Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sound Relief- Midnight Oil reform

Is this a sign of my age? Why was I not at the MCG today to see Midnight Oil play? Well a friend and I considered going but baulked when we were not able to get good tickets, and decided against being up the back somewhere. Frankly, I'm glad that I didn't get drenched all day in the rain, and would probably be coming down with a cold right now if I did.

But I'm still a little disappointed to have missed Midnight Oil play. On one had I console myself from the fact that it would be turning the clock and living in the past to see them play now. I did see them play live 6 times, three of those in spitting distance from Peter Garrett in clubs, so it's not like I never experienced the Oils. And there was no "Oils! Oiiiiils!" encore given tonight, so I think all the younguns didn't have a clue what to do. All the old fans seem to have stayed away. Our credit cards did the talking earlier on.

Still it's worth mentioning their set and what I thought of it as I listened on triple J.

1) Redneck Wonderland- I was pleasantly surprise by this opener. I didn't expect that something more recent in their canon would be given a run. And alas, it was the most recent song they played, released in 1998. Nothing from their ultimate release, "Capricornia" made it into the set. I sure am pleased that I could farewell them after Capricornia in Edmonton in 2002.
2) Read About it (1982)- Certainly kept up the rocking pace of Redneck wonderland. Good choice.
3) Blue Sky Mine (1990)- The pace slowed a bit for the third song, I was hoping they could pull out a trifecta of heavy rockers. "The company takes what the company wants..... (CSR and the Unions have let you down) .... whose gonna save you?" Why the Labor government of course.
4) Star bangled banner/ Advance Australia Fair, instrumental. What gives? Was this an introduction to US Forces? Nope, a politician would never be so brave.
5) One Country (1990) Well this song couldn't have been left out could it. But what about "My country, right or wrong?" (1993)
6) Beds are burning (1987). Another compulsory song, but I wish it wasn't. Anybody who doesn't know Midnight Oil knows this song, and it was far from their best. I'm not saying I dislike, just that it took up space that other songs could have filled.
7) King of the Mountain. (1990) I loved this song in school, but it doesn't stand the test of time, something better could have been chosen.
8) The Dead Heart. (1987) Another compulsory song, but one that deserves to be included. Good choice.
9) The Power and the Passion (1982). Another compulsory song, but also a good choice. I disapprove of the lyrics change though. Apparently Pine Gap is allowed now (no mention in the song) and we should all head of to Mc Donalds for a Big Mac after the show (also no mention). Politics, bleh.
10) Best of both worlds (1984). One of my all time favourites. Excellent choice for the final song, I was waiting for it.
11) Since they had broken the 10:30 curfew anyway, why not play an "encore". Don't know how they knew to without anyone screaming "Oiiiiils!" "Sometimes" (1987) was another excellent choice from Diesel and Dust and ample proof that there are plenty of better songs out there than beds are burning.

Noticeable absences- nothing form "Earth and Sun and Moon" (1993) or "Capricornia" (2002). (I have no illusions that "Breathe" (1996) was popular. The set started out as promising, and finished off well, but was a little weak in the middle. US Forces should have been in, as should have the lyric "Flat chat, Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac." It seems politics has softened Peter Garrett too much. I understand his need to tow the party line, and that he is pragmatic in trying to reach some of his goals instead of none of them, but this gig surely was a conflict of interest from the guts that old Pete used to have.

Oh well, I guess we are both showing our age.

Friday, March 06, 2009

No Line on the Horizon- U2 spell out l-o-v-e (review)

I was born, I was born to sing for you, 
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up, 
And sing whatever song you wanted me to, 
I give you back my voice,
From the womb my first cry,
It was a joyful noise

Only love, only love, can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified till we die,
You and I will magnify The Magnificent, Magnificent

Who said that U2 were irrelevant? Who said that a rock band has to stop producing records because they are no longer in their 20s or 30s? At 49, U2 have matured to a new level, and I am so glad that they haven't stopped producing and creating new music. Bono has previously said that "if they make two crap albums in a row, then they will quit." Well the new album is pure brilliance and is captivating me so quickly I am falling in love with music and God all over again.

