Previous month:
September 2012
Next month:
November 2012

October 2012


4 Way Stop

Let me transport you to the roads of Vancouver in Canada. As another impatient Canadian driver honks his horn, and makes to shout obscenities through windscreens, I want to stop him and tell him how much I am looking forward to treating him as he is treating me when he is trying to find his way around Belfast! The roundabout at The Royal in rush hour will sort you out pal!


The psychological and social implications of cars are frightening. There we are in this little confined space with our entire worldview defined by what we are thinking and where we are going. How dare he turn left here and slow me down. Does she not know I am late? Are they not aware that I am trying to decipher a foreign city’s road signs on the wrong side of the road with two young children
screaming in my ear!?


In our cars, we are Kings and Queens. We rule the world and everyone should do as we need them to do. There is no understanding of the crisis going on in the cars around us. There are no rights for those drivers. They need to serve my needs of getting to where I want to go. Anything short of that leads to finger gestures, bad language and road rage violence!


Transporting you back to our little piece of Ireland, we live like we are in cars without regard for the stories and histories around us, the hopes, fears and hurt of those who are travelling alongside us. Our world views are confined making us feel we are totally right and they are wrong if they are not serving our ambitions and dreams. If they get in the way of us reaching our destinations then they can be cut off.


Jesus calls for another way. His revolutionary plan for peace was forsaking our own egos to serve, forgive and love the guys in the other world view cars. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he said. He knew they would change the world for the good of everyone in every car.


Bizarrely the North Americans have such a place on their roads. At crazy places called 4-Way Stops, every driver is disarmed from his arrogant self seeking and in order for this road junction to function, everyone needs to be heard, given time, and served. You literally give up yourself to let others go. When we observe such an alternative to normal road attitudes driving is made possible, easy and thoroughly pleasant. What about 4-Way Stops, on the roads of our divisions, all over Ireland?


Devil costume

Halloween is a strange time for Christians. There is an abundance of ghosts and witches and ghouls. There are devil outfits for children with horns and tails and pitch forks. It all seems alarmingly unchristian. As a diligent young Christian I stayed away from all things Halloween but the arrival of two daughters made me have to think again. They enjoyed the dressing up. How was I going to deal with it? It wasn’t long before I took a more measured approach. My children were always imagining and dressing up, they were often reading stories of fairies and ghosts and witches including CS Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles and all those games like Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosies  and rhymes like Rock-a-Bye-Baby were based on some pretty dark themes. When I caught my then three year old daughter rhyming about catching an old man by the left leg and throwing him down the stairs, and showed some alarm, she said incredulously “it is only a rhyme daddy!”

Yet I still surmise. In my surmising I did some research and discovered that the reason for costumes may not have been about aligning yourself with demons and the dark side but actually about Christians protecting themselves from the dark side. The costumes may have been disguises to navigate a way through times of heightened evil presence. Perhaps once again Christianity has twisted the meaning of things with our lack of research, imagination and understanding. Sensationalist negativity has often been one of our weaknesses.

It all took me back to Bono, CS Lewis and Martin Luther; as it does! When Bono dressed up as the devil, on the Zoo TV period of U2, Christians circled the wagons for another cheap pop at his faith.
In my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 I pointed out that when asked, by a fan dancing with him in his McPhisto outfit, if he was still a believer he asked her if she’d ever read the Screwtape Letters by U2 and the penny dropped. Bono slipped the book into the video for the Batman soundtrack U2 song Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me as if to reveal his cunning strategy to a wider Christian audience. In CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Lewis gets inside the persona of a Senior and Junior devil to expose the devils schemes as he attacks the Church. In his Preface Lewis used the phrase, “mock the devil and he will flee from you,” paraphrasing the New Testament letter of James, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” As well as the verse in James, Lewis seems to have been recounting what Reformer Martin Luther once wrote, "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn."

Fascinating stuff. Enough to surmise that this week when we see a little nine year old dressed up as the devil that he or she might not be evil incarnate but a young zealous Christian seeking to give the devil a hammering! It might just be an opportunity in the midst of the festival to explain the difference between the two!

