Dreams and visions begin with God. In the beginning God imagined. Blue, red, green. Blue sky. Red at night. Green valleys underneath that blue sky. Shapes and textures and movement and dance. Mountains and stars and beaches of sand. Gemsbok skipping, birds in flocks throwing shapes over the city bridges at twilight and humans touching lips and hearts. All a dream, a vision, imagined and then…then created.

The entire relationship between God and humanity has been about firing that imagination, giving a vision of how people could live; a dream of how society could be. The law would put in place a visionary pattern of how a society in a land promised could be better than what slavery had been in Egypt. 

The prophets continued to dream and rant about it. Isaiah imagined a lion and lamb lying down together! Micah imagined swords turned into ploughshares! Jeremiah imagined a brand new covenant and Ezekiel imagined a new shepherd king who would do justice.

God told his people that “young men would see visions and old men would dream dreams.” It is crucial to the whole deal. Sadly the modern church seems to have sent the life of faith up blind alleys of dreamlessness. Indeed imagination and art became something to be suspicious of and even to despise. 

Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann has been trying to get the imagination back into Christian thinking for sometime. His books Hopeful Imagination and Prophetic Imagination have made Old Testament theology exciting as well as showing so articulately how high on the Biblical agenda imagination sits. 

He writes, “Jesus’ way of teaching through parables was such a pastoral act of prophetic imagination in which he invited his community of listeners out beyond the visible realities of Roman law and the ways in which Jewish law had grown restrictive in his time.”

Writing about Isaiah he shows how the prophet inspires the people with his poetic utterances to believe that another way is possible. He sparks their imagination to have faith in another day. Brueggemann says;

 “The practice of such poetic imagination is the most subversive, redemptive act that a leader of a faith community can undertake in the midst of exiles. This work of poetic alternative in the long run is more crucial than one-on-one pastoral care or the careful implementation of institutional goals. That is because the work of poetic imagination holds the potential of unleashing a community of power and action that finally will not be contained by any imperial restrictions and definitions of reality.”

As the Church in the west hits the crisis of diminishing numbers  and less influential in the wider world. As I seek to be a better father than I have been until now. What needs lit is the spark of imagining. Dreaming a different world. Grasping God’s vision of a Kingdom where the last person becomes the most important, where we treat the tramp on the street like he was Jesus himself, where the poor are blessed, where the mourn rejoice, where there is dignity and love and a place of belonging for all.

It starts in the life of Jesus, the world that his life inspired us to live, that his death and resurrection won us the ability to make it a reality. The Kingdom will only ripple out as the engine of imagination fires visions and dreams. Let us dream…


My Name Is Ottilie

“Can this white woman sing the blues?”

When the question was pointed at Ottilie Patterson the answer was “Oh my goodness she really can”. 

I am interviewing Dana Masters this week at 4 Corners Festival so it caught my eye that she was doing a Tribute To Ottilie Patterson back in November.

I immediately assumed that Ottilie was a Nina Simone kind of singer, some blues or jazz voice from Dana’s homelands of the American deep south. 

But no… Ottilie Patterson was from Comber close to where Dana Masters now lives. Ottilie it seems was a significant influence on the early sixties English blues scene. 

In the late 50s and early 60s she toured constantly across Britain and did seven tours of America in the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She played with the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the bluesmen Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy, bringing her among the influencers of The Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things. 

Most favourite of all anecdotes is of a night in Smitty’s Corner, Muddy Water’s renowned blues club in Chicago’s South Side. After her stunning performance, a member of the rapturous black audience called out – “Hey lady, you sing real pretty. How come you sing like one of us?”

When Dana Masters first heard Ottilie sing she said ‘You have to really understand the pain expressed in the Blues in order to sing it, I had to know where that was coming from for Ottilie Patterson”.  

The documentary is just that. Another stunning documentary produced by Double Band, its magic is that Dana who hosts the show doesn’t know Ottilie’s story before they begin. Dana only discovers as they go. That leaves the Dana’s face on the screen to paint a thousand words as Ottilie’s brilliant but then painful career is revealed. There is more magic as Ottilie and Dana’s voices are blended. 

