Previous month:
June 2012
Next month:
August 2012

July 2012



(this is an old article about UBUNTU and U2’s
Vertigo Tour in 2005, that I have edited for Mandela Day in 2012...)

Africa was a central theme in U2’s Vertigo Tour of 2005. Bono’s
campaigning for Debt relief, trade justice and a response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic was again fired by his following of Jesus and met in his music full on during that tour. When it came to Where The Streets Have No Name there was the most amazing mass of colours dropping down the millions of multicoloured, Willie Williams designed, light bulbs that made up the band’s back drop. All the flags of Africa kept on descending in the most moving of light shows. During the razzle dazzle, Bono made his claim, “From the swamp lands of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro, from the bridge at Selma to the mouth of the Nile…AFRICA…AFRICA…AFRICA…the journey of equality moves on, moves on…AFRICA…from town centres to townships…sacred ground, proving ground…” The link between the Doctor of the deep south of America’s inequality to the Archbishop and President of Africa’s inequality is potent art.

As I watched the show in Vancouver, Canada I found myself in tears as the South African flag appeared on the screen. Then there was a moment of revelation as I came to believe that it was from that country that the entire thesis of Vertigo originated. Let me take you from Vancouver 2005 to Cape Town in their dry, sunny winter of 2004. I had seventy University students in Cape Town over a period of eight weeks. No matter where we went there was this word on everyone’s lips. A township discussion in Guguletu, a sermon in another township Masiphumelele and in the much plusher offices of the vice chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Alex Boraine’s in Claremont. We were the Northern Ireland Chaplaincy group looking for some answers as to how South Africa has progressed in the decade after democracy. Most important of all why had the oppressed 80+% not retaliated against their oppressor but woed much of their youth to ride down the Rainbow towards a rich eclectic nation of true promise? The answer to our question was one word – Ubuntu; a recurring mantra!

So we all got back to our Backpacker and compared notes. What did Ubuntu actually mean? Had we taken down any definitions? “I can
only be me through you.” “I am me through you” “A person is a person through other people.” “I cannot be fully human without you.”
We got the drift and
the truth was profoundly powerful. We had been among a people who believed in the importance of the other person, even their enemies, as being crucial for the authenticity of their complete humanity. Such a people will show unbelievable tolerance, forgiveness and grace to everyone. We were still longing for a more succinct definition though.

A few months later many of the same group of students were home from Cape Town and in the Queens University Chaplaincy in Belfast having a communal first listen to the new U2 album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. And there it is. Track 6 – All Because Of You I Am. Now there is a perfect definition of that Ubuntu thing. We are back to that song where Bono is declaring first and foremost his dependence on God. He speaks of being a child of grace. He declares his belief that God can make him perfect again. Yet, in the context of the Vertigo Tour a year later it became even more than that. I firmly believe that this then moved Bono out from his dependence on God to his dependence on those around him. It could be Ali his wife who without doubt has been a reason that Bono has become who he is. I believe though that it goes wider than that again into his new understanding and adoption of Ubuntu.

Bono told, Chicago Sun journalist, Cathleen Fulsani how Archbishop Desmond Tutu had introduced him to the idea of Ubuntu. Bono said, "Essentially, what it means is 'I am because we are.' And it's about the interdependence, how we need each other and we have a stake in each other. One part of the community can't thrive truly while the other part of the community is in the dirt. In tending to them, we will be better off ourselves. It's that simple. Ubuntu."

Ubuntu has its roots in Xhosa philosophy. Yet, it is profoundly a Biblical concept that challenges the individualistic selfishness of our modern western world. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.” On this Jesus told us all the laws of God are kept. This, every Jewish child learned by reciting the Shema, was his purpose in life. Without it the world falls apart and inequality will destroy our humanness. In fact Genesis chapter 3 explains to us that the world did fall apart without it. Humanity’s selfishness led to a world very much one in relationship with God, fellow human, animal kingdom and earth was thrown into disunity. The Bible’s Good News is the story of a God who through His Son’s life, death and resurrection restored the possibility of reconciliation in every relationship.  Bono recognized that only when the child dying on the Cape Town township is perceived as equal to the child living in plush wealthy Washington DC suburb will we make Poverty History.