Lyric For The Day 30.10.12 from Let Yourself by Martyn Joseph

MJ Songs...

‘And you can bring it on world,

Throw everything,

‘Cos in the end love wins big,

And there are some of us who will not be lying down“.

-     From Let Yourself by Martyn Joseph

From Songs For The Coming Home, my album of the week and one of the records of the year, this song seemed to be appropriate as a Lyric For The Day as Superstorm Sandy hits the north east coast of America. It is of course about the storms of life. The song sings “if you’re drifting away/if it’s falling apart...” and asks people to find something within their souls to deal with the onslaught. These last lines send a nod to Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins and gives the soul the hint to where strength can be summoned; the love of God giving indignant courage and faith in the disconcerting chaos that inner storms or weather storms throw at us. Prayers for the north east coast of America.



What a weekend of soccer controversy in the English Premier League. It is a shame that with such great soccer games like Everton-Liverpool and Chelsea-Manchester United that we are talking about referees but we are. Before we do though, let us just say that the Premiership is at its very best just now. Some of the goals scored this weekend were of the very top quality. Chelsea and Manchester United both looked superb for 30 minutes each and then of course Mark Clattenburg stole the last 30! As a Manchester City fan I was pleased, if far from thrilled, with our stroll around the Etihad on Saturday evening and a 1-0 win but, it has to be said, that Chelsea and United were playing at a pace and conviction that City haven’t got
anywhere near reaching this season; to be only one point off the leaders is either very fortunate or just quietly professional.

Let us then talk about referees and the laws of the game. Like the Match of The Day commentator on Sunday night’s Match Of The Day
2, “we have seen it all now... we have seen it all now.” Poor Mr. Clattenburg had simply a horrendous day. The shell shocked look on his face at the final whistle suggests he knows as much. The match was so perfectly balanced with thirty minutes left but two red cards to the home team was literally unprecedented stuff. Then the the winning goal for the away team was offside... well it is simply incredible. For me, both sending offs expose errors at the
heart of the game just now. When Ivanovic was sent off for tripping up Ashley Young, who was through on goal, Clattenburg had no choice but to produce a red card. It is the law not the referee who is at fault here. This rule was brought in to punish the “professional foul” which is the cynical cold blooded prevention of a player moving away from you. When that happened and a scoring chance was what was being prevented the rulers of the game wanted the letter of
the law to make it easy for the referee to send an player off. Once again the letter of the law replaces the spirit of the law. What this does is to make an accidental free kick receive punishment that it doesn’t deserve while a cynical professional foul gets away without a red card because some other defender is close by. How many hand balls are not given as penalties because it is accidental! Spirit verses Letter? Spirit loses. Ivanovic is undeservedly but rightly, by the letter, sent off. Luis Suarez’s cynical and violent tackle on Sylvian Dustin in the Merseyside derby even though it was nowhere goal was a
red card in the spirit of the law but the letter of the law won again.

Torres sending off for a second bookable offence for diving reveals another letter of the law getting out of control. Now, let me
say it clearly, cheating by diving needs kicked out of soccer. It is cheating. I abhor it. However, the referee needs to use his brain much better than Clattenburg did yesterday. Jonny Evans made contact with Fernando Torres so the only card shown should not have been to Torres. Sir Alex’s comments that Torres caused it by going down when he could have run on, as Sir Alex himself claims he would have done, were disappointing and wrong. If you are running at full
speed at a 6’ 1” defender and get touched at all it is likely you will be
knocked off balance. Clattenburg got this one wrong in the letter of the law BUT when we see Everton’s honest captain Phil Neville being booked for falling over we find evidence that, in order to cut out diving, referees will now book everyone who trips themselves up or stumbles over. Soccer is people running around a field. People will fall and trip accidently. If they get booked every time it happens the game is going to take another disappointing turn. Again the
cynical intentional needs separated from the accidental and it might be that cheating is knocked out of the game by lengthy bans on video evidence rather than making a mockery of the game.

