In Memoriam: John Taylor

Being a theologically-conservative Seventh-Day Adventist and jazz musician has been the hardest thing – but it has also been a wonderful experience. Before I get to John Taylor, I think I’m going to go back to the beginning.

~

Sometime in the 1990’s there was an album released called The Glory of Gershwin – and a South Bank Show was made as a sort-of-documentary about it. A wide variety of artists were involved. Sinead O’Connor. Larry Adler.

And a young British saxophonist called Courtney Pine, playing an instrument that up to then I had only ever seen in books – a soprano saxophone. I fell in love – head over heels.

There’s more to this story, but I can’t digress. I went to my local library and checked out every single Courtney Pine album that I could find. And one piano player jumped out at me: Julian Joseph.

Nothing was the same after that. And so I am one of those British jazz musicians who plays jazz because of British jazz musicians. Later on, I would get to know what was at that time the only SDA professional jazz musician – Norman Clarke. I still have memories of Norman casually playing Donna Lee in F# in his house one night upon request (he told me that he’d learned the tune in all twelve keys, and when I asked him to show me in F#, he delivered. That’s the highest level of integrity I’ve seen from any British Adventist musician).

But full-time music and Sabbath-keeping don’t go together well financially, so Norman chose another path. But I wanted to try, and so I did – and he’s part of the reason why.

Jason Rebello had so much more to offer than the one amazing solo on Summertime that made him an international name overnight. He knew things on more levels than most musicians, and he was the first jazz piano teacher to actually scare me. It’s taken me a long time to absorb some of the advice he gave me, but that’s another conversation, and I will always be grateful to him for telling me the truth.

But before Jason, I spent a little time with the late Michael Garrick, who was a much better teacher than some have understood. He was gentle with me. And now that he’s no longer with us, I occasionally look at some of the notes he wrote for me and remember. He helped me believe that I could do something.

I’ve never had a lesson with Julian Joseph, but he would definitely have kicked my behind in a similar way to Jason. He knew that I had language issues and told me as such, but Julian was the first person to talk about the actual sound that I got out of the piano. [And that touch and concept do indeed remain some of the strongest parts of my playing.] But I’ve been privileged to watch Julian play on many occasions, and it has ALWAYS been an education. I owe him and the family a great deal.

Keith Tippett must also be acknowledged – I did seven years straight at Dartington and his jazz course was part of that. His entire oeuvre has been under-rated for many years but it is amazing to see the resurgence in his career. My first MA thesis was on his contribution to the European free-improvisation scene, and his support and encouragement of my (at times wildly-idiosyncratic) playing was massively important – at times, he would have been the only one who understood what I was trying to do as an improvising pianist.

I’m not sure how happy I feel about mentioning this, but I did have a few lessons with a jazz pianist and educator whom I regard extremely highly, but who saw the worst of me in that I was going through major life-crises when I was trying to learn from him, and as such, I was a quite terrible student. History would have been very different if I’d been disciplined enough to learn from him for long enough to get good. His name: Pete Churchill.

And how could I leave out Robert Mitchell, who taught and mentored me in a most unconventional way when I was at Kingston University (where I was also encouraged by Charlie Beale, who should be mentioned in the interests of fairness and integrity) and with whom I’ve been privileged to share solo piano events with, and whose music I’ve appreciated in so many ways?! Robert did one concert on January 5th, 2005 that may have been the biggest reason for me to not give up piano playing for good – that was the day when I realised, listening to him playing, how much this music meant to me, and how much I wanted to still play.

~

Some wonderful musicians are named above and yet, the jazz pianist that I would most like to emulate is John Taylor – with whom I had the privilege of being mentored for a number of very intense sessions back in 2011. It is amazing what one realises in hindsight. Even as I write this blog post, I realise that all my experiences prior to spending time with John helped me to understand what he had to offer me. John offered support and criticism in ways that related to that which I had received from others, but was also qualitatively different. He was both confused and respectful of my religious approach to this music, and offered some warnings which have been proven to be more accurate than I could ever have imagined. But this was not to dissuade me against my faith. It was to make me REALLY think about the enormity of the challenge that sacred jazz was going to pose to me – and up until then, I had not faced some of those questions.

John questioned EVERYTHING.

Everything.

Everything.

It was humbling. It was terrifying.

And then, one day, he picked up one of my own arrangements  and sat down to show me something that I wish I had recorded, but maybe it was not something to be recorded. It was a bonding moment – he played my own harmony and rhythms, and then did a cascading solo that burned a hole in my heart and mind – THAT was what I wanted to achieve, and the only two people who heard it were me, him and the wildlife outside the window of his home in Kent…

My life changed, right there.

But then we both knew that I was aspiring to something that was very, very far beyond my natural resources. And he told me stories and explained certain things about his career – about the influence of Kenny Wheeler on his work – and he showed me mind-boggling things that literally hurt my head to kingdom come and back. The sheer level of intellect that man possessed was surpassed by his non-religious spirituality. He was very strongly opposed to religion, so to have a mentee who wanted to play ‘sacred jazz’ was not going to be an easy experience. But it was the best experience.

*sidelight:* One of the best memories of my late sister was when I persuaded her to come with me to his solo gig at the old Vortex in 2002. Jazz was one the biggest things that she and I shared away from our parents, who had been raised to see jazz as the devil’s music and found it incredibly hard that their only son had become a jazz musician. She had originally seen things the same way, but as time passed, she had understood things differently. That night, John was monumentally inspired. As she said afterwards, “he was so good it was actually shocking…”

At the end of our time together, John gave me some stern advice before telling me in no uncertain terms how much he believed in me. That has meant more to me than I can say. John knew that the forms of contemporary sacred music would not be enough for the level of jazz artistry that I aspired towards, and four years later I know he was right. I will have to find new language and new understanding to write what is deep in my heart, but his music and that of Kenny Wheeler now needs to become even more of a priority for me as I seek to make sense out of how I am going to find my best level of improvising piano that combines the visceral power of my free-improv inclinations, the spiritual weight and force of my gospel concept, the multifarious assimilations of my understanding of modern jazz along with the world and folk traditions in my head and fingers to find something that is going to be several years in the making.

I had hoped to make him proud, but he won’t be here. However, the best thing I can do is honour his memory, and I am DETERMINED to do this – and to the glory of the God in whom I believe. Artists like him are exceptionally rare, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be touched by his life.

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A personal introduction to jazz for Seventh-Day Adventists (and other Christians)

For those of you that clicked the link on the ADM Productions jazz page, thank you so much for coming through to this blog – your desire to understand where I am coming from is not taken for granted in any way.

For those of you who found this post by some other route – and to the regular subscribers of this blog – you are, as ever, warmly welcomed.

~

As I have stated elsewhere: jazz – as far as I am concerned – is the single greatest creative challenge in (Western) music.