So this Biblical idea of interdependence using Xhosa philosophy as a conduit is captured in the idea of Ubuntu. This was the secret of how Nelson Mandela reconciled his people with the violent criminals of
the cruel white oppressor in post apartheid South Africa. Co-existence was vital not only to the peace of the nation but to the very identity of his people. Archbishop Tutu made Ubuntu the springboard of his thinking and turned it into a theology that the world needs to hear, waken up to and start living. U2 have heard it and are spreading the word – “all Because of you I am.” Everyone! Everyone being one is crucial to the wholeness of our humanity. It is the redemption Jesus brought. It is the salvation hope for the world!


"Oh Lord let me die on the back of adventure/ With a brush and an eye full of light."

These lines from Patti Smith’s  10 minute Constantine’s Dream just about sum up the career of but certainly the latest album of the Queen of CBGB’s punk. Smith has been about adventure, the brush is a symbol of her wide art canvas (she’s see herself more a poet than a musician but author and photographer also play their part) and she’s been on that search that the best rock music is always interested in – light, truth and better world. You should miss the “Oh Lord” at the start of the line either. This album particularly is full of God and religious images. The song that this line comes from finds Smith on
pilgrimage to Assisi in the footsteps of St. Francis. There are sisters of
mercy and prayers and salvation mentions throughout the record, the album title is taken from the name of the dog that keeps Pilate company while he waits in eternity for Jesus’ forgiveness in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. She never seems to be totally reverent about Christianity but her deep seated Catholicism never allows her to be too irreverent either. She finds goodness where goodness can be found. This line reminded me why I was so
annoyed that Relevant Publishing were not keen that I did a chapter about  Smith in The Rock Cries Out. She was worth a spiritual exploration!

Banga is a revelation. It is actually Smith’s most accessible work. If there were still such things as singles and decent radio and pop charts then April Fool and This Is The Girl would be her biggest hits
since that Springsteen co-write Because The Night way back in 1978. They are beautiful and Smith’s voice is so sweet. Fear not she is back to banshee wail by the end of Constantine’s Dream but throughout her longstanding band are more measured though guitars cut when Smith’s performance needs. Smith herself is tender, sometimes like a mother, sometimes like a nun and other times like a lover. The images are poetic and scatter across your ears all kinds of couplets
on every listen. Raptures in mosaic skies, eternal sons and their mothers, faithful dogs and Amy Winehouse as a smouldering bird. Humanity’s escape from the environmental catastrophe is a recurring theme and though in places gloom and doom are winning like an Old Testament prophet she concludes with hope and grace, a children’s choir joining her in Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush!

For adventure, art, religious exploration and the future of humanity Banga is a wonderful contribution.


Mermaid Ave

“Let's have Christ for President.

Let us have him for our King.

Cast your vote for the carpenter

That you call the Nazarene.

The only way we can ever beat

These crooked politician men

Is to run the money changers out of the temple

And put the carpenter in

O it's Jesus Christ for President

God above our King

With a job and a pension for young and old

We will make hallelujah ring”

-    from Christ For President by Billy Bragg (Woody Guthrie)

Yet again Woody Guthrie borrows a theological truth
about Jesus to support his desire for a new Republic or Kingdom; Christ for President or King. This is the foundational thought of all that the Apostle Paul writes about in his New Testament epistles. This crucial Christian belief is that in his resurrection Jesus became Lord over all, renewing the original idea of humanity’s regency over the earth in the early chapters of Genesis. Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus succeeds and his Lordship allows his Body on earth, the Church to live the original plan of God. That plan was to subvert personal selfishness in order to selfishly serve and create shalom across the
cosmos. Where the lesson of the Eden teaching is that we are now at enmity with God, fellow humans, animals and the earth, Jesus is his life, death and resurrection gives us the potential to bring that shalom now. Where Jesus is Lord all relationships – friendship, marriage, social, political, economic – are put right and justice reigns in a new Kingdom of shalom. Without ever having read theologians Guthrie is right on the nail here. When Jesus is President the world is transformed into how it should have, can and ultimately will be; Hallelujah will ring!

