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December 2012

LENNON, BELFAST PROTESTS, HYPOCRITES, POLITICIANS AND TRUTH

Lennon

“I'm sick and tired of hearing things

From uptight-short sighted- narrow minded hypocritics

All I want is the truth

Just give me some truth

I've had enough of reading things

By neurotic-psychotic-pig headed politicians

All I want is the truth

Just give me some truth

No short haired-yellow bellied

Son of tricky Dicky

Is gonna Mother Hubbard

Soft soap me

With just a pocketful of hope...”

-     Give Me Some Truth by John Lennon

John Lennon was shot 32 years ago today and this song was written almost a decade before that. Yet, after the week we have had in
Belfast these words ring right on the money. Perhaps Ash’s version of the song gives it that Northern Ireland accent and angle!

Politicians and hypocrites seem to have cornered a section of our community into a damaging and often violent protest. The hypocrisy
comes from a community who call the democracy card for their lack of generosity towards the “other” community for decades and now respond to a democratic decision with near fascist acts.

It is hard not to believe that “yellow belied tricky-Dicky”
politicians have orchestrated the protests that have shut our flourishing Christmas markets, stopped people from getting married, postponed a Children’s walk for Cardiac care and made Christmas less joyous for the majority. This has been Unionism’s deep shame for many, many years, whipping up their working class communities with vitriolic language and then driving home to their middle class suburbs and washing their hands of the blame. It is difficult not to find a conspiracy against Naomi Long’s East Belfast parliamentary seat in the 40,000 leaflets sent out to whip up dissent against Alliance politicians. Now Naomi has received death threats and those who wrote and distributed the leaflets are running from any responsibility.

Truth? What does that mean in any kind of politics but particularly Northern Ireland politics. It is what we, along with John Lennon,
are looking for. We long for that word responsibility. We long for some integrity. We long for someone to put the greater good above their own “neurotic psychotic” selfish vote. We long for leaders whose truth brings real imagination as to how we can create a shared future that brings a divided community together, to be blessed by the richness of differences and to make our little bit of the world
prosper in the true definition of prosper for the benefit of all those who live in the widest possible definition of our community.

Please give me some truth!   


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 9.12.12

Fitz logo

Another exciting Sunday in Fitzroy...

In the morning (11am) Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley takes us
into the heart of Advent and will be exploring the birth narrative with the help of Bonnie Tyler, Superman, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and asking the question - as a society what do we want our Saviour to look like? A caped crusader or a crying baby in a manger? Worship from the tasteful David Livingstone and Richard Guthrie will be on an incarnational theme!

In the evening (7pm) Steve Stockman will ask if Northern
Ireland wants to live by sin-force or grace-force and will be looking back at this week of flags and violent protests, pondering the theology of sin as a force that pushes away and creates gaps and then how this baby in the straw draws us near and bridges those gaps. One of Belfast’s top songwriters Gentry Morris will add his musical genius, singing a couple of  songs from his Awake O Sleeper album and then reviving a few old hymns.

... and...

Fitz

FITZROY COMMUNITY CAROL SERVICE

On Thursday evening we have a lantern parade and  live nativity. Meeting at Botanic Station at 5pm we will parade up Botanic Avenue where sausages will be sizzling and after some food there will be a carol service that will include carols, Botanic Primary School Choir,
some Christmas Zumba as well as guest of honour some live animals!

Parade 5pm... Service at 6...


AS WE JOURNEY TOWARDS CHRISTMAS - A Reflective Advent Prayer

Wise Men

AS WE JOURNEY TOWARDS CHRISTMAS

God, as we journey towards Christmas

Our world is at war

 

God, as we journey towards Christmas

There is tension and violence on our own streets

God, as we journey towards Christmas

There is bloodshed in the very place of that first Christmas morning

When angels sang

Peace on earth

God, "we're sick of sorrow

Sick of pain

Sick of hearing again and again

That there's gonna be peace on earth

So Jesus could you take the time

To throw a drowning man a line

Peace on earth." ***

 

God help us to see the world as you see it

With grace filled eyes

With a hopeful heart

With an imagination full of possibilities

This Christmas

As we stop outside that stable door

As we park for a day at that manger

May we not get distracted

By the tinsel and glitter of our streets

By the dressing and stuffing of our tables

By the anemic nativity plays of our churches

May we not miss the wonder of what is happening

This symbol of God's love towards us

This affirmation of how okay it is to be human

And this great truth

That He who was beyond our comprehension

Moved into the very midst of us

The holy... in the filth of animal dung

The Almighty... dependent on a young girl

The unapproachable... with shepherds at ease by His side

Emmanuel; God with us.



