Category Archives: Humour

‘Execute Order 66’

I don’t expect people who are not Star Wars fans to get this – but when the sales assistant at the chip shop shouts out ‘Order 66!’ then it’s time for Jedi everywhere to be worried… 😉

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Order 66 was the order given by Emperor Palpatine in the movie ‘Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith‘. The order meant that the Emperor’s soldiers were to wipe out the Jedi – the warrior/monk class that had been the guardians of peace and justice in the Galaxy for thousands of years.

Here’s the moment when Palpatine issues the order:

So there it is.

You can imagine, then, how it makes a Star Wars diehard like me feel when someone calls out ‘Order 66!’

Life is full of laughs. Take ’em when you can 🙂

 

10

Solid Food

Continuing my ‘morsels’ – themed titles for my ‘quotations’ posts…

If Jesus saves only Evangelicals who have said ‘The Prayer’, and likely also had to jump through many, many other hoops too (as prescribed by various leaders), then at best only 0.01% or so of humans will be ‘saved’. Given that we can assume that God is not a complete idiot, and that Jesus is not a failed Saviour, I would suggest that somewhere along the line we have gained a total misunderstanding of both the nature of salvation and what it takes to be ‘saved’. – Me

“The incarnation does not suggest that God became human so that we can escape our humanity, but rather that, since God has fully embraced the human experience, we can escape the trap of believing that we need to escape our humanity in order to become like God.” – Jeff Turner

“The authority of Scripture lies in the transformative process itself.” – Brad Jersak

“God’s love for you has never been and never will be based on anything you do or don’t do.
It’s based on who He is.” – Chris Martin

“I’ve just thought: if there is indeed a Judgement Day video where all our life is played back in Blu-Ray/IMAX quality, mine is going to be bloody hilarious… :D” – Me

“The only time you’ll find God in a box is because he wants to be where we are” – Wm. Paul Young

“Double negatives are a no-no for me” – Anon

“It took a real revelation – literally, a revelation – of Grace to bring me out of my pit. Once you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t unsee it. But the converse may also be true: until you have seen the true nature of Grace, you can’t see it at all.” – Me

“Your first love is not your love for God; it is God’s love for you.” – Paul Ellis

 

10

Thinking In the Box

About twenty years ago, my lovely wife Fiona was making enquiries about going to a Bible week* – can’t remember whether it was Stoneleigh or New Wine, or even something else – and she was going to go with her friend Yvonne. In the end, they didn’t go, for whatever reason.

Anyway, as part of the ‘registration’ process, there was a couple of pages of Rules. Like, please keep quiet after 10:00pm, no cars allowed on site after initial unloading, no alcohol, please don’t block the toilets, that sort of thing.

One of the Rules, though, was a bit of a Legalism thing. Bearing in mind that, at the time, I had just begun my major detoxification-from-Fundagelicalism event which lasted fifteen years, so it was a bit of a trigger…

This particular Rule was that no unmarried, mixed couples were allowed to share a tent.

So, I guess if you’d wanted to go along with your fiancé/fiancée, forget it: it’s separate tents or no dice.

Quite who was going to police this Rule (and how they were going to do it) was not specified 😉

Anyway, I simply couldn’t resist it. I wrote to their admin people and asked if it was alright if I and my gay partner were allowed to share a tent, despite not being married (I don’t think gay marriage/civil partnerships were even a thing back then!) pointing out that given the Rules as written, we would still be ok as we were a same-sex couple/unmarried, rather than a mixed couple/unmarried..

No reply was forthcoming.

And so I wrote to them again expressing disappointment that my question had not been taken seriously/answered, and emphasising that because we were not a mixed couple, we would be abiding by the Rules and therefore where’s the problem?

Still no response.

I wonder why.

Maybe those religious people were in a ‘box’, perchance?

Still, that lack of any response was a great help for me in my deconstruction, illustrating that not only were such Rules ‘doctrines made by men’ (Mt 15:9) but also that, when it really came down to it, nobody in those religious groups ever think things through to their logical conclusions, probably because they’re not allowed to.

