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November 2012

Lyric For The Day 30.11.12 from Won't Give In by The Finn Brothers

Finn Brothers

“You call me up

I'd say a few words but

I'll try not to speak

Too long.

Please to be kind and

I'll try to explain

I'll probably get it

All wrong.

What does it mean when

You promise someone

No matter how hard

Or whatever may come

It means that I won't give in,

Won't give in

Won't give in

Cause everyone I love is here,

Say it once, and disappear.”

-      From Won’t Give In by The Finn Brothers

This is the one of the best Finn Brothers co-writes, maybe second only to their Crowded House classic Weather With Me. I love the song and I use it in a pastoral sense for myself very regularly.  The actual context of the song seems to be about marriage and family and that commitment to the long haul. That What does it mean when/You promise someone/No matter how hard/Or whatever may come” seems to be a good question to ask a culture that skips in and out of wedding vows as if there is absolutely no substance to the promises made at all.

Every listen to Won’t Give In gives a spiritual strength to whatever the struggle or fracture might be. It gives fortitude to hold on to whatever you believe in. That could then be applied to any area of life’s important commitments. It might be faith in God or that vision for changing the world. In a Church in Guguletu I sang, every time I returned to worship there over many years, a song at the end of the AIDS section of the service Never Give Up. Strength for the fight welled up in your soul and your heart. Songs can do that. Won’t Give In does that so well.

PHOTOGRAPHS (The AIDS Day version)


The injustices of Africa or any other developing world country usually connect with those of us in the decadent west by photograph, either in the written press or television. If you ever find yourself exposed in reality to poverty or the sub Saharan AIDS pandemic you end up trying to capture it in photograph yourself. If you are sensitive to the plight, and have any soul at all, you attempt to do this in non voyeuristic ways and even then feel guilty that you haven't. I have had the painful privilege of sharing with people in different scenarios of injustice and have my share of photographs that I have used in different attempts to share the compassion, rage and a need for action.

Every year on World AIDS Day I go back to this photograph. It is taken literally over my shoulder by my friend and very gifted photographer Gordon Ashbridge. He has perfectly captured the fear and the hopelessness in Cindy's beautiful face and the complicity of the west in the posters on the wall. I have been playing around with the following poem for about ten years. This is the "Cindy Mix." I will use it in our World AIDS Day liturgy in Fitzroy on Sunday. 

Photographs don’t need ribbons

Photographs don’t need prayer

Photographs don’t need justice

Photographs aren’t really there

Photographs never hunger

Photographs never cry

Photographs are never orphaned

Photographs never die

But I see more than a photograph

When I weep at this photo of you

Photographs don’t lack what we have

And you do.



The song on U2’s 2004 album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb that most obviously married Bono’s African campaigning and his art is Crumbs From Your Table. It is a very close relation to American
which he sang with Beyonce
at the 46664 Concert in Cape Town at the end of 2003. Both songs were written inside the walls of the Church. Bono had spent a long period of time touring evangelical Churches in America to try to encourage their engagement in his AIDS crusade and was initially a little frustrated: “I was kind of angry – angry at the Church as well because the Church was very slow to respond to the AIDS emergency, very judgmental about people with AIDS. They have since changed their position, and I’m very impressed; they’re all starting to wake up and realize that AIDS is
leprosy, you know, just read your Gospels and figure it out.”

Both Crumbs From Your Table and American Prayer are songs about faith becoming flesh. The beliefs people have in their heads and speak with their mouths are no good to the hungry, the exploited, and the diseased. In Crumbs From Your Table there is an ironic truth where Church who do signs and wonders and miracle are being asked for something far more ordinary. The irony is that some Church groups are straining every spiritual sinew to convince the world of their authenticity by conjuring miraculous healings and extraordinary manifestations, while the miracle that the poor need is the ordinary sharing and justice of everyday things. In the song U2 pinpoint the travesty of justice in the modern world  that where you are born
and live should affect whether you live or die. AIDS is not a charity issue but a justice issue. It is about human rights. Why should people who live on African townships die for lack something that westerners take for granted in the global village of 2004?

From macro-economics Bono moves to the micro-personal and cuts to the heart as he asks “would you deny for others what you demand
for yourself?”
The first time I heard the album I literally jumped out of
my seat on after those lines. It has stuck like a dog at my heals ever since and is no doubt my most quoted U2 lyrics. It is a dire condemnation on humanity, but here Bono is turning the screw. This is not just humanity. This is the humanity that talks about the love of God. Such incisive preaching to the selfish West should cut deep.