The referees job is difficult. I found it difficult with two motley crews of students playing for nothing in the park. At the top level with television and amateur bloggers like me, it gets even more tricky.
This amateur believes they need more help than they are currently getting from “the letter of the law” that doesn’t always bring justice in practice.

Lyric For The Day 28.10.12 from Be Still by The Killers

Brandon Flowers

Today’s Lyric For The Day comes from the Fitzroy Worship Service this morning when my creative colleague Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley led us off with this liturgy he had written based on Isaiah 58 which we had looked at in the TEAR Fund film Live58 last Sunday. He then
preached about how the journey of growing up in faith was not a yellow brick road but more like a car crash and how Church is a safe place for such a messy mystery of finding the fullness of Christ. Leading us through the first half of Ephesians 4 he spoke of living lives worthy of our calling and caused us to meditate on this Killers’ song Be Still along with the passage from Ephesians 4... Here are all three together. 

Call to Worship from Isaiah 58 (by Jonathan Abenethy- Barkley 

Leader: The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free

Response:      The calling to which we are called

Leader:Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor

Response:      The calling to which we are called

Leader: Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives.

Response: The calling to which we are called 

Leader:  Then my favour will shine on you like the morning sun

All:   The calling to which we are called 

The Killers yet again hit the nail on the head of Ephesians 4 The Calling To Which We Are Called ...

“Close your eyes,

Soon enough you’ll be on your own,

Steady and straight,

And if they drag you through the mud,

It doesn’t change what’s in your blood,

When they knock you down,

Don’t break character,

You’ve got a lot of heart,

Is this real or just a dream?

Be still,

Rise up like the sun

and labor till the work is done”

Paul in Ephesians 4

4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all...

speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.



(This morning in Fitzroy we were celebrating Harvest. I rewrote this old poem for the occassion. In the end, harvest and environmental issues are intrinsically linked. We should not dare to celebrate our own selfish local harvest for this year if we are not going to live in such a way that envision harvests across the world and for years to come.)

Have you ever stood on the Antrim Plateau

Fertile fields as far as you could see

Have you ever turned soil on a Belfast allotment

Picked your berries, potatoes, carrots and peas

Have you ever walked through the Lagan Meadows

Seen autumn colour up your trysting place

Have you ever stopped to give God thanks

For the rain and sun of his abundant grace.


And the rivers were fresh enough to drink

But we burned it down

The air was clean enough to breath

But we burned it down

And our minds were clear enough to think

But we burned it down

Our hearts were pure enough to believe

But we burned it down.


And if today is our horizon

Then we can live to be rich at twilight

But we’re going to cause this sun to set

Our wealth ending up worthless at midnight

I am going to stare far beyond my lifetime

Across a sky that’s clear and blue

Live in God’s wild and wonderful world

So that my children can harvest it too!


Prodigal Son

When a baby falls

There's no degradation

There’s no embarrassment

No condemnation

When a baby falls

There's no rejection

No last chance threat

There's no dejection

There's a father running

And a mother crying

With deep sense of joy

At a child who is trying

Arms held out lo lift her

To teach her to walk tall

He's loved until he runs

When a baby falls.


Fitz logo

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we continue our look at Ephesians through the eyes of Eugene Peterson as he lays out the theology, practice and power of the Church. Our creative and gifted assistant minister Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will be following on from last Sunday's Tear Fund film Live58 and unpacking the calling to which we are called.  His surmise is that maturity is not a trip down a yellow brick road but a car crash and church really is a place for vulnerability, dependency and unity. This weekend on Facebook he is quoting The Killers' Be Still as a soundtrack to the preparation and implimentation. We will also be giving Harvest Thanksgiving and David and Unni Ross will be sharing about a Care For Creation Conference they attended recently. All wrapped up in relevant and vibrant worship!

In the evening it is our monthly Faith On Trial that goes a little deeper in thought on issues facing Christians today. This month Dr Anne Bailie will share how her faith was stretched and where she found the grace to help her through some to the trials she lived through during her time living and working in Africa. 

