• John Woods

The Same but Different


It has been interesting to see how lockdown has shaped the way we think about work, shopping, eating out, and church.


Churches in the UK are beginning to make the first tentative steps back to meeting again face to face. What is becoming clear is that after this massive computer reboot of life — we open up the computer to see what is left and discover that, while much remains, some things are lost or changed. It seems that you can’t always get the genie back into the bottle.


One great temptation at a time like this is nostalgia. “Let’s see if we can get back to the good old days before lockdown (they do seem like a world away, don’t they?).” As former


Premiership teams now in League 1, the third tier of English football, can tell us, recapturing past glory is not a given.


The other great temptation is radical innovation. “At last we have a blank sheet of paper. Let’s cut out the dead wood, ditch unfruitful activities and focus on the core.”


The problem with this is that people tend to want their change to be encased in the familiar. If people want a completely different church they can go to that church, as many have been doing virtually during Lockdown.


One former member of our church generously says that when he returns the church is always the same but always different. That is the chemistry that people need for church post-lockdown.


Maybe we could learn a thing or two from artistic responses to the shutdown of public performance spaces? Many critics have grudgingly acknowledged their surprise at enjoying the latest Taylor Swift album.


“I shall have to tell myself that this isn’t a Taylor Swift album at all, but really the work of The National — a fine band, whose Aaron Dessner is a co-writer on nine of these 16 tracks and producer on 11. That may explain the spacey, quiet grandeur of these songs, the background atmospherics, the gradual rise in many to a gentle anthem.”

(Rod Liddle, The Spectator 1st August 2020)


Folklore is Taylor Swift’s eighth album. Folklore was recorded during lockdown and released with 24 hours notice. This is in marked contrast to the slow media build up to her previous releases. It is a simple album of fresh songs, compared to some of her songs that appear over-produced. It is like looking at a flawlessly beautiful woman without makeup.


The high point is the lovely duet, Exile, with Justin Vernon, the voice of the band Bon Iver. The harmonies are spectacular. They capture very well how a couple can miss the point and speak past each other. It might be worth church leaders listening to that song to check where they are on the spectrum of nostalgia to innovation.


“I think I’ve seen this film before

And I didn’t like the ending

You’re not my homeland anymore

So what am I defending now?

You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out

I think I’ve seen this film before.”


Yes, the voice is unmistakably that of Taylor Swift, perhaps never so lovely, yet showcased, with the help of brilliant collaborators in a fresh way. The result an authentic album that allows us to hear in the same person and experience something different.


For another Christian reflection on the Taylor Swift album see Brian Draper at LICC.


Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

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