that we won’t experience pain. He doesn’t even promise that we will always be able to smile our way through life. But he does promise that if we trust him he will not let us fall. The ‘harm’ from which God promises to protect us in the psalm is the counterpart promise to the prayer we pray: ‘Deliver us from evil’. It is a ‘go to’ psalm.

These ‘go to’ songs and psalms (and other passages in the Bible) are places of safety, refuges, and reminders of who God is and what he thinks of me. They are good to have close to hand so that he can speak through them when I need to hear from him.

What are your ‘go to’ pieces of music or passages from the Bible? Why not go there now?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

*My bright yellow sweatshirt suffered a mishap at the hands of someone who washed it with a load of jeans that were not quite colourfast. It came out a sort of mucus-green! It was not so bad on its own, but when I was with the rest of the choir it rather stood out…

co incidental music

Rainbow Into CdTwice this week I have had unusual experiences with music. On Sunday I was asked to speak at a church up the road in Ipswich. I was not leading the service and didn’t know what songs would be selected. I was listening to (and singing along to) a CD of worship songs and was struck by some of the lyrics in the song ‘Over all the earth’ by Brenton Brown:

Over all the earth,
You reign on high,
Every mountain stream,
Every sunset sky.
But my one request,
Lord, my only aim
Is that You’d reign in me again.

Lord, reign in me,
Reign in Your power;
Over all my dreams,
In my darkest hour.
You are the Lord of all I am,
So won’t You reign in me again?

Over every thought,
Over every word,
May my life reflect the beauty of my Lord;
‘Cause You mean more to me
Than any earthly thing,
So won’t You reign in me again?

When I had sung it before I had always thought of ‘my darkest hour’ being like the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ in Psalm 23. And it most definitely can mean that. But a different meaning struck me. Sometimes my ‘darkest hour’ relates to when I am at my darkest – when I am being an appalling free sample of Jesus. At those times I need to hand back sovereignty of my life to him again.

I flicked the CD back to sing along to the track again and cranked up the volume. I then sang my lungs out as I drove along. And then the first ‘coincidence’ occurred. I felt very strongly that God was saying to me that we’d sing it again in the church that morning. And we did! I am still working out quite what that means, but it made me grin when the music group started up with the intro!

Then on Thursday evening I was talking with a friend from the church about grace. Not saying a prayer before a meal, but God’s lavish, astonishing, awesome grace. I felt very strongly that it would bless my friend to listen to U2’s amazing song: Grace. I put it on the CD player, selected the track and sat down. Three notes after the song had started (it has a beautiful harmonic musical intro that lasts over a minute) my friend asked me to stop the song.

I did so, a bit confused.

He told me that earlier in the week he had burnt a CD of his favourite songs to listen to in the car and when he played it there was a track that he did not recognise, had not bought and had not intentionally burnt to the CD. It must have been one of his wife’s songs and somehow he had selected it. It was this song. Grace:

Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she’s got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She’s got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

It was a quite astonishing ‘coincidence’ that this song had found its way onto his CD and that I had felt prompted to play it to him!

I’m not claiming that these are massively significant super-spiritual moments or that I am at all super-spiritual (far from it!). But they both felt very special to me when they happened and God blessed me through them. They reminded me that God can speak to us in all sorts of ways if we’re listening for him. Sometimes he underlines it with ‘coincidences’ and sometimes he gets our attention by the way he has brought about the ‘coincidence’ outside our control.

It is axiomatic that the more prayerful I am the more ‘coincidences’ happen.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Arapaho Warrior

We had a wonderful concert at our church on Saturday. Lots of very talented people used their musical talents to bless others. It was inspiring, enjoyable, funny on occasions (when it was meant to be) and moving on others.

At the interval, as I queued for coffee, for some reason my mind went back briefly to the first time I played in a concert. I was probably only 6 or 7 and had been learning to torture people by playing the violin for a little while. We had a school orchestra (violins only) and had been practicing a piece called ‘Ararpaho Warrior’. It was meant to sound Native American.

image

As a relative novice I was in the beginner’s section. Our part involved playing an open A string more or less constantly followed by a few open D string notes, something like this:

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D.

The more accomplished violinists played a melody over the top of this interminable screeching, but for the life of me I can’t remember what that sounded like. All I can remember is

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D.

And there were repeats. So we played that bit over and over again. Before the concert at which we were to inflict this on our parents and other assorted relatives the conductor (who was our Head Teacher Mr Williams) told us that we were not going to play as many times as was shown on the music. Presumably he was taking pity on our parents, or perhaps he had received a threat from the PTA.

Being naive about these things I didn’t mark this on the musical score, which I remember was on pink paper with purple music from the potently pungent pre-photocopier copying machine. So you can imagine what happened.

I watched Mr Williams start us and then focused on the music.

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D
A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D
A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D
A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D
A A A A …

Everyone else had stopped and I had kept going according to the musical score, having forgotten about the change. And I was concentrating so hard on getting the right notes in the right order that I wasn’t watching the conductor at all.

When I realised I was playing a solo I stopped and went the colour of the paper the music was printed on. Mr Williams said something to the audience along the lines that I was clearly enjoying it a lot so perhaps we should play it again so I could stop in the right place so we inflicted ‘Arapaho Warrior’ on the poor relatives again – and this time I made sure I stopped in the right place.

I still don’t know why that came to mind on Saturday. There was no Native American style music. It was all far more sophisticated than

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D.

But it did remind me that it is important in life not to focus so much on what is right in front of us that we take our eyes off The Conductor.

And also that sometimes our role is to play a simple background role to enhance the melody that others are playing. If you are playing the melody at the moment don’t forget to thank and appreciate those who are playing

A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A D D D D.