Their latest album No line on the horizon, came out this week. It is brooding, dark and deeply, deeply spiritual. Much of it is written in haunting melancholy, minor scales with melodies that soar above the mountains through the clouds and up into heaven itself. There is sooo much in this record that I can not begin to possibly justify it here with the review it deserves.

The album is full of powerful harmonies that just seem that much deeper than before. Bono and The Edge have formed their own gospel choir, this is most evident on "Moment of Surrender." They seem intent on leading the "girl with the hole in her heart" into eternity, or as they call it, the place with "no line on the horizon." From this rocking opening, yet minor scale track, we are jerked into a pounding yet ominous bass line that is not unlike the church bells or shofar.... a call to worship, as the lyrics above are written.
Bono is more and more unabashed of his love for Jesus with every record that U2 put out, and from the lyrical contributors it appears that some currents are moving through the other band members too. The lyrics to "Magnificent" hark back to "All because of you" but they are just so much more mature. In the former he sings "I was born a child of grace, nothing else about the place" in the latter this grows into "I was born to be with you, I was born to sing for you." It is a realisation that we are created to worship God. The song pulls me deep into worship, and for those who don't it surely highlights the hole in their heart.
Moment of surrender is Bono's attempt at soul. Bono always claimed that he wanted to be a soul singer, and as hard as this has been for him, "Surrender" is a valiant effort in which U2 come very close. The chorus line sees Edge and Bono filling out the soul choir nicely, trying to express "the rhythm of their soul". My favourite lyric in this song is "I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross, every eye looking every other way, counted down 'til the Pentecost, at the moment of surrender...."
I have yet to connect deeply with "Unknown caller", it is still growing on me.

Bono continues to implore us to see the truth "how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" which seems to be a reference to when Pilate said to Jesus, "what is truth?" when he was standing right next to him. But Bono is careful not to spell out the truth too clearly, so as not to spill the beans. I appreciate this approach, and think it is a powerful way to draw people to God, to leave some mystery in the search. But if one were to think that Bono is ashamed of God then think again, he is somehow at once very clear but still cryptic on Stand Up Comedy.
"Get on your boots" seemed like a throw away song as a single. It appeared to be a simple rock song, that U2 were determined to keep the rock genre alive and well, a basic "Vertigo part 2", but as a part of "No line..." it fits better. The harmonies of the chorus "You don't know how beautiful you are" are consistent with the rest of the record. The lyric is a call of love from God to the listener. The fun rock song that it is, it leads into another fun rock song with the key to much of Bono's lyrics over the years.
"Stand up Comedy" keeps you believing that this band will rock on for another generation, and that with every passing moment Bono is about to explode with the gospel. "I can stand up for hope, faith, love, but while I'm getting over certainty, stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." As if to say 'look out world I'm gonna get even more bold for my God', "come on you people stand up for your love." And in a moment Bono surprised me, because he did something I wasn't expecting, he lifted the lid on his favourite lyrical euphemism, as he sings "God is love". Apply this formula often in a U2 song and the lyrics will read in a revolutionary way, as in "Window in the Skies"- The schackles are undone, the rule has been disproved, the stone it has been moved, all debts are removed, O can't you see what our love has done, love left a window in the skies. But there are so many other songs that have God as the centre of them for 'those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.'
"Fez- being born" is almost a musical track. U2 have only come close on one other occasion "October". Don't ask me to explain the lyrics to this song, except it is a powerful lead in to "White as snow."

"White as snow" is my favourite song on the album at the moment. It is supposed to be the words of a dying soldier in Afghanistan. It reaches deep inside of you and yanks your heart out, leaving the desire to find a heart as white as snow.

