Monday, 24 October 2011

Remembering our own

"The Salvation Army chorus has long been as much a part of our procedure as the march along the street. People of every type who attend our meetings expect to hear the invitation "Now we'll sing a chorus. Join in heartily!" It would be a great loss if the custom declined...

...The appropriate refrain, expressing a clearly stated idea, helps us in prayer and in praise, encourages our faith, increases our zeal, drives away doubt and adds to our spiritual vigour. The number of those who have surrendered to Christ while the believers around them have sung a chorus must run into many thousands.

Our meetings ought, therefore, to be graced often with chorus singing of one kind or another, and not only those which are for the moment in vogue

Let us sing them, old and new, to the Glory of God!"
General Carpenter, November 1945

Yesterday afternoon's meeting at the Army was notable for the fact that we exclusively used the song book - which is now something of a rarity in any Army gathering! From the relatively fervent singing around me, I drew the conclusion that I was probably not alone in enjoying this.The band augmented this musical step back in time with marches from Marshall and Gullidge.

Big Grandad and I were talking the other day about how, whilst we are not predisposed to dislike modern music, there seems to be particularly little thought given these days to the importance to fair constituency of people of good stuff, which has stood the test of time, being given continued airing in worship. Hymns which have lasted hundreds of years in some cases have suddenly been singled out in this particular generation, almost silently, for summary annihilation. All over the church, (and I am not being specific to a denomination or a congregation here!) the art of congregational singing, ie singing together as a body, is being overtaken by being sung at.

Furthermore, the original SATB arrangements of tunes like 'Diademata' and 'Praise my soul' have fallen into disuse, and 'Tucker' has been missing, presumed dead, for rather a long time already. Yes, the more recent incarnations might be a good 'romp' and more fun for the band, but what about the members of the congregation left wondering where the alto, tenor and bass parts they knew have gone, whose singing the band is accompanying?

I like our friends' mantra "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something 'Yellow, Red and Blue'" - that's the thinking I try to apply when I am leading worship.

Anyway, it's important to emphasise the good, and I for one was delighted to have the opportunity to sing choruses which were part of my Army upbringing, which have already lasted longer than most of today's crop will. They are reasonably predictable for the singer (and therefore easy to learn), they are catchy, and it is no wonder that their like inspired the internationally-renowned musical genre of the Salvation Army march, as Black Dyke's latest recording again illustrates. (Daddy hasn't got a copy yet, but notes that his favourite Army march, the Erik Leidzén's rarely-played masterpiece 'Steadily Onward' is on it!)

I was disappointed to find that nobody has put it in Youtube, but of our Army readership, many will remember Roy Castle's TV series, 'Marching as to War', and the music-hall piece with Roy on the stage and Norman Bearcroft leading the instrumentalists. Tunes like 'Champagne Charlie', and 'The man on the flying trapeze' were used to illustrate how the best tunes were sneakily taken back from the devil. Our denomination, if no other, should realise that our congregational singing has drawn for so many years, successfully, on the hymnological and ecclesiological influence of the music hall and the football terraces. Congregational singing should retain the corporate element. It is, after all, something we do together!

The first chorus we sang yesterday has well and truly stuck in my head today. I found it on the Cyber-Hymnal, along with the original verses, which were hitherto unknown to me and which were in neither the 1953 nor 1986 songbooks. It's catchy, it's memorable, it conveys truth, it's personal. You can whistle it in the shower, you could sing it with a coach-load. It reminds me of Sunday night meetings of my childhood, often requested by the congregation:

God is still on the throne,

And He will remember His own;
Though trials may press us and burdens distress us,
He never will leave us alone;
God is still on the throne,
And He will remember His own;
His promise is true, He will not forget you,
God is still on the throne.
Right now, when I am facing even more bother than usual (hence the few posts in the last couple of weeks) that promise is an important one to me. Step Mum is away this week, as she will be for the next three, and not being left alone or forgotten by God is reassuring. It is as true as I hum it today as it was when a hundred of us sang it yesterday.

