Previous month:
July 2012
Next month:
September 2012

August 2012


(wrote this for a N. Ireland publication. Hope it translates...)

Read Galatians 3:26-4:7

Apparently when the Queen was just a young Princess she
was lost on the edges of Balmoral castle. Without the tabloid press and perpetual television the old lady who found her asked her who she was. “Oh I’m a nobody” said the Princess, “but my father is the King.” Knowing our true identity is absolutely crucial to whether we get lost or stay found.

In the new era of the Christian Church there were many things shaking the confidence of the first generation of Jesus followers. In
Galatia the fledgling Jesus Community were wavering from the grace their new lives had set out on and were giving into pressures that were leading them to trust in works and rituals. In today’s passage Paul is strengthening confidence by forming identity. It is in knowing who we are that gives us our inner strength. Like this gaggle of Galatians we were born into an identity. For them Jew or Greek, slave or free. For us Irish, or British or Northern Irish, Unionist or Nationalist; all depending on the street or village our mother gave
birth. Like those Galatians we were born again into a whole new identity. The space and time event of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection has changed everything about the identity of those who believe and follow. Our identity now transcends the labels of the society around us. Who we are is now rooted in the Jesus story and in the life of the Abba, Father above us.


Sermonettes For Lovers In A Dangerous Time with Bruce Cockburn

Cockburn Greenbelt

Last night Bruce Cockburn stood in almost the same spot that I preach sermons from on a Sunday and in a couple of hours of music threw out more spiritual gems of wisdom than I could dream of preaching in ten years. Perhaps it was this most personal of  settings
but insight after insight bombarded my soul and I tried to take it all in. Here are some of the sermonettes for lovers in dangerous time: -

“I've seen the flame of hope among the hopeless

And that was truly the biggest heartbreak of all

That was the straw that broke me open

If this were the last night of the world

What would I do?

What would I do that was different

Unless it was champagne with you?”

      (Last Night Of The World)


“It's like a big fist breaking down my door

I never felt such a love before

Maybe to those who love it's given to hear

Music too high for the human ear

And clear as hydrogen to go singing”



“These fragile bodies of touch and taste

This vibrant skin -- this hair like lace

Spirits open to the thrust of grace

Never a breath you can afford to waste

When you're lovers in a dangerous time

Lovers in a dangerous time


When you're lovers in a dangerous time

Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime --

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --

Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight”



“Trouble with the nations, trouble with relations

Where you going to go to find illumination?

Too much to carry, too much to let go

Time goes fast - learning goes slow

But I've got this thing in my heart

I must give you today

It only lives when you

Give it away”



“You've been leading me

Beside strange waters

Streams of beautiful lights in the night

But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?

If I loose my grip, will I take flight?”



“Through thinning ozone,

Waves fall on wrinkled earth -

Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,

Speak of a drowning -

But this, this is something other.

Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world

Where wild things have to go

To disappear Forever

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?

Anybody hear the forest fall?”



“I believe it's a sin to try and make things last forever

Everything that exists in time runs out of time someday

Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered

Take your place with grace and then be on your way”



“Sometimes the best map will not guide you

You can't see what's round the bend

Sometimes the road leads through dark places

Sometimes the darkness is your friend

Today these eyes scan bleached-out land

For the coming of the outbound stage

Pacing the cage

Pacing the cage”



“Each one lost

is everyone's loss you see

each one lost is a vital part of you and me”



“Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay

One of these days we're going to sail away,

going to sail into eternity

some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I'm wondering where the lions are...

I'm wondering where the lions are...”



“With pain the world paves us over

Lord let us not betray

God bless the children with visions of the Day!