If you genuinely understand and appreciate jazz, then you will know why this music matters. But if you don’t – and if you (also) happen to be from my church – then you most probably need to read this really rather carefully. And if you are curious for some other reason about my involvement in jazz and unique nature of what we do in jazz at ADM Productions, then do please read on!

Here’s a newsflash – jazz is in fact one of the most incredible mediums that we have found as human beings in the nexus of music itself. It lends itself to integration with so many non-Western music traditions, and it also lends itself to the expression of whatever ideology you believe. [For those interested, I was grilled seriously about my work in jazz on a televised interview, in which this very issue surfaces.]

Like many Seventh-Day Adventists, my parents warned me sternly away from jazz. It was the ‘devil’s music’ along with rock’n’roll, blues, reggae and the rest. But classical music?? This was the highest form of music – but somehow the problems of secular classical music were not as great as the problems with jazz. And we return to the issues of the previous paragraph; many people in my church really don’t seem to understand that it is the same deal in classical music. Mozart may have written some operas with some quite scandalous plots. But his psalm settings are incredible. Do Bible-believing Christians ignore those just because of the salacious opera scenes that he wrote? Hmm.

Handel also wrote some highly secular music – but what’s he best known for? That’s right, an incredible piece of sacred choral/orchestral music entitled Messiah…so the genre is indeed not as important in and of itself – it’s about what you make of the genre!

I only discovered this after I started playing jazz and realised that this music was the exact opposite of faith-denying. At 18, I began to play really seriously. At 19, I had become an early-career jazz professional. And the year I turned 20, I celebrated my birthday in New York, having flown out there specifically to spend part of the summer getting into the jazz scene. By the time I flew back I knew that this was what I wanted to do – to become a truly world-class jazz musician and be an Adventist witness to this community of musicians and to do more than merely entertain people (which is largely all that I ever saw taking place in our church gospel concerts. Occasionally, someone would sing or play in such a way that it really did become ‘ministry’ but this was exceedingly rare). I wanted to do more than ‘entertain.’ I wanted to communicate.

To get my head around that at 20 was one of the biggest journeys I have ever made and will ever make. And from that time, I have been both theologically-conservative Adventist and professional jazz musician.

~

So, to brass tacks. If you’re not a Christian believer in any way, you may very reasonably wonder why  I am trying to do something called ‘sacred jazz.’ Why bother? Either play jazz as jazz, or don’t bother, but why try to mix the two?

And if you are a Christian, you may be wondering the same thing, but worded differently with different emphases and from different angles…

So all parties will get the same answer. Why is jazz part of what happens at ADM Productions? Well, because I’m the ‘AD’ of ADM, and I know that God has given me an interest in, feeling for and desire to make music in three genres. Classical music is fantastic, but there are times when only gospel music will do. But at other times, I need something that is more cerebral than gospel, but not as scripted as classical music. I need to ‘be’ in that moment. And I need to think outside the boundaries of language.

It’s kind of ironic, because for someone who loves instrumental music as much as I do, I use a lot of words in the course of my life. But we all have times when it’s not about verbal language at all. As Goethe (no less) once observed, “music begins where words end.”

That is the literal truth, whatever you believe. And as someone with Christian faith, there are times when expressing and articulating aspects of my faith journey (and also serious reflecting on this journey) requires something other than language. The Bible talks about meditating – how do we do that? Is it not possible that one can use artistic mediums to reflect? And why would I only  choose to find a pre-composed piece of music – the outworking of someone else’s personal journey – when I could in fact play something that I myself have created in the moment that is the outworking of my own journey and true to that moment? In case you missed that (apologies to jazz musicians!), that is precisely  what true improvisers do!

Jazz facilitates a level and a type of musical profundity that simply does not exist in any other Western music genre. Many people still don’t know or understand that the major genius composers of times past were not just ‘composers’ in the way that we construct nowadays. They were ‘musicians’ in such a deep sense of the word – and many were consummate and prolific improvisers. The negative connotations imposed by neo-colonial black people on improvisation and most forms of non-scripted music are but one example of the cruelties of ignorance. And this ignorance is hurting the Church in more ways than many people have dared to even think about (which is one of the major reasons why I do ministry).

[Indeed, some even believe that if a musician does not read music, then they are not a real musician. What’s scary about this is that I personally have ONLY EVER heard black Christians say this. My word, we do class and caste better than others at times, we really do!]

But here’s a very interesting thing: badly-performed classical music is so ubiquitous it is beyond contempt. And as for badly-performed gospel music – just don’t get me started (plenty on that subject elsewhere on this blog). The church is an excellent place to find both.

But unlike those two genres, I would contend that jazz really only  works for any audience when it is played well. Properly. And I distinguish between “jazz/gospel” and “sacred jazz” because jazz/gospel is essentially gospel music – but sacred jazz is actually jazz – with a requisite amount of rhythmic/harmonic/melodic intensity and complexity to qualify as actual jazz – but the message is one of faith and hope and assurance – and in a very spiritual sense.

Nearly all the jazz musicians who work with me do not share my faith in any way, but they share a real commitment to a brand of music-making with far more integrity than many Christians (including musicians) will EVER comprehend. And I am delighted and honoured to have them as compadres  in music and that they have been willing to be part of my own faith journey in music.

There are some very big names in SDA ministry who are anti-drums, anti-contemporary music, and more – and while I had planned to cite some of these names, this will not help. Enough controversy has been aroused courtesy of my decision to take apart certain statements by one well-known Adventist who fits into this category. And it shows me that folks convinced against their will will remain of the same opinion still.

And so, as a jazz pianist, I’m fond of ‘quipping’ that I  don’t just play any old jazz stuff – I play ‘faith.’ And while it is true that this statement applies specifically to my work in ‘sacred jazz,’ it is in fact the case that whatever the material is – as long as the song/folksong/standard/original is genuinely compatible with Biblical Christianity, then the way I play it is going to exemplify who I am and what I believe. In truth, my secular jazz colleagues worked that out regarding my playing long before I did!

For all these reasons and more, my team and I have some big plans for sacred jazz at ADM Productions. There are a couple of major writing projects which I really want to finally get off the ground. It was no less a person than Gustav Mahler who said that “if a composer could say that he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.” Developing a new, gospel-inspired language of sacred jazz for big band (and more) that is spiritually and theologically truthful is going to be an even bigger challenge than conducting the St. Matthew Passion  – but there are certain things that transcend language, and composing this sort of jazz is in fact the work of a lifetime in and of itself!

In the context of life and ministry, it is an unalloyed privilege and pleasure to be able to engaging with fellow jazz musicians and audience members. This is totally about breaking beyond boundaries and barriers of style and concept  ‘playing faith’ – but without compromising who I am or what I believe. Sadly, as I write this post, I can see that even a bunch of youngsters playing standards from the Real Book in a jam session will usually find a greater level of musicianship integrity than that found in the types of jam session that take in church sanctuaries after services. There is more listening. More technical facility. More space (sometimes). More preparation mentally (frequently). And much stronger song forms. Of course, there are some jam sessions in which the medium of jazz music is seriously abused. That is the fault of the PLAYERS, not the music (and this of course applies to gospel music and other musical genres as well!).