And if you’re one of those playing the less exciting piece remember that your role is to play that as well as you can to enhance others – that’s vital.

And all of us are part of a larger orchestra which makes a joyful sound only when we work together.

Be blessed, be a blessing

standing up

2011 Crisis at Christams Stand up & Rock flyer

Tonight the lovely Mrs Lear and I are going to a gig. (see picture) It’s a blend of comedy and rock music to support Crisis, but the main reason we are going is the headline act. Sally has been obsessed by Mr Weller since she first heard The Jam in the late 1970s. The first time I saw her bedroom I was intimidated by the number of large posters of Paul Weller and The Jam that covered the walls from floor to ceiling. At that moment I realised that I would always be competing for her affections.

The gig is at the Hammersmith Apollo (of ‘Live at the Apollo’ fame). However they seem to have taken out the front rows of seats in order to create some sort of ‘mosh pit’ for the keen, young, enthusiastic giggers. Guess where we will be…

I suspect I may be the oldest person in the mosh pit. I will certainly be the least able to dance (I have always danced like a dad at a wedding). I am hoping that I won’t stand out too obviously, although being bald with a slot in the back of my head and standing 6’2″ tall may make me a little bit obvious. I intend to make up for it by laughing raucously at the comedians.

Now the thing is that this gig was meant to be a surprise for Sally. A friend had emailed me about it before the box office opened and I intended to give her the tickets as a Christmas present. But I made a mistake. I left my computer monitor on, with my email account showing, and Mrs Lear came into the study for some (still) unexplained reason and her eyes were instantly drawn to the subject of the email: “Paul Weller Concert”. She then accidentally opened the email and saw what it was about, and from that moment the surprise was blown wide open.

Christmas is a time of surprises. There are the unexpected presents (“Socks? Thank you, just what I always wanted.”). The unexpected Christmas cards that always arrive after the last day of posting (did we really forget to send them a card?). There are surprises on the TV Christmas specials (with EastEnders usually trying to be more depressing than the previous years). And there are surprises in church when unexpected guests arrive and bless us with their presence.

I’m not going to segue neatly into another homily about the surprises in the stable. Been there, done that, got the t-towel (for your head, Shepherd-style). Instead I want to pray that this year the surprises are of the pleasant variety, the joy is of the deep variety and the love is of the everlasting variety. (Tomorrow’s bloggage may be of the exhausted variety!)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

under the influence

As I sit in my study at home I can hear my son practicing on his keyboard in his bedroom (immediately above my study). I can also hear my daughter playing on a computer game in the dining room (immediately next to my study). And I am listening to some of my favourite rock music in the study.

These three do not blend together to create anything that could remotely be classed as tuneful. I think ‘dissonant’ probably does not do the sound justice. Perhaps ‘cacophony’ is the word I am looking for!

I have a few options here. I can ask my children to be quieter. I can leave. I can put some headphones on. I can turn up my music to drown them out…

musical key

This makes me wonder about different influences on me… news on the radio and TV, adverts, music, books, the internet, friends, God… too many of them at once it will at best be dissonant and at worst a cacophony.

Is it possible, I wonder, to create harmonies from these apparently discordant and incompatible influences? I guess it depends on the skill of the musician. Not me, but The Musician. He has the skill to to improvise around my life, to harmonise, to enhance and make a beautiful sound.

When I was a naive teenager (as opposed to a naive 40-something) I wrote a worship song. It was very simple lyrically and musically. In fact the music line was only a melody line. I showed it to a kind friend of mine who was a brilliant pianist and he started playing and singing. As he played he took the simple melody line and improvised around it. He added bass notes that I could not imagine. He set it to a catchy rhythm. He transformed it into something joyful and almost decent.

That is what God does with what we offer him. His Spirit harmonises, improvises, enhances and creates something that is a joyful act of worship to God.

My task is to make sure that I am not adding discordant notes to that. I need to ensure that the influences are compatible with the Musician.

Cultured?

A while ago I was travelling in a car with a colleague, following another car with two other colleagues in it. We received a text message from the passenger in the other car, remarking on the classical music playing: “It’s very cultured in here.”

We had a chuckle at that and sent the reply, “So is a pot of yoghurt!”

There was a short pause as the text message made its way through the ether to the phone in the car in front of us and while the passenger read it out, followed by obvious signs of laughter.

I was reminded of this a moment ago as I searched for some background music on my computer and re-found a selection of classical tracks (which are playing now). My study currently has more culture than a live yoghurt: Grieg, Bach, Pachelbel, Mozart, Vivaldi, Elgar… music that has been composed by all these and others beside is filling my study and ears with beautiful melodies.

When the orginal scores were written (by hand, on parchments, with a quill or ink pen) the composer’s music would only live when performed by an orchestra. Otherwise they would simply be memories for those who heard the performances, perhaps hummed as they went about their daily routine. With the advent of devices to capture and replay sounds (which have metamorphosed from gramophones into MP3 players) music took on a different role in the lives of people. It became less of an event and more of an accompaniment to life, evolving into an everyday part of our experience.

I hope and pray that the same is becoming more true of my following Jesus. Becoming a Christian is not simply something that has happened in the past which I remember and hum to myself occasionally but is the rhythm and melody that accompanies and inhabits what I say and do. Jesus is the composer, conductor and I am part of his orchestra – seeking not to play too many wrong notes.


If you would like to preserve the cultured moment, please don’t read on… if you would like a classic joke, please continue.



When Beethoven passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard a strange noise coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave.

Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate.

When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, “Ah, yes, that’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards.”

He listened a while longer, and said, “There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling.” So the magistrate kept listening, “There’s the Seventh… the Sixth… the Fifth…”

Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate. He stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, “My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. Beethoven’s decomposing.”