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November 2009



I thought it a little out of perspective and then realised that it wasn’t at all. We were visiting an elderly member of our congregation who was eager for us to tell him the news, what was happening in the world. When Dorothy, our pastoral visitor, said that most of the talk was about France’s goal that knocked Ireland out of the World Cup I was a little embarrassed that we had lost a perspective on world events when a goal in what was just a game was headline news. Then I realised that this was not just a goal in what was just a soccer game... it was a whole lot bigger than that. When Thierry Henry handed the ball to cheat his team’s way to South Africa next summer, he cheated for a nation against another nation; he stole people’s careers and many people in Ireland’s jobs; he became, and I don’t think I exaggerate, another oppressor of a people who had justice rent from them.

Let us deal with the cheating first. Sport has never seen so much cheating as it has in recent times, whether it is use of drugs, players diving or the faking blood injury that so recently made the headlines. Is it sportsmanship or is it cheating? It is cheating and in today’s world where people spend vast amounts of money on tickets and travel in order to see these great sporting events it is only justice that they get their money’s worth and are not cheated out of seeing the best team win. We remember Neil Back punching the ball out of Peter Stringer’s hand in the last moments of a Rugby Union Heineken Cup Final. A crowd and television audience were cheated out of an amazing finale and Leicester took the Cup. Maradona’s “hand of God” robbed an English team of World Cup progress in 1986.

That this is just another minor incident in sport is fails to recognise the wide implications of this soccer result. It is injustice at lots of level and robs the fans of their well earned money and the players of the development of their careers. Irish players at the World Cup Finals next year would have been able to show their talents on the world’s greatest stage improving their career prospects and contracts as well. If other professions went through the same type of robbery people would be put in jail for years! Other professions are also effected by Henry’s actions. Ireland, with an ailing Celtic Tiger could have generated much from having a team at the World Cup Finals. Travel, merchandise, tourism and the general morale of the workforce have been left without the lift that justice might have brought. Yes, we might still have needed penalties but if we had lost in that manner it would at least have been a correct result. That cheating robs individuals and nations has serious repercussions.

What can we do though? Some have called for video evidence and it seems utterly amazing that soccer would be stupid enough to not bring in technology at the highest levels of the game where so much money is changing hands. However, we should remember that these are the same clever men who give yellow cards to people for taking off their shirts while celebrating goals! FIFA have never revealed themselves as the smartest directors of sport! Richard Dunne who had an unprecedented apology on the pitch from Henry at the final whistle might blame the referee rather than Henry but the referee had to see it before he could give it. What can be done to stop such cheating is a three year ban for such offences. The three year ban that Dean Richards got for the fake blood injury in Rugby Union pales into insignificance compared to Henry’s act against the Irish. A three year ban would certainly make Henry and others like him think before he does it the next time.

Henry and Dunne sitting beside each other on the final whistle said it all about this incident. Henry knows he cheated. His confession was moving and deserves some respect but it was a little too little way too late. It is not too far to push the incident into global terms and agree that FIFA got their way because the bigger country with a bigger television audience qualified for the World Cup Finals. Sport is as financially dirty as anything else these days and the seeding for the qualifiers and then this particular outcome adds another historical travesty where the minnows are oppressed by the richer powerful nations. Had Duff done what Henry did I wonder how much easier it would have been to get FIFA to call for a replay!

This is not just a wee incident in an inconsequential game of soccer. It has the right to hit the headlines because injustice needs ripped asunder and thrown out of our world. We all want a world that is fair and it is up to us all in the places we live to bring that fairness to bear. Henry, France, the referee and FIFA have a responsibility to stand for it. They didn’t and won’t. So, my question to self is why do I trust such a game and support it with my money and time? Soccer doesn’t deserve it but I will probably succumb!