And God may we leave that day at the stable

May we leave that day at the manger

Inspired to be like that baby

To bring some peace on earth

In a world where words are no longer as important as experience

Where modernist objectivity is being replaced by postmodern subjectivity

May we see the secret of peace on earth

That in these days more than any other time for centuries

Actions need to speak louder than words

May Christ's birth that we remember

May Christ's life that we celebrate

May Christ's cross and resurrection that we will come to, in Lent

Empower actions that scream and shout

Into our world

Onto our streets

Deep down into our lives

May indeed the word become flesh

And live among us.

AMEN

*** quoted from U2's Peace On Earth available on All That You Can't
Leave Behind


FLAGS, RIOTS, A CENTRIFUGAL FORCE & A BABY IN STRAW

Carrick riots

(some thoughts on this week's events in Belfast and Carrick... on Sunday night in Fitzroy I will unpacks some more Scripture and thoughts around this. Gentry Morris will be playing some old hymns in a new way... very exciting!)

American writer, and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner has described the power of the Biblical concept of sin as centrifugal. He writes, “It tends to push everything out towards the periphery.…Other people and God or the World, Society, Nature – whatever you call the greater which you’re part - sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within yourself.”

As I watch the events unfold in my city this week, and indeed over these last fifty to three hundred years, I cannot help see us perched precariously right in the middle of Buechner’s description. Every stone thrown, car set alight, political party office trashed, every public comment that points blame at everyone else. We are being pummeled by sin’s centrifugal force, leaving us distant and
divided, without and, more tellingly but less obviously, within.

There is no excuse for the rioting we have witnessed in Belfast and Carrickfergus. Such mindless violence is not about loyalty to any Queen or nation. It is not helping any cause. However, we need to see it in Buechner’s words. There is a centrifugal force pushing communities apart. Loyalist communities are feeling that distance. The gap is widening in Belfast, in the country and within themselves.

As we approach Christmas we find a solution. This baby in straw is an alternative force. It awakens another centrifugal force – grace. U2 called this “a name for a girl and a thought that can change the world.” It is the antithesis of sin, it is the force that eye balls sin and undoes all sin’s conquering curse. God in this flesh and blood arrival comes near, draws us close, repairs the tear, bridges the gap. The nativity story declares an amazing and other worldly idea that we
should love unconditionally. Relationship is not about pointing blame but about embracing the enemy. Jesus spoke in crazy terms of turning cheeks and “love your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who ill treat you.” It is madness but the only hope that the world in general and Belfast
in particular has to undo the damage of sin’s centrifugal force.  

Those of us who claim to believe in the Jesus, born this Christmas, need to live what we believe. Grace crosses divides, draws together, brings close and closes the gaps without and within. Anything else is less than radical and revolutionary way that Jesus lived and told us to live. So… in my thoughts… in  what I say… in what I do… in how I live
alongside my neighbour. Sin-force or grace-force?


THE 3rd ANNUAL FITZROY BLUES NIGHT - a Review or a Reflection

Preachin The Blues

I introduced Sunday night’s 3rd Annual Fitzroy Blues Night with an apology to anyone who had arrived looking for a Church service. By the end I wasn’t so sure I should have.

