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July 2010

HEDONIST OF SOUL (for Brian Lockhart)

HEDONIST OF SOUL (for Brian Lockhart)


(Soon after I became the minister of Fitzroy my pastoral visitor Dorothy took me to visit Brian and June Lockhart. Brian had many physical ailments and restrictions but his sharp poetic mind touched my life deep down. We really connected and though I only had a few months as his minister, before he passed on, he taught me how to take the cling film off every fresh new day and encouraged me back to playing with words and rhyming a few couplets.)


You left the room in the big discussions

Preferred avoiding the major statement

But the pastel colours of God’s night sky

Or heaven glinting in the puddled pavement

You had such careful poetic perceptions

Crafted words for every precious minute

Arranging them in such fine detail

You could return and live back in it.


You were a hedonist of soul

Gatherer of the grandest pleasures

But never the follower of the empty kinds

You found the trail to eternal treasures


They thought you might have days to live

You milked the privilege of fifty more years

You took Jesus life and all its abundance

Packed passion into both laughter and tears

You had such careful poetic perceptions

Joy pumping the blood that inked your pen

Your senses heightened by the thrill it was

To unwrap a new day in the morning again


You were a hedonist of soul

Recorder of the grandest pleasures

But never the follower of the empty kinds

You found the trail to eternal treasures

The children in love with the taking part

The shape of the smile on her face

The strong sharp sip of Johnny Walker’s

And sweet comfort of God’s deep grace.



My good friend and former colleague at Queen’s Chaplaincy, Father Gary Toman, often speaks about having a grá for something. It is the Irish word for love but it takes on a guttural description for that passion for something that drives you and your life. It is that grá that Jamie Smith is talking about in his incredibly insightful book Desiring The Kingdom. The general premise is that we are not what we think but by what we love. What we have a grá for will be what shapes our lives.

So, I asked early on, is Jamie right? It dragged up an old memory of preaching one evening maybe twenty years ago about what the Bible had to say about a Northern Ireland Protestant’s attitude and relationship with their Catholic neighbours. Whatever I said that evening, it struck a chord with a few young guys who afterwards asked me if I was a Protestant. I suggested that that depended what they meant by Protestant. What did they think a Protestant was I asked? Someone loyal to the Queen they replied? They were surprised when I told them that there were Protestants all over the world who had absolutely no allegiance to the Queen of the United Kingdom. When did Protestantism start I went on? The battle of the Boyne in 1690 they confidently responded. Again, people like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox were completely unknown to them.

These guys had absolutely no cognitive understanding of Protestantism but in every part of their being they were very clearly defined as Protestant in their own parochial form. They were wearing Glasgow Rangers football tops, they were in “kick the Pope” flute bands and were probably some of the guys who painted the pavements in their town red, white and blue. They were not what they had clearly thought through but what they had a chest thumping grá for; though as Northern Ireland Protestants they would have hated the utterance of an Irish word to describe it! There is a “peace” wall in Belfast between the divided communities of the Protestant Shankill and Catholic Falls roads and very few of the people on either side have come to hate their close neighbours on the other side by a well thought through in depth historical, religious or political analysis. They are divided not by what they think but what they have been shaped to love.

So, next question, was how Smith’s theories connect with the Scriptures. It happened that as I was reading the book I was reaching, in my preaching series, Mark 12 where Jesus declares the greatest commandments and speaks of love for God as the Jews would have been familiar with in the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 and then adds from Leviticus 19, an amazing chapter that spells out the love for neighbour. It is these two commandments that would define Jesus followers and he actually never mentions cognitive understanding of God but always emphasises love. Jesus is encouraging the grá that will transform his followers. In John 14 he tells the disciples that if they love him they will obey his commandments. The grá is what drives the Jesus community.

This is what Smith is onto. Being a Professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Smith has engaged with the post modern “emergers” without the tabloid sensational dismissal of a Don Carson et al and brought to bear on the very serious and authentic questions of the time a “sustainable theology”, as my good mate Doug Gay so skilfully coined it at Greenbelt a few years back. Smith is a balanced and sensible voice in what sometimes seems like schoolyard stone throwing. This particular book is aimed at the Christian education sector of North America and I think that is a mistake as I think the lessons of this book have something to say for individual discipleship and every Sunday Church worship.