Where I came from there were no hills at all
The land was flat, the highway straight and wide
My brother and I would drive for hours
Like we had years instead of days
Our faces as pale as the dirty snow

Once I knew there was a love divine*
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb* as white as snow

And the water, it was icy
As it washed over me*
And the moon shone above me
Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all
Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon*

The road refuses strangers
The land the seeds we sow
Where might we find the lamb as white as snow*

As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart* could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow

Love divine is God himself, the lamb as white as snow is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, the waters washing over are baptism, the poppies are the opium fields in Afghanistan, the road refusing strangers is the Taliban as wolves attacking the lamb. "If only a heart could be as white as snow" is multi-layered, it's a prayer for the Taliban that they would find Jesus, it's a seed of longing for all who listen to U2 but don't know Jesus, it's a desire of longing for Bono who wants to be as pure as Jesus, and for every believer who listens who wants to be pure too. Only the lamb as white as snow can make our hearts white too.

"Breathe" sees Bono throwing himself into the task with abandon, stuck in the dirty gutters but staring at the sky remembering the "grace that I found, I can breathe." "Cedars of Lebanon" is the story of a reporter in the middle east, told in the first person.

The records "All that you can't leave behind" and "How to dismantle an atomic bomb" were full of joyous major chords, with songs such as "Beautiful Day" and "City of Blinding Lights." But the world is a darker place now. It is descending into confusion, with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. "No line on the horizon" reflects this mood. Perhaps the title is as much referring to the fact that there seems to be no end in sight to the world's troubles. But it is not a hopeless message of despair, it is reflective grief, with much hope hidden within. It resonates with the way I feel about the world today, that so many can ignore the truth when it is staring them in the face. At the end of the 20th century, we looked back on a century of death and destruction, and as we have entered the 21st, we are teetering in uncertainty. Certainty can be found in only one way, in the lamb as white as snow.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What in the world is going on? (Terrorism, natural disasters etc)

For Australians this Summer has been a terrifying one. We have faced the worst bushfires indeed natural disaster this nation has ever known. Three hundred people perished in these fires. Whole towns were wiped out. These communities are still trying to process this tragedy and are still living in a state of emergency. The fire danger however is now over. People will begin to try to return to a normal life. Much of urban society will now return to a normal life.

At a community level people are really hurting. Recently in King Lake a Christian service held in a tent saw 400 people turn out. For a population of 1400, many of them dislocated to other parts, this was a huge turn out. I have no doubt that the need and hunger for God has greatly grown in Kinglake and in Marysville too. It is my particular prayer for both these communities, that as they rebuild Jesus would be at their centre, and I have every confident hope that this will actually happen.

But at a national level we have completely rejected God. Have a read of this in my previous article Australia, I call on you to turn to your God. I fully believe that God is loving and compassionate and that he calls out to Australia. As St Peter writes: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. God waits for the day that Australia will turn to Him, and that he will be glorified. I think there are arguments that the gospel has never permeated Australia. (See my article: The gospel in my heart language.

There is a lot more going on than bushfires in Australia though. There is a world economic crisis that has everyone spooked, and there are now genuine fears that the world is heading for an economic depression. If this follows the trends of the 1930s, then I think that animosities between nations will rise to the surface, and the differences will be pronounced. Former economic partners will become military enemies. This is the breeding ground for war. As yet, people have not turned to God as a result of economic concerns. During world war 2 in Australia, churches were packed as people became concerned about what the future held. In times of serious hardship people called out to God. I wonder how bad things have to get before people will turn to God this time.

Earlier this week the bushfire crisis in Victoria came to an end. There had been significant shame on the part of the government that they felt they had not done enough to warn Victorians about Black Saturday. I do remember the warnings though, and no blame is necessary for these fires. They are a natural tragedy of the world we live in. This week however, high winds were predicted for Monday evening, Tuesday and Wednesday. I had been following the progress of the fires, so as to know how to keep my family safe if they should move toward where we are living. On Monday morning, amidst all the media hype on the bushfires I went down to the CFA control centre in person, to seek further advice on conditions the following day. I learnt that they were hopeful of containing the fires very soon, and that although they had concerns about the wind, the media were blowing things out of proportion and causing people to unnecessarily panic. They were annoyed about this. I took a different perspective on the fires from that point onwards. I knew their location about 30 kms away, and would still keep an eye on things, but I was a lot more calm.

