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.
But more positively, it set me thinking about what would be on my personal Christmas playlist.
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?
The worship band has departed from the stage. In its place, a blonde American woman strides across from one side to the other, speaking to a large, adoring throng.
She punctuates her sentences with occasional words that are not in English. Maybe it’s a language I don’t know, maybe it’s tongues. Perhaps if I’d tuned in earlier, I would have gleaned some context to know which it is.
Her sermon is a daisy-chain of Bible passages and miracle stories, each time coming back to a slogan: ‘Seek his face in the secret place.’ She tells of being miraculously protected from snake poison, and being healed of MRSA in an African hospital when she had been given up for dead. She speaks of being delivered from prison. She talks of miracles similar to the feeding of the five thousand.
In the top left corner of the screen, I see the usual God TV icon, telling me where this conference is coming from. Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada. And I think, isn’t that where Todd Bentley came from? What is this? My theory is confirmed when I see the perspex pulpit. ‘Fresh Fire Ministries’, the name of the organisation Bentley was with until the tragedy of his fall last year. Anyone who has read my posts on Bentley will know that he and the whole ‘Lakeland Outpouring’ last year deeply troubled me.
But this – this is different. This is Heidi Baker. Sandwiched among the prosperity filth available on the same channel at other times, such as Matthew Ashimolowo wanting to flog me something on wealth creation, is this woman. I’ve read snippets about her before, but here she is. With her husband Rolland, she left behind southern California and also PhD research at Kings College, London to work among the poor of southern Africa. The miracles seem to have far more to do with ministry to the poor, sick and orphaned of Mozambique and neighbouring nations.
Sure, when I googled her name I found blogs that are critical of her. What I didn’t find wa any substance to the criticism. There may be and I could have missed it, but to date the most I’ve found is a kind of ‘guilty by association’ approach. She is regularly quoted at End Times Prophetic Words because she is on the same conference speaking list as a number of notorious extreme charismatic preachers. I’ve trawled through quite a few posts there where she is mentioned, but not found any specific, substantial allegations against here, whereas the site racks up all sorts of evidence against some of the others.
There are also some things on a blog called Spiritual Pathways Ministries but they are not easy to access. Click on them from Google and you are told the blog is protected. Only if you have the WordPress user name and password can you get in. You can instead click to see the cached version in Google, but it doesn’t come up with a lot. They come up with two or three allegations. One is that she has commended Todd Bentley in the past, and so lacks discernment. Maybe. Does that make her a deceiver? Not necessarily. She could have made a mistake, or she might have serious and honest grounds for Christian disagreement, rather like my friend Peter Kirk has done with me on the topic of Bentley, but we don’t unchurch each other. If you judge Bentley to be in error, the question should be whether she still endorses him. (The article predates Bentley’s fall last summer.)
The second allegation is that her husband Rolland thought a lot of the controversial Pentecostal leader William Branham, who certainly held some fundamentally heretical theological views. Rolland described him as ‘the most anointed man since Christ’, according to the blog, although they do not cite a reference to support the quotation. We would need to know more, though, to work out whether Rolland Baker is a heretic, too, or whether he has simply said something plain daft.
The third allegation is that the Bakers practise ‘soaking prayer’. Their criticism is expounded in another post that again is only accessible through the Google cache. (Why this protection?) The gist of the article goes something like this. Heidi Baker claims to have seen the greatest miracles after times of soaking prayer. Soaking prayer consists of three things that the writer finds objectionable: one, it originates in the ‘Toronto Blessing; two, it is akin to eastern mysticism, and three, proponents charge a lot of money in connection with it.
Well, I’m sorry, this is unworthy. Yes, there were some things wrong with the Toronto stuff, but plenty of people maintained a perfectly orthodox theology through it. Eastern mysticism? Not necessarily. Not all visualisation is wrong. Be careful about dismissing everything that is to do with the imagination. And the idea that it’s a money-maker – well, all I can say is, I’ve never come across that. I will not doubt the word of the writer who seems to think it does, but every single example I have known of churches practising soaking prayer there has not been a penny change hands. Heavens above, one of the Methodist churches here in my local circuit offers it once a month. My friend Stephanie the minister there is far from raking it in. Her prayer ministry leader is a woman of integrity, too. In short, the accusations against Baker on this one produce not a single shred of evidence specifically tied to her. It is all the ‘guilt by association tactic.
