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June 2012

LYRIC FOR N. IRELAND DAY OF REFLECTION - from A Seed Was Sown by Luka Bloom

Luka New Morning Mary and Elizabeth

A seed was sown

With a simple bow

Where we remembered our heroes

She said the time has come now

She laid her wreath

With dignity and grace

An eloquent silence

And softness in her face

She lowered her head down

And held the pose

My tears flowed freely

God only knows

She remembered our losses

She remembered her own

And in that moment

A seed was sown…..

On his website Luka Bloom tells a very moving story about this song. It’s about Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland in May 2011 and he was saying howm like me, he had no interested and sensed no significance. Turning on the TV he was suddenly engaged and moved by one simple moment when two women, significant in position but rarely potent with power sowed a seed that could change our island forever. As the Queen of Britain  and the President of Ireland remember their dead together something happens. It is not dramatic but it is significant.
There is a healing through the remembering, not only for the two women personally but for a nation. A seed is sown…

A Lyric For N. Ireland's Day Of Reflection (21.6.12) from Take Me To The Place by Deacon Blue

Deacs Las Vegas

"Take me to the place where your heart hurts most

Lead me through the dark world gates down there

Where all the ghosts of sorrow and pain

And fear and despair stay hiding

And well walk right through to our own way, our own place"

- from Take Me To The Place by Deacon Blue

Donald and Emily Saliers wrote a fascinating book together called A Song To Sing, A Life To Live. The fascination is that both of this father and daughter duo are musicians, Don a Professor of Theology and Music and Emily one half of the popular rock duo The Indigo Girls; thus bringing Saturday night and Sunday morning together in their ponderings. Sharing their own personal loss of Emily’s younger sister they write, “Music was one of our primary ways of coming to terms with her death.” I believe that one of the conduits for God’s comfort is lament. The Bible is full of it - angry, frustrated, painful. Songs of lament do something deep in our souls. They can drill to the nerve centre of our pain, somehow empathise, soothe and mysteriously be companions as we journey through dark days. As a pastor I often give friends or parishioners a song or some music that will be a resource through their grief.

Deacon Blue’s song Take Me To The Place is the most perfect catharsis song I have ever heard. It was written in memory and dedicated to Italian Scottish photographer Oscar Mazaroli. Growing up in Church writer Ricky Ross has a real sensitivity for such scared
places and spaces and based the song on the hymn Abide With Me and the traditional melody “eventide.” It’s stunning poignancy in Ricky’s yearning breaking voice, Lorraine Macintosh’s angelic wail, the sorrowful stark piano, the words and the tune, opens doors to the soul and let’s out the raw ripped up heart pain and let’s in some healing holy balm and the daring and courageous almost
alien thought of hopefulness and grace.                                                                                               



I am surmising whether art or judicially defined history is the best way to tell a story that would bring a future of reconciliation. I am remembering District 6 in Cape Town. District 6 is a haunting, sacred space. We drove across it, this green gash in the middle of a modern city. It is a strange phenomenon with quite a story. We parked in various places looking for something, unsure what. Something that
might conjure ghosts. A slab where a house used to be. A Street grown over but the tarmac and white lines still there, underneath. At last, what was a road with steps leading to former buildings, levelled by humanity’s inhumanity to fellow humans. And as we stood, a man appeared from the block of flats behind us. He walked past down the hill and on to the old road that we were pondering.

After a good few yards he turned and asked, “Looking for District 6? There was a corner shop there. I would go there every day.” He stopped and started to reminisce. His father worked for the city and he moved to the flats when he was four, twenty seven years before. “I watched them tear it all down.” “What was the street called,” I asked. “Justice Walk.” You couldn’t write it. He went on his way.

