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February 2013

January 2013

Lyric For The Day 31.1.13 from Black and Blue by Paloma Faith (and Grace by U2)

Paloma Faith Fall To Grace

“I know a man who fills his emptiness

With strangers

I know a girl who drinks herself to sleep at night

You can't change her

I know people who use chat rooms as confessionals

I know down and outs who once were,

Once they were professionals

Wipe it off your sleeve

Your superiority

Don't roll your eyes, my sweet

We're just the same

We all get desperate sometimes

Feeling black and blue

I know you'll find it hard to accept it sometimes

We all feel black and we feel blue”

-         From Black and Blue by Paloma Faith

It should be no surprise that Paloma Faith would be on the radar of someone like me who looks for spirituality and depth in music.  With an album called “Fall To Grace” and songs like “Streets Of Glory” I was sure to be investigating. My colleague in Fitzroy, Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley has used “Black and Blue” a couple of times in Sunday morning prayers and it resonates. It is I guess Paloma’s “but for the grace of God there go I” and that thought is not just one that should carry sympathy towards those feeling black and blue but should also effect the judgement that we show towards such damaged souls. When we bring grace into the equation iot always
brings with it a deflation of any sense of superiority we might feel.

It is back to my often quoted theological gem from U2, “Grace, the name for a girl/And also a thought that can change the world.”  For those of us who follow Jesus grace is the key. This is the greatest idea in the world; that we could be loved by God, just as we are. This is the key to the door that Jesus opens by his life, death and resurrection. We are invited into a new redeemed relationship with
God not by what we do but by what Jesus has done and by God’s unconditional love towards us. Now that changes my world.

BUT, this grace is much more than a ticket into a new world, it is the life of the world we enter into. That grace changes the way we
look at the world and one another. We treat people with that same Christlike love. That changes everything. Sadly, that grace has been used by many down through Church history as a reason to feel superior when it should do the exact opposite, In engaging with God’s grace we recognise as the apostle Paul did that we are the worst of sinners. When we think of our neighbours or our enemies with that theological truth embedded in our means and living in our hearts then we will never look at those damaged balck and blue with any kind of
superiority. Grace... it changes the world!


(found this old article that I wrote when I had a column in Ireland Today newspaper. Edited it a little)

There is a character in the movie Crash who sexually assaults a woman in one scene and then amazingly risks his own life to save her from a car wreck in another. On singer Anne McCue’s album Roll she sings “I wanted to be like Ghandi but turned out like Hitler”. One of my favourite Over The Rhine lyrics was, "You were 80% angel, 10% demon and the rest was hard to explain..." St. Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do.”

Christians believe that there are two marks in the heart of humanity. That first story in the Bible explains to us that we have the image of God but that our DNA also carried the mark of the fall. In a nutshell, humanity reached beyond itself to be more than we were and ended up less than we were intended to be. Both the Divine and fallen parts of our nature can reveal themselves in the tangled mix of being human.

For some reason when we come to confess our own fallen actions, which we probably don’t do enough, we seem to be able to hold on to these two sides of humanity as Paul did. However, when it comes to criticizing others we seem to leave the mark of Adam out. When we judge others we do so with an arrogant perfectionism that lacks in humility and betrays the truth of our complicated nature. This is
probably what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.”

It is sad when we find such arrogant judgementalism at work in the Church. So often we set ourselves up as God to damn our brothers and sisters in the same graceless way that the Pharisees did. Likewise, in the perpetual never ending “Ground Hog days” of our faltering attempts at a peaceful future, here in Ireland, we need to stop being an island full of planks! Perhaps a lot of our relationships
personally and politically might change if we always sought out the divine mark in one another and in humility never miss the plank within ourselves.


Stocki speaking
a recent photo (copyright Andrew Rossborough)

“Isn’t it just about eating less biscuits?” someone asked me when I said I would be doing an evening on weight loss! That is like saying to an alcoholic that it is just about ordering water instead. That is one of the many unhelpful attitudes that face genuine dieters. If Christians treated alcoholics like they do dieters... well they wouldn’t!  

