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April 2012


The Titanic

After the intensity of all of our Titanic commemorations I am still mulling over the vast array of stories that I took, and continue to take, in. One of the things that has lingered with me has been the Titanic’s lesson of pointing out the error of Northern Ireland’s too simplistic caricature of our green/orange divide.

A Catholic priest friend had been sharing with me how difficult it was for him to excite his parish to attend a City wide commemoration in St. Anne’s Cathedral. The sense was that this ship was built by Protestants in Protestant East Belfast so why would Catholics from West Belfast be interested. This came out again a couple of days later on local TV news when someone from West Belfast was campaigning to have a street named in commemoration of a bomb that went off there in the Troubles. His argument was that this was to West Belfast what the Titanic was to “the other side.” The Caricature is simple. Titanic is a Protestant story.

I would argue that our divisions are much messier and blurred and indeed less divided! Fair play to the Irish Independent newspaper for highlighting the messiness of this particular caricature with a wonderfully produced Titanic supplement last weekend. The Irish Independent’s magazine concentrated on the Irish who were lost or who survived the disaster. What this did was make me realise that though the Triumph of the building of the Titanic was mainly an Ulster “Protestant” thing, the Tragedy of the Titanic was mainly an Irish “Catholic” thing. As I trailed through statistics trying to find Belfast people caught up in the ship’s sinking I came up with very few names; not many more than the nine from Harland and Wolff all there on business. The island of Ireland’s Titanic, story after it left Thompson Dock to sail to Southampton, is a different story altogether. It is a century’s old Irish story; immigration. When the Titanic docked at Cobh, County Cork to take on passengers, on April 11, 1912, 113 Irish people boarded the ship, most seeking a new life in America. Of those 73 perished.

As Ulster Catholics dismiss the Titanic as a Protestant story on the north east edge of the island, the Irish President is commemorating the Irish loss on Titanic in the south west edge of the island. One of the issues that everyone on the island of Ireland needs to come to terms with is the messiness of our history. It is not as easily divided as the caricature would like to prejudice. The Pope celebrated King Billy’s victory at the Boyne, Presbyterians were vibrant contributors to the United Irishmen, Presbyterians kept the Irish language alive when it was in danger of dying and the All Ireland Gaelic Football Cup is named after a Protestant! Like the Titanic story, most of the stories of the last 800 years are not divided neatly into the stories of one side or the other. Most of Ireland’s history is “our” story. It is messier and more mongrel-like than the thoroughbreds of sectarianism would want us to believe.  It is a riddled with injustice, violence and deep pain. It is a history that needs contributions of repentance and forgiveness. Most of all we need to peek out over our caricatured history to gain a truer, more honest perspective.  

Lyric For The Day 19.4.12 - from Hope by Emeli Sande


"I hope that the world stops raining

Stops turning it's back on the young

See nobody here is blameless

I hope that we can fix all that we've done

I really hope Martin can see this

I hope that we still have a dream

I'm hoping that change isn't hopeless

I'm hoping to start it with me"

-      From Hope by Emeli Sande


There are a few Emeli Sande lyrics catching my attention just now. She is beginning to have the radio waves omnipresence of Adele with added Lyric For The Day value. Something spiritual seems to be going down and I love this. Yes, I was drawn because I am preaching on Hope this Sunday and here’s the hopes and dreams of MLK back on the radio. That she wants the hope and change to start with her is the crux. “Be the change you want to see” is how Ghandi put it. Now that is a hope!


Titanic MG

Over the past ten days I have become mildly obsessed with Titanic. The 1912 sinking of the unsinkable ship, built across the city of Belfast where I am now typing, seems jam packed full of life and love and drama and tragedy. There are social, emotional, cultural, economic, technological and political intrigues all crammed onto one big floating box and then there are those three hours, from hitting an iceberg to being totally sunk, where these stories intensify into an unbelievable drama. Then floating away from the wreck we follow mysterious tales of heroism, survival, self sacrifice and cowardice. It is little wonder it is still so attention grabbing a century on.

Over 1500 people lost their lives on the Titanic. Reflecting on events of such communal loss, I would suggest that the 9/11 Twin Towers is our generations version, strangely throws up from within the huge loss of life a vibrancy of living that seeps into the soul. As I pondered on Titanic I was drawn to a personal experience I had in the Memorial Garden for the Lockerbie Disaster, when on December 21, 1987 a Pan Am jet heading to the same destination as Titanic, New York, was blown up in the air over the southern part of Scotland; 259 people were killed on the plane and 11 more on the ground. In June 1990 I spent an hour in subdued silence in that Memorial Garden to those killed. It was a sad and soul searching moment. Peering into the reality of death, and the understanding that I too would be eventually a name on a memorial stone of some sort, I was forced to ask myself what my life was going to mean.