Smith is convincing in his argument as to what grabs our gut and owns our grá. He uses the Shopping Mall, the religious nature of which he paints provocatively over a few poetically crafted pages, and the sport’s stadium. He argues very compellingly how even the Christian who thinks he/she has his/her brain switched on and is what he/she think cognitively can be subtly caught in allegiances that would quite simply have been described is idols in the Old Testament. The powerful gut stirring symbolism the American national anthem at sporting events leading to a belief that God is American and dying for the flag is a belief worth holding receives his ire! That we could be doctrinally well thought through but miss the hold that consumerism has on our well being is also well pointed out.

Once we are shaped, Smith goes on, we then aim our loves at what we believe to be human flourishing. This end result will again not be so much decided on by cognitive doctrinal statements but the social imaginary of what we are steeped in at mall, sports stadium and wherever else we inhabit. Christian thinking over the past decades has targeted the mind with great books and lectures and conferences. Smith is not saying that we replace these, or the book itself would be dropped from the publisher’s catalogue, but he is saying we have missed the more potent spiritual formatives; the stories, movies, songs and worship that are pedagogies of the kardia. Smith is suggesting that the liturgy of worship takes on an enormously important role in challenging the social imaginary of the mall and sports stadium in order that we recognise the Kingdom of God as what human flourishing is really about and our hearts get aimed at the right loves to bring that kingdom around.

Smith has articulated what I have been thinking for years that this generation in particular are more subjective than objective. Modernity had us lost in a phase where that might not have been so but the “word becoming flesh” was God’s best revelation of truth and that was aimed at the subjective gut not the intellectual mind. Desiring The Kingdom has opened up all kinds of leads for me in how to pastor a Church, lead worship, form the Christian core of the young, develop the spiritual maturity of the older, how to evangelise and teach. Before all that I am reassessing the habits of my own life to reconsider what feeds my social imaginary and where the idols of our time might be subtly having their way.


HEAD UP NORTH (On Bonfire Night)


HEAD UP NORTH (On Bonfire Night)


(This was inspired by having to preach my first July sermons in nearly twenty years... on the evening of July 11th I was sharing thoughts from 2 Chronicles 7: 14 and how we need to “humble ourselves and pray, seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways”... and to critique my own background I was thinking of what we could throw on the Eleventh night bonfire... then listening to Tom Petty’s Drivin’ South as I literally headed north drew these thoughts out of me over the following week... might seem critical but there are other more positive reflections in other poems...)


I’m going to head up north again

Past Churches as gray as the weather

Watch the summer’s patience with the sun

And see God at the end of his tether

Ghosts are caught dancing on these Atlantic breezes

And not all of them are holy

The Mission Halls still full on Sunday night

They frightened but never consoled me.


I’m going to head up north again

Through fertile farmlands to the sea

Coastline, castles, Giant’s Causeway

And the beaches stretched out in front of me

And east the rocky rugged mountains

Where we pushed off all the Catholics

Are we not nearly ready to confess

For all our sectarian geographics


I’m going to head up north again

Try to navigate around the parades

Where we march all day to drunken fields

Playing cultural and religious charades

Strap Lambeg drums to big strong chests

Stick our victory up our neighbour’s face

Shouldn’t we love them like we love ourselves

Carry our faith with humility and grace


Maybe with all those empty boxes

And tyres their tread worn thin

We should throw our pride on the Bonfire

With all our arrogance and sin

Yes, hurl the myths we’ve told ourselves

All those lies and their exaggerations

The stories we decide to tell ourselves

Shape our children and the nation

So let us pile repentance way up high

Watch our troubles burn in the flickering light

Then I’ll head up north and celebrate

On a glorious Eleventh night. 