Awhile back I blogged about my journey losing, what this week should reach, 4 stone in weight. I was a little taken aback by the
response. So many thanked me for talking about the subject. I will be honest if I had inspired as many people to follow Jesus as I have to start losing weight I’d be up for Bill Graham’s job! I have realised how this is a subject that no one talks about, that bubbles under in many peoples’ lives and the Church is mostly silent about it and in many ways unhelpful.

So, on Sunday night I will share my journey. How did I get overweight? What caused me to start losing weight? Why did this attempt work? What did I stop eating/start eating? What else did I do? What were the biggest helps? What were the highest hurdles?      

Stocki interviewing
looking my heaviest

There has been a huge media campaign on various angles about
obesity this January. From Billboards warning men that a waist size beyond 37 inches is dangerous, to radio reports on post Christmas weight loss, to Coco Cola looking at the calories in their drinks, to Stephen Nolan’s documentary on the effects of obesity and his battle with it. I am thinking that this is a cultural issue. Eating habits have changed. Obesity is a health catastrophe and financial burden to the Health Service. What should the Church think? What does the Bible say? What does it mean to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit? In what
ways does our twenty first century Christianity deal with this contemporary issue? Are there things that the Church needs to face and change?

In my struggle I have come to believe that this is a community issue and even if you have no problem with weight don’t think it doesn’t affect you. I have found fellow Christians really helpful and really
unhelpful in my own battle. No one is an island. We all play our part.  Some of our behavioural patterns, throwaway phrases and faulty behavioural codes have their impact on people’s lives.

This is also a sensitive subject and I need to be so. There is no blue print. I will share advantages that I might have in my fight that
others might not have. I will give a template and a story and others will have to make their own way through their own issues. There is also the fear that we have as much issue with anorexia in our Church culture as obesity and we need to be aware that there is a fine balance in healthy diets.

If you are concerned about yourself, someone close to you or about being a better brother or sister to others in the Church family then you might find it helpful.

(Trimming The Tubbie Temple @ Fitzroy on Sunday 3rd February 2013 @ 7pm)


Stocki 12

Last Saturday night in the Belfast Telegraph your blog host answered a few big questions with a few small answers... 

Your idea of Heaven?

The Kingdom fully come. The reign of shalom.

Eternity, would it not be boring?

Boredom isn’t a fear I have! Jesus came to bring life in all it’s fullness! My belief is that it is a fulfilment of our humanity and I am never ever bored!

Could God be a woman?

Well, the Bible describes God as such on occasions; The Queen Of The South, a mother hen, a women searching for her lost coin. If men and women are made in the image of God then God is both masculine and feminine. We are different versions of the one God.

Your finest moment of spiritual enlightenment?

When you realise that the God of the Universe loves you as you are. Wow! Grace is the greatest word.

The person alive today you most admire and why?

Nelson Mandela. I’ve been to Robben Island many times and how a man of such grace, mercy and vision came off that prison island is amazing.

If you had just one question to ask God face to face, what would it be?

Why does he leave telling me the most vital thing that should be in Sunday morning’s sermons until I’m preaching it on Sunday morning!

Your favourite book/music/film?

Book: Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend In A Coma; Film: Bruce Almighty; Record: Over The Rhine’s Ohio... all 3 have enough theology to start a seminar!

Lyric For The Day 27.1.13 from Don't I Look Like The Kind Of Guy You Used To Hate by Del Amitri

Del Amitri ep

“Well it was summer, I think, when you said to me,

"Let's just run away"

But somewhere on that road I got married to monotony

And that's what pays this wage

And these tiny symbols of success

Like my black chauffeurs forced friendliness

Are less the spoils of spiritual wealth

Than symptoms of distress”

-         From Don’t I Look Like The Kinda Guy You Used To Hate by Del Amitri

An old cassette I made of Del Amitri b-sides this week turned this great lyric up. Justin Currie is a great lyricist and though I think he might define himself as agnostic or atheist this is far from his only
reference to spiritual issues. A later song When We Were Young also touches on the overall theme of this song which is what you hoped to be when you were growing up and what you have ended up. That in itself is an interesting subject for a blog; maybe soon!

However, today I want us to see in this lyric the question of spiritual wealth. What are our ambitions? What do we invest our energy and lives in? Do our answers, and our commitment to such answers, enhance the fullness of our humanity. This is what Jesus was on about when he talked about gaining the world and losing your soul. Some translations speak of losing your very self. Preach it Justin, preach it!  

