Category: Quavers and Semibrieves


On paper it seems like an indie cliche. It ought to be, really.

Delicately picked guitar riff, banjo instrumental punctuated with a choir of clapping hands, the beautiful mingling of (her whispy & his willow-tree) voices propped up by the delightfully meek accordion…

The thing is, it is the furthest thing imaginable from a cliche. I spent seven hours with it on loop last year (the year before?) to sustain my writing of an essay. No one can tolerate seven hours with a cliche.

See, this song is like the stranger on the street whose crinkled, warm eyes dance with hope. A knowing hope that imparts a self-forgetful smile as you keep walking.

The chorus of stomping young folk imports you into the middle of a pub of friends, old and new, voicing a familiar song you’ve never heard before. Mister Willow Tree paints vivid images in the mind’s eye. He paints with words that speak with both precision and  ambiguity of longings residing deep in the common reservoir of human experience. The shape and movement over the course of three minutes and twenty-seven seconds is perfect. Its texture is captivating. Understated, but with a twinkle in its eye.

It would seem I’ve descended into sickening hyperbole. If only I were not so sincere! In short: this song is a delight. It comes from a band whose latest EP, ‘kingdom of your own’, is an impossibly beautiful heart explosion. If only there were words for those four songs! Words are so clumsy. But suffice it to say that the progression evident in this band’s sound over the past year is so exciting!

Their name is ‘Matthew and the Atlas‘.

The song is ‘I Will Remain‘.

It’s a pretty big decision.

The classical numbers? Or modern? Pop rock? Will the grandparents be cool with that? ‘Hold Onto Hope Love’ by Amy Stroup? ‘The River’ by Anathallo? To cut or not to cut? Brooke’s ‘Love is Waiting‘? Or do the ‘baby’s kind of cheapen the vibe? Lyrics or instrumental? Slow or fast tempo?

Let’s be honest: the song choice for the wedding processional is a pretty big call.

I’ve been to my fair share of weddings; I was singing at one this morning for one of my dearest sisters from church, incidentally. I usen’t to think about weddings much at all, but the more weddings I witness, the more I find opinions forming in my subconscious.

And, you see, I’ve been listening to a friend’s EP a lot recently, and something my brother said a few months back came to mind:

“I want all of these songs played at my wedding!”

GC himself. Oozing introspective reflectiveness like a boss.

Granted, Andrew has a bit of a mancrush on Greg (Greg is really my brother’s friend; as my bro points out, I have a tendency to try to steal his friends), and he played on the EP, so has a bit of an attachment to the songs.

That said, I think he is totally right. And I’m going to tell anyone who will listen why I love the title track ‘Held back the sun’ by Greg Cooper. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. But it’s worth a try, right?

Here are some of the lyrics:

Could I love you like the morning loves the sun?

Could I hold to you like a bullet in a gun?

Could I protect you like a banker and his fee?

Could I respect you like the surfer and the sea?


We have held back the sun for so long, for so long

Now its way will be done, will be done, will be done

Help me now

Help me now


Would I engage with you like a good film just begun?

Would I fight for you like a soldier at the Somme?

Would I race to you like to an amber traffic light?

Would I wait for you like a stockman’s horse by night?


You’re not yourself

You never were

I never saw your heart at all

I’m not myself

I never was

I never saw my heart at all

Help me now

Help me now


Part of what I love about it is that its simplicity gives each instrument such a clear voice. It feels familiar. You instantly feel at ease and comfortable with Greg’s voice, which, coupled with the sincerity of the lyrics, inclines you towards trusting him.

There’s a degree of humility to the whole song, in that he’s not gushing about painfully contrived ‘love’ or even lovesickness or unrequited love. The similes reframe these kinds of sentiments in a way that is remarkably refreshing, weaving grit and warmth, binding them together with an uncertainty (they are questions, not soppy assertions) that culminates in a cry for help in the whole thing.

And in the midst of all the unrealistic and vacuous songs about love that we wade through in the musical landscape, I am profoundly appreciative of a song that doesn’t baulk from that soppyness into a reactive cynicism, but reclaims the depth of sentiment whilst retaining one foot firmly in the wistfulness of reality, the stark solemness of reality.

And that is matched by the humble simplicity of the music. It’s not pretentious, it’s not trying to hype itself up as a softly-whispered romantic song, and that’s what I’m really drawn to.

