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December 2012

STOCKI'S ALBUMS of 2012 - Mumford and Sons; Babel

(I will put them in order by New Year's Eve... in the meantime a reminder of the contenders every day til then...)

Babel

Babel takes off in the same distinct banjo driven organic hoedown style that made us fall in love with Mumford & Sons in the first place. Some are already talking about how the band’s third album
will be a real test as they need to somehow shift this sound forward somewhere or end up repeating themselves in some cul-de-sac. There might be some truth in that observation but, first of all, it is the second not the third record that we are reviewing here and, secondly, it is a very lazy listening to the record at hand. Yes, the same
components are in play but there are a few different shades from Sigh No More and for me what we have on Babel is a band who have matured and have become more aware of how to use their sound for whatever reasons they might have to use it. There is a little more passion and intensity, anger and delicacy. It is as though they are more able to be tender and more able to rage too. The confidence that comes from the success of their debut pays rich dividends in chapter 2 of their story.

The content of the songs hasn’t changed a lot either. The lyrics are written by a man whose whole life has been saturated in the big
questions of the cosmos and how they touch directly the personal
decisions of the ordinary day.  Marcus Mumford’s contribution to the pilgrimage of faith is significant because few other writers are as honest and as contextually relevant both culturally and personally. This stuff is honest and hopeful. These songs believe. They “believe
in grace and choice”
and soundtrack the
shadows and chinks of light in between. The kind of spirituality at work on Babel is one that is torn with temptation and pulled one way and the other by hopeless wanderings. This is earthy stuff about being dragged down by the relentless world of 2012 and seeking to find some healing, escape and redemption. Ghosts That We Knew perhaps catches the whole record in a half verse – “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/Cause oh that gave me such a fright/But I will hold as long as you like/Just promise me we'll be alright.” Mumford is always
aware of his human frailties, his limited time on the planet, his desire to contribute something while he has the chance and the need for transcendent help that he sees best on his knees, where he finds
himself on more than once occassion in these songs. I Will Wait is his Psalm for modern times. There is a constant thread to learn and to seek and follow and love the Light as in Below My Feet’s mantra, “Keep the earth below my feet/For all my sweat, my blood runs weak/Let me learn from where I have been/So keep my eyes
to serve, my hands to learn/Well keep my eyes to serve, my hands
to learn.”

If we don’t get ahead of ourselves to ask what these boys will do in another three years then this is a pretty perfect second album. It gives more away with every listen. For those with ears to hear it is a
spiritual exercise on every play.

TO THE MARROW OF MY SOUL: Searching our Peace Motivations

Search Me Oh God

As many of us find ourselves energised to invest in peace as a result of the Belfast City Hall flag controversy it is always good to test our motives. I wrote this poem after a meeting our
students had with former South African President FW De Klerk. De Klerk shared very honestly with us the political process that ended up allowing the Black vote in South Africa and Nelson Mandela becoming President. He told us that in
peace processes we should search our own motives down to the marrow and then  when we had done that, do it one more time! Indeed let God search ours and see what traces of bigotry, hatred and sectarianism he can find; Psalm 139 asks
that same question.

Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

Help me peer inside my prejudice

To see the incentive of all my actions

Make kind the reflexes of my heart

Make gentle the strength of my reactions

Help me squint at every weakness

That comes from family and neighbourhood

To smash all idols of destruction

And create the art of all that is good

Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

And when I’ve let you search oh God

Believing to be in Your Spirit’s collusion

Let me look just one more time

For any remnants of my own delusion.


PRAYER FOR PEACE DEC [email protected]@CITY HALL: press release

Pray For The City

On the 15th December 2012, at 8.30am, a call to prayer for peace will ring out at Belfast City Hall.

People from every background and community in Northern Ireland will circle the City Hall building in a response to the trouble and the distressing scenes witnessed across our land over the past weeks.