“Terrible deeds done in the name

of tunnel vision and fear of change

surely are expressions of

a soul that's turned its back on love

All the sirens all the tongues

The song of air in every lung

Heaven's perfect alchemy

put me with you and you with me

Come on -- put that in your heart

Come on, put it in your heart”



“I ran aground in a harbour town

Lost the taste for being free

Thank God He sent some gull-chased ship

To carry me to sea

Two thousand years and half a world away

Dying trees still grow greener when you pray”



“Don't tell me there is no mystery



And don't tell me there is no mystery

It overflows my cup


So all you stumblers who believe love rules

Believe love rules

Believe love rules

Come all you stumblers who believe love rules

Stand up and let it shine

Stand up and let it shine”



Life Is People

Bill Fay is a story. Life is People is a gem of a record that comes out of nowhere and makes an impression beyond great songs and great playing. About 10 years ago I conjured the idea of a novel. A rock star releases two great records in the late sixties and then leaves the scene. Why? Would an ordinary job be more fulfilling than wealth and celebrity? I wanted to work out those questions in this story. Bill Fay might be that story but he isn’t fiction. There is another story that has just been made into a movie that reflects it too. Searching For Sugar Man tells the story of Rodriguez who gave up music
and while living an ordinary life discovered he’d become huge in South Africa.

But this review is about Bill Fay. Two records in 1970 and 1971 was the last time that Fay had been in a  studio though old recordings and home demos have been released since. In the meantime Fay is writing and playing every day but working as a gardener with no intention of going into a studio ever again.  On the other side of the world in backwoods America a young man called Joshua Henry plays his dad’s vinyl copies of Fay’s records and when he becomes a producer thinks he’d like to chase Fay up and produce him. After a bit of coercion he has done just that with the help of Matt Deighton and Wilco main man Jeff Tweedy who has covered one of Fay’s songs.

The results are amazing. Life is People is a beautiful record. It is a gracious and gentle charm much like the personality that Fay
exudes. Fay's sleeve notes are a powerful contribution to the package. They speak of a humble man who wants the profits for the record to go to charity and who seems an antithesis of the egotistical rock star giving credit to those who have helped him get around to making this record. From this very ordinary soul we are gifted with songs about the weariness of the messed up world and prayers
to help us through.  As a companion for the journey through the world this is a gentle arm around the shoulder and a wise mature elder of the tribe sharing charming wisdom. It soothes but
fortifies for the battles. I have no idea of what Fay’s theological position is but he certainly gives thanks to God and Jesus. The opening There Is A Valley takes us to Christ’s crucifixion which Fay mentions again in Thank You Lord a lovely prayer that and again shows the selflessness of Fay as he prays more for his loved ones than himself. The World finds Jeff Tweedy guesting and seemingly reading Fay’s biog in his lines, “Too many years in factories/Scrubbing floors and walls,” in a mantra that has an awareness of the temptations and snares of this earthly life
that seems to be trying to break us. In this song however and almost the recurring thread in all Fay’s work is the seeking a transcendent release from such weariness  and our need for something to set us free and another day to look forward to. Apocalyptic (in every meaning of that word!) prayers is as good away to describe Fay’s work and this links this collection of songs across the four decades to Time Of The Last Persecution from 1971.

I am still not sure after ten years of surmising whether
my fictional rock star will make a another album but if he does then Life Is People is a perfect template; brilliantly conceived and executed songs that are not just good but good for something.

INJURED... ON THAT DAY - book review


A gracious invitation to take part in a Reflective Service by Northern Ireland’s Victims and Survivors Trust (VAST) led me into a world that has opened up many emotions and thoughts. It was moving to spend time with those who had lost loved ones and hear their stories. I came home and checked up Lost Lives, that amazing catalogue of everyone killed as part of our Troubles. Yet, sadly, I expected that and therefore that wasn’t what caught my attention or most challenged me. Meeting Paul Gallagher, Chairman of VAST, who invited my friend Fr Martin Magill and I to do the Reflection, alerted me to the tragic legacy of our Troubles that we have hidden away; the injured! To sit with Paul in his wheelchair and the home he was shot in, that has had to be altered to cope with the extent of his injuries, then hear about his brother giving up work to look after him. This is the debris of the bombs and bullets that can’t be cleared up the morning after and long forgotten. This has long term implications for individuals and families. My question was what are the
implications for communities and, for me particularly, the Church?