And so this blog post actually caps a very serious historical moment in my life. Five years ago, when called to full-time ministry, I honestly thought that I may never, ever play jazz again. But the truth is that my ministry extends far beyond the boundaries of the church walls, and it requires me to be the best version of me. Jazz was more than the mainstay of Phase 1 of my professional career; it was something which God Himself facilitated to keep me sane and to express some deep things in me that I could not express in language. But as I survey a gospel music landscape where market forces drive musical and ‘ministry’ choices, which result in a spiritually impoverished gospel scene, and a classical music landscape where at the highest level, true Biblical Christian faith is extraordinarily hard to find, I realise that to be both composer and performer in ‘real time’ is a gift from God, and while improvisation is hardly exclusive to jazz, there is no other music form that forces the highest level of spontaneity in creativity quite like jazz, and I cannot wait to return to serious concert jazz performance – in 2015. I have something to say and words are not enough…

“Music is not for the ears!”

Many years ago, I had a good friend whose focus and discipline as a musician used to act as a regular rebuke to me. Not her words – just how she lived her life as a musician. She possessed a basic certainty of drive and overall direction as an undergraduate music student that I knew that I did not possess – and she played two instruments!

On the face of it, you might never have known that I was uncertain of my place in music. But those closest to me knew that I had too many balls in the air and that I needed to be more focussed. But I could not for the life of me figure out which way to go. So I kept all my balls in the air as best I could and supported my friends who were more secure in their musical identity. And this lady was one of those. Her interest was – and remains – in early music, particularly baroque music – something that interested me vaguely, but not seriously.

I was, however, very serious about my own Christian faith, and I did not hide this from her (or anyone else). This did not always make our relationship as friends an easy one, as her secular lifestyle at that time meant that we could not possibly see eye to eye on certain things, and at times I am sure that in my zeal to stand up for biblical morality I did manage to offend her (something that I factor in these days when I talk about faith and morality to people who don’t share my Christian presupposition – by God’s grace we learn). However, I could never shake off the nagging feeling that she was looking for something more and that was why I kept taking the risks with her that I did.

Given all of that, I will never forget the moment when – sitting in a London music venue eating hors d’oeuvres whilst waiting to play a jazz gig – she rang my mobile phone from another country and told me that she was going to be baptised.

Years passed, and I became a conducting student and developed a serious fascination and ferocious commitment to the sacred music of J.S. Bach. This has since led to an increasing interest in the multiple phenomena of the baroque musical era. I have not seen this friend of mine for many years, but when next we meet (by God’s grace) we will have much to talk about!

I’d like to share something that she herself shared, and then respond to it.

Quote of the day: “The aim of music is to glorify God and to move the affections of the listener” (Johann Mattheson, c. 18th). He also believed that music was able to cure mental and physical diseases and hated it when “merely the EARS of the poor, simple and self-righteous listeners are tickled, but their HEARTS and MINDS are not aroused in proper measure.” Hence the title of a paper I wrote many years ago…: “Music is NOT for the ears!” May we use music according to its original design and purposes!

Now, if you click on this link about Mattheson, you will see that at present he does not enjoy the kind of consistent, conspicuous respect that would have been the case in times past (even the last century). But that does not mean that he was not onto something. We know that musicologists ranging from Alfred Dürr to Susan McClary have robustly questioned the legitimacy of the position that Bach was a true confessional Christian. We also know that the weight of both historiographical, musical/musicological and theological evidence is against the skeptical position advocated by them and others. As such, we can infer that in our post-Hegelian, post-modern, Western-centric 21st-century world it is going to be extremely difficult for the position enumerated in the very first sentence of the quote above to be taken seriously by contemporary millenials who may well believe that music is bigger than us as human beings, but would utterly reject the idea that music’s chief aim is to glorify God.

Here’s where I am going: we don’t accept that something is true because someone well-known (and well-respected) says so. We don’t accept that something is not true because someone well-known (and well-respected) has or has not said it. Something is true because it is true – and vice-versa. And the only exception to that is the Son of God, who was Himself truth (John 14:6) and therefore incomparable with any other human being.

Music is becoming an increasingly important tool in modern healthcare with no religious affiliations or attachments. Growing numbers of NHS trusts in the UK are starting what are known as ‘well-being choirs.’ Music is being appropriated in all sorts of clinical care settings as part of actual therapy. The effect of singing on the emotions is being taken increasingly seriously by those who work in depression recovery in the USA and Europe.

I am both a serious musician and a theologian, and I am fully convicted that the work of Jesus encompassed healing, teaching, and preaching. Healing is not necessarily the work of doctors, nurses and their associates. It is the work of all those who show love and compassion. Those who give a smile and a hug to a lonely and hurting heart. Those who visit someone who has lost physical mobility and feels forgotten even by their biological relatives. Those who have lost hope for many reasons as the cards of life just keep on stacking against them. So that means that I cannot merely live a life of music and words. I too have to be part of the work of healing!

Musicians have a serious and profound calling to do more than merely make people feel good. Our job is to actually sing, play compose, arrange and direct ensembles in such a way that our actions of creativity make a real and tangible difference in this increasingly dissolute and broken world. Rather than pander to the whims of those who want what is quick, popular and transient (precisely because it offers  no challenge to the listener), we need to be bold innovators who are less obsessed with the notional construction of ‘being original’ and instead are committed to faithfulness in message – and a message that is worth hearing; one that offers real hope beyond that which this world can ever offer – in and of itself.

But in a typically nuanced analysis, I would like to gently disagree with the very title of this blog post. Of course I know what is meant, and I agree with the essential sentiment. But music is exactly for the ears – however, my question: do people actually still listen in order to hear (which requires the use of the ears by definition) – or do they listen with their emotions, thus taking in the sonic embodiment of music through the physical faculties of auditory perception, but never really ‘hearing’ what they are listening to?

Part 1: A devastating conclusion for contemporary music ministry in UK Adventism

When the author of Ecclesiastes talked about the fact that much knowledge brings much grief (1:18), he was not talking about mere information (or data). He was talking about knowledge in the truest sense of the word – that of actual understanding.

The word ‘knowledge’ has become weak and underpowered. That’s why I have made this point in this way. But if you do actually look at the text for yourself, you will note that the author also says that with much wisdom comes much sorrow.

Now, given that the author of Ecclesiastes is also the author of Proverbs, then how come in Proverbs he personifies wisdom as being someone who cries in the streets, waiting to be pursued – the idea being that we really need to pursue wisdom as something necessary – whilst wearily declaring in Ecclesiastes that much wisdom brings much sorrow?