Neil Finn as a quality songwriter has never been in doubt though perhaps his ability to sell his genius and thus product has been what has let him down. Like a golfer with a great swing who never wins a major is a good analogy perhaps, though of course Woodface did its best to make Crowded House a household (sorry!) name! That that album was a collaboration with his brother Tim was telling and perhaps it was proven that both were better as a partnership than on their own when The Finn Brothers Everyone Is Here was both artist’s second best work. Intriguer is a full Crowded House project unlike the last in that name, the plodding and dissatisfying comeback record Time On Earth. There is no sign of Tim and yet it’s up there with the two aforementioned.

All the melodies are there, catchy as The Beatles and sometimes as in Falling Dove sounding like them. The songs are crafted and the lyrics original and substantial. What makes Intriguer stand out is the arrangements, the grittier surface and lack of predictability with every song being trademarked but with individual personalities. The electric jangle and driven beat of the single Saturday’s Sun that would have been a hit had singles still be an important commercial product. Isolation with its Lennon title and Harrison guitar intro heads out towards a Moody Blues lyric and mood about the meaning of life before a Woodstock era electric guitar freak out in the fade out. His son and wife throw in a few different vocal shades throughout.

I did say that Finn’s songs were consistently substantial with fascinating images and usually some depth to the meaning. Intriguer is supposedly his study of God and, though Slow Train Coming it is not, it does deal with life’s bigger questions. Philosophy and mystery both get name checked in Twice If You’re Lucky which I’d choose as the second single to radio. The temptations and lostness of our humanity nestles and wrestles beside the transcendent hope of redemption. As Amsterdam puts it, “The darkest days of a free man lying in the streets of Amsterdam I nearly fell underneath a tram but I picked myself up/Every temptation and device, All the diamonds and the spice I would give anything for the sight of an honest man.” Falling Dove prays for some blessing, “May the best of fortune bless you/could any creature be unmoved/the humble nature of redemption/the simple act of finding a use.” I particularly love this last couplet gathering together our redemption and vocation in the same couplet.

The closest we get to some doctrinal definition of Finn’s Intrguer is in that opening single Saturday Sun where  “As he calls out your name/
on a hill far away/ravens circle above/it’s all about to change”
sounds very close to the Easter part of the Christian story. God only knows, to quote Brian Wilson, but whatever is going on in these catchy melodies and provocative lyrics there will be much to ponder as you enjoy the most blessed Crowded House album in a very long time.


Behind the obvious shock of the result, there was something even more remarkable about the relatively unknown South African Louis Oosthuizen winning the 2010 British Open Golf Championship at 200-1. For a white Africaaner to begin his Open winning speech by wishing Nelson Mandela a happy birthday and admitting that while he was walking down the 18th fairway, with his seven shot lead meaning that he could really enjoy it, he was thinking about Mr Mandela is quite an astounding sign of the seismic change that Oosthuizen’s homeland has experienced and showcased around the world over these past twenty years. Those words of Oosthuizen need to be given special pondering anywhere that communities find themselves divided.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 he did more than convince his own oppressed people to desist from the karma justice of bloody revenge. The most fantastic thing that this man, who in physical weakness but strength of spirit celebrated his 92nd birthday on Oosthuizen’s big day, achieved was to capture the social imaginings of an entire generation of white South Africans whose parents and grandparents saw Mandela as nothing but a black terrorist. In my travels in South Africa over these past 15 years I have never ceased to be amazed at how families are split by age in their admiration or utter disrespect for the statesman of the century. It works its way out in the relationship that the over forties and under forties have with their black neighbours. Many of the younger ones are working in the townships to bring development and relief, a place their parents would never even dare to venture into.

That Oosthuizen had as his caddy perhaps the only black person that I saw the entire week in St Andrews, certainly on the course, is what I am talking about. Yes, golf is another environment with aa big a race and class divide as anywhere else on the planet, one of the reasons I did not pursue my love for it in my youth, but here again the new Open Champion was flouting the stereotype by commending his black caddy’s contribution to his historic win. In Cape Town the township caddies have a five hole course that they have created precariously on the fringe of the N2 motorway and some play off a very low handicap. Ernie Els Foundation that has been commended so much for giving Oosthuizen a hand up should perhaps turn its attention to those said caddies; maybe the Louis Oosthuizen Foundation will!

