It was predictable that Northern Ireland soccer team manager Ian Baraclough's head would be dangerously close to the chopping block this morning. 

It was a dismal display from Northern Ireland  in Greece last night. Bleak.  After a wonderful comeback against Kosovo at Windsor Par, at the weekend, hopes were high but that was as lethargic a performance as I have ever seen from a Northern Ireland in a while. Even our quality players like Stevie Davis and Jonny Evans seemed out of sorts.

BUT wait... before we sack Baraclough let us understand this Nations League thing. Or maybe understand how little we understand it! 

This relatively new competition came into the football calendar to give some meaning to friendly matches. If truth be told it was so that in becoming more competitive international games would perhaps gain a bigger TV audience. A competitive match between Northern Ireland and Kosovo might gain more interest than just a friendly. Understood.

What we then need to do is to understand what this does to the development of a team. 

The big two international competitions are the World Cup and the Euros. Both of these are played over two years. Just six years ago Northern Ireland reached the Round 16 of the Euros. It was obvious after that tournament that a rebuild was in order.

Now... this is where the Nations League becomes a distraction. In the pre Nations League days there would have been ample friendlies to blood young players, try different formations, developing and blending a team together. 

I think that Ian Baraclough has used the Nations League to do that because he had no other friendly options and is feeling the grief from fans because suddenly they haven't just lost a friendly to Greece in a time of transition and experimentation but almost got relegated from a division in a tournament that hasn't really caught anyone's imagination.

So, maybe go easy on Baraclough until the real Euros begin. That is where he should be judged.

I will be honest. It doesn't look good. Players like Saville, McCann and Whyte haven't maybe developed as well as we had hoped. Steven Davis cannot have long left and it is hard to see who fills that gap. Jonny Evans too though defensively we seem stronger. Conor Bradley is surely the brightest light in a while.

It is not Ian Baraclough's fault that Northern Irish parents haven't birthed many great footballers in the last 25 years. It might be that there is someone who can get more out of what we might have or not have than Baraclough. However, to make bad results in the Nations League as a reason for change might be wrong, in my surmising.



Fitzroy Sunday

I have been doing a short series on SIN PUSHES AWAY. It from a quotation from Frederick Buechner that we lost earlier in the summer.

Buechner wrote about SIN:

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you're part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.

We have looked at how sin pushes away and personal and national ways and how Jesus good news is a drawing back together through the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tomorrow I want to look at the last wee twist in the tale - "and also the gaps within yourself". What an intriguing idea. For maybe 30 years I've wondered about that. How does that work itself out in our living?

So, tomorrow, we will look at the ways of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 and see where our sin does not just push others away but how it rips us apart inside. This damages us in our mental, spiritual and emotional health.

It has left me surmising in preparation that Aquinas's God shaped hole has a mate in our inner selves - a sin-induced chasm. If the God-shaped hole is filled by God giving us meaning then the sin-induced one needs healing.


Steve's Sermons - HERE ON FITZROY TV

Fitzroy gather at 11am... 



PJ 2

"When a good day comes/Rest and be thankful/for that we’ve got…” and listen to the new collection of songs from PJ Moore & Co from which such a directive comes.

This is a most mature slow burn beauty of a record, light and lush yet somehow at the same time weighty in depth of quality. 

The journalists will flock around the PJ Moore part of the story. Moore was one of the three quiet and often elusive Glasgow men who formed Blue Nile in the early 80s and made records with little commercial hype but with massive critical acclaim. 

Four records from 1983 to 2004 produced 33 songs and very few live gigs. Yet those albums are timeless and loved in copious amounts more than they sold.

So anything Blue Nile is a gasp of joy from fans like me. Here, 18 years later one of the three is releasing a record. Paul Buchanan’s only solo album is ten years ago and I am not aware of anything by Robert Bell. So, you can understand why the press and us fans would concentrate on the Blue Nile link with this.

And for Blue Nile fans like me you’ll not be disappointed. Moore wasn’t a writer in Blue Nile days but his writing is of the finest quality and the material he works from is right off the rich precious Blue Nile seam.

If the origins of When A Good Day Comes are Paul Joseph’s, then his role as enabler in Blue Nile is taken on here by Malcolm Lindsay. Lindsay was there for the early skirmishes of Deacon Blue but became a composer, arranger and producer. You’ll have heard his work across TV drama and documentaries.

Fortuitously Lindsay moved house and found himself Moore’s neighbour. It would seem that before the musical collaboration that Lindsay was a pastoral encourager gently forcing Moore to follow his muse. Knowing Lindsay and his work you could be sure that what he was hearing in Moore’s studio had to be good or he would not have been egging it on. 

The two are a perfect combination and the dreamscape sounds that they have conjured needed a perfect voice singing over the top. If they had asked me I might not have endorsed Mike McKenzie. Yes he was Scottish and yes he won the 2019 BBC Singer Songwriter Award but he was younger, apparently wasn’t aware of Blue Nile’s work! 