This call to prayer is free from any political, social, organisational or denominational agenda. It is free from any motivation other than the fact that we believe in the power of God and the power of prayer to change our circumstances. We believe that God is alive and able to heal our land if we humble ourselves and pray.  

It is not a protest. It is not a protest against protests. In a spirit of unity, this is an expression of prayer and blessing for our city, our politicians, our police, our society, our shopkeepers and hard pressed businesses.  

We want to hold on to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board slogan that this is 'Our Place, Our Time' and pray simply and boldly for the peace and prosperity of Belfast and Northern Ireland in this season of goodwill and thanksgiving.

- We want to pray for peace to reign

- We want to pray for the return of hope

This is an open invitation to prayer and so, at this time, we have no idea as to the number of people who will turn up but we expect representatives from all branches of Christianity across Northern Ireland to take part. We have been in contact and have complied with the advice of the police by gathering at a time that will cause least disruption to local businesses and thereby cause no negative impact on this city which we love.

Furthermore, we will be encouraging all those who gather to tangibly bless the city centre traders who have lost so much business over the last 10 days. 

 

This time of prayer will be short, private, silent and reflective. It is avowedly non-political and we would respectfully request that you show consideration to those taking part by not attempting to interview those praying before or after the prayer for peace.


'Prayer for Peace' with Police permission, 8.30am Saturday 15 December at City Hall.

CITY HALL

For 2012 the Northern Ireland Tourist Board slogan has been 'NI 2012 our time our place'. As the body of Christ across the land throughout the last year we have witnessed many examples of the God's kingdom coming amongst us and we have recognised these words 'our time our place' as a prophetic statement and wake-up call for the church. Unfortunately the events of the last week have been disturbing and disappointing to say the least and we really don't want the year to end like this! With the permission and cooperation of the police we have planned 'prayer for peace' at 8.30am on Saturday morning outside Belfast City Hall.  We are hoping to form an unbroken chain of people right around the city hall who together will take 5 minutes to pray for our leaders, the city and ultimately for peace in our land. We also feel that this non-threatening and humble prayerful approach would be a wonderful show of church unity and a powerful declaration to the nation of the heart of Christ reflected through His body. We would love as many people as possible to join us and form a wall of prayer around the city hall!


Lyric For The Day 12.12.12 from Rocky Ground by Briuce Springsteen

Rise Up

“Rise up shepherd, rise up

Your flock has roamed far from the hills

The stars have faded, the sky is still

The angels are shouting "Glory Hallelujah"



We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground

We've been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground



Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land

Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand

Find your flock, get them to higher ground

Flood waters rising and the kingdom's on fire”

-     From Rocky Ground by Bruce Springtseen

I was drawn to this lyric this morning. I always get to hear a couple of songs to kick start the thinking of my day on the return journey of the school run. Today I flicker across to the trilogy of hopeful songs at the end of Wrecking Ball. These first verses shouted out at me in the week that Belfast has just experienced. Many have asked what are the Churches doing? Where are the Church leaders? I ask the same question and then realise that it is no longer the 80s and I am now a Church leader.

As a shepherd I need to hear Springsteen’s call. I need to start asking whether what I believe has any relevance to the world I live in? Has Jesus anything to say. Springsteen finds Jesus in the context of his Wrecking Ball dissertation on the financial crisis turning over the tables of injustice and exploitation in the Temple courts. What about a country currently torn in two over flags, culture and identity?

As a shepherd I need to find the verses, the robust hope of transformation in the Gospel story and imaginatively lead the people of God onto higher ground. How do we Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6: 27-28) What does that kind of grace and generosity look like? As we see in the Christmas nativity God drawing near, bridging the divisions and radically reshaping the world how do we do that in loyalist communities that feel disenfranchised, in republican communities that are not sure of power sharing, in a city council and local
government caught up in historical templates and struggling to create new ones.

I believe that the Church has a role to play, maybe a decisive role. Let us hear the call. It is Rocky Ground but the angels are singing something about “Peace on earth and good will...” Rise up!