But back to Mandela. How he captured that social imagining needs to be looked at and learned from. Not only in the words he said but in his gracious and courageous actions he won the hearts of a traditional enemy or at least that enemy’s children. The story his secretary in the Presidential office tells of how she looked at him with a little loathing and lot of suspicion when he arrived and how very quickly he charmed her in genuine humility, grace and neighbourly love. In the same way at a national level his donning of that Spingbok top for the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final as recently portrayed in the big selling movie Invictus. Mandela was a unique human being, finding the depth of character to survive the mental and physical torture of Africaaner prisons and then the charisma to capture the imagination of a nation and carry all its rainbow colours towards truth and reconciliation.

So inside the amazing sports story of a seeming outsider winning golf’s greatest prize on the sport’s greatest course was this other amazing story; without question the most amazing story in the world’s recent history. Well done on the course and in your speech Louis and happy birthday Madiba! Another little glint of hope shines around the world!

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Mojo


“I’m slowin’ down a little bit
Takin’ my time
Slowin’ down a little bit
Yeah when I was a young boy
Honey my fuse was lit
Yeah when I was a young boy
Honey my fuse was lit
Losin’ my way
To somethin’ stronger than me.”

So there are reviewers giving Tom Petty grief that his fifteenth album ain’t like his definitive third one Damn The Torpedoes. Damn The Torpedoes was one of my favourite albums and deserves its elevation to Classic Album status with its DVD of the creation process. However, that was 1979 and I was 17 and Petty 28. We are both thirty years older and need something... well, thirty years older; something well described in the words at the top of this review from Taking My Time. That is what Mojo is, the mature work of a band that had genius at 28 and now have matured that genius to a hot cooking blues groove. This is a resplendent piece of work and again has more in common with Petty’s Southern State roots than his latter days on the Californian coast.

Petty has always lived in the shadow of The Boss, Mr. Springsteen, and you see my beef with Bruce is that he has been unable to recreate the E Street Band. Any of Bruce’s work that shows maturity has been without the band of his youth; the Seeger Sessions for example! His players, brilliant and all as they are, seem to struggle to change the formula. The Heartbreakers are made of different stuff with the long term members like Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell having played with a plethora of other acts down the years, causing a flexibility that allows Petty’s aging concerns and wise counsel a place to authentically minister from.

Indeed, the first thing that hits you about Mojo is Campbell’s guitar playing. The genius sideman has been given his stage and there are nifty rifts and long shifty guitar passages that are complex and astonishing. Though it never gets to Free Bird’s epic length you can tell they are from the same state. Don’t minimise Tench’s contribution though. Listen in and his Hammond organ and piano thread together the entire record, bringing a subtlety and layering that is again a mark of this band’s musicality.

Petty’s ragged voice suits the terrain and that terrain is a journey through struggle with just enough little lights in the road to navigate the harshnesses of an America coming out of tough confidence denting years. Almost every song has people moving in one way or another. As the quote at the top suggests there are always hints of something transcendent happening around the bumps, bends and climbs and always the hope of a better place lying on up the road. The whole thing could be summed up in the lines of Running Man’s Bible - “Here’s one to glory and survival/And stayin’ alive/It’s the running man’s bible.”

There are all kinds of questions that need to be asked as rock’s first couple of generations age. Should wrinkled men with straggling hair still be playing that youthful stuff? Do they look a bit old swinger and embarrassing in the genre. No worries for Petty. As natural as the wildlife in the Florida’s everglades he has changed and grown into an elder statesman of rock with a band that are not relics but continuing to journey and explore the artist’s life and muse. Mojo ain’t no Damn The Torpedoes and that’s one of the many positives on a very fine record indeed!



