Stocki  Marti and Radio 4

photo: Sheila McNeill


On Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity Sunday I can be found in a few places in the morning.

I have already blogged about Fr Martin Magill and I doing the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service (8.10am). We were asked on this particular Sunday to share our story. So we do. We share our journey but also the Biblical basis for what we believe we are called to do. 

I am very frustrated that being Radio 4 they have changed my music. I compromised as it was BUT felt that there is no better way to end prayers than Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now. Even that has been replaced... so I am afraid that this is my first and last Radio 4 Service. The music is as important to me as what I say so to have no creative control of that is so disappointing.

Anyway, that Service is also repeated on BBC Radio Ulster at 10.20am after David Campton, Mylie Brennan and Sue Divin talk about 4 Corners Festival .

Then at 11am I will be live in Fitzroy and streaming on Fitzroy TV.

At this service I will be preaching about Fitzroy's Peacemaking history and the Biblical basis for that. 

I would never call myself as an ecumenist though many of my critics would wonder why. I am far more interested in peace making, of reaching across our sectarian and denomination divides than I am about one massive global ecclesiological entity. I'd be suspicious of that.

I do believe though that we can learn from brothers and sisters, following Christ, in other denominations. I also think we need to be united in God's mission, in bringing God's Kingdom and in the Biblical mandate for peace making.

Fr Gerry Reynolds, so vital in Fitzroy's peace making work with Clonard Monastery, once said, "A divided Church has little or nothing to offer towards leading a divided people into the way of peace." How I agree. Prophetic.... but more of that in the morning! 



Meat Loaf

It was with sadness that I heard the news this morning of Meat Loaf's death. I am first and foremost a pastor and my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Deborah and his daughters Pearl and Amanda. Below is my personal tribute, from a blog I wrote two years ago...


Meat Loaf might be seen as a really guilty pleasure. I was watching a documentary on Meat Loaf recently and it took me back to early 1978. 

I do not only remember Meat Loaf’s debut performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test but also the conversations the next day in school. Those of us particularly interested in music were all over this performance. We had seen or heard nothing like it. Bat Out of Hell blew us away.

The album however was not easy to get. Bat Out of Hell was originally a slow burn (forgive the pun!). It took awhile to find its way into Ballymena record shops. My first copy was a recording on cassette. It would be the end of the summer before I bought my own copy, during The British Open at St. Andrews!

I remember days where I listened to that record all day long. That was not something I tended to do. I had played Sweet’s Block Buster so many times in a row that I got bored with it so my policy was always play something else before replaying a single or album.  

I could not get enough of Meat Loaf and even now I can see what it was that caught our attention. Bat Out Of Hell was Queen through a blender with Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, E Street Band member Roy Bittan played piano and it was how a friend introduced me to Born To Run. Bat Out Of Hell was bombastic and dramatic but Jim Steinman’s songs were so strong that you forgave that and maybe secretly liked it. I mean Two Out of Three and You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth are great songs. When my daughters play The Greatest Showman or Hamilton I hear Steinman!

Bat Out Of Hell was full of desire, a lot of it sexual. It is not lost on my looking back four decades later that I was sixteen and not doing well with girls so it probably reached my teenage hormones. Jim Steinman’s songs though have more going on than sexual lust.

There is a lust for life. These are songs about milking all that life has to offer. I was a year away from finding Jesus. In my favourite verse in John 10:10 Jesus speaks about “life in all its fulness.” Bat Out of Hell might not have the creed, though heaven and hell are a core part of Steinman’s lyrics, but it is an adrenaline rushed soundtrack of that life in all its fulness.

To be fair it really helped that producer Todd Rundgren understood songwriter Jim Steinman’s vision and crafted the songs into a stunning piece of rock music. The melodies are strong. The playing has flourish. Meat Loaf has charisma. Some songs are long but there is not a wasted second.

For Meat Loaf it never got better. Oh I enjoyed Jim Steinman’s solo record Bad For Good and Meat Loaf’s eventual follow up Deadringer but nothing ever quite reached the heights.

Indeed when in 1993 Bat Out Of Hell II was contrived from its sound to its cover to how they sold it. The music business svengalis conned us all into buying the follow up. They gave us the sound, the image and took us back but I was almost twice my age with different tastes in music and at a different stage of life. We all bought the nostalgia and though there were some good songs, it was no longer who we were. When I took it to a second hand shop they refused to take it. They had so many already!

Yet, down the year I still came across Meat Loaf’s songs that I liked. A song on the radio or a documentary on television had me seeking out familiar songs and trailing new ones. At regular intervals, I want to hear that voice, that Steinman arrangement, a little bombast.

Maybe I am looking at that wee bit of nostalgia that was overdosed on Bat Out Of Hell II. Maybe I am looking for that adrenaline rush that thankfully for me is more than a rock roll dream come through but a real life imaginative way to live!

Thank sir. Thank you for the music and the memories. 


Ailing graduation


(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster on January 20, 2022.)