 Stocki collar Fitzroy

Steve Stockman, the host of this website, was installed as minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church on November 13th (and yes it was a Friday!). After fifteen years living and working with studnets this is a whole new venture for Stocki, his wife Janice and children Caitlin and Jasmine. Fitzroy, however, is not your common or garden Presbyterian Church and Stocki's quirky, unique, artistic and down right weird approach to things will be given much room to breathe. It should be a fascinating space to keep an eye on, or visit if you are ever in the Belfast area.

If you want to know more about Fitzroy...

If you want to hear Stocki's sermons...






The Handsome Family, that quirky American couple Brett and Rennie Sparks, throw their Goth-like storytelling and American folk template into shapes that could often called Old Testament Biblical. Perhaps their most prophetic song takes the title of the old hymn Peace In The Valley, though they add Once Again to the end. Brett’s lyrics are like a final chapter in a Douglas Copeland novel describing a post apocalypse world where “empty shelves swarmed with bees” and “cash machines sprouted weeds.” Instead of this catalogue of desolate images culminating in doom laden judgment we find that it leading to “peace in the valley once again.” The shopping mall has become the centre, all but Cathedral, of the modern world and rather than being a helpful source of human progress and well being, Sparks is suggesting it is the very place that rids us of our inner peace; gadgets, needless trinkets and fashion choice have played havoc in many person’s deep soul.


How accurate he is. We seem to love loving ourselves with things that are killing what’s important. The answer to our every need is to visit that Mall and pamper ourselves with analgesic consumption. My good friend Justin Zoradi, Executive Director of the wonderful These Numbers Have Faces charity, used to call Belfast’s biggest mall, Castle Court, a Church. For him it is the place we go to get what Church should give us. We love ourselves as we pamper ourselves with the right fashion house label, the right product, the right skirt with the matching top or the latest sleek Apple Store invention. As we do, there are armies of business heads sitting in New York offices trying to con us into making them rich by convincing us in advertising propaganda that their piece of disposable trash can give us meaning, identity and transcendence; some kind of redemption. We selfishly strive through our shopping to acquire other people’s attention and yet never quite get there, feeling that tug of yearning deep within as we never look quite good enough or up to date enough with our acquisitions. Ultimately the Church of the shopping Mall fails.


Irish folk singing prophet Christy Moore has been singing a cultural history of Ireland for well over forty years. He is a true Irish bard who can make us laugh at ourselves and cry repentant tears at our lost innocence, in detailed accounts of our defining events. His cover version of Peace In The Valley Once Again on his album Burning Times is reset in Dublin’s relatively new Liffey Valley Shopping Centre (Valley… get it!), one of the many results better or worse of the famed, but now ailing, Celtic Tiger. The Irish context somehow gives even more power to the hoped for Kingdom in the song where the mirrors will crack, mannequin eyes will fall out and birds will nest in the escalators! When Jesus said “Blessed are the poor…” and “Woe to you who are rich…” (Luke 6) he may have sensed the same spiritual sickness that The Handsome Family and Christy Moore expose so brilliantly.


Strict Joy

Things have all changed for Glen Hansard. It is almost two decades since I purchased The Frames first 7” single The Dancer and I have watched ever since as record companies dumped them and they hung on for dear life before scrambling to the top of Ireland’s music mountain. Then Hansard accidently teamed up with a young Czech girl named Marketa Irglova, recorded a few songs that made up a record, and then by a freak of circumstances found themselves centre of an against all odds cinema hit that hurled them into the arms of America, bringing phenomenal success and even an Oscar. On that amazing Oscar night, which Hansard has likened to scoring the winning goal for Ireland in the World Cup Final (and we all cheered equally delighted!), Bono sent him a message, “From Busker to Oscar” and summed up that career I have been watching so carefully. There is a three disc deluxe version of this new album that helps reveal the Hansard we have all got to know and love. There are some lovely moments both in the live songs and in the snippets in between where Glen and Mar talk about their art.

