Previous month:
December 2011
Next month:
February 2012

January 2012


LC Old Ideas

It doesn’t seem seven years since Leonard Cohen’s last album because the man has spent the middle years of his seventies up to his wrinkles in a whole lot of activity including critically acclaimed concert tours that produced a plethora of CDs and DVDs and a number 1 hit single via the dubious conduit of X Factor winner Alexandra Burke! The years between Dear Heather and Old Ideas have built Cohen’s status to a Zen guru presence. For weeks there has been anticipation about this new record not because the public is imagining some reinvention at the age of 77 but more that he is the closest thing rock music has to a spiritual sage and we are waiting for the wisdom he has to share.

There is no disappointment for those looking for spiritual songs. As always even with his Zen Buddhist practice and Jewish faith doesn’t stop some excursions into Christianity. On Amen he sings, “When the filth of the butcher/is washed in the blood of the lamb...” and on Show Me The Place, “Show me the place/Where the Word became a man...”; Word has a capital letter and it is hard to get past John’s Gospel chapter 1 and verse 1. Prayers, penitential hymns and search for sacred insight is rampant on this collection of songs. Healing, mercy, solace, peace and justice are sought throughout.

As always Cohen’s life and songs are well balanced with darkness, desire and guilt but it could be that in some ways his aging has slowed down his ability to; “I’m tired of choosing desire/Been saved by a sweet fatigue” he sings on Crazy To Love You, written with his girlfriend Anjani. Cohen’s age does seem to hang over this collection of songs. I guess if it has been seven years since your last record and you realise that if it is seven years until your next and that you’ll be 84 years old by then that you might be sensing your time running out. Mortality has been on the mind of Leonard’s good mate Robert Zimmerman in recent years, Paul Simon has been thinking Afterlife too! The opening song here is God speaking with Leonard and trying to direct is art. Perhaps God has seen the drawing of a naked woman on the CD and wants to change Cohen’s direction but he is certainly encouraging Cohen to share divine messages. The song is entitled Going Home and suggests that Cohen is on his way there with no sorrow or burden; heaven beckons!  

Musically, it is as I said, nothing ground breaking. That would be sacrilegious! A few strings here and more importantly a few female vocals (check Come Healing for instance) there to give tone and shade to Leonard’s often little more than spoken husky whisper are enough to set up these songs. Even the lyrics are so much simpler than say a Hallelujah or a Tower Of Song. All in all Cohen has come up with another mature bunch of reflections on the shades of light and darkness that spin around the human life. Another meditative reflection on the spiritual; serenity with potency. The gauntlet is thrown; 2012 you have eleven months to better this one!

Sports Surmise On Taking Part Being As Important as Winning

City fans

In my final year at school we were entered into an exam called Use Of English. It was a one off. I think we had an essay or two. It was short. With no revision needed I revelled and when my grade was higher than those a few months away from three and four A grades in their A Levels I caused some surprise and consternation. With the essay options I got lucky; “Sport is more about the taking part than the winning. Discuss.” With my love for writing even then, the honing of my ability in the Debating Society and my love for sport I was on a winner!

I remembered that essay this weekend when I was considering a change in attitude in my own sporting fandom in the midst of the fan tension around the Liverpool – Manchester United game and the QPR- Chelsea match. Both these games had gained some hyped hatred following on the field spats between Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez and John Terry and Anton Ferdinand respectively. Managers and Football’s governing bodies were trying to defuse tension as the week went on and that was a rare and welcome contribution. However, there was still booing and tensions in the stands at both games. It is the ugly face of football, maybe even uglier than awful refereeing decisions just now, and they are ugly!