It has melancholic undertones that speak of the painful beauty that is relationship.

I don’t actually know what Greg means by this song, just to clarify [Disclaimer]. Part of the intimacy of the bond you feel with the song is born of an authenticity that can only come from very personal experiences, no doubt. And they should remain that way. But although those experiences will remain inaccessible to the listener, their artistic derivatives are still available to having meaning attached to them by the listener’s own experiences. Which I think is great; the communal aspect of music.

There are so many things I love about this song. But I’m going to write a few more down, because that’s what I do at 1am these days, it would seem.

The steady pulse of the chord progression has a momentum that lends the song an anchored and secure feel. The build has a clarity and definition to it; it is so controlled by that underlying pulse. It seems to embody this tension between the cry of the whole self as it wrestles with the mystery that is personhood and relationship (gosh that sounds highfalutin, but it really is what I mean!), and the defensive reflex to contain emotion out of fear of the vulnerability of being known. I just love that the bridge is such an intensely raw moment for the vocals, yet it is still reigned in, ever so slightly, by that same steady pulse.

I love that the bridge opens up a side to relationship that is not neat at all. And even more so that it isn’t resolved. There are no contrived answers. It’s just a song with deeply held desires, and a deeply fractured capacity to realise those desires on one’s own.

So much music these days is so stuffed full that it feels a bit cluttered and frenetic. So I appreciate the genius it is to create something beautiful with just a simple few hues of colour. It gives you the space to see each colour far more clearly, and it gives the colours the space to speak their part more fully. Whilst I love the vibrancy and explosion of energy that comes from bands with 5 guitars and are encumbered by expanding wind sections etc etc, I have found it an unexpectedly settling experience listening to this album.

In short, it’s not a glossy song. It’s pretty real. It has shades of the messyness we all know. But the acknowledgment of those shades makes them seem more tolerable. And it makes me feel more OK with them, to know that someone else gets it, too.

Pretty much, get the album. It costs less than one meal eating out. Which is scandalous. But exploit its cheapness!

You won’t regret it.

Peter

I am realising more and more that the relationships I have been given in my life are of profound worth to me. So, you may have noticed, but I’ve decided to start celebrating those dear to me. One way I like to do that is to write about them.

You hear Lyn before you see her. The air quakes before her laughter and an inexplicable gladness takes hold.


She also has an impossibly high embarrassment threshold.

There was a time when she got caught in torrential rain walking to Redfern station and a kind professor from Gosford invited her to share his umbrella with her. When I say, ‘there was a time’, I mean, this past Monday. As she was recounting this very tale to a group of us girls huddled on the station, just as we inquired “Who was this kind man?”, and just as the words, “A professor from Gosford” had left her mouth, THE VERY MAN HIMSELF appeared half a metre away, looking at the train timetable, and unaware that he was the subject of our anecdotal attentions. Unaware, that is, until Lyn abruptly gestured, “THIS man!!” much to the stunned confusion of the Professor.

He looked at Lyn’s outstretched hand, to this group of girls, and back to Lyn’s hand again in bewilderment. Lyn reminded him that he had just shared an umbrella with her not just 2 minutes prior; he seemed to acknowledge that he remembered that, but looked at her as though that were not sufficient justification for her intrusion into his peaceful examination of the station timetable.

The awkwardness of the moment was palpable. And absolutely FANTASTIC.

We erupted into laughter, and Lyn proclaimed that she was fine, because of her famed insurmountable embarrassment threshold. We then proceeded to grace the packed carriage home with animated conversation regarding whether we would eat a friend if they had died and we were isolated and about to die of starvation (an old can of worms for Lyn and I), much to the silent disapproval of the rest of the peak hour commuters. Again, embarrassment threshold was Lyn’s salvation.

She will also whip out inane facts at parties, like that 70% of the Australian population lives on the Eastern Seaboard. She backs up her arguments with stats, she does.

My friendship with Lyn is characterised by the coexistence of ridiculousness and profundity. It’s not so much that we switch between the two gears, as the two coexist at the one time. I like it; it recognises that life is both serious and ridiculous all at one. And we commune with one another on that basis. Also, food is a significant point of bonding. A very significant point of bonding.

NYC

We will often message one another out of the blue, typically at 2am, with a very serious and deep sentiment. We’ll then exchange thoughts back and forth until we’ve reaching some semblance of peace about the matter.