Lyric For The Day 26.10.12 from Crossing The Line by Martyn Joseph

Crazy MJ

“They say without a vision we perish

Without a dream you just drift away

So what are we left with lookin at now

Across the borders and fields

And the doubts that won’t heal

Crossing the line

What kind of love is this

What kind of love is this

Takes all of the shit, the dirt and all of our sins

It takes some sacrifice with good advice

Crossing the line”

-     From Crossing The Line by Bruce Springsteen

I have spent the week in different places, listening to Martyn Joseph’s stunning new record Songs For The Coming Home. Musically and
lyrically it pays spiritual dividends the more plays you give it. This is the opening track. It is a slow burn blues song and there are those who here Sigor Ros in its atmospherics or Springsteen’s Ghost Of Tom Joad. Springteen’s Lift Me Up from the bonus disc of The Essential Bruce Springsteen is what it first brought to my mind, a song that I know Martyn has loved and indeed used as pre concert music.

This middle section of the song is rife with soul food. The need for visions and dreams to survive in the borderlands of a tough world
and then finding this love that will reappear in later songs on the same album. When Joseph takes us into the deep darkness of our messed up world you always find a window where light gets in, where love is found in spite of all that goes on around you. This is where Jesus is incarnate in Joseph’s songs, like a tiny crying baby in a back street of a backwoods middle eastern village. Love is not just a wishful rhyme but a delicate yet somehow robust reality that
deals with all our screwed up humanity. A hopeful thought on the coming home!

MARTYN JOSEPH - Songs For The Coming Home

MJ Songs...

I can’t take my ears off Martyn Joseph. This is maybe his 30th record (studio/live/collaborations/eps) and since I bought An Aching And A Longing, his live acoustic album in 1989 which took his career on the journey he has treaded ever since, very few artists have kept my attention as well as this Cardiff Devil (Ice hockey reference and not confirmation that he is a Liberal Backslider!). As soon as Songs For The Coming Home starts playing on my iPod I am gripped, intrigued and utterly blessed by ten new songs. Many other artists that I have loved have lost my attention down two and a half decades but never Joseph. His longevity has me wondering why? Is it the voice that is strong, vulnerable, ragged, smooth, angry and loving all across every album and live show? Is it the songwriting that is always intelligent, poetic, provocative, prophetic and pastoral? Is it that, though his song craft has not moved far from a folk song template, his records have added subtle little shifts of grace notes as the piano here on Clara, the mid sixties Beatles’ brass on Beyond Us , the Springsteen-esque harmonica and the Gospel choir on Still A Lot Of Love Round Here? It has to be said that Songs For The Coming Home is maybe his most satisfying production yet and maybe that is another reason; his craft as well as his content has matured with the years. This collection is his most successfully eclectic in topic and sound and is without doubt his fullest, deepest, widest and highest work yet.

I reckon that it is for all these reasons that Martyn Joseph never shows any hint of the law of diminishing returns. Yet, as I pondered why I realised that this record more than any other gives me the definitive answer. Maybe a year ago in a conversation about music Martyn offered as a reason for his vocation that he was trying to write songs that would be companions on the journey. That is it! Martyn Joseph writes the songs that best get along side me as I stumble on my mental, emotional, political, cultural and spiritual journey. There is this honesty on Falling From Grace that is then balanced with the hopefulness of Still A Lot Of Love Around Here. Political musings are right there in Beyond Us and religion gets an audit in Not A Good Time For God. Archive is a song for the big scenery with its particular location Alberta, Canada but an accompaniment for any connection with the vast resonating beauty of creation and the mysterious miniscule preciousness of our humanity.

On Songs For The Coming Home, Martyn has a song that spells out his belief in the power of the song. Clara is as beautiful a story song as I have heard in many a long year. A black girl nurses a rich white unwanted baby and sings him songs. Years later and the baby is  grown up and in the mood for suicide when he hears songs in his head that he knows not where from and it pulls him back to live a life of literary grace. In their late years they are reunited and Clara sings the songs and suddenly the writer knows who saved his life. It is moving, profound and a theology of the importance of song. It is why I can’t take my ears off Martyn Joseph. He is one of my most important Claras:

“I hope we all have a Clara

Singing songs unknown

Songs for the healing

And songs for the coming home.”