Ding Dong merrily on high volume

I can hear the sound of ringing. No it’s not Christmas bells! Last night I went to a concert with one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans, to whom I happen to be married. It was a concert in support of the charity Crisis and Paul Weller was the headline act. It was loud! (And yes I am aware that that may well be a sign that I’m getting older.)

I confess I am not one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans, but I recognise that he has written some decent tunes (my wife Sally will claim that is a serious understatement) and is an extremely accomplished musician and singer. I was looking forward to being able to hear him sing some of those songs with which I have become familiar.

mixing deskThe problem I found with last night was that the sound levels were abysmal. Because the volume of the instruments was so high they had to turn up the vocal mics even higher and the voices were distorting terribly. We could not hear the lyrics and even one of the world’s biggest Paul Weller fans was struggling to discern what he was singing. I could not understand why the sound technicians were not doing something about it until I stood near the back where they were based and discovered that it sounded better where they were stood (albeit not perfect).

Reflecting on this experience, and with ringing still in my ears, first of all I want to speak up on behalf of sound and video technicians in churches. They are always the unsung heroes if everything goes smoothly because nobody notices them. If there is a loud squeak, however, or the wrong slide comes up on the screen then everybody notices. I was at a church recently where there were one or two technical problems. I got really irritated by a man who was stood right in front of me who insisted on turning around and staring at the technicians every time something went wrong. In the end I shifted slightly so that I was stood between him and them in an effort to protect them and perhaps persuade him to concentrate on worshipping Jesus.

So first of all, two pleas on behalf of our sound and video technicians. The first is that if something goes wrong, try to avoid turning around and staring at them. It won’t help them, they’re trying their best, they know something is wrong. The second is to encourage you to thank them, acknowledge their contribution that has enabled you to worship Jesus.

The other thing that I reflected on from last night’s experience is to ask whether you are able to hear the lyrics. Sometimes the volume of all our preparations for Christmas is so loud that we are unable to hear the good news of Immanuel. Sometimes we are so busy rushing around, sorting out, planning, making sure everything is in place that the volume of the hassle and bother drowns out the voice saying, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” And I’m not just talking about all our present buying, wrapping, card writing, food buying and so on. In churches we can get so busy preparing everything for Carol services, nativity plays and so on that even though we are desperate for others to hear the message of Christmas, we can’t hear it ourselves.

What is God saying to you this Christmas?

Be blessed, be a blessing

The morning after the concert the night before

Last night’s gig (see yesterday’s bloggage) was an enlightening experience. I was (to my immense surprise) not the oldest person in the mosh pit. My ears are not still ringing. And I did laugh out loud. And I am blogging under the influence of sleep deprivation.

But the most enlightening thing was seeing how Sally responded once Paul Weller had come on stage. (You really do need to read yesterday’s bloggage in order to understand the context). I had forgotten just how enthusiastic a fan she is, and I think those around us were a bit surprised too. She threw off a couple of decades and danced, jumped, waved her hands, sang, screamed and generally threw herself into being a fan at a concert by her favourite singer. You can see some dodgy pictures of the concert taken on my dodgy phone in the slideshow.

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The journey home was interesting too. We came home on a train that left London at about midnight, full of people who had been to Christmas parties and were a bit the worse for wear for drink. A group of lads decided to serenade the whole carriage with a range of out of tune and very loud songs. Those who remained breathed a collective sigh of relief when they got off at Shenfield. And there were a few people around us who got into deep conversations with one another. These were people who were complete strangers to each other, but ended up sharing some deeply personal things.

Reflecting on all of these events I have a few thoughts:

1. Why aren’t we all as overtly exuberantly enthusiastic about Jesus as Sally was about Paul Weller? David was criticised by his wife for dancing in an undignified way in his underwear (the text may be a euphemism for dancing so everyone could see that he was a true scotsman, if you get my meaning). His response: “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6)  I am not suggesting we shed our clothes in church, or even necessarily dance, but perhaps we can shed some of our reserve and concern about what others may think of us and just… worship!

2. How come complete strangers can share deep things with one another and many of God’s people interact superficially with one another – and perhaps too with God? Is it about trust, freedom, or that we don’t love each other as much as we could?

3. Do we annoy our neighbours with the good news of Jesus? I know that sometimes our church events outside can disturb the local shopkeepers. I know that sometimes street preachers and evangelists in the town can upset passers-by. But how about those whom Jesus calls our neighbours – are we too caught up in ourselves to wonder about the impact we are making on them?

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.