Tired Pony

I have had blisters on my fingers in recent years giving vent to my anger at how the British music press dismiss Snow Patrol while daring to laud bland Beatles’ covers band Oasis Quo. Snow Patrol main man Gary Lightbody has a lyrical way that at time opens up vistas of profound thought from seemingly throwaway lines in stadium anthems. Chasing Cars with its pastoral transcendence echoing fellow Northern Irish writer Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks in its “if I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world” throws away “three small words... said too much... and not enough” and there is a sociological PhD thesis on our romantic entanglements from fickle one night stands to life long commitment waiting to be written.

Lightbody has not been adverse in the past to collaborations and collectives. Before Snow Patrol made their career sustainable, never mind lucrative with Run’s top 5 breakthrough in 2003, he had released two fascinating albums with a bunch of Glasgow’s finest under the name The Reindeer Section; more recently he was a main player in the interesting Irish Fundraiser Cake Sale; and if you watch carefully you’ll see an array of players regularly added to the core five in Snow Patrol. So the side project Tired Pony is nothing new for a man who seems to be prolific in his writing and maintain a workaholic Protestant work ethic – you can take the boy out of Northern Ireland but... Tired Pony sees some regular collaborators like Belle and Sebastian’s Robert Colburn, Iain Archer a co author of Run and Jacknife Lee producer of Snow Patrol. Add REM main man Peter Buck, REM side man Scott McCaughey and guest appearances from Editor’s Tom Smith and the She & Him duo M Ward and Zooey Deschanel and it all looks very tasty indeed.

With such a plethora of players Lightbody and Lee ensconced them in a airy room in Portland, Oregon for eight days in January and threw in a clatter of songs that Lightbody had written during American tours imagining himself as a fiction writer of other people’s stories. We Irish have a fascination with American road trips and I guess touring in a bus is a bit of a road trip even when it becomes the job. This set of songs has a tired, long hours on the road in all kinds of weathers feel that evokes the between cities America in a war away and recession at home era. Played live in the round with mandolins and pedal steels it comes out as a thing of fragile melancholic beauty. Take a Greyhound from anywhere to anywhere in the evening time, put this on your iPod and you have a perfect soundtrack.

Never near the city centre of the “country” it has been advertised as , The Place We Ran From lingers on the dark edges of town with lovely twists and turns of melody and lyric. Lightbody brings in more players and instruments and gets a more quiet and reflective paired down sound. It is not that the song structures are any radical departure from his day job but the arrangements on songs like Northwestern Skies or The Deepest Ocean There Is give Lightbody a more serious songwriting setting. Point Me At Lost Islands would be how Dylan would sound if he took that Rolling Thunder Revue out in 2010; Great American Writers, the obvious single, rocks out most with late eighties REM in its DNA. Archer’s I Am A Landslide brings a lightness of touch with his perpetual ability to sound immediately accessible; he might be the lesser known player here but proves he’s among equals. Pieces is a great ending with its Neil Young electric work out crescendo.

Lightbody is a master of unique and quirky little images and has learned over time to write little rhyming couplets and quadruplets to die for. They are scattered across the entire terrain here. Of those profundities I mentioned at the top of the review, let me leave you with a couple. “ And Truth is like a punch or two/It hits you hard and knocks you through...” is the kind of impact you hope every great song should have. The last line of the last song which seems literally Lightbody’s doom laden love song to America is “The Bible held above me like an axe” which could be the violent use of force in political terms or the right wing fundamental holiness that feeds its own self righteousness rather than feeding the world’s needs. Ponder ‘til fade!

All in all, an amazing piece of work by a writer maturing into the peak of his vocation surrounded with a band of players who are so comfortable in their own skin that they don’t need to get fussy to impress but know where and how to add the grace notes. A side project beauty... and a little bit of insecurity building in the boys’ regular bands!


WORLD CUP REVIEW - The Winners, The Ball, FIFA, The Legacy...