As I was leaving his home Paul reached me Injured... On That Day, a book that catalogues the stories of the injured as they talk through the day their lives changed forever. It is not a literary work. It is simply the raw truth of lives where a wind came out of nowhere and knocked them off their feet; sometimes quite literally! These stories grabbed me by the throat and threatened me to respond. Each of them led me to touch the painful broken heart of God, forced me to feel the righteous anger of God and had God asking me what I was going to do to make sure that the injured are given the voice they deserve and that no one ever thinks this kind of carnage is a useful contribution to any society, country or political cause!

In recent days through various campaigns we have made drink driving a social no no. We need a campaign to saturate our youth with the horror, futility and flesh and blood cost of our violent Northern Irish society. Every person who is vulnerable to the evil romantic notion of violence needs to read about those who were beaten up, shot in the head or had the dashboard of their car blow up in their face. We all need to hear about the physical injuries but also need to become acutely aware of the mental scars, the marriages broken up, the vocations lost and the families living in the shadow of horrific events. I would urge our First and Deputy Ministers to put this book in the hands of every house in our country. If a millionaire is reading this blog then fund it! Who runs the sod that keeps our feet wet and what flag flies over it is not worth this legacy of suffering. Let us tell our children and young people these stories that might prevent them going down an uncivilized road.    


Blue Like Jazz movie

This is a piece of  late Saturday night news. If planes land in time and all goes well Steve Taylor will be joining us in the morning to discuss the movie Blue Like Jazz that is based on Donald Miller's book of that name. Steve has been a hero of mine since he released I Want To Be A Clone way back int he early 80s. He made a few seminal and subversive albums in the CCM industry before forming Chagall Guevara who had a great Rolling Stone review before record company hassles ruined their momentum. Taylor's belief that Christians should be working outside the getto led to him forming Squint Entertainment which gave the world Sixpence None The Richer among other quality acts. He has more recently moved into film and has directed Blue Like Jazz, a movie based on the Donald Miller book of the same name that has been very influencial in Christian circles for almost a decade.

Blue Like Jazz is being shown in the QFT at Queens University tomorrow afternoon at 3.30 where Taylor will take questions from the audience. £8 in. They have already had to get the bigger room because of demand.


Fitz logo

It will good to be back in the saddle in Fitzroy in the morning and as usual we have a creative and spiritually nurturing and inspiring
service put together... I will be reviewing the Olympics and looking at the link between the Scriptures and The Games in the Greek influence on both... then through stories like Laura Trott, Jade Jones, Katherine Grainger, Mo Farrah and Kate Taylor we will see where Paul’s illustrations of athletes meet those stories... worship has been carefully crafted by Pete Greer and will include a Bruce Cockburn hymn (don't forget he's playing Fitzroy on Wed night!)... and visual art... there will also be a prayerful meditation to a song on Bill Fay’s new record too.

In the evening the intelligent, well read and articulate John Trinder will look into the Creation Fall story and seek some understanding as to how we look at these in our thoughts and living. Dave Thompson will wrap this thought provoking evening in two Bob Dylan songs –
Dignity and Change My Way Of Thinking. Tasty and healthy soul food!

JUMP - a surmise on committment...



Lord show us the sin of unfulfilled potential

Show us that sin is not always just doing bad things

It is the omission of doing good things

That sin is not always just the things that lead to death

But also the things that stop us having life

Forgive us when we do not imagine

When we fail to dream

When we avoid the risk.