I still laugh about it now, of course. And it makes an excellent after-dinner joke amongst like-minded believers


*For those who don’t know, a Bible Week is a sort of Christian rally where thousands of Evangelical (usually) Christians have like a camping week, usually at an agricultural showground (because of good space and facilities). It’s usually in the summer, and it usually rains. The program normally goes something like this. Mornings: workshops and/or seminars where people can attend teaching sessions or learn basket-making. Or how to lead worship or write songs, as if people can do that without the proper gifting… Usually the workshops are quite arty-farty things and very rarely anything scientific (of course), although one I went to in 1984 (Festival ’84) at Staffordshire County Showground did, uniquely, have a workshop on Amateur Radio, which led me on to eventually qualifying as a Radio Amateur; Afternoons: Free to roam the surrounding area just like normal tourists; Evenings: An extended worship and sermon session (very much like a long Charismatic church service, which is not normally as bad as it sounds. In fact, they were good fun (although the sermons were usually boring) and we always used to learn lots of great new songs there. Then, after a week of that, its pack up your tent and join the traffic jam to get off the site. That’s a Bible week.

Here’s a link to New Wine’s website; their camping events are called ‘United’. Probably means you have to fit in in order to be allowed to go 😉

10

Dark Night – The NPCs

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Dark Night

For an  explanation as to why I have a row of Mormon boys as my header image, please see the footnotes 😉

In my last post, Theophilus*, I described how I feel like I am about to embark on another Dark Night of the Soul. While I could be wrong, of course, I did describe it as such because I felt I recognised the signs of its approach.

In the comments for that post, regular reader Jeremy suggested I try to blog a little on what my thoughts are, which would be helpful and interesting. I think that really is an excellent idea, because that then means that someone with a keen observational mind and an analytical brain (me!) would be making those observations and writing them down for others. The only downside to the idea is that the Dark Night might involve taking time off blogging or even taking time off thinking and observing too much. Sometimes the idea of the Dark Night is to take time off of having any commitments at all, so, subject to those caveats, I will do what I can. And I’m going to make it into a ‘series’ so as to keep the posts indexed in some fashion.

Let me make it clear right from the start that this Dark Night is not some form of depression or other mental illness. It is a normal and healthy part of spiritual growth, and, because I have been through it before, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience itself and also to the fruits it will produce. Granted, I am still heartsick from my loss of Fiona – even though that’s now 28 months ago – but this is a different thing entirely. This is spiritual, not emotional, and going through times like this only serves to highlight the difference.

Now, to my observations.

The primary observation at the present time is this: this particular Dark Night has been-precipitated, as was my first one, as a result of interactions with nasty grey legalistic people, my reactions to them, and the need to change my attitudes in my dealings with them. So, dealing with these people. And I need to spend time away from them. Fortunately, unlike those who have these people in their immediate families, I have the luxury of being able to remove myself from them.

My son refers to these people as NPCs. ‘Non-Player Characters’, you know, like in a video game. Every time you approach one of these in-game characters, they act all familiar and ‘Hey how are you, buddy?’ like they’ve known your game character all his life. If you come back to them in-game after half an hour or so, they say the exact same thing – because of course they are programmed to. And that’s what these people are like; they are programmed with all the ‘right phrases’ that they trot out willy-nilly and – more worryingly – they also have all the same programmed attitudes. It’s almost as if they have no colour; no personality. The NPCs. What a great analogy.

As my readers will know, about twenty years ago, my first Dark Night began, in which I avoided all church things like I would Flat Earthers 😉 Every time I went in a church, it reminded me of why I didn’t! That Dark Night lasted fifteen years as I was detoxed from all the harmful attitudes that my twenty-one years as an Evangelical Fundamentalist had given me.

Five years ago, I had a dramatic re-entry into the ‘things of God’ (although I was never really away from Him per se) and He has carried me through losing Fiona and all kinds of other stuff. And my faith life blossomed.

But recently something in me has just snapped. I have so had enough of the NPCs who take it upon themselves to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…whatever happened to ‘mind your own business’? And these people cast such a bad light on my wonderful Jesus and my Father God…and I have to make this observation that at present I feel that if I never go into a church meeting again it will be too soon. That, for me, is a characteristic of a Dark Night experience. In a way, being with other Christians – at least in a large meeting – is such a ‘trigger’ for me that it can be harmful. Also, being Aspergic does not help in this regard; I can think of many places I’d rather be than in a room with lots of people!