The evening was an outstanding musical event. The unique arrangement of the choir’s introit Going To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River was followed by a plethora of superb vocal performances. Norman McKinlay, Dave Thompson, Gary Bradley, Gary Burnett and Caroline Orr all gave the blues their genius. Caroline’s Nobody’ Fault But Mine conjured the spirits of Billie and Janis. Dave’s Moses and The Lamb revealed how he gets stronger as a singer as the days go by. Norman’s Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down gave his voice a
new power. Gary Burnett and Caroline dueting on Shelter Me Lord did Buddy and Julie Miller proud and when Gary Bradley shook his tambourine as he sang Judgement Blues, if you had closed your eyes, you were back at a late sixties Stones gig. With players like Hicks, Mitchell and Auterson on the robust back beat rhythm John Trinder played lead guitar with poise and precision, guest star Martin McVitty astounded in ways that would compete with Gary Moore and Ken Frame’s banjo added texture and variety. That variety went an extra hue with Peter Greer coming off his Hammond organ chair to play some tasty acoustic for Jacqui Lewis, another guest we know very well in Fitzroy, whose vocal on I Want Jesus To Walk With Me was as strong and soulful as I have heard her before.  

This year’s guest Brian Houston is always a ferocious live act and tonight he made his guitar weep and praise and preach and pastor.
His first big hit from twenty years ago Jesus Again brought the pain of the blues into testimony and ending the song with a verse or two from Jesus Loves Me was a artistic and theological trump card. 5$ On Your Dashboard from his brilliant record Shelter benefited from his story driving through Toronto and ending with Gospel Train mixed blues with the Spirituals in a Springsteenesque song of eschatological hope.

Gary Burnett is the creator and curator of this annual event. Currently writing a book on the subject of blues and theology he did an amazing job tonight in giving us an informative, if sweeping, history of the blues, looked into why it might have been lazily lumped as the devil’s music before bringing us to the vast repertoire within the genre that brings us clear as crystal to the Gospel itself. I really can’t wait for the book and am off to seek out Walter Trout and Kelly Joe Phelps!

And... if you had ears to hear... or have read between the lines of this review you will see why I questioned my introductory remarks.
For sure it wasn’t traditional Church in the strictest sense of the word.
However, it missed nothing of what happens in Church. Scripture Readings were there, most obviously in Moses and The Lamb and John The Revelator. Hymns were there in Going To Sit Down By The Banks Of The River, Jesus Loves Me and I Want Jesus To Walk With Me. Confession was there in Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Shelter
Me Lord was prayer made song. There were sermonettes too, particularly in Judgement Day Blues, Brother’s Keeper, $5 Dollars on Your Dashboard and You Gotta Move. Indeed conversations since have suggested that people got the sermons loud and clear and are carrying their 5$ equivalent but also hoping that they have more than dollars or pence to give as a contribution to God “saving the poor beggar from going to hell.”

When I ended the night with a quick reprise, “So go and be your brother’s keeper, keep 5 dollars on your dashboard and when the Lord says “Move” you better move” it was only scratching the surface of much more than a great musical blues night. Sometimes Church is so contrived it fails to be Church and other times Church leaps up in places where it is less expected and meets us, ministers to us and missionally sends us... guitar solo... amen!  


STOCKI SURMISES ON FLAGS AND NORTHERN IRELAND

UK Irish Flag

Last night saw rioting back on the streets of Belfast. The cause of the violence, that moved from the City Hall itself out into East Belfast causing many concerned Facebook updates from friends living there, was that the City Council had taken a decision to only fly the British flag above the Belfast City Hall for seventeen designated days a year. It has been flying every day for 100 years. Without question this is a symbol of the shift in demographics across Belfast in recent decades. When Northern Ireland broke away from the newly formed Republic Of Ireland in 1921, staying British as a result, the slogan was “a Protestant state for a Protestant people.” The flying of the Union flag above the City Hall was a visual mark of such power. Today Belfast
has no longer a Protestant majority and one of the ways that that can be shownis for the Catholic politicians to remove that flag.