WC logo

It would have been as wrong for the Netherlands to win the World Cup in South Africa as England winning it in Dublin or the USA in Baghdad; unlikely events I know! That the Orange clad Africaaner would have been celebrating the soccer scores in a land where even on the beach they only play Rugby and a white man in the national soccer team becomes a star not be his ability but colour of skin would have been just wrong! That the Dutch lost their reputation as a footballing nation and the support of the neutrals they have been hording up for decades makes them even bigger losers than England this time! Spain did show some consistency and now and again, bar an obviously unfit Torres, some flair and deserved the win. That my favourite moment of the entire month was Tshabalala’s opening goal for the hosts in the very first match says it all. There were not many highlights.

For me, this has been the worst World Cup Finals since I started watching them in 1970 (apparently I did watch the 1966 Final though perhaps I have chosen to forget it!). The matches were dull and the stars didn’t shine; ‘70 had Pele, ‘74 had Cruyff, ‘78 Kempes and ‘82 Maradona. They were all brilliant and brilliant throughout. Iniesta, Forlan and Robben lit up some games but the winning team scored 8 goals in 7 games and were seen as the best footballing team in the tournament and worthy winners. Point proved!  

For me the Jubulani ball was the cause. Watch the videos of any other World Cup and ask how many free kicks went into row Z. It used to be a free kick on the edge of the area was exciting and in recent years when everyone learned how to bend it like Beckham or the Brazilian stars of 1970 they mostly meant a goal. By the 40th game of this tournament the defence hardly seemed bothered building a wall and people in the crowd were more poised to catch it than the goalkeepers. The ball had to be the reason for the poor quality of the event. Imagine cricket deciding to use a tennis ball for their World Cup or Golf bringing in that little plastic ball with holes in it for the British Open?!

The difference between those sports is that though soccer is by far the most exciting and most watched it has the most dim witted governing body! As well as the ball is it not time to look at the goal line technology; it is 2010 and again those in charge look ridiculous and embarrassing alongside the decision makers of other sports. Booking players for trivial things like celebrating goals and asking an injured player to leave the field before resuming the game and thus giving an advantage to the thug who injured them only add to the feeling that kids in the playground could do a much smarter job. Mr Blatter, do us all a favour!

On the positive front, perhaps at last the English will not assume they can lift the trophy even when they have a better team than usual. Most of all was the way that South Africa held the whole thing together. I have spent half of my summers in the last decade in Cape Town winters and never felt that the country was able for our various teams of 25 never mind the 400,000 visitors they have had this past month. I am delighted to have been proven wrong. Yes, the empty seats suggest that something went wrong but the daily stories of crime on foreigners were conspicuous by their absence and the infrastructure of transport, accommodation and those amazing stadiums have come through with glowing reviews. Well done Rainbow Nation!

What happens now will be important too. Can President Zuma, who one wonders if he was sharing a double room with Sepp Blatter, continue to lift his reputation from frightening rogue to a real Statesman? Can the organisational genius now be used to bring a drip down effect and make inroads into the poverty, health and education of the majority of the country’s people? Can the Dutch get over themselves and the fact that they were beaten by a team that they tried in all the worst kinds of ways to stop playing football the way the Dutch teams of the past had inspired them to play? Can one of the Irish team qualify for 2014 which might add a subjective interest like the glory days of ’82 (Northern Ireland) or ’90 (Republic Of Ireland)!?



(The final blog of the South African series in celebration of the 2010 World Cup... an altar call and prayer that we commit... after that God knows what can happen!)


“This may sound too simple but is of great consequence. Until one is committed there is hesitancy; the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans, that at the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt could have come his way.

I learned a deep respect for Goethe’s couplet, whatever you think you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

When Bob Geldof spoke at Queens University a few years ago he shared this quotation sent to him during his Live Aid campaigning of the 1980s that really struck a chord with me. Geldof spoke of how the quote by mountaineer WH Murray had described his journey as he moved from raising a few thousand pounds with a pop single to being offered jumbo jets by Virgin Airlines to ship the vast amounts of food and relief to Ethiopia. Once he committed, Geldof had come to understand, all kinds of things moved in ways he could never have imagined or planned.

