2020 Music Highlights

One of my highlights throughout the year is seeing and hearing live music, I have missed it so much! So many gigs were postponed or cancelled, it’s so gutting! The only consolation is that i have listened to more new music than ever before!

I love BBC Radio 6 Music for keeping me aware of new music as well as the joy of hearing classics by artists i love, 6music has kept me sane, and when i have not listened to that i have listened to new albums by new and old artists.

Below is my list of albums of the year for 2020, these are in no particular order. But one of my highlights was a welcome return of Faithless, so great to hear them again. And a really great record by Sam Wright a guy that I have followed from when he was playing in a Death Metal band when I was a youth worker! Check out his album Progress. There are only a couple of reggae acts on my list, one of them is because we said goodbye to Toots Hibbert, so glad they managed to finish their new album before he died. I have listened to lots more Rap, grime and hip-hop stuff this year than I can remember, it’s a vibrant scene in the UK at the moment. I was also really looking forward to hearing Andy Bell’s (Ride) solo record, and it is a beautiful listen, it mesmerised me in places. There are no D&B records in the final list but they have featured heavily over this year.

Mura Masa – R.Y.C

Thundercat – It is what it is

Laura Marling – Song for my daughter

Nadine Shah – Kitchen sink

Moses Boyd – Dark Matter

Billy Nomates – Billy Nomates

Idles – Ultra Mono

Andy Bell – The view from half way down

Faithless – All Blessed

Aitch – Polaris

Sam Thomas -Progress

Midnite – Supplication to H.I.M

Gruff Rhys – Pang!

The Streets – None of us are getting out of this alive

Toots and The Maytals – Got to be tough

Nick Cave – Idiot Prayer

Pictures of Love blog 6 ‘Hiking’

This months ‘pictures of love’ blog comes from Rev Jona Sewell, who is a minister in the North Shields and Whitley Bay Circuit. Please feel free to leave a comment or a reflection at the bottom of the blog. 

I love hiking. It’s something I do to relax. I walk with friends. We walk in silence, we walk in conversation. We walk in all weathers and conditions. We walk on the flat. We walk in the hills. I find walking helps to give me the space to switch off, or think, or reflect, or pray, or reconnect with God, or all of the above. The more I walk, the more I see the connections between hiking and faith…
The point of the walk is not the destination, as more often than not you start and end at the same place; you return to your beginning. Rather, the point is the experience of the journey itself. However, within the journey there can be several aims; peaks to climb, destinations to visit, achievements to accomplish, or problems to be overcome. There can be immense satisfaction when a target is reached and equal amounts of frustration when things don’t go to plan.
On the same hike you can experience all sorts of conditions. Sometimes the weather is good, sometimes too hot, or too cold. Sometimes it’s windy, or foggy and sometimes it’s just torrential rain.
Sometimes underfoot is solid giving confidence with every step, sometimes it’s loose and easy to fall on, sometimes it’s too hard and jarring, sometimes it’s soft and forgiving while sometimes it’s boggy and entirely hard work.
Sometimes the path is obvious and clearly marked, other times it isn’t and you have to work hard to keep in the right direction. Sometimes there are several paths to the same peak or marker and you have to choose your path wisely depending on time, travelling companions, terrain, weather or simply how you feel at that moment. Sometimes you just have to forge your own path to where you want to go and be unafraid of crossing new ground.
Sometimes you travel light, on other times you carry more weight. Sometimes you share the weight of the pack with others, and sometimes you take the burden from others and carry it for them. Sometimes you feel full of energy, sometimes more exhausted, and sometimes you just want to give up or wish it was all over.
As you hike you carry essentials for the journey: food and drink for energy, it’s important to make regular rest stops and keep refreshed. Protection for bad weather; waterproofs, dry socks, hat. Tools to keep you on the right path; compass, map and a guidebook from someone who’s walked that way before.
Despite all your best efforts sometimes you still get lost, miss the turn or loose direction. In times like these you often rely on fellow travellers to help; friends and strangers with more experience and wisdom or who’ve been there already, those who can set you back in the right direction.
The danger with hiking is that you get so focused on the next peak, or the next destination or target, or on completing the journey itself, that you miss what is all around you, before you and in you. There’s a danger you miss the moment, the here and now… The beauty of where you find yourself,  the breathe as you gulp in mouthfuls of air on a climb, the feeling of life within as the heart beats fast and hard, the view that can suddenly appear, the conversation with or simple appreciation of those who travel with you, the thrill of reaching a peak, or simply pausing to look back at how far you’ve already come – all these can be easily missed if you’re too focussed on the next thing, or simply don’t open your eyes, ears and mind to all that’s around and is happening at any moment. And any experienced hiker will tell you; you never walk alone.
The more I walk, the more I see the connections between hiking and faith… 