The other day, Lyn messaged me about this song. It’s stunning, and I think you should listen to it. Right now.

It’s by Elena Tonra, and it’s a song that we’ve had much discussion about over the past year or so. The other day, when Lyn messaged me, we picked up the threads of something of an ongoing conversation that never quite reaches any conclusions. Because it’s not one of those conversations that can ever resolve itself.

But here’s something she wrote, kind of about that conversation. Kind of.

that moment where recognition
of regret and remorse mingle with submission
to mistakes made and lessons learned,
heart-wrestling the line between the forgiven and the forgotten
that i cannot tread perfectly.

peter wouldn’t grow up.
and i am a belt notch.

I love my Lyn. I love the depth at which she lives life. I love her single-minded desire to dwell in her first love, Jesus.

I’ve left this for about a week now, in the hope that it would crystallise more coherently in my mind and heart. But tonight, after being broken down about the things we treasure more than Jesus, my family at my home church sang with deafening earnest about the freedom purchased for us in brutal fullness by the death of Jesus.

And in a moment of fleeting clarity, this same thought resonated in a chamber of myself which I often can’t feel. So I thought that maybe it was time to just write it out, regardless of how much sense it makes. So please be patient with me!

When I’m at the gym, I often listen to people explain parts of the Bible rather than listen to music. And a couple of weeks ago, I listened to Tim Keller speak about how the glory of God. It impacted me so much I listened to it again as I walked through the city to meet a friend. Here’s the gist:

If to you God is something that fits into your pre-existing ideological framework, then that isn’t God. It’s a concept that you’ve created. As Eckhart Tolle says, that’s man making God in his own image! The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ means ‘WEIGHT’. When God enters your life, He shakes your paradigmatic framework up and displaces the way you used to think about just about everything!

In speaking about this, Keller uses the illustration of a displacement, and quakes. He essentially says that when something heavier than water is dropped into the water, the water quakes – it gives way, it is displaced. The object has more ‘glory’ than the water. Similarly, when God drops into your life, because He is ultimate reality, He has more weight, more GLORY than I or my ideological framework do. I experience a God-quake, a self-quake, and a WORLD-quake.

‘God as a concept is lighter than you. You shape it. It fits in around your categories and ideas. A God concept can’t change your beliefs. It fits in with your existing beliefs. We don’t believe in him in such a way that he changes our beliefs. In NYC people are always saying “I can’t believe in this or that in the Bible because it’s regressive.” Our beliefs come from our cultural moment and our great-grand kids will be embarrassed by them just like we’re embarrassed by many of the beliefs of our grandparents. In other words, we don’t have a real God, we just have a concept. Doesn’t change our agendas, our plans, our goals. People get religious because they want help in meeting their goals. They fit God into their existing belief because God as a concept is lighter than you, but God as a reality is heavier than you. When the real God comes into our life, things give way to his glory. Instead of God being fit into your agenda he becomes your agenda. He radically changes your priorities. Our agenda apart from God is to have a very safe, tidy little life. God says “sacrifice your individual needs for me and my glory!”’

The self-quake we experience comes from this encounter with the living God. Because as soon as we acknowledge that we are a sinner and cry to God for help, He explodes into our life, deconstructing and reconstructing our self image dramatically. No longer is our self worth tied up in the trivialities it was before; we are freed from the horrible lens of self-preoccupation and into the spaciousness that is the humility that comes from an experience of radical beauty. You are freed to be caught up in something so much bigger than you are.

And the world-quake means that instead of you trying to use God, you recognise that HE is the one making the heavens and the earth new – and you can lay yourself before Him and ask Him to use you in His purposes. The world quake means you are available to God, and you are expectant about what He will do through you because you are confident that His purposes aren’t dependent on YOU! What freedom!

Read the notes someone took on this sermon for more on this topic, but the reason I unpacked that was so that I could explain something else.

This idea of a quake came to mind when the traumatic events in Japan unfolded. The torrents that ripped through those towns were ferocious. I have never seen anything of its kind in my life.