The contention of the blog post rests on the premise that if you are truly serving in ministry in any capacity, then you will eventually come face-to-face with this paradox for yourself. And if you are a true minister, then your heart IS GOING TO BE BROKEN at some point.

No-one has more power to break a person’s heart than someone close to them. And in church communities, this also applies. Jesus ended up marvelling at the faith of those outside the chosen people of God. He wept over the fact that He could not save His own, because they would not receive Him. But He did not allow them to determine who He was and how He was to live. They were not qualified to determine His ministry calling, and He found the necessary strength to love everyone without ever compromising the highest ideals of His own identity.

Today, I am waking up to the fact that God has taken a dream away from me – and one which I never really knew how much I cared about until I have had to face the fact that it is not what I have been called to do. The thing is: while God does actually thwart us in certain direct and explicit ways at times, on other occasions He simply facilitates the true realities and consequences of certain of our decisions in order for us to see for ourselves why what we thought was right and correct and the way forward is simply not how things were and are meant to turn out for us. This is especially true in every situation in which we have looked at what other people are doing in life and ministry and tried to model our own lives along what we see that we admire and that makes sense, given the context of our own lives and gifts.

I am a Seventh-Day Adventist living and working and practising my faith in the UK, and for many years I have dreamed of having the privilege of directing an Adventist choral group of my own that would work to a very high standard. I even dreamed of taking this group on mission trips where we would be heavily involved in various forms of evangelism by day, and we would sing by night (of course there was going to be some crossover, but that was the general idea and trajectory). Years have passed, and this dream is not only very far from being fulfilled, it has positively crashed and burnt. And as I now survey my music ministry output over the last decade, some patterns have emerged which, upon ruthless analysis, now mean that I have enough evidence to be sure of what I am saying in this blog post. These patterns could only be seen in hindsight – but now they are clear and indisputable.

British Adventism is hardly unique in the fact of its’ having great strengths and profound weaknesses. But the nature of both has meant that my aspirations are going to be extremely difficult to reach. I refer to British Adventism as ‘UK Blackventism’ because it remains the unfortunate truth that although there is nothing whatsoever in our ‘constitutional’ identity as a Bible-believing movement that stipulates this in any way, here in the UK the Seventh-Day Adventist Church has – to all extents and purposes – become a ‘black majority church’ even though we have nothing to do with the actual ‘Black Majority Church movement. If you are not black, you are both an ‘ethnic minority’ and an ‘endangered species’ in UK Adventism.

So ‘black music’ forms tend to be dominant in UK Adventist churches. However, there are other cultural communities who have a real interest in music, such as the growing number of Filipinos who have tended to be organised and focussed on various Western music forms – but also on their own terms (which are not necessarily those of the music itself). And there are also small conclaves of Anglo-European Adventists who have their own musical commitments and ideals.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases – regardless of where one is on the cultural/racial continuum, or on the musical aesthetic continuum – one truth is all-pervasive, namely: the fact that the word ‘good’ (and all related synonyms and superlatives) is (are) frequently used to describe musical performative actions that do not merit any such positive epithets. The most elementary of musicianship failings are rampant, and at times I wonder how it is possible that our congregations can continue to support music-makers who offer nothing spiritually or musically when they get up to perform – because the defensiveness of both congregations and music-makers themselves that is exhibited when one points out that what has been played and sung has failed to be coherently musical on any level is in fact frightening. It makes it impossible to know if and how this will ever change, because now the music-makers have become drunk on the approbation of the church members, and it is now more important to them that they hear words that tell them how good they are – as opposed to being motivated by actually being good.

It is like a person who would rather buy a certificate that says that they have a degree and then accept the plaudits that come from having such a degree instead of making the sacrifices to actually earn one honestly.

~

When the Son of God came to the earth and the time came for Him to begin His public ministry, he looked for twelve men who would say ‘yes.’ And they were not the most highly esteemed or highly vaunted of guys. They were ordinary. But in God, they did extraordinary things. But they had to say ‘yes’ to Jesus first.

In order for my dream to work, enough music ministers have to say ‘yes’ to God first before they can say ‘yes’ to any other character (of the human variety) who calls them to go on a mission. But if the praise of men matters more than the praise of God, then one has not said ‘yes’ to God (John 12:43). And this is where things get really intense. Get ready for what’s coming, those of you who have made it this far.

If you have settled for praise of the church members – too many of whom have reduced God to being a mere object of knowledge – then you have also reduced God to being less than who He really is.

If you make God less than He really is, then all sorts of other things will also be reduced by definition. This means that music – which is the work of God Himself, because it comes from no other source – is also going to be reduced. And for many people in churches, music is less than they are. They are bigger than music; they control it, they bend and manipulate it to their will.

So musical values – as expressed in that crucial word ‘musicianship’ are non-existent for such people – because they set the standard for music itself!

~

But music is like – but not the same as – language. Language is something that we have found ourselves with as human beings, but we have no power to give ourselves life. We can take the life of another more easily than we can ever give life to another – and even that God has to permit. We cannot ensure that if we try to produce a new human being through sexual reproduction, that this will definitely happen. We have not been given that authority over life. We do not have that power.

We can invent new language frameworks, but we are not the authors of the actual capacity for language itself – and language is impossible without cognition. But neuroscience at least has the brain to work with. Psychology has the mind, and as no-one has ever seen a mind in any tangible form, we are now fully in the realm of the speculative here as far as strict empiricism is concerned. And yet, more people believe in the existence of mind itself than in the existence of God Himself.

All these things are bigger than us, which in turn means that a phenomenon like music is also bigger than any human being. We discovered it; we did not invent it. But if the actual content of our thinking means that we are mentally on-it enough to know that music cannot be smaller than us, but we effectively operate as if it is smaller than us, then we are deceived by our own weak constructions whilst actually daring to think that our music brings glory to a holy God!

Satan does not even have to send some demons to send deceptive thoughts into our psyches. We’re capable of sending ourselves down the road to spiritual ruin all by ourselves. So when his demons do turn up, they finish the job. And only divine intervention can change that.

~

I know the extent of what God has done for me, and I cannot accept the level of musical praise that so many Adventists have settled for. My recent efforts to try and put an all-Adventist group together have ended in failure. My recent efforts to try and work with all-Christian ensembles (i.e. interdenominational ensembles) have also failed. Others are doing this kind of thing, but it has not worked for me and God knows why. But if I have been called to share faith in music and express faith in music to the highest standard of my ability, then I must now find the best musicians and singers that I can find who are willing to work with me and give God some musical praise that is honestly musical. Whatever their own backgrounds, if they are willing, then we ride together. As leaders, we can only work with those who say ‘yes.’ And if the depth of a secular person’s ‘yes’ to (sacred) music is exponentially greater than the depth of a Christian’s (Adventists included) ‘yes’ to God, then I am taking the secular person every single time from this day forward.