I am glad they didn’t ask because McKenzie is perfect and with the three units locked in PJ Moore & Co have made an utterly stunning album that’ll help us in the early days after the lockdown experience we have all been through but in 20 years time won’t need us to link it with that pandemic. 

The songs here are full of the created order and the weather. I am thinking of where might be a best place to get its full effect. Yes, a candle and glass in the late hours but I am thinking of headphones on the beach as the sun sets. Hypnotic. Meditative. Spiritual. It is drenched in the mood for surmising.  

"When a good day comes/Rest and be thankful/for that we’ve got…”   


Reserve Judgement

(this is the script from this morning's Pause For Thought on BBC RADIO 2... the theme was Reserving Judgement... thank you Chris for his permission...)


I should have reserved judgement the first time I met my good friend Chris. When he arrived in our student residence hall that I looked after as a University Chaplain he seemed a little rough around the edges. My Asst Chaplain Lynn and I kept our eye on him. 

About a year later we feared our judgements were correct. We were taking teams of students to Cape Town to help build houses with a well known charity. Chris committed to come and help and then at the first preparation evening Chris went to the pub instead.

Lynn and I called an emergency meeting with him - one to one. We asked him what was he thinking. Was he committed to the team? Either he was in or he wasn’t. He needed to shape up or he was out of the trip.

Chris sorted it. Indeed on that trip to Cape Town he not only proved himself as a brilliant builder but a real team player. We took him back the next time and two years after that we invited Chris onto our Chaplaincy Team as an intern. 

I guess I could end there but I shouldn’t. On that third trip to Cape Town my assistant Lynn shared with me that she and Chris had got very fond of each other. On the next trip they got engaged at the top of table mountain and today they are happily married with 3 lovely daughters. 

I would say that Chris, who we had all been unsure of when he arrived in our community, eventually became the most trustworthy, selfless and caring member of that community, actually marrying the Asst Chaplain.

Thinking about Chris makes me think of that motley crew that hung around Jesus. The Pharisees didn’t reserve their judgement on the disciples calling them gluttons, drunkards and sinners. I mean Peter. Boy was he rough around the edges. Jesus though was reserved in his judgement.

He reserved it not because Peter wasn’t deserving of it – he even betrayed Jesus three times. No, Jesus was reserving judgement because he could see not just who Peter was at a certain moment but who Peter could one day become.

Chris taught me not to look at the now but at the who they might become. He moved from the bad boy to the groom… so I’ll always reserve my judgement.


Peace Day 5

I was saddened by a phone call with Fr Martin Magill this morning. I mentioned how I thought he would be up to his neck in International Peace Day and he replied, "Oh it is good to know that someone knows about it."

International Peace Day is September 21st every year and that followers of Jesus have not taken such a day to their hearts is a sign of wrong priorities. Peace seems to have been demoted to lovely wee idea at the edges of Christian faith when it should up right and centre.

It was a few lines on Over The Rhine’s third Christmas record Blood Oranges In the Snow that torpedoed its way into my soul and shuddered me into reassessing this word, peace. As they sang…


“I hope that we can still believe

The Christ child holds a gift for us

Are we able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas”


… something clicked for the first time. It is not a new line. I have been living with this line most of my life. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hear it at Christmas time. I heard it for years before I even believed that what it was talking about was any kind of reality. For the last thirty years I have worked the phrase annually. One of my other favourite bands U2 even had a song called this and I have written about that song.

However, this year, as my country’s peace process is unravelling and some of our politicians seem intent in speeding up its coming apart that near over familiar line, “Peace on earth this Christmas”,struck a chord as loud as any Jimmy Page strum and as spiritually powerful as an Old Testament prophet or actually a New Testament angel on the night God came to earth! 

“Peace, Steve, Peace” is what my soul kept repeating. It is not about justice or vengeance, it is not about proving who was right or wrong. It is not about us and them and us winning. The point of this mission that God had in coming to earth was peace. That peace was not just for my soul. It was about peace on earth. Anyone following this Jesus whose birth is heralded in this angel’s song should be all about peace. 

This of course is not an out of the blue declaration of a God reaching for some Plan B or C. The Old Testament was all about this peace; shalom is how the Jewish people said it. Shalom was God’s intention in the law given, for the King’s to achieve and for the prophets to critique the lack of. A favourite verse on the subject that I have blogged often is Jeremiah 29:7 “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (NKJV)

Those who claim to follow the baby born when the angels sang need to find that priority of peace. That God’s people would seek shalom wherever they were was a way of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart, different, in all the right ways, from the other nations. We need to not blend in to the world’s intuitive response to seek to be proven right, in control and avenging all who would come against us. We need to be about that ministry of reconciliation that God told us we would be about just as we are connected to God himself through that same ministry of his peace making.

As my wee country’s politics drowns in political inertia. As we seem as intent on sectarian divisions and graceless soundbites and tweets as we ever have, we need, on International Peace Day, to see afresh this Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all that grace that is intrinsic to the baby born and lacking in our current political climate. Peace. Let's haul it back from the edges... and no better day!