WOODY GUTHRIE LYRIC FOR HIS 100th BIRTHDAY WEEKEND (Christ in His Grace) - from Jesus Christ by U2

  Vision Shared

“Well Jesus was a man

Who traveled through the land

A hard working man and brave

Well he said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor"

And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave

Well this song was written in New York City

Of rich man, preacher and slave

Well if Jesus was to preach what he preached in Galilee

They would lay Jesus Christ in his grave

Halle, hallelujah

Halle, hallelujah

Halle, hallelujah

Oh they laid Jesus Christ in his grave”

-     From Jesus Christ by U2 (Woody Guthrie)

It was an obvious choice when U2 were invited to take
part in the Guthrie Tribute Vision Shared that the would pick one about Jesus. It was in their serious period – 1988.

Woody Guthrie’s socialism didn’t cause him to lose his
vision of Jesus. Jesus was a fellow revolutionary and this is a wonderful exposition of the Gospels that was sadly being missed in many evangelical Protestant pulpits of Guthrie’s day. English vicar and author John Stott called the lack of social justice by evangelicals the great heresy of the Twentieth Century but here is a folk singer keeping Jesus Gospel alive. It is Good News to the poor and it causes the rich to crucify the rebel. Jesus radical life and preaching
had him nailed to the cross a good three years before it happened. Even his birth caused a generation of children to be wiped out by the death squads of power. More preachers like Woody Guthrie needed!  



Jesus Christ – U2

Deportees – Lies Damned Lies

Christ For President – Billy Bragg

Ain’t Got No Home – Lone Justice

Vigilante Man – Bruce Springsteen

This Land Is Your Land – The Waterboys

Pretty Boy Floyd – The Byrds

Ease My Revolutionary Mind – Tom Morello

The Grand Coulee Dam – Bob Dylan

Pastures Of Plenty – The Alarm

Against The Law – Billy Bragg

Blood Of The Lamb – Wilco

This Train Is Bound For Glory – Arlo Guthrie

Birds And Ships – Natalie Merchant

You Know The Night – Jackson Browne

Hobo’s Lullaby – Emmylou Harris

Do Ri Me – Uncle Tupelo

Airline To Heaven - Wilco



She is love at first sight

Stunning shape, pretty skin

Quaint and gentle accent

With friendly words within

She’s wooed me for forever

I’m addicted to kiss her

In the times we are parted

She’s the ache of I miss her

And I guess you know I love her

‘Cos I know there is no other

I’m addicted to kiss her

She’s the ache of I miss her.


She punched me in the summer

Gave my soul these two black eyes

She threw my heart onto the floor

And left my peacefulness to die

She pinned my will against the wall

So she could have her way

Broke the jaw of my freedom

Turned her back on what I had to say

But you know that I love her

‘Cos I know there is no other

I’m addicted to kiss her

She’s the ache of I miss her.



  Cockburn Pacing

This liturgical Reflection was written around Bruce Cockburn’s song Pacing The Cage:

“I never knew what you all wanted

So I gave you everything

All that I could pillage

All the spells that I could sing

It's as if the thing were written

In the constitution of the age

Sooner or later you'll wind up

Pacing the cage...”

And adding Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, in The Message, of Romans 12 v 2. To be stumbling after Jesus into an upside down alternative Kingdom is to be constantly reflecting and critiquing the constitution of the age. Here’s to less pacing... and less cages!

 Oh busy the days are

Rushing from one event to another

Our diaries full of appointments

Coffee breaks full of people

Our evening full of distractions

Running, taking short cuts

And missing the whole road

The distractions never stop

No one ever stops

The constitution of the age reads;

“No time to find time

As time just flies on and on.”


How loud and bright the days are

The radio wakens us with ideas and suggestions

Its ideas of fun and happiness

In the recipe of words and melodies

And rhythm and rhyme

The television fills all the loose moments

With philosophies of love and meaning

Acted out in half hour condensed packets of life

The constitution of the age screams

In the message of the medium

At the private altars of our rooms

Where the prophets speak

And we are unaware how much we are listening.


Money is the reason for the every breath we take

So that we can have what they say we need

For our lives to be fully human

We study to get a job

That will give will give us the money

To buy what will make us more human

More human than we are without the money to buy

We buy our dignity

We buy our identity

We buy our love and meaning

The constitution of the age says

“I shop so I am”

And I am more of am than they are

Because I can buy more.