I’m not saying that people at my Church are NPCs; they’re not. They are lovely. And I know for a fact that part of what Father is doing with me at the moment is that He’s not asking me to go to Church, so in a way it’s almost as if that lack of Church prompting from Father suggets that He’s the One Who’s leading me into the Dark Night – and that would come as no surprise to me. And in a lot of ways I have been at this point for a long while, not having been to the main Church meeting for about eighteen months, although I was in a housegroup for a while (it recently came to an end; not my fault, I hasten to add!)

Regarding the NPCs, it’s always the same. If there are two possible interpretations of a Scripture, these people would always rather swing towards the ‘bad’ interpretation and call it ‘loving’, rather than swing towards the actually ‘loving’ interpretation. And coming up against this constantly has made it so that I’ve so had enough of them. I am so sick of religious people like these, and as a sad corollary to that, I am avoiding all things to do with faith at all, because there are just so many triggers. I’m staying off Facebook because there are people on there whom I care about but who also have a list of NPC ‘friends’ as long as your arm, who trot out the same programmed crap in response to my friends’ posts again and again. I just need a rest from it all, and that might take fifteen days, or it might take fifteen years again.

To quote my reply to one of my friends on Facebook, whose post was being ripped at by grey** NPC miseries,

But the truth of it is that I have had enough of these people. Completely had enough. From now on, it’s an instant block from me. We are giving dogs what is sacred and they simply turn and tear us to pieces. From now on, my job is to minister to the people whom these nasties would seek to destroy, while ignoring and blocking the nasty ones. These are deadly, grey, dull people who spread a gospel of horror, hate and lies, and I’ve had enough of them. There is enough poison in life in general without people like these, who claim to represent a loving god, from bringing even more toxicity. Enough is enough. Let them wallow in the mud of their shipwrecks.

(And that’s partly where my recent post. ‘Shipwrecks‘, came from)

One such grey person thusly replied to my exhortation to reconsider the doctrine of Hell:

“Don’t need to. Hell is forever. You don’t make the rules. God does. Your job is to obey, not figure out God’s logic.”

Case in point. Cold, grey, dull, lifeless. In fact the voice of the Pharisee is always cold, lifeless, grey, dry, dusty and joyless. By their fruits you shall know them (or in this case, the lack thereof)

Remember:

Dry

Dusty

Grey

Cold

Joyless

Lifeless

Jesus spoke of them as tombs – whitewashed tombs. Lookin’ good on the outside; full of rot and corruption inside. And these are the people who accuse all mankind of being ‘unregenerate sinners…’ for goodness’ sake! If your life looks like that, you need to get it sorted. But then, if your life looks like that, you probably are not reading this because you will have consigned my blog to the heresy pile long ago!

Another key phrase, when given a joke that falls outside the lines of what their group think acceptable, is ‘We don’t think it’s funny’.

Like this one, for example:

“We don’t think it’s funny”, they would say***. Who’s ‘we’? That sort of prohibition only has power when there’s a group of them all agreeing with each other, and presumably nodding sagely, and they find like-minded miseries to sit with.

Even talking to these people is a downer. This is not what the kingdom of God is about! If it’s not righteousness, peace and joy, then it’s not the Kingdom of God.

And I find, as a direct result of my interactions with grey NPCs, that when I’m reading my Bible, my reading voice – you know, the voice that I hear in my head as I read – sounds just like the grey NPCs. And so, unless I feel particularly inspired, I do not go to the Bible all that often. True, when I do get such inspiration, that voice is absent…maybe the lesson there is to not read the Bible unless that voice is absent… This is another of the signs of the Dark Night, and obviously one I have learned from already! 😀

Another thing is that, in some ways, I don’t feel as close to God as I normally do. I know He’s there; I still feel the Spirit burning inside. Or maybe that’s indigestion. And worship means little; once again, I can hardly bear to hear the Songs of Heaven. These are two more of my signs of an impending Dark Night.

I think that one of the main things I am looking for in this Dark Night (although of course Father probably has other plans!) is that I need to learn how to deal with the Grey People. The NPCs. If indeed there is any dealing with them. By ‘dealing with’ them, I mean how I personally deal with the effects of interfacing with them on a theological level. Certainly we’re not going to change them; not that I would want to – that’s not my job! And indeed, this brings me to another point about the NPCs and how to cope with them, and it’s this.