Pictures of love blog 8 ‘Love at First Sight’

This months guest blog is written by Rev Nick Moxon he is the District Evangelism Enabler in the Lancashire District  Please feel free to post a comment at the bottom of the blog if you wish. 

We wondered how we would feel meeting our daughter for the first time. As we drove to meet her, my wife and I were silent, engrossed in our own thoughts. We hadn’t been waiting long. This was no ordinary pregnancy – 6 weeks rather than 9 months. Our daughter was 3 years old, she could already walk and talk and could go to the toilet on her own. She had already called someone else ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. How could we love her like we loved our two birth children?

Yet when we met her our hearts melted. She was a beautiful, vulnerable yet strong little girl with big brown eyes and ringlet curls in her hair. We instantly loved her. We wanted to sweep her up in our arms and protect her. Nothing or no one was ever going to hurt her again. She had been born to another couple yet, it seemed, for our family. This wasn’t just about what we could offer her – a stable home, food, clothes, encouragement and opportunities. This was also about what she was going to give to us – fun, questions and the ability to turn our world upside down.
We’ve only known her a short time and things are going well. It seems as if she’s always been with us. And the love we offer her is being returned back to us ten-fold!

There are many passages in the Bible about us being chosen by God, that God loves us even before we knew anything of Him and about us being ‘adopted’ into His family – not viewed as second-class citizens but treated as equal to everyone else.

It’s as if God looks at our vulnerable state and His heart melts. He constantly desires to wrap His arms around us and love us. He sees in us, people who are not just helpless – He also sees our potential – who and what we can become – who and what we were created to be.

Being a part of God’s family brings with it stability and encouragement and all the resources of heaven for the rest of our lives and for eternity. What a joy! What a privilege!

My desire is to see our new daughter grow and develop into the beautiful woman she was created to be. God’s desire is that all of us grow and develop into the wonderful people He has created us to be. What an exciting future for us all!

Pictures of love blog 7 ‘A symbol of love’

October’s guest blog comes from Rev Carla Hall, she is a minister in my local circuit ‘North Shields and Whitley Bay’ and she is based at St Johns Methodist Church. Once again please feel free to leave a thought or comment at the bottom. 

Like many little girls, I dreamt that wedding bells might one day chime out for me – but I knew that it had to be with someone I regarded as the ‘one and only’; a man who would not only bring out the best in me, but for whom I could do the same; a relationship in which both people would complement each other, enabling both to flourish. This is only possible, I believe, through love.  Not lust but genuine love – something that can survive even the difficult times.

A year ago this month, I began to hear those bells ring out for me.  The setting was next to a stunning harbour in Northern Cyprus, where my fiancé (as is now) gently asked me the question “will you marry me?”.  Not isolated as a couple, but near to my family and close friends.  In an intimate and delightful moment, he and I shared his question and my positive response before announcing our exciting news with those who were there with us.  My fiancé knew that family and friends are so important to me that I would want to share this precious moment with them.

A further beautiful part of the story is that the ring that I now wear upon my finger once dressed his maternal grandmother’s hand, as the gold he used to commission my engagement ring is taken from her wedding ring.  This band of gold remains for another generation a symbol of love.  I am certain that, if it could speak, it would tell of times of difficulty as well of immense joy – but the love remains constant, firm and deep.

As you pause for this moment to reflect, perhaps you might want to think about what your significant symbols of love are.  I appreciate that love is too complicated to be confined to an inanimate object, but what prompts you to think of love and why?  What’s the narrative that lies behind the article?