TAKE BACK THE CITY; SNOW PATROL - Song For A Healthy (Belfast) Soul

Take Back The City

This Snow Patrol song has been on my lips for a good few weeks now. As we gathered this morning for the 4 Corners Festival Prayer Event it seemed perfect for the occasion as we sought God to bring peace and prosperity to every corner of Belfast.

Gary Lightbody’s lyric writing has always been romance based, mostly on the broken hearted side. Though he has squeezed some universal profundity into such melancholy, Take Back The City is a new departure. In a Q magazine, at the time of the single’s release,  Lightbody explained that the song is about his home city of Belfast which he has learned to fall in love with all over again. When Lightbody left for University in Dundee at the beginning of the nineties Belfast was a besieged city. There were a couple of years when every road into the city had police checks and people were being shot almost daily. By the time Lightbody returned, around 2005, the city had had a decade without bombs and bullets; it was a place revived with new shopping centres, city centre bars and clubs and music venues big enough for Snow Patrol’s success. Just like its returning sons, Belfast is thriving!

Though the negative side of Northern Ireland’s conflict haunts Take Back The City it is a song about loving the city, enjoying the city and reshaping the city. Lightbody sings about the broken record of entrenched political sectarianism and about the futility of picking sides in a historical fight he doesn’t understand. The main thrust of Lightbody’s ode to home though is about sucking the marrow out of the city, sometimes admitting to partying too much. Where I have personally been inspired is in the verse:

“God knows you put your life into its hands

And it's both cradled you and crushed

But now it's time to make your own demands.”

I am sure Gary Lightbody does not have the same missional take on this that those of us who organised the 4 Corners Festival do but this is a very interesting take on our relationship with our home cities, towns or villages. The city shapes us, cradles and crushes us into the adults we become but after that we are the shapers of the city. Our task as the Churches is to engage with our city as “World Formative Christians” to take a phrase from Nicholas Wolterstorff.  Every time I hear Take Back This City it reminds that the city that I live in, that is the very subject of this song, has made me who I am... now to make it what we in the Churches believe it should look like when “God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that the 4 Corners festival has and will begin to help us all take back the city!



Fitz logo

Tomorrow morning (11am), as we journey through the Sermon On The Mount, we ask how Jesus can dare ask that we are more righteous than the Pharisees who kept the law to the letter. What did Jesus mean? Was he telling us it was useless to try and follow him as we would fail miserably? Or is there something more going on? Is Jesus destroying the law or is he suggesting that there is more... a fuller, deeper more eternal way? Tasty guitar licks in vibrant worship I am sure!

In the evening (7pm) it is a Faith on Trial with Stephen McIlwaine giving us the low down on what is going on inthe Middle East. Styephen has worked and lived there for 13 years and has been privileged to move in each community around the Dead Sea and is ideal to wrestle with the politics and the theology.

BRINGING BELFAST TOGETHER - 4 Corners Festival Prayer Event

4 Corners

Saturday 26 January, 11.30 am – Various Locations (read on...)

It is a more timely event that when we planned it in November. Back then it wasn't in the context of street protests and Operation Standstills. The Peace Prayer at City Hall back in December hadn't been dreamed up. That we can now attend this 4 Corners Festival Prayer event is so right for the moment. Is God not perhaps always ahead of us! Please use this opportunity to pray for the peace and prosperity of Belfast as the Old Testament so often encouraged the people of God. It would be another great statement to ourselves, our faith communities and our city.

This event will take the form of four prayer and worship events in each of the four corners of Belfast – North, South, East and West.  They are:

North – Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church, Antrim Road (Map)
East – St Dorothea’s Church of Ireland, Gilnahirk (Map)
West – St Oliver Plunket Roman Catholic, Lenadoon (Map)
South – Belfast South Methodist Church, Lisburn Road (Map)

Each minister in each area organises the worship/prayer event for their Church, drawing in as many Churches from that section of the city as are interested in participating. The worship should start at 11.30am, lasting within an hour. People should then make their way to “The Dock” Church and Cafe in the Titanic Quarter, where a light lunch will be served and the Ministers and people of “The Dock” Church will then organise a larger worship event uniting all four corners of Belfast and all the Christian community of Belfast.