Perhaps you are saying that only in Northern Ireland would a discussion about flags be so volatile. However flags are rather
important in my wee country.  It was spending Canada Day in Vancouver a few years ago that I realised the problem with flags in my own little piece of earth. Canadians are a humble people. Flags aren’t omnipresent as they become when you cross the border into the USA. After one border crossing I asked my two children, very young at the time, to count the flags. I thought that it would keep them amused. After about two miles they had counted so many that they gave up! They even realised that on the American side of the border there were more Canadian flags than they had seen in Canada! No, Canadians are humble in their patriotism but they are very proud of their nation and on Canada Day there is a gentle sense of togetherness in flags, flown subtly or used in cake decoration, that I suddenly became aware was absent in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland flags are not a unifying force; quite the reverse. In a country that is still very deeply divided, the power of flag is how it antagonises the other side. Flying it from a block of flats or from a lamp post are without doubt a marking out of territory but the message is not so much for those in that territory as a statement loud and clear in the British/Irish wind to those on the other side. Flags divide. That is why we have a City Council divided over flags. Those who voted to remove the flag from the City Hall were antagonised by it. Those who rioted at its removal for 348 days of the year are antagonised by its removal. We live in a country where who
we are is often not about what the flag means to us but what it does to the other. For many of us in Northern Ireland who feel enriched at being both Irish and British, fitting snugly into the centre of the Venn Diagram that is an amalgam of both, we find ourselves torn between two countries without any flag to fly at all. In the end there might be nothing wrong with that!

Last night on Facebook my friend Gentry Morris threw out some great quotations in response to what was happening in his adopted
city. Jimi Hendrix was a much better guitarist than philosopher but When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace” seems to hit the spot. When flags are no longer about power over others but love alongside others then Ireland will know a better day. Gentry also shared a Martin Luther King Jr quote that seems a distant dream this morning but needs clung tightly too in our disappointment, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will
have the final word.”
Please God!

Let us make no mistake that this flags issue is about more than flags. The violence last night is a bad advertisement for Belfast city. Yet again we find ourselves shooting ourselves in the foot. However, we need to hear the voice beneath the violence. There is a large section of our Protestant community who feel besieged and disenfranchised. Whatever we think about whether they are right or wrong there needs to be some attention paid to their fears and frustrations if we are going to move forward together. Whatever the reason for the nationalist community to compromise the removal of the Union
flag altogether to flying it for seventeen designated days this was at its very worst a clever symbol that that side of the community can compromise. Some may see it as a cynical political move but, even if that is all it is, it shows a wiley leadership that is sadly lacking in the loyalist heartlands.

The warning is calling out across our city; political peace we might tentatively have but societal peace is still a long way off. Churches need to listen and get involved in a ministry of reconciliation that brings God’s Kingdom and shalom. Perhaps we needed the wakeup
call in our complacency. Perhaps too Protestant Churches need to begin to reach out to their own marginalized and angry communities the way that some us have reached across the divide to the other community.


Lyric For The Day - Wave Of Sorrow by U2

U2 Wave

"Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt

For they shall inherit what's left of the earth

Blessed are the kings who've left their thrones

They are buried in this valley of dry bones



Blessed all of you with an empty heart

For you got nothing from which you cannot part

Blessed is the ego

It's all we got this hour



Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power

Blessed is the sex worker who sold her body tonight

She used what she got

To save her children's life



Blessed are you, the deaf cannot hear a scream

Blessed are the stupid who can dream

Blessed are the tin canned cardboard slums

Blessed is the spirit that overcomes."

-     From Wave Of Sorrow by U2

Bono’s version of the Beatitudes appear at the end of a song he first attempted to write in 1985 but didn’t get finished until the Joshua Tree 20th Anniversary Edition in 2007. It had its origins in Bono’s first visited to Ethiopia as a result of Bob Geldof's Live Aid and although it would be some fifteen years before he would put his shoulder to the plough of transformation on that continent, the interest and
consequent sorrow began during this first visit when he and his wife spent 6 weeks working at an orphanage.

 

Wave of Sorrow is a fascinating and heart wrenching  song in which Bono takes Scripture and uses it to resource an almost journal entry his own experience. Bono, a man who is obsessed with the Scriptures, draws on the story of the Queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9. He finds it hard to relate the barren wasteland of modern day famine ravaged Ethiopia with the one out of which the Queen of Sheba brings King Solomon rich spices, gold and precious
stones. He then engages Solomon and the Psalm writing King David in a question; "What lyric would you sing?"  It seems to be the question that Bono is asking himself as he attempts to make lyric the experience that he and Ali are going through as mothers walk their babies as far as they have to to leave them down dead or in hope of last chance help. Waves of Sorrow is an attempt to put reality to lyric. It breeds more questions than answers; questions of abandonment, the questions of possibilities and questions of one's own involvement.

