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Christmas Playlist

A plague on the X-Factor, with its manufactured music and manufactured hype to get the Christmas Number One. (Not that any of these things are new.) So a campaign to usurp it, like the previous one to get Jeff Buckley‘s version of Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Hallelujah

up the charts, rather than Alexandra Burke‘s, is something I would welcome.

Except I can’t really go for Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Killing In The Name‘, with its proliferation of f-words. Sorry.

But more positively, it set me thinking about what would be on my personal Christmas playlist.

Sufjan Stevens‘ 5-EP collection ‘Songs For Christmas‘ contains so many gems.  How about his version of ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing’?

For fun, you have to have Dylan. Yes, really: the old goat is laugh-a-minute. The recent ‘Must be Santa’ has to be in there:

Bruce Cockburn‘s ‘Christmas‘ CD from the 1990s was pretty stunning. ‘Joy to the world’ is but one of the gems – unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to add the video into WordPress either directly or indirectly, so click here or possibly here to see it. Anyway, you won’t be surprised to find Cockburn in this list, since this blog’s name is inspired by him!

Back to the daft, and I have an irrational affection for ‘I Want An Alien For Christmas’ by the Fountains Of Wayne:

And for real Christmas kitsch, there’s nothing like a pseudo-Phil Spector sound, so over to Bruce Springsteen for ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’:

Or for the real thing, Darlene Love and ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’:

I mean, you just don’t need Mariah Carey, do you?

Of the mainstream big Christmas hits, there’s something I like about the guitar sound on Chris Rea‘s ‘Driving Home For Christmas’:

But where’s the Christian stuff?  Randy Stonehill has written a couple. I can’t find a video online of ‘Christmas Song For All Year Round’, but someone has put pictures to the poignant ‘Christmas At Denny’s’:

For Christian cynicism about the commercial season, I can’t trace a video by Larry Norman himself of his song ‘Christmastime’, but here is Stonehill’s version, complete with the immortal lines

Christmastime is coming and the kids are getting greedy
They know it’s in the store because they’ve seen it on the TV

Well, that’s just some random stuff from me. What do you love at this time of year? What can’t you stand?

Designer Nativity

Because the Virgin Mary wore pashmina. Really.

Christmas Newsletters

Last night, I typed the first draft of our annual family Christmas newsletter. Debbie likes it done a little earlier in the year than this, and she has a lot of Christmas cards written, just waiting for the letter to be printed off and included. However, not only am I a last minute man, we have had to hold back on our news until we knew the details of where we were going to move to. That issue has now been settled, although it wouldn’t yet be appropriate for me to be public about the details, so hence my initial bash at the Christmas letter, followed by some helpful suggestions of amendments from Debbie that I now need to incorporate.

Which made me think I might ask – what do you think of giving and receiving annual Christmas newsletters? Adrian Plass has a very funny routine in a video about the ludicrous content of these letters, especially where parents make fanciful boasts about their children’s exploits. But me, I love to receive them from friends and learn what they’ve been up to in the year. My only hesitation is that so many come at once it’s difficult to absorb and remember all the information. I have committed the odd faux pas as a result of not having remembered something a friend said in her newsletter one year.

What are your thoughts?

Best And Worst Christmas Presents

I had a bunch of great friends during my first appointment. As well as being involved in an ecumenical youth ministry, we met up socially for pizzas, video and wine on Friday nights.

We also met soon after Christmas every year. Sue, who was like the mother of the group, always insisted we each named our favourite and worst presents. It gave us a chance to celebrate the kindness of our friends and families, and to let off steam without being nasty regarding the embarrassing gifts.

I remembered that tradition this year when opening my presents. Undoubtedly my favourite present was from my wife: a DVD box set of The West Wing – all seven series on 44 discs. There’s something for my upcoming sabbatical. 🙂

The most embarrassing came from a well-meaning non-Christian friend. It was a mug. A ‘Man Of God’ mug, to be precise. On one side was the beautiful words of Isaiah 40:31, on the other the legend ‘Man of God’ next to a picture of an eagle (as referenced in the text). 

My friend meant well, but I hope the reason for my embarrassment is obvious. Of course by grace alone I am a man of God, but it is never a title I would claim for myself. The Christian Church is riddled in every tradition with people who have believed their own hype.

It’s only a year or so since another friend bought me ‘holy socks‘ a.k.a. ‘faith on your feet’. They carry the text from Exodus 3, ‘Take off your shoes, for the ground where you are is holy’. Yes – take off your shoes, but not your socks, apparently. Again, a kind friend who thought that a minister might appreciate something like this, and who wouldn’t understand why some Christians don’t go in for this stuff.

So having hopefully brought a smile to your face, pray do share in the comments below: what have been your best and worst presents over the years? Is there something you might like to admit to that would make the rest of us smile, too?


Here are some of the destinations where I stopped on this week’s digital travels.

The ten worst predictions of 2008 (an American flavour, but not exclusively so).

A Japanese guy plays ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ on … broccoli.

Forgotten someone’s name? Use these tricks.