As I concluded my Titanic evening in Fitzroy I, perhaps a little lazily but I hope poignantly, asked those gathered who they wanted to be as they looked into the story of the Titanic. I drew three options and that is where it gets lazy. Ten days ago I had never heard of these people and though there are some in this epic story who I now feel I almost know, I don’t. I am making quick judgements that might be mythological. J Bruce Ismay was the Chairman of the White Star Line that owned the Titanic. Somehow he found himself in a life boat and survived. The rest of his life was spent as a recluse in Connemara, west Ireland  vilified as a coward who saved his own skin while watching 1500 men, women and children drown on his ship. Benjamin Guggenheim whose surname lets us know the dynasty he was part of, Museums take his family’s name, decided he would not steal a lifeboat place from a woman or child. He would go down with the ship. This decision has been told by some as a story of heroism. However, Guggenheim and his secretary dressed in their finest suits and sat in their posh First Class chairs smoking the finest cigars and sipping the most expensive brandy. It is a way to go but it kind of ignores the pain and confused torment going on in those around you. It is selfish self sacrifice to sound contradictory; passive heroism as opposed to active. Wallace Hartley on the other hand, the band leader who had gone off duty and retired for the night, called his band together and knowing his fate and his fellow musicians’ fates decided to make a contribution to others. So the band played, something that bands on such ships would at times of heightened activity do to calm the situation. It seems from most accounts and myths coming from the sinking ship that this band or at least Wallace Hartley played until it was time to jump. That three of the musicians’ bodies were found together suggests that the story has much truth. As the doom darkened the hymn Nearer My God To Thee well known to Hartley from his Independent Methodist Chapel was what most people heard and maybe even sang along with. This was Hartley’s vocation and thus the contribution he could make; poignant, powerful and prophetic. Which of these three would we like to be with the rest of our lives, I asked my congregation?

Rosie Thomas Live At Calvin College, Grand Rapids MI; March 27, 2012

Rosie Thomas

Rosie Thomas is a quirk. A beautiful quirk... but a quirk. This is the first time I have watched her do her stand up comedy character Sheila Saputo and Sheila is a quirk! When Rosie eventually emerges as Rosie, the singer, Sheila never seems too far from the surface. That eccentric high voice and over exuberant between songs enthusiasm reminds you of the earlier stand up and when Rosie sits down and sings in that “normal” beautiful way, you actually wonder does Rosie Thomas sing in order that she could feel normal for three minute bursts of deep therapy?

She has other reasons to sing. Dressed in a bright red smock-like dress with a big heart on the side and similarly coloured tights underneath Thomas, at one stage, leaves her guitar down and moves to the piano. She then sits on the piano stool sideways looking out at the audience. With legs dangling like an eleven year old child Thomas tells the story of herself at that very age, when she would ask her father as they travelled in the car whether the people in the cars alongside them were happy. Her dad tried to chill Rosie’s compassionate concern but shortly afterwards she woke him in the night to tell him that she had come up with her way to love everyone when she grew up. She would sing songs and send them out to everyone! We were, tonight, on the end of this eleven year old vocational eureka! To the point of almost over the top Thomas told this student crowd that they were loved and special as they were. As a former University Chaplain I could not agree more!

But what about the music. Well Rosie Thomas is simply a wonderful songwriter and her insights into her reason for singing makes even more sense of her art. Her songs seem to be little love letters sent out to her audiences with stories of life’s hardships and struggles, all covered up in love and left as companions for the journeys up mountains and through the rain clouds that Rosie makes reference to in her zany patter. Those songs are from zany. They are simply gorgeous little three minute snippets of life and love. What words! What melody! What depth of soul! There is a world weariness in the loveliness of Thomas’s performances but never an absence of hope. Every moment of life from leaving home to exploring New York City to falling in love are emotions to share in an attempt to find empathy with the people travelling in the cars alongside her. The new album With Love says it all and the songs from it like 2 Birds, In Time and Sometimes Love and, particularly in front of tonight's college audience Wildflowers, with its finding the right place inthe world, tell us that Thomas is getting better and better in her craft and in her reaching her audience with love!


  Empty Tomb


Empty now the tomb.
Empty the sting of death.
Empty the devil's evil stare.
Empty his sickly sweet venomous breath.
Empty the serpent's lying whisper.
Empty hell's expectant womb.
Empty the grave where your love ones lie.
Empty now the tomb.

Empty now the tomb

Empty the guilt of sin

Empty the lingering shame

Empty the webs we’re caught up in

Empty now the vice grip of addiction

Empty the habits well groomed

Empty whatever’s been stopping you

Empty now the tomb.


Judas, Judas

What were you thinking

You had another agenda

You had a better plan

Brute force to power to reign in might

To make all the Gentiles pay

And the Pharisee betrayers and deniers as well

Yes, all you were doing

Was pushing the envelope

Nudging the inevitable

Speeding up the Messiah’s path to that sacred throne of David.

So Judas

What were you thinking

Were you frustrated at Jesus approach

Did you run of patience with loving your enemy

Had you gotten fed up with humility and donkeys

Did you feel led on or even betrayed.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from outside my door

A society kissing God goodbye

As we write our agendas of more and more

Of building bigger barns to horde treasure on earth

At any cost whatever to whoever

They all have the same opportunity as us do they not?

