Mercy, not sacrifice

Like many of you I’ve spent the last week trying to process the events in Washington DC. Watching the church embrace the alt-right has been a huge source of anxiety these last four years. Not the greatest, the Pandemic holds that honour, but it has certainly been up there. I’m appalled, worried, saddened, and yes, even shocked, though frankly people should have seen this coming.

As the events unfolded, I was reminded of the lyrics of a Shawn Mullins song from the album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. It’s called Give God the Blues (you really should check it out) and the verse makes a statement very relative for these times (emphasis is mine).

God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that

There is a real tendency among Christians to invoke the notion of a “Christian Nation.” Personally, I tend to balk at this. Mostly because the history of the so-called Christian nations has not been what I would call Christian in its character and actions. In the grand history of such nations and empires, from Rome through all of Europe through to America, more decent God-fearing people have been martyred by those acting under the authority of the church then by all the enemies of the church combined.

It’s completely understandable then that many people are questioning the validity of Christianity as a faith, as a religion, as a lifestyle, as… well… anything based on the behaviour of those who claim to follow Jesus and his teachings. Not surprisingly, Jesus had something to say about this.

22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!  (Matthew 7:22-23)

In my mind this verse (and others like it) should drive all the arrogance from any believer. Note that these people were doing all the things that we tend to associate with great faith. They cast out demons, they prophesied, they performed miracles, they did it all. So why does Jesus respond the way he does? I’m going to suggest they lacked one key ingredient to their faith.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)

On the surface this sounds kind of strange because didn’t God instruct the Jews in the offering of that would amount the thousands of sacrifices a year of everything from grain and oil to lambs and bulls? So, what gives? Paul puts it this way…

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

There wasn’t a whole lot of love or mercy on display in Washington this week.

One More Time…

It seems like I have been here a hundred times before but in reality it’s only about a dozen. Every year I decide it’s time to reboot the blog and every year I get distracted and end up ignoring it. So why am I trying again?

For the same reason a lot of people are trying to re-invent their lives; because 2020 sucked large and I need to figure out how I’m going forward. So let’s give this can one more kick shall we. Not sure what it’s going to look like or what I’ll have to say but I feel the need to write again, mostly just for me I guess.

So read it or don’t, stay or leave, come along or go elsewhere. But I’m going to be here posting whatever, whenever… one more time.

‘Easter 2020’: A New Poem

Malcolm Guite

Like all of us, I have been drawn deeply into this strange Easter when so much of the outwardly familiar has been taken away, and yet the inwardly familiar, the great Easter story of Death and Resurrection, has suddenly been renewed and become more agonisingly close, more vividly relevant to our lives than ever. But, like so many, I am deeply distressed at not being able to gather in church this morning, and to receive communion in community, to meet Christ ‘risen in bread, and revelling in wine’, as I put it in a sonnet long ago. But this Easter he calls me to discern him in new ways and in different places. He is risen indeed, and if I cannot go to church then where am I to find him? That is the question my new poem seeks to address, and if it is a question you ask yourselves…

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Before There Was Vinyl

Like many audiophiles I have appreciated the recent surge in the popularity of vinyl recordings. There is not only a marked difference in sound quality but there is also something satisfyingly tactile about placing the record on the platter and positioning the tonearm, triggering for yourself the moment the music begins. Putting an audio CD in the slot and watching the machine suck it in or tapping an icon on your phone just doesn’t have the same vibe.

That said, there is an even older format than vinyl that we are not very likely to see come back in the same way – beetle resin. That is to say – shellac.

That’s right – beetle resin. Shellac was used for a variety of things in it’s heyday from furniture and violin finishes, to fingernail polish, to electrical insulators, to..  well, records. If you have ever watched an old movie and seen someone break a record to stop it from being played again, it’s very likely it was a shellac disc because they were quite fragile and shattered quite nicely. Some of you will point out that vinyl breaks as well, and while that is true it just isn’t as easy to do as with shellac and in movie making you go with what works consistently.

The records ran at 78 rpm which is why you most often hear them referred to as 78s rather than “shellacs” and their fragility plus the fact they are made from beetle secretions is why you’re not likely so see this little piece of nostalgia on the shelves at Best Buy® any time soon. That doesn’t mean there is something wonderful happening with them however.

I recently became aware of The Great 78 Project, and effort by the Internet Archive, George Blood L.P., and The ARChive of Contemporary Music to preserve for posterity as many 78s as they can, physically and digitally.

The digitization work is being done by George Blood L.P., and will be made available to the public for download – FOR FREE! Great news for audiophiles and soundscape designers everywhere.

For the techies among my readers, I would like to point out that this is not easy because unlike their vinyl descendants, shellac records were not all created equal. Other than the fact they all rotated at 78 rpm (more or less) there were differences in manufacture from one publisher to the next, including diameter, groove size, spiral spacing, and shellac formula (some were softer than others so too heavy a tonearm might damage the groove). For the most part shellac records were designed to be played on the machines manufactured by the publisher of the music. They didn’t want you playing other company’s records on their machines and if you wanted you play their music you needed their machine. Kinda like Apple®.

As you can imagine this makes getting an accurate digitized copy challenging because it’s hard to tell exactly what the recording was supposed to sound like. George Blood met this challenge by, among other things, creating a turntable with four tonearms, each with a different size stylus. The full story on the digitization process can be found here.

The Great 78 Project is out to preserve as many 78 recordings as they can, not only sourcing them from artists and collections at various museums but they want your 78s as well. You can donate your old 78s to the project or they will advice you on the best way to digitize your collection and then you can upload the digital files to the project for inclusion.

Check it all out at The Great 78 Project.  @great78project