Lyric For The Day 11.12.12 from No Surrender by Bruce Springsteen

No Surrender

“Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim

The walls of my room are closing in

There's a war outside still raging

You say it ain't ours anymore to win

I want to sleep beneath

Peaceful skies in my lover's bed

With a wide open country in my eyes

And these romantic dreams in my head



Once we made a promise we swore we'd always remember

No retreat, baby, no surrender

Blood brothers in a stormy night

With a vow to defend

No retreat, baby, no surrender”

-     From No Surrender by Bruce Springsteen

A friend (Dave Freeburn) put this lyric up on Facebook last week and it took on a whole new emphasis for me. Originally released on
Springsteen’s successful attempt at superstardom, and a compromise to his art in my opinion, No Surrender, like other good songs on Born In The USA, lost its lyrical power. If you get the chance to hear those songs done acoustically they take on a whole different resonance. Fortunately we got an official release of a stripped down version of No Surrender on the lavish Live 1975-85 package.

Yet, it still failed to connect the way it did last week. Written apparently as a blood brothers message to his old mate Little
Steven, who had headed out of the E Street Band (since restored) for a solo career, I had mistakenly confined it to a song about friendship. Of course it is but last week it became so much more.

Last week I had two situations that these lyrics pastored into. The first was for Naomi Long, an Alliance MP who was given a death threat by Protestant loyalists because her party voted for the Union Jack to be flown at Belfast City Hall only on designated days as opposed to 365 days a year. The Alliance Party actually brought the amendment that it would be flown on designated days as the Nationalist parties wanted it to never be flown at all. The Unionist politicians incited the wrath of their community to be directed at
Alliance and Naomi took the brunt of the attack. I have voted Alliance, but not always, and yet I found myself with profound respect for Naomi and her party taking this abuse unjustly. And so I sent her, on Facebook, these lyrics. It is quite ironic as the title is without doubt Northern Ireland’s most potent and well known political slogan. It has a long history of being the cry of the Protestant Unionist British against the battles of Catholic Ireland. I felt that the song was about a robust commitment to what you believe in and Naomi’s vow
to be a bridge in the chasm of a divided country deserved support.

The same day I sent it to another friend who was going through some struggles in her own life. There are times when somehow a song can give a transformative strength when you feel vulnerable, weak and tempted to simply give in. Springsteen’s song gives that strength.


Advent Reflection: WHO ARE YOU ELIZABETH TO?

Elizabeth

There is a lovely little passage of Scripture tucked away in the nativity story (Luke 1: 39-45). Between the moment when Mary is visited by an angel, soon finding herself pregnant, and her Magnificat she runs for cover. In the aftermath of this incredible experience with God, as she is attempting to clarify the vision she has been given about her place in the salvation of the world and all the other doubting, cynical and suspicious voices around her, she runs for the hills. Her refuge is in the hillside where she finds a welcome and someone who shares her vision, understands her miracle and confirms her belief. Elizabeth, her cousin, has also got tied up in God’s story and it is Elizabeth who steels Mary’s commitment and it seems no coincidence that after her time with Elizabeth that Mary utters her great hymn of praise to and hope for social justice of the Kingdom of God.

There can only be one Mary in the salvation plan but all of us can be an Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the quiet strength in the story. She humbles herself to play her part. She has her soul tuned into God and when
the lead player arrives she is able to confirm the God’s radical will and give confidence to the vision. When the world is shaking our faith with voices that seem to make God’s vision insane who do we turn to. When the prophets around us are coming under criticism and having their souls bruised by naysayers and begrudgers, who can they run to. We can all be Elizabeths.

WHERE DO YOU RUN TO? (WHO ARE YOU ELIZABETH TO?)

Where do you run

In the madness of this vision

When reality is dawning

At the cost of your decision

When the family turns

No one understands

Where do you run

For the welcome hand

 

Who is your Elizabeth

And who are you Elizabeth too

When the world is closing in

On what you know is true.

