A Letter to God

Dear God, the life I want most for myself is…

Hang on, doesn’t that seem a little selfish
I thought this faith was about earning credit being selfless
Not a wish-list to the Lord like he’s Santa sitting at Selfridges
I thought you want everything to be meek and mild
the wisdom of the sages with the innocence of a child
So I don’t quite get what this exercise is
A description of my dream life and its accompanying Prime list?

I want peace and goodwill for all mankind
That’s the kind of thing that I’m supposed to say right
To act all pious, turning darkness into daylight
Shiny happy Jimmy in my soul’s darkest night
Cos actually there are people I don’t want to have a nice ride
I want your frightening lightning bolts and to be there when you smite right!
But I get it, that’s not very Christ-like
Let’s start again; what is my vision for the ‘Good Life’

Here’s an honest take on a life that would be cool
I want a world where a kid can go to school
and not worry about someone busting in the room
with an automatic weapon and indiscriminately start shooting
But wait, that’s politics; it’s not religion
So it’s an area just outside your jurisdiction.
Separation of Church and State; we just send our thoughts and prayers
and leave the lawmakers to legislate
…or not
In case they offend the fat cats whose power plumps the money pots
turning loopholes into nooses for those kids they deem the ‘have-nots’
Surely a Shalom life shuts down this kind of sh… Stop!
There’s got to be a better way for us to get along
More than whose rights are right and whose voices don’t belong
Maybe that’s a part of this thing we call Shalom
Where everyone is valued…
yeah that’s what I want

Men alongside women; equally respected
Genuine equality not politically corrected
Shouting from the glass rooftops irreversibly shattered
“We’re made in God’s image, that’s the only thing that matters!”
Working together for better or for worse
And you can bet your bottom dollar that our blessing far outweighs their curse
That’s the kind of life I want
And that’s not just for me
That’s good news for everyone
That’s the way it should be!

Everything I’ve written so far is feeling pretty abstract
Yeah gun laws and equality are good and for sure they’d make an impact
but there’s a safety in the distance between me and these issues
A comfortable resistance “these are good things someone ought to do”
And the results would be great for our sons and daughters too
Who when they grow up won’t even have a clue
That I just sat back and watched the revolution happen on the news
Tweeting some insightful armchair point of view
There’s an unhealthy disconnect
We gotta get involved
An incarnation activation of mind, body and soul
This Shalom cannot only be a theory
It’s a mission with a message to be mediated clearly
And it’s not like we can forget it, we’re reminded of it yearly
The incarnation of Christ, with songs we sing sincerely
Then as he grows he calls “hey if you can hear me grab your cross and follow me
I’ll show you how to love more dearly”

Dearly loving I like, but can’t I leave the cross?
Is there a way to have the ‘good life’ and eliminate the loss?
I guess we’ve all seen greed and profits driving down the costs
And exploitation leads to sweatshops building the bank balance of the boss
All I really want is for my family to be ok
To have their needs met and the opportunity to play
Keep them safe and well and Lord that’s quite enough
Surround them with your grace and protect them with your love

Love; it’s the essence at the heart of it
the lifeblood of a story transplant infusing every part of it
Life in all its fullness has Jesus at the start of it,
and at the end, and through every step imparting it
And everything I want is simply rooted in his word
The world can flog me all it wants, his is the best offer I’ve heard
Acceptance just the way I am? who doesn’t want to hear that!
You can ask around the town, but seriously, I don’t need a meerkat
to tell me Jesus calling is unique and let me tell you
it’s more than just a choice between a heaven and hell (yeah?)
It’s security and safety, overflowing joy for real
A wholeness and completeness, and all-inclusive healing
That deals with corruption; “O death where is thy sting?”
The curse of sin can’t hold us when we serve a different King
And that’s the ‘good life’ there! Before a good, good God, I bow
And the most amazing part of grace is we can live Shalom right now… Wow.

Lyrics ©2018 Jimmy Orr

Inspired by the ‘soul training’ exercise in The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith.


Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or £9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.


Limited Balance

“As worship leaders, how do you balance between allowing the spirit to lead, while maintaining a structure during a service?”

This tweet frustrated me.

The theology of worship implicit in this soundbite is thinly veiled; Spirit led worship is always spontaneous, chaotic and surprising. Spirit led worship is when we abandon the carefully prepared setlist and ad-lib, because the Spirit told us to, til our hearts have had their fill of the warm fuzzy confusion.

To imply that carefully prepared and planned worship cannot by definition be Spirit-led because it is essentially too planned and structured seems to be missing the point somewhat. The suggestion from such a theology is that the Holy Spirit is temperamental unpredictableness, totally unprepared, intent on causing chaos and happy to disregard any plans we may have spent time working on. However, this doesn’t sound like God the Holy Spirit I see working in the Bible; the God Spirit who, in Creation, brought order and structure out of shapeless chaos; the Spirit who, at Pentecost, systematically included and engaged everyone present in taking the message of Christ to the masses; the Spirit who empowers and partners with human beings to build the kingdom of God in any number of creative ways.

So, my response to the aforementioned tweet was “Does the Spirit not inspire the writing of songs, prayers and the order of service? Does he not partner with us?” and in terms of our worship being Spirit-led “He leads our worship long before the service starts and more than just the spontaneous bits we give him credit for!”

If we truly sit down and prayerfully plan our worship times, using material that has been inspired and crafted with the Spirit’s inspiration and guidance, and if we lead with sensitivity and a desire to see people encounter God together (whatever that may look like at any given occasion or setting) then the whole process is Spirit-led and therefore the outcome cannot be anything but Spirit-led.

Mr Cellophane

Mister Cellophane shoulda been my name, Mister Cellophane.
‘Cause you can look right through me, walk right by me
And never know I’m there…”

I love the film Chicago. There are some brilliant jazz songs in it and one day I’m sure I’ll get around to seeing the stage show. One of my favourite songs is sung by the character Amos. He’s the husband of Roxy, one of the leading characters, and he sort of just plods along through the story, faithfully standing by Roxy throughout the whole ordeal. But he’s left on the side-lines a lot. He’s ignored and pushed to the fringes by the main characters who continue their adventures and that leaves me feeling sorry for poor old Amos, who then launches into the song Mister Cellophane; nobody even notices him. It’s a sad part of the story.

Just recently however, I’ve seen this song in a totally different light.
I was leading worship at the church I’m part of in London a couple of weeks ago and the service seemed to go really well; the songs flowed well, the atmosphere was good, people were engaged with God in a big way – It was a good time in Church. A few days later in the office at church, one of the staff members came to find me –

“Jimmy, I just want to say that Sunday was brilliant. You led really well. It was great because it was like you were… Transparent!”

I was transparent? I was see through? I was hardly even there?!

And then it dawned on me: I had done my job right, because the duty of a worship lead is not to get recognition for singing well or playing well or picking the cool songs but to direct people’s attention to Jesus. The quicker the worship leader takes the attention off of themselves and fixes it upon Jesus the better. It’s all too easy for egos and self-awareness to get in the way of leading worship. Standing at the front of the church with people watching you and following your every move can be dangerous if your heart and motives are skewed. But to be in that position and help to enable the church to focus on their God and dissolve out of sight is a real privilege.

I was Mister Cellophane for all the right reasons and that someone had been kind enough to let me know that was a really privilege for me.

I had done my job well

Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
‘Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there…