Hansard has talked about mapping his life in songs and in one of those songs he shouted about “I want my life to make more sense/I want my life to make amends/ I want my life to make more sense to me.” Strict Joy is all about those things. In the vortex of their accidental career, Glen and Mar fell accidently in love and have since fallen out of love and decided, it seems, to write an album about the disappointment of love breaking down. Fleetwood Mac they are not and Rumours this is not but it does live in that very strange terrain where Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham fuelled art together by weaving art together while their hearts were breaking apart. The album title is taken from a poem by James Stephens:

“For as he meditated misery

And cared it into song – Strict Care, Strict Joy

Caring for grief, he cared his grief away

And those sad songs, tho’ woe be all the theme

Do not make us grieve who read them now –

Because the poet makes grief beautiful.”


The album that takes this poem’s title fulfils the vocation of the lamenting love song. As Glen and Mar make the grief of their broken relationship beautiful you see the spiritual purpose of sad songs; the ability of songs to bring healing. We might even see in the documentary companion the proof of the pudding. These songs that they work on together might be the reason that Glen and Mar seem to be able to hold on to a tender, loving friendship.


In These Arms declares that one of our reasons for existence is to love – “Maybe I was born to hold you in these arms.” The next song The Rain however reminds us that all our dreams are limited by our failings – “OK I’m not what I promised you I’d become” -  and that in the end as Mar puts it so vulnerably, honestly and plainly on I Have Loved You Wrong“Forgive me lover/For I have sinned/And I have loved you wrong.” It is almost a liturgical confessional and brings us back to these love songs being part of something more than frivolous, fleeting romances. This is love that is part of a much bigger plot which Glen perhaps points out when he sings “I’m feeling so small/Against a big sky tonight.”


Musically Strict Joy is layered, crafted without ever being shiny or sheen. Hansard’s gift is melody that is immediately enticing but gradually reveals so that you are in from the start but benefit from repeated listens.  This album is much more Glen than Mar which suggests that The Frames and Swell Season are two differing settings for the one songwriter. Where Hansard’s fascinating story goes next will be as interesting as his past. Can he and Mar continue on a human or artistic level will be fascinating? Will his next album be with The Frames? Will the Once star keep rising or fall back to earth? Whatever, anyone who has followed until now has learned to enjoy the moment Hansard is in. Strict Joy is another great moment; as my lovely friend Karin sings, “What a beautiful piece of heartache...”


Stocki CDs 
One of the problems of the enlightenment evangelical mindset in the new post-modern world is that God is too static, too paralysed, too confined. It is as if the enlightenment froze theology and indeed God Himself into an ice cube. If it could melt, I surmised, it would be more fluid and flexible and, therefore, able to creep into more nooks and crannies of the world. With ice cubes you have to go to it. With water it can come and reach you. As I surmised this freeing up of God’s influence it suddenly occurred to me that my analogy needed one more step. What if the water became steam? It would then be all pervasive; above, below and under. Steam is a much better symbol of omnipresence than ice. Though what I am saying is that when I pray for steam rather than ice I am not in any way changing the substance of who God is; just giving God back His more potent form.

Ultimately this means that God becomes a little more mysterious, some may call it too ambiguous, but in the end it might mean closer to the truth. God needs to be given back his Sovereignty. That is a word that has been used a lot to suggest that we know who God is and you should listen to our systematic theology if you want to understand Him yourself. Sovereignty is actually the opposite; it is an admission that God is way beyond us and thus has the ability to surprise or even shock us at any given time. It was this Sovereign God that Isaiah met in the Temple (Isaiah 6) and Paul met on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). Both men knew God, had him sussed in ice cube form, were serving Him like He told them and then bam the ambiguous steam form of God turned their lives on their heads and sent them off in the direction of a truth that cannot be contained by human minds but is the prerogative of the Mysterious, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Sovereign God.

Enlightenment mindset or post modern mindset? They both have flaws and they both have some strengths and both need to be transcended by the Biblical mindset that Paul suggested we would have our minds transformed and renewed into, instead of conforming to the mindset of the age (Romans12). One of the strengths of post modernity is that God can be given his mystery back, be melted from the confines of that ice cube and be allowed to be mysterious Spirit once again. Be warned; just when you think you have him frozen in your mind’s arrogance...