 

Will we be the hillside

The candle in the door

Lighting up the journey

To so much more

Will we be the shelter

In the doubting gale

A calm to all the clamour

And hear what’s real

 

Some take the lead

The hit and the glory

Some are unknown

The spine of the story

She humbled her soul

And tuned her heart

To hold it together

To play her part.

 

Who is your Elizabeth

And who are you Elizabeth too

When the world is closing in

On what you know is true.


Lyric For The Day 10.12.12 from A King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb

Webb King...

“but nothing unifies like a common enemy

and we've got one, sure as hell

but he may be living in your house

he may be raising up your kids

he may be sleeping with your wife

oh no, he may not look like you think

my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man

my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood

it's to a king & a kingdom”

-      From King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb

Flags play an important role in our society. The differentiate nations. They are symbols of nationhood. Living in Northern Ireland I have the privilege at times to cheer under two flags. When Jessica Ennis or those other gold medalled Olympians lit up the past summer we were
emotional as the Union Jack was raised and a life’s work was given its reward. I also cheered loudly as the Irish Tri-colour was raised for Katie Taylor’s amazing feat in women’s boxing. As I said then, 29 gold medals for Britain, 1 for Ireland and therefore 30 for those of us in the middle of the Venn Diagram between the two! Sadly, as I have written before there are also times in the middle of that Venn Diagram when I feel I am torn between two countries with no flag to fly, embarrassed by the actions that go on in the name of either flag.

In the end flags are not what defines the follower of Jesus. Ours is another King and another Kingdom. Those things that define me as
a Christian are my baptism, symbol of an old life gone and a new one coming in, and Communion, when God in his graces invites us to an intimate feast in an re-enactment of Jesus last supper with his disciples. These are the flags that have my allegiance. These are the symbols that define me.

Derek Webb’s Mockingbird album was released when America was in the intensity of patriotism after 9/11 had shaken the nation’s
security and the government were going to war in response. Derek Webb was a prophetic voice who brought a radical Biblical critique of the national fervour. It was not stocked in many Bible Book shops as a result.

In the week that has been in Northern Ireland, Derek’s words in this song are a reminder to those of us following Jesus of the place
that flags should have in our order of essentials. We don’t have any flags in our Church. There are times when indeed flags can take an importance that elevates temporal national allegiance onto equal terms with the eternal Kingdom that Jesus asked us to pray would come n earth as it is in heaven. There will be no Irish or British flag flying above the gates of heaven. It is a good time in Northrn Ireland for all followers of Jesus to cut to the marrow of our souls. Where is the strength of our commitments pointing? Where is the enemy
really? Who has our allegiance?  


SPORTING SURMISE: STOCKI ON THE MANCHESTER DERBY

Derby 12

There really was always going to be one winner. Going into
injury time I told my Red father-in-law that United were going to steal it again. It hurt... BUT not like it used to. We have got used to such late United winners in the last five years; Michael Owen, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes... now add yet another tormentor Robin Van Persie. Yet, it is not becoming familiar with that kick in the gut that made the pain disappear quicker than usual. It was that moment in May when, for those who don’t already know, I had left to deal with utter abject soccer heartache in my garden only to miss
Sergio Aguero ending 44 years of misery by scoring 15 seconds after United’s season had finished with them as Champions. Winning that Premiership was like erasing all the years of deep sporting pain. I actually don’t even mind if United win it this year and we the next! Whatever, yesterday was a big win for Manchester United. They rarely get to give the Champions their first away defeat in two years. You see, that last sentence fills my ache with a whole lot of soothing!

Let us turn away from the subjective though. Let us talk about the game in objective terms. Without doubt Mancini had the tactical disaster this time around. When it was announced that Balotelli was starting instead of Carlos Teves there was no one in the western world with any idea about soccer who could quite understand. As stupid as Balotelli himself one could say! What was he thinking?! The only possible answer I can find is that he was trying to catch Sir Alex off guard. I mean even Mario doesn’t know what he’ll do so if Alex has set up his team to deal with Carlos and Sergio then maybe Roberto thought he’d throw him a curve. Sadly, he threw himself a curve. The guy might have immense natural ability but he hasn’t the head to use it. We won the league because he was banned and we had to play Teves and Aguero. Learn the lesson Roberto.