WORLD AIDS DAY - Always Were a Ribbon

AIDS ribbon 3

Spending many months in Cape Town, spread over many years in the first decade of the millennium, I became too aware of the AIDS
tragedy going on all around me. The desperate race to educate township youth about how to stay safe, through Billboards, T-shirts, leaflets and slogans on the side of buses was all encompassing. The little marquees springing up daily all around the streets we were driving along, visually revealing the number of funerals in a decimated community. The friends who were very slow to get involved in romantic relationships because they were aware that those choices were life and death issues; the wrong marriage partner could be a death sentence! The fact that instead of the children’s address, that we have in the early part of our Presbyterian Church services in Ireland, our friends in JL Zwane Memorial Church in Guguletu have an AIDS testimony that allows someone infected with the AIDS virus or affected by AIDS to share their story. Then of course you can find yourself in the home of a sufferer, listen and pray with them, and know that when you come back the next trip they will be gone.

It impacts you. It touches you to the point of tears. It leaves you feeling a little hopeless. It enrages you that as a result of the
accident of where they were born those like Mavis and Cindy, who we got to care and weep for, have a whole lot less chance of surviving than if they’d been born in Belfast. Lack of drugs, the cost of drugs, the political disasters of their leaders, that lack of education, cultural myths and simply the utter poverty all conspire to snuff out the lovely lives of Mavis, Cindy and millions like them. You want to pick a fight with it all.

It is World AIDS Day on Saturday and you might wonder what you can do to make a difference. One of our times in Cape Town we were
involved in a visit to an AIDS Day Care Centre and the leader in charge told us when we were leaving that we could do two things. She hadn’t up to that point seemed very religious but she told us to pray, that she had somehow found that a powerful thing! Then she said, very simply but with a real sense of empowerment, “and always wear a red ribbon.” She said that that was a huge statement
that made a tangible difference for those struggling with the virus. We had all bought little beaded AIDS ribbons on the townships and for years I wore mine, or my five or six, all the time. It has been four years now since I have been in South Africa or therefore bought a beaded ribbon, so I have slipped. Not this week though. Yesterday I begged, stole or borrowed (I am not sure which) a few ribbons from the TEAR Fund office at Skainos in East Belfast and I will be shaking my fist at the danger of AIDS with my little but significant contribution of wearing that red ribbon. When you see me with it on know that I am wearing it as a reminder to pray, as a hope for the miracle drug to be found and in memory of Cindy and Mavis who impacted my life forever.

Lyric For The Day 27.11.12 from Silver and Gold by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Silver and Gold

“Lord, come with fire. Lord, come with fire.

Everyone’s wasting their time

Storing up treasure in vain.

Trusting the pleasure it gives here on earth.”

-      from Silver And Gold from Sufjan Stevens


The title track of Sufjan Stevens’ new record is not a sentimental little song of tinsel and bobble or Cliff’s chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Sufjan is too earthed for that. Yet, neither is this song about
earth. This is a song that judges the great delusion of the modern era, maybe every era, and in its damning critique delivered in gentle melody Sufjan illuminates truth to live by. As the world settles for vain treasures that are momentary and ultimately without substance Stevens asks God to come in rage  to judge the treasure we store. As the title track of a Christmas record what Stevens is saying in his artistic blend of music and literature, that is without any doubt genius, is that this Christmas we will put our faith in and trust that which silver and gold can buy. It is treasure in vain. Maybe if we look closer at the theology at work in the other 57 songs on this release we will find a treasure with more substance and more longevity!

FROM BABY IN THE MANGER TO TRUMPET CHILD; The Life of Jesus with an Over The Rhine soundtrack... PART 5

The Trumpet Child

The last part of the sweep across the life of Jesus with the help of Over The Rhine’s sublime songs takes us through the cross and
out the other end to resurrection, death defeated and the hope of the
culmination of the arc of salvation history.

Poem: Empty Now The Tomb by Steve Stockman

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.

The Message: 1 Corinthians 15: 51-58

51-57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the
imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

Who got the last word, oh, Death?

Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

SONG: Over The Rhine - The Trumpet Child

“The trumpet child will blow his horn

Will blast the sky till it’s reborn

With Gabriel’s power and Satchmo’s grace

He will surprise the human race


The trumpet child will banquet here

Until the lost are truly found

A thousand days, a thousand years

Nobody knows for sure how long


The rich forget about their gold

The meek and mild are strangely bold

A lion lies beside a lamb

And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand


The trumpet child will lift a glass

His bride now leaning in at last

His final aim to fill with joy

The earth that man all but destroyed.”


Lyric For The Day 25.11.12 from Sleep by Mark Eitzel

Sleep Mark Eitzel

“Altar boys look good in lace

But they are not known for their guts or good nature

Goodness is not some pretty picture you paint

Its shaking your fist into the face of danger”

      -from Sleep by Mark Eitzel

Though I have most of Mark Eitzel’s recordings with American Music Club and solo it was my good friend Chris Fry who tipped me off
on this great lyric. This morning as I preached on Ephesians 6 and this quote was a great lead in. The myth, or perhaps more sadly the reality, is that Christianity is soft and acquiescent. Paul on the other hand called it a war, not in a military sense, but in a spiritual sense. It is all about being aware of the dangers and shaking our fists at them.