 

Though the questions are left to ponder, Bono concludes the song by juxtaposing existing reality with the hope and belief of a greater one. The lyric he attempts to write finds its foundation in Jesus Beatitudes, the wise poetic beginning to thye Sermon on The Mount found in the New Testament Scripture of Matthews 5. In his own version of
the Beatitudes. In a somewhat ironic fashion, Bono has made certain to not exclude himself from the mix: "Blessed is the ego/It's all we got this hour" - as only a self proclaimed egomaniac could. The “Blessed is the sex worker” line will no doubt cause controversial reaction. That sense of shock evokes surely the same outrageous shock that the religious people of Jesus day would have had to those original Beatitudes. Perhaps the line is about a particular person that Bono and Ali met and were disturbed and impressed by in a shocking
way for them. In the end, as in Jesus version, there is a resolution for the marginalised, forgotten and outcast. It is Bono’s hope in this most appallingly disconcerting experience of his life.


FOR SINDY (Remembering Sindy On World AIDS Day)

Cindy

photo: Gordon Ashbridge

 

Sindy let me close the curtains
I know how the bright can hurt
You’re yearning to hear love whispered
And damnation is all that you’ve heard
As I feebly reach to touch your pain
Your faint grasp it heals my heart
God is served and God is serving
And he dwells in that connecting part.

You’re tired and bored of living
But oh so frightened of dying
You haven’t the energy left to laugh
And you’re all out of tears for crying
And I‘m tired that all I say
Is ignored by all that I do
And God knows that I see Jesus, Sindy
Every time that I look at you.

You said that God came to visit
Well Sindy it was only me
Haunted by your pop star posters
That screamed my complicity
Light can shine from a distance
But salt needs to cling to what’s raw
Christmas Day is for all year round
A baby nestling in our filthy straw.

 

I visited Sindy in her curtain drawn bedroom in Guguletu in July 2006.  She was very weak from the AIDS virus and at times a little confused. She kept  saying she was bored, meaning she was fed up with the regime that taking the anti retro viral drugs can be.

It is not just taking a few pills but also about  a strict eating schedule.

After six years and seemingly weaker by the day you can feel her despair.

We were told that the people we visited would not tell  their neighbours that white people came to the house but instead that God had  visited.

Bizarrely as I reached to comfort Sindy in her faint grip she lifted  me. It may be why God tells us to go meet him in the least of these. When we  reach to serve them we are served instead. God lives in the connection of serving and served.


TOMORROW IN FITZROY 2.12.12

Preachin The Blues

In the morning (11am) it is appropriate on World AIDS Sunday that our guest speaker is TEAR Fund's Northern Ireland director Tim Magowan. We have been in a month of the TEAR Fund Prayer Diary having watched and reflected on the film LIVE58. This film is based on how the 58th chapter of Isaiah applies to injustice across the world and we will be hoping for God to lead us as a congregation into what he wants us to do to bring God's Kingdom on earth as in heaven. We will also have a prayerful reflection on AIDS. Worship will be a little more stripped back than ususal because...

In the evening (7pm) it is our 3rd Annual Blues Night when our musicians, along with one or two guest players and a short set from Brian Houston, will lead us into pondering Preachin' The Blues. Gary Burnett currently writing a book about theology and the blues will lead our thoughts. The music will be outrageously good. In many great Fitzroy musical evenings this one is guaranteed to be a highlight!  