First we surround and embrace the city in prayer in each of the four corners, and then we travel to the heart of the city to put prayer at the heart.  The Titanic Quarter was chosen for two reasons:

Firstly, this area was once an industrial heartland of Belfast, where shipbuilding, aircraft making and other heavy industry provided employment for thousands and provided top quality goods for the world market.  The Titanic is the most famous example of such industry, and it is in its dry dock that the worship will be held.

Secondly, this area is now being redeveloped and the new focus is on building community and education.  “The Dock” Church is embarking on a new and exciting vision of mission and evangelism, where the Churches are working together to build Church in the midst of this community and the emphasis is more on people than Church buildings. In recognition of our new and shared future, it is appropriate that we experience this new vision of mission and outreach in this part of the city which was once the industrial heartland.


If signing!

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of being part of the launch of the IF campaign. I got to wear the t-shirt, sign an inflatable IF
and become part of a human IF for the press in the Quad at Queens

University Belfast. With world leaders descending on Enniskillen for the G8 Summit in June it is time to ratchet up the pressure on the British Prime Minister to influence quantifiable change across the world. IF is a great name for the campaign. As a long time advocate of Biblical imagination the phrase “what if” is constantly in my thinking. So I love the IF. Just two letters but get used to them because I have now seen them in huge inflatables, with office
equipment and even eggs on soda bread! I am wearing it on a wrist band and wearing a t-shirt with it all down the back.

I will come back to the IF but there is an incendiary phrase before that. Enough Food For Everyone is a breathtaking truth. In this campaign when we see it and announce it and write it down surely
it will finally sink in. What an obscenity that there is enough food to feed everyone and yet 15 million children die every year of hunger and 33% of the world is reckoned to be starving. WHAT! Enough
Food For Everyone
makes those of us who are not hungry in the

west culpable for an intolerable injustice.

That truth though is the resource that fires our IF. We don’t have to imagine the food; it is there. What we need to imagine is how to make the enough go round. That is where the campaign goesn tangible. Four ways that that can happen are... IF our government
keeps it promise to give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families... IF our government closes tax loopholes so big companies pay their fair share in poor countries...
IF we stop farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops for food not fuel... IF governments and investors are open and honest about their actions.

If is a recurring Biblical theme. God is always suggesting that IF God’s people way in there will be societal transformation. In so many places that IF is a prophetic challenge to quit the religious worship, fasting and prayer and do what God requires (check Isaiah 58; Micah 6; Amos 5 for starters). Not that worship, fasting and prayer are wrong but if those three did not work themselves out in justice and mercy for the oppressed and the vulnerable then God’s anger raged. IF, however, the people lived mercy and justice then God’s blessing poured out. This is the Kingdom Of God. This is God’s Shalom. This is what we are called to and the IF campaign focuses are minds and hearts and souls to deliver. And delivery is possible because there is enough food for everyone... IF!

Lyric For The Day the IF Camapign is Launched (23.1.13) from Read All About It (Pt III) by Emeli Sandé


“You've got the words to change a nation

But you're biting your tongue

You've spent a life time stuck in silence

Afraid you'll say something wrong

If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?

So come, on come on

Come on, come on...”

-     From Read All About It (Pt III) by Emeli Sandé

This song, so well known now, is a perfect lyric for the day when TEAR Fund, Christian Aid and other NGOs launch their new IF campaign, Enough Food For Everyone. We have what it takes to feed the world. What IF we just did it? The song is a song of commitment and a cry of encouragement to do what is possible. The potential is here. We all need to lift that potential and do it. This campaign will be a pressure group on the G8 leaders as they arrive in Enniskillen in June. Join the song for change.

And in Northern Ireland. There are enough peacemakers to win. What if we believed in ourselves and what God has made us and redeemed
us to be? What if we overcame our fears to get it wrong or be misunderstood? What if we stepped out of our silent hope for peace and acted for peace? What if we told a different story? What if we sang a different song? On Saturday in the 4 Corners of Belfast there will be short prayer events at 11.30 leading to a coming together of the 4 Corners of the city at Dock Church in the Titanic Quarter at lunchtime (info on site

Come on, come on! Sing and shout for change.