There is a spiritual undercurrent to Murray’s wisdom and Geldof’s testimony to its truth. At best an agnostic, Geldof must see that the providence and magic that he believes fuelled his Live Aid work is from some outside source that might just suggest the Divine. I, from my Christian stand point, have a clear belief that similar transcendent help drove forward our Capetownship project. In 2000 when we took 12 students and 3 staff to build a few houses in Khayelitsha we had no idea that eight years later we’d be involved in having taken over 200 students to Cape Town and building a wide ranging project together that included not only the house building but also reconciliation, fair trade, HIV/AIDS, education, soccer and netball. So many of the students we took had their vocational direction changed, took on advocacy and fundraising or took teams or themselves back to Africa or elsewhere, convinced of the implications of their trip to their day to day discipleship. Indeed, Mr Murray I could never have seen how providence would move!

As the World Cup ends and everyone goes home my closing prayer to this blog is that we don’t forget the people of this nation or continent or indeed elsewhere in the world that don’t need stadiums or sport but that revolution that brings God’s Kingdom and will on earth as it is in heaven. Let us all commit to that!



(the penultimate South African blog that has been celebrating the World Cup in that amazing land... we go to Robben Island for some apocalyptic advice...)


It is quite pleasing to the eye on a tourist bus. The lime quarry is bright and driving into its ravine with the cave in front of you. It would have been a very different place had you been brought out here day after day in the heat of the South African sun to toil for little or no reason in regimented tediousness. The eye got a very different experience, with the glare of the sun off limestone. But it was here that Nelson Mandela and his colleagues came. Their eyes would be damaged permanently. When they operated on Mandela’s eyes late in his life they found a layer of lime dust from these particular years of his incarceration.

It was here though that the prisoners of Apartheid turned their chain gang into a University. It was here that they taught their comrades to read and write, to add and subtract, to develop their political acumen. It was here, when their white warders wanted to stop their lessons, that they coined the concept of reconciliation and welcomed their captors into their open air lecture hall. White prison guards on Robben Island had the inmates to thank for the many qualifications they earned on the island. It truly is a remarkable place.

It was another of the post graduate prisoners who threw out a phrase that maybe unlocked the secret of this place of worked out redemption. He said to us, “We were getting ready for freedom before freedom came.” In this place where any hopes or dreams of freedom were delusional at the very best here were guys who no matter what the circumstances lived with hope and belief and a resolute confidence that freedom would eventually come. It was their job to get ready. That Nelson Mandela left a prison cell and within a few short years had become the most respected President and world leader in decades if not centuries is evidence enough of the success in the University of Robben Island.

I don’t think it is too contrived for me to make a comparison from these captives on Robben Island believing with conviction in another Kingdom where they would take places in government to those of us caught up in the chains of the temporal, fallen world dreaming dreams and seeing visions of another Kingdom where redemption is complete; heaven a reality. Those of us claiming to be on a journey, following Jesus to heaven, need to be about the business of getting ready for heaven when it arrives. That is our life work. Theologians call the personal aspect of the getting ready “sanctification” and the social aspect “mission.” If Christianity is about anything it is about putting into our hearts and onto our earth the indelible marks of heaven. Preparing for who we will be and how the streets of the city will look on that glorious day.

We need to be as committed to this and as convicted in our belief as those prisoners on Robben Island. It kept them alive, literally, in the midst of the injustice and brutality but it did so much more. As they prepared for freedom, for that moment up ahead when the sheer ecstasy of freedom would be announced, they brought little flashes of freedom into their midst. Like that education that they earned. Like those wardens who learned alongside them in a world of ridiculous reconciliation. Like the hope in their hearts that all things utterly impossible would some day come to pass. And so as we ready ourselves for the other side we will leave a trail of transcendent moments when love, justice, mercy and grace touch this cruel world with kindness. An HIV/AIDS infected mother will receive the medication, a pot bellied child will eat food, a worker will get a fair wage for the groceries that make us so fortunate, an enemy will know the reaching out of a forgiving hand and God will know his creation better looked after with more thought to the environment. People get ready...