Jesus’ own people broke His heart. Even His own disciples broke His heart. But He did not let them stop His quest to fulfil his destiny. I have allowed others to do this to me, and today marks a new era in my life. I still hope to have a real opportunity to make some sort of serious impact on the thinking of Seventh-Day Adventist music ministers. And I am sure that God will open one or two doors in the future. But my daily standard of music-making needs to go up 300% with immediate effect and then keep going onwards and upwards with the level of consistency that is so necessary for true artistic and spiritual excellence.

So whoever you are and wherever you come from, I will see you at the heavy level if that is where you have been called to be. Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Ellington, Coltrane, Kirk, Donnie and Fred – we’re just getting started…

 

 

A suggestion from Socrates…

Well, it is great to be back in the land of blog – the past few months have been quite insane, but God is good and I am still alive and breathing. This post is written for a very good friend who asked me a recent question on facebook in response to something I had written.

That ‘something’ was in fact a ‘status update’ that read thus:

Heads-up to all those serious about self-discovery: don’t start the journey if you’re not ready to live with the fact that you may not like some of what you discover…

I can tell you quite categorically that as we come towards the end of 2011, I am not the same human being who began the year. Well, on one hand I am. However, at the same time, I am not. I’m really not. And a major part of this has come about through circumstances allowed and indeed ordained by God Himself which have been expressly set up to bring me to the most serious position of self-awareness that I have ever possessed.

The price has been monstrous. I have a completely new level of sympathy for those who run away from self-discovery on a truly genuine level. But I would still not encourage anyone to do anything other than go on that journey for themselves.

It was with no small measure of déjà-vu that I came across this article from Scientific American recently; check it out for yourself:

We humans are introspective. We observe patterns of our own behavior and we have memories for review. So you probably think you know yourself pretty well, right?

Not so fast. In fact, others can have much more accurate impressions of us than we do. That’s according to a review article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

The challenge in knowing oneself is that we have blind spots. These gaps are fueled by fears and an unconscious drive to maintain a particular self-image or self-worth. One study showed that even watching a recording of yourself that may be at odds with your self-perception does not change that self-perception. But others watching the same tape easily spot the inconsistency.

A 2010 study found that friends are significantly more accurate in judging traits like intelligence, talkativeness and creativity—traits that are observable and measurable. So when a friend says, “You know, you’re really smart,” it’s very possible that you really are smart.

What we can accurately gauge is our own levels of anxiety and self-esteem. So when giving a presentation, for instance, you’re probably much more aware of state of mind than your audience is. And speaking as a presenter, that’s a good thing to keep in mind.

—Christie Nicholson

Now, without question, there are huge questions that would need to be addressed before one could accept many of the statements in that mini-article as literal fact. But it certainly provokes some questions that one may not otherwise think of…and this is precisely where I am going. How well does anyone actually know themselves? More pointedly, how well do we know how well we know about anything at all? Let me break that down. Let’s say that my (imaginary) friend Rosie claims to know herself really well. How does she know this? How does she know that she really has gotten a true insight into herself and that her own perception of who she is does actually correspond with the ACTUAL reality of whom she really is?

Yes, the evidence does suggest that it is easier for us to figure other people out more easily than we can figure out ourselves. Therefore, for many people, it is now a ‘given’ that any given person does not know themselves as well as others do – because external people see us more ‘objectively’ than we see ourselves.  However, is it reasonable to make this a ‘given?’ Is it not also true that people make value-judgements about the character and make-up of other people’s personas based on their own experiences, presuppositions, biases and more? I certainly know what it is to be with people who refuse to accept my own serious and palpable enthusiasm for whatever it happened to be was in any way real – because they themselves could not muster any real kind of enthusiasm of that nature themselves for anything at all – and in imposing this on everyone else, they were somewhat cynical of the ‘realness’ of my own cynicism.

A few took on the challenge of exploring the vibe, and some have become great friends as a result. Others continue to think that I am a strange and not-good person. We cannot win with everyone!

So this is where this particularly well-known bit of advice from Socrates comes into its own: “know thyself.”

Earlier in my adult life, I was one of those people who spent vast amounts of time analysing, assessing and appraising other people’s characters. I became particularly good at this – but then what I did not realise was that I was unconsciously yet deliberately using this as a chief deflecting tactic to avoid the same ruthlessly clinical analysis of myself. It was not until I read the marvellously candid-yet-wonderfully-hopeful Confessions of a Pastor by Craig Goeschel (a book that I will soon be giving to a friend of mine who is a full-time pastor himself – I feel led to do that for him, much as I want to keep it for myself and I do now believe that God is behind this impulse) that I realised the simple truth that we judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions!

I spent my ENTIRE adult life doing that until I read that statement – and from that moment, my world turned upside down. Not that I always get everything correct and in sync first time round these days – but more that I no longer harbour the quiet complacency of my own state of being based on what I meant to do  – even if I didn’t actually do it. I now have no choice but to constantly assess the relationship between my intentions and my actions – and by the stripes, I do not come out well at all on more occasions than I am comfortable admitting even to myself in my most private moments.

[I have a funny feeling that this statement appears elsewhere in another blog post, but who cares?!]

This is where we’re going: as my levels of actual self-knowledge have gone up and up and up, I have found myself unable to find a place of rest where I can plateau out for a while. Everything that I could do to make my life easier without compromising my principles has simply not worked out. So when ‘easy life’ didn’t work out, I pursued ‘busyness’ instead – only to find myself with nothing to do – and I have since realised that I could have used that time to advance certain areas of my life – but hindsight is hind-sight for a reason! Any fool can be clever after the fact.

Had it not been for John Eldredge’s writings, I might have lost hope altogether – but God used those writings to keep a sense of balance within me – and far from being all-sufficient in themselves, they pointed me back to the Word. I had the strongest sense that I was being thwarted by a loving God who knew that my version of how things were supposed to work out in my life was not necessarily the best thing in the long run. One part of me fully accepted that. But another part of me could not handle the fact that I had no grasp on why things were happening as they were. And the internal conflict (and subsequent consequences) that this created is the worst thing that I have EVER experienced in my entire life. God has done some amazing things in 2011. But other things have been disastrous. Why would He allow some things to work out and not others?!?!?!?!?!?!?