When former South African President FW De Klerk died late last year I remembered a lesson he taught us about Peacemaking. Speaking to a group of my Queens University Presbyterian Chaplaincy students back in 2002 he told us that before we did any work of reconciliation that we needed to search our own motives right down to the very marrow. 

Deep deep search. It reminded me of Psalm 139. 


Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.


See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.


FW’s advice came back to me this week as I tried to come to terms with the tragic death of Aisling Murphy. 

As a pastor the news of Ashling’s murder hit me deep in the heart. How do parents deal with that news. That loss. That heartache. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a Comforter and we have been praying in Fitzroy that Aisling’s family and friends would know that comfort.

But something more is rising out of Aisling’s needless murder. Men’s attitudes toward women. The fear that women feel. Aisling just went for a run BUT as a woman she would  always have been looking cautiously  ahead and fearing what might be behind her. 

I have two daughters almost the same age and this fear that women live with needs to change. We need societal turnaround in how men respect and act towards women.

I am back to FW De Klerk. In these days as the island grieves Aisling, men need to search themselves down to the very marrow. What do we think about a women’s place in society? Or in the Church? How do we treat women? Do we see women as equals? How do we look at women? How do women see us looking at them. We need to search ourselves… deep.

FW De Klerk’s second piece of advice… once you’ve searched to the marrow. Search yourself again. In case you have missed something.

We don’t need to lose any more young women in the prime of their lives. The answer lies with men. And we need to start now. First we have to search ourselves right down to the marrow… and then… search again.


Bono 5

I was not surprised or shocked by Bono suggesting in a recent podcast that he hates his voice and that he turns the radio off when U2 songs come on. This is nothing new. Bono has been talking about his voice for years and about how he had to learn how to sing over decades. 

As for songs, the band talked a lot around the time of Songs Of Innocence about trying to write songs. They released 5 of the songs on that record in acoustic form. I think that was to highlight their sing-ability. I have often said that Every Breaking Wave off that record was their most perfectly constructed song. Song For Someone that morphed into 13 (There Is a Light) on Songs Of Experience is very much another song. Songs. 40 years into their career!

In all honesty I can kind of understand Bono's critique. 

I mean if I think melodies that can fill radio shows I am thinking The Beatles. So catchy that my children were singing a long from a very early age. They didn't get into U2 so quickly. In fact it was Songs Of Innocence before I heard my daughters paying any attention to U2.

If I think poetic lyrics I am thinking Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell or maybe Jackson Browne. U2 worked on wordy sketches in their early years. They lost the lyrics for October and felt Pop was lyrically rushed.

If I think about best rock voices I am thinking Rod Stewart around 1972 or in a contemporary sense Hozier. Bono was a front man before he learned to be the singer! I don't talk about his voice in the early gigs as much as I talk about him climbing up amplifiers!

So, I can get where Bono is coming from. Their best work has been about experimental soundscapes and creating anthemic atmospheres. My 40 years fandom with U2 has not been so much with songs or vocal accomplishment as theological content and spiritual experience.

My first listen to a new U2 record is always about content. I am always listening for what they are trying to say. As what is called a Theo-musicologist I am listening for spiritual nuggets and prophetic statements. No one else has ever contributed God into the rock song conversation like U2. I love that they took a Gospel song to number 1 in the US charts:

"You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/ You know I believe it..."

To be fair that's a theologically succinct lyric and when the choir were added on Rattle And Hum it was quite the song! 

Similarly live, they create this spiritual energy. I remember standing at Croke Park as the band played Moment Of Surrender and Bono stands centre stage with his hands open and eyes to the sky and the hairs on the back of my soul are standing to attention.

Bono should get over his weaknesses and stand over his strengths. I am imagining he knows!

There is something maybe even more significant about Bono hating his songs and his voice. It is typically self deprecating. That I say 'typically' might surprise people. Many people have an opinion of Bono that he is arrogant and egotistical. I believe such an opinion to be lazing and founded upon caricatures, never minding missing the irony at work in U2.

When Bono put on a gold lame suit and preened himself in front of the mirror he wasn't being egotistical. He was being ironic, pointing out the ridiculousness of the rock star. In some of those songs that he might not like he is constantly talking about the trouble with a big mouth or that his wife is the best thing about him. Bono comes across arrogant but has always held a humility alongside it.









We were recording today. Sorry if I blow the cover. Fr Martin and I were putting together Sunday Service for BBC Radio 4. 

This week is The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity and so Martin and I were sharing our journey of friendship. I will be honest. It wasn't easy. On two counts.

Firstly, the music. I am too old to be a Radio 1 man but I am certainly more Radio 2 than Radio 4. When it comes to music for a Radio 4 service... It took me a long number of hours, scouring across music streams but even without my usual freedom I hope I have brought a little taste. I am particularly delighted to have brought Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now to the prayers.

Secondly, Martin and I were playing tag team. we were attempting to be more conversational. I loved the imagination of it and Martin and I are used to conversational communication. However, it was trickier to actually do in front of the microphones. 

I hope we captured something. I hope you will listen. Sunday morning on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10am and then again on BBC Radio Ulster at 10.20am. See if our friendship can seep through. 

Thank you Shiela and Katherine for readings and prayers.