Today Lord You are watching us standing on the ledge

We are safe, though almost afraid of the height

We are gazing into the deep, fresh water of our future

We can easily be excited at the potential

The possibilities are endless

The glimpsing of what blinds the saints

The inklings of forever

The rumours of glory

The first tastes of heaven

Our lives turned upside down

Swept away from our cosy little securities

Into a sea full of vulnerable danger

But total abandonment to You

You are inviting us to jump

To let go

To dive in

To feel the exhilaration

To be thrilled by the fear

Not the fear of dying

But the thrill of living

And then to know we are alive

Alive as we can only be in a sea of faith

In an ocean of trust

In the waters of the constantly born again

The old being washed away

The new making us swimmers in the whirlpool of the late twentieth century

Lord we are standing on the ledge

You are inviting us to jump

Remind us of the sin of the unfulfilled potential

And reveal to us the dreams and visions

Of how our lives can be

If we jump.

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 22.8.12 from There Is A Valley by Bill Fay

Life Is People

“There is a hill near Jerusalem

That wild flowers grow upon

Flowers don’t speak but they speak to each other

Of a crucifixion

Just because he said he was

The Son of God

And the fury of that moment they felt

But they could only silently look upon


Every city brawl, every fist fight

Every bullet from a gun

Is written upon the palms of the Holy One.”

-         from There Is A Valley by Bill Fay


I love the poetry and theology of this opening track on Bill Fay’s first studio record in forty years, Life Is People. Fay conjures the ordinariness of this hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem and then gently adds the extraordinary scope of the events that took place that first day that we sometimes confusingly call Good Friday. Three years before Christ was crucified, John The Baptist saw Jesus of Nazareth walking across the wilderness towards the river Jordan he uttered those iconic and far reaching words, “Look, the Lamb Of God who
takes away the sin of the world.” Lambs were ingrained in the Jewish psyche with the story of the Passover being so central to their liberation and the sacrificial lamb in the Temple worship being so important for the forgiveness of sins. It is so good that Bill Fay was never labelled as a Christian musician or got lost down some Christian music industry ghetto because what he is describing here is not the most important event in the history of the Church but the most far
reaching event in the history of the world.

Lyric For The Day 21.8.12 from Jesus Etc by Wilco ( and Bill Fay)

Wilco Hotel Foxtrot Life Is People

“our love

our love

our love is all we have

our love

our love is all of God's money

everyone is a burning sun”

-        from Jesus Etc by Wilco (as covered by Bill Fay)

These seemingly simple lyrics of Jeff Tweedy’s throw out a revolution underneath. Bill Fay covers the song on his new record Life Is People, an amazing record that Tweedy guests on (review coming very soon!). In the context of Fay’s spiritual prayers and proverbs these lines rose three dimensional from the lyric sheet. Fay’s strength is in how he wades through the quagmire of the world’s sludge and finds hope and redemption as he travels towards another day living other ways.

That our love is God’s money is a fabulous image. As the world speaks of national wealth by that which we accumulate usually by
seeing profit lines as more important than people, Fay in his art and life is about something so much more wealthy; Life is People! How is the national wealth in God’s money is a great question as we head into our day, as we reflect on the decisions and actions on a day that’s been. A national rich in God’s money of love will be a wealthy people...


Lion's Head

How Do You Do That?

Cable Car dare devil dangles

A speck in Table Mountain’s shadow

I’m caught in the mystery of the sun going down

And the light thrown by the afterglow

So I hover in the gaze of eternity

Suspended in the depth of the mystery

Bombarded by the bright of belovedness

The ridiculous grace that God has given me


How do you do that

With the same time of night

Turn the day’s benediction

Into pretty pastel pixels of light

How do you do that

In the very same cloth of skies

Tie die all these colourscapes

With swathes and swirls and surprise.


Bruce Cockburn fretboard dancing

Says he’s doing it in the dragon’s jaw

The Lions Head stands like an altar

Surrounded by the majesty that Moses saw

Moon minted in the blue of evening

Orange blast of days dying embers

In our time but way beyond us

A beauty that can never be remembered


How do you do that

With the same time of night

Turn the day’s benediction

Into pretty pastel pixels of light

How do you do that

In the very same cloth of skies

Tie die all these colourscapes

With swathes, swirls and surprise.