So there you go. I find it refreshing that here is a woman who, yes, has all the outward trappings of extreme charismatic Christianity, but who seems clearly committed to the notion that the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t to tickle the rich, but to bless the poor. Didn’t Jesus seem to think so when he quoted Isaiah 61 in Luke 4?
Of course, I could be wrong. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below. All I ask is that we pursue any discussion in a way that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit. If I am in error, show me, but without ranting. If you have contrary opinions, produce evidence with citations. And if you agree with me, please say why you do.
Over to you.
Finally tonight, one or two bits of blogging news. Firstly, I have finally deleted the old blog. It’s no use looking for http://davefaulkner.typepad.com anymore, because it doesn’t exist. Well, it probably does in Google searches, but you’ll need to read the cached version if you do. There should be no need, though: when I set up this blog last August, I imported all the old posts here. The only thing that will be missing is that since the move, and old piece I wrote about Larry Norman has continued to attract the occasional comment.
In passing, other bloggers might just be interested in this. Today, I submitted this blog to LoadedWeb. This service is a blog directory based on your geographical area. Currently they serve the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with mainland European countries to come next. Within each country, you click on your county/state/province/whatever, and then on your town. If you think you might pick up traffic through interest in where you live, it is worth investigating this service. You can also add your Twitter account.
Having just quoted in the last post from An Hour On Sunday by Nancy Beach, there is a quote from that book I have been meaning to post for reflection for ages. She includes it in her chapter on authenticity. It would also fit with what she says about creativity.
She tells on page 186 of how a friend had drawn her attention to an article in GQ magazine that was painful reading for Christians. Walter Kim, not a Christian disciple, had chosen to immerse himself in the evangelical subculture for a week – music, videos, even an exercise régime. His words were damning:
‘[Evangelical Christianity] is mall Christianity. It’s been malled. It’s the upshot of some decision that to compete with them – to compete with ‘N Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie and Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street – the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music … and head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what’s selling, then try to rip it off, on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they’ll work for scale. What makes the stuff so half-assed, so thin, so weak and cumulatively so demoralizing … has nothing to do with faith. The problem is lack of faith.’
(Walter Kim, “What Would Jesus Do?”, GQ magazine, September 2002, p 496.)
Well, where to begin? Mall Christianity? (Love that ‘It’s been malled’ pun, by the way.) Yes: so much evangelical Christianity is consumerist, and thus in denial of the Gospel. What a tragedy when you think where the contemporary Christian music scene started out from: the revolutionaries of the Jesus Movement around the late 1960s and early 1970s who were committed to a radical lifestyle. Now it only matters if it sells. No wonder the likes of Larry Norman never fitted in with it.
The quote is also the best piece of writing for making me reflect on why the wider world has despised contemporary Christian music. It’s easy to say that it doesn’t get played on grounds of prejudice, and I don’t doubt that is partly true – the deliberate snubbing by the media of bands like Delirious? is a case in point. But what Kim makes us forcefully see here is the sheer problem of a lack of originality. You can read reviews of Christian music and there is a need to compare the sound with something on the ‘secular’ scene that readers may be familiar with (I know that, I write reviews myself for Cross Rhythms) but sometimes it’s a sad expression of the paucity of artistry. Although too many of the American artists are certainly not working ‘for scale’: some command enormous fees. Material poverty isn’t absent from the US scene, but it’s far more common this side of the pond.
But what has stuck with me most since I first read this a few weeks ago is the way Kim latches on to the positive regard he and others have for our ‘centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music’. I knew ‘the world’ liked our ancient paintings, sculpture, stained glass windows and classical music, but I had assumed that was a spot of traditionalism. I knew there was a fondness for gospel music, but had assumed there was a certain stereotyping going on. (Think Kenny Everett and the large hands.) What Kim is saying here is that these art forms were original. Perhaps that’s why there is an innate respect today for U2, T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, et al. Integrity and authenticity require honest creativity.
Kim’s writing leaves me wondering whether to label him what I have called elsewhere in a sermon on the arts and culture one of God’s unwitting prophets. We certainly need to hear his voice.