Sometimes earthly love, for many reasons, can feel to be wounded or even broken.  Relationships can falter and fail yet in the Bible we read these words in 1 Corinthians 13: 13 (NIV, UK)

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

As a Christian I believe deeply in God, and if I had to describe God in one word, I would choose the word LOVE.  To me, all that God represents, all that God does, all that God is, is love; evident in such things as creation, stories of healing and wholeness as well as in relationships.  I believe that, as humans, we love because God gave us a perfect model.  I might not always express my love perfectly, but as a Christian I seek to reflect the love of God throughout my whole life.  The love that God offers is always trustworthy, always dependable, always pure and always life-giving. 
May we always know love in our lives.

Pictures of Love blog 11 ‘Freddie’

Our final guest blog for ‘pictures of love’ comes from Jon Curtis who is a VentureFX pioneer in Exeter, to take a look at what he is up to check out his website 

This is a picture of my little boy, Freddie. He’s about 9 months old in this photo, enjoying his first ride in a trolley round Sainsburys. I’ve always existed as a busy person, maybe even super busy! I run from thing to thing always worried that I’m missing out on something else which I might not want to miss. Of course, the irony is, almost always, it would be perfectly fine to miss it. I thought that having children would be fine, but I hoped that things in my life wouldn’t have to stop, because I couldn’t bear to miss out on something potentially life changing.
When Freddie came along, suddenly, there was nowhere else that I would rather be. Not in a slushy kind of way, just that i realised that my most preferred place was wherever he was. Love is a funny thing, maybe the Greeks have got it right with four different words for love, but we just have one. So, I love Exeter City FC. I love the sunshine. I love getting a takeaway. And so to apply that word to Freddie seems far too belittling of the thing that I just cannot describe. But in the absence of Greek GCSE, we’ll just have to stick with a real life-changer – love, for how I describe the feelings that I have for my son.

Picture of love blog 10 ‘Fabric’

Our final guest blog for pictures of love before we come to Valentines week 2013 comes from one of the Venture FX Pioneers Lou Davis. She is based in Edinburgh and you can read about what she is doing here.

There’s something about fabric that sets my heart alight. Rolls and rolls of colour and pattern, texture and drape. I have to touch them, to feel the weight of the material, to begin the process of imagining. 
My favourite places are where the rolls are piled high, and I need to rummage to find jeweled treasures buried deep beneath the strata of linen and silk.
And when my eyes see something that resonates deep within, and the touch of the fabric is just right, I’ll take down the roll from the shelf and let out a metre or so. I’ll move it gently so it catches the light, to see how the fabric drapes.
And in my mind, I’m not holding a bolt of fabric in a store, I’m on a beach in a flowing skirt, with sand in my toes and the sun in my hair, or I’m celebrating with friends as their new baby wears one of my dresses, or I’m sending a friend off for a special night out, looking fabulous in a cocktail frock, or I’m watching a glowing bride take careful steps down the aisle into a new life.
I love the possibilities that exist in those rolls of fabric.
I wonder for a minute about the love and care that has already gone into creating these beautiful threads. They are the product of growers and spinners, weavers and dyers, and I don’t know their names or which dusty factories they serve. I can only hope that in the lifetime of these fabrics there was as much hope and love and beauty as I see in them now.
Before these fabrics can fulfill any of their potential, I need to buy them, take them home and cut into them. I must do violence to their patterns, cut across their warp and weft, I need to weaken them so that they may be re-shaped, to fit.
That is always the hardest part.
Before I cut I need to be sure of my pattern. I check and double check, measure and remeasure. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and cut.

Pictures of love blog 9 ‘The Angel of The North’

Decembers guest blog for ‘Pictures of Love’ is by Rev. Elaine Lindridge, she is the District Evangelism Enabler for the Newcastle Upon Tyne Methodist District, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog or any of the other blogs in the series. We would also wish you a joyous and peaceful Christmas. 

I just love this view from my house – and as I look out on a morning I see Britain’s largest sculpture. I remember watching on the day this giant angelic work of art was hoisted up & then dropped into the ground – that was February 1998. How amazing, not just because it’s a work of art, but because it’s an angel! And for me it reminds me of where I belong. And when I’m driving up or down the A1, I see this magnificant angel, Jumbo Jet wing arms outstretched, kind of welcoming me home.