When we criticise the judgemental, their standard response is always [predictably] “Ah, but now you’re judging me!” It seems to be the privilege of the judgemental that, although they started it, still they think we are wrong to point out their judgementalism; that we are ourselves being judgemental in our pronouncements against their judgementalism. I sometimes think that they set these things up just specifically for that purpose. He who accuses first has the upper hand, it seems!

Talk about a no-win situation!

So, how do we solve this conundrum? How do we tell these people what they are doing without ourselves being judgemental, or even giving them the excuse to say that we are being judgemental? Is it even possible?

I’m 56 years old and I am still unaware of an answer. Maybe that’s something I will learn in this Dark Night. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

And please be aware that I am actually not blaming the NPCs; all I am doing is to describe how their actions and my responses/triggers have precipitated this new Dark Night. For others, their own entry into a Dark Night will be highly individual, and indeed probably unique to that person. Also, I have not been forced into this ‘course of action’ by these people, because a) it is not my choice anyway, and b) they are not that powerful. The main thing is my response to their trigger reaction in me; that’s what I need to work on.

This may well read like a rant, and I do not apologise for that. What I need to show, above all else in this series, is honesty. Because it will be of no use to my readers if it’s not honest.

And anyway I am allowed to rant. There are no rules in a Dark Night! 😉

I hope this is helpful.

Peace and Grace to you all.


*Pirated from St. Luke in Acts 1:1 😉

**What’s all this about ‘grey’ people? Well, one of the characteristics of being in a religious cult (which I believe Evangelical Christianity is) is that everyone has to be the same; everyone has to believe the same things, have the same sense of humour (none) and all that sort of thing.

Imagine a group of Mormon missionaries lined up for a game of ‘Spot the Difference’ and you’ll get what I mean.

And that explains the header image (it’s actually taken from a Broadway show called ‘Book of Mormon’ – and they’re not real Mormons; they’re actors...) 😉

(Not saying Mormons are NPCs; I don’t personally know any so I can’t say. But their missionaries, at least, do all dress the same and will therefore do for the purposes of illustration).

And so, despite each NPC being technically an individual, in terms of faith they are not; there is no colour, no variety, nothing interesting going on. Hence, grey.

[Edit: Apparently, the term ‘NPC’ is nowadays common parlance for people who always say the same, predictable things. Shows how far behind the times I am]

***Clue: YMCA 😉


 

30

The Sermon You Will Never Hear!

Today I am going to let you into the Church’s big secret on tithing.

I’m going to share with you a Scripture that you will never hear preached on from any pulpit you can think of.

But first, a bit of background.

Like quite a few other doctrines*, the doctrine of ‘Tithing’ is a contentious one. It refers to the practice of giving to the Church, or whatever religious organisation a person is part of, a certain proportion of (or sometimes a set amount of) one’s income. Usually, this proportion is one tenth of one’s income.

It’s not only contentious within a group; it’s usually contentious outside the group as well, in that one of the big turn-offs for non-churchgoers is the idea that giving money to some random (and usually non-accountable) organisation is not something that sane people would do. They just can’t believe that anyone would want to do that, and they want no part of it. And I don’t blame them. I can still remember one time before I became a Christian, hearing that the Jehovah’s Witnesses** give a tenth of their income to their Organisation. My response was something like, “They do what??!!” And that sentiment is shared by many, both inside and outside the church.

Of course, there are many varied practices involved in this giving model, in fact probably about as many as there are churches. I have shared before on this subject, and it is probably worth reading at least this article before you read this present article, for a bit of background, and my lead-in for this other article for more. However the later part of that last article does go into some pretty heavy Biblical study and is probably best left alone for the time being.

Suffice it to say that many Christian denominations and organisations have of course abused the ideas around tithing and made it a legalistic practice instead of a Grace-filled one. Drawing on predictable bullying, carrot-and-stick, and straightforward prosperity-doctrine tactics, they have set up a whole mythology around tithing, usually promising good returns on one’s tithe by emphasising certain Scriptures and, of course, ripping them brutally out of their proper context to serve their own ends, and ignoring completely Jesus’s teaching on giving being a secret practice between God and Man, and not done for the approval of humans (Mt 6:1-3). I won’t even begin to go in to the convoluted arguments and justifications that money-grabbing religious organisations use to extort money and other things from their people. It’s sickening, though.