I can do nothing about what goes on with thousands of gathered football fans but I can change myself. Indeed as a Christian minister, that is the very business I am involved in! This season, with my team reaching the possibility of winning trophies, I took a conscious decision to change my attitude to the opposition and to be a better loser. The amazing thing is that it has caused me to enjoy the spectacle of my favourite sport in a wonderful new way. I have started to see even Manchester United as the other eleven players in the entertaining competitiveness of what I am watching. The matches against United and indeed Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal have become great games of football that it is a joy to be a part of and to sometimes win and sometimes lose. Without these teams there would be no point. What I have come to enjoy this season is the fact that the Manchester clubs are walloping London clubs in the League, yet London clubs are still in the Champions League and Liverpool have just dumped both Manchester clubs out of the domestic Cup competitions. There are a lot of teams who could win trophies, nobody is winning all the trophies and that is a wonderful thing for the excitement of being a fan.

So, in this competitive season, I think taking part is fun in itself. If my team, Manchester City, finally win the League that will be to be celebrated and I will celebrate! But fair play to Manchester United, with a much weaker team, they will not let go and they might well pip us to it which would be an amazing achievement. That will be no reason to hate even in my Facebook status or over coffee. It is time for respect of other teams and other teams’ supporters. How to lose is as important as how to win and I am learning how to do both in brand new ways?

How Can I Give You Up (Hosea)

It wasn’t vows you’ve broken

But my soft and tender heart

Oh the ache of the shredded rip

Of my insides being torn apart

And into the dark black night

That’s where my love went

I drowned here in a flood of tears

That my heart spent


How can I give you up

How can I let you go

When Grace is who I am

And forgiving all I know


I’m not a tablet of stone

I breathe and feel deep down

Like nails hammered into flesh

The vile thud of adultery’s sound

Maybe no one hears the cry

When emotions are left paralysed

Sticks and stones don’t hurt me

Like a lovers lies


How can I give you up

How can I let you go

When Grace is who I am

And forgiving all I know


I’ll romance you back to life

You’ll know me once again

Whatever it takes to take you

To the story of love’s end.

Lyric For The Day 28.1.12 from Frozen Lake by Iain Archer


" I wanna be someone who makes you feel beautiful

I wanna be someone who does

I wanna be someone who makes you feel beautiful

I wanna be someone

Who covers you with love..."

  - from Frozen Lake by Iain Archer

This was on our family compliation CD this afternoon and it is just so hard to beat. Whether directed to wife, lover or everyone I meet this is a grand design of human ambition.

Lyric For The Day 27.1.12 from Joy by Mick Jagger


"My soul is like a ruby
And I threw it in the earth
But now my hands are bleeding
From scrabbling in the dirt
And I looked up to the heavens
And a light is on my face
I never never never
Thought I'd find a state of grace

Oh joy, love you bring
Oh joy, make my heart my sing
Oh joy, joy in everything"

-          From Joy by Mick Jagger

I have discovered the Rolling Stones for the first time this winter and one of the things that has most surprised me is the morsels of Christian Gospel that can be found in their train wrecks of hedonism! Here again, in Mick Jagger’s solo career, a clear and poetic expression of Christian grace. Something very special was given, the singer threw it away and needed an outside party to save what was lost through an act of grace. Obviously the fact that Bono joined Jagger on lead vocal on this song suggests that Jagger was writing with the U2 singer in mind but it is not a co-write; fascinating!

Lyric For The Day 26.1.12 from Who Am I Living For by Katy Perry

KP Who Am I Living For

"So I pray for favour like Esther

I need your strength to handle the pressure

I know there will be sacrifice

But that’s the price


I can see the writing on the wall

But I cannot ignore this war

At the end of it all

Who am I living for?"

-      From Who Am I Living For by Katy Perry

 The racy and often sexed up Katy Perry pulls out the Old Testament heroine Esther as a role model. Wow! What’s going down here? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised at Perry’s knowledge of all things Biblical. This “bad” girl of pop was brought up in the home of a pastor and started her career singing Christian songs. Perry has spoken about how her mid teen self would be horrified by who she is now and has said that this is one of her most introspective songs, wrestling with her past and her present and her future. There is no doubt that this is a song in turmoil. There is a sense of call, maybe to fight for God. There is an awareness of the cost of that call. There is also an omnipresence of flames and sense of lightning striking judgement. Does Perry see herself tossed about in the seas in between. Or is she hoping to be a redeeming factor in the world she now inhabits?