The Angel of The North has been described as a symbol of renewal or regeneration, which is really appropriate to this region as we’ve undergone massive social and economic change. It’s also significant because the Angel has changed this unused ground, this ‘no space’ into ‘significant space’…some might even dare to call it, ‘holy space’.
The artist who created this angelic sculpture, Antony Gormley, has said of the Angel
‘I want to make something we can live with and that becomes a reservoir for feelings – feelings that perhaps we hadn’t known about until this thing was there, or feelings that couldn’t arise until it was’.
Throughout time there have been reports of encounters with angels, and they’re not just confined to the times when the Bible was written. I’ve always thought it must be pretty terrifying to see an angel – not some cute kid dressed up in a nativity play, but a real one, a messenger of God. I wonder, ‘what’s the message that we need to hear today?’
I think most of us have feelings that go deaper than perhaps we admit even to ourselves, but betray our need for more than a mortal life offers. There’s something within every human spirit that always seeks to reach out for more, for something higher. To reach beyond our ordinariness to something remarkable & special. In a spiritual sense, as you lift your head to look up at the Angel, you look away from self and from earth to what some would call the heavens. Maybe this Angel of The North is indeed a messenger too. It’s message serving as a reminder to look up from what sometimes seems the trivia of our day to day living and consider what might be of eternal significance.

Pictures of Love blog 5 ‘Love does not discriminate’

Love does not discriminate
This months guest blog for ‘pictures of love’ comes from Revd Ric Stott who is a Methodist minister, artist and art psychotherapist. He works in Sheffield as a Venture FX pioneer for the Methodist Church exploring new ways of being church based around the visual arts. More information on his ministry can be found at www.iaskforwonder.com Please feel free to leave your comments. 

I don’t often make images from a place of anger but recently the way the church has been portrayed in the media has made me angry. Particularly statements made about the church’s attitude towards gay marriage.
So often in this area the church comes across as bigoted, homophobic and deeply unloving in its prejudice against same sex relationships. There is a little truth in this of course; like any organisation made up of imperfect human beings we will have our fair share of those who exhibit prejudice and close-mindedness. Furthermore, many gay and lesbian people have been deeply hurt by the church, myself included. But, this is far from the whole story. There are many people in the church who reflect the love of God shown in Jesus: a love that is open, inclusive and that celebrates life giving human relationships.
In the Orthodox tradition the icon is a window through which we can catch glimpses of God. I wonder if we can catch glimpses of the love of God if we look beyond the headlines that proclaim, for example, that the Pope sees gay marriage as a threat to humanity (A statement that would be laughable and ridiculous if it didn’t have such serious implications for those who believe what he says). Then we may see that love of God expressed in the relationships of gay and lesbian people across the world and celebrate it; just as it is rightly affirmed and celebrated in the love of a man and a woman. Where people love each other and give themselves to each other then Christ is present regardless of the gender of the individuals involved.
Recently the United Reformed Church in Britain has decided to allow blessing ceremonies for civil partnerships on its premises. Unfortunately the public policies of many churches still discriminate. I hope that one day soon other churches will be able to follow that lead and realise that the love of God is far more expansive than they had previously realised. 

Pictures of Love blog 4 ‘Creativity’

As we journey on exploring what love means to us our next blog for Pictures of love comes from my superintendent minister Rev Stuart Earl… 

“It may seem egocentric or mercenary to have a photo of myself or my books under the heading “pictures of love”, but read on. What I love is creativity – which for me at the moment is words and stories wrapped into thoughts about how the world and church and faith and love are and what they might be. I have dragged my own thoughts into two books so far published, and one (I hope) about to be published. It’s not the money that I do it for (though I need to sell a few more before I can afford to publish the third!), but the risk of having a go, the thrill of completing it, and the risk of what others think of it. Because creativity involves risk – and thrills, and so, of course, does love.

Others of you will have other ways to be creative – the big creativity of producing and rearing children, or smaller projects such as how you decorate your home, how you order your garden, your appearance. Or it might be that you love music or art and have a go at them occasionally or that that is your “big thing”. It might be photography, or poetry, or… When we are creative, we are illustrating that we are made in God’s image, as the Bible says. He created, so can we. You can’t love without having something or somebody to respond to, to risk rejection from, to engage with, to give yourself to. That’s what God does with us. That’s what, I suppose, in a strange way, we do when we share our creativity with others. Thank God, right now as you read this, for the ways in which you can be creative.”