As I was watching a Youtube clip with my Dad, who had been in the village that was being ripped apart before our eyes, I think the Spirit brought to mind the reality that when the Spirit entered my heart, His glory, His weight, quaked my very self – and a torrent of mercy coursed through me, cleansing me.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6.11)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3.4-7)

But I had always imagined this as a gentle affair; a bit of asplash in a kiddie pool, a cheeky dip in a lake. But I realised at this point that all the clutter, all the structures of rebellion I have set up in my heart, all the cesspools of darkness – they demand more than that! God is passionate for those He loves, and His love is jealous – He is grieved over our infidelity to Him, because He knows the damage we do to ourselves when we treasure things more than Him; He made us for Himself!

The stream of mercy that He washes us with is like a ferocious torrent, that shows no mercy on anything in our hearts that keeps us from Him. It rips it out, and sweeps it away. I’m hesitant to say this, but I think that is a violent affair; a painful affair. But not unloving! No, it is beautiful mercy. Unlike the raging torrents of the Japanese tsunami, the torrent from God is a stream of mercy.

For this is what the LORD says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you.”

(Isaiah 66.11-13)

This passage was in a vastly different context (directed at the Israelites in a very specific – and complicated! – set of historical circumstances), but I think it illustrates the image of a flood of mercy. And this is what I felt physically, whilst singing the ‘My Chains are Gone’ version of Amazing Grace tonight. That I am caught in the torrent of God’s scandalous mercy, and that I have been cleansed, made new, and my identity is secure in Christ. And the Spirit let that freedom wash over me.

I pray that the radical mercy would course through your life, that you would experience God as reality, not as concept. And that your very self would quake with His presence, and the torrents of the flood of His mercy would deconstruct everything.

Because only when you have been washed can the way be made clear for the healing, restoration and reconstruction of His beautiful Spirit begin. That is regeneration!! That is new life!!

Ridiculous

This. Is. Too. Great!

Perez Hilton featured Shed Muzak on his blog, which has triggered an inundation of views (over 16 000) and comments like,

boy white shirt is so sexy
rodrigorox666.

But seriously, check out their A cappella cover of Ke$ha’s ‘Blow!’.

This was born out of a season of frustration.

Time and time again I had tried to improve myself by trying harder. To love people more selflessly; to honour God more fully; to die to myself and live for Him who died to bring me life. But these were goals unattainable to my own resources. I got to a pretty low point, where I just felt a bit battered, to be honest.

That’s the thing about the grace, though. It comes and ministers to you when you are most broken. Like a cool breeze on a stifling night, grace whispers that you will never have enough fuel to be enough; but that that is the point. You don’t have to muster it. You can stop striving.

There is an inarticulable release over your heart when you abide in grace. Falling to your knees to cry for help isn’t so much an experience like grazing your knees before a stony and distant dictator, who will consider your plea with callous disregard. It’s more like crumpling into your sofa after a horrible day, sobbing without dignity, and just letting your confusion, vulnerability and inability to do it all be transparent before your father as he collects you in his strong arms and lets you feel a strange comfort in dropping your bundle at his feet.

The closest approximation I can give is this:

It was a few months ago, I think. I had overloaded my day with things to do, and was already running late when I sauntered up to get the train. I passed a neighbour whose Mum had been very ill, and he unloaded everything on his mind to me. Twenty minutes later, I was meant to be at my destination, coffee ordered, and catching up with another friend. I called ahead to apologise and got a stony reception. I remember the moment when my heart breached its capacity. Climbing the stairs, two at a time, I had reached the top when the pins began to needle my eyes. Two steps further, and it was like I had been physically bruised. This sounds melodramatic, and I certainly felt embarrassed, but, in short, I began to tear up, then turned around and ran home. By the time I fumbled my key through the keyhole and prized the door open, I was sobbing. But in those silent sobs that sound more like emphysema than tears. My brother was at the piano just adjacent to the door, and I could just hear him call my name over the music thudding in my ears. He came from behind, and silently took my arm, swiveled me around, laid my bag on the ground and wrapped me in his arms.

That moment was the safest I have ever felt in my entire life. I just cried and cried like a little girl, but he didn’t care and neither did I. Five minutes past before I began to speak, but when I did, the things I spoke of were so unfiltered that I was surprised I was letting my brother see my thoughts for what they were: of how even when I try with all I am to please people, I still let them down, time and time again; about my devastating lovelessness for other people’s pain; about my claustrophobic selfishness; about my overwhelming tiredness that resides in the marrow of my frame. As I spoke these words, unveiling the most undesirable parts of my self, my brother said nothing. He just held me with his strong arms and let me deconstruct the facades I painted myself with each morning. When I had finished, he spoke gentle words that filled my heart like the crisp air of a morning run after a night in a stuffy room. The relief I felt was physical.