You have probably gathered by now what I think about this 😉

But let’s look at the two main Scriptures abused used by some Christian groups to ‘encourage’ (a euphemism, folks!) people to give the whole tithe (meaning the whole ten per cent, although I have never once heard a church moan about anyone giving more).

The first is, naturally, an Old Testament (OT) text; the OT of course being the number-one destination for preachers wanting to find a choice verse to introduce yet another Rule to weigh down their people with. You want Rules? Begin with the OT. This is simply because few people know much about the OT, its background, and the cultural references in there, and in any case it all sounds (and reads) very stern and forbidding, and the god of the OT is a right misery who is pretty pissed at most people for most of the time anyway.

Here’s the main verse used in this way. I’ll leave it in the KJV language to make it sound more authoritative and threatening. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the number one tithing text: Malachi 3 verses 8-12!

(Mal 3:8-12 (KJV))

There is so much wrong with using this Scripture in the typical combination manner it is usually used: the carrot-and-stick approach to tithing – the carrot being the ‘promise’ of blessings, and the stick being the promise of a ‘curse’. I’m afraid I’m not going to give an exegesis of this passage right now, because I’m trying to get to my point!

The second Scripture normally thrown at believers about tithing is in 2Cor 9:6-15, of which I will present just verses 6-11.

Note how the latter part of the preceding verse, verse 5, (2Cor 9:5) is always missed out (so they begin the reading at verse 6), verse 5 being the bit about not giving grudgingly (and this omission is excused because in the most popular translation, the NIV (New International Version) it comes before the ‘heading’ (inserted by the translators) of ‘Generosity Encouraged’).

When hearing this Scripture read out in public, you will also hear verse 7 (about ‘reluctantly or under compulsion’) being skipped over without emphasis, maybe even read in a quieter voice, or maybe faster so you don’t hear it. Or a combination of these tricks. (Yes, these deceptive practices do indeed go on! And it makes outsiders sick and repelled by the whole business). And this is how the context of this verse is destroyed. But again it’s the carrot approach – although this time no stick – but even then some people would in fact take the ‘grudgingly/reluctantly/compulsion’ bit and make it condemnatory: that it is the giver’s fault that they feel like that. But I have ranted enough. And you can believe that you will never, ever, hear or read me preaching on the subject of giving in this manner.

Now at last I want to share with you the Scripture you will never hear read publicly, at least not from someone who is after your money. Nor will you hear anyone preaching a sermon from it.

This is why I have called this post The Sermon You Will Never Hear’.

I’m not going to do any exposition on the passage; I will let you and Holy Spirit together form your own conclusions and applications for it. My purpose here is just to blow the secret wide open! 😀

It’s Deuteronomy 14, verses 22-27:

(Deut 14:22-27)

What do you make of that, then? 😉

Unsurprisingly, I have never ONCE heard anyone preach on that passage (not even the final sentence, because that would mean revealing the existence of the entire passage!), which I discovered more than two decades ago – when I was still a legalistic Christian! And a wise elder a couple of years later told me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that he was sure I never would hear such preaching, either! And remember that many, many Christians do not read their Bibles (especially the Old Testament, of which this passage is a part); they only read the parts that their leaders tell them to, so how would they ever discover this for themselves?

But I had indeed discovered it, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and I decided to apply the Deut 14 teaching in my own life. This was my first step towards freedom from the onerous doctrine of tithing, and also my first step out from under legalism itself. That it also coincided with a complete loss of confidence in church leadership was simply the icing on the cake. Nobody ever told us that, despite our being a young couple living on the breadline, maybe we didn’t have to give as much as everyone else.

This kind of thing can only go on for so long. Twenty-five years ago, our ‘stewardship’ shifted from trusting others with God’s money, to deciding for ourselves where we wanted to place the money. We stopped ‘tithing’, and started setting aside money ‘for God’s Work’. Bottom line: I didn’t trust my church leadership to manage my giving for me. And I have never looked back. Good stewardship, then, means cutting out the middle man. And it also means being generous!

That’s not to say we didn’t continue to give; of course we did. It’s also not to say that I don’t give nowadays; I do. Naturally I’m not going to go into details except to say that my giving nowadays is done in the way it was always supposed to be done, as described in that 2Cor9 passage. It’s done liberally (that is, with total freedom); cheerfully; it’s done to bless others; it’s honouring to God; it’s done secretly (which I have always done; the idea of having to declare to the church how much we were giving ‘for budgeting purposes’ has always rankled with me!) and it’s done with great joy and motivated by the desire to bless people with the abundance God has given me, and continues to give me. And it’s not just in terms of money either. Work it out for yourself; I don’t want to be a model for anyone else’s giving, except in my attitudes.