The story is that the Apartheid Government declared District 6 a “whites only” area in 1966. Like its equivalent Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, District 6 had been a huge challenge to the Government, being a wonderfully harmonious mix of all
races, religions and colours. On the edge of the city centre, snuggled under Table Mountain, District 6 was an eclectic mix of culture and art that needed destroyed so that it didn’t disprove the bizarre theories of a separatist approach to nationhood. So the bulldozers came and levelled it. The financial cost itself was something we wondered at. The waste of buildings and infrastructure is obvious too. Yet it was the gouges in the walls of souls that was most horrific.

There is a District Six Museum that gives a near sacred space for reflection. It is in the building of an old Church and it is a place where your soul shakes you into connecting with the memories of other souls floating around the photographs, poems, art and artefacts. The story of streets and buildings at the mercy of unbelievable laws of government surround the walls. The first time I visited I
headed for the book shop to pick up The History Of District 6. There wasn’t one. There are poetry books, photographic books, biographies and even a fascinating programme to The Public Sculpture Project but nothing more concrete (did I really use that word). I was told there was a book of the walls’ information coming soon but there might, in this little alcove, be something valuable to learn from the use of art rather than science to tell this story.

We in Northern Ireland’s own eccentric divided society have an obsession for the tribunal, the inquest and the history book; we are focused on finding justice. South Africans seem more interested in healing and restoring souls. They poems, the plays and the prose seem to be seeking catharsis. There seems less need to project reconciliation onto the one to blame as finding a wholeness in the
individual that might aid wholeness in society. Maybe we in Northern Ireland need to give more time and emphasis to our poets, playwrights, novelists and artists than our lawyers. Maybe we need to spend more time in Art Galleries than in the law courts. Maybe?  

The District 6 Museum is an artistic space. There are the old street signs at one end – Windsor Street, Hanover Street… It seems one of the men who demolished it kept them in his garage. How did he know there would be a museum one day? There are poems and quotations on the walls. The two central pieces are on the floor and hanging from the ceiling. The floor has a map of the old District 6 drawn
out across it. When Noor Ebrahim one of the old residents, a founder of the Museum and a very warm and welcoming guide, speaks to you he asks you to draw in close and then he shows you where his house was. As you look down at his corner you can see other names where old residents have come to put their names, where they lived. Noor tells of an old lady in her nineties who got down on her knees, found her street, wrote her name and then burst into tears. It is a painful exorcism but it is an exorcism.

For Aung San Suu Kyi - LYRIC FOR THE DAY 19.6.12 from Walk On by U2

Bono and Suu Kyi

“You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been

A place that has to be believed to be seen

You could have flown away

A singing bird in an open cage

Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on

What you've got they can't deny it

Can't sell it, or buy it

Walk on, walk on

Stay safe tonight”

-        From Walk On by U2

(as the world is transformed before our eyes, as what seemed impossible has come to be, as Aung San Suu Kyi moves from long term house arrest to forming the new government in Myanmar... I remember this blog from a few year ago, when she came to Dublin...)

Aung San Suu Kyi in Dublin last night was almost an unbelievable scene. Let us stop for a moment, give thanks, and not take it for granted. It took me back to the moments we watched Mandela coming out of prison. This was a long hard campaign that the ordinary people of the world took on and here we see evidence again that the world can be changed. Rock music had had its role and though U2 were not the only band to play a part they played a big one in recent years to keep the world focused on this tiny but giant of a woman living in house arrest for the human rights of her people. As well as writing today's Lyric For The Day with her in mind U2 took Suu Kyi on their last U2360 Tour, giving masks of her face to the crowd and having people ealk across the stage with them on and her voice playing out pover the stadium.

Walk On, a song from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was dedicated to this amazing lady, Bono saying in a news conference yesterday that it was from her husbands perspective. The song, I believe, has a much bigger vision but a vision that includes Aung San Suu Kyi. It is of the Kingdom of God, “a place that has to be believed to be seen” where love is the only baggage we can bring and all our other efforts will be meaningless. The release and the campaign for which she was imprisoned is part of the Kingdom vision.