In the same way, I am still here, remembering my own. I still think of you every day, and I am doing more than you will ever know.

Love from Daddy

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The 'Quiet Man' becomes the 'Awkward Man'

Last night, with a flat iPhone (hence no pictures!), I attended the Centre for Social Justice's fringe featuring an interview with Iain Duncan Smith, in between more 'day-job' events.

The CSJ fringe was my first introduction to family breakdown policy, two years ago, before I realised the extent to which I would subsequently be involved. In recent weeks, they have launched a new policy paper, intent on addressing "Fatherlessness, dysfunction and parental separation/divorce" I quickly read through and annotated a copy, noting that there is lots of valuable 'carrot' and no 'stick' at all in their proposed policy approach. Whilst CMEC has powers to destroy the lives and livelihoods of parents who do not pay their maintenance, there is no way of even measuring the compliance of parents with residence, never mind penalising them for failure to act in good faith and in accordance with the law. A shame, since otherwise they make a lot of good proposals.

Anyway, as you will imagine, I not only listened intently to the Secretary of State, but wanted to ask a question in the presence of a packed room.

Asked about his further political aspirations and his return to front-line work with the coalition, he said "This is the only cabinet job I want".

He talked of the £20bn a year spent on family breakdown, and the perverse incentives provided by the benefits system. Challenged on success so far, he pointed out the size of the tanker he is trying to turn, but was blunt in his appraisal of the problem.

On government intervention in families' lives: "Government is intervening ineptly and dysfunctionally... the most dysfunctional family in the system is the government"

Regarding the riots, and the subsequent quietening-down about the causes as time passes: "My job is to be a the awkward man that keeps reminding everyone there's a problem"

At the death, I was invited to ask a question. Quoting Mr Gove's earlier words, I explained that, to my sadness, it is under this government, as the tanker is still slowing, that my little boy and other children like him had lost their Dad, and having been there at birth, men like me were gone now, despite gargantuan efforts.

IDS was, as previously, was not only gracious but kind in his response, even when the interviewer suggested that he couldn't judge who was a good father and who wasn't...

Time is tight today, but with reference to the dreadful recording off my phone, here are some quotes that should encourage us:

"A lot of fathers genuinely do play by the rules, and can't get access to their children. I fully accept that and understand that. There's a tendency in society to say 'Fathers bad, mothers good, full stop' - It's not like that; it's far more complex."

"Family law is too opague - we can't understand why judgements are made"

Speaking of interventions which the state, his preference being through the third sector, might make, he said: "Sometimes [the intervention] is stabilising the mother, because she herself is dysfunctional".

People, particularly 'Anonymous, saviour of the internet', love to claim I am all about retribution towards Mummy. A deeper inspection will tell you that I have made it clear over time that that's not what I'm about at all. (see also here).

Mummy, and other dysfunctional parents and families, are not condemned by Mr Duncan Smith. Rather, he recognises that we have to identify them to help them - and we have to remove the perverse incentives, often provided by the welfare system, which embed dysfunction, and embitter the lives of so many.

Nevertheless, where dysfunction is also manifest as disinterest, and where the 'carrot' is spurned, I do believe we need the 'stick' - and for fundamental equality before law and in the consideration of the state, of both parents. In an age of austerity, it is also noteworthy that you and your family would not be claiming any benefits if you lived with me. Should the state sponsor a child living with a parent who cannot afford them, when the other parent is capable of providing for them?

I was again grateful for the platform to remind the assembled throng of the plight of families like ours, but most of all, I was again grateful to one of the most senior politicians in the land for his personable, kindly concern, and for his keenness both to listen, and to articulate what others consider to be unspeakable truths.

Today I am back to an amount of desk work, though as here in Manchester, the clouds are gathering over that situation. In the former case, this is a bit of a blow, as I left my coat at home!

Hopefully I will have some exciting news for you later - I have a call to pay on my way home...

First up, let's see what Mr Cameron has to say, beyond telling us to pay off our credit cards - something of a sore point for me!

Catch you later.

Love from Daddy.