And so I am sharing this secret with you today! The cat really is out of the bag, so to speak; ask your leadership about it and don’t let them wriggle off the hook until they have given you a satisfactory response!

Who knows; you may be the first person ever to preach on that Scripture!

Don’t get me wrong: it is far from my intention to use the Bible to set up any Rules for or against tithing or giving. I am neither a Biblical literalist nor a Biblical lawyer; I do not tell people what to do based on a document composed of books some of which are 4,000 years old. I don’t tell people what to do at all, in fact! Especially using Deuteronomy. As always in my blog, though, I am using the Bible as a tool to show that even where there are people who take the Bible literally and consider it inerrant, still there are passages that they use inconsistently and legalistically, and in some cases (like this one) they ignore them altogether.

Giving from a position of freedom is simply so liberating, I cannot imagine it ever being intended to be done in any other way.

Rejoice and be blessed, for the freedom of God’s children (Rom 8:21) is yours to use as you will. Never let anyone take it away from you!


*A ‘doctrine’ is a particular position or idea held to be true (and usually ‘essential belief’) by a religious – or in fact any, not just religious – group. And it’s usually restrictive rather than liberating!

**Not that I am singling out the JWs for special ‘naming and shaming’; just that they were the first organisation I had heard of that practised tithing 🙂

20

The Travesty Gospel

Most people recognise that the version of Christianity espoused in much of the Western world is a horrendous travesty of the message of peace, joy, love, healing, life and fellowship with God that Jesus actually brought.

On the surface, many Christians would claim to follow the teachings of Christ, while their daily lives fail to display the fruits of those teachings.

Nowhere else is this more apparent than in the way in which mainstream Conservative American Evangelical Christianity, which appears to be strongly associated with the GOP (Grand Old Party) Republican party. As a Brit, it seems to me that the two – Republicanism and Conservative Evangelicalism – have been mixed and intertwined such that their ideas are indistinguishable from each other. It is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends.

I have my own ideas as to how this fits in to Biblical ideas and eschatology (the study of the End Times), which I will not share here. But at the very least, it does appear that, as I said above, the ideals espoused by this religious/political stream are a far cry from Jesus’s original message.

Here then is a great video that lampoons that sort of Christianity (and deservedly so) by showing how so many of its attitudes directly contradict Jesus.

Enjoy!

10

The Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo

Most of my readers will know that I used to be a worship leader in a Charismatic-style church; we’d have ‘open worship’ with, as well as the singing, things like tongues, prophecy and other spiritual gifts. There’d be singing ‘in the Spirit’ too, and it was all most uplifting.

My particular setup was that I had an electronic keyboard/piano: a Roland JV-30, which at the time, and despite having only five octaves (thus limiting my pitch range capability), was pretty much state of the art.

The JV-30 does not have its own internal loudspeakers; it requires external amplification. In this case, and since we were using a public hall for our meetings, the keyboard’s output was piped over to a sound desk at the back, manned by a couple of teenage non-musician lads that we nicknamed (unsurprisingly) the ‘Sound Boys’.

We also had other musicians: three vocalists – myself, Fiona and Cathy; Steve, our bass player; and sometimes an acoustic guitarist. I won’t give any names for the guitarists because there were quite a few of them and we never really knew who we were going to get from one week to the next. And in addition to the keyboard, each of these ‘inputs’ – the microphones for the vocalists, Steve’s bass guitar, and my keyboard, plus any guitarist(s) we had (playing into an electronic pickup clipped to the guitar’s sound hole), also went into the sound desk, each input with its own dedicated channel, to be dominated controlled by the Sound Boys.

The relationship between the musicians and the Sound Boys was somewhat complex, and often pretty fraught*. I usually felt that the Sound Boys had the volume of the piano turned way too far down; this was long before we had any ‘foldback’ (a loudspeaker set up facing the instrumentalist so that they can hear what they are playing) so not only could I not really hear myself playing, but I also had to trust the Sound Boys that the congregation was able to hear what we were playing. They assured us that they could, but I was never fully convinced!