As we head towards the fulfilment of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, that Kingdom comes to meet us on our journey there. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and the work she is still dedicated to do is a sign of the Kingdom. It is a Kingdom now but still not yet. Aung San Suu Kyi in Dublin is a part of the Kingdom now. It should rally our hearts and souls and minds to walk on indeed to bringing more of the Kingdom now as we head into that which is not yet!  


Friendship Towards Peace

It is a lovely moment that I love to retell. A couple
of young Catholic boys are in Belfast for the weekend, to test out the city for coming up to University. By Sunday night these two boys had got themselves freaked by the drunken hedonism of it all. They decided on the way back to their digs to find a Church for a moments respite. With no Catholic Churches in the area they rang the side door bell of my Church, Fitzroy Presbyterian. Church was long over and only the Youth Group were left. Our Youth Director Chris answers the door and when he quickly diagnosis their plight he asks them to
take a seat. That evening the speakers at the Youth Event happened to include Fr. Gerry Reynolds who was speaking with my predecessor Rev Dr Ken Newell about their reconciliation work in the 80s and 90s and so before these Catholic boys could blink a Catholic Priest had come down a Presbyterian corridor to pray with them! You couldn’t make it up and I am convinced that it would took a lot of convincing back in South Armagh – “Honest Ma, I swear on the Holy Rosary, we
knocked the door of a Presbyterian Church and a priest fell out of a cupboard and prayed with us.” “Ach son, you told me you wouldn’t be drinkin’.”

For me this is real reconciliation work. This is mind changing stuff. It is not the contrived joint service or mutual understanding programme. It is a natural messing with the heads of our stereotypes and deeply engrained sectarianism. It is only out of deeply worn friendships, like Ken and Gerry’s, that such a sense of normality can begin to re-groove the relationships of a divided society. It is as Fr. Martin Magill becomes an everyday part of our evening events and as I spend more time up around St. Oliver Plunkett's in Lenadoon walking around with him, or with my friend Ed Peterson just off the Falls Road, that our country sees a different way to live; not a different way to contrive situations but a different way to live.



(This was a closing prayer I write for one of Fitzroy's Faith On Trial services where Mark Noll was the guest speaker... it attempted to include the thoughts of the evening... and is based around Dutch theologian Abrham Kuyper's thought from Calvinism that not one inch of the Universe is outside Jesus Lordship...) 

Lord, we have so often got stuck in the bawn,

Defending reductionist dogma

Instead of contributing

To the cutting edge of the contemporary issues of our day.

May we be a community of believers

That develops a vocational calling

Seeing every member as being in a vital missional place

In whatever they do in our city, society and world.

May we be a people who believe

That there is not one inch of our Universe

Over which Jesus doesn’t say, “This is Mine”

And may we be shaped and honed by the Holy Spirit

To be those who can restore, redeem and reform

Every inch of that Universe

Not to prove our greatness

But to make Jesus what he was, is and always will be

Lord of all!



Jesus graffiti

Kids sit on the street corners

Sipping bottles of cheapest wine

The taste of their transcendence

Is not the sacramental kind

There’s not time for ancient concepts

When you long for bread alone

And their only picture of mercy

Are faces in Victorian stone

Lord I don’t want to be a symphony

Or a choral in a marble hall

Don’t hang me in some gallery

Spray me graffiti on the subway wall.


Billy couldn’t come to Church

He had no righteous rags

Went to see God in prison

When he could bring his packet of fags

Ideas look good from a distance

But life is lived up close

You can end up swallowing elephants

When its candy floss you chew the most

Lord I don’t want to be a symphony

Or a choral in a marble hall

Don’t hang me in some gallery

Spray me graffiti on the subway wall



(wrote this in 1991 in Dublin... my mate Chris Fry wanted to play Born To Be Wild at a
Baptist Church coffee bar on a Sunday night and there were questions of whether
that would be allowed... I wrote this to introduce the song to sanctify it! As
I read it now it is bunged full of lessons of faith that I was learning, freed
from the Northern Irish legalism and growing spiritually in a place where the
real issue were the real issues! I used the title a few weeks back on Pentecost
Sunday when speaking about those born of the Spirit – John 3:8)