A people kissing God goodbye

As they fight for a land for themselves

That they don’t want to share with others

Because others are different

And others might impinge on our traditions and our comfort

A culture kissing God goodbye

As they free themselves from any superstitions

Or old fashioned ideas of morals or values

Or boundaries by which to live by

Because we as humans have a better, smarter more evolved agenda

That will keep us all free to fight for our human right.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from inside myself

When I get frustrated

That my prayers don’t get answered now

That my friends don’t find Jesus now

That  nobody seems to notice my contribution

Or nobody asks me to make one

Or people criticise the contributions I make

That the minister doesn’t share my vision

That the leaders don’t rush it along

That the worship leaders don’t play my songs

That the services are too old fashioned

Or too contemporary

That Lord you don’t seem to be living out my agenda.


Lord, Lord

Forgive us when we betray you

When we step out of intimate fellowship

Into the dark and the shadows

When we think we need to make it happen

On our terms and in our time

Forgive us when we seem to know better than you

And when we need to jump start you into action

With our betraying kiss.


Lord, Lord

Help us to see the Judas in us all

Help us to find our ways through the shadows and darkness

Do something that the light of your glory might shine upon us

And that we could find our way back onto your agenda once again.


Discomfortable Friday

(Calling Holy Week Friday "Good" comes with some distance of hindsight. As I take my congregation through that day, this evening, I want to give a different feel. This is what I cam up with.)

Discomfortable Friday

Discordant, distorted

Everything is broken and sore


Miserable Friday

Misplaced, miscarried

Everything in mourning and sorrow


Heinous Friday

Hellish and helpless

Everything hopeless and forlorn


Callous Friday

Confused and contorted

Everything abandoned and blown.


Demonic Friday

Deathly and dismal

Everything in shadows and dark.

Lyric For The Day 5.4.12 from Judas by Lady Gaga


“I wanna love you,
But something’s pulling me away from you
Jesus is my virtue,
Judas is the demon I cling to
I cling to”

-      From Judas by Lady Gaga

On this Maundy Thursday the whole thing takes a twist as Judas, loved in the washing of his feet and shown the full extent of Jesus love in the Last Supper sneaks away to do his worst. The entry to Jerusalem will seem a long way off over these next 36 hours or so. Judas will set Jesus death on motion with a kiss.

The betrayer. Why? Did Judas have his own agenda for Jesus? Did it not fit in with the way that Jesus was moving? Was he trying to call Jesus bluff and stir him into a different way? Jesus was his virtue but was the demon he clung to that of his own selfish Kingdom moulded in his own imagining.

Lady Gaga has said about this song:

“Someone once said to me, 'If you have no shadows then you're not standing in the light.' So the song is about washing the feet of both good and evil and understanding and forgiving the demons from your past in order to move into the greatness of your future.”

“I sing about what a holy fool I am, and that although moments in my life are so cruel and relationships can be so cruel I’m still in love with Judas. I still go back again to those evil things,"

"I keep going back and forth between the darkness and the light in order to understand who I am.”

And what about me? What is my agenda that I want to manipulate Jesus into fulfilling; a political one; an economic one, a theological one? Do I still cling to my thoughts and ambitions instead of the revolutionary upside down ones of Jesus that has us picking up crosses and not crowns?

Lyric For The Day 4.4.12 from Pierce Pettis



“Pride and hatred cannot stand
That kind of love
Greater love hath no man
Than that kind of love
Won’t be kept unto itself
Spreads it’s charm, casts it’s spell
No one’s safe this side of hell
From that kind of love.”

This is Pierce Pettis's That Kind Of Love a wonderfully poetic description of God's love. Tonight in a Holy Week informal communion I will use this and then read Isaiah 53 and Romans 5 before playing out Pierce's You Did That For Me, going into communion... Sorry Pierce I flipped the order from the record. Pierce has a beautiful way with mixing poetry, theology and melody. On Easter week it rarely gets better. 

“Man of sorrow
Well-acquainted with grief
Dragged to the city dump
Spread-eagle on a cross beam
Propped up like a scarecrow,
Nailed like a thief
There for all the world to see”

NAILED (Covered In Blood)

The bomb debris across a market town
Alabama trees with their strange fruit
Auschwitz poignant sad sacred ground
Covered in blood
Apartheid’s ignorant and arrogant oppression
Suicide bombers in the New York skies
And vengeful acts of cold naked aggression
Covered in blood
All the explorer ships that sailed
To steal the lands the natives ploughed
Everything – nailed.

Covered in blood
Every fist that punched his wife
Every holy man that touched a child
Every circumstance that denied a life
Covered in blood
Every exploitative capitalist gain
Every dealer who preyed on the innocent
Every doctor who could have prevented pain
Covered in blood
Every murderer who is rightfully jailed
Every angry thought without a gun
Everything – nailed!

Covered in blood
The flowery words I use to deceive
The serial sinner inside my soul
And the days when I refuse to believe
Covered in blood
When my faith stands up too proud
My every selfish twisting of truth
When my insecurities scream out too loud
Covered in blood
All those times my determination failed
And failure to take a chance to fail
Everything – nailed!

Ballycastle – Good Friday, April 18, 2003