Recently I was asked to write a short piece for The Fellowship - a magazine published by the Fellowship of Non-Subscribing Christians and distributed freely amongst its membership (and online). I was asked to give three of my favourite hymns / spiritual songs and explain my choices. Here's what I wrote...
The hymn that I would always start with is the ‘Servant Song’. The hymn describes the Christian life as one like any other, involving joys and sorrows. Yet the hymn adds the Christian life is also distinct for the way life is approached. The Christian life involves seeking to become Christ-like, primarily through life with one another – “I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear… when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.” This practical vision is, for me at least, where I find faith most moving.
A contemporary hymn I often play when alone is Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name’. This hymn begins with, “Blessed be your name, in the land that is plentiful…” It is a line I frequently roll around in my head, almost as a mantra. It is easy to become blinkered by daily concerns yet most readers will share with me the good fortune of a reliable income, a home, a family life and so on. Just recently I was at the barbers - there was a new hairdresser on duty, newly arrived from Iran. I didn't pry too much but did learn he had left his family behind and was currently looking to rent a room - somewhere, anywhere. As we talked, he asked me where I lived, whether I owned my own house etc. and commented knowingly, “Ah, you are rich…” The hymn continues that we should also praise God during times of wilderness and here we find the Christian mindset at work, a call to spend our lives counting our blessings and passing them onwards, whatever the circumstances but especially so during times of plenty.
The final hymn is not really a hymn but an old pop song which struck me during this Easter just gone – Johnny Cash’s rendition of ‘I won’t back down’. Cash sings, “I'll keep this world from dragging me down, gonna stand my ground. And I won't back down.” There is of course a greater narrative to the Easter story but the basic detail – a man who wouldn’t let go of his heartfelt principles in the face of a storm – is deeply inspiring. There is this resoluteness to Jesus, what some might call reckless abandon, but when set in the context of his ministry, becomes something amazing. Some religious liberals seemingly wish to make Jesus somehow more radical, be it repainting him as Che Guevara or recasting him as transgender, and so on. I don’t necessarily have a problem with re-exploring Jesus, so long as we remain rooted in scripture, but what really can be more radical than giving over your entire life for other people? The power found in each of these is they celebrate on the one hand and throw down a challenge on the other, and in doing so, uplift and inspire me.
I must add my usual playlist is not all that serious - I also like the Arctic Monkeys, amongst others...