It ends in the tragic. How a woman so strong to ask a band leaving the stage after a gig to let her sing, and how that gets her the gig, ends up broken in mental health in a retirement home in Ayr, hardly even remembered but never feeling the victim.

A previously unheard cassette is the spine of the film. A cassette on to which Ottilie told her life story, the highlights and the pain. It takes away all the conjecture, almost moving the documentary from biographic to memoir. It ends with the truth that perhaps Ottilie overcame the racial boundaries but lost the gender battle, being treated terribly as a woman in a man’s world. 

My Name is Ottilie is another beautiful piece of documentary. It tells a story that has long needed told. It has Ottilie Patterson on my playlist, at last.


My Name is Ottilie will be shown on BBC 1 NI on February 1 at 10.40pm and again on BBC 2 NI at 11.15pm


Dana Masters will be In Conversation at 4 Corners Festival on February 3, Fitzroy Church, 77 University Street, Belfast at 7.30 - BOOK TICKETS HERE



We are very grateful that yet again BBC Radio Ulster are once again broadcasting our 4 Corners Festival Sunday Morning service.

For various reason this has taken a couple of hits over the past two weeks so let me spell out the what, where are who.

In keeping with this year's Festival theme, our guest speaker, Paul Lutton is preaching on Joel and Acts - where God's people dream dream and see visions. In our broken city, particularly as it is now we need prophetic dreamers. Paul will call us to that. Paul's assistant minister at Kirkpatrick Memorial Church and a very able communicator.

Celtic Psalms, made up of Kiran Young Wimberly and The McGrath family, will be with us after an amazing performance at our opening event in Skainos. Bringing those reflective Psalms to shine light on prophetic dreaming - beautiful.

On of Fitzroy's bands will lead us in and out of the service and there will be a range of people taking part. 

The service is NOW in Fitzroy Presbyeterian Church (77 University Street). You need to be in your seat by 10 as the broadcast goes live at 10.15.

So, we encourage you to join us live or listen on the radio! Regular Fitzroy streamers note that the service will go up on Fitzroy TV at



Sunday night (January 29th) sees the first public event of 4 Corners Festival 2023.

Our key note speaker is Julieann Moran, who is the General Secretary of the Synodal Pathway in Ireland.

The Catholic Church have been going through a world wide synodal project, engaging the laity in discussions about the future of the Church should look. Julieann has been heading this up and will share how a denomination does such a thing.

It gives her a perfect place to assess communities of faith can dream God's dreams together.

Kiran Wimberly and The McGrath Family will bring their Celtic Psalms to the evening. Kiran is an American Presbyterian minister who has a wonderful gift at laying Old Testament Psalms to Irish and Scottish traditional airs. Beautiful and reflective.

There will also be a little sneak preview of our two week long exhibitions.


Dreaming God's Dream - Walking The Path Together is at Skainos Centre, 241 Newtownards Rd, Belfast BT4 1AF at 7pm (Online viewing tickets also available)





The Letter

It is difficult to imagine a 4 Corners Festival without something about the climate crisis. If we look back over the years we have touched in this subject regularly. As an issue that impacts the world, it is bound to impact Belfast.

Like many other things our politicians have let us down. Northern Ireland has lost more nature than any other part of the UK. We’re also the only country in the UK whose government hasn’t committed vital Green Recovery Fund to turn this around. We at 4 Corners Festival want to be involved in advocacy towards change. 

This year’s programme includes the film The Letter. In 2015 Pope Francis sent an encyclical around the world. Called Laudato sí  this was Pope Francis’s prophetic challenge to our way of life, our consumerism and irresponsible abuse of the earth. It then calls us to "swift and unified global action.”

The Letter is a film about how Pope Francis’ letter worked its way across the world and became a starter for discussion and a call to action. The Letter tells the incredible story of how these words engaged with frontline leaders battling the ecological crisis across continents. Somehow a letter became a movement. It is powerful and ultimately hopeful.

We are delighted that after the film two young activists Dakota Reid who is conservation officer with RSPB NI and Curtis Irvine who has been working for student justice organisation Just Love will respond in insightful conversation. 

This year 4 Corners Festival is taking their responsibility seriously as we attempt to offset the carbon footprint of the Festival in a tree planting project around Belfast.