Esther is an interesting character for Perry to turn to. God is never mentioned in the book named after Esther but she saves God’s people. The sense is that, though not named, God is sovereign and all around the story. Is that what Perry wishes for herself? Is this how Katy Perry sees herself; God being no longer part of the conversation around her but no less a presence of the love and destiny surrounding her?

Whatever the seas or the turmoil, like Dylan’s You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody, it is a question we all have to ask; who am I living for?


SP logo

As they bombarded Belfast with the most potent and powerful rock onslaught that I have experienced since I saw the U2’s Vertigo arena tour in Vancouver back in 2005 I couldn’t help but think that this is the best time and place to see Snow Patrol. Belfast is always the best place to see Snow Patrol. For Gary, Nathan and Jonny this is home and home has rarely recognised a band as their own as much as Belfast has with these onetime indie misfits who grew into what we have tonight, an arena filling swan of rock’s mainstream. Belfast has always come out in numbers, always sung along and Gary Lightbody has always played up to it even writing Take Back The City about the city’s past, present and future.

Take Back The City was one of those early adrenaline blasts that these guys used to explode out of the night. It was as they went boom, boom, boom with strutting rock riffs and anthemic choruses that I realised that the strength of a rock band’s set can only increase by the quality albums they have released. Six records in and this band have now enough songs to grip an audience for the allotted hour and forty five minutes. Tonight Snow Patrol not only played at home and had the songs to play but their experience of the arena has grown. Lightbody’s ease with himself is evident as he sings more and more without a guitar. Connolly is a shape throwing visceral guitar hero. Jonny Quinn and Paul Wilson hold a steady as well as creative back beat groove and Tom Simpson recently joined by Johnny McDaid add all kinds of swathing and flourishing grace notes. Never have this band been more ready and never have the more delivered.

Setting off in attention grabbing mode and ending the same, the middle section is a risk with a general audience but reveals that new songwriting talent that Lightbody has become. More sleight of hand great melodies than foot stomping kardia thud new songs Garden Rules and New York, encased splendidly in Set The Fire to The Third Bar, with local girl Shauna Tohill filling in marvellously for Martha Wainwright and Miriam Kaufmann, and Make This Go On Forever. Lightbody even dared say that he thought Garden Rules was the best thing the band had done until now. Then it was back into the hits and the kardia grab until the Celtic techno of Fallen Empires with Nathan Connolly’s mandolin and a drum orchestra took the whole thing out. The audience singing was another highlight if predictably so on home soul. Run and Chasing Cars would now have no need of Lightbody singing at all but Belfast was in voice throughout.

What becomes apparent to me as this gig sweeps too quickly towards its end is the positivity of Snow Patrol. There is a lot of heartache and frustration and difficult social scenarios in their songs BUT their message is one of heart-open-taking-back-just-say-yes affirmation of love and life. Gary Lightbody doesn’t claim Bono’s spiritual anchor though he does sing that “On my knees I think clearer” and yet the band end gigs with more than songs. Tonight’s epic performance of Fallen Empires with the congregational chant of “we are the light, we are the light...” send out a positive vibe to a generation that need it. Then Just Say Yes as the encore closer in a city and country that was famous for saying No is a another subtle preach of positivity:

“Just say yes, just say there's nothing holding you back
It's not a test, nor a trick of the mind
Only love.”

Even the “For God’s sake dear” doesn’t have any sense of blasphemy but every hint of prayer. This is more than a good concert, it send something good out into the city tonight!

(loads more Snow Patrol articles in their own section on this blog)

Lyric For The Day 24.1.12 from Weight Of Love by Snow Patrol


“It's the weight of love in your arms,

It's the weight of love in your arms,

It's the weight of love so gentle in your arms.”

-      From Weight Of Love by Snow Patrol


These seemingly very simple lines have been running around my head for days. I love the image. The robustness, the weight of love, something that suggests heaviness and then that twist in the tale; love’s gentleness!