Sir Alex though had learn his lesson and didn’t make his April tactical howler this time. Mancini’s only slight encouragement has to be
that even Ferguson, the greatest manager of all time, can make massive mistakes. United fans should realise that it was Ferguson’s attempt to out-muscle City in midfield in April that cost United the title. Ya Ya was not going to be out fought and an average, aging, United midfield couldn’t work the draw needed. Yesterday Sir Alex made sure that didn’t happen again. Don’t pack the midfield, pack the team with match winners. Ferguson’s ability to win games and
titles that his players had no right to will be forever evident in  that, when the record books are opened, John O’Shea will be seen to have won  five Premier League winners medals! This summer, instead of the midfielder United still needed to be complete, Sir Alex invested his money in RVP.  United are six points ahead not because they
are the best team in England but because they have the most game changers in England. Young and Valencia have the magic to unlock any defence and Rooney and Van Persie don’t need four chances to score three goals. Poor Joe Hart had nothing to do but pick the ball out of the net!

So, United are six points clear and still have City at home. It looks like a big lead. It is a big lead. However, it is hard to believe that
City will not fire at some stage of the season and they were eight points behind at a much later stage last season. United, however, might buy that midfielder in January and Vidic about to return is a huge help in a spot that seems a little vulnerable. To have created a six point lead without him is like a Rugby team extending their lead while down to 14 men. Chelsea are starting to find form again, particularly Mr Torres, but I am not sure that they don’t need
another year and maybe another manager to be the threat they have been in the past. There will be many twists and turns as Christmas come and goes and the long winter takes hold. City’s lack of Champions League has to be the only plus that they can take out of this week. They will now be hoping United make it all the way to the final to give them seven games less to play.

One of the other subjective truths about this defeat has been that the derby isn’t the start and end of City’s season. We can still lose
to them and have something to play for. However, they need to find that final pass, that was so easy last season, very soon indeed. I for one am now enjoying the intensity of these games whether we win or lose. Rio Ferdinand was even on X Factor last night and it felt that we were back in the late 60’s when I was a kid and Manchester ruled the soccer world. Believe it or not I supported United then! Less Balotelli and that scum in the City crowd throwing coins and more of these ding dong derbies, that’s what I say!


ADVENT REFLECTION: HEAVENLY METEORITE HURTLING

 

Meteorite

When the God of all the universe landed wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying softly on a bed of animal straw we should not be fooled by the gentleness of his arrival. In that moment the world shuddered. It was as if the God who filled the entire Universe squeezed his vastness into a tiny little piece of semtax explosive and hurtled from the far end of the Universe like a meteorite and crashed into planet earth knocking it from the way things were to a hopefulness of the new
way that it could be. Here, in the nativity we see this absurd almost crazy revolution; King of the Universe in some backstreet manger; the humility of God becoming a servant of his creation; a God of justice loving and welcoming in those whom he was at enmity with; the blessedness of the poor. The King of the day felt the tremor and sent his death squads to kill it at birth but on and on down through history this semtax thud has drawn people to turn the way things
are on their heads and attempt to interrupt the status quo of the first being first with a strange concept called grace where no matter who we are or what we are done we are like the shepherds and Magi, welcomed, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, loved.

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unseen but deeply felt

If never fully realised

By those who’ve never knelt

The tremors they ripple across all time

The poets at last can find their rhyme

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

As usual but all amiss

History  stripped of how it was

To how from now on it is

The radical revolution all a shudder

Old way surrendering to this new other

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unnoticed but all askew

Thrones thrown out of kilter

The meek inherit what’s new

The repercussions spin out forever

Imaginers threading peace back together

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.