(this week a few friends were up at Corrymeela in my beloved Ballycastle, sending photos of my favourite beach out on Facebook across the world. I wrote this over the past two summers, walking across that beach three times a day with my wife, dog and sometimes two daughters. It is my trysting place, my hejira... it is where I find God or rather where he finds me even when I'm not looking...)


Just how sensational is that blue

The one made by these light beams

Not the darker cathartic kind

That soothes the bluesman’s bad dreams

This one’s made by the evening sun

Setting low above the town

Just two hours before the candle glow

That deep orange of it going down


Just how many shapes can clouds throw

Like they’re belching out smoke from a fire

As if they’ve built a hundred chimney stacks

All across the Mull Of Kintyre

And the ripples and dimples and sky waves

As they float out towards Rathlin Island

I’m not sure Dawkins has it right

‘Cos I’m pretty sure God is smiling


And I look at who I’m with

You’re the image of something higher

Higher than sunsets bursting colours

That set the sky the fire


Just how vivid is this evening air

The Fair Head’s deciding to strut right out

Veins of rock with heaven in the detail

Leaves the atheist a mountain of doubt

There is a beauty elusively placed

That picture postcards just can’t capture

Like you walking this beach beside me girl

God has me by the throat with his rapture.


And I look at who I’m with

You’re the image of something higher

Higher than sunsets bursting colours

That set the sky the fire


This is our place

Our mystical space

Where we clear the clouds that have been

This is our time

The verse to our rhyme

Where we find visions of pictures unseen.


Fitz logo

Tomorrow morning (11am) we conclude our series in Ephesians. I will be looking at a very rich passage of Paul's warning us against the wiles of the devil, suggesting a Gospel According To... a Roman Soldier and how we should pray at all times however that mysterious privilege works... In Bravehart another warrior William Wallace is asked by the men he has rallied where he is going and he answers, "I'm off to pick a fight." What fights should we be picking and how do we stand firm in that battle. American Music Club's Mark Eitzel will shed wisdom too! Vibrant worship from one of our sublime and tasty worship bands.

In the evening (7pm) it is our monthly Faith On Trial event and our very own Muriel Martin will share her expertise in special needs education. 

FROM THE BABY IN THE MANGER TO THE TRUMPET CHILD - The Life of Jesus with an Over The Rhine soundtrack... PART 4

Lin and Karin 2

In my Over The Rhine soundtrack sweep across the Gospel of Jesus Christ we find ourselves undamned in Part 3 and then in Part we
are now seeking out how to meet with Jesus. The easy way is rhymed out at the start of Church events “where two or three are gathered...” The less preached or thought about way is revealed in Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats. Through that Scrioture, a poem by Peter Barrett (used by my colleague Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley in last week’s sermon in Fitzroy)Over The Rhine’s sublime song Jesus In New Orleans use this meditative piece to ask where Jesus is
waiting to meeting us today or where he walked past us without us noticing.

The Message – Matthew 25: 37-40

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

POEM: Where’s God – Peter Barrett

Where's God?:

She just walked past you, actually,

Smiling at the kids,

Remarking to their Mums how well behaved they are.

He was wiping tables at the cafe,

Asking after you, funnily enough.

She was taking her younger brother to the park

So Mum could have a break.

He was opening a door

For an old couple to enter Boots.

Where's God?

In the grit, in the grime

In the mundane joy

Of washing dishes,

Hoovering the house, wiping baby's bottoms,

Visiting the sick, listening to the lonely.

Often out of sight

Infamously working with a kind word

Whispered in passing.

An understood look between friends;

An arched eyebrow between lovers.

As we scratch beneath the make-up

Of our raw lives,

Tenderness and compassion

Are available

If we look hard enough

Into the magic and mystery

Of the routine and humdrum

Heaven in the ordinary

Over The Rhine - Jesus In New Orleans

The last time I saw Jesus

I was drinking bloody mary’s in the South

In a barroom in New Orleans

Rinsin’ out the bad taste in my mouth

She wore a dark and faded blazer

With a little of the lining hanging out

When the jukebox played Miss Dorothy Moore

I knew that it was him without a doubt


Ain’t it crazy

What’s revealed when you’re not looking all that close

Ain’t it crazy

How we put to death the ones we need the most


But when I least expect it

Here and there I see my Saviour’s face

He’s still my favorite loser

Falling for the entire human race

Ponder: The last time I saw Jesus? And where will I meet him next?