The answer is both simple and yet devastating. Despite having achieved a quite astounding level of self-knowledge, I still did not know enough about certain aspects of myself to be able to continue growing into WHO God wants and needs me to be for my soul’s salvation – and this before we get to the not-so-small matter of the work He has called me to do in Christian ministry. Every family has its problems, but not all problems are equal. Mine is uniquely complicated, and includes a vast number of children who were not all born into positive circumstances. One example: the extent of the irresponsible sexual behaviour on the part of certain of my progenitors has had a monumental impact on the lives of my parents’ generations, on my own generation and (if the current evidence is anything to go by) will continue to impact upon the subsequent generations that will follow. In the widest sense of the word, both my father’s family and my mother’s family have massive dysfunctions. Both families have one abiding common denominator – folk think with their emotions more than with their minds – with the result being that the cognitive damage suffered by MANY members of my family is quite extraordinary. Yes indeed – for those of you who really have not known that the emotional choices we make actually impact our overall cognitive functional abilities over time – so it really is the case that the more emotionally indisciplined we are, the more we hurt our ability to think properly in general! This is a massive concept – go look for Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Golem if you have never encountered it before (and even if you have – but have not yet managed to read about it for your own self).

Right across my family spectrum, genuinely rational thought is at a real premium. So this begs the question – what makes any of us think that we are more rational than anyone else?

And what qualifies me to comment on other people’s inability to think coherently and rationally – whether in my family or not?

Well, anyone is free to draw his or her own conclusions about my sanity or reason. I have spent 2011 wondering why I seem to be so strong in my understanding of certain things and so weak in others. And as I look at my wider family and shake my head in bewilderment at various things, I do wonder why I am not more like them…

…oh, wait up just one second –

– actually, I really am like my family, but God has facilitated numerous circumstances that have enabled me to learn, process, think and analyse very differently to virtually all of my (many) relatives. He has also shoehorned me into corners to test my faith and force me to learn to pray different prayers – real prayers, as opposed to earnest academic prayers that are so theologically careful that I end up not relating to God as a Father but as a theology tutor in whose good books I desperately want to be.

I am not fundamentally different to my family at all. But my LIFE has been fundamentally different to both the members of my nuclear family and my wider family. Moreover, my education and experiences have taught me things that even my parents have had no way to learn and know. That is what helps me to see certain things. I am not some wonderfully ‘on-it’ individual who has transcended the limitations of birth, circumstances and culture – I am a peculiar person who has been led on a unique journey by God Himself to learn two things: a) who God really is; b) who I really am.

Discovering the weaknesses in my parents and other older relatives was much more fun when I did not realise that their weaknesses were actually mine too. Some of you readers may not accept that and I won’t fight you, but I stand by that last sentence. Yes, your grandparents may have been racist and you may not be – but is that because you ARE fundamentally different, or because you have LEARNED differently? The two things are not the same!

Discovering the weaknesses in my friends was also more fun until I realised that those who you spend time with, you become like. Now, some of us may have been exceptions to this rule – but even so, we may have taken more of what we didn’t want to take from our friends and associates than we have ever realised. Just because you are not ‘easily led’ in any obvious sense does not mean that you are immune from peer pressure. Many people who become popular and respected for their independence of mind and being end up having to work so hard to maintain the things that gave them that increased social cachet that they are no longer truly independent – unless they stick with being real, in which case they may yet lose the status they once had if their views and behaviour are no longer what others choose to find socially admirable. So who chooses ‘being real’ over ‘being respected?’

The gospel message saved both of my parents, but the gospel is not merely one of many ‘lifestyle choices.’ True, too many Christians do live as if that is all that it is, but it is more than that. I have always known this, but sometimes I want to fit in too. I get tired of walking on my own and I want to belong. And the price to ‘belong?’ My real self.

Ten years ago, in 2001, I nearly left the Christian faith and the Seventh-Day Adventist faith.

In 2011, I came the closest I could ever come to leaving since my experiences of 2001, but despite everything, God has kept me right here in this message. The gospel itself means more than ever before, and the message of the SDA church remains the pathway for me as a conservative Bible-believing Christian. And in knowing myself better, I am more rounded, more empathetic than ever before, more able to connect than ever before – in short, I am a radically superior human being to the one I was this time last year. God’s training regime is never what I would have chosen if I was in charge – but as I want to avoid pain like most of us – I would have gone soft on me. Of course I would. And I would be less as a result.

There are still battles to fight and mountains to climb, but because I have come through this year with my faith still in one piece, I know that the best is yet to come. Praise God, He is the one calling the shots.

So, bring on 2012 in JESUS’ NAME!

Would your defense stand up in court?

There is an old saying/question-type-vibe in the Christian world – and my version of it (today) goes thus:

“If legislation was passed within two minutes from the end of this question that I am now asking that made Christianity illegal, and withing three minutes of that law being passed the secret police were letting themselves into your living quarters to investigate you – would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Now, I am perfectly aware that this question is not analogically perfect.  Some of us have so much ‘Christian stuff’ that five minutes would not be enough to clear it before the “Gestapo” arrived. Others of us may be poor and not have much at all in the way of possessions – maybe only one Bible. And since when was a houseful of devotional books and commentaries a guaranteed sign of true Biblical Christianity? Or ‘holy’ objects?

To enter into semantic arguments about the universal applicability of this question is to miss the point of it completely. I will return to this question later in this post. However, please bear in mind that I am not engaged in academia in this moment; I am engaged in homiletics. I was doing my devotional earlier this morning, and I have come to share some of what came to me with you.

Now, there are many who do not like Ellen White – and that’s inside Adventism as well as outside. No problem – in that your position is your own prerogative. Skip to the next paragraph right now. But those interested, try this for size:

“Those who have not moral power cannot stand in defense of the truth…” (MYP 88).

Now, A.W. Tozer’s ministry output has been featured prominently here at the theomusicology blog. And when I read the sentence above this morning, I was reminded of something that I read in an absolutely incredible book called God’s pursuit of Man. At one point, Tozer quotes John Smith, saying that the “old divine [Smith] held that a pure life was absolutely necessary [my emphasis] to any real understanding of spiritual truth:

‘Divinity is not so much perceived by a subtle wit as by a purified sense.'”

Tozer continues by invoking Athanasius (google him), who closed a monumental treatise entitled The Incarnation of the Word of God in which he boldly attacks the difficult problems inherent in the doctrine of the incarnation. Tozer goes on to say:

“Yet so little does he [Athanasius] trust the human mind to comprehend divine mysteries that he closed his great work with a strong warning against a mere intellectual understanding of spiritual truth. His words should be printed in large type and tacked on the desk of every pastor and theological student [suddenly, I’m both of those] in the world:

‘But for the searching of of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, insofar as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mined and a modelling of life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints… He that would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul.'”

~

Look at what Athanasius is saying! “Honourable life” – “pure soul” – “Christ-like virtue” – that is the standard for those who would work in the ministry of the Word.

Oh, but wait…was not the Protestant Reformation founded upon (amongst many other things) the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers?’ [There is a biblical and theological relationship between Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9 that needs its own post, but please go take a look at those texts if you don’t know them!]