What I’m trying to illustrate in this tangential rambling is that sometimes we have to get to a point where we have been so assaulted by life that we are just too tired to try to fix it all anymore. We have to get to a point where we feel in our bodies, not just know in abstraction, that we can’t. We just can’t.

Sometimes that resignation can lead to a disengagement from the troubles of the world. ‘If I can’t fix it, I will detach from it.’ For me, it’s usually the point when I feel almost numb and indifferent to the pain of others that I realise that my heart has reached its saturation point. When I went to pray for the people traumatised by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan yesterday, I felt nothing. I tried to conjure up empathy, but none was forthcoming. I realised that it had been building for weeks; in disinterest towards a friend’s burdens, an absence of any desire to go out of my way to show love to those in need… It builds silently, but its mortar is robust. For me, it takes the painful realisation that not even detachment will insulate me from everything that is broken before I let my guard down.

It’s from that posture that we can run to our Father and collapse into His arms, and be real about our inadequacies. When I stop spending my energy holding up the pretence I have constructed about my competencies to do it myself, and (I’m sorry if this is unbearably sentimental and cliched for you) literally just cry it out to Him who is able… the relief is palpable.

Anyway, I’m sorry if that was a bit over the top for you. That’s me! Melodrama Central.

The point of all that was to say that crying to God for help, rather than trying to manufacture the things you observe as deficient in yourself, is not only healthier for your sanity. It’s also practically far more fruitful.

This is a song some friends and I wrote. It’s kind of about that cry for help.

Icecream

We clamboured into Jacqui’s car and filled it with singing and laughter and conversation about stalkerish obsessions. After missing the turn off to Dee Why, we executed a climactic u-turn and finally parked on the headland. The place where all the couples hook up.

Siobhan and I had been at uni from our admin law lecture at 8 and had only finished our last class at 6; we were ruined. Rephrase: she was tired, but fine. I was an unintelligible blithering mess. But we were glad to see one another. Ben, Tym, Jacqui and I catch up every couple of months, and Siobhan had joined us for the icecream bounty.

I don’t know why I’m writing this now because I feel like my brain is shutting down on me, but Jacqui was talking about what different people’s laughs look like – she has synesthesia, so she sees sounds in colour and shapes. Tym’s laugh was a series of cascading small black and white boxes, Ben’s was peachy… she avoided answering what mine looked like; she just laughed. Which is mildly disconcerting…

But so I’m thinking about sound and how it’s such a communal joy to be shared.

So, I thought I’d share this. Enjoy!

Campus 2011 is the mission at Sydney Uni run by the Evangelical Union. Here’s a video some friends and I made over a couple of days in the holidays. Excuse the poor quality of the voiceover. Incidentally, the song is one of my favourites by Matt Corby, ‘Coloured Stones and Walls’. The filming was done by my brother dearest, Tom, at SharkEatsBear. Eric Beecroft and Jess Young lent me an afternoon of their time at the last minute to do this, for which I am extraordinarily grateful.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
a great high priest, whose name is Love,
whoever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
my name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands,
no tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look, and see Him there
who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God, the just, is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me.

Behold Him there, the risen lamb,
my perfect, spotless righteousness.
The great, unchangeable ‘I AM’,
the king of glory and of grace.
One with Himself, I cannot die:
my soul is purchased by his blood,
my life is hid with Christ on high,
with Christ, my saviour and my God.

Sometimes I find it hard to feel that this is real. Often, my life will testify that this isn’t real.

But when I am volatile, He is unchangeable. When my affection for Him is fleeting, His love is steadfast and eternal. When I forget, He has me forever graven on his hands with scars that will never heal. When I die, He will speak a word and I will breathe in the first moment of life in perfect communion with Him.

This is the most beautiful story ever told. Surely.

Ben and Pat

This is Ben. Say ‘Hi Ben!’

He is a friend from school, and he studies aeronautical engineering (I think? Moment of self doubt? What do you study, Ben?).

When he’s not reading books in the epic fantasy genre, or making videos with time he doesn’t have, he dabbles with music. Enjoy.