LETTERS TO MAVIS - REFLECTION FOR WORLD AIDS DAY - guest post by Miriam Todd

AIDS ribbon 2


“Monday 24th July 2006

Today was such an emotional day, we bought the rest of our hamper goodies and went to JL Zwane the church in Gugulethu. We were given a chat about the community and the issue of aids in the township area, we then had tea and a tour around the church. We then went in groups into homes to visit people with aids. We visited a 32 years old Mum, with two kids living with her mother and sister. Her name is Mavis and she has Aids and pneumonia, it was really sad, her home was so warm as she had a heater right beside her, she snuggled into layers of blanket and she was so tired and weak. Her mother welcomed us and we gave them the duvets and hampers. Out of everything we brought she was most excited about the shoes and oranges. We started talking to her about her medicine and life with aids, she began to weep. Gordon took her by her hand and told her that we would be praying for her continually and that her beautiful face would be etched in our minds forever. She said thank you. It was so sad we all cried, she wept and explained that she experiences pain in her side and neck. She says she is bored of the medication and that it has to be taken very strictly and regularly. It causes her to feel dizzy and queasy. It was terrible to see her in so much pain and naturally worrying for her children. What was evident were her children’s own fears for their future if Mavis is to leave them. Her children are 14 and 6, the experience was overwhelming. To actually see someone who is dying of aids and the faith and hope that Mavis has in God was so humbling. When I left the house I cried really hard and I felt bad for crying. I started to think of the health care which is available back home, care which is successful, but Mavis may not get the treatment which she will need to get her through this time in her life. She won’t get the care and support that a person carrying aids or HIV will get back home. I felt for her children, her mother and the heavy burden on their shoulders as Mavis’ carers and also the burdens Mavis feels because of this. I cannot put into words how today has affected me, I was stunned, shocked, I felt beaten into the real world. I felt finally thrashed into a world were lack of food is so likely to kill you, I was confronted by the fact that at home we have the nutrients to rebuild our bodies to strength but here Mavis at times lives on one slice of bread per day. When we came out of her home I was asked how I felt, I couldn’t speak.

A letter written to Mavis in May 2008.

Dear Mavis,

Thank you for opening your home to us two years ago, and for opening your heart to us. When I look back to your face on my photo of us in your house I realise your strength. As a woman you were strong in every sense of the word, as a mother, a sister and as a daughter. I only met you once yet you made me feel happy, sad, content, discontent, at peace and anxious, all at the same time. That in itself is a powerful thing and I say thank you.

It is two years later since I met you and I pray you have reached your 34th year. Your children will be 16 and 8 now and no doubt they have encountered trials and struggles that I can only ever imagine. But you, your children, your mum and your sister have had so much joy in these trials and patience in God’s grace. I’m so sorry for not doing more for you since I’ve returned, you blessed me so much when I met you and I have returned little thanks. I am sorry, but know that I pray for you often and I pray that I will to dance with you and your family in the pews of JL Zwane this summer. I am sorry that my richness causes you pain, illness and fear. But Mavis blessed are you for your humility and hospitality. For Blessed are the poor. I have read in your church ‘Love is greater than time and place, and even greater than death...’

Thank you for the love that you gave to me.

Miriam

 

A letter written for World Aids day 2010.

Dear Mavis

What can I say in honour of a woman that inspired me to try to change the world one piece at a time! This challenge is difficult and most of the time I get side tracked. Mavis since I met you so much has happened, things have changed and things have remained still. I know that you have left this world and you are at peace in heaven. I know that the world is still undivided. I know that God is present in the townships in Cape Town. There have been shifts in politics, but the end result is still the same. Money is power, and power is with the rich. Mavis I sit on my laptop writing this and I have a photo of you on my desk. This photo has sat on many desks in all the rooms I have moved into and out of over the past 4 years. At times I admit that the photo resonates as just a distant memory of the day I brought a hamper to you. But today when reading back on my experience with you and how you inspired me I am driven to readjust my focus and look closer. Today I see you and me smiling, you are wrapped up in layers and I remember wearing clothes which I felt unconfident and insecure in. I was having a bad image day. Your story thrashed me into reality of the things which mattered, things which meant life or death. Family, medication, food, water, heat, sanitation, money and most importantly faith. Mavis today I pray that your mum, sister and children are well and happy. This World AIDS Day I realise that this day is not only about the patients of aids but it is also about the families and friends who have lost their best friend, their soul mate, their rock and their role model.

Mavis thank you for being a female role model for me. I can look to you on my desk when I need to put things into perspective and when I need inspiration.

Praying for your family and giving thanks for your life this world aids day.

All our love,

Miriam  on behalf of South Africa Team 2006.