A nice sympathetic piece on the Salvation Army in The Guardian.

Rowan Williams – the Church of England could disestablish, but only for the right reasons.

Christian Aid are getting relief into Zimbabwe.

What are they playing at? Westminster Abbey adds Hindu snowmen to Christmas displays.

In a week when we face the lousy possibility of a sickly version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ becoming the Christmas number one thanks to the X Factor, the first winner of that show, Steve Brookstein, says this:

Simon Cowell bought the rights to Christmas. From now on it’s called X-mas.

Heaven help us all.


Here are some more places I stopped on my electronic travels this week. Several of these links come from Leadership Journal, because I’ve been catching up on a few weeks’ worth of the Leadership Weekly email they send out over the last couple of days.

Some pictures from the Hubble telescope. Get beyond the first few and you’ll see some amazing ones. I’ve just made the image of the Sombrero Galaxy my desktop background. 

Take seven minutes and forty seconds of your time to listen to Archbishop John Sentamu speak on the Advent theme of waiting.

A moving description of happiness from Ben Witherington III.

In Bedside Manner, Matt Lumpkin offers advice on caring for the sick and for yourself during pastoral visiting in hospital.

David Keen looks at Back To Church Sunday and considers what proportion of the population is open to evangelism of a ‘come to us’ approach, compared with the need for a ‘missional’ strategy. (Via blogs4god.)

Coming and going is an interview that contrasts the attractional and missional approaches to evangelism and church. In the attractional corner, Ed Young, ‘the dude with the food’, ‘the worship event is the port of entry to the church’, ‘I believe God gives one person the vision – the pastor.’ In the missional corner, Neil Cole, ‘Using traditional [church] planting methods, it would cost $80 billion to reach Atlanta’, ‘Three things deter spontaneous multiplication: buildings, budgets, and big shots’, ‘We have to think in terms of mobilizing the kingdom to go where people are. Too many Christians are passive and unengaged.’

Walt Kallestad gave up on attractional with the big show and transitioned to a discipleship model.

On the other hand, Dan Kimball (of all people) has expressed missional misgivings and particularly urged missional churches not to criticise attractional congregations.

Credit Crunch 
According to Christian Aid, ethical giving hasn’t been hit by the credit crunch.

Also on the credit crunch, Gordon Macdonald says this is no time to cower for the Christian church. His fifth and sixth ideas sound very close to what many ‘missional’ Christians have been advocating.

Think tank Theos has published research showing that one in three Britons believes in the virgin birth. Of course, just believing a doctrine isn’t enough … 

Communion wine from Bethlehem is being stopped at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers who deem it – wait for it – a security risk.

Philip Yancey on observing a mellow, domesticated Christmas.


Have you seen the World Names Profiler? It’s had a lot of publicity recently. It’s taken several days for me to get a result searching for ‘Faulkner’, due to massive demand on the site. Having finally done so, I now find there are more FPM (Frequency Per Million) in Australia than anywhere else. Cue ‘convict’ jokes from my wife …

Clicking on the UK results, the surname is most popular in Northern Ireland, followed by most parts of England. Then you get the rest of England (including East Anglia, where we currently live) and Wales. Bottom comes Scotland, which is where the surname originates.

It’s different if you profile the putative original spelling (insofar as you can assume anything of the like, given massive illiteracy affecting birth registrations in previous centuries). ‘Falconer’ is far and away most popular in Scotland in terms of UK density. (Worldwide, it’s found most commonly in New Zealand.)

All of which brings me to a story: when I was born, I was given the middle name ‘Duncan’ to mark the Scottish heritage of the family. Studies suggest that ‘Falconer’ originated in Aberdeenshire around the 1200s, and the Falconers were a sept of the Keith clan. There is a town in Aberdeenshire called Keith. Falconers were plebs who looked after the falcons on the laird’s estate, and of course ‘falconer’ is still used as the name of the associated profession.

When my father and aunt were growing up, they both clearly remember their grandfather telling them that he had been born in Scotland, but had come south of the border with his family as a boy. In those days, the name was still spelt ‘Falconer’. When he went to school in England, the teacher said to him, ‘Now you’re in England, you’ll spell your name the English way.’ And so, according to Dad’s grandfather, that is when our surname changed to ‘Faulkner’.

As a result, Dad has always supported Scotland at football and rugby. I was named David Duncan, as I said.

In recent years, however, a problem has arisen. After he retired, Dad began investigating the family tree. He discovered the part of ‘Scotland’ we come from. It’s called Lincolnshire. He got as far as the early eighteenth century, and our family was always living in Lincolnshire hamlets, where some of our ancestors were shepherds – a nice antecedent for what I do now.

I’ve never had the heart to tell Dad that I’d discovered ‘Duncan’ was originally Irish.

Still, at least they were OK with calling me ‘David’. They chose that, because they knew it meant ‘beloved’.

So what’s in a name? What’s in yours? I like to use these stories at Christmas when preaching about the naming of Jesus. You might think of other applications. Do tell.