Mackerel sky is swimming

Off shore in Killiney Bay

The transcendence of the beauty

Won’t let my heart drift away

Between manmade darkness and manmade light

The Son of freedom shines

Laser beams of illumination

Pierce the cloudy grey confines

And through the chinks I’m finding me

Holy breeze blows away the chaff

Accepted, I at last accept myself

Allowingnmy soul to laugh

I’ve seen a new awakening

Through this pilgrimage of pain

From the birth of a new beginning

I’ve begun to grow up again

I’ve had feelings of doubt and doubted my feelings

Yet on the rock of truth I’ve built

Love, security and significance

Been relieved of a mountain of guilt

Freed from the demons of sectarianism

Freed from looking over my shoulder

Freed from icy stares of disapproval

Freed from hearts that are even colder

Freed to find the purity of me

That is there beneath the sin

Freed to find the heart of me

That’s being redeemed within

So my heart reaches out to touch

The heart reaching out to me

Born to be wild as the breeze that blows

Unpredictable and free.

Lyric For The Day 15.6.12 from Strong Hand by Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Strong Hand

“Oh it's a sad thing when one must leave the other

And fly up where the voice rings out with all the multitudes that gather

But for a short while down here no song ever sounded sweeter

And we believed, we believed

For it's a miracle how one soul finds another

Just one miracle is all it took my brother

And l will see them someday they'll walk again together

l believe, l believe, this l believe, l believe”

-       from Strong Hand by Emmylou Harris

Maybe my favourite love song. The most robust love song I know in the longevity of the love described and the acknowledgement of the miracle that love is for two people to find each other and fall in love. Every time I stand in front of a couple getting married I think of these words. Emmylou wrote this about Johnny and June Cash, after Johnny was left to live a short time without his soul mate. Their love was so powerful that it led Emmylou to think spiritual thoughts. It was a Christian witness in itself. This is a beautiful song with deep wells of spirituality.


MPJ Land Of The Living

I need to ask forgiveness. Just before I went on holidays last summer Matthew Perryman Jones Facebooked me to ask for clues to inspire his song writing. I was heading off and forgot to get back to him. You’ll all be glad to hear that in spite of my negligence Matthew found people, books, poetry and art to fuel his songs; Rumi, Federico Garcia Lorca and letters that Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother
Theo to name a few. Finding such esteemed influences is a huge risk as it heightens the need for quality work or Perryman Jones could have looked like a red faced fool. Of course this is not the case. MPJ is a quality songwriter as will be noted from his songs being placed in a range of television dramas. Land Of The Living is his strongest
collection of songs yet, combining that carefully layered rock sound, that at times might seem more comfortable to be under a band name, and that intelligent cinematic lyric writing.

Indeed these songs show even more ambition than ever both when layered thick as in the Sgt Pepper eastern drones on Stones From The Riverbed; or the more stripped back Lanois ambience which works most hauntingly on the hopeful mourning of The Angels Were Singing; and then there’s the rock guitar climactic fade on Cancíon da la Noche. Then there is that vocal from the voice that Bono has always coveted in its range, subtlety, grit, control and wanton abandon; I give you the spiritually intense and urgent titke track as my exhibit A!

The Angels Were Singing actually describes well the subtle heart of Jones’ content – “Thinking of Jesus by Lazarus side/A heavenly sadness/and shadows of light/His eyes saw the city/where all is made Right/And I heard that angels were singing that night. It is
breathtaking! I listen to this record over and over, picking up musical nuances, lyrical nuggets and spiritual insights with every play and I ask myself how can John Mayer be on the cover of Rolling Stone and this man relatively unknown. It’s what he sings about – beauty in an unjust world!