I need to know an alternative

I need to stand in the face of the constitution

I need to rebel against the age

I need to dare to be different

Not conformed to the constitution of the age

Bringing me down to its level of immaturity and madness

But transformed by the renewing of our my mind

By God who leads me into life and life in all its fullness.



(Let me start this blog by asking you to read on in this blog even when you are at a point when you think that Stockman has become a tree hugging sentimentalist; there is substance at the end; I think!)

For fifteen years Janice and I have owned a house in
Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland. I hated Ballycastle as a kid, preferring the louder, brighter, busier main north coast town of Portrush. There was a lack of amusements in Ballycastle and I never understood my friend Sammy Mawhinney speaking of the spiritual refreshing of a walk across Ballycastle beach. For me back then beaches were for Beach Missions and running on and Portrush and Portstewart were great running beaches; substantial sand
and no stones! You grow up though and look for different things. I often think of Sammy in my deep souled times with God on what is now my favourite beach!

Ballycastle beach is framed with its lovely little town which lies snuggles round a hill, some of it sheltered below and a few houses
sitting on top of the cliff. In the other direction is the majestic jut and
strut of the Fair Head and Scotland beyond. Rathlin island runs long ways alongside the beach a few miles out from shore and on the other side is a golf course sitting high and climbing further up another headland. The green fairways roll down to the blue sea with that little golden strip of sand, yes and a few stones, in between. There are longer, wider, sandier beaches on this coast but none has the stimulation of this scenery. There are so many places for the sun to change the colours or the moon to dance across. On a summer
evening with a little blue sky and sunshine it is my favourite place on earth.

Tonight I had a moment where I actually genuinely felt that it was my Eden. As I took in what was happening around me I had a sense
that in a very ordinary evening walk something extraordinary and redemptive was going on around me. I looked across at Janice and knew that for her this is the best place of all too. Then Jasmine as she chattered and asked this and that and just delighted to be walking alongside her dad.  Then Odie, our dog, as Janice threw pebbles
and he raced to catch them. Then the waves racing up the beach and then retreating with the evening sun’s light making beautiful colours, off hues of blue and brown. I was one with it all. In love with life. It was an idyllic moment. I thank God that such moment are recurring.

(Now I told you to carry one when you got to this warm feely weely tree hugging stage, so stick with me.)

I had been reading Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet, a
new way to read the Bible. It had made a lot of sense and been long overdue in dismissing the systematic theology or the lonely verses out of context models  that I had grown up with. McKnight encourages us to read the Bible as story and that story is of a oneness broken in the first three chapters of Genesis, made one again in Christ with ultimate unity ahead of us at the culmination of the Kingdom coming in its entirety. We should read the Bible in that story. That oneness of Eden, God and humanity, man and
woman, humans and the animal kingdom and indeed the earth was an image I liked. The idea of Christ’s mission to be one of restoring that oneness gave me a deep desire, in my ministry in Fitzroy, to be about bringing that reconciliation of man and God, man and woman, human and the creation and human and human out of our localised conflict.  

So as I looked around me tonight, I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom’s oneness. Man and woman, one in marriage, with daughter and animal and earth. It was a moment when I realised that this was why I had gotten so much physical and spiritual refreshment on this beach last summer. Last summer I couldn’t understand how I’d felt so close to God and so refreshed by him without doing all the things that would reap such reward. Tonight’s walk and McKnight’s book gave me the answer. It is good to read the Bible’s vision for unity, good to have a theology of it, good to preach and hear sermons on it and good to pray for it but when you are living for just a moment in the tangible reality of that redemption Christ brought then that is a spiritual place so much more potent than words or ideas. Tonight therefore was in the truest sense of the word a God given, Christ earned blessing. More of them I say!