 What Gary Lightbody meant by this chorus was a million miles from where I want to apply these lyrics but there is a tenuous link. We don’t want a heavy love that is absent of gentleness. As Lightbody ponders this in respect to romance I want to apply it to matters of faith. For a period of centuries Christianity has come across as the weight of love. It has been robust for sure, in many ways shaping the very society and laws we take for granted and don’t even think of giving it credit for. I suggest though that we have sold Christian faith as heavy but bereft of gentleness. We have held truth with arrogance and judgementalism rather than humility and grace.

 An Abraham Lincoln quote used in an episode of Criminal Minds comes to mind – “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” That is “the weight of love, so gentle in your arms.”

Oh MARIO, BROTHER! Stocki Sports Surmises His Most Loved/Hated Striker


One of my City following buddies has Face Booked me from the States, where he found himself this weekend, looking for my opinion on the Mario Balotelli incident/s! He might just be looking for my City bias to come through and reassure him. Well not this time. Though another sky blue Lee Dixon stretched things a tad far in his attempt to give Mario the benefit of the doubt, I personally think that he kicked out and should have been off. Indeed he had already been booked. My only defence would be that I don’t think he knew that Scott Parker’s head was where he stamped, he wasn’t looking anywhere near where his heal hit, but he certainly intended something. If the Premier League don’t bring some justice to bear on video evidence my fear is that someone’s head will get mashed before something is done. However, neither have the Premier League always acted with courage nor to be honest has players’ behaviour improved with threats of fines or suspensions.

I should also say to my friend in America that Lescott should been sent off too, for an elbow/strong arm into Kaboul.  If City are going to shake off United, and win this elusive League title, they don’t need to lose players during games or for future games. Discipline is needed for the long haul. City have been down to three strikers with Tevez’s unprofessionalism. That has been a huge handicap that few have commented on. City need to get rid of him to add a striker for the run in but they don’t need to lose any other players. Yesterday’s win was a huge one for City, the last League game without the tower that is Vincent Kompany but United’s win was even bigger. If United can slalom the next five or six games their run in is much easier and City will struggle to hold them off. It will be quite an achievement for Sir Alex if that happens. Make no mistake this is an inferior Manchester United. City are much superior on paper but you don’t win trophies on paper.

Balotelli? Well the kid is a genius. His penalty was that of a mature soccer player; cool and calm. His behaviour though is far from it. He is a mess of a young man who needs serious social care. I have no idea what has caused the volatile young man that we have watched like a soap opera this season but help is needed. I would not find him easy to deal with as a member of my Church! Soccer could save his life but you hope he doesn’t really damage someone else in the process. Roberto Mancini has an awful lot on his hands to attempt to hone this genius and get the best out of him. You can understand why he is a hate figure and he is going to take abuse form fans. When I say he is a love/hate figure I mean as a City fan I change from love him/hate him, love him/hate him love him/hate him about ten times during every game. The Premier League will need to work out what to do with him. So will Roberto Mancini. Mark my words though, if he could stay out of trouble he could be crucial to City’s title aspirations. He could end up very loved in one part of England!

Lyric For The Day 22.1.12 from Dweller By A Dark Stream by Bruce Cockburn

Cockburn prays

So I'm walking this prison camp world
I long for a glimpse of the new world unfurled
The chrysalis cracking and moisten winds uncurl
Like in the vision John saw
The vision John saw

- from Dweller By a Dark Stream by Bruce Cockburn

Tonight in a quiet reflective service at Fitzroy I was using the songs of Bruce Cockburn and Eric Angus Whyte. This Cockburn song ended the reflection and I wrote this prayer to finish. It is a Sunday night into Monday morning thought. It is an imagination firing song, desperately needed to bring the Kingdom order to this prison camp world.

PRAYER: Lord as we leave here to return to a prison camp world

Give us glimpses of how it can and is going to be

Give us rumours of the glory of Jesus again Lord over the world

Give us inklings of a new heaven and a new earth

Give us a glimpse of the vision John saw

And may that vision give us the engine of imagination

To help us rethink the nature of the world