Sometimes they even used to mute my output channel completely, such as during the sermon, or if there were some prayers going on; or if for whatever reason they ‘thought’ (and that’s being generous) that the piano was not needed at that time. It was almost as if they didn’t trust me to handle my instrument correctly, and to not do a huge bloody great big ‘dead body in the bath’ chord in the middle of the notices.

And so it seemed that, despite our best efforts, all that we did as a band was subject to the power-crazed whims of the Sound Boys and their all-powerful sound desk. Whenever you lead public singing, you need to have quite a bit of, well, let’s call it ‘authority’, but I don’t mean it in a domineering kind of way; more a practical way. When you are leading 300-400 people in singing, you need to be heard, so that they can follow your lead. For example, sometimes the congregation’s timing goes a little off so you need to lead them back into time again. To do this, you’d boost your volume to emphasise the timing and allow people to hear what you are doing and to re-synchronise. Or maybe they have drifted off pitch (out of tune), but this is actually quite rare. The problem comes when you can’t lead the music properly because your sound volume is turned wayoooh-doooowwwwn and you don’t have the oomph; thanks a bunch, Sound Boys.

And so, I had to develop a little trick to let me lead properly and thwart the best efforts of the Sound Boys. I called it the ‘Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo’.

Here’s what you do.

Set the keyboard’s volume control to about 30-35%, and do all your sound checks from there. Begin the worship with the same volume setting; the Sound Boys will have set you at a moderate volume for the opening song, and hopefully they will boost you once the congregation join in and the general volume in the hall increases. So far, so good.

But let’s say that after a couple of verses, you realise that the congregation’s timing is drifting (possibly because of the low lead instrument volume – who’d ‘a thunk it?!), so it’s time to ‘assert your authority’ as lead musician and bring it all back together again for them. Your piano isn’t yet loud enough to re-establish the rhythm, so you’re going to need more volume; trouble is that the Sound Boys don’t realise this is what you need to do, and if you gently nudge your volume up, they will correspondingly gently nudge your channel volume down in response, and to show you who’s boss of course. So there’s no net effect on the volume and things get worse for the song being sung.

So, you don’t do it that gentle way. What you do is to whack your volume control slider up into afterburner – say about 90-100% setting…

Afterburners on a Typhoon fighter

…and this allows you to use that increased volume to stabilise the song’s rhythm or whatever it is that’s drifted. Before long, of course, the Sound Boys will have rumbled what you’re up to, and will have reacted to your gross misbehaviour by drastically racking your channel volume fader right back down again. By that time, though, they’re way too late and they’ve proper missed their boat; you have brought things back into line again, in musical terms, like you wanted to do. And that was easy. Just doing my job.

However, at this point, of course, the Sound Boys have solidly put you in your place; your channel volume is a long way down and your keyboard volume is maxed out, although nobody can tell because the net effect on your piano volume as heard by the congregation is unaffected, and no-one’s any the wiser apart from yourself and the Sound Boys, of course. So now you need somehow to recover that reserve power so that you can use it again, possibly soon. And this is the clever bit, and the part that gives the Yo-Yo its name.

While playing, and in a reverse of the actions that the Sound Boys would perform if you boosted your volume gradually, you reduce your keyboard volume equally gradually, say by about 10% per minute. Maybe you could do this after each verse of the song you are playing, especially if you’re varying your song’s dynamics, which disguises what you are doing very nicely. One hopes that the Sound Boys will notice that your volume is getting a bit low, so they will (ideally!) advance your channel volume bit by bit until they can hear you better.

You continue doing this until your keyboard volume slider is back at around 30-35% and then you can use your afterburner again as required. You have now restored your ‘volume reserve’ and it’s available for use once more. Lather, rinse and repeat.

And that’s the the Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo, so called because you move your volume slider up and down like a yo-yo.

Granted, if you are an instrumentalist in a similar position and you’re thinking about using this trick, remember that  your Sound Boys might have read this too, and therefore they will be wise to what you’re up to, but there’s nothing they can really do about it if they want the congregation to hear the piano at all.

Or maybe you’re extremely lucky and have Sound Boys that actually listen to you and provide the service you need. In which case, I envy you.

But it’s still a useful trick to have in your repertoire!


*Sound Boys, if you should read this, don’t worry, I forgave you a long time ago, and this is just humour, ok? 😉

 

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