Real Peace Process

As what has been termed a theo-musicologist I was very excited to read Soibhán Garrigan’s book about how worship impacts on the peculiar sectarianism of Ireland, north and south. In the end I thoroughly enjoyed the read and it triggered all kinds of thoughts about Irish society in general and Church life in particular. However, I have many reservations. Throughout the book I got a sense that Siobhán had not visited enough Churches or even the right ones, if there were such places. It seems that she visited less than thirty Churches across the island. Considering that the Presbyterian
Church has over 500 Churches and she probably only visited maybe 5 of them it is hard to feel that we were getting accurate data. She writes about centre aisles as the norm in buildings and Fisherwick in Belfast is one of the few such lay outs I know in Presbyterianism. She speaks of crosses at the centre of them all and I think I might know one!

It is however in the music that I feel she has been left short in understanding. Her observation that Protestants are not singing
as heartily as Wesley would have liked is more dependent on size of
congregation and choice of material I would say, rather than loss of passion. The less passionate have generally fallen off attendance in the last few decades. Those still there are serious it is a rare Church with a good attendance that doesn’t sing with gusto! Garrigan also talks about “Faith Hill Presbyterians” and I, who have not only a pretty wide knowledge and experience of the denomination and the more modern worship scene, had to Google Faith Hill! It would seem to me that the south-east of England and not America has been the main influence on new worship. Also to talk about a lack of Irish
worship songs and miss the fact that artists like Robin Mark and Keith Getty are two of the most successful hymn writers across the world and both from N. Ireland is a glaring miss; never mind Brian Houston, Kathryn Scott, Blue Tree, The Rend Collective and Johnny Parks! Perhaps the latter four have failed to make a major dent in the mainstream Churches but Mark and Getty are staples in many Presbyterian Churches and the other five are a sign of a healthy local
hymn writing scene. What Ronan Johnston and Emmaus did in the Catholic side of things in the 90s would also have been worth exploring.

Elsewhere I was fascinated with her take on how The Famine and alcoholism has affected the way the Catholic Church in Ireland
celebrate the Eucharist . Fascinated but at times I found her theory a stretch. She suggests that Churches not “passing the peace” will never be peacemakers. In my three years in Fitzroy we have never “passed the peace” but we have a Pax Christi, Vatican Peace Prize, for services to reconciliation on display in the foyer! A long, and again interesting, diatribe about Traditional music failed to make solid conclusions for me on why it is not a more prominent part of the
Catholic worship diet, though I have experienced the McPeake Family in Clonard Monastery, albeit at a special Easter event.

So I would love a long chat with Soibhán Garrigan about her data and her stretched theories but I would also love to join her in the
premise of the book. I do think that we cannot ignore the fact that the liturgies in our Churches and the words, songs and Eucharists we use have played their part in the sectarianism rampant in our society. The ultimate question though is not how that has been effecting worship in the past but how can we mould and shape our worship to break down the walls and model reconciliation. The book made me want to bring all the hymn writers I know together for a summit on the issue. It also made me critique what we do in Fitzroy and again consider bringing our writers together and see what we might conjure.

Ultimately her final conclusion rang true for me. Soibhán is right on the nail in my opinion when she writes, “Contextualizing these discoveries from the outset in friendship rather than in visiting or being guests or extending hospitality to the stranger makes for a far more dynamic (and potentially more productive) experience because it implies an expectation of ongoing relationship.” Contriving things in Ireland has proved cold, short lived and impotent. Genuine friendships open doors to warmer, longer lasting and more
hopeful opportunities for shalom. That is why Fitzroy has that Pax Christi Prize; the friendship of Ken Newell and Gerry Reynolds opened doors for communities to befriend. Garrigan recognises that Fitzroy/Clonard model. Fitzroy/Clonard and the other relationships thankfully growing need to recognise Garrigan’s challenge and work out ways to answer her questions better than she has up to this point.

Lyric For The Day from Lord Of The Starfields by Bruce Cockburn

Cockburn prays

Lord of the starfields

Ancient of days

Universe maker

Here’s a song in your praise

Wings of the storm cloud

Beginning and end

You make my heart beat

Like a banner in the wind

Oh, love that fires the sun, keep me burning

-         From Lord of The Starfields – Bruce Cockburn


An amazing hymn by Canadian mystical poet, guitarist and poet Bruce Cockburn. It is a Psalmlike thing that evokes praise and then moves into that stunning prayer that I have prayed for thirty years – “Oh love that fires the sun, keep me burning.” Writing about the Light doesn’t get much better than this!