The media were not calm though. They were hysterical. I wonder if the Victorian Premier was overcome with fear also. He is a man who refuses to call on God for help. On Monday evening the Victoria Police sent out an SMS to 5 million Victorians warning them about the bushfire dangers. In my mind this was mass hysteria. People were afraid. I turned on the radio, that was supposed to be broadcasting the cricket, to hear the emergency broadcast instead. Their job was to report on potential dangers, but there wasn't enough to report, because things were more calm than they would admit. I was annoyed that I could not listen to the cricket. Then I heard talkback callers calling in about their fears of job losses. A large Australian clothing company is moving their operation to China, and laying off 1800 workers. Hold on a minute, this was supposed to be an emergency broadcast but instead they were talking about job losses. It was at this point I realised that people needed a way to express their fears, but still not calling on God.

Government had been boasting at the memorial service about how well we pull together, but did not call on God for help at all. Essentially as a nation and a state we were saying "we don't need your help God, we can go it alone." This of course saddens God. But I believe his response was "Oh really, you think you don't need my help, well I will show you that you really do." Then God sent high winds, but they calmed down. People were afraid and in his grace he has now sent us three days of rain, and the fires are all but extinguished. It was God's way of saying "see, you do need my help, you can't do this alone." It has only been since the rain has come that the fires are ending. God is waiting for us to come back to him.

Two days ago a huge tragedy struck international cricket. International cricket teams have stayed away from Pakistan for over a year now for fear of terrorist attacks. They were justified in doing so. Two days ago terrorists directly attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team as they were on their way to a stadium in Lahore Pakistan. This shows an escalation on the part of the Taliban in their boldness to destabilise Pakistan. The Taliban control around 75% of Afghanistan, and the mountainous region of Pakistan. They are determined to control both countries and to get their hands on nuclear weapons that the Pakistan government how hold. On one level this is highly alarming, as the Taliban begin to be gaining the upper hand. But on a spiritual level something else is occurring I believe.

When God's kingdom advances the spiritual enemy gets scared. Demonic forces believe that they control a piece of ground and all people who live there. They have done so for millenia. These same demons know that their punishment is coming at the end of this world, and that they will suffer eternally in hell. So long as they can delay that time, they can delay their punishment. How can they delay this time? By preventing the nations from worshipping Jesus. For as Jesus promised, that when all nations come to know him, the end will come and he will return.

There are changes happening in the Muslim world, but they are beneath the surface. More and more come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour, but they have to be careful for their lives. There have been many stories of people having visions of Jesus and coming to faith. God is drawing the Muslim world to himself. I once heard the story of a husband and wife in Afghanistan. They were both Christians, but neither knew of the other's faith. One day they both turned up to the same underground meeting and discovered they both believed. They were joyously able to share their faith with one another, even if they have to be very careful in public.

I liken the Muslim world to a mountain. Inside the mountain there are many little ants eating away at it. Each time a new person in the Muslim world becomes a Christian, an ant digs another tunnel in the mountain. Each time two believers discover each other another tunnel is joined up. The veneer is still Muslim and people still have to be very careful. One day though, there will be more Christians than not. The mountain will be riddled with tunnels and it will eventually collapse. The veneer will be gone and people will have the freedom to believe. The same will happen in China, but I do not know which will happen first. But I actually think that there are some exciting things happening in the Muslim world, and that it could happen sooner than we think. Have a look at this exciting set of stories from Afghanistan.

When God's kingdom advances, the enemy gets afraid. The spiritual enemy reacts the only way they know how, they lash out in physical violence. These are the kinds of actions we see happening from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in terrorists attacks around the world, whether that be in New York, London, Mumbai or Lahore. This violence is terrible, but it is also a manifestation of a spiritual battle that is even hotter. One day the regime of violence will end and God's kingdom will come.

God is calling to the Muslim world, and I believe that people are responding. God is calling people in Australia too, people in King Lake are beginning to respond. When will the nation? When will other western nations respond? I don't know, but much of what is happening today in the world is one of two things: (1) God calling to people to turn to him (economic disaster) or (2) a violent manifestation of the spiritual battle (terrorism).