Here’s where I’m going – the standard spoken of  by all those whom I have quoted applies to us all. There is an incredible text in 1 Peter 1:

22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,

23being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever;

So let’s now go back to Ellen White, who in relation to dealing with and relating to unbelievers, counsels:

“If you argue with them, they will have arguments with which to meet you, and nothing you may say will touch them; but if you live for Christ, if you are firm in your allegiance to the God of heaven, you may do for them that which argument will fail to do, and convince them of the fallacy of their doctrines by the power of godliness” (MYP 88).

Now – let’s be clear. Tozer is not saying that basic theology cannot be literally comprehended cerebrally by an ungodly person. James 2:19 smashes that. But knowledge about and knowledge of are not the same thing! Ellen White may seem to say in this moment that there is no point in having any ability to reason through questions of faith with a skeptic. But other statements she makes elsewhere shows that she cares about people being able to articulate Christian faith properly. So what IS she saying?

However fine your arguments, it is not the actual argument ITSELF that will bring about conviction. It is the work of the Spirit in the life of the one making the argument! A clever and convincing argument for Christian faith given by an ungodly person has less impact than the same argument given by one who has abandoned walking in the flesh for the higher walk of that in the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

So, the question – if you are a Christian who is called upon to defend the faith – would your defense stand up in court?

If you offered the fruit of your own life as a Christian as proof of the seriousness and validity of the gospel message, would that stand up in court? You might have more Bibles, commentaries, sermon DVDs, evangelistic leaflets and whatever else than some small churches. Your calendar may be filled with Christian activities. Your emails may be peppered with Scriptural references. But are people actually growing in their faith because of your influence? Are people coming to faith because of your influence?

Do you say one thing and do one thing in public, and another in private? If so, you are hurting your ministry. And if you hurt your ministry, you not only hurt those whom you might helped – you hurt yourself – because God will ask you account for the influence He allowed you to have with your fellow human beings!

I speak to myself even more than I speak to anyone else. I have been on this journey for some time, but like so many biblically-conservative Christians, I have frequently prioritised the intellectual over the life-changing. I look at the ways in which my ever-increasing grasp of truth has not always been accompanied by deeper spirituality. And so, today, I charge myself – and each and every person who reads this post who claims to be a believer – to strive in Jesus’ Name for a far higher standard of personal morality than ever before.

These are serious words. I’m actually scared to write them and publish them. I cannot measure up. I need God’s help more than ever before. The closer we get to God, the more we see how far away we are. But I REFUSE to go another step on the journey towards greater theological and philosophical and biblical knowledge without taking my personal practical life as a Christian up some gears. I do not want to be seen as a clever dude and great musician with a lovely ‘passion’ for his faith. I want to be a conduit used by God to see lives change for good.

So, if I had to answer my own question, I would like to be condemned by those who are hauled into court just after I am brought in – charged with following the teachings of Jesus as a result of my influence.

And as for what follows – that is God’s call, and like the three brethren in Daniel 3 – I pray that our defense of the faith will be the fruit of our lives. Yes, we may do like Peter and deny Christ at times of weakness and confusion – but even he was restored and in the end, he gave his life for the Truth.

We don’t have to be martyrs to do the same.

Peter had already surrendered his life, so when they took it, they did not take what belonged to him – they took what belonged to God!!!!!!!

One day, Michael Himself will stand up and demand an account. Please, I beg you, make sure you are on the right side of judgement when that day comes.

What happens when things don’t work out?

Greetings!

It has been some considerable time since there has been SUCH a gap between posts, but with the IAAF World Athletic Championships occupying far more of far more people’s attention than many other things at present, this story turned up and immediately I knew that this was one to share.

Andrew Steele is a British athlete who will tell his own story pretty eloquently below. Thanks to the BBC Sport website for putting this out – what might never have seen the light of day in hard-copy newsprint can be published much more easily online.

To give a taste of what is coming below, consider this:

” The world tells you that if you believe in something, set goals, dedicate yourself to it tirelessly and pick yourself up if you don’t succeed, eventually you will be rewarded. This reward has not turned up.”

Now, it is not only the so-called ‘world’ [what an interesting way of wording that!] who tells this story – the Church has been in the habit of doing the exact same thing, but putting a very ‘Christian’ spin on it in order to make it seem more acceptable – more correct. If you have real faith in God, pray earnestly study the Word [that is an example of ‘belief in something’ – or Someone], set goals, dedicate yourself to it tirelessly and pick yourself up if you don’t succeed, eventually you will be rewarded.

I’ve grown up in a family where one parent believed this wholeheartedly. I’ve grown up in a church where this was loved as an idea. I’ve grown up in a cultural-racial bandwidth where success has not always been measured in ‘positive’ ways, which makes many of  the Christians of all denominations from my race even more determined to ‘succeed’ while praising God for the victory.

You will note that I was able to effectively reproduce the idea as stated by Mr. Steele in a very Christian manner more or less verbatim. So what happens when, for some church members, just like Andrew, the reward does not turn up?

Well, to an extent it does seem to depend on your specific denomination – and the local theological traditions of the folk involved. Here’s why I say that: sometimes the actual doctrinal position of our actual denominations is one thing, but the ‘traditions’ that folk work with are the short-term, frequently-unregulated notions that just get adopted by church members in a given place and time. I have found some Christians to be genuinely sympathetic in times of real and complicated distress – but too many – and too many in my own denomination, where we have serious issues with legalistic behaviour (NOT to be confused with legalistic theology, which we certainly do NOT have) – things going wrong are usually taken – just like Job’s ‘comforters’ – as a sign that all is not well in the spiritual life of the person in question.

This is hideously unbiblical – but – here we are. To provide another ‘taster quote:’ “For every success, there are many, many more for whom things did not go right.”

How oftem do we actually stop to think about this? How many people don’t ever ‘fail’ because they never actually risk ‘success?’ And how is it that so many Christians allow secular standards of success to colour their own personal definitions despite having a Bible that points away from the world’s viewpoint?

Let me now allow Andrew Steele to speak for himself:

“You might have seen me struggling to finish dead last at the World Championship trials a few weeks ago. It wasn’t pretty.

Once upon a time, I ran under 44.94 seconds in the 400m at the Olympic Games. That’s pretty good, I promise.

I am now more than £10,000 in debt, with an immune system ravaged by Epstein-Barr virus (or glandular fever), pride swallowed, confidence shattered and, most importantly, my dreams and goals of the last decade close to being laid out before me in tatters.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I’m in danger of becoming the Nearly Man.

Writing this could be a pointless exercise in self-absorption, but I want to highlight the lesser-told story of elite sport: the one that doesn’t necessarily end in glory.

Inspirational quotes from sportsmen are endemic – thanks to Twitter, more so now than ever. See if you can pass an hour online without some warble about self-motivation attributed to Armstrong, Woods or Ali. My career is running out of 140-character slogans to fire its engine.

The world tells you that if you believe in something, set goals, dedicate yourself to it tirelessly and pick yourself up if you don’t succeed, eventually you will be rewarded. This reward has not turned up.

A few weeks after the Beijing Olympics my physiotherapist confirmed I had a hernia. I thought it no more than a small setback.

At the time, I was very optimistic about my future athletics career, my mind indulgently cast into a world where I would run under 45 seconds on a regular basis, perhaps working my way towards the British record of 44.36 over the next four years. Then untold fame and wealth or, at least, an appearance on Question of Sport.

This is the lesser-told road, the one that ends in a muddy field, not an awe-inspiring land of BBC montages

That was October 2008, and I was 23. Since then I have competed in a grand total of zero major championships.

I didn’t run at all in 2009 after a groin injury occurred just before the season. I was advised to call the season off to prevent a stress fracture. Ignoring the doctors seemed foolish, as I wallowed in the wonderful optimism a sub-45 clocking had afforded me.

“That’s fine,” I told myself. “In 2010 I will announce my presence on the athletics circuit in a blaze of glory.”

As April 2010 came to a close, I came down with a bit of a cold. Two days passed and I felt normal again. But, when I returned to the track, something was wrong. It wasn’t an injury as such, but my hamstrings were abnormally and excruciatingly tight on both sides.

I was struggling to run, and none of the team physios could relieve the sensation. I was finding it hard to sleep, waking up almost every 90 minutes, all night long.

Two weeks later I was very, very tired, and running times in training that were just embarrassing. A month prior I had been on top of the world, and now I could barely beat the club-level athletes I trained with. I felt as though my athletic ability had been erased overnight.

It turns out, it had.

I was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, and a weight lifted from my shoulders as we finally put a name to what was going on. That was quickly replaced by a descent into the reality facing me.

My 2010 season was being stolen from me. Not again, I thought to myself. I was already living on less than minimum wage and using debt to pay off other debt. I was not in a position to abandon the season without at least trying. What if I could pull it off?

Everyone warned me about pressing on regardless, but I literally had no choice. I turned up at the European trials floating around in a cloud of insomnia, adrenal exhaustion, muscle twitches and hot flushes.

In August that year I came home from the worst training session of my life to find a newspaper interview with former 400m runner Roger Black about his struggle to beat Epstein-Barr.

I spoke to Roger. I spoke to my coach, my family and anyone else even vaguely involved, and I made the decision to stop for the year to give myself the best chance of recovery.

But the route out of Epstein-Barr is complicated and ambiguous. There is no real treatment. The virus can attack the brain – in my case the Hypothalamus, the part that controls your “fight or flight” response – which gives it a psychological potency. That makes onlookers think “it’s all in your head”.

I had to swallow a lot of pride to overcome my northern mockery of things to do with the mind. Nobody gets glandular fever at war, do they? Did any of the shipbuilders of the north-east withdraw from the Jarrow March with chronic fatigue?

However, I could not deny that my ability to run fast, which was kind of important to me, had vanished.

The 2011 season approached and I wasn’t setting the world on fire in training, but I was running reasonably well. On 9 July I posted my season’s best of 45.94 in Madrid, the fastest I had run since 2008. It left me completely exhausted but optimistic, backed up by some of the best training sessions I’d ever had. I was incredibly excited to get to the world trials.

Even when I woke up with a cold, I only thought myself lucky that this was two weeks before the trials rather the week running up to it.

By Friday I felt better but, when I asked my body to sleep on Saturday night, it refused. Was it happening again?

I turned up at the track on Monday morning and the sensation was terrible – and exactly the same as the year before. A seemingly normal cold virus resulting in a sudden drop in form.

I reached the trials and came through a tightly contested heat, but it emptied all my reserves. The final was awful. I finished last, giving everything I had to run the kind of time I used to laugh at.

As a result, here we are. The GB team are competing in Korea at the World Championships, while I mull the results of a scan which confirms I have an enlarged spleen again – one of the indicators of Epstein-Barr. It has happened again.

And now I face the reality. In all likelihood I will be cut from lottery funding at the end of this year, and rightly so. UK Athletics have been wonderful in keeping me on through all the troubles thus far, I am incredibly thankful for that.

I have almost no other income; the amount I was receiving in lottery funding was barely enough to live on anyway.

Unless I find some sort of large private sponsorship, I will be forced into retirement less than a year before the biggest event British sport has ever seen. Can I really just be some guy working in a shop somewhere while the London Olympics inspire and improve our country? While my one-time contemporaries achieve greatness?

I really don’t want a reasonably fast run, in a preliminary round of a major championship, to be the only highlight in a decade of hardship and discipline which left me with five-figure debt.

This is the lesser-told road, the one that ends in a muddy field, not an awe-inspiring land of BBC montages soundtracked by Sigur Ros.

For every success, there are many, many more for whom things did not go right.

That’s the beauty of sport. You don’t embark on a quest for Olympic greatness because it’s a guaranteed easy ride. Fingers crossed, I can change the cards I have been dealt.”

~

Let’s take a look at that final sentence once more: “Fingers crossed, I can change the cards I have been dealt.”

This guy has NOT given up hope. Elsewhere, he has been quoted as saying: ” I would rather experience the lowest low, while chasing the ultimate high, than live a normal life.” Much as some of us would decry any desire for an ‘ultimate high’ because it just sounds so SECULAR, I’d like us to reflect a little more rigorously than that right now, just for a few moments. He would like to experience running at his absolute peak as an athlete and maybe that would be good enough to bring him a spot on the podium. That’s not quite the same thing as sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll, is it? All Andrew asks is for his body to work so that he can run again as an elite athlete. And he is prepared to wait in hope, despite debt, pain, non-sponsorship etc for a chance to ‘change the cards he has been dealt.’

For me right now, as pastoral ministry takes another step closer to fruition in my own life, that is a reminder of the  massive kick up the pants I got from the Holy Spirit some years ago. It went like this: if a secular person has this much much faith in what or who they don’t even know, then the sheer faithlessness of many Christians is an absolute monstrosity on the religious landscape and a denial of the faith that will send more people to the wrong side of judgement than some will find comfortable thinking about. And I am right there in that number unless I acknowledge my own deficiencies in the faith department and work with God to grow in that same faith – without which I cannot please God.

Andrew may or may not make it back to elite athletic competition. He may be another one who never makes it. He may indeed become the Nearly Man of British athletics. But at least he had a go.

Some of you may be tiring of the difficulties of trying to be a Christian – or you may have rejected God because the price seems too high. But my friends, you cannot live on this earth without faith. When worldy pursuits fail despite the best efforts, Jesus will always be there regardless of whether you are a success or a failure in the world’s eyes. Accepting Him is not a ticket to easy street, but believing and accepting the truth of the gospel message will open your heart to life and love and joy like never before.

And that is the joy we all need – so that whether our earthly dreams work out – or they don’t – our joy will never fade away.